• The Pasig Review

Eman Lacaba: From a Red Crusader to the Brown Rimbaud

From the Desk

If you are from Pasig Catholic College (PCC), you have moniker. If you came from an age when PCC was an all-boys school you are a Kumbento Boy - a BaKum (Batang Kumbento). But nowadays you are called simply to honor an ancient order of warrior monks - The Crusader Knights. The RED Crusaders - the present day moniker of the students of PCC. Just like the Templars whose aim is to reclaim the Holy Land from the infidels, PCC yearns to become an institution of learning but most importantly an evangelized and evangelizing community. A testament to this role as evangelizers is the incorporation of a Templar knight in the old logo of PCC.

For more than a hundred years, from a lowly convent school to a full-pledged College, PCC produced so many alumni that it forgot to record those who have made it through and gave honor to the nation. Such is the case of a guy who is not from Pasig but from Pateros, his name is Emmanuel Agapito F. Lacaba. He was born in Cagayan de Oro in 1948 but soon moved to Pateros at the age of seven. Pasig can rightfully claim him as a son for he studied here and was perhaps influenced by his Pasigueno teachers and friends to love the country more. Every Sunday, he would join the Chiro Youth Movement - a parish based youth organization founded by the Belgians. He even wrote poems that won in the national literary competition sponsored by Chiro. Eman however is not all about writing, just like the motto of Chiro, he knows how to "pray and play".

The beginnings of the Red Crusader

Eman is a colorful student of PCC. He is active in all aspects of student life. But before then, he learned to read at a very young age which opened his mind to the knowledge that mirrored his becoming. He read all things readable from encyclopedias to different books on poetry and even the sciences. He read widely on everything he can laid his eyes on, "From the Bible to MAD" he once said. That is why when he entered Kumbento he was already a prolific student with a voracious appetite to learn. A typical modern-day Rizal. He was the President of the Student Council, the Editor-in-Chief of The Crusader - the student newspaper of PCC and also a talented theater actor. He juggled everything while maintaining high grades. He was not only good in the arts, he is also a versatile athlete. In school, he played basketball, soccer and even track and field.

Eman in his youth knows his way with words

His mother, Fe Lacaba a Filipino teacher in PCC and the Colegio del Buen Consejo ensured that his son together with his other children will have a balanced life as a student and a member of the family since Mrs. Lacaba was widowed when Eman was only ten. At home he was never called "Eman", he remained to be "Maneng" to his mother.

Poetry became his hobby for he started to write at the early age of 14. It gave so much inspiration to his classmates that he is looked up not only as a leader but an elder brother. One of those is Dr. Ernesto R. Gonzales of Pateros who is Eman's batchmate. He recalled the goodness of this Red Crusader whom he considered as his idol.

Dr. Gonzales also became an activist and professor in a known school in Manila. True to his word, he always brings a poem written by Eman Lacaba. Sometimes he discusses it and incorporates it to his classes and talks about the importance of education to assert nationalism and pride. He carried Eman's ideals even when he left for further studies in UK. Just like the Red Crusader, he delved into poetry to express his longing to his motherland.

As a student of letters, Eman also used his pen to further his studies for he won a scholarship at the last year of his high school to study at the US courtesy of the American Field Service.

After his stint in the US, Eman went home to pursue his college education. A gifted student, he was given scholarship opportunities at the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and the Dela Salle University. With different options at his table, he ultimately chose the Manuel de Leon Scholarship offered by the Ateneo and took the Bachelor of Arts in Humanities. He maintained his scholarship up to his last year despite being away from his classes writing and doing research. From their his writings became more deeper and entrenched in the socio-political climate of the time.

The Brown Rimbaud

Eman's profile that is so familiar that it became an icon on its own

Eman knows his gift and he knows how to use it. He wields a pen and his words take command. He was grounded and in tune with his fellowmen who equally respects him and his craft. Being compared to Arthur Rimbaud the celebrated French poet is not surprising. He emulates him and alluded him in one of his well-known poems the "Open Letter for Filipino Artists" when he wrote, Though he has been called a brown Rimbaud, He is no bandit but a people's warrior.

Being the Brown Rimbaud is not only because of this poem but because just like the French poet, Eman is also regarded as an enfant terrible due to his youth and his virtuosity in words. His early death at 27 all the more echoes Rimbaud who also died at an early age of 37. The more he became exposed to the movements that troubled his time, his pen became more heated, creating lines and lines of poetry that chronicled the epic struggles of his people.

Eman joined a group that organized a strike in a Pasig factory. He was so involved at this movement that when the strike was broken up by the police, he was one of the those who was incarcerated at the local jail. Eman at this time was already an instructor of the Rizal Course in UP and anticipating the birth of his child, Emanwelga Fe. It was through the help of fellow Pasigueno and human rights lawyer, Rene Saguisag that he was released from prison. Thankfully, He was out of jail before the imposition of Marital Law otherwise, it could have been a different story.

His incarceration may have caused the non-renewal of his teaching gig in UP and with a growing family of his own, he needs to provide. It was at this time that he immersed himself more to the movements and while his maturity deepened so is his writing. It was at this time that his talents took its own course. He wrote the lyrics of the song "Awit ni Kuala" for Lino Brocka's film, Tinimbang ka Ngunit Kulang. He was also active in the Philippine Educational Theater Association as an actor and playwright. To some this could be Eman's golden years. He trained and immersed himself to various disciplines enriching his life while exposing it to a higher calling.

His participation led him to Mindanao. Under an assumed name of Popoy an allusion to Popoy Dakuykoy - a comic book character. His writings all the more became stronger and prolific. When there is no more paper to write on, he resulted to using the back part of the cigarette tin foils. He wrote more vividly and just about everything. He may have witnessed so much in his journey that death became a subject in his works. But in all of this, he became more in-depth and the wisdom of the ages flowed from his pen. His poems became more direct like the immortal lines in the "Open Letter For Filipino Artists"

We are tribeless and all tribes are ours.

We are homeless and all homes are ours.

To the fascists we are the faceless enemy

Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death:

The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.

In the jungles of Mindanao was where he met his end. "Sige Martin, Tapusin mo na ako" was the last line of this great poet. No one really knows what he is doing there. How he died? Namatay siya sa Tinga - This statement doesn't generate anymore queries in a time of darkness. He may be wielding a gun but most probably he was there in Mindanao to gather stories as material to a new play or poem he is so excited to write.

In his early days as an activist, his poems showed signs of a difficult life that he is willing to take. He often compares himself to Icarus who flew so close to the sun that his wings started to melt. Perhaps another allusion to a life that will be spent to a lost cause. His body was thrown in a mass grave and weeks after, Mrs. Lacaba identified her son because of the distinctive moles in his body that is already decomposing while ropes still hang around his ankles. Eman was treated like an animal when he died but as the Bible said, No prophet is welcome in his hometown. A Filipino was killed by a Filipino.

The People's Poet

Ho Chi Minh was quoted saying, “make poems including iron and steel, that a poet must also learn how to lead an attack.” The Brown Rimbaud led an attack albeit he never saw the victory. His death rang in all corners of the islands. In Manila, his name was identified as "Manuel Lacaba". The communities and groups that Eman became part off shared the grief of losing a poet, a brother and most importantly they cried for a death of a young man who is at the top of the heap of his time.

Imelda Marcos, wanted Nick Joaquin to become a National Artist. Being a respected journalist and perhaps the most anthologized of all Filipino authors, Nick is a crown on Imelda's head that proves that free press still reigns in the "garrison state". The older brother of Eman, Pete Lacaba is serving his time as a political prisoner, practically at the same time that his brother met his end. Knowing all of this, Nick Joaquin set the conditions to the other half of the conjugal dictatorship. "Release the boy and then you can award me". The first lady through General Ramos released Pete and Nick accepted his award. In his acceptance speech at the presence of the international media he shared the ills of the nation and since then he was never invited or allowed to speak in front of the crowd again.

Red to Brown to Red Again

Forty-four years after his death, Eman is still Eman. Not a victim but a victor. A celebrated warrior poet that even in death continues to live in the number of works he left behind. His heritage is clean just like his works. He writes not to impress but to mirror the plight of his fellowmen. An endless crusade that ended on his demise but continued until it toppled the evil dictator from his pedestal - like how the Crusaders won the Siege of Jerusalem in 1099. Marcos stole so much he left his country in ruins. However, his greatest crime is not theft, plunder or even murder. His greatest crime is that he facilitated the death of the nation's hopes and dreams. He robbed so many mothers and fathers of their children which could have been our future leaders. He forbade our country to grow and taste the life of a proud nation - far from the cancerous and sickly leadership he perpetuated for 20 years. He consolidated power while siting in a throne made of his victims' skulls. If not for this dictator we could have seen a Senator Lacaba, or even a President Salonga! How proud we could have been if the nation was led by Pasiguenos!

However, like the crusades, the enemy keeps on coming back and they are once again at our doorsteps. Are we to allow them to re-enter and rape once more the holy city of our ancestors? Eman is the crusader's Crusader. We are the crusaders. Eman went ahead of us not because he died but because his purpose to enlighten is finished. He has set forth the light and as crusaders we have a divine obligation to vigil and watch in the night.

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