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Rogelio ‘Roger’ Mangahas: Poet on the stalk of life

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Rogelio ‘Roger’ Mangahas (May 9, 1939-July 4, 2018)

Philippine literature has lost a precious gem. In the morning of July 4, multi-awarded poet Rogelio ‘Roger’ Mangahas died after suffering a massive stroke. He was 79.

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“Koyang” to his friends and peers in the writing community, Mangahas is a well-loved and respected master poet, essayist, fictionist, literary critic, teacher, activist, and nationalist.

Born in the town of Cabiao in Nueva Ecija province on May 9, 1939, Mangahas grew up with a heightened sense of nationalism and awareness on the plight and struggles of the landless poor.

HISTORY OF RESISTANCE

Describing the town of his childhood at the June 16 launching of historian and academician Dante Simbulan’s book, “When the Rains Come, will not the Grass Grow Again? The Socialist Movement in the Philippines: 1920-1960,” Mangahas mentioned that in the whole of Nueva Ecija, it is in Cabiao where the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon or Hukbalahap was able to gather the most number of recruits.

He added that about 80% of the men during his father’s time, including his father, were members of the Hukbalahap.

The Hukbalahap was a communist guerilla movement organized by Central Luzon peasants.

Cabiao’s history of resistance stretches all the way back to the Spanish period, during the time of General Mariano Llanera, Mangahas said.

Llanera was one of the generals who led in the “Cry of Nueva Ecija,” the Central Luzon’s equivalent of Andres Bonifacio’s “Cry of Balintawak.”

Mangahas’ engaging and enlightening account of his childhood is immortalized in a Youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zFmGd7IxmI) of the June 16 launch which occurred barely three weeks before his death.

WRITING YEARS

Mangahas traveled to Manila to study at the University of the East (UE). He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Filipino in the 1960s.

During that time, he co-authored and edited Manlilikha, an anthology of poems regarded by critics as a monumental achievement in modern Filipino poetry.

In that early period, Mangahas, together with then fellow budding poets and UE students Virgilio S. Almario and Antonio Lamberto, spearheaded what is now touted as the “second successful modernist movement in Filipino poetry.”

Over the years, Mangahas taught Filipino language and literature at the University of the Philippines in Manila, St. Scholastica’s College, De La Salle University, and at the University of the East.

He also worked as editor-in-chief of Phoenix Publishing House and SIBS Publishing House, consultant for literature at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), editor of Ang Masa, and country editor of Tenggara, a literary journal of Southeast Asia published in Malaysia .

JP Lopez, a Malaya Senate beat reporter, remembered Mangahas as a genuinely principled poet and editor.

Lopez said that Koyang was his mentor during his days as reporter for Ang Masa, the Tagalog version of the Malaya/We Forum.

“When we passed a petition upholding press freedom within the paper, he (Mangahas) was the only editor who signed the petition,” Lopez said.

At the height of student activism during the first quarter of 1970, Mangahas  joined the ranks of students, farmers, workers, and intellectuals in denouncing corruption, foreign intervention, state violence, and peasant landlessness.

In 1971, Mangahas won first prize in the poetry category of the Palanca Awards for his poem, “Mga Duguang Plakard.”

He won again the first prize in the Palanca in 1986, this time for his critical essay, “Si Edgardo M. Reyes, Ang manunulat, kanyang akda, at panahon.”

In 2015, Mangahas was awarded the Makata ng Bayan at Dangal ni Balagtas by the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF).

GOD AND TAGUMPAY

Of all the internet videos celebrating Mangahas’ life and works, one of the most revealing is the Visita Iglesia Video of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiU0U579swM).

Here, Mangahas is joined by his wife—writer, historian, media educator, and academician Fe Mangahas.

This is a story of their coming to terms with the Lord and with the death of their only child Tagumpay, who succumbed to cancer at age 23.

Recounted Mangahas: “This (the 70s) was the time when I met my wife Fe, also an activist-professor. Suddenly, Martial Law was declared and the university where we worked dismissed nine faculty that included both of us.

Tagged as subversives, Fe and I were arrested and brought to Camp Aguinaldo for interrogation and detention. Though under stress and interrogation, it never occurred to me to pray and ask for God’s help. My activist orientation had blocked God from my consciousness.”

Fe felt the same way, saying: “ I met my husband Roger while teaching at the same university. Our common interests in history, literature, and the arts, the same political persuasion and involvements drew us together. We fought for the same causes. Then Martial Law was declared. Jobless and fearful for our lives, we went underground. God was farthest from my mind. My materialist Marxist orientation taught me to rely only on our strengths and struggles. I felt no need for prayers.”

Detained for almost two years, Mangahas found God one night while alone in his cell. “I saw a picture of Jesus. He was looking at me. I felt my heart rapidly beating for an hour. Then I got off the bed and prayed the ‘Our Father.’ I closed my eyes ang asked for forgiveness. And that even if I was an activist, I still worshiped Him. That night, I started to pack my things. Three days later, I was released.”

The Mangahas’ only son Tagumpay was diagnosed with lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes, on his third year in college. They were devastated and grieved with fear.

“I felt I was in my darkest spiritual crisis,” Fe said, but it was still their son in the end that pulled all of them through.

One night, Fe recounted, Tagumpay told her that he and his girl friend broke up. His son asked her: “Ma, why did the Lord take all that I have? My health, my life’s dreams, and now this.”

She remembered that she could not answer. Her heart was breaking. And then her son said: “I know why, Ma. It is because the Lord wants me to totally be with him.”

*  *  *

Rogelio Mangahas was interred at the St. Peter’s Chapel in Quezon City on July 4. A writer’s memorial tribute followed on July 6.

Last Saturday, July 7, the remains of Koyang Mangahas was brought back to the town of his childhood—Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. G

 

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