Letters from Afar: An Interview with Anakbayan

CM, Béal Feirste

Note from the author: In March 2021 I was fortunate enough to interview a member of Anakbayan from Cebu City. In recent years the situation in the Philippines has gained more international attention, and so this interview is intended to raise awareness about what comrades are doing on the other side of the world, as well as to find out what can be learned from their experiences. 

Disclaimer: This interview was conducted online in March 2021. Views expressed herein are those of Anakbayan.

Q: Could you tell us a bit about Anakbayan and its role in the national-democratic struggle in the Philippines?

A: Anakbayan (Children of the People) is the comprehensive national-democratic mass organisation of the Filipino youth, organising from all different sectors of the youth, from the communities, students, workers, women, LGBTQ+, national minorities and all other concentrations of youth in the Philippines. It is one of the most steadfast organisations in waging forward the national democratic struggle of the Filipino people against US imperialism and domestic feudalism. It is a national struggle because it aims to rouse the millions upon millions of Filipino people against the incursions and intrusions of US and Chinese capital into the Philippines – a struggle against foreign imperialism. It is a democratic struggle because it rouses the broad masses of peasants and workers to fight against domestic feudalism, for agrarian revolution, national industrialisation and a people’s democratic government. Its role in the national-democratic struggle is an important one because without a comprehensive youth organisation, the struggle would die out as there would be no new blood there to carry out its tasks towards its victory.

Anakbayan members protest against Rodrigo Duterte. Under Duterte many activists from various radical organisations have been arrested or killed as a result of “red-tagging”, where individuals are falsely accused of being involved with the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), or the New People’s Army (NPA).

Q: What sort of activities does Anakbayan do to win the support of the masses? What is the importance of mass actions?

A: In general, Anakbayan conducts a three-pronged program towards winning the support of the masses which we call “AOM”. This stands for “arouse, organise, and mobilise”.

In arousing the masses, we conduct leafleting, round table discussions, educational discussions, online and on-ground propaganda and agitation work, forums, seminars and other forms of creative activities in order to raise their political consciousness of the current semi-feudal and semi-colonial system encapsulated under the current US-China-Duterte regime.

In organising the masses, we recruit thousands upon thousands of youth towards our chapters, build alliances and forge the strong unity between various youth organisations to fight for common interests and goals.

In mobilising the masses, we wage mass-actions including rallies, demonstrations, protests, occupations, strikes, walk-outs and the likes.

To speak further about mass-actions and mobilising the masses, these are important because they are the highest form of legal struggle the masses can make. They mobilise the masses into action, to take onto the streets and march for their genuine interests. They put the words and theories we use to arouse them into action and confront their problems head on. Mass-actions are important because they are a show of force, they are a form of agitation that shows the people that certain issues exist and that the government and all other state actors must address these problems seriously.

Q: How does Anakbayan reach out to students in particular?

A: Amongst our student chapters, Anakbayan has a particularly good reach. It has chapters in many major universities all across the Philippines, from the large islands of Luzon and Mindanao and across the scattered islands of Visayas. The student masses are generally burdened by the rising prices in tuition and miscellaneous fees, the lowering of budget for public and state education, the lack of academic freedom and the repression of democratic rights within the campus, the defunding or attacks on student institutions like student councils and student publications and, in the current period, there has been the problem of online learning where tuition fees continue to be high while education has transitioned to what the Commission on Higher Education (for tertiary or college-level education) and the Department of Education (for primary and secondary or elementary and high-school level education) calls as “the New Normal in Education”. Knowing these issues is very important to reaching out to the students. We arouse, organise and mobilise the students based on the issues that they face. We can only conduct our activities in leafleting, forums, seminars, webinars, rallies and the likes if we can grasp what the students are currently facing right now. And to these issues, they are generally receptive and accept our calls towards a nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented educational system.

Q: Leading on from the previous question, what do you think is the role of young people in any revolutionary struggle generally?

A: The youth are a very important part of society. They are the inheritors of the society left to them by the older generations. They are still very critical-minded, creative, have physical and mental strength and various other advantages that lead them onto the revolutionary path. On the other hand, they also succumb to individualism, impatience, vacillating world-views and aggressiveness that could pull them away from the revolutionary line. The youth have an important role in continuing the revolutionary struggle when the older generations have long gone. Without the youth, the broad democratic mass movement would die down and become simply null and void. But with the youth, deeply rooted amongst the masses, espousing the line of the most oppressed and exploited, they can continue to rebuild the world which today continues to reach its fetters of development, which today continue to plague the world with poverty and hunger.

Q: How receptive are the masses to Anakbayan’s ideas? How does Anakbayan, and others in the national-democratic movement, try to reach out and win over those who are hesitant or hostile?

A: In general, many of the masses are receptive to Anakbayan’s ideas. It would be foolhardy and very immodest to claim that everyone agrees with Anakbayan because that is simply not the case. However, Anakbayan practices what is called the “mass line”. To those who are hesitant and hostile, it is our task to win them over to the struggle by patiently explaining to them why the struggle is necessary in the first place.

Q: How has covid lockdown affected Anakbayan, and how has Anakbayan adapted and adjusted to the situation?

A: In the early stages of COVID-lockdown, many of Anakbayan’s plans here in Cebu City were cancelled and basically disrupted due to the fact that people could not leave their homes. So, we shifted towards online work. We continuously launched online educational discussions, online mass orientations and recruitment, building of chapters, and the likes, in general – the expansion of our membership and the shift towards online mass work. But as the COVID-19 lockdowns continue to be loosened in Cebu City and various areas of the Philippines, Anakbayan and many youth organisations have taken up the initiative to begin rekindling the on-ground mass work through various forms of mobilisation and propaganda that has flourished all throughout the Philippines. A broad protest movement has sparked, leading to the rising discontent of the Duterte fascist regime.

Q: How does Anakbayan relate to other progressive organisations? i.e. How does Anakbayan cooperate with women’s organisations, trade unions etc

A: Anakbayan cooperates and works closely and deeply with other progressive organisations including women’s organisations, trade unions, community organisations, peasant associations, fisherfolk groups and the likes. Anakbayan constantly sends youth to these communities through what we call “basic mass integrations” (which are longer, from three days to months) and “basic mass exposures” (which usually take over a day). Here, the youth can learn more from the experiences of these associations and organisations as well as aid them in various means. They help each other with political and ideological education in order to further raise the morale and consciousness of the members within these organisations.

Q: What would you say are some of the most important lessons to be learnt from the Filipino experience?

A: The most important lesson to be learned from the Filipino experience is to firmly grasp the mass line and, through this, arouse, organise and mobilise the broadest majority of the masses for the achievement of various progressive tasks meant to change society. Society does not change by leaders alone, it is changed because the broad masses struggle against their oppressors and exploiters. The Filipino legal democratic movement, throughout many years of its incipience, has learned many lessons through its own shortcomings and achievements, and the most important one is to be firmly rooted into the masses in order to gain their trust and confidence in waging the correct political line.

Q: What are the duties and responsibilities of individual members? As in, what are members of Anakbayan expected to do in their daily lives to advance the national-democratic cause?

A: According to the Constitution, the Anakbayan member has several tasks.

Firstly, they must support and spread the stance, goals and programs of Anakbayan – they must conduct the widest amount of propaganda whenever campaigns are being launched in order to gain the support and sympathy of the broadest masses of the people for the calls which, by the end of the day, definitely benefits them.

Second, they must finish the basic education program in Anakbayan. Anakbayan has the Pambansa-Demokratikong Paaralan or PADEPA (National Democratic School) which lists all the various educational discussions that the membership must take throughout their journey within the organisation in order to further raise their political consciousness.

Thirdly, they must help in recruiting more members into the organisation. It is necessary for the members to help aid in expansion work in order to further bring about the strength and unity of the organisation.

Fourthly, they must help financially in the organisation through membership dues or contributions.

Fifthly, they must actively join and participate in the programs and activities of the chapter and other formations of Anakbayan.

Sixthly, they must take care of the security and prestige of the organisation.

Q: As this interview seeks to discover what CYM should emulate, or can learn about Anakbayan, what organisations/movement/action (past or present, Filipino or international) inspires Anakbayan?

A: In general, Anakbayan is inspired by the Kabataang Makabayan (the Patriotic Youth) which was founded on 30 November, 1964. During the 60s, the KM launched various large-scale protests and agitation that began the cycling demise of the US-backed Ferdinand Marcos regime. It was also inspired by the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio who waged a bourgeois-democratic revolution against the Spanish colonisers in 1896.

Kabataang Makabayan (KM) protesters during the 1970 “First Quarter Storm”, which was a period of of student-led civil unrest in 1970 against the US-backed regime of Ferdinand Marcos.

Q: What advice would you have for young Irish communists going forward?

A: The only advice I could give for the Irish communists is – Dare to struggle, dare to win! The communists must be the most farsighted and advanced sections of the populace, daring to struggle to champion the people’s rights and welfare above all other individual, petty and sectarian interests. If one dares to struggle, one dares to win. If there is a world for us to win, if there is a society for us to change, then we must be ready to pick up our voices and struggle for this world, we must be ready to struggle for change. Our Irish comrades must remember that the struggle, far from only being national, is international and that there are many people who support the struggle in your country. The Irish comrades must continue their work in political and theoretical education and must dare to apply these lessons to the current issues of the day in Ireland in order to sway the masses and win their sympathy by the broadest numbers and finally achieve the day when the proletariat and the whole people are liberated.

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