By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City- The social hall of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop was filled with mostly young people intent on finding out how life was under the cloak of a dictator. Born at a time of digital age which accords everyone absolute, often abused freedoms of expression, it must be hard for the youth to fathom the fear and death pervading during the Martial rule (formally Sept. 21, 1972-January 17, 1981) of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.
After Susan Quimpo, author of “Subversive Lives”, shared the harrowing experiences of her sister and brothers in the hands of the military, one millennial asked, how does one heal after such experience in the family? The 56-year-old Quimpo, the youngest of the family of 10, said there is no healing for such atrocity, I only wish it won’t happen again.
Together with poet Chris Santiago who launched his poetry book Tula (poem in Pilipino), the AAWW sponsored the book event on March 4, 2017 memorializing victims of the Martial Law in the Philippines. Mr. Noel Pangilinan, editor of AAWW’s Open City online publication, facilitated the forum which was co-sponsored by the Fil-Am Press Club of New York.
“Subversive Lives” took Quimpo 24 years to finish for it was a painful process to go through. She had to contend with some of her siblings who were against writing about it while others chose to be quiet. “When I wrote painful memories, I would cry and not be able to write for two weeks,” said Quimpo.
She mustered strength to finish the book in 2012 which she co-authors with older brother Nathan Gilbert Quimpo. It was published by the Anvil Publishing in 2012 and the Ohio University Press in 2016.
The family memoir details the death of one of the Quimpo brothers, the disappearance of one other and the incarceration of five, in the growing social restlessness against the Marcos authoritarianism and economic crisis in the Philippines.
For Quimpo, the larger reason for publishing her book is the come-back of the Marcoses to power. She said they are courting the millennials, who knew nothing of the Martial law years. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., with the support of Pres. Duterte, ran for vice president in the last Philippine elections which signals their interest to seize political power in the national arena.
In a sweet tone, Quimpo bravely posits that Marcos was not a hero as he claimed to be. He has amassed billions of money from the Philippine government and his family has hired a lot of writers that put in wrong claims on the Wikipedia such as being a decorated soldier, said Quimpo.
The Philippine government had long lost its claim for the Marcos’s ill-gotten wealth because of a muddled and disappearing paper trail. Philippine schools have not incorporated narratives and lessons of Martial Law in its history subjects, making the youth unaware of how a despotic rule looks like as it melded through widespread corruption at the time of Pres. Marcos.
She has partnered with various schools in the Philippines to share her family memoir with young students in a bid to enlighten them of the excesses of political power.
Quimpo, an art therapist and Journalism graduate of the Ohio University and Columbia University, said the dark times have started to loom and we should not let it happen again.
Pres. Marcos was elected in 1965 and declared Martial Law to quash the growing communist insurgency in the Philippines. He abolished Congress in 1973 that amassed to himself absolute powers. He was deposed in a popular uprising and military coup d’tat in February 1986 and fled to Hawaii with his family. Since his presidency, the Philippines continued to experience centuries old socio-economic inequities on a mantle of graft and corruption and feudal economy and culture that benefit a few political oligarchic families. Acute poverty remained pervasive, hence the ceaseless diaspora of Filipinos.
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