Modernist vanguard poet Rogelio G. Mangahas; 79
The literature and arts community woke up on July 4 with a heartbreaking news—poet, essayist, editor, teacher and translator Rogelio G. Mangahas is dead.
Known to his friends as Roger, he bade us farewell at the University of Santo Tomas Hospital two days after suffering from a massive stroke. He left behind his wife of 48 years, Fe Buenaventura Mangahas, historian, teacher and writer.
Mangahas was one of the triumvirate of modernist Tagalog poets since the 1960s, together with Virgilio S. Almario a.k.a Rio Alma and Lamberto Antonio. Rio Alma would later become National Artist for Literature. Mangahas coauthored and edited in 1967 an anthology of poems, “Manlilikha: Mga Piling Tula,” which laid the foundation for the modernist movement as an alternative to the traditionalist Tagalog poetry. The triumvirate influenced the succeeding generation of poets.
A native of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, Mangahas was born on May 9, 1939. He belonged to a family of Hukbalahap socialist rebels, who fought against the Japanese imperial forces during World War II and rebelled against the government shortly after the war.
His last opus was a poem that dealt with a 17-day encounter between the Huks and the Japanese, and what he termed as the fake Philippine independence of July 4, 1946 and fake land reform.
He read the poem recently at the launching of Dante Simbulan’s book on the socialist movement.
From the province, Mangahas went to Manila for his secondary education, after which he worked as a security guard to support his and his siblings’ education.
He obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Filipino in 1965 at the University of the East (UE) and taught there until 1972 when martial law was declared. UE expelled him with eight other so-called subversives, including Fe Buenaventura who would later be his wife.
Last year, UE invited Mangahas back to be the guest speaker of the university graduation ceremonies. No, he did not talk about his expulsion.
Martial Law poetry
Mangahas’ activist years saw him writing politically committed poetry like the collection, “Mga Duguang Plakard at Iba Pang Tula,” in 1971. The poetry collection as well as his critical essay on Edgardo M. Reyes’ “Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag” won first prize in the Palanca Awards.
In 1973, he was arrested and detained for two years. His wife Fe who was also arrested with him was detained briefly. His life in prison and the martial law period would produce “Villanelle sa Iyong Pagdalaw” (1973), “Mga Ibon sa Hawlang Bakal” (1977) and “Tagulaylay ng Isang Insurekto” (1977).
Apart from poetry, Mangahas also wrote plays, literary criticism and short stories. He translated into Filipino poems by Federico Garcia Lorca, Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda, Wallace Stevens, Ho Chi Minh, Usman Awang, Nazim Hikmet, Ernesto Cardena.
His latest translation project was the novel of National Artist F. Sionil Jose, “The Pretenders.”
A doting and loving husband and father, Mangahas was devastated when his only son, Tagumpay, was stricken with cancer and passed away at 23 in 2000. One of three haikus he wrote for his son was:
“Bunso’y may kanser.
Alay mo sa Bathala’y
Sayaw sa baga.
(Our son has cancer.”
Your gift to the Creator
Is dance on live coals.)
Although long retired as editor in chief of two big publishing houses, Mangahas continued to work as consultant until his last breath, giving editorial support to small publications and giving lectures in support of Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino. A hallmark of his productive life was to propagate Filipino, our national language.
He also helped this authors’ Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, serving in the board of judges of the Filipino division of the Maningning Trilingual Poetry Awards.
Last July 5, Church Café, an artist and literary bible study group, held a memorial service for Mangahas, led by Pastor Sunil Stephens at the St. Peter’s Memorial in Quezon Avenue.
On July 6, National Artists Virgilio S. Almario, F. Sionil José and Bienvenido Lumbera spoke at the writers’ tribute in his honor. –CONTRIBUTED
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