Tribute by Jose Maria Sison & Julieta de Lima
September 8, 2019
We are deeply saddened by the demise of Ka Gelacio Guillermo, poet of the people and proletarian revolutionary. We express condolences to his children, Bomen and Sophie, and grandchildren. We take the occasion to recall our close comradeship with him, honor his memory and celebrate his achievements in order to help perpetuate his legacy and continue his revolutionary inspiration to the Filipino youth and entire people.
Since we became friends in the early 1960s, we have always admired how he moulded his humble origin, his own hard work and life with the peasants and farm workers in Hacienda Luisita as source of content and inspiration for his well-integrated roles as creative writer, teacher and revolutionary activist. We appreciated how in a number of years he had to work for wages in order to pay for his living expenses as a student and to complete his Bachelor of Arts in English.
We met him at a time of ferment on the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines, when the intellectual and political struggle between the national democratic movement came on top of the previous one between the liberals and the religio-sectarians. The anti-communist witchhunt unleashed by the reactionaries on and off the campus had the unintended result of driving the students to study and learn from Marxism-Leninism and the history of the Philippine revolution.
As members of the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP), we worked together with Ka Gelacio in promoting the general line of continuing the Philippine revolution, with the aim of accomplishing national and social liberation, this time under the class leadership of the working class and no longer the liberal bourgeoisie. But we the proletarian revolutionaries made it a point to have a united front with the progressive liberals.
Usually we held meetings of the SCAUP in any of the empty rooms of the College of Arts and Sciences on Saturdays. On school days we had for contact point the UP Main Library and sat on the grass in the vicinity for small-group discussions. Thus, we laid the ground for and became inspired by the anti-CAFA rally of 5000 students who literally scuttled and ended the anti-communist congressional hearings.
Frequently, we and Ka Gelacio were in a circle of English majors and campus writers who contributed literary pieces to the Philippine Collegian or to the short-lived little magazines that Petronilo Bn. Daroy was perpetually creating. Eventually, we established the Progressive Review in early 1963 and Ka Gelacio became the literary editor. Ka Gelacio published his poems in the aforesaid publications.
It was inevitable that Ka Gelacio became a charter member of Kabataang Makabayan (KM). When he became an English teacher in the UP Los Banos, he organized the KM chapter on the campus and mobilized the members to welcome and cooperate with KM student members from various universities in Manila to do mass work among peasant communities in Laguna and adjacent provinces.
In 1966, he invited the KM chairman to deliver a speech on the national democratic movement to the UP Los Banos. For making the invitation, his appointment in the faculty was terminated. He taught next at the Mapua Institute of Technology for three years. He was again removed from his job when he and other teachers were accused of organizing the KM activists on the campus. He returned to the UP Diliman campus in 1969 to teach under the English Department upon the invitation of department Prof. Elmer Ordonez.
After one semester, he left for the US to be a fellow of the well-known Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Coming back to the Philippines, he took the lead in giving political education and consolidating the professionals in the Humanist League of the Philippines in 1971. He resumed teaching at UP Diliman until Marcos declared martial law nationwide on September 21, 1972. To evade the mass arrests, he went underground.
While underground, he edited Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win addressed to the middle forces. He transferred to Manila-Rizal in 1974 in order to continue the publication of the cultural magazine Ulos which was the organ of the organization of writers and cultural workers, ARMAS of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. We met again for work and occasional beer sessions in 1976 and 1977 when he was in the editorial staff of Ang Bayan under the editorship of Antonio Zumel up to 1978.
After integrating with the peasant masses in a number of guerrilla fronts, Ka Gelacio did outstanding work as literary editor when he changed the character of Ulos from being urban-oriented to rural-oriented. He was able to collect many revolutionary works from the countryside and published them in a series of books in the 1980s: STR-Mga Tula ng Digmang Bayan, Magsasaka, Ang Bayaning Di-Kilala, IPASA Bibibliography and Muog (Ang Naratibo ng Kanayunan sa Matagalang Digmang Bayan). Muog is a big collection of the most outstanding literary narratives and poems in the countryside from various regions from the period of martial law to the 1990s.
He wrote poems both under his real name and alternative name Kris Montanez. He published several book collections of his poems: Selected 17 Poems (1968), Azucarera (2005) and Mga Tula (2013). He also published his collections of short stories: Kabanbanuagan: Mga Kwento ng Sonang Gerilya at Kung Kami’y Magkakapit-bisig. He translated into Pilipino Jose Ma. Sison’s Prison and Beyond (Sa Loob at Labas ng Piitan) in 2004. As literary critic, he published the books, The New Mass Art and Ang Panitikan ng Pambansang Demokrasya. These show that various literary forms can be learned from the masses.
Ka Gelacio and Joma have a relationship of mutual appreciation, as manifested by the former’s reviews of the latter’s books of poems; and the latter has written a foreword to the former’s Muog and endorsement of Mga Tula. In these introductions, Joma accords to Ka Gelacio the highest appreciation for his commitment to the revolutionary cause of the people, the quality of his literary works and the entire range of his cultural work, which includes collecting, selecting and publishing the works of other creative writers.
After the downfall of the Marcos fascist dictatorship in 1986, we met Ka Gelacio and Alice on many occasions in Manila. When were already staying abroad, we had happy reunions with Alice and Ka Gelacio. Ka Alice Guerrero came to the 1993 International Seminar on Mao Zedong Thought as an authority on Philippine literature inspired by Mao’s Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art. Subsequently, Ka Gelacio came to participate in the International Poetry Festival in Rotterdam in 1996.
Ka Gelacio deserves all the awards that he has received in recognition of his literary achievements. The awards include the Marcelo del Pilar Award (2006) from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, his recognition as Makata ng Bayan ng KM 64 (2007) and the Makabayang Guro award (2013) from the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy. We are happy that in his own lifetime he was made aware of the high appreciation and gratitude of his literary peers, comrades, fellow teachers, corganizations, and the people in general.
We are proud to reiterate Joma’s regard for Ka Gelacio as one of his favorite Filipino poets beside Amado V. Hernandez and Nick Joaquin. Ka Gelacio Guillermo is a great poet expressing and serving the demands and aspirations of the toiling masses and the rest of the Filipino people for national liberation, democracy, social justice , all-round development and socialist future. His literary achievements and revolutionary acts are a treasure of the people that we must always cherish and learn from. ###