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Tsinelas leadership

July 13, 2019

MICHAEL “XIAO” CHUA

ALTHOUGH I know that activism comes in many forms, I am never comfortable referring to myself as an activist not because I do not want to be associated with activists but because I feel I do not have the same amount of commitment that they have for the things they do for the country. Also, because my model of quintessential and definitive activism would be Lean Alejandro.

I first learned about Lean in high school when I watched the ABS-CBN documentary Anak ng Bayan, a 1999 Independence Day Special where he was featured, and subsequently, when I bought the concept album of Gary Granada’s musical “Lean” which I know by heart.

Leandro Alejandro was born 59 years ago, July 10, 1960 in a Manila hospital. Activism was defined in him even at an early age. At St. James Academy in Malabon, his parents Rosendo and Salvacion Alejandro were called almost every week to meet with the principal about their son. The list of his transgressions included appearing bored and reading magazines or books of short stories in class; rescuing his classmates who could not answer the teacher’s questions even when he was not called, which at the time was seen as being forward and rude; and showing impatience with some of his teachers who were teaching him things he already knew.

When he was in Grade 4, he insisted on borrowing from the librarian a volume of the encyclopedia, but the rules said it was only for the higher Grades 5-11. He left crying, but then found that his cousin owned a set of the encyclopedia he wanted to read. His parents asked him why and he said his grandma’s kitten was becoming thin and he wanted to know what was wrong and how he could cure him. He found the answer in the Encyclopaedia Britannica — cod liver oil which he administered immediately to the kitten and it survived! Tatay Rosing eventually brought him his own set of the expensive Britannica. I remember how my own father loved us so much he brought us through installment a brandnew encyclopedia set.

That period at St. James coincided with the decade of the Sixties, an era defined by activism, the young people spearheading the demand to change the world.

In high school, Alejandro defined himself as an activist through campus journalism. He entered the University of the Philipines as a chemistry major but shifted to Philippine Studies after taking history and political science classes. He was a staff writer at the Philippine Collegian and in 1983, became chairman of the UP Student Council. This position made possible his quick rise to national prominence and involvement in national affairs as an activist and student leader during the turbulent months following the killing of Ninoy Aquino. These were defining events in his activism, but it was not long before he himself would join the ranks of those that would define the activism of his day. Even Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) founder Sen. Lorenzo Tañada respected and deferred to his youthful wisdom.

Today, there are stereotypes of the activist as being a firebrand and always agitated. People often quote Lean’s definition of an activist from a letter he wrote to his then girlfriend Lidy in 1983: “[He] must know how to compute the distance of the stars, how to differentiate a fish from a shark… and how to arrive at e=mc2. …He must know how to follow orders, give orders and he must know when to disobey them. He must be able at debate, at lobbying, at open struggle. He must know how to analyze difficult political situations…. He must know how to …wash clothes, wash dishes, plan an offensive, plan a retreat, mix martinis, drink martinis, differentiate brandy from whisky, …discuss Mao, …correctly read Mabini, …host a party, play at least one musical instrument, be critical, self-critical, honest…”

For him, an activist should never be just consumed by politics but be a well-rounded person, “The socialist man is the total man. Specialization is for ants.” I have seen people burn out from their own passion in the long run and realize that if one takes even one’s advocacies in moderation, it can be sustainable.

Loyalists of the dictator lament why people make Lean out to be a Martial Law hero when in fact he was killed by rightists in 1987 soon after Marcos’ ouster. But it was because he was once arrested for helping rallyists before EDSA and was one of the influential leaders during the fall of the dictatorship.

Under the banner of Bayan, he unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Navotas in 1987, unforgettable because he went around campaigning wearing only slippers. This was tsinelas leadership even before Jesse Robredo. Which brings us to Lean’s greatest definition of an activist through his example: One with the people, always thinking about them and understanding them.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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