Note: Below please find the December 2019 speech by Dr. Rainer Werning given in the Netherlands at the International Office of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). His speech was presented at the launching of the new book by the Filipino scholar José Maria Sison entitled, ‘Reflections on Revolution and Prospects: Interviews by Rainer Werning’ .
Dr. Werning, of German descent, has been engaged in Filipino activism for decades. His sentiments about the remarkable activism and organizing work of Filipinos in response to the oppressive colonial and military dictates by the United States and the many tyrannical Filipino politicians since the beginning of the 20th century, echo much of my experience and observations as well. This was from my short time in the Philippines in 1989, when I was fortunate to travel the length and breadth of the Philippines, while being guided by remarkable Filipino organizers. As Dr. Werning notes, regarding the Filipinos:
… the rather open, relaxed manner, combined with a good portion of (self-)irony, in which political work took place within the very convivial left-wing groups that I became acquainted with….the uncomplicated attitude to patriotism combined with a deep-seated desire to develop genuinely national(ist) politics.
I completely concur with Dr. Werning’s opinions regarding the Filipino activists and I honor them as well.
At the end of his written speech, please find a video of his presentation.
January 16, 2019
(Link to article)
Five Decades of Solidarity with the Filipino People
in Search of Justice, Freedom, Democracy
& National Liberation
Speech by Dr. Rainer Werning, delivered at
The International Office of the
National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)
in Utrecht (The Netherlands) on Dec. 21, 2019,
on the occasion of Launching the Newest Book of José Maria Sison
‘Reflections on Revolution and Prospects: Interviews by Rainer Werning’
Dr. Rainer Werning and Professor José Maria Sison
Utrecht (The Netherlands) on Dec. 21, 2019 (NDFP)
Those speaking before and after me today will be talking about macro-political issues and revolutionary projects, both in the Philippine and the international context. However, I was asked by the organizers of this afternoon’s event to focus on less spectacular matters, such as how I first came upon the Philippines, my first acquaintance with and perception of the country and its people, and what ultimately led me to remain committed to international solidarity with the Philippines for half a century.
This is a premiere. Never before has this been the subject of a speech or input I have given. And since, in just a few hours, I will be turning 70, I have decided to share some personal insights/information with you in seven well-measured steps or episodes – one step or episode per decade of my life:
I. I have always considered it a great privilege to have spent a wonderful childhood in the sheltered environment of an intact family. I believe this is something I shared with my co-author, along with the fact that we were both (ex-) altar boys or ex-sacristans – he in Cabugao in the north of the Philippines and I in the plains of the Westphalian Münsterland in the northwest corner of what I refer to as Teutonia and which, of course, means Germany. While Joma (Sison’s nickname) was still pondering the option of becoming a bishop until the age of around 18 or 19, I had already turned my back on the Roman Catholic Church, the so-called “one true Church”, some years earlier. This was possible because in Germany at the age of 14 young people are free to decide on their religious affiliation.
The factors that led me to take this step were the insights, acquired from intensive reading, into the long tradition of obscurantism, persecution and contempt for mankind in the form of the Inquisition along with my observation of the omnipresent bigotry of churchgoers who played the devout Christian on Sundays, only to behave rather shabbily in various ways for the rest of the week. Above all, as Karl Marx had succinctly pointed out in his introduction to the ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’: “The criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism. (…) Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain, not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. (…) Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.” (1843/44)
In my younger years, hitchhiking trips also taught me to see things from different, wider perspectives – in the sense of the East Asian proverb that even Mao Zedong sometimes ‘Speaking on Perspective and Small Thinking’ he once remarked: “We think too small. Like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.” Indeed, it is a rather tedious task to struggle your way all up to the top. But once you finally succeeded in doing so, it is then that the full abundance of undreamt-of perspectives is revealed.
II. I became socialised and politicised during the so-called “Movement of ’68”, which was a worldwide phenomenon with widely varying aspects. In West Germany it was about coming to terms with and confronting the period of Nazi terror, about getting rid of the hierarchical, professor-dominated universities, student protests against the emergency laws that granted the cabinet to pass laws without the approval of parliament in times of “emergency”, about women’s emancipation and, last but not least – the US-American aggression against the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
A wide range of literature helped to underpin my criticism of all the above. This included texts from the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory (above all Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Jürgen Habermas, and Herbert Marcuse), as well as the writings of Karl Marx, Lenin, and Mao Zedong. Particularly significant was Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s opus “Dialectic of Enlightenment”, which was written at the end of World War II and is still worthwhile reading. Their work sees the self-destruction of Western reason (culminating in the barbarism of the Nazis) as grounded in a historical and fateful dialectic between the domination of external nature and society. They trace enlightenment, which split these spheres apart, back to its mythical roots. Enlightenment and myth, therefore, are not irreconcilable opposites, but dialectically mediated qualities of both real and intellectual life. “Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology.” This paradox is the fundamental thesis of the book.
III. The things I experienced and witnessed on my travels, such as a fight between lepers in the Ethiopian highlands for a piece of bread that travelers had thrown out of a bus, the works that I read, my innate rejection of hierarchy along with my personal perception of school as a means of indoctrination all combined to sharpen a rebellious spirit in me as a young person, who had, in the meantime, also lost both parents. This led, among other things, to my expulsion from school, the first case ever of a student being expelled from school in the city of Münster. To cope with this situation and comprehend the ‘Whys and Hows’, I sat down and disciplined myself to write my first book which bore the title “Herrschafts mechanismus an der Schule – am Beispiel einer Relegation” (Mechanisms of Domination at School — the Example of a Relegation). I wasn’t even twenty years old.
I found a lot of satisfaction in traveling the world, in writing, and my work with a leftist publishing house as the editor for its “Internationalism” series, in which, by the way, my German translation of Amado Guerrero’s legendary “Philippine Society and Revolution (PSR)” was published back in May 1973. “Philippine Society and Revolution” served as an introductory text for everyone who, at the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, was at the heart of the West German Philippines solidarity movement in form of the “Aktionsgruppe Philippinene.V.” (Action Group Philippines, Inc.) — “Agphi” for short.
IV. After having undertaken research in Japan on the militant student movement Zengakuren during the Korean War and its aftermath, I decided to travel by boat via Taiwan and the Philippines to Hong Kong to fly back from there to Europe. The Year of the Dog (1970) was in full swing, when in autumn of that year I got off the boat of the Philippine President Lines in Manila Harbor. While I had originally planned to stay in the Philippines for a maximum of three weeks, I ended up staying there until the end of August 1971 – a few days after the Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21.
I had the extraordinary privilege of being asked by many kind and warm-hearted Pinoys
(a person of Filipino origin or descent) to stay with them and share their lives for a while. Among them was the family of the editor-in-chief of a well-known daily newspaper in Manila, who lived in Project 6, near the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. This university was a “hotbed of political and social unrest” at the time. My close friendship with several local student activists – notably Antonio “Tony” Tagamolila and Leopoldo “Babes” Calixto -, progressive intellectuals and left-wing journalists – including Antonio “Tony” Zumel – meant that I automatically became a direct witness of the First Quarter Storm. It was a politically turbulent time, during which I also travelled extensively throughout the archipelago. This period was a truly unique form of apprenticeship for me.
V. Four things in particular immediately struck me as quite astounding during my first encounter with the Philippines. Firstly, the rather open, relaxed manner, combined with a good portion of (self-)irony, in which political work took place within the very convivial left-wing groups that I became acquainted with. Secondly, the flood of abbreviations and acronyms that Pinoys consider are, or should be, just as familiar to foreigners as they are to themselves. Thirdly, the uncomplicated attitude to patriotism combined with a deep-seated desire to develop genuinely national(ist) politics. Fourthly, the social and political commitment of well-known members of the lower ranks of the clergy, rooted in the concept of “theology of struggle” that even went beyond the Latin American “liberation theology”.
All this taught me some important lessons. Where there is a divide separating wit and resistance, where there is no place for humour, where dogmatism reigns supreme and self-irony is taboo – then you need to be on your guard. The Philippine variant of the “68 movement” was the combination of a number of specific internal and external factors that went back to the founding of the Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946. It was characteristic of the neo-colonial character of the state that its founding date coincided with that of the USA, the former colonial power. And as we know only too well, the ex-colonial masters succeeded in effortlessly shaping Philippine domestic policy into an extension of US foreign policy without any criticism from the ruling elites in Manila.
As a former colony of the United States, the Philippines formed the “natural” centre of strictly anti-communist ideologies in Southeast Asia during the Cold War era. It was in Manila that SEATO, the Southeast Asian counterpart to NATO, was founded in the mid-1950s. And it was from the US military installations Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Field that B-52 bomber squadrons took off incessantly, carrying their deadly cargo – including toxic gases, Agent Orange and napalm – to be released over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Nevertheless, for some unknown reasons the Philippines and its role in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and early 1970s remained a blind spot for the Western European Left. The political processes taking place in that region and the struggles of students, transport workers, small farmers and the critical intelligentsia were virtually unknown even to internationalists and they remained so for quite some time.
Wow, even I learned to love acronyms – my favorite being GRINGO for “government-run and – inspired NGO”! And finally, I mutated from being a fierce atheist to become a mellowed agnostic after witnessing the socio-political and revolutionary commitment of members of the lower clergy. The former bishop of Bacolod City, Antonio Y. Fortich, with his feisty dedication to the marginalized and above all to the Sacadas, made an unforgettable impression on me. Displayed on his expansive desk were a number of stuffed sparrows. According to the ever courteous and good-humoured bishop, they had been killed in his stead in shotgun attacks! The good man liked to smoke cigars and pipes, remarking with a grin: “It’s better to smoke on earth, than to be grilled in heaven!” He would also compare the actions, laws and international treaties signed by the rulers in Manila to water lilies – all wonderful to look at while afloat, but without any anchoring!
VI. In February 1971 the short-lived Diliman Commune with its own radio station “Bandilang Pula” (“Red Flag”) and a publication of the same name was established on the University of the Philippines (UP) campus. Here, too, the security forces attacked the students with extreme brutality. For many of them this was the turning point that finally led them to abandon their academic careers and sheltered homes in favour of life in the political underground or in the armed struggle within the ranks of the New People’s Army (NPA). (Particularly worth reading on this subject: José F. Lacaba: Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: The First Quarter Storm & Related Events, Manila 1982; Salinlahi Publishing House/Pasig City 2003: Anvil Publishing, Inc.)
In the late summer of 1971, back in Western Europe, I was brimming over with ideas, experiences and zest for action. One of the factors that motivated me to become active in Philippines solidarity work was the news that my incredibly warm-hearted friends and wonderful kasamas (companions), Tony Tagamolila of the UP Diliman student publication UP-The Philippine Collegian and Babes Calixto of the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines, had been killed in the political underground in early February 1974 after Marcos’ imposition of martial law in September 1972. If, like many others, they had had the choice of choosing an inscription for a proper tombstone, it would surely have borne these three lines: “Makibaka, huwag matakot! – Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! – Serve the People.”
In the meantime other comrades managed to flee abroad – some of them to the Netherlands. It was at that time that I vowed to show my fallen kasamas the respect and honour they deserved by committing myself to active involvement in the Philippines solidarity movement until my last breath.
VII. I put this pledge into practice at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s through my involvement with Agphi. Shortly before the fall of Marcos, which turned out to be a mere reshuffling of power within the Manila elites, there were some 40 other Philippines solidarity groups in West Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Linking information work of a high journalistic standard to the work of the solidarity movement helped to boost their campaigns on behalf of the numerous political prisoners.
For a decade (1990 – 2000), I worked closely with Filipino staff as executive director of a German foundation dedicated to the interests of children in armed conflict in Mindanao, Basilan and Jolo – Southeast Asia’s oldest conflict region. This led, even then, to the silly accusation of “recruiting youngsters for the NPA”. Thomas Mann’s dictum – “anti-communism is the basic folly of our era” – could once again be experienced at first hand. And it still holds good today in the form of the omnipresent red tagging!
What constituted the most tragic chapter in the history of the Philippine “movement of 68” were the various “purges” that were carried out within the CPP/NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army) in the 1980s, costing the lives of numerous comrades, after a series of military setbacks had given rise to paranoia and panic. This was, in my opinion, a fatal reversal of the doctrine that politics commands the gun, and the gun must never command politics. Otherwise you get entangled in sheer militarism.
For 40 years now, my beloved & charming Filipina partner Mary Lou and I have spent our days waking up in the morning to the news from the Philippines. But since these are usually rather unpleasant, I also spend time on the study of other countries in the region and have been involved in solidarity networks there too (notably on both Koreas), as well as publishing regularly in the print media and for radio stations. Writing, lecturing and my teaching assignments at universities have in a certain sense allowed me to achieve an ideal merging of professional occupation, vocation and hobby.
What does all this leave us with? The foremost task of the Left is to acquire, by means of sophisticated liaison work, sufficient power to put an end to conditions of domination and to render impossible the domination of human beings over their fellow men and over nature. The books being launched today offer – among others – valuable guidelines in pursuing this path. And in this context and without being able to yet foresee the implications of the rapidly growing, existential environmental problems we are facing today, Rosa Luxemburg once spoke of the straight choice – “socialism or barbarism”.
I end my remarks with a critique of someone who once rather pompously pretended to go down in Pinoy (Philippine) history as it’s “first ever socialist President”. In her column ‘Get Real’, Solita Collas-Monsod, who served as Director of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) back in the late 1980s, stated in spring 2019:
“I am almost 79 years old. And in my lifetime, I have never heard any of the past presidents of the Philippines (I can remember back to President Manuel Roxas) use the kind of gutter language President Duterte uses in public. Nor do I recall having read or heard of any other head of government who talked, much less bragged, about his penis. For that matter, I have never read or heard about any head of government who has insulted men of the cloth, or urged his soldiers to shoot women rebels in the vagina, or asked his policemen why they have not yet killed certain people. All these in public. So this must be material for the Guinness World Records.
What is also for the Guinness World Records is that President Duterte, in spite of all these, enjoys the trust and satisfaction reportedly of almost 8 out of 10 Filipinos. So if he is irrational, what does that make us?” (Inexcusable, unworthy – but what about us?, in: Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 13, 2019)
Thank you so much for your patience and kind attention – maraming, maraming salamat po! (Thank you so much!)
Rainer Werning on the launch of Reflections on Revolution and Prospects
* New book: Jose Maria Sison and Rainer Werning –
Reflections on Revolution and Prospects
* A Life in Resistance –
Talks about Imperialism, Socialism and Liberation
* * *