Fighting from a Distance: How Filipino Exiles Help Topple a Dictator
By: Jose V. Fuentecilla
Format/Source: galley courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
During February 1986, a grassroots revolution overthrew the fourteen-year dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. In this book, Jose V. Fuentecilla describes how Filipino exiles and immigrants in the United States played a crucial role in this victory, acting as the overseas arm of the opposition to help return their country to democracy. A member of one of the major U.S.-based anti-Marcos movements, Fuentecilla tells the story of how small groups of Filipino exiles–short on resources and shunned by some of their compatriots–arrived and survived in the United States during the 1970s, overcame fear, apathy, and personal differences to form opposition organizations after Marcos’s imposition of martial law, and learned to lobby the U.S. government during the Cold War. In the process, he draws from multiple hours of interviews with the principal activists, personal files of resistance leaders, and U.S. government records revealing the surveillance of the resistance by pro-Marcos White House administrations.
The first full-length book to detail the history of U.S.-based opposition to the Marcos regime, Fighting from a Distance provides valuable lessons on how to persevere against a well-entrenched opponent.
This book caught my attention on NetGalley some time ago because it’s about the Philippines and in particular Philippine politics. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it in the early days of this blog but I did research a bit of Philippine politics while I was an undergrad for some assignments, focusing mostly on corruption and its effect on the country’s democratic processes. So it was interesting to read on something a little different but nonetheless a major factor influencing the modern day politics of the country.
I knew the basics of what happened during the Marcos era but what was really interesting about this book was how it focuses on the activists working from outside of the Philippines. It never occurred to me that there was such an organisation working from outside the country in trying to raise awareness about what the Marcos government was doing and in trying to challenge the regime and overthrowing it. While I can’t quite make up my mind as to how effective their movement was in the long run–as the author mentioned, the United States government at the time had close relations with the Marcos government–it was nonetheless an enlightening read.
I also appreciate the way that Fuentecilla broke the chapters down thematically as opposed to chronologically; as a historian I normally prefer chronological presentations (it was one of my usual criticisms during my undergrad years) but in this case it helped me understand the different elements involved in the movement.
Overall, Fighting form a Distance was an interesting read. I can’t say I had any formal criticisms about the argument (though I remember asking myself at point how effective this organisation was in reaching out to the non-intelligentsia members of the Filipino community during this period and how responsive the pro-Marco supporters living abroad were to this movement) but it was a intriguing piece.
Read a Q&A with the author on the University of Illinois Press page || Order this book from The University of Illinois Press