National Artist’s birthday wish is for Duterte to ‘go away’

Screenshot of the event celebrating National Artist for Literature Bien Lumbera’s 89th birthday.
Poet, social commentator and literary scholar Bienvenido Lumbera only had two words when asked what birthday present he would like to receive from the president, “Go away!”


MANILA — National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera celebrated his 89th birthday today, April 11, with an online event titled ‘Sa Panahon ng Pandemya: Lugaw, Pagdiriwang, at Protesta’. The virtual get-together was organized by the poet’s family members and long-time friends with Concerned Artists of the Philippines.

Poet, social commentator and literary scholar Ka Bien only had two words when asked what birthday present he would like to receive from the president, “Go away!”

Despite his age, the nationalist artist has been active in standing up on issues that concern human rights, extrajudicial killings, press freedom, sovereignty and the West Philippine Sea, and the government’s failed pandemic response.

Moderated by Noel Ferrer and Jina Umali, the program became an avenue for Dr. Lumbera’s long-time friends and collaborators to send him well wishes and recall their memories when they worked together on creative pursuits.

BAYAN Chairperson Dr. Carol Araullo recounted fond memories of her friendship with Lumbera, calling him an unabashed nationalist and democrat. “Bien, you are unflappable, low-key, unheralded, but his reputation precedes him,” Araullo added.

Aside from being a critically-acclaimed writer, Lumbera is an activist. His involvement in organizations such as Panitikan para sa Kaularan ng Sambayanan (PAKSA) and progressive poets group Galian sa Arte at Tula (GAT) during Martial Law embodied his belief that writers should immerse with the masses and those who seek to improve society.

READ: Bien Lumbera: Activist, National Artist for Literature

Former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo shared their experiences of fighting against the Marcos dictatorship and opposing corrupt politicians together, “Now, it is difficult for us to march on the streets. But I know, your impassioned love for the nation and its freedom will not lessen, diminish, or disappear, as well as your stance against tyranny,” Taguiwalo added in Filipino.

Lumbera was teaching in Ateneo De Manila University when Martial Law was declared, he then went underground and edited Ulos, the revolutionary literary publication. He was arrested by the military in January 1974 and released December of the same year.

READ: ‘Para Kanino’?

In his decades-long active participation in pursuing a better Filipino society, Lumbera became a pillar of strength, an image of determination and grace, and an inspiration for all young writers.

Lumbera thanked all those who wished him well on his second ‘quarantine birthday’ saying, “I thank everyone who contributed their time and talent to celebrate my birthday. I am grateful for those who are by my side as I reach the age of 89,” he said in Filipino.

The program ended with the singing of “Di n’yo ba naririnig?” the Filipino adaptation of “Do you hear the people sing?” (

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