BOOK REVIEW: Over the years, gently
By Nikki Rivera Gomez
University of the Philippines Press, 2019
Karl M. Gaspar CSsR
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/June 13) – In a few decades, if ever a historian will write the definitive book of contemporary Mindanao history – but not from an imaginary body of facts that could only perpetuate false myths, but one based on solid research – he/she will need a book of the type OVER THE YEARS, SOFTLY.
Nikki Rivera Gomez’s third book, as quoted in a blurb on the last page, is “a non-linear excursion into the author’s mind and through her life experiences” – spanning the years from 2003 to 2017. Although it was published at the end of 2019, the onset of the pandemic did not allow an official launch of this book, which is why it is part of the collective launch of all books published during the pandemic period. at the start of the second Mindanao Book Festival to be held on June 13, 2022.
For the historian, this book is a mine of information on the contemporary realities of the region, providing names, dates and places as events unfold. The accuracy of the data is guaranteed thanks to the excellent journalistic skills of the author, acquired during the first years of militant reporting. At the same time, the author writes with a poetic flair, which is why the essays are not just news or political opinions, but sometimes read like excerpts from a novel. The book thus contributes to the rise not only of a nascent journalism in Mindanao which was coming of age during the dark reign of terror of Marcos, but also of its literature.
An unfortunate consequence of the publication of this book is that it may provide the reader with a view of how the post-EDSA years – specifically covered by the author’s period 2003-2017 – have unfolded in Mindanao. You can actually go back to those years and trace the beginnings of what millennials now take for granted.
For it was during this period that major changes were taking place in the various landscapes of Mindanao even as earth-shattering events were occurring simultaneously in different parts of the world. The author’s major personal shift from his office in a fledgling information office (operating as an NGO) to a position at the top of the bureaucracy not only provided him with the lens through which he could view local events unfolding. unfold in the city of Duterte Davao but ultimately to cover national and international events.
Thus, the book contains news, commentary and his reflections on the early years of the war on drugs initiated by Duterte in Davao City, the eruption of violent hostilities across Mindanao and the unsuccessful attempts at peace negotiations, the the extent of the corruption of the government bureaucracy and its various manifestations of being a weak state and the way in which the WB-IMF and US imperialism perpetuate the situation of poverty of the poorest nations of the world, for example Haiti.
Through his writings, Gomez identifies the changing fortunes of institutions and agencies and the rise of movements and technological advances that would have profound consequences for the country and the world. Through his attempts to convey to his readers his analysis of why things were unfolding, Gomez also issued warnings to allay their own doubts and fears. Although one can assume that he was also addressing himself in the process!
In the pages of this book, it is so strange for those who were at the forefront of the protest movement of the 60s-80s to remember their own “golden years” and to realize that the period 2003-2017 was where :
- The NGO movement that emerged with the proliferation of legal institutions (LI) two decades earlier was beginning to self-destruct and would be a shadow of what was once the most creative and proactive sector of Davao and Mindanao;
- Peacebuilding efforts involving the Church’s push for interreligious dialogue that has contributed to the evolution of a culture of peace have faced enormous difficulties amid the high costs of violence from wars in terms of loss of life and property as massacre after massacre took place, as waves of bakwits were forced to flee the fires;
- The country’s debt was skyrocketing at a rate that would continue to plague our economy, the impact of which will have to be borne by distraught generations yet to be born into this Republic;
- The revolutionary movement, too, would suffer its own downfall as militancy among young people is overtaken by a younger generation’s fascination with new tech gadgets being sold due to a shopping mall building boom (like this). strange how the author notices the entry of a cell phone into his own life in 2003!);
- How the “Hizzoner” (the author’s nickname of President Duterte which simply means “the man who holds the position of mayor”) became the strong man he is today called mayor of a small town whose war on drugs would eventually lead to the case currently pending before the International Criminal Court investigating “crimes against humanity”.
- But of paramount importance to those now at the forefront of the environmental movement in Mindanao/Davao is how this period gave birth to what is now the only plea that unites generations because of concerns due to climate change and the need to push for climate justice. The book identifies who was at the forefront of the initial actions to draw citizens’ attention to the urgency of this environmental problem and how today’s realities are still worsening (for example, the extent calamities, especially typhoons and destructive floods, the threat of open-pit mines mining and the expansion of toxic-laden agro-industrial plantations, uncontrolled waste resulting in air and water pollution water, the persistence of the use of fossil fuels and the lack of initiatives to find renewable energy sources).
This book would likely be of particular interest to those of Gomez’s generation, namely Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) also known as the Martial Law Babies. Their generation bridges the gap with baby boomers who made up the bulk of young activists (mostly students but later also out-of-school youth) who began marching in the streets in the late 1960s and suffered the consequences from the brutalities of Marcos’ reign of terror. In the 1980’s). It was their generation that faced anguish and tension as they faced great difficulty in dealing with the repercussions of EDSA I for both personal and political considerations (even as they uttered the slogan – “Personal is also political!”). And how Gomez himself had to make the necessary changes, not always in line with their youthful idealism!
The book may actually be instructive for those trying to explain the reasons for these changes. In a way – again as an unfortunate consequence – Gomez’s anthology becomes a case study for those wishing to delve into how mindsets and orientations would be radically transformed across generations. (That might help explain a confusing question: Why did some of the anti-martial law activists of the 70s-80s make it into BBM-Sara voters in 2022?) Reading from the first entry in 2003 to the last in 2017 , the astute reader can actually trace the changes in Gomez’s political skill. While some may shake their heads, others may nod in recognition of their own struggles across the political spectrum of opinion.
However, the book doesn’t just deal with political issues, but also dwells on the personal (but then again, they are so intertwined!). Gomez provides respite, particularly in the writings of Part VIII – which is captioned “When Dengue Fever Strikes and Other Intimate Prose”. This is where Gomez is at his poetic best when he “also offers a more intimate glimpse into his heart as he shares the tenderness of family, the empathy in conversations, and the catharsis of journalistic storytelling.”
The author grapples with the illness and death of loved ones, the pains and struggles of fatherhood, the insecurities that come with mortality, and the impermanence of life. That our fleeting existence can so easily give way to moments of deep pain and grief. And that it is always in remembrance that one can find the antidote to an existential feeling of being left alone.
In A lighted room essay (on page 224), Gomez writes with a pathetic sentiment that can easily resonate in any reader’s heart: “Perhaps it is true that we die a little when a loved one departs. But in the moments after we knelt, cried and felt lonely, it dawned on me how right I had always been, that we sought solace in memories, we basked in the memory of the laugh, and we die, and live again, in a cycle of joy and sorrow, knowing that it is all true.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]