The Long View: Radical yet firmly legal

Radical yet firmly legal

By Manuel L. Quezon III
First Posted 00:44am (Mla time) 03/19/2007

MANILA, Philippines – Alfredo Saulo, in his pre-martial law series on the Communist Party, pointed out that the organization had been outlawed twice. The first time was by order of the courts, beginning with a decision by Judge Mariano Albert in Manila on Sept. 14, 1931. The decision was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court on Oct. 26, 1932, resulting in 20 communist leaders being sentenced to eight years and one day of “destierro” or banishment to the provinces. The American communist James Allen, in pursuit of a united front policy against fascism, asked Malacanang to lift the internal exile. His request was granted on Dec. 31, 1936. Absolute pardon was granted on Christmas Eve, 1938.

Thereafter, while the Court’s decision declaring the Communist Party legal remained in force, the executive branch issued instructions to local officials to allow the holding of public meetings and demonstrations regardless of the party affiliations of the participants. The government’s policy bore fruit when, early in December 1941, the combined communist and socialist parties (united since 1938) pledged loyalty to the government in its fight against the Japanese.

The Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas’ efforts to engage in mainstream politics resulted in its supporting the candidacy of President Sergio Osmena Sr., by backing the Democratic Alliance which allied with the Nacionalista Party. The Democratic Alliance-backed presidential candidate lost, but six DA candidates were elected to the House: Luis Taruc and Amado Yuzon in Pampanga, Jesus Lava in Bulacan, Jose Cando and Constancio Padilla in Nueva Ecija and Alejandro Simpauco in Tarlac. They weren’t permitted to take their seats, and an NP congressman, Alejo Santos (also of Bulacan), and three NP senators, Ramon Diokno, Jose Vera and Jose Romero, were also denied their seats on the basis of their allegedly committing “fraud and terrorism.”

The Supreme Court, according to Saulo, later decided that the expulsion of the senators and congressmen had nothing to do with fraud or terrorism, and had everything to do with their representing votes that would have derailed the passage of the Parity Amendment Act in Congress. Nevertheless, when President Roxas appealed for communists to cooperate with the government, three leading members of the PKP, Taruc, Mateo del Castillo and Juan Feleo, campaigned in Pampanga, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, respectively, for the peasantry to remain peaceful. The leaders were even provided with bodyguards from the armed forces.

On Aug. 24, 1946, while visiting Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, to inquire into the shelling of nearby barrios by the Army, Feleo was abducted by armed men in military fatigues and killed. By March 6, 1948, President Roxas had proclaimed the Hukbalahap and the PKM (a farmers’ union) outlaw organizations; President Quirino, on the other hand, tried offering amnesty on June 21, 1948; but by August that year, negotiations had broken down. By the presidential elections of 1949, the Huks had abandoned mainstream politics altogether.

But notice that the focus of government was on the armed component of the PKP, not the PKP itself. Outlawing the Communist Party itself would come after its armed component had basically been crushed in the field in 1954 (see my column, “Why revolts fail,” May 1, 2006, for the Huk leaders’ analysis of why their revolt was crushed). On June 20, 1957, President Carlos P. Garcia signed Republic Act 1700 or the Anti-Subversion Law. It proclaimed the PKP, the Hukbalahap and “any successors of such organizations” illegal.

That law remained in the statute books until the Ramos administration. By that time, the PKP and the Huks had fallen by the wayside; a newer offshoot, the Maoist Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP – this is the official name in English that sets it apart from its predecessor) and the New People’s Army (NPA, in contrast to the “old” army, the Huks) has proven more durable than its Stalinist predecessor. While at times it was the only organized opposition to martial law, it missed out on playing a central role in the 1986 snap election or the Edsa revolution; and for all the CPP-NPA’s avowals against American imperialism, it was the Philippine Senate that engineered the end of a century of American military bases in the country.

Ramos could thus feel confident that at no time since before World War II had radicalism seemed so pointless; not just in the Philippines but in a world still in awe of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.

Joel Rocamora, not a man beloved by present-day supporters of the CPP-NPA, wrote “Breaking Through: The Struggle Within the Communist Party of the Philippines,” at a time when dissent within radical circles was accompanied by an opening up of traditional politics to radical participation. In that book, Rocamora writes that “it was the CPP that gave birth to the NDF in 1973.”

Rocamora points out though: “But the NDF is not the CPP with a glossy cover. ‘Front’ does not mean facade. The NDF can only be understood within the context of the CPP’s attempt to deal with the complex problem of building a united front; it is the main arena from where the CPP goes outside of itself. The fact that the NDF founding congress was not held until 1990, 17 years after the first NDF program was released, is one measure of these difficulties.” This was his way of pointing out that it’s wrong to assume that aboveground parties and the radical underground associated with them are identical to each other.

At a time when the AFP chief of staff issues fire-breathing demands to revive the Anti-Subversion Law, we have to keep these nuances in mind. As he marks another birthday, Fidel Ramos should be speaking up to preserve the democratic space he helped expand, but which is now diminishing by the day.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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