By Rochit Tañedo 

Year 2000*** Hinanap ko talaga si Lualhati Bautista para tanungin siya kung gusto niyang magsulat ng isang monologue para sa aming traveling exhibit na pinamagatang “Who Owns Women’s Bodies?” o WOWB. Balak naming ilagay ang mga obra ng 40 visual artists sa pitong city halls upang mapag-usapan ng madla ang isyu. 

Pinasadahan ni Lualhati ang mga obra sa computer at parang sinilihan. Nang sabihin kong ang theatre actor na si Malou de Guzman ang napipintong collaborator, hindi nagpatumpik-tumpik ang supernova. Nilatag agad ang kanyang mga kondisyon: “Magkulong tayo sa isang hotel. Magkwento ka tungkol sa Violence Against Women na nasasagap mo sa inyong NGO at mabubuo natin yan!” 

At nangyari nga. Ambilis-bilis, nariyan na ang script na may title na “Libog,” ang pagkilala at pagtanggap sa katawan kapag pinanganak ka na isang babae. 

Photo from Lualhati Bautista’s Facebook page

Ang unang destination ay Lipa City Hall kung saan si Vilma Santos Recto ang mayor. Anim na buwan naming niligawan ang local government unit (LGU). Ang isyu ng mayor’s staff sa aming proyekto: “Baka salungat sa corporate engagements ni Mayor Vi ang pag-endorso sa anumang elementong biswal.” 

Umiinog pa rin sa buhay artista ang iskedyul ng mayor: Lunes- flag ceremony, weekly update, pirma ng payroll, barangay visit, at ang pinaka-challenge: ang hirap sumingit sa walang patawad na regular photo-ops iskedyul para sa fans na galing pa ng Quezon o Bicol. Pabalik-balik kami ng Lipa ni Imelda Cajipe Endaya, curator ng WOWB.

Opening Day ng WOWB Exhibit

Nang malaman na ang magiting na anak ng Lipa na si National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera ang aming panauhin, sinabihan kami ng secretary ni Mayor Vi na maghanda ng “speech.” Speech ba, ikamo? Ahora mismo! Sa entablado biglang feel na feel ni Mayor Vi ang pinagdadaanan ng mga nanay ng Lipa. Lubhang napabilib kami sa kanyang pag-emote at sumaludo sa kanyang pag-memorize. SRO ang exhibit ng WOWB. Makulit at matalas ang palitan ng mga manunood. Sulit ang anim na buwang pagsusumamo.

Puno na ang teatro. Mula sa madilim na likod ng audience, umentra nang pakembot ang artista patungong stage, nagpapakilala sa malibog niyang pangalan,habang mahinhing pinaiikot-ikot ang hawak niyang panyo na siyang hallmark na entrada ng Star for All Seasons. Biglang tumayo si Mayor Vi at parang heckler na humiyaw ng “Oo na!”; naninigas sa katatawa kay Malou de Guzman na walang pakundangan sa pag-impersonate sa kanya. 

Libog. Nangahas na tumikim ng “luto ng Diyos” na hindi naman luto ng Diyos, tumikim ng bugbog ng kapartner, natutong mag-isip at sabihing “Katawan ko ito, binabawi ko.“ 

Tawa. Iyak. at tawa pa uli.

Mahigpit na nagyakap ang Lualhati at Vilma nang gabing iyon. Sa hinaba-haba ng kanyang filmography, paano malilimot ni Vilma Santos ang “Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa?” Di kalaunan, inumpisahan na rin ang “Dekada ‘70.” 

Ang WOWB exhibit ng Creative Collective Center Inc NGO ay inilunsad sa Lipa, CCP, Vigan, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, KL, Tokyo, New Delhi mula 2000-2004.

Vilma Santos in the title role of the movie, Dekada 70 from Lualhati Bautista’s book of the same title.
Photo from Lualhati Bautista’s Facebook fan page

By Geejay Williams

I learned recently that a well-known Filipino writer, Lualhati Bautista has passed away. This is truly saddening. While I never had the fortune of meeting her personally, I had the privilege of directing, translating, and performing the Visayan version of Lualhati’s comedic monologue entitled “Libog” (Visayan: “Uwag”), where I had a blast making people laugh with her words and images of a woman’s incredulous, unceremonious journey of giving birth in the Philippines.

Originally written in Tagalog as commissioned work for Creative Collective Center, Inc.’s WOWB (Who Owns Women’s Bodies?) arts exhibit and performance tour in 2001, I performed “Uwag” to audiences in Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Bohol, and Cebu cities. 

Thank you, Lualhati, for that once-in-a-lifetime experience, and for your books turned movies that I have read in my younger years—”Dekada ’70,” “Bata, Bata, Bata Pa’no Ka Ginawa?”, “Bulaklak sa City Jail,” and many more. You may have been the one to open the doors for women writers to mainstream progressive thought through your widely-read books and screenplays that made martial law stories box office hits. Pilipinas kong mahal will miss you.

Photo from Ellen San Gabriel’s Facebook page

By Pennie Azarcon Dela Cruz

Quite a long read, but how can one scrimp on words when Ine had so generously shared so many stories with us all these years?

A Valentine for Lualhati

If there’s one person who’d probably be glad that award-winning writer Lualhati Bautista has crossed over to the other side, it would be Nanay, arguably her number one fan. I can already imagine Nanay peering through the Pearly Gates to check if her idol had safely embraced the light, and getting ready to spring on the newcomer the questions she would invariably ask me after finishing another Lualhati novel I’d given her: “So, when is (your) next book coming out?  What is it all about?”

Nanay introduced me to Ine via Liwayway Magazine that came out every Thursday in the early 1960s.  My parents, who had to stop school because of the war, couldn’t afford books outside our textbooks then, but they were big on Liwayway, Bulaklak and Tagumpay magazines, and regularly bought all the vernacular komiks so popular at that time.  Thus did I meet Mars Ravelo and Darna, Clodualdo del Mundo, Liwayway Arceo, Pablo Gomez, Jim Fernandez, and other notable writers in the fiction universe of the day.

Photo from Lualhati Bautista’s Facebook page

But it was Lualhati who stood out for her forthright and uninhibited language, the refreshingly frank dialogue of her independent-minded female characters, and her deep insight into their daily dilemmas that would eventually be acknowledged as the Woman Question in the nascent feminist movement of the early ‘80s.

Nanay must have felt validated by Lualhati’s conversational use of Tagalog that was so different from the flowery and archaic turns of phrase that could be laughably absurd at times. A farmer’s daughter, Nanay had a salty vocabulary that expressed her frustration at the many vexations and unrealistic expectations saddling housebound wives and mothers in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Foremost of these was the obsession over women’s hymen. Brazenly described as “bayad-utang” in those days, daughters must remain virginal until their wedding night. So it was with a smirk of satisfaction that one read Lualhati’s conservative characters bawling out errant daughters with a crisp “Buntis ka?!” instead of the ridiculous “nagdadalang-tao” euphemism that writers of that era inflicted on readers. 

Many years later, at an erotic poetry festival, Lualhati earned roaring approval from her audience when she titled her piece, “Dyugdyugan.”  I recall a similar event, this time on love-themed poetry (was it at the CCP?) where her piece’s opening declaration  almost provoked a riot.  “Tatapatin kita, wala akong suso!” went the raunchy line addressed to a new lover. This was greeted with hooting laughter, with the women in the audience self-consciously touching their breasts. Lualhati was definitely an amusing and slightly revised version of that song: “Madamdamin pero medyo bastos.”

Her readers lapped it up, maybe because in those tightly-controlled days of martial law, the thought police couldn’t arrest fictional characters for what they said in a made-up world.  Lualhati’s feisty characters articulated what many could not say out loud.   Imelda might have hidden Manila’s urban blight behind whitewashed fences for the UNCTAD delegates in the late ’70s, but Lualhati’s novels effortlessly exposed them in her Palanca-winning novels.  “Gapo,” for instance, showed the slimy underbelly of a city that recklessly lived off the sex trade. 

Photo from Lualhati Bautista’s Books Facebook page

Like her friends and colleagues in cinema Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal and Joel Lamangan, Lualhati dove headlong into topics that many in the commercial film circuit would rather kick under the sofa, maybe for being too complicated or even insignificant. Would a single mother coping with the demands of a hungry household, or a conflicted mother grappling with her son’s newfound activism be sympathetic and relatable enough for movie-goers fixated on the sanctity of marriage and the purported wonders of martial law? Lualhati thought so, and so did those who made “Bata, bata, paano ka ginawa?” and “Dekada ‘70” –both the novels and the movies—among her most popular works. 

A latter novel, “Sixty in the City,” centered on elderly women who, defying stereotypes, acknowledged their sexual needs and sought ways to satisfy them. In my 2015 review of the book, I said that the main characters, while realizing that “fertility, good looks and youth continue to be the impossibly narrow yardstick by which most women are measured…(remain) fighters (who) cheerfully break through life’s rigid parameters. As is typical of (Bautista’s) novels, the pathos are always tempered with earthy humor, the women doggedly determined to overcome, and the prose a delight to quote and remember.

“Here’s our favorite, which might well sum up the novel’s premise: “Ang buhay ay hindi nagsisimula pagtuntong ng sisenta. Nagsisimula ito sa bawat ngiti ng umaga.”

Just as prominent as her strong female characters are references to martial law, maybe because her former husband, the writer and activist Levy Balgos dela Cruz, was once detained and tortured by state agents.  At that time, news on martial law abuses, while heavily censored and sanitized in the mainstream media, had managed to leech onto the consciousness of most people by their sheer brutality.  Among those that struck her most, Ine once told me, was this massacre of a whole family in the Visayas by soldiers who had sprayed their hut with armalite bullets and left posthaste, thinking the whole household had been killed. When neighbors—who had hidden nearby when the soldiers came—ran to check on the family, they found the little girl Marela (not Daya as I had thought earlier) under the mother’s body.  She was wounded but alive, the only survivor in that atrocity, having been shielded by her mother. Ine has a daughter named Joy Marela. Was this to honor that little girl and the memory of her mother’s love and sacrifice?

Photo from Lualhati Bautista’s Facebook page

“Desaparecido” meanwhile tells of an underground militant on the run from state forces who was forced to hand over her baby to a fellow activist, only to find many years later that her friend would refuse to give her daughter back. The novel about a friend’s betrayal would turn out to be life imitating art for the author, when a writer-friend and a director seemed to have appropriated the story as their own and made their own movie from it.  It was a difficult time for her, Lualhati said.  While some activists would have a similar experience, her erstwhile friends could at least have acknowledged her contribution to the idea, she said glumly in an interview with the writer Luna Sicat Cleto.

In my 2008 interview, Lualhati expounded on why the incident hurt her so bad. “The circumstances hit close to home,” the writer confides. “I had very little political consciousness when I got married…but my husband was an activist.   I would not say that I joined the (underground Left), only that I joined my husband. It was his life, not mine.  But I could not live his life without losing mine in the process.”

It wasn’t an easy leave-taking, Bautista recalls. “Before I left, the other people in the movement offered to take care of my son. Of course I said no. Imagine leaving my son with (people who were on the run?) What if something happened to them? Where and how do I start looking for my son?…I think in a way, as early as 1973, I was already sowing the seeds for this novel.”

I don’t recall exactly when and how I met Ine in person, but we instantly bonded because we both grew up in the grimy streets of Tondo, and relished recalling and mocking the gangsta moves of the male population in the neighborhood that had made Tondo a much feared district.  Ironically, her father was the opposite of toxic masculinity, and she wrote of him lovingly, tenderly, in “Sonata.”

Photo from Lualhati Bautista’s Books Facebook page

In that Sicat-Cleto interview, Lualhati remembers him as an “uliran,” the type who helped out with the chores– from cooking to grocerying to washing the baby’s diapers.  He did not smoke either.  His only vice, if you can call it that, was betting on horses at the Sta. Ana and San Lazaro racetracks.

My 2008 interview with the writer for the Philippine Daily Inquirer had her talking as fondly of her father Esteban, a sometime real estate agent, musician, photographer and singer/ violinist.

“When I was very young, my father had this telescope and together, we would peek at the stars,” recalls Bautista. “One time I asked him, how can I go visit those stars? And he said someday I’m going to build a ladder that you can climb all the way to the stars. I asked, and what about you, are you coming with me? And he said no, I’m staying down here to catch you should you fall. But I’m sure you won’t fall.”

From him, she got her love of words, recalls the writer whose first story was published in Liwayway when she was 16 and in high school. In the Sicat-Cleto interview, she recounts how excited her father was, and how he spent the day buying every copy of the magazine he could find.

In 2008, I wrote: By the time Esteban Castel Bautista died on Valentine’s Day in 1992, his writer-daughter has become a household word in Filipino literature, while he remains very much in her mind.  “I want to write about the music of my father’s violin,” says Bautista.  “That music used to wake me so I won’t be late for school.”  She adds: “I want to write about him and his kindness together with his imperfections, especially when I read or watch something that portrays fathers in a bad light. Gusto kong ibangon ang dangal ng mga ama, ganon.”

Was it him she remembers when she spent the better part of the night comforting me at my father’s wake in Tondo in the early 1990s?  As I held back my tears, she regaled me with stories of how people met this inevitable fate, like it was part of a grand plan with the circumstances already decided in some Council of Eternals, and would merely be played out in a predetermined time. One of the most memorable of those was about this young man who was just walking down the street, on the sidewalk at that.  At some juncture, a huge puddle on the sidewalk made him step down on the street to avoid it. “Did you know that at that crucial moment when his feet touched the asphalt, a car careening out of control came straight at him and plowed him down?” Lualhati recounted.  It’s a horrible scenario that keeps coming to mind every time I walk on busy streets with little or no access to sidewalks.

Photo from Lualhati Bautista’s Facebook page

At the end of her colorful storytelling, Lualhati stood up to go but not before beckoning me to come closer.  “Halika, halika!” she said, sharply nodding her head twice. I thought she was going to hug me, this normally undemonstrative friend, but she took my hand and inserted a P100 bill inside.  Not much, but touching nonetheless since she still lived in a small apartment off Tayuman st., Tondo, at that time.

But then her limited means had never stopped Lualhati from being generous—with her money, her time, her attention. Once, when we left my office at Jingle Magazine, which first published her novel “Dekada” before it became a book, she suggested we take something at Aristocrat which had a small outlet in Cubao at that time.  It was self-service so I got kare-kare and rice.  As I fished out my wallet, she put out a hand to stop me, saying she’d already paid for our meals. To which I jested that had I known, I would have ordered more.  “Hahaha, topo-topo barega! she had replied. I had to ask Nanay what it meant. “Walang bawian,” she said, feeling thrilled when I told her it was Lualhati herself who had uttered those words. “Aba, malay mo, baka maisama ka sa kwento nya balang araw,” she said. Hah, in my dreams, I thought.

Years later, a friend called to tell me that my now-famous friend had mentioned me—by name!—in her latest work then: “In Sisterhood, Lea at Lualhati.”  Even Nanay, whom Lualhati regularly asked after when I told her she was bedridden and had signs of Alzheimer’s, would have been jealous.  But oh, the stories that Ine would have been sharing with her by now! WWW