Thoughts on stillborn revolutions


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.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

167 thoughts on “Thoughts on stillborn revolutions

  1. Too big to fail line….One one hand you had irrational exhuberance about asset valuations. Asset inflation…..

    What is happening now is irrationality going the other way still based on greed. Deflationary expectations leads people to hold back for an even better price not thinking of the consequences to the whole market scenario. That will lead, if this belief system takes hold, to a spiral downward of demand of everyone wanting to make a killing and waiting for the market to hit bottom.

    There is still a serious recession ongoing. The government based on the experience of the great depression would not want to let markets collapse completely as this time financial markets are integrated globally. The more economies have integrated their trade and financial dealings with the U.S. and Europe the more widespread the turmoil.

    The dollar has replaced gold as the main medium for the reserve system of a major part of the world’s national and disparate economies.

    That means credit has tightened at the wholesale level and effectively affected the consumer and commercial banking portion of banks.

    The dollar reserve system operates on a claim over value guaranteed by the U.S. government. Hence ancillary to this globally people tend to place their savings in dollar assets.

    If Bank of America, Citi, AIG were allowed to liquidate or go onto liquidation that would mean stockholders and bondholders all around their world would lose their investments. Institutions, pension funds in the U.S. and around the world would be affected.

    The dreaded road runner moment would arrive. Without a process to allow for orderly liquidation amongst the different countries involved (coordinated action)there would be chaos in the international trading arena. Trade and finance would effectively freeze and countries would have to resort to exclusive national policies to forestall instability in their societies.

    Theoretically allowing banks to fail in a purely national arena would be easy. What about across national boundaries with differing governmental systems?

    Krugman and Roubini are good economists but quantitatively allowing equilibrium to take hold makes good sense. A singular bank or a company in one sector would not be that bad. But what about a systemic collapse across broad sectors of the economy since modern industrial economies are heavily integrated and linked. It would be a severe global crash. The underdeveloped economies would not be so affected as they are still basically an economy of the commons. Subsistence farming and fishing.

    How do manage perceptions and expectations in times of extreme economic distress. Those with nothing to lose is no longer the problem. Those with still something to lose have to be preserved but how does one draw the line in free societies.

    In Citi’s case the governments of Singapore, Abu Dhabi and the Prince from Saudi Arabia all agreed to exchange their option preferred shares to common since the only option left would be total loss.

    We are talking here about the preservation of the status of the dollar world wide. Without it the U.S. would have to pass the burden of their trade and fiscal deficits to their citizens and no politico would enjoy that.

    The gold bugs are there all waiting for the U.S. to capitulate. No chance of that happening….. The dollar based empire will continue.

  2. The solution will be once again kicking the can forward. The government will create special purpose vehicles to store bad assets. It is all a game of smoke and mirrors as long as the government gives its imprimatur to it.

    Just like here in the Philippines the special purpose vehicles wherein banks sold off their bad assets at a discount. These special asset management vehicles are nothing but highly leveraged hedge funds that can afford to wait out for asset valuations to turn upward. They have been supported by the BSP and have an implicit guarantee against loss. They are allowed minimum capital requirements and can leverage up to 30 times.

    This is where governments can spread its loses over many years up till 30 to 40 years. Future taxpayers are not around to complain and citizens are too dumb to know better.

    Most especially in the Philippines where government positions are considered a capital asset to create wealth.

    Businesses have only a medium term capacity for return of capital. (Depreciation) Government have far longer term horizons. Just look at the BNPP- Spent over Php 150 billion but that cost is spread over millions of citizens who are clueless.

    Right after the Napoleonic wars England had a debt that was 250% of their total GDP. They went back to the gold standard and strengthened their empire till they knocked heads with Germany and Austria Hungary.

    The U.S. government debt position is still not as bad but the debt position of their corporate and consumer sector is another matter all together. The world is their creditor. But they are the most powerful. Asia’a economies were fashioned to serve as a cheap source of goods and finance for them. U.S. demand slows down drastically and the mechanism also slows down.

    Now everyone is saving at the same time. A new time duplicating the “Grapes of Wrath” looks to begin.

  3. “the commonist party has an ideology and winning elections is an ideology. which is why lakas is one of the most succesful parties in our history and with a genuine grassroots network.” – mlq3

    Interesting, and true. Last Christmas I had an amusing conversation with a junior officer about his talk with a captured NPA cadre. The guy was wearing tsinelas, delapidated camouflage and shorts – yet when asked why he was doing what he was doing “fighting the goverment, etc” he talked eloquently, showing intensity of commitment to a higher, nobler cause. Curiously, he told me he asked one of his soldiers more or less the same question and the looking surprised, he sheepishly answered – para sa suweldo, trabaho lang sir. Dito pa lang, you will see that this NPA problem will not go away for a long time – these people seem to be more driven…
    Winning elections is an ideology? Now thats a scary thought…

  4. “(Editor’s note: Rankings based on mean scores in ten areas of risk as reported by The Brown-Wilson Group’s “2009: The Year of Outsourcing Dangerously”.)” – Upn

    Did the article mention what these 10 areas of risk were? This could mean that the “security” business is very promising nowadays (post Mumbai). I don’t mean just posting security guards but a more wholistic approach to asset/personnel protection…

  5. there seems to be an interesting, increasing gulf between urban based cadres and leaders and those still in the hills, though; and there is also the much older phenomenon of banditry and the bandit culture to which some cadres in the hills might actually more fully belong, than to an ideologically-driven movement. patricio abinales who has studied and written on the communists for years suggests media artificially inflates both the strength and influence of the communists.

  6. Thanks UPn, you just gave me some ammunition for a business proposal 🙂

    Manila/Cebu/Makati Philippines

    Local strife and obstructive forces to capitalism 2.05
    Corruption and organized crime 7.89
    Transnational and geographical issues 3.96
    Unstable currency 4.27
    Personal crime rate and police to citizen ratio 8.82
    Unsecured &Unprotected & unprotected networks, infrasttructure, technology & telephone 6.96
    Uncontrolled environmental waste and pollution 8.44
    Terrorist and rebel target threats 8.65
    Legal system immaturity 8.13
    Weather & climate hazards 8.9
    Mean 6.81

  7. “Well, you could say that American bankers, empowered by a quarter-century of deregulatory zeal, led the world in finding sophisticated ways to enrich themselves by hiding risk and fooling investors.” – Krugman

    J_AG, first thanks for the link. It’s looking more and more like when market is sovereign, pyramid operations become the name of the game even by the world’s supposedly most reputable banks.

    btw, great conversation going on here!

  8. also take a look at the difference between the results from QC and the Tri-area(Manila,Makati,Cebu)..

  9. The problem with the Left is that it has been demonized by mainstream political thought — when in fact, by hewing to its original Marxist roots — it is the only group that gets the political economy right. It still holds the most relevant framework for Philippine society.

    What’s shocking about Lakas? Because it was effective?

    Lakas-NUCD, under the leadership of Ramos had a plan which all groups could jump on board — Ramos’ tactic of emphasizing unity, instead of going upfront on who his enemies was very successful. And it was not all motherhood either. He satisfied big business by continuing liberalization and privatization, he listened to public opinion (remember Flor Contemplacion — he fired Confessor and Roberto Romulo over incompetence on handling the issue — just ask why Gloria Arroyo’s trust rating is in the pigsty, she can’t even fire Raul Gonzales), he hunkered for peace talks with the rebel soldiers, the communists and Muslim insurgents. He had something solid to show for as achievements — and so, looking back, I don’t think his charter change was a ploy for selfish reasons.

    GMA is hanging by a skin. Her judgement after 2010 may be worse, than that of Erap and even Marcos. No one among her cabinet or close-in people are there with her because they still believe in her leadership. She has already scraped the bottom of the barrel. She knows it and what she else could do but plan her exit without being overwhelmed with plunder charges upon retirement.

  10. Lakas-NUCD, under the leadership of Ramos had a plan which all groups could jump on board — Ramos’ tactic of emphasizing unity, instead of going upfront on who his enemies was very successful. And it was not all motherhood either. He satisfied big business by continuing liberalization and privatization, he listened to public opinion (remember Flor Contemplacion — he fired Confessor and Roberto Romulo over incompetence on handling the issue — just ask why Gloria Arroyo’s trust rating is in the pigsty, she can’t even fire Raul Gonzales), he hunkered for peace talks with the rebel soldiers, the communists and Muslim insurgents. He had something solid to show for as achievements — and so, looking back, I don’t think his charter change was a ploy for selfish reasons. – Madonna

    Madonna, if the Marcosian message is beginning to him home at all, I guess the best leader who could have put it to fruition better than Marcos himself was FVR. FVR, as Marcos, put the blame for the continuing scourge of the nation on the Philippine oligarchy. The “mother of all our problems” throughout history according to Ramos has been the “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” between politicians and a few families, powerful, wealthy and “greedy rent-seeking,” to whom many of the former are beholden.

    But to confront the problem FVR kowtowed to Washington’s bitter prescription of liberalization, privatization and deregulation against the best practices in Asia (Japan, of course, or S. Korea and Taiwan). (US may be en route to revisiting these Asian models today to get itself out of an impending economic disaster.)

    Ramos, a good soldier that he is, bowed too to People Power sentiments, still too dominating then, instead of skirting the Rule of Law to extend his term and carry the Philippines to Tiger status.

  11. oh, for the Philippines to be Tiger status. Wouldn’t it have been just g-r-e-a-t had FVR ignored people-power sentiments?!!!!

  12. i’m just so happy to read mlq3, as well as the other contributors, & the subsequent analytical discussons on the subjects. I could say i found here the intellectual elite the nation needs.

    If only they could reach out to the “masses” to enlighten their understanding of past & present issues, help in their opinion-formation, & decision-making, then i believe the unpatriotic, vested self-interest of the few could not distort historical facts to their glorification by the fooled masses (where i belong & where i tried, in some little ways i can,to mold the reasoning of small groups based on facts). But if these people cited above stay just in one little print-corner, then i strongly believe that there is a “service-for-the-country” potential going down the paper basket.

    Pls gentlemen of the intellectual elite, use your dynamism & influence, so that the masses could see & hear you on tv. Let one of you “host” a program in line with this idea: go to the people from all walks to interview live to pool “questions-answers” data which will be the basis for televised comments by concerned well-known figures in the sector for enlightenment. Then back to the tv studio will be seated “No n’importe de quoi” debaters (who know what they are talking about), but must of course represent the pros & cons of the issue. Then begins the debate of the invited speakers like mlq3, etc on the tv platform. When it’s attended by wannabees from the cinema, sports, etc, then you could surely expect the masses to be there on rendez-vous. PERO SA TAGALOG po ang usapan, if the intention is to reach out to the masses’ understanding. And when i say tagalog, i mean tagalog of today, Eng-log or Taglish, not purista as to use “salungpinggan” for lamesa. TY & God bless the Filipino.

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