Discerning the synodality path for Filipinos, Part 5
The revolutions that General Emilio Aguinaldo waged against the Spaniards and later the Americans, were revolutions led by the urban working class. In similar ways, the People Power Revolution of 1986 started as a coup by disgruntled military brass who demanded reforms and were supported by society’s elite, the rich who were marginalized by the Marcos dictatorship. Hence, they were not true people, bottoms up revolution per se.
Both colonial powers called it an insurrection, yet Philippine history books refer to them as revolutions. They were rebellions or insurrections in the eyes of the invading forces because the Philippines then was their colonial subject who refused to recognize their rule but acquiesced nevertheless to protect their own individual interests. Make no doubt about it, though, that they were bloody revolutions that cost millions of Filipino lives.
The armed resistance that took place during the Japanese Occupation were carried out by Filipino guerrillas who fought under the U.S. States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), and separately, by the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa mga Hapon or HUKBALAHAP or Huks. The Huks was a people’s army formed by the farmers of Central Luzon who would later rebel against the very government who tried to disarm the rebel group.
The events that took place after the defeat of the Japanese proved to be the impetus for the Huks to wage a nearly a decade old rebellion that came close to toppling the Philippine government, if not for the military help by the United States. The discontent was actually a carryover from the Commonwealth years over land reform and other matters that the Tydings-McDuffie Act put in place.
The Parity Rights embedded in the law necessitated amending the 1935 Philippine Constitution but made implementation of land reform and access to natural resources very difficult. The war benefits promised to Filipino veterans were rescinded by virtue of the Recession Law signed by President Harry Truman.
The Philippines had no army of its own and was economically dependent on the Americans. Hence, the Americans maintained oversight functions of the three branches of government plus the foreign affairs portfolio and currency matters to the detriment of the Filipino people. To ensure that the Americans remained in control, a large presence of the American military (Army and Navy) was maintained throughout the Philippines even after Philippine independence was granted.
The agreements were clearly one-sided in favor of the Americans, but the Filipino sugar and coconut barons led by would-be president Manuel Roxas wanted their own businesses to thrive, and had agreed to the demands of the Americans. Philippine Independence was granted in 1946 but the price for such declaration was very steep. Manila and many other cities were in ruins, and the major pillars of the economy were destroyed.
During the Japanese Occupation, the Huks were on the lookout for collaborators (and included President Roxas) and many in government who collaborated with the Japanese for self-preservation. It was a bad situation that Huks exploited to advance their cause. They wanted a wholesale change by instituting communist rule which would prove later as a mistake. Roxas and others made the Huks their expedient excuse to turn to the Americans. President Roxas declared the Huks as a “subversive organization.”
The Huks led by Luis Taruc were defeated in 1955 under President Ramon Magsaysay. Magsaysay was the man of the masses who had deep concerns for the well-being of the Filipinos. He tamed the military by changing the Rules of Engagement to include civic action as part of their duties. But he died in a plane crash before his term was over.
Fourteen years later, a new group would take up the cudgels of insurgency and the plight of the marginalized sectors of society. Taruc would later coalesce with Jose Maria Sison who established the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1969 and absorbed the remnants of the Huks to form a new armed group – the New People’s Army. Taruc envisioned a quick overthrow of the Philippine government, but Sison prepared for a protracted war.
The Philippines has ongoing insurgencies with the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moros of Mindanao. The creation of Bangsamoro has mollified the two Moro groups: The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Both have waged violent campaigns against the instrumentalities of the state.
Philippine society is dominated by powerful oligarchs who make and unmake elections. They control mass media and dictate the country’s historical narratives through the lenses of democracy that allows them to perpetuate power. The military and the police do the bidding for the state under the theoretical framework of neoliberalism. It is this same democratic ideal that allows the unequal distribution of wealth resulting in a gaping disparity between the rich and the poor. The Catholic Church hierarchy is viewed as in bed with the ruling class although the society is predominantly poor and Catholic.
During the EDSA Revolution, many speculated that the NPA made a strategic error in not joining the People Power. Sison, however, was clear-eyed that it was the elite class who would take over the reins of government after Marcos fled. While the world heralded the EDSA 1986 as a model for modern day revolutions, the NPA insurgency lingers because nearly four decades after “democracy” was restored in the Philippines, the conditions remain the same as if the colonial powers never left.
The government’s failure to implement a meaningful land reform and curb the greed of the oligarchs whose list of billionaires continue to grow; people unrest will continue. Despite being tagged as a terrorist organization, the NPA enjoys support from many fronts, legal or illegal. Former president Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was right when he said that “What good is democracy if it does not benefit the poor?” His son and namesake who is now the president of the republic would do well to listen to his father’s admonition.
Andres Bonifacio, the Great Plebeian, was part of the peasant class and fought the people’s war. But this was an unfinished war. The invaders have left a long time ago, but their legacies continue to shackle the lives of millions of Filipinos. But a citizenry who has been brainwashed by the glitter of democracy and religious belief that shuns communism, the NPA can wage war for eternity but not even achieve a stalemate.
The people will just not countenance a communist government despite the movement’s three institutional instruments of revolution well in place. The CPP fronts as the political party, the National Democratic Front (NDF) serves the legal interest of the party in society, and of course its military component, the NPA. Thus, a neutral societal component will need to intervene to break such impasse. The Christian church needs to find its footing in reshaping society and the government itself. If anything, they need to find inspiration through liberation theology to hear and address the cries of the people through their struggles. To be continued…