Background: The origins of the Philippines Workers Party

The two articles below are 2 of many I wrote during the 1990s on Filipino politics. These two give some insight to the origins of the Workers Party (PM), in the Philippines, whose ideas are inspired by the assassinated leader, Popoy Lagman. Representatives of the PM will be speaking at next year’s Marxism 2013.

Popoy Lagman
March 17, 1953—February 6, 2001

See the article at the end of this post by Ben Reid on Lagman’s assassination. I will post more of these early articles between now and Marxism 2013.


MANILA Workers establish new union

Wednesday, September 22, 1993 – 10:00

By Max Lane

MANILA — Fifteen thousand workers from the city of Manila assembled on September 14 to establish a new trade union centre, the Union of Workers for Change (BMP).

More than 700 delegates from more than 200 unions, representing the overwhelming majority of militant union organisations in the Manila region, voted at a general assembly on a series of resolutions establishing their new organisation. The resolutions were witnessed by 15,000 workers mobilised by their factory and workplace committees. The assembly also elected a Council of Leaders and a chairperson, Romy Castillo.

The 253 unions in Manila, covering between 150 and 170,000 workers each, were all once affiliated to the May First Movement (KMU). The decision to form a new organisation took place after months of internal struggle within the KMU and other mass organisations.

It was announced at the assembly that two major national unions, the National Federation of Labour Unions and the National Federation of Labour, will also disaffiliate from the KMU.

The struggle within the KMU has focused on what the new organisation describes as Stalinist and undemocratic methods of functioning. There has also been increasing discontent among trade union members about corruption of some national leaders and a refusal of national bodies to act against corruption.

The battle within the KMU and other mass organisations reflects a conflict inside the Communist Party of the Philippines. Division within the CPP was unleashed following the adoption of a series of documents setting out future strategy without any discussion among the mass membership. The documents call for a return to orthodox Maoist strategy, a strategy which has been questioned by many members of the CPP for some time. The development heightened concern among the left about democracy within the movement.

The final step came after the national leadership of the KMU suspended the 32-member National Capital Region — Rizal (NCRR) Council after it put forward its complaints. On September 2, an assembly of 1600 NCRR trade union leaders then decided to break away from the KMU. This was confirmed at the general assembly held on September 14.

The BMP assembly affirmed the principles of democratic operation within its own ranks as well as on a societal level. In a speech from the floor, the new chairperson also confirmed the movement’s commitment to the ultimate goal of a democratic form of socialism.

Reflecting the membership’s opposition to corruption and deals with the bosses, the assembly passed a resolution requiring all members of the Council of Leaders to make a formal declaration of all their financial assets at the time of their election and again at the end of their term of office.

Another resolution entrenched the principle of free and fair elections and established a right of recall of all members of the Council of Leaders. Basic rights such as freedom of criticism within the union were reaffirmed.

The general assembly decided to establish its own organisation for women workers. A majority of the assembly were women, and they took to the floor with great enthusiasm after the resolution and during a song celebrating the women’s struggle.

Despite the fact that this event came after months of bitter internal struggle, and despite evident sadness at the split, the atmosphere was exciting, vibrant and full of determination to build a new and more vigorous movement.

At times the assembly became more like a mass rally as workers showed their support for decisions they had taken by shouting, clapping and stamping their feet. During a series of stirring political songs and performances, the fighting spirit of the crowd surfaced and during the election of the Council of Leaders cheers went up from the various factory delegations as it was announced that one of their comrades had been elected. Perhaps the highest points were the election of the new chairperson and the bringing forth of the new BMP banner.

A message from the Manila-Rizal Regional Committee of the CPP was read out and warmly received. The committee congratulated the workers on their decision, pledged its support and called on people to recommit themselves to the revolutionary struggle.

Representatives from the labour section of BISIG (Union of Socialist Ideas and Action) and Pandayan (a left social democratic formation) also read out solidarity messages.

Tony Cabardo, representing the National Capital Regional Committee of BAYAN, the federation of all the largest worker, student, teacher and church mass organisations, also read out a solidarity message. NCRR BAYAN has broken away from BAYAN and is about to form a new mass activist political league.

Also present were representatives of the Swedish and Dutch solidarity movements and of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party.


A new dynamic in Philippines left

Wednesday, October 20, 1993 – 10:00

By Max Lane

The Manila Rizal Branch of the Communist Party of the Philippines — known as MR — comprises about 5000 members and has influence within a range of organisations with a base of 120,000 people even in quiet times. Visiting Manila for three weeks in September-October, I met with many of the leaders and activists of MR as well as other organisations on the left.

The whole of the left is in a process of realignment and reassessment, largely as a result of the initiative taken by MR in response to moves by the CPP National Executive and its chair, Jose Maria Sison alias Armando Liwanag.

Sison and the National Executive forced the adoption of a policy calling on the party to return to Mao Zedong Thought, especially to the Maoist doctrine that revolutionary strategy should be based upon a protracted guerilla war in which a rural guerilla army gradually tightens its grip on the cities until the system collapses.

Formulation of this document, which analysed the last 10 years of the CPP’s experience, took place in the absence of any organised party-wide discussion. It was adopted by a meeting of the Central Committee at which a number of senior leaders were not present. The document, many of whose ideas had already been criticised by many leaders and activists, also called for a “rectification movement” targeted at all those who had committed deviations.

A purge began in party organs under the control of the National Executive while discontent spread among the membership. While it was true that the movement faced many unresolved questions and had experienced some setbacks, many activists told me, how could such a rich and complex experience of party building, people’s warfare and campaigning be analysed without the whole membership’s participation?

Worse, the documents portrayed the record of the party during the 10 years in a generally negative light, downplaying the advances made by the movement.

In this situation, several sections of the party leadership began to revolt. These included MR, the Visayas region (covering the islands of Negros, Panay, Cebu, and parts of Samar/Leyte), and Central Mindanao. In addition, the International Department of the CC, based in Holland, its Home Bureau and the Peasants Secretariat revolted.

Making the most decisive break were the leaders of MR. They set in motion a process which is transforming their section of the party. It began with a discussion in which the scores of major documents that had been written by leaders and activists both for and against the National Executive position were circulated to all party groups.

The MR leadership launched its own criticism of the methods of the national leadership, characterising it as feudal, absolutist and Stalinist. At the end of several months’ discussion and with support of over 90% of all party members in MR, the regional committee in July declared its autonomy from the Central Committee.

The MR called for a unity congress at which all views could be presented. Meanwhile, out of the discussion and critique came demands for major reforms. There must be regular congresses — there had been no congress since the first one in 1968. Leadership must be elected at all levels by the membership, not coopted from above. All documents should be circulated and discussed by the membership before being adopted. There should be free and open debate before decisions are made and then unity in action until they are tested.

According to Carlos Forte, all these things were a part of the real “Bolshevik spirit”. The consensus among party leaders and activists was that democratic centralism should also allow the formation of factions inside the party which could argue for their positions freely.

In all my discussions with cadre, this spirit of democratisation was very evident. Everybody wanted to discuss everything. Everybody wanted more contacts with communists around the world who were also struggling to build disciplined and democratic fighting parties.

In a long discussion with Carlos Forte, he outlined some of the reforms they expected to be in place by early 1994. New rules would end cooption and require all party positions to be subject to elections. There would be procedures to allow the membership to recall leaders. There would be an elected commission to make sure that party rules were adhered to, especially by the leadership.

Stalin and Mao

“All previous ideological bases are being reviewed”, Forte told me, “and we are especially studying Marx and Lenin and subjecting Stalin and Mao to criticism”. They were reviewing the Stalinist and Maoist ideas on a two-stage revolution and re-reading what Lenin had to say on this question.

“At the moment there seems to be no real link between the national democratic revolution and the socialist revolution. It is as if socialism is artificially superimposed on the democratic revolution. We want to study what Lenin had to say on the idea of the uninterrupted revolution. What is the proletarian position on this, on the transition to the socialist revolution? The Maoist position, this artificial imposition of socialism, seems to reflect a more petty- bourgeois viewpoint, just as Maoist philosophy is more Taoist than Marxist — yin and yang-ism.”

The changes that he expected to flow from destalinisation would also affect practical politics and strategy. “We will reject the idea that protracted guerilla struggle can define, can be equated with the revolutionary strategy as a whole. The theory of protracted people’s war remains valid as a military strategy in the countryside.

“But this military theory for countryside war does not add up to a strategy for revolutionary victory, which is a political, not military, question.”

Forte explained that all forms of struggle, including guerilla warfare, mass street actions and parliamentary forms, were equally valid. “Their use and their role has to be analysed in the light of the specific expression of class struggle, in the dynamics of class struggle and not simply the military balance.”

He expected that the new framework would bring greater attempts at unity of all the left forces and efforts to link up with other “positive forces”. This might even include progressive elements among the military who have broken away from the Philippines Armed Forces, as well as sections of business opposed to the dominance of foreign investment. There are also potential allies amongst capitalists who are opposed to the rampant corruption.


There would be a “more active posture by the left around the struggle for reforms. We need to erase this stereotype of the left that all we want to do is propagandise around the ‘strategic line issues’. The struggle for reforms can help us accumulate strength, further the political education of the people.”

He listed issues such as wages and conditions of labour, land reform and agrarian policy, the struggle for a limit on payments of the Philippines’ foreign debt each year, opposition to the austerity measures insisted upon by the IMF, and to proposed constitutional reforms which would give more power to the powerful business clans.

“We can have an influence in some of the mass organisations operating at a legal level. But they must develop their own dynamism; their policies and tactics must be worked out through their own structures and members”, said Forte. “This is a very important change.”

Forte made it clear that there would not now be an end to military activity in Manila. “The people must learn that they need not feel constrained by the formal structures allowed by the system. We will use our military strength to expose the most despotic, rotten and corrupt elements of the ruling class. And we will try to be more creative. There will be more arrests by our armed partisans who will release their prisoners after exposing their activities.”

“We will be expanding”, said Forte. “Our work in the women and student sectors will expand nationally. The people want basic change. When you move about you can feel their misery and their desire for change. They don’t need to be convinced about the revolution. Our problem is to give them hope that the revolution can succeed. We must provide the people with a viable alternative. That is what all these changes are aimed at.”

“The other side in this struggle on the left”, said Forte, “are tied to rigid and doctrinaire dogma. They are not real Marxists: they don’t begin their analysis from the real existing conditions. They are not revolutionary, they can’t adapt. They have only a fidelity to abstract principles.”

“And they work in a purely militarist framework”, Forte added. “Revolution is reduced to class hatred and war. The human aspect of the revolutionary movement is absent.”

Forte remained optimistic for the rest of the movement. “Even after 20 years of difficult struggle, you can see everywhere that the activist spirit is still alive.”


PHILIPPINES: Popoy Lagman assassinated

 Wednesday, February 14, 2001

By Ben Reid
MANILA — The leader of the militant BMP trade union federation and prominent leftist, Filemon “Popoy” Lagman, was assassinated on February 6. Four gunmen opened fire while Lagman was visiting the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines.

Happening just weeks after the fall of President Joseph Estrada, it is the first political assassination to occur under the new regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and signals the possible beginning of a campaign of terror targeting the country’s leftist movement.

Many suspect that a rightist faction of the military loyal to the ousted president Joseph Estrada was behind the killing, with the intention of destabilising Arroyo’s government and sowing intrigue among the competing armed factions of the left. The assassins have not yet been apprehended, although two suspects have been identified.

Lagman was a long-time leader of the country’s revolutionary movement. Joining the underground Communist Party of the Philippines in the 1970s and rising to become the head of its metro Manila unit, he played a central part in the movement against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

When the urban-based strategy of Lagman and other Manila party leaders came into conflict with the dogmatic pronouncements of CPP chairperson Jose Maria Sison, the entire metro Manila unit split from the party and turned its attention to the urban mass movement. The BMP, with Lagman at its head, was formed in 1995, as part of the Sanlakas federation of mass organisations.

While the BMP and Sanlakas have since undergone a series of sometimes acrimonious splits, Lagman was still widely regarded as a revolutionary leader of considerable stature.

The assassination was made to appear the work of rival left factions, an impression possibly aided by Sison who publicly implicated other leftists in Lagman’s slaying. The CPP chairperson refused to express even a modicum of sympathy or solidarity in his public statements.

Most on the left, however, condemned the killing of the veteran leader. Liddy Napcil-Alandjro of the Anti-Trapo Movement, a coalition which groups many left organisations opposed to Estrada, stated she was “outraged by the cruelty of this act”.

“His death appears to follow the pattern that occurred after the anti-Marcos revolt”, she said. “Right-wing military groups stepped up terror and repression against the left as a way of destabilising the new regime and in this instance sowing intrigue within the progressive movement.”

Sonny Melencio of the Socialist Party of Labour agreed: “Popoy remained a political militant and his assassination is an attack on the whole progressive movement.”

“While it may be prejudging the situation, it appears to be part of a destabilisation campaign aimed at the current administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo by pro-Estrada loyalists. It demonstrates the instability and hollowness of democracy in the Philippines.”

“It is really only the military that had the capacity to carry out an assassination such as this. It follows the pattern of the December 31 bombing that was attributed to the Islamic rebels in Mindanao. We have very low expectations that justice will be done.”

Wilson Fortoleza, the spokesperson for Sanlakas, stated “Ka Popoy was not only the leader of the most militant labour union organisation but a true-blooded revolutionary and socialist. So he had a lot of enemies: the state, the capitalists and rivals within the leftist movement. He earned a lot of enemies, but also a lot of friends.”

“We are not pointing our fingers at any group at this time. What is certain is that this act was a politically motivated attack against the enemies of the ruling class.”

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