THE Times requires its op-ed pieces to be submitted two days before publication. So, I typed and e-mailed this piece Monday morning, with the meat and beef of the SONA – and the accompanying fashion spectacle – still to be completely processed. But to the observant eye, there was one ominous thing about the SONA preparation – the sea of red banners that were aflutter along the Elliptical Road in Quezon City.
Elliptical Road has been the favorite staging point for protest marches to the Batasan Pambansa during the SONA season. A token march from the Left, like the one it staged during DU30’s first SONA a year ago, guarantees a timid, ho-hum protest. This year? Not so. Judging from the frenzy of the preparations, judging from the number of the participating groups (from the KMU to the Kadamay), and from the vow of the above-ground Left to defy DU30 to the utmost, what we see is a Left that is ready to assume the role of DU30 opposition.
In the public sphere, that has been the Left’s traditional role, providing the fearless warm bodies for political protests. And leading the charge against whoever is in power with gusto and abandon, unlike the calibrated protests of mainstream oppositionists. The role as the ultimate protester has been on a one-year hold, given the détente between DU30 and the leadership of the Left. Recent developments, however, the string of bloody clashes between the Left’s underground army and the AFP/PNP in particular, have threatened to tear the uneasy peace apart.
A year ago, in his SONA, Mr. Duterte promised a “peace for the living“ with a peace pact with the Left and the Muslim secessionist groups in mind. His accommodation of the Left is unprecedented in recent history. Through a series of tactical moves—naming Leftists to his official family, convening a serious peace panel that promptly opened up peace talks with the leaders of the Left, and supporting that peace process wholeheartedly—his strategic goal was to make history by going the way of Colombia in dealing with the FARC.
As mayor of Davao City, Duterte dealt with the Left. He left the Left alone and the Left left him alone to pursue his Davao agenda. But that was a smaller, more manageable setting.
Now, all of these grand initiatives on a national scale are in jeopardy.
Question: Can DU30 afford a break with the Left, the one sector that he wants on his side and did a lot of political accommodation to win it?
The Left is often dismissed as a “sunset group” but the application of that is limited. As a rebel group with an agenda of seizing state power to put in place a government of central planning guided by Marx, Lenin and Mao, that is deemed as next to impossible. Its chosen road to state power, that of encircling the seat of power from the countryside and peasant hordes overwhelming the reactionary forces of the state, is now a failed approach. As far back as the 1970s, a group of heretics led by the late Popoy Lagman wanted to change strategy from the Maoist version to the Nicaraguan model.
The heretics have been crushed and the Left remains enamored of Mao and his Long March.
While the Left has a very narrow path to seizing state power, it remains the most potent enemy of the established order. It is the only group with an above-ground force, an army of ideologues that can argue from the mainstream, a cadre of Marxist intellectuals that can speak from a perch of high moral ascendancy. There is nothing more morally right than preaching from a perch of liberating the poor, the huddled masses.
The Left is spread out and almost omnipresent. It has leaders and advocates from the academe, the small businesses, organized labor, the peasantry, the Church and almost every institution that matters.
There are uninvolved people who nonetheless believe in the rightness of economic parity, social justice and egalitarian causes, which makes them sympathetic – and closer to the left-wing beliefs – than any other belief system, including the flawed liberal democracy. I know of many good and decent people under this category.
And when the Left opposes a particular government, it is with fire in the belly and the rage is not dictated by focus groups and survey results. The mainstream oppositionists would not oppose a President as popular as Mr. Duterte. The Left will fight and fight to the death the most popular President on the planet.
Mr. Duterte knows this. Deep in his heart, he does not want an enemy as relentless and as committed as the Left.
What the strategists of Mr. Duterte fear most is a tactical coalition between the Left and the mainstream groups. Once this happens, the opposition to Mr. Duterte will not be of the timid, calibrated kind. But the type and kind of protests that embody the fury of the Left – go for broke and without heed of the consequences.
At this point, the last thing Mr. Duterte needs is the Left protesting on the streets with fury in the eyes and fire in the belly.