What Do the Rebels Have to Say About the Philippine Mid-Term Elections?

What Do the Rebels Have to Say About the Philippine Mid-Term Elections?
Photo Credit: AP/ TPG Images

What you need to know

While administration-backed candidates dominate the senate and the Duterte- aligned parties have gained seats in the lower house the rebels reject the elections as being largely useless to change a 'tyrannical regime'.

Much of the rhetoric, debate and discussion about the mid-term elections which concluded mid-May had to do with red-tagging. That is, the state branding opposition candidates or parties as either terrorist or communist; both are used sparingly and interchangeably.

Throughout the roughly three-month period of campaigning, many of President Rodrigo Duterte's political foes were labeled as threats to national security. A 'red-scare' of sorts was being drummed up by those in power as one of the main forms of countercriticism against the government's detractors.

The President's daughter, Sara Duterte called out the Bayan Muna (People First) party mid-campaign for funneling its resources to the underground Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed forces, the New People's Army (NPA).

Bayan Muna was leading the surveys at the time as Sara Duterte urged the public to shun the group and all of its allies who were running for seats in the lower house.

Photo Credit: AP/ TPG Images
Ten of the twelve newly-proclaimed Philippine senators make a President Rodrigo Duterte fist bump gesture during proclamation ceremony in suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines on May 22, 2019.

Less than a month before the campaign period started, members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), another prominent progressive party, were being profiled en masse by the Philippine National Police (PNP). The PNP had specifically ordered the inventory of all teachers associated with the group and even actively tried to discourage their participation in facilitating the voting process through several cases of harassment. Public school teachers across the nation are the ones employed to facilitate the voting on election day.

During the actual voting, members of the police were caught on camera handing out newsletters at many polling places proclaiming candidates and groups opposed to Duterte as terrorists. Each page alleged that anti-Duterte camps wanted to overthrow the government through chaos and destruction. Releasing any material with the intention to directly influence voting behavior on election day is prohibited under the country's election laws.

Even now, Ronald Cardema who heads the National Youth Commission and is a self-professed stalwart of Duterte is making public statements daily on his Facebook account about the dangers of alleged communist led electoral groups present to the establishment. He and his wife formed the Duterte-Youth party, not for any particular youth-oriented platform but primarily to combat and supplant the Kabataan (Youth) party in Congress, a group which has been at the center of the student movement opposed to what they call Duterte's tyranny.

The conflict between the critics and the state is one thing. Those in Duterte's corner would like nothing more than quell any dissent directed at them while the other side seeks to expose abuses of power.

Amidst all this talk of rebel sympathizing, it begs the question, what do the actual revolutionaries think of all this commotion? Do they even believe in elections since the NPA has taken up arms against the state for just about 50 years now?

The dust that won't settle

Once the results were in and the proclamations were wrapped up, the administration-backed candidates dominated the senate and the Duterte aligned parties had gained even more seats in the lower house.

Photo Credit: AP/ TPG Images
Protesters display placards during a rally to urge the official poll body to explain and be transparent as to the results of the automated May 13 midterm elections on May 17, 2019, in suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines.

But talk of accepting defeat seems far from over as the voting process and canvassing has been as hotly contested as the tussle between candidates themselves. Numerous glitches and anomalies marred election day unlike any seen in the era of automated voting. These fractures and doubts in the electoral process have only cemented the belief of the CPP-NPA in the inherent failures of voting to bring about what the country needs.

In an interview with the News Lens after the voting, Jose Ma. Sison, founder of the CPP and NPA shared that "the latest election in the Philippines was rigged not only through Duterte's control of Comelec (Commission on Elections) and its computers but also through institutional coercion; and thus the results are of course rotten. The anti-people results are most manifested in the crucial senatorial race by the fake election of notorious plunderers, including the chief bribe collector of Duterte and the chief butcher in the bogus war on drugs."

The extent of the public outcry against the results of the elections did not surprise Sison at all. To begin with, the stance of the communist rebels has always been that the elections themselves are but a game for those in power to toy with the masses to choose a new set of oppressors. For genuine patriots and lovers of the poor, there only exists a minuscule sliver of opportunity; one that has grown even smaller this time around.

"You cannot expect such an electoral system as the means to change the ruling system. At best it can allow a few patriotic and progressive candidates from the intelligentsia and still fewer from the toiling masses of workers and peasants to win a few seats."

On this particular round of voting however he notes that it has not only served ruling interests, but that of Duterte himself who he puts at the center of the 'beneficial' results. "Such [an] electoral system of the exploiting classes can be worse than usual when a tyrannical regime like that of Duterte seeks to monopolize the political system with the criminal control and use of public and private funds, the Comelec, the military and police in order to predetermine and preprogram the results of the elections."

It seems also for Sison that history is emboldened to repeat itself with the dismay over the outcome pushing more people to seek alternatives outside the mainstream political system.

He draws from his own experience witnessing ex-dictator Ferdinand Marcos' manhandling of the electorate. "If we learn from recent history, red-tagging and other repressive policies and acts under the Marcos fascist dictatorship did not result in the complete pacification of the people but instead incited so many young men and women to join the NPA."

Revolution not elections

NPA formations have been quick to denounce the results of the polls, saying elections had been fraudulent from the start and that revolutionary struggles are the path toward change. Essentially reminding the public that the only reason the people are allowed to vote is because the ruling system of landlords, capitalists and bureaucrats know that it won't change anything.

"This proves that elections are a merely a political exercise of the elite. The Congress for example has been cemented as a rubber stamp for the dictates of Malacañang," said Jaime "Ka Diego" Padilla, spokesperson of the NPA's Melito Glor Command in the Southern Tagalog region. [Editor's note: Malacañang refers to the Malacañang Palace, where the president and resides and works. The term Malacañang is often used as shorthand to refer to the sitting president and their team of advisers.]

He categorically states that the clean and honest elections is 'impossible' in a country where feudalism, foreign interventionism or imperialism and fascism reign.

Photo Credit: AP/ TPG Images
Protesters display mock ballot boxes as they shout slogans during a rally outside the venue of the official canvassing of votes by the Commission on Elections accusing President Rodrigo Duterte and the poll body of rigging the automated May 13 midterm elections on May 17, 2019 in suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines.

In the Cordillera region in northern Philippines, which is mainly populated by the Igorot indigenous peoples, the NPA of Mountain Province had disavowed the elections two days before voters hit the ballots.

Magno Udyaw of the Leonardo Pacsi Command in Mountain Province explained that every election, they hear the same promises from local candidates, all promise greater autonomy and recognition for the indigenous peoples of Cordillera along with better lives for the families of small miners. The only difference is that their campaign promises follow the lines of whoever is in power, rendering the advocacies moot and confined to slogans.

According to him, people lose interest with each passing election. This becomes especially more apparent when NPA guerrillas are regularly in the area to organize self-help mechanisms that veer away from depending on politician's promises.

All NPA units call for intensified attacks against state forces who they say will only be more amped up in the coming times. Key to increasing the government's military strength will be the drive for total control of all branches of the government. Militarism has been a key feature of the Duterte regime and will likely play a larger role they say; hence preemptive strikes and aggressive rebel expansion will be needed.

There have been a reported five major offensives launched by the NPA across the country since the voting concluded. The latest according to the rebels was in Negros Occidental province when they foiled a military raid on their camp, killing seven members of the Philippine army in the fire fight.

Former national police chief, Ronald Dela Rosa is now one of the senators-elect. He was one of the first Duterte appointees and was instrumental in implementing the drug-war that reportedly claimed the lives of tens of thousands.

Sison and the NPA are wary of his ilk in the senate and note that the rebels must do everything they can to push back the certainty of intensified counter-revolution.

He explains that "Duterte can probably be dissuaded from his evil ambition (total dictatorship) only by powerful mass protest actions and by the advance of the NPA in field of armed revolution."

The opposition has been beaten to the seats, but not defeated entirely. They have been bested by the slew of red-tagging employed by the administration. Yet the armed guerrillas themselves put no faith in the elections, seeing at best only the potential of alliances and critics gaining better ground.

While the polls served as a political battlefield, the country could see this expressed in more literal terms in the coming months.

Read next: Sarah Elago, the Youngest Lawmaker in the Philippines, Challenges Duterte's Boys Club

Editor: Cat Thomas@TheNewsLens

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