Category: people power

Towards A Culturally Evolved Alternative

JORGE ARAGO
(1943 – 2011)

People power in 1986 restored to Philippine society the “democratic space” which had been previously occupied by the running dogs of martial law.

But as in previous turnovers of power in our society, that space has been hogged by the elite and its own running dogs, to the exclusion of particular groups: the teacher-student, the art-media and the scientific communities.

This is a call for these sectors to come together and identify their choices as the unacknowledged advance guard of modern development in our society. These groups have a significant role to play in the context of the evolutionary path that the Filipinos have taken. They reject the revolution proposed by the Left, the divisive fundamentalism in the South, the chronic opportunism of traditional politics, and the apathy of an unknown number. They have not lifted us from poverty and are not likely to do so in the context of the environmental degradation that backdrops all human activity today.

Artists and media practitioners, teachers and their students on all levels, scientists and research-and-development teams in academe and the private sector have the skills, training and intellectual apparatus to cope with the effects of globalization. For far too long now they have been non-entities lumped under so-called “civil society”, their voices lost or without effect in the competition among NGO‟s fighting for a proliferation of uncoordinated interests.

They also have the potential to counter the entry in the political arena of forces which threaten to bring us back to dark times. These are the many religious groups who propose themselves as alternatives to corrupt leaderships. Swept up by disaffection with the so-called higher moral concerns of the traditional church, they betray origins in the same configuration of exploitation in conditions that existed before.

Now is the time for artists and scientists and academe to come together and create a concrete democratic and unifying basis for mutuality in our society that will guide development that is in step with the development of the rest of the global community, while using distinct Filipino methods, skills and talents we have painstakingly evolved through all the regimes under which we have worked.

Stalking EDSA — Coming out

7/7

Late October, I was bracing myself for a final stretch of sustained work, taking in Bosworth and the latest from Enrile (even if only for the endnotes), when Elmer Ordoñez emailed and gave me something else to think about.  An invitation to speak as panelist in Philippine PEN’s conference come December, endorsed by PEN Chair Bien Lumbera; I could speak on Enrile’s memoir if I wanted, in a panel on social commentary. The overall theme: The Writer as Public Intellectual. I had no such illusion. But the writer as social commentator, yes, and the opportunity to speak out on history and memoirs and truth-telling proved irresistible. It was a different kind of writing, of course, an essay for reading out loud.  It was a first for me, as it was a first foray into literati territory.  Butterflies aside, I had a blast, thank you!

The new year 2013 was all about getting the final manuscript done ASAP, I needed to move on. The February anniversary was special though. The Palace communications office tweeted the events of the four days as they unfolded, based on my “compiled timeline,” hashtag #EDSA27.  Never mind “compiled,” it was acknowledgement enough from the seat of government.  Also, anniversary stories yielded Rene Saguisag’s first-ever account of being “Present at the Creation,” a speech he gave in a Club Filipino affair, excerpts of which were published in his Manila Times column.  I introduced myself via email to ask for a copy of the whole speech; next thing we knew, he was writing me a blurb.

As with Revo Routes, published independently with the help of family, I was loath to give up my EDSA Uno copyright, no matter how temporarily, or to deal with a publisher (or editor, maybe lawyers) whose concerns might be different from mine. (I missed Eggie.) Just the same, in March I sent a PDF of the EDSA Uno manuscript to the head of a publishing house who had asked me about it once and to whom I had promised first dibs – I was being optimistic, maybe I could swing a rare deal, get it distributed nationwide at a reasonable price  – but the reply was quick (two hours and twenty-six minutes): “Serious inventory problems … not open to new submissions this year.”  Fine. I would do it myself, just put it out there, the universe would provide.

The challenge of indie publishing is not so much the cost – family and friends helped defray some of that – as it is the compulsion to come up with something perfect.  It’s a stressful creative process, working with book and cover designers, making choices and decisions about how the book would look, inside and out, no-turning-back. For the cover I had always wanted to use the artwork by Butch aka Godofredo U. Stuart Jr. posted on stuartxchange.com’s “EDSA Works”: graphic illustrations of EDSA 86, Edsa Dos, and Edsa Tres that captured the similarities and differences, simply and starkly, in three frames. Joel and Katrina  didn’t think it could happen, ‘twould be such a crowded cover; and if I wanted EDSA Uno more prominent, as it should be, then how small would Dos and Tres get.  But Mervin Malonzo, he who came up with the Revo Routes cover of Elias straddling the crocodile from just photos of the sculpture, surprised us yet again; he liked it that I was specific about what I wanted and he had no problem tweaking tweaking tweaking, and it was quite a trip for me and the kids, seeing the cover morph in accord with a shared aesthetic.

In July we finally went to press.  We were thinking an August 21 launch in memory of Ninoy’s assassination but then the Inquirer broke the Php10-Billion pork barrel kickback scandal, and August saw multisectoral protests rocking the nation complete with a million-people march in the works.  Suddenly I didn’t want to call attention to EDSA Uno the book. Those were testy times. The President had enough problems.  Anyway, who would have the time to read.  We had a small September launch instead, more a matter of ritual than pomp, an excuse to celebrate with close family and friends, finally I was done with EDSA!

The next one is for a historian to write; or historians from different schools of thought, para masaya.  I’m coming from a serious review by a young professor who wishes I had done more with the material, stuff a social scientist would do, such as set my reading of the four days in the context of some academic theory or intellectual framework, go beyond my pagninilay-nilay kind of socio-political commentary.  It’s like saying I should have written EDSA Uno for the academics and not for the reading public. And, oh, how he derides, scorns, mocks the very idea that Halley’s Comet, solar flares, and the sun-moon alignment could have had any kind of connection, other than illogical and miraculous, to things happening here on earth, as though human life were free of biophysical influences and, alone among living things, impervious to cosmic cycles and revolutions.

I thank the heavens that otherwise 2014 has been upbeat (even if the Palace moved the EDSA celebration to Cebu).  February 21 I attended my first pocket lectures symposium, also the first-ever symposium on the EDSA Revolution, presented by the Philippine Historical Association and the GSIS Museo ng Sining; I was asked to say a few words to a roomful of future history teachers. February 22 I had my first sit-down with a book club (Flips Flipping Pages) of young people who had actually read my book and loved it and were eager to help spread the word – children’s books? comics? – even, who dared hope that the pork barrel scandal might resurrect the spirit of EDSA Uno. In mid-May came the invitation to contribute to this anthology, another first for this non-academic, and in truth I’m beginning to feel like EDSA is now stalking me. ***

Stalking EDSA — Multiple EDSAs

6/7

On my reading of the four days’ events – that it was the presence of the people in EDSA in huge numbers waving Cory’s colors and ready to die defying the dictator that forced Cory (widow of Ninoy) and Enrile (jailer of Ninoy) to reconcile their differences and join forces which, in turn, brought about the ouster of Marcos – well, no one has disputed it to this day.  Late in 2000 my brother Butch uploaded a digital version of Himagsikan on his website stuartxchange.com. Not too long after, historian and scholar Reynaldo Ileto emailed, congratulating me on my EDSA essays, he thought I was on track.  I had met Rey in ’86 at the height of the snap election campaign, when he visited my mother for permission to photocopy the first volume of my Lola Concha’s “Fragmentos de Mi Juventud” [1978] covering friar times, the 1896 Revolution, and the Fil-Am War.  I was thrilled to meet him then, and to find each other on the Web 14 years after.

In 2001 after Edsa Tres, we exchanged emails on Dos and Tres, “pale reflections” of the original, he said, and I agreed.  I wished that the People had known more about EDSA Uno, the better, the more wisely, to navigate those four days.  In Edsa Dos, for instance, the People might have known to make sure that Erap was abandoning not only the Palace but all claims to the presidency; and that four-day deadline was silly, to put it bluntly. In Tres the People might have known better than to allow sour-graping politicians to goad them into violent attack-the-palace mode; and that blackout by mainstream broadcast media was shameful, to say the least.

And so I thought maybe I’d write an English edition of Himagsikan and wrap it up with my take on Dos and Tres.  Just one more book. Of course it took me forever, that is, another 12 years, to come up with EDSA Uno, A Narrative and Analysis with Notes on Dos & Tres [2013]. In 2002 Anvil published Nita Umali Berthelsen’s Tayabas Chronicles: The Early Years (1886-1907), a lightly fictionalized version of her mother’s, my grandmother’s, life story in historic times. The next one was mine, Tia Nita said at the launch, and I plunged into that, too, writing Revolutionary Routes: Five Stories of Incarceration, Exile, Murder, and Betrayal in Tayabas Province 1891-1980 [2011], a book on family and country. I would shift from one to the other as the spirit moved me.

Meanwhile, everytime an EDSA anniversary rolled around, I’d check out the Web in case someone was saying anything that was new to my chronology. In 2007 son Joel built me a blog, stuartsantiago.com, and I started doing political commentary on the side, perfect for quick breaks from the book projects, and every February I would post a piece, usually on the state of EDSA discourse, or to challenge the usual fictions (Marcos did not give the kill-order, Cory was not even in EDSA, Enrile should not have given way to Cory) with the facts, over and over, to the point of plagiarizing myself, as I must be doing here.  In 2011 Joel built a site for the original manuscript of the chronology, edsarevolution.com, with Mang Nick’s Foreword and an essay on growing up with EDSA by daughter Katrina. In February 2012 Manolo Quezon – already in Malacañang – tweeted the link: an excellent timeline, he said.

I was updating and fine-tuning my sequence of events until the very end.  In February 2012 I was ecstatic over Interaksyon Online’s “Listen to History: The Veritas/Radyo Bandido Broadcasts – February 22-25 1986.” Finally, the exact time of Cardinal Sin’s first broadcast over Veritas, 10:40 PM, not “around 9 PM” as most early reports said; and confirmation that only in his second broadcast, at the stroke of midnight, when people were already marching to EDSA, did the Cardinal echo Butz’s call for non-violent action.  Oh, and I found a precious interview of FVR by the EDSA Stories Project [2011] on YouTube, where he says, “’Ika nga ng isang well-known author ng EDSA history, ang conclusion niya ay, Walang himala!… ‘Yon ang katotohanan.” Good of him, even if he couldn’t quite name me (maybe I have yet to be forgiven for the Arenas interview).  Anyway, I meant to mention it in EDSA Uno the book but simply forgot in the frenzy of production.

I was thinking a February 2013 launch. By mid-2012 I had a foreword from activist feminist Ninotchka Rosca and blurbs from film director Peque Gallaga and sociologist Randy David but a third was proving elusive. I had asked one historian-blogger-turned-establishment who said yes, an honor, but changed his mind upon reading the manuscript – he preferred a pure timeline a la Chronology, didn’t like my “editorializing,” promoting a point of view along the way.  So I tried a young EDSA scholar who said yes, an honor, too, but never got back to me (he did send Katrina a draft, with a note wondering if it was good enough). And then I virtually bumped into Philippine Studies scholar Jojo Abinales on Facebook via Katrina and he said yes, an honor! even offered me, and I accepted, a copy of his notes on the side as he was reading the text. It was great feedback that had me tweaking the “Marcos Times” run-up to EDSA, and his notes on the four days told Katrina to push our luck, ask for an Afterword instead, and he said yes. He also sent me the link to an unpublished unedited February 2003 interview of Stephen Bosworth on file in the US National Archives, and when I couldn’t access it from here, he did a cut-and-paste, and I was combing through that when Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir [2012] came out in late September. I knew then to forget about a February 2013 launch.

Enrile finally confessed, in detail, to the failed coup – without mentioning, of course, that he denied it all through the four days of EDSA. And then he lashed out at errors in two books, one of them Chronology. At first it felt like a fist to my solar plexus, the way he made it seem that the original sin, the alleged falsehood, was mine when it was Seagrave’s, whom he did not name at all. So what took him so long, all of sixteen years, to dispute that goodbye in the park?  Later I heard talk that the goodbye happened not in the park but in Clark; if true, I’m thinking now, it would explain why he stopped short of challenging Seagrave, because the story is only half false?  But the real uproar was over his account of the ambush on his convoy in September 1972 that was used to justify martial rule: in February 22 1986 when he broke away from Marcos he said the ambush was staged; in the book he says that the ambush was for real. Also, he was not a crony, he has no ill-gotten wealth, and it was Ver who was to blame for all those human rights violations during martial law. In-your-face historical revisionism.

Next: Coming out

Stalking EDSA — Himagsikan for Revolution

5/7

Meanwhile, thinking to spread the word to the tabloid-reading masses via a newsprint edition, I had started translating the chronology into Tagalog early in 1997. When it was announced that the National Centennial Commission was sponsoring a literary contest to commemorate the 1898 Revolution, I shifted to essay mode, time to give credit where credit was due. I ignored warnings that my kind of Tagalog (I had written columns for the short-lived Diyaryo Filipino, 1989-1990, and experimented with Taglish in Isyu, 1995-’96), lightly peppered with English words as well as street slang that have become part of the vernacular, might not meet with the judges’ approval. The urge, nay, the challenge, was to write in a prose that was easy to read and understand.

Of course, I got my comeuppance. Honourable Mention was all Himagsikan sa EDSA—Walang Himala! got. I wondered if it was my prose, and the three other sanaysays honourably mentioned, written by academics, did not make the grade either?  No one knew the rules? And then, again, it could have been different reasons across the four essays.  In my case, given the government’s disinterest in studying EDSA, perhaps it was part of some conspiracy to belittle the event? As it happened, I had a backstory with the head judge for Sanaysay  – the only category without major prizes awarded – Virgilio Almario aka Rio Alma, now National Artist for Literature. He was known to be an anti-Marcos activist poet in the first decade of martial law; but in the early eighties, he changed sides, supported Marcos. In 1983 he became involved in the Philippine Sesame Street Project to be co-produced by Imelda’s Ministry of Human Settlements and the Children’s Television Workshop, New York. He was to be the headwriter, even flew to New York with a core group (among them, Feny de los Angeles, head of research, and Noel Añonuevo, light-action-film director) for orientation on the Sesame system, but somewhere along the way, he lost the gig to me.

Project Director Lyca Benitez Brown offered me the job in March 1983, and I almost fell off my chair. At the time I was writing a TV review column, “Notes of a TV Junkie,” for Parade, a Times Journal magazine; I had heard about Sesame coming to Manila and was looking forward to reviewing, not writing, for it. I didn’t feel qualified; my only TV experience was writing for June Keithley’s late night talkshow directed by Peque Gallaga, and the only scripts I had written in Tagalog were Pinoy adaptations of a couple of Broadway plays directed by Leo Martinez, all for adults. Also, I had no desire to be part of a Marcos project, why not tap professional gag writers or children’s lit writers instead? But, Lyca said, TV gagwriters had too many bad habits, like resorting to slapstick, put-downs, and other no-no’s to get a laugh, while the academics who went all the way to New York had yet to learn how to write for TV in a Tagalog that pre-school kids would understand. She begged that I think of it as a project heaven-sent for Filipino children; she was convinced I could do it, having two kids of my own and some grounding in psychology would help, I could learn the ropes quickly and teach it to six new writers.  As it turned out, I had to play catch-up with the six who had been through workshops, among them Rene Villanueva of UP’s Filipino Department, already a two-time Palanca winner, who was easily the best of them, the best of us. It was through him that I met Rio, who dropped in one day at the Sesame offices in the University of Life, and Rene introduced us, even as our backs were turned to each other, only our heads swinging for a quick glimpse and nod. “O, magsayaw na kayo!” Rene even joked, to laughter all around. I supposed Rio was curious about the scripts we were putting out.  He must have heard that every single one went through three rounds of rigorous review and comment by the project director, the executive producer, the research team of psychologists, the art department, the studio directors or (as the case may be) light-action-film directors, and, for a time most difficult, by CTW producer Tippie Fortune, a big African-American lady who didn’t speak a word of Tagalog so that every script had to be translated into English for her, and she’d sit me down, one-on-one, and she’d make sure that every script ended on a funny note – she called it a “tag,” I called it a punchline. I learned, with great difficulty and humility, to take criticism without batting an eyelash, and to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite until everyone was happy.

I was just getting the hang of it all when Ninoy was assassinated, and when my car with yellow ribbon was refused entry in Imelda’s UL, I knew it was time to go. Contracts were being renewed all around. I asked only for another month, time enough to tie up loose ends, put together a guidebook for writers, and prime Rene to take over. Poetic justice, sort of.  I supposed that Rio was pleased. So 15 years later, when I spotted him at a drinking party some days after the Centennial Literary Prize awarding ceremonies, I didn’t hesitate to go up to him to say hi and to ask, just curious, what the problem had been with my EDSA essay, why only an Honourable Mention?  After quickly getting over the shock of me daring to ask, he said, “Dapat nagpa-edit ka muna.” Ah, so, it was my Tagalog, not EDSA as subject matter.  Fine.  Early in 1999, when word spread that for lack of funds only major prize winners would be published by the UP Press, I despaired for Himagsikan anyway.

As fate would have it, that run-up to the new millennium saw Eggie Apostol back on the scene (she had retired from the Inquirer in the early ‘90s), this time to do battle with a President whose bullying tactics – a P101-million libel suit filed against The Manila Times in April, an advertisers’ boycott of the Inquirer whipped up in July – were a menace to hard-won press freedom.  In September, Eggie launched Pinoy Times, a Monday-to-Friday tabloid for the Tagalog-reading masses, dedicated to exposing Erap’s evil ways and other political scandals. In February 2000 her People Power foundation published Himagsikan sa EDSA—Walang Himala! The book was also serialized in Pinoy Times.

Eggie had my Tagalog edited first, of course, by Marra Lanot of the charmed literary circle, and it was good to find that, apart from inconsistency in my use of ng and nang (that I always thought I had down pat, haha), the problem was not really my prose but my spelling, yes, my ispeling of certain words, Coryista not Corysta, tsismis not chismis, taumbayan not taongbayan, and my use of hyphens where they had been outlawed, how was I to know; and it wasn’t as if my spellings and hyphens compromised my prose or its comprehensibility in any way. But, hey, water under the bridge, ‘ika nga.  Reviews of Himagsikan unfailingly praised my prose, how easy it was to read, even, “Ang sarap basahin!” National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera read it not too long ago (sent him one of my last copies) and he loved my Tagalog: “Ang dulas!” sabi niya.

Next: Multiple EDSAs