Ninotchka Rosca accepted as her pen name that of the Russian radical played in an American film by Greta Garbo. Rosca thought of herself as a militant liberal among the students at the University of the Philippines. Her columns as associate editor of Graphic magazine after 1968 reinforced her image as a controversial figure. Her first fiction complained about the political passivity of the educated elite, and she remained a friend of those former classmates who joined the New People’s Army against the rule-by-decree of President Ferdinand Marcos. In 1973, shortly after Marcos declared martial law, she was arrested and placed for several months in Camp Crame Detention Center. She used her experience there to provide realistic detail for nine stories about parallels between military detention and a nation run under rules of “constitutional authoritarianism.” The Monsoon Collection was published in Australia in order to safeguard its author.
Rosca found her role as a nationalist difficult when loyalty was defined as adhering to Marcos’ rule. By 1977, Rosca had gone into political self-exile among relatives connected with the University of Hawaii at Maona, where she taught. Later she moved to New York City to be closer to opportunities within the publishing industry, despite her misgivings that several American presidents had sponsored Marcos’ rise to power on the premise that he was anti-Communist. After his forced flight from the Philippines in February, 1986, she returned briefly to Manila and later, with Endgame, contributed to reportage on Marcos’ final days.
Although Rosca remained in the United States, her focus on the Philippines did not falter. She became the U.S. representative of GABRIELA, an organization named after Gabriela Silang, an eighteenth century warrior who continued the revolt against Spain after her husband’s death. GABRIELA in America protects overseas workers from various kinds of abuse. She has also maintained a column of commentary in Filipinas, a popular magazine on the West Coast. Since the late 1980’s Rosca has written novels describing the militant role of youth organizations in the Philippines.