Poetry and freedom
KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson
The Philippine STAR 06/19/2006
In the haze of another dazzling poetry night at Mag:Net Katips, where readings and performance art have been rife for the month, a young fellow introduced himself as a former student of mine in Ateneo, and pressed what seemed like a pamphlet into my hand. He muttered something about it being a desktop-published broadside, and also about a commensurate donation of P200 for the copy. If I added a hundred, why, its double edition would find itself in my hands soon enough, plus a CD, was it, or a ticket to a music gig? Can't remember.
Dazed while seated on the deck overlooking the night traffic on Katipunan Avenue, very pleased with my glass of Tormore Speyside single-malt whisky and a hotplate of spicy sisig, I parted with my money, even taking out that futures option. It wasn't till the following noon that I realized that the transaction had helped a cause: Freedom for the poet and political detainee Axel Pinpin!
Together with four companions, Pinpin, a fellow at the 1999 UP Writers Workshop, had been "arrested by Navy and police elements in Tagaytay City on April 28 while on their way to Manila to attend the Labor Day rally." The so-called "Tagaytay 5" are still detained in Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna, facing rebellion charges. What a country.
This information is found on the last page of the stapled, 32-page poetry pamphlet jointly produced by Kilometer 64, Southern Tagalog Exposure and Artists for the Removal of Gloria (ARREST GLORIA!).
Come to think of it, that night in Mag:Net, my purpose was to check out our world-beater of a jazz vocalist, Mon David, who was fresh from his London triumph. But the lush life and slush nights have a way of turning improvisational, just like Mon's fevered scat renditions.
Enjoying a turn-away crowd, the earlier events featured the video-covered culmination of an in situ painting session over a couple of weeks and involving young artists, as well as, upstairs at the bar area, a protest poetry reading for Axel Pinpin and the rest of the Tagaytay 5.
On the cover of the booklet entitled Tugma Sa Laya is Pinpin's latest poem in Filipino, written on May 19 this year, obviously while in detention at Camp Vicente Lim. Here's the complete poem titled "Order ni Ser":
"Bawal ang mag-usap/ sabi ni ser/ yan ang order// sa likod ang posas/ sabi sa taas/ yan ang atas// piringan at igapos/ sabi ni boss/ yan ang utos// bawal ang cellphone/ bawal ang bisita/ bawal ang ballpen, bawal ang papel!/ ilayo ang radyo, walang peryodiko!/ sabi ni ser,/ yan ang order!// hari-hati sa yosi sabi ni ser yan ang order/ walang titingin/ walang tatayo/ yuko! sabi ni ser, yan ang order!// walang gagalaw!/ walang hihinga!// teka! teka!/ kaninong order?/ kay ser!"
("Order from Sir": "no talking/ said sir/ that's the order// handcuff from behind/ came from high/ that's the edict./ blindfold and tie up/ said the boss/ that's the order// no cellphone/ no visitor/ no ballpen, no paper!/ take away the radio, no newspaper!/ said the boss, that's the order!// take turns with a cigarette said sir that's the order/ no looking up/ no getting up/ bow low! said sir, that's the order!// no one moves!/ no one breathes!// wait! wait!/ by whose order?/ from sir!")
Now, that's a quick and free translation, from someone who easily recalls the cell-bound Rizal placing a long farewell in verse inside a gas lamp, or Emman Lacaba penning his poems while on the run in the wilds, in those heady remontado days in the mid-1970s, before his execution. It's the least this occasionally alleged apolitical poet can do.
But here's plugging the booklet some more. It has 10 other poems by Axel Pinpin, dating from a full decade ago. His titles give an idea of his leanings, or concerns: "Sampaguita Pictures Presents…" ("…Tapos na ang ligawan ng paru-paro/ at nektar ng gumamela nitong kasuyo;/ ang habulan sa paligid ng malalabay na mangga;/ ang pagsungkit sa bituin// o ang paggapi sa dilim.//…" – sorry, no translation for now); "Sino Si Santa Claus?"; "Diyos"; "Balitang Gasgas"; "Ekta-Ektarya" ("ektaryang damuhang laruan ng mayayaman/ walang ibang silbi, kahit pastulan man lang/ milyung galong tubig ang dito'y sinasayang…"); "Ako Ang Digmaan"; "Byuti Kontes"; "Sa Monumento Na Lamang Ba?"; "Paka-ingat Ka, Indang Ko"; and "Ta-Ka-Tak (talambuhay ng isang manunulat)."
Now, at the risk of romanticizing the plight of the young Axel, whom we're not exactly comparing to Don Pepe on the eve of martyrdom, as yet, or to the Eliotesque Emman or the pseudonymous Jason Montana of the 1980s, it's only right and proper to disseminate this literature and information, inclusive of the notion that the military's sense of petty retribution, let alone severe sanction, certainly appears to be on the misguided side of poetic justice.
"We in the Artists for the Removal of Gloria (ARREST GLORIA!)," says the statement issued in the booklet, "join the growing call for the release of poet Axel Pinpin and his companions Riel Custodio, Aristedes Sarmiento, Enrico Ybañez, and Michael Masayes.
"… Many of us in this alliance have worked with Pinpin… and can say with certainty that he is not a 'communist rebel,' contrary to what the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) would have us believe. Aside from being a poet, he is a consultant of the Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka Ka), a perfectly legal organization as attested to by no less than Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla.
"Custodio, like Pinpin, is a consultant of Kamagsasaka Ka; while Sarmiento is a freelance researcher, and Ybañez and Masayes are ordinary residents of Tagaytay City. They are noted in Cavite for their active involvement in campaigns against imperialist globalization and for genuine agrarian reform."
Etc. Whatever the veracity of these claims (we tend to believe them) and however some of us may question the conjugal validity of a term like "imperialist globalization," there's no gainsaying that the military would do well to release the Tagaytay 5, who were apprehended without any weapons in their possession, anyway, save for ideals and ideas perchance for more poetry of protest.
We won't even invoke the frequent quote from W.S. Auden, that "poetry makes nothing happen; it survives…" In this case, that Axel Pinpin, like his precursor Tomas, has caused dynamic pioneering efforts in publication, and drawn like-minded poets to gather around him with their own verses (14 poems by 9 members of the Kilometer 64 group), should be stronger cause for worry on the part of repressive authority.
We should also hope that the unwarranted detention isn't being prolonged for typically ineffectual "chilling effect," or only because Cavite Governor "Boying" Remulla is an oppositionist.
Poets and activists, even militants, shouldn't be turned into pawns in any struggle. But then again, if they are, insidiously, it can only result in more ammunition against the abuses of authority.
Poetry can be insidious that way, too. Extend Axel's detention and you give him stronger voice. Now, that may be said to offer a dilemma for any poetry lover. Should we join in asking for his immediate release, or rejoice in his situation, one that could further strengthen him as a poet?
Easy choice. Freedom comes first. Whether or not poetry can sometimes make that happen.