KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 2 / April-May-June 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

The Left and Democratisation in the Philippines

Following his very informative lecture on the current state of play in the Philippine Government's peace negotiations with rebel forces, we wanted to know more about how Nathan Quimpo's political past, when he was in the Mindanao Commission and then the International Department of the Communist Party of the Philippines and a member of the National Council of the National Democratic Front, informs his political thinking today. Emere Distor interviewed Nathan on April 18th.

EMERE: Nathan, the early part of the 1990s saw the fragmentation of the national democratic movement into many factions and consequently the weakening of its political hold in the Philippines. Looking back now, has there been any positive consequence arising from that split?

NATHAN: The most positive consequence has been the emergence of a more pluralist Left and there´s no more hegemony on the part of the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People´s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA). We have a Left which is now more plural.

Today, there are about seven main groupings within The Left including the CPP and the Partido Demokratiko-Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP),[1] the mainstream social democratic party. In between these two there are five other groups. If you include the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP), there are eight. The PKP, the old pro-Moscow party, has not been that active and is very much weakened since the late 1980s.

From a situation before where the CPP had practically a monopoly, a hegemony over the entire Left, now there are more groups and some are stronger in certain sectors. In the labour sector, for instance, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)[2] is being challenged now by Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP)[3] and the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL). In the peasant sector, there are other Left groups that have bigger peasant associations than the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)[4], the CPP-aligned peasant association.

EMERE: Are you saying that the stronghold or the mass base of the CPP-NPA is still focused on the workers and peasants?

NATHAN: Yes, although the bulk of the organised peasants are not in open legal organisations but in underground organisations that support the NPA and efforts at building rural bases for armed struggle. In terms of actual membership, the KMP would be quite small. But when it comes to mobilisations, sometimes suddenly they come up with very big numbers mobilised mainly by the CPP-NPA machinery from the surrounding countryside.

EMERE: What role does the ND (national democratic) movement play in the current political situation in the Philippines and has it been effective in gaining political support on many levels?

NATHAN: The ND movement still sticks to the old formula. Its objective is still the seizure of state power mainly by armed means; its strategy is still protracted people´s war - the Maoist version of encircling the cities from the countryside. It is basically still performing the same role it played before martial law, during martial law and after Marcos fell. In terms of gaining political support I´d say that the ND movement went through a deep crisis in the 1990s particularly after the split with some recovery in the last three years but not to the levels of the 1980s. I don´t think it will ever get to that point again.

EMERE: Why, is that because of the political climate?

NATHAN: It´s a different ball game fighting a dictatorship than fighting an ´elite democracy´. In terms of armed struggle, I do not see the CPP-NPA being able to achieve a much higher level of warfare. It will remain at the guerrilla warfare level, but in a Maoist-type of armed movement, you´re supposed to move from guerilla warfare to regular mobile warfare to positional warfare. And, there are certain demands for moving from guerilla to regular warfare and one of the requisites is a steady and stable source of arms and ammunition. Finding a source at this time would be very difficult. The Soviet bloc is no longer there, China is not interested in exporting revolution any more, and North Korea is suffering from famine and economic hardships. I don´t think North Korea would be in such a position to export or provide arms and ammunition to the NPA, as it was willing to do in the late 1980s. The other problem is how to get these arms in; this was never solved by the CPP-NPA. There were several attempts in the ´70s and again in the ´80s, but they all failed.

EMERE: You mean there are still some factions within the CPP-NPA who are really dead set upon the Maoist form of struggle?

NATHAN: That is the CPP-NPA formula of struggle; that is why they call themselves "reaffirmists". The term "reaffirm" has been coined precisely because they want to reaffirm the so-called basic principles of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought.

EMERE: If the "rejectionists" disagree with the formula of armed struggle, what do they recommend, what do they stand for?

NATHAN: The rejectionists stand for the rejection of the so-called basic principles and strategies of Maoism and Stalinism. They also reject the semi-colonial/semi-feudal analysis of the world situation - the Chinese formula of society as copied by Sison and company. Mao´s thesis of anti-revisionism and his idea of a people´s democratic dictatorship have also been repudiated.

However, the rejectionists are not one group. There are four or five major groups in the rejectionist camp.

There is the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Pilipinas (RPM-P)[5], whose strategy, at least a few years ago, was for something like a Vietnamese-type of politico-military framework, patterned after the Vietnamese revolution.

The Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP)[6], opts for an insurrectional type of strategy which some in their ranks would like to call "people power strategy".

The Marxist-Leninist Party of the Philippines (MLPP) which broke away from the CPP in 1997, is not really rejectionist - in fact they would say that they are the genuine reaffirmists in the sense that they stick to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. But the MLPP is not as sectarian as the CPP.

Then there is the Rebolusyonaryong Partido ng Manggagawa-Mindanao (RPM-Mindanao) which was originally with RPM-P at its founding Congress in 1998, but broke away in 2000 because it disagreed with the way that RPM-P handled the negotiations for the signing of the Peace Agreement with the Estrada government.

Finally, you would also find rejectionists in Akbayan, but Akbayan is actually a multi-tendency party. It consists of several so-called political blocs.

Two of the original blocs, Siglaya and the Movement for Popular Democracy, were with the ND movement before. Now, the popdems (popular democrats) have dissolved themselves as a political tendency and only a section of Siglaya stayed on as a bloc within Akbayan. And the other two political tendencies within Akbayan are not from the ND tradition: these are Bukluran sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa (Bisig), an independent socialist group; and Pandayan para sa Sosyalistang Pilipinas from the social democratic tradition.

Unlike Partido ng Manggagawang Pilipino (PMP), RPM-P, and CPP whose focus is mainly on seizure of state power, Akbayan is more influenced, I think, by a neo-Gramscian[7] way of looking at the situation in the Philippines. Seizure of state power is still important but changing the power relationships within society is perhaps more important, and Akbayan is tending to lean towards the concept of "counter-hegemony" where you build power among the people, or within civil society, because whoever gains the upper hand in civil society will eventually be dominant in the state too.

EMERE: You have been living in The Netherlands for more than a decade now but your earlier experience with the CIA is still a fascinating story. Could you tell us what happened and why you think the U.S. intelligence agency picked on you as a valuable prospect?

NATHAN: That happened back in October 1991. It was the time when several of us in The Netherlands were already involved in trying to promote internal discussion and debate within the ND movement. Joel Rocamora, Edicio de la Torre and myself, started a journal called Debate and there were articles in it which were quite critical of the orthodox positions within the CPP. In September, just a month before the approach made by the CIA and Dutch Intelligence, Debate published my article in which I questioned the overall strategy of the CPP. There were very intense discussions going on at that time in The Netherlands and I was very much in the thick of it. By September I had already sensed that I was going to be expelled sooner or later by Joma[8] and company.

I think my phone at home was bugged, the NDF office itself had been bugged, and it would have been easy for the CIA to find out there was dissent, and that I was one of the disgruntled dissenting voices within. Because of this they thought I would ´turn´ and work with them.

A Dutch agent and a CIA agent approached me on the street, took me to a cafe and told me they had been keeping tabs on me for two years, and they told me about my political record for the past 20 years.

EMERE: What did they want from you?

NATHAN: To supply information about the conflict between Sison and Kintanar.[9] I wasn´t sure what they would do to me if I said no outright. I just told them, give me a telephone number and if I´m interested I´ll call you. No, they said, we have to set another appointment and if you don´t feel like accepting our offer then don´t come. So I wasn´t planning to go.

Then immediately after this encounter with the two agents, I went to a meeting of the International Committee of the NDF which was scheduled for that day. I told them about it and Luis Jalandoni[10] informed Joma and the decision was for me to go to the second meeting and we´d try to set it up and get in touch with the media. So I went. I was so scared. The agents didn´t sense anything until the interview ended. They were happy because they thought I was cooperating with them.

EMERE: Were you threatened when they discovered that you´d set them up?

NATHAN: Yes, the CIA agent said, "Nathan you are finished," but at that point there was no microphone because the camera crew went after the Dutch agent who was running away, and as it was so dramatic they ran after him.

EMERE: You were not approached after that.

NATHAN: No more.

EMERE: Was it broadcast on the news?

NATHAN: Yes, that same evening. It happened on a Saturday and it was in all the papers on Sunday and Monday.

EMERE: What did Joma and Luis make out of it? What was their reaction?

NATHAN: They couldn´t do much. It was my five minutes of fame. I became a sort of celebrity and they didn´t move against me at that particular time. But in December, Joma finished his draft of Reaffirm.[11] I got to read it in January and I was the first to respond in writing.

EMERE: Was he surprised when he got your reaction?

NATHAN: No, he expected it of course.

EMERE: What was the process of your expulsion from the CPP?

NATHAN: There was a sort of hearing presided by Julie Sison, Joma´s wife. I questioned the process because if one follows the constitution, only the appointing body, the Executive Committee of the CPP, could remove me from my position. That was in August or September. I was the first one to be expelled.

EMERE: Jose Maria Sison is still working on his application for political asylum in Holland. Why is the Dutch Government very hesitant on his request and what do you think would happen to Sison if or when he decides to come back to the Philippines?

NATHAN: I was the last one to be granted political asylum, but there were others who were allowed to stay in The Netherlands for humanitarian reasons. In Joma´s case the decision of the Dutch Government was to reject his application for asylum and they do not want to give him a formal permit to stay on humanitarian grounds. He appealed several times and he was rejected several times. They don´t want to give him asylum because they know that he is the Chairman of the CPP. Even before the decision to label the NPA and Sison as terrorist, they were already looking at Joma as the intellectual author of the violence. But there´s a clause in the European Human Rights Convention that says a person who is in danger of being killed, or given the death penalty in his home country, cannot be sent back. The Philippines has the death penalty and there´s always the danger that elements in the military would kill him, so the Dutch Government cannot do anything other than abide by this Convention. They would in fact want to send him to a third country but there´s no third country that would like to accept him. There are talks about extraditing him to the U.S.A., but the U.S. also has the death penalty, so he cannot be sent there either.

I think he´ll be in The Netherlands for some time and I don´t think he plans to go home. In the late 1980s Kintanar made arrangements for him to be smuggled back into the Philippines, but he didn´t want to go. Although he´s supposed to have enough confidence to trust his security to the NPA, he says it´s not safe for him to go back. The problem for Joma is that if he stays in the city or in a semi-urban area and he continues to be Chairman of the CPP, which is engaged in armed revolution, then he´s liable to be arrested again or even killed. It´s very difficult for him to disguise himself and stay in UG houses.[12] The only way that he would be safe is to be based in the countryside.

EMERE: But he won´t go?

NATHAN: No. It´s a mental attitude actually. His forte is coming up fast with statements and propaganda. In The Netherlands his day goes something like this: in the morning Julie gets the news from the Internet, she puts before him the most relevant, the most politically significant developments in the Philippines, he gets to read them, they discuss, and if there´s reactions that have to be made immediately, he writes it out and Julie types it for him, because he doesn´t type, he still writes in longhand. Julie edits, comments, they discuss, make changes and then it´s sent out by 11 or 12 o´clock, which is lunchtime in The Netherlands and 7pm in Manila - the media deadline, and it will appear the next day. Then the rest of the afternoon is for meetings, appointments and in the evenings he can relax, go to disco, and that´s his lifestyle. He has gotten used to all the convenience and at the same time he´s the guru, not just of the CPP but also of the international Maoist movement.

EMERE: The CPP and NPA have made political blunders in the past, such as the Plaza Miranda bombing which is common knowledge and the anti-DPA campaigns. Does the CPP see those incidents as serious enough to do what Maoists call "rectify errors" or do they still hold on to their analysis of these events?

NATHAN: As far as the Plaza Miranda bombing is concerned, Joma continues to deny this despite the many books and articles that have been written pointing to him as the mastermind. As for the anti-DPA campaigns, there´s no honest to goodness effort being made to investigate these fully and find out why these things happened. Joma has come out with his own analysis and tries to put the blame onto people who are critical of him, as in the case of those who were in the Mindanao Commission, including myself. But there has been no honest review of what happened.

The thing about this is that it was a pattern. It happened not just in Mindanao and Southern Tagalog, it also happened in other parts of Luzon, in Metro Manila, in Samar. Now there are groups of families of victims pushing for a truth commission to find out what happened and why - a full accounting.

Joma himself was involved in the 1988 anti-DPA campaign. I know that for a fact because I was already in the International Department. At least initially I was part of the group informing him about what was happening in the Philippines and he himself ordered some people to be investigated or even taken.

I think the great majority of the people in the Central Committee, especially the CPP Executive Committee, and some of the leading territorial and line commissions have to take responsibility for these very grave abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. As part of the Mindanao Commission, at least up to a certain period, I too take responsibility.

The thing is that you really have to come up with an impartial body. It shouldn´t be Government, it shouldn´t be the NDF or CPP either. I support the initiative for a truth commission and I am ready to cooperate with such a commission fully.

EMERE: You have written a very politically controversial article about the story behind the killing of Romulo Kintanar and you were also able to get it published in a widely circulated mainstream Philippine newspaper.[13] Do you still see some threatening forces lurking out there waiting to get you for revealing too much information - is it still a threat?

NATHAN: Yes, it is a threat. I think the Kintanar killing is a watershed, a turning point. Before, the conflict was still mainly done through polemics and restricted to non-physical attacks. Polemics can be very heated, defamatory, even abusive - but this is the first time that a major leader of the rejectionists has been killed.

There have been cases in the past where other people who disagreed with the CPP were also killed. Several members of the MLPP, the group from Central Luzon which split away from the CPP in 1997, have been killed and there have been an exchange of killings between the MLPP and the CPP, but these were not a result of the RA/RJ conflict. But the killing of Kintanar is clearly RA vs. RJ and I think this poses a danger to the Philippine Left as a whole because if the CPP continues with this, there´s the danger that there could be killings by an RJ group against the RAs. There could be retaliatory actions from both sides.

EMERE: From which the Government would actually profit, no doubt. Did you hear something from Joma? He must have read your article.

NATHAN: No, I didn´t. In November, before the Kintanar killing, a very reliable source from within the movement told me, "Don´t you know? You´re on the death list, but you´re not the priority." Now with this article, maybe I´m back on the priority list, I don´t know. But I´m actually more worried for people who are in the Philippines, especially for those who are unarmed.

EMERE: When you returned to the Philippines to teach at UP[14] did you notice that you were more politically attuned to what was really happening as compared to when you were staying in Holland?

NATHAN: When I went back to UP it was good to touch base a bit, but it was mainly with the academic community. The research I did at that time in 1998/99 was focused on the conflict between the Government and the Moro rebels. I interviewed MILF leaders including Salamat,[15] and also the Abu Sayyaf. I got to find out about what was happening in Basilan. But, it is through my more recent research that I got to know more about the current situation of The Left. In the course of interviewing, I went to Mindanao, Samar, central Visayas, southern Tagalog, Bicol; it was very fruitful. I think I have a much better picture now of how things are in the Philippines.

EMERE: How about those people staying in Holland, has distance from the mass base been a problem for the CPP´s hierarchy?

NATHAN: Joma has already had problems about getting an accurate picture of what was happening in the Philippines. It was a problem for him even when he was in the Philippines because he was underground or in the countryside, but it´s more difficult now he is based in The Netherlands since 1987. He´s been away for 15 years and his analysis of the situation in the Philippines is based on a formula of the country being semi-colonial and semi-feudal with a chronic revolutionary situation and a bright future - that sort of scenario - and he just comes up with variations.

EMERE: You are currently doing a PhD at ANU.[16] What is your research and interpretation leading you to? Do you find yourself likely to interpret your research from a Marxist point of view?

NATHAN: My dissertation is on "The Left and Democratisation in the Philippines". Originally it was "The Left, Democratisation and Elections in the Philippines", but now I see that you cannot focus on elections per se, you have to deal with the broader picture. The electoral arena is not the only arena where The Left is weak, another is in what comes after elections - governance.

I won´t go much more into the study of armed struggle and how that fits into the overall strategy of the Left - that´s the issue I was deliberating when I was still in the CPP. In 1990/91 I put forward my view that armed struggle is no longer warranted at this particular time. There will be situations when it could, but definitely not now.

With protracted people´s war, there are too many lives lost, too many people injured, so much economic destruction. You just have to find a strategy which provides better chances and actually improves the lives of the people that you are supposed to be fighting for.

I am looking into The Left´s intervention into POs (people´s organisations), NGOs (non-government organisations), the mass movement, social movements, civil society. I will also investigate the other arena where The Left has been weak - the state arena - elections and governance. I have come up with some interesting theses on the involvement of The Left in both civil society and in the state arena.

I´ve also observed certain changes in the views within The Left regarding democracy. It is starting to change from a position where The Left, particularly the CPP-NDF, totally rejected and boycotted such ´bourgeois´ democratic institutions and processes as elections and parliament. That moved on in 1987 to a more instrumental view of democracy, i.e. using elections for propaganda, raising money, collecting taxes and PTC or "permit to campaign" fees, extortion money. But the end in view is still the same - the seizure of state power by armed means - and elections and parliament are just a tactic, a tool for eventual seizure of state power through armed means. That has been termed by one academic as an "instrumental view of democracy". And, it is not just limited to democracy, it´s also an instrumental view of peace negotiations, an instrumental view of human rights, through which you use human rights and international humanitarian law as a tool for attacking, exposing and opposing the Government so that eventually the Government becomes isolated and you are able to seize power.

There are forces now in The Left who have taken on an integral view of democracy, meaning they recognise the intrinsic value of democracy. The Philippines may be an elite democracy, an oligarchic democracy or a "patrimonial oligarchic state" (that´s another writer´s articulation), but just as The Leftists in Latin America moved on to this integral view of democracy, I think that is happening too in the Philippines. They see openings, opportunities, possibilities of building on or deepening this elite democracy, removing the ´elite´ part, transforming democracy into something that is more participatory and egalitarian, moving from a democracy in the political field to democracy in the social and economic fields as well. Instead of exposing, opposing, bringing down everything - the idea now is to deal with the present, you might say truncated or limited form of democracy, by developing it into something that has participatory, popular empowerment features and also develop the socialist or egalitarian aspects of it.

EMERE: One last question, how is the peace process going to help the national democratic movement? Would they actually benefit in the political sense?

NATHAN: The NDF´s interest in the peace process at the moment is that they would like to use it as a means to attain belligerency status, greater international recognition for the NDF, and they are not really interested in a negotiated political settlement. In the year 2001 peace talks were held in Oslo hosted by the Norwegian Government who gave its good offices for the purposes of the talks.

The NDF was feeling quite elated that they were able achieve this level of international credibility. But it´s going to be a difficult ball game for the NDF if it just continues with this narrow view of the peace process. If it sticks to that instrumental view of peace negotiations, sooner or later it´s going to expose itself. For example, if the Norwegian Government really takes on the role of mediator in these peace negotiations, what could happen is that the Norwegian Government might tell the NDF that the particular position it is taking is unreasonable, and the NDF shouldn´t push it. If it gets exposed, the whole of the European Union is watching what is happening in the peace talks.

EMERE: It could work against the NDF rather than for it?

NATHAN: Yes, in the long run it will work against the NDF if they stick to that narrow instrumental view of peace negotiations. No way is the NDF going to achieve "total victory" through these negotiations. In the case of El Salvador, the FMLN[17] forces were satisfied that some of the gains they achieved in the politico-military fields were translated through the peace negotiations into concrete reforms - constitutional, political, economic, social reforms. They sought to ´complete´ their victory through elections and governance - they hoped that by showing they could lead, they would be voted into power. I think the FLMN is doing well and they might soon become the ruling party in El Salvador.[18]

That was precisely what some of us were saying back in 1991, that perhaps we should open ourselves to such a possibility. Joma didn´t like that. In his view that is capitulation, that is right opportunism, that is surrender.


[1] Philippine Democratic Socialist Party.
[2] May 1st Movement.
[3] Solidarity of Filipino Workers.
[4] Movement of Peasants in the Philippines.
[5] Revolutionary Workers´ Party-Philippines.
[6] Filipino Workers Party.
[7] Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was an Italian socialist, political theorist and anti-fascist activist who developed theories about civil society, hegemony and counter-hegemony.
[8] Joma, or sometimes Joema, is the nickname of Jose Maria Sison, the Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
[9] Romulo Kintanar, former chief of the New People´s Army, opposed Sison´s cover-up of the facts concerning the Plaza Miranda bombing. On 23 January 2003 Kintanar was killed. The CPP subsequently laid claim to the assassination.
[10] Luis Jalandoni, a former priest and a political refugee in the Netherlands, is the NDF´s spokesperson.
[11] Eventually published as: Armando Liwanag (pseudonym), Reaffirm Our Basic Principles and Rectify the Errors, amended and approved by the CPP Executive Committee March 1992, CPP Central Publishing House, 1992.
[12] UG houses = underground or safe houses.
[13] Nathan Gilbert Quimpo, "Red leaders afraid Kintanar knew too much", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 January 2003.
[14] University of the Philippines, Diliman.
[15] Hashim Salamat is the founding leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
[16] Australian National University, Canberra.
[17] Frente Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (the national liberation movement of El Salvador).
[18] Presidential elections in El Salvador will be held in 2004.

Nathan Gilbert QuimpoABOUT THE AUTHOR:

taught at the University of the Philippines (Diliman), the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and was an Associate Professor in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Tsukuba in Japan for many years.

He is the author of Contested Democracy and the Left in the Philippines after Marcos (Yale University Southeast Asia Studies and Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2008), and co–editor, with Patricio Abinales, of The US and the War on Terror in the Philippines (Anvil Press, 2008).

We have the following articles written by Nathan Quimpo in the CPCA library and we´d be happy to send you copies for the cost of photocopying plus postage. Contact CPCA at the address below:

  • What Muslim Mindanao Really Means to Arroyo
  • Contested Democracy and the Left in the Philippines
  • Trapo Parties and Corruption
  • Red leaders afraid Kintanar knew too much, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 January 2003.
  • The Left and Democratisation in the Philippines
  • Peace Movement and Credible Mediator Needed to Save Talks
  • Balikatan: Tripwire to a Bigger, Internationalized War?, Conjuncture, Vol. 14 No.1, Jan-Feb 2002
  • Internal Struggle in CPP: Sisons vs. Tiamzons, part 1 of 2, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 13 August 2001.
  • Different styles, same goals: The struggle continues, part 2 of 2, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 14 August 2001.
  • The Revolutionary Left: Back to centre stage?, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 June 2001.
  • Options in the Pursuit of a Just, Comprehensive, and Stable Peace in the Southern Philippines, Asian Survey, Vol. XLI, No. 2, March/April 2001.
  • Options in the Pursuit of a Just, Comprehensive, and Stable Peace in Mindanao, paper delivered at the forum Kalinaw! The Quest for Lasting Peace in the Philippines, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands, 29 September 2000.
  • Colonial Name, Colonial Mentality and Ethnocentrism, Public Policy, Vol. IV No. 1, January-June 2000.
  • Dealing with the MILF and Abu Sayyaf: Who´s Afraid of an Islamic State?, Public Policy, Vol. III No. 4, October/December 1999.
  • Barrio Utrecht, Sunday Inquirer Magazine, 7 November 1993.
  • Toward a Revolutionary Strategy of the 90s, published under the pseudonym Omar Tupaz, Debate, Issue No. 1, Sept 1991, quarterly journal of the Kalinaw Foundation, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, August 10, 1991.

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