WHEN political activists calling themselves the democratic left gathered to launch their "Laban ng Masa" campaign last week, the event almost went unnoticed. After all, the group didn't have big political names in its roster, apart from the veteran activists, university professors and marginalized party list representatives in Congress. Besides, in the heat of the political season, what were another gathering, another mobilization, and another march?
Among political forces opposing President Gloria Arroyo, it seems that this group would not be too far from other opposition groups that have been asking her to step down. Their call, the demand for a "transitional revolutionary government" sounds very much like the "caretaker government" proposed by the political opposition allied with former President Joseph Estrada and the forces of the late presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. Like that sector of the opposition, the democratic left wants the 1987 constitution scrapped so that the country and the government can start from scratch.
But that's just about all they have in common. Not only does the democratic left want the President to step down, they are also calling for an end to elitist rule. In other words, they want President Arroyo to go, and to take with her the elite—the ruling class—including the worst of the country's traditional politicians now waiting in the wings for the demise of the Arroyo government.
Former University of the Philippines president Francisco Nemenzo, who is leading this group, believes that Arroyo is to blame for mismanaging the economy and should have been asked to resign, even before the jueteng and "Hello Garci" scandals broke out.
"To win the elections, (Arroyo) used billions of pesos of government funds that belonged to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the Social Security System (SSS), and other government financial institutions, not to mention the money that came from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the PAGCOR," said Nemenzo in his keynote speech.
"And now, how does she plan to solve the problem she created? By raising taxes. But Arroyo is not taxing the rich because she's afraid of them. Instead, she's imposing taxes like the EVAT that businessmen could pass on to ordinary people. In other words, she is making us pay for her election campaign," Nemenzo added.
The solution, says the democratic left, is a transitional revolutionary government like the one that replaced the Marcos dictatorship after EDSA 1. But that revolutionary government, they say, remained in the hands of the elite represented no less by one of their own, Cory Aquino. Which is why fundamental change never happened.
Still, Aquino projected an image that was motherly, untainted and unambitious, and managed to move the middle class against Marcos in 1986. The democratic left still doesn't have a Cory Aquino, in a society where icons and symbols mean everything to people.
They're also wary of supporting leaders who might just turn out like Arroyo. "We don't want to go into a framework of supporting the lesser evil, because the lesser evil eventually becomes the greater evil," says Ronald Llamas, national president of the party list group Akbayan.
For now, the question of a leader is what hobbles this "third pole," as the democratic left forces like to call themselves. Supporting Poe's widow Susan Roces might place them in the same league as the traditional politicians, although it's an option they're probably considering. But Nemenzo told the crowd gathered at the UP Bahay ng Alumni last week to expand their choices of a leader beyond the options the media have offered. He mentions the names of UP professors Randy David and Walden Bello, and economist Alejandro "Ding" Lichauco.
Whether the democratic left option is a shot in the dark, or the answer to the middle class's frustrations with traditional politicians and the elite, depends on how they intend to carry out this idea of a "transitional revolutionary government," and whether they are able to get their message across. What was a long-term vision needs to be refocused for the here and now, as change seems imminent.