On the Arrests of Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon


March 25, 2014

Philippine state forces arrested Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon, consultants of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), along with five other people this past weekend in Cebu province. The military and police, alleging that Wilma Austria is the Secretary General and Benito Tiamzon the Chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), seized the two militants on warrants, according to news reports, for “crimes against humanity,” “murder,” and “frustrated murder.”

Various figures of the Philippine state and the Aquino government, including the Defense Secretary, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff, and the Presidential Spokesman of the current Philippine president―the highest political representatives of the exploiting and dominant classes in the Philippines―took to the media to announce their triumph.

“The AFP, Philippine National Police (PNP) and other stakeholders in pursuit of peace and security” achieved a victory in the arrest of the “criminals” and soon “other criminals” will share their fate, said the AFP Chief of Staff. A “big blow” has been struck against the leadership of the CPP and the New People’s Army (NPA), said the Presidential Spokesman.

The gloating personalities of the Philippine state resemble Melville’s Captain Delano, aboard a Spanish slave ship with only a fleeting sense of paranoia, well-pleased with his exalted place and oblivious to the massive force of the slave insurrection underway around him.

In the precise circumstances of the arrests, the relation of law and legal ideology to class exploitation is immediately visible. Following a lengthy period of surveillance, the Philippine state applied its (criminal) penal code to sanction the capture of individuals whom it at the same time accuses of leading a (political) revolutionary movement. Meanwhile, the same state also sanctions the routine extrajudicial killing of dissidents, of which there have been at least 174 cases under the current president alone. The penal code obviously does not apply to these cases, since no one has been arrested and prosecuted.

Could there be a clearer confirmation of the truth-in the words of the revolutionary Soviet jurist Evgeny Pashukanis-that “the criminal jurisdiction of the bourgeois state is organized class terror”?

The situation compels us further to address two relations: (1) the state as the condition of the system of codified rules called ‘law’ and (2) the law as legal ideology which reflects the material order of exploitation and domination. Without clarity on these relations, any treatment of law, justice, and rights has already reconciled itself to the falsely universal claims of bourgeois ideology. In other words, an understanding of the cases of Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon must be sought outside the Philippine state’s self-referential system of law which levels the accusation of ‘criminal’ against them, and instead in the class contradictions of semi-colonial and semi-feudal Philippine society, which necessarily produce, on the one hand, proletarian revolutionaries and on the other hand, bourgeois legality with its corresponding system of sanctions, and will continue to do so until the end of exploitation and oppression.



At the press conference following the arrest of Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon, the AFP Chief of Staff referred to the AFP and the PNP as “stakeholders in pursuit of peace and security.” By “peace,” he meant the bloody end of all mass resistance to the exploitation of one part of society by another. By “security,” he meant the uninterrupted reproduction of the relations of exploitation in which the big comprador bureaucratic bourgeoisie (CBB) and the big landlords appropriate the labor of workers and peasants.

In this sense, the AFP and the PNP are more than “stakeholders” (note the clumsy and comical adoption of the language of corporate governance by the chief of staff of the AFP: “In the colonies the truth stood naked”). Rather, the AFP and the PNP are the pillars of the state apparatus through which the big CBB and the big landlords wield state power.

Law, as the codified body of rules which regulate and consolidate relations of production and the corresponding social relations of class society, has as its condition this state apparatus. It is therefore insufficient to merely note the inseparable bond between law and the state (= violence). Their articulation must be grasped as a precise ordering: the law depends on the state, and both law and state are manifestations of class antagonisms. The “special bodies of armed men” (Lenin, The State and Revolution)―the military, police, guards, and executioners―guarantee the smooth functioning of the legal system that formalizes, without naming them, social relations of exploitation at the economic level. In the Philippines, these relations are dominated at the level of the social formation by the big CBB, the transmission belt of imperialism in Philippine society.

The means by which the law is enforced―the courts―must be recognized as itself part of the state apparatus. “The state apparatus, including the army, the police and the courts, is the instrument by which one class oppresses another.” [emphasis added] (Mao, On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship)

The law is class repression. Nowhere does this come into sharper focus than in the specific field of criminal law, where “the legal relationship achieves its maximum intensity” and for this reason “assumes the role of the representative of law in general.” (Evgeny Pashukanis, The General Theory of Law and Marxism)

The criminal charges against Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon directly form part of the class struggle waged by the ruling classes against the dominated and exploited classes. In particular, the Aquino government’s violation of the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) demonstrates its lack of interest in peace negotiations and its intent to intensify its war against the masses.

In other words: the recourse to the law in this case precisely expresses the rejection of all legality. With these charges, the ruling classes have come out nakedly in favor of intensifying their war effort with the aim of mastering the class struggle against the dominated and exploited classes.


In the legal ideology at play in the situation, there is hardly any masking of the class interests involved.

In this way, the law is not a “legal ideological state apparatus” defined by its “specific function” of ensuring “the functioning of capitalist relations of production.” (Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism) Rather, legal ideology is the “ideal expression of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas,” which has no history of its own. (Marx, The German Ideology). Legal ideology here is “exactly what it looks like.” (Alain Badiou, On Ideology). The motive force of ideology always lies outside it, in the real of history, even if its representative form always denies that such an outside exists.

The state tribunal declares: “You are a criminal!” The accused replies: “Tuloy ang laban!” (“the fight continues”). There is no intricate process of hailing and recognition, only the class struggle expressed by way of a rupture with the court itself-that is, through the voiding of genuine communication between the antagonists by the accused.

The law here represents an effort to reduce that rupture to a dialogue, in this way transforming the class contradiction that governs the current historical moment into a play of non-essential differences (the ‘diversity’ of society). This play of differences is guaranteed by the exteriorization of the antagonism onto a term (the individual criminal) conceived of as operating beyond class. The proposal of dominant ideology is thus to master the class struggle by transferring its antagonistic character outside of society. The ruling classes hope that the imprisonment of Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon will transform the people’s war into a legal dialogue.

But the masses know that people’s war depends precisely on their refusal to speak to the class enemy on its own terms and thus to cede the initiative to its bloody institutions. The people’s war proceeds from the affirmation that it is the social antagonism that is fundamental. The actions of the Philippine state only reinforce that affirmation, and with it the power of the masses to see their struggle through to the end. The refusal to speak to the class enemy-the rupture represented by the declaration that “the fight continues”-discloses the reality of permanent resistance to class domination.

The highest aspirations of the broad masses―including the always-present desire among them for a classless, stateless society―can find only a distorted place in the various regions of the ruling ideology, whether legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophical. For example, the dominant notion of ‘human rights’ refers to the ideal attributes of the citizen in bourgeois ‘civil society,’ which must be opposed to the strategic defense of the people’s rights in an accumulation of forces in the path of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

For Maoists, ideology only exists in the form of concrete ideological class tendencies-as ideologies in the plural-and not as a monolithic functional mechanism that inserts individuals into places marked out by relations of production. Ideologies always articulate material contradictions. It is only from the perspective of real social antagonisms that (dominant, dominated) ideologies find their sense.

When the Philippine state accuses Wilma Austria and Benito Tiamzon of being “criminals,” there is no ambiguity about what is really meant by the term. As the charges are closely accompanied everywhere by ludicrous state proclamations on the impending defeat of the 45-year-old people’s war, and occur practically within a permanent state of exception where the Aquino government approves the routine extrajudicial killing of its opponents, the formal universality of legal ideology appears here almost as an auxiliary consideration.

“Criminal!”―the word is an overt political expedient in the given situation.

The big CBB and the big landlords who exploit and dominate know that the word is another name for ‘communist’ and consciously deploy this ideological maneuver to rally their political forces.

The movement of the masses in the Philippines, struggling for national democracy under the political leadership of the proletariat, also knows this and rejects the characterization of ‘criminal.’ They know who is ‘criminal’ in the mind of the exploiters: not only the alleged CPP leader or alleged NPA red fighter, but also the worker who demands a wage hike, the peasant who marches for land, and the student who joins demonstrations against US military bases. The people in the US must also learn this, reject the characterization of the masses and their political leaders as ‘criminals,’ and unite in action.

Revolution is no crime! To rebel is justified!

-Roswitha Bronski Writing Group, for the NCP (OC)

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