MANY have questioned, and many more are puzzled, about the incoming President Rodrigo Duterte’s unprecedented initiative in appointing persons with a strong allegiance to the Communist Party, to head certain government departments. Such reaction is understandable as it is rooted in genuine concern for the welfare of the Philippine state. The Communist Party of the Philippines has long been considered an enemy of the state because its ultimate goal is to undermine democracy and establish a one-party state. With such objectives, the party and its armed wing the New People’s Army have inflicted much pain on the nation and the people over the years.
At the same time, Duterte’s critics and those who are puzzled by his announced move seem to be unaware that his choice is not entirely unique. We need only to look beyond the borders of this country to know that he is trying to pursue a strategy that was tested and proven successful elsewhere, without embracing communism as the guiding philosophy.
When India became free from British colonialism and an independent democratic nation a year after the Philippines emerged as an independent republic, it was facing a situation similar to what the Philippines has long faced—communists trying to take control of the state through armed rebellion. In the final phase of India’s freedom struggle, rebellion under various pretexts began taking place in different locations and the communists started exploiting the opportunity to grab control of certain corners, if not the whole country.
They promised the people a socialist utopia if they were put in power. They created lyrics praising the victory of the armed rebellion that the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Stalin, launched against Russia’s Tzar and the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Zedong waged against the Kuomintang. Drawing inspiration from them, Indian Red volunteers psyched by their masters armed themselves in Oct. 1946 with sickle, machete, spears and other weapons and went to fight the police, particularly in two locations—Punnapra and Vayalar—in the princely state of Travancore, which is now the southern part of Kerala state.
The insurgency caused deaths and mayhem, and a local communist leader, Varghese Vaidyar, described it as a trial run for a larger revolution for creating a communist India.
In reality, however, Vaidyar had miscalculated. The state authorities banned the communist party and drove its leaders and operatives underground. In India’s first general elections in 1952, communists watched from their underground lairs as more than 67 percent of the voters in newly formed Travancore-Cochin state filed to polling booths to cast their votes. Some 35.44 percent of them voted for the Congress Party of the national bourgeoisie while only some 20 percent supported left-leaning socialist parties of various stripes.
That seems to have made the communists to do some soul-searching while the authorities realized that keeping the plotters of armed revolution underground only created a stalemate from which no good result was likely to emerge. So a deal was struck: the state would lift the ban and withdraw all warrants against communists, provided they all renounced armed struggle and joined the mainstream democratic process. The communists took it.
Then, India reorganized as a union of language-based states, Travancore-Cochin expanded as Kerala state, absorbing the Malayalam-speaking areas of the neighboring state. In the second general elections that followed in 1957, communists contesting seats in the Kerala state legislature as an equal player with other political parties won a majority. They established the world’s first democratically elected communist government.
That gave communists control of the Kerala state budget, the police force, and all other state apparatuses. However, they were not able to siphon off state revenue to fund party operations—as some fear the Filipino communists whom Duterte would appoint to head government departments could do—or turn the police force into Red guards or a legal Communist guerrilla force.
At the 1957 international meeting of communist parties in Moscow, the Chinese criticized their Indian comrades for participating in the election process of the national bourgeoisie and forming a government in Kerala. For the Chinese, their Indian comrades had incorrectly made peace with the class enemy and abandoned the revolution. However, the Indian communists, even after they split into pro-Moscow and pro-Beijing factions, continued to participate in elections and, four decades later, also won and formed a communist government in the state of West Bengal. Today, communists go in and out of power in different parts of India as well over 500 million voters cast their ballots every five years with electronic voting machines developed in the country and without any complaint of malfunction or cheating.
Of course, the China-backed Maoist rebels in arms are active in the northeastern parts of the country bordering China, as the NPA is in the Philippines. Nevertheless, India remains a thriving democracy, though thinkers like John Kenneth Galbraith once called it a functioning anarchy.
Duterte seems to be seeking a scenario similar to that developed in India to end a futile war that began decades ago and is still continuing, draining the national budget, with no end in sight. If he succeeds on this front, it would mean a great deal to the people at large as it could bring peace to the countryside—which is essential to economic growth.
P. Viswa Nathan, a noted Hong Kong-based journalist, is now Consultant and Roving Editor at The Manila Times.