“The more things change,
the more they stay the same.”
— Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849
Sometimes it gets more and more difficult to write even just a weekly column. Partly it’s because reading and listening to the news has become such a pain with the news reports reduced to crime, accident or showbiz stories and reportage on the economic and political news just smoke and mirrors.
Then there are the reports about “encounters” between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) that of late seem to have been taken from the unchanging script of the western cowboy movies of my childhood, with the Indian “savages” always getting routed. Well, that’s not so surprising considering that the source more often than not is a military spokesperson.
Then again the reality of an ongoing armed conflict intrudes into one’s inured consciousness when the remains of a young woman, all of 33 years, a former student at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Engineering, is tearfully yet lovingly brought “home” to the Diliman campus. The newspapers report a woman killed in a clash with Army soldiers in Abra, alongside at least eight other suspected NPA rebels.
From all accounts she had a bright future ahead of her. Recca Noelle Monte graduated from Manila Science High School in 1997, one of the school’s silver medalists. She was a Department of Science and Technology (DOST) scholar in UP Diliman, taking up Industrial Engineering. She was not only bright; her friends remember a bubbly, pretty, kind-hearted person who was easy to get along with.
But like many of our youth, generation upon generation, she awoke to the sorry plight of the masses — the desperately poor, the exploited and oppressed. She became a national democratic student activist, tirelessly raising her fellow students’ social consciousness, organizing them to take a stand and act on the burning national issues of the day, above and beyond their narrow concerns as students preparing for successful careers once out of the university’s ivory tower.
She, together with her fellow “FTs” or full-timers (students who are not enrolled and do organizing work full time) “integrated” or some say “immersed” herself among the peasant farmers of Mindoro and set up activist chapters in the province despite difficult circumstances that had demoralized some of her companions. She led by example, not just by words.
A tribute by a former fellow activist is a fitting accolade: “(Recca) proved to be a true revolutionary, not the stereotypical grim and determined activist but certainly determined in a most inspiring way. She showed me that even in the worst situations, when we were at a loss as to what was happening, instead of going nuts asking endless questions, we should just forge ahead and take up the work we were given. The chapters we established in Puerto were all through the leadership and heart of Recca.”
Committed to working for fundamental, wide-ranging change in Philippine society and knowing that those who have benefited from the status quo would not give up their privileged positions without a fight, Recca decided to join the armed revolution in the countryside. She served in the Cordilleras for 10 years till her untimely death.
The death of Recca Monte in the hands of the military happened under the fifth “democratic” regime after the fall of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship.
The AFP top brass would say these idealistic youth were misled by communist agitators at UP and through a series of indoctrination sessions became “communist terrorists” themselves. According to the spokesperson of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division, local people had reported the group’s “extortion activity” that led to the clash. The intention is to ascribe only the most evil of motivations and the most reprehensible of behaviors on the part of the NPA.
But no matter how the AFP and the Aquino government as a whole try to demonize the NPA, the same background story of these idealistic young men and women keeps cropping up. The youth of this land have been giving up a comfortable existence and a lucrative future since the late ’60s to immerse themselves among the exploited and oppressed, offering and sacrificing their lives for a brighter future for the many. It just doesn’t make any sense that someone like Recca would endure a very difficult life and make such sacrifices only to engage in extortion.
It has been 42 years since martial law was declared and 28 years since the EDSA people’s uprising that led to the ouster of the US-backed Marcos dictatorship. Society’s ills are fundamentally the same, and have even gone worse over the decades. Every “democratic” regime after Marcos has proclaimed that it would end poverty, inequality and underdevelopment by ushering in his or her version of “good governance,” but these have all been proven mere rhetoric. The character of these regimes remains elite, oligarchic, averse to fundamental change and therefore violently reactionary.
President BS Aquino’s hallelujah speech last Friday before his party mates, his loyal supporters and his allies regarding the touted progress and gains of democracy under his watch is a complete fairy tale for the masses, the majority of our countrymen. It was meant more for foreign consumption, a rehearsal for his European and US sorties angling for investments. On the other hand, a creeping dictatorship under the guise of “matuwid na daan” is the bigger reality.
Perhaps his prospective European and US audience, the big multinational corporations and their governments, might buy his come-on — “We’re doing great, pour more investments into the Philippines!” — albeit with even more attractive incentives. But whether this will redound to the benefit of the common folk is an entirely different story.
As Recca Monte would say, it would take nothing less than a revolution for things to really change.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
September 14, 2014