The Role of the National Democratic Left in Creating Spaces of Resistance in the Face of an Eroding Philippine Democracy by Patricia Villa @ University of the Philippines, Diliman
The erosion of Philippine democracy has set a new stage of opportunity for resistance movements to seize. Indeed, the country is in another “extraordinary time”. What could the role of the National Democratic Left (ND) be in the fight against democratic erosion?
The increase in the contradictions in the Philippine society has led to an increase in social unrest. The sky-rocketing prices of commodities brought upon by the new tax reform law, rampant extrajudicial killings, the incumbents’ witch-hunting of opposition members and dissenters—all of which have further ripened conditions for resistance movements to rise anew and defend democracy. One of those at the forefront of which is the Philippine Left—but which one?
The role of the Philippine Left has often been a subject of public controversy and of academic curiosity. Compared to the Leftist movements in other countries, the Philippine Left poses an interesting characteristic as it is currently split into two after the fragmentation in the Communist Party of the Philippines due to ideological differences. This is a distinction that has to be properly made before one ventures into tackling the Philippine Left, as both sides pose striking differences in terms of their brand of activism. On one side is the National Democratic Left (ND Left), represented by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, an alliance of various mass organizations catering to the advancement of the interests of the marginalized. On the other side is the Social Democratic Left (SocDem Left), as largely represented by the group Akbayan.
Why Look into the ND Left?
Though the ND Left initially began a warm relationship with the Duterte administration during its first year, its alliance with the government collapsed as soon as President Duterte expressed disinterest in continuing the peace negotiations between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Philippine government. What further soured the relations was the continuous disregard of the Duterte administration on the issue of human rights as it ventured into a state-sponsored killing spree under the banner of the war on drugs, to which the ND Left’s human rights group KARAPATAN has been constantly monitoring. Consistent in its stand to remain vigilant towards anti-people policies, the ND Left maintained a conditional alliance with the Duterte administration which ends where anti-people policies begin. What was once a warm relations filled with optimism and hope for change has now collapsed, marking the onset of more heightened mass mobilizations and dissent on the side of the ND Left.
Democratic Erosion in the Philippines: an Extraordinary Time
The Duterte administration’s continuous attacks against democracy have been increasingly polarizing the people and political actors, ushering the Philippines into “extraordinary times”. With a consistent rate of “Partly Free” from Freedom House and a declining democracy status from Bertelsmann Stiftung Transformation Index (BTI), it is no news that Philippine democracy is eroding. Countless indicators involve 1) the persistence of predatory elites in the country’s democratic institutions which result in various attempts to consolidate and entrench one’s power in the government; 2) continuous attacks on the media that hamper press freedom; 3) the government’s refusal to acknowledge that the conflict with the Communist Party is an insurgent type, not a terrorist type; 4) implementation of neoliberal policies that extort the poor and benefit the rich; and 5) the attempt to write a new constitution that may favor the country’s political dynasties, among many others. It is important to note though, that the erosion of Philippine democracy has begun in past administrations—however, President Duterte’s continuous subversion of democratic institutions further hastens the erosion.
Banking on strong public support that resonated since his successful campaign in the 2016 Presidential elections, President Duterte and his cohorts remain steadfast in ensuring that their networks inside the government are intact especially now that the midterm elections in 2019 are underway. Should they succeed in further weakening the country’s system of checks and balance, the only way for people to fight back is through resistance.
The National Democratic Left in “Extraordinary Times”
For Nancy Bermeo, the polarization between the people and political actors leaves a vacuum in the middle that may be the cause of democracy’s undoing. Key to its salvation may be the civil society as they attempt to mediate between individual actors and the state. They may act as a “barrier” to tyranny—a “reservoir of resistance” that people may rely onto against arbitrary and tyrannical action.
A strategy that the ND Left has long been using in their engagements with the country’s democratic institutions is to “expose-and-oppose” the misdeeds and the anti-people character of the government, whether through elections, legislations, and through protests. The ND Left has maintained its legitimacy as a viable opposition considering it has exhausted both institutional and extra-institutional means in dealing with the Duterte administration. Some of its partylist groups have earned seats in the House of Representatives, some of its members were able to maintain their appointed posts in the Cabinet, and its mass organizations have been actively engaging both the government and the public through their day-to-day activities on the ground.
The ND Left’s constant and active engagement and opposition with the government backed by strong ideological foundations has been a contributing factor into its current status in Philippine politics. In a society where it almost seems impossible to fight vestiges of oppression, the ND Left’s opposition creates spaces for resistance and dissent in light of an eroding democracy.
(Photo courtesy of Bayan.ph)