Against the Dying of the Light:
The Filipino Writer and Martial Law
By Ed Maranan
This article is based on a talk given by the author to students and faculty of the University of London 's School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in September 1999. Translations of Filipino poems cited in this piece are all by the author.
Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light
Those who are awake have a world in common,
but every sleeper has a world of his own.
No todos dormían en la noche de nuestros abuelos
—Claro M Recto
| ...protest literature ...and the literature about it comprise a continuum: full appreciation can only come with discussing the origins and rise of social realism during the last one hundred years... |
These epigraphs have something in common: the theme of vigilance, wakefulness, and in the realm of literature, the social responsibility of the writer in a time of historical necessity.
The first, the two concluding lines from a villanelle of Dylan Thomas, has had an interesting history of allusion in Philippine writing. The poem was anything but political, a grieving son's exhortatory but pained message of encouragement to his dying father, whose blasphemous temper had died out long before he did, and which the poet would have wanted the father to retain with his last breath. But the lyrical apostrophe had the ring of transcending the personal, and the second line especially lent itself to an almost predictable appropriation as a clarion call, as it were, to some "higher" humanitarian cause. Thus, in the ominous days before the declaration of martial law, an editorial appeared in the Philippines Free Press—up to that time the most uncompromising proponent of adversarial journalism in the country—using the words of Dylan Thomas, with an appropriate editorial cartoon by that estimable artist Esmeraldo Izon.
It is in this context and spirit—the well-founded warnings on the impending imposition of martial law seen as the twilight of freedom and democracy in the Philippines, and the determined response of many of the country's writers in doing battle with the regime—that I have done my own appropriation for the title of this piece.
The second is derived from the writings of a pre-Socratic Greek materialist. My first encounter with this statement was in Georg Lukacs' essay, "The Intellectual Physiognomy of Literary Characters", and I had occasion to quote this in a journal article "Metaphor as Social Reflection: The Poetics of Federico Licsi Espino Jr.", a poet whose works I shall refer to later in this discussion.
The third is attributed to the best-known nationalist statesman in Philippine history, Claro M. Recto, whose writings on the American domination of Philippine politics and society serve as a kind of bridge between the nationalist literature of the earlier periods and the activist literature of the 70s and up to the present, although critical literary writing on imperialism and neo-colonialism in recent times have been more influenced by the likes of Renato Constantino and Jose Ma. Sison.
The main discussion in this article is focused on literary works written during martial law, with only occasional references to literary-historical antecedents and what came after. The delimitation is necessary because protest literature—the operative or generic phrase for our purposes—and the literature about it comprise a continuum: full appreciation can only come with discussing the origins and rise of social realism during the last one hundred years, the foreign literary and ideological influences which helped shape a distinctive radical canon, the tradition of 'propaganda and revolutionary literature' against both Spanish and American colonizers from the 19 th century up to the Commonwealth period, and the permeating crisis of underdevelopment which informs Philippine post-colonial—or what the Left would call neo-colonial—history.
| Short stories and poems continue to be written on the martial law experience, proof that those fourteen years are destined to be the most deeply etched trauma in the collective Filipino psyche well into the next millenium. |
In brief, we are only looking at 14 years of critical engagement in the arena of writing with more than a century of tradition behind it. In a very important sense, also, the protest that characterized social and cultural movements during the period of martial law hardly abated with the end of martial-law dictatorship. It certainly did not die down with the "democratic restoration" under President Aquino—whose regime's much-vaunted "democratic space", according to writings critical of her dispensation, included a few killing fields and hardly a historic structural change at the grassroots level—nor with the onset of "people empowerment" and "globalization" during the turn of President Ramos. We do not expect that in the brief period served so far by the present populist but erratic president, Joseph Estrada, the protest genre would have prematurely sunk without a trace and become history. It continues to be relevant, given the barely changing structure of Filipino society and all its discontents.
In recent years, there have appeared several novels that are either semi-fictional or semi-autobiographical accounts of the martial law period. Among these are Azucena Grajo Uranza's Bamboo in the Wind (1990), dealing with the historical events and social factors that came together to produce the political firestorms of the early seventies; Linda Ty Casper's two political novels, Awaiting Trespass (1985) which re-creates the scenes of state-authorized torture of detainees and citizens during martial law and Wings of Stone (1990), recounting the events following the Aquino assassination; F. Sionil Jose's Viajero (1993), which fictionalizes the revolution through the supra-realist mystical figure of intellectual-turned-messiah Salvador de la Raza ("savior of the race"), as reconstructed from the point of view of Doctor-Colonel Simplicio Verdad ("simple truth") of military intelligence; and Jose Dalisay's Killing Time in a Warm Place (1992), a first-person roman a clef and reconstruction of an activist's life under martial law, in which historical necessity and personal circumstances can be as much in contradiction as are opposing political forces.
Short stories and poems continue to be written on the martial law experience, proof that those fourteen years are destined to be the most deeply etched trauma in the collective Filipino psyche well into the next millenium.
But in this article, the purpose is to recollect and reflect on a more or less representative sampling of the responses of Filipino writers during the period itself of martial law, as they personally witnessed or lived through a difficult period of repression, censorship, and resistance. Martial law was the state policy adopted by the Marcos regime in September of 1972, when it imposed authoritarian rule upon a society perceived to be in political, economic, and social crisis. As far as the regime was concerned, the root of the crisis was the Communist insurgency. To the broad spectrum of oppositionists to the regime, however, the crisis in Filipino society was brought about by the rule itself of Marcos and the elite structure he represented but also dominated.
Background of protest literature in the Philippines
| The declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 temporarily put a damper on the resurgent and insurgent writing being done by writers who belonged to literary organizations which openly promoted progressive objectives... |
Protest literature—at other times, in other contexts, referred to as revolutionary literature, literature of engagement, combat literature, committed literature, literature of resistance, proletarian literature, people's literature, socially conscious literature, and perhaps a Philippine contribution to the taxonomy, the literature of circumvention (simply defined as "a body of works that expressed social and political protest in veiled terms")—has had a long history in the Philippines.
Three periods of great social unrest which produced a more or less sustained body of protest literature may be identified as the following:
the latter part of Spanish rule in the late 19th century, and the first years of the American take-over in the 1900s;
the period covering the Philippine Commonwealth before World War 2 and the 1950s, during which peasant and worker issues began to gain pre-eminence, particularly with the introduction and spread of socialist thought and writing and the rise of social realism, and
the decade of the late sixties and the early seventies, which saw the rise of radical student activism, and then throughout the fifteen-year period of martial law, in which the literature of circumvention and the literature of revolution sought to shake the superstructure of the New Society ordained by Ferdinand Marcos.
The declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 temporarily put a damper on the resurgent and insurgent writing being done by writers who belonged to literary organizations which openly promoted progressive objectives: critique of social inequality, landlordism and peasant oppression, workers' rights and capitalist exploitation, etc. The issues that generated the polemics and poetics of the period were not confined to Filipino society: it was the height of the Vietnam War, and writers—together with academics and students from Manila 's teeming universities—demonstrated before the US Embassy as frequently as they massed in front of the Philippine Congress.
Several years before the onset of martial law, student activism became firmly rooted in the political landscape of the Philippines. Youth groups such as the Kabataang Makabayan and Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, as well as other sectoral and mass organizations, were organized for political teach-ins and street demonstrations, and not a few writers were drawn into activist circles, publishing their essays and poems in campus newspapers like UP's Philippine Collegian and UE's Dawn, and alternative broadsheets such as Ang Masa, edited by the redoubtable Amado V. Hernandez, labor leader, pioneer of social realism in the Filipino novel, and poet who wrote his celebrated poems as a political prisoner in the 1950s. Manifestos distributed in the streets or plastered on walls captured the incendiary spirit of the times, the unequivocal partisanship of class struggle and class-consciousness, and sometimes, the flavor of literature.
Sometime in 1971, soon after the First Quarter Storm which saw students almost taking over the presidential palace after a series of fierce street battles in Manila, a writers' organization with a programmatic vision for social change came into being. This was the PAKSA (Panulat para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan, 'literature for the people's advancement')—whose literary and ideological influence continues to be felt up to the present, and has probably survived the splintering and oft-reported 'subsidence' of the Left in recent years.
| ...the call to create proletarian literature ...was too strong to ignore. It was deemed unimaginable, for the committed writer doing political work, to still think of poetry as "beauty recollected in tranquility"... |
During its founding congress, PAKSA—an innocuous Tagalog word which simply means "topic" or "subject"—a message from an absent poet was read to set the tone for the proceedings. The message was entitled "The Tasks of Cadres in Cultural Work", and the author was Jose Ma. Sison, founder of Kabataang Makabayan and the modern Communist Party of the Philippines, who had gone underground to lead the armed struggle in the late sixties. The message borrowed heavily from the ideological fountain of the Philippine Cultural Revolution—Mao Zedong's "Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art". As literary historian Elmer Ordoñez has summed it up, the message, from the two Marxist poets and Communist leaders, called "for the creation of a revolutionary culture and art to oppose the culture and art of the ruling class," and in the process, "literature becomes a weapon and an instrument for arousing and mobilizing the masses against the oppressive few." (Ordoñez, 1995:xix)
In his message, Sison started off by quoting a couplet from the Chinese poet Lu Hsun:
Fierce-browed, I calmly face a thousand pointing fingers;
Head bowed, like a tame ox, I willingly serve my brothers.
This is by no means stating that the writers of PAKSA were all party members, but simply that the call to create proletarian literature, "literature for the masses", was too strong to ignore. It was deemed unimaginable, for the committed writer doing political work, to still think of poetry as "beauty recollected in tranquility"—a hoary legacy our Anglo-American literary acculturation, among other things—or to write love sonnets, while workers, farmers, and students were being mowed down by the police and constabulary in demonstrations all over the country. This was clearly a reprise of the Literature and Society discourse initiated by writers like Salvador P. Lopez during the American colonial era in the Philippines.
The first years of Martial Law
Thousands of activists were thrown into prison after martial law was declared. Many writers were among those jailed, and those who escaped the dragnet were forced underground and got themselves integrated into units or cells which carried out clandestine publication of anti-regime books, booklets, pamphlets, newspapers. For the writers aboveground, or those who had also been critical about the regime but had not been tagged by the military establishment as dangerously subversive enough for arrest and detention, the problem of publishing outlets was most pronounced. Apart from newspapers, magazines had been closed down, for a number of them had printed some of the best protest literature being written before martial law. And then there was the censorship. As F. Sionil Jose recounts it:
The first instrument of censorship in 1972 was the Army Office of Civil Relations which granted licences for new magazines and newspapers. It also imposed guidelines which were often arbitrary. Under these guidelines, the President, his family, and the Armed Forces could not be criticized, only praised. Before any manuscript was published, it had to be examined by the Army censors. (Ong,1994:325)
He cites actual instances of censorship which he experienced first-hand as a publisher:
Bienvenido Santos' novel, The Praying Man, was banned outright because it portrayed a corrupt government official.A history book, The Propaganda Movement, by (the Jesuit scholar) John Schumacher almost failed to see print. The major who went over it objected to the title which, he said, was itself subversive.A play by Nina Estrada Puyat which was already in page proof for my journal Solidarity was banned outright; it portrayed what was happening in the country, the corruption which Marcos said he would banish in the New Society. (Ong, 1994:326)
| ...it was in the precious little space afforded, wittingly or unwittingly, by certain publications and institutions sanctioned by the martial law administration, that the so-called 'literature of circumvention' began to appear... |
For the activist writers, the dearth of outlets was not absolute. Even with scant resources in the beginning, the protest movement was able to get some underground printing going. In time, a booklet called Ulos ('blade strike') appeared, which contained poems satirizing the regime or expressing revolutionary optimism, vignettes or sketches about how people were surviving under the repression, essays on the culture of liberation, news about victories in the people's war, and other items.
The underground press was indeed active, if not in samizdat-format or mimeographed hand-outs, in tabloid form. But not even the state machinery of censorship could be eagle-eyed all of the time, and it was in the precious little space afforded, wittingly or unwittingly, by certain publications and institutions sanctioned by the martial law administration, that the so-called 'literature of circumvention' began to appear, with rather devastating psychological effect.
Sometime in 1973, a poem entitled "Prometheus Unbound" appeared in Focus, a magazine published and edited by an established and respected writer who had chosen to be associated with the Marcos regime. The author of the poem was one Ruben Cuevas.
Mars shall glow tonight
Artemis is out of sight.
Rust in the twilight sky
Colors a bloodshot eye,
Or shall I say that dust
Sunders the sleep of the just?
Hold fast to the gift of fire!
I am rage! I am wrath! I am ire!
The vulture sits on my rock,
Licks at the chains that mock
Reeks of death, death, death.
Death shall not unclench me.
I am earth, wind, and sea!
Kisses bestow on the brave
That defy the damp of the grave
And strike the chill hand of
Death, with the flaming sword of love.
Orion stirs. The vulture
Retreats from the hard, pure
Thrusts of the spark that burns,
Unbounds, departs, returns
To pluck out of death's fist
A god who dared to resist.
(printed in Focus Magazine, Manila, 1973)
To the formalist critic, or any poetry tutor, this poem may sound too sophomoric by half, with its profuse, seemingly overwrought treatment of the theme from Greek mythology—the renegade Titan called Prometheus who stole fire from Mt. Olympus to give to mankind, surely the mother of all liberation theologies—but as it turned out, it was, more importantly, metaphoric or semaphoric—a claymore-mine of a poem which brought down the anger of heaven not upon the Promethean poet, but upon the publisher of Focus Magazine which printed the seemingly harmless poem. It featured an acrostic, the first letters of the lines spelling out the favorite war-chant and taunting slogan of demonstrators all over the country: "Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta", the last two words among the most common sobriquets applied to the strongman: 'dictator' and 'puppet'.
| In the Philippines, writers can easily shift from poetry and fiction to writing for television and film, and it is as a screenwriter that Pete Lacaba has really created an impact on Philippine popular culture. |
Word spread around, the poem and its aftermath becoming a cause celebre, the furore raising the morale of all resistance writers, and of course ruffling a few feathers in the Palace. The editor was certainly not chained to a rock in place of Prometheus, and no vultures came to tear out her liver for all eternity, but she must have had a hell of a reprimand. The Oxford dictionary, by the way, defines Promethean as "2. creative, original, or life-enhancing". Ruben Cuevas, a pseudonym, was in fact a pre-martial law journalist and poet-screenwriter who had been heavily tortured in the constabulary jail soon after the issuance of Proclamation 1081 putting the country under martial law.
The name Lacaba has become a literary by-word, for a number of reasons. Pete Lacaba's contributions to journalism, poetry, and scriptwriting have become identified with both literary excellence as well as social relevance (another pivotal phrase in the canon of protest literature). His two most famous poems, "Ang Pagkain ng Paksiw na Ayungin" ('How to eat the ayungin fish') and "Ang Kagilagilalas na Pakikipagsalaparan ni Juan de la Cruz" ('The incredible adventures of Juan de la Cruz') have served different purposes. The first one is a pungent, quite tragicomic, instructional on the proper, painstaking way of eating the ayungin fish—a common fare for the poor—so that the nutrients from its eyes, bones, and meager flesh could be optimized to stave off hunger for at least a few hours. The second is a brief narrative on the misadventures of the archetypal Filipino Everyman, Juan de la Cruz, who is frustrated at every turn, de-humanized and ridiculed in his urban-poor existence, until he seeks salvation in the distant hills. The poem lent itself not only to endless public readings but also to performances in the popular genre of mime and street theater.
In the Philippines, writers can easily shift from poetry and fiction to writing for television and film, and it is as a screenwriter that Pete Lacaba has really created an impact on Philippine popular culture. His screenplays produced during the period of martial law constitute further examples of the literature of circumvention, barely squeezing past the censor's nose, although they depicted brutalized lives, social injustice, and the political awakening of people from all walks of life. Typical of his films were "Jaguar" (1979), "Angela Markado" (1980), "Sister Stella L." (1984), and "Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim" (1985). (Tiongson,1994v9:651)
And there is another Lacaba, Emmanuel, three years younger than his brother Pete, who is a literary legend of iconic status in protest literature. In the late 1960s, Eman was a "flower child", a hippie, bohemian writer who crafted prize-winning short stories in English, before he turned to writing poetry and plays with socio-political themes and, in one of those nodal transformations or Damascene conversions with which the history of intellectuals is replete, Eman found himself gravitating towards the national democratic movement. Eventually, he went underground to join the guerrillas of the New People's Army, and continued to produce literary works, including revolutionary lyrics in Visayan—a language he had to learn, being a Tagalog—which replaced the words in popular folk songs, reported to be still sung today in the guerrilla zones of the NPA in Central Philippines. (Tiongson,1994v9:650)
While Eman's colorful youth (he was an American Field Service scholar in his teens and already an accomplished poet) was testament to the intellectual exuberance of university life during his time—he was a brilliant Ateneo student with the broadest of interdisciplinary interests (sociology, humanities, science fiction, religion, political theory, primitivism, poetry, philosophy, among others)—his life underground during martial law exemplified the enthusiasm and total commitment with which the revolutionary convert devoted his energies to the liberation struggle. Sylvia Mendez Ventura wrote in her essay, "Emmanuel Lacaba: Poet-Warrior":
Peasants in Tucaan Balaag (in Davao) knew Eman as a poet, lyricist, storyteller, ex-teacher, champion of workers' rights, freedom fighter, bringer of fun and enlightenment into their deprived lives. (Maramba,1997:182).
| The worldview of other Third World poets...formed part|
of the education of an entire generation of Filipino writers and activists, finds resonance and validation in Eman Lacaba's lines...
Acclaimed while still alive as one of the best Filipino writers of his generation, Eman Lacaba and his guerrilla comrades were killed and disposed of with the brutal dispatch and cruelty that became the trademark of the Marcos constabulary. Days after receiving information that Eman was with an NPA group that had been slain by government troops and hastily buried in an unmarked grave, relatives and friends were finally able to reach the Tagum municipal cemetery in Davao escorted by soldiers. Mendez Ventura recounts the discovery:
The cemetery caretaker led them to a paupers' grave where he remembered having seen four bodies dumped side by side, minus coffin or wrapping paper, about two weeks before. The grave was shallow, the better to dig out any corpse a relative might wish to claim.
Marks of his friend's posthumous degradation drove Freddie (Salanga, another writer) to near-hysterical tears.Eman's hands and ankles were tied with rope, and the flesh on his back had been macerated by the rocky terrain over which he had been dragged like a dead cow. (Maramba,1997:182)
Eman's works have been anthologized in two books, Salvaged Poems (1986) and Salvaged Prose (1992), representing the "writings of a passionate poet and fictionist deeply committed to his craft and political principles." The word "salvaged" as used in the titles can have two contexts: one, rescued or saved from destruction or oblivion; two, summarily executed. "Salvaged" entered the political lexicon to refer to extrajudicial murder carried out by the police and military on subversives and common criminals. (It even figures in Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, with an appropriate attribution in the epilogue to an "ancient" Philippine practice, which of course can be historically dated to the martial law years under Marcos.)
One of Eman's poems—a tryptich of "Open Letters to Filipino Artists"—is considered a literary benchmark in the form-&-content paradigm, a passionate testament from a bourgeois intellectual who had, in the oft-quoted formulation by Marx, transcended his class origins and "raised (himself) to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole", in the well-known passage found in the first chapter ('Bourgeois and Proletarians') of The Communist Manifesto. It is, as one account put it, "the ars poetica of the radical tradition in Philippine letters." The worldview of other Third World poets, like Otto Rene Castillo of Guatemala, whose poem "To the Apolitical Intellectuals" formed part of the education of an entire generation of Filipino writers and activists, finds resonance and validation in Eman Lacaba's lines, written over a period of almost a year in various places in Mindanao.
The poem begins, fittingly enough, with an epigraph quoting another Asian poet-warrior, Ho Chi Minh, and includes in its concluding stanza, interestingly, an acknowledgment of debt to the American poet, Robert Frost, on the phenomenon of life choices:
Open Letters to Filipino Artists
A poet must also know how to lead an attack.
—Ho Chi Minh
Invisible the mountain routes to strangers:
For rushing toes an inch-wide strip on boulders
And for the hand that's free a twig to grasp,
Or else headlong fall below to rocks
And waterfalls of death so instant that
Too soon, they're red with skulls of carabaos.
But patient guides and teachers are the masses:
Of forty mountains and a hundred rivers;
Of plowing, planting, weeding, and the harvest;
And of a dozen dialects that dwarf
This foreign tongue we write each other in
Who must transcend our bourgeois origins.
You want to know, companions of my youth
How much has changed the wild but shy poet
Forever writing last poem after last poem;
You hear he's dark as earth, barefoot,
A turban round his head, a bolo at his side,
His ballpen blown up to a long-barrelled gun:
Deeper still the struggling change inside.
Like husks of coconuts he tears away
The billion layers of his selfishness.
Or learns to cage his longing like the bird
Of legend, fire, and a song within his chest.
Now of consequence is his anaemia
From lack of sleep: no longer for Bohemia,
The lumpen culturati, but for the people, yes.
He mixes metaphors but values more
A holographic and geometric memory
For mountains: not because they are there,
But because the masses are there, where
Routes are jigsaw puzzles he must piece together.
Though he has been called a brown Rimbaud,
He is not bandit, but a people's warrior.
We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.
We are homeless and all homes are ours.
We are nameless and all names are ours.
To the fascists we are the faceless enemy
Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death:
The ever-moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.
The road less travelled by we've taken
And that has made all the difference:
The barefoot army of the wilderness
We should all be in time.
Awakened, the masses are Messiah.
Here, among workers and peasants, our lost
Generation has found its true, its only, home.
Benigno Aquino's assassination and the Filipino writer
| Never has a killing been more dramatically staged in the country...never had there been as large a funeral and an outpouring of public grief for a public figure in Philippine history... |
On August 21, 1983, Benigno S. Aquino Jr.—the most popular political opposition leader who was for many years in exile in the United States—was gunned down as he climbed down a staircase of the jetliner that had brought him home. He had decided to come back to Manila to lead the political movement against Marcos rule, and was promptly assassinated by a group of conspirators whose ringleader or mastermind, up to this time, has only been hinted at, but not yet officially unmasked. Never has a killing been more dramatically staged in the country—with the possible execution of national hero Jose Rizal in 1896, thus the attempt at parallelism between the two events—never had there been as large a funeral and an outpouring of public grief for a public figure in Philippine history, and never has there been more copy written about the sensational assassination and its political aftermath.
Alice Guillermo reminisces on the impact of the event on Philippine literature in her essay "The Temper of the Times":
"A clear turning point for many writers and poets in English was the assassination of former Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. As a result of this incident, protest—which had earlier been timid or diffused—now became full and orchestrated.the bourgeoisie of the Makati enclaves, including rich society matrons, took to the streets.in an unprecedented show of oppositionist fervor. Likewise, the visual arts and literature formed a swelling tide of protest centered around the figure of Aquino." (Ordoñez, 1995:343)
Note that Guillermo here conflates the pro-Aquino groundswell of opposition to the Marcos regime with the tide of protest in the visual arts and literature, and it might seem that the writers in English—or any of the other Philippine languages—had found their political voice for the first time. What she actually wanted to bring out was the fact that writers who, theretofore, had not ordinarily found common cause with the radical movement seemed to have suddenly been conscience-stricken. A group of writers put together a volume entitled In Memoriam, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., 1932-1983: a poetic tribute by five Filipino poets. The five poets featured in this memorial were Gemino H. Abad, Cirilo F. Bautista, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, Ricard M. de Ungria, and Alfred A. Yuson, all founding members of the redoubtable Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC).
Except for one of them, these writers wrote almost exclusively in English and did not explicitly write about socio-political issues. The assassination crisis, according to Guillermo, produced this collection which "proves that our poets in English cannot long maintain a rigidly formalistic stance but will, sooner or later, recognize the pressures of reality on their art". (Ordoñez, 1995:344) But not even the poets who created this chapbook would readily concede to a facile description of themselves as suddenly 'partisan', a point they took pains to clarify in their introduction:
The poetic genius is a strange entity; so is the mechanism of human events. The energies of the former may be accidentally released by the latter, creating an unplanned explosion. These poems, then, are the explosion of the authors' poetic genius as it was mysteriously affronted, challenged, and seduced by Aquino's death. We tried to grasp at some meaning in the language of heart and tongue, and wrote not as partisans in a partisan game but as witnesses to a universal drama. (Abad et al,1983:1)
This particular collection of poetry was a watershed of sorts in Philippine poetry in English. Except for Alfredo Navarro Salanga—who was already well-known for critical writing in journalism, social and cultural history, and literature—the four other poets were established belletrists and arguably the country's finest craftsmen in the English language, and who had now reacted with political passion over the assassination of a revered and even iconized—albeit always controversial—political figure. For one of them, at least, it signaled a measure of disaffection with a regime which had lionized him as a literary champion, as the voice of aestheticism unencumbered by political ideology.
Indeed, Cirilo F. Bautista two years earlier had written an essay, "Philippine Literature: From National to Aesthetic Liberation", in which he stated:
| The questions that Bautista engagé and the more radical literary critics continue to raise proceed from the fundamental issues now familiar to those who have gone through the canon of hermeneutics, literary theory, and cultural history... |
This aesthetic liberation is going on in the literary and artistic fields. The constraints to its flowering appear only as such to those writers and intellectuals who are trapped in the network of Western concepts of aesthetics and liberty. What is undeniable, however, is that the present Government has not only removed the obstruction to this aesthetic liberation but also initiated and encouraged it. Its democratic revolution is the father of this cultural revolution that is transforming the Filipino consciousness. (In Diwa: The Philippine Journal of Ideas, quoted in Maranan:1985)
In marked contrast, here is the same author writing about "The Emperor and the Foolish Writers", part of a series called "Political Parables" which are reminiscent of the so-called "paralogical" and surreal pieces of Italo Calvino and his confreres, or highly politicized 'Urban Myths' of the Guardian. After the publication of In Memoriam, he and his literary comrades were forced to resign their government consultancies. An excerpt:
Because it was not a country for writers, five poets were dismissed from government service when they wrote about the death of a leader of the opposition party. The Board of Censors for Literature found their poems contravening the State ideology, and forthwith placed them under house arrest, confiscated their books, and cut their long hair.at the same time, it established a network of vigilant critics tasked with harassing, threatening, and frustrating writers known to possess anti-government convictions and sentiments. When a group of writers demonstrated against these restrictions, the Board, with the help of the Integrated Military Police and the Fire Department, dispersed the crowd with horse-manure pellets and water from the Pasig River. The Emperor, upon recommendation of the Board, signed a decree providing for the confiscation of all typewriters in the country, old and new, working and not, of whatever brand. (Salanga,1993:37)
In recent years, Bautista—who won the 1998 Centennial Literary Prize in poetry—has gone beyond his erstwhile formalist criticism in his writings on literature, and has turned out a body of works—in his regular column in Manila Bulletin's Panorama magazine—on literature and society, a discourse that was pioneered by Salvador P. Lopez in the Philippines as early as the Commonwealth era of the 1930s, and later taken up by other Filipino writers such as Arturo B. Rotor, Amado V. Hernandez, Jose Ma. Sison, Epifanio San Juan Jr., Luis V. Teodoro, Bienvenido Lumbera, and a younger generation of critics who are also creative writers. The questions that Bautista engagé and the more radical literary critics continue to raise proceed from the fundamental issues now familiar to those who have gone through the canon of hermeneutics, literary theory, and cultural history: from Ernst Fischer's The Necessity of Art and Arnold Hauser's Social History of Art to Jean Paul Sartre's What is Literature?, from Bertolt Brecht's dramaturgy to Peter Weiss' The Necessary Decision of a Writer and Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed.
But to go back to In Memoriam: the publication of this poetry collection was spectacular only because it was seen, rightly or wrongly, as a revolt by establishment writers. That its cover was colored yellow immediately identified it with the pro-Aquino protest movement that would gather momentum in the years that followed. In Memoriam was followed by Caracoa V (Sub Versu), more protest poetry published by the Philippine Literary Arts Council to which these writers belonged.
| Journalists and prominent political opposition figures were the first to be ensnared in the dragnet cast by the Marcos intelligence and police apparatus... |
[A brief note on the phenomenon of the 'primary colors' of the revolution and the political spectrum in the Philippines: red, yellow, and blue. Yellow was the color of the anti-Marcos protest movement of the Aquino forces. Red was, and always has been, the signifying color of the Left, although at certain periods, it was also appropriated by the so-called Marcos loyalists. Blue became an alternate/alternative color for the Left when Bayan, the mass organization, came out with a blue flag with its name inscribed in red. Interestingly, there were a few red and blue flags flown by forces of the Left during the four-day mass gathering of people on EDSA, many of them waving yellow flags and sporting yellow headbands and other paraphernalia. The marginal presence of the non-yellows in that event had a clear subtext: it echoed the disagreement in the Left on the issue of participation in or boycott of the 1986 snap elections, and whether or not to support the Aquino-led and RAM-supported "People Power Revolution." The only relevance of this note in our discussion here is the ideological resonances of the yellow-color poetry book and the usually red-color books of the radical and the underground press.]
Not a few writers ended up behind bars from day one of martial law. Journalists and prominent political opposition figures were the first to be ensnared in the dragnet cast by the Marcos intelligence and police apparatus, followed by militant activists, including academics who were also noted for their critical literary writings.
Among the writers and academics who were imprisoned—at various times between 1972 and 1986—were Bienvenido Lumbera, Luis Teodoro, Ninotchka Rosca, Jose Lacaba, Mila Aguilar, Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., Macario Tiu, Agustin Pagusara Jr., Aida F. Santos, Ricardo Lee, Bonifacio Ilagan, Alan V. Jazmines, Fr. Edicio de la Torre, SVD, Isagani Serrano, Felipe Granrojo, Maria Lorena Barros, Dolores Feria, Bonifacio Ilagan, Ed Maranan, Lilia Quindoza, and Jose Ma. Sison. At the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center—intended to "rehabilitate" presumably wayward elements of society who had dared oppose Marcos and his oligarchy (the place was also called Camp Bagong Diwa meaning 'new spirit')—political prisoners held poetry readings, writing and drama workshops, and staged political plays under the direction of eminent theater artist Behn Cervantes who spent some time in the place. Prison songs were composed, using newly written lyrics or adaptations of patriotic poetry from the country's revolutionary past.
Many of the poems written in prison were later collected and published in Pintig sa malamig na bakal ('life pulse in cold steel') published in Hong Kong, as well as in The guerrilla is like a poet / an anthology of Filipino poetry published in Canada. One of the most celebrated writers of the martial law period was an underground poet whose writings appeared in various revolutionary publications under the nom de guerre Clarita Roja. It would later be revealed that she was actually Mila Aguilar, a former teacher of English literature at the University of the Philippines. She had joined her future husband in the guerrilla movement at the beginning of martial law, and after he was killed in an armed encounter, she continued her revolutionary work as writer and propagandist for resistance. She published several books of poetry during the martial law period, including two under the name Clarita Roja: Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! (1974) and The Mass Line /A Second Remoulding ( Manila 1977), and the rest under her real name after she had surfaced and continued the struggle above ground— Why Cage Pigeons? (1984), Pall Hanging over Manila (1984), and A Comrade is as Precious as a Rice Seedling (1984, 1985 and 1987). Below is one of her poems:
Pigeons for my son
I gave the boy
a pair of pigeons
born and bred
in my harsh prison.
They had taped wings,
and the instructions were
to keep them on for weeks
until they'd gotten used
to their new cages.
He never liked
the thought of me
in prison, his own mother,
and would never
stay for long
So perhaps I thought
But the tape on his pigeons
he removed one day,
and set them free.
that would have angered me,
or made me sad at least
but I guess we're of one mind.
Why cage pigeons
who prefer free flight
in the vaster, bluer skies?
| ...he would seal his place in Philippine history as the moving spirit behind the Marx- and Mao-inspired movement that has always been described as the 'longest-running communist insurgency in the world'. |
The best-known radical poet who became a political prisoner of the Marcos regime was Jose Ma. Sison, a former English instructor at the University of the Philippines, who spent ten years in prison, and wrote a whole volume of poems (much later set to music out of which a CD would be made) which spoke not only of his privations during his incarceration, but of his steadfast political views. Sison was arguably the most important political prisoner under martial law, for he was the chairman of the reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines. After years spearheading the radical movement in the Philippines since his university days, he would seal his place in Philippine history as the moving spirit behind the Marx- and Mao-inspired movement that has always been described as the 'longest-running communist insurgency in the world'.
While still behind bars, his friends in academe and fellow writers put together his poems and published them in a book, Prison and Beyond. One of the pieces in this collection speak of the prisoner's faith in the power of his writings, and of his certainty that outside his prison cell, the struggle which he helped launch continues.
Poems and rest
Since a long, long time ago
Incantations and prayers
Have been a comfort
To those who suffer.
Lying down at night,
I recite my poems
Until my throat runs dry
And I fall asleep in comfort.
But my poems are different.
They appeal to the people.
I put my trust in them
And in their firm struggle.
While at rest I am sure
That the struggle goes on.
And when my rest is over
I will do what I can.
Is torture so vicious.
But the poems I compose
Are my ardent companions.
Years after his release from prison, and while already living in exile in The Netherlands, Sison was interviewed by a graduate student at De La Salle University for her master's thesis. Among other things, he was asked about the role of literature in the protest movement against martial law.
How important was protest literature during the Martial Law years, especially those written by members of the party?
Protest literature in English, Pilipino and various other Philippine languages were exceedingly important during the martial law years. The biggest amount of revolutionary literature, in the form of poetry, lyrics for songs, short stories, plays and some novels, was written by communists and revolutionary mass activists.
The creative works were carried by national and regional underground publications of the revolutionary movement. In urban areas, poems were recited and performed in lightning mass actions and in large mass actions, especially from 1979 onwards. In all the years of martial rule, the revolutionaries produced and performed creative works in the guerrilla fronts.
How effective was it in fighting the dictatorship?
The protest literature was very effective in fighting the dictatorship. Poems and lyrics of songs could circulate most easily. They were inspiring and they could circulate fast and nationwide, with the help of underground revolutionary organizations, including cultural organizations. They were so much easier to circulate than political tracts and much more easily understood by the masses. The enemy had no effective way of stopping these. Without the protest literature, the revolutionary movement would have been drab and dull. But with protest literature, it became lively and militant. The protest literature was effective in spreading the revolutionary message because it could move instantly the hearts and minds of the people. The message reached the masses in a form that they could easily grasp.
(For the full interview, please go to: http://www.defendsison.be/pages_php/0306060.php)
| His poem "kung ang tula ay isa lamang" ('if a poem was just')...has been held up as yet another fine example of protest writing that does not suffer from the sloganeering, poster-&-placard style... |
Other writers, other works
After PAKSA, a new generation of writers came to the fore during the period of martial law. Many of them became members of a society called GAT (Galian sa Arte at Tula—Ceremony on Art & Poetry), whose poetry workshops, public readings and performances, collectively written plays, and published anthologies belonged to the 'circumventive'—circumvention & inventiveness—type of literature. They produced a series of books called Galian, one issue of which was boldly entitled Gatilyo, a wordplay on the society's name and the Tagalog word for 'trigger'. By this time, tension was building between the more radical writers, many of them members of GAT, and those writers who were more or less identified with the establishment either through appointment to sinecures, or those writers who were associated with them. It was unfortunate, because most of them had started out as close allies in the literary movement before, and in the early years, of martial law. Doctrinal differences, personal frictions, career concerns, and other reasons certainly contributed to the rift.
The GAT continued its mission of cultivating poetry and other literary works, and strove not to neglect the classic combination of artistic expression and critical metaphor. Jesus Manuel Santiago was an acknowledged master of the poetic form during this time. His poem "kung ang tula ay isa lamang" ('if a poem was just'), deceptively simple in construction and elemental in prosody, has been held up as yet another fine example of protest writing that does not suffer from the sloganeering, poster-&-placard style which proliferated during the First Quarter Storm:
If a poem was just
If a poem was just
a bouquet of flowers,
I'd rather be given
a bundle of swamp shoots
or a bundle of sweet potato tops
gathered from a mud puddle
or filched from the bamboo tray
of a vegetable vendor,
because I hunger
and my innards have not a nose,
they have no eyes.
Want has long benumbed
my taste buds,
so don't, revered poets of my country,
don't offer me verses
if a poem was just
a bouquet of flowers.
The late Romulo Sandoval, a GAT mainstay, wrote a poem which, for all intents and purposes, summed up the social critique of the developmentalist state propped up by martial law and cosmeticized with beautification campaigns and the foisting of cultural renaissance myths. The poet, who died a couple of years ago still unforgiving, reportedly, of former literary comrades who had been part of the Marcos cultural "democratic space", in his poem "Tumatayog, lumalawak, ang mga bilding at resort" ('As the buildings rise and resorts expand'), juxtaposes, in sardonic litany form, the trappings of infrastructural progress in Third World Philippines with social realities in the margins and peripheries of national life, such realities having been culled by the poet from true-life horror stories which came out almost daily in the broadsheets, presumably for their "human interest" value.
Thus, in Sandoval's poem, images culled from headlines and tabloid newsfeatures are given a poetic, elegiac rendition:
while tourists traipse around, and foreign carpetbaggers take over the exploitation of the country's vast natural resources, an impoverished mother in Manila offers up her baby to a beauty shop for adoption
while politicians jockey for choice committee positions in the new legislature, an ill-clothed tramp who carries around his wooden crate of a house is run over by a rich man's dark limousine
in a dumping area ironically called Constitution Hill where flies feast on garbage, a hungry old man is discovered in his shanty devouring the intestines and liver of a grandchild who had died of hunger earlier
a farm worker, having been fired by the landlord from his sugar mill, comes to Manila to look for his family's subsistence; finding none, and having gone beyond despair, grasps his hungry, youngest son by his legs and smashes his head against a concrete island on Recto Avenue in Manila
a factory burns somewhere in Manila: security guards frisk the workers scampering for safety to prevent goods from being taken out by them; other workers jump off the burning floors to their death below; and the capitalist later distributes token compensation to the victims' families, the amount not enough to even buy a coffin with
And with each exposition of human misery and injustice, the poet intones:
At nagtatayugan, nangagsisilawak
ang commercial complex, ang hotel at resort
ang convention center.
(And still they rise, they grow apace
the commercial complex, hotel and resort
the convention center.)
Here is the poem in Filipino in its entirety, as it now appears in Sandoval's blogspot created by his comrades in the literary circle which he was a part of when he was still alive:
Tumatayog, lumalawak ang mga bilding at resort
Habang naninila ang mga turista,
at tanawing katutubo
bukod pa sa likas na yaman ng bayan,
may tulirong inang nag-alok ng sanggol,
ng sariling sanggol,
sa Ermita, dahil ayaw
na ang kanyang bunso'y dilat na tupukin
ng apoy ng lagnat.
At nagtatayugan, nangagsisilawak
ang commercial complex, ang hotel at resort
ang convention center.
Palotsinang kahon, kalawanging pala na sinunung-
nang ang sintusinto'y tumpok ng basahan,
tumpok ng basahang
ng itim na kotse sa Welcome Rotunda;
samantala, sa Batasan
ay nagbabangayan sa piling pusisyon
na de-susing pulitiko.
At nagtatayugan, nangagsisilawak
ang commercial complex, ang hotel at resort,
ang convention center.
Sa Constitution Hill—kapirasong lungaw
sa nakararaming ayaw bigyang-puwang sa bayang
tambakang ang laging nangagbabangkete't
ay ang mauugong na bangaw at langaw—
may gusgusing ingkong,
lupagi sa lupang sahig-barumbarong,
ngumangatngat nang tulala
sa bituka'y atay ng bangkay ng apong namatay sa gutom.
At nagtatayugan, nangagsisilawak
ang commercial complex, ang hotel at resort,
ang convention center.
ng poong-maylupa sa asukarera,
o tulad ng kapwa dustang magbubukid
ay kinulimbatan ng tahana't lupa
ng isang higanteng dayong korporasyon;
katutuntong lamang sa lubak ng lunsod
magbuhat sa dawag ng iniwang baryo;
walang ipakai't makain ay wala,
isang ama ang naghampas
ng ulo ng anak sa pader ng Recto
habang hawak-hawak ang dalawang paa.
At nagtatayugan, nangagsisilawak
ang commercial complex, ang hotel at resort,
ang convention center.
Sa liyab ng sunog sa isang pabrika sa South Diversion
mga manggagawa'y pilit kinapkapan
maraming nasawi, tigmak pa ng pawis,
nang mangagsitalon mula sa mataas na mga palapag,
at ang inilimos ng kapitalista—
ng kapitalistang ayon sa dekreto'y bawal
ay hindi pa maibili ng abang kabaong.
At nagtatayugan, nangagsisilawak
ang commercial complex, ang hotel at resort,
ang convention center.
| I would like to mention Federico Licsi Espino Jr., who seems never to have belonged to any literary organization...and whose literary career has been one of the strangest in Philippine literary history. |
The technique and theme in Sandoval's denunciatory poetics find an echo in the works of Malaysia's Cecil Rajendra, who wrote about the Transistor Syndrome of development, and the fundamental non-humanity of multi-storey inanimate stone, steel and wrap-around glass which fail to move the persona as poet and singer, unlike a blade of grass, a grain of rice, and a wild flower. Thus, Sandoval's denunciation of anti-people development is echoed perfectly by Rajendra's oft-quoted poem, "Until they right the wrong, I shall sing no celebratory song".
This paper does not begin to do justice to the topic because it has excluded so many more outstanding writers and literary genres of the period, the folk and traditional or indigenous forms or methods used in the countryside to express resistance against the dictatorship, plus we have not even touched on the writings done by cadres in the nationwide and organized insurgent movement. A more organized and thorough-going survey and critique of Philippine literature is needed. But as a concluding example of the kind of writing done during the period, I would like to mention Federico Licsi Espino Jr., who seems never to have belonged to any literary organization, certainly not any of the highly politicized ones such as PAKSA and GAT, and whose literary career has been one of the strangest in Philippine literary history. He has probably spent nearly as much time in psychiatric wards as he has in the outside world, and in his moments of lucidity, has no agenda but to write poem after poem, whether in English, Tagalog, Spanish, Ilocano, Visayan, or whatever new language he has managed to learn. In 1978, he came out with yet another book of poetry entitled Punlay at Punlo (Seed and Bullet)—the translation loses the near-homonymic irony of the original—which opens with the poem "Pahimakas" ('Farewell').
In the original Tagalog, the poet deftly uses a technique of run-on metaphorical construction, a clustering of imagery, with subtle allusions to what a more explicit poem would refer to as 'the masses' or 'the people':
Should the drum cease to beat in my breast
When the triggers, unsolitary, are prest
While the wind courses through the greenest
Pavilions, gently wafts in a season of heat,
May you not forget, may you let grow and yield
The chaste principle I sowed in the field
Of your mind touched by raindrops of sorrow
That is never alone, never a lone drop of woe
In the deepening river that shall soon overflow.
No reference to martial law here, not in the least, and one can only extrapolate from the fact that it was written during the period, that it appears in the company of poems steeped in social awareness, the message the poet wants to convey in a time of crisis. In my attempt at the poem's exegesis, I took the view that the power of this short poem derives from the dialectical interplay of interior (the poetic reflection, the poetic memory, affective images, political philosophy) and the exterior (reference to social forces, allusion to the countryside, the river as symbology for the historical tide, etc.); I also see in it the persona of the poem talking about consciousness transcending individual solitude, and finding fulfillment in merging with the larger "solitude of the multitude". Understood in this context, the overflow in the last line might be interpreted as the historical high tide, sweeping away the rotten and the dead, but otherwise fertilizing the land to create or renew life. (Maranan:1985)
By way of a conclusion
One year before the February Revolution toppled the dictatorship, put an end to martial law, and brought Corazon C. Aquino to power, art and literary critic Alice Guillermo wrote:
Doubtless, the vigor of protest literature lies in the sharpening of the artist's perceptions of the issues involved, with protest that goes beyond the purely personal to the public, a concrete audience to which the writer makes an appeal. Thus, sharply honed and focused, the literature of protest that is the predominant cultural manifestation of the times will not be a merely diffuse and sporadic phenomenon, but a formidable gathering of voices, of the city as the countryside, signifying that the people have at last spoken. (Ordoñez,1995:344).
Celebratory literature certainly abounded in the aftermath of the February or EDSA or People Power or Yellow Revolution. Since then, a lot of things have happened in the field of culture and literature in the Philippines. For one, literary competitions continue merrily, with the 1998 Centennial Literary Awards giving away prize money in the millions of pesos, rather than the pittance of a few thousands of the more established competitions, which is probably something to protest about. But on a more serious note: poetry and stories and novels continue to be published, plays continue to be performed, which partake of the nature of protest, though not on the same level of ideological intensity seen in the sixties and seventies, though in a large sense, the literature of resistance has not ceased to exist, precisely because so many issues remain unresolved under the present Philippine social formation. The insurgency persists, and revolutionary literature is still being produced, if only because there is still perception and acceptance in certain areas that the present social formation remains in the "semi-feudal, semi-colonial" mode. If proof be needed, the durable Ulos underground cultural-literary magazine continues to be published to this day, its national-democratic orientation undiminished, its socialist vision steadfast.
During the period under study, Filipino critic and literary historian Lucilla Hosillos wrote that the seemingly perennial Philippine crisis pointed to the road that writers must take. Rather than the rosy lane of lyricism, the thorny path of liberation: "rather than hark, hark, the lark, it ought to be hark, hark, the dark!" But employing the principle of what the protest writers were wont to call "revolutionary optimism", and borrowing a felicitous title from composer Vaugh Williams, perhaps one could reconfigure that into an aphoristic couplet that attempts to encapsulate the undiminished spirit of freedom-seeking during those perilous times:
If martial law was the Dark Descending,
the voice of protest was the Lark Ascending.
References & further readings
Abad, Gemino H., et al. In Memoriam, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., 1932-1983. A Poetic Tribute by Five Filipino Poets. Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC).
Aguila, Reuel et al., editors. Kamao: Panitikan ng Protesta, 1970-1986. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1987
Aguilar, Mila. Journey: an autobiography in verse. University of the Philippines Press, 1996
Alma, Rio. Selected poems, 1968-1985. Quezon City: Maya Books, 1987.
Artista at Manunulat para sa Sambayanan (Armas—Artists and Writers for the People). Ulos. Manila: 1998.
Bautista, Lualhati. Dekada 70. A novel about martial law. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 1984.
Dalisay, Jose. Killing Time in a Warm Place. New edition. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 2006.
Garcellano, Edel E. Intertext. Manila: Kalikasan Press, 1990.
Firmeza, Ruth et al. STR: Poetry of people's war in the Philippines. People's Art, Literature, and Education Resource Center. Manila: Linang Publications, 1989.
Hufana, Alejandro G. Philippine writings: short stories, essays, poetry. Manila: Regal Publishing, 1977.
Jose, F. Sionil. Viajero. Manila : Solidaridad Publishing House, 1993
Lacaba, Emmanuel. Salvaged Poems. Edited by Jose F. Lacaba. Manila: Salinlahi Publishing House, 1986.
_______________. Salvaged Prose. Edited by Jose F. Lacaba. Quezon City: Office of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University, 1992.
Lacaba, Pete. Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage: the First Quarter Storm and related events. Manila: Salinlahi Publishing House, 1982; Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 2003.
Lumbera, Bienvenido, and Cynthia Lumbera. Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology. Pasig, Philippines: Anvil Publishing, 1997.
Majzels, Robert (editor). The guerrilla is like a poet: an anthology of Filipino poetry. Ontario: Cormorant Books, 1988.
Maramba, Asuncion David (editor). Six young Filipino martyrs. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 1997.
Maranan, Ed. The perception of neo-colonial relations with the United States: nationalism in Philippine literature since the 1960s. Paper read at the 2nd International Philippine Studies Conference, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1981.
________________. Metaphor as social reflection in the Tagalog poetics of Federico Licsi Espino Jr. In Asian Studies, Asian Center, University of the Philippines. Quezon City: UP Press, 1985.
Montana, Jason (pseud.). Clearing: poems of people's struggles in Northern Luzon. Published by Armas, Christians for National Liberation, and National Democratic Front, 1987.
Ong, Ike and C.Y. Loh. Skoob Pacifica Anthology No. 2: The Pen is Mightier than the Sword. London: Skoob Books Publishing, 1994.
Ordoñez, Elmer. Nationalist literature: a centennial forum. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1996.
Pintig sa malamig na bakal (lifepulse in cold steel): poems and letters from Philippine prisons. Hongkong: Resource Center for Philippine Concerns, 1979.
Salanga, Alfrredo Navarro (editor). Writings in protest, 1972-1985. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1993.
Salanga, Alfrredo Navarro and Esther M. Pacheco (editors). Versus: Philippine protest poetry, 1983-1986. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1986.
Salita, Grace B. Interview with Jose Ma. Sison. Masteral thesis in literature, De la Salle University. http://www.defendsison.be/pages_php/0306060.php)
San Juan, E. Jr. Only by Struggle: Reflections on Philippine Culture, Politics and Society in a Time of Civil War. Quezon City: Kalikasan Press, 1988.
Tiongson, Nicanor (editor). CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. Manila, 1994.
Ty-Casper, Linda. Awaiting trespass. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1989
________________. Wings of stone. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1990
Uranza, Azucena Grajo. Bamboo in the Wind. Manila: Vera-Reyes, Inc., 1990
He was my uncle because he married my aunt (even if he had not come to her these past ten years), so when the papers brought the news of his death, I felt that some part of me had died, too.
I was boarding then at a big girls’ college in Manila and I remember quite vividly that a few other girls were gathered about the lobby of our school, looking very straight and proper since it was seven in the morning and the starch in our long-sleeved uniform had not yet given way. I tried to be brave while I read that my uncle had actually been “the last of a distinct school of Philippine poets.” I was still being brave all the way down the lengthy eulogies, until I got to the line which said that he was “the sweetest lyre that ever throbbed with Malayan chords.” Something caught at my throat and I let out one sob–the rest merely followed. When the girls hurried over to me to see what had happened, I could only point to the item on the front page with my uncle’s picture taken when he was still handsome. Everybody suddenly spoke in a low voice and Ning who worshipped me said that I shouldn’t be so unhappy because my uncle was now with the other great poets in heaven–at which I really howled in earnest because my uncle had not only deserted poor Aunt Sophia but had also been living with another woman these many years and, most horrible of all, he had probably died in her embrace!
Continue reading →