Broad Dedication

Review of Pakikiramay: Alay ng mga Makata sa mga Magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita
Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center and Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy-Alliance of Concerned Teachers
68 pages

What makes Pakikiramay: Alay ng mga Makata sa mga Magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita remarkable is the broad spectrum of poets represented in the collection. In a way, the slim volume shows how the indignation caused by the Hacienda Luisita massacre cut across various political shades.


It was Nov. 30 when I received information on a then-forthcoming anthology of poetry condemning the Nov. 16 dispersal of striking workers at the Cojuangco/Aquino-owned Hacienda Luisita, a sugar plantation in Tarlac (120 kms. north of Manila). The book, so James Jazmines of the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center (AVHRC) told me, was to be launched Dec. 6.

The workers were demanding land redistribution, higher wages, and more mandays. Seven were confirmed killed in the dispersal. Another – a peasant leader – was killed a few weeks later.

It was Nov. 30, and the way Jazmines’ text message was worded, it was clear that the book was still in the works. I could not imagine how a book that was still in process could be launched in six days.

I turned out to be correct in my observation: the book, titled Pakikiramay: Alay ng mag Makata sa mga Magsasaka ng Hacienda Luisita (Condolence: Poets’ Dedication to the Peasants of Hacienda Luisita) was launched Dec. 13.

Which, however, was still very soon to launch a book that was still in the works just 13 days before.

A publikasyong iglap (lightning publication) is how Dr. Joi Barrios, poet and University of the Philippines (UP) professor describes the book, her brainchild, for which she conceived the idea during the Nov. 18 multi-sectoral tribute to the slain Hacienda Luisita workers. The book is jointly published by the AVHRC and the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy-Alliance of Concerned Teachers (Contend-ACT).

For a publikasyong iglap, it turned out well.


Now, the AVHRC and Contend-ACT are well-recognized acronyms in the cause-oriented movement.

But the anthology represents not only the poets who may be termed “the usual suspects,” i.e., known radical literati like Barrios herself, Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, Jesus Manuel Santiago, Dr. Roland Tolentino, Edel Garcellano, and Michael Francis Andrada. Also represented in the collection are poets not known to involve themselves in the political, like Michael Coroza and Jose Wendell Capili.

The poems in the anthology which most directly tackle the issues behind the strike at Hacienda Luisita are Lumbera’s “Agunyas sa Hacienda Luisita” (Elegy at Hacienda Luisita) and Santiago’s “Pinangos na Tubo” (Chewed Sugarcane). They show the details: the P9.50 ($0.17 based on a $1:P56 exchange rate)/day wage that the plantation workers are forced to make do with, the land-grabbing behind the vast Cojuangco/Aquino estate, the militarization that led to the Nov. 16 violent dispersal.

Lumbera, in his poem, warns that the Hacienda Luisita workers’ struggle cannot be quelled by police and military might:

No bell, no prayer, no blessing

are being carried by the whirlwind swirling

on the slopes of the Sierra Madre

threatening to flatten the sugar fields of the Cojuangcos,

the warehouses and factories of hacenderos.

It is the smoldering spark seething in the breast

of each one of us here

whose tongues of flame

will fuse with the approaching whirlwind

to ignite a blaze to clear the land

where we shall plant –

a nation strong!

Of men and women free!

Who to oppression will not yield!

(From the English translation by Antonio Ledesma, also included in the collection)

Fidel Rillo, who designed the book’s lay-out, does the same in his “Serenata,” warning of “pagsilang ng kakaibang lagablab” (the birth of a different burning). So does Romulo Baquiran, Jr. in his “Sa Hacienda Luisita” (At Hacienda Luisita).
Mourning and satire, contradictions and warnings

The poems of Coroza, Capili, Andrada, Domingo Landicho, Fidelito Cortes, John Iremil Teodoro, John Enrico Torralba, and Rio Alma (pseudonym of Dr. Virgilio Almario, 2003 National Artist for Literature) place stress on mourning for the victims of the dispersal, even as Almario puts forward the question: “Hanggang anong antas tayo magluluksa?” (Up to what heights shall we mourn?)

Almario concludes his poem thus:

Saan ba sa wakas ang dulo ng lumbay?

May bagong pampiring ang mga bathala,

Gumagapang muli sa bukid ang simoy,

Hipan ang tambuling hahawi sa dilim…

(Where, ultimately, is grief’s end?
The gods have new blindfolds,
The breeze is again crawling the fields,
Blow the horn that will dispel the darkness…)

Meanwhile, Tolentino in his prose poem “Luha” (Tears) directly urges the reader to go beyond the shedding of tears for the victims, as he also contemplates the use of cloropicrin (active chemical agent of tear gas) in the dispersal of the strikers – a thinly-veiled attack on the resort to fascist force against unarmed workers: “Naluluha tayo dahil sa cholopicrin, ang aktibong ahente ng tear gas. Sa bansang nasa kalagitnaan ng fiscal crisis, hindi nauubusan ng budget sa tear gas at dispersal.” (We shed tears because of chloropicrin, the active agent of tear gas. In a country in the midst of a fiscal crisis, there are always funds for tear gas and dispersals.)

Reuel Molina Aguila, Mila Aguilar, Barrios, and V.E. Carmelo Nadera resort to satire in attacking the Cojuangcos and Aquinos. Aguila and Aguilar, in particular, use religious images to satirize the Cojuangcos and Aquinos – a reference to the prayerful image projected by former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.

Meanwhile, Dr. Lilia Quindoza-Santiago and Duke Bagulaya highlight the contradictions in the issues surrounding Hacienda Luisita. Herminio Beltran, Jr. shows the contrast between Corazon Aquino’s image as a champion of democracy and the use of fascist force against Hacienda Luisita’s workers, in the end urging the people:
Pagkat ipinagkait sa iyo ang lupa

Pagkat isinagot sa hinaing

Ay baril at bala,

Huwag na tayong umasa sa iba.

(Because you were denied land,
Because the answers to grievances
Were guns and bullets,
Let us no longer depend on others.)
Jaime Dasca Doble and Danton Remoto both warn of peasants and the people continuing the fight amid state-sponsored brutality. Garcellano’s poem “Addendum,” the last poem in the collection, leaves the reader with the following ominous words:

As we said almost half a century ago when we were quicker of step and words, things are bad – and getting worse.

And the clock keeps ticking. And we can’t stop it.

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