Saturday, March 05, 2011

Past imperfect

The recent commemoration of the People Power Revolution, which ousted a dictator without bloodshed, drew a lot of re-examination in the media. Listening to people from all walks of life remember events of 25 years ago, I am reminded of a manufacturer’s warning printed on the rear view mirror of a vehicle.

The eternal passenger, I was trying to help a driver negotiate a tricky maneuver but ended up reading the warning printed in fine print: Things seen from this mirror may seem nearer or farther than they are.

It’s sobering to reflect how much of our identity is tied up with memories, sieved and stored by the mind, as faulty and prone to idiosyncrasies as the rest of our finite body.

When my former student, TV journalist Rachelle Marie Dangin, asked me for my recollection of the Yellow Revolution, she assumed I was already a reporter covering Cory Aquino and the Opposition. I clarified that in February 1986, I was still a graduating student of UP Cebu, spending more time walking out of classes than staying inside classrooms.

On Facebook, my former schoolmate, Olive Caday-Fillone, recalled the same experiences—“the daily marches to Fuente, bonfires at night”—but also other things besides.

Then the chairman of the UP Cebu Student Council, Olive wrote that UP Cebu was the only campus in Cebu that openly supported Edsa 1 through boycott. (I only remembered that it was hard to sit on stony, uneven ground under the UP trees, listening to speakers drone on about tyranny and repression. Reading a comic book about Hegel and Marx helped a bit.)

While I recalled teachers as either haranguing or pleading with us to return to our classes so we could graduate “on time,” Olive remembers one teacher donating boiled “camote (sweet potato)” so we wouldn’t go hungry, debating about human rights and class struggle in the perpetually overgrown UP fields. (This remembrance startles and shames me because I was one of those who mocked this teacher behind her back for trying to inculcate proper etiquette and decorum in our “Social Orientation” classes held at the old Bagong Lipunan (BL) classrooms.)

Even if the mirror warns you about the deceptiveness of reflected distance, it is still human error that rams the car, isn’t it?

So finding the Anvil biography of Malay was, with apologies to Hegel and Marx, God-sent.

Malay was a reporter, columnist, teacher, street parliamentarian and grandfather of children who stayed under his wing and that of his wife, Paula Carolina, while their parents—the Malays’ daughter Bobbie and partner, Satur Ocampo—were underground.

Armando J. Malay’s journalistic career spanned more than six decades, making him a witness and a participant of turbulent but defining moments of our history, from just before the outbreak of World War II until post-Edsa (he passed away in 2003).

What makes Malay effective in his role of “remembrancer” was his lifelong passion for “exactitude,” according to the UP obituary, “Dean Armando Malay writes 30.”

His biographers, Marites N. Sison and Yvonne T. Chua, wrote in their preface that Malay’s notes helped them write “A Guardian of Memory”. From November 1974, when he began a planned autobiography, “mostly in longhand,” until 1990, when age and failing sight silenced the pounding of his typewriter, Malay compiled a manuscript that encompassed 52 volumes.

History is often held hostage by historians. Yet, in Sison and Chua’s book, Malay is faithful to the Muse of Exactitude because he did not just remember, he wrote it down. As a result, he rescued remembrance from romanticism and deconstruction: the concrete and the specific anchor the sweeping panorama of history. The notes of Malay spare no one, not even the man making those notes.

In the Foreword of “A Guardian of Memory,” Juan L. Mercado applied to Malay a word used by poet, columnist and judge Simeon Dumdum in “Speak, Memory”. “In ancient times, a remembrancer collected debts,” wrote Mercado. “But the remembrancer also reminded people of what they preferred to forget.”

“A Guardian of Memory” came just as I was beginning to mistrust the act of remembering.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 6, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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