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Ying Yang (Gender Relations)

Ying Yang (Gender Relations)

Art and culture as peacebuilders

In 1972, when the Philippines was placed under martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, I was one of the student activists rounded up, arrested, placed in detention centers and tortured by the military. Now, nearly thirty years after that personal encounter with violence, I thought I should not only tell my story but help reflect on how to exorcise the memory of torture, attain inner peace and move on to become an advocate of peace for others.
In the twenty years of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, there were many forces that claimed to promote peace. Even Marcos himself claimed it was because of the need for peace that he had to impose martial law in 1972. When he was deposed in 1986, those who deposed him declared to the whole world that that was the first time people ousted a military dictator without bloodshed.
But is the absence of armed confrontation the essence of peace?
There has been no real cessation of hostilities between government and political forces challenging the power of the state. The peaceful dismantling of military rule in 1986 therefore did not solve the basic problems which give rise to social unrest and violence in Philippine society.
In the most solitary confines of detention when I had only the wall and the self to talk with, I fought desolation by keeping my mind at work. I imagined and wrote several stories to and of myself. I was re-inventing myself and began to discover there were other selves other than the one that was with me. Those other selves were not as bitter and resentful, even as they were rebellious and free.
The imagination and desire to be free led me to write poetry. To pass away time in our detention cell, some political prisoners bonded together to make greeting cards. This became a popular handicraft activity of political detainees. My favourite part in the making of the card was the writing of the dedication. This was when I began to discover the power of the written word.
It is this inner peace and strength that enabled me to simultaneously teach in the University, raise a family and make the connection with people who matter in the movement for freedom and democracy. Of course, not all prisoners can become poets. Not all persons who encounter violence turn to art and literature to give vent to their rage. The key however to the attainment of inner peace is really poetic. Here it must be underscored that the process is more important than the result. The use of the imagination is more significant than the output which is the poetry.
In 1981, Marcos declared martial law to be over and, to prove this, he offered to hold elections. The mock election and the bravado at declaring a "new republic" was exposed in the opinion columns of some women writers. For taunting the regime and exposing the unrelenting bravado of the dictator, these women writers were not only fired from their jobs, they were also investigated by the military for treason and subversion.
The collective trauma experienced by these women writers led us to the founding of WOMEN, which meant Women Writers in Media Now. Collectively we explained how writing newspaper columns in the exercise of freedom of the press could not be considered treason. On the side however, we had to answer questions as to why there was a need for a separate organization of women writers.
The answer to this question was not clearly articulated by us in the discourse. However, as our activities became more interesting, we discovered it was not possible to disregard questions of gender and its role in social formation. As women, we realized we were bonding not only to collectively claim the freedom of expression for ourselves but also to expose the patriarchy that was the main structure of power of the dictatorship. The military that was running the country was composed mainly of men in uniform. And we were women, an underclass in an all-male military set-up. Perhaps as women, we were bringing to the fore the possibility of a totally different political dispensation. We were in search of a more compassionate political regime and we thought this was possible only with more gender-sensitive individuals in positions of power.
We helped form the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP)in order to squarely address the issue of censorship in film and in the other arts. With the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), we discovered that freedom of expression is a primary issue without which all other efforts at promoting progress and development in the Philippines were meaningless. Freedom of expression and a free press were requisites to an open and free society. And only an open and free society can build peace and progress for its people.

Overall then, my personal narrative suggests three modes of action for building peace. First, inner peace for all individual advocates of peace. This inner peace must be worked at and solidly built on commitment and conviction. I believe only persons who have experienced this kind of inner peace can promote and appreciate the need for a genuine, just and lasting peace. Two, freedom and empowerment for the women. I think, women, more than men, have the power and capacity to chart new courses of action especially in political dispensations ruled mainly by men. Three, freedom of expression for all regardless of class, gender, ethnic affinity and political persuasion.


University of the Philippines-Diliman.
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