Grassroots & Governance

When I was a student, I heard an Englishwoman make a statement at a forum that I remember to this day. She said, “If you do not have leftist leanings before the age of 25, you have no heart; but if you still have leftist leanings after the age of 25, you have no head.” Why then does the chairman of our National Youth Commission demand that government scholars who become leftist activists be deprived of their scholarships? And why should uniformed officers go after students and teachers who espouse “leftist” ideologies, however they may define this?
We are supposed to be a constitutional democracy in which citizens enjoy freedom of beliefs and of speech. There is, of course, a red line. And that is, when they commit crimes that are demonstrably against the laws of the country.
I consider myself a left of center-liberal democrat. My response to some associates in the anti-Marcos Parliament of the Streets who saw me as a “leftist” was to say “you are so far right that you see me as a radical leftist.” Being a liberal democrat to me means respecting the right of citizens to freedom of thought and of speech, within the limits of the law.
During one overnight chat (often debate, really) at my house which he occasionally used as a safe house when he was still in hiding, my former boss and old friend Horacio “Boy” Morales said to me, “When you no longer have the support of the people, that means your politics is wrong.” At that time, Boy Morales was Chairman of the National Democratic Front, a post now occupied by Chief Peace Negotiator Fidel Agcaoili.
What is a leftist? I have just a general idea of what it is. I see leftists as those who think government policies should favor the underprivileged versus the privileged, as a matter of social justice. In a country like ours, where just a few families control the majority of the wealth of the country, where almost half of the families are living below the poverty line, and about a third suffer involuntary hunger, what can possibly be wrong with that? The status quo is certainly in need of radical change. Although we may be better off than we were in the 1970s, we are a long way from a socially-just economy. The fact is, the few rich are getting richer and richer. And the benefits of the free market economy are not trickling down, as free market economists theorize, to the majority. I do not believe that the free market, which I basically prefer to government control, should be unbridled.
Leftist activism, such as marching in the streets, and mouthing “leftist” slogans, making public statements against government policies and the status quo are functional because they help keep the politicians from being too nice to the economic powers who fund their campaigns.
The party-list system, which has been abused and needs to be reformed, has been functional nonetheless because “leftist” noises from Bayan Muna, Gabriela, ACT, and other “left-leaning” activist groups have tempered the tendency of corrupt politicians from moving too far to the right (or favoring the status quo concentration of economic and political power).
Thanks, it seems to me, to the “leftists,” we have more and more pro-people legislation that helps overcome the unjust social and economic structures that keep the underprivileged from bettering their and their children’s lot. We now have laws favoring universal health care, free college tuition in addition to free public and elementary and high school education. We also have cash assistance to families living below the poverty line in order to help them send their children all the way to high school, and to help ensure the health of mothers and babies. Of course, there is much work to do to improve the execution of these laws, but the laws are a good start.
Going back to the statement I cited earlier by Boy Morales, that when you no longer have the support of the people, your politics is wrong, it seems to me this is food for thought to radical communists like Jose Maria Sison and his fellow pensionado exiles in the Netherlands. I cannot believe the statement of former Jesuit Luis Jalandoni that “revolutionally taxes” (such as those extorted from mining firms and politicians who want to campaign in areas under NPA control) are “legitimate.” The NPA has clearly lost the support of the people and now resort to extortion under the gun in order to fund their activities.
The EDSA Revolution did usher in some innovations, such as the party-list system — with its shortcomings — which allows for Parliamentary Struggle, in lieu of Armed Struggle, which seems to me to be destructive of lives and properties, and no longer functional.
An election is coming up. Our choice of senators will make a big difference in national policies that hopefully will enable more and more pro-people legislation. We have “leftists” like Gary Alejano and Neri Colmenares who, I am sure, will make a social justice difference if elected. We also have “left of center” politicians like Bam Aquino, Chel Diokno, and Erin Tañada. Also brilliant men like Florin Hilbay, and competent leaders like Mar Roxas and Samira Gutoc who will certainly be assets to the incoming Senate.
Certainly, these candidates make more sense than non-performing senator Lito Lapid, comedian Bato de la Rosa, “utang na loob” presidential endorsees such as Freddie Aguilar, Bong Go, and Imee Marcos, and movie stars such as Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada.
The business community which has, to be fair, been contributing more and more to social justice through their social responsibility programs, should certainly consider how they can help bring about a more just society by helping ensure the election of responsible and competent candidates to the Senate.
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.