No other choiceBy Queena N. Lee-Chua
Philippine Daily Inquirer
In February 1986, our advanced calculus professor, Norman Quimpo, whom we fondly called Doc Quimps, said, “Classes have been called off in support of the protests.”
We knew that mild-mannered Doc Quimps was a revolutionary of sorts, but he had never discussed politics in class.
We did not know the hardship Doc Quimps and his family had already endured and the sacrifices they had made. He could have gloated at the impending downfall of a dictatorship he and his siblings had battled against.
His younger brother Jan, a desaparecido, has never been found. Another brother, Jun, was killed by a comrade in the underground movement. (Their names are now inscribed on the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.)
Doc Quimps was a gentle soul. Revenge was not in his heart. Perhaps he felt more relieved than anything else.
A couple of days before what would be dubbed the Edsa Revolution broke out, many Ateneans had already joined the protests. Some of my classmates, such as Inge del Rosario, joined the people facing the tanks, relying only on rosaries and prayer.
Most of us, including myself, were not as brave. The threat of violence was very real; I did not dare venture to the frontline. Instead, I joined volunteers packing and distributing food for the Ateneo contingents.
My friends and I were martial law babies, born when a dictator was already in power. By 1986, we had known no other president, but, increasingly, we realized that Marcos’ lengthy absolute reign was wrong. When Ninoy Aquino was murdered in 1983, we were still freshmen, but it drove many of us to join protests for the first time.
In English class, my essays, which used to revolve around family and teen life, became focused on the urban poor and discrimination.
But we were the lucky ones. The 10 Quimpo brothers and sisters were not as fortunate.
In their family memoir, “Subversive Lives” (Anvil, 2012), the surviving Quimpo siblings (Lys, Norman, Emilie, Caren, Lilian, Nathan, Ryan, Susan) tell the story, in riveting detail, of how they and their martyred brothers, lived under the Marcos regime.
Against the wishes of their father, several of the Quimpos were involved, in varying degrees, in the Communist Party, with horrifying consequences (going underground, and torture when captured). Their eyewitness accounts, told with journalistic flair, bring to life the angst and the pain of a revolution and a family it almost tore apart.
What elevates the work above any fictional thriller is the steadfastness of the Quimpos, intellectuals who were not Rambos, but who, despite their fears, did what they did for the country they loved. A hero is not one who is not afraid, but one who fears but acts anyway.
Doc Quimps was jailed briefly. I held my breath as I raced through the FB Elvie chapter (better than any James Bond adventure). By God’s grace, Doc Quimps was spared the physical torture some of his siblings endured, but I shed tears over the mental and emotional anguish he, his wife Bernie (a big-hearted writer) and son Leon (who became my student in college) underwent.
Many struggled to be free. The University of the Philippines mathematics professor Fidel Nemenzo, who shares my love for Pablo Neruda’s poetry, is one of the gentlest people I know. Fidel casually mentioned he was once injured in a demonstration, but reading Susan’s blow-by-blow narrative of how he almost lost his life (they were together in several rallies), made me appreciate all the more the grace of his friendship.
The memoir is blessed by the Quimpos’ reflections, including their growing disillusionment with the causes they once espoused. Instead of moralizing, they tell a spellbinding tale, filled with pain and sorrow, but also with reconciliation and hope.
All my college students now were born in the 1990s. At times I am aghast at their ignorance of history, and their apathy towards civic responsibility.
Martial law for them was just a page in their textbooks. In the last elections, only eight out of 35 students voted.
The others said, “What’s the use? Cheating occurs all the time. Look at all the scandals.”
I despaired over their preoccupation with the self—concern over grades, love-hate relationship with parents, desire for the latest gadgets. Many could not wait to leave the country, dreaming of more comfortable lives abroad.
“Subversive Lives” should be required reading—for students, parents, educators, all Filipinos who, whether they like it or not, cannot divorce themselves from their country.
“Faced with a corrupt and ruthless dictatorship, for us there was really only one choice—to rebel,” Doc Quimps tells me. “No doubt this generation will face its own challenges. May these challenges be such that they have the freedom of choice we did not have.”
“Subversive Lives” (by Susan and Nathan Quimpo) is available at National Book Store.
E-mail the author at email@example.com.
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