Review of HIMAGSIK by E. San Juan, Jr.

Before and after Angelo de la Cruz: The Filipino since 1898

[REVIEW OF: E. SAN JUAN, Jr., Himagsik: Pakikibaka Tungo sa Mapagpalayang Kultura. Manila: De La Salle University Press, 2004.

PAPER reports, newscasts, even poolroom squabbles on US official/unofficial disappointment over the Philippines’ decision to pull out its humanitarian contingent from Iraq — "cowardice," says an American TV comic host — all make Epifanio San Juan, Jr.’s latest offering in criticism, Himagsik, timely, if not very necessary, reading for those who are weighing out an intriguing, even conscience-picking, and now simplistically put issue: Are you pro-American or whatever? And you might as well ask yourself, thinking of hostage-turned-man-of-the-hour Angelo de la Cruz: Are you pro-life or whatever?

The Philippine decision to leave Iraq asserts that life is the only choice — and with it come the blessings and the bashings. The pull-out, too, points out that the present counts much for future decisive acts. Himagsik could help you firm up your choice.

So: Pro-life? San Juan says Yes! Resolutely, handing out Himagsik. The title itself pushes you towards what San Juan believes to be the right option to take: One need not be pro nor anti-American. One needs only be pro-Filipino, for the Filipino, be Filipino. And San Juan redefines the Filipino as one who is always for the Philippines (aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi….) and against the enemy; San Juan could never have been more precise than now. Himagsik is a remarkably concise reiteration of San Juan’s portrayal of imperialism as American — in a language all his own, not politically partisan as Whoopi Golberg’s allegedly anti-Bush (not anti-America/n) remarks were, as reported by the Associated Press.

Imperialism brought America to the Philippines as confirmed by a serious reflection over the country’s initial years under American colonization. San Juan, nourished with that historical assertion, has been a critic of American imperialism that has fueled labor activism in the country, arguing that the workers’ revolutionary spirit shall save democracy.

San Juan has told and retold the (his) fight for workers in volumes. In Himagsik, San Juan reimages his target as American imperialism that he calls the principal barrier to the country’s development, demanding of anyone who loves his country (aming ligaya….) a historical self-knowledge that he believes to be the basic premise of the people’s struggle for freedom.

In Himagsik, San Juan defines his role as critic in the freedom struggle in no uncertain terms: "ang anti-imperyalistang pakikibaka ng Ikatlong Daigdig ang dapat na ituring na batayang global ng anumang pagtitimbang sa halaga ng kritikang tubo sa mga bayang nais makahulagpos sa pagkaalipin" (the Third World anti-imperialist struggle should be considered the global premise in evaluating the significance of criticism bred in countries that seek to break loose of servitude); "ang panunuring pangkultura…[ay] hindi hiwalay sa pulitikal na labanan ng mga uri" (cultural criticism…is not separate from political class struggle); "‘walang halaga ang buhay na hindi iniuukol sa isang balak na dakila…’" (life not attached to a great idea is worth nothing); "masigasig at mahusay na tagapag-alaga ng kalayaan at demokrasya sa panahon ng paglubog ng monopolyo ng kapitalismo…ay ang uring manggagawa" (the diligent and efficient defender of the values of freedom and democracy at the time capitalist monopoly fell…was the working class).

Finally, the poet-critic San Juan significantly sings to those who fight the imperialist, the white foreigner (puting dayuhan), long before Arroyo allies (you may turn to the US, Australia, where else?) cried aloud, "No, not yet…know who your friends are, know who your enemies are…", but the Madam President knew what to do, proclaiming "life is paramount": Sapagkat iniibig kita, walang lakas namakahahadlang,walang lakas na makapipigil, sa ating pakikihamok laban sa sinumang mang-aapi… (Because I love you, no force can suppress, no force can stop, our fight against the oppressor….).

Go on, read, listen to, San Juan, and imagine GMA, Bush, Leno, Whoopi, The New York Times, and Angelo de la Cruz, and ask: "How do I love thee…?"

Himagsik becomes a love song.

(B.S. MEDINA, JR. was recipient of City of Manila’s highest cultural leadership award, "Diwa ng Lahi" in 2000; the Palanca Hall of Fame Award in 1995; and the South East Asia Writer (SEAWrite) Award in 1994.)


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