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Oct 11
BALAGTASAN by Alex J. Socorro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Thu, Oct 11, 2007

Ang tunog ng palakpakan, narinig kong tumaginting
Isa-isang lalapitan, maingat kong pipitasin
At sa aking mga palad, doon ko iipunin
Tutuhuging parang kuwintas, sa leeg ko’y ibibitin
At sa pag-uwi sa tahanan, sa altar ko isasalin
Didiligin sa gabi ng mataos na dalangin.

So goes the sample recital of Pablo Reyna Libiran, one of the few remaining Balagtasan poets in our midst. “Yan po ang masamang balita sa Balagtasan. Meron pa namang mangilan-ngilan pero matatanda na nga talaga. Parang ako na yata ang pinakabata sa mga nag-babalagtasan,” he smiles with a serious tone. Pablo, who incidentally originally hails from Balagtas, Bulacan, has a book still available in the bookstores – Balagtasan, Noon At Ngayon.

Balagtasan, a friendly debate via poetry, is on the way to oblivion. Like the dying art of Harana (serenade), Balagtasan seems to have lost its rhythmic appeal to the youth. Lack of media support also caused Balagtasan aficionados to dwindle and, as admitted by Pablo, only a few listeners are left to appreciate the poetic banter of Balagtasan and perhaps also of the melodic rendition of the kundiman.

As a contribution to his beloved Balagtasan, Pablo never fails to recite poems in his radio program. For 5 years running, his Sunday program at DZME (1530 khz) from 1:00 to 2:00 pm. caters mainly to the senior citizens. “Oo, naka-sentro kami sa mga senior citizens kasi sila na lang yata ang mahilig sa kundiman at pagtula.” Balagtasan lovers savor the live recitation in Pablo’s program together with the kundiman and harana songs provided by the Philippine United Senior Citizens Association, whose members regularly perform live in the studio..

“Sana mapakinggan nyo man lang kahit minsan ang programa ko,” Pablo invites everyone especially the senior citizens. Aside from the live performances, the program entertains phone-in questions and texts messages from the listeners. Problems, centered more on health, are also discussed particularly in times when their studio guest is a doctor. Aside from the usual greetings portion, Pablo sometimes tackle current issues affecting the economy but he avoids political and intriguing issues. “Meron ding showbiz kasi kung yan ang gusto ng mga listeners.”

Once in a while in Bulacan, Balagtasan is held, mostly in public schools to educate the children of the waning Tagalog poetry. “Madalas pag fiesta o kaya kapag may affair ang paaralan. Naaanyayahan kami ng alkalde o kaya ng principal,” Pablo smiles at the fact that the Balagtasan warrior is almost an extinct breed. “Eh kami-kami na lang ang natitira kaya kami na lang ang magkakasama. Ang Balagtasan kasi ay pingkian o labanan ng isip sa pamamagitan ng pagtula. Walang kinaibahan ito sa debate. At dahil kami-kami na nga lang ang laging naglalaban kaya parang hindi na talaga labanan ang nangyayari dahil syempre sanay na kami sa istilo ng bawat isa..”

Indeed, Balagtasan is a fierce competition, a clash of ideas with rhyming words and metered recitation as the weapons. Few may know that the Balagtasan or Duplo (a shorter and tamer version) is extemporaneous in style with no script nor memorized lines. “On the spot yun, depende sa tema ng usapan o sa isyu na pinagtatalunan,” clarifies Pablo. A Balagtasan competitor has only a few seconds to concoct his reply, using the correct metering and rhyme.

Friendly as it appears but there were nasty incidents on record. “Malaking kahihiyan kasi ang matalo sa Balagtasan kaya meron talagang nauuwi sa totoong away,” explains Pablo. Balagtasan is presided by a judge who normally issues a tie as a verdict but there were times that a protagonist loses in the word war. “Ang mga natatalo ay maghihintay ng pagkakataon para makabawi at yung mga nagwagi naman ay naghahanda para hindi mabawian.” The judge, also by way of reciting a poem, gives his verdict coupled with a short explanation why the winner won or why the loser lost.

Asked why the proponents of Balagtasan wouldn’t start a campaign to attract the youth, Pablo reasoned that it is not easy to resuscitate a dying part of out culture. “Natural na yata sa mundo ang ganyan, may namamatay at may ipinapanganak.” On closer scrutiny, Balagtasan pales in comparison with the exciting computer games and the thrilling chat rooms. And to the younger generation, the rhythmic art of Balagtasan is just plain corny, if not stale and trite. No amount of effort can alter the changing tide of our culture, not even the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts. “Ano yung sabi nila? Hi-tech na tayo ngayon, di ba? Siguro nasa hilig talaga yan. Eh iba na ang hilig ng mga bata, talagang napag-iwanan na ng panahon ang Balagtasan,” Pablo says with sadness in his voice.

Pablo Reyna Libiran (right) receiving his Basic Computer certificate from Jose Carreon

Pablo Reyna Libiran is a multi-talented and multi-awarded poet, broadcaster and writer. Some of the awards he had garnered are:

The Pio Valenzuela Memorial Award in 2000
Parangal ng Komisyon Ng Wikang Pilipino in 2003
Outstanding Citizen of Balagtas, Bulacan in 2005
Dangal Ng Lipi Sa Sining At Kultura – Bulacan in 2005

Aside from another book – Gintong Kawikaan Sa Daigdig, published by National Bookstore – Pablo has 5 published komiks novels plus countless of short stories that saw print in the komiks of the olden times.

Surprisingly, Pablo is the vice president of SGP (Screenwriters Guild of the Philippines) despite having written only 1 screenplay in 1988. “Comedy yun, Jacky Tyan ang title. Si Herbert ang bida.” That single screenplay qualified him to hold a position in the SGP and his closeness to Pablo Gomez earned him the privilege of being offered to run for a guild position. “Writer ko kasi siya sa komiks dati,” Pablo Libiran is referring to Pablo Gomez who was one of the great komiks writers and also publisher. Pablo Libiran was komiks editor for 18 years (since 1973 with Pinoy Komiks, Lovelife, Love Affair and United Super Stories).

When talks centered on SGP, Pablo apologetically states, “Oo nga, walang activities ang guild natin kasi walang pondo.” For the past 2 years, the guild virtually hibernated except for a few meetings every now and then. Pablo sadly admitted that the present officers don’t have the capability to raise funds. Another embarrassing thing of note is the postponed guild elections. “Oo nga, overstaying na kami kasi dapat last year pa nag-election,” Pablo apologized somewhat and pointed to lack of funds as the reason for not holding an election. It’s no secret that it is very difficult to gather the writers in one place at any one time so it is a common practice to provide incentives before calling for a general assembly.

If given a chance to be SGP president, Pablo has many visions. “Dapat walang humpay ang acitivities. Magkakaroon tayo ng mga workshops para sa bagong scriptwriters saka mga contests din,” Pablo says like a child dreaming. He also wanted to invite the more active scriptwriters, especially the TV writers, to join the guild prior to the elections slated this coming December.

As for the komiks, Pablo has both high hopes and apprehension. “Kung hindi bibitaw ang gobyerno sa pagtulong, palagay ko ay makakaangat ulit ang komiks. Payag akong mag-editor ulit kahit mababa ang bayad basta makatulong lang. Kaso parang lugi ang dating nito sa akin, hindi sapat ang sampung piso.” Presently, the selling price of 10 pesos is a losing venture regardless of whether the komiks sell or not. “Lugi talaga yan. Pag malakas ang benta eh di lalong malaki ang lugi,” Pablo laughs to the sort of paradox that he said.

The komiks of today is backed up by Malacañang and although it was touted that the Caparas couple, Carlo and Donna Villa, are the hands behind the finances, people just don’t believe. “Malaki ang partisipasyon ng gobyerno dyan lalo na sa pera. Hindi papasok si Carlo kung palugi lang. Eh sa sampung piso nga tiyak na hindi kikita kasi glossy ang cover,” Pablo emphasizes his point with his forefinger.

In closing, Pablo thanks the Film Academy for letting him join the Basic Computer Workshop. “Akala ko kasi wala na kong pag-asang matuto ng computer,” Pablo muses. Surfing the internet for the first time, he was surprised to find his name in some websites, detailing his achievements. “Ang galing pala ng internet. Nauna pa sa akin ang pangalan ko,” Pablo laughs with genuine elation.

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