None of the Filipino trade unionists who attended the 1924 Conference of Transport Workers of the Pacific in Canton (now Guangzhou), China were communists. One of them, Domingo Ponce, disclosed that they were totally unaware the conference was convened by communists, until they heard speeches praising the 1917 Bolshevik revolution in Russia.
At the turn of the 20th century, when the Philippine-American War was still raging in the countryside, the struggle for independence spread to the trade unions and gremios (craft guilds). In June 1901, Crisanto Evangelista, a cajista (typesetter) of the “Manila Times”, an American-owned newspaper, founded the Unión de Impresores (UI), the first of its kind in the Philippines. By December, many other printers’ unions had joined so the UI became Unión de Impresores de Filipinas (UIF), its first president was Hermenegildo Cruz. The labor movement attracted a diverse spectrum of laborers from the gremios of tabaco workers, cooks, shoemakers, mariners, carpenters, tailors, plumbers, woodworkers, journalists, etc. In February 1902, the UIF convened a labor congress to establish a federation called Unión Obrero(a) Democrática (UOD, Democratic Workers Union). Fervor spread like wild fire so the UOD became the UODF, Unión Obrero(a) Democrática de Filipinas which had a loose alliance with the new political parties (Nacionalista and Demócrata) that advocated gradual parliamentary methods and “education for self-rule” as the American colonizers dictated. Aside from absolute independence, the UODF demanded higher wages, an 8-hour workday, vocational schools for workers, decent housing, cooperatives and an end to importation of cheap labor from China and Japan.
As expected, the labor movement became much too militant for the comfort of American investors and their local associates. On 4 July 1902, as the Insular government celebrated USA’s Independence Day, there was a mass demonstration in Manila where 50,000 workers demanded immediate independence. Gov.-Gen. W. H. Taft branded it subversive and put its leaders under police surveillance. On 1 May 1903, the UODF celebrated Labor Day with a mass demonstration at the plaza in front of Malacañan. About 100,000 workers assembled and with unflagging energy shouted, “Down with American Imperialism!” and “We want freedom!” Needless to say, the UODF was soon crushed out of existence.
Amazingly, the demand for immediate independence refused to die even if prominent politicians like Manuel L. Quezon gave it only lip service. In 1912, Martin Egan, editor of the “Manila Times” criticized these politicians who “have made independence their shibboleth…” when in truth all they wanted was an elective Senate in lieu of the appointive Commission that served as an Upper House; high positions in the bureaucracy, and of course, a formal declaration that the US government will grant independence, “when the time was ripe.” They were in no hurry. Egan’s daring editorial had a sense of plot- in- waiting: “The real problems of the country [Philippines] are social and economic but these have largely been lost sight of and neglected.” Did he imply that the Islands were fertile ground for communism?
In 1918, Resident Commissioner Manuel L. Quezon offered Crisanto Evangelista (of UI, UIF UODF) the directorship of the Bureau of Printing which the latter politely refused, but the year after, he agreed to represent the labor movement in the first Philippine Independence Mission to the USA. Another mission member was Pedro Abad Santos, son of Kapampangan landlords, later acclaimed as the first Filipino socialist.
Evangelista expected the American trade unions to sympathize with the Philippine independence movement, after all, at the turn of the 20th century, when the USA invaded our country and crushed the First Philippine Republic, Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor joined the Anti-Imperialist League in its pro-Filipino campaign. This time around, Samuel Gompers opposed Philippine Independence; apparently, he was deeply prejudiced against Black and Asian workers. Evangelista turned to the Industrial Workers of the World, a left-wing, Marxist American trade federation that invited him to attend their convention in Chicago. While he was in the USA, Evangelista witnessed the emergence of 2 American communist parties which melded into one before the 3rd Communist International (Comintern) was convened in the Soviet Union. Back in Manila, he formed a Labor Party which won 18 per cent of the votes in the municipal election of Manila in 1935. It was the forerunner of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Apparently, Crisanto Evangelista went to the Soviet Union in 1928, with Cirilo Bog not and Jacinto Manahan. They attended the Congress of Red International Labor Unions where recommendations for a Philippine communist party were discussed by the Executive Committee that included American communists.
The Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) was founded in 1930, purposefully on 26 August, the day Andres Bonifacio and the Katipuneros tore their cedulas, a clarion call for the anti-colonial battle for independence. It was held in the Templo del Trabajo, at the house of Antonino Ora in Tondo, Manila where more than 60 delegates of the labor and peasant organizations gathered. There were tempting choices for a name: Ora proposed “Proletarian Labor Party”, Quirante said, “Socialist Party”, Manahan wanted “Bolshevik Party” but Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas prevailed. The founding convention elected a 35-man Central Committee which included Crisanto Evangelista (cajista), Antonino Ora (woodworker) Jacinto Manahan (peasant) Guillermo Capadocia (cook) Cirilo Bagnot (journalist) plus three members of the Chinese Labor Federation. The PKP had a public launch at the Plaza Moriones in Tondo where 6,000 attended; many were delegates from Nueva Ecija, Bulacan, Bataan, Pampanga, Laguna, Tayabas, Cavite and Batangas. Crisanto Evangelista, the main speaker, read the objectives of the PKP, some of which were: to struggle for complete, immediate and absolute independence; to overthrow American imperialism and the capitalist system; to end the exploitation of the masses and strengthen the labor movement; to establish a communist or soviet form of government under the authority of the masses. A Young Communist League of the Philippines was formed.
In 1938, the PKP merged with existing socialist parties and became known as the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which since 1968 has been referred to as the old and legal Communist Party to differentiate it from the New Communist Party established on 26 December, Chairman Mao Tse Tung’s (now Zedong) birthday, by Amado Guerrero (Jose Ma. Sison) which remains outlawed to this very day.