By Ina Alleco Silverio
MANILA — All writers including journalists are said to have influences. Some writers are inspired by novelists who produce best-sellers that sell thousands of copies and are reviewed in the New York Times Review of Books. Others consider other their professors in undergraduate or graduate school as their idols — these same professors having produced anthologies of short stories delving into the complexities of the middle-class, their affairs, minor tragedies and mundane successes.
Journalists, in the meantime, emulate other journalists and latters’ adventures as they cover tension-filled,physically dangerous or politically-charged events and developments. The younger journalists want to follow the footsteps of their more-experienced fellows and secure awards and accolades, writing grants and scholarships overseas.
Not to say that I consider myself superior, however, I confess that when it comes to my own writing and whatever ambitions I have concerning my work as a journalist, I have, well, higher standards. And this is where Antonio Zumel’s influence comes in.
Ka Tony, Manong, chose to write not about himself or the doings of the rich and powerful. He took a stand in his articles — he knew clearly for whom he was writing and why. When he addressed middle-class readers – those who brought newspapers and read English, he clearly sought to convince them of alternative points of view, one that trained the light on the oppressed and exploited; and one that condemned the architects of their oppression and exploitation.
These days there are countless newspapers, both the ones that you can hold and clutch in your hand, and the ones that can be read online as websites. Among these hundreds, however, there are very, very few that devote articles to the plight of the poor and the marginalized. Majority of reporters, writers, journalists devote their time to writing pieces that sing praises to the status quo. Those who choose to take a critical stance, in the meantime, in the end still inevitably confine their alternatives and solutions to the prescriptions of the same system that reeks of corruption and injustice.
Manong was not that kind of writer, not that kind of journalist. He chose to write about the real and ugly face of Ferdinand Marcos’ Bagong Lipunan. He exposed the trickery and treacherous tactics in cheating of politicians, the abuses of the police and military, the thieving ways of Marcos’ cronies and business partners, and finally the operations of US imperialism and its lead role in keeping the Philippines economically destitute and politically in the dark ages. And behind his criticism, always and ever one strongly sensed his bias for the victims of society’s tragedies and the crimes of negligence of the government: the poor. It was their human rights he was most concerned about — it was their empty stomachs, their abused bodies, their deprived beings he demanded justice for.
In the meantime it was not just about the country’s troubles that Manong depicted in his articles: he also bravely offered alternatives. He wrote about socialism and how it is a living, breathing reality in other countries and how it can be the same and even better in the Philippines. He wrote about how the wrongs in Philippine society can be corrected by the strength and goodness of a government that emanates from the Filipino people themselves.
When he joined the underground, it was beloved hope of national democracy and genuine freedom that he considered his muse and inspiration. He wrote about the organizing work of the basic sectors and the army they built. He wrote about the victories secured whether in the negotiating field or the actual field of battle. He explained at length the kind of economic, political and cultural system the Filipino people deserved — one that did not make exploitation a necesary component but instead ensured and protected their wellbeing and future.
And during these years his writings became like sunlight cutting through darkness, shining a light on the aspirations of the Filipino masses and their historic struggle of compassion and revolution under the leadership of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Communist Party of the Philippines.
What does all of this mean to me, being myself a creative writer by inclination and an alternative journalist by profession?
I want to be like Ka Tony, like Manong, and it is in footsteps and the footsteps of the very few men and women who chose to side with the Filipino people by writing about what concerns their past, present and future survival and development. I want to be like Manong and be brave, creative, sharp and analytical in how I write about social issues and in how to describe how life is for the government’s victims and neglected constituents. But mostly, as I do my work, I am inspired by the kind of his humanity he had — the ease he had as he worked with other comrades; the goodwill he generated as he did his work as a journalist; and the infinitely humane soul he had as a revolutionary, as a leader of people’s movement.
This is what Ka Tony, what Manong means to me. He is an inspiration to writers and journalists of my generation, and with every article I write, I pay tribute to him and his legacy. He was the kind of writer I want to be, the kind of journalist, and the kind of activist I aspire to be. Thank you very much.