‘Chasing Windmills’ | Inquirer Opinion
Eyes are on the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands, where Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder Jose Ma. Sison died on December 16 after nearly four decades in the land of windmills. Utrecht is where a group of Filipinos are in exile, working for decades to promote the fulfillment of the CPP’s ideological and political agenda in the Philippines. They belong to the so-called RA (reaffirmationist wing) of the CPP and its Sison-allied National Democratic Front of the Philippines-New People’s Army that remain after the split of the RJs (rejecters). The latter have since forged their own paths individually or as political groups in mainstream Philippine society.
What about now? is the question on the minds of pro-Sison and not-so-pro-Sison who once worked together to fight the Marcos dictatorship. This was long before the so-called people’s revolt came out of left field, so to speak, to steal the thunder and bring down the dictator and his wheelmen/women who had looted this country and brought it to its knees.
These are the big stories. But forming the scraps and threads of the anti-dictatorship movement were lives under the radar, some living abroad and in the service of the ideology they believed in and fought for.
Such was the life of Maya Butalid, a political activist who was sent and worked as a CPP functionary in the Netherlands from 1983 to 1993 – a good 10 years – after which the CPP split into the so-called RA and RJ, and the leadership descended into a bloody purge that saw comrades killing fellow comrades. When the smoke cleared, key figures in the hierarchy abroad, like Butalid, had to make decisions about themselves, their families and their futures.
The book Chasing Windmills (Olympia Publishers, London, 2022) tells Butalid’s story of leaving her country of origin in the service of a political ideology and settling permanently in a foreign land that she and her family embraced as their own. That is, despite her detachment from those who brought her to the land of windmills, symbols of quixotic pursuits. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
“My windmills,” writes Butalid, “[were] the challenges I faced successfully during different phases of my life.” She describes her written work as “conversations with my soul”.
The book’s chapters do not necessarily follow a timeline, but one can see a first half and a second half – life as a CPP official abroad while doing so-called solidarity work and life afterwards – with flashbacks set in the homeland .
Born in 1957, in Cebu City, Butalid studied at the University of the Philippines, where she developed into a political activist. Butalid recounts her search for God while at university (a whole chapter) and how it led her to the oppressed sectors of society. To make a long story very short, Butalid found the answers in political activism. One thing led to another, and before long she was holding important posts (as a political officer, among them) in the underground movement.
“Chasing Windmills” is a collection of simple stories about Butalid’s journey mainly in the Netherlands, raising a family abroad, working with the CPP hierarchy in exile, and breaking away, integrating and immersing herself in Dutch society as an immigrant. , pursuing higher studies (master’s degree from Tilburg University), building a career, serving as a civil servant. She even went through a bout with cancer.
I was looking for nice parts about the characters of the CPP in Utrecht, its bosses, the cabal that gave directives to the underground movement in the Philippines, but they were few and far between. Those in the know may be able to tell what Butalidi is talking about, why and wherefore. These could have been instructive. There were many things left unsaid. “Chasing Windmills” is not a narrative.
Instructive pieces, especially for expats in Europe, are Butalid’s observations, reflections, and lessons she learned that can benefit those caught in a cultural vortex while pursuing a meaningful life for a growing family, details about everyday life , decision-making, searching for new ways to be of service, etc.
From 2003 to 2010, Butalid served as a councilor for the city of Tilburg. She now works with the Dutch Refugee Council and, since 2012, with Pasali, a development NGO in Mindanao. Butalid and her husband Carlo have two daughters and four grandchildren.
As it was at the beginning of the book when Butalid wrote about her search for God in her youth, so she ends with the chapter “About God”, the one continued as she chased her windmills.
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