Edberto Villegas, 80

September 9, 2020

by IBON Foundation

IBON Foundation is deeply saddened by the passing away of Dr. Edberto Villegas. He was a member of our Board of Trustees since it first convened in 1979 during martial law, served many years as its chairperson, and remained a stalwart until his passing in the evening of September 7, 2020.

Present from the beginning, he gave IBON its stable foundation for progressive research and analysis that rigorously takes the side of the people. He was also part of the first general assembly of IBON International in 2014 and actively contributed to shaping its strategic directions.

Ed was born on May 6, 1940 and proudly a descendant of Gen. Miguel Malvar – Katipunero, a general of Filipino revolutionary forces against Spain, then commander of them all during the Philippine-American War. Like his grandfather, he was very much a part of the revolutionary flow of Philippine society.

He finished his bachelor of arts, master of arts, and doctoral degrees at the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP Diliman). Ed was one of the founders of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in November 1964 and joined the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. For this, he became among thousands of victims of human rights violations when he was arrested, tortured and detained for two years in Camp Crame.

Ed was a Marxist scholar, academic and, wherever he went, a beloved teacher. Everyone who knows or ever met him will agree that he was one of a kind.

For decades, he nurtured generations of students and activists as professor of development studies and political economy at UP Manila, UP Baguio, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and De La Salle University. He was for years also chair of the social studies department of UP Manila, and continued to teach even after retirement. He also became secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).

Ed boldly proclaimed his revolutionary heritage and always audaciously challenged capitalism as a social system. More brashly than most, he upheld a humane society based on cooperation and empathy among its people with economic prosperity and human fulfillment for all. The socialist vision was crystal clear to him.

A true Marxist intellectual, he didn’t just teach in classrooms or with formal lessons. He generously accepted requests to teach, speak and give his insights whenever he was asked and wherever he had to go – to peasantry in the countryside, workers and other employees in the cities, urban poor in their communities, indigenous people in their ancestral domain, and elsewhere the revolution he was a part of was in ferment.

Given the chance to speak, Ed was known for his expansive explanations, historical sweep, and irreverent asides. There was always much color and energy – even if, often, listeners were left perplexed and unable to follow his elaborate thoughts and machine-gun delivery of ideas. And those gestures – he wasn’t just verbally explosive but also gestured dangerously and frantically.

Ed wrote tirelessly. His writings were technically razor-sharp. While fiery with anger at exploiters and oppressors, they were also full of optimism that a more humane world was being built and coming eventually.

He wrote countless essays and pamphlets. They spanned semifeudalism to socialism, capitalist crisis to the commercialization of education, arts and literature, the folly of neoclassical economics to EDSA uprisings, political economy of GDP to presidential puppetry, youth activism to United States (US) interventions, the IMF-World Bank, WTO, and so much more. In the weeks before his death he was writing what must be among the lengthiest posts on Facebook.

His many books on political economy and economic issues include Oil Imperialism in the Philippines (1981), Studies in Philippine Political Economy (1983), Japanese Capitalism and the Asian Development Bank (1983), Political Economy of Philippine Labor Laws (1988), Japanese Economic Presence in Southeast Asia (2001), Global Finance Capital and the Philippine Financial System (2002), and his always in-demand handy A Guide to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (2003).

He edited the historical book Gen. Malvar and the Philippine Revolution (1998) and was recently editing a translation, from the original German into Filipino, of Karl Marx’s seminal Das Kapital. Overflowing with ideas beyond his famed expertise, he also wrote poems and authored the two novels Sebyo (1990) and Barikada: Maikling Kuwento ng mga Pilipino (2013).

Ed’s penetrating views on social and economic issues found ready outlet in his enthusiastic work as a consultant of the Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER) in the peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP). Much like his grandfather on the Pact of Biak-na-Bato truce between Spain and Filipino revolutionaries in 1897, he was keen that any peace deal should properly address the needs and aspirations of the Filipino people.

Ed never stopped engaging in the ways he best could even in this pandemic era and politically repressive times. His last Facebook post on August 24, 2020 railed against the so-called revolutionary government being proposed: “Frustrate the dark move to continue Duterte’s oppressive rule”. How he must have fumed at the misappropriation of “revolution”.

But the last words he wrote on his post, two weeks before charging into the night, were brightly appropriate for our irrepressible and larger-than-life Mad Marx: “Long live the continuing struggle of the Filipino people for social justice, democracy and national sovereignty!”