LIFE MATTERS: The Value of Revolutions

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By Dr. Dencio Acop (Ret. Col.)

I just watched two movies on the life of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara by Benicio del Toro and it just brought me back to those counterinsurgency days fighting communist rebellion in the Philippines. The theme of rebellion brings me to think about it from three perspectives: why rebellions ever occur, my own experience with it in my own country, and what I think of them now. First, rebellions occur when there are elements in any social organization who become disenchanted with their leaders. We could also say that such disenchantment may be with the social, economic, and political system or structure but even these are run by people who are most often than not the domestic elites of societies. So there goes the imperfection right? I would guess so. But not quite. Because disenchantment with governance may be due to greed and abuse of power by the governing but it could also be ambition, vengeance, self-interest, indifference, and ignorance as well by the rebels and the rest of the population. Institutions may be near perfect but they can only be depending upon how the leaders and cohorts of these institutions spread the spoils around enough to benefit all members. Once these spoils fall short, and they almost always do, rebellion will occur. The bigger the number of the disaffected, the stronger the rebellion. The nature of the rebellion or revolution, whatever you call it, furthermore gets complicated when external entities become involved whether for or against the rebellion fueled by their own selfish interests. Every living being has self-interest which used to be amoral until morality redefined the greatest good for the greatest number as the universal norm. I’d say much of humanity’s rebellions may have had superior justification if they were conducted along the lines of this view. If they were moral, but not otherwise. In examining all rebellions or revolutions that went before, try analyzing each in these terms. Then you may see more clearly of what I may be getting at.

The second point I wish to make here is that I am one who grew up with and made a career of fighting rebellions in my life: communist rebellion, military rebellion, criminal rebellion, and separatist rebellion. My generation in the Philippines grew up with martial rule. I was only ten when martial law was declared by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. Martial rule was formally ended in 1981 but the abuses it nurtured could not be ended. It was declared to bring back order to the chaos brought about by rebels who wished to overthrow duly-constituted authority and replace it with a communist government. Not to mention preventing secessionist by Muslims in the south. However, after a decade of counterinsurgency, the performance of that regime is perhaps best captured in that infamous statement: ‘Marcos was the number 1 NPA recruiter!’ What it meant was that the more the Marcos regime became repressive to stay in power, the more aggrieved Filipinos had reason to join and support the insurgents. The People Power Revolution in February 1986 eventually brought down the Marcos dictatorship but not until after ‘3,257 extrajudicial killings; 35,000 documented tortures, 70,000 incarcerations, and several disappearances’. Che Guevara, a rich Argentinian, turned revolutionary fighting in Cuba after he witnessed the suffering of the poor masses as he went around places riding his motorbike. Many Filipino officers saw the same injustices while assigned in the field. I did too. While half of us were scared to death to disobey orders from the top, the other half could not ignore their conscience. The latter banded together and joined the ‘Reform the Armed Forces Movement’. When portions of the military mounted a series of coups against the duly-constituted government of Corazon Aquino who succeeded the ousted Marcos, I found myself with the mainstream military fighting former colleagues turned rebels once again. We were all ‘rebels’ too in 1986 for dethroning Marcos. Today, military rebellion is outlawed. The control of governance by domestic elites with the acquiescence of the masses appears total. Technical legitimacy and legal authority devoid of any moral accountability appear in control of the day. Back then as a junior officer, I often wondered if the life insurgents chose much like Che Guevara was really worth it. All the insurgent leaders I knew then are all dead. Not a single rebellion has succeeded in the Philippines except for the People Power Revolution.

Finally, what do I think of revolutions and rebellions today? Not much I suppose. If at all, I think rebellions merely reflect what is most good and equally what’s worst in man. Revolutions, I think, reveal a man’s greatest virtue. They put on display for the whole world to see what a man (or woman) is really made of. More than in wars even. For in a war, the odds are generally even. Such is not the case in a rebellion though. All the odds are stacked high up against a rebel. That is why there is so much more virtue in a frail boy who stands up for a bullied, helpless classmate surrounded by a number of much bigger bullies. For a poor man who tries to defend a poor family brutalized by abusive cops. For one with power to withhold that power when the situation calls for compassion. For one human being to say NO when all the rest of the world says YES. The consummate rebel was that man who lived among us some 2,000 years before. In fact, his whole life was all about rebellion. He stood up for the women, the lepers, the blind, the lame, the prostitutes, the sinners, the dead, among all others. He stood up until He got what all rebels deserve. But in fact, He got what He did not deserve. Not because He was a rebel. But because He was God. God is no rebel. But we are.

Not a single rebellion has succeeded in the world except Jesus Christ.

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