Not people’s power

A correspondent in The Philippines analyses the situation there three years after the coming to power of President Corazon Aquino.


A demonstration organized by the trade union organization KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, or First of May Movement) took place in Manila on March 30. Only a few hundred people turned up and so the march to Malacanang Palace, where President Aquino lives, was cancelled. Instead a rally was held in front of the Senate Building which was the assembly point and, later, at the offices of DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) located nearby.


There were a few reporters present but no account of the demonstration was published in the next day’s papers. If the demonstration had been violent maybe it would have been reported, but there was no violence at all. Nor were there any police around except for two soldiers at the entrance to the Senate Building. The demonstrators were trade unionists who had been shot at and whose fellow workers had been hurt or killed on picket lines. This should make those who believe that people are violent by nature think again.


Most of the demonstrators were workers from M.Greenfield Inc and Golden Taxicab Co in Manila. They were protesting against violence inflicted on trade unionists all over the country. They were also protesting against Senator Herrera’s Bill. This Bill retains the anti-labor laws of the Marcos dictatorship. but also adds new ones. Strikes against “the national interest” are to be forbidden. Picketed workplaces will be allowed to operate. Illegal strikers can be imprisoned for up to three years. Senator Herrera is the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP). The TUCP is a right-wing trade union organization set up during the Marcos dictatorship. It competes with the left- wing KMU for trade union recruits.


It is ironic that the KMU is attacking the “US-backed Aquino government” now because the KMU was one of several left-wing organizations that supported the Aquino coup against the Marcos dictatorship in February 1986. Since then the government has governed.


In November 1986 the KMU chairman Rolando Olalia was murdered. In January 1987, 19 people demonstrating for land reform were shot dead at Mendiola Bridge on the way to the presidential palace. Six of them were KMU members. In September 1987, the Secretary-General of the leftist umbrella group BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan. or New Patriotic Federation), Lean Alejandro, was ambushed and killed. In 1988 President Aquino created the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU). which are armed civilian reservists recruited to fight New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas and sympathisers. They are popularly known as local vigilante death squads. The NPA is the armed wing of the illegal Communist Party of the Philippines which is fighting to establish a state-capitalist regime in this country. Most of the cause-oriented groups, left-wing political parties, and trade unions affiliated to the KMU are labelled as “Communist infiltrated” by the military.


Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP). a church-based torture documentation group, claims that at least 12,120 persons have been victims of military action from March 1986 (Aquino’s first month in power) to June 1988. Of these, 507 were “salvaged” (private political killings by right-wing soldiers, police or civilians). 149 kidnapped, 137 massacred, and 11,327 arrested and detained without trial. All of the organizations mentioned above which now are strong opponents of the Aquino government were strong supporters of Aquino during the February 1986 coup. Chrispin Beltran, the new KMU Chairman, was quoted as saying; “We say this is an undeclared state of martial law with a liberal facade”.


It is not surprising that most people ignored the call to demonstrate on March 30. The experience of the last three years has made most people disillusioned and apathetic. Exploitation cannot be removed by changing a leader. Exploitation will end when we stop giving power to leaders and instead use our power for ourselves. Let us create a world-wide society where the production and distribution of the things we want are democratically controlled by us all. Let us not be well governed. Let us govern ourselves well.