Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Fighting from a Distance How Filipino Exiles Helped Topple a Dictator by Jose V. Fuentecilla

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. A native of the Philippines, Jose V. Fuentecilla emigrated to the United States in the 1960s. He has lived and worked as a journalist and editor in New York City.
I was born almost a year after the People Power Revolution of 1986 (EDSA Revolution), but as a Filipino, it's hard not to feel connected to the events before and after Martial Law.

Fighting from a Distance tells the story of how several Filipino exiles, and even some who remained in the Philippines, were able to work together to bother and topple the Marcos regime. The facts and stories are presented in a very scholarly manner, with footnotes, sources and references, and reads much like any good piece of investigative journalism.

As a non-scholar and just an average person who wants to learn more about her culture, my favorite parts of the book were the anecdotes of the experiences of men such as former Senator Raul Manglapus. The book's strength is really in its storytelling. It's fascinating to learn how things were like for those in exile and those who were hunted down by the administration. There's only so much we can learn from history books. This book makes their stories more personal and sheds a little more light on the stuff we've read before.

I think those who have a more scholarly interest in the EDSA revolution, particularly with the Filipino-American community, will find this book more interesting and valuable. For me, it got a little bit too research paper-like at the end, focusing more on the organizations than on the individual persons.

Thanks to NetGalley and University of Illinois Press for the e-ARC.


  1. You get more insight into life during the Martial Law era.
  2. You get to read about the lives and experiences of the Filipinos who lived in America during Martial Law.
  3. The book is well-researched.


  1. Some parts can get boring for readers who are more interested in personal stories than a mix of personal stories and facts about organizations and how they worked.

The Washington Post described the election as "phony... His wife Imelda, unleashed extra dollops of her formidable patronage and charm."

  1. You want to learn more about the Martial Law period in the Philippines.
  2. You are interested in how the Filipino exiles were able to contribute to the cause of removing Marcos from office.
  3. You are fascinated by Philippine history.




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