An activist son

A reader asks why I chose and continue to be an activist. I replied by attaching an article I wrote which was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in the Youngblood column about three years ago. Here it is….

I CAN still remember my father telling me not to join any fraternity or activist organization on my first day as a freshman at the University of the Philippines back in 1996. He was very convincing with his warning: I would end up as dead meat if I became a member of the first; and a heartless, godless communist by joining the second.

Of course, my father was exaggerating. But I could not blame him for thinking that way since many Filipinos have the same false impressions about the two distinct organizations.

By the time I graduated from UP two years ago, I was an active member of the most radical student organization on campus and a full-fledged member of a young fraternity.

It was quite easy to make my father understand that I ended up disobeying his order not because I was rebelling against him. What he cannot completely understand to this day is why I am still very passionately involved in militant causes.

I love describing to my friends the look of shock and unbelief on my father’s face the day he found out I had become an activist. One quiet Sunday evening, I appeared for the family dinner wearing a white T-shirt with the portraits of Marx, Lenin and Mao staring at my father and the fighting words: "Workers of the world unite!” He thought it was just a cheap shirt I bought in Baguio’s famous ukay-ukay, so he convinced himself and my mother that I would never really be a member of any radical student group. Later that evening, when my elder sister was going over her macroeconomics textbook, I handed her the Shanghai book on socialist economy and planning, much to her chagrin and that of my parents.

The next few months saw me undergoing rigorous training and maturing as an activist as well as the continuing self-denial of my parents that their eldest son had indeed become one. My mother once told me in an amused tone of voice that it was amazing to see her son on television holding a red flag and shouting for change, but it was completely different to see him being dragged out of the House of Representatives by the marines and police for disrupting the session. My younger brother did not talk to me for a long time after our group held a lightning rally in front of the US Embassy on the very same day he was scheduled for an interview on his visa application, forcing the embassy staff to close for the day.

Once, I overheard my father telling my mother that I was just passing through a phase in life. Sooner or later, he said, I would outgrow my idealism and realize the opportunities I had missed.

But when it became obvious that my chosen "vocation” was not just a "temporary insanity," as my sister called it, my father and I had a serious talk about my life and future. He told me that when he was my age, pimples and safe sex were the only things he had to worry about. Then he asked why I wanted so much to carry the heavy burden of trying to oust the President, not to mention the many other problems of society.

I wanted to laugh after listening to him, but the probing, sober look on his face prevented me from doing so.

Next my relatives would come for a visit and try to convince me that I was a victim of some kind of indoctrination and was being used to help advance a sinister political agenda. A policeman-uncle of mine never failed to remind me that crooked traditional politicians were funding the activities of our organizations. But it was my cousin and best friend in the family who had the most humorous insight into what everyone in the family considered to be an odd direction my life had taken. My cousin began by pointing out that we had grown up together in the same neighborhood, eaten the same food and taken the same vitamins when we were young. We had attended the same Catholic school in elementary, played the same sports and watched the same television shows. So, he asked, how did I wind up being communist?

Looking back, I think I am partly to blame for my family’s lack of appreciation for my being an activist. I never bothered to sit down with them and explain carefully the nobility of what I am doing. I never made them see how much fulfillment I derive from being an activist. I wanted to tell them that the most sincere and truest persons I have ever known in my life I met in the student movement. I found the woman I will love forever in our organization. I have chosen "the road less traveled" not because of some flimsy reason or emotional weakness on my part, but because I firmly believe that it is the right thing to do.

I will forever be grateful for the love and warm affection my family has generously showered on me since I was a child. Without this love, I would never have become part of any movement seeking to make our present society a better one. It is the joy of being loved that moves a person to give love. I know that behind the fear, irritation and frustration my parents feel concerning my decision to become an activist is the deep and comforting love only parents can bear for their child. They may not always say it, but I know and I feel my family is proud of what I am doing.
Mong Palatino, 22, joined the UP Center for Nationalist Studies in 1997.


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