|Who is Antonio Zumel: 'Our people's interests come first' - Page 3|
|Written by Antonio Zumel|
|Sunday, 01 June 2008 12:54|
Page 3 of 3
My NPC days
I and my barkada (circle of friends) in the Herald and in the other papers were habitues of the NPC from the very day the clubhouse was inaugurated in 1955. We were fixtures at the bar or restaurant. Mga batang klub talaga. We naturally got interested — and were actively involved — in press club politics. At first, I was just content supporting candidates. But I was soon running for a seat in the board of directors myself. I've lost track of the number of times I served in the board — perhaps as many as 12 or 13. I should have run for the presidency earlier, but I kept deferring to friends and seniors in the profession who were interested in the position. I remember an occasion when, as chairman of the NPC House Committee, I was approached by Dr. Roberto Clavecilla, president of the RCPI Communications which was renting space at the NPC's ground floor. There was a strike at the RCPI at that time, and Clavecilla wanted me to drive out the strikers from the NPC grounds and unto the sidewall. I glared at Clavecilla and said no, the strikers had our permission to stay within our premises. I went down to the picket line later that day and gave the strikers a pep talk. On another occasion, I stopped food deliveries to scabs at the RCA Communications, another tenant of ours. My affinity for the working class was undergoing consolidation.
On another occasion, I stopped food deliveries to scabs at the RCA Communications, another tenant of ours. My affinity for the working class was undergoing consolidation. After so many stints in the NPC board, I finally ran for the presidency in 1969 and won. It was soon afterwards that I had my first contact with people in the national democratic movement. How this came about is a story in itself.
One day, my attention was caught by a news item saying the entire staff of an obscure newspaper in Dumaguete City — the Dumaguete Times — had been arrested by the military and local police and was being held incommunicado. We tried to make contact with the imprisoned newsmen, but were refused by the authorities. We — the NPC, the various beat clubs in Manila and the provincial press clubs — raised a ruckus. I rang up an old friend, Doy Laurel, then chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice, and together we enplaned for Dumaguete City and later, Bacolod City. We traveled overland to Cadiz City in northern Negros Occidental where we finally met the young staffers of the Dumaguete Times — Hermie Garcia, his wife Mila Astorga, Noel Etabag, Vic Clemente and Philidore Quinco. They were being held by Armando Gustilo's terrorist blackshirts. Gustilo was the reigning warlord in northern Negros even then.
Mila, who was only 20 years old and not long married, said Gustilo had wanted her to admit being a "subversive." He had threatened to let loose his blackshirts and do as they pleased with her unless she confessed. Hayop talaga. Offers of legal assistance came from various sources, notably the lawyer-members of the Negros Press Club. We later launched a fund-raising campaign to bail out the imprisoned journalists who turned out to have been members of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM, Patriotic Youth). It did not matter much to me whether they were journalists of the committed or "objective" type. What mattered was that they were fellow journalists in trouble who urgently needed the help of their colleagues.
After their release, Hermie, Mila and Vic furnished me printed political materials from time to time. We also sat down now and then for short political discussions. I thus had my first exposure to national democratic thought.
Our people were witnesses to — and participants in — the explosion of popular political energy in the first three months of the following year which has come to be known as the First Quarter Storm of 1970. The surging mass movement was committed to extirpate the roots of our country's problems — imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism — and attain genuine national independence, democracy and progress. More and more, I attended national mobilizations by the national democratic organizations and alliances. We made the NPC accessible to the mass leaders who had something to say to the press.
I ran for reelection in 1970. Our political opponents tried to make an issue out of my political commitment. I decided to meet the issue squarely. In the club's annual convention that preceded the election, I and other progressive journalists introduced a resolution aligning the NPC with our people's movement for fundamental change in our society. The resolution was adopted without any serious opposition. We won a second term in office.
Very soon, I was in more serious and systematic political discussions with colleagues whose political awakening had preceded mine — Satur Ocampo of the Manila Times and Bobbie Malay of Taliba and Manila Times, and Heny Romero of Taliba. I was soon getting invited to speak before political gatherings. I often obliged even if I could not get over my stage fright, and my political education had not been as extensive as might have been desired.
A subject of discussion and debate at that time with some of our conservative colleagues, among them columnists, was the political involvement of journalists and the NPC. The NPC was a purely social club, they said, and should stay that way. And reporters are supposed to be "objective," they added, and how could they be so if they were "committed"? Our reply was that the NPC was not just a clubhouse, a bar and a restaurant. It was people, and not just people but Filipino people who should care for their country and people. Just because a Filipino happened to be a journalist did not mean he should abdicate his responsibilities as a Filipino. As for being "objective," nobody was completely that since one's standpoint and viewpoint were molded by one's social class, upbringing and environment. If the self-righteous columnists could be so free in voicing their opinions on any subject, the reporter could not be less free in voicing his opinions and taking a stand on matters directly touching the lives of our country and people.
Before the end of our second term, we figured in another controversial case, that of Quintin and Rizal Yuyitung, publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively, of the Chinese Commercial News, or plain "CCN" as it was nicknamed. Sons of the CCN's founder who chose death rather than collaborate with the Japanese fascists, Quintin and Rizal refused to toe the line of the Chinese Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) in Manila.
As a result, they were framed by the Kuomintang, with the connivance of the Marcos regime which was a recipient of Kuomintang largesse. In the distorted logic of the Kuomintang and Marcos, the fiercely independent Yuyitung brothers were "subversive" because they printed stories not derogatory to the People's Republic of China.
In solidarity with them, I often attended hearings at the Commission on Immigration at which their lawyers, Joker Arroyo and Johnny Quijano, ably-argued their case. Before the conclusion of the case, however, the Yuyitungs were kidnapped by the regime and flown to Taiwan where they were virtually fed to the lions. They were tried in a kangaroo court and were convicted. Rizal was sentenced to three years in prison, Quintin to two.
We raised a cry of outrage that reverberated worldwide, but to no avail. We were in Taiwan for the trial — me, Chino Roces of the Philippine Press Institute, Max Soliven of the Manila Overseas Press Club and Anding Roces of the Philippine-Chinese Friendship Society. Anding was so disgusted he junked the PCFS. He later helped found and headed the Association for Philippines-China Understanding, with links to the People's Republic of China.
I continued to be the object of criticism by some of our conservative colleagues, but my commitment merely grew firmer. And the NPC remained open as a forum for the national democratic movement as well as other progressive forces.
On the following year, 1971, we supported for the presidency an outstanding colleague of proven progressive sentiments, Amando Doronila of the Daily Mirror (later of the Manila Chronicle). He won hands down. His own political convictions were to be further sharpened in August of that year when, after the infamous Plaza Miranda bombing, Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and ordered a roundup of progressives and other opponents and critics of his regime.
Our candidate for the presidency the following year, 1972, was another progressive colleague, the veteran political writer Eddie Monteclaro of the Manila Times. Eddie won and, like Amando, was in the thick of the MCCCL' s struggles.
Amando was among those imprisoned by the Marcos regime in the first days of martial law, while Eddie was placed on city arrest. As already mentioned, I went underground on the night of martial law (Satur Ocampo and Bobbie Malay had gone underground earlier). Before then, Satur and I had joined a small collective which was the original Preparatory Committee for the National Democratic Front (NDF). We had a few sessions, mostly exploratory, and it was not until we were underground that we and other comrades could work in earnest on our tasks. I'm happy to say that I was part of the first collective that put out Liberation, the NDF's official publication, in October 1972, thus helping break the Marcos dictatorship's mass media monopoly.
In the first days of martial law, Satur, Bobbie and I shared in the agony and anger of colleagues in the Philippine press whose freedoms had been so blatantly and ruthlessly violated. We cheered them on, from where we were, in all their efforts to regain those freedoms. Since going underground in 1972, in our guerrilla zones and in the urban underground movement, I have been making my own humble contributions to our people's overall revolutionary struggles for national liberation and social emancipation.
Some footnotes before we conclude this long interview: I have three children. I have been divorced from my previous wife due to lack of political and personal compatibility, in large part because of my own faults and shortcomings. I have since remarried, and my wife is a comrade in the national democratic revolutionary movement.
During the Marcos years — before and during martial law — some colleagues suggested in their writings that I was proving to be an "embarrassment" to the Marcoses due to my activities in the anti-dictatorship struggle. I did have kith and kin — near and distant — in the Marcos regime. These included my brother Yob, Marcos himself, Gen. Fabian Ver (my father was from Sarrat), and Maj. Gen. Ignacio Paz. In addition, there were numerous boyhood friends and contemporaries in Laoag who held high office in the civilian government. I have never denied them, and I don't intend to. The point I wish to make is that our people's interests come above all else; the personal or political embarrassment of individuals is of little consequence. Friends and even comrades have sometimes asked me how come my political development took a path completely different from that of my brother, the general. Before martial law, our colleague and friend Tibo Mijares even joked that we Zumels were seguristas, that we were placing our bets on all sides.
The simple truth is that my brother and I were separated early (I was not quite 15, and he was only 12), and our training and environment differed. While I could only shake my head in sadness over his service to the regime, I'm happy to learn that while a great many officials in the regime were plundering our people's wealth, he generally kept his nose clean and leads a simple life — in keeping with our parents' preachings from childhood. If I could make a wish, I would wish that my brother liberate his mind from the narrow training he got at the PMA and elsewhere in the AFP, and cast his lot with our people instead of continuing to serve in an institution that oppresses them. That fond wish would go not only for my brother Yob, but for his fellow officers and the entire rank-and-file of the AFP.
[This article was first published in the June 1986 issue of Liberation, the underground magazine of the National Demcratic Front of the Philippines.]