Rosca discusses women’s rights and American public’s ‘willful ignorance’ of US presence in Philippines.
Q: Where did the idea for “Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World” originate?
A: It was Julieta de Lima Sison [Professor Sison’s wife] who first spoke to me about a biography of Jose Maria Sison. This was way back in 1986; I was on press assignment in the Philippines, and Professor Sison was still imprisoned incommunicado.
Q: What is the story behind how you decided to collaborate with Professor Sison for this particular book project?
A: In 2001, Professor Sison wrote me that a publisher was willing to publish a book by and/or on him. I would learn later that this was Open Hand. I thought about the proposal for a few days, principally how it would affect my work on women’s issues, and then said okay. I felt it would be an interesting project – I’d learn more and be able to provide others with better information on the man and the movement.
Q: How does this book further your own political/social “agendas”?
A: The windfall I expected from the book was and remains that of encouraging women, especially Filipinas, to engage in political discourse and action. I’m still not seeing enough of it, particularly analyses of the materialist foundations of gender-based exploitations.
Q: Do you feel any personal connections between you and JMS, more specifically his life experience and your own?
A: I think most people of his generation and mine would feel such a connection. Our view of the world was altered by Prof. Sison’s ideas. This is difficult for some to understand but, as in Europe, intellectuals comprise a very narrow section of the Philippine population so our influence on one another can be profound and intense. For many youth/students in the Philippines, the western world was much more real than the world of the people who produced our food, who made our houses, who drove the vehicles that took us around the city, or even the world of impoverished women who cooked, cleaned and did our laundry…Prof. Sison, in effect, made visible what had been rendered invisible by neo-colonialism and a distorted culture. I should point out as well that when practically the whole world, including the US, supported the Marcos Dictatorship, Prof. Sison was among the first to raise the banner of resistance to that evil. He showed Filipinos that they could get that monkey off their backs, notwithstanding its support by the strongest nations in the world. Plus get rid of other monkeys.
Q: What are your most current projects, activities, interests, with GABRIELA or any other organizations? How does the promotion of this book fall into these?
A: I am trying to help build a strong international solidarity network for GABRIELA Philippines. We anticipate increased repression, what with 11 women who are either members or affiliates already murdered within a short period. The work of GABRIELA Philippines is so vital, especially in the context of almost 650,000 women exported from the archipelago in 2004. But the work is also demanding of time, effort and resources. As a consequence, such things as repairs to the GABRIELA House in Metro-Manila are constantly postponed. This house is one of the few “safe spaces” for women; I think they even have a free clinic in there. Now, the roof leaks.
Personally, I’m finishing up the final version of my novel, “Broken Symmetry.” And trying to catch up on sleep.
In promoting the book, I am compelled to discuss the Philippines in a comprehensive manner. Thus, the importance of GABRIELA’s work enters this formulation.
Q: Why is this book a necessary read for an American audience? How does it directly pertain to the average American?
A: Living in New York City where 9/11 happened, I pity those who express bewilderment over countries, nations and peoples not “liking” the US. They can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that in most cases, US intervention in other places, nations and cultures damages the latter – physically, mentally and spiritually. Anent the Philippines, with its 100+ years of relationship with the US, it is time that Americans learn a different view of that relationship.
The American perspective is exemplified by a plaque near the Philadelphia museum Olympia, which Commodore George Dewey sailed into Manila Bay in 1898. The plaque cites the Spanish-American War and how that signaled “American military and political maturity.” No mention at all of Filipinos, as if the so-called Philippine Islands were uninhabited, except for some Spanish soldiers. The Filipino perspective, on the other hand, hinges on the loss of national independence and nearly a million lives in what was really an invasion and occupation by the US. Americans no longer remember, but we do.
As do the Native Americans; as assuredly people in Iraq will. Memory, collective memory, is not bound by space/time.
Q: What is the most current political context in which you believe this book falls?
A: Considering that Prof. Sison has been included in the terrorist list, this should probably be in the context of the alleged war on terrorism – which some have taken to calling a war of terrorism. But the book is also an important treatise on globalization and imperialism.
Q: Do you feel this book is a vehicle/tool for social change? Have you had any personal experience thus far with readers who have been moved by the book?
A: I heard of a young man in Los Angeles reading it cover to cover non-stop. A woman in the Philippines came to me to say “thank you for doing this.” I’ve heard people say nice things about the introduction. Also Prof. Sison’s poems – they’re shorter than the text and hence, readily accessible – have become very well known. I’ve seen the book’s contents sung, danced, turned into drama…etc. I’ve seen people take the book as a collective expression of the movement’s history, thoughts and aspirations. I’ve glimpsed how words can become a material force…In other words, I’ve seen the book acquire a life of its own. That is exquisite.
Q: How do you feel about the average American’s knowledge of the political climate in the Philippines? What do you believe could draw the American public’s attention to the presence of US troops in the Philippines, as well as social injustices prevalent in the country?
A: I used to think Americans truly didn’t know. But now I have to conclude it is willful ignorance. Hard to believe that in a country where books aren’t a luxury; where so many sources of information exist, and after a hundred years, that Americans wouldn’t know. I’ve come to believe that the average American doesn’t want to know because otherwise, he/she would be duty-bound to do something about it. By the way, I include in the term “American” those of Filipino ancestry.
Q: What obstacles have you personally faced as a result of co-authoring this book? Have you had any problems regarding Professor Sison’s terrorist listing, political affiliations, etc.?
A: There have been different reactions to the book. The negative ones generally come from two groups: those who object to my work as an advocate for Filipinas; and those who object to Prof. Sison’s work as that has shaped the Philippine national democratic movement. Neither group has read the book. As far as I’m concerned, so long as the book’s main thesis remains un-refuted, I remain unbothered. There’s an old Arab saying: “Dogs bark but the caravan moves on.”
Frankly, I barely listen to comments on my writing. This is so un-p.c., I know, but by the time a work of mine goes public, I have already criticized it far worse than anybody else can. I confess, though, that occasionally, when I hear petty caviling – quite common in oppressed communities – I have to bite my tongue to keep from exclaiming, “Well, do your own book, you gutless wonder.”
So far, I haven’t had any problems regarding JMS’s terrorist listing. First of all, the book contract was signed before he was listed. Second, I am a professional writer. Third, in the absence of due process, the terrorist list is merely a matter of opinion. And I don’t agree he should be labeled a terrorist. Who or what, after all, killed one million Filipinos?
Regarding his political affiliations, I am quite open with the use of class-gender analysis in studying the issues and situation of the women of the Philippines. How can one avoid that in a country where less than one per cent control/own 90% of the wealth resources, and where there are roughly only 60 important family names?