Monico M. Atienza: A Life Worth Fighting For
His friends and relatives described Monico Atienza's stubborn will to
live, in the face of a most life-threatening debilitation, as very
characteristic of the man. This kind of courage, they say - together
with the man's extraordinary conviction and abilities - enabled him to
live the kind of life he has chosen, unmindful of the obstacles that
came his way.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
at the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Center the night of
January 25 was both light and serious. There were occasional bursts of
laughter from the audience as speakers talked of the man's mood swings
and short temper. A serious mood, however, would be apparent as the
speakers discussed the man's unwavering resolve to serve the people.
siguro, dahil masyado siyang maraming iniisip at iniintindi”
(His temper is
short, maybe because there are too many things on his mind), said Prof.
Vina Paz, chair of the UP Department of Filipino and Philippine
Literature. “Y'ong pagiging bugnutin, ganoon na talaga siya mula
pagkabata” (He had a short temper even in his youth), said his
nephew Adolfo Atienza.
But even as they
made some fun of the man's having a short fuse, the speakers and the
audience were in awe of the kind of life the man has lived thus far.
“Madali siyang maging inspirasyon, dahil sa kanyang salita at gawa”
(It is easy to be inspired by him because of his words and deeds), said
UP Faculty Regent Prof. Roland Simbulan.
The subject of
all these was activist, writer, and UP professor Monico M. Atienza who
was given a tribute by fellow activists, colleagues, former classmates,
students and friends.
a heart attack last Dec. 23, while attending the wake of First Quarter
Storm (FQS) activist Selma Salvador at the Bustillos Church in Sampaloc,
Manila. An undetected mass in his throat blocked his breath, leading to
successive heart seizures.
playwright Bonifacio Ilagan, chair of the First Quarter Storm Movement
of which Atienza is president, said that he had noticed that Atienza had
difficulty breathing even as they were in the taxi on the way to
Salvador's wake. “Lingon nang lingon yung drayber, inaalala siguro
yung pasaherong hirap huminga.” (The driver kept turning his head,
perhaps worrying about the passenger who had a hard time breathing.)
Ilagan asked Atienza if he was fine, and the latter said that he was.
wake, Ilagan said, Atienza was at one point brought to an adjacent room
within the Bustillos Church, in the hope that it would ease his
breathing. After a few minutes, someone told Ilagan that they should
bring Atienza to the hospital.
that he was still fine and even walked by himself as they went to the
nearby Mary Chiles Hospital, Ilagan said. But when they got to Mary
Chiles, Ilagan felt he had to assist Atienza who lost consciousness a
few minutes later.
After a few days
Atienza was transferred to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), also
in Manila, where he remains confined.
During his first
few days of hospital confinement, Atienza was hooked to a respirator.
Within a few days of his transfer to the PGH, however, he was able to
begin breathing by himself. He is also said to be now able to respond to
communication: When a few friends visited him at the PGH one day and
told him, “Nick, kung naririnig mo kami, sumipa ka” (Nick, if you
can hear us, throw a kick), he raised his leg slightly.
mo si Kamatayan”
(It is as though
you are fighting Death), said FQSM member Jake Abad in a poem for
Atienza that he recited at the tribute.
His friends and
relatives described Atienza's stubborn will to live, in the face of a
most life-threatening debilitation, as very characteristic of the man.
This kind of courage, they say - together with the man's extraordinary
conviction and abilities - enabled him to live the kind of life he has
Born to a
lower-middle class family in Cuenca, Batangas (a Tagalog province south
of Manila), Atienza displayed his remarkable abilities early on in life.
“Nick, as he is
known fondly by countless friends, was my classmate in the Far Eastern
University Boys High School (FEU-BHS) up to 1964,” writes
journalist-activist Hermie Garcia, a political detainee during Martial
Law who is now based in Canada together with his wife Mila Astorga, also
a journalist-activist. “He was our class president, valedictorian and
student council president. With those distinguished achievements at a
very young age, our teachers predicted he would have a very
distinguished career in whatever profession he would soon choose.”
as class valedictorian in 1965 made him a recipient of a scholarship at
FEU where he took business and finance while many of his friends went to
UP. He joined the FEU chapter of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM or
Patriotic Youth), and together with a number of schoolmates went on a
two-month visit to China which was then a socialist country.
their return to the Philippines, Atienza transferred to UP where he took
up literature, and there he joined the Student Cultural Association of
the University of the Philippines (SCAUP), a progressive study group of
which he eventually became president. He also got involved in the broad
alliance Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN), which had
Sen. Lorenzo Tañada as its chair and then KM Chair and UP Professor Jose
Maria Sison as its secretary-general. In the late 1960s he became the
KM's secretary-general, and was holding this position when the First
Quarter Storm – a series of massive demonstrations against the Marcos
administration – happened in 1970.
underground shortly before then President Ferdinand Marcos declared
martial law in September 1972. Sison said that Atienza who became known
as Ka (comrade) Togs in the underground movement headed the Communist
Party of the Philippines (CPP) National Organizing Committee (NOD) and
was also a member of its Central Committee.
In 1974, Atienza
was arrested and detained by the military. He underwent severe physical
and psychological torture, including an overdose of truth serum. Based
on old fact sheets prepared by human rights groups, Atienza's torture
caused him to suffer a mental breakdown and seriously impaired his
health. At one point he had to be confined at the V. Luna Hospital in
He was detained
for six years. Upon his release he went back to UP to finish his studies
and eventually teach Filipino. He actively helped in the committee
campaigning for the release of Sison who was arrested in 1977 and was
also heavily tortured.
Atienza played a
prominent part in founding and organizing the Partido ng Bayan (PnB or
People's Party), a progressive political party which fielded
congressional candidates in the 1987 elections under the Aquino
In an ambush on
PnB leaders by a suspected military death squad in 1987, Atienza was
seriously wounded, together with PnB senatorial candidate Bernabe
Buscayno who was a leader of the New People's Army (NPA) during Martial
Law. A shrapnel remains embedded in Atienza's head and a leg wound he
sustained from the attack has not healed to this day.
In spite of all
these, however, Atienza has remained unfazed. He has continued to
propagate progressive ideas in his work as both a teacher and a writer.
In various capacities he has extended help to several people's
At the PGH
Atienza continues to fight for his life - and, by all accounts, rightly
so, for his is an extraordinary life worth fighting for.
As Sison said in
his testimonial to Atienza released on Jan. 7:
matibay at palaban si Ka Togs. Hindi tayo magugulat kung makakatawid
siya sa kasalukuyang kalagayan at magpapatuloy sa pag-ambag sa
pagsusulong ng rebolusyong Pilipino. Anuman ang mangyari sa personal na
katayuan niya, natitiyak nating makabuluhan at maningning ang kanyang
buhay at papel na ginampanan sa kasaysayan.
(We know that
Comrade Togs is strong and defiant. We would not be surprised if he
overcomes his present condition and continues contributing to the
advancement of the Philippine revolution. Whatever happens to him, we
are sure that his is a worthy and glorious life and role in history.)
PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION ■
© 2007 Bulatlat
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