Sunday, December 05, 2004


In a speech at the University of the Philippines last Nov. 23, F. Sionil Jose, 2001 National Artist for Literature, attacked nationalist statesmen Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tañada--while in the same breath calling for a "revolution"--in keeping with what seems to be a habit he developed through the years. He branded the nationalism they preached as "phony" and "socially meaningless."

This idea runs through his novels and short stories. Of late, in his novel Viajero (1993), Pepe Samson tells the protagonist Salvador de la Raza: "The bourgeois nationalists--Recto and Tañada--they merely hated the Americans." Pepe Samson is the protagonist of an earlier novel, Mass (first published in translation, 1982) in which C.M. Recto Avenue in Manila, named after the late statesman, is called the Rectum of Manila.

Jose has never elaborated on his basis for berating Recto and Tañada, except to say repeatedly in his columns that: "Recto and Tañada opposed agrarian reform, the single most important political act that could have lifted this country then from poverty and released the peasantry from its centuries-old bondage."

The role of the US in Philippine affairs is never to be downplayed. Jose might be interested to find out that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had a hand in several Philippine land reform programs--including the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of 1988. The Philippine peasantry remains bound to penury, except in areas where agrarian reform has been undertaken in a revolutionary manner--beyond the confines of government.

Recto could indeed be faulted for opposing agrarian reform at some point in his life. But based on their record, to automatically label his and Tañada's nationalism as "phony" and "socially meaningless" for this is to commit treason against history.

For the record, Recto and Tañada contributed immensely to the quest for Filipino economic sovereignty. They were among the most prominent proponents of a national economy characterized by well-developed, Filipino-owned industries that would be the primary users of raw materials produced on Philippine soil.

The correctness of this idea of theirs would be proven in due time. The Filipino First Policy implemented during the Carlos P. Garcia presidency (1957-61), though in nature very conservative compared to Recto and Tañada's nationalist industrialization advocacy, did considerable wonders for the Philippine economy.

Recto and Tañada had the prescience to understand that an economy which receives investments from foreign capital but allows massive repatriation of profits, notwithstanding the use of its own resources, would suffer the pain of decapitalization. We have our ballooning foreign debt, caused by the continuous depletion of our dollar reserves, to prove that: from $150 million in 1961 to $56 billion in 2004.

Likewise, it was Recto and Tañada who first articulated opposition to foreign military presence on Philippine soil. They comprehended well that hosting foreign military bases is tantamount to inevitable involvement in foreign wars--an affront to sovereignty. Indeed, many US attacks on Vietnam were launched from Subic and Clark, making the Philippine government an accomplice to mass murders like the My Lai Massacre.

Recto could indeed be criticized for opposing land reform at some point in his life. For most of his life, he did not have enough awareness of the nature of the Philippines as a neocolonial and semi-feudal economy to realize that genuine agrarian reform is an inevitable prerequisite to nationalist industrialization, for it is the liberation of the country's most numerous sector and thus the largest component of its consumer base--the peasantry--from poverty that will catalyze the establishment, and ensure the sustenance, of strategic national industries.

But in his last years, his articulations were beginning to contain the seeds of advocacy for a more equitable distribution of wealth, aside from his nationalist ideas. He was on his way to appreciating the value of real agrarian reform.

In any case, his critique of US neocolonialism was and still is instructive in the analysis of Philippine economic conditions.

As for Tañada, former Sens. Arturo Tolentino and Rene Saguisag have set the record straight for him. He opposed Diosdado Macapagal's land reform bill not because he was opposed to land reform, but because it had provisions incompatible with the Constitution.

Anyhow, Macapagal's land reform was a very tame one that offered a lot of loopholes for big landlords.

Moreover, it is best that a man be judged by the totality of his life. That Tañada founded and headed the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) which includes under its umbrella groups advocating genuine agrarian reform, and that he expressed total sympathy for the victims of the Mendiola Massacre, are telling enough.

That Recto opposed land reform at one point and Tañada voted against a land reform bill does not automatically mean that they are worthless to this country's history. Even Jose Maria Sison--an intellectual and activist far more radical than the 2001 National Artist for Literature could ever claim to be or have been--acknowledges debts to the two nationalist stalwarts.

To brand Recto and Tañada as "phony" and "socially meaningless" nationalists is the height of historical mendacity.

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