LOS ANGELES – In the 1980s, Erin Tañada and I spent much of our time in the streets.
Defying the Marcos dictatorship defined our youth. In his case, it was a family affair. Often in the streets with us during those days were his lolo, the late Senator Lorenzo Tañada, and his father, the former Senator Wigberto Tañada.
I wrote about the three of them in a feature article on the three generations of Tañadas in the late 1980s. Erin said he still has a copy of it framed in his office.
“You have more white hair,” Erin quipped when we saw each other on Wednesday at a seafood restaurant in Los Angeles.
He had just arrived from Manila the day before. I had flown in that morning from San Francisco. We were having lunch with Nimfa Rueda and Fe Koons of the US chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
The group had invited us to speak at the commemoration of the third anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre and on the debate over the Freedom of Information bill. I was invited to share my own experiences as a journalist in the US which passed its own FOIA in 1966.
It was not exactly an upbeat time for Erin, who serves as deputy speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives. The Freedom of Information bill is dying. “Nasa ICU,” he later told the audience at the event.
But that day in LA, offered ample reminders that often, these kinds of battles take time.
Lunch was supposed to be followed by a movie. Raymond Red’s “Himpapawid” was scheduled to be shown at a local cinema. But the show got cancelled.
With time to kill, Fe and Nimfa took us to a piece of Philippine history in southern California. In September, the city of Carson unveiled a monument of Jose Rizal. It now stands outside city hall, a reminder of the growing importance and influence of Filipinos in California where the community is now roughly two-million strong.
Still, there are signs of the work that needs to be done to highlight the Filipino American story.
In the city hall lobby, a display commemorated the rise of the United Farm Workers movement. A portrait of Cesar Chavez, the revered Mexican American leader, is at the center.
We quickly noted a missing element – Filipinos should also be in that exhibit, led by the late labor leaders Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, who spearheaded the strike that led to the birth of the UFW.
The mayor of Carson, Jim Dear, took time to welcome us, even though he was busy entertaining another group of overseas visitors, a delegation of Chinese local officials touring his city.
Suddenly, he had a truly international gathering, the mayor quipped, and he cheerfully introduced the Philippine deputy House speaker to his guests from China. Erin posed for pictures with the Chinese officials and the Carson City mayor.
From there, we headed back to LA, to the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles building in of Historic Filipinotown, yet another reminder of Filipino political clout. The district was created by the LA City Council in 2002, a tribute to the city’s Filipino heritage.
The evening was for remembering a dark chapter in our history.
It’s been three years since 58 people, 32 of them journalists, were ambushed and slaughtered in Ampatuan, Maguindanao – a crime that shocked the world.
In Historic Filipinotown, in a little corner of America, seven thousand miles from the spot where the heinous crime took place, the pain and sadness were still evident.
They could be seen in the paintings and the posters on display, one showing the pictures of the victims. They could be felt in the poem read with passion by Vics Magsaysay, and in the candlelight ceremony to honor the journalists killed in the massacre.
There was some anger and frustration.
This is where Erin played an important role. He’s in the government and could say what many wanted to hear: Yes, it’s been three years. It’s taking time for the process to move forward. But it is moving and there will be justice for those who were murdered.
Erin himself expressed his own frustration with his own effort to get the Freedom of Information bill passed. That also has stalled, due mainly to the inaction of a congressional committee chairman and the opposition of powerful people who fear a more open democracy.
Still, Erin is hopeful – which is why he cut his trip short to attend a key meeting on Tuesday.
But he’s running out of time. Erin’s third and final term as congressman will end in June. What happens to the Freedom of Information bill? Others will continue fighting for it. He will, of course, help.
In any case, he knows about long struggles. And we were reminded that day that, again, these fights take time.
His grandfather and father knew this, too, having fought the good fight on many issues, from dictatorship, the US military presence to human rights.
Even the effort to raise the profile of Filipinos in the telling of American history takes time. In fact, it’s paying off. A new generation of scholars and historians are pushing for greater recognition of Itliong and Vera Cruz’s roles in the struggles and creation of the United Farm Workers movement.
While the campaign for a Freedom of Information law in the Philippines has stalled, Erin has already laid down a foundation strong enough for others to build on even when he’s no longer in Congress.
A Facebook update underscored this.
“Thank you for leading the fight for the Freedom of Information Bill,” one of his colleagues, Rep. Walden Bello wrote on his Facebook page, in a tribute to Erin. “It was a bill that the majority of the House and Senate wanted, but a few powerful forces derailed. You showed great courage, despite the political costs that your crusade exacted. Your allies in the struggle salute you.”
Erin will be back in Manila early next week to give that struggle yet another push.
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