Book launch and reviewA Book Review of Prof. Jose Maria Sison’s Critique...

A Book Review of Prof. Jose Maria Sison’s Critique of Philippine Economy and Politics

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by Prof. Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez,
Professsor of History and Sociology, University of the Philippines Cebu and Visiting Professor at Universite Catholique De Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
(August 12, 2021).

Prof. Phoebe Zoe Maria Sanchez

It is an honor and great pleasure to be invited to review works of Prof. Jose Maria Sison. Although, I met him only twice in person, I say that his impact on my scholarly development is immense and perhaps matched only by teachings from Karl Marx, V. I. Lenin and Mao Zedong

Thank you for this opportunity to repay Prof. Sison an intellectual debt. Likewise, this is to demonstrate due recognition that despite demonization and attacks directed against him and the left social movement, Prof. Sison lives on to sustain painstaking and undying focus on a rigorous study of Philippine political structure, political culture, political norm, and political economy. Prof. Jose Maria Sison, truly dedicates himself, writing extensively and systematically consolidating enormous body of literature from collective mass observations and analyses on day-by-day Philippine social relations or from people from the ground scientifically recording the nature and character of the Philippine state, its social power and its social classes.

As a sociologist specializing on social movements, I appreciate how Prof. Sison with his national imaginary founded, theorized and dedicated his life on a social movement that still sustains for 52 years despite constant attacks from the state, as well as how he had followed through its development, its twists and turns, and as he countered its antagonists, he continues his consistent and sincereendeavor to promotepeace peace negotiations between the NDFPand the GRP. It is not easy to organize and institutionalize ideologically bound social organizations to actively or constantly campaign and advocate for social change and then sustain it like forever.

The writings of Prof. Sison guide me, my students and many other scholars on various occasions to understand clearly the answers to such questions on Philippine political economy and political sociology: What is the nature of the Philippine economy? Who rules? Who should rule? How does the Philippine ruling class rule? What are the various sources of Filipino political power and the various sources of Filipino political resistance? And the last but not the least question, we never forget to ask, “why are all these arrangements happening?”

The body of literature that Prof. Sison has written and compiled into the Critique of Philippine Economy and Politics, over time is as old as I am. I was born Sept. 21, 1965, truly a person originally dubbed a “Martial Law baby”. The first article reflected in the book, “National Freedom and Class Freedom” was a speech delivered to the Kabataang Makabayan Institute of National Affairs on Sept. 25, 1965. I was just 4 days old then. And I grew up as an avid Jose Maria Sison reader since his 1979’s seminal work, Philippine Society and Revolution (PSR). I bet, so many professors in history have also borrowed the PSR as template in their syllabi.

I would say that Prof. Sison is the most important Filipino Marxist theorist in our time. He has influenced many in our generation through exercises of understanding Philippine political economy with the eye toward the anatomy of Philippine politics, how economic powerytranslates to political power or the class bases of political tendencies in the country. His work informs us on the theory of the Philippine state as semifeudal and semicolonial and how it functions as the executive committee of the exploiting comprador bourgeoisie and landlord class improvising variegated devices to sustain exploitation of the Filipino people from time to time or from regimes to regimes. His framework also deepens our understanding of the nature of existing political parties. Of how only two political parties exists – the CPP and the rest. The rest being mere factions of the ruling social clases whose programs and thrusts are always the same and that flaunts slow and bankrupt systems of amelioration for the poor, evading substantive means to empower and emancipate the economically deprived. Sison’s work served me as a manual of sorts that disengages problematic analyses in a labyrinthine of economic data and narratives about the nitty-gritty of the Philippines but trains the eye in looking at the specificity of the Philippines’ mode of production via identifying the forces of production and corresponding social classes and then defining the corresponding relations of production between and among them.

For me, Sison’s Critique of Philippine Economy and Politics is a must read for Filipinos to fully understand the Philippine Economy, the State, Social Power and Social Classes in the Philippines.

The book says: foremost, the important fact we should underscore in this work, is that: Since its founding on December 26, 1968, the CPP has put forward the Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution on the basis of the critique of the Philippine society as semicolonial and semifeudal. The US granted nominal independence to the Philippines in 1946 but retained it as a semicolony through the US-RP Treaty of General Relations and subsequent treaties, agreements and arrangements subordinating the Philippines to US hegemony economically, politically, culturally and militarily.

Thus, may we put in mind, that as a nation our compatriots are waging just war. And be reminded of this, especially when we happen to open such online portals as the “Operation Pacific Eagle – Lead Inspector General Report” to the U. S. Department of State.

In my PH. D. thesis, it is reflected what I have taken from the works of Prof. Jose Maria Sison and also taken further, or perhaps, where I departed from his position. My analyses on the Martial Law and the Marcos Dictatorship, I had posted it as a kind of “Developmentalism Under a Dictatorship”, in Chapter 4 of the study: Playing the Game: Reform Politics in the Cebuano Traditional Political Field (Pp 55-108).

In my work, Developmental statism is tied up to the greater debate on state formation. And I posted it where Philippine state structures were considered products of the unusual concentrations of power and coercive ability rather than being a direct response to the functional demands of a development strategy.

Likewise, reminiscing the Nixon doctrine, more specifically in his “Asians fight Asians” and where Sison dubs Nixon using “Asian manpower as always the cannon fodder”, it truly sustained even to date with the Anti-drugs war exported to the country from way back Nixon’s declared drug abuse as “America’s public enemy number one” (Sharp 1994:1), as well as how the US launched International anti-drugs “all-out global war on the drug menace” and therefore catapulted by Nixon (DEA 2013). And US State Department, aside from its regular packaged support for military facilities to the AFP, specifically provided $6.5 Million in military aid for Philippine counter-narcotics operations as part of its International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Program (U. S. Department of State 2019:123).

Further on, the book Critique of Philippine Economy and Politics, expounds on the nature of Philippine economy as export oriented and import dependent and not necessarily industrializing but only at the tail-end of the assembly line. Or, how transnational corporations (TNCs) and multi-national corporations (MNCs) are at the top of foreign direct investments (FDIs) in the country in such non-highly industrial goods as garments, electronics, processed food, special effects, etc. The book highlights Sison’s critique on the old economic norm practiced years and years back such as extraction of raw minerals but which is currently described as “new extractivist economics” or of the extraction of cheap raw materials for export. And this goes hand in hand with FTAAs and MPSAs on a queue at the DENR. Likewise, the economic environment with the aggressive pressures of neoliberal exercises imposed by the IMF/WB and WTO with the Marakesh documents justifying the so called structural adjustments program (SAPs): privatization of public utilities, deregulation, market liberalization or more specifically the imposition called rationalization of massive taxation as valued added taxation, removal of price controls, wage restriction, anti-industrialization, import liberalization, debt servicing and non-repudiation of foreign loans erroneously contracted by erring administrations.

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Anyway, most importantly, the work Critique to the Philippine Economy and Politics extensively reflects rigorous appraisal of the socio-economic and socio-political situation of the Philippinesfrom 1965 until 2021, especially from the time neoliberalism started until the recent “new extractivist economics”. In the Critique of the Philippine Economy and Politics, Sison clearly defines parameters of measuring and appraising the economic condition of the state situated in relevant geopolitical circumstances. It also takes into accounts the manner the Philippine peasant economy has historically morphed into a system of : tenantization, into peasantization and into proletarianization as he says:

The rate of agricultural land expansion has exceeded the rate of population growth from decade to decade, mainly because of spontaneous peasant resettlement and opening of new land. But the rate of land accumulation by landlords has run faster. Now, the frontier areas have practically become closed to further resettlement. Peasant settlers and even minority nationalities are being deprived of their homesteads and ancestral lands.

In old and new settlements, the peasants are being proletarianized (dispossessed of land and tools) and yet there is no industrialization to absorb this growing surplus labor. Too many people are competing for seasonal farm work and they are spilling over into the cities to compete for odd jobs. Unemployment is rampant.

The land problem has become more acute than ever before. Thus, the agrarian revolution of the peasants and farm workers against the landlord class is breaking out on a national scale. Going alongwith the strength of the armed peasant army and other people’s organizations, the current general campaign for rent reduction and elimination of usury is bound to rise to the level of land confiscation from the landlords and free distribution of land to the tillers.

Feudalism is still the main socioeconomic problem. It involves the vast peasant majority of the people. The largest amount of surplus product is drawn from this class and is divided among the exploiters. Together with foreign monopoly capitalists, feudalism must be done away with in order to liberate the forces of production in the country.

By way of “industrial development,” US imperialism has promoted agricultural milling, extractive enterprises, slight processing of local raw-materials, the import-dependent “import-substitution” manufacturing for domestic consumption of the 1950s and more recently the far more import-dependent “export-oriented manufacturing” for reexport and domestic market penetration.

Actually, financial resources have flowed mostly and in a rapid manner into construction, utilities, transport and communications, tourist facilities, the military, the least useful parts of the bureaucracy and so on. All these have high import requirements and have drawn away resources from the genuine development of the country’s productive capacity.

As the US imperialist and the regime prate about “export-oriented development,” the Philippine economy has moved further away from industrialization and has become more dependent on the unequal exchange of raw-material exports and manufactured imports. The proportion of industrial employment, especially manufacturing, to total employment has gone down.

The problem of unemployment and underemployment has become very severe in both rural and urban areas. Unemployment has kept on rising. Consider that in 2019 10.9 million stay in the country unemployed and another 10 to 12 million go abroad to get jobns. These amount to 22.9 million out of a total labor force of 45 million. . The export of cheap skilled and unskilled labor and the emigration of professionals and highly trained technicians are a manifestation of the inability of the economy to absorb the growing manpower.

The foreign debt has increased by leaps and bounds to support nonproductive projects and activities, to cover the rapidly widening trade deficits and the servicing of accumulated foreign debts. This debt is being used to tighten the stranglehold of imperialist banks and firms on the Philippine economy.

The Philippines is now being required to extend more privileges to foreign investors against long-standing nationality requirements, further liberalize imports, make drastic devaluation of the peso, increase the tax burden of the people, etc.

For the multinational firms to expand their ownership of enterprises, they do not have to make new investments. They can choose to simply convert the foreign loans and supplies that cannot be paid by local businessmen into takeover equity.

The imperialist scheme of things is however, self-contradictory and self-defeating. The US and other transnational corporations want to perpetuate the Philippines as a source of cheap raw materials, a market for their manufactures and a field of direct and indirect investments for nonindustrial purposes. They keep on extracting superprofits. Their plunder goads the people to rebel.

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Major patterns of articles compiled in the book are on statistical data involving how the agri-agroforestry and agro-fishery sector still remains a dominant section of the economy compared to manufacturing, and trading and services. But funny one can observe a pattern where in various documents are the oft repeated themes, answers and counter-arguments to antagonists of the analyses “Semi-feudal” and “Semi-colonial” character of the economy. They keep oncounterposing such terms as “Semi-Capitalist”, “Capitalist” or “Dependent-Capitalist” state. Or that the country should be categorized as a “Newly Industrializing Country” first flaunted by the Ramos Regime. Hence, the book Critique of Philippine Economy and Politics also reflects a pattern of rigorous interviews and treatises explaining repeatedly about the semi-feudal and the semicolonial character of the Philippine political economy. And it is often said that a theorist lives on for as long as his work continues to be debated. In fact, Sison affirms that the capitalist commodity mode of production was stimulated by inter-island and foreign trade as early as the 19th century when feudalism with its natural economy of local self-sufficiency started to erode and that the semifeudal economy deliberately pushed by the US colonial regime promoted a land-based comprador big bourgeoisie as the chief trading and financial agent of US monopoly capitalism.

And more to entertain the antagonism, still they cannot make their homework properly and find how at the moment 45% of occupational lines are pegged with the agrarian sector, 22% with the manufacturing sector and 33% with the trading and services (my data UP Cebu Social Science Research 2019).

In the bookis a modicum of appropriations on the environment and the plight of Muslim Filipinos and national minorities. What I hope to see is still a Sison comprehensive treaties on political ecology, although these were never developed in the Marxist, Leninist and Maoist in particular. Perhaps a political ecology in line with the national democratic perspective, if not socialism grounded on ecology or ecology grounded on the national democratic program. This is so with the growing trend of a current “new extractivist economic world order” peddled by the corporation.

The development of the CPP as a party engendering a proletarian revolution is a highlight in the Report on the Second Plenum of the First Central Committee of the CPP. And then, in between are articles on Prof. Sison’s critiqueof various post-EDSA Philippine administrations being the mouthpieces of the comprador bourgeoisie and the landlord classes and its connivance with its principal — the U.S. imperialists in plundering the Philippines. So the Philippines sustains poverty no matter how these politicians pose their claims to statist developmentalism.

Now since I was introduced to social activism at the time of Mr. Marcos, in this part, I will highlight here juxtaposing Marcos’ legitimation scheme in his Proclamation No. 1081 (Martial Law, 1972), invoking his “revolution from the center” ala Vatican II in his works, namely:

  1. The Democratic Revolution in the Philippines (1974),
  2. Notes on the New Society of the Philippines (1973),
  3. Notes on the New Society of the Philippines II: The Rebellion of the Poor (1976);
  4. Towards a Filipino Ideology (1979), and
  5. An Ideology for Filipinos (1980).

However, it would appear that Marcos’ prescriptions for the ills of Philippine society

were all borrowed from Samuel Huntington’s (1968) Political Order in Changing Societies. It must be noted that, Marcos’ “revolution from the center” uses his office and the military bureaucracy as the central institutions responsible for the implementation of his so-called revolutionary programs. Marcos introduced:

1. Institutionalizing the Armed Bureaucracy – Marcos commenced with the rationalization of a very expensive parasitic detachment of the Philippine state via the policization, para-militarization, and militarization of communities. Remember the creation of the Philippine Integrated National Police (P-INP) and the expansion of military roles and positions for the armed forces especially among military generals into civil service positions worthy of civilians with technical eligibilities and expertise (Maynard 1976: 374-379; Hernandez 1979:217-218; Machado 1979:135). Today this is being replicated by the Duterte regime.

My sources:

  1. Maynard, Harold W. 1976. “A Comparison of Military Elite Role Perceptions in Indonesia And the Philippines” Ph. D. dissertation, American University. Pp. 374-379.
  2. Hernandez, Carolina G. 1979. “The Extent of Civilian Control of the Military in the Philippines: 1946-1976. Ph. D. dissertation, State University of New York at Buffalo. pp. 207-208.
  3. Machado, Kit G. 1979. “The Philippines 1978: Authoritarian Consolidation Continues”. Asian Survey p. 135.

2. Control of the Mass Media, by closing 16 Marcos-disfavored independent news, television and radio-networks already existent before his term of office and replacing them with government-controlled or allied, if not Marcos-funded press agencies

(New York Times Sept. 25, 1972:3; Tasker 1984:40; Mijares 1976: 327-329; San Juan 1978:40);

3. Tampering on the autonomy of the LGU. Marcos’ rationalization of the barangay governmentestablishing the “barangay assemblies” as stamping pad for referendums and plebiscites for letters of instructions and presidential orders provided in the:

  1. Philippines [Republic], Annex to the Five Year Development Plan 1978-1982:
  2. Profiles of Selected Development Projects (1977:177-178);
  3. Article 13, Sec. 5 and 6 in the Philippine Constitution (1973);
  4. Presidential Proclamation 2045 (reprinted in the Philippine News, Jan. 17 1981:21-27; and
  5. F. E. Marcos (1982) The New Philippine Republic: A Third World Approach to Democracy (p. 21-22).

4. Political language: Mythmaking and the rhetoric of birth (Si Malakas at Si Maganda)

The propaganda as deliberate campaign with specific structural components carefully arranged to introduce, justify, or reinforce political positions.

Orchestrated use of cultural myths, rhetorical it may be. In political rhetoric, the function of myth is to endorse a particular doctrine.

Thus, Sison aided us so much into understanding the first time we were introduced to the literature of state fascism in the Philippines. This fascist norm, however, is sustained even beyond the EDSA People Power Revolutions that never paved the way to genuine democratic transition in the country since the same ruling class sustains power and the same suffering classes continue in misery. In the book Critiqueof Philippine Economy and Politics, highlights:

Fascism as world Phenomena:

To preserve the exploitative relations of production, the monopoly capitalist class sheds off the trappings of bourgeois democracy, adopts an open rule of terror and launches wars of aggression to redivide the world. Interimperialist war leads to social revolution.

It is extremely difficult or impossible to achieve basic reforms (like the end of foreign monopoly domination, land reform and national industrialization) within the ruling system because the US and the exploiting classes of big compradors and landlords wield powerful instruments of violence against the people. Thus, the people have chosen the path of armed revolution and built their own revolutionary army on order to carry out a new democratic revolution, with a socialist perspective.

Only when the workers, peasants and the middle social strata have won power would they be able to adopt and implement an economic and financial policy that defends economic sovereignty and the national patrimony, abolishes completely the dominance of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism, develops the economy on a self-reliant basis through centralized planning and carries forward an independent foreign policy of promoting international solidarity, development, fair and equitable economic relations among all countries and fostering world peace.

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And my appreciation to the best article in this compilation entitled:

“Oppressors tell people to bow their heads.
Now they are raising their fists.”
Interview with Marco L. Valbuena, Chief Information Officer, Communist Party of the Philippines, October 27, 2020

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But how could peasants emancipate themselves through the revolution… the book

says:

The first stage is to carry out the minimum land reform program where the revolutionary movement has just started to take roots among the peasant masses. It means reducing the land rent, eliminating usury and reducing interest rates, raising farm wages, setting fair prices for farm products at the farm gate and raising production in agriculture and sideline occupations. However, whenever already possible, the land grabbed by landlords and corporations can be seized and returned immediately to the peasants and indigenous communities. The land of despotic landlords can also be confiscated and distributed free to the peasants.

The second stage is to carry out the maximum land reform program where the revolutionary forces, especially the people’s army, and the organized masses through their local organs of political power have the capability to do so on a wide scale. It means realizing the agrarian revolution. It consists of confiscating the land, distributing it free to the peasant masses and raising production by rudimentary cooperation among the households in a community. The reaction of the landlord is expected to rise. And the people’s court is ready to try despotic landlords with blood debts.

After the US and other capitalist powers shifted policy stress from Keynesianism to “free market” globalization, the reactionary regimes in the Philippines have obscured the need for land reform and national industrialization by harping on the need for raising productivity for the global market. In this regard, the real drive has been to further allow the foreign monopolies to take over natural resources, privatize public assets, get more tax exemptions and tariff cuts, and dump their surplus goods on the Philippines.

The Philippine economy is in a chronic state of crisis. This has rapidly deepened and aggravated under the current policy regime of unbridled “free market” globalization under which foreign monopoly capitalism is actually on a rampage. The semifeudal economy is incurring huge foreign trade deficits faster than ever from the unequal exchange of its raw-material exports and consumption-driven manufactured imports. The foreign trade deficits have not been relieved but in fact been aggravated by the export-oriented low-value added semi-manufacturing because this involves a high amount of overvalued imported content.

The huge trade deficits and rising debt service result in chronic current accounts deficits and unfavorable balance of payments. But the deficits are often covered by new debts at more onerous terms, including short-term portfolio investments and the flotation of bonds by state corporations in the capital market. These render the economy more vulnerable. The foreign debt is ever mounting. The foreign exchange remittances of overseas contract workers are in fact used for further import-dependent consumption but are often cited as a resource for paying a major part of the foreign debt.

The high level of government budgetary deficit is due to economic depression, the sale of income-generating state assets, reduction of tariffs, tax evasion by the exploiting classes including tax holidays and exemptions, bureaucratic corruption and high military expenditures. Moreover, the reactionary government and its various corporations enter into onerous loan and supply contracts with foreign banks and companies that aggravate the deficits to be covered by local public and foreign borrowing.

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And so, let me end with this quote from Prof. Sison’s Critique of Philippine Economy and Politics:

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On revolutionary and counterrevolutionary violence in Philippine history

It is an iron law of history that oppression and exploitation engenders resistance. Philippine history and current circumstances provide ample proof of this truth. One period in Philippine history is significantly and radically different from another as a result of violent developments. The social condition of the people in every period is determined by what kind of economy and political power is holding sway and is the outcome of the balance and struggle of the forces of armed revolution and armed reaction.

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