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
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.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
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:
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
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
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
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
are being carried by
the whirlwind swirling
on the slopes of the
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
to ignite a blaze to
clear the land
where we shall plant –
a nation strong!
Of men and women free!
Who to oppression will
(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
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
ba sa wakas ang dulo ng lumbay?
pampiring ang mga bathala,
muli sa bukid ang simoy,
tambuling hahawi sa dilim…
is grief’s end?
The gods have new blindfolds,
The breeze is again crawling the fields,
Blow the horn that will dispel the darkness…)
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
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
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
Pagkat ipinagkait sa iyo ang lupa
isinagot sa hinaing
tayong umasa sa iba.
(Because you were
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
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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