MANY Central Luzon families, my family included, had gone Left at some point in their ordinary, humdrum lives. In a sense, that was a historical imperative. Agrarian unrest was the original driving force of the Movement, not labor and trade union issues, and the indentured, landless tenants of the Central Plains formed the core of the original mass base.
One of the brothers of my maternal grandmother was an early disciple of Pedro Abad Santos, a brave foot soldier who would follow the ascetic, selfless Perico (Abad Santos) into the ends of the earth. In the early attacks of the Sosyalistas on the haciendas of Lubao, Pampanga, the brother of my grandmother, an unlettered peasant, was always at the lead.
They staged the first organized agrarian strike in the country, the assault of the raging farmers (with red bands wrapped around their heads) on Hacienda del Prado, in Barrio Prado Siongco, in the 30s.
Both my father and mother joined the Huks in their teenage years right after the Japanese Occupation. They were part of the famed unit that retook the Pampanga Sugar Mill from the Japanese forces, one of the bloodiest encounters in Central Luzon that happened right before the formal surrender. Their reward for their years of wanting to die for the country was a brief internment after the Japanese left—they were held in custody by the same people who mostly avoided the Japanese Kempetai during the Occupation period.
Like many of the kids in school during the First Quarter Storm, I was drawn into the Movement, a foot soldier, just like my parents’ role with the Huks and my next of kin’s role in the Sosyalistas of Abad Santos.
We all left the Left—but not entirely. The dream of an egalitarian society, more equal than unequal, more inclusive than exclusionary—and accommodating of meritocracy—is still the dream of our lives. In our hearts, we want the Left to succeed as a mainstream political party. That would either assume political power or find political leverage within the open and democratic space. We just don’t like the Left of bloody purges and internecine internal strife.
In his first SONA, Mr. Duterte offered just that—a space that will allow the Left to go mainstream seamlessly with full backing from the President. We want, he said, “the peace of the living.”
He made his SONA the forum for his announcement of a unilateral ceasefire to be followed by intense negotiations to write down the terms for a permanent peace.
Two major actions taken by Mr. Duterte before his SONA announcement on the unilateral ceasefire have eased all doubts that the President was just mouthing hollow words in the name of lasting peace.
The appointment of mainstream leftists allied with the Reaffirm Group to Cabinet posts was the second. The naming of peace-process veteran Jesus Dureza to head the peace process group, even before most members of the official Cabinet were named, was the first.
With the DAR, DSWD, NAPC, etc. under the leadership of the Reaffirm-affiliated Left, the hardcore Left cannot complain that they have been left out of the policy-determination process. The structure of policymaking in the Philippine context allows members of the Cabinet, not only Congress, to either write of propose policies. That is it: Cabinet members, ideally tasked with implementation in other democracies, can shape the direction of policies here.
Leaders of the executive branch of government—this is the reality—can use executive actions forcefully to intrude into areas that are, theoretically, the exclusive turf of the legislature. Mr. Duterte’s act of signing an FOI using executive action was not viewed as an anomaly here.
Mrs. Aquino, to her credit, was the first President to give the Left the democratic space. But the resistance from the right-wing forces—who then held much sway over the policies of the country—aborted the effort. This time it is different. The mood for reconciliation is stronger. And right now, Mr. Duterte has the moral and political authority to sway the military that this time, is, indeed, the time to give peace to the living.
Will the Left inhabit the space offered by Mr. Dtuerte without much condition? It should, for many reasons.
We do not hear much from the Shining Path guerrillas and the Tamil insurrection and the other communist insurrections across the globe because of one reality. They have been rendered passé and obsolete by many factors: irrelevance, peace accords with the host governments, the laying down of arms for the shift to a parliamentary struggle.
The Philippines is unique in the sense that our communist insurgency is for real and still a force to reckon with. It has multiple active fronts, active fundraising and an aboveground organization with representatives in the parliament. With the deep-rooted poverty in the country and elite control of the economy, the intractable, age-old problems that have been the main recruiting spiels of the Left are still aching problems of Philippine society.
But the Left would even be more powerful if it goes mainstream. It carries, at least theoretically, the causes of the weak, the persecuted, the meek and those cast outside by the brutal market forces.
Mr. Duterte knows all of these, and his efforts to attain the elusive lasting peace have been based on real accommodations and concessions, not cheap rhetoric.
The Left should reciprocate and grab the space. For our people to truly attain “the peace of the living.”