Don’t Call Me Comrade

May 13, 2003 at 2:29 pm | Posted in Akbayan, Politics | Leave a comment

I’m no communist, and I do not normally consider it an insult to be called one. But with malice, it’s infuriating. Admittedly, my newfound line of work is an open trap for the label, owing to stereotypes. In fact, less than a week into my new job, I woke up to the news that the President was actually labeling members of the party-list group to which I belong as a “communist” organization.


It was a hoot. It showed how lacking the President is in appreciating the nuances of progressive politics. It exposes her tendency to oversimplify and to lump oppositionists into categories that are comfortable to only her and her strategists. And if only for clarity’s sake, our organization is a mixed bunch of progressives of various persuasions. No single framework dominates our group and we are not a legal front for anyone. Personally, I do not need the President to define my brand of politics for me even as I am still trying to define it myself.

This name-calling normally wouldn’t be much of a fuss, really. But the danger in the President’s labeling is in the sort of reaction that would flow from such categorizations. With the United States’ classification of the Communist Party of the Philippines as a foreign terrorist organization, would the same treatment afforded thugs like the Abu Sayyaf now be extended to leftist organizations and any other forces showing resistance to GMA’s chaotic governance? Even in the absence of clear and irrefutable institutional links between legal organizations and the CPP?

Especially now that legislation on combating terrorism is pending with Congress, there is ample reason to believe that GMA’s dream of a strong republic will have to come at the expense of dissent. Will GMA’s drive against terrorists come in the form of bugged phone lines? Massive arrests? More violent dispersals? Zero tolerance and crackdowns? Just where will the government draw the line between terrorism and legitimate opposition?

The President’s propensity for throwing around loaded words like “communist” is more than just red-baiting. It is drawing the line between the state and its perceived enemies. The President is on the warpath. The US is her padrino. Big words are her weapons of choice. A strong republic is her overriding, albeit vague, objective.

But in doing so, the President is committing a very grave mistake. Instead of being participatory, her government is becoming more exclusivist. And potential allies are being lost even as the countdown to 2004 reaches the halfway mark since her accidental rise to power. The President’s steady drift towards the ultra-right will ultimately isolate her, and if she wins in 2004, it will only be with a slim margin.

I do not know whether her insensitivity is a natural gift or whether it is an acquired tool for her strong republic, but it is not the red tag in itself that makes me want to shake the President so badly. It is the sheer callousness that accompanies her words every time she opens her mouth that I find distasteful. And the ignorance that underlines it is pretty off-putting as well.

So what are progressives supposed to do? I’m sure not a lot of them will take this red tag sitting down. Or maybe they should. After all, they’re not totally alien to regimes sidelining them.

But no. Here exists a great opportunity for mainstreaming progressive ideas in the country’s political life. The President’s name-calling habits can be the opening needed to clarify identities, explain analyses and expand support.

Activists coming from the progressive bloc have more to fear from being lumped together with the Abu Sayyaf and less with the red tag. But until there is convincing evidence that the government has made such distinctions, clarifications must be made and positions must be elaborated on.

I eagerly wait for the next time the President opens her mouth to criticize her critics. I’m wondering what colorful adjectives she has in store for those who do not agree with her opportunistic style of governance. Until then, as a tax-paying citizen, I am ordering the President to cease and desist from all the malicious name-calling.

(originally appeared in BNEXT in the period August 19-25, 2002)

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