The Activist by Antonio Enriquez

The-Activist

by Elmer A. Ordoñez from: http://www.manilatimes.net/opinion/antonio-enriquez%E2%80%99s-new-historical-novel/

Antonio Enriquez’s new historical novel

RECENTLY launched in Zamboanga City was Antonio Enriquez’s latest book, The Activist, billed by the University of Santo Tomas Press as a historical novel but “its peculiar gift is that it doesn’t read like one but a suspenseful mystery novel, keeping us well entertained, our eyeballs glued to the pages, but unlike a detective novel unscrambling the oppression and horror of martial law.”

Underlying the novel is a reality that is, as the saying goes, stranger than fiction—a terror that continues to haunt the survivors of the assassinated protagonist, under the fictional name of Lorenzo Diaz Jr., the activist who dares to challenge the dictator Marcos. As the author said, the whole family of the actual victim of extrajudicial killing decided to leave for the US where they now live. The purported mastermind is said to have settled in a sylvan part of Zamboanga casting his shadow on those who would talk. In fact, witnesses and journalists who covered the event have been threatened, with at least one killed and another reporter living in exile abroad running an on-line edition called US-Zamboanga Times.

The novel is dedicated to long-time Zamboanga city mayor Cesar Climaco (killed in 1984) and acknowledges Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. of Cagayan de Oro. I met the mayor, then head of the city’s Jaycees, back in the summer of ’51 at a College Editors Guild meeting. He already impressed me for his leadership and progressive ideas. I have not met the feisty senator who had stood up to Marcos since the 1971 constitutional convention and the Batasang Pambansa to the extent of being jailed for his convictions. The Activist is a tribute to both Climaco and Pimentel.

As a character based on two actual persons, Lorenzo Diaz Jr. is an idealist and a fighter for freedom and democracy.

Before martial law, he leaves his teaching job at the local Jesuit university, and enters politics in his hometown, Zamboanga. At the time, Ferdinand Marcos runs for president but Lorenz supports Raul Manglapus, a Jesuit-trained lawyer like himself. Marcos loses in Zamboanga city, one of his rare political defeats. In 1971 Marcos calls for a constitutional convention and bribes delegates to have the Constitution changed and himself installed as president perpetua. He then declares martial law and has the draft constitution ratified in a fake referendum. From that period on until the snap election, Lorenz fights the despotic regime of Marcos. He finds himself in and out of military stockades, with a dreaded shadow hovering over him—an assassin ready to pounce on him, waiting for the right moment.

Readers familiar with the careers of Pimentel and Climaco may recognize parts of the novel. The first half of the novel seems to be a rendering of Pimentel’s experience and the second half that of Climaco’s. The latter’s death in the hands of a hired assassin has been well-written about in the media. The colonel reportedly behind the killing later got his come-uppance in Makati from his own nemesis.

The historical novel, as defined by Encyclopedia Britannica, “attempts to convey the spirit, manners and social conditions of a past age with realistic detail and fidelity [which in some cases apparent fidelity] to historical fact.”

The novel may contain both fictional and historical personages. Antonio Enriquez knows the period, and is a native of Zamboanga and long-time resident of Cagayan de Oro, hometown of Pimentel.

A historical novel allows for artistic license; hence, there is no necessary one-to-one correlation between historical fact and the author’s rendering. Time may also be truncated or extended. The author also uses actual names of characters as in a roman a clef. What comes across in Enriquez’s novel is a vivid depiction of the struggle, agony and death of the character Lorenz Diaz Jr. under a brutal dictatorship. Notable are the Dantesque passages of the bedlam and carnage of the Plaza Miranda bombing, and the Hades-like description of prison life. Just before he meets his fate, with the dictator gone, Lorenz reflects, “has it been worth it fighting like Cervantes’s Don Quixote against the windmills of oppression and terror?”

The Activist is Enriquez’s fifth novel and the first with a sustained political theme. He has won Palanca awards for short stories and two novels, Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh (U of Queensland Press, 1981) and Subanons (UP Press, 1999). Two other novels are The Living and the Dead (Giraffe, 1994) and Samboangan: The Cult of War (UP Press, 2006). He has an unpublished historical novel The Survivors and another in progress The Siege of Fort Pillar. He has one non-fiction e-book, Subanon Tales and Oral History (ARE Ruby Books).

The author was honored with the SEAWrite Award in Bangkok, 2000, and the Hawthornden Castle International Writers residence in Scotland award, 2002. He was also a UP Creative Writing Fellow for Novel, 1989, and received the 1996 Balagtas Award from UMPIL (Unyon ng mga Manunuat ng Pilipinas).

The Activist is a valuable addition to the Filipino novel in English in a country once regarded as a nation of short story or one-novel writers.

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