Gelacio Guillermo, who passed away a while ago today, will now join the many rosters of Philippine literary greats of various persuasions, especially those of progressive Filipino poets. As he should be, all the way to becoming a National Artist posthumously.
I would love to digest every tribute written or read in his honor, every item he has written republished or published for the first time, and add them to my admittedly sparse collection of his works and life’s account. As I must do, and so do others who have known him and his wife Alice.
But this puny post is not about his many literary achievements. It is simply to say, at this moment, that I remember Gelas most of all as a steadfast and exemplary proletarian revolutionary. He lived the life of one—in the way he worked throughout his long activist years as part of collectives doing political, cultural and other tasks, in the high value he gave to immersion among the toiling masses, in his priceless outputs, in the respect and influence he generated among the younger generations, in his unassuming demeanor, and indeed, in his very lifestyle and the way he carried on, together with his family, until his last years.
I feel honored and privileged to have known Gelas since the mid-1970s, to have worked with him on a number of cultural projects, to have been a regular visitor—in fact, a regular denizen of long working nights—at the rickety “peasant shack” he kept with Alice (complete with wooden-slat floor and banggerahan) in a middle-class Quezon City neighborhood, and to have seen him up close and personal during those harsh but heady martial law years.
Together with quite a number of other cultural activists of my generation, I feel utmost pride in having had the chance to read the poetry of Kris Montañez when it was still in underground mimeographed form and passed furtively from one hand to another—although it took a while before I could make a correct guess of who the real writer was behind the increasingly famous nom-de-plume.
I feel lucky to be able to say to Bomen and Sophie, their now-grownup children who have become activists in their own professions, that I knew them as precocious toddlers who were obsessed with tiny play-dough figurines that they themselves fashioned, and which their always-smiling father put on display for visitors to admire in their “peasant shack”. Their parents raised them well and allowed them to discover the working-class stand in their own pace and manner.
I’m sure this tiny tribute of mine about the great life of Gelacio Guillermo as a proletarian revolutionary is just a thin slice, a sliver of memory, a passing flicker in the shimmering night, a mere droplet in the rising deluge. Every revolutionary’s life, in an epochal sense (and every humble tribute made on their eventual departure), is such: just a passing flicker, a mere droplet.
But, like the committed life of every Filipino mass activist, every Red fighter, every grassroots organizer in the rural villages, urban-poor communities, industrial-commercial belts and offices, every aspiring cultural worker, every advocate of radical social change towards finally emancipating the workers and peasants—all these eventually add up. Like the heroic lives of generations of toiling masses, struggling against odds to break the centuries-old chains of an oppressive and exploitative system—they all add up.
Gelacio Guillermo’s life and work as a proletarian revolutionary is yet more assurance of this truth. Every passing flicker, every mere droplet—they all add up. #