Looking for a Revolution

Historians,  chroniclers,  social scientists, political analysts and the general public continue debating about The Revolution. Whether finished or unfinished,  the mere mention of the R word provokes staggering controversies,  especially during heightened moments of constitutional chaos.

Recently, I joined (virtually) the annual conference of the Philippine Historical Association, now headed by Ma. Luisa Camagay, PhD, whom I met at a conference in Bali decades ago.  Since then, I have become Dr. Camagay’s inveterate admirer. The main speaker of one of the panels was Prof. Vicente Rafael, PhD, whose provocative paper– “How revolutionary was the Revolution”– alluded to the Philippine Revolution that began in 1896. After listening intently to Vince’s talk, I concluded that what we have been calling the Philippine Revolution was not  a revolution, in the strictest sense of the word.

Most of us Filipinos have defined Revolution somewhat loosely, if not mindlessly. Expressions of dissent, acts of disobedience and defiance, boycotts, rowdy animadversions are called revolution. Perhaps the most glaring example of our penchant for using the incorrect word is  People Power I  which we consistently and carelessly called the EDSA Revolution. That is why we are still wondering why nothing has changed.

I became aware of the misnomer when I fled to Mexico during Marcos I’s regime of constitutional authoritarianism, more commonly known as martial law. Most of my new friends were from the academe and the labor unions and whenever they asked me about Philippine history, they were baffled that we have never had a “Revolución”. Using Mexico’s history as a point of reference, what we waged against Spain in the 19th century was a “movimiento anti-colonial”. Whenever  I insisted that we did have a revolution, they clarified that what we had was a “revolución anti-colonial”. They had that too, much earlier than we did; in fact,  it began with a priest, Miguel Hidalgo, who used the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as his battle standard. (Visit his  monument outside the walls of our Intramuros.) The Mexican “movimiento anti-colonial” took all of 10 years, from 1810 to 1820, and gravely affected the Capitanía-General de las Filipinas because it put an end to the galleon trade and the subsidy of Mexican silver.

What they refer to as “Revolución Mexicana” was their social revolution which we have never had. It took place from 1910 to 1917, and overthrew the dictator,  Pres.  Porfirio Díaz. His name does not sound familiar to  Filipinos, unlike   Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata that ring bells because Hollywood made movies about them. I remember hearing my haciendera aunts talking about “Viva Zapata!” and how inhumanly Mexican tenants were treated in those days.

Prof. Rafael described our “movimiento anti- colonial” or “revolución anti-colonial” as nothing more than a  regime change. Like in colonial Mexico where the criollos (insulares), mestizos, indios and ilustrados believed that Mexico belonged to them and not to the Spanish colonizers,  our local elites and ilustrados aimed to retrieve the country.

Hardly anyone talks about a social revolution because that usually means a civil war, a clash to the death of established socio-economic and political interests, causing bloodshed and death. Were we ever at the brink of such a social revolution?

As a grade school student in the 1950’s, I would hear my elders talking about how communists were pounding on the gates of Manila, ready to take over. My mother was a newspaper woman and she came home with  “horror stories. My grandma Filomena, a student activist during the early years of the American occupation, an admirer of Ho Chi Minh,  prayed incessantly to save the country from the “Iron curtain”. But, was the danger really imminent? Much later I learnt that after WWII, 5 or 6 members of the HUKBALAHAP  anti -Japanese movement were duly elected as Representatives. However,  they were against the  Parity Amendment which had to be approved by Congress, so false charges of violence and fraud were hurled at them. They lost their seats in Congress, fled to the mountains and formed the Communist Party.

History did repeat itself in 1971, when it was rumored once again that communists were about to take over.I keep an issue of an Asian economic review with a  cover titled “The Red Tide”  showing  Pres. Ferdinand and Mrs. Imelda  Marcos knee-deep in a crimson river. A  New Communist Party, the  New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front were established in 1968, so a few years after,  martial law was imposed ostensibly to save the Philippines. However, the Marcos government was overthrown by the so-called EDSA Revolution,  an endorphin generator that made no changes in structure nor system. It was only regime change, a coup at worst. That is why we should be careful about using the R word and should not attach it to just any kind of Pagbabago.