The risks of a revolutionary government



IT is easy to be lost in the euphoria of the moment. The Luneta Rally held on April 2, branded as the #PalitBiseRally, organized by volunteers, funded by crowd-sourced money donated by Filipinos all over the world, and enabled by social media activists, has pumped so much good feeling among many people, enough for them to think that they can change the world.

It is easy to consider the election of President Duterte as akin to a revolutionary moment, one that speaks of the decades of frustration of a people who thought 1986 would be the year we would have radically altered the foundations of our politics only to be stolen by the oligarchs.

It is easy to be frustrated that despite Duterte’s popular mandate, that roadblocks remain, making it difficult for him to radically alter the foundations of our political community. He has to contend with the political structures that still operate on the same logic that feeds the oppressive and corrupt institutions to which people are rebelling against. He is weighed down by a political culture where people are frustrated and demand change, but whose foundation remains conservative and reactive, and not proactive.

It is therefore easy to call for the President to declare a revolutionary government, which many social media activists are now advocating.

But easy doesn’t make it prudent.

It is beyond reason to promote a revolutionary government when there are no structural conjunctures that support it. It is a risky proposition that could have enormous costs.

A revolutionary government is an outcome of a revolution. And while rebellions can be consciously undertaken, as in the case of those espoused by the armed Left, and while political violence can be actively initiated, the convergence of these processes into what can constitute as a revolution cannot be predetermined. Wendell Phillips, as early as the 19th century, already wrote: “revolutions are not made; they come.”

Revolutions dismantle the state, and inflict physical and structural violence on institutions and people. The Constitution is overthrown. But all of these will never happen as planned events. A real revolution unfolds when the conditions are ripe. And the time when it will manifest could not be predicted.

A coup can be initiated against a sitting government and can lead to the rule of a junta-like body, and may in fact be named as a revolutionary government. However, it can only be named as such, but will never be true to its character. In fact, it could even lead to more political problems. While a revolution destabilizes the total foundation of authority and power in society, a coup oftentimes only unseats the government while maintaining the other political institutions, by preserving the logic and bases of their authority. Hence, it may not result in a complete and total elimination of those oppressive structures that infected the previous regime. This cannot but lead to a more constrained political environment that can breed the conditions for further political violence. There is also a stronger tendency for militaristic power to assert itself, and lead to the closure of democratic spaces and the further strengthening of the state now in the hands of unelected and unaccountable people.

But all of these are theoretical caveats.

In the domain of the practical, the more pragmatic constraint to having a revolutionary government is that in order to have it, President Duterte will have to launch a coup against the Constitution. He has to turn himself into a dictator. With the Constitution overthrown, only the institutions which he will allow to remain can check him.

Even if the coup will be supported by the people, and will therefore have legitimacy, the people can only do so much to provide the fetters against excesses and abuses. There is the risk that the President may not be able to control his own circle in the absence of stable institutional processes of checks and balances. History is replete with instances where internal wrangling within the ruling junta has led to more politically disastrous consequences.

This is a terrifying scenario for the simple reason that while President Duterte may not have personal ambitions, we are not exactly sure about the people around him. The absolute power that will be granted to him in a revolutionary government will not be his alone. It will also necessarily lead to giving unbridled power to his people. And this is a scary proposition, considering that the people around the President are not a monolith carved in his image. These are people who may be well-meaning, but who may also have the tendency towards political ambition and self-interest, and would be prone to factional conflicts.

They say revolutions tend to devour their own children. And these are the revolutions that are natural outcomes of historical processes, and where revolutionary ideology is pervasive among political actors.

I shudder at the thought of how a forced revolutionary government, led by a popular President, but surrounded by a circle of ambitious, self-interested men and women without a commitment to a revolutionary ideology, would devour us.


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  1. Truly, revolutionary governments historically conjure up images of guillotines, exile to death camps, mass hangings from telephone poles, and all sorts of bloody purges. We think it will always be flowers, songs and rallies every EDSA people power, but no, toying with the idea of revolution is as dangerous as playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun, click empty now, next time you pull the trigger BANG!

    Gov’t service cannot be held hostage to every political up-heaval, that is why the Civil Service was created to be non-political. Instead of revolutionary gov’t what is needed is counter-culture revolution, change in the way we the people think. That’s what happened when the electorate voted a non-conventional choice in Duterte. Yet that example of counter-culture revolution is in its infancy, searching for a name, searching for an ideology, searching for a purpose.

    I believe the RP is still a Christian nation, with predominantly Biblical inspired values that influence our democratic form of gov’t. The system can be made to work if only we elect more God fearing, trustworthy and capable political leaders that combine the faith of Pacquiao, will power of Duterte and the mind of the Miriam Santiago. It would take a miracle, but if we the people also aspired to think and act the best qualities of the three, that will be counter-culture revolution indeed.

  2. Amnata Pundit on

    Your last paragraph ays it all: someone, if not Duterte himself, must provide the revolutionary ideology first. My own principle is very simple, and that is, if the ideology ensures that the government is given back to the people, then a revolutionary government cannot go wrong. How can we tell if a government is in the hands of the people? Simple. When those in the highest echelons of power come from the other side of the tracks and not from the exclusive, gated villages like today.

    • aladin g. villacorte on

      Correct me if I’m wrong – but this is the same ideology being pushed by Kadamay.

  3. I am in total agreement with the above author of this article. The people is not ready for a true revolution to emerge as the time is still not right. The infrastructure of such a movement is not fully laid yet. Knee-jerk reaction, mere passion and wishful thinking won’t cut it. Likewise, Duterte is not the type of person who can lead it as well. He is weak-willed, vacillates too much and has no heart for it. Once in our nation, not too long ago, there was a man who could have fitted the role of a true revolutionary; who could have led the nation to greatness. But alas, he succumbed to material greed and lust for absolute power. His reign was a missed opportunity. Perhaps, the person we expect to lead the nation towards our true redemption will arise when circumstances are propitious for his emergence. There is a saying that can almost be taken as an analogy to my last opinion: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”