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Luwalhati sa Kwento: 5 Lessons I Learned from Lualhati Bautista

Luwalhati sa Kwento: 5 Lessons I Learned from Lualhati Bautista

Lualhati Bautista’s mark to the country is truly indelible. Not only has she been a remarkable writer, but she has also been a vocal activist and feminist. Her wisdom was an immense blessing, and her inputs will surely continue to touch the next generations. She naturally reflects the reality of the country, all in its flawed and glorious situation, through thousands of stories. Nobody has ever depicted the Filipino struggle more vivid and meaningful quite like Lualhati Bautista. For all of these, she will always remain as a true icon.

Spanning with eight novels, dozens of short stories and screenplays, and a hundred of poems and proses, Lualhati has proven that she is master story-teller, through and through. From Bulaklak sa City Jail to Desaparesidos, her stories have brought a lot to reflect for us, Filipinos. It’s a gift that she brings out important realizations and lessons that everyone needs to hear.

In commemorating the life, works and principles of Lualhati, here are five lessons that I learned from her stories:

Women are powerful

“Pero ang babae, talian man ang katawan o suotan ng chastity belt, ay may uri ng kalayaang hindi mananakaw ng kahit sino; ang kalayaan niyang mag-isip.” – Dekada ’70

Women are the front of every Lualhati Bautista story. It is through these intricate and detailed experiences of women in stories that Bautista proves her feminist principles. From Bulaklak sa City Jail’s Angela, to Dekada ‘70’s Amanda, every woman in her stories possess a powerful thinking. But these characters’ nuanced grace and vulnerability also give them new dimensions as a human. Perhaps, it is a gift of being a female writer, but for Bautista’s case, fearlessness takes it into new levels. She has proven that women can be the front of revolution, in any different cause. This is very indicative of who she truly is in real life.

Bautista specifically exhibits refreshingly frank dialogues for her independent-minded female characters. It is constantly paired by deep insights into their daily dilemmas that would eventually be acknowledged as the Woman Question in the feminist movement of the early ‘80s.

Bulaklak sa City Jail depicts the lives of different women inside the prison, led by Angela who is pregnant. In Dekada ’70, Amanda upholds the light of her family through grim happenings during the Martial Law era. In Bata, Bata… Paano Ka Ginawa?, Lea is a fiercely independent woman, facing crises and survival in raising her two kids with different fathers. All of these female characters have become staple and icons in our pop culture, and it is all because of Bautista’s sensibilities in writing and depicting women’s power.

We don’t own anyone

“Ang inyong anak ay hindi Ninyo anak, sila’y mga anak na lalaki at babae ng buhay. Bagama’t nanggaling sa inyong pagmamahal, ngunit hindi ang inyong paniniwala. Mabibigyan niyo ng tahanan ang kanilang katawan ngunit hindi ang kanilang kaluluwa sapagkat ang kanilang kaluluwa ay namamatay sa templo ng kinabukasan na hindi niyo madadalaw kailanman” – Dekada ‘70

A scene from Dekada ’70 (2002), Star Cinema Productions.

Through her matriarch characters, Lualhati Bautista has also imprinted us the idea that we don’t own anyone, not even our children. She values freedom of thinking and expression in various depictions and realizations. This is a really relevant lesson, given that it is a usual Filipino custom over families to turn our children into investments instead of human beings. In addition, she also shows that we cannot shield our children from reality, as it is always where they would learn and go eventually—to the real world.

In Dekada ’70, youth activism plays a huge role in the narrative. Through Amanda, Bautista depicts that parents cannot generally control the thinking of their children, more so suppress even their political and social awakenings. In the story, she depicted the Bartolome brothers’ participation in the socio-political sphere as something that they have a right to do, even if their mother is critically concerned about it. All that a parent could do is guide them and love them. In the end of the day, we are all individuals and we don’t belong to anyone.

Forget the standards, it doesn’t matter if you’re old

“Sino ang may sabi na may ipinagkaiba ang damdamin ng isang sisenta’y singko sa isang disisais? Walang pinagkaiba yan, magkasingtalim lang ang damdamin niyan ng pagkabigo, magkasingdami ang luhang ititigis sa kamatayan ng kanyang pag-asa.” – Sixty in the City

Filipino women of all ages will find much to identify with the characters of Lualhati Bautista’s Sixty in the City. The novel combats ageism in its full glory. It is written as it is in conversational Filipino and within a milieu as familiar as one’s neighborhood. It details the story of three women of age, in a society that, despite rapid tech changes, remains nailed to unchanging expectations about women when they approach the twilight years.

Bautista, with his feminist instincts in writing, comprehensively defies stereotypes for older women, and successfully acknowledges their sexual needs. She airs a big bellow of ‘so what if you’re old!’—proudly and righteously so. The novel depicts how fertility, good looks and youth continue to be the impossibly narrow yardstick by which most women are measured. Fortunately, Bautista’s women are fighters and doers who cheerfully break through life’s rigid parameters.

Who could even forget this iconic line: “Ang buhay ay hindi nagsisimula pagtuntong ng sisenta. Nagsisimula ito sa bawat ngiti ng umaga.”

Forgetting means disrespecting history

“Ang Pilipino, sa kabila ng kanyang mga pinagdadaanan, ay patuloy na lumilikha ng magigiting na sandali sa pagsusulong ng kanilang sariling kinabukasan.” – Desaparesidos

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A scene from Dekada ’70 (2002), Star Cinema Productions.

Despite being known for contemporary stories of women, Bautista has also delivered narratives armored with history and social elements. As a Martial Law survivor herself, she is one of the most iconic figures in Philippine literature renowned for stories that depicted abuse and life under the late dictator’s nine-year Martial Law. In novels such as Dekada ’70 and Desaparesidos, she teaches the importance of history and the power in remembering.

Lualhati Bautista’s novels are more than just stories of committed comrades fighting against the repression and brutality of Martial Law. Desaparesidos is also about individuals struggling to regain their lost humanity, their sense of family, their very souls. On the other hand, Dekada ’70 chronicles a mother’s pain during Martial Law years. A woman balancing the desire to keep one’s children safe, but also realizing a need for political change for the country.

Through these two novels, Bautista was able to preserve the vital past, paired with the right progressiveness and angst. She asked questions like ‘what was the price that these fighters had to pay?’ and ‘what personal pains outweighed even the most brutal of physical tortures?’. With these, she dauntlessly communicates that forgetting about these stories also means disrespecting history.

The country is worth fighting for

“Totoong mahal pa rin ang galunggong at wala pa ring makain ang mga nagtatanim ng bigas. At iyon mismo ang dahilan kaya patuloy ang pagtatanim ng mga pangarap… patuloy ang pagsulong ng mga adhikain. Pero hindi isang lipunan ng mga desaparesido ang nalikha ng lahat ng pakikipaglaban… kundi isang buong magiting na kasaysayan.” – Desaparesidos

Lualhati Bautista in an interview with Anvil Publishing, from Youtube Channel Anvil TV.

Through all the stories of regular Filipinos depicted by Bautista, she also upholds the worth of Philippines and the countrymen. She exclaims that the country is worth fighting for, in any way. She highlights the different narratives that bring out the struggles of every citizen and sees importance in addressing them.

Lualhati Bautista has changed the way we regard our fellow citizens, our language and our country, forever. Her stories of love, independence and hope in the face of cruelties, have elevated voices of defiant expression. She was able to point out hope and redemption. She broke down divisions that separated the literature of academe from what our suffering people read. From those notions, along with the contributions and ideas she laid in the table, she has proven to be a stalwart of the Filipinos, forever.

Lualhati Bautista wrote about Filipinos with passion and utmost truthfulness — and with a full sense of comradeship. Generation after generation, her writings will be read — and long remembered. Her legacy will continue to surface in new citizens to come.

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