Satur Ocampo has got to be one of the most curious personalities in the mainstream Left movement; quite possibly, even in the realm of Philippine politics.
People closest to him such as his congressional staff and his security would say that it takes him ages to lose his temper, and even when he finally does, it will only be over some serious social injustice and never from a personal slight. In either case, however, he can still be relied on to remain rational and logical. Think back and remember the second time he was arrested in 2007: recall the footage of him being manhandled by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Through all the abuse and the violations against his human and civil rights, he can be seen striving to keep calm; but when he finally speaks, his anger sears like white fire, the greatest heat there is.
The man is by nature a silent type: he will not speak first, but instead he will listen, and here is why he is also curious: because behind the quiet and gentle facade of the man, is an individual who has a personal history influenced by a strong will and a deep seated compassion, a political life which has already made its mark on the Philippines.
I am writing a series of blog entries on Ka Satur, former journalist, forever activist, my first choice for senator in 2010.
Satur is the son of poor peasants in Pampanga. It would have been natural for anyone to expect that he grow up with dreams of becoming rich, or at least dreams of a better life for himself and his family; Satur’s dreams, however, embraced others: what he wanted was for poverty to end for the people of Pampanga, and by extension, the Filipino people.
A studious and intelligent boy who grew up under the auspices of religion, he was sensitive to social realities around him. Even at a very young age, he was aware that there were differences in economic status between people and that more often than not, they were caused not by bad luck or lack of effort and industry but by more concrete factors that had to do with how a society was run.
He read books on the lives of saints and national heroes, and he understood that what shaped these great men and women were not only their own inherent abilities or gifts, but the circumstances that surrounded them and how they chose to respond to them.
Again, more often than not, these circumstances were of strife and struggle. True enough, he thought, adversity does shape character; and with that, he sought to consciously shape his own. He wanted to be a person who did good things for other people; to be of help, to be of use, to be of service. To him, the things he read and studied about the lives and deeds of heroes were not dead words, but lessons to be lived and practiced.
These heroes, he thought to himself, were not statues. They were once flesh and blood individuals who had lived and breathed, and they gave the best of themselves to efforts that constituted compassion and greatness.
So the young boy Satur began to consciously pattern his own life after theirs.
Satur was a good student. He was particularly good in science and history, and when he was not helping with chores at home, he was often in the library reading. One could say that he was a typical grind, but unlike the usual nerds and geeks who loved learning often for its own sake, he loved learning because he saw it a means to one day achieve his dream: at first it was to become a priest; then, when he thought that it would be better to first heal bodies before aiding souls, he wanted to be a doctor.
At the time when he was growing up, there were only two doctors in his town; and families like his, peasants whose lives were deeply connected to the soil and whose wealth were mainly the love and respect of each son and daughter for their parents, seldom if ever sought medical services. No, it wasn’t because they were of stronger, healthier stock; it was because doctor’s fees were beyond their reach. Keeping health was a necessity for more pragmatic reasons.
In high school, Satur became class president, and he was also editor of the school newspaper. Extracurricular activities also became venues for learning, and to add to his first-hand knowledge of the difficulties faced by the peasant class to which his family belonged, he began to hone his understanding of social issues that affected students. He became a member of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), and he wrote about issues that impacted on the student body like fraternity violence.
When the time came for him to attend university, it became difficult for Satur to stick to one course of study. It wasn’t because he was feckless and he couldn’t focus; in fact, it was the exact opposite. He wanted to study courses that were in line with his interests in society, history and politics, but there were other subjects that had to be taken that he found somewhat superfluous.
In the meantime, he was supposed to attend the University of the Philippines and study medicine, but neither he nor his family had the means to send him there. He had to temporarily forego what he wanted to learn skills that enabled him to make him a living and help his family. He studied basic accounting, he learned steno-typing.
Then he enrolled in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), the former Philippine College of Commerce where the tuition was low. He worked during the day and studied at night. He worked and studied and helped his family and in the meantime, the Philippines was slowly changing and he was not indifferent to what was happening.
As a student, he was already an activist. By 1964, when the revolutionary organization of Filipino youth and students, the Kabataan Makabayan (KM) was established, he became a founding member.
By then he was working as a business reporter, then eventually sub-editor, of the Manila Times.
From wanting to become a priest and a doctor, Satur came to terms with himself. If he was unable to a medical doctor, he would a social doctor: one who helped cure society and its myriad of ills. He would be a journalist and write about these problems and, perhaps, help offer solutions.
Satur was a daring journalist. Back in his time, it was simply not done to politicize business and economic issues: politics were on the front page; stories about business had a section all its own in the latter pages. He didn’t agree with it. His understanding of social realities compelled him to enact changes in the Manila Times.
As sub-editor, it was his task to lay-out the business pages during the weekend. The rest of the week he went out and gathered stories and wrote them. In the weekend, he was in charge of putting the paper to bed. It was then that he inserted commentaries — analyses on how businesses were influencing government; how government often also became a business for those who ran it;and how through it all it was the Filipino people who suffered when government was run as a business and people were at the bottom of priorities, far below amassing profit.
He also attended rallies. Unlike other colleagues in the profession who went to the rallies to cover them, he attended the rallies launched by radical students and members of the oppressed sectors against the burgeoning US-Marcos dictatorship as a Filipino who cared about his country.
In the beginning, he was reprimanded and his attendance in the rallies was reported to the Manila Times front office. He was a reporter, they told him. He was not supposed to be directly much less personally involved in the issues was covering.
Satur was ready with his retort: “I am a citizen, and I am free to exercise my rights. I do my job as a reporter when I submit the stories; but I also have a job and responsibilities as a Filipino.” He was prepared to argue and defend his point, but by then he had gained the support of Manila Times editor, Alejandro ‘Chino’ Roces.
Satur then went on to implement more changes in his section: he believed that economic issues, precisely because of their nature, also belonged in the front page especially when they affected the lives and livelihood of millions of Filipinos.
Eventually, Satur became president of the Business and Economics Reporters Association. His reputation as a no-nonsense business writer also grew as he wrote investigative pieces on the illegal and secret marriages between private firms and government agencies, or how government-ran corporations were leaking money because of mismanagement and corruption. He wrote about how, in the end, because of anomalies in government and its business dealings, it was the Filipino people who lost.
He was offered bribes like cars and houses, he was politely but firmly asked to stop his exposes. He, in turn, was also polite and firm as he declined and gave his standard answer: “Talk to my editor.”
Satur also became the host of a political talk-show. Three times the show was aired from Malacanang, and it went on for a year until Marcos declared martial law.
To be continued.