Writing for the People

The truth cannot merely be written; it must be written for someone…

Bertolt Brecht,
“Writing the Truth: Five Difficulties”

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s imposition of Martial Law in Maguindanao last December 2009 casts an eerie reminder of the dark days of the Marcos Dictatorship, when civil and human rights were suspended and all dissent was repressed. Writing then became a fatal enterprise with the arrest of opposition figures, killing of activists, and the clampdown of media.

But submission was not the only option for this same bleak period saw the flowering of an alternative press that provided the people information that the government controlled media did not publish. The campus press became an important part of the alternative press, influential not only for its wide circulation but also in its ability to mobilize public opinion as a powerful force for social change.

The history of Pagbutlak is itself testament to such a reality, born as it was in 1974 in the midst of the students’ struggles for revival after the publication office was padlocked by the military in 1972. Pagbutlak’s name, which is Hiligaynon for dawn, came to stand for a time proclaiming the victory of light after a struggle with darkness.

But the oppressive conditions under the dictatorship continue to persist until the present. Opposition to the Arroyo regime and its cohorts’ schemes is dealt with massacres, disappearances, and illegal detention. If 3,257 extrajudicial killings were committed in a span of two decades under the US-sponsored Marcos regime as listed by noted historian Alfred McCoy, the human rights alliance KARAPATAN has documented 1,118 political killings under the Arroyo regime in a mere 9 years.

Press freedom similarly remains threatened. The massacre of 34 journalists by the Ampatuans in Maguindanao puts the Philippines in the map as the most dangerous place for journalists in the world, surpassing war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

The same climate of danger reigns in a number of universities and colleges all over the nation with the administration’s interventions, censorship, the withholding of funds, and the outright closure of critical student publications. Along with these are the instances of threats of libel, military surveillance, suspension, and expulsion of student editors and staffers.

The University of the Philippines, the supposed bastion of freedom and critical thinking, is not exempted from this bleak condition. Starting October 2009, staffers of the UP Los Baños Perspective along with 111 other students and faculty members were labeled by the military as armed communist rebels in flyers circulated in the campus. Moreover, after being denied its budget this year, the UPLB Perspective is once again being crippled with the suspension order issued last December for Perspective Editor-in-Chief Arbeen Acuña, Student Regent Charisse Bañez, and 6 other students.

We thus come face to face with the limits of writing for writing’s sake. We expose the myth of neutrality and pure objectivity in writing as a farce for writing can never be separated from the social conditions of crisis, subjugation, and struggle that gave birth to it. Writing is in itself a highly subjective act as reflected in the words you use or the topic you choose to write about.

This year’s Pagbutlak thus aims to be more than just a venue for the self-expression of a limited number of students or a mere transmission belt for disseminating the views of the university administration. By reporting on significant events, ideas and issues in a truthful and fair way, Pagbutlak aims to awaken readers to the realities in our community and society in order to help shape informed decisions on relevant issues confronting us all and provide a guide for a collective response.

The ouster of SR Bañez, the 2009 Code of Student Conduct, the tuition and other fee increases, the privatization of education, the prioritization of foreign debt servicing over the social services, the rising cost of oil and basic commodities, the killings and enforced disappearances of activists and journalists, and the coming presidential elections are but a few of the realities that demand our attention.

The idea of writing as a liberating act is not a new one. From the First Propaganda Movement against the Spanish colonizers to the alternative press during the dark years of the Marcos dictatorship up to the present, the pen always had a part in the collective struggle for genuine freedom and democracy. This is what some forget when they hastily label movements that vocally expose and oppose social realities of injustice as leftist, radical, or subversive and therefore to be avoided. Such easy avoidance is the bad habit of the faint hearted.

Writing is a powerful weapon for illuminating the truth and molding opinions. Writing then, to be relevant in these times of great injustice, must be a committed one. It sides with the oppressed people against the oppressors.

To keep silent about injustice is to aid in its perpetuation. ■

Note: Published as the editorial of the January-February 2010 issue of Pagbutlak, the Official Student Publication of the University of the Philippines Visayas College of Arts and Sciences.

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