Am I a "leftist" now? Thoughts on "Dekada '70" and the bungled Philippines.

In light of the celebration of Buwan ng Wikang Filipino ( Month of Philippine National Language ) this month, I am aiming to read one or two Filipino books within .. this month. :D

Now, first victim, this little book. 

The book and the Filipino celebrities who were cast in the film adaptation

Picture courtesy of an apparent Vilma Santos Fan. ( From, I guess you better read that page first though. Also, it summarizes/reviews the book more concisely than me. :D  )

Until I started reading, I barely know about it. I have known that the plot revolves around the story of a family living in the 1970s when the country was mostly experiencing great turmoil. The period is also a dark chapter for the most part in recent Philippine history. For me, it is mostly not arguable except for the die-hard Marcos loyalists that we can trace the cause of most of the bad state of affairs of this f*cked up Republic to this period, i.e. Marcos borrowing large sums of money to be eventually stolen and transferred to his personal coffers . (Oh, butthurt loyalist? Try reading this.)  ABS-CBN even made a film adaptation many years ago which I still haven't watched. Yep, I'm not that interested in movies.

The book was handed (leased? Not sure.) to me by my cousin Apple. Back in March, I slept over in the house of one of our cousins in Alabang, just beside theirs. What happened was, the night before, I went to SM Mall of Asia to watch the last show for this year of the annual Pyromusical Competition held there. It was too late for me to go back to Laguna so I opted to come there. Well, I could sleep at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 but I guess it is time to make an appearance since the last time I was there was December. Then come morning, Sunday, sensing I was there she went from their house and chatted with me. Later she went back to her house to get the book and handed it to me, along with another one written by Nicholas Sparks.

Great, it took me five months to start reading that. And I have around 200 books marked as "To-Read" in Goodreads.


So, I do think this is a VERY VERY GREAT BOOK! It does succeed at entertaining, educating and opening up our eyes to the problems of the country and the world in general, then and now. There are topics that are quite in-depth but Ms. Bautista succeeds in making sure that the reader understands the topic at hand, including but not limited to, its causes, effects and probable solutions. 

The story is written as a narrative of the protagonist Amanda Bartolome. She is a housewife of an ambitious engineer, Julian. As with their original families, they were considered middle-class thanks to Julian's profession. Profession, profession - something that Amanda keeps on pondering about. Well, hers is obviously being a housewife but I think as with almost every people, she is always pondering whether if she can be more than that. Attempts to realize that however are warded off by the cold shoulder treatments of his husband in the form of saying "It's a man's world!" and the likes up to insisting patriarchy rules by saying in a very aggressive manner that as long as he lives, Amanda won't have to work. The Philippines at that time is only around 20 years independent, most of cultural values and norms that were a result of occupation, were still prevalent; that would include the societal notion that women are just meant for bearing children, being a housewife, housekeeper. To spice it up, the author decided that Amanda would be some sort of an ignorant person with respect to the unfolding events and some matters like ideology battles at that era while being constantly juxtaposed against the well-educated husband Julian. With these, I do think Ms. Bautista is trying to up the ante with regard to feminism. Another evidence would be,the case of how she pores over on the contribution of the wife of Amanda's son Jules,  whom the third met in the quest for the "armed struggle". As with the book, I barely know Ms. Bautista so I don't know if she's a feminist, but well, I'm all for equality! YAY!

As someone living in 2014, born in the early 90s but educated starting late 90s, I find the wordings and the manner of conversations quite dated - of course. Hehehe. I realized that not a few ideas/feelings are expressed quite differently then than now. 

The book might be classified as fiction, but for the most part it is not. What's fictional is Amanda and her family's story. Most of the activities and events narrated in the book happened as exactly as described or maybe in a one slightly different way or another. Often, the actual events dictate closely what happens next. 

It looks to me that had I read this earlier especially during the first two years of my college life, I could be seen rallying as part of the leftists on campus. I could be shouting "Ibagsak ang rehimeng US-Arroyo/Aquino!" (Down with the US-Arroyo/Aquino regime!),  "Gloria/Noynoy, tuta ng Kano!" ("Gloria/Noynoy, puppets of the US!" Actually 'tuta' means puppy but in English 'puppets' would be the most appropriate word to be used for this translation. Oh random though, maybe the similarity between 'puppets' and 'puppy' could mean something?) . Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino are the 14th and 15th (current, term 2010-2016) Presidents of the Republic of the Philippines. Though that ""Ibagsak ang rehimeng US-<insert Philippine president here>!" is quite dated for most people for now ( I can even recall seeing pamphlets where Marcos is the president), all i can say is that, it makes sense. While I have read and was educated about imperialism, for example the effect of multinational companies on a country's economy (in our case American ones in our soil), only upon reading this did what those leftists keep on blurting out struck a chord with me. ( Or wait, am I being indoctrinated by this piece of communist propaganda shit? Hail Marx, Engels, Stalin, Lenin, Mao! )  That sticky point is presented in the book like this:

  •  American multi-national companies "invest" here mainly due to our "cheap labor" and this brings about the presence of the US Military which another fact that most leftists in the country, then and now, resent. As they say, such presence makes the country vulnerable to attacks of the USA's opponents (i.e. Communist bloc), plus other thousand grievances like a thriving prostitution industry.
  • In the name of more profit, corner-cutting is rampant - includes working in hazardous conditions without additional pay or provision for safety gear. Ms. Bautista features a story (I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I can say that from my understanding of that period, I believe it's of the earlier) of a mine worker who was narrated to be working without any kind of protection within a gold mine and in addition subjected to X-Rays upon completion of the day's work, to check if they are not smuggling out such precious product of the company. Of course, radiation effects, he's now sick, kicked out by the company and with practically non-existent pro-worker labor practices as a result for preparing the country to be an 'ideal' investment destination, has nowhere to go but suffer.
  • Profits made by these multi-national companies are then sent back to their home countries, especially to the US. And most probably, the monies will end up being loaned to the Philippines by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. And they will profit again on the sweat of the hard-earned tax money of the Filipinos.

With these, some questions could not be avoided to be asked.

One would be..

Why was there an implied need for multi-national companies to setup business here? Can't we manufacture our own products? Why not carry out "national industrialization" ?
  Oh "national industrialization". It's been a while since I met you - I remember you were one of the sticky points in the peace talks between the goverment and the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (NDF). I have read the post-war part of  "Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People" so I think I have some reputation to be answering here. I think it has something to do with those companies being more experienced. Or it could be that, developing the own, homegrown competitor is costlier and no one's willing to kickstart it, be it the government or private sector (banks). By the time that industrialization was being decided by those on the seats of power (1950s to early 60s), the country is independent for only a few years, recovering from war (I don't think the war reparations are that large or were not used properly) and I assume the coffers are not that big yet. So government might not have the risk appetite to draw from its own coffers or make a sovereign loan. The same goes for banks except for the sovereign loan. 
  Now, compare that with South Korea. I can't recall reading about sovereign debts they incurred but strongman Park Chung-Hee,  somewhat using his Martial Law powers wisely unlike the one he imitated which was Marcos, forced South Korean banks and the banking system in general to fund his country's industrialization, fund homegrown companies and though the process was not easy with some bankcruptcies on the way, we can safely say the likes of Hyundai-KIA are standing proud today, as well as the rest of South Korea. Oh no, I now remember, I should finish reading that "A History of Korea" by Michael J. Seth.

Also, the ever thorny problem of land reform is featured, which traces itself to the *#(*^@!&*%!#&%#&%!&#%* spanish [lowercase intended, those ()#()*#)@*(&(!^($%)#__%(()#*!!! colonizers!!!!] occupation. To give a brief background and from what I recall, it seems to me pre-colonial Filipinos don't have the concept of private ownership of land. They planted, harvested and shared crops together for hundreds of years before fate had it that Fernando Magallanes reached Leyte Province. Then here these colonizers come, royalty issues a decree saying that all lands in the country now owned by the crown, crown grants most of the land to the favored colonizers (encomienderos) as well as that thing called the roman catholic church [lowercase intended]. Common people are now made to work for the so-called 'encomienderos'. While the original aims of the system seem noble, encomienda led to widespread system abuse resulting to brutal treatment of Filipinos, and the worse of it all, loss of traditional, enough sources of livelihood for those who depend on the land. This is due again to the abuse of the encomienderos, collecting more tax than what it is right. Oftentimes, these supposed land grants were overlooked/forgotten about and were made personal property of those in-charge of it. Throughout the years, ownership of land changed as they were sold (Gawd! Making money on something not theirs in the first place!) while those tilling the soil, well, still living their hand-to-mouth existence. Maybe there were a few who became wealthy but pretty much all of them remained poor, powerless as ever. With that and the practically non-existent education system for the Filipino masses, the elite eventually solidified their control over the lands through acquisitions from here and there under the very noses of these poor people. Where did their money come from? I dunno, maybe salary from being a  civil servant, winning the lottery (heck, even our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal was lucky enough). Well that's not important. As I see it, these land owners really treat agricultural professions as being lowly thus the rush to become an owner of vast tracts of land and make your asset bring money for you without much effort - your servants (the uneducated, poor masses) will do it for you. Now, as an enthusiast of History, that leads me to a question -

-  Did we learn this aversion to back-breaking job of tilling the land from the colonizers,

  •         directly via their explicit statements or actions of looking down upon people in such occupation; or
  •         indirectly - since the share of the harvest of the land is not fair and not enough to sustain him/her or his/her family, then why bother doing it for the rest of your life?

 ... or the pre-colonial Filipinos have that mentality already before colonization? 

  •  So far, I cannot find anything that can rebutt this hypothesis.

Okay, now cycle continues on and on until the setting in the book. What's different this time is, more and more of these practically landless "masses" come to the city in search of better opportunities as I have narrated above. Being unskilled, un or insufficiently educated, they end up taking blue-collar jobs and exploited by another type of capitalists this time, the company owners. More often than not, they are content with the jobs they have and don't find the need to demand things like healthy working conditions, safety equipment if not additional benefits - and these are what these capitalists exploit in the name of more profit. And this brings me to another question...

  • How much profit is enough really for  a win-win situation? Shouldn't the business owner deserve profit as much as possible because he took the risk of investing his capital in this capital-obsessive capitalist world, where the loss of such results to a less secure future for him/her? On the other hand, shouldn't we consider that most of the production was made possible because of the sweat and blood of the workers?

Great! I now feel being a Historian/Social Scientist! Nah, not really joking, these matters are one of my hidden interests. Haha.

Anyway back to the book, so much for land issues in the country. Oh I'm so sorry, I've been longing to blog about that for very long now since I have read the Kasaysayan... book. It opened my eyes after all this time, or maybe, wider. It made me think deeper and deeper and deeper. As someone just venturing out into the open world (barely two years after college), the book has many life lessons to potentially guide and inspire us all.

Maybe for closing, I really like how witty Ms. Bautista is at times. There was this one scene where Amanda and Julian seems to be now separating, and one of the reasons cleverly disguised on Julian doing "it" being called by Amanda "The Rabbit", because that's how rabbits do "it" fast, though the real cause is much deeper.

Okay, only these for now. It's 06:13  (AM) as I finish this and I'm still not sleeping. Boo. And start of classes tomorrow! Wahhh! Well, most probably the first week is not that academically loaded per experience.

Oh by the way, so far, SO FAR, I consider myself leftist. However to be precise, in the so-called '"left-right" political spectrum', I tend to be at the middle but leaning to the left thus effectively making me belong to the "Center-Left". Oh no no no, before you imagine horrible ideas of me being a leftist, think about for some time, isn't our healthcare (PHILHEALTH) and social security program (Social Security System, SSS) leftist in nature? 

Read, be informed.

Related Links: