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‘New opposition coalition’ of political has-beens

I nearly choked on my breakfast toast the other day when I read this paper’s banner headline: “New group vows fight vs fascism.” The editors of all the other papers threw to the waste bin their reporters’ filings on this non-event, and didn’t even put it in their inside pages.

Fascism? What fascism? While the term has been debased by the Left since the Marcos era, it is a specific term for authoritarianism based on race-based nationalism, as Mussolini’s Partito Nazionale Fascista and Hitler’s Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. Does Duterte’s administration even have a whiff of Filipino racism?

But never mind this ignorant use of a term in the banner headline.

What really got my goat is why they devoted a banner story to this non-event that was the “launching” of this tiny coterie so pretentiously called Laban ng Masa (Fight of the Masses). Its purported head (or spokesman) is the political has-been Walden Bello; its members are from a political has-been group. Didn’t any editor wonder why for a “new opposition coalition” nobody else could be quoted but Bello?

Bello has been a legend in his own mind. Reporting “writer” as his profession in his statement of assets and liabilities, Bello thought he had become a political leader with a following as he was the representative designated to Congress for nine years by the party-list Akbayan Party. Set up in the 1980s by mostly UP academics, the party had become the brown-shirts of sorts of President Aquino.

Akbayan thought that having an articulate, Arrneow-accented representative would boost its profile. It didn’t, as Bello apparently thought Akbayan needed him more than he needed it.

Preferring hobnobbing with international socialist groups and NGOs abroad rather than spending time with his colleagues and mass organizations, Bello never built up any political clout for himself nor for Akbayan.

RESURRECTION? Partido Lakas ng Masa founder, the late Popoy Lagman, the present chairman Melencio, and the spokesman of their new front.

Without consulting Akbayan, he resigned his post in Congress in March 2015 to protest, he claimed, Aquino’s washing-of-hands over the Mamasapano massacre of police Special Forces. The reality, I’m told, is that he was being opportunistic. He saw that the Yellow cult’s candidate Mar Roxas would lose, and sent word both to Duterte’s and Jojo Binay’s camps that he would support them. He was ignored.

Akbayan’s leaders in effect banished him, and Bello vanished into the political wilderness. Akbayan after all had its sights set on getting one of its members Risa Hontiveros to the Senate, and they needed Aquino for this.

Bello has never organized any mass organization in his entire life, except for a tiny group of anti-Marcos students in the US in the years just before the dictator fell. His work, if you may call it that, other than being a sociologist with no known accomplishment in that field, has been joining international anti-globalization events abroad and writing books on US anti-imperialism which, however, are merely filled with generalizations with little empirical work.

So, from where did the warm bodies that claimed to be members of “Lakas ng Masa” come from? From a has-been political organization.

Remember Filemon “Popoy” Lagman, the charismatic head of the Communist Party organization in Metro Manila, who directed the deadly, and feared assassination team Alex Boncayao Brigade?

Lagman had built up a big enough force loyal to him to challenge in the 1990s the leadership of Jose Ma. Sison. He was assassinated in 2001, allegedly because he had threatened to expose details regarding Sison’s planning and execution of the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing of the Liberal Party ‘miting de avance.”

After Lagman was killed, not a few of his cadres rejoined the mainstream Communist Party of the Philippines. However, many continued the mass organizations that Lagman had built up.

These consist almost entirely of the Partido Lakas ng Masa, the party Lagman wanted to replace the Communist Party as the revolution’s “vanguard”; the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, the labor federation he planned to rival the Communist Party’s Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU); and the National Federation of Labor, whose leadership Lagman with Edgar Jopson had captured in the 1980s.

Lakas ng Masa claims to be a socialist party. This is because the thrust of Lagman’s harangues against Sison and the Communist Party was that they weren’t espousing socialism, but a better kind of capitalism called “national democracy”. He ordered his followers to read Lenin more than Mao.

The “Lakas ng Masa” coalition is a pathetic attempt of the Partido Lakas ng Masa to create their own version of the Communist Party’s Bayan Muna, or its National Democratic Front.

What I suspect is that its real goal is to win party-list posts in Congress in the coming 2019 elections.

Partido Lakas ng Masa’s present chairman was identified in an international socialist magazine and in the party’s youtube video as Sonny Melencio, Lagman’s right-hand man from way back, during their period of youth activism in Caloocan City. Melencio is the real leader of this “new opposition coalition.”

Trapped as if in a time warp in the martial law period, this socialist group’s leaders have been so “underground” for four decades that they can’t or are unable to be in the limelight of legal political struggle, even if none of them are being hunted by authorities, who really don’t care about them. I doubt if they can even converse in the normal way we talk now.

With Akbayan having banished him, Bello was looking for an organization to shelter in, and to be a somebody again in the political landscape. Lakas ng Masa on the other hand had been looking for an articulate mouthpiece, a front man. The only new coalition that emerged is between Bello and the tiny Partido Lakas ng Masa.

However, without a fiery leader out in the open with a charisma like Lagman, the Lakas ng Masa party more and more has become a spent political force.

Only this newspaper chose to give it a bit of life. I don’t think Party chairman Melencio though will be able to stand Bello’s ego for long.