LAST DECEMBER 9 would have been the 81st birthday of a man named Emmanuel Quiason Yap—a name unfamiliar to most Filipinos, but who deserved more of his countrymen’s attention than they were able or willing to give him when he was around. Yap was one of the last in a distinguished line of nationalist Filipino intellectuals who emerged in the second half of the 20th century, a roster that included the likes of Renato Constantino, Alejandro Lichauco, and Hernando J. Abaya.
More than a year ago, I was asked by Yap’s family to write his biography, and I agreed—first, because he was the father of a former student of mine, and second, because I had met him earlier in the company of the Lavas, a family of committed revolutionaries whom I had also written about. (He was also a Yap, which is my mother’s maiden name, so we might have had a mutual ancestor somewhere back in Fujian.) I had heard of “Manoling” Yap’s own nationalist convictions, but had never really sat down with him to learn how he had acquired them.
I had several meetings with him and had begun on the book—which I’m now a week or two short of finishing—when he suddenly died in September 2011. Thus I begin the book this way:
“When Emmanuel Quiason Yap died all of a sudden on September 26, 2011, very few Filipinos knew what they had lost. It was almost as if a stranger had walked into a sleeping household, had left a precious gift in their midst, and had walked away; waking up in the morning, the family members see the object and wonder what it is and who brought it there, but they cannot recognize its value, and put it aside.
“His peers and colleagues would recognize and refer to him, even within his lifetime, as a visionary, an astute student and critic of his nation’s political and economic fortunes, a shaper of minds whose firm nationalist beliefs might have led the Philippines on to another track of growth and progress. He was an adviser to Presidents, senators, and congressmen; for a time, he headed an economic planning office for the House of Representatives; he helped to foster stronger diplomatic ties between the Philippines and socialist countries; and he founded a popular movement to promote patriotism among Filipinos. In various venues over many decades, including a newspaper column, he campaigned strenuously for a more independent foreign policy, a more self-reliant economy, and for greater justice in a society riven by exploitation and oppression.
“Manoling Yap, in other words, was a reformer, a man who never tired of thinking how life might yet be bettered. And he was no armchair dreamer, but someone who took his battles to the political arena, risking his life and freedom in pursuit of his principles. But as many if not most reformers soon discover, Manoling Yap would often find his idealism opposed, rejected, or even taken advantage of by others resigned to a more pragmatic view of things.”
Few may remember it now, but Yap—born in Angeles, Pampanga to a family of lawyers and entrepreneurs—was instrumental, along with Mayor Rafael del Rosario, in achieving cityhood for Angeles in the early 1960s and for planning its modernization. However, their plans ran afoul of the rackets being run by the notorious Kumander Sumulong, who issued death threats against the mayor and Manoling.
Trained as an economist, Manoling later went to Georgetown for graduate school with the encouragement of former President Jose P. Laurel, who urged him to go to America “to learn how the Americans are fooling us.” Yap took the admonition to heart—this was the time of parity rights—and came home an even more ardent nationalist. He taught at the Lyceum, then a bastion of radical thinking.
He set up the Congressional Economic Planning Office—a forerunner of what today is the National Economic and Development Authority—and worked with the old man Laurel’s son, Speaker Jose B. Laurel, in crafting the Magna Carta for Economic Freedom and Social Justice, which argued strongly for a more independent economic policy and for vigorous industrial and agricultural development. The Magna Carta was signed into law by Marcos in 1969, but languished in implementation, and Speaker Laurel himself fell from power soon afterwards—the victim, Yap was convinced, of imperialist machinations (as was, Yap would later believe, Marcos at Edsa).
Yap was also instrumental in opening diplomatic and trade ties with the socialist bloc in 1967—surprisingly, even as anti-Red rhetoric was escalating along with the Vietnam War, and well before Richard Nixon undertook his own diplomatic initiative toward China. He accompanied Rep. Manuel Enverga, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, on a grueling three-month journey behind the Bamboo and Iron Curtains. Years later, he would also advise Sen. Leticia Ramos Shahani, when she chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and help her draft a more independent foreign policy moving away from the traditional Philippine-US alliance to stronger ties with our neighbors in the Asia-Pacific, and with countries in the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, and Central Asia.
In the last decade of his life, Manoling Yap devoted much of his time and energy into setting up and promoting the People’s Patriotic Movement, an effort to unite Filipinos from all backgrounds and persuasions behind the fundamental need for a sense of nationhood. “Together,” he wrote, “we will rediscover our common historical truth, rectify the errors of our colonial past, muster the national will to reconstruct the Filipino nation into a strong nation-state which can adequately feed, educate and protect its own people by the sweat of its brow and not from mendicancy and subservience to other nations, and ultimately assure a better future to all our children.”
As with many intellectuals, he was a man of ironic contradictions—an Atenean who sang Latin hymns as a boy with touching fervor, but one who grew into a brooding skeptic; a civil libertarian, but one who imposed strict family discipline; a seeker and defender of freedom and a friend of known Communists, but one who appreciated Ferdinand Marcos as a progressive nationalist; and an astute analyst who predicted the end of the Cold War but who blithely ignored the signs of his own failing health.
Emmanuel Quiason Yap was a complex man; his burning idealism often met with disappointment and disenchantment, and in the end he had very few friends left to talk to—among them his cousin the historian Serafin Quiason Jr., the painter Dan Dizon, and my fellow STAR columnist Billy Esposo. But he had his country at heart and died a patriot, joining the privileged company of his heroes—Rizal, Mabini, and the old man Laurel.