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Who was Bien Lumbera, the National Artist and Martial Law detainee the world is now mourning?

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Sep 28, 2021 8:18 pm Updated Sep 28, 2021 9:11 pm

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, affectionately called "Ka Bien" by his friends and peers, passed away on Sept. 28 at the age of 89.

The news was confirmed by his daughter, Tala Lumbera, through a report in The Varsitarian, the official student publication of the University of Sto. Tomas.

Beyond the written word that immortalized his name, Lumbera also made his mark in many other ways.

More than a writer

Born in Lipa City, Batangas on April 11, 1932, Lumbera was a recipient of a number of prestigious creative awards such as the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communications, and the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature.

He was proclaimed a National Artist in April 2006 after publishing a life's worth of works on literary history, literary criticism, theater, film, and popular culture. He has also delved into poetry and opera writing, among others.

As for his scholarly works, Bien's name is most notably present in Tagalog Poetry, 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in its Development; Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology, Revaluation: Essays on Philippine Literature, and Writing the Nation/Pag-akda ng Bansa.

Lumbera made an indelible mark in the education sector as well. He taught at Mabini Academy, Holy Ghost College, Hanover College in the United States, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, and UST. He is a professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines' (UP) Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature.

He was also a martial law detainee for the entire year of 1974 after going underground.

The UP Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature sent their love to the artist after his passing.

"Pambansang alagad ng sining sa panitikan. Guro, iskolar, makata, mandudula, kaibigan, itay," UP wrote. "Pinakamataas na pagpupugay at taimtim na pasasalamat, Sir Bien."

Meanwhile, an outpouring of condolences also came from the artist community. Lumbera touched many of their lives, from artists during his activist days to younger ones that now see him as an inspiration.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines is set to hold a series of online novenas and masses for the late artist from Sept. 28 to Oct. 6. The 9-day commemoration will be hosted by several organizations such as the UP Filipino Department, the University of the Philippines community, Concerned Artists of the Philippines, Likhaan Creative Writing Center, and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, among others.

A tribute novena and mass will be held on the last day, Oct. 6.

"The CCP has greatly benefited from NA Lumbera’s genius, with his works as librettist premiering on its theaters. Some of them were Tales of Manuvu, Rama Hari, and Noli Me Tangere, performed by CCP resident companies Ballet Philippines and Tanghalang Pilipino," CCP shared in a statement.

Photo from CCP Facebook page / Bio profile details from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art profile