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Communists in Duterte’s gov’t: Good or bad?

SINCE the communist insurgency started in the 1950s led by a Soviet-influenced Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, President Duterte is the first president to have appointed not only former communist leaders but probably even active communist cadres as members of his Cabinet and as lower-ranking officials.

His Cabinet Secretary—ranked as powerful as the Executive Secretary in Duterte’s Cabinet—is Leoncio Evasco, Jr., his former chief of staff for nearly a decade when he was Davao City mayor, who also supervises about 15 government agencies, including the powerful Philippine Coconut Authority, which during Marcos times was headed by the defense secretary, Juan Ponce Enrile. Evasco left the priesthood to join the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the 1970s, and in the 1980s was one of its top leaders in Mindanao, when that region became the center of the communist insurgency.

Others are Social Welfare and Development Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, who in the 1980s was even a CPP central committee member; Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, chairman of the communist peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; Anti-Poverty Commission head Liza Masa, a former representative of the Red Bayan Muna party; and Joel Maglungsod, a former NPA commander and Anakpawis party-list representative, as labor undersecretary. I am not sure if she retains her Marxist ideology, but Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones together with her husband was a member of the Soviet-influenced Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas. There are a few other communist former or active cadres in sub-secretary positions, although most of these haven’t publicly disclosed their past or present affiliations.

While it was probably Evasco who convinced the President to get these communists into his government, I would think it was a brilliant move. Only this kind of irreverent President who doesn’t care what other people—or forces—think could have made so bold a move as appointing communists to high positions in his administration.

Five reasons
First, at least for those positions held by these cadres or former cadres, he won’t be worried about corruption. There are of course exceptions, and I know a few high-ranking communist party members in the 1970s who became corrupt and even turned to a life of crime, but communists are like the Iglesia ni Cristo faithful in the workplace: mostly incorruptible. Communists indeed have been the refutation of that dogma that only those who believe in a personal, powerful Deity would have high moral standards.

Perhaps it is because of their extreme brainwashing and sense of membership in a community, akin I would surmise to that of the INC, that communists are known—which is ironic in view of their materialist philosophy—to be non-materialistic people.

Second, Duterte would in effect be co-opting not only the communists who have been given posts in government but others in the insurgency. In effect, Duterte is telling them that there are other, more realistic and effective, ways of “serving the people”—the Maoist formulation of giving one’s life in devotion to the masses’ welfare—than armed struggle to establish the party’s dictatorship.

These actually had been occurring since the late 1970s when many former communist cadres—either disillusioned over the party leadership, rebelling against the killings it had ordered, or losing faith that the New People’s Army would ever rout the Armed Forces of the Philippines—joined the mostly foreign-funded “nongovernment organizations” to organize oppressed farmers for nonviolent political actions.

Join government
Some also even decided to join government through their own efforts, as I did when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recruited me into her government in 2001. Indeed, I learned from that experience, as I think communists in Duterte’s administration will, that government is the most powerful institution to change people’s lives, and it is a difficult struggle to change it from being an instrument of the elite.

The other more Machiavellian impact of getting communists to work in government is that after years of having a comfortable, rather normal way of life (compared to hiding in safe houses in the cities and in jungles in the mountains), even the most hardened communists become soft, and will not return to armed struggle, to that kind of harsh life ever. This is especially so in the case of several cadres in the cities whose children are in convent schools like St. Scholastic’s.

Have you heard of former communist party-list congressmen returning to the armed struggle? Even the CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison found a good excuse and, rather than return to his Red base here wherever it was, chose to spend the rest of his life in a capitalist welfare state that is the Netherlands.

Third, putting communists in key positions in government is Duterte’s way of telling the insurgents: “You’ve been fighting for this and that for more than four decades. So, I give you the machinery and resources of government, let’s see you undertake agrarian reform, uplift laborers’ welfare, help the poor, make education serve the poor. So, if you can’t undertake even agrarian reform, why would the nation let you capture power?

Fourth, Duterte in effect would have these communists in his government as his Fifth Column of sorts in the insurgency. After tasting power as high-ranking officials in government—even for instance having a driver and a car for the first time in their lives—these communists would find all the arguments and excuses for the CPP leadership not to break ties with the Duterte administration and to continue peace talks.

The party spokesmen for instance threatened to get out of the peace talks if Duterte allowed Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The strongman’s bones were buried anyway, and the party and its cadres just let the issue fade away.
Not risk-less
Having communists of course is not a risk-less strategy.

While communists in government will most likely be incorruptible, their revolutionary ethics would allow them to siphon off finances to the party’s cadres in the underground, and even to the New People’s Army, as allegedly happened in the case of government funds of Red party-list congressmen. Cadres and even NPAs could be given agrarian reform department IDs, for instance, so as to escape military dragnets.

I don’t think though that such resources siphoned off by communists in government to the insurgents would be significant. Believe it or not, government regulations are so strict in the handling of finances and other resources, and lower-ranking, career officials who will be the ones releasing these moneys won’t risk losing their jobs.

The biggest risk for Duterte is for those, especially the Yellow Cult and its Clerics planning to overthrow him through a coup d’état is to exploit his having communists in his Cabinet for black propaganda. They will claim that the President has become a puppet of godless communists, and therefore has to be overthrown by force.

This in fact was what happened in Indonesia in 1965 when Lt. Gen. Suharto overthrew the duly elected Sukarno on the excuse that the latter had become a puppet of the Indonesian Communist Party. The trigger for Suharto’s coup d’etat was the assassination of six generals by soldiers of the Presidential Guards, which to this day has been unexplained, but which was blamed on the communists. Suharto and his generals subsequently launched a pogrom against communists and everyone suspected to be communists, that resulted in about 1 million Indonesians of Chinese ethnicity murdered.

This also happened in Chile in 1973 when the leftist President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, who claimed that the President wanted to establish a communist dictatorship. As in Indonesia, but on a much lower scale and intensity, the military rulers killed over 3,000 leftists.

The United States government in both cases conspired in the overthrow of these democratically elected presidents, with its Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) role in propaganda and execution of the coups d’état established without a doubt by historians.