By DR. FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID
“Alipato” means “sparks that spread a fire” – this was the pseudonym that Luis Taruc had used. And that is what producer/filmmaker Dik Trofeo perhaps hopes to do by putting together bits and pieces – film footage, interviews, etc., of this remarkable man, considered one of the 20th century’s most prominent peasant revolutionaries, hoping that it would encourage us to reflect on his vision of leadership and nation-building.
It had taken Trofeo some two decades to complete it, as I remember his inviting me to meet Ka Luis whom he was interviewing sometime before he passed away in 2005. This was upon learning that I had met the latter sometime in the early 70’s.
The film chronicles the early beginnings of his mass movement in the late 1930’s up to the Cold War and then between 1942 and 1950 when he led the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) in guerrilla operations. Influenced by his idols – Pedro Abad Santos, leader of the Philippine Socialist Party, and Felipe Salvador, a charismatic Katipunero. Taruc left his haberdashery business to his wife in order to respond to the plight of poor farmers suffering under the existing agrariansystem. As Felice Sta. Maria notes, Ka Luis spoke for himself – what he stood for, and no gimmicks. It was clear. He was a Socialist and although at some point, he joined forces with the Communists, he really never really embraced the latter. What is clear in his narration of his experiences with the various national leaders – Quezon, Roxas, Osmena, Quirino, Magsaysay, Marcos, Macapagal – was his principled stand on nationalism which cannot be compromised. Although offered to be the running mate of at least two presidents, he refused, since his acceptance meant that he would have to agree with at least three major agreements – Parity Rights, the Bell Trade Act, and the US bases. The consequence was that even though he and seven colleagues were elected to the House of Representatives, they were not allowed to take their seats. Ninoy Aquino said that Ka Luis was offered wealth in order to keep his silence but the latter could not be tempted.
He was imprisoned at least three times, one for the ambush of Mrs. Aurora Aragon Quezon which, he said, was a mistake. She was killed because her car was accompanied by several military escorts.
On his ideology, Ka Luis said that socialism and capitalism are not the real answers. What is needed is a sense of nationalism. A national psyche, a national attitude that we, as a people, must stand up with self-respect and self-sufficiency.
Violent revolution is not the answer, but a change in consciousness – one that will bring about a true sense of nationhood. He gave as examples Vietnam and Japan. They are neither socialist nor communist but because of nationalism, they are able to move forward.
In his book, written while in Bilibid, he said, “Any nationalist who makes an ally of a communist is going to ride on a tiger.”
His other book, “Born of the People” was ghostwritten by William Pomeroy, a colleague from the communist movement who said that Taruc’s micro-narrative about socialism was “ideologically naïve, lacking in ideological sophistication.”
But icon Nelson Mandela admits that one of the books he had studied as he was helping build his movement against the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1960’s was “Born of the People,” Taruc’s memoirs. Mandela acknowledged Taruc as his “key inspiration” for his work, a recognition that had done much to raise both his national and international profile.
In Keith Carlson’s, “Born Again of the People,” the author noted: “Taruc’s refusal to be pigeonholed and his insistence that he be allowed the freedom to change his mind and revise his views were both his strength and the root of his political failure.” He also raised this question: “What does the future hold for his vision for an indigenously Filipino peasant-directed process of social reform”?
In one interview, Ka Luis said: Peasants who compose almost 75% of our total population are the most reliable centers of power of our nation.” He acknowledged that most of his successful experiences in the field were those of organizing cooperatives in Central Luzon as they had shown many positive outcomes of people working in collaboration with one another.
At the forum after the film showing, someone raise the question: “How would Ka Luis respond to the many challenges in our country today?”
“Alipato” and other Cinemalaya films are now showing to celebrate 15 years of independent cinema. Fresh from winning the Nikkei Prize for Culture and Community, the Cinemalaya Foundation, in partnership with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, offers the 15th edition consisting of ten full-length films and ten short films. They are now showing at the CCP, selected Ayala Cinemas and Vista Malls in Manila, Pampanga, Naga, Legaspi in Bicol, Iloilo, and Davao.
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