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.