Thursday, October 27th, 2005
Right before I went to to the Bukluran para sa Katotohanan-sponsored mass this afternoon in Brgy. San Miguel within the garisson that is the Malacanang grounds, I first visited Mr. and Mrs. F. Sionil Jose in their bookstore Solidaridad in Padre Faura.
I practically grew up in that store, and Mr. and Mrs. Jose are like family. My parents met in Solidaridad 35 years ago, and nine months after that they got married. As children, my sister Majalla and I knew every nook and cranny of that store — we knew what titles the store carried, how the books were classified, and we loved the dry and light smell of the place, the feeling of always being on the verge of discovering new worlds between the pages of the hundreds of books that lined the shelves.My very first awareness of the power of literature and art came to me in that store, as I sat in a corner leafing through coffee table books on Georgia O’ Keefe’s works, or whispering lines from Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero’s plays.
Every year since I was nine years old, I could count on a beautiful journal from the Joses. I was instructed to fill every page, and to come back when I’d done that and again get a new notebook. As a child, I was also taken to PEN conferences at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) and listened to the likes of Isagani Cruz, Alejandro Roces, Nick Joaquin, Andres Cristobal Cruz, Cirillo Bautista discuss literary theory (or whatever. Remember, I was a child. For the most part, just sat there and doodled.)
I also grew up reading Mr. Jose’s books. The first certified short story I read and was affected by was his Waywaya (which means freedom in Ilocano.); the first Filipino books I read were the Rosales novels — Poon; Mass; My Brother, My Executioner. Mr. Jose always had time for me whenever I visited the store with my parents, and more often than not before we left, I’d have a new book or two with me in my backpack.
Like I said, I practically grew up in that store.
And I grew up being aware of Mr. Jose and his beliefs about this country, it’s history, where it’s going, and what the heck is wrong with Filipinos.
When I was in college but already an activist — a member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and a writer for the Philippine Collegian, I would just sit and listen to Mr. Jose while he vented his anger and frustration.I didn’t want to get into a debate with him (was too polite, was too young, was still learning about the movement and Philippine society), and for the most part I just took his comments quietly. They made me sad –his views. They were often angry and despairing, as if he couldn’t find any hope for the country and he wanted so much to give up on everything if only giving up didn’t mean accepting things as they are, period.
Now that I’m officially an adult (whatever the heck that means), I have taken to talking to Mr. Jose as if we were, well, equals. Now I’m prepared, even eager to defend my views; say what I think, and explain the truth as I know it.
Actually, Mr. Jose’s views about politics are not so different from mine — only his are less…diplomatic. My opinions and views are in fact quite tame compared to his. That’s why its really weirds me out that there have been articles or talk about him being “anti-Filipino” and an agent of the CIA (One time I even heard some of my teachers say so. I bet they never once talked to Mr. Jose and really heard his views. I’ve asked Mr.Jose about the CIA thing.”I’m a CIA agent as much as you are one, sweetheart”).
Mr. Jose has a list of people he thinks the New People Army (NPA) should kill.
“Sweetheart– these big, unscrupulous businessmen should die.They’re exploiters, they’re the ones bleeding this country dry. They exploit the workers, suck up the profits and then hie off to Europe whenever there’s a new economic, political or natural disaster. Line them up and shoot them one by one.”
“You and your movement! All this talk about the work of dead intellectuals like Marx and Mao! Your people are dying at the hands of the businessmen and landowners, monsters like the Cojuangcos, Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, the Zobel-Ayalas, and issuing an angry press release is the best you can do? And don’t you start talking to me about protracted people’s war — haven’t Filipinos suffered long enough? Isn’t it time you brought the war to where the real enemies are?”
“It’s a class war, hija. Never forget that. They’re killing off the masa one by one, or the masa are being massacred like what happened at the Hacienda Luisita or Lupao or Escalante. How can you bear to talk to the likes of them?”
He looked tired, Mr. Jose. Tired and sad. On his desk were piles of newspapers — the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Manila Times, Businessworld, Malaya, the Philippine Star; various Philippine magazines like Free Press and Graphic. We were in his study, its walls lined with books — hardbound volumes on Descartes, Proust, Soviet literature; translations of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Albert Camus, Jose Rizal. Books and books and other reading materials, music CDs and documentary DVDs on art, literature and politics.
So much information, yet there he was, sitting there, frustrated and sad and looking for answers.
There is hope for this country, Mr. Jose. Whatever biases you have formed all these years against the revolutionary movement, against its leaders and against the means we are using to rip out the cancer from the heart of this nation, you should know that there is still hope. And this hope still lies with the revolutionary movement. It’s the only movement one with a clear-cut program on how to confront and end the ills of Philippine society: we’re the ones who are very familiar with these ills because the people we represent and serve – the workers, the peasants – are the main victims .There will be no compromising when it comes to their interest and welfare. The economy and political system will be rebuilt according to what the poor and working people need – independent, self-reliant industries; genuine agrarian reform; nationalist, scientific, mass-oriented culture and education; a sovereign foreign policy. As for the class enemies, they will be dealt with, and the punishment will fit the crime.
From January to October 26, 2005, the human rights group KARAPATAN documented the cold-blooded murder of 50 activists and 70 other civilians. The perpetrators are from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and their death squads and paramilitary groups.
120 lives, brutally taken.
120 deaths that will one day be avenged.
In a way it was funny. There I was, a full-time activist, no money in my pocket (well, I still have P200 til next allowance day), and 50 or so years younger than the Ramon Magsaysay awardee seated in front of me, yet it was to me that he was asking for explanations.
I wanted to tell him about the struggle for reforms, the peace talks, the alliances being forged between political organizations, human rights groups and progressive or at least enlightened members of the ruling elite and the ranks of the intelligentsia. I wanted to tell him about the books, the music, the plays and other forms of art the movement is producing. I wanted to tell him about how the movement is also working to convince even members of the AFP and the PNP to capitulate and side with the revolution.
About how the genuine government of the Filipino people, the true government of the poor and exploited continues to grow and strengthen in the regions.
But I didn’t. Instead I just told him: “We’re trying, Mr. Jose. Believe me, we are. There are hundreds and thousands of young Filipinos like me who have learned from the mistakes and errors, the failures and weaknesses of our elders and we will make sure the same errors will be committed again. Our mistakes will be many, but they will be minor; and there is no way we will not let the Filipino people down again.”
It was surreal. Such a serious conversation. Neither of us smiled the entire time. The room was quiet except for the hum of the airconditioner, and the creak of our chairs whenever we moved: myself to fidget; Mr.Jose to throw his hands in the air in a gesture of despair. I sat there across him, told him my experiences at work, the rallies, the developments in Congress, my views on the burgeoning dictatorship. And when I told him about the Movement, it was like I was making some sort of vow.
I suppose I was.
It was raining when I left the bookstore. I took a jeep to Quiapo and got off to where the jeepneys heading for Brgy. San Miguel were lined up. All the while I was thinking of my conversation with Mr. Jose.
Revolution is simple, hija. You kill all the people’s exploiters, the killers of the sons and daughters of the soil, the murderers of activists like you.
Would it be that it was simple as that, Mr. Jose. If it were, I’d get a gun right now and head off to Malacanang, the White House, to the business centers of Makati, Ortigas, Manhattan, the offices of the G-8.