Communists are being killed in the Philippines: That’s nothing new. The state has been killing them for nearly sixty years. What’s new is that the Communists being killed aren’t necessarily those waging revolutionary war in the hills; they are those who, officially, at least, prefer to establish Socialism with Philippine characteristics through non-revolutionary, ordinary, political methods. Among their ranks and what those of an older generation might have referred to as “fellow travelers,” that is, anyone who refuses to think that the only good Communist is a dead one, talk is of how many are being killed, publicly, blatantly, more likely than not as part of official policy — and how few Filipinos are inclined to lose any sleep over the fact.
To be sure, there are people upset and outraged over the political liquidations taking place. As political liquidations necessarily are, some of those who died were killed not because they were really, truly Communists or a danger to the state, but because someone, somewhere, labeled them Communists and decided it’s simpler to shoot first rather than waste time on questions. For those uneasy and angry over the killings, another question quickly follows: But why is it, that the majority don’t seem to care? Writers, in particular, ponder this question deeply and out of a sense of self-interest, since a close second in the category of those killed for political reasons are journalists (whether print, radio, or the broadcast kind). Most people seem unconcerned over the murder of journalists, too.
Recently, I witnessed one Filipino journalist exclaim, in anger, that it was a scandal that more people weren’t upset. He was referring to the killing of those accused of harboring Communism in their hearts. A few weeks prior to that, I saw another Filipino journalist sadly shake his head upon being told of the latest instance of a colleague being killed. He sighed that the profession was in such disrepute no one cared if writers and broadcasters died.
In the case of Communists, whether in the field, working in political parties or other legally-accepted movements, or carelessly labeled as such because they don’t profess a fanatical love for capitalism or the powers-that-be, the Philippines has suffered enough at the hands of Communists for people to appreciate a simple truth: Those who live by the sword, die by the sword. There isn’t a national wailing and gnashing of teeth, as a rule, whenever members of the armed forces or the police die, either.
As if the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, and in the 1970s and 1980s, the mass exodus of Catholics, small farmers and entrepreneurs from Vietnam, aren’t enough to serve as a reminder of what Communists do to those who don’t toe the party line, the Communist Party of the Philippines undertook its own (Stalinist or Maoist-style, take your pick) purges in the 1980s and 1990s. While entire swathes of the Philippine countryside are under the influence of the Communist rebel movement, one doesn’t hear of Filipinos delighted by that reality. I’d say the fundamental reality for Filipinos in such areas is the realization they’ve exchanged one set of bandits (landlords, government officials) for another: The Communists, who delight in blowing up cellular communication towers or menacing political candidates if those asked refuse to pay “revolutionary taxes”.
Red flags can’t disguise red stains: The Communist engaged in “teach-ins” in Philippine schools has the same murderous heart as the comrade demanding money for slippers from provincial entrepreneurs at gunpoint. They read the same books, spout the same propaganda. They maintain the same beliefs: Asked what he thought of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Crispin Beltran said at the time, it was correct. Later on, of course, the worker’s union he belonged to withdrew the statement, but that was a tactical maneuver. Before he was arrested and placed in detention, Beltran would gladly tell anyone that he thought Cuba under Fidel Castro was a pretty good thing.
Now, of course, Beltran’s mobility, despite his being a party list representative in the House of Representatives, is limited. Were the Philippines Cuba, the only people who’d have to undergo the indignity of forced detention would be people who have political views different from Beltran. Surely today he feels, all the more, that Cuba is on to something good. But for most people whose idea of a country to aspire to isn’t Castro’s system which emptied its jails to export them to Miami, or which cures political dissent with a bullet or a blind eye to those risking an inner-tube ride to Florida, Beltran’s lament has to ring rather hollow. As it does.
But should it? This is the problem, and it is compounded by the slim chance the Communist Party of the Philippines has of gaining power. If a red revolution were imminent, those for or against the Communists wouldn’t have the luxury of debating human rights. But Philippine Communism like the larger political class it belongs to, and mirrors, is stuck in a rut; it cannot gain power, but has enough to fear it’s loss; and has the means to be mean and nasty in keeping what it has, while scheming to gain more.
However, beyond a kind of instinctive realization that those pleading for human rights wouldn’t give it the time of day if they won, there’s a larger, more frightening reality at work.
A sight that continues to haunt those who observed it was seeing hundreds of Filipinos pushing and shoving to enter a game show right after dozens of their companions had been crushed to death in a stampede to enter the very same show. The crowd was doing so in the midst of the dead, laid out and still awaiting trucks to bring the bodies to the morgue.
That reality, then, is a society so mired in the fight for survival — and so susceptible to the lust for illusion — that it has lost the capacity to care, to have compassion. Which reduces those fretting over this reality to an anxious, afraid and indignant few.