The Explainer: In the end you must stand alone

OPINION: In the end you must stand alone

Manuel L. Quezon III

Posted at Nov 30 2016 03:43 AM

The orc commander says it all.

Today is Bonifacio Day, with its bitter lessons on how, as the saying goes, a revolution devours its own children. Antonio Luna, that other example of a revolution consuming its sons, had famously replied to an invitation to help the Katipunan by baring his teeth and the sarcastic question, “How shall we fight, with these?” When he was imprisoned on suspicion of supporting the Katipunan, anyway, his transformation from revolutionary skeptic to foremost fire-breather was accelerated. And whatever the extenuating circumstances (and there are some), the man assigned blame for both deaths, Emilio Aguinaldo, carries the burden before history that only independent peoples can assign: that there is a particular shame attached to those who, for whatever reason, decide to take the lives of their own countrymen.

Critics of President Ferdinand E. Marcos assigned that kind of particular shame to the dictator because what might be understandable –though never excusable—for foreigners, he did to his own people: he took away not just freedom, but the opportunity to evolve, from the same public that had elected him.

Here is a passage full of wisdom because it tells the truth. The Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski pointed out, “It is a mistaken assumption that nations wronged by history (and they are in the majority) live with the constant thought of revolution, that they see it as the simplest solution. Every revolution is a drama, and humanity instinctively avoids dramatic situations. Even if we find ourselves in such a situation we look feverishly for a way out, we seek calm and, most often, the commonplace. This is why revolutions never last long. They are a last resort, and if people turn to revolution it is only because long experience has taught them there is no other solution. All other attempts, all other means have failed.”

He went on to observe that, “Every revolution is preceded by a state of general exhaustion and takes place against a backdrop of unleashed aggressiveness. Authority cannot put up with a nation that gets on its nerves; the nation cannot tolerate an authority it has come to hate. Authority has squandered all its credibility and has empty hands, the nation has lost the final scrap of patience and makes a fist. A climate of tension and increasing oppressiveness prevails. We start to fall into a psychosis of terror. The discharge is coming. We feel it.”

André Bellessort, in One Week in the Philippines (November 1897), as translated by E. Aguilar Cruz, wrote this haunting passage on what the “psychosis of terror” must have been like, as the revolution shifted from its first to second phase: “In addition, news reports and slogans that virtually spread by themselves assume the forms of legend in this country. Before the insurrection, it was rumored in Tondo that around six in the evening people would see the apparition of a woman whose head was crowned by serpents; everyone interpreted this vision to mean that the fatal hour was approaching. Another report had it that in Biak-na-bato a woman had given birth to a child dressed in a general’s uniform –which meant that arms had been landed. These tales and apparitions over-excite the people’s imagination, which soon drops the supposedly hidden meaning and gets lost in pure fantasy.”

Writing nearly a century later, Sheila Coronel, the journalist, vividly recounts what the 1980s was like: “Those who did not live through the 1980s will find all this too melodramatic. But the Philippines was a different place then. We were a country ruled by a dying dictator being kept alive by frantic doctors and dialysis machines behind the walls of the highly fortified presidential palace. As Ferdinand Marcos lay on the throes of death, palace factions conspired, the army was restive in the barracks and the air was rife with rumor and intrigue.”

John Adams, reflecting on the American revolution in which he played such a prominent part, estimated that a third of Americans supported the revolution, a third stayed loyal to Britain, and a third were undecided. Some American historians estimate that it may have been more along the lines of twenty percent remaining loyal to Britain, a smaller group being active in seeking independence, with the vast majority sitting on the fence.

I do not know of any attempt of this kind being made to estimate those who favored, and were against, our own revolution against Spain or our war to defend our independence against the United States. In our peaceful campaign to restore that independence in the first third of the 20th Century, we have the beginning of opinion polling to suggest more were for independence than against. We can estimate, too, those who took up arms during World War II versus those who could not, or would not, fight; but again, when, in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos abolished our (imperfect) democracy to impose his (far more imperfect) strongman rule, we cannot say what the majority felt because even as Marcos held referendum after referendum, hardly anyone thought they were anything but rigged.

But since he controlled the numbers and controlled the army and police, Marcos could claim he had public support. I have written elsewhere of how, after a time, the public discovered the antidote to his rule. In the end, his own numbers did him in: when those computer tabulators walked out of the Comelec counting, Marcos was only a winner in his own mind.

But let me add that things seem to occur in cycles, and those cycles last about a generation. In that sense, what came to be in the time of EDSA in 1986, in the estimation of some political scientists, at least, came to an end in 2016. Yellow is finished, they say; and they may quite possibly be right, in the sense of a political scientist’s approach to things, thinking of political faction and dynasty and rhetoric. It is, after an all, an epic conclusion because thirty years is a long time, maybe not for a nation but for the people living in it.

To be able to write “The End” to an era is natural and healthy. It is necessary, if evolution is to take place, which, after all, was one of Marcos’ fundamental sins –preventing his people from naturally figuring out the future without him.

Which also brings me back to the counterpart to the end of yellow, which is: that there are those who claim yellow is dead because yellow must die if their dreams of restoration are to succeed. This kind of glee is revolting because it is said with the same satisfaction as the orc in the clip with which I’ve begun this piece.

In recent weeks a lot has been said about how millenials have taken the torch from their elders and are defining, in their own way, the path that lies ahead. They are doing so with a marked agnosticism when it comes to political colors but in a manner that, consciously or not, reflects different shades of past colors. There is difference between reacting to yellow with a shrug, or even a grimace, as quite a few millenials do, and reacting to it by frothing at the mouth, as Marcos loyalists and quite a few quite anti-Marcos but not anti He-who-made-Marcos’-burial-possible do.

Why is yellow so hated by them? There has to be more to it than simply hating one, then two, administrations and their programs. Malou Mangahas, another crusading journalist, once wrote a summary of everything that was achieved in those topsy-turvy six years from 1986 to 1992. Read what she wrote, and while you’re at, read what Randy David had to say, too. As for the past six years, you’ve been around to judge –and more importantly, to compare.

The hatred runs deeper than that, it seems to me, for two fundamental reasons. The first has to do with what yellow has come to be identified with –People Power. Manuel Buencamino put it this way. Referring to the Filipino people and EDSA, he pointed out that, “Their valor and audacity proved that Mao’s famous adage on power was just another lie foisted by oppressors. Edsa established, once and for all, that power comes not from the barrel of a gun but from the hearts of the people.” That is, the hatred is ideological.

The second is psychological; it comes from self-hatred. Teodoro M. Locsin, writing in 1986, once pointed out, “cynicism is only fear—fear of knowing what one is. To debase the good is to rise in self-estimation. If all men are vile, then you are not worse than you might think you are. You just know the human score. To face and recognize goodness is to sit in judgment on oneself. Avoid it.” In the face of truth, deny it by saying everyone lies; in the face of examples, however flawed, of honor, say all are dishonorable; in the face of history, substitute it with fiction.

Among the most eloquent summaries of our national story since 1986 was penned by Eric Gamalinda in 2009, upon Cory Aquino’s death: “We wanted Cory Aquino to be strong so we could remain passive. We wanted her to save us so we could refuse to save ourselves. She was there so we could continue the infantile neurosis that has always sustained the Philippines’ need for a ‘guiding’ power – God or a dictator, choose your daddy – and has always justified its corruption and poverty. She was, as so many predicted during the heyday of the people power revolution, our Joan of Arc. We knew we would burn her for allowing us to corrupt the vision we wanted her to sustain. We forgot so soon that she had achieved what no man in our supremely machismo-obsessed country had done – to get rid of the Marcoses. For that alone, we should be grateful. If the Philippines never rose from the ‘long nightmare’ after she took over the presidency, we have no one to blame but ourselves.”

That is the unkindest cut of all. It is no coincidence that in his day, Ferdinand Marcos wrapped himself in the flag and shrieked against yellow; no coincidence that yellow would come to haunt people like Joseph Estrada and Richard Gordon, those who remained loyal to him, even after he fled. No coincidence that yellow could be seen in every instance where resistance arose to power being exercised in the wrong manner and the wrong reasons –even by those claiming yellowness as exclusively theirs.

No coincidence, then, that what made yellow matter not just in the first place but time and again, continues to obsess those fighting to reverse the verdict of 1986 to pave the way for something else. And that those who never experienced the “psychosis of terror” in the past, are, in their own way and according to their own lights, figuring out how to respond in ways the yellow would instinctively understand. Because things do happen in cycles; because so long as you have a heart, you can make up your own mind to insist that power will come from your heart and not the barrel of a gun or a bulging briefcase stuffed with you, the taxpayer’s, cash.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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