By SARAH RAYMUNDO
Ericson Acosta, author of Mula Tarima Hanggang at Iba Pang Mga Tula at Awit (The University of the Philippines Press, 2015) spent twenty three months in prison. That is a lifetime to a dog, a long time for most of us, and a time to live through the banality of state violence for political prisoners.
Currently, there are over 500 political prisoners all over the country. Government denies their existence as all of them have been made to face trumped-up criminal charges. In the eyes of the state, they are the enemies of the social order, saboteurs of economic progress, and instruments if not masterminds of rebellion.
We may have encountered some of them through the literary canon and political theory— Amado V. Hernandez, Jose Maria Sison, Antonio Gramsci, and Ho Chi Minh, among others. They were not afraid to grapple with the big issue of revolution. In their prison writings, they have not only made telling observations of prison life. More importantly, they have outlined a vision of life beyond the struggle to render one’s life compatible with the system.
In this new addition to prison literature, Acosta affirms what we might call a tradition in what can still be considered as emergent literature: the question of letting revolutionary conviction breathe in their fullness. Revolutionary literature is not something new. Revolutionary movements document the lives of struggling people through poetry, short stories, essays, songs, etc.
By doing so, our generation and the succeeding ones must then confront a compelling truth about society and social relations: We need not be compelled to accept the legitimacy of the state, of a government that has functioned merely as an instrument for the dictatorship of the political and economic elite. And simply because brave people have shown that such an approach to social life is possible, meaningful, fruitful, and ethical.
Without ever lapsing into self-regard as the case might be in tragic situations like the incarceration of an artist, Acosta offers his merciless critique of the prison system and of the semi-feudal, semi-colonial Philippine society to his readers. He urges us to rage against the state’s denial of the political prisoner’s existence and to seek justice for this situation.
His refusal of the current system is swift and categorical. For there is nothing to reconsider in a system where warring classes represent themselves in stark contrast to each other. It is not even a choice between two sides. For Acosta, truth is one-sided, and there is only one way to pursue it. There are no two sides, as marxist art critic John Berger clarifies, only two directions. People move either forwards or backwards. Acosta contributes to the praxiology of uprisings through poetry and songs that follow the forward movement of history-making.
This is shown in significant themes that his work tackles. His take on people empowerment forces his readers out of the obsessive narrowness and impoverishment of the dominant representation of women and children as mere consumers and/or vulnerable groups:
Kawayanan, kawayanan doon sa tabing-daanan,
hindi ba’t lagi kay lunti o kaya ay ginintuan?
Kawayanan, kawayanan doon sa bandang silangan
ay araw-araw na saksi sa kay raming kabiguan
Kawayan mo na, o Neneng, ang Nanay na mapagmahal.
Dinalaw n’ya ang ama mo sa malayo pang kulungan.
Kawayan mo na, O Neneng, ang Nanay mong minamahal,
Pauwi na’t nakatungo na kagaya ng kawayan.
Kawayan mo na, o Neneng, ang Nanay na mapagmahal.
Sa pulong-bayan dadalo, babawiin ang sakahan.
Kawayan mo na, o Neneng, ang Nanay mong minamahal,
Sa tangantangan niyang sulo, nagpupugay ang kawayan.
In Jacob 1901, the history of United States imperialist military approach to torture and genocide is exposed:
“Manugis. Manugis nang may sining at sinsin pagkat yan ang inaasahan sa pinakamagaling at pinakamakabagong sandatahan ng panahon. Manugis, gayunman, taglay ang lantay na bangis na s’yang naaaayon sa liblib na daigdig ng ligaw na mga lanlang. Labang kung gayon ang habag…
Simple lang naman , hindi ba? — pagkat dakila ang ngalan ng Hustisya, ng Kapatiran at Libertad, ng Demokrasya at Republika na maningning lagi nating dapat ipinagbuni—mamaslang nang mamaslang(93-94).”
The US imperialist approach to the export of democracy involves the worst kind of torture:
“…Subalit kung hihilingin ng pagkakataon, para lamang naman doon sa ilang piling insurekto, lalo’t kung may pagtaya sa selan ng impormasyong posibleng mahita mula sa mga it, pahihintulutan ang utay-utay na proseso ng pag-utas. Hindi kailangang maging komplikado ang mga kontrapsyoon; sapat nang sila’y lamug-lamugin, patiwarik-tiwarikin, lunud-lunurin sa timba hanggang sa tumuga…”
The US imperialist approach to the export of democracy involves the systematic rape of women and burning of communities:
“Wala akong pakialam, bahala kayo, sakali mang sa kasagsagan ng mga operasyon ay mangyaring umalagwa ri’t mag-alab ang inyong kahayukan sa laman. Kanya-kanyang panlasa lang naman ‘yan, kung ako ang inyong tatanungin. Subalit ang nais ko ay tunay na apoy, naiintindihan n’yo? Manunog, naririnig n’yo? Manunog. Walang ibang paraan upang itanghal ang ating panunugis at pamamaslang kundi sa panununog…Ang hinihiling ko sa inyo bilang patunay sa ating tagumpay, ikintal ninyo sa inyong isipan, ay hindi martsa ng mga bihag, hindi parada ng mga banda, hindi kung anong pananda sa bato, kundi kilo-kilometro ng abo (95).”
In Jacob 2011, American General Jacob Smith of the early 20th century lives all throughout the 21st:
Ano’ng nangyari, Jacob?
May inalwage lang na kung ano si Boboy
sa kanyang ma nang dumaan kayo ng iyong tropa
noong hapong iyon ng Nobyembre.
Hinid nakauwi si Boboy.
Ano’ng nangyari Jacob?
Apat na araw pa ang lumipas
bago muling nakita si Buboy.
Ano’ng nangyari, Jacob
at balat na lamang
ang nagdurugtong kay Boboy
sa kanyang ulo?
It turns out that Jacob is Acosta’s capturer:
Nagpasalamat pa naman sa iyo ang aking ina
‘pagkat noong Pebrero ay naikutan mo pa
ang utos sa iyo ng iyong superyor
na ikarga na lang ako sa listahan
ng mga rebeldeng minalas
at nautas sa engkwentro.
Ano’ng nangyari, Jacob, Ano, Lt. Madarang.
General Jacob Smith of the 20th century finds an heir in Filipino Lt. Jacob Madarang. The reference to the two Jacobs is also site-specific. The architect of the US military aggression Jacob Smith killed thousands and turned Samar into a “howling wilderness.” It is in Samar of February 2011 where Acosta was captured and imprisoned. It is in Samar where a farmer named Boboy in the poem was brutally tortured to death in November 2011.This is neocolonial fascism loud and clear. This is the Filipino nation, an outpost of United States imperialism.
Mula Tarima Hanggang…therefore exposes the duplicity of mass media under governments which knows how to utilize and control such a powerful communication apparatus. What we never watch or read about are pretty much the stuff that we have been programmed not to watch or read about. The consumption of media and even knowledge is not a matter of choice.
The current social order seeks out its supporters not only from the elite. It compels the marginalized elements of society to consent to the oppressive order through various dominant norms of integration. This form of social discipline manage to look like emancipation—the internet, the mall, the free market of ideas, the global village.
Mula Tarima Hanggang…gives in to what has been well underway long before we were all born. Acosta writes about the oft-forgotten reality about revolutions: that our generation is neither suffering nor recovering from the triumph of resistance that took place about four decades ago. Jorge Luis Borges once made this very clever remark, “we only lose that which we never really had.”
The revolutionary fervor in Acosta’s poetry is the voice of a generation and a revolutionary mass movement that embrace continuity and persistence. Mula Tarima’s ethical and political imperative bears witness to what revolutions make out of its advocates: a people who will not recoil in fear.
Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Impeiralist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.
*A piece to be read at the Baguio launch of Mula Tarima Hanggang At Iba Pang Mga Awit, Mt. Cloud Bookshop, Casa Vallejo, Baguio City. 17 July 2015.