Defying Trump with creative tactic used vs. Marcos dictatorship
Two resignation letters Donald Trump received last month drew attention for the ingenious way they defied the unpopular US president.
It’s a creative form of resistance familiar to many Filipinos — a respected poet-activist used it 45 years ago against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. It was a daring and courageous act of rebellion against dictatorship that’s worth remembering today as Filipinos confront another fascist regime led by Rodrigo Duterte.
The first letter to Trump, dated August 19, was from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, whose members, including the novelist Jhumpa Lahiri and the actor Kal Penn, resigned from the body.
“Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville,” they wrote.
A few days later, on August 23, Daniel Kammen, a UC Berkeley professor and energy expert, stepped down as the U.S. State Department’s science envoy, citing Trump’s “failure to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis” after the violent confrontation in Charlottesville.
“Particularly troubling to me is how your response to Charlottesville is consistent with a broader pattern of behavior that enables sexism and racism, and disregards the welfare of all Americans, the global community and the planet,” Kammen wrote.
Each letter contained a concealed message. Read downward, the first letters of each paragraph spelled a defiant statement.
The letter from The Committee on the Arts and Humanities declared: RESIST. Kammen made another call: IMPEACH.
More than 40 years ago, in one of the famous acts of rebellion during the Marcos regime, my friend Jose “Pete” Lacaba, poet, screenwriter and journalist, came out with a longer, more defiant and ultimately more dangerous message.
It was embedded in Pete’s poem “Prometheus Unbound,” published in Focus magazine in 1973, under a pseudonym Ruben Cuevas. The poem didn’t seem to have anything to do with the Marcos regime or the political situation in the country at first reading:
Mars shall glow tonight,
Artemis is out of sight.
Rust in the twilight sky
Colors a bloodshot eye,
Or shall I say that dust
Sunders the sleep of just?
As Pete recalls in a 2008 blog post, the poem “looked harmless enough, since it sounded Greek to the authorities.”
But as he explains, “Prometheus Unbound” is an acrostic poem: “The first letters of the lines, if read downwards, spell out a Tagalog slogan popular among demonstrators before martial law: ‘Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta’” (Marcos, Hitler, Dictator, Running Dog.)
This was shortly after the declaration of martial law in 1972 and the start of the Marcos dictatorship. It was a time when even the mildest criticism of the dictator could lead to imprisonment, even death.
“Word soon got around that there was something about the poem that was subversive, and the magazine carrying the poem was pulled out of the newsstands by military troops,” Pete recalls.
Pete was later imprisoned and tortured by Marcos’ security forces. During one interrogation session, one of his captors told him, “You’re the one who wrote that poem in that magazine.”
Pete neither confirmed nor denied it. “It was only after the fall of Marcos, after the people power uprising of 1986, that I finally publicly admitted to being the perpetrator of the controversial poem.”
This month marks the 45th anniversary of the start of the Marcos dictatorship. It’s a time to recall the climate of fear and intimidation that engulfed the country in those early weeks, months and years of the regime.
It’s also a time to honor the few people, like Pete Lacaba, who, despite enormous risks and when it was neither fashionable nor wise to publicly oppose government, dared to speak out against a bully.
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