Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Matter of Conviction by Danilo P. Vizmanos

Yesterday and Today: Direct Continuities
A Matter of Conviction by Danilo P. Vizmanos
Published by IBON Books (2006)

The latest book by retired Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos – titled A Matter of Conviction – is a chronicle of Philippine history for the last 47 years as lived by him. It establishes the link between the past and the present, showing continuities and discontinuities through the years.


The latest book by retired Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos – titled A Matter of Conviction and launched May 6 at the University of the Philippines (UP) – is the third in what the author describes as a trilogy of his writings. It may as well be said to be most representative of how he has viewed national and international issues over a span of several decades.

Vizmanos’ first book Through the Eye of the Storm, published by Ken, Inc. in 2000, is composed of random recollections of important historical events that he either directly took part in or witnessed, and personalities that he encountered. His second book Martial Law Diary and Other Papers – published also by Ken, Inc. in 2003 – is a combination of a journal covering the period Jan. 1, 1973 to May 19, 1974 and a collection of short articles he wrote from 1986 to 2003 which suggest continuities from the country’s martial law period.

A Matter of Conviction is a collection of essays and letters on particular issues at various points in the country’s history. The book covers the period from the 1950s to the present.

In his own introduction, Vizmanos describes A Matter of Conviction as “a critique of a social order that has chained our country to its colonial moorings despite more than half a century of ‘independence.’ It is also a critique of successive regimes whose response to the people’s cry for social justice and emancipation from economic bondage has been the consistent application of state repression, militarization and counterinsurgency operations. It also includes a critical analysis of significant national issues, state decisions and policies whose effects and implications on the people are far-reaching and extends to future generations.”

The book begins with a letter by the young Navy officer to his parents, dated Sept. 13, 1951, titled “A Letter from Ragay Gulf.” Vizmanos describes the horrors of an anti-insurgency operation conducted by the military in Guinayangan, Quezon at that time: “Trigger-happy soldiers have been firing an appreciable amount of ammunition every day and every night within and outside the town for no particular reason at all. The worst thing is their drinking spree. What can be more dangerous than a trigger-happy soldier armed with a rifle and drunk? There seems to be a deliberate effort by an irresponsible and insensitive BCT commander to intimidate and terrorize the civilian population for self-serving reasons.”

This particular passage seems straight out of many a fact-finding report by human rights organizations in recent weeks. It also shows the literary flair characteristic of Vizmanos’ writings – be they personal recollections or even papers for forums and conferences.

We would read more of these in the next pieces, particularly those covering the mid-1980s and the early 1990s, or the latter part of the Marcos regime and the entirety of the Aquino regime. His scathing commentaries against the total war policy implemented by former Defense Secretary Fidel V, Ramos under the Aquino administration should – for those unfamiliar with the country’s more recent history – shatter the myth surrounding former President Corazon Aquino as one who supposedly restored democracy following the 1986 ouster of then President Ferdinand Marcos.

Vizmanos devotes many of his 1990s and 2000-2005 essays to critiques of the RP-U.S. Military Bases Agreement as well as treaties and arrangement based on it – a specialization of his since his stint as a student of the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP).

In his controversial NDCP thesis titled The Emergence of China as a World Power and Its Impact on Philippine Security and National Interest, he presents among others the recommendations that the Philippines adopt a policy of non-alignment in its foreign relations and that the government abrogate the RP-U.S. Military Bases Agreement. These are advocacies that Vizmanos articulated in the late 1990s during the campaign against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and in the early 2000s in the wake of debates on the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA).

His critiques of RP-U.S. relations – particularly its military aspect – are especially timely today, considering that the Philippine government is currently confronting an issue of sovereignty in dealing with U.S. soldiers accused of raping a Filipina in Olongapo City, where the Subic Naval Base used to be located. Likewise they offer valuable insights into the implications of continuing Philippine alignment with U.S. foreign policy at a time when the world’s sole superpower is hell-bent on waging an anti-“terror” war against regimes in conflict with its designs of global economic hegemony.

In a 2001 piece titled “Winning a Battle, Losing the War!” he turns the tables on the U.S. establishment media spin masters and asks a number of pointed questions:

“Consider the mass slaughter of more than 300,000 civilians in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Was this mere ‘collateral damage’ or a terrorist attack and a crime against humanity?

“Consider the methodical bombing, missile strikes and application of chemical weapons that resulted in more than a million civilian casualties during the Vietnam War. Was this mere ‘collateral damage’ or outright terrorism and crime against humanity?

“Consider the more than one million Filipinos who dies fighting during the Filipino-American war due to food blockade and destruction of food resources, forced reconcentration of civilians in hamlets, massacres and various forms of torture and atrocities committed by U.S. forces. Was this mere ‘collateral damage’ or an unforgivable act of mass terrorism and crime against humanity? Terrorism is a mild term to describe U.S. Army General Jacob Smith’s ‘burn all, kill all’ orders to his troops to avenge the annihilation of a company-strength U.S. army garrison by Filipino rebels in Balangiga, Samar in 1901.”

These are acts for which the U.S. government has yet to issue an official apology. And yet the U.S. government is quick to brand such deeds as “terrorist” acts when committed by its opponents.

Vizmanos also dissects the roots of the armed conflict in the Philippines – economic bondage and social injustice breeding mass poverty – in “Who Creates the Nation’s Crisis?” He thus provides the larger context behind the armed conflict, which has been used by regime after regime since the Quirino days as an excuse for imposing repressive policies and ratifying onerous RP-U.S. agreements.

These ills are also presented in his essay titled “The Flor Contemplacion Tragedy” written in 1995, as the causes of massive, almost daily migration from the native land in search of greener pastures.

A Matter of Conviction is, indeed – as the author himself says – “more than a collection of papers.”

It is a chronicle of Philippine history for the last 47 years as lived by Vizmanos. As such, it inevitably illustrates the direct continuities between 1959 and the present, showing that the imperative of the past remains. Bulatlat

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