Meet the Filipino Socialists Challenging Rodrigo Duterte’s Right-Wing Rule

Renowned Filipino scholar-activist Walden Bello is running for vice president this year on a left-wing ticket. Writing for Jacobin, Bello describes the transformative impact an openly socialist campaign can have on the Philippines.

Socialist vice-presidential candidate Walden Bello (second from left) with his running mate, Leody de Guzman (second from right), at an International Women’s Day Rally on March 8, 2022. (Partido Lakas ng Masa / GMA News Online via Twitter)

Six years ago, I made the only recorded resignation on a question of principle in the history of the Philippine Congress, because of irreconcilable differences with the Benigno Aquino III administration supported by the party to which I then belonged, Akbayan. I resigned in protest at the administration’s toleration of corruption in its ranks despite a promise to combat it, the refusal of President Aquino to take responsibility for the loss of lives in the Mamasapano tragedy, and his entering into a new military agreement with the United States.

In 2016, I placed a run for the Senate far behind the overwhelming priority of attending 24-7 to a wife who was dying from cancer. Although I was focused on trying, without success, to keep a beloved partner alive and retreating into academic life, I did not disengage politically in the next few years. I felt, however, that my time could best be spent as a civil society activist pushing government to adopt positive policies from outside the electoral arena.

Even before Rodrigo Duterte came to power, I told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that he would be “another [Ferdinand] Marcos.” In 2017, I helped bring together a coalition of organizations and individuals, Laban ng Masa, that would offer a truly progressive, socialist-oriented alternative to the current political system. Over the last five years, I have published extensively locally and globally, analyzing and documenting the atrocities perpetrated by the Duterte administration and its transgressions of democracy.

I became an active participant in the Free Leila de Lima movement to bring justice to one of the most vilified victims of Duterte’s machinery of lies. Owing to these activities, Duterte’s Philippine News Agency branded me “one of the administration’s staunchest critics.” Meant to discredit me, I wear these words as a badge of honor.

The Duterte-Marcos Axis

As the 2022 elections neared, I was urged to run for president. I declined, however, owing to my desire to spend my remaining years in academic work and my conviction that the role could be better filled by someone much younger and more vigorous. My hopes were fulfilled when the distinguished labor leader Leody de Guzman acceded to popular pressure to run, with the enthusiastic endorsement of Laban ng Masa, organized labor, and other groups.

In the third week of September 2021, I left the country to fulfill my yearly commitment to teach for two months at one of the United States’ most progressive universities, the State University of New York at Binghamton. While teaching there, I watched with increasing alarm as Bongbong Marcos, son of the late dictator, filed his candidacy for president and Duterte’s close ally Bong Go filed his own for the vice-presidential contest.

Since Bong Go is Duterte’s ever-loyal slave, the dark design has become clearer: the Marcos clan have joined their relentless ambition to reconquer the country to Duterte’s own determination to protect his dynasty and escape punishment for taking the lives of over 20,000 Filipinos. Go eventually withdrew his candidacy, and Duterte’s own daughter, Sara Duterte, decided to run for the vice presidency, on the same ticket as Marcos. These developments have convinced me that the country is facing its most perilous moment of the last thirty-six years: the possible return of a Marcos autocracy backed by the entrenched power of Duterte in the police, military, and bureaucracy.

It is to prevent the electoral triumph of this axis of evil that I have accepted the draft to run as Leody de Guzman’s vice president under the banner of both Laban ng Masa and Partido Lakas ng Masa. When the country is in peril, one cannot confine oneself to teaching, writing books, or enjoying meals with a 20 percent seniors’ discount.

The current candidates for president have neither the capability nor the will to defeat this axis of evil. Manny Pacquiao, Panfilo Lacson, and Isko Moreno are too tied up with their previous alliances and friendships with Duterte to have the moral authority or credibility to assume this task. They know only the politics of compromise, not the politics of resistance.

Leni Robredo’s personal integrity is above question, and she is truly opposed to Marcos and Duterte. However, her slate of Senate candidates is stuffed full of self-seeking opportunists. This shows that she still has to break free of her cordon sanitaire of advisers, who are enmeshed in the old and discredited brand of transactional reform politics to which people have given the disdainful term dilawan.

A Program for Transformation

My alliance with Leody is not simply anchored in opposing the Marcos-Duterte axis of evil by appealing to the need to preserve democracy. For people will give up on democracy and support its enemies like Marcos and Duterte, if what they face in their daily life is a most undemocratic and powerless existence, in a society where the top 1 percent controls most of the country’s land and resources, where poverty engulfs over 30 percent of the people, where most farmers do not own the land they till, where the powerful and rich can get away with anything while the poor and powerless are left with nothing.

Our people yearn to live with dignity, but the daily blows of poverty and the arrogance of the rich and powerful few deprive them of even that. Who can blame those who fall victim to the revisionist history that maliciously transforms the collective nightmare of the Marcos years into a supposed “Golden Age”?

The Laban ng Masa ticket offers the only well-thought-out and comprehensive program of social transformation put forward by any of the candidates. No one knows what Moreno, Pacquiao, or Marcos have to offer, except everything under the sun. In contrast, should Leody and I win the elections, we will immediately move to:

  • dismiss all personnel of the incompetent and corrupt Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and appoint genuine and upright medical professionals to win the battle against COVID-19;
  • institute judicial proceedings against Rodrigo Duterte for crimes against humanity and fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation of him;
  • revitalize government efforts to regain the stolen wealth of the Marcos clan and initiate prosecution of Bongbong Marcos and other Marcos family members for their role in concealing that wealth;
  • tax the rich to up to 3 percent of their wealth and channel the proceeds into a program of investment and income redistribution to create a dynamic economy;
  • institute smart economic planning and end the neoliberal policies that have destroyed our agriculture and industry, repudiating our ill-advised commitments to the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank;
  • eliminate the illegitimate debt foisted on us by oppressive foreign debtors and end the massive debt overhang that prevents needed expenditures on health, education, and social welfare;
  • massively expand the now-stalled agrarian reform program to redistribute all land to our farmers;
  • end contractualization, the spread of short-term employment contracts that deny workers their rights, straight away;
  • eliminate all laws that restrict the enjoyment of equal rights by women, the LGBTQ community, and indigenous peoples and wage a campaign to do away with the prejudices and customs that reproduce discriminatory beliefs and practices;
  • initiate emergency measures to address the climate and environmental crises.

We will, in addition, reduce our diplomatic relations to China to a minimum if Beijing does not end its violations of Philippine sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea and its oppression of our fisherfolk. Minutes after assuming office, we will notify Washington that we are ending the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Completing the Freedom Struggle

Pacquiao, Moreno, Marcos, and Lacson will promise voters the moon and the sky and everything nice. Leody and I, in contrast, offer a tough program of real reform that cannot succeed unless most of our people rally behind it to defy the rich and the powerful that stand to lose by it. What we are saying is that if we are elected, the only way the rich and powerful can stop us from implementing our program is by killing us.

We are not preaching class war. But we are warning the rich and the powerful, “You can no longer continue oppressing our people.” We are telling them, “You cannot rule in the same old way. If you do not get out of the way, the people will take you out of the way.”

Leody and I are running not only to prevent a return to a sordid past that would be brought about by the triumph of the Marcos-Duterte axis of evil. We are running as well for a future where our people will be truly free of poverty and inequality and united by solidarity instead of being divided into the powerful and the powerless.

Some people call what we are fighting for socialism. Some say it is social democracy. Call it what you will — but make no mistake: we are fighting for a fundamental transformation of our society, to finally end the chains of bondage, oppression, and shame that the rich and the powerful have placed on 90 percent of our people.

We are, in short, engaged in an electoral insurgency to complete the national revolution that anti-colonial martyrs like Gabriela Silang, José Rizal, Andrés Bonifacio, and Apolinario Mabini began and died for, leaving the task for this generation to finish.