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Volume IV,  Number 7              March 14 - 20, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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Interview with Satur Ocampo, Bayan Muna’s First Nominee:
Taking Politics of Change to the Mainstream

To the person who is now Bayan Muna’s first congressional nominee, the participation of the Left in the electoral struggle had its harsh and pleasant history starting with the participation of the Democratic Alliance in 1947. The breakthrough took place in 2001 when Bayan Muna (BM or people first) topped that year’s party-list elections despite its lack of experience and limited resources.

By Dabet Castañeda

Rep. Satur Ocampo walks with friends on a footbridge in remote Naujan, Oriental Mindoro  

 Photo by Carlos H. Conde

To the person who is now Bayan Muna’s first congressional nominee, the participation of the Left in the electoral struggle had its harsh and pleasant history starting with the participation of the Democratic Alliance in 1947. The significant breakthrough took place in 2001 when Bayan Muna (BM or people first) topped that year’s party-list elections despite its lack of experience and limited resources.

Satur Ocampo, BM’s leading nominee and who has served in the current Congress, reflects on the trials and strides of the electoral struggle. But his life is itself a hard struggle until he found in the revolutionary movement what many of his friends and comrades would describe as a life-term commitment.

Satur hails from Sta. Rita, Pampanga where he spent most of his memorable boyhood. He sold bottles of carabao’s milk to send himself to elementary and secondary school.  And he worked as an editorial assistant for a trade journal to finance his college education.   

Satur dreamed of being a doctor but financial difficulties forced him to shift to journalism.  “If I could not be a doctor of medicine, I could be a doctor of the nation’s ills,” he now says recalling the time he had to make crucial decisions.

Even before he would become one of the most influential journalists since the 1960s, Satur was already writing about nationalism, anti-U.S. bases and global economy as editor-in-chief of his high school paper.  While taking up journalism in Lyceum, he was elected by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) as vice president for Greater Manila in 1958.  He became its national president in 1962. He also became a member of the editorial board of Progressive Review. In 1963, he began working as proofreader for The Manila Times where, before radical politics cut him off completely from journalism, he became its business editor.

Student journalist, youth leader

As a student journalist and youth leader, Satur was sought by Jose Maria Sison, then president of the Student Cultural Association of UP (SCAUP) to help form a counterpart in the university belt. The two, with a few other student leaders, instead founded the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) on Nov. 30, 1964. 

As one of the leaders of KM, Satur became one of the movers of parliamentary struggle until the First Quarter Storm in 1970. 

When martial law was declared in 1972, Satur went underground.  He organized the peasantry in Central Luzon where he stayed for two years. Arrested by Marcos agents on Jan. 14, 1976, he was transferred from one detention to another: in Camp Olivas in San Fernando, Pampanga; Camp Capinpin, Laguna; Fort Bonifacio to Camp Crame in Quezon City; and finally at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center (BRC) where he spent nine years and three months. The military accused him of being a leader of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

“I hurdled three months of interrogation.  I was not allowed to have even a piece of paper or a pen,” he says.

After a year of solitary confinement, he was elected president of the political prisoners’ organization at the BRC. 

When they would visit, friends would bring some pieces of paper and pens, he fondly recalls.  Even in prison, he was invited as a columnist for the progressive journal We Forum published by the late Joe Burgos.  He was also always invited to talk at the conventions of the National Press Club (NPC) in Intramuros, Manila.  “But I was always accompanied by jail guards,” he said. 

In one of his trips to the NPC then under the presidency of Antonio Nieva, Satur broke loose from his jail guards and escaped.  The escape – which embarrassed the Marcos government – brought him back to the countryside where he was reunited with the masses, his comrades and his wife, Bobbie Malay.  (For the rest of Satur’s life in jail, his wife never had a chance to visit him as she was still in the underground movement.  The couple only survived their marriage by writing letters to each other. )


In 1987, Satur resurfaced as the chief negotiator for the underground National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in its first peace negotiations with the Aquino government.  He gave NDF a face, he said. 

“The name Mr. NDF has stuck with me that even today that I am already the president of Bayan Muna, the military still see me as such,” he said. 

Many friends attest that his distinction of being Mr. NDF is generally positive and consider him as a reasonable spokesman who is also willing to listen.  “I would say I have a soft image, I am acceptable to the middle forces, even with religious groups,” he said.  He adds he had a good relationship with the people of the church especially with the late Sister Christine Tan, RGS. 

Underground again, arrested again

When the peace talks collapsed in February 1987 following the Mendiola Massacre, Satur found himself going back to the underground as the Aquino government started to unsheathe the “sword of war.” The first of Aquino’s “total war” targets would have been the NDFP panel themselves, Satur along with wife Bobbie and Antonio Zumel would find out later. The death threats forced Zumel to go on exile in The Netherlands.

After two years Satur was rearrested and was detained for another three years.  This time, however, he was detained with his wife.  “Well, at least we had the chance to make up for lost time,” he laughed.

In behalf of the NDF, he continued to release statements from jail.  Later, a telephone was placed beside their cell which allowed him to have phone-patched interviews with some media friends.

After their release in 1993, Bobbie decided to just look after their children.  Aside from being a full-time mother and wife, she became a journalism professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) where she chaired the College of Mass Communication’s journalism department.

Satur, on the other hand, pursued with the people’s struggle as a street parliamentarian.

The Left’s electoral struggle

The formation of the political party Bayan Muna is the third attempt of the Left to form a political party and participate in electoral politics.  The first experiences, however, were more than frustrating, Satur says.

In 1947, the old Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) and the guerrilla army Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB) gave up its armed struggle to participate in the elections.  Under the Democratic Alliance, six candidates were elected in Congress. 

In a debate over the changing of the Constitution to allow parity rights to the Americans, the six legislators stood their ground against its implementation.  They made it difficult for the lower House to approve the resolution and as a consequence, they were charged with “electoral terrorism.” 

The Roxas government charged the six NP legislators with “using force in winning in Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon” which were strongholds of the HMB.  As harassment continued, the six were forced to return to armed struggle.

It was another bitter experience in 1987 when, after 40 years, the Left again tried to participate in electoral politics and formed the Partido ng Bayan (PnB or People’s Party). 

Its president, labor leader Rolando Olalia was murdered that year. During the election period alone, 35 of its members were killed.  Jose Maria Sison, the party’s founding chair, was forced to go on exile in The Netherlands after his passport was canceled by the Aquino government. 

Politics of Change

Formed in 1999, Bayan Muna (People First) became a prominent political party by leading the campaign to oust President Joseph Estrada, charging the impeached and ousted president with plunder, among others.

Owing much to its role in the ouster of Estrada, BM became widely accepted by various sectors in society.  It topped the party-list elections in the May 2001 elections.

 “This is the third time that the Left has participated and won in Congress. We hope this time around it won’t happen again,” Satur says referring to the bitter experience of the Left in electoral politics.

“We should persevere, we should persist in bringing the people’s agenda in Congress.  We should not concede that electoral politics only belongs to traditional politicians and reactionaries,” he says.

Satur adds that Bayan Muna continues to organize people from the grassroots and strengthen its alliance with the middle forces.  “If we do not persist, we will be encouraging the monopoly of traditional politicians in legislation,” he said. 

Bayan Muna welcomes the entry of other progressive political parties who are entering the realm of electoral politics and will be participating in the elections this May.  “It’s experimental,” he says, adding that it would gauge the acceptability of the progressive political parties which are sectoral in character.

Clean and honest political party

In the Pulse Asia survey conducted Feb. 16 – 20 this year, Bayan Muna topped 44 other party-list groups garnering an average vote of 10.2 percent which is 6.4 percent higher than the second in the list.

“It is proof that the people have accepted Bayan Muna as a dignified political party which advocates clean and honest public service,” Satur says.

The political party has been outstanding in its defense of the interest of workers and peasants, the urban poor and the consumers by pushing for the increase of the minimum wage and campaigning against the Purchase Power Adjustment (PPA). It has also continuously defended the country’s sovereignty by opposing the Balikatan exercises and the return of U.S. troops in the country.  It actually led some members of the House to form the Legislators Against War (LAW), Satur says.

Bayan Muna has also led a congressional investigation on the effect of globalization in agricultural and local industry productions.

Under BM, over 600 projects amounting to about P230 million were implemented in small towns and provinces.  Projects were mainly for building roads, school buildings, water systems and medical assistance.  “Our funds are translated to projects for the people,” Satur says.  “Even if some detractors say we are giving government funds to the New People’s Army, they have no evidence.”

Satur however clarified that Bayan Muna has no illusions that its advocacies can be easily processed and passed through Congress.  “We cannot achieve fundamental change unless there are basic reforms in the party system, in government and economic policies,” he said.

The principal form of parliamentary struggle is still the parliamentary of the streets, he said.  Bulatlat.com

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