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Issue No. 27                        August 19-25,  2001                    Quezon City, Philippines

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Comrades and friends honor Tony Zumel, 69

It rained hard the whole day of August 17 and many parts of Metro Manila went under water. But at 7 p.m., despite the incessant downpour, about 1,000 friends and comrades of former journalist and underground leader Antonio Zumel gathered at the Church of the Holy Sacrifice, University of the Philippines - Diliman and paid tribute to a beloved friend and leader.


The gathering of family, friends and comrades of Antonio Zumel, 69, pushed through last August 17, not for a happy reunion but for a tearful goodbye.

Zumel, 69, died of heart attack last August 13 at the St. Antonius Ziekenhuis in Nieuwegein, The Netherlands.

Ma. Luisa Zumel Lopez and Eduardo Zumel, Zumel's eldest sister and youngest brother respectively, represented the family at the gathering which also served as a tribute to him. Lopez spoke in behalf of the family.

Zumel's colleagues in media spoke during the program, among them Manuel Almario and Joan Maglipon, while Nilo Mulles gave a written message. Former comrades in the underground who paid tribute were Prof. Monico Atienza, columnist Bobbie Malay, Capt. Dan Vizmanos and Bayan Muna party list Rep. Satur Ocampo.

Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Ma. Sison sent a message from The Netherlands. Government peace negotiators Silvestre Bello and Secretary Hernani Braganza also attended.

Zumel’s Life

He served as honorary chairman of the underground National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) since 1994 and was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). In 1989, he flew to Europe to help prepare for the soon to be opened peace talks between the NDF and Ramos government when authorities learned of his presence. Unable to return home, Zumel was forced to seek asylum from the Dutch government.

He returned to the country last April 8 by virtue of a safe conduct pass issued by the Arroyo government. Zumel, together with another NDF leader Luis Jalandoni, came to speak at a peace conference. He was, however, taken straight from the airport to the St. Luke's Hospital due to heart attack, triggered by the emotional weight of finally being able to come home.

Zumel was born in Laoag, Ilocos Norte on August 10, 1932, the second of six children. He started as a copyboy (newsroom gofer) at age 17 with the now defunct Philippines Herald. Two years later, he became proofreader and later, full-fledged reporter. Among the beats he covered were the Manila City Hall during the time of Mayor Arsenio Lacson, Malacañang, Senate, and Congress. He worked with noted writers such as Jose Lansang, Mac Vicencio and Osi Abad Santos.

He stayed for 16 years at the Herald and actively participated in union activities. He in fact led a three-month strike which management sought to break through goons and police. When he transferred to the Manila Daily Bulletin under Teodoro Benigno, he again involved himself in union building.

Deeply respected by his peers, Zumel was elected at least 12 times to the Board of Directors of the National Press Club and served as its president twice. Zumel led the group of progressive journalists who actively participated in the protest movement. He was also involved in the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCCL) which the late Senator Jose W. Diokno headed.

Among journalists and progressive leaders, Zumel had the reputation of being honest, competent and full of integrity. The late Antonio Ma. Nieva described Zumel in his one of his columns: "an ace reporter for the Herald, an Ilokano of slight built with a hair-trigger temper and a heart that has never stopped bleeding for the downtrodden, in whose cause he would forsake everything in 1972 to take up the life of a fugitive revel."

Nieva recounted the Zumel of pre-martial law years as "a soft touch who packed a Colt 45 and gave out small loans and never collected them back, who would part with his bottom peso just so some starving street Arab could have coffee and pandesal (bread), who brought home stray kittens, and sang away the day's unhappiness at the National Press Club Bar up to the 'wee hours of the morning.'"

Indeed, accounts of Zumel's newspaper years are peppered with colorful anecdotes, including one of swimming stark naked across the Pasig River in a race against three other reporters. He was also a dashing King Arthur in a production mounted by the NPC.

In the underground

When martial law was declared in 1972, Zumel went underground, as then President Ferdinand Marcos ordered the arrest of progressive journalists and the closure of selected newspapers. He joined other revolutionary leaders like Satur Ocampo and formed the National Democratic Front.

In the underground, Zumel wrote about the Filipino people and his dreams of liberation and democracy. He was among the first members of the editorial group of Liberation, the official organ of NDF, and Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas, NDF's news agency. When deployed for a time in the Ilocos region, Zumel also edited Dangadang, the underground regional paper. In the late '80s before leaving for Europe, he was handling the publication of Ang Bayan, the CPP's official organ and was member of the CPP Propaganda Commission.

When he was in The Netherlands, he was editor of the international edition of Liberation and wrote for the Information Office of the NDF. He also represented the revolutionary movement in various activities.

Zumel was appointed senior adviser of the NDF peace negotiation panel. A meticulous writer who never allowed himself to be caught with an error, he played a valuable role in helping prepare the various documents for the peace talks.

In the speech for the peace conference that he prepared but never got to read, Zumel said, "Those of us who joined the movement in its infancy in the late 1960s or early 1970s are getting on in years. Among the most senior in years compared to the young people in our movement, I am myself approaching my 69th and will soon be gone.

"Those of us who are getting on in years can only look with satisfaction and pride at the swelling ranks of the revolutionary movement that now fights for our people's national and democratic rights -- and in the future, for socialism."

Last Goodbye

When news of his impending arrival spread last April, several of his friends decided to host a welcome home party for Zumel. It was supposed to be participated in by, among others, his colleagues in the NPC and former comrades in the underground. The invitation was simply titled, "Nice to see you again, Antonio Zumel, a.k.a. Antomel, Batang Club, Ka Nonong."

When he was rushed to the hospital upon arrival, the doctors advised against the activity. His friends then made do with visiting him one at a time in the various hospital rooms he was confined in until he was flown back to The Netherlands in July.

August 17 gathering

The Augus 17 gathering and tribute to Zumel concluded with a 10-minute video on his life and struggle.

Boni Ilagan of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and Dr. Carol Araullo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (National Patriotic Alliance) hosted the program. Progressive artists painted a mural of Zumel, which served as a backdrop for speakers and performers.

A photo exhibit showing Zumel from childhood to media and underground days was set up.

The tribute ended just before midnight as the rain continued to pound the roof of the church. Even nature, it seemed, was full of grief, realizing the passing of great man. Bulatlat.com

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