Our Revolutionary Tradition
by Adrian E. Cristobal

(Inaugural of Plaridel Lecture, August 27, 2005)

The talk about revolution in our interesting times makes us pause for some serious thought, mainly because it comes from privileged sectors like the military, acclaimed authors, and respected academicians and not from social malcontents.

Last July, the Young Officers Union, as distinguished from the Young Officers Union “new generation,” announced that it was breaking its truce with the government. This is not idle talk, as YOU, better known had already shown, in the Oakwood incident, its capability for action, although what it tried to mount was a coup, not a revolution. This time, YOU is speaking of an “unfinished revolution,” tracing its origins to the true nationalists of 1898. This is significant, for only a generation ago, the military suppressed student activism for being subversive. It became the anchor of the martial law regime, from which RAM (Reform the Armed Forces Movement) “broke away” because the communists were growing in numbers and getting stronger. The “breakaway” launched the EDSA revolution, a revolution pitted against Marcos’ “democratic revolution,” a revolution that restored a democracy that for its failings is now threatened by talk of revolution.

YOU’s manifesto is a less elegant version of the Nationalist Manifesto of 1959, which characterized colonial Philippines as a “clerico-fascist society,” denounced foreign domination and the brazenly iniquitous social order, and was consequently denounced by Catholic prelates as “godless” and “subversive” and “Marxist” and “communist” by now acclaimed authors, who now say that they have been impatiently waiting for a revolution, presumably for much of their life.

Isn’t it significant that the military is no longer monolithic and that yesterday’s frenetic anti-communists are now passionately preaching revolution? But, of course, it’s understood they do not mean a communist or leftist revolution, neither do they mean a rightist revolution. What they want is a righteous revolution, dedicated to setting things right in the rotten state. If memory serves, EDSA was also acclaimed as the triumph of righteousness, as it is so celebrated to this day, although with diminishing conviction.

The notion of a righteous revolution brings to mind Apolinario Mabini’s famous counsel for an “internal revolution” that ought to go hand-in-hand with an “external revolution.” In the once current term, it’s some kind of “moral rearmament movement” within the womb of revolution.

This leads to the respected academicians’ advocacy for a “revolutionary council,” which immediately raises the question whether a revolutionary council could be created without a revolution. YOU’s manifesto provides some kind of answer, but it’s anyone’s guess whether the acclaimed authors, who have been impatiently waiting for revolution, will accept the ramifications. Certainly, these advocates of revolution have read and heard that revolutions are no picnic, that revolutions have not nicely discriminated between the innocent and the guilty, exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed, that they have spawned an orgy of vengeance, collective and individual, ideological and personal, before things settled down. If even the peaceful EDSA revolution-if that is not an oxymoron– was not a model of rectitude, how can anyone be sure that a more earnest revolution would be any better?

Ironically, for all the talk about revolution, public sentiment is said to be against another EDSA, against so-called people power, thus providing aid and comfort to the Administration. The leaders of the revolution known as EDSA are now weary of it. Fidel V. Ramos recently warned that another people power revolution would be a bloody one, and that, of course, he is against it. Let us not also forget that the beneficiaries of the two EDSA’s are also weary of people power. Does this mean that they are against revolution or potential “counter-revolutionaries”? Does it matter?

The fastidious historians among us will have noted by this time that revolution, the word, has been used in different senses. They will rightly ask whether Revolution is spelled with a capital “R” or a small “R,” or whether Revolution without quotes is illegitimately equated with revolution with quotes. This is what happens whenrevolution is freely used to describe innovations in cuisine, fashion, technology, and sexual behavior. It’s no wonder that revolution has become a fashionable and respectable word, thus reducing its awesome power.

As intellectuals, it’s our mission today to liberate revolution from the confusion created by the communication revolution. But, first, a word of caution: I am not assigning an exalted meaning to the term intellectual, I am simply giving a name to persons with a passion, wisely or foolishly, for ideas and expressing them. They may be doctors, lawyers, engineers, journalists, bartenders, or anything so long as they are educated in some sense, united only by their common interest in social and political questions, in sum, in public issues. The Americans have recently called thempublic intellectuals, redundantly, I might add, for I cannot conceive of a private intellectual , unless he or she is confined, like Oblomov, to a small room, lying in bed and looking at the ceiling, which, by the way, is an occupational hazard. I caution you then not to regard ourselves as special beings entitled to the awe and respect accorded to tycoons, high public officials, prelates, jueteng lords, terrorists and law-enforcers.

All the same, there was a time when intellectual merited a halo, particularly in our case when he was also referred to as illustrado, identified in turn with the intellectuals, the so-called intelligentsia, of the American, French, Russian, Chinese, and Cuban Revolutions. As every Filipino schoolboy knows (provided he has had the rare good fortune of having a good teacher and getting the right books), the aforementioned revolutions were inspired and led by intellectuals, by Jefferson, Hamilton, Rousseau, Robespierre, Marat, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao Zedong, Castro-but you know all that. Similarly, we attribute our Revolution of 1898 to the Propaganda Movement which gave us Jose Rizal, and, of course, Marcelo H. del Pilar, the patron saint of Plaridel and UMPIL, whose annual meetings are held approximately on del Pilar’s birthday.

The role of intellectuals in the great revolutions accounts for the conservative wisdom that they are a sinister force in societies. By their words, they give a shape and form, spirit and body, to discontent. Conservative wisdom even accuses them of even creating discontent in the midst of stability. And yet when revolutions succeed, they are honored by the new order for what they have wrought. Still intellectuals are never satisfied, unless they have been co-opted, and so the time inevitably comes when they find themselves again on the side of subversion. Like journalists, to put it in the vulgar sense, intellectuals “do not stay bought,” not by ideology, love, or money. Julien Benda’s stinging rebuke in his famous book, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, is a familiar theme.

In this light, we can rightfully say that our nation was born of the Revolution inspired by the intellectuals of the Propaganda Movement. By their words, intellectuals espoused and exposed our human condition, and by their deeds (imprisonment and death) aroused our indignation. It is not surprising, then, that the spirit of revolution throbs in the hearts of us all.

The Revolution bequeathed to us our political vocabulary. We have only to recall Ramon Magsaysay’s “revolution of the masses,” Carlos P. Garcia’s “Filipino First policy,” Diosdado Macapagal’s “unfinished revolution,” Ferdinand E. Marcos’ “democratic revolution,” also labeled as “revolution from the center,” and the EDSA revolution of Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel V. Ramos, Corazon C. Aquino, and Jaime Cardinal Sin. The heart of these revolutions is the plight of the poor masses, described by Mabini as “the inarticulate” in whose behalf “the articulate” made Revolution. It’s also in their name that we have embraced globalization, a revolutionary new economic order that still awaits their liberation in our time and place.

Before we again ask ourselves the tired question of what went wrong, let me recall the words of Colonel Kalentong to the leaders of the Philippine Revolutionary Government. In all humility, since he was unlettered, Colonel Kalentong wanted to know whether the condition of common people like him would be alleviated with the triumph of the revolution. It’s anybody’s guess whether he had read Rizal’s admonition about “today’s slaves” becoming “the tyrants of tomorrow,” but if he were immortal, Kalentong would have gotten his answer today. The masses are immortal and they know, by their suffering, the answer to Kalentong’s question.

By the time Kalentong asked his question, the Revolution was no longer in the hands of Andres Bonifacio, it had passed on to abler hands of the elite, the illustrados, the educated, the propertied. But there is a lesson there that requires an elaborate, even circuitous, explanation.

Consider the fact that the great revolutions, the American, French, Russian, Chinese, were ideologized and “strategized”-if one may use that ugly word-in English, French, and Chinese. The revolutionists and the people, the elite and the masses, were not separated by a foreign language. It didn’t matter that the French butcher didn’t read Rousseau, that the American woodsman did not speak the stately language of Jefferson, that the Russian peasant could not follow Lenin’s dialectical materialism, or that the Chinese coolie did not read Mao Zedong’s numerous lectures, but they were moved by the harangues, tracts, pamphlets, and slogans of revolution in their own languages.

Revolutions do not descend from heaven in a foreign language. It’s therefore a mistake to credit the illustrados with the making of the Philippine Revolution. To say that is not to diminish their heroism, but merely to point out that there’s nothing in La Solidaridad, nothing in the satires and polemics of the Propagandists that can be constructed as an incitement to revolution. Though they were damned asfilibusteros, persecuted and martyred as heretics and traitors to Spain, they argued, eloquently and bravely, for reforms: representation in the Cortez, freedom of the press, and what we now call human rights. They did not seek separation from Spain. Like Sinibaldo de Mas, the Spanish diplomat assigned to study the situation in the Philippines, they warned that the abject condition of the oppressed would make them rise against their oppressors. Our heroic propagandists wrote in Spanish for the edification of the Crown and liberal Spaniards, for their mission was to convince the colonial power of the urgency of reforms.

The one exception was Plaridel, whose savage satire on the Lord’s prayer was addressed to his fellow Indios in their own language. History has since recruited Balagtas’ Florante at Laura in the proto-revolutionary canon. Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are also regarded as sparks that started the prairie flame. But has anyone ever researched how many Indios of the time had enough Spanish to read these great novels? Were they translated in any of the native languages before the American colonial period? That the novels were meant for the Spanish-speaking Indios, a minority, and Spain’s liberals and satraps in the Philippines can be deduced from Rizal’s attempt at a Tagalog novel, MakaMisa. It can be argued that by this time, he had advanced from reform to revolution, although it was his martyrdom that became the password for the revolutionist Katipunan.

The Fili has been misread as a summons to revolution, when it is in fact a warning. Why did he make Simoun fail? Why did he kill Elias instead of Crisostomo Ibarra, who later became the sinister Simoun? And why did he write the chapter on acochero’s Christmas where the poor man asked Basilio whether the King of the Tagalogs had freed his other foot from his chains? In that chapter alone is a whole anthropology of the Indios’ craving for a legendary liberator, which is still the mark of our masses.

But the Revolution did come, organized not by intellectuals, unsupported by the elite and the illustrados. It was only when the Katipunan was disenfranchised by the Philippine Revolutionary Government that the elite had joined the fight against the Americans in what should really be called the War of Philippine Independence. Subdued, the American regime courted the elite, placed them in positions of power, paving the way for their eternal sway. It will be recalled that Antonio Luna and Apolinario Mabini joined the Revolution when it was no longer in the hands of the non-illustrado, Andres Bonifacio, the man from Tondo and outsider from theprincipalia. There is no intention here to denigrate the illustrados of the 19 th century, who, after all, sacrificed but their so-called heirs in the 20th and 21 st . Their main advantage is the English language, the language that makes them socially, politically, and economically dominant, an advantage, moreover, shared by acclaimed authors and prominent academics, for which reason they cannot reach the heart of the masses.

Consider: the French had their Ecrasez l’infame, not to mention liberte, egalite, fraternitie, the Americans ‘Give me liberty or give me death!,’ the Russians kto kvo(who/whom?), the Chinese “fish to water,” and the Cubans’ venceremos- words, words, words, but words that moved the masses who heard them. True, our home-grown revolutions-let’s have in mind the communists-speak the language of the masses, but what their most eloquent appeal is in English, the so-called letters of transmission of the Huks were in English, making them understandable to the ruling powers-and for what? One doubts if any of the rebellious had read the Communist Manifesto in English. Those who have been won to rebellion and dissidence credit experience rather than manifestos.

Our own slogans are inspired by the moment, without resonance, even dissonant, in the course of time. Ibagsak si Marcos disappeared with Marcos, Marcos’ Alis Dyan! in the 1965 elections taken from the sitcom starring the comedian Pugo. They were “point of sales” verbalizations of the electoral moment.

Intellectuals may believe that injustices can be overwhelmed by verbosity but only if their language is shared by many in a country of many languages.

Consider again that until Bonifacio spread his manifesto entitled Ang Dapat Malaman ng Mga Tagalog through the Katipunan organ, Kalayaan did the Katipunan count a membership of 30,000. Parenthetically, a nationalist historian translated Mga Tagalog to Filipinos, which, to me, borders on the perverse, for certainly Bonifacio meant the Tagalogs, as he had no way of knowing that Ilocanos, Visayans, and the rest would be moved to revolution, although he must have known that the Ilocanos and Visayans had revolted against the colonial authorities. Conditions may be ripe for revolution but language makes it raw.

Conditions explained Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s words as quoted in his biography, “American Caesar.” He said, “They tell me that the Huks are socialistic, that they are revolutionaries, but I haven’t got the heart to go after them. If I walked in these sugar fields, I’d probably be a Huk myself.” Too bad the sacadas had no MacArthur that it took Tagalogs, pardon me, to try and organize them.

The recurring theme then of our revolutionary consciousness is social justice, mouthed relentlessly and indifferently pursued. Our Englished leaders were moved in the days of the Commonwealth by an oration entitled “I am the Tao.” It was eloquently elocuted by Raul Manglapus. There was a tremor in the hearts of the elite, it’s now a murmur.

In this brief exploration of revolutionary history, with capital “R” and small “R”, without and without quotation marks, the purpose is far from resuscitating and aggravating the language issue. That is probably futile, since English has won hands down because the mantra is that we must go “global.” The prevailing Taglish in media is temporary, for sooner or later, the education system will just have to improve so that it will produce perfect English workers for burgeoning call centers. In some ideal time, all Filipinos will be adept at English, which means that prosperity will drive out unseemly thoughts of revolution, since English is the language of success. There will be no more talk of revolution.

Meanwhile, however, we are complaining, so many of us are restive, but that’s only natural in a democracy, and we are a democracy, believe it or not.

“Western observers are looking for attributes of, or departures from, normal democratic procedure. But our elections are different. The big falsification is the big falsification of the whole political process, the falsification of almost all participants in that process. There are no real political subjects, no real independent political actors.”

That observation was made about Soviet democracy by the Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Polokhalo, in Andrew Wilson’s book, “Virtual Politics: faking democracy in the post-Soviet world.’ Wilson argued that to enter what he called the “black arts of political manipulation, the dilettante would require a whole new vocabulary.

” Kompromat can be placed in a ‘poisoned sandwich,’ a positive news piece contaminated by a nagging bit of slander. Kompromat can alternatively be aired by the satirically dubbed ‘General Prosecutor,’ who, while staging a ‘war on corruption,’ really works as a PR agent airing allegations against rivals just before elections. The Prosecutor’s allegations need not be grounded in evidence and are quietly dropped after the damage at the polls is done. The ‘conveyor belt’ involves hiding a falsehood in a general parade of truth. The ‘toss’ is the ‘news’ story pitched onto the Internet and picked up by mainstream media. Of course, if a player has the funds, he or she can publish a whole bogus newspaper or political poster allegedly ascribed to the rival party and designed to make the rival look like an anti-Semite, a raging nationalist or hard-core Communist. ‘Clones’ are politicians who are hired to take up the campaign promises of a rival in order to steal vote. ‘Clones’ differ from ‘doubles,’ who are candidates that run with nearly the same name as a rival so as to confuse voters, ‘Administrative resources’ describes a range of activities in a politician’s toolkit, from ballot-stuffing, selective taxation and prosecution, and just plain threats employed to command local bureaucrats to get out and/or obstruct the vote. Secret agents infiltrate rival parties to ‘cut short’ or ‘disrupt’ the enemy camp by creating disputes between members and thereby discrediting the organization in the eyes of the rank and file. Of course, one can set up a whole sham party designed as a bogey, such as a Communist or extreme nationalist party, to scare moderate voters or win support from the West. Often the election is so sewn up by the ruling elite that the biggest problem political technologists encounter is in finding a ‘credible loser to run against a predetermined winner, such as Putting in 2004.”

If one didn’t know better, one would think that the above quotation is a description of aspects in our own political universe. The book, written in English, is certainly not going to be translated into Russian, at least not just yet. The despotic democrats wouldn’t risk Petrovich’s and Petrushka’s access to it.

Revolutions do come in the native tongue, as Rizal said, speaking through Simoun speaking to Basilio, that it was right that the Indios were not taught in Spanish so that they would discover their souls. But what can be accomplished in a nation of tribes speaking different languages and dialects, moved by different values and beliefs, producing as everybody knows, numerous associations in contention against one another? Everyone has lamented how Filipinos abroad behave without a common feeling for one another, unlike Italians and Mexicans. Many reasons have been given, but an interesting one is that they are alienated from one another.

We are the only country in Asia where a national language and two official languages have to be legislated, official languages, one of which is used only for entertainment, elections, and informal communication. Even when Tagalog, euphemized and elevated as Filipino, is taught to students who unashamedly find it more difficult than English, proficiency in it marks one as merely bright without reducing the elite status of those who are not proficient because they speak and write-English.

English is not the enemy, it’s the absence of a common language. We can, as intellectuals-whether writers, journalists, orators, politicians-fulminate as much as we can against an unjust social order-but it’s doubtful that we can move our multitudes to revolution. We cannot touch their minds and hearts because we speak in a foreign language, because despite all protestations, we are also of the elite by virtue of our alien education. We gain prestige, we can even achieve glory, but we shall remain out of touch because we cannot reach the hearts and minds of the many. For to reach the heart of the Filipino requires the discovery of its language.

But let us not despair. Nothing can stop us from speaking and writing. It says so in the Constitution. We shall be remembered when at some unimaginable time,Revolution will have recovered the name of action.

Many years ago, when I was still young and desperate enough to be brave, I wrote:

“We writers, as inventors of tales, and we intellectuals, as inventors of meaning, are surely so entitled, but only with the proviso that our only privilege is the genuine use of our critical and moral intelligence. That this privilege does not include the happiness of the romantic who found love among the cannibals nor the comfort of the middle-class creature who ‘assesses’ the Vietnam War watching television in his minimalist den, his consciousness far removed from the scenes of rude reality. There are conveniences that we cannot claim for ourselves.

“The coin of our privilege is an all-embracing solitude that is the endurance of a bad conscience. For whatever we do, whether as liberals marching for a cause, or as radicals juggling pen and pistol, or prelates agitating for the alleviation of poverty or promising salvation by white violence, we must understand, provisionally at least, that these have no meaning for the men, women, and children who today live lives of unimaginable horror and whose daily companions are terror and pain and whose only happiness is death. But all the same, we owe them a meaning.

“They-these men, women, and children-are the only true judges of our worth. They constitute the parameters, the parable, of our unresolved existence, and we owe it to them to shed the subterfuges of solitude by accepting with good grace the ineluctable fact that we can only endure a bad conscience. That is what it means-and no other-to be an intellectual today.”

The intellectuals of a century removed, the illustrados, but not their heirs-certainly not their heirs -had a good conscience.