Interview With Vincente Lava III

Vincente Lava III discusses his family’s experiences during the Cold War in light of their history of involvement with the Communist Party of the Philippines.

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Born into a family of prominent chemists, Vincente Lava begins by sharing how his grandfather, Vincente Lava I, served as the secretary of the Communist Party of the Philippines. His grandfather’s brothers too, assumed his post after his death. Both his brothers were arrested, in the 1950s and in 1964, for their association with the Communist Party. One was released by the Marcos government in the 1970s while the other only in the 1990s. Vincente Lava I worked for the Science Bureau until his wife, a humanities professor, bought land and built their own home in San Juan. He also invented the technology to extract fuel and other reagents from coconut, which he did not want to hand over to the Americans or Japanese, preferring to keep it a domestic technology for Filipinos, even though he was offered huge sums for it. The Lava family used it to produce virgin coconut oil from their farms and also reared pigs in their enterprise.

    They also knew Jose Maria Sison, who founded the original Philippine Communist Party and its militia wing, the New People’s Army. Vincente’s grandfather was associated with the intellectual left in the Philippines, and his mother knew Sison from graduate school. Vincente’s father also became a CPP secretary in the 1960s, while working as a chemical engineer for a multinational corporation. Vincente Lava III believes his father was involved in the creation of the Communist youth group, Kabataang Makabayan (KM) alongside Sison. Growing up in the 1960s, he participated in protests against the Marcos regime and was even shot during a demonstration. Their family home was also raided in search of weapons, due to their association with Sison, as authorities believed he had a safe house nearby.

    Like his father and grandfather before him, Vincente Lava III pursued a chemical engineering degree. At university, he joined the Democratic Youth Organization (SDK), and later moved to the SBK. Many of his classmates joined armed resistance forces and were killed or imprisoned, with one remaining in incarceration. He began working for his father in 1970, and after overstaying his candidature, graduated in 1974. He left politics in the 1980s before the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Interview # 4: Vicente Lava III Location: Quezon City Former Employment: Chemical Engineer

Date: September 4, 2020 

Q: Good afternoon sir Vin Lava. Can you introduce yourself? 

A: I am Vicente Cabanos Lava III, son of Vicente junior (Buddy), and Josefa Cabanos. Joe, my father, was a Chemical Engineer, actually board top notcher of Chem Eng in 1950; my mother had long been a professor at UP. She's only been teaching since the 1950s. English. When she retired in the late 80s, she taught humanities. I grew up in UP. So here we are, in UP village. UP village was developed for UP professors and employees. 

Q: So when did you leave Bulacan? 

A: This is where I grew up. My father is also here because he is a professional, my grandfather Vicente worked at the Bureau of Science so they live in Padre Faura. Then my grandmother bought a house in San Juan, was able to build it, and they moved there. Then my mother already had a job in UP and had housing in UP, they moved there. 

Q: The purpose of this interview is to look at the perspective, experience, personal, political, cultural experience of the Filipinos who lived during the Cold War in the Philippines. For your perspective in those times. What we are talking about here is the period from post-world war II, 1945 to 1989. So in the large scope of this period. What are the experiences that you can share that you think are related to the policy that has been made internationally, locally or nationally here in the Philippines that had an impact on your life during those times? 

A: First we were exposed to my father’s associates. Because he continued the tradition of his father, and his uncle. In the mid-60s he became the secretary of the CPP and at the same time topped the board of engineers, he became an employee of the multinational and then he was member of the CPP, and did business. 

Q: These are the times, this is the time, the CPP is a legal organization, right? Is this the same legal practice? 

A: I think it was only in the 70s. When was the CPP legalized, probably only in the 70s? Marcos' time. All I know is grandpa Jesus got caught in 64, grandpa Peping got caught in 50s. But grandpa Peping was released in the 70s. Ultimately, grandfather Jesus was also released but probably in the 90s. 

Q: So the early 60s. During these times, you were still 10 years old, you were in elementary school, so you were in basic education? 

A: Elementary and High School.

Q: If grandpa buddy was in the CPP then how was his life during those times? Those associates you say, what was his primary role then? 

A: He is our connection to the intellectual left. I remember Joe Sison (Founder of CPP), UP masters student, my mother’s secretary of graduate school somehow or other, Joe Sison came here in the early 60s.

Q: And because he is immersed not only in political work but also intellectual work. And this is an important stage of intellectual tradition that we can say that is different from what we have seen or read about the formation of intellectual traditions in leftist groups, for example, there were some before we proceeded to discuss the traditions of the intellectuals. trained from Europe. From your family, that is what was written in The Lavas, it is clear that the Lavas have an intellectual tradition. 

A: Because of my grandfather. Teacher, one of the educated. In the small town, he was a teacher. 

Q: Do you think it was a different period or when we say that during the 1950s there was also the name senator Recto, who mentioned that the Ilustrados (new intellectuals during the 50s) that continued the 19th century tradition. And here are the 20th century new intellectuals who stimulated the intellectualization of left group in the Philippines. Do you see that such a tradition is related or does it create its own tradition? Do you think the Americans were influential during their education in the United States? 

A: When the Spanish held us, that’s why Philippines is our name. But like Rizal they want to be… I don't know if we will call it a colony. It looks like we are in Spanish but can speak. But in the early 20th century. What is Independence? They asked Quezon that they are together with other leftists. They are for Nationalism. They want to have their own sovereignty. 

Q: When you entered college what course did you take? 

A: Engineering. I have no choice. In those days what your parents said would be followed. 

Q: What do you think from the experience of your family to the experience of your father, your grandfather we are talking about this so that he is no longer just a political event caused by anti-communist politics but a policy of the cold war as we know it. This is a big US military policy against countries that have ties to communist countries such as Soviet Russia and as having experience in what we are talking about stimulating the intellectualization of leftist groups in the Philippines, are there any experiences linked to the policy of the Cold War that have directly affected you? Do you think that this purpose of intellectualization has made it difficult, narrowed down, for example, have there been experiences in blocking the papers created to write inventions or have there been direct interventions made by the government? government of the Philippines to any other government based on your experience? 

A: As long as we were always victims of raiding in the 50s. We were raided on the UP campus. Then they were looking for a gun; then in 77 when Joe Sison was caught, we were raided again. But subsequently because I was not on the left like my friends the police and military told me that “Joe Sison pointed you out because they have a safe house near you.” We were raided here and then they were Fernando Poe Jr also resides. We were raided to disturb their safe house. 

Q: What documents do they usually get? 

A: First and foremost, they will be looking for a gun and if you have manifestos there. They have a record. But we don't have that. There is a gun but it is licensed. There was nothing wrong with the case. I was under house arrest for a month, but my guards became my friends.

Q: It was mentioned in The Lavas that Vicente Lava released about that invention of your grandfather. What can I ask if it looks like what happened there?

A: It is mentioned in the book (The Lavas: A Filipino Family) he was offered a large sum of money. The Japanese offered him millions. He was not dazzled he said he wanted his technology for Filipinos. So his patent actually expired, but the technology itself was not far from making virgin coconut oil, just because virgin coconut oil has no reagent. For grandpa Vicente, he puts reagents because the big thing is that until now, the traditional method of making of coconut oil, you can actually buy it first. Because that is where we have a coconut farm because it is in the tradition we inherited. We also make virgin coconut oil but since we are not there, we are just taking it here. Then we feed the copra mill to the pigs, we also have pigs. 

Q: Because maybe something was invented about extracting oil about that and one of those with the document broke their house not only by the Americans but by the Japanese to get the technology. After that incident and what happened to technology?

A: It was already being used. He did not persevere because he did not want to. After that time during the war, in 1947 he died, but because of that, my father became very interested in God. 

Q: Is there any kind of relationship between your family and that of course because being Lava as a political family attracts attention during rallies and demonstration. Have you ever had a consideration for protection since your parents are members of faculty although Communist party members?

A: I grew up in the 60s; we were following the trends then. Participated in demonstrations especially against Makoy/Marcos. So I was there during  the demonstrations, I was also hit by tear gas and I was also shot by a gun. Luckily, this bad weed is still alive. So I stopped because of survival. We bought it, but I was not picked up. Besides, I grew up there so I know that what the speakers are saying on stage is just getting worse but you can see they are also using you. 

Q: My question is related so can you share what organization you joined at the University. You can also share some of your experiences. But I want to ask that of course because you are a Lava and you also participated in the demonstration, did it not become a threat to your personal safety? 

A: The one who became my professor in history, Father Hilario Lim, he found out, he invited me to talk to them here. But because of my mother's position at UP, she knows everything. They are Elmer Ordonez, Rony Diaz, they are Joe Lansang. Our family friend the Lansang their youngest Sputnik died due to the encounter. He went to the mountains. 

Q: Can you share what the University looked like during your time? Are there examples that nurtured the Cold War policy in the University? What types of professors do you meet with your father? What was his experience at the Faculty then, because he had a clear relationship. 

A: I also have a lot of batchmates who took up arms in the mountains. Butch Landrito was killed in the Zambales battle. Who else, Rey Casambre (Physicist) is still incarcerated. Vicky Segui, Maui Lazaro, Maui we are both like this. 

Q: Didn't you join any organization during those 60s? There are patriotic youth (KM) , aren't you included in that? 

A: If I'm not mistaken my father was there in building KM (Kabataang Makabayan). Because Joe Sison built it. I joined the Democratic Youth Organization (SDK) because of Gary Olivar. One year ahead of me in High School. Reynaldo Vea 2 years behind, my sister's batch. 

Q: Some personal details, when did you graduate and left the University then? 

A: I left ‘74 I was in my seventh year of College. Because of people like me so there was overstaying rule. 

Q: When you graduated ‘74 What was your next career? 

A: I already worked for my dad; graduated in the 70s. 

Q: When the historic fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as a revolutionary and leftist family when you saw it on TV and in the newspaper what was your reaction? 

A: No more, I was out of politics then. I just had a good time then. Just now again and my age and I want to go back in history. 

Q: What about his associates? 

A: He was looking out for some people, he has dependents because for a time he was the treasurer of PKP. He provides expenses. 

Q: If we can go back to what you experienced in college because that is the period we can look at or the period in which you had the most vivid political experience. 

A: I got tired of politics because of what my father was doing. I joined the SDK, I lost my appetite and then we built the SBK (Samahan ng Bastos na Kabataan). We met between the first and second pavilion of AS on the second floor. 

Q: What other events did you have at SBK? 

A: Just drink. We are just buying in the area. Drinking gin until the morning. Actually on September 20 1972 on Friday, we were having a drink at our tambayan. In the morning, shots are already bursting there, it was already Martial Law by the way. 

Q: During these times what books did you consume? Cultural artifacts? 

A: Well biographies but mostly fiction John La Carre were novelists back then, those are the ones we read then what because my parents also love to read we had a nice library. 

Q: Speaking of, since you have reached the same time as Martial Law and Duterte, how can you compare it to the past? What do you think of but when there is a similarity really the other playbook Duterte made?

A: Teodoro Agoncillo is there, I forgot, for a while. The Capital. But I stayed away because the government will only beat you up. What happened today to the leftists? Look at Rey is still a member of the negotiating committee. He is still alive. Ka Randy Echanis is dead. I no longer participate in politics, just good times and jobs. It is dangerous if you are against it. Pardon but Filipinos are stubborn. You will see on the road. In the queue they like to get even they want to get along. Maybe because of Colonial history. You will make way. You have a boss upstairs somewhere. I don't know democracy... When elections people sell votes. Filipino thinking needs to mature. Especially now during the pandemic. Closes companies, how about employees? How can they look for provisions? Does the government have money? I am pessimistic if this will take longer. Peace and order is really going to breakdown. 

Q: If at the National level. The source of this research today is also to feature that the long-standing hegemony of the United States in being a superpower worldwide is already being challenged. United States and new divisions are taking place in China has introduced a different sphere of hegemony. Of course there are still those in India these new technology based economies like South Korea and India. As what other experts think, do you think that China's strength and Russia's strength is related or a continuation of what happened during the Cold War? Do you think since you lived during the Cold War, do you also look at current situation and look at the same appreciation of what is happening now or if you have a different perspective? 

A: Just money. What are China and India? China exports Bronze India exports intellect, great programs are already in India because they speak English, and the programming languages are in English. But there was 40 Centuries of trade by China; and US only began in 1776. 260/230 years compared against 4000 years. I just asked you, what do you know now compared to what you knew 20 years ago? Think of the 40 Centuries we are talking about. And then they are many good intellects like Lao Tzu. They went through a lot, they went through the communist party, now the communist party is the capitalist party. What is interesting will be the dynamics of the relationship between West and East. European history is still backward as compared to the Chinese; they already had silk and trans-oceanic trade while Europeans were just developing. They say they have reached North America. They are different. Americans have no vision. Because they are young. The Chinese have already been there done that. 

Interviewer: Lemuel Magaling

Interviewee: Vincente Lava III

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Transcript Notes

  1.  Consider how the Lavas’ socioeconomic and educational background shaped Vincente Lava’s political views

  2. Discuss the role of family and friendship networks in shaping the leftist movement in the Cold War Philippines.