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A family’s—and nation’s—story

I think it’s valid to say that not one among us in the graduating class of Maryknoll College High School 1972 would have thought that our classmate, Cristina Pargas, would end up eventually joining the New People’s Army, losing her husband who was an NPA commander, and then taking up the vocation of teaching and advocating for teachers’ rights.

I remember her as a slight bespectacled girl with unexpected reserves of humor that surfaced at the oddest times. Because she was usually quiet, she belonged to the category of “good” girls, as opposed to “bad” or “semi-bad” girls who were often scolded for wearing skirts that were too short (made even shorter after classes by the simple expedient of folding them at the waist), for smoking in the stairwells, and sassing our teachers.

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Only when I was asked to edit the nominations for Tina and another classmate, Nanan Jacinto, for the Amazing Alumna Achievers Award did I get to know what happened to Tina in the years after we left our idyllic campus along Katipunan Avenue. And even then, it turns out, it wasn’t even the full story, for Tina kept a lot of crucial details to herself.

Now those details are out in public, forming part of the book “Subversive Lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years.” For one thing, I finally found out the identity of her slain first husband. He was Ishmael “Jun” Quimpo Jr., whom she met while they were student activists at UP.

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Jun’s (and Tina’s) story is part of the “family memoir” of the Quimpos, who paid an extraordinary price in the struggle for freedom during the Marcos and immediate post-Marcos years. Even at a time that called for enormous sacrifices from all Filipino families, the Quimpos it seems were singled out for special punishment—or honor, if you choose to view their fate that way.

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Out of 10 Quimpo children, seven would end up joining the various leftist organizations that sprung up in the period immediately preceding the declaration of martial law (now collectively recalled as the First Quarter Storm) and the years spanning the Marcos dictatorship.

Four brothers and a sister would end up incarcerated in supposedly non-existent detention centers, tortured and molested. Two of these brothers would end up in exile in Europe, and then would find themselves in the forefront of the “rejectionist” faction following their public dispute with the CPP leadership and the painful purges of the 1980s and 1990s. A brother, Jan, one of those who was arrested and tortured, seemed on the way to assuming a career as a geologist until he disappeared and was never heard from again. Jun died in the field, killed not by the military (although soldiers “posed” his body to make it appear he died while resisting) but by a comrade.

The youngest Quimpo sibling, Susan, joined a militant theater group in her student days, and was a freelance journalist documenting human rights violations. But putting her and her family’s story down on paper was an intensely personal project she at first dropped at the news of the early purges but picked up again at the urging of a family friend. About the same time, her brother Nathan was working on his own memoir of the rise and fall of the CPP-NPA-NDF, but could never seem to finish it. Only with the melding of both their efforts, and the contributions from other siblings did the book project finally take off.

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The decade-long birthing of this family memoir is understandable, once one begins reading it. Then one understands the conflicted feelings that accompanied the act of putting down their memories into written accounts. There are sorrows aplenty: the estrangement from their engineer-father, their mother’s life of sacrifice and sudden loss, betrayals, emotional and physical distance, a lost love, shattered idealism.

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One sister intersperses the ideology-driven accounts of her siblings with that of her own immersion in the closed world of the Opus Dei and the difficult process she went through to leave this world and venture into a new one.

Given their eventual disillusionment with the leadership whose rhetoric and analysis had drawn out the best of their youthful selves, the Quimpo siblings must be wondering by now if anything and everything was worth all the pain. But Norman, the oldest son and retired mathematics professor at the Ateneo, pointed out during the book launch that now, more than ever, we as a people must keep remembering what happened during martial law and how much the young people of that day sacrificed to keep our dreams of justice, freedom and democracy alive.

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If only on the personal level, the human interest alone, “Subversive Lives” makes for an absorbing read. (I began reading Tina’s and Jun’s story and found myself falling asleep at six in the morning!) One sister wrote that she was at first opposed to the memoir because she was afraid it would end up “romanticizing” the youthful follies of her siblings and their generation, who were in the end betrayed and exploited.

But for analytical rigor, there is no downplaying Nathan’s and Ryan’s accounts and analyses of the events that transpired in Europe as the exiled communist leaders chose to assert their own personal and intellectual authority over events taking place at home and the homegrown leaders’ learning from them.

Read “Subversive Lives” then, not just for one family’s extraordinary story, but also for the story of “an unfinished revolution” that to this day remains “inconclusive.”

And my classmate Tina? After leaving the battlefront for health considerations, she took up a career as a teacher at the Philippine Science High School and eventually remarried, channeling her idealism to the wondrous task of shaping a new generation.

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TAGS: `subversive lives: a family memoir of the marcos years’, Family, featured column, human interest, martial law, opinion
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