During the 80’s, when student activism was at its height towards the end of the martial law years, discussion about political realities was something we breathed and lived in University. Without social media then, political activism was debated openly by coeds in the Palma Hall lobby and acted out in street marches. It was not at all odd to hear students marching on the corridors chanting “Makibaka!” as they led the crowd onto the streets.
In those years, I read about politically controversial writers and activists, whose works I would often need for PoliSci research papers I needed to finish. And one of those names was of an activist named Edicio Dela Torre—a personality that I unexpectedly chanced upon decades later. To me, Dela Torre was one of those mystical figures I had only heard or read about from some underground newspaper that only UP dared carry in its library in those years.
A former priest who took the reins of the Leftist movement in the late 70’s, Edicio dela Torre was a formidable figure who stood against the many policies of Martial Law. While I listened to him for the first time, he spoke with the same incisive critique of social and political realities as he has written for years. As he spoke, it felt like no one’s past could be any more colorful than what Mang Ed lived—from being a priest, to taking up the cause of tenancy for farmers, leaving the priesthood, joining the underground movement, being imprisoned, starting his own family, and to becoming a government bureaucrat after Martial Law.
As he shared his thought-provoking discourse on the lingering perception that Filipinos do not own up to a culture, a perception rooted in a lack of national pride, the audience took heed indeed. Mang Ed continued that it is not the lack of culture that Filipinos should opine about, but the lack of reflection and historical perspective that we have as a people for our colonial past. One begins to ponder if it were not possible that what defines us as Filipinos is exactly that what all our colonial forefathers made us become: first, rooted in an abiding faith in God; second, devoted to our family; and, being adaptable and accommodating to a fault. To me, it was his offer that as a people, we should begin to embrace the very contradictions that define us culturally that struck a note.
To listen to intellectuals like Edicio Dela Torre, one needs an open mind—an alternate perspective even. Yet, there is a sense that the listener must appreciate how life experiences can shape individual ideological leanings and critical views. Certainly, his humor interspersed with aspersions against the Church is something that the religious in the audience did not appreciate at best. Nonetheless, for at least an hour, as I sat in Mang Ed’s talk, it felt like I was sitting in a PoliSci class yet again. I suppose sometimes we need to be jolted a bit out of our comfort zones and to be made to reflect.
The youth today will probably never appreciate the undertones of what political activism is as we had in our time. Buffeted behind social media, it would not be surprising that the young might not see the relevance of speaking against political issues or marching the streets for a cause. Maybe, there is a redefined activism in the modern day—one starkly different from what I knew, but one, hopefully centered on reflection and a realization of the cultural contradictions we live in.