Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Paying One's Dues

The issue of local and national candidates running for public office in the coming May 2010 elections paying considerable sums of money to the New People's Army in return for for permission to enter and campaign unmolested in areas heavily controlled or influenced by the communist revolutionary movement is a hot topic for discussion nowadays. The armed forces has sent its representatives to do the rounds of the talk shows and news programs on both national television and radio specifically to warn politicians not to pay permit to campaign fees to the NPA and has even threatened to file disqualification cases with the Commission on Elections against candidates who the military can prove to have given in to rebel extortion demands.

The military leadership has pointed out that a large part of the millions of pesos rebel insurgents have supposedly been able to amass from permit-to-campaign fees have been used in the past to purchase arms, ammunition and logistical support for the revolutionary movement's almost four decade war with the government. The rest, according to military sources, go into the pockets of the top leadership of the movement who live in relative luxury and comfort in their urban safe houses here and abroad in stark contrast to the miserable living conditions their armed partisans have to endure in their mountain and jungle lairs in the Philippine countryside.

Forced to address the issue, the Communist Party of the Philippines, in its website, has managed to ingeniously sidestep the extortion issue by simply affirming the fact that, as a "nascent political power", the revolutionary forces have the right to define "policies and issues guidelines on the conduct of reactionary elections within the revolutionary areas". The statement on the site specifically fails to address the permit to campaign fees issue head on and simply elaborates rather lengthily on the need for NPA forces to exercise control and supervision over electoral activities by the "reactionary government" within their controlled areas and making sure that such activities will not violate the rights of the people and that of the "peasant masses" and, in the end, will "benefit them one way or the other."

I get the sense that the CPP/NPA leadership is basically uncomfortable with discussing further anything specific about the collection of permit to campaign and permit to win fees (if there ever is such a thing) and whether it has a specific policy allowing or disallowing such practices by local guerilla fronts all over the country. The absence of a categorical statement either supporting or condemning PTC and PTW fee collection can only be understood to mean that the revolutionary leadership tacitly supports the practice or, at the very least, tolerates it.

In the Lianga area, local officials and political candidates have not been willing to comment in public on the issue for obvious reasons. The few who have talked to me have said that the practice does exist although local NPA forces have not been "overly strict" in the collection of such fees in the past. The fees are also, according to them, often subject to much haggling and negotiation. Some candidates have paid in kind or in instalments. Those deemed "friendly" or "cooperative" with the revolutionary forces or those who have done the insurgents favors from time to time have been charged less or not assessed fees at all. The relative affluence or social background of the candidate can also determine how much he pays or whether he pays anything at all.

Despite the statement by some local government officials in the news that the payment of such fees have been purely voluntary on their part, the truth of the matter is that for candidates, especially those gunning for local government posts, the votes coming from insurgent controlled areas can mean the difference between electoral victory or defeat. In Lianga where electoral victories are often won on margins of a dozen votes or less, every vote counts. So a candidate who wants to win and win convincingly eventually has to cough up the money or negotiate for better terms of payment whether he likes it or not.

In one sense, political candidates and even incumbent local officials here see little difference between their courting of the favor and good graces of the local NPA leadership in comparison to the efforts they must exert to get the blessing and support of leaders and followers of religious, sectarian and sectoral organizations in Lianga. Granting that the CPP/NPA is an illegal and subversive movement, it, like the other organizations, legal and above board they may be, is an equally important and potential source of political power and influence.

A little organizational support given here and there, and an occasional payment of cash or goods from time to time can go a long way in maintaining one's "connections" with such organizations which can, when needed, be converted to political influence during elections. Such contributions are simply part and parcel of the total cost one must pay to keep a tight hold on the levers of power in local politics.

So the military leadership and high government officials can threaten with dire penalties both national and local politicians who they may suspect of contributing monies to the coffers of the CPP/NPA but that will not, in a significant way, make a lot of difference in their effort to discourage and stop this form of extortive activities by the revolutionary movement. The corrupt and dysfunctional nature of the way traditional politics operates at all levels of Filipino society nowadays simply makes that task nearly impossible to accomplish.

A local leader put it to me quite succinctly just a few days ago. "The NPA and their mass base," he said, "are a separate political constituency of their own. They are a loose voting bloc, a power base to control and I would rather have them on my side than allied with my political opponents. So I will do what I can to make sure that they are with me especially during elections."

In politics it seems, like in everything else in life, in order to get ahead, one must have to pay one's dues.

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