Imperialist Globalization, APEC, and Mass Protest in the Philippines

Revolutionary Worker #889, January 12, 1997

A special feature of the RW to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Philippines is a country dominated by U.S. imperialism. Neocolonial and semifeudal rule in the Philippines have led to vast poverty in the cities, to landlessness and deep oppression in the countryside, to superprofits and to distorted economic development. These oppressive conditions have given rise to powerful revolutionary struggle, at the heart of which is a Maoist people's war based in the countryside and led by the Communist Party of the Philippines.

BAYAN--Bagong Alynsang Makabyan, or New Patriotic Alliance--is a broad-based organization in the Philippines engaged in the political struggle. It supports the revolutionary national democratic struggle. In 1996 BAYAN mounted a massive campaign against imperialist globalization. The political target of the campaign was the 4th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit that took place in late November and that was hosted by Philippines President Ramos. This summit was attended by President Clinton, the prime ministers of Japan, Australia, Canada, and other government leaders of the Asian-Pacific region.

Maoist political economist Raymond Lotta was in the Philippines to participate in the anti-APEC events. During his stay, he interviewed Nathaniel Santiago, the Secretary General of BAYAN.

Raymond Lotta: Nathaniel, perhaps you can start by telling us a little about BAYAN--its history and what it's all about.

Nathaniel Santiago: BAYAN was established in May 1985, at the height of the people's struggle against the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship. It is an alliance of different sectors of Philippine society fighting for national liberation and genuine people's democracy in the Philippines. Its aim is to end the rule of foreign monopoly capital led by the U.S. and comprador big business [business interests serving and collaborating with foreign capital--ed.] and big landlords.

Our organization is the biggest people's organization in the country. It has about one million people in its mass base, mainly from the militant trade unions and peasant associations, but it also forges unity with all anti-imperialist and democratic forces, including professionals.

RL: BAYAN has linked up with others internationally against "imperialist globalization." What is this about?

NS: The campaign against imperialist globalization is basically addressed against the drive of foreign monopoly capital to open up the economies of various countries to further exploitation through the policies of trade and investment liberalization, privatization, and deregulation. This was highlighted during the APEC summit in the Philippines in November 1996.

RL: So how would APEC and these policies affect the economy and the lives of workers and peasants in a country like the Philippines?

NS: will affect our economy in the sense of stunting the growth of local industry and agriculture. Surplus goods and capital will be dumped on us; bigger portions of our market, of our mineral resources, and of our agricultural land will fall under foreign control.

Under APEC the government has agreed to cheaply sell off our mineral lands, our agricultural lands, even our labor. Every day we see the shanties where the urban poor live getting demolished to give way to the so-called "foreign projects." We see evictions of farmers and indigenous people from the land to give way to U.S. and other foreign firms. Land that should be devoted to production of food and basic necessities is now being controlled by foreign mining firms and logging companies, or by those building assembly factories. A lot of this is causing pollution and ruining the land. We also see the further introduction and legalization of "contractualization" of labor.

RL: We should talk a little more about "contractualization" and casualization of labor.

NS: It's really happening all over the world. The capitalists are not only "downsizing" their labor forces and replacing workers with machines. They are also replacing regular workers with a smaller, less regular work force, which is hired on a temporary, "contractual" basis.

With this contractualization of labor, three basic rights of workers are being violated or denied: the right to security of employment; the right to organize unions; and the right to bargain for better wages and working conditions and organize strikes.

RL: Getting back to BAYAN's campaign against APEC, this was a real tit-for-tat battle with the government.

NS: Let me make three points about our situation as we launched the campaign. First, the government monopolizes propaganda and information and tries to create the impression that APEC is for development, and that if we don't join APEC, we will not be part of this bandwagon of globalization and development.

Second, the government has militarized our communities in the central Luzon area to make sure that the protests would be contained and that any dissenting opinion would not be heard. They deployed nine battalions of military and police in the vicinity of Subic, the former U.S. naval base [where the APEC summit was taking place--ed.] to harass, arrest, and terrorize many of our organizers and leaders and the people protesting APEC and the policies the government is pursuing.

Third, the government is trying to use the idea of this so-called "APEC success" [hosting the summit--ed.] to promote its agenda and to perpetuate itself in power beyond 1998.

RL: Tell us more about the campaign, your methods and tactics.

NS: We developed a massive information campaign, and not only through the media. We saturated communities with information about the evils of APEC and imperialist globalization. Organizers were doing room-to-room work in schools, going house-to-house and setting up what we call "people's meetings" in communities, distributing reading materials, posters, and other forms of information, and organizing pickets and marches and rallies.

RL: Clearly, you were able to make this a big question in society. It was all over the press and TV.

NS: Our achievement in terms of making people aware about APEC, and how it would only benefit foreign elite entities...was the making of two things. First, there were our efforts. But there were government blunders. The government carried out violent demolitions before APEC. 10,000 families lost their homes, and these demolitions are continuing. We expect half-a-million families to be deprived of their houses or shanties because they are considered squatters on their own land. And the government also evicted many farmers they deemed as security problems to the APEC delegates.

That shows APEC in the concrete, its real effects, not the statements the government was propagating about APEC bringing us development, jobs, and good earnings. APEC and globalization mean the loss of jobs, the loss of livelihood and income, and the loss of civil and political rights.

So the government's own blunders were working in favor of our massive and painstaking propaganda and educational work among the masses. These two things helped to unleash widespread dissent and protest.

In addition to this educational campaign, we organized the People's Conference Against Imperialist Globalization. 200 people participated and foreign delegates came from almost 40 countries. The conference showed the destructive effects of globalization and showed that the loss of jobs, land, income and rights are a worldwide phenomenon and served notice that people of the world are forging unity and encouraged organizations from different countries to campaign against imperialist globalization and to coordinate their efforts. And there was the People's Caravan.

RL: The caravan was the big anti-APEC protest event...

NS: The People's Caravan was the culmination of all this effort --the massive education, the mobilization, and the conferences. The caravan showed two things. First, the militant assertion of people, not only Filipinos but people of the world, that they will not allow the imperialists to just exploit the labor and plunder the economies of Third World countries. At the same time, it showed the desperate attempts of the imperialist powers and their puppet regimes, like the Ramos government, to stifle any form of dissent against their desperate but aggressive offensive against the people and economies of the Third World. The caravan had to surmount all kinds of obstacles put up by the government.

RL: So tell our readers more about what happened.

NS: The APEC conference was held at Subic in Olongapo, which is more than 100 kilometers from Manila. The government plan was to stop us from getting close to Subic. We were traveling in public vehicles and private cars. We were able to gather about 500 vehicles, with more than 10,000 people joining us in the caravan going to Olongapo. The government put up police phalanxes, they tried to block us with garbage trucks...but people negotiated with the police and they were pressured to open up the roads because of the huge traffic jams they created--the tactics of blockade boomeranged on them. The people pushed the dump trucks and garbage trucks to the side of the streets. We had to pass through seven blockades! Normally it just takes just two to three hours to get to Olongapo. But it took us more than 24 hours to reach a province before Olongapo.

We were almost at the boundary of Olongapo when we were blocked by a contingent of 1,000 military and police. At that point we decided to temporarily end the caravan and proclaim a resounding success.

RL: The government was really intent on stopping this.

NS: They even seeded the clouds to make it rain on people, hoping that people would scamper away. But the clouds and rain only refreshed us from the heat of the sun and energized us more. Before the caravan, they resorted to red-baiting and anticommunist hysteria. But they failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the masses in expressing their protest and failed to stop this large contingent from going towards Olongapo.

RL: It was really inspiring to see the support we got from people along the route--cheering us on and sharing food with us.

NS: And aside from the caravan, there were nationwide protests which mobilized, all and all, 100,000 people throughout the Philippines.

RL: So what's your overall assessment of this campaign?

NS: Before this campaign, the U.S.-Ramos government was on the offensive in terms of propagating APEC and globalization. But through this campaign they were put on the defensive. They suffered political losses. The government may boast of APEC success, but look at their face: you will see two black eyes.

Our success was not only in terms of defeating the propaganda machinery of the government; most important, we were trying to raise the level of awareness and organization of the people and expanding the reach of our organizations. And rest assured, this success will give us gains in terms of a more conscious, organized, and militant people fighting U.S. imperialism and the local reactionary forces in the Philippines.

RL: Do you have any last words for our North American readers?

NS: We want to see more and more Americans and oppressed peoples of the United States marching, shouting, and fighting hand-in-hand with the oppressed peoples of the world, including the Filipino people. We have a common enemy, we have common pain, and we have a common struggle: to see the downfall of the imperialists who are amassing wealth and power in the midst of exploitation, poverty, and oppression.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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