Some thoughts on Ka Satur’s (and Francis Ford Coppola’s) Birthday

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms.  For information disclosure, he is a first cousin of Satur Ocampo’s wife, Bobbie Malay. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, April 9, 2007  edition, page S1/4.

Satur Ocampo might not be aware of it, but he and Francis Ford Coppola of Godfather and Apocalypse Now fame have something in common.  They were born on the same day, 7 April 1939.  And just like what Coppola said about himself, Satur’s life is associated “more with being troubled or being under the gun than with anything pleasant.”

Satur, who rarely has the time to see a movie unless he is taken out by wife Bobbie Malay, might not be familiar with Coppola’s words.  Coppola once said: “Anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion invites chaos.”

With a slight alteration, that quote from Coppola suits Satur, the president of Bayan Muna.  Satur and his comrades have painstakingly built Bayan Muna to become a solid, disciplined organization with the biggest mass-based membership among the party-list groups.  The modified Coppola quotation might run this way: “Anything you build on a large scale or with intense passion invites persecution.”

It was happenstance that Satur was temporarily released from detention just before his birthday. The judicious Supreme Court intervention that gave Satur temporary freedom upon posting bail was a providential birthday gift, as it were.

It was likewise a coincidence that Satur’s birthday fell on Black Saturday. For a secular person, it wasn’t a black day to observe a birthday.  Rather, the quiet of the Holy Week break gave Satur the time to be with his loved ones, visit Sta. Rita in Pampanga, his hometown, and reflect on his uncertain future.

Anything can happen to Satur.  The gothic gang of Gloria Arroyo and her advisers will employ all dirty tricks to nail down Satur.  Eduardo Ermita said Satur “will soon be back in jail.” The attack on Satur and company, which cannot be separated from the unabated political killings of Left activists, is intended not only to eliminate the most organized, most steadfast, and most disciplined force fighting the Arroyo regime.  It also sends a chilling message to all critics—anti-Arroyo politicians, journalists, and reformists—that the regime is capable of destroying them.

But even if the regime manages to send him again to jail, Satur has triumphed, politically and morally.  The people know that Satur’s detention was arbitrary and that Gloria’s gothic gang trumped up the charge against him and others.

The pre-election survey rating of Bayan Muna for the party list indicates that Satur and comrades have gained public sympathy and support in the wake of the political killings and harassment. The survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) during 15-18 March 2007 showed that registered voters chose Bayan Muna as the top party-list group, obtaining 28 percent of the votes. (In this survey, 48 percent of the registered voters chose a party-list organization.) This was a significant increase from the 19 percent it garnered in the previous SWS survey conducted on 24-27 February.

Further, other groups allied with Bayan Muna are positioned to win seats in Congress. In SWS’s latest survey, Anakpawis  (basic masses), Gabriela (women) and Suara (Moro) obtained 6.2 percent, 5.8 percent, and 2 percent of the votes, respectively. And Kabataan (youth) is within reach of getting the minimum 2 percent of the votes to gain one seat in Congress.

Altogether, the organizations led by Bayan Muna and labeled as national democrats have cornered close to 45 percent of the votes for the party-list groups.  Undeniably, this huge number, especially that for Bayan Muna, is way above the votes it can command from its mass base.

But Bayan Muna and its allies cannot slip into complacency.  Arroyo’s administration will use all tactics to reduce the number of votes that the Left—and for that matter, the whole opposition—can muster.  Arroyo’s objective is stark:  crush the opposition, and take no prisoners.

Bayan Muna must also think of the long run. It might be the biggest political organization, receiving the plurality of votes for the party-list election, but this does not necessarily mean that is has strategically won the hearts and minds of the people.  The unorganized millions who intend to vote for Bayan Muna do so not because they really believe in its program and strategy but because they want to register their protest over the political killings and harassment, because they are anti-Arroyo, or because they want the radical Left to have a voice in parliament.  Or because they like Satur.

In another SWS survey on attitudes towards political parties (done on 24-26 November 2006), two of three Filipinos think that not a single political party “truly promotes their welfare.”  In the same vein, the plurality of those sampled could not identify any party that possessed favorable characteristics and capabilities (e.g., “does many things that benefit the citizens, has noble leaders, has a realistic platform, has great capability addressing the problems of the economy, eradicating graft and corruption,” etc.).

Worse for Bayan Muna, it was outranked by trapo parties like Lakas (the “party of thieves,” according to Teddyboy Locsin) in relation to said favorable characteristics and capabilities. The most positive thing that could be said for Bayan Muna was that 17 percent of those surveyed said that it “interacts with many sectors,” narrowly beating Lakas, which got 16 percent, in this category.

Bayan Muna’s achievement in winning the party-list elections is not a predictor of its becoming a dominant party.  In the electoral game, the party list is a junior league.

Satur is capable of reforming Bayan Muna, of transforming it into a party of radical national democrats into a party for the ordinary people.  Within his party and in society, he has the moral stature to make things happen.

It is of course a hard task, given the culture of Philippine politics. And in this culture, Satur is the abnormal politician.  He neither sings nor dances.  In moments of singing and dancing, the best he could do is clap or tap his hand on the table.

And he is too transparent about his thoughts and his loyalty to his organization—sometimes a liability—to the point that his statements, private and public, become “politically incorrect.”

But above all else, unknown to many, he is a tender, loving husband, father, and lolo. When prevented from leaving for a meeting in Japan, Satur’s spontaneous remark was that he would sorely miss his apo living with his parents in Tokyo, a bubbly kid named Dalan.  And known to many, he is a man with innate goodness, integrity, and courage.

No amount of fabricated charges will defeat his indomitable spirit. Coppola has words that can be dedicated to Satur, his ka-birthday:  “Be courageous about your instincts and your ideas, because otherwise you’ll just knuckle under.”

Happy birthday, Ka Satur.

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