Quarrel among activists

(I wrote this for my May 3 column in Sun.Star Cebu)

If there is one word that would describe the failure of Bayan and its affiliates to use the space in front of Gaisano Metro for their Labor Day activity, it is naisahan. They were there very early in the morning of May 1, but when they left momentarily, the area was taken over by a small group allied with rival Sanlakas, who then refused to leave.


The sight of Bayan and Sanlakas leaders quarrelling over space was the sideshow to the implementation by the Cebu City Hall of its “no permit needed” policy on local protest actions. No physical clash happened, though. In the end, Bayan decided to hold its rally several meters away, at the corner of Colon and Pelaez Sts. End of sideshow.

But not the quarrel. Because the conflict between Bayan and Sanlakas goes deeper than the question of who should get a prime rally spot. And it is conflicts like this that has weakened the activist movement in the country. As bystanders who witnessed the Gaisano Metro scene said: “Nganong di man na sila mag-usa aron dako ilang pundok?”

Before this, the militants were one powerful bloc, actually. At the height of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) protest actions were huge, rivaled only by the numbers put up by the moderate Associated Labor Union-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines during Labor Day. Meaning, no need for big banners and props.

Why the breakup is a long story. Suffice it to say that personal and ideological differences of leaders splintered the Left, each splinter claiming to own the best strategy to gain strength and political power. But then there’s no escaping the truism that the parts can never be equal to the whole. The problem is nobody is accepting that truism.

The depth of the factional strife is most notable, for example, in the effort to oust President Arroyo. Bayan and its affiliates are able to enter into a tactical alliance with politicians identified with the discredited Marcos and Estrada governments. Sanlakas and other Left factions also have working relations with traditional politicians. With each other? Not much.

By the way, in the aftermath of that confrontation at the Gaisano Metro, I heard Bayan Muna’s Arman Perez say that his group is open to a unified protest action with Sanlakas and other Left factions in the future. That’s good. Hopefully, the other so-called “rivals” would open their doors, too, to that possibility. Then they can already concentrate their effort on tackling more important people’s concerns.

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