Strength in Humility: What Lean Alejandro showed us
The night the Marcos dictatorship fell on February 25, 1986 I was with a group of activists led by Lean Alejandro, marching on Espana Avenue. We were on our way to Malacanang — but we never made it to the presidential palace.
Corazon Aquino’s supporters were already there celebrating the end of a fascist regime. But we weren’t welcome to the party. False and mean-spirited reports had accused left-wing activists with the national democratic movement of planning to loot the palace.
We decided to hold a program on Espana where Lean affirmed the victory against dictatorship while acknowledging that the fight against injustice and inequality was not over.
The antagonism toward us was based on many factors, including the fact that we had called for a boycott of the 1986 presidential elections.
I still look back on the boycott campaign as the most arrogant political position I’ve ever embraced. Certainly, our fear that the Cory era would bring back the old, elitist, corrupt political order turned out to be valid, for that’s exactly what happened. But at that critical moment, getting rid of Marcos was the most important task. And supporting the Cory campaign was the clearest way to achieving that.
The boycott campaign turned out to be the lamentable denouement to a story of courage and heroism in the fight against Marcos. For there’s no denying that the national democrats played a critical role in the struggle against him.
At a time when fear and intimidation reigned in the country, when many of the traditional political parties remained silent or even cooperated with the regime, the national democrats, against enormous odds, were fighting back. Many of the most prominent martyrs of the struggle against the regime were activists of the national democratic movement, including Edgar Jopson, Eman Lacaba and Lorena Barros.
By the 1980s, the national democratic movement was the biggest and most organized political force against the dictatorship. But that imposing political presence also bred arrogance.
The national democrats became an overbearing partner in alliances, using their size to maneuver and bully smaller political groups. This eventually led to the boycott campaign. From a political force with enormous influence, the national democrats became isolated, even besieged.
Which brings me back to Lean.
He was the most visible spokesman of the boycott campaign. Because of that, he bore the brunt of the criticism and ridicule leveled against the national democrats.
We recently marked the 30th anniversary of Lean Alejandro’s assassination and it’s an appropriate time to remember what was undoubtedly one of the toughest moments of his short life — and, for me at least, one of the most inspiring.
For Lean faced the criticisms with grace, strength and humility. In fact, that’s one of the things I will always admire about Lean: He showed us how, in a political struggle, there’s strength in humility.
He was never shrill, never petty and always came across as someone who was willing to engage even those who disagreed with his positions in a meaningful conversation.
The last time we talked at the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan headquarters on Rosal Street in Cubao, he stressed the importance of optimism, saying something like; “We should make sure that we don’t become cynical.”
A few months later, he was gone, gunned down right outside that the Bayan headquarters.
Many prominent national democrats, including his widow, Lidy Nacpil, eventually broke with the national democrats, rejecting what they saw as the movement’s undemocratic, even totalitarian, tendencies — and its arrogance.
Sadly, it is the same type of arrogance that the movement once again put on display as it announced its break with the Duterte administration.
It took more than a year for the national democrats to conclude that the Duterte administration is a fascist regime, brutal and dangerous. That’s what other political forces and personalities have been saying shortly after the Duterte Slaughter began last year.
But to some prominent leaders of the national democratic movement, there’s really no need to explain why they embraced a leader who inspired a cruel and vicious campaign that has left thousands dead, most of them poor Filipinos.
“There are those who want to place the onus of a fully evolved corrupt, puppet and fascist Duterte on the Left,” Carol Araullo, one of the movement’s prominent leaders, wrote. “In doing so, they wish to put the Left on the defensive. The charge or innuendo that the Left ‘enabled’ the Duterte regime is patently wrong.”
There are those who “acknowledge the reasons for the Left doing so; recognize the Left’s sustained, principled position on issues; and their never giving up the fight for genuine change,” she continued.
“They are not making puerile demands that the Left apologize for having been duped by Duterte and they welcome the Left’s earnest efforts to build a strong and broad opposition against the Duterte regime’s EJKS and rising tyranny.”
“To the former, we say good luck to your demolition job.”
I had one thought when I read that last part: that’s not how Lean Alejandro would have reacted, even to the most bitter criticism.
He would have acknowledged why some people were disappointed, even shocked, that the movement’s entered into an alliance with Duterte. He would not accuse them of making puerile demands or launching a demolition job. He would explain his political stance with candor, openness — and humility.
Of course, there’s a stronger chance that Lean would be on the other side of this dispute, that like other former national democrats, he would have long embraced the path of independent progressives.
In that case, he would have led the way in reaching out to the national democrats, and would have rejected any form of arrogance — such as calling for a blacklist of personalities who had expressed support for Duterte.
The line that was missing in Araullo’s column was this: “We recognize now that our alliance with this government was a mistake. We now accept that those who opposed him shortly after the killings began were right, and we join them in waging this fight.”
Why is it so hard for the national democratic movement to say that, to make a statement that could pave the way for the “strong and broad opposition against the Duterte regime’s EJKS and rising tyranny” Araullo mentioned.
For clearly, many leaders who have long opposed Duterte would be more than willing to align with a movement with the clout and reach that the national democrats still enjoy.
I would not even be surprised if many of the movement’s young activists had long been pushing for the break with Duterte, and probably share with young activists from other groups a burning desire to put an end to the slaughter.
These are the same young Filipinos who would have been inspired by Lean’s courage, grit, humility and definitely by his fervent respect for life and human rights, that the Duterte regime brazenly abuses.
“Every day this dictatorship humiliates our people,” Lean said in a 1985 letter he wrote from prison to UP Professor Rita Estrada. “It subjects our people to dehumanization, denial and death. We must bring it down and all its institutions with it. But we must never utilize the cruel and barbaric methods of tyranny.”
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