Why our revolutions remain unfinished
This country was the first to declare itself a democratic Republic in Asia. Yet since the upheavals of 1896 onwards, it has waged a struggle, not only against foreign powers, but against its own internal weakness.
The social anatomy of this weakness is complex, but let me cite at least two reasons why our revolutions remain unfinished.
One is a certain inability to confront headlong the dark side of our revolutionary projects. We turn away from having to name the crimes committed against our people. We do not insist that wrongdoing be acknowledged and those who are guilty punished.
A veteran politician pointedly asks: “Who killed Ninoy?” This remains unanswered to this day. For that matter, it is important to ask: Why has there been no redress for the killing of Andres Bonifacio, the very founder of the Katipunan, or even Antonio Luna, its most able general?
There is a profound moral softness, both in the culture and in the justice system, that allows the moneyed and the powerful—whether the ilustrados of the Magdalo faction, convicted drug lords or the Marcoses — to bulldoze their way out of accountability.
In other countries like Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were lined up against a wall and shot after a quarter-century of ruling one of the most repressive regimes in totalitarian Europe. In this country, the Marcoses were not only allowed to return; they even had the temerity to run for office, and the people duly voted for them.
Another side of why our revolutions sputter: While we have restored the institutions of what passes for democracy in this country, the operative culture remains steeped in the mystique of the strongman. As the Guatemalan sociologist Bernardo Arevalo once observed of Latin American democracies: “We have the hardware of democracy, but the software of authoritarianism.”
The meltdown of our institutions under one-man rule has eroded the supportive norms that once made ours a working democracy. The system of checks and balances in a democracy evolved out of the historical learning that power goes haywire when the restraints are off. Revolutions become mere transfers of power from one set of oligarchs to another because agents of change are just as subject to corruption as the despots they want to replace. The old saying that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” applies to all who monopolize power, be they elected autocrats or a communist party supposedly acting as “vanguard of the proletariat.”
The rule of law is a precious gift of democracy to civilized societies. We are no longer subjects, bowing to the arbitrary whims of a potentate or the autocratic will of a ruling clique. We are citizens, empowered to hold the government accountable and make our institutions work, precisely for a time such as this when once again our democracy is in danger.
With prescient insight, Rizal foresaw that political independence without the moral courage to take on the demands of a vigilant citizenship will be rendered useless. As Padre Florentino tells the dying Simoun in “El Filibusterismo”:
“Our ills we owe to ourselves alone, so let us blame no one… while the Filipino people has not sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood; while we see our countrymen in private life ashamed within themselves, hear the voice of conscience roar in rebellion and protest, yet in public life keep silence or even echo the words of him who abuses them in order to mock the abused; while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the most iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty—why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worse! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.”
For as long as this nation is unable to face the shadows of its past, and wield the sword on the side of what is just and right, we cannot truly move on and put a finish to what we have so promisingly begun.
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Melba Padilla Maggay, PhD, is a social anthropologist and president of Micah Global, an alliance of more than 700 faith-based development organizations working among the poor worldwide.
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