F. Sionil Jose
By F. Sionil Jose
(Speech delivered by the author at the Universityof the Philippines, Diliman, on Nov. 23, 2004)
What is an old man like myself doing here,talking about revolution? Hindsight is the lowestform of wisdom. I can tell you what it was likewhen your campus was nothing but cogon waste,when all those trees that line your streets werejust saplings.
I can tell you, also, why we were left behind byall our neighbors when in the Fifties and theSixties we were the richest, most progressivecountry in the region, when Seoul and Tokyo wereravaged by war; Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta weremere kampongs; when Bangkok was a sleepy towncrisscrossed by canals. I never was in China till1979, but I know in the Forties that country wasalways threatened by famine.
It had a population then of only half a billion.Now, with more than a billion people, famine isno longer a threat, although hunger still lurksin some of its distant regions.
Hunger has always been with some of us, too, butnot as much as it is now when so many poorFilipinos eat only once a day. Altanghap, Iwonder how many of you know what that word means.
So then, why are we poor? Why do our women fleeto foreign cities to work as housemaids, asprostitutes?
We are poor because we have lost our ethicalmoorings, this in spite of those massivereligious rallies of El Shaddai, those neo-gothicchurches of the Iglesia ni Kristo sprouting allover the country, in spite of thenearly 400 years of Catholic evangelization.
How can we build an ethical society? We mustremember that so-called values are neutral thatso much depends on how people use them. JamesFallows' thesis on our damaged culture, whichmany of us understand, is neither permanent norinherent.
Ramon Magsaysay infused public life in theFifties with discipline and morality, ArsenioLacson as mayor of Manila cleaned up City Hall.Even today, shining examples of honesty among inour public officials exist, but they are few andfar between and they are not institutionalized.
And it is precisely here where the universitycomes in with its courses in the humanities. Ofall the arts, only literature teaches us ethics.Literature presents us with problems, complexequations that deal with the human spirit and howoften the choice between right and wrong is made.In this process, we are compelled to use ourconscience, to validate the choices we make, andrender the meaning, the pith of our existence.
The university then is the real cathedral of anation, and its humanities, particularly itsliterature department, the altar. But how many ofour teachers know this crucial function ofliterature, how many teachers themselves possessthis sense of worth and mission?
To know ourselves, to make good and proper use ofour consciences, we must know our own history. Sofew of us do, in fact, we nurture no sense of thepast.
If our teachers know our history, if they soak itin their bones, then it follows that they alsoimpart this very same marrow to their students.
If this is so, how come that when Bongbong Marcosvisited Diliman sometime ago, he was mobbed bystudents who wanted his autograph? How come thatin La Salle, business students cited Marcos asthe best President this country ever had?
Not too long ago, I spoke before freshmen at theAteneo and was told that since so many practicebribery, it must be right, or how could anyoneget things done if palms are not greased?
In this university are professors who servedMarcos. Have they ever been asked what their rolewas?
We are poor because we are not moral. Can thisimmorality as evidenced by widespread corruptionbe quantified? Yes, about P23 billion a year islost, according to NGO estimates.
We are poor because we have no sense of history,and therefore, no sense of nation. Thenationalism that was preached to my generation byClaro M. Recto and Lorenzo Taada was phony; howthey could have convinced so many intellectualsis in itself the failure of those intellectualsto analyze that inward, socially meaninglessnationalism.
Recto and Taada opposed agrarian reform, thesingle most important political act that couldhave lifted this country then from poverty andreleased the peasantry from its centuries-oldbondage.
We are poor because our elite from way back hadno sense of nation - they collaborated withwhoever ruled - the Spaniards, the Japanese, theAmericans and in recent times, Marcos. Our eliteimbibed the values of the colonizer.
And worst of all, these wealthy Filipinos did notmodernize this country, they sent abroad theirwealth distilled from the blood and sweat of ourpoor. The rich Chinese to China, to Taiwan, toHong Kong, the rich mestizos to Europe, and therich Indios like Marcos to Switzerland and theUnited States - money that could have developedthis nation.
How do we end this shameless domesticcolonialism? The ballot failed; the bullet then?How else but through the cleansing power ofrevolution. Make no mistake about it revolutionmeans the transfer of power fromthe decadent upper classes to the lower classes.
Revolution is class war whose objective isjustice and freedom.
Who will form the vanguard of change? Who elsebut the very people who will benefit from it.
Listen, when I was researching for my novel Poonat the New York Public Library, I came acrossphotographs of our soldiers of the 1896revolution felled in their trenches by Americanguns. I looked closely and found that most ofthem were barefoot. They were peasants.
The peasant is the truest nationalist. He worksthe land with his hands, he knows instinctivelywhat the term Motherland means. He loves thisearth, even worships it. The Ilocano farmer callsit Apo Daga.
But never romanticize the poor. Once, a group ofPhDs lamented the futility of their efforts inorganizing and motivating them. When theelections came that year, the poor sold theirvotes, or voted for Erap.
Understand why they are often lazy, contemptible,fawning, cheating and stealing. Imagine yourselfnot having a centavo in your pocket now, and youdon't know if you will eat tonight. There isnothing honorable about poverty - it is totallydehumanizing and degrading. But once the verypoor are roused from their stupor, they becomethe bravest, the most steadfast. Remember thoseWatawat ng Lahi followers felled by Constabularyguns on Taft Ave. in 1965? They believed thatwith their faith they were invincible.
It is with such faith and righteousness that ourpeasants rebelled in living memory, the Colorumsin 1931, the Sakdals in 1935, and the Huks in1949-53.
The Moro rebellion, the New People's Army, thecadres of both are from our very poor, just likeit was in 1896. And now, here is the most tragiccontradiction in our country. Our Armed Forces'its officers corps' many come from the lowerclasses, too; they got to their exalted positionsthrough public examinations and entry to thePhilippine Military Academy. Our Armed Forcesenlisted men, most of them come from thevery poor.
When the poor kill the poor, who profits?
The Ideology of the Revolution
Revolution starts in the mind and heart. Italters attitudes to enable us to think beyondourselves, family and ethnicity to encompass thewhole nation. If the communists win, and I don'tthink they ever will, they will rule just asbadly because they are Filipinos unable to gobeyond barnacled habits of mind, hostage as theyalways are to friends and family and to toweringegos. The same egos aborted the revolution in1896, the EDSA revolution in 1986, and now, wesee the same egos wrecking havoc on the CommunistParty. We see these egos eroding our alreadyrotten political system.
The core belief that should guide us in redeemingour unhappy country is in our history, in ourpeasantry. It is not in textbooks, in foreignintellectual idols, in Marx. And what is thisideology which Bonifacio believed in? Which thosebarefoot soldiers killed by the Americansbelieved in? Pedro Calosa, the peasant leader wholed the Colorum uprising in Tayug, Pangasinan in1931, said it is this: "God resides in every man.God created earth, water and air for all men. Itis against God's laws for one family or one groupto own them."
God and country; translate this belief into yourown words and there you have it in its simplestterms the creed with which the unfulfilledrevolution of 1896 was based, and which should bethe same creed that should forge unity among us.
Who will lead the revolution?
Certainly, not the masa, but one from the masawho understands them, who will not betray themthe way our leaders betrayed the masa. Estrada isthe most shameful example of that leadership thatbetrayed.
The leaders of the revolution could be in thisuniversity who have the education, but who arenot shackled by alien concepts, or the attitudesof superiority that destroy leadership. Suchleaders, like Ho Chi Minh, must lead by sterlingexample, with integrity, courage, compassion andwillingness to sacrifice, who know that when therevolution is won, it is time to change fromconspirators to even better administrators,remembering that they have become conservative,that they must now work even harder to producebetter and cheaper products. And this massivework of modernization can be achieved in onegeneration. The Koreans, Taiwanese and theJapanese did it. It is not the Confucian ethicthat enabled them to do this, they understoodsimply the logic of government which is serviceand that of commerce which is profit.
By what right do I have to urge revolution uponour people who will suffer it? What right do Ihave to urge the young to sacrifice, the poor toget even poorer, if they embrace therevolutionary creed?
I have no such right, nor will I call it such. Icall it duty, duty, duty. Duty for all of usrooted in our soil, who believe that our destinyis freedom.
Not everyone can bear arms, or have the physicalstrength to stand up, to shout loudly about theinjustices that prevail around us.
Those who cannot do these, who cannot be part ofthis radical movement, must not help those whoenslave us.
Do not give them legitimacy as so many gavelegitimacy to Marcos. Recognize, identify ourenemies and oppose them with all your means. Thiswill then test integrity, commitment.
Nobody need tell us the exorbitant cost ofrevolution, the lives that will be lost,senselessly even as when Pol Pot massacredthousands of his own countrymen in Cambodia. Wewho lived through the Japanese Occupation knowwhat hunger, fear, and flight mean.
Joseph Conrad, Albert Camus and Jose Rizalwriters I admire deeply, all warned againstrevolution because it breeds tyrants, because itdoes not always bring change. But look around us,at the thousands of Filipinos who are debased andhungry, who are denied justice. Be shamed if youdon't act. And as Salud Algabre, the Sakdalgeneral said in 1935, "No rebellion fails. Eachis a step in the right direction."
Revolution need not even have to be bloody. Howmany lives were lost at Edsa 1? Not even 20. SoCory goes around telling the world that she hadrestored democracy in the Philippines. Sureenough, we now have free elections, free speech,free assembly but these are the empty shells ofdemocratic institutions because the real essenceof democracy does not exist here. And that realessence is in the stomach as when the taxidriver in Tokyo eats the same sashimi as theJapanese emperor, or the bus driver in Washingtonwho can eat the same steak as President Bush inthe White House. Contrast these with that joblessCavite laborer whose two children died because hefed them with garbage. No, Cory Aquino's Edsarevolution could not even have our garbageproperly collected. Worse, 19 farmerdemonstrators were killed near Malacaangbecause she refused to see them. True to heroligarchic class, she declared a revolutionarygovernment without doing anything revolutionary;instead, she turned Edsa 1 into a restoration ofthe old oligarchy. So today, we are reaping theresults of her negligence, ignorance and folly.
Yet, even capitalism can be very helpful. SouthKorea is a very good example of how capital wasformed by corruption, and how a singlemindedgeneral lifted that nation from the ashes of theKorean War, into the thriving modern economywhich Korea is today.
Remember the slogans of American capitalism achicken in every pot, a Ford in every garage.Money is like fertilizer to do any good it mustbe spread around. Those robber barons at the turnof the 19th century were rapacious, theyexploited their workers, but they builtindustries, railroads, banks, the sinews ofAmerican capitalism. And the most importantthing - they kept their money home to developAmerica.
Unlike our rich Chinese, our rich meztizos andthe likes of Marcos who sent their money abroadto keep us poor. They are the enemy.It has been said again and again that we are,indeed, a young nation compared with other Asiancountries whose august civilizations date back to2,000 years or more. Indeed, so are the Filipinoswho shaped this nation those who led therevolution against Spain they were all young,like you are, in their 20s or early 30s.Rizal was 34 when he was martyred.
How then do we keep young without having to growold only to see the fire in our minds and heartsdie? How does the nation's leading universitymaintain its vitality, its youth against theravages of consumerism, of globalism?
How else but to keep the mind ever healthy, everalive by empowering it with those ideas thatnurture change and revolution itself, byingesting the technological age so that we canuse technology for realizing our ideals.
How else but to embrace the ideas that make usdoubt technology, society, even revolutionitself, but never, never about who we are, whatwe should do and hope to be.
We cannot be beholden to any other nation. JoseMaria Sison doomed his revolution when he turnedto China for assistance; he ignored the"objective reality" the latent anti-Chinesefeeling among Filipinos, in fact among allSoutheast Asians who fear a Chinese hegemony.
We must mold our own destiny, infusing it withthe strength of a sovereign people. TheAmericans, the English, French, Russians, Cubans,Chinese, Vietnamese all achieved their uniquerevolutions. We must have our very own, definedonly by us.
How to build it, direct it, use it for thebetterment of our lives, the flowering of libertyI see all these as the major function of theuniversity which, after all, shapes our leaders.I pray that UP will graduate the best doctors,the best engineers, the best teachers, the bestbureaucrats. The revolution needs them all. Butmost of all, let this universityof the people produce the ultimate modernizer,the heroic nationalist revolutionary we needhim most of all.