Remembering Monica Feria

Rest in peace, Monica, one of the most admired journalists and most inspiring activists of my generation. I remember her though her associations, which I likewise attach with personal significance.

AREA 1
My wife Mae’s family, the Manalangs, and the Ferias were neighbors at Area 1, the home of the UP faculty’s crème de la crème. Area 1 had a history and a world unto itself.

During the pre-Martial Law era and the years of dictatorship, Area 1 was a hub of intellectual pursuits, of liberal life and community spirit, of revelry and combo music, of classical music and dance. Joan Cuyugan Bohlmann, Monica’s classmate, recalls Monica taking ballet lessons from Trudl Piñon, who lived next door to the Ferias.

Area 1, too, was the home of activists and activism.

Among the young activists from Area 1 was Nik Lansang, a few years younger than Monica and the youngest child of journalist Joe and social work professor Flora Lansang. Nik or Sputnik, at 19 years old, had a martyr’s death, a brutal death perpetrated by Marcos troops.

Monica recounted fragments of how Area 1 responded on the day Marcos imposed Martial Law in an article she wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (“Sept. 22-23: Our lives changed overnight,” 22 September 2015).

Monica’s mom Dolores (English and literature), Sylvia E. Claudio’s (or Guy’s) mom Rita (psychology), and Mae’s mom Priscila (education), were among the shining and esteemed progressive women professors at that time who lived at Area 1.

Guy wrote the lyrics of a song titled “In memoriam” for an album titled Lost Generation, produced by the Freedom from Debt Coalition (1992) in honor of these brave and beautiful women — icons of womanhood and feminism.

“We have not died but rest in peace. Daughter am I of all my mothers. One taught me sunshine and also rain. A dark one brought me into brightness. A fair one spoke of my people’s pain. I recall you, Dolores and Rita. And send my best to you Priscila. For to name is to remember. And remember to name.”

The daughters of Dolores, Rita, and Cil — including Monica, Guy, and Mae — imbibed the goodness, feminism, and simple heroism of their moms.

UP HIGH ’71
Monica belonged to the class of 1971.

She and her cohorts experienced a Dickensian period: “the best of times, the worst of times, the age of wisdom, the age of foolishness, the epoch of belief, the epoch of incredulity.” It was the time that the Filipino youth were caught in the vortex of rebellion and upheaval. It was a time of global crisis, the intensification of the war in Vietnam and the Cold War, and the rise of protest movements. It was a time that the aftereffects of Paris 1968, the Kent State massacre, and the First Quarter Storm of 1970 continued to reverberate on campuses. It was the age of mini skirts and bell bottoms, placards and Molotovs, LSD and pot, free love and égalité, flower power and revolution. It was a period that bad people were conspiring to destroy institutions and defeat the good — Dirty Dick in America, Macoy in the Philippines.

In February 1971, almost everyone at the University of the Philippines, including Monica and schoolmates at UP High, became Diliman communards, by choice or force of circumstance. Monica’s UP High became the first line of defense to prevent Marcos troops from entering the heart of the campus through Balara. At the same time, barricades were set up by Ateneo and Maryknoll students on Katipunan.

Indeed those were the best of times and the worst of times that forever shaped the life of Monica and her generation.

RED AND YELLOW
Bobbi Tiglao recently described me (in a taunting way) as “Red and Yellow.” I like those colors. And Monica wore those colors with pride. Red: “the blood of angry men [and women], a world about to dawn.” Yellow: the color of joy, sunshine, and enlightenment. Red and yellow are the colors of Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) and its cultural arm, Gintong Silahis (GS). Monica was a stalwart of both SDK and GS.

She was an idol of the younger activists from UP High and elsewhere. Oliver Teves, Monica’s fellow journalist and Mae’s classmate from the class of ’73, remembers how he was mesmerized by Monica while she was conducting a teach-in in the shade of a tree at Vinzons Hall. Oliver describes Monica as a tough woman. I describe her as a graceful woman. Not contradictory at all. That’s perhaps what distinguished SDK from KM (Kabataang Makabayan): SDK activists epitomized by Monica combined grace and toughness. The SDK members were groovy and militant, to use the words of Sol Santos, Monica’s SDK comrade and now judge at Naga City. On the other hand, KM people were tough and militant, period.

JOURNALIST WITH A BRAVE HEART
Monica was a highly respected journalist. She went through all the experiences that made a journalist of sterner stuff — covering difficult beats, writing controversial if not risky stories, doing desk work or editorial work, which is likewise vulnerable to political or business pressure. Monica stood out for the quality of her writing, for her being an assiduous editor and mentor and above all, for her integrity and values.

See, for example, the tribute written by Babeth Lolarga for the Philippine Daily Inquirer (“The last time I saw Monica,” 1 January 2017), which portrays Monica’s deep convictions. Another tribute written by Eunice Barbara Novio, also published in the Inquirer (“Monica Feria — my Tita, my editor,” 5 January 2017), was about how conscientious her “Tita” Monica was in mentoring her to become a good feature writer in the service of the people, especially the Filipino migrant workers.

I wish, too, that someone would write Monica’s life as a revolutionary writer. A reputable fellow activist and journalist, in the mold of Sheila Coronel, is most suitable to write such a tribute.

An event I haven’t forgotten concerning the life of Monica as a propagandist happened circa 1978. The location was a retreat house at the foothills of Antipolo. The climate was cold and foggy.

The activity was an underground propaganda seminar. It was organized by Ome Candazo, and he invited Monica to lecture. Ome and Monica knew each other since their days at UP High. They were comrades in the collective of the underground newspaper titled Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas (BMP), before Ome’s deployment as head of Manila-Rizal’s district 2, which covered Quezon City and Marikina and the sectors of youth and students and the urban poor.

I was one of the participants in the seminar. I can no longer remember the other attendees except for Vickee Viterbo Quimbo, who would later be married to another high school classmate of Monica, Junji Quimbo.

Even though we all introduced ourselves with our aliases, the lecturer was recognized by everyone as the Monica Feria.

And she lectured well — not only teaching the elements of good writing but most importantly emphasizing the task of a writer, even the partisan one, even in the conduct of propaganda, to always seek the truth, and fight for the truth.

This was what Monica stood for, whether as a journalist in a commercial media establishment or as a propagandist for the revolution: Seek the truth, and the truth will set us free.

TENY
Teny Luna-Arellano was one of the two closest friends of Monica in high school, says their classmate Joan.

Monica and Teny were both SDK activists at high school, and both joined the revolution against the dictatorship. But they were likewise free spirits and hippies. They were soulmates and they inspired each other.

Monica and Teny straddled the worlds of the aktibista and the hippie. The aktibista, on paper, ruled against pre-marital sex and shied away from getting stoned. The hippie wanted spontaneity and anarchism and hated organization and democratic centralism. But the commonality was their being anti-establishment. Monica and Teny had the best of both worlds.

Like the Ferias, the Lunas were family friends of the Manalangs. Thus, I connect with Teny and her siblings.

Teny describes herself as a recluse.

But instead of withdrawing upon receiving the news of the death of her best friend, Teny was determined to join the bigger community in celebrating Monica’s life. And there she was, attending the ceremony with her idiosyncratic smile.

Teny’s discreet presence in the memorial and innocent smile would have been enough to make Monica happy.

Monica’s death was devastating; it came without a warning. It was a “deathblow,” for Chuki, Monica’s sister. Yet, the outpouring of love and empathy will make the grieving of Chuki and Monica’s loved ones an uplifting one. Monica, the bunso among the three sisters, will find refuge in the company of her parents and many friends and neighbors who are now writing, dancing, and singing in the great beyond.

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.

www.aer.ph

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