Writer in dissent

It’s great to see a writer land on the front page for reminding us of the fundamentals: literature as the art of engagement, writers as politically engaged.

Men and women of letters have peopled Philippine revolutions and revolts. But in the age of text messaging and e-mail, is literature still a relevant form of political dissent?

For Bienvenido Lumbera, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines and 1993 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the role of literature in giving a voice to the small, the weak and the oppressed is as strong as ever.

"Literature gives a voice to those that have been silenced," Lumbera said yesterday in Filipino at a press conference called by the National Coalition for the Protection of Workers’ Rights and the militant labor alliance Kilusang Mayo Uno (May 1 Movement).

Aside from a small mistake in the translation ("that" should have been "who"), these first paragraphs made stirring good reading.



Filed under Notes on Readings, Readings in Media

7 responses to “Writer in dissent

  1. Jojo

    This sounds pretty much like J.J. Sartre defending Stalin.

    When Rollie Kintanar and Arturo Tabara were assassinated by an NPA hit team implementing Jose Ma. Sison’s fatwa, nothing was heard from this esteemed professor emeritus. Yet, other people regard these two ex-cadres as revolutionaries (they were responsible for the CPP’s extraordinary growth in Mindanao and Negros during martial law). In fact the coming biography of Kintanar by journalist Benjamin Pimentel explicitly says so.

    But they would not qualify in Lumbera’s eyes. For his idea of revolutionaries refers only to those who adhere to the political line laid out in Utrecht. The rest are either renegades or puppets of the imperialists. And they deserve to die.

    His notions of revolutionary literature likewise reflect this kind of dogmatic and, dare I say, Stalinist thinking.

  2. Andy

    Jojo, of course, conveniently neglects to mention that Kintanar and Tabara were partly responsible for the decimation of the ranks of Filipino communists during the infamous Kahos purges in Mindanao and elsewhere. He also neglects to mention that Kintanar and Tabara had became thugs and mercenaries serving as agents of the government, betraying and causing the deaths of countless of their comrades, before justice caught up with them.

    And please Jojo, your obsession with Joma Sison is becoming deeply disturbing.

  3. Jojo

    Andy, if you carefully read the news reports you will notice that none of Joema’s capos were ever assassinated by those he expelled. The killings have always been done from the Joema side.

    Kintanar may be culpable for the deaths of communists in Mindanao, but so would people like George Madlos, the current head of the NPA’s eastern sector in Mindanao but who has since been forgiven for believing in the reaffirmist line (a similar thing happened with Pepe Luneta: implicated in the torture of cadres in southern Luzon, he got away with a petty spanking because he continues to serve coffee to his bosses in Utrecht).

    Moreover, if you go by the collective philosophy of the Party, so would the entire leadership, including Sison and the rest of the gang.

    And go back to your history, please. Tabara came from the Western Visayas regional committee and was never in Mindanao. Jesus, a defender of Joema but one who cannot get his facts right. I can now imagine the kind of historical censorship and revisionism that would go one once you folks seize power.

    And please, don’t depreciate the issues I raised into a question of psychological disposition. There is no obsession here (although this has been the standard way in which your ilk have tired to “dismiss” criticism of the Filipino Ayatollah). It’s simply political difference, nothing more.

  4. Andy

    Not that Kintanar, Tabara and their ilk didn’t try to assassinate people identified with Joma, even Joma himself. It’s just that they were too incompetent at it, Jojo!

    It’s not “simply political difference,” Jojo. You are as dogged and rabid about your anti-CPP ideology as the people in Utretch are about theirs. What makes you any better?

    I know, however, what makes you worse: you’ve spewed nothing but personal attacks against Joma and his fellow communists. As a result, you’ve done nothing to discredit the communist ideology but a constant stream of bile and sarcasm directed at the communists. This does not promote intelligent discourse at all, let alone contribute to the defeat of communist thought.

    Finally, for you to quickly label moi as a defender of Joma — when all I wanted from you was some intellectual honesty — betrays the same, dare I say, Stalinist tendency that you often ascribe to the communists.

  5. Jojo

    Andy, I am curious as to where the bile and sarcasm can be found in my attempt to show the other side of supposedly principled writers like Lumbera.

    If you also do a comparative examination of the rhetoric coming out of Utrecht and from my writings (by the way you may purchase at UP Press), I am a poor second to what comes out Holland.

    The charge that Kintanar and Tabara also sent hit teams to Holland comes from the CPP: no way of verifying whether this is true or not. But a close reading of the statements from Utrecht and other places will show some connection between the fatwa from the Filipino Ayatollah and the NPA hit men sent to assassinate these “renegades.”

    Since you raise the issue of intellectual honesty, you might want to pose that question to the professor emeritus himself. But let me ask you these: Is it being dishonest to raise the issue of the selective moralizing of our so-called progressive intellectuals? Is it being dishonest to remind people that “militants” like Crispin Beltran defended the Chinese state’s massacre of its students? And is it intellectually dishonest to note the silence of many a UP progressives on the killings inside the CPP, in which the people in Utrecth were equally culpable?

    If these are instances of intellectual dishonesty, may I then seek your wisdom and point out what an intellectually honest discussion of Filipino Stalinism will sound like?

    What makes me different from our Pinoy Stalinists? It’s simple: I write and critique. They write, critique…then prepare a hit list of people they want to eliminate. I do not even own a gun.

    If this is not clear as water, I have no idea what you mean by intelligent discourse.

    And by the way, please do review your CPP history. If you need a reading guide, I strongly recommend the following (and here I am balanced).

    On Joema’s position — you have the “Reaffirm” document which was reprinted by the UP Third World Studies Center in its Kasarinlan journal in 1992. The Ang Bayan is also in the web now, so you can follow the thread of this position since Joema’s 1992 coup returned control of the CPP rag to his “reaffirmist” comrades.

    On initial reflections on the CPP’s crisis, there is Joel Rocamora’s book (Anvil), Ben Reid (Journal of Contemporary Asia), mine (UP Press). Then on torture there is Bobby Garcia’s semi-autobiography (Anvil) which was then critiqued by Caroline Hau in her new book out of Ateneo.

    The most balanced, most comprehensive and most recent account is the dissertation by the Quebecois Domiinique Caouette. It covers the CPP’s history from 1968 to 2000. Caouette was able to interview all the different factions, and was allowed to see all the primary CPP documents. I have a copy of the dissertation in my desktop and if you are reall serious about “intelligent” and “honest” discussion, I could pass this on to you via John.

  6. kenneth

    Of course, Lumbera has his own failings. But I find no sense in Jojo Abinales’ attack of Lumbera simply because the former did not hear a word from the latter condemning the Kintanar killing. The man was imprisoned for months during martial law, wrote tons of critical pieces on nationalist literature, and contributed immensely to the theorizing of Tagalog poetry. The least we can do for him is to call him principled.

    And if intellectual honesty means speaking up against all injustices and oppression, why have we not heard a word of condemnation from Abinales regarding the politically motivated killings of national democratic (aboveground) activists? Or even of the recent brutality employed by police forces against rallyists defying Malacanang’s Calibrated Preemptive Response?

    Whether or not Kintanar’s killing was just is till a matter of debate in the public sphere (No, dissertations from academics simply won’t do. A thoroughly honest debate would have to entail CPP cadres coming out in the open and presenting evidence upon which the death sentence was based.). But the killings and the police brutality are not: like that of the killing of labor leader Diosdado Fortuna by alleged agents of the very same government that proclaims its adherence to the “rule of law.”

  7. Jojo

    This is precisely what I thought is very very strange about “militant” politics that Kenneth wants to defend. On the one hand there is the insistence that only by viewing the “entire picture” and going at the “root causes” of a given reality can one be progressive and radical. Or as one communist counselled me: dapat tingnan ang kabuuan at ang ugat nito, para makita ang katotohanan.

    On the other hand, when it comes to evaluating one’s peers, one then suddenly becomes quite selective and wants issues, events and phenomena compartmentalized. Worse, in an oddly Marcosian manner, Kenneth implores us to remember only the “principles” a person stood for and ignore his or her failings. But wouldn’t that go against a dialectical and comprehensive evaluation of a person’s politics, preferences and biases?

    Kenneth cannot have it both ways.

    One need not advertise one’s repulsion over the killing of militants (and communists) to satisfy Kenneth’s displeasure. Sometimes over-doing it becomes merely agit-prop and borders on instrumentalism. Moreover, this may be Kenneth’s province, but it is not mine. Kenneth claims those critical of the Left are intellectually dishonest, but, really now, shouldn’t one examine oneself first before claiming the moral highground?

    I understand Kenneth’s repulsion of academics; would-be-revolutionaries in the past and in the present never liked nuance. That’s why the first to go once communists come to power are the intellectuals. History is replete with such episodes and there is no need to recite some of them here.

    But Kenneth is being disingenious when he claims that no honest debate will come out of the Kintanar killing because it will “entail CPP cadres coming out in the open and presenting evidence upon which the death sentence was based.).” For him, this is where the difficult lies. What he therefore wants us — the public — to do is to take Ka Roger’s and the CPP’s kangaroo court’s word for it, and accept their explanation as, so far, the best there is. And I’d love to see Kenneth explain it this way to Kintanar’s widow, Joy Jopson-Kintanar.

    Was the killing of Fortuna the same as Kintanar’s? Well it’s not for the simple fact that the perpetrators were different. But in a way they were also the same since they were done by groups and parties who claim that they have the right to do so because they “represent” the people.

    I understand if Kenneth does not want to read the books academics write about the Left. That is his prerogative, but this may also be his loss. Because the dissertation is really good and balanced, and one can also learn something even from the writings of those who disagreed with Kenneth’s idols. After all, didn’t Mao quote Lao Tse about how one needs to learn about one’s enemies and about oneself to be able to attain more victory?

    And last I heard, even the Red Pope (Manolo Quezon’s description of Joema Sison) wants to be known more as “Professor.”

    As I told Andy, I’d be happy to send him — via John — a PDF file of Caouette’s dissertation, which I am sure Kenneth has also not read. Who knows he might learn a thing or two about the history his favorite progressive (sic) movement.

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