Red scare, Reds care (o kung bakit takot/galit ka sa Pula)

Demonstrators are blocked by anti-riot police in front of the US embassy during a protest against US military intervention in South China Sea disputes. Photograph by Francis R. Malasig/EPA.

No other political beliefs in the Philippines are as controversial – and misunderstood – as national democracy, socialism, and communism. And despite the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law, serious problems remain in how the government and the rest of society view, treat, and respect their adherents.

Big and historic events have happened in the 35 years from the law’s enactment in 1957 to its repeal in 1992: the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1950’s, Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, and Corazon Aquino’s total war.

That’s 35 long years, a long time for the entire government, legislature, the courts, the police and military, schools, and media to demonize both the beliefs and believers of national democracy, socialism, and communism.

The law’s effects are too potent that, up to now, Filipinos are made to feel and understand that nothing has changed since 1992 when it was repealed. Many still believe or declare that national democrats, socialists, and communists have no place in society and politics. Whenever armed communist rebels or activists are arrested, the police still continue to recklessly claim (and the media dutifully report) the arrest of “subversives” and the seizure of “subversive documents.” Only the Reds are made to take a loyalty check to the system before they are allowed to speak. And in many unresolved cases, the barbaric idea “better dead than Red” have been made to come true for many Filipinos tagged as Reds.

The military continues to insist, with obvious malice, that Bayan and Makabayan are mere “front organizations” of the CPP. The malice is apparently intended to link these unarmed civilian activists of Bayan and parliamentarians of Makabayan to the CPP – totally oblivious to the facts like: (1) they have no proof; and (2) even if they manage to find actual proof, it won’t matter because the CPP is no longer outlawed and mere membership in the CPP is no longer a crime. Red political papers, flyers and documents are also just that — Red papers. Not “subversive documents” whose mere possession might have been a crime before.

It is important to note here that the law’s repeal once helped propel the formal peace negotiations between the Manila government and the National Democratic Front. The talks which started in 1992 have already produced at least 11 bilateral agreements. The most important of which are: (1) The Hague Joint Declaration, which serves as the framework agreement on the basis, nature, conduct, and objective of the talks; (b) the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG); and (c) the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. The latter is a historic document, and meant that both parties have hurdled the first of the four items in the talk’s substantive agenda.

There is U.S. neocolonial influence and the surrender of revisionist  regimes. More than that, the Philippines used to have a law that outrightly criminalized communism. That law's pernicious and sometimes deadly effects still haunt us now.
There is U.S. neocolonial influence and the surrender of revisionist regimes. Aside than that, the Philippines used to have a law that outrightly criminalized communism. That law’s pernicious and sometimes deadly effects still haunt us now.

35 years of legalized anti-communism is not easy to cast aside, obviously. Thus, we continue to encounter problems.

First, the government has practically suspended the formal talks since the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. BS Aquino has, for most of his term of office, opted to unleash war on the CPP-NPA-NDF. Aquino’s Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process meanwhile hopes to tear down all the previous gains (the 11 agreements!) of the talks. The newly-appointed military chief has vowed to crush the communist movement into submission – the exact same thing promised by all past military chiefs since Fabian Ver but failed to achieve and deliver.

Second, the “legal offensive” against the CPP-NPA-NDF continues. After unilaterally suspending the talks and ignoring agreements such as the JASIG, the government continues to arrest and charge its principal leaders and consultants with common crimes like multiple murder, kidnapping and arson.  It seems the thinking goes something like this: Better to make these communists face trumped-up criminal cases, than to charge them with rebellion. That way, they’d be demonized before the public, and made to languish in jail over the non-bailable offenses.

Third, the government has shown no qualms in including legal, aboveground, and unarmed activists as targets in both counter-insurgency operations and in the “legal offensive.”

The latter explains why these incidents happen: the closure of the Lumad schools in southern Mindanao; the harassment of the likes of Antonieta Setias Dizon of COURAGE; the arrest and detention of Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano also of COURAGE; the inclusion of many personalities of Bayan and Makabayan in cases involving the CPP-NPA-NDF; the harassment against typhoon Yolanda survivors’ alliance People’s Surge; and many other incidents ranging from red-tagging to extrajudicial killings of activists.

The lingering effects of anti-communism deny ourselves the full participation of many fellow citizens who just happen to be politically different. The frequent libel against activists is totally uncalled for, especially in a society that supposedly bewails public apathy in public affairs. The slander against dissenters are in fact a result and rehash of decades of anti-communist indoctrination, misinformation, and propaganda.

It is time to ask ourselves why these Reds still gather support and attract believers. Martial law and relentless counterinsurgency operations have been unleashed against them. The government has signed 11 agreements with them to coax them to surrender. Countless charges have been filed, and hundreds have been put to jail. Not a few have been coopted.

Meanwhile, the revolution moves forward. National democrats, socialists, and communists remain engaged and grow in number. Fallen Red fighters like Kumander Parago are lionized by the public as their champions. Bayan still leads mass demonstrations and joins alliances on the biggest national issues. Makabayan party-lists are perennial election winners and among the most outspoken fiscalizers inside and outside Congress.

There must be something in the Reds’ beliefs and agenda that is so compelling, so timeless, so refreshing to the people who defy the tremendous odds, libel, and slander just to be part of them and to support them.

But wouldn’t know unless we defy the Red-tagging that has been wired into our heads – and seriously ask, listen, and understand.

The song Tatsulok, originally by Buklod and popularized by Bamboo, gives a musical clue:

Hindi pula’t dilaw tunay na magkalaban
Ang kulay at tatak ay di syang dahilan
Hangga’t marami ang lugmok sa kahirapan
At ang hustisya ay para lang sa mayaman
Habang may tatsulok at sila ang nasa tuktok
Di matatapos itong gulo

(This post was first published with the title ‘Reds care’ in the Manila Bulletin, 21 July 2015 issue. Slightly edited here for clarity.)