Bien Lumbera: resolute and militant servant of the Filipino proletariat and people

By Jose Maria Sison and Julie de Lima
October 5, 2021

Dear Comrades and Friends,

Julie and I  wish to convey the most heartfelt condolences over the demise of Comrade Bienvenido Lumbera  to his beloved wife, Cynthia, and their entire family. We share their grief and their joy at what his grandchild has precisely described as a great life that he lived.  All of us are here to celebrate his great achievements as national artist, as a professor of literature, as a creative writer and most of important of all as a resolute and militant servant of the Filipino proletariat and people.

I became aware of Ka Bien because of our common interest in Philippine literature, especially poetry, aesthetic theory and literary criticism, and in the advancement of the people’s democratic revolution. We agreed that art and literature must serve the people and must reflect their conditions, needs,demands and aspirations within the frame of a culture that is national,scientific and mass oriented. He stressed the  vital  importance of the national language and literature in the revolutionary process.

Even as I  was already in the underground, I came to know him through mutual friends in 1969 after he came back from his doctoral studies in comparative literature in Indiana University. He was already working with comrades among literary colleagues in the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila University and in the Cultural Bureau of Kabataang Makabayan and  that of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

In 1971, he was so highly respected by his literary colleagues that he was elected Chairman of the Panulat para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan (PAKSA). I delivered the keynote address at the founding of PAKSA and became one of the  charter members. Due to his being PAKSA chairman and his patriotic and progressive works, he caught the attention of the snoops of the reactionary state. 

After Marcos proclaimed nationwide martial law in 1972, he was arrested and detained other with other outstanding creative writers in 1974.  There was no legal basis for arresting them  and they were eventually released. In 1976, he started to teach at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, U.P. College of Arts and Letters.

His arrest and detention did not cow him but moved him to fight back. His lectures pointed to the aggravation of the ills of Philippine society under the Marcos fascist dictatorship.  He spelled out his own views and published articles against the Marcos dictatorship when he was editor of the Diliman Review from 1977 onwards.

When I was still in prison in 1983 and Julie went to his U.P. office, he readily agreed to write an introduction to my book of poems, Prison and Beyond.  His introduction, “Beyond Autobiography”,  made a comprehensive and profound evaluation of my poems.  He was also proud to show to Julie the pamphlet of my series of articles on social and cultural themes in Philippine poetry which he used as study text in his course on Philippine poetry for his masteral students.

Ka Bien was visiting professor of Philippine Studies at Osaka University of Foreign Studies in Japan from 1985 to 1988. He therefore regretted that he was not in the Philippines to participate physically in the mass uprising that brought down the Marcos fascist dictatorship in February 1986. When I visited him in Osaka in November 1986, I comforted him by reminding  him that I myself was still in prison when Marcos fell and could not do much except to listen to the radio and urge my guards to side with the masses.

Ka Bien was not just a professor, an art theorist, a literary critic and creative writer of prize-winning poems and plays.  He was able to participate in mass work and mass protests before and during the gigantic mass actions of hundreds of thousands of people that started with the Aquino funeral procession in August 1983.  He participated in person in the mass actions of 1983 to 1985 that led to the downfall of Marcos in 1986.

After the end of the Marcos fascist dictatorship, he continued to serve the people and participate in their mass struggles against the continuing conditions of oppression and exploitation during  the pseudo-democratic regimes from Aquino the mother to Aquino the son and down to the traitorous, tyrannical, genocidal, plundering and swindling Duterte regime, which is so far the worst of the post-Marcos regimes and the reincarnation of the Marcos fascist dictatorship. Up to the last decade of his life, he was an outstanding figure in mass meetings and protest actions.

Ka Bien has bequeathed to us his  patriotic and revolutionary musical dramas under the title,  Sa Sariling Bayan: Apat na Dulang May Musika and Gerilya’y Makata, Makata’y Gerilya; and  numerous books, anthologies and textbooks such as: Revaluation; Pedagogy; Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology; Rediscovery: Essays in Philippine Life and Culture; Filipinos Writing: Philippine Literature from the Regions; and Paano Magbasa ng Panitikang Filipino: Mga Babasahing Pangkolehiyo.

Ka Bien has also bequeathed to us his record of leadership and activism.  Together with other Filipino writers, artists and critics, he co-founded cultural organizations such as the Philippine Comparative Literature Association (1969);  Pamana ng Panitikan ng Pilipinas (1970); Panulat para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan (1971), Kalipunan para sa mga Literatura ng Pilipinas (1975); Philippine Studies Association of the Philippines (1984) and Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (1976).

He was editor of Sanghaya (National Commission on Culture and the Arts), Professor at the Department of English in the School of Humanities of the Ateneo de Manila University,  Professor at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, College of Arts and Letters at UP Diliman, and Professor of Literature at De La  Salle University.  He served as president of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).

As creative writer, he received the 1975 Palanca Award for Literature;  several National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle; the 1998 Philippine Centennial Literary Prize for Drama; and the 1999 Cultural Center of the Philippines Centennial Honors for the Arts. He was proclaimed National Artist in April 2006.

By word and deed, Ka Bien made great contributions to upholding, defending and advancing the just cause and just struggle of the Filipino people for national and social liberation  within his own lifetime.  He is immortalized by his writings and record of deeds, by the continuance of the Philippine revolution which he has served so well and by the inspiration that he casts upon new generations.

Long live the memory of Ka Bien Lumbera!
Advance the Philippine Revolution!
Long live the Filipino people!