VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte says ‘Yellows’ and ‘Reds’ should merge; that doesn’t make sense

Red this fact check in Filipino

President Rodrigo Duterte has said the Liberal Party and “communists,” both critics of his administration, “share the same ideological whatever.”

Recent and distant history do not bear out his blanket claim, and current developments in fact link the president himself, not his critics as he says, closer to communist groups.

STATEMENT

In a speech Oct. 12 in Malacañang, Duterte urged the “Yellow” and the “Reds” to unite against him. Yellow is a color associated with the Liberal Party, red with communist groups.

Duterte said:

“I would be happy really if they would start to merge into one command. Itong mga komunista at itong Liberal. At ito, yung iba na gustong paalisin ako. Mag-isa-isa na lang kayo, isang grupo (Communists and the Liberal Party. And those who want to oust me. Just unite into one group). I think you share the same ideological whatever para hindi na masyadong mag-kalat ang ano (so the opposition is no longer dispersed).”

Source: Speech of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the Relaunch of the Malacañang Press Briefing Room, Oct. 12, 2017, watch from 9:01-9:39

FACT

Duterte’s claim that communists and the Liberal Party “share the same” ideology does not hold water when one considers recent political history.

Peace negotiations between communist insurgents and the Philippine government under former president Benigno S. Aquino III, Duterte’s predecessor and a Liberal Party stalwart, stalled because of, among others, ideological differences.

In a statement released May 28 last year, Luis Jalandoni, chair of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the political arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), accused the Aquino administration of walking out of the peace talks.

The statement, posted on the NDFP website, read:

“Alexander Padilla, during the negotiations on February 25, 2013, insisted that ‘land reform and national industrialization’ are ‘ideologically charged concepts’ and therefore not acceptable to the (Philippine government).”

Source: Aquino distorts facts on peace talks with the NDFP

Padilla was chair of the government’s negotiating panel at the time.

CPP founding chair Jose Maria Sison also censured Aquino, and in a video also posted on the NDFP website said:

Si Aquino, napatunayan na sya pala ay bulok, ipokrito, nagsasabi na sya ay naninindigan para sa ‘tuwid na daan,' baluktot pala ang daan niya (Aquino has been proven rotten, hypocritical in saying he stands for ‘tuwid na daan’ that is in fact crooked).”

Source: NDFP calls for moral regeneration, system change, watch from 2:01-2:12

In contrast, Duterte, upon winning the presidency, offered the CPP four cabinet posts, and welcomed Sison’s planned return to the Philippines from his exile in The Netherlands. Duterte is Sison’s former student at Lyceum of the Philippines.

The Duterte administration also revived peace negotiations with communist insurgents, and in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) July 26 last year announced a unilateral ceasefire with the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the CPP.

The Philippine government and the NDFP reached a fourth round of formal talks in April 2017 before things turned sour when the government canceled the next round of talks, citing a CPP directive to intensify attacks following Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao. (See VERA FILES SONA PROMISE TRACKER: Peace process)

By his second SONA July 24, Duterte was already hostile to Sison, calling the CPP founder old and sick, before saying the talks were going nowhere. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Peace or war?)

The president labeling his critics “communists” would also appear absurd when considered alongside recent moves by his political party.

PDP Laban, chaired by Duterte, in an Oct. 18 press release announced it had inked a “historic accord” with United Russia, the ruling party of the Russian Federation, to “boost diplomatic ties through relations with ruling parties of other countries.”

Russia is formerly communist, but more important, the press release noted that the accord is the second memorandum with a foreign political party signed by PDP Laban.

“The first one (was) the Memorandum of Agreement between PDP Laban and the Communist Party of China, signed in February of this year,” it added.

Photo from PDP Laban

Duterte in several speeches has claimed he is a "leftist" and a "socialist" but not a member of the CPP.

In a speech April 5, he said:

"So doon ako tumakbo kasi PDP man talaga ako (So I ran under PDP Laban) but I’m a leftist. I’ve always been with the left kasi anak lang ako ng mahirap (because I have poor parents) and I never denied but I am not a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Mind you. I am a socialist."

Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office

BACKSTORY

Duterte’s blanket claim recalls the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing, a violent episode in Philippine political history that involves the Liberal Party and allegedly the CPP:

“On August 21, 1971, at the miting de avance of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda, the square became the scene of two simultaneous grenade attacks that nearly liquidated the party’s leadership, just as Senator Roxas, Liberal Party President, was proclaiming his party’s candidates for the City of Manila. Among those who sustained serious injury were: Roxas, Osmeña, Senators Jovito Salonga, Genaro Magsaysay, Eva Estrada-Kalaw (a Nacionalista guest candidate of the LP), and senatorial bets John Henry Osmeña and Ramon Mitra Jr.”

Source: The Official Gazette, A history of the Philippine political protest

The bombing, among the events that ostensibly triggered the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, was initially thought to be the doing of the late strongman.

Yet, a 1989 report by journalist Gregg Jones published in The Washington Post pinned the blame on the CPP:

“The real story of the Plaza Miranda bombing, along with other long-held secrets of the (CPP), was pieced together from separate interviews with eight of its former senior officials during more than a year of research on the rebel movement. The former officials, four of whom were members of the party's governing Central Committee prior to their arrests in the 1970s, acknowledged that the bombing was the work of party operatives acting on orders of the guerrilla organization's founding chairman, Jose Maria Sison. They described how the party leadership planned — and three operatives carried out — the attack in an attempt to provoke government repression and push the country to the brink of revolution.”

Source: The Washington Post, Ex-communists party behind Manila bombing

The report ends:

“But (Sison) stopped short of categorically denying party complicity. Instead, he closed the subject by repeating the party's public position on the matter: that the Liberal Party ‘at the time was our ally of sorts.’”

Sison to date denies the accusation, and in a 2016 interview said Jones had been commissioned by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to write and “blame the Plaza Miranda incident on me in order to discredit the Communist Party of the Philippines and the revolutionary movement.”

Sison in the same interview also denied the charge that former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was among the founders of the CPP, and that he and Sison plotted the Plaza Miranda bombing together.

Aquino, a Liberal Party member and the leading opposition figure during the Marcos years, was not in Plaza Miranda during the bombing.

“Ninoy Aquino could not have been a communist or founder of the CPP. He was well known as a CIA asset from the time he was a war correspondent in Korea,” Sison said.

The CIA, in a declassified document prepared following Aquino’s assassination on Aug. 21, 1983 which Marcos blamed on the CPP, noted:

“Nonetheless, we agree with the government’s contention that the Communists have much to gain from Aquino’s death. Stepped-up activity by the National Democratic Front, the overtly non-Communist Front Organization of the CPP, is already on evidence in college campuses.”

Source: CIA Library, Aquino's Assassination: Implications for Stability in the Philippines

Liberal Party members in Plaza Miranda. Photo from malacanang.gov.ph

Conflating political enemies and branding them “communists” is not a Duterte-first. Marcos had done it earlier.

In a chapter in the book Crisis in the Philippines: An analysis of the Marcos era and beyond, scholar Lela Garner Noble writes that when protests against him started escalating:

“Increasingly, (Marcos) was prone to draw a firm distinction between supporters and enemies. Although the latter category was elastic and included at various times not only students but also union leaders, journalists, politicians, Muslim secessionists, oligarchs, church people, and foreign governments with a range of ideological orientations, ‘enemies’ most frequently meant ‘communists,’ against whom extreme measures were justified.”

Sources:

PCOO, Speech of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the Relaunch of the Malacañang Press Briefing Room

PCOO, Speech of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte during the 29th Annual National Convention of the Prosecutors League of the Philippines

NDFP, Aquino distorts facts on peace talks with the NDFP

NDFP, NDFP calls for moral regeneration, system change

The Official Gazette, A history of the Philippine political protest

The Washington Post, Ex-communists party behind Manila bombing

CIA Library, Aquino's Assassination: Implications for Stability in the Philippines

josemariasison.org, Joma Sison Interview on Martial Law and the Plaza Miranda Bombing

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Duterte: 4 Cabinet posts open to Reds

Philstar.com, Joma Sison welcomes Duterte’s offer of peace, but declines Cabinet position

CNN Philippines, Duterte offering Cabinet posts to the CPP

Crisis in the Philippines: An analysis of the Marcos era and beyond, 1986, Princeton University Press

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative.)

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