Protest Literature in the Age of Facebook


The Philippine literary scene in the 1970s saw the rise and popularization of politically-inspired or committed writing and protest literature. Many writers and poets became more aware of the political situation in the country and urgent social issues in the wake of increased activism all over Philippines because of the then Ferdinand Marcos government’s declaration and imposition of martial law.

Four decades later, the age of the internet has arrived and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and the likes have, some say, shaped the way people think and respond to developments in different aspects of life, including literature, art and politics. In this context, can protest literature can still be considered relevant when daily, memes are churned out by the hundreds poking fun at celebrities, politicians, and fads?


National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera thinks not. The recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communications and president of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) firmly believes that protest literature remains valid, and its proliferation more urgent than ever.

Dr. Lumbera explains that in essence, protest literature is an effort to bring to the attention of the public what is wrong in society, specifically about governments and their governance. This, he said, gives writers a venue for expressing and explaining their ideas on what can and should be done about what they see and feel to be wrong about society and the administration of governments when it comes to issues of law and justice.

In the age of social media, the challenge is to use the different media to popularize protest literature.

“In general young people think that social media are venues for the quick and wide dissemination of opinion. This, I feel, is something that’s badly needed in the Philippines. But then again, you see so many Twitter, Facebook accounts or blogs that only feature quarrels between people, and bloggers display their personal attitudes and individualist selves. Social media is hardly used to disseminate protest literature, or in general, ideas that protest against the sorry state of things in this country. It’s a venue that’s available and should be developed.”

When Dr. Lumbera first joined Facebook, he was at first willing to accommodate all those who wanted to be his FB friend. “Then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to reach all these people anyway, so I stopped accepting friend invites.” He admits that he seldom uses Facebook. “I really don’t have much time”), but when he does post something, it immediately circulates in the social media community.

Dr. Lumbera’s most recent post concerns the controversial debate over the Filipino language and proposals to remove courses teaching it in the college level. It was not surprising that the national artist would champion the cause of Filipino, but what amazed some was the clear and unmitigated anger in his post.


“Martes ng gabi, sa programang STATE OF THE NATION (GMA), 19 ng Agost 2014, narinig ko si Dr. Isagani Cruz nagsalita tungkol sa CHED memo na magtatanggal ng Filipino sa tertiary level. Ayon sa kanya, ang batang nagdaan na sa elementary at high school ay dapat daw natuto na ng Filipino, at katangahan na ng estudyante kung hindi iyon naganap. Samakatuwid, hindi na kailangan ang Filipino sa kolehiyo. Nakahihindik na katangahan ang kanyang sinabi. Nakahihindik kasi naging estudyante ko siya sa graduate school sa Ateneo, at iginalang ko siya bilang napakatalinong estudyante ng panitikan. Bakit, hindi ba alam niya na ang alinmang kursong Filipino sa kolehiyo ay kursong iaayon sa propesyong tinutungo ng estudyante, kursong pinaunlad tungo sa siyensiya, linggwistika, panitikan, sosyolohiya, antropolohiya, atbp.? Nakapanghihinayang na ang isang kagalalang-galang na ingtelektuwal ay karinggan ng talamak na katangahan!”

Dr. Cruz wrote on the thread that followed the post the message “Aray! Pero pakibasa lang ng kolum ko ngayon sa Philippine Star.” He then attached the link to his Mini Critique column titled “Add Filipino in college?” wherein he explained his stand. In his column conclusion, he wrote: “My stand is clear and simple: I am against the addition of a core subject in the GEC (General Education Curriculum) on the Filipino language because I am for the use of the Filipino language as the medium of instruction in most, if not all, college subjects. We should not try to win a battle but lose the war.”

[quote_center]I saw that Filipino is essential at this point in our history when we have not begun to  undo our colonial system of education.[/quote_center]

For those not in the know, Dr. Lumbera was Dr. Cruz’ teacher in Ateneo University when the latter was taking his doctorate degree. “I gave him a grade that was then unheard of in Ateneo – A+. He is that brilliant. With a mind such as his, it was most disappointing that he should think that removing Filipino from the GEC is sound. It was unthinkable,” Dr. Lumbera said.

“Way before in my younger days, I firmly believed that English is the medium that anyone who wants to write should master. But in the course of time, I read more history, more political articles, and I saw that Filipino is essential at this point in our history when we have not begun to  undo our colonial system of education. It’s high time that we begin to think of Filipino as a language that is what will help young Filipinos have an idea of their history and culture, mainly through literature.”

Language, History, Identity

Dr. Lumbera argues that teaching Filipino to college students will help them deepen their understanding of their country and culture. Language, he emphasizes, is tightly connected to national identity and history. His own poems and literary criticism pieces written in Filipino are powerful expressions of the quest for national liberation and social justice, condemnations of imperialist and elite oppression and political repression.

His unstinting advocacy for the popularization of the Filipino language and the popularization of ““panitikan ng pagsisiwalat at pagtutol” (literature that exposes and opposes) spans decades, and he is rightly called a pillar of Philippine literature on the one hand, and Philippine revolutionary art on the other. He began his advocacy of a culture that reflects the aspirations and struggles of the Filipino people in the 1960s when he involved himself in the movement for the nationalization and “Filipinization” of the country’s educational system. It was then that he embarked on his mission as a literary critic and historian to propagate among students and in the public at large the works of writers that sought to continue the patriotic traditions of Francisco Balagtas, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Aurelio Tolentino.

In 1971, he became the chairman of the militant writers’ organization Panulat para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan (PAKSA). He also became adviser of the progressive poets’ group Galian sa Arte at Tula (GAT) upon its establishment in 1973.

Dr. Lumbera has also gone to prison for his beliefs. His involvement in cause-oriented writers’ organizations led to his arrest and incarceration in 1974. When he was released, he continued his involvement in the people’s movement. In a tribute written by different artist groups in 2006 when he was made National Artist, it was written that Dr. Lumbera “has absolutely no record of compromising the causes he has espoused for personal or professional gain, unlike some of those who received or were considered for the National Artist Award ahead of him.”

Protest Literature and Facebook

According to Dr. Lumbera, protest literature is not what the public generally understands it to be – writings about rallies or strikes. “It’s not always about parroting activists in the streets. It’s about making insightful comments on what is happening in society, criticizing injustice and proposing alternatives. It can take different forms – poetry, short stories, novels, stage plays, street performances, musicals.”


Dr. Lumbera admits that protest literature is not as widespread as it was in the 1970s, and he blames the neoliberal orientation of education in the country. This, he said, is also to blame for the deteriorating quality of education in the Philippines, prohibiting the establishment of an independent, nationalist, mass-oriented, scientific education that will help Filipinos bring true progress to the country.

[quote_center]Only through non-commercial means can protest literature in the Philippines be propagated[/quote_center]

“For instance, what kind of literature is popular among the youth of today? The kind that commercial publishers want to sell, materials that can be easily fed to the people without nourishing their brains or their hearts. Protest literature should be disseminated, but we cannot depend on local publishers to allow this kind of writing. We can only rely on school organs, community newspapers, manifestos produced by grassroots organizations advocating economic freedom – they will be the ones who will propagate this, as was the case during martial law. Only through non-commercial means can protest literature in the Philippines be propagated,” he explained.

But what about in other countries where protest literature has a wider following?

“Well, to begin with, writers of protest literature in other countries write for an educated public. When we talk about protest literature in the Philippines, we refer to an audience of workers, farmers. They have no access to literature or time to read. What is primary is for them to earn the day’s livelihood,” he said.

To whom else should writers of protest literature address their works then?

“We should write for students. Particularly college students because they are reaching the age of maturity. This is why Filipino is important in college. The activist writers – social activists — we want to encourage are college level. They are approaching maturity. They will respond to what they learn about Filipino in society in time.”

Dr. Lumbera insists that how Filipinos think and take action is greatly influenced by language we use and learn in.

“Language is very important when we want to reach the greatest number of people with our messages of outrage, dissent against social ills. Regarding social media, they have yet to be used to disseminate materials in Filipino, but they’re being used to spread materials in English. Mas bukas ang social media for what is written in English. Knowing that those who have access to computers, gadgets, are people who not only educated but also economically well-off., social media is not being used to promote the Filipino language as a medium of identity, of patriotism, and a means to disseminate ideas that will encourage social change”.

His advice? Activist writers, bloggers should write their blogs in Filipinos. Writers can make the political decision to create works in Filipino, and to write about what prevents the Philippines from being a genuine democracy. He then names a few organizations of writers in Filipino.

[quote_center]Kilometer 64 is a good organization that has been able to assemble quite a number of writers, poets, young people with very clear political leanings[/quote_center]

“Kilometer 64 is a good organization that has been able to assemble quite a number of writers, poets, young people with very clear political leanings. For them, form is not paramount. Form can be learned, structure can be learned and they are very important, but content that has substance is harder to develop,” he said.

Another organization of writers that promotes “literatura ng pakikisangkot” (literature that involves itself in society) is Kataga, headed by multi-awarded poet and University of the Philippines Filipino Department professor in Reuel Molina Aguila. The six-year old organization now boasts of chapters in the National Capital Region, Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon and Northern Luzon, and writers from the ranks of students, high school teachers and university professors comprise its ranks.

Dr. Bien Lumbera also names writers Jun Cruz Reyes and Elmer Ordonez as “influential” writers in Filipino. “Elmer writes very powerful pieces,” he said. He then cites former political prisoners, poets and performance artists Ericson Acosta and Axel as effective writers of protest literature.

So in the end, is politics a valid topic for literature?

“Of course! Literature is open to all topics and issues, and politics as a subject of literature is as valid if not more so. The idea that politics is not a topic for literature can only be the product of minds that are alienated from the social milieu.

[quote_center]It is writing about your country, its history, its culture, and what will inspire Filipinos to use their inherent power to free themselves from poverty and exploitation[/quote_center]

“It’s true that politics gives problems to a writer. To free the writer from politics is to allow the writer to do anything with his writing skill. But what of the responsibility of artists to create for society, to contribute to meaningful change? ‘Good’ writing is so much more than form. It is more importantly about content,” he said. “It is writing about your country, its history, its culture, and what will inspire Filipinos to use their inherent power to free themselves from poverty and exploitation.”


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