My knowledge and interest about the late Bienvenido Lumbera had stemmed from my reading his literary works like poetry and essays from magazines and newspapers back in my college days at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of UST when I was in third and fourth years majoring in Literature.
Although, we had no Lit subject on Tagalog literature, I took it upon myself to volunteer to one of my professors, Dr. Carolina U. Garcia—who handled American and British lit and an array of European letters like French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Austrian, among others— that I would want to research and report on the vernacular literature in application of the literary trends which she eruditely imparted, she willingly allowed me to explore on the topic.
Earlier on, I was also reading the poems of Jose F. Lacaba in the Asia-Philippines Leader during the early years of the tumultuous 1970s. I was also familiar with the works of Lope K. Santos, Pedro Dandan, Genoveva Edroza-Matute etc. because they were included in the secondary curriculum on Filipino subjects and in the required reference books like Diwang Ginto and Diwang Kayumanggi among students.
More than that, I already had readings of the poetry of Virgilio S. Almario and Lumbera which I found modern and fascinating. I was also inspired by the poems of Agustin V. Torres, Emmanuel Osorio and other student poets, writers and staffers of the UST Varsitarian who were the early proponents of Tagalog free verse in campus journalism.
Except for Torres and Osorio, these literary figures in Philippine literature in Filipino were my points of discussion in contemporary lit which Dr. Garcia appreciated very much.
After college, my penchant for literature had strengthened. It was at this time that I went to public libraries to read books, mags and newspapers which ran literary pages especially poetry. I discovered Rolando S. Tinio unique works especially his Taglish poems.
Sagisag, a monthly glossy literary magazine was one of my bibles in Philippine journ in the native languages because it also featured regional writings. Sagisag was edited by Almario and Lumbera and published by the Department of Public Information (DPI) during the Marcos dictatorship.
Because of my creative writing background academically enhanced by Dr. Ophelia Alcantara-Dimalanta, I embarked on poetry writing in Filipino after my poems were printed in Varsi at The Flame, the Journal of the Humanities of UST Artlets.
I attempted to submit “Balitaw ni Lukas,” a poem, to Sagisag, and happily it was published.
Then I took up my Master’s degree in Philippine Lit at the UP College of Arts and Sciences and one of my professors—the course was Philippine Poetry—was Lumbera. In our first meeting, he asked if I was the one who wrote the poem he edited in Sagisag and I readily, if not proudly, confirmed.
Dr. Lumbera I learned later in my readings after college was also an alumnus of UST, the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters or known then as Philets where he earned his Bachelor of Literature (Litt.B.) diploma. Philets was later streamlined in its academic affairs which gave rise to Artlets. After graduation from college, Lumbera took his Master of Arts in Literature at UST and his doctoral degree on Comparative Literature from Indiana University in the US.
Dr. Lumbera was cool but he was at the same time rigid in his method of teaching. He had the grace, soul and mastery of the subject. We were introduced to his and Tinio’s combined philosophy of the “Bagay Poetry,” a movement which treated ordinary experiences in poetic delineation through colloquial language.
Expectedly, I earned an incomplete grade from the course because I failed to submit a project relative to the course requirements. In my one year MA studies at UP, I only had fifteen units to my enrollment and I concentrated more on movie reporting.
It was in show business that I renewed my connection with Dr. Lumbera when I wanted to write a piece on the maverick award-giving body in the biz, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP) of which Lumbera was one of the founding members in May 1976 together with other literary stalwarts, social communicators and intellectuals Nestor Torre, Jr., Pio de Castro, Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., Mario Hernando, Nicanor G. Tiongson, Justino Dormiendo, Manny Pichel, Behn Cervantes and Petronilo Bn. Daroy.
That was in 1979 when I got to interview him and a relatively new member of the critics group at the time, Palanca Memorial Awardee Jun Cruz Reyes. MPP is the organization which annually recognizes excellence the filmmaking through its Gawad Urian, a symbol of prestige and a bridge between the local film industry and the consumers (read: moviegoers). What sets apart MPP from other awards groups—except perhaps the Young Critics Circle (YCC)—is its social responsibility to uplift the standards of film appreciation in the country and to contribute to societal change through reflection on the power of cinema to transform rotten system to a pleasant if only the people are mindful of it. I also see that MPP embodies the aspirations of a nation to freedom, justice and prosperity which the MPP fosters. Gawad Urian is like a classroom and a field of experiences where films are scrutinized as vehicles for social development.
These past four decades, I usually bumped into Dr. Lumbera in showbiz functions, especially when he and other progressive-minded film artists like Tiongson, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Ricardo Lee, Bibeth Orteza, Jo-Ann Maglipon, among others, formed the cause-oriented Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP). He was also seen in parties and presscons with fellow progressive friend Joel Lamangan.
I remember Bien, as he was fondly addressed by friends and colleagues, when he attended the International Theater Festival in 1998 with no less than the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) former President Baltazar Endriga. Lumbera was seated with Endriga in the presidential table and one of the points of discussion was the genuine people’s arts and culture and the emancipation from feudal and oppressive system of the leaders of the Filipinos. Bien didn’t mince words to censure Endriga in public.
In the dark days of the Marcos rule, Lumbera was a staunch leader of artists and teachers against tyranny. Even during the battle of the film community against censorship from Cory to Ramos to Estrada to Arroyo to Aquino, you could count on him.
During his birthday last April, his wish was for President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to leave Malacanang.
Such was the temerity of Bien when the interest and welfare of the majority of people was jeopardized.
What I regret most about Lumbera is not giving him the rare photos and other memorabilia of the Second Father of Philippine Movies Vicente Salumbides he requested from me because they all got lost when I moved from one house to the other in the 1990s otherwise I don’t feel guilty about it because he understood.