IF the idea of a “revolutionary government” seems too abstract, or its imposition by President Duterte seems so improbable, or if the Yellows and the Reds try to scare us with their Marcos martial-rule bogeyman that it will be the end of liberty as we know it, it really isn’t—if we look at our neighbor Thailand’s recent experience.
Thailand, whose GDP per capita is three times that of ours, has been essentially under a revolutionary government since May 2014, although few people use the term to describe the current rule of Thai generals.
Calling themselves the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), these generals ousted through a coup d’état the duly elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra (exiled former prime minister Thaksin’s sister) and threw that country’s Constitution to the garbage bin, except the part that affirmed its monarchy. The Parliament was dissolved, and all media, including those in the Internet, have been tightly controlled by the junta. (That complies with former Supreme Court Justice Artemio Panganiban’s simple description of what a revolutionary government does, which is to “scrap the existing constitution, and oust all the officials owing allegiance thereto.”)
The NCPO issued an interim constitution that gave it sweeping legislative and executive powers. The “national legislature” it set up and dominated by military men elected the junta’s leader Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha, commander of the Thai armed forces, as the country’s prime minister. Since it was directed against Thailand’s most powerful oligarch, Thaksin Shinawatra, the revolutionary government has been implicitly an anti-oligarchic one.
The junta has to this day not given a schedule for the restoration of electoral democracy for Thais to elect their leaders.
Has it worked?
Has such a “rev-gov” worked for Thailand? So far, no problem for the Thai economy, it seems. The latest World Bank update (August) on Thailand didn’t even mention that military rule exists:
“Economic growth in Thailand is gaining momentum, with global growth and a recovery from severe drought buoying an expansion of GDP and exceeding market expectations. Economic growth for the full year 2017 is now projected around 3.5 percent”. (If that looks small compared to our 6.9 percent growth at the third quarter of this year, remember that the growth rate is computed on the basis of Thailand’s bigger base, since its GDP grew 8 percent from 1980 to 1995, compared to our 2 percent in the same period.)
Walden Bello, a noisy leftist who calls President Duterte a despot, and after so wrongly predicting in 2014 that a bloody civil war would to break out in Thailand in the wake of the coup, has been totally silent on the junta’s rule. Bello is married to a Thai and lives part of the year in Bangkok, consulting with the NGO he helped found that is based there.
Perhaps he’s just being smart: more than 200 civilians have been arrested by the junta, mostly just for opposing the imposition of martial rule, many sentenced by a military court to more than 10 years in prison, interpreting broadly the country’s harsh lèse-majesté laws.
Before 2014, Bangkok was disrupted by massive demonstrations of pro- and anti-Thaksin activists, with even its international airport occupied for several days by demonstrators.
There are no more demonstrations. Thailand’s Public Assembly Act passed in 2015 imposes harsh penalties of up to 10-year jail terms for demonstrations that turn out to be riotous, or undertaken without police permits, which can be arbitrarily refused on the mere say-so of police officials. The country’s tourism industry, which accounts for at least 9 percent of its GDP, has naturally rebounded.
Strictest military regime
With the caveat that most Western media normally have huge biases against nations when they don’t conduct elections, the Internet magazine The Diplomat reported Thailand’s situation in early 2016:
“Thailand is currently under the strictest military regime the country has seen since the early 1970s, Civil liberties have been sharply curbed, political opponents have been threatened and harassed, the press intimidated and censored, and the general population given strict marching orders to think only happy thoughts.”
The US and the European Union have hardly criticized military rule, nor the human rights violations, in Thailand, with the US State Department’s official profile on that country innocuously describing the situation as one in which “an interim military government has ruled Thailand, a constitutional monarchy.”
It is the junta’s promises that it will crack down on corruption, improve the educational system, and undertake economic reforms that appear to have built for itself enough political support as to maintain itself in power unchallenged for the past three years.
A World Bank article noted: “Thailand has undertaken key reforms aimed at simplifying starting a business and paying taxes. In 2016, Thailand introduced reforms that made business registration simpler by creating a single window for registering payments and started to provide credit scores to banks and financial institutions. It has made importing and exporting easier by introducing electronic submission of customs declarations.“
Thailand of course has features that analysts claim allowed such a military dictatorship to emerge and be in power in this day and age.
The most important of this is the fact that its King – currently Vajiralongkorn – has remained a unifying factor.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with the monarch viewed, as in Europe’s Middle Ages, the Deity’s representative on earth. The junta became legitimate and unchallenged when the late much-loved King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed General Prayuth as Prime Minister, a few days after the military-dominated national assembly elected him as such.
Some analysts also claim that Thailand has had so many coups (13 before the 2014 one) which were successful—in contrast to the Philippines which only had one victorious coup called the EDSA Revolution—that Thais have become used to such a means of transfering political power.
Thailand’s biggest and obvious lesson is that only a respected and disciplined military—or one that is extremely loyal to a civilian leader—can establish a revolutionary government.
In our case, it wasn’t just Marcos who planned and executed martial law. It was the top brass of the military and police, including Fidel Ramos who commanded the Philippine Constabulary, the much-respected Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Espino, and all the commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. They were cleverly demonized by the Yellow Cult as the “Rolex 12” that Marcos himself had disclosed checked off the imposition of martial law in 1972.
I have been a democrat since my Marxist days ended in the 1980s. Yet I cannot but worry that our electoral democracy and republican system of government have only strengthened oligarchic rule in our country, resulting in poverty for the many, and with the gap between the rich and the poor growing wider each year.
My book Colossal Deception How Foreigners Control Our Telecom Sector is as detailed a case study as can be researched on how the oligarchy has very easily used to advance its interests not only the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of a republican state but also its ideological infrastructure, i.e., media and the academe.
In fact, The Philippines’ system of competitive electoral democracy is, together with Indonesia’s and recently Myanmar’s, the exception to the dominant one-party (overtly or covertly) or monarchic rule among Asean countries.
There has to be a way out of our quagmire that will continue to trap in poverty future generations of Filipinos.