What, Apolinario Mabini asked, is a revolution?
By political revolution I understand a people’s movement aimed at producing a violent change in the organization. and operation of the three public powers: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. If the movement is slow, gradual or progressive, it is called evolution. I say people’s movement because I consider it essential that the proposed change answer a need felt by the citizens in general. Any agitation promoted by a particular class for the benefit of its special interests does not’ deserve the name (of political revolution or evolution).
But let me suggest that it is equally valid to define a revolution as simply the replacement of one government, with another, against the will and in defiance of the institutional processes, of the government that falls. This means that whether that forced change is peaceful or violent, the process is the same: a the government that falls and by so doing, has its institutions repudiated.
Mabini said that by instinct and temperament, most people prefer change through evolution rather than by revolution, but that if development is blocked by the government, then a revolutionary situation arises:
But evolution is not possible where the social organization is not adjusted to it, just as a plant grows and flourishes only in suitable soil. When the government takes measures for the stagnation of the people, whether for its own profit or that of a particular class, or for any other purpose, revolution is inevitable. A people that have not yet reached the fullness of life must grow and develop because otherwise their existence would be paralyzed, and paralyzation is equivalent to death. Since it is unnatural for a being to submit to its own destruction, the people must exert all their efforts to destroy the government which prevents their development. If the government is composed of the very sons of the people, it must necessarily fall.
There continues to be a debate concerning public approbation of martial law. It is said Marcos himself was surprised by the docility of the public and the manner in which he successfully rounded up the opposition, padlocked the legislature, and cowed the courts. Metro Manila -his own political creation, a throwback to the Greater Manila established as a temporary wartime measure- erupted in protest by 1978, the famous noise barrage on the eve of the elections for the Interim Batasang Pambansa; yet 1981 would mark his apotheosis as dictator and his proclamation of a New Republic, officially burying the old Third Republic; by 1984, however, close to a third of the Batasang Pambansa was oppositionist, with bailiwicks in Batangas, Cebu, and places like Cagayan de Oro City. He was unpopular in large swathes of the sugar-producing regions, and the coconut-producing ones, where his efforts to establish monopolies under Benedicto for sugar and Cojuangco for coconut had spectacularly ruined those once-lucrative industries.
Still, opposition, perhaps, percolated upwards and not downwards until Marcos’ economic mismanagement eventually led to a pincer movement, with the majority and the elite both edging towards the same conclusion: the dictator had to go.
Marcos’ mistake was to galvanize opposition among those with a means to oppose him, by eventually seizing and engaging in extortion, the property of those who left well enough alone and had never engaged in politicking in the manner of his wealthy opponents.
To be sure, he’d already alienated the majority of people much earlier than that, as demonstrated by the noise barrage in 1978; but in 1983 he finally lost the middle class and in 1984, when he famously threatened the Makati Business Club, he finally lost the upper class as well. He lost major urban centers, too: Baguio, Cebu, Davao became even more firmly esconced as anti-Marcos bailiwicks of the opposition.
Over the past few years, I heard veterans of the Marcos era express the firm conviction that sooner or later (and sooner rather than later) it would duplicate Marcos’s mistake and start muscling in on the corporations of its enemies, then muscle in on the corporations of its critics, and finally, start gobbling up the corporations of the uninvolved; at which point, the tide would turn against the government. This is, incidentally, a mistake Estrada made, surrounding by many of the same crowd that had porsued similar tactics during the Marcos era.
This is significant because of how tightly intertwined our society is; the upper class relies on the middle class for its mananers and they manage the masses who are employed; and all are tied, up and down, by ties of church, club, and school, the whole compadrazgo culture strengthened by the rituals of births, graduations, weddings, and funerals. Declaring war on a so-called oligarch is a declaration of war on a cascade of families belonging to the middle class and the masses. Which is why the goings-on among the higher political and business echelons of this country are avidly followed by everyone else -each one having a stake, major or minor, in the outcome.
This administration hasn’t engaged in Marcosian engulf and devour tactics with one exception, the Lopezes; with all others, it has bared its fangs in public while showing every inclination to reach a mutually-profitable accommodation in private. But what sets it apart from the dictatorship is that instead of engulfing and then devouring, it seems to have hit off on a novel scheme: to leave everyone pretty much alone, and instead, carve out new financial territories for itself and its friends. In this case it left only one traditionally entrenched opponent, the Lopezes, while leaving everyone else, hostile or not, alone. Transco, for example; and even its assault on Meralco has been better camouflaged by restricting most of the action to the boardroom, the use of government shares as a battering ram and when that was thwarted, the sale of those shares to San Miguel Corporation which then floated, for public consumption, the rather tantalizing possibility that San Miguel can lower electricity costs by engaging in data transmission through electrical lines: establishing a new monopoly on virgin commercial territory and incidentally, driving a wedge in the otherwise united front presented by the existing telecoms companies.
History is never repeated; circumstances neither emerge nor combine in the same way at different times; for this reason, one argument perpetually put forward as some sort of mitigating factor in judging the present administration’s political maneuvers has always left me skeptical: the President is no Marcos, the times aren’t at all like Marcos’s time, you do not see, for example, the outward manifestations of the New Society and its methods for thought and crowd control.
But of course. Every generation learns from the one that came before. And even the same players learn from the past.
According to some accounts, the Palace is hedging its bets and going slow on Charter Change, because of the public perception that it is in bad odor in Washington; one interpretation goes as far as suggesting the Palace is spooked by the possibility of Washington tacitly blessing a coup should any effort to prolong the President’s stay in office proceed. Others suggest that the Palace all along prefers to be in “legacy mode,” all the better to improve its chances in 2010, while maneuvering for a succession it can control.
The same accounts suggest that a modus vivendi between the President and Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. was ratified in Qatar, and that the President’s visit to San Miguel Corporation’s headquarters was the public manifestation of this agreement. At the very least, it kills two birds with one stone (knocking the Lopezes off their perch in Meralco, and placing the capstone in the carefully-built electric, power, and energy fiefdoms the administration’s made possible), while keeping all others, including Charter Change, at the very least on the back burner and in play.
Some links to past readings by way of a backgrounder on the Marcos years and the anniversary of the Edsa Revolution: Marcos in retrospect, part 1 and part 2; the enduring strength of the idea that one can create a New Society; and some observations on the Philippine political culture.
To come full circle, though, as the Inquirer editorial Veto power suggests, the ultimate lesson might be, that if a revolution, and its acceptable manifestation in our country, People Power, is to succeed, it requires, at the very least, the repudiation both of the government People Power topples, and of its institutions including its constitutional rationale.