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Of Remembrances Past

Memoirs of a Communist
by Jesus B. Lava
Anvil

Jesus Lava was the youngest of five brothers, all of whom figured prominently in the Communist movement. He was, according to Lava family biographer Jose Dalisay, Jr., the least likely of the brothers to become a communist, and a general secretary of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) at that. He was a medical doctor, a happy-go-lucky playboy who loved cars and women more than books and Marx. Wartime service as a doctor ministering to guerillas and American GIs resulted in his arrest and torture by the Japanese—and in the strengthening of his conviction to join the party and devote the rest of his life to it.

To the politically uninitiated—and to most Filipinos under 30 or even 40—much of what Lava writes about might as well be ancient history. This was, after all, way before Edsa 1 and 2 and even the First Quarter Storm of the early ‘70s. He doesn’t begin with his family background or even his early years—for this, Dalisay’s biography (The Lavas, a Filipino Family, Anvil 1999) serves well as a companion reader—but plunges right into the maelstrom of the Second World War, the period of Jesus’ political awakening.

Again, historians and political scientists might find some value in Lava’s sometimes extended polemics on the decisions of the PKP in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, but the contemporary reader will be much less thrilled or enlightened by these now arcane discussions. What comes across best are Lava’s stories about his relationships with his family (including his daring escape with his so-called “mountain wife”), his many hurried flights, and separations. (“My children’s visits were like drops of rainfall during a drought,” he wrote of prison.) These add a distinctly human element to what might otherwise remain an arduous political tract. It also helps that Lava writes in accessible and understated prose.

Some narrative threads, however, are left hanging, sacrificed for the larger story in the foreground: whatever happened to his guerilla wife Aida, for example, who was left pregnant when he was arrested?

Jesus Lava died at the age of 88 last January 21, barely a month after the release of Memoirs of a Communist. The man and his ideology may seemed to have belonged to another time, but the bloody murder of another ex-communist, NPA chieftain Romulo Kintanar, on the same week of Lava’s death somehow reminds us that Lava’s concerns and his troubled legacy will survive him for some time longer.

Source: Villanueva, Migs. Newsbreak Mar. 17, 2003 Of Remembrances Past


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