His friends and relatives described Monico Atienza's stubborn will to live, in the face of a most life-threatening debilitation, as very characteristic of the man. This kind of courage, they say -- together with the man's extraordinary conviction and abilities -- enabled him to live the kind of life he has chosen, unmindful of the obstacles that came his way.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The atmosphere at the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Center the night of January 25 was both light and serious. There were occasional bursts of laughter from the audience as speakers talked of the man's mood swings and short temper. A serious mood, however, would be apparent as the speakers discussed the man's unwavering resolve to serve the people.
“Bugnutin siya, siguro, dahil masyado siyang maraming iniisip at iniintindi” (His temper is short, maybe because there are too many things on his mind), said Prof. Vina Paz, chair of the UP Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature. “Y'ong pagiging bugnutin, ganoon na talaga siya mula pagkabata” (He had a short temper even in his youth), said his nephew Adolfo Atienza.
But even as they made some fun of the man's having a short fuse, the speakers and the audience were in awe of the kind of life the man has lived thus far. “Madali siyang maging inspirasyon, dahil sa kanyang salita at gawa” (It is easy to be inspired by him because of his words and deeds), said UP Faculty Regent Prof. Roland Simbulan.
The subject of all these was activist, writer, and UP professor Monico M. Atienza who was given a tribute by fellow activists, colleagues, former classmates, students and friends.
Atienza suffered a heart attack last Dec. 23, while attending the wake of First Quarter Storm (FQS) activist Selma Salvador at the Bustillos Church in Sampaloc, Manila. An undetected mass in his throat blocked his breath, leading to successive heart seizures.
Award-winning playwright Bonifacio Ilagan, chair of the First Quarter Storm Movement of which Atienza is president, said that he had noticed that Atienza had difficulty breathing even as they were in the taxi on the way to Salvador's wake. “Lingon nang lingon y'ong drayber, inaalala siguro y'ong pasaherong hirap huminga” (The driver kept turning his head, perhaps worrying about the passenger who had a hard time breathing.) Ilagan asked Atienza if he was fine, and the latter said that he was.
At Salvador's wake, Ilagan said, Atienza was at one point brought to an adjacent room within the Bustillos Church, in the hope that it would ease his breathing. After a few minutes, someone told Ilagan that they should bring Atienza to the hospital.
Atienza insisted that he was still fine and even walked by himself as they went to the nearby Mary Chiles Hospital, Ilagan said. But when they got to Mary Chiles, Ilagan felt he had to assist Atienza who lost consciousness a few minutes later.
After a few days Atienza was transferred to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), also in Manila, where he remains confined.
During his first few days of hospital confinement, Atienza was hooked to a respirator. Within a few days of his transfer to the PGH, however, he was able to begin breathing by himself. He is also said to be now able to respond to communication: when a few friends visited him at the PGH one day and told him, “Nick, kung naririnig mo kami, sumipa ka” (Nick, if you can hear us, throw a kick), he raised his leg slightly.
“Parang inaaway mo si Kamatayan” (It is as though you are fighting Death), said FQSM member Jake Abad in a poem for Atienza that he recited at the tribute.
His friends and relatives described Atienza's stubborn will to live, in the face of a most life-threatening debilitation, as very characteristic of the man. This kind of courage, they say - together with the man's extraordinary conviction and abilities - enabled him to live the kind of life he has chosen.
Born to a lower-middle class family in Cuenca, Batangas (a Tagalog province south of Manila), Atienza displayed his remarkable abilities early on in life.
“Nick, as he is known fondly by countless friends, was my classmate in the Far Eastern University Boys High School (FEU-BHS) up to 1964,” writes journalist-activist Hermie Garcia, a political detainee during Martial Law who is now based in Canada together with his wife Mila Astorga, also a journalist-activist. “He was our class president, valedictorian and student council president. With those distinguished achievements at a very young age, our teachers predicted he would have a very distinguished career in whatever profession he would soon choose.”
His graduation as class valedictorian in 1965 made him a recipient of a scholarship at FEU where he took business and finance while many of his friends went to UP. He joined the FEU chapter of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM or Patriotic Youth), and together with a number of schoolmates went on a two-month visit to China which was then a socialist country.
Shortly after their return to the Philippines, Atienza transferred to UP where he took up literature, and there he joined the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP), a progressive study group of which he eventually became president. He also got involved in the broad alliance Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN), which had Sen. Lorenzo Tañada as its chair and then KM Chair and UP Professor Jose Maria Sison as its secretary-general. In the late 1960s he became the KM's secretary-general, and was holding this position when the First Quarter Storm –- a series of massive demonstrations against the Marcos administration –- happened in 1970.
He went underground shortly before then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in September 1972. Sison said that Atienza who became known as Ka (comrade) Togs in the underground movement headed the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) National Organizing Committee (NOD) and was also a member of its Central Committee.
In 1974, Atienza was arrested and detained by the military. He underwent severe physical and psychological torture, including an overdose of truth serum. Based on old fact sheets prepared by human rights groups, Atienza's torture caused him to suffer a mental breakdown and seriously impaired his health. At one point he had to be confined at the V. Luna Hospital in Quezon City.
He was detained for six years. Upon his release he went back to UP to finish his studies and eventually teach Filipino. He actively helped in the committee campaigning for the release of Sison who was arrested in 1977 and was also heavily tortured.
Atienza played a prominent part in founding and organizing the Partido ng Bayan (PnB or People's Party), a progressive political party which fielded congressional candidates in the 1987 elections under the Aquino administration.
In an ambush on PnB leaders by a suspected military death squad in 1987, Atienza was seriously wounded, together with PnB senatorial candidate Bernabe Buscayno who was a leader of the New People's Army (NPA) during Martial Law. A shrapnel remains embedded in Atienza's head and a leg wound he sustained from the attack has not healed to this day.
In spite of all these, however, Atienza has remained unfazed. He has continued to propagate progressive ideas in his work as both a teacher and a writer. In various capacities he has extended help to several people's organizations.
At the PGH Atienza continues to fight for his life -- and, by all accounts, rightly so, for his is an extraordinary life worth fighting for.
As Sison said in his testimonial to Atienza released on Jan. 7:
Alam nating matibay at palaban si Ka Togs. Hindi tayo magugulat kung makakatawid siya sa kasalukuyang kalagayan at magpapatuloy sa pag-ambag sa pagsusulong ng rebolusyong Pilipino. Anuman ang mangyari sa personal na katayuan niya, natitiyak nating makabuluhan at maningning ang kanyang buhay at papel na ginampanan sa kasaysayan.
(We know that Comrade Togs is strong and defiant. We would not be surprised if he overcomes his present condition and continues contributing to the advancement of the Philippine revolution. Whatever happens to him, we are sure that his is a worthy and glorious life and role in history.) Bulatlat