People’s SONA: Class clarity is crucial for solidarity with people of Philippines

Photo: Malaya Movement

In the Philippines, the State of the Nation Address, popularly abbreviated as SONA, is traditionally held on the fourth Monday of every July. This year, it will be Monday, July 22, on which day President Rodrigo Duterte will stand before a joint session of Congress and report to the people of the Philippines and to the people of the world what he wants us to believe about what’s going on in his country. 

If Duterte’s previous three SONAs are any indication, we should expect to hear about the rousing success of his “war on drugs.” He will conveniently leave out any mention of the mounting death tolls, the use of police, military and mercenary forces used to carry them out, and the U.S. tax dollars being used to fund them. He will certainly not mention that drug abuse has not lessened.

We should expect to hear about the growing strength of the Philippines economy. We should not expect, however, to hear how this growth is calculated or measured. Any report that claims the economy of the Philippines is expanding simply does not account for the growing poverty, landlessness, contractualization or forced migration. 

The peasant class of the Philippines is forced to till land that does not belong to it to produce food that it will not get to eat. And the working class is forced into unemployment because of the import-dependent economy. This means that everyday goods must be bought from overseas, even though the raw materials used to make them are produced right there in the Philippines, which leads to superprofits for the giant monopolies. 

Because there is such a small industrial economy, the lack of jobs forces Filipino workers out of the Philippines so they can send home remittances to support their families. 

In other words, Duterte will continue to regurgitate the lies fed to him by the U.S.-backed government of landlords and comprador capitalists — the facilitators for the imperialists.

The people’s response

Luckily, the people of the Philippines will not take this sitting down. All across the Philippines and the world, fighters for national liberation will respond with the People’s State of the Nation Address, or PSONA. This is where we should expect to hear everything Duterte will not say — about the pain and grief of losing a loved one to Duterte’s “drug war,” about the migrant workers longing to be reunited with their families, about the razing of Indigenous communities.

But the PSONA will not be just about the problems — it will also be about solutions. The Philippines movement for national liberation has a clearly articulated plan for fixing the main problems in the Philippines. This includes genuine land reform — redistributing land to the landless — and national industrialization — developing heavy industry in order to curtail dependence on imports. 

There are two demands for the short term as well: 1) Stop the killings, and 2) oust Duterte from the presidency. The call for Duterte’s ouster demands special attention, from seasoned activists to budding anti-imperialists alike. It is something the anti-war movement in the U.S. needs to get right and analyze with absolute clarity in order to build a movement that properly strikes at the heart of imperialism. 

Specifically, we must pay attention to the class character of this call for Duterte’s ouster — what class forces are demanding it? What class interests does it serve? Of course, most who know about the situation in the Philippines know that this demand was raised by the oppressed classes of the Philippines, in the service of the oppressed classes of the Philippines. So what is confusing about this?

Class analysis: Getting it right

A clear way to illustrate the importance of class character is to compare the calls for Duterte’s ouster with the calls for the ouster of the president of Bolivarian Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Who wants Maduro gone? Which forces do they rely on to try to make it happen? 

People who follow Struggle-La Lucha newspaper surely know about the U.S. government’s takeover of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. What class forces carried that out? On the orders of the U.S. State Department — the same department that has carried out massacres and right-wing coups and funded death squads in Africa, Asia and Latin America — the Secret Service, the DC Metro Police and the Federal Police stormed the embassy and arrested the embassy protectors. In this case, the armed goons of the ruling capitalist class carried out the embassy takeover. 

And most people know that the calls to overthrow the Bolivarian government of Venezuela began long before that, starting with the election of Hugo Chávez two decades ago. Of course, this resulted in a failed coup in 2002. The corporate media — the mouthpieces of the U.S. elite — shouted much louder about the coup than the people of Venezuela did. The ruling class cheered for Chávez’s overthrow.

It is an eerily similar situation with the presidency that Maduro inherited. The Venezuelan capitalists, for fear of their industries being nationalized and missing out on profits, actively sabotaged the Venezuelan economy and blamed it on “socialism.” But who were the loudest doomsayers, calling for the downfall of President Maduro? 

One of them was none other than Marco Rubio, U.S. senator from Florida, son of rich Cubans who fled the Cuban Revolution for fear of losing their privileged lifestyles. Rubio had tweeted Maduro’s name 380 times as of March 2019. As for Florida, the state he represents in the U.S. Senate? Seventeen. 

Rubio uses his platform to call Maduro an “illegitimate tyrant” and position himself as champion of the Venezuelan people. At the same time, he uses his Senate position to support sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, which hurt (guess who?) the Cuban and Venezuelan people. 

Rubio, supposed champion of the people, pushed for legislation that would lower the corporate income tax rate for the richest business owners from 38 percent to 25 percent, while doing away with food stamps and Earned Income Tax Credits, both of which benefit low- to moderate-income workers. Turns out a bourgeois stooge cannot help but be a bourgeois stooge. 

But Rubio is only one of many corporate talking heads clamoring for the overthrow of President Maduro. And what interesting timing it is that Venezuela and Iran are under attack, when oil profits are dropping

Clarity makes the difference

In this context, we can see how important it is to understand the class character of a movement or demand. It is also important for the anti-war movement in the U.S. to understand that many anti-war, anti-imperialist activists come to consciousness after they learn of the lies the U.S. told about “evil dictators” — lies about Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi or Mao Zedong. So when a studied anti-imperialist hears a demand to oust a particular leader of a country oppressed by imperialism, alarms go off. After all, does overturning an individual really change a system?

But the Filipino people are not naive on this point. They do not fool themselves that ousting Duterte will overturn the class rule of the landlords and comprador capitalists. But they also know that the movement for national liberation cannot grow while Duterte uses his “war on drugs” to justify mass murders of activists, workers and peasants. Additionally, ousting Duterte would be a huge victory for the movement, earning the confidence of the masses, and making the landlords and imperialists tremble in their boots. 

This is why class analysis is so crucial for anti-imperialists in the United States. Not being able to analyze the class character of a given movement or demand can lead to serious confusion about whether to support it or not. If we were fooled by the ruling-class demands for Maduro’s ouster, we would become cheerleaders for imperialism. If we were too hesitant to support the calls for Duterte’s ouster, we would miss out on the chance to gain allies by showing solidarity with the Filipino masses, and possibly contributing to a material victory.

To avoid serious errors like these, we need to take seriously the role of political education in the anti-imperialist movement. Even as we persistently and consistently raise our positions in public via demonstrations, rallies and other mass actions, we have to also be providing thorough and comprehensive political education. We must view political education as one way that we arm the movement and give it teeth. 

Historical materialism, dialectical materialism, class analysis — these are all weapons, and they empower dedicated anti-imperialist fighters to provide clarity and direction on any new political crisis. If we are able to grasp these weapons firmly, we will never lose sight of our goals — to smash imperialism and capitalism, to build socialism and to provide the material basis for self-determination for the peoples of the world.

Armed with the confidence that Duterte’s ouster is a genuine demand of the oppressed classes of the Philippines, anti-imperialists should support this call and find any way possible to contribute to its realization. We should start by being on the lookout for the organizing of PSONAs in our cities and towns, or even by organizing them independently. The People’s State of the Nation Address is a powerful way not only to counter ruling class lies, but to educate the masses on the truth. 

Details on PSONA events:

Washington, D.C. (7/22)
11 a.m. rally at the White House; 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; then march to the Philippine Embassy
12:30 p.m. rally at the Philippine Embassy; 1600 Massachusetts Ave. NW

New York, N.Y. (7/22)
6 p.m. rally at the Philippine Consulate; 556 5th Ave.

Houston, Texas
(7/21) 2 p.m. Community Forum; Location TBA
(7/22) 6 p.m. Vigil at the Philippine Consulate; 9990 Richmond Ave.

Chicago, Ill. (7/22)
6 p.m. rally at the Philippine Consulate; 122 South Michigan Ave.

San Francisco, Calif. (7/22)
12 p.m. rally at the Philippine Consulate; 447 Sutter St.

Los Angeles, Calif. (7/22)
4 p.m. rally at the Philippine Consulate; 3435 Wilshire Blvd.