The Snap Revolution
by James Fenton
Granta, 256 pp., $6.95
People Power: An Eyewitness History
edited by Monina Allarey Mercado
The James B. Reuter, S.J., Foundation (Manila), 320 pp., $29.95
Veritas (Manila), 191 pp., $32.50
Crisis in the Philippines: The Marcos Era and Beyond
edited by John Bresnan
Princeton University Press, 284 pp., $10.95 (paper)
(Daily Express, Manila)
The most remarkable thing about Lorenzo Tanada’s eighty-eighth birthday party on August 10 was the cake. Tanada, a former senator, has had a long and consistent career as a “nationalist.” Although Filipino wags love to tell you that Tani, as the senator is known to his friends, hardly knows the difference between Groucho and Karl, his brand of nationalism has been defined over the years by such Marxist historians as Renato Constantino, whose books fill long shelves in Manila bookstores. Tani’s nationalism is a struggle for liberation from, among other egregious enemies, the CIA, the IMF, multinationals, the US military bases, in short, American imperialism. As Constantino pointed out in a speech during Tani’s birthday party, the senator was born in the same year that Commodore Dewey sank the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. He is still battling what Constantino calls “the forces responsible for our lack of independence.”
The nationalist birthday party was organized by a group called Bayan, a nationwide organization of so-called cause-oriented groups with strong links with the Communist party of the Philippines (CPP). The wild cheers that greeted the representatives from the Cuban and Vietnamese embassies were thus to be expected. Even the almost hysterical joy with which a whole row of nuns acclaimed a birthday message from the National Democratic Front (NDF), an organization virtually indistinguishable from the CPP, did not seem out of place. Nor, this being the Philippines, did the entire congregation singing “Happy Birthday to You” in English seem especially incongruous.
It was, as I said, the cake that was most curious. It was a huge slab of confectionary upon which artful chefs had re-created the February revolt. There were sugar barricades in front of camps Crame and Aguinaldo; there were little toy nuns defying little toy tanks; there were chocolate signposts pointing to the US embassy and Subic Bay naval base; there were miniature helicopters hovering overhead. This splendid cake was further embellished with marzipan hand grenades. What was peculiar, however, was the depiction of People Power itself: there were no yellow banners, signifying the spirit of the Aquinos—the late husband and his widow—just red ones representing militant trade unions and leftist groups. This was strange because it was false. People Power was overwhelmingly yellow, moderate and religious. The left had missed the bus in February. History was rewritten in the icing of Tani’s cake.
According to this version of history the leftists are the only true representatives of Filipino nationalist aspirations; the only legitimate heirs to the 1896 revolution against Spain, which, according to received wisdom in leftist circles—and increasingly beyond—was robbed by the Americans and betrayed by the Filipino elite. The February revolt was only the beginning. It is now up to the left to finish the job. As a writer in a left-wing magazine put it, “People Power must be transformed into People’s Power”—as in People’s Republic.
The birthday cake was also an …