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A SOJOURNER’S VIEW | ‘Ascending the Fourth Mountain’: a must-read book written by a Pinay about Filipino women revolutionaries

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW


ASCENDING THE FOURTH MOUNTAIN: A Personal Account of the Marcos Years
Maria Virginia Yap Morales


BUGHAW – Ateneo de Manila University Press
2021

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews) — Parodying a line from the song during the wedding scene in The Sound of Music, a question is posed: “How do you resolve the problem of Maria?”

From Maria of the film as played by the incomparable Julie Andrews, we shift to Maria Virginia Yap Morales, the author of the remarkable book – Ascending the Fourth Mountain: A Personal Account of the Marcos Years – recently published and launched by the Ateneo de Manila University Press.

This powerful and absorbing book is a memoir of how the author remembers her personal journey through the years growing up in Davao, moving to Manila as she embarked on a new journey in her life that brought her to the campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman at the height of the student unrest in the late 1960s/early 1970s, falling in love in that setting, raising a family and encountering a revolutionary setting that would define the choices she would make in the latter years of her adult life.

In the process of remembering her roots, the book takes on an epic proportion as the narrative allows a glimpse of the shifting of epochs from the Spanish to the American colonial periods, to the birth of the Republic and its downward spiral towards the Marcos authoritarian regime, to EDSA 1and its aftermath that has been such a disappointment to a generation who risked their lives for the country’s liberation from the three evil mountains.

In the course of the narrative the author provides the reader with her family’s genealogy that helps explain the author’s progenitors and how they would determine their family’s social position as well as the course of her life’s choices. Like some ilustrado households, Maria’s clan was constituted by a rich hybridity of races, nationalities and ethnicities (Spanish, Chinese, American, Ilonggo, Cebuano).

While the Yap clan may not have accumulated wealth that would place them at the upper echelon of the elite families in Davao City, still they would belong to the upper middle class that could have a piano in their living room and send their kids to Manila to study. However, the elders of this clan showed true grit in terms of their passion and perseverance, as shown in how they dealt with the challenges faced during the Second World War. The author’s grandfather, Lt. Col. Anastacio Campo, had retired before the war broke out but was ordered to report back after the Japanese bombs hit Davao in December of 1941.

Her father (Dr. Jose Jorge Yap) and mother (Felicitas Campo, a nurse) worked with Filipino and American guerrillas in the Special Intelligence Guerrilla Unit of the United States Forces in the Philippines. The war setting brought Jose and Felicitas together as they met at a Japanese hospital in Mintal. (An interesting vignette: “They hardly had time to get to know each other but they soon married amidst the uncertainties of the war and accepted the guerrillas’ invitation to go to the jungles of North Davao as their medical team.”)

One of the three mountains referred to in the book’s title was soon apparent in how her grandfather and parents were treated by the Americans. It would then provide the personal connection to how the author’s critical consciousness would arise in terms of American imperialism. Fighting alongside the US GIs in what was truly a war of the Americans against the Japanese, in the post-war period the author’s elders realized how the US government would treat veterans unjustly in terms of war damage claims.

The personal is, indeed, also political. But first the personal is historical. Thus the author writes: “I have learned that unless we see our lives against the backdrop of history, our own remains puny, dull, and insignificant. It is only against the backdrop of history that we understand the context of our lives and the period in which we lived.”

There is then the four mountains to ascend which the author would embark on in the course of her own exploration of her destiny. American imperialism, and of course – feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism! Since the late 1960s even until today, the rallying cry of militant activists has been – Ibagsak ang….Down with these three evils which have been the root causes of the people’ poverty and oppression!

But before embarking on a militant journey along with other young people or her generation convinced of the need for a national democratic revolution, Maria lived the normal colegiala life involving their studies, sorority parties, swooning over their crushes, going on dates. Unlike others at UP, she was not immediately drawn to activist life. Early on she was but an observer of what was taking place around her, including the now historic First Quarter Storm. However, studying at UP during this turbulent times allowed exposure to the activism that was rising to a boiling point.

When she met Horacio ‘Boy’ Morales, the personal journey led to a domesticated life. She gave birth to a son and a daughter. Before long there were tensions within the marriage and the book chronicles these ups and downs. She was soon to find out that her husband abandoned a high-paying job as he opted to join the revolutionary movement by going underground (UG). The author had no inkling this was going to happen and was not warned beforehand, so this major shift took her by surprise.

How she coped with the consequences – the security issue, taking care of her children, maintaining a sense of balance in her life – are all chronicled in this memoir. But as the reader goes through the pages, one shares her heartaches. The heart-rending pain is manifested in the various snapshots of a family caught in the vortex of a domestic tragedy. Here then is the setting of the author’s reflection on the need to add one more mountain to the three already named.

There is a spoiler alert here, as the fourth mountain refers to the manner that husbands treat their wives, fathers their daughters, brothers their sisters, men in relation to other women, ad nauseam. This is the main discourse of this book, how patriarchy has caused so much misery for half of humanity that holds the sky, that has resulted in sexism, male chauvinism, toxic masculinity. But what the book has to offer is the specific setting in which prejudice and discrimination arising out of a patriarchal system penetrated deep into the very structure of the revolutionary movement. Because of this angle, the book provides a major contribution to the feminist writings in this country as well as other Third World settings. Maria Virginia Yap Morales’ book is a must-read book about a Pinay, written by a Pinay about Filipino women revolutionaries. On a shelf, it deserves a place beside the books written by or about the likes of Maita Gomez, Mila Aguilar, Maria Lorena Barros, et al.

Following her husband’s radical move to join the underground presumably to take on a high position within the Party, Maria reconsidered the path she should take especially as her two kids no longer needed her full attention. For a while she was active in Manila’s art circles as she took charge of the Caya Art Center in Sam Marcelino with a Silid Sining gallery, a café, and artist’s workshop and a crafts line. She curated a number or art exhibitions under Tuklas. There were other engagements in Manila before she decided to relocate her family back to Davao sometime in 1978.

Returning home, she got involved with legal institutions like Development Education Media Services and the Women Studies and Resource Center as well as in cultural groups such as the Kulturang Atin. By then she had also joined a UG committee with concern for women. Eventually initiatives in trying to bring up women’s concerns led to renewing the Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA) “advocating for women’s orientation that is vital, integral, and distinct within the national liberation struggle as well as the mandate to organize grassroots women organizations as a backbone of the women’s movement.” There was hope that MAKIBAKA would bolster the Communist Party of the Philippines’ Women’s Bureau.

This hope was easily extinguished and the author then provides her own analysis as to why this was so. Meanwhile so many things were unfolding in terms of what was taking place in the country as well as within the revolutionary movement. Reading this book refreshes the reader’s knowledge of the historical events that unfolded between the declaration of martial rule until EDSA: the violence that erupted in Mindanao, the aborted arms shipment from China, the arrests and killings of many activists, the increasing human rights violations, the corruption deals that Marcos and Imelda were engaged in, etc.

Then the events leading to EDSA, and what took place those euphoric February days of 1986. Followed by the demoralization among the ranks of the revolutionary left. Then the reference to the infamous purge that took place within the revolutionary ranks upon suspicion of a massive deep penetration of military agents that led to hundreds of comrades tortured and killed by their fellow rebels. Then a further fragmentation of the militant ranks with a line dividing the RAs (reaffirmists) from the RJs (rejectionists). In a bravura performance, the author writes the narrative even as she is pained as she recalled all of these.

But what makes the memoir even more compelling and utterly authoritative is how the author recalls the cast of characters of this epic drama of celebrities and personalities whose names appeared in countless news articles and whose lives have been dissected through various media. Many constitute the best and the brightest of the generation of scholars, intellectuals and artists who arose out of the student unrest that first percolated in the 1960s. It is a long list as there are hundreds of them named in the book. Just to include the more known – Jose Maria Sison, Rafael Baylosis, Rodolfo Salas, Boy Morales, Maita Gomez, Nelia Sancho, Alan Jazmines, Edgar Jopson, Benjamin de Vera, Romulo Kintanar, et al.

As Maria guides the reader through the activist landscape both in Manila and Mindanao, we not only get to meet her contacts both UG (many could only be named by their aliases) and those working in legal institutions. In the process she indicates the names of institutions, agencies, organizations and Institutes – government, NGO, legal, UG-organized – that she interacted with. The book does not provide a listing of these groups as it would need a lot of space. A non-Filipino reading this book could get lost in this forest of acronyms; truly a phenomenon that arose in those years of resistance.

Many readers who may not have been privy to the dynamics of the UG during this period would find the book helpful in filling in the gaps of their knowledge of what was taking place within the movement. However, there are still gaps to be expected as Maria was a latecomer to the UG and only glimpsed part of what was behind the curtain. She herself was blind as to some of the goings on as when she was told that she had a “security problem” and had to abandon her post in Davao City.

Tensions arose during the volatile years of her engagement with the UG that finally led to her leaving the CPP Women’s Bureau. Years later, her friend Maita Gomez asked her: “Why did you leave?” Her response was: “I want to dream again!”

This book is beautifully written, partly because the author is also an artist. Her book is full of poetic lines. Early on, she writes: “In life there is no closure, just an unending evolutionary circling and cycling that enables us to have a deeper understanding of who we are and of the seeds we chose to nurture. I learned that when I was ready to tell my story and allow it to flow in a stream of consciousness, there was a wellspring to be recovered, a watershed of personal empowerment.” And she ends her book with poetry: “And the way is long/ And it is not yours alone/ And you know/ There are places to roam/ Things to do/ To give life to life/ Long live/ My love soldier!”

But pray tell: “How do you resolve the problem of Maria?” How can all of us – and not just Maria, not just the women – but how can all Filipinos resolve this question of how can we ascend and thus conquer this fourth mountain?

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” and his latest, “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring.”. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]

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