The Philippine revolution has long baffled political scientists. It emerged in an archipelago dominated by an imperialist power and thrived even after the disintegration of the communist bloc. There’s no socialist rear offering refuge to armed revolutionaries. There’s no industrial base where Soviet-style insurrections can immediately take place. There are only islands in this part of the Pacific Ring of Fire dotted with active volcanoes and faultlines. Yet, a Maoist-inspired revolution is being waged here in the past half-century. A fluke of history? Not if we link it to the country’s anti-colonial struggle. From local revolts spanning 80 years to establishing Asia’s first republic, Filipino islanders have persisted in resisting colonial bondage. They proved how political revolution would prevail over the divide-and-rule strategy of the colonizers which gave birth to the Philippine nation. It was an epic struggle that united the islands amid fierce and bitter divisions among Christians, Muslims, and ethnic communities. But imperialism became the new plague after the demise of colonialism, and the nation was relegated into a neocolony. It meant the pursuit of nation-building under the tutelage of a foreign power. The islands were targeted (read: plundered) for their precious resources but wealth was hoarded somewhere else. This legitimized dispossession was challenged by the resurgence of the national liberation movement. Those who profit from the exploitation of our lands are the most rabid in demonizing the people’s resistance. They spread the self-serving lie that revolutions would only doom our future. But against the expectations of the conservative establishment, the struggle has lasted up to this day. It was supposed to be dead or dying yet it kept on appearing as a specter haunting the elite.
The song ‘Muog na Buo’ alludes to the specific character of the struggle for national democracy in the Philippines. It highlights the aim of revolutionaries to turn the scattered isles (kalat-kalat na pulo) into a solid fortress (muog na buo). It is a reminder that the Maoist doctrine of protracted war from the countryside to the cities cannot be dogmatically applied to the Philippines which has a different history, political landscape, and geographical terrain. It is a celebration of the creativity and tenacity of Filipino revolutionaries who have enriched the Marxist theory of struggle in an archipelagic setting. It validates the enduring legacy of our anti-colonial heroes who sought to unite the nation by waging a war for independence. This is how the unfinished revolution will hasten the arrival of a new political future:
Narito tayo para sa pagkakaisa, pagsulong
Narito tayo para sa masang aping Pilipino
Narito tayo para ang kalat-kalat na pulo
Magiging muog na buo
We are here for unity, forward advance
We are here for the oppressed Filipino masses
We are here to turn our scattered isles
Into a solid fortress
Then and now, it is through political struggle that our people were able to overcome our isolation from each other in order to build a common stand against local and foreign oppressors. Solidarity countered the destructive effect of divisive politics. Centuries of promoting a type of island mentality that pits natives against each other made it more difficult for progressive forces to introduce a new type of politics. Hence, the need for a continuing cultural revolution to fight old values and habits with an empowering outlook in life and politics.
Again, the song ‘Muog na Buo’ speaks about the experience of many activists grappling with the contradictions brought about by their world-building praxis. At first, it mentions the individual engaged in political struggle guided by revolutionary theory. Later, the individual who believes he or she is changing the world (Narito ako / I am here) proclaims the necessity of collective struggle (Narito tayo / We are here). This is not an abrupt transformation but an arduous struggle which only confirms that genuinely embracing revolutionary politics will significantly change the self. It is not an aimless journey of an enlightened individual to some utopian destination but a basic political undertaking that features painstaking grassroots organizing, creative application of theory and tactics, building community power, and reframing everyday politics into a platform that can allow ordinary citizens to link arms with both kasamas and strangers to seize the day and win a new future.
Like the foolish old man who wanted to remove a mountain in the Chinese fable, there are also stubborn Filipino islanders who believe they can turn the 7,600 islands into a solid rock.
*The lyrics of the song Muog na Buo was penned by Silvia Madiaga
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist and former legislator. He is the chairperson of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Metro Manila. Email: email@example.com