A revolutionary moment

Malaysia’s new prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who made a stunning political comeback at 92, with former Philippine President at the 2017 ASEAN Leaders Forum held in Manila. Photo by Arianne Christian Tapao.

No I am not referring to the 8-6 vote in the Supreme Court last Friday on a matter that it should have from the beginning (“ab initio “ in lawyerspeak) dismissed outright. That decision has revealed so many things about so many people and institutions that it’s consequences will be felt for years to come.

It has also made more clear to me some faultines within the lawyers from UP that I have known through my own years in the College of Law. It has become very clear to me who is on what side of the argument and I am not surprised that those who I have had deep respect for since our college days are on one side of the debate while on the other are those whom I, to be blunt, respect far less.

I also note my friends who have remained silent on an important issue for the country as well as for jurisprudence and all. That some of them hold government positions only serves to reaffirm what I had posted on Facebook some time back – that those with so much to lose usually lose the courage of their convictions.

This is not sad. This is pathetic.

Neither am I referring to the revelation by Tulfo family patriarch Ramon that the whole brouhaha that saw their sister lose her Cabinet position, their brother a board position in a Tourism agency and their family name and honor besmirched was all due to the machinations of Ben their middle-child brother whom Mon refused to defend. As a middle child I was slighted by Mon’s descriptions of my fellow middle child (which I will not repeat here) but as someone who took a keen interest in the P60M advertising brouhaha i absorbed each and every word Mon had to say. Did he effectively throw Ben under the bus in that Inquirer column? I guess he did. Would it be fatal to Ben? No, for numerous reasons, including the fact that since traffic moves so slow in the Philippines (metaphorically if not literally speaking) it’s so easy for anyone thrown under the bus to crawl out from under it before the bus moves!

Photo from

Instead the revolutionary moment I refer to is the victory in Malaysia of Pakat Harapan (Party of the Future) which is actually an informal and unofficial coalition of at least here opposition parties led by the Justice Party that was founded by Anwar Ibrahim, Mahathir Mohamad’s former deputy prime minister Who is in jail for charges of sodomy.

That 1) the 61 year old ruling coalition Barisan Nasional lost to 2) a 92 year old former BN leader who is now the oldest elected head of government in the world who ran on a platform that in part 3) promised to release, secure a royal pardon and eventually turn over the position of PM to Anwar Ibrahim are what make the moment revolutionary.

Remember that it was Mahathir, Malaysia’s 4th Prime Minster under the ruling Barisan Nasional, who had his deputy Ibrahim sacked and charged in court in a move roundly criticised both at home and abroad as part of Mahathir’s dictatorial tendencies. Now, some 20 years later, Mahathir and Ibrahim’s Justice Party oust the only ruling party that Malaysia has known (UMNO or the United Malay Nationalist Organization is the key member of Barisan). It meant the political scalp of Najib Razak, whom Mahathir had caused to be installed as the country’s 6th Prime Minister in 2009, and who’s father Tun Abdul Razak was Malaysia’s second prime minister and Mahathir’s mentor!

Dizzy now? That’s what revolutionary moments are supposed to make you feel.

But what relevance does the Malaysia experience have for us Filipinos except as another political case study for the wonks to pick apart?

Well think about this way: it can be argued that what led eventually to the collapse of BN was a judicial decision under a government with known dictatorial tendencies – the much criticised decision to convict Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy, charges he continues to claim were trumped up by his then political opponents to sideline him. So rather than have Ibrahim become Malaysia’s 5th Prime Minster at the head of the UMNO- led Barisan coalition, they jailed him.

And the rest is history (in clichespeak).

Of course it also tells us that sometimes it can seem to take almost forever for a revolutionary moment to arise.

But yes, that moment comes.

We shall overcome!

(This article first appeared in Malaya Business Insight.)