“Aside from a zine I made half a dozen years ago called Crows & Rages, I managed to shield myself from Cirilo F. Bautista’s general ouvre up until the opportunity to work on this project came up. I would describe my feelings about Bautista’s work as “ambivalence.”
I merely mimicked how Bautista’s original verses looked on the page as they were laid out in the book, five lines of free verse per stanza, twenty stanzas per canto, as a feeble response to an even more feeble gesture at a personal hagiography disguised as mythologising an idea of a nation.
The section I was assigned to work on is set in the Martial Law years, when Bautista,
along with his PLAC chums, collaborated with the government as Ferdinand Marcos’s propagandists.”
A couple of passages struck me, one of which is the stanza I lifted and used as epigraph in the zine (lines 986 to 990), specifically a section where Bautista’s poetic persona addresses Marcos as “Sir,” confusingly describing variably pro-Aquino poetry and the pro-Aquino protests at the time
as “just a paper game” “invented to support” Marcos’s pronouncement “that the people are free,”
a game Sir Marcos cannot play because he “will not accept the rules” (lines 1004 to 1005.)”
“A few stanzas later, Bautista’s persona addresses the Marcos propaganda machine working to make people forget the protests:
“Consider that as the flight of sanity
that your chroniclers will not record nor your
minstrels rhapsodize.” (lines 1012 to 1014)
This is of particular note because of Bautista’s own blurb on Marcos’s chief censor Guillermo C. de Vega’s Ferdinand E. Marcos: An Epic (Media Advisory Council and Konsensus, Inc., 1974,) a book Bautista champions as “an heroic attempt by Dr. de Vega to chronicle, in the tradition of ancient bards, the important events in the life of President Marcos.
” He continues: “This, then, is a poetic biography; but more than that, it is the history of the Philippines in modern times as it has been shaped by the thoughts and actions
of the great Filipinos.”
“Incidentally, practically a description of Bautista’s own ambition for his “Trilogy Of Saint Lazarus” (“an epic trilogy about the development of the Filipino soul from the very start of Philippine history
to the twentieth century. The first book begins with the colonization of the Archipelago and ends with the conviction of Rizal; the second concerns Rizal’s exile to Dapitan and ends with ihis return to Manila; and the third begins with the Philippine Revolution and ends with the EDSA upheaval.”
– From his introduction to the complete edition of Saint Lazarus, DLSU Press, 2001.)
For the zine’s introduction, I lifted Bautista’s blurb and used it as a bookend for an excerpt from his own introduction to the complete edition of Saint Lazarus, where he goes at length about the notions
and ideas he developed through his years of writing his epic (1967 to 1998, the first two books
of the trilogy and parts of the third notably written during the Martial Law years,) pointedly how
the poet’s “objective is to make a poem out of history,” “to re-configurate it through artistic
and aesthetic means so that the product emerges as a pleasurable interpretation of history.”
An interesting rejoinder for a writer who collaborated with propagandists, then later feebly chastises these propagandists in his own epic auto-hagiography.
The primary challenge of the project was to sift through the very insular imagery of Bautista’s poetry
to get to the core of the narrative of the cantos I was assigned. It was an opportunity to talk about collaborating with the propaganda machines of fascist dictators and then years later washing
your hands from the collaboration via poetic pronouncements.
The pandemic has made working on the zine both easy and difficult – my pandemic life is centered mostly on housework, so to work on things other than housework, I need to set the conditions right
to make things happen, which entail waking up extra early to get all the housework done earlier
than usual, to prepare my potential workspace and the tools I will need to do the work, and to schedule a definite beginning, middle, and end to the work process. This meant me both taking my time planning what to do and then finishing the actual work at the shortest time possible.
It’s not ideal, but it gets things done.
My tools were just my section of Bautista’s book. I made lists of things from the verses and designed
a papergame using these lists to re-configure the original through artistic and aesthetic means
so that lines mimicking the very insular imagery of the original would emerge.
I believe it is a pleasurable interpretation of Bautista’s poetry.”