(First Published in Inquirer Sunday Magazine,
Nov. 18, 2007 )
MANILA, Philippines - “Poets, too, must know how to fight.” Uncle Ho Chi Minh might have had Amado V. Hernandez in mind when he penned that line. While Ho was rallying his countrymen to drive the French out of their homeland, Hernandez—a poet who knew how to fight—was languishing in the New Bilibid Prison on a subversion charge. This, however, did not stop him from composing his greatest masterpieces.
The grateful Vietnamese named their capital after Ho, but how many Filipinos remember Ka Amado, our first National Artist for Literature? How many are still stirred on first reading “Panata sa Kalayaan” or “Isang Dipang Langit”? Or have their conscience awakened upon reading “Mga Ibong Mandaragit”? too few. Yet Hernandez’s work is as relevant today as when he first wrote them half a century ago: the social injustices that he railed and fought against are still here, and so are the forces that put him in jail. The more things change…
Nov. 30, a much-deserved tribute will be paid to Ka Amado’s legacy as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, in cooperation with the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center, stages “Amado, Minamahal…,” a concert featuring the poet’s works. No ordinary concert, “Amado, Minamahal…” brings together the collective talents of National Artists Bienvenido Lumbera (Literature, 2006), Napoleon V. Abueva (Sculpture, 1976), Ben Cabrera (Painting, 2006), and Salvador Bernal (Theater and Design, 2003), who collaborated on the script, stage design, posters and visuals, and costumes, respectively. The concert will also feature the music of the late National Artist Lucio San Pedro (Music, 1991), which will be performed by a hundred-voice choir composed of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the Bonifacio Choir, and accompanied by a pure dance performance by the Ballet Philippines. Set to be staged at the CCP main theater, “Amado, Minamahal…” will be directed by Chris Millado.
Says scriptwriter Bien Lumbera: “The script for ‘Amado, Minamahal…’ has been structured according to the three dominant themes of his poetry, namely, freedom, justice and human rights.” He adds, “The three themes are the pressing concerns of our society today as the present administration has allowed the military to exercise unwarranted power to enforce compliance with its political designs.” Lumbera believes that Hernandez’s works, though written in the 1950s, still have a message for contemporary Filipinos. Explains this National Artist for Literature: “After he was released, Ka Amado was simply transported from the repressive confines of a prison cell to the repressive world outside where an anti-subversion law hang like a sword of Damocles over the heads of writers whose ideas could be interpreted as bearing traces of socialist or communist ideologies.” But Hernandez, says Lumbera, continued to think and write as a free individual. His works have much to say to Filipinos today. “His ’Panata sa Kalayaan’ is a message to the post-EDSA and post-9/11 Philippine society under the Arroyo regime, where the Human Security Act hangs over the heads of men and women who vigilantly struggle for freedom, justice and human rights.” Hernandez was the epitome of the engaged artist, a man of action who nevertheless still had the sensitivity to give voice to the inchoate cries of the suffering masses. The need for men like him hasn’t diminished, says Lumbera.
Hernandez was born in 1903 in Hagonoy, Bulacan but grew up in Tondo, Manila. He was only 19 when he joined Aklatang Bayan, a literary group which included established Tagalog writers such as Lope K. Santos and Jose Corazon de Jesus. In 1932, he married stage actress Atang de la Rama, who would also become a National Artist. When the Japanese invaded the Philippines, Hernandez became a guerrilla. It is believed that he first encountered the ideas of socialism through the Hukbalahap movement. After the war, Hernandez became a Manila councilor and a labor leader, organizing the biggest strike ever in Manila in 1947, and coming to the attention of the military. In 1951, during a crackdown on the Huk rebellion then raging in Central Luzon, Hernandez was arrested and eventually charged with rebellion with murder, arson and robbery—a complex crime unheard of in Philippine legal history. The case became a celebrated civil rights issue, drawing the support of such legal luminaries as Claro M. Recto, Jose P. Laurel and Claudio Teehankee. Nevertheless, Hernandez wasn’t released until 1956, and he wasn’t acquitted until 1964 in a landmark decision that is still invoked to this day.
By that time, Hernandez had already written the works that he would be remembered for. He died in 1970, but his words live on: “Pilipino akong sa pambubusabos ay hindi susuko! (I am a Filipino who will never, ever give in to oppression).”
Tickets available at all Ticketworld outlets. For discounted or group sales, contact the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center at (02 )412- 0909 or 0916-7900671, or email firstname.lastname@example.org