TEODORO BENIGNO: THE UNFINISHED REVOLUTION; FAREWELL TO MANNY

Manila, August 4, 2003 By Teodoro C. Benigno (STAR) It is a glaring and certainly agonizing part of our history that all of our revolutions have failed. That probably explains why an idealistic cluster of young military officers reportedly drew blood from their armpits under ARC light last June 12 to sign a compact to wage a national uprising. They had to continue that failed revolution against Spain and this would be "The Last Revolution". They proclaimed themselves "The New Heroes" of the nation. They would shed the last outpouring of blood in more than a century-old struggle to storm the plains of freedom that Thomas Jefferson depicted.

Just to make sure everybody understood, they fared forth under the flag of Magdalo, the revolutionary arm of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Were the Katipuneros failed, they would succeed. Ah, the dream would not die!

The wiry-haired Cavite general actually came close to bludgeoning the Spanish conquistadores. This would have been a great feat of war. The Philippines would have mounted the Asian rumble of colonized countries struggling for independence. The Spanish were in retreat almost everywhere. The indios had come alive, Before Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio wrote: "What love exists, surpassing in purity and nobility, oneís love for the motherland? What love? None other, ever."

And after the Great Plebeianís ode to love, Aguinaldo wrote, prefiguring the proclamation of the Malolos Republic on June 12, 1898:

"A people that has shown proofs of its endurance and courage in times of trial and peril, and of its industry and thoughtfulness in peace, is not destined for slavery. Such a people is meant for greatness and to be one of the instruments of Providence to govern the destinies of mankind. That people has enough means and energy to liberate itself under the rule of Spain, and to claim a modest but worthy place in the concert of nations."

But it was not to be. A major great power had emerged, the United States of America. And in the twinkling of a historic eye, America bought the Philippines from Spain for $25 million in the Treaty of Paris. A mighty swarm of American doughboys with their bayonets, cannon, Gatling guns overpowered the Katipuneros but not before they had to kill about 200,000 Filipinos in a "scorched earth" offensive to wipe out all local resistance.

Historian Teodoro Agoncillo said it so well, wringing his hands in an effort to understand a nation which he said was born of "400 years of the convent under Spain, and 50 years of Hollywood under America".

And so the dream of freedom died again. It is this dream, strangled in its cradle, that every now and then still ignites knots of Filipinos, soldier and civilian alike.

And so it ignited the first demonstration of People Power in 1986, which was so peaceful nobody died. Now many of those who participated in EDSA I regret no blood flowed, no scores were settled, no heads rolled. But before the first EDSA, there was a lone Filipino, Ninoy Aquino, who cupped that dream vividly in his hand, and wept for his country. Heroism he drew largely from Jose Rizal and Mahatma Gandhi, two great men who wove stupendous feats of personal courage and political passion. Like them, Ninoy died from the enemyís bullets. Like them, he roused a nation to courage. Like them, his too was a dream that died somewhere on the ascent to Mount Kilimanjaro.

EDSA II eventuated. The dream sputtered again. Then there was the baleful caricature of an "EDSA III" May 1, 2001, another bloodless scrawl on history. This was when thousands stormed MalacaŮang, thousands that were different this time because they were poor, dirty and smelly, the Great Unwashed, seeking to burn down the Palace with the fires of their proletarian and peasant passion. Aha. We have a lesson. They too were agitated by right-wing politicians, proto-fascists maybe. And there was a lot to agitate. Another lesson. The sitting president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was saved not by the hordes of EDSA II, but by the police and the military.

By then, the generals had virtually assumed state power. The nationís politicians had receded to the wings.

Now we are getting warm. The Magdalo mutiny July 21, sparkling as it may have been for a time, heart-warming and even pulse-pounding, was doomed from the very beginning. It was a sprout of Gringo Honasanís series of coups in the late í80s, a blatant right-wing grab for power. It failed to ignite any kind of popular support. Gringo, for all his purported glamour, escaped like Houdini after his men killed about 30 or more innocent Filipinos. They conspired to capture President Cory Aquino, retreated when the going got hot. In Japan, a failed coup like Gringoís would have resulted in hara-kiri. This was the ultimate demonstration of utter shame and remorse on the part of a plotter who failed, Gringo felt neither shame nor remorse. Gringo can no longer be a model today. Was he ever?

Another reason why the Magdalo mutiny failed. It was more of a mutiny against the unspeakably corrupt military leadership. It was a school of sardines against a covey of sharks. But not to worry. Lt. Antonio Trillanes, todayís poster boy, will like Gringo Honasan eventually be pardoned, exonerated. Itís that way in our military establishment, in our police. There is hardly any love of country. There is excessive love of power. In the end, they stick together.

So what have we learned so far?

That revolutions can only succeed if and when a nationís citizens can integrate, come closer together, when ideas of liberty, love of country, and the common good sweep across them with gale force, when there is a line in the ground across which poverty and misery and oppression can no longer travel, when the people have had it and pull at the nationís politicians as they would pull at a garbage truck to unload its refuse.

If the nation is marking time today, itís because the government which includes the military and politicians, and the people do not know what to do. The grapevine is rife with talk or speculation there will be another coup. Maybe. But if it is another Honasan-type coup, it will just bump into a dead end. The danger is that this coup, whether sincere or engineered by MalacaŮang, could simply be a broomstick which the government will ride towards martial rule.

Letís be brutally candid.

If that revolution is really unfinished, then it has more reason to be alive today, to dangle like electric wires emitting frightening sparks, to sneak more and more into the citizenryís consciousness. Many doors that were still open to real freedom are now shut, more windows, more gates. But it will wait. It will wait until the ribs of our children stick out like they do at the Sahel region of Africa, until their eyes have that three-mile look of predestined perdition, until they languish and die because of hunger and sickness. We are a suffering but patient people.

We may have to wait for that day. I would assume the next step remains the road to the 2004 elections. Unless of course martial rule intervenes, or some other temblor, and the military realizes its dream of ultimate power. Then the unfinished revolution swooshes out with a million screeches of the box of Pandora.

Not yet, Rizal, not yet.

* * *

I couldnít allow this column to close without mention of Emmanuel Pelaez, a great Filipino, whose kind no longer exists today. Manny or Maneng Ė as he was variously called by close friends Ė could have been president of the Philippines, except that he played clean. And allowed Ferdinand Marcos to buy off his Nacionalista Party supporters. He was a gentleman and a patrician, hugely intelligent, with manners impeccable, and integrity intractable. I knew the man well because I followed and reported on his career with unflagging delight.

When a group of young journalists were arrested by the military in January 1951 and thrown into the darkness and dankness of what was then Camp Murphy (new Camp Aguinaldo), Pelaez came to visit us and held long conversations. We journalists were suspected of subversion and sedition. Yes, Virginia, there were such journalists then. And yes, Virginia, we had nothing fancy like Magdalo armbands, weapons, and ultra-modern communications systems, but we were willing to die for our convictions.

Manny Pelaez knew this. His mission was to save us from our "illusions and delusions". And no more charming a man could have been dispatched for this mission. Oh, the young Pelaez was a sort of Philippine Pericles. He had charisma, he had rare gifts of persuasion, he took all of us into his confidence. We talked, and talked and talked. Manny was that rare Atenean, a law graduate and bar topnotcher I think, whose eloquence was earthy, and did not seek to dominate. A simple wag of his jaw spoke volumes.

Good night, Sweet Prince and again, may a thousand angels bring you to the valley beyond.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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