Ask any of the new college graduates about their plans for their future, and you will find that most of them want to leave this country. They do not see their future here. I had the same feeling way back.
When Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, I was not allowed to travel. I lost my journal Solidarity and, now censored, I lost income as a publisher, and was also harassed with fictitious lawsuits. But I should not complain too much. What I suffered was trivial compared to those who were imprisoned, tortured, and killed.
When I finally got my passport back in 1976, I went to the United States to look for a job. At the time, several Filipino expats in the United States were actively opposing Marcos. I was invited to one of their meetings in the Chicago area. I was amazed at the vociferousness of the meeting and I found it ironic and even comic -- these Filipinos shouting revolution in the comfort and safety of the United States.
In Washington, I saw Raul Manglapus, an old friend, who was in Tokyo when Marcos declared martial law. From there, he went to the United States knowing that, like many of his colleagues, he would have been arrested and jailed had he returned to Manila. He was anxious to go back to Manila but I said he was safer in the United States.
I looked up acquaintances in Washington and found out that Pat Kelly, the secretary of Henry Miller when he was Public Affairs counselor in Manila, was now the wife of General Edward Lansdale. I was asked to give a talk to Americans who had served in the Philippines.
They were anxious to know what it was like under Marcos, and I told them how it was to live under a dictatorship, that Marcos’s best supporter in the United States was President Reagan himself. They told me there were those in the State Department, however, who knew the score. When I was through speaking, General Lansdale came up to me and said affectionately, Frankie, you are not leaving the Philippines. You are going back.
And, indeed, I did go back. I walked away from two jobs and from a future with my family in either Washington or New York. I don’t want to call myself a patriot for returning to my home country. That was farthest from my mind. I recalled the two years I was with the Colombo Plan in Ceylon and my brief stint with the Asia Magazine in Hong Kong. In these places where I had the most comfortable job, I had not produced a single story. So back to Manila I went to suffer Marcos and witness his end, and to see the promise of EDSA I squandered and lost.
Marcos did something very important for us. He drew a very clear line for the country's cultural workers and identified those who were on the side of freedom and those who were not. For those of us who opposed Marcos, the choice was very difficult and hazardous. We felt so abandoned and helpless and, thank God, we had an organization like PEN to bond us together and help us survive. We also had visits by writers who sympathized with us and who understood our plight. Among them Mochtar Lubis, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Norman Mailer, who expressed admiration for all the Russians who defied their government. He said he would have conformed because he liked his comforts.
When I reached seventy, I decided to forgive all those who had done me wrong. It was a lifting experience, as I freed myself from a heavy, almost unbearable burden. It filled me with peace. I told a good friend, the writer Teddy Benigno, and he said I should not have done this for those who did us wrong would be unburdened of their guilt.
When she was on her deathbed, Kerima Polotan sent one of her daughters to me. She wanted to see me. Kerima became an aide to Imelda Marcos, and her husband became Marcos’s executive secretary. He was the old friend who put me on the black list.
It is difficult to love this country – thus lamented a young lawyer who was considering a future in politics. And, indeed, looking closely at this country and us Filipinos, how can anyone love this country? Look at the result of the senatorial elections last week, how unthinking Filipinos elected nincompoops. Look at how Filipinos themselves are their own worst enemies, look at them despoil their country, and betray and kill one another. Indeed, there are many good reasons why Filipinos today are leaving; it is not just for economic reasons for there are comfortable middle-class Filipinos who have joined this diaspora.
It is difficult to love this country. But it is easier to do so if we think of her as our motherland, the way our mothers nurtured us, embraced us, and gave us their warmth, their loyalty, and caring. Perhaps, it was this realization that made me return to a fate closely entwined with the land where I was born.
Every so often, I meet someone who has returned "to give back." Indeed, some have come back as masochists perhaps, to share the agony of their countrymen. As romantics, they take pride in their history of valor, they live with nostalgia, and see reason for optimism.
And so I go to the old hometown often, to look at immemorial vistas of well-cared fields and a people made enduring by work. I go there to listen to a language to which I was born but which I don’t really use anymore. Listening to it, I wallow in memory and I feel alive, keen to the sound of living, of memories of the past that I have read about which I know are now entwined with every fiber of my being as a writer who belongs to this unhappy country.
First published in The Philippine Star, May 18, 2019