The Explainer: Winner take all

Winner take all

Manolo Quezon – The Explainer

Posted at Oct 23 2017 03:01 PM


The one thing you have to know about a revolution is that by its nature, it is illegal unless and until it wins. Then the revolution dictates what is legal or not.

When Emilio Aguinaldo established a new government in June 1898, what he set up was a dictatorial government. Our proclamation of independence in fact referred to him as our “egregious dictator,” in the old sense of the word, meaning remarkable or excellent.

A witness to the event, Apolinario Mabini, objected to this. A country’s freedom, he argued, required not just speaking in the name of the people, but getting the people’s involvement as well.

That is why soon after the dictatorial government was set up, it was abolished and replaced with a revolutionary government that lasted until we set up a republic in January 1899.

Mabini, writing after the First Republic was defeated, explained what a revolution is. He said, a revolution requires violent change to three things: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. He clarified that a revolution is only worthy of the name if it is done by the people, in answer to needs they feel, and not by and on behalf, of a smaller group or interest.

The Polish journalist Ryzsard Kapuskinski, in his wonderful book “Shah of Shahs,” writing almost a century later, added something else, based on the world’s 20th Century experiences.

A revolution, according to him, is different from a simple revolt, a coup d’etat, or a palace takeover. In the first place, he argued, it is spontaneous: it cannot be planned. It happens so quickly, that even those who’ve been wanting one, can be surprised by what takes place, including the destruction of the ideals that had motivated the revolution.

So, if soldiers march out of the barracks to depose a president, that is a coup d’etat, not a revolution. Guerrillas in the hills fighting to achieve a change in government are waging a revolt but it’s not a revolution.

The thing is, the idea of revolution is exciting. It is even convenient, since most people have little time or patience for the definitions of lawyers, political scientists or even journalists. Ferdinand Marcos laid down the case for what would be a power grab—but not a revolution—by hiding his plans under the name of a revolution, which he said would be different from the Left or the Right in that it would come from the Center.

But Marcos was a wide reader of history and knew what Mabini argued: violence is the key. Just as a revolution can be stopped by force of arms, force of arms can be used to simulate a revolution.

Again, borrowing Mabini’s definition, we can see Marcos, using the armed forces, neutralized the three branches of government. Anyone in the executive disagreeing with him could be arrested under martial law. He padlocked Congress, neutralizing the legislature. He told the Supreme Court, leave me alone or I will abolish you.

In Latin America, they have a name for what Marcos did, and it’s not revolucion. It’s autogolpe. The dictionary defines an autogolpe as a military coup with a difference: it is initiated by the elected leader, to establish total control of the state.

In 1986, we had a different kind of revolution, peaceful because the military disobeyed Marcos’ orders to fire on Camps Crame and Aguinaldo and to plow, shell, or bomb their way through the crowds on EDSA. With the military having changed allegiance, President Cory Aquino proclaimed a revolutionary government, abolishing the Marcos-era institutions. By 1987, this was replaced by the democracy we now have.

But this democracy is far from being universally loved. Since last year, some supporters of the President have argued that the system is corrupt, dysfunctional, and inefficient. It too easily allows individuals and groups to use the system to slow down or even stop, some of the President’s advocacies.

In response to the defects they see in our system of government, these supporters have argued, publicly, and passionately, for a Revolutionary Government to be proclaimed. This call has been made time and again, in August, September, and December last year, and February and June this year.

These supporters have tried to organize locally and nationally. The idea is to prove that there is a massive demand for a revolution to happen.

These supporters argue that since it’s obvious there is wide public support for the President, then it is time to show these numbers not just online, but in the real world. And not just in Metro Manila, but throughout the country.

Their dream is gatherings of passionate citizens demanding four things. First, to proclaim the 1987 Constitution null and void, and to use the 1973 Constitution that was abolished in 1986 as the basis for a new one. Second, to establish a Federal government suited to local behavior and conditions. Third, to crush corruption in government and in the private sector, including reclaiming all stolen wealth. Fourth, to crush drug syndicates and other criminal gangs. The petition circulated by these advocates envisions a two-year revolutionary government to accomplish these things.

The latest measure of public opinion, for its part, tells us that these objectives, at this point, may be pretty far removed from what people really want government to fix. For example, locally, the top three issues are bad roads, flooding, and drugs.

Nationally speaking, public opinion tells us that controlling inflation, higher salaries, more jobs and fighting corruption are the top concerns. Changing the constitution is at the very bottom, with only two percent of people having the opinion this is a priority.

The challenge for advocates of a revolution is to connect these dots. As early as last June, advocates of revolutionary government online used real world problems to justify why a revolution is needed. Now that the President has said he is willing to consider a revolution as an option, the debate is a serious one, since it essentially involves a saying lawyers love: “When the guns speak, the law falls silent.”

Other supporters of the President are pushing Charter Change through normal channels as an alternative. The President himself has publicly stated he prefers this path. But he is showing signs of impatience and frustration.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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