‘The Half-Remembered Past’
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - December 2, 2013 - 12:00am

There are many events that happen in our lives. Some are half-remembered, others half-forgotten.  Sometimes we deliberately choose to forget some “tragic” events while keeping good memories continuously ringing in our hearts.

In this country there are way too many issues popping up everyday – big or small, good or bad, happy or sad.  But what’s amazing is that after a day or two, they are easily forgotten. We have such short-term memories but we try to hold on to the very painful political issues that personally affect our lives.

The pork barrel scam is something politicians involved would want to forget.  The citizens, however, will try their best to keep the issue alive and burning until justice is served. 

Politics is not just about politics. It is above all about people’s lives. It is about the choices they make. These choices whether right or wrong determine how individuals cope with the impersonal forces of government and economics giving a fuller view of what society is all about. Despite the differences we have as a nation, we are all interconnected and our fate as a people is indivisible. As Hillary Clinton once wrote in a warm and perceptive book, “It Takes a Village,” all the people in every community must interact to really move a nation and change a culture for the benefit of all. It is one lesson we Filipinos still have to learn thoroughly and well to redeem our nation from its dreadful past. We will get there somehow.

I read a very interesting book written by Nelson A. Navarro entitled, “The Half-Remembered Past”.  This is considered to be a memoir from the First Quarter Storm generation. I don’t know if it’s the first ever by an individual, but Nelson was actually there on Mendiola-Azcarraga Streets when Philippine history took a sharp turn to unknown territory for better or worse.

Almost 43 years ago on January 30, 1970, Nelson Navarro, a U.P. Law sophomore, was drawn into a pivotal event that came to be known as the Battle of Mendiola. Overnight, politics came to a rapid boil that would soon lead to a cruel dictatorship which lasted 14 years and forever changed the nation’s narrative. Nelson never became a lawyer, went into exile and affirmed his sentimental choice of journalism and writing as a life-long career.

What I found fascinating is the author’s personal story, his growing-up years in Mindanao, what the Golden Sixties of innocence and fun was all about before the FQS ended it all, how he got wrongfully implicated in the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing while on a student trip abroad, his roller-coaster life in exile in New York for 17 years, and what drove him back to his country after the People Power victory at Edsa in February 1986. He gave up his asylum and immigrant status and remained a Filipino citizen although others urged him to choose the obvious convenience of a U.S. passport. That speaks volumes about the character of this man.

Nelson upon his return to Manila became a close friend of our family. We later asked him to write my late father Maximo V. Soliven’s biography in 2010.  

A little disclosure for the record: I was born February 1, 1970, barely 24 hours after Nelson and thousands of unarmed demonstrators faced the military and police might of the Marcos regime. Four students were killed and hundreds were injured that night. I  was totally unaware, of course, that my dad, a top columnist for the Manila Times in those days would be sucked into the ensuing non-stop turmoil, get lumped with the first prisoners rounded up by Marcos, and his career abruptly put on deep freeze until 1986. My life in the early days was a long blur of visits to my father’s prison cell and the persecution that lasted for a long time.

Nelson was the editor of the University of the Philippines student paper, the Philippine Collegian.  During martial law, he was charged with the bombing of the Plaza Miranda political rally.  He sought and was granted political asylum in the United States until his return when Marcos left the country.  He continued his passion in writing as a socio-political journalist.  His is a brilliant mind.  F. Sionil Jose (National Artist for Literature) further describes him in the foreword of the book, “What prodigious memory, what fastidious scholarship!”

You have to read for yourself the author’s account of the roots of the First Quarter Storm, which was to set the stage for authoritarian rule and economic ruin, the disastrous effects of which persist to this very day. As he points out, we did not become an economic basket case dependent on the mass export of labor and a culture of remittance dependency overnight. Age-old corruption and authoritarian ways on an epic scale ruined our chances of making our country live up to its brave but plausible claim as late as the 1960s as the show window of democracy in Asia.

What has stuck in my mind all the years afterwards was that we have an unfinished struggle to make a great and prosperous nation for our people and we should never give up. This is the only country we have, the one God in His infinite wisdom assigned to all Filipinos. We must make it truly our home. Every story of Filipinos coming to terms with his or her identity and standing up for the Filipino race must be written, read and taken to heart. That is how we master history: by standing on the shoulders of our forebears and learning from their mistakes as well as ours. I wish more of Nelson’s generation and mine will contribute to the expanding mosaic of our nation’s life.

The past is never the past. It lingers in the labyrinths of memory, ephemeral but always intrusive, stalking the ever-demanding present which rules the senses like a jealous lover. – Nelson A. Navarro

(Note: The Half-Remembered Past is published by Alphan Publishers, Makati and  exclusively distributed by ABS-CBN Publishing. It will be available shortly at National Bookstore, Power Books, Fully-Booked, and F. Sionil Jose’s Solidaridad Bookshop. Also online at Amazon’s Kindle)


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