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American socialist in the Philippines

By Roland G. Simbulan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 06:01:00 04/20/2009

Filed Under: Politics, rebellion, history

Last Jan. 12, William J. Pomeroy, 92, a blind American exile in London, quietly passed away, leaving behind a Filipina wife, Celia Mariano-Pomeroy. In every sense, their marriage was bound by the struggle for national liberation and socialism in the Philippines. Among those who paid their respects to him in a memorial tribute in London last Feb. 10 were Jamie Oakes, granddaughter of Gregoria de Jesus, and members of the Filipino Women?s Association in the United Kingdom.

The present generation of mainstream Philippine Left activists may not know him, but the Old Guard of the Philippine Left in the 1950s and 1960s as well as students of social movements in the Philippines would recognize him by his volumes of writings which chronicled the Huk movement, and the international struggle and resistance against neo-colonialism and militarist fascism. Blamed and disparaged for his views on the strategy and tactics of the failed Huk rebellion in the Philippines in the 1950s, William Pomeroy and his wife remained steadfast socialists even in exile in England, inspiring Third World and African movements in their struggle against apartheid and national liberation.

Born in Waterloo, New York on Nov. 25, 1916, William J. Pomeroy was the son of a metal worker. He himself became a factory worker and, as a young man during the Great Depression, committed himself at age 22 to socialism by joining the Communist Party U.S.A.

At the outbreak of World War II, Pomeroy was conscripted into the US Army, 5th Air Force, in the Pacific theater of operations. He was part of the landings in the Philippines in 1944. This was when he met cadres and members of the Hukbalahap, or Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon in Pampanga and became sympathetic to the struggle of Filipino peasants for social reform.

After being discharged from the US Army in 1946, Pomeroy went back to the Philippines and enrolled at the University of the Philippines under the G.I. Bill of Rights. Not long after, he joined the Huks, now renamed the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB). In the Huk movement, Pomeroy met and fell in love with his interpreter Celia Mariano, who finished her BSE degree from UP and who later taught at the Malabon Standard High School. Celia was briefly an examiner at the Bureau of Civil Service before she joined, full time, the Huk movement where she later on became a leading member of the National Education Department of the Communist Party of the Philippines, the only woman Politburo member at that time. Pomeroy and Celia joined the Huks in the jungles of the Sierra Madre mountains where they served as political instructors and propagandists for the predominantly peasant Huk movement.

Captured by the Philippine Army in April 1952 and meted out a life sentence for rebellion, Pomeroy was later released in 1962 with his wife because of an international campaign led by noted philosopher Bertrand Russell and other British dignitaries and parliamentarians. By then, he and Celia had served 10 years in prison in Fort McKinley in Makati. And because Celia was not allowed to join Pomeroy in the United States by the US government, the couple decided to go into exile in England, a home in exile also forced on Karl Marx and his family decades earlier.

While in prison and in exile in London, William J. Pomeroy wrote 15 books and countless articles which were translated into various languages. He is also known to have ghostwritten Luis Taruc?s autobiographical ?Born of the People,? a book that Nelson Mandela used as reference for his study of guerrilla warfare when he was the commander in chief of the Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military arm of the anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. Pomeroy?s works include ?American Neo-Colonialism: Its Emergence in the Philippines and Asia;? ?An American-Made Tragedy: Neo-Colonialism and Dictatorship in the Philippines;? ?Guerrilla Warfare and Marxism: A Collection of Writings from Karl Marx to the Present on Armed Struggles for Liberation and Socialism;? ?The Forest: A Personal Record of the Huk Guerrilla Struggle in the Philippines,? among others.

In London, he was a frequent speaker before student and trade unions on Philippine and Third World issues, and became acquainted with Joe Slovo, chairman of the South African Communist Party, and Ruth First as well as other leaders of the African National Congress, during their visits to London. South African exiles and anti-apartheid campaigners in London are grateful for his works and lectures in support of the African struggle, as well as their sharing of the negative and positive experiences of the peasants? struggle in the Philippines. His wife Celia, in her senior years, also became active in Filipina migrant struggles in the UK. Pomeroy?s works on Africa include ?Apartheid Axis: The United States and South Africa? and ?Apartheid, Imperialism and African Freedom.?

In 2008, a year before his death, Pomeroy sent greetings to an international socialist magazine. He wrote: ?Unfortunately, I am totally blind and unable to do more than dictate this to you: A happy new year to you and all our comrades ... our spirits remain high and we maintain our vision of a socialist future.?

(Roland G. Simbulan is professor in Development Studies and Public Management at the University of the Philippines, Manila. He is a UP Centennial Professorial Chair Awardee.)

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