A literary critic described the former political detainee’s poems as ‘among the best to have come from the ranks of Philippine protest poets.’ A National Artist for Literature also praised Axel Pinpin’s courage to write poems while in detention.
Tugmaang Matatabil (Mga Akdang Isinulat sa Libingan ng mga Buhay) is Pinpin’s second full-length book of poetry.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The audience of more than a hundred fell into silence as the lights were turned out.
A few more minutes and Rustum Casia, founder of the poetry group Kilometer 64, was dragging handcuffed and blindfolded fellow poet Axel Pinpin into the hall. He forced Pinpin onto a chair and walked around in front of the audience while apparently fumbling for something under his shirt. Pinpin, in a solemn voice, then recited a few verses:
…Ah, kung gayo’y kayo nga ang matwid na tagapagligtas!
At kayo rin ang magiging biktima ng aming Kapatawaran!
Ay, kamatayan! O, kamatayang walang kasing tamis!
Ihimlay mo na ako kapiling ng tula ng mga gahis,
Sa ritmo at awit ng putok ng baril ng mga salarin,
At sa ngalit ng pagganti ng tugmaan kong matatabil!
The scene was a reenactment of Pinpin’s first interrogation night, when he was made to recite a poem, impromptu, by his captors. The result of that encounter for Pinpin was the poem “Unang Gabi ng Interogasyon” (First Interrogation Night), from which the title of his new book, Tugmaang Matatabil (Mga Akdang Isinulat sa Libingan ng mga Buhay) or Irrepressible Verses (Pieces Written in the Grave of the Living) was lifted. The lines that Pinpin recited during his and Casia’s performance is the final stanza of that poem.
The book is a collection of poems that Pinpin wrote while in detention at the Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Camp Vicente Lim in Calamba City, Laguna.
Pinpin, now public information officer of the Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Farmers’ Confederation in Cavite) and a 1999 fellow of the University of the Philippines (UP) National Writers’ Workshop, is one of the former political detainees collectively known as the “Tagaytay 5” – together with Riel Custodio, a Kamagsasaka-Ka member; Aristides Sarmiento, a freelance researcher for various non-government organizations; and Tagaytay City-based cockfighting aficionados Enrico Ybañez and Michael Masayes.
They were charged with rebellion in 2006 for allegedly conspiring with “dissident soldiers” in a supposed plot to destabilize the Arroyo administration.
The five were abducted by a composite team of Philippine Navy and PNP elements on April 28, 2006 in Tagaytay City.
Pinpin, Custodio and Sarmiento had just come from a meeting with coffee farmers in the city and were on their way to Manila for the forthcoming Labor Day rally. They hired Ybañez as their driver while Masayes accompanied Ybañez.
Three days after, they were presented to the media as “communist rebels” who were conspiring with “dissident soldiers” in an alleged plot to “destabilize” the Arroyo administration. They were subsequently charged with rebellion.
Following an investigation, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has recently ruled that their arrest and detention were unlawful.
Last Aug. 28, shortly after the CHR ruling on their case, they were released on the strength of a court order issued by Judge Erwin Larida, Jr. of the Tagaytay City RTC (Regional Trial Court), Branch 18.
The reenactment of Pinpin’s first interrogation night was part of a series of performances that was staged for the launching of his new book last Dec. 3 at the Balai Kalinaw, UP. There were speeches by noted poets and critics Gelacio Guillermo and Bienvenido Lumbera, a solidarity message from the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK or Association of Peasant Organizations in Southern Tagalog) which was read by its vice chair Imelda Lacandazo, and performances of Pinpin’s poems by playwright and stage director Bonifacio Ilagan and Southern Tagalog peasant leader Pedro “Tata Pido” Gonzales. Pinpin himself did two performances with musical back-up by rock musician Bobby Balingit.
Guillermo described Pinpin’s poems as “among the best to have come from the ranks of Philippine protest poets,” and praised him for writing excellent poems while at the same time being able to live these.
In his speech, Lumbera admitted that Pinpin, as a political detainee, was far more courageous than he was.
“When I was in detention, I refrained from writing political poetry because I was concerned that doing so would prolong my time behind bars,” said Lumbera, who was incarcerated during Martial Law. “Pinpin had no such fears: he wrote his poems even while in detention, unmindful of the possible dangers that doing that posed to him.”
Ilagan, also a former political detainee, performed Pinpin’s sarcastic poem “Apihin ang Api” (Oppress the Oppressed):
Biyaking tulad ng bao ang kanilang hanay,
Higpitan ang kaliwa’t luwagan ang nasa kanang kamay,
Mas magaling kung pipiliin ang murâ sa magulang,
Huwag manghinayang; huwag manghihinayang.
Hayaang magkagulo hanggang maghiwa-hiwalay.
Ang pagkamakasarili nila’y siyang magbibigay
Ng tamis sa ating binukayong tagumpay.
Kayuring tulad ng niyog ang lakas ng mahihirap.
Kayod, kudkod; kalaping lahat ng masisipag.
Hala kayod, kudkod pa; isagad sa balat.
Huwag mahabag, huwag mahahabag.
Ang pawis nila’y pinakamainam na alak,
Ang dusa nila’y pulutang masarap
Sa pagkalango natin sa kapangyarihang hangad.
Pigaing tulad ng gata ang pawis ng dukha.
Isa, dalawang piga; ihiwalay ang kakang-gata.
Kung maari’y tatlo, apat hanggang kumatas ang luha.
Huwag maawa, huwag maaawa.
Ang pinagpaguran nila’y s’ya nating tuwa,
Ang pighati nila’y s’yang pasinaya
Sa pagpipiging nating sila ang maylikha.
Hala! Biyakin, kayurin, pigain pa!
Apihin, apihin! Dustahin ang aba!
Walang itatapon, walang ibabasura;
Dambungin ang lahat, walang ititira.
Kaapihan nila ay karukhaang kanila,
Pagkabusabos nila’y sa ati’y pagpapala
Ng biyaya ni Bathalang api ang sumasamba.
Gonzales, who survived an attempt on his life in 2004, meanwhile recited a peom that Pinpin wrote for the 21st anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre, “Kung Bakit Tayo Paluwas at Walang Sunong na Kalakal” (Why We are City-Bound and Not Carrying Produce to Sell):
Palungsod ang direksyon nitong ating lakad
ngunit hindi upang magluwas ng kalakal
manapa’y mga placard sa tagdang kawayan
itong ating bitbit at magiting na tangan
sa halip na tiklis nitong prutas at gulay.
Wala tayong sasakyan o arkiladong trak
dahil pinili nating sa kalye’y maglakad
sunong ang hiyaw nitong ating paghahangad
hindi para maglako ng aning kalakal
kundi ay maningil ng malaong pautang!
Gaya ng inaasaha’y mayroong papara
mga haragang pulis na mang-aabala
hindi para manita sa sobrang kargada
at paglao’y mangotong para arkabala
kundi’y upang harangin itong ating martsa!
Pagbabawalan tayong maglakbay, maglakad
kahit wala tayong batas na nilalabag
basta’t bawal raw tayo ro’n sa kalungsuran
baka makita ng turistang namamasyal
sakit daw sa mata itong ating Lakbayan!
Kung nadarama lamang ng mga turista
sakit ng kalooban nitong magsasaka
libangan nila’y libingan ng ama’t ina
mga asawa’t anak dinukot, nawala
sa pakikibaka sa inagaw na lupa!
Marahas na pagpigil sa ating pagluwas
ay nagpapabilis at nagpapakaripas
sa mauuna pang hiyaw ng pagpipiglas
bagkus harangan ay lalong mag-uumalpas
sa mayrong utang buhawi ang ating lakas!
Kumot yaring ulan at balanggot ang araw
hindi makakaiga hindi rin lulusaw
sa sariwang diwa ng magiting na sigaw:
Lupa nating bungkal, bawiin sa gahaman!
Sa Gyerang Magsasaka, ro’n sa kanayunan!
Daluyong kaming mananagasa sa harang!
Martsa sa araw at sa gabi’y maglalamay!
Maalab na salubong pantighaw sa uhaw!
Malapit na kami! Ilang hakbang na lamang!
Maghanda’t maniningil tayo ng pautang!
After his performance, Gonzales quipped: “Kasama na po pati tubo (That would include the interest)!” – to which the audience responded with hearty laughter and applause.
Tugmaang Matatabil (Mga Akdang Isinulat sa Libingan ng mga Buhay) is Pinpin’s second full-length book of poetry. The first was Tugmaang Walang Tugma (literally, Verses Without Rhymes), which was published in 1999.
Pinpin is also set to launch on Dec. 12 a collaborative album with Balingit, Huling Lagapak ng Kandado (The Padlock’s Last Clank), in which Pinpin performs some of his poems with Balingit providing musical accompaniment. The launching is to be held at the UP Film Center. (Bulatlat.com)