Imperialist War Against Terrorism & Revolution in the Philippines
E. San Juan, Jr.
When U.S. occupation troops in Iraq continued to suffer casualties every day after the war officially ended, academics and journalists began in haste to supply capsule histories comparing their situation with those of troops in the Philippines during the Filipino-American War (1899-1902). A New York Times essay summed up the lesson in its title, “In 1901 Philippines, Peace Cost More Lives Than Were Lost in War” (2 July 2003, B1)), while an article in the Los Angeles Times contrasted the simplicity of McKinley’s “easy” goal of annexation (though at the cost of 4,234 U.S. soldiers killed and 3,000 wounded) with George W. Bush’s ambition to “create a new working democracy as soon as possible” (20 July 2003, M2).
Reviewing the past is instructive, of course, but we should always place it in the context of present circumstances in the Philippines and in the international arena. What is the real connection between the Philippines and the current U.S. war against terrorism?
With the death of Martin Burnham, the hostage held by Muslim kidnappers called the “Abu Sayyaf” in Mindanao, the southern island of the Philippines, one would expect more than 1,200 American troops (including FBI and CIA personnel) training Filipinos for that rescue mission to be heading for home in late 2002. Instead of being recalled, reinforcements have been brought in and more joint military exercises announced in the future. Since September 11, 2001, U.S. media and Filipino government organs have dilated on the Abu Sayyaf’s tenuous links with Osama bin Laden. A criminal gang that uses Islamic slogans to hide its kidnapping-for-ransom activities, the Abu Sayyaf is a splinter group born out of the U.S. war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and used by the government to sow discord among the insurgent partisans of the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Protected by local politicians and military officials, the Abu Sayyaf’s persistence betokens the complicated history of the centuries-long struggle of about ten million Muslims in the Philippines for dignity, justice, and self-determination.
What is the background to the return of the former colonizer to what was once called its “insular territory” administered then by the Bureau of Indian Affairs?
With Secretary Colin Powell’s decision to stigmatize as “terrorist” the major insurgent groups that have been fighting for forty years for popular democracy and independence – the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, part of a coalition called the National Democratic Front – ,the introduction of thousands of U.S. troops, weapons, logistics and supporting personnel has been given an imprimatur of legitimacy. More is involved than simply converting the archipelago to instant military bases and facilities for the U.S. military – a bargain exchange for the strategic outposts Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base formerly “owned” by the U.S. and scrapped by a resurgent Filipino nationalism a decade ago. With the military officials practically managing the executive branch of government, the Philippine nation-state will prove to be more an appendage of the Pentagon than a humdrum neo-colony administered by oligarchic compradors (a “cacique democracy,” in the words of Benedict Anderson), which it has been since nominal independence in 1946. On the whole, Powell’s stigmatizing act is part of the New American Century Project to reaffirm a new pax Americana after the Cold War.
Re-mapping the Second Battlefront
Immediately after the proclaimed defeat of the Taliban and the rout of Osama bin Laden’s forces in Afghanistan, the Philippines became the second front in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Raymond Bonner, author of Waltzing with Dictators (1987), argues that the reason for this second front is “the desire for a quick victory over terrorism,… the wish to reassert American power in Southeast Asia… If Washington’s objective is to wipe out the international terrorist organizations that pose a threat to world stability, the Islamic terrorist groups operating in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir would seem to be a higher priority than Abu Sayyaf” (New York Times, 10 June 2002). Or those in Indonesia, a far richer and promising region in terms of oil and other abundant natural resources. As in the past, during the Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the Cold War years, the U.S. acted as “the world’s policemen,” aiding the local military in “civic action” projects to win “hearts and minds,” a rehearsal for Vietnam. The Stratfor Research Group believes that Washington is using the Abu Sayyaf as a cover for establishing a “forward logistics and operation base” in southeast Asia in order to be able to conduct swift pre-emptive strikes against enemies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and elsewhere. Overall, however, the intervention of U.S. Special Forces in solving a local problem inflamed Filipino sensibilities, its collective memory still recovering from the nightmare of the U.S.-supported brutal Marcos dictatorship. What disturbed everyone was the Cold-War practice of “Joint Combined Exchange Training” exercises. In South America and Africa, such U.S. foreign policy initiatives were combined with counter-insurgency operations that chanelled military logistics and equipment to favored regimes notorious for flagrant human rights violations. In Indonesia during the Suharto regime, for example, U.S. Special Operations Forces trained government troops accused by Amnesty International of kidnapping and torture of activists, especially in East Timor and elsewhere. In El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala, the U.S. role in organizing death squads began with Special Operations Forces advisers who set up “intelligence networks” ostensibly against the narcotics trade but also against leftist insurgents and nationalists. During the Huk uprising in the Philippines, Col. Edward Lansdale, who later masterminded the Phoenix atrocities in Vietnam, rehearsed similar counter-insurgency techniques combined with other anti-communist tricks of the trade. Now U.S. soldiers in active combat side by side with Filipinos will pursue the “terrorists” defined by the U.S. State Department – guerrillas of the New People’s Army, Moro resistance fighters and other progressive sectors of Filipino society.
Are we seeing American troops in the boondocks (bundok, in the original Tagalog, means “mountain”) again? Are we experiencing a traumatic attack of déja vu?
A moment of reflection returns us to what Bernard Fall called “the first Vietnam,” the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902, in which at least 1.4 million Filipinos died. The campaign to conquer the Philippines was designed in accordance with President McKinley’s policy of “Benevolent Assimilation” of the uncivilized and unchristian natives, a “civilizing mission” that Mark Twain considered worthy of the Puritan settlers and the pioneers in the proverbial “virgin land.” In Twain’s classic prose: “Thirty thousand killed a million. It seems a pity that the historian let that get out; it is really a most embarrassing circumstance.” This was a realization of the barbarism that Henry Adams feared before Admiral George Dewey entered Manila Bay on May 1, 1898:
“I turn green in bed at midnight if I think of the horror of a year’s warfare in the Philippines where… we must slaughter a million or two of foolish Malays in order to give them the comforts of flannel petticoats and electric trailways.”
In “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903 (1982), Stuart Creighton Miller recounts the U.S. military’s “scorched earth” tactics in Samar and Batangas, atrocities from “search and destroy” missions reminiscent of Song My and My Lai in Vietnam. This episode in the glorious history of Empire is usually accorded a marginal footnote, or a token paragraph, in school textbooks. Miller only mentions in passing the U.S. attempt to subjugate the unhispanized Moros, the Muslim Filipinos in Mindanao and Sulu islands. On March 9, 1906, four years after President Theodore Roosevelt declared the war over, Major General Leonard Wood, commanding five hundred and forty soldiers, killed a beleaguered group of six hundred Muslim men, women and children in the battle of Mount Dajo. A less publicized but horrific battle occurred on June 13, 1913, when the Muslim sultanate of Sulu mobilized about 5,000 followers (men, women and children) against the American troops led by Capt. John Pershing. The battle of Mount Bagsak, 25 kilometers east of Jolo City, ended with the death of 340 Americans and of 2,000 (some say 3,000) Moro defenders. Pershing was true to form – earlier he had left a path of destruction in Lanao, Samal Island, and other towns where local residents fought his incursions. Anyone who resisted U.S. aggression was either a “brigand” or a seditious bandit. The carnage continued up to the “anti-brigandage” campaigns of the first three decades, which suppressed numerous peasant revolts and workers’ strikes against the colonial state and its local agencies.
With the help of the U.S. sugar-beet lobby, the Philippine Commonwealth of 1935 was established, constituted with a compromise mix of laws and regulations then being tried in Puerto Rico, Cuba and Hawaii. Eventually the islands became a model of a pacified neocolony. Except perhaps for Miller’s aforementioned book and assorted studies, nothing much about the revealing effects of that process of subjugation of Filipinos have registered in the American Studies archive. This is usually explained by the theory that the U.S. did not follow the old path of European colonialism, and its war against Spain was pursued to liberate the natives from Spanish tyranny. If so, that war now rescued from the dustbin of history signaled the advent of a globalizing U.S. interventionism, whose latest manifestation, in a different historical register, is Bush’s “National Security Strategy” of “exercising self-defense [of the Homeland] by acting preemptively,” assuming that might is right, imposing “regime change” for the sake of corporate profit-making.
Stigmatizing the Resistance
Since the period of the Marcos dictatorship (1972-86), the terrorism of the National Security State has inflicted havoc on the lives of millions of Filipinos. Despite the appeals of KARAPATAN, church bodies, and the pleas of progressive representatives in Congress, nothing seems to have stopped the Arroyo military in its campaign of barbaric slaughter. If the security of life and whatever meager property the peasants and indigenous peoples in Mindoro, Mindanao and other areas cannot be protected by the government, which has legal monopoly of violence and other coercive means, then this government has lost legitimacy. In fact, it is open to being indicted for state terrorism in the court of world opinion. Since the Philippines is a constitutional republic, citizens from whom all power emanates can alter the social contract if the government has failed to answer their needs. All signs indicate that the social contract has been broken, violated, damaged many times over since the Philippines became a mock-sovereign nation in 1946.
It is precisely on this ground, the massive state terrorism of the military, police and paramilitary forces of the neocolonial state, that Luis Jalandoni, the chairperson of the National Democratic Front Negotiating Panel, has responded to the Colin Powell-Arroyo doctrine of summary condemnation of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as “terrorist” organizations. Jalandoni calls on the present regime to renounce state terrorism and indemnify its numerous victims, thousands of activists killed in assassinations, extrajudicial executions and indiscriminate massacre. It would be painful to recount the litany of human rights violations that burden our history since the Marcos dictatorship, nay, since the 1989-1916 Filipino-American War, with1.4 million Filipinos and Moros killed by the “civilizing” missionaries of Manifest Destiny.
Right in the midst of the controversy over Powell’s exorbitant act of extending the State Department reach to the liberated zones of the New People’s Army, we read this news from Canada: a Filipina domestic worker, out of the generosity of her heart, has given her kidney to her sick employer in Toronto. Frustrated with the public health care system, this Canadian employer turned to the Filipina for help, claiming that she was part of the family. Earning $2 an hour, for 24 months, under the Live-in Caregiver Program, Filipina domestics function as modern-day slaves, vulnerable to any and every kind of abuse and exploitation. Canada tolerates the import of Filipinas to provide rich Canadians their internal organs and body parts, just as the Philippine neo-colonial state mortgages everyday their memories and dreams to a utopian realm of permanent nostalgia and unappeasable longing.
I will soon move on to address the question of postcoloniality, particularly a certain form of “Orientalism” applied to the Moro struggle for self-determination in the Philippines. But I want to shift your attention first to this unprecedented phenomenon in our history, a qualitative change in our geopolitical status in the present world-system linkage of industrialized centers and peripheral or dependent social formations.
Since our colonization, thousands of Filipinos have migrated to distant territories, first as recruited workers for the Hawaii sugar plantations, and then as seamen, U.S. navy personnel, nurses and doctors, and so on. We have about three million Filipinos in North America, but millions more in the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. But since the Marcos martial-law regime, the “warm body export” (including mail-order brides, and assorted cargo in the global sex traffic) accelerated tremendously. Everyday 3,000 Filipinos leave for abroad, close to a million every year. In Hong Kong alone, there are 200,000 Filipina domestics. Moreover, 25% of the world’s seafarers and cruise waiters, are Filipinos. With about nine to ten million Filipinos scattered around the world as cheap or affordable labor, mainly domestics and semi-skilled workers, the Philippines has become the supplier of what is euphemistically called human capital – in actuality, hands to do work for minimal pay, work largely unpaid, producing enormous surplus value (profits) for transnational corporations as well as for affluent families in Europe, the United States and the Middle East.
Everyone knows that these Filipino Overseas Workers’ remittance of billions of dollars – $12 billion annually – (aside from fees and all kinds of taxes) is the major earner of dollars needed to pay the foreign debt and keep the system afloat. It guarantees the privileges of the rich and powerful. It preserves and aggravates the impoverishment of over half of the population, as confirmed by the recent statistics compiled by Representative Satur Ocampo’s office. Despite the unrelenting cases of brutal treatment, rape, all kinds of conceivable deprivation, and murder – about 4 or 5 coffins of Overseas Filipino Workers arrive at the
Manila International Airport, reminiscent of Flor Contemplacion and others, the humorless Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas was quoted as saying: “It’s not politically correct to say you’re exporting people, but it’s part of globalization, and I like to think that countries like ours, rich in human resources, have that to contribute to the rest of the world” (quoted in David Diamond, “One Nation, Overseas,” 1999, <http//wired.com/wired/archive/10.06.> ) This is as if over four hundred years of colonization have not yet been sufficient contribution to the enrichment of the Western metropoles and the indulgent appetites of their citizen consumers.
Indeed, we have contributed prodigiously to the accumulation of surplus-value/profits and wealth to the whole world – except our own country, the very soil and land of which have been depleted, polluted, ravished, plundered, scorched, pillaged, trampled upon and mutilated… One commentator ascribes to Filipinos the common refrain: “Look Asian, think Spanish, act American…” I doubt the applicability or appropriateness of this ascription, something that not a few traditional anthropologists and social scientists delight in when they proudly proclaim that ours is a culture of diversity, hybridity, creative assimilation, and other disingenuous rubrics to compensate for the horrific reality. Some usually resort to an apologetic reprise about how the “third world” poor excel in spiritual beauty. But inner wealth, like inner beauty, is precisely the symptom of the profound alienation and disenchantment afflicting the benighted recipients of Western modernity – multitudes of colonial subalterns blessed by commodity-exchange (their bodies, among others), by the free-wheeling market and sacred private property.
As many Filipinos have still not forgotten, there was a mini-people power when Flor Contemplacion’s body was returned, but when Sarah Balabagan arrived, the mass media “salvaged” her by sublimation – she was turned into a mini-star as ephemeral as Nonie Juice, the miracle tonic, and other fads. Was the public outrage over Contemplacion’s death merely melancholia and mourning mediated by gossip and other kinship rituals, as some post-modernist sages aver? Are we still caught in the frame of hallowed Filipino values like hiya, pakikisama, and smooth interpersonal relations? Are we ready to give our remaining internal organs to the Colin Powells and the hustlers from the World Bank/ International Monetary Fund?
Now we know that all things develop via contradictions. The diaspora of 9-10 million Filipinos is bound to generate forces of critique and transformation with their own self-generated leadership. They will emancipate themselves, for nobody else can do it for them. Already the Hong Kong domestics have organized as far as the laws will allow; our compatriots in Europe, in countries where they are subjected to vicious racist treatment, have also become more politically aware and have mobilized to raise consciousness and protest their inhumane conditions. If and when they return, we hope that they will not be cadavers but vibrant bodies ready for militant, risky engagements in the political arena, not just with the relentless pursuit of the creature comforts of a frayed if not mythical civil society.
Re-discovering National Liberation
The revolutionary upsurge in the Philippines against the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986) stirred up dogmatic Cold War complacency. With the inauguration of a new stage in Cultural Studies in the Nineties, the historical reality of U.S. imperialism (the genocide of Native Americans is replayed in the subjugation of the inhabitants of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Cuba) is finally being excavated and re-appraised. But this is, of course, a phenomenon brought about by a confluence of multifarious events, among them: the demise of the Soviet Union as a challenger to U.S. hegemony; the sublation of the Sixties in both Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the interminable “culture wars,” the Palestininan intifadas; the Zapatista revolt against NAFTA; the heralding of current anti-terrorism by the Gulf War; and the fabled “clash of civilizations.” Despite these changes, the old frames of intelligibility have not been modified or reconfigured to understand how nationalist revolutions in the colonized territories cannot be confused with the nationalist patriotism of the dominant or hegemonic metropoles, or how the mode of U.S. imperial rule in the twentieth century differs in form and content from those of the British or French in the nineteenth century. The received consensus of a progressive modernizing influence from the advanced industrial powers remains deeply entrenched. Even post-colonial and postmodern thinkers commit the mistake of censuring the decolonizing projects of the subalternized peoples because these projects (in the superior gaze of these thinkers) have been damaged, or are bound to become perverted into despotic postcolonial regimes, like those in Ghana, Algeria, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere. The only alternative, it seems, is to give assent to the process of globalization under the aegis of the World Bank/IMF/WTO, and hope for a kind of “benevolent assimilation.”
What remains to be carefully considered, above all, is the historical specificity or singularity of each of these projects of national liberation, their class composition, historical roots, programs, ideological tendencies, and political agendas within the context of colonial/imperial domination. It is not possible to pronounce summary judgments on the character and fate of nationalist movements in the peripheral formations without focusing on the complex manifold relations between colonizer and colonized, the dialectical interaction between their forces as well as others caught in the conflict. Otherwise, the result would be a disingenuous ethical utopianism such as that found in U.S. post-nationalist and post-colonialist discourse which, in the final analysis, functions as an apology for the ascendancy of the transnational corporate powers embedded in the nation-states of the North, and for the hegemonic rule of the only remaining superpower claiming to act in the name of freedom and democracy.
Earlier I alluded to what happened in 2002, l’affaire Abu Sayyaf, and its use as a pretext for the invasion by over a thousand U.S. troops of this second front of the war against terrorism, after Afghanistan. Can you imagine what our country would have looked like if it were really turned into another Afghanistan? One may counter that the situation in Basilan and other regions is worse than those of Kabul or Kandahar. Comparisons are really unavailing – if not altogether self-serving. But what have we learned?
I have read reports of the resurgence of a “moro-moro” mentality in government and the public. Fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are now branded “terrorists” and subject to harassment (recently at the Muslim compound in Barangay Culiat, Tandang Sora, Quezon City). It is expected that the MILF will be classified as a “foreign terrorist organization” – foreign, of course, to Americans, but not to Filipinos. We have always lived with the Moros, our Muslim brothers and sisters, as comrades in the struggle against the American soldiers who massacred thousands of men, women, and children at Mount Dajo, Jolo in March 9, 1906, and Mount Bagsak on June 13, 1913, among other barbaric outrages not noticed by the sharp wit of Mark Twain and other philanthropic humanitarians. These events are not memorialized for their horrors but cited to arouse a sense of solidarity with the courage and sacrifices of the BangsaMoro nation in its struggle for dignity and freedom.
When President Arroyo allowed the U.S. Special Forces to participate in the pursuit of this group of bandits (more exactly, mercenaries), a creation of both the CIA and the Philippine Armed Forces, did she not violate the Philippine Constitution? Indifference to this question is a symptom of the larger problem of either ignorance of the plight of the Moro people, or complicity with the ruling class in the oppression and exploitation of at least 7.5 million citizens who happen to subscribe to another faith.
Thousands, perhaps over a hundred thousand now, have died since the flare-up of Christian-Muslim hostilities in the sixties, climaxing in the years after 1972 with the battle of Jolo, Sulu. The city was actually burned by government forces, producing 2,000 corpses and 60,000 refugees in one night. A ceasefire was reached after the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, but it was often honored in the breach. The split of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front led Hashim Salamat from Misuari’s more secular Moro National Liberation Front to introduce a sectarian but also conciliatory element in the scene, precipitating the formation of the Abu Sayyaf along the lines of the government-sponsored and CIA-funded Bangsa Moro Liberation Organization (BMLO) in 1976.
It is now public knowledge that the Abu Sayyaf, like the MILF, was set up by the government to split the Moro struggle for self-determination, and to pressure the MNLF into capitulation. Since 1991, according to Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Gen. Alexander Aguirre, former president Estrada’s National Security Adviser, acted as “the handler” of the group, some of whose members were involved in the CIA-managed mujahideens recruited to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. But since 1995 the Abu Sayyaf has turned into a Frankenstein’s monster devoted to hostage-taking for ransom and terrorizing civilian communities, as in their attack on the town of Ipil, Zamboanga.
In the midst of U.S. intervention last year, an International Peace Commission went to Basilan on March 23-27, 2002, and produced what I think is the most comprehensive and detailed report on conditions in the region. The conclusion of their report, entitled Basilan: The Next Afghanistan?, is unequivocal: the Abu Sayyaf is a symptom of the disastrous failure of the state in ensuring not only peace and security but honest and effficient government – both provincial governance and military-police agencies – in a milieu where the proverbial forces of civil society (business, church, media) have been complicit. Enmeshed in corruption that involves local officials, military officers and central government, the region where the Abu Sayyaf thrives has witnessed the reign of absolute terror over civilians. Nowhere in the entire Philippines is the violation of human rights and the brutalization of civilian suspects so flagrant and ubiquitous as in Basilan.
In this context, the deployment of U.S. troops in Mindanao, compliments of the Arroyo administration, has only worsened the situation, demonized and mystified the Abu Sayyaf as an Al Qaeda accomplice, and promoted hostility among various ethnic groups.
The Struggle for Recognition
Last year I had the occasion to deliver a public talk on the situation in Mindanao at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin – a riotous Halloween week-end, as everyone in the audience would recall. And so I had reason to look up an article by the American anthropologist Charles O. Frake in the prestigious journal American Anthropologist, 1998 Issue, entitled “Abu Sayyaf: Displays of Violence and the Proliferation of Contested Identities among Philippine Muslims.” While Frake is quite erudite in referencing the history of the Muslims from the Spanish times to the present, he never examines seriously, except in a tokenizing gestural mode, the political and economic context of land dispossession and economic marginalization of the Muslim majority. Instead, typical of postmodernist disciplinary discourse, he focuses on the Abu Sayyaf as an attempt to solve “the logical gap in the identity matrix of Philippine Muslim insurgency.” Since the Moro movement has been fragmented by ethnic antagonisms among Tausugs, Maguindanaos, Maranaos, Yakans and so on, the Abu Sayyaf, according to Frake, is “militantly Islamicist.” And because its leadership draws from the displaced and unaffiliated youth, as well as the traditional outlaw areas, the group represents “a new layer in the strata of kinds of identity laid down in the long history of conflict in the Muslim Philippines” (1998, 48). In short, the Abu Sayyaf (according to Frake’s postmodernist optic) is a symptom of the problem of “identity proliferation,” since the fault-lines of identity construction are often revealed in explosions of political violence.
Frake is an example of a knowledge-producer intent on unwittting mystification. The result of applying Geertz’ “thick description,” that is, the focus on how participants interpret everyday happenings, instead of clarifying the nexus of causality and accountability, muddles it. Frake wants to answer the question: “How can such nice people [meaning the anonymous members of the Abu Sayyaf], at times, do such horrible things?” But his premise – that the central motivation of individuals in society is to be recognized as somebody, to establish an identity – is completely detached from historical specificities, even from the basic determinants of any cultural complex or location. Despite the empirical citations and putative data, Frake’s attempt to deploy postmodern ethonography on the Abu Sayyaf phenomenon results only in a simplistic reduction: that in situations of struggle, people fail to unite because they continually interpret what’s going on around them, thus multiplying “contested identities.” I am afraid such “thick descriptions” are really thick, or makapal – obscuring instead of illuminating the plight of the Moro people. Vincent Crapanzano’s critique of Geertz may be quoted here: the method of “thick description” “offers no understanding of the native from the native’s point of view,… no specifiable evidence for his attributions of intention, his assertion of subjectivity, his declarations of experience” (quoted in San Juan 2002, 234). The same caveats apply to two indefatigable American anthropologists intending to explain Filipinos to themselves: Thomas McKenna’s Muslim Rulers and Rebels (1998) and Nicole Constable’s Maid to Order in Hong Kong: Stories of Filipina Workers (1997).
I am not indicting all of American or Western anthropology, let alone the hermeneutic methodology of the social sciences. But I would like to mention here two other sources of historical and political inquiries, aside from the writings of Cesar Adib Majul: one is the work of the Indian scholar Aijaz Ahmad (1982), and the essay of political scientist Robert Stauffer (1981). In both these thinkers, the differentiated totality of Filipino society and its historical imbrication in the world-system of global capitalism are the two necessary requisites for grasping the concrete linkages and contradictions in the Moro struggle for autonomy and dignity. For these intellectuals are not only practitioners of a mode of scientific analysis of history, but also protagonists in the search for solutions to the most urgent social and political problems of our time.
I cannot imagine any intellectual who, endeavoring to grasp the roots of a long-enduring, complex “Moro problem,” will pre-emptively assert or claim a detached or disinterested stance. In fact, postmodernists like James Clifford openly announce their point-of-view, their subject-positions – if only to wash their hands, of course, of any complicity with US colonialism or imperialism. Professions of neutrality have been replaced with gestures of liberal guilt manifest in philanthropic compassion. Unfortunately, these gestures only prolong the orientalizing supremacy of Western knowledge-production and its hegemonic influence. In response to this Orientalism, we seem to offer only the famous SIR (smooth interpersonal relations) codified by Prof. Frank Lynch. Incidentally, in 1970, an American sociologist, George Weightman, noted in his study of the Philippine intellectual elite, that “the military academy and Ateneo appear to dispense the best SIR techniques for dealing with Americans” (1970, 28). In fairness to Ateneo University, I would like to interpose here the observation that all educational institutions, all pedagogical agencies (in Karl Mannheim’s phrase, the “everyday constituent assembly of the mind”), are sites of ideological class struggle and none can be hermetically insulated from the pressures of material local and global interests. There is no vacuum or neutral space in the planetary conflict of classes and groups for hegemony.
For this reason, and because the Moro struggle for autonomy and dignity is the key, virtually the catalyst and crucible, of our all-encompassing struggle for national democracy and liberation from imperialism, I would urge everyone to learn more about the history and culture of the BangsaMoro nation, its ethos and aspirations, which are all integral to the vision of a free and prosperous Filipino nation.
Cultural Studies On Trial
In my article on Cultural Studies in Ateneo de Manila Unversity’s electronic journal, KRITIKA KULTURA (sponsored by the Department of English), I called attention to recent developments in Cultural Studies as a disciplinary practice in North America and Europe that have subverted the early promise of the field as a radical transformative force (see also my book, Racism and Cultural Studies). In every attempt to do any inquiry into cultural practices and discourses, one is always carrying out a political and ethical project, whether one is conscious of it or not. There are many reasons for this, the main one being the inescapable political-economic constitution of any discursive field of inquiry, as Pierre Bourdieu has convincingly demonstrated. And in the famous theoretical couplet that Foucault has popularized, knowledge/power, the production of knowledge is always already implicated in the ongoing struggles across class, nation, gender, locality, ethnicity and so on, which envelopes and surrounds the intellectual, the would-be knower, learner, investigator, schola, and so on.
This is the moment when I would like to close with some reflections, and questions, on why problems of culture and knowledge are of decisive political importance. Although we always conceive of ourselves as citizen-subjects with rights, it is also the case that we are all caught up in a network of obligations whose entirety is not within our conscious grasp. What is our relation to Others – the excluded, marginalized and prostituted who affirm our existence and identity – in our society? In a sense we, all Filipinos, are responsible for the plight of the Moros – yes, including the existence of the Abu Sayyaf – insofar as we claim to live in a community of singular persons who alternatively occupy the positions of speakers and listeners, I’s and you’s, and who have obligations to one another, and reciprocal accountabilities.
I am following an argument elaborated by the late Canadian scholar Bill Readings in his provocative book, The University in Ruins. Speculating on the impossibility of subjective self-identity, of being free from obligation to others, Readings comments on an attitude prevalent in the United States – an attitude that, I think, became more articulate when, after September 11, most Americans, newly self-anointed as victims, refused to see any responsibility for what happened to them and disclaimed any share in causing such horrendous disaster, what is indeed a terrible tragedy because it is uncomprehended and disconnected from the flaws of the “egotistical sublime,” hence the hunger for revenge. Readings of course includes his fellow Canadians in the following remark – which we can immediately apply to our own relations with the Moros, Igorots, and other ostracized neighbors:
It is the desire for subjective autonomy that has led North Americans, for example, to want to forget their obligations to the acts of genocide on which their society is founded, to ignore debts to Native American and other peoples that contemporary individuals did not personally contract, but for which I would nonetheless argue they are responsible (and not only insofar as they benefit indirectly from the historical legacy of those acts). In short, the social bond is not the property of an autonomous subject, since it exceeds subjective consciousness and even individual histories of action. The nature of my obligations to the history of the place in which I live, and my exact positioning in relation to that history, are not things I can decide upon or things that can be calculated exhaustively. No tax of “x percent” on the incomes of white Americans could ever, for example, make full reparation for the history of racism in the United States (how much is a lynching “worth’?). Nor would it put an end to the guilt of racism by acknowledging it, or even solve the question of what exactly constitutes “whiteness.” (1996, 186)
If we are indeed accountable for what is happening around us – the killings in Mindoro Oriental, the Abu Sayyaf’s kidnapping and terrorism, President Arroyo’s violation of our sovereignty in welcoming U.S. troops to carry out police actions and exert a repressive pressure on Filipino citizens, and General Powell’s doctrine of stigmatizing Filipino dissenters and critics of the unjust status quo as “terrorists” – then we need to find out what needs to be done. Is the breakdown of civility caused by the lack of a “strong republic,” hence the need to institute authoritarian and quasi-fascist measures? A state is strong or weak depending on the nature of the class relations, the alignment of political forces determining its conduct.
In the “Belly of the Beast”
What about for Filipinos in the fabled “land of promise,” otherwise known as “the belly of the beast”? In the United States, the Filipino-Americans have, as you know, suffered from the latest act of vengeance against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda: the Patriot Act. We are struggling against what is the initial stage of authoritarian rule, “friendly fascism” in the new guise of Homeland Security. We have to fight a version of pragmatic patriotism more arrogance than before, planning pre-emptive or preventive strikes and other unilateral interventions against Jihad International, against all those resisting the domination of the “only remaining superpower.” We have signed numerous petitions, one called “A Statement of Conscience: Not In Our Name.” We oppose the Manichean outlook that the struggle is between good versus evil, and that the only possible answer to what happened in 9/11 is “war abroad and repression at home.” What Susan Sontag calls the “dangerous lobotomizing notion of endless war” or the pseudo-war of civilization versus barbarians, has already encouraged all sorts of excesses – racial profiling, killing of innocents who look like Arabs or “terrorists,” contingent on the demonology of the day. If “measure and proportionality require the language of law and justice” (Asad 2002, 38), then the mad rush to war against Iraq after the ruthless devastation of Afghanistan is breaking all records.
Noam Chomsky and other public intellectuals have called the United States itself “a leading terrorist state” (Chomsky 2001, 16). Just to give an example of how this has registered in the lives of Filipinos in the United States: Last June, 62 Filipinos (among them, doctors and engineers) were apprehended by the US Immigration and Naturalization Services for overstaying their visa or for lack of appropriate documentation. They were arrested as “absconders,” handcuffed and manacled in chains while aboard a plane on the way to the former Clark Air Base in Pampanga. About 140 Filipinos are now being treated as hardened criminals, according to Migrante International, thanks to the Patriot Act. Over a thousand persons, most of them people of color, are now detained in the United States as suspects, already being punished. I am not referring to the prisoners captured in Afghanistan and confined to cells in Guantanamo, Cuba; I am referring to American citizens who have been jailed on suspicion that they have links with Osama bin Laden or other terrorist groups listed by the US State Department (which now includes the CPP/NPA). Just last November, there was a report of eight Filipino aircraft mechanics who were detained since last June without bail due to “suspected terrorist links”; they are now being deported because of alleged inaccuraces in their immigration papers. I conclude with this question: How many more Filipinos will suffer globalized state terrorism spearheaded by the United States government, a fate that may befall any one of us who as citizens (here or in the United States) may be branded as unpatriotic or traitors because we dare to criticize, dare to think and resist?
Before tackling the question of terrorism and people’s war, let us review the record of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines to re-inscribe the putative ethics of Realpolitik in the field of emancipatory politics. This is necessary at the risk of sounding repetitious. From 1899 to 1903, designed in some history texts as the “Filipino-American War,” and from 1903 to 1914, the United States military forces killed a conservatively estimated number of 1,400,000 Filipinos and Moros in the campaign to destroy the first Philippine Republic and its revolutionary army. In on campaign, General Jacob Smith ordered his troops to “kill and burn” everything over ten years old, since “since it was no time to take prisoners, and that he was to make Samar a howling wilderness” (Schirmer 1971, 20). Howard Zinn notes that it took the U.S. seventy thousand troops – four times as many as were landed in Cuba – to crush the rebellion (1980, 306). Mark Twain succinctly characterized the end of the intervention: “Thirty thousand killed a million. It seems a pity that the historian let that get out; it is really a most embarrassing circumstance” (1992, 62).
In the bloody pacification drives against the Moros (Muslim Filipinos) after the official close of the War, the United States government committed horrors of genocidal proportions. Two of the most unforgettable battles are the one at Bud Dajo, Jolo, on March 9, 1906, where over 600 Moro men, women and children were massacred; and the one at Bud Bagsak on June 13, 1913, where at least 2000 Moros were killed (other estimates put the figure at 3,000), with 340 Americans slain. The lawyer Moorfield Storey compared these atrocities to the lynching of black men: “The spirit which slaughters brown men in Jolo is the spirit which lynches black men in the South” (Storey 1906).
Recently, not far from the sites of those now ancient battles, Basilan Island, a bandit gang of separatist Moros named the Abu Sayyaf became the object of an aggressive manhunt by a force of at least a thousand U.S. soldiers (of which 660 are Special Forces) and about 5,000 Filipino soldiers (Kristof 2002; Jalandoni 2002). The pretext or fig leaf for U.S. military intervention in the Philippines comes in the form of “joint military exercise” to train Philippine troops also engaged in fighting local insurgencies, one led by the New People’s Army (NPA) and the other led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) (San Francisco Chronicle 2002). The 12,500 strong MILF, which has been engaged for 23 years in fighting for an independent Islamic state in the south, also operates in Basilan and carefully guards its territories against government attacks.
Composed of less than a hundred men, the Abu Sayyaf (which is holding hostage an American couple and a Filipino nurse) has been linked to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda on tenuous grounds. All the same, despite its existence as a local criminal problem and a product of a complex linkage of official corruption, military brutality and ethnic impoverishment, the Philippines has been declared “the second front after Afghanistan” (International Peace Mission 2002). The Arroyo government has endorsed Bush’s endless war on terrorism, with the Philippines soon to be declared by the European community as a haven of terrorists, together with Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
With this background, I want to focus on the Colin Powell doctrine announced August 9, 2002, designating the Communist Party of the Philippines/the New People’s Army as “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” Powell does not separate the party and its military component. According to Powell: “The CPP, a Maoist group, was founded in 1969 with the aim of overthrowing the Philippine government through guerrilla warfare. The CPP’s military wing, the New People’s Army, strongly opposes any US presence in the Philippines and has killed US citizens there. The group has also killed, injured, or kidnapped numerous Philippine citizens, including government officials.” Now the term “terrorist activity” under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212, refers to any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed, involving among others: the hijacking or sabotage of any conveyance; the seizing or detaining and threatening to kill, injure, or continue to detain, another individual in order to compel a third person (including a governmental organization) to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the individual seized or detained; an assassination, the use of any biological agent, chemical agent, or nuclear weapon or device and so on. What proof Powell has to substantiate his judgment, cannot be divulged – such administrative records “contain intelligence information and are therefore classified.” In fact, when Ramsey Clark argued before a court to have those records made public on behalf of similarly proscribed organizations, the court deferred to the wisdom of the executive branch and denied Clark’s request.
Now, the U.S. government itself knows that no person or group connected with the CPP/NPA has engaged in any such activities in the United States ever since the Philippines was annexed by force as a colonial territory in 1898. Jose Maria Sison, the NDFP Chief Political Consultant, commented the day after Powell’s indictment: “Anyone who knows the principles and policies of the CPP is aware that it does not send its members or Red fighters of the NPA abroad to attack any US entity. The CPP has also repeatedly pointed out that Americans can enjoy the basic rights and freedoms of the foreign guest in the Philippines, unless they are deployed for combat operations against the revolutionary forces and people.” (In connection with the exception, one may cite here the case of Col. James Rowe, a CIA agent in the Philippines, who was gunned down by suspected NPA agents – more on this later.) Sison observes further that “the US is whipping up the line of pre-emptive first strike on the basis of mere suspicion at the level of the state relations with private organizations and individuals within or outside its jurisdiction, and likewise at the level of state-to-state relations… Under the guise of combating terrorism, the Bush administration is generating fascism in the US and the entire world… The US is promoting wholesale state terrorism to suppress the growing social discontent and resurgent revolutionary resistance, amidst the rapidly worsening crisis of the US and world capitalist system” (2002).
A well-known Filipino journalist, Amando Doronila, editorialized on the US State Department’s intervention:
In broadening the scope of the definition of global terrorism, the Powell Doctrine brings together the US enemies during the Cold War (the communists) and those held responsible for the September 11 attacks (the terrorists linked to al-Qaeda networks and Osama bin Laden) in the all-embracing demonology of “global terrorists.” In one fell swoop, the United States re-introduced the political vocabulary of the Cold War and incorporated it in the struggle against a new form of borderless terrorism. Never mind if there is no evidence linking the CPP-NPA to the al-Qaeda network or even the Abu Sayyaf. The linkage of the old and new foes in a new rubric where the United States, as the lone superpower of the post-Cold War era, is imposing a new hegemony aligning the security policies of its allies behind hers… Along the same vein, the Powell doctrine is a restriction of Philippine foreign policy, as well as its domestic policy, given that, first, the doctrine would staunch the growth of the parliamentary tendency in the Philippine communist movement; and secondly, it hampers the flexibility of the Philippine government in resuming peace talks with even the externally based communist leadership (2002).
What followed Powell’s intervention in Philippine affairs demonstrates the power of the word “terrorism” and its almost fatalistic seductiveness: the Dutch government also categorized the CPP/NPA, including Sison, as “terrorists.” Sison has been living for 14 years in the Netherlands as a political refugee under the protection of the Refugee Convention and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. On October 28, 2002, the European Council toed the line of the Powell doctrine without due process, without any democratic discussion, just as the Powell doctrine was hatched in secrecy.
The U.S. government and the European Council have thus criminalized and repressed the revolutionary movement in the Philippines. Opposed to thousands of individuals and organizations in the Philippines calling for the resumption of peace talks, the Powell doctrine effectively destroyed the ongoing negotations between the National Democratic Front (which includes the CPP/NPA) and the Philippine government (GRP) which has been going on since 1990 under the sponsorship of Holland, Belgium and Norway, with the endorsement of the European Parliament in its 1997 and 1999 resolutions. By campaigning in Europe for the blacklisting of the CPP/NPA and Sison as terrorists, the Arroyo government has in effect placed the other side under duress, and laid down as a precondition the surrender of the revolutionary forces. In effect the GRP has nullified the documents it has signed with the NDF: the Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees, and in particular the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and the International Humanitarian Law.
It appears that the U.S. and European states, by classifying the CPP/NPA and Sison as terrorists, have rejected any logical or semantic criteria, as well as international norms, for distinguishing between terrorists with criminal intent and organizations or individuals waging armed struggle for political ends, especially those involving national freedom, social reforms and political democratization. Lacking this criteria and norms, political organizations and individuals are demonized by the state.
The CPP/NPA has a long tradition of fighting against U.S. imperialist domination of the Philippines, together with its allies, the bureaucrats, landlords and compradors. It denounces the exploitative and oppressive system of neo-colonialism and oligarchic rule in the Philippines. Its political goals, strategies and principles are openly publicized; its publications, manifestoes, and analyses are accessible to the whole world. There is nothing secret in what they are struggling for: all their actions are geared to arousing the masses to exercise their freedoms and think critically, understand the causes of their oppression, and carry out organized mass actions to change the iniquitous, unjust system. Following Marxist-Leninist principles, the stigmatized CPP/NPA have never engaged in kidnapping civilians, robbery, indiscrimate bombings or firing on civilians, unlike the Philippine military whose record of torture and murder of political activists and innocent civilians have been condemned by Amnesty International and other international bodies.
It is generally agreed that the Arroyo government’s subsequent demand that the CPP/NPA lay down their arms and accept a “final peace agreement” drafted by militarists is a violation of the Hague Joint Declaration signed by both parties on September 1, 1992. The charge of “state terrorism” committed by the GRP, its atrocities and depredations, its gross violations of human rights on a wide scale, precludes any return to the negotiating table. It signals a resumption of decades-long policy by the GRP of an all-out war against its citizens, an unconscionable military solution to deep-rooted structural problems of society, and unconcealed contempt at the profound grievances and persistent suffering of millions of Filipinos.*
Before reviewing some ideas on the revolutionary application of force in the Marxist tradition and reinscribing the CPP/NPA situation, let me just call your attention to the fact that the United Nations passed a major resolution on the matter of international terror-ism in December 1987. The UN condemned such phenomenon and called on all nations to act in order to prevent it. Except for Honduras, which abstained, 153 countries approved the resolution against the objections of two states: the U.S. and Israel. Why? Here is the passage that offended these two: “that nothing in the present resolution could in any way prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom and independence, as derived from the Charter of the United Nations, of peoples forcibly deprived of that right…, particularly peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation or other forms of colonial domination, nor…the right of these peoples to struggle to this end and to seek and receive support [in accordance with the Charter and other principles of international law].” Let me quote further from this historic UN document, excerpts from the Preamble and the conclusion:
Terrorism originates from the statist system of structural violence and domination that denies the right of self-determination to peoples (e.g., in Namibia, Palestine, South Africa, the Western Sahara); that inflicts a gross and consistent pattern of violations of fundamental human rights upon its own citizens (.e.g, in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, South AFrica); or that perpetrates military aggression and overt or covert intervention directed against the territorial integrity or political independence of other states (.e.g, Afghanistan, Angola, Grenada, Lebanon, Libya, Mozambique, Nicaragua)…
The principles of the United Nations Charter – if applied in all of their ramifications – constitute an effective instrument for reshaping the actual policies of powert and hegemony among sovereign states into those of mutual respect. Conversely, the real international terrorism is founded in the imposition of the will of the powerful states upon the weak by means of economic, political, cultural and military domination. We declare that the key to ending all forms of terrorism is the development of new relations among nations and peoples based on unfailing respect for the right to self-determination of peoples, and on a greater measure of economic, political and social equality on a world scale (1987).
Noam Chomsky reminds us that both the U.S. and Israel refused to accept those rights – when Nicaragua succeeded in having the US judged guilty by the World Court which ordered the US to end its international terrorist campaign and pay substantial reparations, the US State Department officially approved attacks on health clinics and agricultural co-operatives by the army of Contras that it organized and supported. For the U.S., the African National Congress was a terrorist organization, whereas South Africa was not a terrorist state like Cuba, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and others. Aside from the literal meaning of terrorism as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature” via intimidation, coercion or instilling fear, Chomsky notes a virtually universal propagandistic use of terrorism in its usage of referring “to terrorist acts committed by enemies against us or our allies… Everyone ëcondemns terrorism ë in this sense of the term. Even the Nazis harshly condemned terrorism and carried out what they called ëcounter-terrorism’ against the terrorist partisans” (2001, 90). Such counter-terrorism includes the Greek and Indonesian massacres of communists and their suspected allies, as well as the genocidal war in East Timor and elsewhere.
In discussions over just and unjust war, a distinction is also made between the war waged by the oppressed against the oppressor – the “lawful struggle for justice,” and for “liberation from colonialism and the threat of enslavement,” as the Soviet philosopher F.N. Fedoseev (1977, 73). However, the means or tactics used in this just war and their relevance to the pursuit of the objectives, require separate elucidation.
The mainstream construal of terrorism follows the model set up by the UK Pevention of Terrorism Act 1976, s.14. It defines terrorism as “the use of violence for political ends [including] any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear.” Roger Scruton observes that that definition confuses two ideas or purposes of violence, one to achieve political goals and the other to induce fear in the public. What seems primary is the application of random and arbitrary violence to create widespread fear and dismay. Scruton also cites Robespierre’s famous defense of state terrorism: “They say that terrorism is the resort of despotic government. Is our government then like despotism? Yes, as the sword that flashes in the hand of the hero of liberty is like that with which the satellites of tyranny are armed… The governmentof the Revolution is the despotism of liberty against tyranny” (Scruton 1982, 460). If acts of terrorism are then justified by their results, we have a case of consequentialism. What are the consequences? The notion of “structural violence” is invoked in order to justify the response of violence on the part of those struggling for freedom against those who employ violence to suppress people. Here the crucial term is the meaning or nature of the violence as a means to an end. The issue of consequentialism leads us to the classic topic of inquiry, the relations of means to ends, which is where the controversy over Marxist politics and ethics often culminates.
From the Archive of Historical Materialism
Let us review what the Marxist tradition has to offer in its critique of terrorism. Both Marx and Engels rejected individual terror in conceptualizing the process of revolutionary social transformation. They dismissed John Most as a half-educated charlatan and attacked Bakunin (see their Report of the Hague Congress of the International, July 1873). They condemned the terrorist actions of the Fenians (Engels himself believed that the bombs of the Irish dynamiters and the French anarchists were counterproductive), though in their attitude to the Russian Narodniki, they sympathized with them in their defense against the incredible atrocities and unheard-of despotism of the government agents. Studying the specific Russian conditions, Marx praised the assassins of Alexander II in 1881 as “sterling people,” while Engels speculated in a letter to Vera Zasulich that Blanqui’s conspiratorial fantasies might be appropriate for Russia at that time. Engels thought that “This way of struggle has been dictated to the Russian revolutionaries by dire necessity, by the action of their enemies. They are responsible to their people and to history for the means they apply,” whereas for the anarchists who bombed London on January 24, 1885, they harmed not only policemen and bourgeois but also workers, their wives and children – such weapons were directed not against the real enemies but “against the public in general” (1978, 207). Engels always took into account the specifically differentiated historical conjuncture, the manifold economic and social forces surrounding the events. The rationale of any political act hinges on the ideological milieu rooted in determinate relations of production (Marx and Engels 1994). By 1894, however, Engels lamented that anarchist terrorism, “the time of the chosen people,” had gone forever.
Lenin reaffirmed the need to judge the value of force or violence in terms of 1) the time and place, and 2) the sentiments and attitudes of the masses. It was philistine to reject violence in the abstract. Both Lenin and Trotsky criticized the Socialist Revolutionaries for their indiscriminate use of terrorism even though the latter claimed that it coincided with the people’s demands. Such “easy tactics” satisfied the intelligentsia and spread harmful illusions that the autocracy can easily be overthrown by assassinations. What is primary is patient and systematic organizational agitation and propaganda which constitute all-round political work among the masses. And what is above all fundamental is the grasp of the totality of social and political forces in a revolutionary situation. A few quotes from Lenin would convey the approach used by the Filipino revolutionary forces toward the use of violence as a means of self-defense and protection of popular democratic gains.
Socialist revolution is always conceived as a series of actions by the masses for democratic change. Lenin always emphasized the imperative of mass mobilization, political education of the masses, and acting in concert with the masses in the process of organizing the revolutionary workers’ party – the chief task that requires economizing one’s forces:
….the Socialist Revolutionaries, by including terrorism in their program and advocating it in its present-day form as a means of political struggle, are thereby doing the most serious harm to the movement, destroying the indissoluble ties between socialist work and the mass of the revolutionary class…; that in practice the terrorism of the Socialist Revolutionaries is nothing else than single combat, a method that has been wholly condemned by the experience of history… Among the masses of the Russian workers this advocacy simply sows harmful illusions, such as the idea that terrorism “compels people to think politically, even against their will,” or that “more effectively than months of verbal propaganda it is capable of changing the views… of thousands of people…” These harmful illusions can only bring about early disappointment and weaken the work of preparing the masses for the onslaught upon the autocracy (1978, 209-210).
Uncompromisingly, Lenin criticized the revolutionary adventurism of those who would resort to terrorism as a means of either political mobilization or winning battles against the bourgeoisie. Lenin pointedly asserted that “without the working people all bombs are powerless, patently powerless” in replacing the State power of the bourgeoisie: “…we know from the past and see in the present that only new forms of the mass movement or the awakening of new sections of the masses to independent struggle really rouses a spirit of struggle and courage in all. Single combat, however, inasmuch as it remains single combat waged by the Balmashovs, has the immediate effect of simply creating a short-lived sensation, while indirectly it even leads to apathy and passive waiting for the next bout‘” (1987, 213).
Mass heroism is needed, not individual exhibitionism, no matter how self-sacrificing such terrorists were. Lenin writes on the eve of the 1905 insurrection: “Now, however, when demonstrations develop into acts of open resistance to the government… the old terrorism ceases to be an exceptionally daring method of struggle… Heroism has now come out into the open; the true heroes of our time are now the revolutionaries who lead the popular masses, which are rising against their oppressors… The terrorism of the great French revolution… began on July 14, 1789, with the storming of the Bastille. Its great strength was the strength of the revolutionary movement of the people” (1987, 215). In formulating the tactical platform for the Unity Congress of the Social Democratic Party, Lenin continued to stress the need to always act in accordance with the interests of the people, not necessarily tailing behind the average conformist view but exercising responsible leadership, learning from the people but also teaching them. This is epitomized by this passage: “that fighting guerrilla operations must be conducted under the control of the party and, furthermore, in such a way as to prevent the forces of the proletariat from being frittered away and to ensure that the state of the working-class movement and the mood of the broad masses of the given locality are taken into account” (1978, 216).
Trotsky applied a historical materialist optic on the phenomenon of terrorism. He analyzed the peculiar Russian form of terrorism as a method comprehensible in a time when the “bureaucratic hierarchy of absolutism” could only evoke its own mirror-image. He believed that the coercive technological apparatus of the Czarist state had lagged behind the the economic condition of society; conversely, the intelligentsia “was spiritually revolutionized before the economic development of the country could give birth to revolutionary classes on which it could have counted for support” (1978, 217). Trotsky, it seems, ignored the proximity of the Socialist Revolutionaries to the peasantry and the pettybourgeoisie. Trotsky distinguishes Marxists as “theoreticians of the mass struggle” from the anarchists, “ideologists of terror,” who capitalize on personal heroism and the “hermetic secrecy” of conspiracy, thus psychologically and absolutely excluding “agitation and organization among the masses.” For Trotsky, the terrorist could only see two forces in the political field: the government and his own organization. This field is a Manichean construct which vacates any revolutionary rationale for the class struggle: “Conceived in the absence of a revolutionary class, born as a consequence of lack of faith in the revolutionary masses, terrorism can best support its own existence only by exploiting the weakness and disorganized state of the masses by belittling their achievements and magnifying their defeats” (1978, 218-19).
Trotsky concentrated on the character of the social struggle whose “ways and means” are dependent on the analysis of the ruling social order. Such ways and means cannot simply be mechanical – murder, explosions, etc. – without any social implication. While a minor strike can produce tremendous social consequences (strengthens trade unions, workers’ confidence, etc.), the murder of a factory owner does not eliminate the private ownership of factories but only results in police action, in fact more brutal and shameless repression, and disillusionment and apathy of the workers. Everything depends on the concrete political circumstances: “The existence of the capitalist state does not depend on its ministers and cannot be destroyed with them. The classes which it serves can always find new people; the mechanism will remain whole and will continue to function.” Trotsky therefore asks: if one can achieve the revolutionary goal by shooting the enemy, what need is there for class organization, self-education, for a disciplined militant party, for meetings, mass agitation when it is easy to intimidate high officials with a few individuals throwing bombs here and there?
Like Marx and Engels, Trotsky also takes into account individual sentiments and responses. There is a dialectic of individual or personal anger and desire for revenge and the movement of the masses whenever repression and government atrocities reach a certain level beyond tolerance. Trotsky invents a social imaginary which, embedded in Russian popular memory and populist tradition, dialectically reconciles individual motivation with organized collective rationality which approximates some realization of justice or fairness:
The reason why individual terrorism is, in our view, not permissible is precisely because it lowers the political consciousness of the masses, causes them to acquiesce in their own lack of strength, and directs their gaze and hopes to a great avenger and liberator who may come one day to do their work for them…
Whatever moral eunuchs and pharisees may say, the feeling of revenge has its right. The working class has greater moral probity because it does not look with dull indifference at what is happening in this, the best of all worlds [unlike the hypocritical bourgeoisie who moralize about the value of individual life while exploiting them or pushing them to war]. The proletariat’s unsatisfied feeling
of revenge should not be extinguished; on the contrary, it should be aroused again and again; it should be deepend and directed against genuine examples of every kind of wrong and human baseness. This is the task of the Social Democrat.
If we rise against terrorist acts, it is only because individual revenge does not satisfy us. The account that we must settle with the capitalist status quo is too great to present to an official calling himself a minister. We must learn to see the monstrous evidence of the class structure in all crimes against the individual, in every attempt to maim or stifly a human being, body and soul, so that we may direct all our strength toward a collective struggle against this class structure. This, then, is the method by which the burning desire for revenge can achieve its greatest moral satisfaction (1978, 222-23).
In a pamphlet on Marxism versus Neo-Anarchist Terrorism, George Novack of the Socialist Workers Party reiterates the Marxist repudiation of terrorist adventurism as antithetical to the mass actions, the opposite of “reliance upon the independent and revolutionary organization and activity of the working masses, which is the essence of Marxist politics” (1970, 12). He condemns terrorism as “pettyñbourgeois liberalism temporarily gone berserk,” and urges genuine revolutionists “to learn how to release the creative energy and revolutionary potential of the masses” to carry out a revolutionary program of mobilizing tens of thousands against U.S. imperialism. Novack recapitulates the classic Marxist thesis against terrorism removed from the mass revolutionary process led by an organized, class-conscious political party.
Justice from the People’s Tribunal
Within this framework, I would now like to examine a key incident which can articulate the Marxist principles of revolutionary mass action as antithesis to the essentially anarchist/individualist version of terrorism condemned by the United Nations.
In regular press releases, the Philippine government stated that it terminated peace negotiations for the reason that the New People’s Army, a member of the NDF, killed a government official, a member of Congress, Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo, one of the documented military officials named by many political prisoners as the most notorious torturer and human-rights violators of the Marcos dictatorship. Since 1975, he was listed by Amnesty International as one of the top torturers – he not only personally supervised the torture of well-known intellectuals and activists (the most famous is Rolando Olalia, a radical union leader), but also participated in the abduction and summary exection of suspected fighters in the NPA. Even within military circles, Aguinaldo was considred to be extraordinarily brutal: he would throw out suspects from helicopters, and, sexually abused female captives. The NPA guerillas of the Fortunato Camus Command rendered the verdict on June 13, 2001: “Sa kanyang mga krimen laban sa mamamayan at sa rebolusyon, marapat lamang na igawad kay Co. Rodolfo Aguinaldo ang parusang kamatayan.” In a press release in the NDF Website of June 14, 2001, NDF Chairperson Luis Jalandoni characterized the ambush-slaying of Col. Aguinaldo as “just punishment.” He congratulated the NPA for successfully carrying out the demands for justice of the relatives and survivors of Aguinaldo’s murderous tenure as a member of the corrupt Philippine Constabulary and the military intelligence agency. So far, not one of the numerous officials who committed unspeakable atrocities has been punished in court after the downfall of the Marcos regime. What is truly scandalous is that the government has been historically unable to punish or stop military violators of human rights and international humanitarian law. By failing to do so, it has sanctioned and protected these military officials, even to the point of allowing them to run for office and use the Philippine Congress as a sanctuary to continue their activities as human rights violators, economic plunderers and coup-plotters. I quote Jalandoni:
Aguinaldo was a legitimate target for revolutionary justice. Despite his pretensiions to being a civilian government official, he remained active in the military. He had extensive blood debts to the people of the Philippines and he manipulated the system to create an immunity for himself. His punishment comes at an opportune time since we are discussing the implementation of the Comnprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law [one of the documents signed by the NDF and Philippine government during the peace negotiations]. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Fortunato Camus Command of the New People’s Army for successfully dealing with the armed and dangerous criminal Aguinaldo. And we assure the people of the Philippines that the implementation of justice and the establishment of mechanisms for the protection of the people’s human rights are a priority for us in this peace negotation.
Jalandoni’s explanation for the application of “revolutionary justice” rests on the following grounds:
1) Aguinaldo was an armed and dangerous criminal, 2) he was a military combatant still, despite his civilian position, and 3) he had “blood debts to the people.” To my knowledge, this is the first time the NPA has executed a military official – others who have been similarly punished were either renegades or minor provincial officials of when there have been no public announcement like this one. There may seem to be an invocation of bourgeois moralism here, when Jalandoni ascribes “blood debts to the people.” But I think that is conceived within the humanitarian law of prohibiting torture of civilians. Of course the program of the Communist Party of the Philippines (of which the NPA is the military arm) envisions a transitional society, where genuine national independence is achieved and where a more democratic order insures justice for ordinary citizens. The Marcos regime and its military instruments, like Aguinaldo, were considered agents of imperialism, betrayers of national sovereignty and even the liberal norms of justice; hence the standard of justice invokes a quasi-liberal Kantian ideal of respecting human as ends in themselves. Nonetheless, this justice is not completely premised on that abstract norm, because it also assumes a precise historical situation. That situation involves the oppressed masses – persons victimized by a structure of which Aguinaldo was a part.
Unlike the liberal bourgeois view, revolutionary justice – in Jalandoni’s construal – does not consider Aguinaldo as simply a pure subject of law, but a person embedded within concrete circumstances. Moral or ethical acts cannot be understood, in the Marxist perspective, as independent of historical circumstances. We cannot appeal to abstract notions of right in a Kingdom of Ends. What is key to this socialist insurgency is a concrete and historical aim, the destruction of the foundations of class oppression and unjust social institutions – the national democratic society to be realized with the overthrow of the neo-colonial comprador-landlord system. In this process of constructing a new society, we find – to use Sartre’s terminology – “a concrete play of negations and affirmations.” I quote Sartre’s concept of dialectics written in the context of commenting on Trotsky’s Their Morals and Ours:
One forges the destructive instrument by making it destroy. But precisely by giving the mass, so that it may destroy, that discipline, that cohesion, that self-denial, that self-confidence and that understanding that makes of it the most formidable destructive instrument, one prepares it by this very fact for its positive role, which is to become by itself the Kingdom of Ends; for the destructive instrument and the positive end are one and the same thing. Thus it is the means, at present, which makes concrete the end, which gives it, in some sense, body and individuality, or, if one prefers, it is within the means (the instrument) that one finds the end (preparation of the consciousness of the masses of the socialist society). (quoted in Lukes 1987, 128)
In this dialectical interpretation of means and ends, the concrete goal of a society is the elimination of class oppression and injustice as the whole (the future) acts on the part, on singular events, on the present situation. The whole or totality of history is an ideal but does not necessarily dictate a necessary future – the future depends on what we do at present to realize it. In another formulation, suggested by James Hansen: “The revolutionary manifests the latent necessities of the past-present,” and through a unity of theory and practice acts “in the present through what has been given in the past in order to explode the present for the future” (1977, 108). And though there might be ambiguity and contingency in envisaging that future, the goal is always concrete and infused with values since it is always dialectically linked to the rational choices we make in opting for revolutionary violence.
The popular masses must be involved in these choices, as has been done whenever the NPA carries out a serious action, as the punishment of Aguinaldo. As Merleau Ponty wrote in Humanism and Terror: Marxism must aim at “extrapolating, specifying and re-directing the spontanous praxis of the proletariat along its proper path” (1947, 127). This accords with Lenin’s and Mao’s injunction to always situate the political action within the “mass line,” neither tailing behind nor leading too far ahead in solitary elitist fashion.
Neither Subjectivist nor Objectivist
I think that Jalandoni applies a broad Marxist standard that Lenin and Trotsky has followed. It does not privilege a prefigured future of socialism or national democracy that has ideal criteria of judgment analogous to the Kantian categorical imperative; rather, it assumes the moral sentiments and feelings of citizens living in a class society, oppressed workers and peasants whose thinking and attitudes are products of class society and necessarily embodying the features of class society. After all, the revolution itself is a product of class society, though its project is to cancel or negate the foundations of that society.
The philosopher John Dewey agreed in part with Trotsky’s consequentialism. Dewey held that “the end in the sense of consequences provides the only basis for moral ideas and action, and therefore provides the only justification that can be found for the means employed” (1938, 52). This accords with the pragmatic rejection of deontological Kantian ethics. But Dewey distinguished between an end-in-view and actual objective consequences that will calculate and judge the nature of the instrumentalities employed (1969, 53). All means need to be carefully examined without pre-conceptions to determine whether the end – the liberation of the masses from class oppression and exploitation – would be attained. Nothing is prejudged. Means of whatever kind cannot be justified by the end-in-view; they cannot be arbitrarily chosen nor validated by an abstract law of history, the law of social development or the Hegelian Reason. Every means would be weighed and judged on the basis of the consequences they are likely to produce; the question is how objective the grounds are for judgement. I would agree with Dewey that the class struggle in the abstract alone does not specify the particular ways in which it is to be carried out, and that class struggle as the law of historical chance “makes all moral questions, that is, all questions of the end to be finally attained, meaningless (Lukes 1985, 122).
Third World Perspective
In the Sixties, the work of Frantz Fanon and Che Guevarra brought into the foreground the question of violence in the world-wide struggle against Western imperialism in general. Eduardo Mondlane, president of the Fremte de Liberacion Mozambigue, expressed the consensus that violence cannot be made intelligible by itself but only in its embeddedness in the historical process. Violence in many parts of the world, including the U.S., is a way of life, Mondlane observed; violence is used to control and exploit people, but the question before the people is: “what kind of violence will enable us to be free. Violence does not solve the problems of the world, but it is often a necessary precondition for solutions to be possible” (1968, 38). Mondlane speculates on kinds of violence, and its function as a “necessary precondition,” since he considers its presence as a constituent element of a society divided into oppressed and oppressor, an ingredient of a conflicted situation.
The thinking of Filipino revolutionaries reflects the same imperative to grasp the total situation in the light of the direction of the revolutionary process. From the point of view of Jose Maria Sison, the founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and currently branded as a “terrorist” by the Powell doctrine, the use of revolutionary violence is legitimate from a historical perspective. In any exploitative society, the state is used by the dominant exploiting class to coerce other classes into submission. In the history of civilization, the dominant class always unleashes counter-revolutionary violence against the newly rising progressive class and the people. In the case of the Philippines, Sison writes, the reactionary neo-colonial state “would rather use counterrevolutionary violence than undertake basic reforms to meet the basic revolutionary demands of the people. A state that violently reacts to the revolutionary demands of the people is ripe for overthrow by armed revolution” (1993, 2). Again, this is a traditional Marxist lesson. In his role as witness in the Communist trials of the Fifties, the philosopher John Somerville rehearsed again and again the basic principle of the dialectics of a revolutionary situation, as Marx, Engels and Lenin conceived it: when the existing bourgeois state was “unwilling or unable to carry out the will of the majority in vital matters,” and where an armed revolution “had the support of the majority and represented the will of the majority” (2000, 26). Counter-revolutionary violence comes from the resistance of the minority (the ruling elite) “opposed to some radical change which represents the will of the majority, and that that resistance is what precipitates the violence” (2000, 58). Against counter-revolutionary violence, the NPA mounts self-defensive measures, such as the punishment of Aguinaldo, or the assassination of imperialist advisers to the reactionary state.
Sison located the role of revolutionary violence as part of the Communist Party’s strategy of “protracted people’s war made possible by the chronic crisis of the semi-colonial and semi-feudal system” which allows the establishment of revolutionary organs of political power in the countrysides. This is part of a two-stage struggle, from national-democratic to a socialist one, given the actual class composition of the revolutionary forces – a peasantry and petty bourgeois stratrum led by the Filipino working class and its advanced elements in the party. This argument bears affinities with Georg Lukacs’ conviction that the ultimate objective of socialist liberation is not an ideal abstracted and imposed on reality but is “a reality which has to be achieved,” a goal immanent in the process of class struggle pursued by the class-conscious proletariat (1972, 3-4). Tactics was grasped by class consciousness while, the measure of judging what tactics were required by the ultimate objective at moments of world crisis, it was necessary “to be conscious of the world-historical mission of the proletariat’s class struggle” (Lukes 1985, 115)
Deep Penetration and Its Aftermath
This is where we might contextualize the killing of the American CIA agent Col. Nick Rowe on April 21, 1989. I am not aware of the NPA or CPP acknowledging that they had a hand in this incident, but two persons – Donato Continente and Juanito Itaas – have been imprisoned now for several years, charged with the deed. Who is Col. Rowe? According to James Neilson’s article in the U.S. Veteran News and Report, “A highly decorated Green Beret and Vietnam veteran who survived five years of captivity in a Viet Cong prison camp, Rowe was chief of the army division of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) since 1987 and was providing counter-insurgency training for the Philippine military. In this capacity, he worked closely with the CIA, and was involved in its nearly decade-old program to penetrate the NPA and its parent communist party, in conjunction with Philippine’s own intelligence organizations.” Before he was killed by unknown assailants, Col. Rowe had already warned the U.S. State Department that he was targetted to be hit by the enemy; however, the Defense Intelligence Agency did not do anything because they did not want Rowe, the control officer and trainer of agents, to withdraw any of the agents they had infiltrated into the NPA who were relaying information about “possible growing Cuban involvement with the NPA.” Neilson writes: “Six months before Rowe’s murder, the DIA had learned that Cuban advisors appeared to be assisting the NPA in the South-Central Luzon province, one of the two provinces where the NPA was focusing on ferreting out CIA agents within its ranks.” Col. Rowe died as a combatant in the war against what the U.S. called “terrorists,” whether it was the NPA or some other group.
The Two years earlier, the NDF had taken two prisoners of war, a police chief inspector and a Philippine Army intelligence Officer, who were under the custody of the New People Army (see NDF Press Statement of May 17, 2000). The NDF was trying to negotiate with the Estrada administration for their release, but in the attempt of the government to rescue them, one was killed, and the other was later released. Why Col. Rowe was killed, and not captured – assuming the NPA was involved – has not yet been explained. Given the state of belligerency existing between the government allied with the U.S. and the revolutionary forces, Col. Rowe would be a casualty of war, not a victim of terrorism.
There is talk that Sison may be kidnapped and brought to the United States for trial in the slaying of Col. Rowe, just like those captured Taliban soldiers and Al Qaeda followers now interred in the Guantanamo Bay prison. We need to mention here that both Sison and Jalandoni have denounced Powell’s stigmatization. Sison replied:
US imperialism is the biggest terrorist force that has ever afflicted the Filipino people. And yet it has all the malice and temerity to misrepresent as terrorist every revolutionary force that arouses, organizes and mobilizes the Filipino people in a resolute struggle for national liberation and democracy against US imperialism, domestic feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism… Anyone who knows the principles and policies of the CPP is aware that it does not send its members or Red fighters of the NPA abroad to attack any US entity. The CPP has also repeatedly pointed out that Americans can enjoy the basic rights and freedoms of the foreign guest in the Philippines, unless they are deployed for combat operations against the revolutionary forces and people. (2002)
Jalandoni for his part refuted Powell’s declaration by stating that both the CPP and NPA, as member organizations of the NDFP, are guided by their own codes of discipline, that they uphold human rights and humanitarian law in conformity with the NDFP National Council Declaration of Undertaking to Apply the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol I of 1977. He poses the contradiction sharply:
Since their respective founding days in 1968 and 1969, the CPP and NPA have been dedicated to uphold, defend and advance the national and democratic rights and interests of the people. In this connection, as a matter of revolutionary principle and practice, they are necessarily against terrorism. It is of decisive importance that they maintain and develop the participation and support of the people in the revolution and that they use their limited weapons judiciously and precisely against the enemies of the people. In stark contrast to the CPP, NPA and other revolutionary forces, the GRP and all its armed forces like the AFP, PNP, CAFGU, deputized private armies and death squads commit gross human rights violations on a wide scale against the people, especially the workers and peasants. The records of Amnesty International and other human rights organizations show such rampant human rights violations under the auspices of state terrorism, overshadowing the claims of the GRP against the CPP and NPA (2002).
On the Eve of the Storm
I want to conclude by focusing on the historical trajectory of people’s war in the Philippines. The case of the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines may be taken as an example of one historic singularity. Because of the historical specificity of the Philippines’ emergence as a dependent nation-state controlled by the United States in the twentieth century, nationalism as a mass movement has always been defined by events of anti-imperialist rebellion. U.S. conquest entailed long and sustained violent suppression of the Filipino revolutionary forces for decades. The central founding “event” (as the philosopher Alain Badiou would define the term) is the 1896 revolution against Spain and its sequel, the Filipino-American war of 1899-1902, and the Moro resistance up to 1914 against U.S. colonization. Another political sequence of events is the Sakdal uprising in the Thirties during the Commonwealth period, followed by the Huk uprising in the Forties and Fifties – a sequence that is renewed in the First Quarter Storm of 1970 against the neo-colonial state. While the feudal oligarchy and the comprador class under U.S. patronage utilized elements of the nationalist tradition formed in 1896-1898 as their ideological weapon for establishing moral-intellectual leadership, their attempts have never been successful. Propped by the Pentagon-supported military, the Arroyo administration today, for example, uses the U.S. slogan of democracy against terrorism and the fantasies of the neoliberal free market to legitimize its continued exploitation of workers, peasants, women and ethnic minorities. Following a long and tested tradition of grassroots mobilization, Filipino nationalism has always remained centered on the peasantry’s demand for land closely tied to the popular-democratic demand for equality and genuine sovereignty.
For over a century now, U.S.-backed developmentalism and modernization have utterly failed in the Philippines. The resistance against globalized capital and its neo-liberal extortions is spearheaded today by a national-democratic mass movement of various ideological persuasions. There is also a durable Marxist-led insurgency that seeks to articulate the “unfinished revolution” of 1896 in its demand for national independence against U.S. control and social justice for the majority of citizens (80 million), ten percent of whom are now migrant workers abroad. Meanwhile, the Muslim community in the southern part of the Philippines initiated its armed struggle for self-determination during the Marcos dictatorship (1972-1986), and continues today as a broadly based movement for autonomy, despite the Islamic ideology of its teacher-militants. Recalling the genocidal U.S. campaigns cited above, BangsaMoro nationalism cannot forget its Muslim singularity, which is universalized in the principles of equality, justice, and the right to self-determination.
In the wake of past defeats of peasant revolts, the Filipino culture of nationalism constantly renews its anti-imperialist vocation by mobilizing new forces (women and church people in the Sixties, and the indigenous or ethnic minorities in the Seventies and Eighties). It is organically embedded in emancipatory social and political movements whose origin evokes in part the Enlightenment narrative of sovereignty as mediated by third-world nationalist movements (Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Mao) but whose sites of actualization are the local events of mass insurgency against continued U.S. hegemony. The Philippines as an “imagined” and actually experienced ensemble of communities, or multiplicities in motion, remains in the process of being constructed primarily through modes of political and social resistance against corporate trans-nationalism (or globalization, in the trendy parlance) and its technologically mediated ideologies, fashioning thereby the appropriate cultural forms of dissent, resistance, and subversion worthy of its people’s history and its collective vision.
*Groups in the Philippines like the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, BAYAN, and others have criticized the Arroyo government for arbitrarily labelling individuals and groups opposed to her policies as “terrorists” without due process or any serious public investigation. Such arbitrary lumping of the NDF, the CPP/NPA (together with the political adviser Jose Maria Sison) with the Abu Sayyaf and Osama bin Laden, or with criminals in the government police and military, reflects a mindless aping of the US and the European states in their unilateral proclamations. It used to be that the stigmatizing brand of “communists” was applied to people sowing fear to intimidate civilians to extract ransom or frighten law-enforcers. Who has benefitted from this but criminals engaged in drug trafficiting, kidnapping, money laundering, extortion, not to mention the torturers and human-rights violators who are still employed in government and the military. The terror unleashed by powerful drug and crime syndicates joins the official state terror inflicted by the military, and police can only drive home the lesson that the masses of people have to defend themselves with their own army, such as the New People’s Army or the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
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