An open letter from Pio Abad, the artist
(The Philippine Star) - May 30, 2014 - 12:00am

I normally keep to myself and I am hesitant to share this much in such a public forum. Having decided early on that a life in public service was not for me, I have pursued a decidedly more introspective path as an artist, and, although I grew up in a political household, I have always been ambivalent towards political rhetoric. However, after witnessing what my family has been through over the past few weeks and hearing the accusations that would be farcical if they weren’t so malicious, I can’t help but feel that it would be cowardly of me not to speak up. 

I left Manila in 2004 to study fine art in Scotland with my parents’ whole-hearted support. Any politician with an eye trained on sustaining a dynasty would clearly be foolish to let the first-born son even consider a life outside of politics, let alone a life in art, let alone conceptual art (although admittedly my father still introduces me as a painter even if I haven’t actually held a paintbrush in a long time).

My parents have never limited our options and have always taught us to pursue our passions. I had to work hard to pursue mine. Although my parents were generous enough to pay for my tuition fees, the high cost of living in the UK didn’t allow them to pay for much else.  It is interesting to note that, according to she-who-I’d-rather-not-name, the alleged mentoring scheme began in 2000. By those calculations, in 2004, my family should have been rolling in it. It is interesting then that the reality felt quite different. When my father was allegedly reaping the benefits of PDAF, I was flipping burgers in Burger King Queen Street Train Station. When the kickbacks from the BatanElCo project were supposedly setting me up for life, I was selling Subway sandwich coupons to people on the street and stacking books in the university library. Even now, having achieved relative recognition, my wife and I haven’t stopped working hard. If we had had millions stashed away somewhere, I would now have a lot of explaining to do to my in-laws who fed and sheltered us while I was pursuing my Master’s.

During the ten years I have been living away from the Philippines I have witnessed my parents go through numerous upheavals, often with the difficulty of witnessing it from miles away, unable to do anything about it beyond a comforting text or phone call. I wasn’t there when my father resigned from Gloria Arroyo’s cabinet but I can vividly remember the feeling of pride and fear. Pride for my father’s courageous stand and fear over what vindictive act Gloria would commit to retaliate. If my father were benefiting so much from a rotten system, why would he stand up against it and give it all up? It is a sacrifice he has made again and again, a sacrifice he made when he was incarcerated with my mother and my sister during the Marcos dictatorship, a sacrifice he made when he resigned from the Department of Agrarian Reform amidst allegations of being a Communist, a sacrifice he made when he denounced the rampant corruption during Estrada’s presidency. It is a sacrifice I am certain he and Nanay would be willing to make again and again for the sake of what is right.

It’s often said that we Filipinos suffer from very short memories. While I refuse to succumb to that generalisation, it is an unfortunate fact that the Filipinos who suffer from the shortest of memories are the ones that are most vocal about it.

As an artist, I take pride in the vitality of my imagination. It is what allows me to earn a living and it is what allows me to live a life worth living. But my imagination pales in comparison to my parents, who, even as they encounter numerous setbacks, still dare to imagine. They dare to imagine a country where justice can be served, even when those who have committed grave acts of injustice would rather burn the house down than admit defeat. They dare to imagine a country where hope and change is possible, even as those who revel in the comforts of cynicism insist on limiting those possibilities. —Pio Abad


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