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The Great Left Divide
by Alecks P. Pabico

A SPECTER is haunting the revolutionary movement in the Philippines-the specter of seemingly interminable splits.

In the seven years since Armando Liwanag issued his now historical albeit contentious "Reaffirm our Basic Principles and Rectify Errors" document, the Left-or more appropriately, the Left of the national democratic (ND) tradition-has gone through an unprecedented period of metastasis. The once monolithic movement that at its peak in the mid-1980s commanded 35,000 Party members, 60 guerrilla fronts, two battalions and 37 company formations, and foisted ideological and organizational hegemony in the progressive politics during the heady days of the Marcos dictatorship is now history. Out of it have emerged fragments of disparate groups-eight at least-that continue to wage "revolution" in similarly disparate forms.

Not since the "re-establishment" of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) under the banner of Mao Zedong Thought by Amado Guerrero (nom de guerre of Jose Maria Sison) has there been a serious split in the revolutionary movement. In 1968 Guerrero broke away from the Jesus Lava-led Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, or PKP, over ideological differences, criticizing its abandonment of armed struggle and its shift to nonviolent legal and parliamentary means in pursuing the socialist revolution. In turn, the Lava leadership expelled him from the party on charges of "left adventurism."

Three decades later, Guerrero (now believed to be Liwanag) would find his dominion stirred by a similar storm, this time whipped up by his "Reaffirm" document. Reminiscent of the Lava act, he had also charged the "splittists" with a host of Left opportunist sins such as "urban insurrectionism," "military adventurism," and "gangsterism."

While internal in nature, the crisis in the ND movement has not been insulated from the shock waves generated by the dramatic dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of most communist party governments of Eastern Europe. Though he dismissed the USSR and Eastern Europe's ruling parties as revisionist regimes, Liwanag himself admitted in "Reaffirm" serious setbacks suffered by the local revolutionary movement with the onslaught of Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost ideas espousing "liberalism, populism and social democracy."

Ideological responses to the crisis of existing socialism and its repercussions on its constituencies worldwide have been varied among communists. Liwanag's own antidote is the so-called "Second Great Rectification Movement," which the mainstream ND bloc he leads continues to undergo to firm up adherence to the principles laid down in 1968. Basically, that means upholding the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. That is, to say:

  • maintaining the view that Philippine society is "semifeudal" and "semicolonial" as it has not become industrialized and urbanized;
  • pursuing the general line of new democratic revolution by relying on the alliance of workers and peasants and winning over the urban petty bourgeoisie or the middle classes;
  • recognizing the CPP as the vanguard force of the proletariat or the working class;
  • waging the protracted people's war (PPW) strategy of "encircling the cities from the countryside," among others.

In so doing, Liwanag has drawn a sharp dividing line between those who agree with these views (the "revolutionaries") and those who don't ("counterrevolutionaries" ). In more popular Left parlance, those who abide by the Liwanag document are the "reaffirmists" (RAs), while those whoaren't into its "sweeping" conclusions are "rejectionists" (RJs).

Declaring themselves the "democratic opposition," the RJs-among them regional party committees of Metro Manila-Rizal, Central Mindanao, Western Mindanao, the Visayas Commission (VisCom), National United Front Commission (NUFC), Home Bureau of the International Liaison Department, National Peasant Secretariat (NPS)-initially rejected only the "bogus" 10th Plenum that approved 'Reaffirm' since it did not have the required quorum. But they soon realized that the Party leadership had not the slightest intention to be conciliatory.

The petition calling either for the reconvening of the 10th Plenum or holding a new one to discuss "Reaffirm" signed by 15 CCP Central Committee members was eventually rejected, as were calls to hold the long-overdue Party Congress. Insisting the plenum was legitimate, the leadership instead began expelling members and dissolving units identified with the RJ bloc, ushering in the Left's own days of disquiet and nights of rage.

MORE OFTEN than not, personal antagonisms have helped shape the contours of the splits and dictated the ever-shifting alliances as much as the interplay of ideological, political and organizational differences. At times, personal differences were garbed in ideological clothing. At other times, the rifts were reduced to sheer clashes of personalities.

Former Ang Bayan editor Ricardo Reyes laments the way the "Reaffirm" document glossed over the ideological and political debate with character attacks and past mistakes. Himself tagged by Liwanag as "counterrevolutionary," Reyes thinks internal matters such as "mistakes, errors in the past for which we should be held responsible one way or another" should have been addressed in a different forum.

"In the first place, the Party's leadership is collective," he says. "It's very rare that an error, especially a big one, was committed by one person. Second, these errors have long been committed. There have already been judgments on those either in the form of censure, discipline or punishment."

No sooner had different opposition groups joined ranks, though, the RJ camp fell into personality-driven feuds. An initial falling out on how to handle the "Reaffirm" debate served to polarize the RJ groups as a majority did not take to the brand of polemics of Felimon 'Popoy' Lagman, former secretary of the CPP's Komiteng Rehiyon ng Metro Manila-Rizal (KRMR) and now working aboveground as Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) chair.

Argues Reyes: "Perhaps he (Lagman) has his own justifications but I don't think we should reply in kind to the RAs. He'd hit Joma, saying, here are your mistakes. And he'd employ character attacks, too."

Lagman himself finds it laughable that the reasons behind the splits were not about principles. "It's always Popoy, Popoy is just like Joma. Any discussion is always about the 'five little pigs and the big bad wolf,'" Lagman says, he being the wolf, of course. He says it politically immature of Left leaders to dwell more on his character or style.

The truth is, Lagman is not exactly the opposite of his nemesis Sison, burdened as he is by accusations of being "ruthless," "dictatorial" and "utilitarian." In 1993, his "arrogance" abetted the crumbling of the already loose foundation on which RJ groups stood. Before an ideological summit to discuss theoretical and political positions could be held, and a national coordinating body to discuss the building up of a party formed, a split had ensued between the groups that collectively called themselves the "Third Force" on one side and the KRMR on the other. Using the KRMR Counter-Thesis, Lagman had adamantly insisted on meeting Liwanag's theoretical and tactical positions head-on even if the group had not been through with the collective review of Marxism-Leninism. At the time, the rest had not yet gone beyond the notion of pluralism, of a "free market of ideas."

There is also the precarious KRMR-VisCom formation, which materialized in January 1994 when VisCom chief Arturo Tabara made a surprise shift to KRMR's side, splitting the VisCom in the process. Three years later, it was KRMR's (now Komiteng Rebolusyonaryo ng Metro Manila-Rizal) turn to fragment. Lagman was expelled for acts that violated the basic principles of collective leadership and democratic centralism. His character was also said to be unbecoming of a "proletarian revolutionary." The rift, Lagman says, arose from his perceived "liquidationist" attitude-for his refusal to help in the Party congress preparations.

In the wake of Lagman's expulsion, KRMR split into two bitter factions. Lagman claims to have the support of majority of the party branches. The rest of KRMR, now under the name of Metro Manila-Rizal Regional Party Committee (MRRPC) and occasionally referred to as 'Bloke,' consisted of the bulk of the region's underground cadres, including the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB). The 'Bloke' later decided to disengage from the pre-party formation of the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa (RPM), which was established in May 1998, citing that its party building efforts ended in "an organizational project without resolving ideological unity or coming up with any party program." Only the former ABB chief and a few followers remained with the RPM.

The Lagman faction suffered yet another split when one of Lagman's closest lieutenants, Sonny Melencio and forces from the 'Progresibo' (Progressive) tendency within the pre-split KRMR, bolted out to form the Liga Sosyalista in 1998. An open socialist organization, the Liga deplored the continuing drift of the Lagman group's politics to the right. Eventually, it merged with the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Proletaryo (RPP), the revitalized left-wing faction of the 1930 PKP, to give rise to the the pre-party formation of Sosyalistang Partido ng Paggawa (SPP).

Melencio's "Left Unity" project, which anticipates the formation of a legal socialist party in the tradition of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) of Australia, has drawn varied reactions from other Left groups. Joel Rocamora of Akbayan finds the recruits to the "Left Unity" a very strange ideological mix-PKP, a small group from the Partido Sosyalista Demokratiko ng Pilipinas (PDSP), social democrats, the left-wing group of the discredited Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA). Others are open to such a unity project as part of tactical considerations, which therefore implies a propitious element to it. Only that now is just not the right time.

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A less lengthy version of this report first appeared in the April-June issue of i magazine, PCIJís investigative reporting quarterly.