In June 1960, Raul Manglapus and I were invited to a cultural conference in West Berlin. There, we met Willy Brandt, the charismatic mayor of the city, and some of his colleagues in the Christian Social Democratic Party. Communism was on the rise in Western Europe and the Christian Democrats had taken on some of the populist programs of the Communist Party to defang it.
On our return to Manila, Raul decided to form a similar party. He asked the Hukbalahap leader, Luis Taruc, and I to construct the party's ideological platform, a job I enthusiastically accepted although I had objected to the word "Christian." In my view, it was important for the party to embrace all Filipinos, regardless of their religion.
At the time I was already familiar with the Iglesia Ni Kristo. In 1943, when I was working as a peon in Floridablanca, Pampanga, one of my co-workers was an Iglesia convert, and he often took me to a house in the town where the Iglesia services were held.
Then, in the early 1950s, when I was a journalist at the Manila Times, I had a long interview with Iglesia founder Felix Manalo at his first big church in San Juan. He was in the beginning very reticent but I was able to thaw his reserve and he eventually opened up. There were many aspects of that interview that I didn’t appreciate, among them his reason for declaring the world would end in the 20th century and only the Iglesia members would be saved.
I did see, however, a lot of positive programs in the Iglesia, among them the building of a real community among its members to encourage helping one another in times of need. I also studied the dynamics that held the Iglesia together. Members paid their dues, and their leaders came from within their ranks. In time, however, cracks in the Iglesia structure appeared, brought about by overwhelming success and power.
Raul’s new political party would have adopted some of the Iglesia’s structure. We were going to identify the most depressed areas in the country and start from there, recruiting the cadres from the brightest in these areas. For the members to have a stake in the party, there would be membership fees. I told Raul that the very poor don’t have pesos, but they have centavos.
The party would be active the entire year and not during the campaign season only. Whatever money the party collected would be used for the party itself. The first four years would focus on nationwide organization; party members could not run for any public office and detract from this focus. On the fifth year, the party would field candidates for local positions only. And, perhaps, after six years, when the organization had solidified, it would field candidates for national office.
But, alas, Marcos declared Martial Law. Raul went into exile in the United States, and his dream political party never really took off.
LET US RE-EXAMINE today’s political system and political parties. There was a time when our political parties were ideologically based. Independence from the United States formed the core of their ideology. However, after we became independent in 1946, that ideology disappeared and was replaced by what would become tired, old clichés, such as the upliftment of the lower classes, and opportunism.
It was only the Communist Party that had a firm ideology, but like I have said from the very beginning, both the old and the new communist parties were hobbled by objective realities. Like the big Communist Party of Italy, they did not and cannot ever win any election.
Yet a political party is a necessity not only as such but as an instrument to unite people, and through which they can express themselves and their aspirations. A political party is also a necessity as a government communication system that reaches all levels of society.
As it stands today, however, our political parties cannot attract the really purposeful and the idealistic. It has been proven time and again that winning in an election depends on a politician's personal popularity, and that our political parties are simply escalators to power and privilege. There are no nationalists in the Nacionalista Party, no liberals in the Liberal Party. And is there any fight left in Laban?
Recently, I attended a meeting of young hopefuls who wanted to establish a similar party that Raul Manglapus envisioned sixty years ago. I am doubtful it can attract followers for, by its very platform, it is not revolutionary enough. And this, precisely, is what we need today -- a truly revolutionary party whose programs embrace all classes so as to change the rotten political system and the equally rotten elite that supports it.
It is always possible, of course, for all the political parties to unite. But we have no Angela Merkel in our political horizon. And Duterte? He had started out with so much promise to bring change to this country. He has four years to get back on track, otherwise he will succeed in dividing this nation. Remember that old Roman injunction: divide et impera. Divide and rule.
First published in The Philippine Star, November 10, 2018
In the mid-1960s, Carlos Fernandez, CEO of the shipping company, Compania Maritima, invited the English historian, Arnold Toynbee, to address the Columbian Club on Taft Avenue. At the time, Toynbee's magnum opus, A Study of History, had elicited worldwide commentary. Carling and I had a long conversation with him.
Toynbee traced the beginnings, growth, and decay of nations and civilizations, the river systems that bring life to a nation, and how these nations become strong through the development of communication systems maintained by a powerful army. The character of the leaders eventually defined the people and the nation they led.
Some of Toynbee’s ideas have been confirmed, among them the possibility of a perfect society built by imperfect men. Most of all -- although I am afraid this is simplifying his main thesis -- that the response of a people and their leaders to challenges shapes history. But then, responses to significant challenges can go wrong in the process of change, and this can be life-threatening to nations in decay.
THE FAULT LINES IN OUR HISTORY were obvious early enough to our ilustrados, Rizal most of all. We have always been fragmented by ethnicities, clans, and most of all, by the social divide. So, we must now locate and define ourselves in history. There are several states a nation goes through in its development. Anarchy (not the political philosophy) destroys a people. A nation divided and polarized will soon succumb to civil war. Even when that war is concluded, the wounds will take a long time to heal or may not heal at all. And, finally, revolution or modernization can unite us the way EDSA I did.
And what state are we in right now?
I sense we are in the deep throes of anarchy, aggravated by institutions in dystopia. This condition may last very long, lulling us with a false sense of stability and permanence, blinded as we are to the opportunities for survival and rebirth. When the end finally comes and everything implodes, we may not even realize that we have lost a country. Applying the Toynbee thesis to our condition, we must recognize that the greatest challenge to us is poverty, and that we must act to build a just, sovereign and strong nation.
This year is the 150th anniversary of Japan's Meiji Restoration. Before the Tokugawa shoguns united Japan in the 16th century, Japan was fragmented, with various clans fighting one another. In the more than two centuries under the Tokugawa dynasty, Japan became stable and prosperous. Tokyo in the 17th century had a population of more than a million, rivaling such capitals as London and Paris.
Then Commodore Perry and his ships sailed to Japan and demanded that the country -- secluded from the West for 200 years -- be open to trade. Western imperialism was at their door. Japan’s response to the challenge was to create a new strategy, modernize the military and government, transfer the Emperor from Kyoto to Tokyo.
THE MEIJI RESTORATION OR REVOLUTION was masterminded by only a hundred purposeful leaders -- samurai, teachers, professionals, and merchants. They sent teachers to Europe and the United States to study Western technology, convinced that it should be backed by the Japanese spirit. For ten years, they worked at modernizing Japan during which period the modernizers were assassinated and limited wars broke out. But in the end, Japan emerged strong and coveting a co-prosperity empire. The Meiji Restoration is perhaps the best example of a revolution that was shaped not by the masses but by the elite.
The leaders who modernized America were neither revolutionaries nor proletarians. In fact, they were -- to describe them correctly -- immigrants. They were not saints. The Americans themselves called them "robber barons." They raped the land, exploited their workers. But they also built railroads, steel mills, factories, and great universities. They encouraged entrepreneurship and flung open the doors of the country to immigrants from Europe, and soon after, from Asia. It is this immigrant infusion and dynamism that powered American progress and, with it, the institutions that would make that nation endure.
The recent modernization of Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore was accomplished by middle-class leaders steeped in the Confucian tradition.
Can we modernize?
THROUGH THE YEARS, our educational system has produced thousands of professionals -- the intellectual infrastructure for modernization. We now have the technology, the expertise in business and in government. Yet many in this elite force cannot find fulfillment here.
Look around us and see these magnificent condominiums, shopping malls, casinos and resorts, all surrounded by slums. Our elites that built them have the mentality of landlords, much of it acquired from our colonizers. As landlords, all they do is wait for the harvest and the rent. How wonderful if these beautiful capitalist structures were factories. How wonderful if all those rich Filipinos who sent their money abroad would bring their money back and thus encourage the return of the thousands of Filipinos building and strengthening other countries rather than ours.
The triumph of revolution signals even more and even harder work. The conspirators and heretics who ushered that revolution must now be managers and builders of the institutions that will make the gains of that revolution endure. This will take equal dedication, which must now be backed by expertise.
The final goal of revolution and modernization is freedom, the embodiment of the deepest human aspirations. This freedom must be nurtured and shielded from apathy and neglect. It has been said that freedom lives only in the heart and if it dies there, no power on earth can ever bring it back to life.
First published in The Philippine Star, November 3, 2018
In a brief encounter with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle recently, we talked about the Church assuming a more activist moral position in banishing corruption. He had just visited Eastern Europe and noted the moral malaise there and nostalgia for the old communist regime. He wondered about this widespread moral decay. I reminded him of what Pope Francis said – greed is motivating capitalism.
In 1967, I visited Moscow as a guest of the Soviet Writers Union to attend the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I also saw the grim capitals of Eastern Europe. Who would have thought then that the Soviet Union would ever collapse? But it did, not because America was stronger but because communism was destroyed by internal contradictions and the desire for freedom was unstoppable.
And so, capitalism triumphed, propelled by greed. It is responsible for climate change, the depredation of global resources, and strife in poor countries. Which brings us back to Marx and his searing critique of capitalism, how it should be replaced by a humane order, an appeal that is appreciated in the highest councils of the Church itself. The moral roots of Marxism lie deep in Western philosophical tradition, all the way back to Aristotle. As Marx said, philosophers have explained the world. But the point is to change it. Lenin asked how, and his own answer: Revolution, with Communist Party members as the harbingers of change.
There is a big distinction between a Marxist and a communist. A communist is a member of the Communist Party, and a Marxist is a believer in Marx. Marxism does not always espouse violence. As we have now seen, the ballot is now just as effective as the bullet in ushering social change, if we define revolution as the transfer of power from the oppressor to the oppressed.
EDSA I WAS A BLOODLESS REVOLUTION; it was an epiphany. But Cory Aquino did not understand the immensity of what had transpired and wasted the power placed in her hands to change the country. She was instead so true to her class that she turned the revolution into a restoration of the oligarchy, which then enabled the Marcos family and their cronies to return.
And who are the enemies of the Filipinos today? Spanish statesman, Salvador de Madariaga, whom I met in Berlin in 1960, said a country need not be colonized by a foreign power. It can be colonized by its own elite.
Let me be clear and precise. Our enemy is the very rich who hold almost 80 percent of the national wealth. Marx was absolutely right – the unequal distribution of wealth is one of the root causes of injustice. How did the oligarchy do this? By collaborating with the colonizers, by exploiting the political system if they are not politicians themselves, by prostituting political power, by land grabbing, smuggling, even killing. The political power that the people hold is not really theirs because the people are apathetic, incapable of critical thinking. In a larger sense, we made this bog in which we are submerged.
Revolutions are momentous cataclysms, as difficult to foresee as it is to foretell what they will bear. The Russian Revolution was followed by Stalinist terror and, earlier, the French Revolution gave rise to Napoleon who, fortunately for the French, brought glory to France. Mao’s revolution united China and created the Party, which was harnessed to modernize the country. But Mao also masterminded the Cultural Revolution, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed the Confucian moral order.
IN THE PHILIPPINES, the attempt of the pro-Chinese Communist Party to mount a revolution was hobbled from the very beginning by the Party leadership’s failure to understand what Marxists call the objective reality – in the Philippines, this was an anti-Chinese sentiment not only within the country but also in the region, and the strong pro-American sentiment of Filipinos. The terror imposed by the NPA would soon surface – the massive killings within their own ranks and the assassinations of their enemies – and, consequently, public support ebbed.
The NPA today is irrelevant; neither it nor any separatist movement can sunder this country now. Despite divisive politics and ethnicities, the country is more unified than ever and the armed forces is the most important element that is holding it together.
Yet communism will always draw converts, particularly from the young, idealistic, and educated who see no future, no hope for social justice in this country. As that old injunction states: If you are not a communist when you are twenty, you have no heart. If you are still a communist when you are thirty, you have no head. But I know of several communists who remain true to the faith although they are already in their seventies. Apostasy would be an admission that they have sacrificed for nothing, lived a life without meaning.
WE NEED REVOLUTION NOW; it is in our tradition. Its objectives are not utopian in a nation where so many eat only once a day. That revolution should abolish hunger, provide all Filipinos with shelter, health care, basic education. To mount that revolution requires conspiracy, heresy, organization, and the participation of the masa. How wonderful would it be if those millions of devotees of the Black Nazarene and the true believers of Felix Manalo and Mike Velarde were to march to Makati, Congress, and Malacañang? But how do they awaken from their stupor for, as Marx observed, religion is the opium of the masses? And as history has abundantly shown, religion also divides people.
The Filipino revolutionary should therefore focus on the elements that unite us – culture, for one, and, of course, a sincere love for and rootedness in this unhappy country. There is no time to lose. We are at the periphery of a scientific renaissance. We need to be a part of it and to do this, we must revolutionize our way of thinking and our society.