Walden Bello versus Anakbayan
SAN FRANCISCO — My first reaction when I saw the video clip of the Akbayan presscon being disrupted by the Anakbayan activists was to notice how grey Walden Bello had become.
Nearly 70 and still going at it, I thought.
My second reaction was to think: “Just stay calm and wait for them to get tired of yelling. Or maybe just end the presscon and walk away.”
It was wishful thinking. Walden was not going to just stay quiet and take the abuse. He was going to speak out and fight back.
The incident reminded me of the time he and I accompanied a friend when she had to take her driving test in Oakland. The man who gave the test, who was white, was openly rude to the point of being racist to our friend. Walden blew up and openly complained about the way she was being treated.
In calling for the disqualification of Akbayan, the Anakbayan activists accused Walden and Co. of red-baiting.
If the allegations are true, then I agree with Anakbayan. Red-baiting, in which a group is portrayed unfairly as being a front for an illegal, subversive organization is unfair and should be condemned.
It’s dangerous and likely to provoke a violent backlash against its targets.
Certainly, it would be unfair to paint a legal political party like Anakbayan, as being a tool of the underground left, a movement which began as force for reform led by the likes of Edgar Jopson, Eman Lacaba and Lorena Barros, but which has steadily morphed into a violent dogmatic shadow of its former self.
It would certainly be mean-spirited to try to link groups like Anakbayan to a group known for burning schools, extorting businesses and even killing its own members in bloody purges.
But then again, the picture the militants drew of Walden and his allies — that of treacherous, opportunistic, unprincipled collaborators with the worst elements of the military – is also pretty hard to accept.
It simply does not fit the portrait I and others have of Walden who has fought bullies and forces of repression all his life.
Now, mine is not an idealized or romantic portrait.
Let me say this now, Walden is a friend, but he can be a pain. He can be overbearing and impatient to the point of even being offensive. When he found himself in hot water for portraying allies of former President Arroyo as pigs, I thought, “Yep, that’s Walden.”
But Walden is undoubtedly one of the most original and sharpest political thinkers today, respected internationally as a maverick activist-intellectual. Just as important, he’s probably the hardest working activist-intellectual I know.
I’ve seen him in action in San Francisco, writing books and op-ed pieces, giving speeches, poring over research papers and the most boring looking government reports while running a major nonprofit organization called Food First. He used to work during weekends.
He was known for being such a hard worker that a friend of ours even told me, “Sometimes you just start to doubt yourself while watching him work. Is there something wrong with me that I’m not working as hard as him?”
That drive produced results.
He exposed the World Bank’s policies in the Philippines during the Marcos era in the book “Development Debacle,” became a spokesman against the abuses of corporate globalization and for sustainable economic development.
And he’s been doing this work for decades. Nearly 70 and still going at it.
With his credentials, Walden could have chosen a quieter life as an academic or political analyst. But he was too much of an activist, and a pretty daring one at that.
Before he became Congressman Bello, Walden once dressed up as Kermit the Frog during a protest outside the International Monetary Fund office in Washington DC. He led the storming of the Philippine Embassy at the height of the 1986 People Power Revolt, and was the one who declared, “We are claiming this embassy in the name of the Filipino people.” He even proclaimed himself acting Philippine ambassador.
I wasn’t at all surprised when he led the delegation to the Kalayaan Island, in what I actually thought was a risky political stunt.
Many of his friends here in the Bay Area were surprised and even dismayed when he joined Congress. But in that new role, he has clearly had an impact – he has helped shake up traditional Philippine politics.
I actually think he can be an ideal legislator, a detail-oriented policy wonk who can combine the passion of a political activist with the intellectual discipline of an academic.
Like I said, he can be a pain. But then again, that’s what the job entails.
That he is being attacked, with so much disrespect, with such seething hatred, by young militants who probably don’t know the work he has done, the battles he has fought, the causes he has advanced for Filipinos is unfortunate and sad.
But I wouldn’t worry too much about Congressman Kermit who, at nearly 70, is still going at it.
Follow on Twitter @BoyingPimentel. Subscribe to www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel
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