To understand the question and its relevance, we have to understand first the different definitions of what a revolution is.
The strict Marxist notion of revolution is the overthrow of one ruling class by the exploited class, i.e., the overthrow of the landlords by the peasants, and in the communist dogma, the bourgeoisie by the proletariat at some future time.
A more common and broad understanding of revolution is one in which a state or a political regime is overthrown by a popular movement in an irregular, extra-constitutional fashion, whether violent or not.
A rather deeper and broader idea of revolution is that it is a social movement led by a leader with substantial popular support, which changes an existing order radically and rapidly — how political power is redistributed, how people view the world and the nation, how they see in a very new light their nations’ problems and how these are to be resolved.
The “classic” French Revolution encompassed both definitions: It overthrew both the monarchy as well as the medieval culture of obeisance to the Church and its dogmas.
The revolutionaries who founded our nation, especially Rizal, rapidly removed the ideological chains used by the Catholic Church to bind the Filipinos to a life of servitude for four centuries so that they couldn’t see the exploitation of their nation by their Spanish colonizers, and couldn’t conceive of a future beyond being just a Crown colony and the faithful servant of the Church.
EDSA II, by that common definition, qualified as a revolution as it overthrew Marcos’ 13-year dictatorship in a popular, extra-constitutional fashion. It wasn’t a social revolution at all since the Cory Aquino regime retained the ruling elites, (that, in fact, grew during Martial Law) less those close to Marcos (i.e., the cronies) and restored the old political-economic magnates that were the dictator’s enemies.
What isn’t accepted too widely — because the victors normally write history — is that Marcos’ Martial Law was also a revolution: the old order, the system of elections, which was a game of thrones by which factions of the elite fought to determine whose turn it was to rule, was overthrown.
Replacing it was a weird one because the legal system that was built up since the Commonwealth period was retained even as the country was placed under the rule of one man, supported by the military and police establishment and by most of the middle and ruling classes, especially by what would be called “oligarchs” today. (The demonized “Rolex 12” — actually they were given fake Omegas, according to then Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Romeo Espino — who signed off on Marcos’ martial declaration on the evening of September 21, 1972 actually consisted of Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, and the chiefs of all the uniformed services, including Philippine Constabulary Chief Fidel Ramos.) Indeed, Marcos called his dictatorship, validly I think, a “Revolution from the Center.”
Until Martial Law turned sour, roughly during the global 1980s recession, Filipinos’ prime values weren’t at all the right to vote or to choose their leaders, but economic growth, for themselves and for the nation.
What has been forgotten, and which I was reminded of only by President Duterte’s public naming yesterday morning of over a hundred judges, police and military officers, as well as incumbent and former public officials allegedly involved in the illegal-drug industry, was Marcos’ order a few weeks after he declared Martial Law removing about 4,000 officials, both elected and in the government bureaucracy and state firms, for corruption. Marcos hailed it as a revolutionary move toward curbing corruption that had been a burning issue in that era, as it is now.
I remember that Marcos’ move distinctly since an uncle in a government bank was included among those purged. Whether he was corrupt or not, or only included in that list by enemies, I never found out. The poor man, a good man … though he never recovered from his shock, and had since been unemployed until he died.
I am starting to suspect that what we are seeing now is a Duterte revolution. His naming of more than a hundred judges, military and police officials, as well as politicians, as being involved in the illegal drug trade, has upended the old order, in which it would have required massive resources and even decades for “due process” to be undertaken to dismantle the illegal-drug industry’s infrastructure. Call it trial by publicity, but Duterte’s announcement in one fell swoop has neutralized this corps of supporters of the illegal-drug industry.
When Marcos purged 4,000 allegedly corrupt government bureaucrats, and when Cory Aquino in 1986 removed more than 1,500 mayors and governors in March 1986, they were exercising revolutionary power, upending the old order by suspending due process.
Perhaps, it is in this bigger picture where we are in the midst of a revolution, that we should judge the widespread extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and addicts. A revolution, as Mao Ze Dong had poetically pointed out, is not a picnic. There will be many innocents killed as revolutionaries storm their Bastilles.
I think Duterte, without declaring it as such and with us not realizing it, had launched — from the time he delivered his speeches that shocked the bourgeoisie during the 2016 election campaign period to his initiatives in the past 36 days — a revolution.
His campaign — and victory — had overthrown the old order of well-financed political parties, of political machines, and patronage networks. His curses and off-color jokes had broken the old order of respectable campaign speeches. He has challenged the Press, the first time a President has ever done so. (Estrada challenged only the Philippine Daily Inquirer, not the entire media.)
Locus of power
Duterte has moved the locus of political and bureaucratic power from metropolitan Manila, where it had been located since Independence, to Davao City, which would have positive economic consequences for our “frontier” region. Cut — so far — under Duterte has been the magnates’ and oligarchs’ influence and even control of the presidency that had been a mark of our Republic since our independence. Duterte’s disregard of protocol — his wearing of jeans even in official functions, his irreverence toward ambassadors, his past-midnight press conferences — are in reality his gestures that reveal his intent to upend the old order.
However, not all revolutions have been laudable or successful. The EDSA I Revolution merely restored the old ruling classes’ almost absolute powers. In other countries, Indonesia’s Sukarno’s revolution was defeated by a counter-revolution that led to the massacre of 500,000 ethnic Chinese suspected of being communists and its leader Suharto’s 31-year dictatorship. The attempt at revolution by China’s Democracy movement and its 1989 Tiananmen protests were brutally crushed by the Chinese Communist Party, which, later on led the country to become what is now the world’s second biggest economy, next only to the US.
The Philippine elite have learned, especially after the overthrow of former President Joseph Estrada, how to get rid of a President who is not one of them. Duterte has to move fast to defang the elite to neutralize its prime weapons.
Duterte, at 72, is a very old man compared with Rizal, Bonifacio and General Luna, who were all in their 30s when they were engaged in revolutionary struggle. Mao Ze Dong was 54 when his revolution won. Revolutionary fervor, some say, wanes at almost the same pace as libido does. I’m worried that Duterte has said not just once that if he senses the “people” don’t want him anymore, he’ll just go back to Davao. He hasn’t totally disproved claims during the campaign that he has some serious illness.
I certainly hope Duterte’s siege of the illegal-drug industry is just the start of this modern Supremo’s revolution, that it is just the low-hanging fruit he has to capture first.
For me, what could bring hope are his statements critical of the mining industry and his reference to “oligarchs” that have influenced all past administrations. These point to his understanding that one of the reasons behind our nation’s poverty is a greedy ruling class, many of whom see themselves as Spanish, or the new cosmopolitan Chinese, concerned only over profits and never over the fate of this community we call the Philippine nation.
In the quagmire where we find ourselves, dug even deeper by the past incompetent hacendero administration, we need nothing less than a revolution, especially given the much faster pace of our world today. Even a war-devastated country like Vietnam is starting to overtake us, thanks to its leaders’ nationalism and the absence of greedy oligarchs. We’ve gone from bad to worse: one of the newest, and biggest, oligarchs we have in this country is not even a Filipino. How bad can it get?
I’m afraid Supremo Duterte is our last chance.