By Boy Villasanta
In his 86th death anniversary, Jose Corazon de Jesus, better known as Huseng Batute, will be feted with a day-long observance of his meaningful contributions to Philippine letters and to popular culture on May 26, 2018 at the theater named after him, the Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Known to many as the King of Balagtasan, a literary form of debate where rhymed verses are created in spontaneity of any given topic, de Jesus has been dubbed as the third most important poet in the country since Jose Rizal and Francisco Balagtas especially during the Spanish and American periods. This was validated by a Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in Poetry winner Vim Nadera in his hosting the “Pagbabalik-Tanaw sa Hari ng Balagtasan” press launch at Jen Hotel recently.
Huseng Batute’s being one of the predecessors of traditional poetry has given him the edge among his contemporaries because of his unique and prolific writing and speaking.
As a matter of fact, he had written thousands of poems and participated in many balagtasan debates in many parts of the country. Several of his works were preserved in hard copies although according to one of his grandsons, Jaime de Jesus Aguila, some of them are already torn out.
If in case you didn’t know yet, Huseng Batute was the writer of the nationalistic song “Bayan Ko” which is considered as the second national anthem of the Philippines. He was awarded in his field and his closest rival was Florentino Collantes.
Given all the accolades and achievements in his heyday, how would Huseng Batute fare in this day and age of rap music?
Rap in the Philippines, historically, is equated with hip hop consciousness among the youth who performs mostly rhymed and metered song akin to poetry set into sing-song manner like the signature music of Francis Magalona and Andrew E. Although their rap styles were also influenced by foreign tunes and tones like the ghetto culture of the marginalized black American rappers, their Filipinoness was evident in their local language and their lumpen proletariat ramifications.
From rap music stemmed hugot (emotional pull) lines and the current sensation Flip Tops, hybrid of the balagtasan in all their fantasies if not follies. From the looks and stats of it, Flip Tops have been conquering the fancy and pseudo literary imagination not only of the young people but the curious cats as well. In the end, Flip Tops are showmanship and drama however potboiler and grandstanding. They are venues for hype and attention getting spectacle. They might be drumbeating the marginalized in society but most subjects and themes are mistreated with genuine socio-political analysis if not out of context.
Even award-winning and veteran entertainment writer Danny Vibas would say that Flip Tops are not poets, they don’t mouth poetry.
But how do you argue with success in this context of mass gathering?
Is it also fair and just to compare Flip Tops with the supremacy of Huseng Batute in his era when he would also recite poems of the sensual as in “Sakit ng Puson”?
Anyway, what we can do is to go to CCP at one o’clock in the afternoon on May 26 and to join Filipino language proponent Joe Lad Santos in his tribute of a program and wreath-laying activity at the tomb of de Jesus enshrined at the North Cemetery to see and to propose how Huseng Batute would fare in this era of rap.
Celebrities John Arcilla, Nonie Buencamino, Lou Veloso, Jr., Ronnie Lazaro, ventriloquist Onie Carcamo, rappers Beware and Negatibo and the Philippine Opera Company will showcase the literary significance of Huseng Batute through songs, dances, puppetry and poetry at the CCP and be guests of its president, film director Nick Lizaso, a nephew of Batute.