When friends become enemies

By: Artchil B. Fernandez

Last week, 57 people were arrested in simultaneous raids conducted by police and soldiers on the offices of progressive organizations in Bacolod City and Escalante City in Negros Occidental. Raided were the offices of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), Anakpawis, women’s group Gabriela and National Federation of Sugarcane Workers (NFSW).

Five days later three people were also arrested when police raided Bayan office in Tondo, Manila. Arrested were Bayan Muna Manila campaign director Ram Bautista, Manila Workers Unity secretariat member Alma Moran, and Kadamay Manila coordinator Reina Nacino.

In the Negros raid, the Regional Task Force Ending Local Communist Armed Conflict 6 (RTF-ELCAC 6) which conducted the arrests insists those nabbed are “high-value individuals” and others are “undergoing combat-related training and indoctrination.” Task Force claimed they are members of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA). Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Colonel Bernard Banac said “The series of arrests of activist leaders and members shows the rule of law and criminal justice system at work.”

Progressive groups, on the other hand, cried harassment and crackdown.  “We believe that it is a possible prelude to an intensified crackdown — not only on the island but to the whole country — to eliminate activists, progressives and critics of the Duterte Regime,” Clarizza Singson, secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan in Negros said. Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate and Bayan Muna chairperson Neri Colmenares condemned the continuous harassment against progressive groups calling it creeping martial rule. “This type of blitzkrieg bombardment of attacks bodes ill for civil liberties and rights fought hard for by the Filipino people against dictatorship,” Colmenares said.

The basis of the current crackdown on progressive groups is Executive Order No. 70 signed by Du30 on December 4, 2018.  It created a national task-force tasked to work out a mechanism to end communist insurgency and institutionalized the “whole-nation-approach” to attain inclusive and sustainable peace.  “There is a need to create a national task force that will provide an efficient mechanism and structure for the implementation of the whole-of-nation approach to aid in the realization of the collective aspiration of the Filipino people to attain inclusive and sustainable peace,” the order read.

Du30 coming down very hard on progressive groups today is unthinkable when he assumed the presidency. At that time these progressive groups aligned with the national democratic Left and Du30 were friends and allies.  These groups supported his candidacy and campaigned for him. Du30 in return declared he is the first “socialist” president of the country upon winning the election.

The alliance between Du30 and the national democratic Left had a long history going back to his quarter-a-century rule as Davao City mayor. His friendship with these groups is well-known and Du30 always appears sympathetic to their cause. It came as no surprise they went to his side when he declared his candidacy for the highest post.

When he became president, Du30 offered cabinet posts to the national democratic Left appointing University of the Philippines professor Judy Taguiwalo and former Anakpawis party list representative Rafael Mariano as DSWD and DAR secretaries respectively. Other members of these groups who joined the Du30 administration were Labor Undersecretary Joel Maglunsod, National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Liza Maza, and Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor Chairman Terry Ridon.

A little over a year in office, the two cabinet officials identified with the national democratic Left left Du30’s administration when the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected their appointment despite his absolute control of Congress. Eventually, the remaining members of the group were given their walking papers. The two sweet friends ultimately became bitter enemies.

In the absence of concrete facts, it is hard at this point to unravel why or how the relationship between erstwhile friends soured and now turned deadly. It is up to future scholars to untangle the circumstances that caused the rift that led to the estrangement of Du30 and the national democratic Left. Tons of papers will be wasted, liters of ink will be spilled and numerous theses and dissertations will be written why, how or what ruptured their romance.  For now, only questions can be raised.

On the part of Du30: Was he really “progressive” or truly sympathetic to the national democratic Left when he was Davao City mayor? Was his sentiment toward them genuine or was he simply feigning affection for politics’ sake (win votes)? Did he extend to them a fake friendship to keep them under control and not create trouble for his leadership at the same time using the friendship to project and cultivate a “progressive” image? Now that they are of no use to him, having occupied the highest office, Du30 is showing his true color?  Or Du30 is simply a hostage of the military whose support he badly needs hence catering to their whims and sacrificing his former friends?

On the part of the national democratic Left: Did they miscalculate when they made an alliance with Du30 and wrongly assumed they can control his administration or influence its agenda and direction?  Given the traditional left view that the State is the organ of the ruling class, were the national democratic Left naïve when they thought joining the Du30 administration will give them leverage against the elite by causing a break within the State or even use it against the ruling bloc? Did they create the Frankenstein monster now decimating them and ravaging the nation?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, what is going on is instructive in understanding what happens when friends become enemies. Things turn ugly and deadly.