MANILA, Philippines - I had been looking forward to meeting Susan Quimpo. I shared her surname now, married to one of her distant cousins. In my years of getting to know the family I married into, her name would pop up.
“Do you know Susan Quimpo? No? You should meet her. She’s an activist. She’s a rebel!”
The Susan I met, finally, over a family dinner was a soft-spoken, amiable person. I wanted to ask her about what she had done, but there was no chance.
I was consoled to find out that I didn’t have to wait long. She had written a book. “It’s coming out really soon,” she assured me.
The 500-page book is a family memoir set during the Marcos years. Susan is the youngest of 10 siblings. Among the 10, seven participated in the revolution against the government.
Though it was Susan and her brother Nathan who spearheaded the book’s content, 4 more of the siblings lent their voices. One of them, posthumously so—through letters and song lyrics. His wife fills in some of the gaps.
Aptly entitled “Subversives Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years”, it tackles their decades-long involvement in various degrees and through separate avenues. Riveted, I turned page after page, feeling a mix of excitement, dread, curiosity, shock, and grief as I accompanied their revolutionary journeys.
It was like reading a history book, peppered with dates, events and acronyms. Initially smug at recognizing what CCP, PKP, NDF, KBL, LP, BAYAN, and LABAN meant, I turned thankful that a list of abbreviations and acronyms at the end of the book was there to help me navigate through terms like MAGAT, SDK, EC-CC and a host of others.
I recognized some prominent names: Jose Maria Sison and Ferdinand Marcos, whose leaderships defined the era; Orly Mercado, Conrado de Quiros, Mario Jalandoni, Alex Boncayao, Satur Ocampo, Marites Vitug, Ninoy Aquino, even Nora Aunor and Rita Gomez.
But there were many names, heroes of modern nationalists, who drew a question mark. It was a clue to my lack of knowledge about the country’s barely recent past.
Admittedly, many of the stories were familiar. We are aware of the era’s student activists, protest strikes, mass actions, police brutality, political detainees, government cronies, anti-imperialist sentiments, and devastating decline of the economy.
But as tales of Molotov cocktails, pillboxes, barricades, detentions, torture, guerilla tactics, exile, double agents, and near escapes started spilling out from the first person perspectives, I began to feel uneasy.
These are not academic treatises about whether or not the leftist movement was valid. These are not accounts that exploited sympathies for dire poverty that had plagued the country in the 1970s, and continue to do so today. These are not ideological beliefs thrown skillfully as slogans or argued intelligently to convert believers.
It gets more uncomfortable as the tales took depressing turns. Being captured. Being mauled. Being interrogated. Getting knocks at four in the morning. Going underground not knowing when you’ll see family again. Getting news of the missing. Being summoned to identify a corpse. Not knowing fully why. But doing what has to be done, anyway.
Perhaps it’s easier to go through the book and say, Oh what a waste of a scholar! Oh, what a horrifying experience! Oh, poor dear, losing her mom at such a young age! and be done with it.
Or how about, What a fantastic tale! The synchronicity of the events is captivating. The prose is well balanced: it ebbs, lulls, scintillates, educates and illustrates in such beautiful rhythm.
As a reader, I am lucky to have been handed a well-written book. That the authors have expert storytelling and journalistic skills is supremely handy.
But the triumph is not so much in the polished, well-edited weaving of the family memoir, but the way that it left space for so much rawness to stand testimony to their truths.
As the book came to a close, chapters reflecting changes in opinions, ideologies, and political climate began to echo throughout the concluding tales and anecdotes. At this point, at least a couple of the siblings have already been involved in the underground movement for 20 years, their lives mapped out all over the country and even across the world.
When it touches on, in no simple terms, the Edsa Revolution of 1986, and how it has affected the struggle against dictatorship, it highlights the endpoint of the revolution: who ends up in power and who has remained struggling, paying for this democratic victory whether it be with blood, lost family ties, empty stomachs, or shattered dreams.
The CPP revolution ended in 1992-1993; splintered, disputed. But life goes on. Five presidents after the overthrow of a dictatorship, is the fight over?
At the end of the book, we get a glimpse of life after the revolution from the surviving siblings. I find their voices loudest here, even if their words are toned down. The sentiments are quieter too, ranging from resignation to contemplation to analysis. One sibling stayed strong in the opinion of the revolution being a waste.
I think about their convictions—once passionate, then disillusioned, some reformed, now mostly redirected. And it hits me: the cause they took up, though divergently, is as ideological as it is personal.
And, for the Quimpo siblings, it was more. It was about family who, by the mere lottery of being young Filipinos in the 60s and 70s, had to cast their lot among what little choices they had.
Once upon a time, carrying the name Quimpo could rouse suspicions. Today, it seems, the name—along with countless others—are now fairly forgotten.
The Quimpo siblings. The Quimpo activists. The Quimpo affair. Does anyone know what those mean today?
For now, at least, we have a Quimpo book.
By Candice Lopez-Quimpo
02 May 2012