|Encounters with Tony Zumel|
|Written by Bobby Tuazon|
|Sunday, 15 August 2004 03:00|
A book review of Radical Prose: Selected Writings of Antonio Zumel
To some extent, I had known or had crossed paths with Antonio Zumel during the Marcos years, during peace negotiations with the Aquino government in 1986-1987 and until he left the Philippines as a political refugee in the Netherlands two years later. Then I saw him again in early 2001 when he came to the country for the formal resumption of peace talks with the Arroyo government.
Zumel was an affable person who can put you at ease. He would usually crack jokes in-between throwing punches at government and this made you and your friends more attentive to what he is saying. He had this knack of whistling with two different but simultaneous tunes - a skill, I thought then, no other person could match. I recall some old Frank Sinatra hits he would sing with gusto but I would learn later, during last week's launching of the book, Radical Prose: Selected Writings at the Balai Kalinaw in UP Diliman, that he also had other repertoire of favorites.
I became the writer and he the interviewee when, covering for the Philippine News and Features, I held interviews with the negotiators from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) during the first peace talks with government following the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. I followed him up in the heart of the Cordillera near Sagada, Mt. Province when he, along with Luis Jalandoni and lawyer Romeo Capulong, spoke before the Cordillera People's Democratic Front in early 1987. He was always in his element among the masses.
Manong (brother) Tony (or TZ, as others would call him) was somewhat a different person upon coming home three years ago. At that time, he was weakened by an ailment that, according to some acquaintances, forced him to stay in and out of hospital in the Netherlands. Despite his failing health, he could still hold his pen and write political statements not only as an NDFP senior adviser but also against detractors of the Front. He died on Aug. 13, 2001 at the age of 69.
One gets to know Zumel better by reading Radical Prose, an anthology of news articles and essays he wrote as a journalist from the 1960s to the time he became news editor of Manila Bulletin and two-time president of the National Press Club; as an editor of Ang Bayan (The People) and Liberation - two major underground publications among many that lit the fire of the anti-Marcos dictatorship struggle; and as a leader of the NDFP.
The book's post-script has Zumel's own article, "Our People's Interests Come First" , which was first published in the June 1986 issue of Liberation. Here, Zumel essentially writes about his transformation from being born to a not-so humble beginning in Laoag, Ilocos Norte far north of Manila to working as a casual laborer at a war surplus dump near UP Diliman, to being a copy boy, a reporter and a union leader. He was a friend and a buddy to almost every reporter in Manila and was a regular at the NPC in Intramuros, Manila. All this time, however, he proved himself to be a man for the downtrodden and a man who kept his integrity intact. Upon the outbreak of the FQS - the spark that fired the national democratic struggle in the Philippines - he was ready. He went underground when martial law was declared in 1972. From that time on, he would tell later in his life, "there was no turning back."
The postscript is just a fitting recap to the whole breadth of the book, from Chapters 1 to 3, which compile Zumel's writings from 1960s until the twilight of his years. The articles of his younger reportorial days include accounts of his coverage of the presidency and some special reports such as his observations during a tour of China before martial law. Even before his exposure to radical politics of the early 1970s, Zumel already takes his pen to the heart of the matter: a dig into the profligacy of the rich and injustice to the poor, exposes' about graft and corruption, the politics of the US Peace Corps volunteer program and critique of government's anti-China policy. One senses the quantum leap of Zumel's political consolidation in his articles from the underground.
Write for the people
Zumel epitomizes the writer who chose to bring journalism to the people, nay, who chose to write for the people. But he also believed that sometimes one has to turn the pen into a sword in order to fight tyranny and class rule.
Having gone through the thick and thin of the revolution, Zumel had the conviction to say a few months before he died: "Those of us who are getting on in years can only look with satisfaction and pride on the swelling ranks of the revolutionary movement that now fights for our people's national and democratic rights, and in the future, for socialism."
Radical Prose is published by the Antonio Zumel Center for Press Freedom and the First Quarter Storm Movement (FQSM) and was launched last Aug. 11. Bulatlat