Antonio “Tony” Zumel lived a life that was a complete throwback to that lived by Marcelo del Pilar more than a century ago. Both were outstanding journalists who had to leave their homeland and exile themselves in another because they were both hunted by authorities. And while they struggled for and dreamed of the day when freedom, equality and justice would be as perennial as the monsoon rains in these islands, they would never get to see that day arrive. They would die in their places of exile but both would live on forever as esteemed heroes of their native land.
Tony’s family was initially well-off. His father Antonio Sr. was a lawyer and his mother Basilisa, a teacher. Young Tony learned empathy from his father who let peasants hitch a ride on the family car on the way to town. His father taught him never to oppress other people, but also not to let other people oppress him.
The family fortunes suffered drastically after Tony’s father died when Tony was 13. He and his older sister had to find work to support their studies. Some of his younger siblings were sent to live with relatives.
Young Tony found himself in Manila doing odd jobs for an uncle. He supported himself as he attended classes at the Far Eastern University’s high school department. He also worked as a casual laborer at a war surplus equipment dump and as an assistant at a water taxi stand in a Manila pier.
Later,another uncle got him a job as a copyboy or “gofer” at the famous newspaper Philippine Herald. He observed how the newspaper editors, reporters and copyreaders worked,and started to teach himself the tricks of the trade. He bought journalism books and read them voraciously. In two years’ time, Tony was promoted to proofreader. As proofreader, he became good friends with workers in the various production departments and became sympathetic to their difficult plight.
Then still a part-time student at the Lyceum University, Tony decided to quit school and become a full-time newspaperman. He became known as a top-notch Herald reporter. His prose and skill in crafting neat turns of phrases caught the editors’ attention. More than that, however, Tony showed uncompromising integrity and a keen sense of justice, which earned him the respect of everybody.
History of political involvement
Tony joined a newly-formed union of Herald employees,but management succeeded in derailing the union’s activities. Undaunted,Tony put up a new union, more militant and more independent. The new union held a three-month strike, which however failed to win its objectives. Tony left the Herald and took an editorial post at the Bulletin.
Tony was among the journalists who established the National Press Club in 1952. Its first president was Teodoro Valencia. Tony served in the NPC Board for more than a dozen terms until he ran and won as NPC president in 1969. Tony and his circle of journalist friends became habitues at the NPC.
Meanwhile, the country entered a tumultuous period as protests erupted regularly in Manila’s streets against the excesses of the Marcos government. They were also happening in many other places in the country.
Tony was NPC president when he led a campaign to free the staff of the Dumaguete Times who were arrested for allegedly being “subversives” and were being held incommunicado by the military and police. He fought against the deportation to Taiwan of the Yuyitung brothers, Quintin and Rizal, publisher and editor, respectively, of the Chinese Commercial News. He won a second term as NPC president and became even more involved in the politics of the era.
This was the period now called the First Quarter Storm of 1970. Tony had graduated from being a journalist to becoming an engaged participant. He had read all their books and engaged in a thousand and one conversations with activists and civil libertarians on the problems that beset Philippine society and what should be done to solve these problems.
Many of the protest actions were being held at the Liwasang Bonifacio, a park that was a spitting distance from the NPC. Tony opened the Club’s doors to the activist groups holding rallies. The club’s premises became the preferred venue for press conferences and assemblies of activists, nationalists, civil libertarians and other progressive forces. It even offered refuge to countless activists escaping from military and police dispersal units during political demonstrations.
When President Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1971, Tony helped establish the Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCL), led by such prominent personalities as Senators Jose Diokno and Lorenzo Tañada. This organization led massive rallies against the creeping dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
On the day Marcos declared martial law, Tony left his former life behind and joined the Left underground. He resumed his journalistic career, but this time as writer and editor of the movement’s clandestine publications such as Liberation and Ang Bayan, among others.
As a writer for the underground movement, Tony had to take long treks over mountains, rivers and streams, and plod for hours under heavy rain. His comrades say he remained jovial and uncomplaining, despite often being the odd-man out, a middle-aged man in the company of youths barely past their 20s. Tony endured and even embraced the hardships and spartan accommodations of that life. But he remained a journalist, always insisting that articles submitted to him treat issues objectively, all reports verified.
He married Mela and they had a daughter they named Malaya (“Free”).
In the aftermath of the People Power uprising that overthrew Marcos in 1986, Tony surfaced, along with fellow journalists-turned-rebels Satur Ocampo and Carolina “Bobbie” Malay, to represent the National Democratic Front in negotiations with the newly-installed Corazon Aquino government.
The talks failed however, and Tony, with his wife and daughter, left for Europe in 1988 to push for the NDF campaigns from there.Tony sought and was given political asylum in the Netherlands. Later he became Senior Adviser to the NDFP Peace Panel and edited the publication Liberation International. In 1990, he was elected NDF chair in absentia, and in 1994, its honorary chair.
Circumstance of death
His health had started to fail around the mid-‘90s. In 2001, three days after his 69th birthday, Tony died of complications arising from his heart and kidney problems.
Born August 10, 1932, in Laoag, Ilocos Norte
Died August 13, 2001, in Utrecht, The Netherlands
Parents Antonio Zumel, Sr., lawyer, and Basilisa De Leon, teacher
Siblings 5 (2 brothers and 3 sisters) Birth order of hero: 2nd
Spouse Mela Castillo
Children 3 (Antonio III+, Veronica and Malaya)
Elementary Holy Ghost Academy of Laoag, Laoag, Ilocos Norte, 1940-1947
High School Far Eastern University High School Department, Manila, 1947-1950
College Lyceum University, Manila, 1951 –
Bachelor of Arts (undergraduate)
National Press Club of the Philippines – President, 1969-1970 and 1970-1971
Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties, founding member, 1971
Awarded the Marcelo H. del Pilar Award by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, May 28, 1999
Bantayog nomination and profile form accomplished by Mela Castillo Zumel, and endorsed by Hustisya-Karapatan
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, Antonio Zumel, the revolutionary, in Streetwise, Business World, August September 14, 2012
“All about Antumel,” testimony by Carolina S. Malay, undated, Quezon City
“Antonio Zumel’s Radical Prose,” Bulatlat, August 8-14, 20014, Quezon City