The Bright Light of Selflessness

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I first met Pete Daroy in 1961, or some 39 years ago, during the Collegian editorship of Leonardo Quisumbing, now a justice of the Supreme Court. Pete was Leo’s literary editor. I was features editor. Jose Ma. Sison was research editor. Pete was from a town in Samar which he insisted had never heard of salt, Joe from Cabugao, Ilocos Sur, and I from Manila. Pete was a perennial taker of the Collegian examinations, but never quite made it to editor. That didn’t stop him from being in the staff of several Collegian editors over a five-year period. Most of the Collegian editors then, not all, were liberal, which was what Pete was, initially.

Pete and Joe and Julie Sison — graduate students all — were almost always together, an unlikely trio walking around the campus, constantly arguing with each other in between the poems and the statements and manifestoes that Joe was always writing on this or that subject, and the long essays that Pete wrote to fill the four literary pages of the Collegian. They were also constantly laughing at each other’s jokes, and over Pete’s observations about various persons, the literary scene, and manners in general. But it was a serious association, though a free and easy and funny one. Just how serious it was would be demonstrated as the decade wore on, and Pete Daroy went from writing like Lionel Trilling to quoting Marx and Lenin. From Pete and Joe we heard about what was going on in Cuba under the leadership of the young Fidel, as well as of the Congo’s remarkable Patrice Lumumba.

I think it was still in the early sixties, when the world was still young and UP students still passionate about ideas, that Pete published a book called Against the National Grain, which Joe Sison impishly contended was a book against rice, but was actually a book against everything. This collection of his essays, said Pete’s favorite professor, the late Dolores Feria, put him head and shoulders above other UP writers. That was no mean achievement, campus writing then being far more exacting, far more thoughtful and far more skilful. Exactitude, thought and skill were qualities Pete had in large amounts, and wit besides. I remember his reviewing in the Collegian my first ever published short story, in NVM Gonzalez’ Philippine Writing I, and his saying that I “bore the stamp of NVM’s rubber, ” which later — much later — I thought was just. I recall that statement now only because I can’t, not in this company, quote his irreverent and absolutely hilarious descriptions of the campus icons, whether political or literary, of those times.

In the UP Writers Club as in the Collegian Pete was equally irreverent. Beyond his fondness for repartee to deflate the pretentious, however, Pete led, in that bastion of colonialism and art for art’s sake, a writers movement for writing of social significance. The UP Writers Club was never the same again, in fact reinventing itself in the mid-sixties in defiance of its primary 1927 mandate to make English the language of Philippine literature.

Those too young today may find that difficult to imagine now. But the decade of the 60s was a period of reexamination, of rethinking, of ferment in this University. Among the consequences of this ferment was the University’s investigation by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities, or CAFA, which could not abide any kind of deviation from the dominant ideas sanctioned by the semi-colonial and semi-feudal regime, among them support for parity rights and the feudal order, and for anything American, including, perhaps specially, imperialism.

CAFA at that time was headed by someone who doesn’t deserve to be remembered. The world was in the depths of the Cold War, the Philippines being the lowest depths. Anti-communism was in fashion, every second person you met was likely to be some kind reactionary. Those who didn’t believe in God or doubted His existence were regarded as some kind of freak, and likely to be a communist. Stupidity reigned, among the evidence, for example, being the widespread public acceptance of CAFA’s claim that conservative UP was infested with communists, and that these communists were in the philosophy department where at that time logical positivism was in vogue. Stupidity was equally in evidence in the government’s barring from entry into the Philippines the Yugoslavian basketball team, the team members presumably being card-carrying members of the Yugoslavian Workers Party. Pete himself was among the UP students CAFA was investigating, for a piece he wrote in the Philippinensian, the UP yearbook, called “The Tower of Babel and the Tower of Ivory,” in which he had argued the need for artists and intellectuals to immerse themselves in the worlds of workers and peasants — at that time considered a truly subversive idea.

In this environment Pete wrote a devastating essay for the Collegian called “Portrait of the Anti-Communist,” not so much because he was inspired by Jean Paul Sartre’s “Anti-Semite and Jew,” as he was outraged by the stupidity that reigned in Philippine society. Yet at that time Pete was a liberal and called himself one, and there was much good-natured ribbing between him and Joe Sison who called himself, as early as that time, a Marxist, thus being the only socialist in Manila within a radius of fifty kilometers. But by 1970 Pete, like hundreds of other artists and writers and intellectuals, would describe himself as a socialist too, remaining one until his death. Pete became active in the revolutionary movement in the late 60s and early 70s even as he continued to write, before the declaration of martial rule being with the Graphic. His involvement earned him a beating by military goons, and a stint in Marcos’ prisons, having been betrayed and arrested in Tondo while underground and lending his considerable skills as a writer to the anti-dictatorship resistance.

For those who knew the Pete of the 60s, Pete in Tondo and among the masses didn’t quite seem right. But it was. A disciple of the avant garde, he had found that the most avant garde of all was the developing movement for change, and its vanguard organization.

Pete was an example of the person of intelligence, sophistication and wit, and of compassion and goodwill, outraged by a society ruled by stupidity and brutalized by an unjust social structure. Pete embraced socialism as the only true path to a society of justice and humanity. Revolution, the building of a new society over the ruins of the old one, Pete used to say, was the ultimate creative act.

As a writer and critic, as a newspaper columnist and opinion editor, Pete never lost sight of what living as sentient beings, despite the compromises that come with age, should be all about, which is the construction of something better than ourselves. His generation has done that, helped construct something better than themselves, for they helped lead us, callow youth from city and countryside as we were, and he a sophisticate from the wilds of Samar, into the bright light of selflessness where all of humanity should be.

(Delivered at the Parangal on January 29, 2000 at the Church of the Risen Lord, UP Diliman, QC

Source: Philippine Studies Web site by the International Network for Philippines Studies)

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