Poets never die

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And if you see me, behind your leaves

Let me rest under your shade

And let me sleep.

~ Maya Daniel



Novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje once wrote that the heart is an organ of fire. By fire, the author meant our familiarity and experience with light, warmth, and the burning sensation.

As did Marcos, the Duterte administration has been trying its gruesome best to snuff out this fire for the last two years.

On Aug. 18, around 10 PM, Allen D. Herrera, 19, was gunned down by two unidentified men. He was reportedly an altar server at his parish—another light snuffed by the jaws of rampant criminality. Save for a lone Facebook post by Campo Acolytos, an online apostolate for altar servers, no media entity carried the young man’s story.

The murder of Allen came after the violent deaths of three Roman Catholic priests: Father Rey Urmeneta, 64, a priest at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Calamba in June this year; earlier, Father Mark Ventura from Gattaran town in the north; and Father Marcelito Paez, killed in the town of Jaen, Nueva Ecija province in Dec. 2017.

As of this writing, none of the perpetrators have been caught, tried or indicted for their crimes. Instead of denouncing the murders, the President tried justifying them by hinting on the alleged “secret” lives of these priests (https://www.rappler.com/nation/204865-duterte-threatens-catholic-church-after-filipino-priests-killing).

Spared but little were 74 minors who were allegedly “caught in the middle” of Duterte’s war on drugs. The Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC), however, believes that the children themselves were “targeted” during questionable police operations, not as collateral damage (http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/980513/group-finds-74-minors-in-drug-war-body-count).

In the middle of this carnage stood a 60-year-old poet and artist named Felix Salditos. According to people who knew him, Salditos—more popularly known as the poet Maya Daniel—worked as part of the education and propaganda staff for the Communist Party-led resistance movement in Panay Island.

On Aug. 14, Maya Daniel together with six other members of the education team were gunned down in what the authorities claimed as a “33-minute firefight” with the Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade Intelligence Task Group and the San Jose police.

The list of the dead includes Eldie Labinghisa, Karen Ceralvo, Liezl Nadiola, Jason Talibo, and Jason Sanchez.

Claiming that the group suffered gunshots frontally on the head and at close range, Karapatan believes it was a massacre, not an encounter.

According to a Facebook post, several themes comprised Maya Daniel’s poetry.

“Because of the clandestine nature of Daniel’s work in the revolutionary underground, not much has been known about him apart from his close involvement with the struggles of the indigenous people’s group Tumandok (Panay-Bukidnon) of Central Panay.

“For while generally tackling themes of social injustices, agrarian unrest, and armed struggle typical of the genre of communist poetry in the vein of Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda, Roque Dalton, Amado Hernandez, among others, Daniel’s poetry also speak of his immersion into the life-world of the Tumandok.

“His poems bring together on the one hand Tumandok knowledge from their epic cosmology of water forms, landmarks, and constellations, taxonomy of indigenous flora and fauna, up to their epic heroes and on the other hand their long history of resistance against oppressors:

“This is our life, this land is priceless / The flesh of our generations has been embedded to its history / The fertile lands are the bones of our ancestors / Witnessed by this old spear, witnessed by the skies / Kamandag Tree has its curse, the poison of death / The lightning in Mount Angas, the sharp bolo of Amag-iran / The moans of abangay, all affirms to this truth” (“Dut’ang Ginpakig-awayan).

“In the same vein, Daniel has earned renown for majestic paintings on the Tumandok which have been the subject of solo exhibits in 2009 and 2017. In summary, both his poetic and artistic works makes for an encyclopedic documentation of the plight and struggles of the Tumandok.

“Daniel’s writings are not ordinarily found in mainstream outlets, except for some contributions to The Manila Times, online magazines, and some campus papers. They are read in the context of the communist-led armed resistance, in whose publications like Ulos, Daba-Daba, and Sublak — his writings saw print.

“He writes in both English and Hiligaynon. He has also penned short stories, essays, and translations of poems by Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong into Hiligaynon. Daniel’s self-published poems and art can be accessed at mayadanielblog.wordpress.com. Much of his oeuvre, however, still awaits publication.

“Indeed, as a revolutionary, Daniel has been conscious of the way his own writing has been molded by the everyday exigencies of revolutionary work: “I write / Not on a table / But while crawling on dirt / Not on the computer / But on cigarette packs, newspaper margins / Not in a peaceful place / But in the midst of war…” (“Ang Hilwaybay Ko”)”.

Eman F. Lacaba

This country is no stranger to poets both siding with an oppressive regime and those who by sheer courage resisted it. Maya Daniel resisted in the same vein as the poet Eman F. Lacaba, who was murdered under the Marcos regime. Lacaba was a member of the Panday Sining Group and of the labor movement Panulat Para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan.

During a raid in 1976 against the New People’s Army, Lacaba, who survived the raid, was executed on their way to Tagum, Davao del Norte.

Months before his death, Lacaba wrote in one of his famous poems, Open Letters to Filipino Artists, “We are tribeless and all tribes are ours. / We are homeless and all homes are ours. / We are nameless and all names are ours. / To the fascists we are the faceless enemy / Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death: / The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.”

Eman Lacaba and Maya Daniel were but two of the myriad young souls murdered under oppressive regimes. Liliosa Hilao, a communications arts student, was tortured and murdered under martial law. The poet Maria Lorena Barros suffered the same.

Barros, in 1966, published two poems in The Weekly Nation: “So this / is how it is / after the sacrifice / bare altar / Solemn rows of / once more waiting pews / only the sunshine now / on the marbled aisles / and a little red light / And yet / it is right / for, satiated / What need was there to stay?”

These young poets live now in the memory of the Filipino people. All because poets never die. G




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