Nationalist writers

10 December 2011

By Elmer Ordonez

EDUCATED in English from grade to graduate school, I belong to the generation(s) of what Renato Constantino called “the miseducated Filipino.” My exposure to Tagalog literature was limited to a high school subject using Diwang Kayumanggi as text. At home, my parents spoke Spanish to each other and English or “garil” (fractured) Tagalog to their children, who in turn spoke Manila street Tagalog to each other. Ilokano and Bikol were also heard at home whenever my father’s relatives or my mother’s kin visited us.

As an academician, I moved around in an English milieu such that when the First Quarter Storm (FQS) broke out in the early 1970s, we senior professors in the English department at UP Diliman felt beleaguered by nationalists (including English major students and young instructors in English) who mocked us and our English discipline or specialization. The newly created Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature (founded ironically by Leopoldo Y. Yabes, a professor of English whose forte was Ilocano literature, and staffed by former instructors or English majors like Petronilo Daroy, Ernesto Constantino, Patricia Melendres and Romeo Dizon and new graduates majoring in Filipino like Rosario Torres) became the “premier” department as far as the nationalists were concerned. Teaching in Pilipino/Filipino was the “in” thing then.

Bienvenido Lumbera, the former head of the English department and founding chairman of the Filipino department at Ateneo de Manila University whom I invited to lecture on Philippine literature in English, was lured from my department to teach Tagalog poetry in the Filipino department. Lumbera was an instant hit among UP students and young writers. During the FQS, he was to head the organization Paksa (Panitikan para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan) with a national democratic orientation. Martial law forced Paksa underground; Lumbera was arrested and detained for more than a year. Ateneo refused to take him back but he was welcomed in UP.

Lumbera, now a National Artist for Literature, was one of the writers in Filipino discussed in Alinagnag: Sanaysay ng mga Panlipunang Panunuri sa Panitikan (UST Publishing House) by Rosario Torres-Yu, who became dean of the UP College of Arts and Letters. Lumbera majored in English literature at the University of Santo Tomas and comparative literature at Indiana University in the United States. He wanted to write his dissertation on Indian literature in English, but his dorm mate, top English-language fictionist Rony Diaz, convinced Lumbera—who wrote poetry both in Tagalog and English—to write on Tagalog poetry instead. This was the beginning of Lumbera’s veering away from a Western to a Filipino orientation.

Torres-Yu sees the conversion of Lumbera when he picked up the challenge posed by Amado Hernandez to write in Filipino. At that time the challenge was made—the 1960s—writers in Filipino like Rogelio Ordoñez, Efren Abueg, Norma Miraflor and Rogelio Sikat were making waves with their social realist fiction as embodied in their anthology Agos sa Disyerto. Undoubtedly an influence on the younger writers, Hernandez himself was to become the first Tagalog National Artist for Literature on the basis of his nationalist poetry and plays written in prison and his novel Mga Ibong Mandaragit. Hernandez was chairman of the Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO) when the Politburo of the PKP (Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas) was rounded up by the military in 1950. This was the beginning of the McCarthy-like witchhunt in the city, in labor groups, and in government offices and universities. Hernandez was arrested on the charge that the CLO was a PKP front. Jailed along with the Politburo members, Hernandez spent his time writing even in the bartolina. He wrote lines of poetry in slips of newsprint smuggled out by his wife Atang de la Rama, who pieced them together and had the poems published under the title Isang Dipang Langit.

Torres-Yu devoted her studies on Hernandez and became an authority on the Filipino nationalist writer. She has several books on his works, as well as on the labor movement that Hernandez once led. After he was released in the early 1960s, Hernandez published Mga Ibong Mandaragit in installments in Liwayway. His re-entry into the literary scene during the 1960s was marked by his getting the Republic Heritage Award. During the FQS, he was always invited to speak at activists gatherings. In a necrological rite for the slain activist Enrique Brigada of the Lyceum of the Philippines, his oration ended with the slogan “Makibaka! Huwag Matakot!” which became a battle cry at FQS demonstrations. Hernandez died in March 1970. Kabataang Makabayan members carried his bier to rest in the Manila North Cemetery. When he posthumously received the National Artist award in 1973, Salvador P. Lopez noted that the Marcos regime gave the award when Hernandez was “safely dead.”

Torres-Yu also wrote about feminist literature in her book, devoting essays on Genoveva Matute and Lope K. Santos, as well as on underground literature during martial law, Valerio Nofuente and other martyred writers, and the history of the workers movement. Alinagnag seeks to provide illumination on social issues through nationalist literature. It is Marxist literary criticism that runs against the grain of the prevalent formalist/neo-formalist critical practice of the literary establishment.

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