THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER
Roland G. Simbulan
“Let them call me a rebel and welcome,
I feel no concern from it;
But I should suffer the misery of devils,
Were I to make a whore of my soul.”
– Thomas Paine
In many parts of the world, Christians and non-Christians alike remember their dead and departed loved ones on November 1 (All Saints’ Day) and November 2 (All Souls’ Day). For me, these dates are really not just for relatives that we remember. I want to remember this as an occasion meant for people who mattered during their lifetimes and who paid in blood for a life that they devoted to others. Was it not Albert Einstein who said that “Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only thru devoting himself to society ” ?
Since the late 1960s, when I think my social consciousness matured while studying at the Ateneo de Manila High School at Loyola Heights, I have made it my advocacy to contribute to strengthening our sense of nationhood and community, and to be on the side of our struggling farmers, workers, indigenous peoples and urban poor. This strong pro-Filipino, pro-poor advocacy I think, I got from one of our Jesuit mentors whom I strongly admired and who, among our teachers, mattered, because he lived his ideas in both his theory and practice. And for this he was maligned, vilified and even hunted down like an animal by hired goons, the Philippine Constabulary, and the private army of sugar planters in Negros just because he exposed the plight of the sakadas (seasonal agricultural workers). Much later, I learned that he also lived with the urban poor in Manila and was an effective organizer for their community rights and welfare. This Jesuit mentor’s “life for others” made a deep impact on me and has inspired me throughout my life.
Not a few times, in the course of my educational advocacy and social commitment, I have been vilified , called names (like leftist, communist, agitator, radical trouble maker, etc.) , and red-baited. While still a university student, I have been detained, tortured and isolated in a 2 meter by 2 meter damp and dark bartolina (isolation cage) for months by the Marcos dictatorship. I have also been maligned by either foreign and local vested interests (or their paid spinners) who have been exposed and uncovered by my evidence-based research, writings and lectures. As a martial law political detainee in Camp Crame and Fort Bonifacio, I was charged with “subversion” by the Marcos dictatorship. But I must have done right to be considered a “subversive” to the interests of the Marcos dictatorship, the pro-U.S. oligarchy, and U.S. economic and military interests that benefitted from the tyranny of the dictatorship.
As part of the occupational hazards of being a peace advocate, I have dodged the assassins sent by criminal syndicates who owned and operated the “rest and recreation” facilities ( where businesses like prostitution, gambling, and other vices thrived) which profitted immensely from U.S. military bases and presence. There are also the death squads of those who do not like what I say or stand for. I realize that my detailed expose’s in my books, articles and lectures have earned the ire of those in power, and given them sleepless nights. This is the risk taken by those who dare stand up to power.
One of the greatest satisfactions in my life is to know that you can even be respected by your enemies or their hatchetmen (whom I will not identify for his own security though he has long retired) . I met him during my trips abroad and he later confided to me in a subsequent e-mailed letter:
” I happened to come across your work on the CIA operations in the Philippines. I was in the American intelligence community for 22 years, and found that based on my experience, your work was quite factual and well-balanced. Thanks for an important piece of scholarship.”
I am not a violent person and am very tolerant of others’ views. I will even try to understand and peacefully neutralize the death squad mercenaries sent to kill me with persuasion if it was possible. These hirelings are just out to make a living (and they cannot continue to do so if they are dead) and perhaps they are doing the things that they do out of economic desperation. Because of my deep faith in the goodness of humanity, I would rather see them live and to be transformed by the force of conscience, persuasion and reason so they can still make it up to their community and society. I have many detractors who may not agree with what I say, with what I write or with what I stand for. But I also have friends and colleagues both in the academe and the community who may disagree and debate with me a lot, but we still respect and are civil to each other (as friends) . People who matter. And surely, there are many intelligent people who must agree with me and my advocacies, the 3,600-strong faculty members of the University of the Philippines– probably the most intelligent electorate in the country — who voted for me as their Faculty Regent to represent them in the University of the Philippines’ Board of Regents.
Three years ago, on November 5, 2004 to be exact, the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, issued this statement after the U.S. government refused to allow me to attend an academic conference at Brown University where I had been invited as a speaker and resource person. I would like to reprint the entire statement from this Ivy League University:
” PACIFIST’S ACADEMIC FREEDOM CASUALTY OF ‘ WAR ON TERROR’
The U.S. government has blocked another world-renowned scholar from attending a U.S. academic conference, this time by denying a visa to Roland Simbulan, Professor and Vice Chancellor at the University of the Philippines. Simbulan joins the ranks of prominent scholars recently blocked from entering the country after invitation by U.S. academic institutions. These scholars include Tariq Ramadan, who had been offered a post at Notre Dame University in Indiana this semester; 61 Cuban scholars who had been scheduled to participate in the Latin American Studies Association’s international conference in Nevada, Oct. 7- 9, 2004; and Muslim Filipino Abhoud Syed Lingga, who had been invited by the Asia Society of New York in May, 2004. (Lingga, like pop star Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, was not denied entry until he had paid his airfare and landed on U.S. soil). Simbulan’s visa was not officially denied until after the conference he was to speak at, Oct. 22 – 23, 2004, but the U.S. Consul in Manila held his passport until after the U.S. presidential election. Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies had invited Simbulan to speak on the peace movement in the Philippines.
As well as a scholar, Simbulan is an activist with peace organizations, currently as co-convenor of the Gathering for Peace and National Chairperson of the Nuclear Free-Philippines Coalition. Ironically, the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition is responsible for the closing down of the Philippines’ Marcos-era nuclear power plant, an action that has made the region considerably safer from terrorism and nuclear proliferation. However, Simbulan is also an outspoken critic of U.S. militlary presence in the Philippines, and he believes this is why his visa was denied. ” I have always been open and articulate about my views and opinions — evidence-based as they are — on the historical and contemporary infringement of my country’s national sovereignty and dignity by U.S. interventionary forces both covert and overt…I do not know how my pacifist views on peace and disarmament can be a threat to ‘public safety or national security’ , for some people. I therefore consider it a ‘badge of honor’ to be denied a U.S. visa if it is in exchange for advancing and upholding my country’s dignity, self-respect, national interest and national sovereignty.”
Professor Simbulan’s absence impoverished the conference, the University, and the faculty and students who came to the workshop, which focused on anti-militarist social movements which have been responding to the massive recent restructuring of U.S. military bases around the world. The participants missed sharing in Simbulan’s broad ranging knowledge as the academic author of numerous detailed and important studies of the history of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines, as well as his personal experience as an actor in Philippine politics. In ways the U.S. State Department did not anticipate, however, their visa denial provided an important object lesson for those in attendance. It demonstrated the power of the peace and democracy movements in the Philippines, and the importance of his work itself. It highlighted the contradiction between U.S. officially stated goals in the Philippines — which are to promote both security and freedom — and the reality of U.S. behavior there, which involved years of support for the Marcos dictatorship and the establishment of bases which left behind tons of unremediated toxic chemicals in local water and soil and tens of thousands of unemployed prostitutes. Most recently, it has included choosing to run inflammatory joint military exercises in areas of Mindanao where people have been suffering years of warfare and often abuse at the hands of the Philippine military itself, and interfering with local peacemaking efforts.
Simbulan was instead honored in absentia by the other U.S. and international scholars attending the Watson Institute conference. Democracy and the free movement of ideas and people were honored in absentia as well.
I can never forget what my friend and colleague, the late scholar of the Cordilleras Dr. William Henry Scott, who used to hold “conversations with our students” ( as Professorial Lecturer in our department ), told me when in 1985 I visited his mountain retreat in Sagada in his last few years:
” To be on the side of the people who matter is a good thing; and to be attacked viciously by people who do not matter is a much, much better thing.”
Let us honor all those who have come and gone ahead of us, who fought for justice and who paid in blood for a life devoted to others. Even in death they inspire us and affirm that their ideas and cause for a better world is stronger than the force of arms and machines. “Greater love hath no man than this; that a man give up his life for his friends.” (John, XV, 12 – 17).
November 1, 2007
* Article by Roland G Simbulan – For a full professional background of Professor Roland G. Simbulan (Click Here)