From an old poet to a young novelist (and back)

A lesson in martial law and current history

[On December 12, 2016, Miguel Syjuco, the novelist, posted on Facebook his agreement with Herbert Docena’s December article on Rappler saying: “Though we must of course march alongside Robredo in her opposition to Duterte’s fascist measures, we must refuse to march behind her unless she breaks decisively with both the pro-Duterte and anti-Duterte elites and denounces neoliberalism and elite rule.” Mila D. Aguilar, the poet, wrote the following letter in her FB timeline to disagree with the judgment. We are republishing it with her permission.]

Dear Miguel Syjuco,

I read your FB post of December 12 together with the December 11 article of Herbert Docena on which it was based and would like to take exception with your analyses. (READ: Neither Duterte nor Robredo: End elite rule)

Marcos did something during the 13 years of martial rule that no one seems to know or admit: He disenfranchised a significant section of the ruling class not only politically, but economically: he confiscated their properties, including banks, radio and television networks and lands. You have heard about all these, of course.

Now, any thoroughgoing Marxist will tell you that when a person loses his property and almost loses his life besides, his class consciousness changes. He begins to see things he didn’t heretofore, and thereafter acts on it.

This is what Marcos did to the landlords, compradors and bureaucrat capitalist class of 1972 and the succeeding years. 


In their place he raised up a NEW BUREAUCRAT CAPITALIST CLASS whose only raison d’être in life was to make money on government via corruption, cronyism, commissions and cuts. Quite a few of this new class came from those among the middle classes who were prone to be bought.

Except for less than a handful of compradors who managed to survive due to their extremely low political profile at that time, most compradors, and almost all landlords, were deprived of their previous wealth.

The few compradors whom Marcos entrusted with our national wealth mostly squandered it, taking after their master. Only two or three managed to build up the capital handed to them on a silver platter.

So Marcos, in splitting the ruling class, almost totally erased the old Philippine compradors and landlords from the face of the earth, and put in its place pure bureaucrat capitalists who would continuously milk the national treasury and budget.

EDSA, therefore, was a revolt of the disenfranchised sections of the ruling class, together with the broad masses who had been affected by the Marcoses’ greed and impunity.

While it is true that some of these disenfranchised sections of the ruling class regained their properties, quite a few never did. Some bank owners, for example, are still bankless up to now. And neither did a a great number of landlords, for land reform either effectively did them in, or they had to sell off their lands to real estate developers who reaped the most benefits from the sale.

As I pointed out earlier, “any thoroughgoing Marxist will tell you that when a person loses his property and almost loses his life besides, his class consciousness changes. He begins to see things he didn’t heretofore, and thereafter acts on it.”

This is why you had attempts at reform in 1986, and in the years thereafter, most especially in the last six years. Feeble as those attempts were, neoliberal as they turned out to be, sorely lacking in socialist perspective as Docena says, they were attempts at establishing good government and political if not economic democracy.

At the same time as the Marcos-disenfranchised elites tried to change the political and economic landscape of the nation, however, the bureaucrat capitalist class nurtured and grown by Marcos worked in the background, increasing their share of the commission pie up to a harrowing 60 percent in the time of Arroyo and getting rich off jueteng, smuggling, and the drug trade.

This is the background against which you must place the “yellows.” There is no doubt that their efforts to establish good government and economic and political democracy through economic development and entrepreneurship are genuine and sincere. 

But they were and still are subject to the vagaries of the corrupt who simply could not be wiped out, not even if they were all killed off (because 1, they breed; and 2, you can’t kill the idea of corruption).

Now you see the “yellows” out of power again. And you know why? Because as early as 2013, in fact right from the start of the Aquino administration, the corrupt — the bureaucrat capitalists of the Marcos mould — were already plotting to unseat them and take over.

The rest, as the trite would put it, is history. The corrupt found Duterte, their perfect gambit, and projected him to the hilt, with not a little help from their planted social media machinery.

Everybody already knows that Duterte is no reformer. Many have said he is the most dangerous man in Asia if not the world — with a little help from his friends in China, Russia and the Trump empire, of course. 

But he is also the trump card of the corrupt, the bureaucrat capitalists of the Marcos mould, whose aim is to divvy up the country via Warlord Federalism.

He is their man. HE IS IN FACT ONE OF THEM.

Now, in light of this, I cannot imagine equating him and his fellow bureaucrat capitalists with the disenfranchised classes you call “yellows” who never really regained their previous economic standing, and whose limited view of governmental reforms are so much better than the mess we find ourselves in today.

With Trump at the helm of the United States, can the “yellows,” will the “yellows” even hold on to their neoliberalism? Even now they are already balking at the prospect of January 2017, when he takes over.

And will not this development further radicalize, rather than cow them into submission or make them cooperate with the New World Order?

For that matter, will continuously alienating them result in your dream of social democracy, or for that matter my dream of national democracy, much less so Herbert Docena’s socialism?

Should we not now start to think in terms of as broad a front as possible against the D(ut)A(rroyo)M(arcos)ned Alliance that promises to ruin our country?

And should this front not include both the yellows and the reds in all the splendor of their colors?

It may be our only chance. 

Miguel’s first response:

Thank you, Mila, for taking time to converse and explain this perspective to me. I really do appreciate it.

I think we actually broadly share the same values and perspectives. My post was admittedly born out of frustration with the entire system, but I do maintain that I feel we need some sort of renewal/reinvention that would allow for a united front against the D-A-M alliance. Especially now, given the undeniably successful rhetoric, binary narrative, and legitimate anger that all together ushered in Duterte and is allowing the Marcoses to take advantage and return. 

Can we reject the yellow movement and its past and present contributions? Of course not. But I fear it will take a really long time, and risk a disastrous defeat at the next election (which will likely include a Marcos), if we insist on pushing its rehabilitation in the eyes of Filipinos as the only alternative. I fear, too, that it will only further play into the Marcos propaganda as well. These narratives are deeply rooted, and clearly used with great efficacy. 

And I do think we must  somehow break that. I don’t quite know how – often one’s posts are thinking aloud, while comments conversations are forming ideas amongst other people’s. (Which is why I’m grateful to you for hearing me out and engaging with me in this civil discourse.) I wish I knew the way forward, but I do suspect that now is the time for some sort of revolutionary realpolitik thinking, to somehow rally people, regardless of the color of their banner, against this brutal false savior.

Mila Aguilar’s answer:

No, we aren’t rehabilitating the yellows, Miguel, all we have to do is state the facts about what they’ve done and failed to do. And even those statements of truth will not constitute the only alternative.

What we do have to do is to break the Duterte binary narrative making the Yellows the enemy of the people, thereby deflecting ire from his own person and deeds. Because in truth they are not. He is, and his DAMned Alliance is. THEY – the Duterte-Arroyo-Marcos axis – represent the epitome of greed and impunity, no one else.

That is “the way to rally people, regardless of the color of their banner, against this brutal false savior.”

(You said that so well, I can’t help but quote it.) 

Miguel’s second response:

Mila, what then shall we do to break that binary narrative? Beyond stating the facts, which we keep doing again and again, to no avail?

Mila Aguilar’s answer:

In stating the facts again and again, we have already succeeded in drawing the millennials to the fight for truth, Miguel. That is a very big step in a matter of five months.

We have already taken the fight for truth to the streets. Kalampagin pa more! The fact is that our enemies are bots, literally and figuratively, and it’s only a matter of time before their novelty wears off.

We must expect the worst, of course. There will be martyrs among us. Martyrdom is no small price to pay for the liberty of the nation from greed and impunity. But it is a price that must be paid in the name of truth, justice and righteousness.

Miguel, it took us more than 15 years from the rallies of the First Quarter Storm of 1970 to oust the Marcos dictatorship. We had to suffer the underground, the mountains, jail, torture, rape and all manner of indignities (I personally, the killing of my husband) to get to where we are now. Only to get to where we are now, ironically. But it was worth it. We have learned a lot, and now allow me to impart my main lesson to you.

You see, we fought the Marcos dictatorship then with our own minds, hands and feet. It was karipas all the way. We shall not, we should not, fight the DAMned Axis of Evil that way anymore. 

Today, we should fight it with God instructing us all throughout.

I don’t know if you believe, Miguel, but I do. Many of us do, and an increasing number are crying out to God from sheer helplessness. This will be the greatest ingredient of our success.

It is what will put all colors together.

Miguel’s third response:

I believe in the Filipino people, Mila. I believe we will ultimately find out way, because we always have. But I don’t believe our enemies are bots – I know that many Filipinos legitimately back Duterte and his allies, out of legitimate anger and impatience and frustration. I’ve gone to their rallies, interviewed them, chatted with OFWs around the world, and heard them out. They parrot the same propaganda they’re all being fed, but their hunger for change is very real. There’s something very human and un-bot-like in that. And I sure hope we can reach them somehow. 

But I will stand with you in this fight. I think you know you can count on that.

Mila Aguilar’s response:

Yes, Miguel, I know we can. I know many of the discontented too; in fact I count relatives and friends among them. I can feel whereof you speak. 

But we shall be able to work this out. The coming terror will convert the yellows much more radically than it did during Marcos’ martial law. We shall all overcome. –


Mila D. Aguilar was head of the National United Front Commission of the Communist Party of the Philippines in the last years of her 13 years underground. She was imprisoned from 1984-1986. Her nom de guerre was Clarita Roja.



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