The end of the beginning
Two things combined to make me wonder about an altogether different thing. The first of the two things was an interesting report in MyCebu.ph on Resil Mojares revisiting his insight into the dispute between Humabon and Lapu-Lapu: That Lapu-Lapu was willing to submit to the Spanish King but not to a rival chief, Humabon. The second of the two things is taking place as you read this: the presidential election in the United States, which will determine whether Donald Trump succeeds or fails to obtain a second term.
What both these things got me thinking was of the place that we Filipinos like to think we are part of, in the greater narrative of freedom (and the loss of it) that is the story of humanity in this world. This is, for example, how we’ve chosen to officially commemorate the 500th anniversary of Magellan’s barging into our part of the world: An early, if not the earliest, victory against colonizers. And this is how many Filipinos view our current national management: As a harbinger of administrations such as Donald Trump’s — and thus, part of a wave of populist authoritarianism which, the world is wondering, may have finally reached its maximum extent, if Trump loses.
But whether Magellan or Trump, are we Filipinos at the forefront of history, or playing runner-up? Take Magellan: His voyage can be said to have represented the end of those epic encounters from 1492-1521 that revealed continents to plunder (to be followed by the phase of ruthless exterminations in the name of conquest that swept from the Caribbean to the Americas and, last of all, relatively speaking, to our shores, from Cortez in Mexico in 1521 to Legazpi in Manila in 1571). Our revolution against Spain has often been described as the last of the independence revolts against Spain that began with Mexico in 1810 and ended with us in 1896. And our war against the United States, like that of the Boers against Britain, was ill-fated and yet marked the end of the great colonial wars of conquest. China under Mao would pioneer what one historian has argued was the great before and after of liberation struggles: Before Mao, none succeeded in resisting empires; after Mao in 1949, none failed.
And then, there is our capital becoming the last of the great Allied capitals to be destroyed in World War II, in 1945. Our own First Quarter Storm, the nostalgic summer of freedom for today’s white-haired grandparents, came as the tail end of the rebellion of the youth against their elders that swept Europe and the Americans two years earlier, in 1968. And we had the last of the American-sponsored tyrants to fall (Somoza and the Shah of Iran in 1979; Duvalier and Marcos in 1986). You could even argue that our People Power, combined with what came to be known as the Velvet Revolutions of Eastern Europe, represented the tail end of that era, when the democratic ethos of 1986 was repudiated in 2016, making ours one of the last People Power-era republics to fall to the wave of populist demagogues that had already taken over in Eastern and even Western Europe.
To be sure, you can also argue of the times we were first: In our peaceful campaign for independence, which secured home rule by 1935 and a pledge of independence by 1946, and the dark twin of this effort, the dismantling of democratic government through a self-coup that, it’s often argued, South Korea’s Park Chung-hee copied when he embarked on a dictatorship (October 1972) by copying Marcos’ efforts a month before; and in our Hukbalahap insurgency (1946-1954) having its back broken ahead of that of the Malayan National Liberation Army (1948-1960).
While Nate Silver, the pollster’s pollster, studiously pointed out that Donald Trump has a 10-percent chance of being reelected (meaning, the chance is remote but there’s still a chance), if Trump’s election in 2016 was the “high point” of the populist wave, will our election in 2022 mark low tide? Or will it simply mean the end of the beginning, but far from being the beginning of the end?