THE LONG REVOLUTION: VOICES FROM THE GROUND
Many people still could not “move on”, much less “move forward”, after the Philippine May 9 election. Some have cried for many nights. Others did not go to work many days after. Still some others did not want to see friends; or many have “unfriended” those who still talk ill and gaslight them.
In my attempt to sort things out and discern many conflicting voices, I needed to listen to voices within me and experiences from the ground. There is one group whom I have been following and supporting from the start of the campaign until the end. I even did a webinar for them just three days before the elections. They are composed of talented and intelligent young people — some young professionals, others still in school. But with them are poor ordinary mothers and fathers who were just convinced that things cannot go on this way, that change is necessary.
In a town of more than 30,000 people, this small group of ordinary citizens banded together without party support and political machinery since their mayoral candidates — three or four of them — all supported BBM. With few friends here and abroad, this little group went house to house each day during the campaign period to convince people about the Leni-Kiko candidacy with literally nothing except their convictions, good will and few collaterals. No other party did so; only this small group of volunteers.
At this time, their questions are also mine. What happened? How should we understand what happened? Is that all that there is to it? Where do we get resources—internal and external—to move forward? We spent one afternoon to process the questions ourselves and try to sort things out.
As I listened to them explain it to themselves, and assess other voices beyond theirs, I can group four stands of competing narratives.
1. ELITE DEMOCRACY DISCOURSE
One popular explanation can be called the “elite democracy” discourse. Marcos and Duterte apologists came out with this narrative right after winning the election in many different forms — from the seemingly academic to the most popular/populist, from op-eds to Tiktok. The common line goes this way: Marcos’ (and Duterte’s) win is the poor’s protest against the rule of the oligarchs of the Philippine society. In particular, it is a reaction to Aquino’s post-EDSA failure to listen to the poor. One Marcos apologist writes, the defeat means the poor's revolt against “the yellow and the pink”.
Rodrigo Duterte earlier benefitted from the binary discourse (the abusive oligarchs vs. the poor people) with the slogan "change is coming", that is, change from the "dilawan" elite rule. He is not alone. This is characteristic of all populist discourses against liberal democracy and global capitalism. This explains the success of other ‘populist’ leaders worldwide — Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Narendra Modi of India, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and earlier, Donald Trump of the US and many others. Populism is the name of the game.
How do we understand such a charge?
On the one hand, the Philippines has always been a society ruled by the elite. From the time of the “illustrados” and “principalia” to post-War Philippines, there has always been 30 to 50 to 100 families which ruled Philippine economy and politics. Marcos, Aquino, Estrada, Arroyo, Duterte campaigned and won under the banner of dismantling this oligarchy but did not do so. In the end, Marcos instituted his own cronies; Aquino capitulated to big business; Estrada and Arroyo convicted of plunder and named as the new oligarchs of our time. For all his bravado, Duterte ended by enriching himself and his group of the new Davao and Chinese elite, aside from killing thousands of poor people.
Duterte is right. The reign of the elite is the fundamental problem — the original sin, as it were — of Philippine politics. But blaming it entirely on the “dilawan” (or pink-lawan as Isko Moreno did) is a constructed, selective and myopic view that forgets the whole historical baggage of elite rule in Philippine society.
And the spread of these lies and hate against one sector of the elite (the yellows), the selective enthronement of a Marcos “golden past” and deletion of atrocities of Martial Law is made possible by social media networks (Facebook, Tiktok, YouTube), the great money poured into them over a decade or so, and the thousands of paid trolls to spread such lies and disinformation.
Bongbong Marcos has already admitted: “My troll army won the Philippine presidency for me.” Our local group in this rural town identifies “fake news” as the main engine of the Leni-Kiko defeat. People in far-flung areas which has access to internet parrot spliced slogans from Tiktok: “Leni lugaw”, “lutang”, “bobo”, “mahina dahil babae”, “puppet ng mga dilawan”. The Marcos supporters can readily narrate the "lasting" infrastructures or the shining Duterte "legacy". Even as this group tries to explain, these BBM supporters close-mindedly shout and jeer at them.
So blaming it mainly on the "dilawan" is problematic selective narrative. But blaming it entirely on the oligarchs/elite also makes us victim of the same binary thinking. It erases the reality that simple ordinary people—and there are many of them—do not sell their votes, stood up to local political warlords and economic elites despite the temptation all these years, and "held the moral line", as it were. Our little group finds it a joy to be welcomed — with snacks and smiles — by these poor people who have not believed in such lies, did not compromise their cherished values and lived decent honest lives.
2. “MORAL POLITICS” PERSPECTIVE
This view thinks that the political arena is a fight between good and evil. Marcos Senior and Junior as well as the Duterte’s are sometimes portrayed by their enemies as personifications of “evil”.
On the one hand, the Christian faith consider some moral values to be non-negotiable (e.g., the right to life, the dignity of the human person, the value of truth, etc.). Not to defend these values would mean agreeing to the forces of evil. One writer describes this “moral politics”.
On the other hand, like the structural binaries of elite and the masses, the discourse of good and evil makes us look down and “demonize” others who do not uphold our values, who do not think the way we do, who are ”lower” than us, who do not understand enough. This is seen in the “bobotante” and “tanga” charges against Marcos-Duterte supporters. But the same is true with the BBM-Duterte trolls who calls Leni and her supporters as "lugaw" and "bobo". Both sides have demonized the other.
On the one hand, to deny that ‘morality’ has no place in the political world is to give way to "transactional politics". This could be understood as "the end justifies the means" which has been abhorred as non-ethical from Aristotle onwards. To give way to “Machiavellianism” and justify it as social ideal spells a dead-end for our society. Marcos and Duterte campaign is characterized by this discourse.
On the other hand, moral politics with its binary lens prevent us from truly understanding the actual issues on the ground. We wonder why do people insist on voting someone who is ‘evil’? “Bakit ba gusto nila ang magnanakaw, mamamatay-tao, at sinungaling?” For many people in most vulnerable situation, to “vote wisely” as the PPCRV tells us, does not mean to follow idealistic criteria. It is to follow the benign patronage of the barangay chairman or the mayor who has the resources when they need them most (for instance, when they need the ambulance for a sick family member or the much needed ‘ayuda’ in times of disaster). “Di bale na korap, basta madaling lapitan.” And whoever s/he endorses, we will obey.
The so-called political ideals and criteria for voting—Christian, civil society or otherwise—do not easily fit the difficult situations where the majority of our population are. Until the unequal structures of this society continue to exist, patronage politics will always hold sway. Callous politicians will always “use” the poor as they are doing today, and for moral-religious politics to condemn the “bobotante” is actually to blame the social victims.
Like the elite democracy discourse (the corrupt oligarchs vs. the pure masses), the moral politics view (good vs. evil) discourse is also a “binary construction” which hinders us from truly listening to the needs of people on the ground.
3. VIEWS FROM THE GROUND
Beyond these "structuralist" views, there are other factors on the ground that can help us understand the situation. There are three more that I gathered from the experiences of this small group: the force of political machinery; the realpolitik of money; and the reality of election fraud.
Not having political machinery on the ground that supports the Leni-Kiko campaign is already a minus factor. Even as there are resources from pink supporters and volunteers, it is nothing compared to the compulsive force of political structures on the ground. We can gather hundreds of thousands in pink rallies but, on the actual day of voting, the BBM stream of well-paid watchers, the endless supply of food and bus service, to a promise of “swimming” after, are already a force to reckon with. “We had little time; it was too late to campaign and volunteer,” the group said. While on the Marcos-Sara side, the drawing of list has been going on and updated before and after the election campaign. Persons who belonged to these "lists" were promised a share of “Tallano gold” when Marcos takes over power, or cash to be forwarded to their ATM cards. Of course, these are all false promises. But people can easily forget.
The second factor that is officially "unsayable" in Philippine politics is money. Apologists deny it. Politicians are mum about it. Vote-buying is an election offense. But that is on paper. People on the ground know about it; some actually expect it. While on house to house, some people bluntly and unabashedly ask for money: “Is there no envelope that goes with the sample ballot? How much are you giving? Magkano?”
Most people do not really believe that our small group of volunteers went house to house under the noonday heat without compensation. That is still unthinkable in Philippine politics. In one barangay, a candidate resolved not to give money, he got only one vote! Realpolitik in the Philippines presupposes money. Before the campaign, in one Barangay, Leni was winning in the survey of this small group. After the counting, she was left far behind. In our little town, most if not all of the four parties gave money away (from 800 to 1500 pesos per voter) and all of them supported BBM-Sara Team. Marcos and Duterte should win regardless of whom you choose among the local candidates. One cannot imagine how much money the Uniteam has poured into the May 2022 elections!
The process of vote-buying has also improved all these years: ATM cards to QR codes are given instead of actual cash. DSWD assistance for typhoon Odette, for instance, was delayed for five months and released just on time of the election. Callous politicians have become ingenious than ever.
The third factor is election fraud. It is maybe impossible to prove this for now. But people on the ground think that something really went wrong with the voting last May 9. Real questions remain in people’s minds: statistical impossibility of the election returns transmission, the unbelievable speed with which they came, the thousand voting machines that malfunctioned, the zero votes for Leni-Kiko in many places, the questionable deals with F2 logistics and Smartmatic, the controversial SD cards, the irregularities in the COMELEC process which were protested upon but were left unheaded, etc.
Regardless of how you hide it, these questions remain. And regardless of the seeming big number, this government will always have a questionable legitimacy. It would be quite expensive to defend its rule. For a start, it needs 15,000 security personnel to guard its inauguration; or it needs to to "reactivate" a new Vice Presidential Security Group (VPSG) to defend the Vice President from real or imagined threats to her power, one of them, the President himself. This is just for a start.
4. THE LONG REVOLUTION
In 1961, a British neo-Marxist whom I studied closely, Raymond Williams, once wrote a book entitled “The Long Revolution”. He writes: “It seems to me that we are living through a long revolution… a difficult revolution to define and its uneven action over so long a period that it is almost impossible not to get lost in its exceptionally complicated process.”
People were optimistic of such a revolution in the 1960s: political and colonial dictatorships were crumbling; industrial and technological developments were on the rise. But Williams was quite prophetic: five decades after, this progress was put into question. Technologies ravage the environment; populist regimes are on the rise and cultural advance appears to have gone back to square one.
The same is true in the Philippines. Our gains in democratic space after Martial Law have been narrowed once more. The search for common truth is eclipsed by paid trolls, vloggers and historical deniers. Honesty, accountability, humanity, kindness — virtues we have learned in childhood within the family — are discarded and frowned upon. In exchange, society rewards transaction, convenience, cynicism and deceit. Truly, a difficult and bleak long revolution!
The election losers are feeling low and depressed. Yet ironically the winners could not also fully celebrate.
Our young volunteers and simple mothers did not deny the pain of loss. They are honest with their frustration and sadness. But when I asked them how they describe their recent political experience with an image, ironically, the metaphors they gave were images of hope: a growing plant, deep roots, a book to fight fake news, a trophy of victory, a lighted torch (liwanag sa dilim).
In that reflection forum, they reminisced with joy their experiences during the house to house campaign: the wonder of meeting other young people with the same dreams; the fun of being offered food among poor families they did not know; the fulfillment of being able to defend a value in front of others who did not agree; the excitement of building friendships in new places. One of their greatest joys is to fight for the hope Leni and Kiko showed them. They requested me to say "hi" to VP Leni Gerona Robredo. I promised them to tag her. 🙂
“To be truly radical,” Williams also wrote somewhere, “is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.”
There are only few of them in my town. But there are 15M of them all over, or maybe more. With the vote counting program in question, who would know? They resolve to continue to gather ("dili ta magbulag, ha"), to organize their group, to correct fake news, to build more friendships, to reach out and trust others, to stand up with pride despite the loss. They will demand public accountability and clean governance; they would demand justice for those the victims of human rights abuse; they would reject patronage politics and fight for a better future.
Raymond Williams is realistic with the bleak political situation. But he is ever hopeful: “No mode of production and therefore no dominant social order and therefore no dominant culture ever in reality includes or exhausts all human practice, human energy and human intention.”
As I was listening to these young people, I can sense a new kind of politics — I still do not know how long — in the “long revolution”.
Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, C.M.
St. Vincent School of Theology
Read this article in Rappler ( https://www.rappler.com/voices/thought-leaders/opinion-long-revolution-voices-from-ground/ )