Thank you for welcoming this traveler. This is truly a homecoming as it was here, on this campus, where we began -- members of an intrepid generation marked by a restless spirit, young men and women who set out to remake their universe and in the process, changed themselves. Wonderful indeed was the creativity that made us seek -- not the alien and rare, not the strange nor the different -- but rather the familiar, the common, the ordinary; the truth embodied in the lives of our people, the Filipino people. In a further paradox, the closer we got to the common truth of our people's lives, the more strange and the more alien we became to the power structure of this country.
Thinking of all these things, make me want to shout: imperialismo! [audience response: ibagsak!]
JMS: At Home in The World bears the names of two persons, who are controversial only to those who build and subscribe to a construct of lies enslaving this country. I am happy to see the book forging ahead like a tsunami, washing away the deceit by which corporate culture holds us enthralled in subservience and puppetry. And I am certainly glad that one of the names associated with a book of such power is female. Being an advocate for women’s voices to resound in all concerns and all conduct of life, both significant and insignificant, I hope this book will smoothen, if not actually open, the way, for a deluge of works by women in the philosophical, theoretical and ideological sphere. I would like, if I may, to task all the women in this audience with this responsibility.
This book was the most difficult I have ever worked on. It did not take as much time nor require as much concentration as State of War – which took six versions @ 500 ms pages each when there were no computers; nor did it require the painful emotional engagement which demanded by Twice Blessed. JMS: At Home in the World was difficult because it required a different kind of sensibility from me – a sensibility with which, fortunately, Prof. Sison is most familiar.
Prof. Sison is always interesting; he walks around seemingly wrapped in "interesting times," as the old Chinese saying goes. What intrigued me in this project was the possibility of studying the interplay between objective and subjective reality, between an individual and the social structures that created the paradigm of his life, between the character of the man and the character of the times he lived in. Add to that the fact that I also lived in the times which created and which were created by this man. We who write like to think of ourselves as objective and impartial but working on this book required that I look at my own participation in those historic times. I was perforce forced to engage in my own summing up.
The book then can be approached through several levels. It can be seen, as many choose to see it, as an account of Prof. Sison’s exile. How does someone who had struggled for his people's liberation all his life contend with the bone-crushing anguish of exile? You will find this in the book.
The book can also be approached as something of a batayang kurso, a study manual, by which to understand the logic of the national democratic movement and look at the world through the eyes of a revolutionary. It was Prof. Sison's intentions to have a book useful to the masses and masses of young Filipinos. The book is a sustained polemic on systems of oppression created by colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism, as well as a sustained polemic on the ideological challenges which confronted, continues to confront and will confront the revolutionary movement.
On a different level, one can look at it as a summing up of the reasons
why someone like Prof. Sison, who has no class interest at stake in the
revolution, would engage in it, simply because at an early age, he was
convinced of its correctness. This is where he and I meet, I believe,
both of us being hard-core intellectuals engaged in the constant process
of transforming ourselves to that point where our individual histories
become inseparable from the histories of many, many, many Filipinos. The
book then can be read as two persons' expression of a deep and abiding
affection for this land, its people and its history.
The US government has no right to make judgement on what happens in this country. Wala silang k... The minuscule of moral authority they may have had -- and I even deny that they had even the smallest of the smallest of this kind of authority -- they lost way back in the 1970s when they empowered and supported the Dictator Marcos in oppressing us, suppressing us, killing us, torturing us. Two decades, my friends, of being blind and being deaf to the anguish of our people, two decades of supporting a murderous spree by a dictator whose morbid clan-commitment to thanatopsis continues, as symbolized by the embalmed, refrigerated and unburied body of Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Who killed Dr. Juan Escandor? Who killed Dr. Bobby de la Paz? Who killed Liliosa Hilao? Who killed Jessica Sales? Who killed Lean Alejandro? Who killed Ka Lando Olalia? How come the murderers of our people are not terrorists? Ten thousand of us fought for ten years to get a judgement from a US court over the human rights violations committed by the Marcos regime. The US, supposedly the sole remaining superpower in the world today, cannot even implement the guilty verdict rendered by its own court, by its own judicial system, in favor of the 10,000 litigants against the Marcos Estate. The irony is that the Marcos tort case was the precedence for the Holocaust victims' claims against the Swiss banks -- which promptly paid due compensation. But Filipinos, it would seem, will have to wait forever for justice.
But when it comes to stealing resources like the Malampaya reserves, when it comes to vilifying people and organizations resisting invasion, occupation and exploitation, matulin pa sa alas kuwatro! Faster than a speeding bullet. If the US wants to be a moral authority in the Philippines, let it ensure the implementation of the judgement rendered by the US court against the Marcos Estate. This should be simple enough for the sole superpower in the world today.
We should take such reactions as indicating how words can become a material force in society. As much work and as much danger this book represents to the two authors, one of whom is simply a woman who writes, it also represents a fulfillment, that kind writers dream of. In the series of book gatherings and launches I have attended -- and I am sorry that Prof. Sison cannot be with us -- I have seen the words of this book become a material force. To witness one's words inspire such a response of strength and power -- happy na rin ang writer.
It mitigates against the fear -- one which afflicts all of us who engage in cultural work -- that in this era of unprecedented globalization, such a degree of standardization would become so pervasive that we would have the same food, the same drinks, the same music, the same television shows and movies, and the same five books. We shall think the same thoughts in paean to the ruling powers. We shall be immersed in the boredom of soulless commercialization and consumption without satisfaction.
Two nights ago, I considered emailing Prof. Sison about mangoes. In the book, you will find an excellent poem called "Sometimes the heart yearns for mangoes where there are only apples…" When an exile speaks of mangoes, that refers to the Cebu mango, that plump-cheeked fruit so golden it seems to be the sun made flesh. I had gone to a supermarket and seen only Dole mangoes, the same tasteless, easy-to-pack mangoes one finds in California, New York and other parts of the world. I thought I 'd send Joema an email saying, "there are only Dole mangoes here" – which would sadden him, as it is indicative of how much of the common stuff of Filipino everyday life we are losing under imperialism, the common stuff which is at the same time unique and extraordinary. As we all know, there are no mangoes in the world quite like our mangoes.
And that is my last thought on this book -- that it can be seen as a celebration of the extraordinary in the Filipino. That such a quality should be epitomized by a person whose ideas represent the vision of millions of ordinary people, the common tao, is not a contradiction. Rather, it is an affirmation that a life lived in the service of the Filipino people has been, is, and will always be interesting, unique and extraordinary. Thank you. ###