Edgar Jopson: Living above and underground
- Nicole Anne Asis () - February 24, 2008 - 12:00am

THIS WEEK’S WINNER

Nicole Anne A. Asis, 22, is a fifth-year student at the UST Conservatory of Music. She is also a freelance guitar teacher for beginners and intermediate students. Her favorite writers are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho, Conrad de Quiros, Benjamin Pimentel, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Amy Lowell, Pablo Neruda and Rudolf Steiner. “My next goal is to be able to speak, read and write in German.”

It was a gloomy Saturday afternoon when I accidentally attended the book launching of Benjamin Pimentel’s UG: An Underground Tale (The Journey of Edgar Jopson and the First Quarter Storm Generation). What could have been a normal school supplies-hoarding day for me became a historical and political voyage. That was the first time I met Edgar Jopson and got to know him a little better.

The story revolves around a brilliant young man who became one of the most notable figures of the First Quarter Storm (FQS) generation. Edgar Jopson, or Edjop as he was commonly known, was at first a conservative reformist who tried to fight the Marcos regime through “non-ideological approach to politics.” But when martial law was declared and democracy died, he became disillusioned and his perspective turned 180 degrees. He made a radical change from reformist to communist. He went underground, along with his cadres, and lived with the marginalized and the poor.

It is fascinating to know that UG is the third edition of Edjop’s biography written by Benjamin Pimentel. The US-based writer stated in his letter, which was read during the launching, that many of the personalities hidden under pseudonyms in the two earlier editors are now named in the book. I have not read the predecessors of UG.

To be sure, the third edition is still about the admirable and fast-paced life of a man who gave up the comforts of life, even his own mortality, to fight the corrupt system for the benefit of the underprivileged.

Throughout Edjop’s memoir, polarities were interwoven in a tapestry of fateful events.

He was a student activist from an apolitical clan who, at 22, urged President Ferdinand Marcos in a meeting “not to run for a third term,” to which Marcos replied, “Who are you to tell me what to do? You’re only a son of a grocer.”

Edjop was a grocer’s son who sided with the labor union instead of interceding for his father. He was considered an enemy of the counter-revolutionists in his college years but he embraced their ideas and philosophies after the declaration of martial law. And he was a devout Catholic trained by the Jesuits yet he later on accepted Marxism and Leninism. How could he have reconciled such opposites in his life? These opposing elements potentialized Edjop’s mission and passion as an activist, a labor union organizer and revered cadre. His mission: to be the David who would fight the powerful brute Goliath.

What struck me most is how Edjop’s life mirrors the present condition of our country — the military accused of extra-judicial killings, the government struggling to push Charter change for a shift to a parliamentary system and the politicians’ endless bickering. All these hinder the growth of our nation.

But there is a major difference between our time and Edjop’s: the participation of the people and its intensity. During the First Quarter Storm, people were more vigilant and willing to fight for democracy and the poor. Now, Filipinos are politically indifferent, jaded and still poor. Then, people were more hopeful of a bright future for the country. Now, Filipinos are so cynical about that flicker of hope that they would trade their citizenship to live and work abroad. It seems that history keeps repeating itself over and over again and we do not learn from the errors of the people before us. Maybe we are just too forgiving. Or maybe we just easily forget.

I am one of the politically indifferent, jaded and financially struggling Filipinos. But after reading this book, my feelings of disheartenment and disappointment alleviated. Now, I understand the fate of our country through that glimpse of the not-so-distant past. I regain a sense of esteem for Filipinos, whether they are living here or abroad. I value democracy and the Filipino people like a precious gem; I put people like Ninoy Aquino and Edjop on a pedestal for fighting and even dying for the Filipino. And I clutch within me a fire of hope and optimism for the future of our Philippines. Not blazing, perhaps, but steadily burning.

Why is UG my most recent favorite book? Because the struggles of Edjop and his generation are still our struggles. His story is worth retelling and hopefully, this time, for our generation to learn from.

ALICE WALKER AMY LOWELL AN UNDERGROUND TALE BENJAMIN PIMENTEL CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC EDGAR JOPSON EDJOP
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