The Small Press and Anti-Feudal Pedagogy

Author’s note: From now, until the end of the year, I shall write in English about articles originally written in Filipino, share thoughts regarding their respective contexts, and discuss related themes. Part translation, part summary, part review, I hope these previews pique the curiosity of the readers about the essays and their ongoing conversations with other texts that challenge national narratives and preconceived notions on Philippine literature, art and culture.

Last week, I was haunted by the spectre of the paper “Propaganda at Pedagohiya kontra Pyudalismo: Ilang Tala sa Piling Komiks mula Kanayunan” (Propaganda and Pedagogy against Feudalism: Notes on Selected Komiks from the Countryside) that was initially presented during the Lenin Conference held earlier this year by the Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND-UP). After being invited for the Better Living Through Xeroxography (BLTX) forum on food security, land conflict, and agrarian reform, titled “Root Cause,” I unearthed my draft that I am supposed to revise into a full-length paper, among other works-in progress, this “vacation.”

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“Root Cause” concluded the two-day event “BLTX Mazinehawa St. Features Your Ever Reliable Malcontents” at 154 Maginhawa, Diliman, Quezon City, last December 15-16. At the forum, Faye Cura of Gantala Press started with an overview of Mindanao’s land and history, followed by Nash Tysmans & Ica Fernandez on Maranao food, culture, Marawi and the Siege. I discussed two komiks titles, one serialized, “Ang Buhay ni Pedro Ortilano,” and the other one-shot, “Mga Anak ng Rebolusyon.” For this article, I shall only pertain to the former. Angie Ipong of Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) elaborated on land sovereignty and agro-ecology. Interestingly, I am the only “other” in the panel, as the only male resource person who would not talk about his own creative work. Cura, Tysmans/Fernandez, and Ipong helped produce, respectively, the books Laoanen, Mga Tutul a Palapa, and Bungkalan; they talk about their work in conversation with the forum’s theme.

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Through the aesthetic scanning of the physical features of Pedro Ortilano’s visual narrative, I tried to hypothesize how the original komiks were printed and where could it have been distributed. I flipped and read through two anthologies, tangible half-page-sized books that I borrowed titled Inang Larangan. So far, there have been twelve (12) issues. The number of pages of each issue is divisible by two. Hence, 2-pagers could have been back to back pamphlets, while 4-pagers could have been an A4 or letter-size paper, folded into two. Its contents imply that it could have been disseminated for free, as it was not meant to entertain. Its illustrator, writer, letterer, layout artist, and other members of the creative team seem to have had no formal training; but we should take caution in imposing the standards we have learned in institutions. Anyhow, it gets its message across: the irony that food producers like tillers themselves starve, because of feudalism. The series dared show that there are a number of options to resist the oppression of the landlords, which does not exclude taking up arms, if necessary. Some issues of the komiks addressed issues on irrigation, dams, and machines, and the farmers’ organizations often collectively decide on how to deal with these “developments.”

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During a chitchat the night before the forum proper, Cura said that she found digital copies of the Ortilano komiks online. You may see for yourself, but, if like me, you are an outsider who have not gathered enough data or well thought out insights, try to refrain from judging the actions of peasants in the narrative. Don’t be like me. For instance, I initially found the act of destruction or arson of the mechanical harvester a bit harsh, unproductive and reminiscent of the Luddites. But over dinner, someone shared an informed guess: if the land does not belong to the farmers, taking and utilizing the harvester would not be ideal, since it is difficult to store and the landlord might seize it later anyway through varying forms of violence. Unlike weapons that guerrillas take from the army or the police during raids, the harvester is perhaps too bulky to be kept in a territory that does not belong to the deprived? In a latter issue, however, they kept the harvester, which implies that, at that moment, they could have taken the power and the land back, therefore they somehow own the means of production in the area.

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I shall end this brief article with how I began my BLTX talk: addressing the “root cause,” as the concise title of the forum goes, shall be more conducive if there exists no culture of fear, demonization, red-baiting against concerned individuals who consider the class war in the countryside legitimate enough to have space in public discourse. The government shall, at least, foster an environment that “let[s] a hundred flowers bloom” by dropping the “terrorist” tag against communists and suspected sympathizers and refraining from overdosing from literal and metaphorical fentanyl. But, after a couple of years under this regime, we could have known better. The peasants reached by the small press that operates outside the center and the capital have been educated to be skeptical and critical of the topmost representative of the ruling classes.

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The phenomenon of zinesters and independent presses may have reached further and farther than the five or six simultaneous BLTX last December 15. In the countryside, it helps consolidate political power meant to eventually overturn the modes of production into something far more progressive.