I write this piece not from a legal point of view, because persuasive legal arguments have already been forwarded on why Akbayan should not be disqualified from the party-list race and I have no desire to repeat arguments already made. I write this by way of personal reflection not just on the incidents of the past few days that have made it to the front page news, but on what it means to me to be Left and working for government, and why it is a challenge but not a contradiction. I write this knowing that I am not schooled in ideological discourse: my sense of right and wrong refined only through everyday observation and daily practice as an alternative lawyer. Most of all, I write this as a member of a Party whose struggles and dilemmas I have borne witness to as it reconciles the aspiration to accumulate political power amid imperfect terrains whilst maintaining commitment to its truths.
Much venom has been levelled by Anakbayan and company against Akbayan chosen party nominees who they accuse of being puppets of the current administration. To that we say, let’s look at the nominees one by one. Our second nominee they like to describe as Usec Barry Gutierrez, as if attaching the title “Usec” magically signifies capitulation to the State and deletes a long history of alternative lawyering for the marginalized, in Barry’s case, the urban poor. Check Barry’s litigation record and one immediately sees not just a bias, but a clear and uncompromising commitment to the poor and underrepresented. Angie Katoh, AKBAYAN’S third nominee, indeed is a Commissioner at the Philippine Commission on the Urban Poor – she sits precisely as representative of the urban poor and not as a career bureaucrat. Angie was arrested defending a workers’ picket line in Mindanao. Her release was secured with the intervention of NGOs and religious groups in Mindanao. She is a woman, handicapped and from Mindanao. The next time anybody wants to call her unrepresentative of the marginalized, please tell them to look her in the eye and tell her that directly. Walden Bello, whose positions against globalization and anti-neoliberalism are perhaps the most documented of all three nominees, perhaps needs no explaining. But it may help our friends in Anakbayan to look at the position Walden took on the issue of Karen Empeno and Sherilyn Cadapan (a student of his) as member of the UP faculty. In fact, Walden has defended their ally Sarah Raymundo from the charge that she is to blame for the abduction of Empeno and Cadapan and fought for her right to tenure.
Secondly, it is saddening that Anakbayan, et. al. has chosen to argue that AKBAYAN is unrepresentative of the marginalized by conflating “representation of the marginalized” with adherence to the position of the National Democratic line. For example, on the issue of agrarian reform, they argue that AKBAYAN is unrepresentative of the marginalized simply because it has chosen to throw its support behind the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the state – disregarding the many examples of farmers who were benefited by CARP. They also argue, by way of another example, that AKBAYAN is not representative of the marginalized because it supports the “sin tax” which according to them “burdens the masses in the guise of going against tobacco corporations.” How it burdens the masses, they fail to explain, unless they mean masses who smoke. To them, disagreement with their frame of reality is betrayal of the marginalized – a position that is at once totalitarian, reductionist and dangerous. The documented record is that AKBAYAN has helped shepherd important people-centered legislation and policies, from support to breast-feeding to Cheaper Medicines to Reproductive Health to agrarian reform to empowerment and local governance. And it will continue to do so, at whatever historical juncture, in whatever political climate.
Thirdly, it may be imperative to unpack the accusation of ‘red-baiting’. While I agree that red-baiting (i.e., the act of vilifying a particular organization or person simply because of membership in a communist organization or adherence to communist principles, or accusing an organization or person of the same) is in violation of the right to association and the right to speech and may imperil civilians, I don’t think the accusation of red-baiting should be instrumentalized to shield anyone – communists or not – from scrutiny and legitimize morally-reprehensible behaviour. I say this as a member of an organization called Peace Advocates for Truth, Healing and Justice (PATH) that works with survivors of the Communist purges and as a lawyer for landless farmers in Bondoc Peninsula whose farmer-leaders had been killed on the assertion that they were counter-revolutionaries for supporting state-sponsored agrarian reform. Hurling accusations of ‘red-baiting’ simply cannot be used as a stop-gap response to legitimate questions on specific acts and practices of the armed Left that should be open to scrutiny. In the same manner that AKBAYAN has frontally responded to the question of Hacienda Lusita and its being an ally of the sitting President (Akbayan made an unqualified call for land distribution and an unqualified denunciation of the stock distribution option), there is no reason to insulate organizations like Anakbayan from challenges to denounce – not Communism per se or communist organizations – but specific acts and practices of the non-state armed Left.
AKBAYAN is a work in progress and an evolving narrative. Has it made some mistakes as it muddles through its chosen path of reform and social change? Yes, I think so. The Party has a vibrant history of Party-mass movement dynamics – AKBAYAN’s decisions are the product of internal debates, assertions, corrections. We believe this is beneficial, even necessary, for a Party committed to change. Has it breached its bottomlines? History will bear us out, but at this juncture, I will be bold enough to say no.