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20 August 2013


Behn Cervantes at last year’s rally commemorating the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. (photo courtesy of Bayan)

MANILA, Philippines — A friendship spanning more than half a century, from when they met as would-be thespians in college, through decades of revolutionary struggle — above- and underground — and finally, to reminiscences and “good laughs” over the “manifestations of aging.”

This was how Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison remembered the late actor, stage and film director, educator and “revolutionary comrade” Behn Cervantes.

In a statement on Tuesday, Sison and his wife Julie “convey our most heartfelt condolences to the family of our beloved Behn Cervantes, long time friend and revolutionary comrade.”

“We feel a deep sense of loss because of his personal warmth, his strivings and accomplishments,” he said. “At the same time, we find comfort in the fact that he lived a full, meaningful and fruitful life. We celebrate his achievements for the emulation of the current and future generations.”

Sison said he and Cervantes first met as contemporaries at the University of the Philippines Diliman and as “active members of the UP Dramatic Club under the direction of Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero, starting in 1956-57. Since then, we had become good friends.”

They were in the same batch as noted directors Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal and Adul de Leon, “and others who proceeded to excel as film directors in terms of social content and artistic creativity.”

Sison recalled their “biggest production,” Oedipus Rex, although he acknowledged it was Cervantes, with “his commanding presence on stage and his accent which seemed to be a cross between England and New England,” who was “the most accomplished actor among us, appearing in more plays than we did in the last half of the 1960s.”

Although they eventually lost regular contact after Sison founded the CPP and launched what is now considered one of the longest-running communist insurgencies in the world, he said those of the who belonged to the UP Dramatic Club or UP Writers’ Club “had a penchant for following each other’s activities” and had established “a grapevine among us.”

“However, what I consider as most interesting is how Behn became a revolutionary comrade” and immersed himself in the struggle not just against the Marcos dictatorship but in other causes after the strongman’s fall.

“Like so many creative writers and artists, (Cervantes) became engaged and militant in the First Quarter Storm of 1970,” Sison said, becoming “the leading spirit in the formation of the cultural group Gintong Silahis and producing and directing the musical Barikada about the Diliman Commune of 1971.

When the CPP’s Cultural Bureau was formed, Sison said, “Behn became an active member of the revolutionary party of the proletariat, together with outstanding patriotic and progressive cultural workers in various arts.”

Arrested and detained by the dictatorship, Sison said Cervantes “was defiant even in prison. The more persecution he suffered, the more he struggled in the interest of the people, for national liberation and democracy. He continued to be active and productive in the revolutionary underground.”

After his release, he formed the UP Repertory Company in 1974, “with the objective of defying and challenging the dictatorship.”

Although arrested again, Cervantes, with Brocka, Pete Lacaba and other artists organized the Free the Artist, Free the Media Movement, which would eventually become the Concerned Artists of the Philippines in 1983.

After the assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., “Behn was among the first cadres to link up with the Aquino family and assured them of mass support from the national democratic movement” and played “a key role in mustering the mass movement under the successive names of Justice for Aquino, Justice for All, Congress for the Restoration of Democracy, Nationalist Alliance for Freedom, Justice and Democracy, and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan” until Marcos’ ouster.

When he was released from prison after the fall of Marcos, Sison said Cervantes “was among the first I met.”

He also “openly assisted the members and staff of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines that negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the panel of the Manila government in1986,” providing them advice, board, lodging and other assistance.

Sison said after he went into exile, “Behn met me and Julie a number of times abroad” and was “was very happy with his cultural and political work in the Philippines, and he narrated his work with the underground.”

The CPP founder said his last meeting with Cervantes was on August 12, 2011 in Utrecht, where several leaders of the revolutionary movement live in exile, when “he talked about his work and the consequences of aging to himself and to his contemporaries. We had good laughs over the reminiscences, the successes in current work, and even the manifestations of aging.”


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