• By F. Sionil Jose, National Artist
Let me continue my observations on the ABS-CBN issue that provoked a passionate response. But first, this personal background. I am very grateful to the Lord for letting me live this long – I am 95 – without the ailments that cripple the mind. This isolation enforced by the pandemic gave me time to think more deeply and read and review some of what I had written. I conceptualized and wrote my Rosales saga novels, “Tree” and “The Pretenders” when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Re-reading them now, I realize how mature they are. It was the war that matured us early. It was also during this period, I think, that my socio-political education really began. In late 1942, I was a peon in a surveying company in Floridablanca, Pampanga, mapping out the expansion of the airfield there. I saw those Japanese fighter planes and twin engine bombers take off and land. I marveled how a tiny Asian country produced them and challenged a big power like the United States. In my novel, “The Pretenders,” the industrialist, Manuel Villa, builds a steel mill. I realized that early that steel is the foundation of industry and modernization. I joined the old Manila Times in 1949 and started knowing our country better. I travelled all over Asia, too, and elsewhere, furthering my knowledge of agrarian problems and observing culture change. Coming from a farming village, my interest in peasant movements broadened, and I witnessed our peasantry brutalized, particularly by the sugar barons. That knowledge led to my understanding of the need for social change, for revolution even – a belief I hold on tenaciously to this very day.
World War II wrought profound changes in our society creating a new ruling class. Though the war battered us, in the Fifties and Sixties, we were the richest country in Southeast Asia, next only to Japan. Korea, Taiwan, and even Japan were very poor. So were all the ASEAN nations. We had the best schools and hospitals. Now, look at us, and our Asian neighbors who left us behind? Why, we are very poor? Our leaders, the writers of my generation know the answer. Development starts with capital, whether it is in government or in private hands. It is with this capital that we start industries, development. We had that capital but it was sent abroad, much of it, or spent in non-productive enterprises. Basically the holders of this vast capital – the oligarchy had no sense of responsibility, no love for this country which they had exploited. The Lopezes are a major part of it; the tip of the iceberg, so huge but unseen, like the iceberg that sank the Titanic.
The modernization of Korea, etc. was not brought about by proletarian revolutionaries but by middle class professionals, soldiers, and enlightened businessmen backed by strong governments.
Some claim that this present generation of oligarchs had changed; I had shared the same hope, but a close look at the new oligarchs reveal that nothing has changed – the perspective, the form of investments, fancy condominiums, shopping malls, the casinos. Poverty has not been erased – all the social surveys show it. Hunger still prevails. The revolution I’ve dreamed of is yet to come. Peacefully I hope.
In a broader, deeper context, all over the world are giant corporations and billionaires. In the capitalist system, their goal is profit, their techniques are almost always exploitative. But some businesses (and billionaires), however, are not always motivated by profit. They are nation builders, humanitarians, who use their fortunes to build more humane societies. But I do not see this in the three generations of the Filipino oligarchs who have exploited this country and our people.
Marx was right; as we can see today, capitalism, motivated by unrestrained greed is far deadlier than this Coronavirus which, science hopefully can control or eradicate. But greed is an integral part of the human person. It can be tamed with the creation of new human institutions that will assure mankind an existence endowed with justice – if we have the will to do it.
All too often, we are lulled into acquiescence, if not apathy, by the seductive allure of slogans of universal abstractions like freedom and the gloss and glitter of instruments like ABS-CBN. Yes, ABS-CBN indeed has its uses. But reduced to its very core, it is pure entertainment. History is full of similar even analogous examples. When the ancient Romans were restive, the Caesars gave them parades and circuses. As for freedom, it is the camouflage of the true nature of ABS-CBN just like the sea that hides the iceberg. Freedom is also the sugar coating that attracts the libertarians, the sincere believers in human rights, who have no time to look deeper, beyond the glossy surface. Listen – the real issue with ABS-CBN and its owners is not press freedom. It is MONEY, POLITICS and POWER – how power is acquired, how it is abused and maintained, and most of all, how it obstructs this country’s economic and democratic development. If allowed to continue, will it now return the billions it owes the government?
The Lopezes are not alone; they are however the most visible tip of the iceberg. But if the Lopez empire can be toppled. Then, it should not be difficult to do the same with the others. The revolution, then, shall have begun.
Conclusion: ABS-CBN is not crucial to this nation’s survival nor does its closure mark the end of press freedom. Hundreds of TV and radio stations and broadsheets will continue to purvey news and views. And there is the omnipresent social media wide open to both idiot and intellectual. In fact, the removal of this media giant will contribute to the leveling of the playing field and the strengthening of democracy.
For so many of us who cannot think of the future and whose minds are focused only as far as the next election, remember this: Marcos, Duterte – they are minor incidents in our history, but the oligarchic families will be with us much longer and will most likely be replaced by heirs who will continue to exploit our country and our people. The struggle to create a just and sovereign nation transcends these politicians and their oligarch allies. The Filipino oligarchy is our entrenched enemy – not I or those like me who see and know the truth. I’ve tried to be honest with myself. I know I am expendable, but not as much as the peasant who produces our food. I have to distance myself from self-righteousness knowing I can be wrong. I do not profit from telling the truth. I am reviled instead. Listen – all of you who resent me and wish me ill — I have nothing precious, no fiefdom to lose – only this life and the little of it that’s left. I’ll use it writing.