Renato Constantino — historian and social critic — was born 90 years ago today. He has been dead for nearly 10 years, but his works have retained their relevance.
Constantino, or “Ka Tato” as he was called by people close to him, was an intellectual who was ever-conscious of his duty to speak out on issues and situations where silence, in the words of physicist Albert Einstein, “would have meant complicity” in atrocities by the powerful against the powerless.
He showed a fierce independence of mind even as a child, daring to argue with his parents whenever he thought their views were wrong, even as they were very strict.
As editor-in-chief of the Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of the University of the Philippines (UP), Constantino removed the paper’s society page and focused on national and social issues. It was at the Collegian that he first took up the causes to which, as a writer, he would dedicate the rest of his life.
A prolific writer, he wrote books, pamphlets, and essays on history, politics and government, foreign policy, society and culture — always with a perspective that was nationalistic and people-oriented. He was a staunch and uncompromising critic of imperialism, social injustice, corruption, and fascism. He condemned the ruling classes for their subservience to colonial and neocolonial powers, as well as for their corrupt ways and their flagrant display of wealth amid the people’s grinding poverty. He did not, however, spare the people even as he fought for them: he criticized them for forgetting their own identity and for entertaining regionalistic prejudices.
He wielded his pen like a sword, using it to tear to shreds the myths created and propagated by the country’s colonizers and their local collaborators, the ruling elites, to deceive the people and lull them into conformity and submission.
He pulled no punches and feared no one: he fought and fought even at the risk of his livelihood and even his liberty. Several times he found himself being denied space and even freedom because he was considered a security risk, or because he had offended powerful people. Still he went on, fighting to the very end.
We would all do well to revisit Constantino. The country’s sorry state of affairs, which seems to get worse by the day, shows only too clearly the continuing relevance of his work.