Swans Commentary » swans.com May 23, 2011  



The American Hijacking Of The Philippines' "People-Power" Struggle


by Michael Barker





(Swans - May 23, 2011)   In previous articles, I have examined conflicting narratives regarding the role fulfilled by US-based "democracy-promoting" elites during the 1980s in hijacking the powerful peoples movement in the Philippines. (1) Within the course of this work, I demonstrated how several scholars, who unfortunately are quite influential in progressive circles, have glossed over the central function that the US government's "democracy-promoting" apparatus -- most notably the antidemocratic activities of the terribly misnamed National Endowment for Democracy -- have played in undermining radical activism in the Philippines. Such misrepresentations of the US government's unrelenting hostility to popular (people-powered) democracy are dangerous to say the least; and such misreporting has encouraged otherwise critical commentators to ignore the role of US "democracy-promoting" elites in the recent uprisings in the Middle East, most notably within Egypt.

In the case of the Philippines, it is clear that by 1984, influential parts of the US government's foreign policy establishment recognized that the growing people's movement ranged against the US-backed dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, threatened not only Marcos, but the entire edifice of elite democracy. The U.S. consequently sought to divide this popular movement by providing selective support to the more conservative leaders of the uprising, particularly future president Corazon C. Aquino -- which eventually enabled her (and them) to control the state apparatus, while effectively dissipating the power of the people. In this way, it is apparent that fully comprehending how the US government's "democratic" cadres interacted with the Filipino people-power movement is essential if citizens worldwide are to counter the ongoing utility of such interventions, and one useful means of furthering such a reflective agenda involves analyzing scholarly narratives that document the Filipino struggle. Therefore, this current piece undertakes a critical examination of Mark Thompson's book, The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines (Yale University Press, 1995), providing further evidence to demonstrate how liberal scholars have fundamentally misrepresented the glorious yet uncompleted history of Filipino people power. (2)

To begin with, it is important to emphasize that at no stage in Thompson's book does he mention the role of labor in the development of a vigorous people's movement against the Marcos dictatorship. This popular movement was the result of years of political organizing by a range of political organizations, which included factions within the Catholic Church, as well as organizing among peasants and the urban poor. Arguably among the most important, however, was the labor movement, and most particularly the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU-May First Movement) Labor Center. Somehow, Thompson overlooks the Filipino labor movement and the development of the KMU. However, by turning to the invaluable work of labor sociologist Kim Scipes, we can see that contrary to Thompson's misrepresentation of the anti-Marcos struggle, the KMU labor center was a major actor in the struggle to overthrow the Marcos dictatorship. The KMU labor center had been formed in 1980 as a result of popular revulsion to the dictatorship's Trade Union Congress of the Philippines -- a reactionary organization that received a large share of the US government's "democracy-promoting" dollars during the 1980s -- and had played central roles in labor struggles as well as in initiating "people's strikes," welgang bayans, which had immobilized various regions and provinces episodically across the country after they had been developed in Mindanao during 1984. (3)

Given that Thompson ignored the role of organized labor in the Philippines, it seems that he considered the labor movement to be part and parcel of the "major revolutionary threat" that the Communist Party of the Philippines posed to the Marcos regime --(4) a fallacious position that is convincingly dismantled by Kim Scipes in his book KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (New Day Publishers, 1996). (5)

Thus, instead of focusing on genuine proponents of people power, Thompson is primarily concerned with "democracy-promoting" elites, like for example, Marcos's successor Corazon C. Aquino, an individual who in the name of democracy arguably undermined the democratic potential of the anti-Marcos struggle. Thompson points out, "The selection of a candidate who seemed above politics, Corazon C. Aquino, completed the preparations for a full-blown moral crusade against Marcos similar to the campaign of Ramon Magsaysay in the 1950s." (6) Aquino was, of course, not just imposed as a figurehead on the anti-Marcos struggle, as she already had tremendous popular support, much of which owed to the dignified way she handled her husband's assassination by Marcos in 1983. Yet despite her popularity, Aquino, who was from one of the richest and most powerful families in the country, was far from an adequate representative of the Filipino people, especially those intent on undermining elite domination.

Her answer to the country's many problems was simple: restore democracy and establish honest government. Few promises of specific changes were forthcoming. ... Her conservative economic policy differed little from Marcos. She made neither class-based promises of social reform, which would have offended her wealthy supporters, nor nationalist pledges, which would have alienated the Americans. (p.145)

Given these major shortcomings, it is appropriate that Aquino wished to mold her campaign around the popular symbolism attached to the Magsaysay campaign of yesteryear; and considering her elite pedigree -- "Aquino relied primarily on her family and upper-class volunteers to run her campaign" (7) -- it is not too surprising that Aquino, like Magsaysay and other US-backed presidential candidates, benefited tremendously from aid provided by the US government. On the legacy of US interference in the Philippines, Thompson reminds his readers how:

The U.S. government gave substantial amounts of money to oppositionist candidates in 1953, 1959, and 1961 and encouraged American businesses to contribute to "its" candidate. But perhaps more important than the United States' role as financier was its role as enforcer. With enormous economic and military power in the Philippines, the U.S. government could warn a sitting president not to cheat or use force to stay in office, and it did so in 1946, 1953, and to some extent 1965. The U.S. government was also a good publicist. The American embassy and the CIA were able to ensure that the candidate they supported got good press in the United States, and the Philippine press often took its cue from its American counterparts. (p.27)

Furthermore, it is significant to observe that Aquino's campaign benefited from the relaunch of the "citizens' watchdog group" known as the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), an organization which Thompson notes was initially set up in 1951, "with funding from the CIA," to benefit Magsaysay's electoral campaign. Although the new-look "NAMFREL was not institutionally continuous with the old organization, Jaime N. Ferrer, the original founder of NAMFREL," was one of the key people involved in "reviving" NAMFREL after the assassination of Corazon's husband, Benigno Aquino, Jr. So it is fitting that NAMFREL went on to play a critical role in facilitating the ouster of Marcos, with Thompson acknowledging that NAMFREL "was even stronger" than its CIA-backed predecessor of the same name and function from the 1950s. (8)

Thompson, however, despite recognizing the important role of US aid to Aquino's campaign, downplays the obvious importance of this issue -- failing to even mention the name of the US-based organization that was funding NAMFREL and an assortment of other Filipino groups: the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Instead of investigating the arguably very significant role that the NED played in supporting the oppositionist movement in the Philippines, Thompson -- citing Raymond Bonner's book on the subject -- simply writes, "The U.S. government apparently channeled nearly $1 million to NAMFREL" during the 1980s, "and also supported Radio Veritas, to strengthen the two organizations' efforts as electoral watchdogs." (9)

Likewise, Thompson highlights the "valuable intelligence" that oppositionists received during the insurrection (in February 1986) from the US embassy in the Philippines. (10) And although Thompson does not dwell on the significance of well-funded foreign interventions, he observes that during the uprising that led to the eventual ouster of Marcos, the US-backed...

Radio Veritas, a major source of independent news during the demonstrations and president polls, became the crowd's commander, telling them where to position themselves and calling for reinforcements. When Radio Veritas went off the air on the second day of the revolt after pro-government troops demolished its transmitter, people power was like a "fleet of taxicabs without any central dispatcher." The crowd began to thin, and key passageways were left unblockaded. Within six hours, a new station (operating from communications facilities owned by [Defense Minister Juan Ponce] Enrile) was on the air. (p.159)

In hindsight, it is hardly surprising that by 1983 -- the year that "democratic" aid from the U.S. began entering the Philippines -- "Marcos began to believe that there was a U.S.-supported conspiracy against his continued rule." So while Thompson suggests that Marcos's "fears were exaggerated," he does admit that Marcos had reason to become paranoid, as in the early 1980s "the political winds out of Washington had subtly shifted." Thus, despite Thompson's reluctance to investigate the specific activities undertaken by US-based "democracy-promoting" cadres, he does at least highlight the dual track nature of US foreign policy toward the Philippines. One track thus meant that the "Reagan White House supported the Philippines dictator almost to the end," while the second track was intent on "promoting democracy." This latter track was such that by 1986 "most of the U.S. Congress [was] supporting Aquino" in her bid for power. On this score, Thompson provides the example of Michael Armacost, who after completing his tour of duty as the US Ambassador to the Philippines from 1982 until 1984 "became Secretary of State George Schultz's undersecretary of political affairs and helped shift U.S. support toward the opposition" -- in large part it seems because he "and other State Department officials were critical of Marcos' failure to contain a growing communist insurgency." (11)

To sum up: Thompson's discussion of the anti-Marcos struggle can be seriously faulted on two points, the first being his decision to ignore the role played by the labor movement in the people's struggle. The second equally major problem of his book is that despite recognizing the similarity between Aquino's bid for power and the CIA-backed electoral campaigns of the distant past, Thompson did not mention that the main US organization aiding Aquino's campaign was the NED; that is, an organization that was formed to overtly carry out the "democratic" activities that were formerly undertaken covertly by the CIA. Thompson's analysis of the anti-Marcos struggle in the Philippines thus not only misrepresented the origins of the people-power movement that succeeded in ousting Marcos, but also failed to examine the full significance of the US government's "democracy-promoting" efforts in hijacking this movement for radical social change. So, to end, it is appropriate to note that Thompson continues to whitewash the activities of US foreign policy elites, recently co-authoring another misleading study, this time celebrating the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic (in 2000), which was published in the NED's very own Journal of Democracy. (12)


To e-mail this article


· · · · · ·


If you find Michael Barker's work valuable, please consider helping us

· · · · · ·



Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Michael Barker 2011. All rights reserved.


Have your say

Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.


About the Author

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


· · · · · ·



1.  My articles on the co-option of the people power in the Philippines include "A Warning for Egyptian Revolutionaries: Courtesy of People-Power in the Philippines" (February 15, 2011), "Blinded by People-Power: Stephen Zunes on the Ousting of Dictators" (March 14, 2011), "People Power Leashed: Kurt Schock on the Ousting of Dictators" (April 11, 2011), and "Post-Dictatorship [Red White and] Blues Brings Low-Intensity Warfare to the Philippines" (April 25, 2011). (back)

2.  Mark Thompson's Ph.D. thesis, "Searching for a Strategy: The Traditional Opposition to Marcos and the Transition to Democracy in the Philippines," was completed in 1991 at Yale University. His doctorate supervisors were Juan J. Linz and James C. Scott (p.xii); Linz is a longstanding supporter of the National Endowment for Democracy and was co-editor (with Larry Diamond and Seymour Lipset) of the four-volume "democracy-promoting" classic Democracy in Developing Countries. Scott, on the other hand, is a self-identified anarchist and the author of numerous books including Weapons of the Weak: Every Day Forms of Peasant Resistance (Yale University Press, 1985), and more recently The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2009).  (back)

3.  Kim Scipes, KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (New Day Publishers, 1996). For a more recent account, see Kim Scipes, AFL-CIO's Secret War Against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? (Lexington Books, 2010). The reactionary Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) received almost US$7 million from the National Endowment for Democracy between 1984 and 1991; see William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 1996), p.135.  (back)

4.  Mark Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines (Yale University Press, 1995), p.7. He continues: "The establishment of a united front of anti-Marcos politicians in the early 1980s made it appear that revolution would be the most probable way for Marcos to be brought down. The outcome would likely have been communist rule, as in Castro's Cuba and the Sandinistas' Nicaragua." (p.7)

Once Aquino had risen to power, Thompson points out how the Communist Party of the Philippines had "hoped that Aquino would ask their legal alliance, BAYAN, to join a welgang bayan (national strike)." He continues, "BAYAN had been developing this strategy with limited success since 1984..." (p.156) This is the only veiled mention of the labor movement in Thompson's book, and he manages to not only misrepresent BAYAN, but also disparage the threat posed by an ever growing and very popular labor movement.  (back)

5.  Here one should note that even though Thompson highlights the communist "threat," he fails to take the time to explicate their role in building the people-power movement throughout the 1980s. We only learn about the enormous threat posed by the "communist guerrillas" (i.e., the Communist Party of the Philippines' New Peoples Army) when Thompson discusses their fall from influence -- after the ouster of Marcos -- when he writes that "their armed strength declined from an estimated 25,800 fighters in 1988 to 13,500 in 1992." Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle, p.175.

Later, Thompson refers to the Gregg Jones book Red Revolution: Inside the Philippine Guerrilla Movement (Westview Press, 1989) as, "The best book on the Philippines communists during and after the Marcos period." (p.225) Jones writes: "For years, Marcos as well as the U.S. State Department and Pentagon had dismissed the NPA as little more than a nuisance. But by 1984 U.S. officials had been jolted from their lethargy by the spectacular expansion of guerrilla operations in the countryside and communist political activities in the cities. Dire assessments from Washington raised the specter of the CPP [Communist Party of the Philippines] seizing power or forging a coalition government with moderate opposition forces." (p.6)  (back)

6.  Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle, p.12. "Appalled by the prospect of choosing between [Salvador] Laurel and Marcos in a presidential election, oppositionists in Manila began to call for a draft of Corazon Aquino. The most organized effort was the Cory Aquino for President Movement (CAPM) founded by eight business leaders -- some of whom were members of Agapito Aquino's ATOM -- in October 1984. The leader of the group was Joaquin 'Chino' Roces, who had been the boss of Benigno Aquino, Jr., at the Manila Times and was a close friend of the Aquino family. The CAPM held office at the Roces family business. Modeled on the Magsaysay for President Movement, which had spearheaded the charismatic candidacy of Ramon Magsaysay in 1953, the CAPM began a signature drive calling for Corazon Aquino to run for president. Initially, however, the campaign was not successful because the CAPM was poorly organized and underfunded, and many people were afraid to sign a petition that might be considered anti-Marcos." (p.136)  (back)

7.  Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle, p.47.  (back)

8.  Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle, p.126, p.139.  (back)

9.  Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle, p.148. Thompson notes that Raymond Bonner's book Waltzing with a Dictator (Times Books, 1987) "is an exhaustive study of the U.S. government's role during Marcos' rule." (p.226) Like Thompson, Bonner's book makes no mention of the role of the National Endowment for Democracy's activities in the Philippines, as opposed to William I. Robinson's book Promoting Polyarchy, which places the NED's activities at the center of its narrative.  (back)

10.  Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle, p.160.  (back)

11.  Thompson, The Anti-Marcos Struggle, p.113, p.70, p.139, p.121. "Liberals in the United States began assisting Aquino after an interview that she gave to The New York Times in December 1985 raised questions about her ability to govern. They supplied her with an American public relations firm (both candidates now had U.S. consultants) and a speech writer to help her court the American press and cut down on the gaffes that had plagued her early campaign." (pp.148-9)

Thompson also highlights the role that exile groups exerted on foreign policy shifts, noting that by 1980 Marcos's "poor standing in Congress and with the U.S. media... was largely due to the activity of Filipino exile groups," like the Movement for a Free Philippines, which were supported by liberal activists and elites in the United States. "This pressure," Thompson adds, "prepared the ground for an incremental change in U.S. policy in the 1980s, which weakened the Marcos regime." (p.70) Notably, Raul Manglapus, who founded the Movement for a Free Philippines in the 1970s, went on to also serve as a president of Democracy International, and then as a president of the Washington-based liberal think tank, the International Center for Development Policy (from 1981 until 1986).  (back)

12.  Mark Thompson and Philipp Kuntz, "Stolen Elections: The Case of the Serbian October," Journal of Democracy, 15 (4), October 2004. As one might expect, this article ignores the longstanding foreign efforts to oust Milosevic and "promote democracy" in Serbia, and at only one point does it note that oppositionists in Serbia were "[p]ressured by Western countries" to "bridge their differences" soon after the end of the Kosovo War in June 1999 (p.166). With "the Kosovo War ended in June 1999," Thompson and Kuntz observes that "Milosevic's image as a savior of Serbia was irrevocably shattered." "The country's bleak economic outlook," they add, "also undermined any chance he had of regaining legitimacy through economic performance." (p.165)  (back)


· · · · · ·


Internal Resources

Patterns which Connect

America the 'beautiful'

Activism under the Radar Screen

· · · · · ·


This edition's other articles

Check the front page, where all current articles are listed.



Check our past editions, where the past remains very present.

· · · · · ·


[About]-[Past Issues]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Copyright]



Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art17/barker79.html
Published May 23, 2011