‘A country not even his own’
Steve E. Psinakis, a Greek-American mechanical engineer who made the Philippines his own and fought during the dark days of Marcos martial rule to help restore the Filipinos’ freedom, died last March 15 at the age of 84. He died here, in a country not his own but which he loved to the point of going through purgatory himself.
Psinakis survived to tell his story in a book “A Country Not Even His Own” (Anvil, 2008). In 1981, he wrote “Two ‘Terrorists’ Meet” (Alchemy Books), his account of his 1980 meeting with Imelda Marcos in her Waldorf apartment in New York and the verbal duel that ensued.
The book’s title, “A Country Not Even His Own,” was, according to President Cory Aquino who wrote the first foreword, her own words. The second foreword was written by no less than Jovito R. Salonga who passed away at 95 two weeks before Psinakis did.
President Cory wrote: “[The book] records a very important part of Philippine history by a man who contributed his best efforts to help make it possible. The contribution of both Steve and Presy to the restoration of democracy has been recognized by the Filipino people through a presidential citation in 1988.”
Presy, Psinakis’ wife, is the only daughter of Eugenio Lopez Sr. (of ABS-CBN and Meralco) and sister of Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. who was jailed for many years during the martial law era and made a daring escape with Sergio Osmeña III, now a reelectionist senator in the May elections. The 1995 movie “Eskapo” directed by Chito Roño was about their escape from Fort Bonifacio.
Psinakis played a big role in the two jailbirds’ escape. It was a suspenseful cloak-and-dagger operation the details of which are in Chapter 6 of his book. If you cannot get your hands on the book, read the article by Jose Mari Ugarte in http://rogue.ph/steve-psinakis-1932-2016/. I posted it on Facebook.
Tall and debonair, Psinakis came to the Philippines with his young family in 1959 to work for the Lopez-owned Meralco. He was responsible for the building of the Rockwell Power Plant in Makati. After his first marriage ended, he married Presy—a union which at first did not sit well with the Lopez patriarch. Their love story was riveting in itself.
Psinakis continued his journey into the heart of this country and later into its sufferings via the trials and tribulations of the Lopezes and the persons who were victims of the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship. In the United States, he headed the San Francisco council of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM). Even after the 1986 People Power uprising, he continued to look after causes such as the monitoring of the recovery of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.
Psinakis experienced the fallout of his anti-Marcos activities when, in 1987, after democracy in the Philippines had been restored, the US government indicted him for “transporting explosives across state lines.” The preposterous accusation resulted in a groundswell of support from Filipinos, with no less than former president Diosdado Macapagal flying to the United States to testify on Psinakis’ behalf.
A 1988 New York Times article, “Court case links Aquino allies to bomb-making,” cited “notes whose author has not been made known, also show[ing] that prosecutors believed that Mr. Psinakis, Mr. [Raul] Daza and Mr. [Bonifacio] Gillego were giving weapons training in the Arizona desert to anti-Marcos exiles.”
In the book’s second foreword, Salonga wondered “why Psinakis should be indicted after more than five years following the alleged violation. He had been honored by high Filipino public officials and by civic society for all he had done beyond the call of duty. Why should President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz and their subordinates persecute Steve Psinakis? Why should the prosecutors even offer to enter into a plea-bargaining agreement with him—an offer Steve refused? This book gives the answers and puts into question what is going on in Iraq and other places in the world under President George W. Bush.”
Psinakis got off the hook with the help of Filipino patriots, among them Salonga, Raul Manglapus, Raul Daza, et al. He was pronounced not guilty in 1989. What an irony that after the Philippines had returned to democracy, this Greek-American with the heart of a Filipino was persecuted/prosecuted in his home country, America, for his pro-Filipino activities.
It is worth noting that even while Psinakis’ trial was going on in the United States, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs under Manglapus, pursuant to Executive Order No. 316 issued by President Cory in January 1988, conferred on him the Presidential Citation for Outstanding Service to Philippine Democracy.
On Aug. 21, 2012, the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, Psinakis and four others were conferred the NAM Medal of Valor for their leadership roles in the anti-Marcos movement.
“The youth,” Salonga wrote in his foreword, “would do well to peruse and discover anew how Filipinos and foreigners alike, during the trying times of our historic struggle for freedom and human dignity, gave of themselves without counting the cost.”
Psinakis was laid to rest two days ago in Philippine soil.
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Speaking of the youth, it felt good to see many millennials and premillennials listening at the “Newsroom Shutdown” forum at the Lopez Museum and Library where journalists Pete Lacaba, Vergel Santos and myself shared our horrifying experiences during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship. Yes, in the midst of masterpieces by Luna, Hidalgo, et al. and the ongoing exhibit on newspaper caricatures.
I was struck by the probing questions from the millennials. Worried about the current preelection situation and the threatening clouds on the horizon, a young person asked: “Is there hope?”
Easter is nigh, it comes bursting with joy and hope. Rabboni!
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