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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Somewhere in the Philippine Sierras.

That's how I would have slugged a story on a poet, academic, cleric, and friend who took to the hills when Martial Law was declared in the 70s in this island republic. Jason Montana has gone to the hills.

This illustrado has taken the cudgels for the massmen, the great unwashed, the lumpen proletariat. No surprise for us who saw him truncheoned by a rabid constabulary while peacefully demonstrating with a group of his students. "No! No!" One of his students yelled at the baton-wielding rogue in Jason's defence. "He is a priest!"

", hah? Press, hah? Walang press-press dito!" The murderous look on the constable's face belied his intentions to perhaps kill every mediaman around. His phonemes obviously precluded the presence of the religious in the streets. Priest! Press! Close. He must have come from the Visayan region or elsewhere where the long E sound (in priest) could easily metamorphose into the short E sound (in press). Either way, the Church and the Press be damned. This is Martial Law!

I would have scooped the AP, AFP, Reuters, et al , and United Press International (Manila) would have had the exclusive on some of the first patriots who planned to wage a Maoist revolution to start from the hills: the Sierras in the north, Mt. Mayon in the central region of Legaspi, Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales to the south, and Mt. Arayat in Pampanga, a stone's throw from the seat of Government in Manila. But UPI days were much, much earlier -- that was in another life, when I was a UPI graveyard shift desker and a Hemingway-manque.

The TV talking head announcing the declaration of Martial Law was a university classmate and friend to boot, then the Press Secretary of the martial law president. Before that, he was with the Agence France Presse. Ironic. On the opposite worlds of politics and revolution, I felt conflicted. The dramatic dilemma was palpably stark! I would have scooped either way.

I know Jason Montana differently. He knew the Filipino people would one day overcome. In the hills, he remained resolutely a freedom fighter. Even the death of a beloved (in a Pangasinan encounter) did not change that.

The People's Revolution came and went. Land Reform was neither here nor there. Nothing much has changed. Coming down from the hills during one of those military amnesties, Jason Montana remained unchastened. Has the people's revolution failed? Was it a fluke after all?

In one of these Sierra Madre poems, Montana sounds defeated, but unbowed. The fight for Justice in the name of God's most vulnerable children, the poor, the wounded, and the neglected masses, is a protracted war.

(February 12, 1992)


Deep in the Sierra Madre de Laguna
One misses the spread of sunlight
Over lake and field and village.
The heart remembers green expanse
Of friendships of the common folk.
But the camaraderie of the NPA camp
Overwhelms. Each comrade radiates
Warmth of home. The Red Fighters
Are brother, sister, friend in the great
Service. How they lighten the burdens
Of the protracted people’s struggle!
Rain falls. It is mere slight discomfiture
Fine-tunes balance of body and mind.
Pang of hunger is food for the spirit
In mountain fastnesses.


The stars are out over the Laguna Sierra.
I envy the tree-tops close to heaven. But
Just a little. I settle for flickering fireflies
Near to hand, for foxfire spread royally
All over the forest floor, and hearthlight
Of the peasant folk, their huts aglow
With quiet forceful hope in the night
Of the protracted people’s war.

A Little Symphony for Sue


A counsel to remember
Like a star caught among branches:
A human organization is the Party,
All woman, all man, all creation.
But in it and through it
One may find her humanness
And open up to a wide field
Of service to the people in a
Glorious historical revolution.
I have no proof of this
But this poem.


When the Party of the revolution
Reached the Sierra Madre,
Comrade Sue followed,
And she was sworn in.
The stars swung above her,
The fireflies danced around,
And comrades ringed her with
Mabuhay! and the Internationale.
Would that she be always
As tall as aspirations for freedom.
Would that she be always
Deeply rooted among the people
Like this mountain range
Of a grand revolution.


Because the Party oath-taking
Ceremony is a historic event
We conjured a grand celebration:
Formal wear for gentlemen and ladies,
A thousand guests and champagne –
But when the time came it was
Just ourselves, a small collective
With clear minds and real guns.
The bread we broke was ourselves,
Our music and poetry. No drink
But a generous takori of tea.
We claimed our mountain
With the red flag, an M-16
And a vase of purple flowers.
The campfire burned steadily
Like the heart of the revolution.
In the revolution was Comrade Sue
Newly sworn in as a Party member.
She warmed our hearts. Ours was
Probably a strange light in the forest.
Only the generator sounded drunk.


The poet lies in bed
Composing a symphony for Sue
Into the Party newly welcomed.
He is lost in some forest
Of no-mind-mind until
Everything slowly disappears,
All but


The people’s soldier is doubly alert.
Always. The forest stands guard with him.
The jazz of trees, concert of bird and beetle,
Rush of wind through leaves of mind
And a hundred warterflows composed
Welcome him as comrade in arms and music.
In the pattern of people’s war they connect.
Footfall of the enemy is clearly heard,
His shadow is unmistakable dissonance of silence.
At nightwatch the people’s soldier follows
The Way of Zen and Tao undefined.
He knows the terrain of revolution where
The Sierra is Madre.


When at a crucial turn
The resumed revolution
Failed to rise to higher
Who would lead
Stopped to take stock.
We reviewed ten years
Of struggle
To discover we were astray
From the long road
To victory.
Who would lead
Followed insurrectionism as
A false messiah,
And military adventurism as
Avenging bullet in ricochet.
In our folly we mistook
Falling turrets for the
Keep of State.
Short and shallow were
The people’s phalanxes
Yet we dared assault
The enemy’s inner gates.
Black as sin is
The tragic flaw: mass base
And alliance networks
Sacrificed in a fatal gambit
In a desert field of
Line, beliefs and choices.
Seduced by illusion,
Who would lead
Would force the sun
To rise from darkness
Before its time.

The years are winds
Heavy on grass.
The grass owns and consumes
The passing pain.
Now we travel out of
A dark night
Of collective soul,
And behold anew the earth
As keystone to the sky.
We are back on course
And the road is
Protracted people’s war.
The holding vision beckons
And the people are regained.
Mountains and saddles
Of truth and error,
Ravines of ambiguities
Are discerned. We open
To new affirmations
In a time for heroes
Shorn of hubris.
Who would lead
Appropriate decorum
Of mind, heart and sense
Before the many lives lost/
Maimed in the civil war.
In camps of Red fighters,
In freedom of forest deeps,
Mindsets explode and
Life-force is released.
Spillways of proletarian
Consciousness and care
Open to revitalize the land
And shoots of future.
Enough of anger,
Self-pity and regrets
Over missed opportunities
To advance
The line of march!
The task is to strike
Deep roots among the masses
To muster strength like of
Conquering daylights.
Balance is all,
In armed struggle and
Mass movement;
The united Front
In calculated control
Like the Sierra Madre
Poised above the Pacific,
Blue tango.

Jason Montana has come down from the hills. Did he succeed in untying the Gordian knot while up there among the clouds and the cracks and crags of the moutain bastions? Have the mountains offered him solace for unspeakable grief over kith and kin he has lost or found (his heart, I know, is a lonely hunter).

One thing is certain. He is truly of man of his God. Poetry, people, passion, and prayer. He is all that the last time I saw him buying books from a National Bookstore in Las Pinas City South Common Mall. Offered cerveza over lunch at the mall, he asked for tea. Just like the ritual around the campfires.

Hermano, he said, write me. Do not stop writing. Just write. Hence, this blog. He disappeared among the teeming mall people -- his beloved children of God.

1 comment:

tano said...

dews gathering strength
weighing down the blades of grass
waiting perfect fall.