“No regrets,” written by Edwin Batongbacal, is the last chapter (or the penultimate one, if we count the “Afterword”) of A Time to Rise: Collective Memoirs of the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP or Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino). “No regrets,” is an appropriate statement for many of the comrades who waged a revolution, which could not be won in their lifetime.
The volume, edited by Rene Ciria Cruz, Cindy Domingo, and Bruce Occena and published in 2017 by the University of Washington Press, had its launch in Manila on Feb. 2.
I am honored to have Rene, Cindy, and Bruce as friends and comrades — all brilliant heroic, and dedicated and yet mere mortals whose lives have gone through many up and downs, including the demise of their organization and the failure of the revolution that they waged in their prime.
It is that acceptance of defeat — as well as the humility that comes with it — that gives this volume the virtue of authenticity and integrity.
True, the volume has a special meaning for me because not only do I personally know the editors of the volume, but I am also a relative or a friend of other contributors and KDP members. Odette Polintan (author of Working the Corridors of Power) is my first cousin. We are the same age, and have been friends since childhood. She became an activist in St. Theresa’s high school but dropped out of school to become a full-time revolutionary. She was later assigned to do political work in the US, including lobbying US politicians and government officials to withdraw support for the dictatorship. If not for her, I would not have become a student activist.
Odette’s late daughter Silahis contributed her story from the perspective of a young daughter of activist parents. She wrote: “Growing up with the KDP has taught me many lessons I use in life. I have seen the world from many different perspectives. I know about my parents’ struggles that opened the doors for my generation. By teaching me their beliefs and causes, my parents have given me the best possible gift: at fifteen, I had knowledge and an understanding most of my friends did not.”
And Odette’s partner David Della wrote two chapters: “A Little Red Book,” and “A Day I’ll Live with for the Rest of My Life.” In the latter chapter, Dave narrates how he nearly died at the hands of dictator Marcos’s agents. He was lucky that he arrived late for a meeting with his two close friends and anti-Marcos trade unionists, Silme Domingo (the brother of Cindy) and Gene Viernes. The hired guns of Marcos assassinated the two unionists inside the union’s office in downtown Seattle. The names of Domingo and Viernes are now enshrined in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani.
The KDP’s membership was not restricted to Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. In the book, the Caucasian-American journalist Elaine Elinson describes how she and comrades conducted propaganda to denounce bad people like dictators Marcos and Somoza and their master, Reagan.
The volume thus combines personal stories — some happy and light, others bittersweet or painful — with readings on lessons of the struggle. With respect to the latter, Rene Ciria Cruz’s Introduction is both a short history and a critical summing-up of KDP’s work and experience. He concludes: “Alienated from the main body of the Philippine Left and unmoored by the collapse of the socialist paradigm, the remaining members of the KDP family voted to disband the organization in 1986.”
I do not wish to delve into the relationship of the KDP with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Suffice it to say that KDP was once under the CPP but was compelled to separate from it because of ideological and political differences.
An interesting episode was the KDP’s shift of its strategy and tactics to pursue a broad democratic front that included anti-Marcos but anti-communist forces. This was a similar idea, known as popular democracy, cultivated by homegrown revolutionaries like the late Boy Morales, Edicio de la Torre, Gani Serrano, et al. Such would have led to an alliance with liberal democrats and social democrats and the CPP’s participation in the snap presidential elections. The dynamics of the snap elections created the conditions that overthrew dictatorship and installed Cory Aquino as president. But the CPP took a position of boycotting the elections.
The communist Left’s participation in the elections and its tactical support for Cory Aquino could have shaped history in a different course. Even the CPP accepted that its boycott was a “tactical blunder.” I disagree though that the error was tactical. It was a strategic one.
But what would have been the counterfactual? Assuming the CPP supported Aquino and would therefore have been a pivotal player in the post-dictatorship transition, would it have been able to sustain the political gains?
It depends on whether one agrees with Ciria Cruz, when he acknowledges “the collapse of the socialist paradigm.”
In other words, for the Left to advance, the socialist paradigm likewise has to be overhauled. Absent that, not only the CPP but also the other Left forces will remain marginalized and they can taste the whiff of power only by hanging on the coattails of what they call “class enemies.”
Many activists, including myself, have gone through many failures or defeats in what seems to be an interminable struggle. We made our choices. The movement, including the bad experiences, made us mature and wise. We are now better people.
I thus echo what Edwin Batongbacal said, “No regrets.”
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.