Human rights warrior vs. CPP founder: Two portraits of the Left
Etta Rosales, human rights warrior, is under fire for what she does best: stand up for human rights.
But here’s the twist: Rosales, the longtime activist, torture victim, former chair of the venerable Commission on Human Rights, has been called a traitor by someone who’s taken a position so unashamedly traitorous: that it’s okay for a dictator, responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses the country has ever endured, to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
The exchange between Rosales and CPP founder Joma Sison is both enraging and inspiring, an illustration of how Philippine politics has been turned on its head in the Duterte era. Young Filipinos interested in understanding what the Philippine Left is about can learn much from this debate.
It all began when Rosales criticized CPP founder Joma Sison’s statement that it was okay for Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.
Sison didn’t want to upset the ongoing peace talks with President-elect Duterte and besides, he argues, the incoming president himself said the late tyrant was buried there “not as a hero but as a soldier.”
Rosales’ response was to be expected from a woman who has devoted her life to fighting bullies and their allies. She called the plan to bury the late dictator at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani “a betrayal of the Filipino people’s historical struggle against martial rule and repression.”
Letting this betrayal happen, she argued, means “buckling down to the pressure of the Marcos family to revise history under martial rule—a history of heinous crimes, of plunder and massive corruption.”
“Is it not the height of irony then that the road to peace and reconciliation should start with giving Ferdinand Marcos, the oppressor of martial law martyrs, recognition as a hero by allowing to have him buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani?” she said.
Sison’s reaction began with a distasteful attack on a respected institution born out of the struggle against dictatorship. He described as “bogus” the Commission on Human Rights, the institution created by one of the heroes of the struggle, the late Sen. Pepe Diokno.
“Etta Rosales, former chair of the bogus Human Rights Commission, is a consistent traitor to the revolutionary movement of the Filipino people,” Sison said.
And he kept going, unleashing a bizarre, incomprehensible tirade against her and even her late father. I linked to Sison’s site so you can read it yourself, but here are highlights:
He accused Rosales of “collaborating with the Aquino regime in the unjust imprisonment of hundreds of political prisoners” and “peddling the notion that the Libingan ng mga Bayani is a cemetery of real heroes.”
The Libingan in Sison’s mind is actually the resting place of “many traitors.” Like who? Oh, pretty much every soldier and civilian who fought to defend the nation, like Etta Rosales’ father, who served as ”military attache of the Philippine reactionary government to Washington, supplying intelligence to the US government against the Filipino people.”
The he added this: “Marcos deserves to be with Etta’s father in the same cemetery of traitors.”
The exchange, while enraging for many of us who lived through martial law, is also an opportunity to show young Filipinos that the Philippine Left is not one monolithic force.
For in this confusing transition, it’s important for them to understand, as I’ve stressed in an essay on the Marcos years, that we must always be wary of forces or leaders that present themselves as the nation’s saviors based on twisted claims, including those who claim to represent the correct political line.
For both Rosales and Sison are identified with the Left, yet here they are engaged in a bitter debate that in the CPP founder’s case, can also take a mean-spirited turn.
You can tell the CPP founder was really fuming mad when he wrote this. It’s probably because the exchange exposes his shrinking faction of the left as shallow and trapped in an ossified view of the world.
On the other hand, you have a human rights warrior like Rosales, who never stopped being an activist, never stopped being a fighter on the side of the weakest and most vulnerable in society, even after she was sexually assaulted in prison by her military captors and then subjected to all kinds of abuse by Sison’s movement when she broke away.
She’s also a figure of the Left, the vibrant and democratic segment of that movement led by people who believe in peace based on justice.
“While the entire Filipino nation fully supports the road to peace between the communists and the Philippine republic,” she said, “this road must be anchored on a healing process of truth, compassion and justice.”
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