Eyes are on the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, where Communist Party of the Philippines’ (CPP) founder Jose Ma. Sison died on Dec. 16 after his almost four decades in the land of windmills. Utrecht is where a group of Filipinos is on self-exile, working for decades to promote the fulfillment of the CPP’s ideological and political agenda in the Philippines. They belong to the so-called RAs (reaffirmist wing) of the CPP and its National Democratic Front of the Philippines-New People’s Army allied with Sison that remain after the RJs (the rejectionists) broke away. The latter have since created their own paths individually or as political groups in mainstream Philippine society.
What now? is the question in the minds of both the pro-Sison and not-so-pro-Sison who had once worked together to fight the Marcos dictatorship. That was long before so-called people’s revolt emerged from left field, so to speak, to steal the thunder and ousted the dictator and his helmsmen/women who had plundered this country and brought it to its knees.
Those are the big stories. But forming the warps and woofs of the antidictatorship movement were lives under the radar, some lived outside the home country and in the service of the ideology they believed in and fought for.
Such was the life of Maya Butalid, a political activist who was sent to and worked as a CPP functionary in the Netherlands from 1983 until 1993—a good 10 years—after which the CPP split into the so-called RAs and RJs, and the leadership descended into a bloody purge that saw comrades killing fellow comrades. When the smoke had cleared, persons essential to the hierarchy abroad, like Butalid, had to make decisions for themselves, their families, and their future.
The book “Chasing Windmills” (Olympia Publishers, London, 2022) tells Butalid’s story of leaving the home country in service of a political ideology, and staying for good in a foreign land that she and her family embraced as their own. That is, despite her break from those who brought her to the land of windmills, symbols of quixotic pursuits. But that is going ahead of the story.
“My windmills,” writes Butalid, “[were] the challenges that I successfully faced during the various phases of my life.” She describes her written work as “conversations with my soul.”
The book’s chapters do not necessarily follow a timeline, but one can see a first half and a second half—life as a CPP functionary abroad while doing so-called solidarity work, and life after—with flashbacks set in the homeland.
Born in 1957, in Cebu City, Butalid studied at the University of the Philippines, where she developed into a political activist. Butalid recounts her search for God while in the university (a whole chapter), and how it led her to the oppressed sectors of society. To make a long story very short, Butalid found answers in political activism. One thing led to another, and before long, she was holding important positions (as political officer, among them) in the underground movement.
“Chasing Windmills” is a collection of no-frills stories about Butalid’s journey mainly in the Netherlands, raising a family abroad, working with the CPP hierarchy in exile, and breaking away, integrating, and immersing herself in Dutch society as an immigrant, pursuing higher studies (a master’s degree from the University of Tilburg), building a career, serving as a civil servant. She even went through a bout with cancer.
I was looking for juicy bits about the CPP characters in Utrecht, her bosses, the cabal that gave directives to the underground movement in the Philippines, but they were few and far between. Those in the know might be able to tell whereof Butalid speaks, the whys, the wherefores. These could have been instructive. There was much that was left unsaid. “Chasing Windmills” is not a tell-all.
The instructive parts, especially for immigrants in Europe, are Butalid’s observations, reflections, and the lessons she learned that could benefit those caught in a cultural maelstrom, while pursuing a meaningful life for one’s growing family, details about day-to-day life, decision-making, seeking new avenues to be of service, etc.
From 2003 to 2010, Butalid served as Tilburg city councilor. She now works with the Netherlands Council for Refugees and, since 2012, with Pasali, a development nongovernment organization in Mindanao. Butalid and husband Carlo have two daughters and four grandchildren.
As it was in the beginning of the book when Butalid wrote about her search for God in her youth, so does she end with the chapter “About God,” the constant one while she chased her windmills.
Send feedback to [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.