Why revolts fail
JOSE RIZAL, IN HIS ESSAY, “THE PHILIPPINES A Century Hence,” observed that, “All the petty insurrections that have occurred in the Philippines were the work of a few fanatics or discontented soldiers, who had to deceive and humbug the people or avail themselves of their powers over their subordinates to gain their ends. So they all failed. No insurrection had a popular character, or was based on a need of the whole race, or was fought for human rights or justice; so it left no ineffaceable impressions … when they saw that they had been duped, the people bound up their wounds and applauded the overthrow of the disturbers of their peace! But what if the movement springs from the people themselves and based its causes upon their woes?”
He was referring, of course, to all the previous revolts; he was pointing, in a sense, to the possibility-which became fact a few years after he wrote his essay-of a revolution for national, and not local, liberation. And yet the Philippine revolution, which Rizal branded as premature, failed, too.
Apolinario Mabini, summing up the fall of the First Republic, wrote, “To sum it up, the Revolution failed because it was badly led; because its leader won his post by reprehensible rather than meritorious acts; because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy. Identifying the aggrandizement of the people with his own, he judged the worth of men not by their ability, character and patriotism, but rather by their degree of friendship and kinship with him; and anxious to secure the readiness of his favorites to sacrifice themselves for him, he was tolerant even of their transgressions. Because he thus neglected the people, they forsook him; and forsaken by the people, he was bound to fall like a waxen idol melting in the heat of adversity.”
Within the living memory of Filipinos today, there have been many notable rebellions, and on the whole, they have all failed. The Sakdalistas of the 1930s became the Makapilis of the 1940s, despised and hated by their countrymen; the Hukbalahap movement, virtually knocking at the gates of Manila at one point, degenerated into banditry and brigandage; the New People’s Army, proclaiming the historical certainty of victory since 1969, waits still for history to catch up with its propaganda-even as the country reacts to attempts to liquidate its leadership with scandalous indifference. Gregorio Honasan is once more in hiding, and over him and his methods continues to hover the shadow of a country that won’t forgive his troops for killing bystanders in 1987.
The fact remains, however, that the Sakdalistas, the Huks, the RAM, all failed; the NPA is nowhere near even the end of the beginning of its revolution. Of course, their enemy-the Philippine government and whoever they believe either assists it or props it up-has more arms, more soldiers and officers, more resources and foreign assistance; but these things are not enough to explain why, despite its many defects, the government is still here and its enemies are not. Rizal’s and Mabini’s indictments remain as relevant today as they were when they were written.
In 1985, F. Sionil Jose gathered four Huk veteran leaders-Casto Alejandrino, Jesus B. Lava, Fred Saulo and Luis Taruc-for a reunion of sorts, to discuss why the Huk rebellion failed. Alejandrino gave his reasons: class antagonism “between the manual workers and the non-manual workers,” particularly the workers’ resentment against intellectuals. Out of this perpetual tension emerged another problem: the movement “wasn’t able to create, develop, a leader who is good in fighting and at the same time is an intellectual.”
Jesus Lava, on the other hand, put forward four categories of errors he thought the movement committed. First, he felt the Maoist strategy of surrounding the cities from the countryside was wrong. Second, seeing the United States had accepted communist rule in China made the Huks think the Americans could live with a communist victory in the Philippines. Third, the Huks suffered from a military deficiency: “We had no theoretical training in warfare techniques.” Then, they were unable to replenish their losses in the field (in large part, because people were frightened by the government): Even “if the people were emotionally and psychologically predisposed, and intellectually convinced of the nobility and justice of our cause, they would rather stay out than become involved in the struggle.”
Saulo’s explanation was simpler. “We didn’t know when to advance and when to retreat,” he said, and admitted to a personal failure of nerve: “I had in mind the change of tactics from military struggle to parliamentary struggle, but I did not have the courage to present this to the authorities in the movement because I might be liquidated.” He felt the Huks had an opportunity to make this change when President Quirino was fighting for his political life against Ramon Magsaysay. Taruc, for his part, said Saulo’s fear of being killed, had he expressed criticism, showed one big cause for the Huks’ failure: Dissent could earn you a bullet. Add to this a fetish for dogmatic purity which hurt many potential allies, including peasants. He said he opposed the proposition that “Those who are not with us are against us,” and preferred the one that stated: “Those who are not against us are with us.”
And yet, the overwhelming number of our people stubbornly insist on political solutions to economic and social problems: the ballot remains the magic bullet. For its adherence to this view, the public is portrayed as either selfish, or silly, or even suicidal. But what if the people are right? And those insisting on the other solutions are wrong? As Rizal asked, what then?