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September 15, 2003


“At bukas, diyan din, aking matatanaw/sa sandipang langit na wala nang luha,/sisikat ang gintong araw ng tagumpay…/layang sasalubong ako sa paglaya!”

                                                                                    –Amado V. Hernandez, “Isang Dipang Langit”

This year marks the birth centenary of National Artist for Literature Amado V. Hernandez, poet, journalist, political and labor leader who was, and still is, fondly called Ka Amado. Despite the passing of years and the upheavals and change in the Philippine society, Ka Amado’s words still ring clear and still move the soul, affirming the power of his literary art. And because our society’s lumbering into development is still painfully slow, if not stagnating completely, the social and political struggles that drives his works remain relevant. Ka Amado gave voices to the oppressed peasants and laborers, rendering them powerful verses and plots that should have gone down as a compelling chronicle of a struggle of a people, but still prove to be an influential instrument in constituting reform and empowerment. A literary artist that he is, Ka Amado remains to be a social and political leader, fast becoming to be an icon of the working-class.

The commemoration of his birth centenary is organized by both grassroots non-governmental organizations as well as government cultural agency. Spearheading is the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center (AVHRC), a grassroots cultural institution, which aims to perpetuate and honor the legacy and struggles of Ka Amado. The organization was started by social activist Satur Ocampo, who is now a congressman of the Bayan Muna Party-List, as the Amado V. Hernandez Foundation. Now, the AVHRC is known for holding an annual literary contest in Ka Amado’s name of works written in Filipino and dealing with working-class issues and lives. From its initial categories of short story and poetry, the contest expanded to include songs, plays and comics. While everybody is eligible to join, the AVHRC strongly encourages peasants and workers to write and join. In conjunction with this, it regularly holds literary workshops for them, in order that they may voice out their concerns and tell their lives. The AVHRC also reprints selected Ka Amado’s works in inexpensive editions to be distributed to farmers and laborers.

So far, the celebration of Ka Amado’s birth centenary will prove to be the one of their most significant undertakings, which would include a big poetry reading session and the mounting of plays in different areas. In this, it sought cooperation with other agencies.

“We’ve teamed up with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) and other leading grassroots cultural groups in mounting this Poetry Night and other exciting productions to honor one of the first National Artist that time has richly proven to be an authentic national treasure,” said Jennifer Padilla, AVHRC executive director. Other agencies that lend their support includes the government’s cultural arm, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the NGO Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (SINAGBAYAN). Others help in one production or the other. A notable partner in the celebration is the Concerned Artists of the Philippines.

Julie Po, secretary general of the released a statement declaring: “We look at the late Ka Amado as deserving of emulation not just by his fellow artists, but by all Filipinos as well. His lifework is overwhelming testimony that the Filipino can stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s finest literary minds. More relevantly, we celebrate Ka Amado as an outstanding patriot and working class hero whose illegal incarceration only steeled his resolve to champion the Filipino toiler’s cause till the end of his life.”

The organization, which initially and primarily advocates the abolition of censorship against artists and upholds the social responsibility of the artists, was founded, with others, by the late filmmaker Lino Borcka, who himself is a National Artist. And CAP didn’t fail to point out the parallels between their causes: “Ka Amado’s lifework parallels that of our founding member, his fellow National Artist the late Lino Brocka. While Ka Amado wielded the pen to vivify nationalist ideals, Brocka masterfully used the medium of film to paint wide canvasses throbbing with Filipino realities and hopes. Both are unjustly incarcerated, yet remained undaunted in advancing the Filipino’s democratic and patriotic cause. Both died steadfastly true to the Filipino people.”

The commemoration will be sparked by a free-to-the-public poetry reading session called Panata sa Kalayaan (Pledge to Freedom) Poetry Night on September 13, the exact date of Ka Amado’s birth, at 5 pm at the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas (Folk Arts Theater) in the CCP Complex. Directed by Soc Jose, Ka Amado’s poems will be dramatically read, recited and performed by stage actors like Ronnie Lazaro, Roy Alvarez, Fernando Josef, John Arcilla, Joonie Gamboa, Shamaine Centenera and Nonie Buencamino. Rep. Satur Ocampo and urban poor leader Nanay Mameng Deunida will also read some poems. Musical intermissions and accompaniments will be provided by the folk rock band Asin, musician Jerry Dadap and the Andres Bonifacio Choir and the rock band Pan led by Dong Abay (more famous as the frontman of his former band Yano).

This is not AVHRC’s major poetry reading session though. Last year, also in celebration on Ka Amado’s birth anniversary and as prelude to the centenary, it held a poetry reading with actors Tommy Abuel, Leo Martinez, Ronnie Lazaro, Nanding Josef and Joel Torre; poet Mike Coroza; musical artists Jess Santiago and Dong Abay; activists Reschel Luarca, Boy Espiritu, Daning Ramos, Crispin Beltran, Nanay Mameng Deunida and Teddy Casiño as guest readers-performers. This was recorded in to compact discs called Panata Sa Kalayaan: Pagbasa sa mga Tula ni Ka Amado.

Aside from the poetry reading, there an be the adaptation into play and its several staging of two of Ka Amado’s short stories, namely, “Langaw sa Isang Basong Gatas” (Fly in a Glass of Milk) and “Panata ng Isang Lider” (Pledge of a Leader). The stories was adapted by Bonifacio P. Ilagan, who also directed the play. In cooperation with local agencies and NGOs, the play will be staged in different locations and areas. It will premiere at St. Scholastica’s College on September 17 with the help of the school, then it will be moved to Ka Amado’s birthplace in Hagonoy, Bulacan on Sept. 20 in cooperation with the Samahang Amado Hernandez. The list of venues, dates and partner groups include Don Alejandro Roces Science and Technology High School on Sept 27 with Kilusang Mayo Uno and Quezon City Public Teachers Association; University at the Philippines Theater on October 2 with the University Student Council; Rogationist College along Aguinaldo Road in the town of Silang, Cavite on Oct.4 and 5 with the Imus Diocese Labor Apostolate Center; Elliptical Road across the Department of Agrarian Reform on Oct.19 with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Farmers’ Movement of the Philippines); Montalban community on Oct. 2 with Kadamay and Anakpawis; Payatas area on Nov 8 with Kadamay and Anakpawis; and Sampaloc on Nov. 23 also with Kadamay and Anakpawis.

Attendant activities include writing workshops, which will be conducted for workers and farmers, and which basically focus on poetry, short story, song and comic writing; the publication of a kit on how to read and recite poetry, which includes selected poems of Hernandez, primarily targeting the young so that a new generation will be introduced to and gain awareness and appreciation of Hernandez and his works as well as to revive the art of reciting poetry; and the publication of a book of essays on the life and work of Hernandez by noted writers and literary scholars like Bienvenido Lumbera, Rose Torres-Yu, Monico Atienza, Gelacio Guillermo, among others, which will be launched in December. The awarding ceremonies of the literary contest Gawad Ka Amado (which is currently accepting entries with an October 24 deadline) on December 6 will serve as the culminating activity.

There are also events that are related to the birth centenary. Hernandez’s hometown of Hagonoy in the province of Bulacan, set rites for September 12 renaming a public school and a street in his honor. On the other hand, Rep. Satur Ocampo announced that he will file a resolution giving due honor and tribute to Hernandez and his legacy. His proposals include marking September 13 as Amado V. Hernandez Day and making his works required reading in schools.

About Ka Amado V. Hernandez

Amado Vera Hernandez was born in Hagonoy, Bulacan but grew up Tondo, Manila, where he studied at the Manila High School and at the American Correspondence School. While being a reporter, columnist and editor of several newspaper and magazines including Watawat, Mabuhay, Pilipino, Makabayan and Sampaguita, he also honed his poetic craft. He received the Republic Cultural Heritage Award, a number of Palancas and an award from the National Press Club for his journalistic achievements.

After World War II, he became a member of the Philippine Newspaper Guild and his writings increasingly dealt with the plight of the peasants and laborers. Influenced by the philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, he advocated revolution as a means of change. In 1947, he became the president of the Congress of Labor Organization (CLO). His activities and writings led him to imprisonment from 1951 to 1956. Even in prison, he was still a leader and artist, spearheading education programs and mounting musical productions, plays and poetry reading. It was during his incarceration that he wrote one his masterpiece, Mga Ibong Mandaragit (Predatory Birds). His prison writings were smuggled out by his wife, zarzuela star Honarata “Atang” dela Rama, who would become our National Artist for Music and Theater.

Ka Amado died on 24 March 1970 in the wake of the First Quarter Storm, whose leaders and activists recited his words. He left a legacy that includes Isang Dipang Langit (An Arm-Stretch of Sky), Kung Tuyo na ang Luha Mo, Aking Bayan (When Your Tears Have Dried, My Country), Panata sa Kalayaan (Pledge to Freedom), and the novel Luha ng Buwaya (Crocodile Tears).

He was posthumously honored as our National Artist for Literature in 1973. Together with poet Jose Garcia Villa, Amado V. Hernandez was the first to receive the title in literature.

For inquiries, one may contact the Amado V. Hernandez Resource Center (AVHRC) at 421-9427. Its office is at 3B J. Bugallon St. Project 4, Quezon City.