For Pete’s sake: Lacaba’s pals to host fund-raising gig for press-freedom fighter

Gerry Lirio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 27 2020 01:13 AM | Updated as of Mar 01 2020 11:06 PM

Call it “Kape’t Ka Pete,” a mini poetry and music night set early in March to raise funds for the love of Pete, or Jose F. Lacaba, a multi-awarded screenwriter, newsman, poet and anti-Marcos activist in a time he himself aptly described in his book, “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage.”

Lacaba is sick, diagnosed about three years ago with Myasthenia Gravis, a long-term neuromuscular disease, and the medical expenses have been “considerably huge and debilitating,” according to Star columnist Wilson Lee Flores, owner of Kamuning Bakery where the mini-concert would be held on March 7.

He showed up at the breakfast forum with an umbrella-like cane at Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City and talked about writing and press freedom, two topics he loved most, including the threat to close down media giant ABS-CBN. He looked slim and, at 75, he said, he is sometimes getting forgetful.

“Let’s continue the fight,” Lacaba said in Filipino. “I can’t join the rally anymore because of my physical condition. But I support this fight for press freedom.”

If he were younger, he told this newsman, he would have joined the younger press freedom fighters today, as he did in the darkest days of the Marcos dictatorship.

When he was a young writer, Lacaba was jailed for his writings, particularly for the poem “Prometheus Unbound,” which he wrote and published for Focus, a government magazine edited by the eminent Kerima Polotan Tuvera. He submitted the piece using his pen name, “Ruben Cuevas.”

The poem sounded innocuous at the outset, but when it saw print, Marcos’ men reading it line per line realized that the beginning letter of each line created “Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta.”

Marcos’ men turned frantic, investigating who the hell was Ruben Cuevas, especially that the poem was published in a government-controlled paper. The magazine’s literary editor was fired at once.

Lacaba was invited to Camp Crame. He owned up and, right there and then, beaten black and blue, and detained for more than two years. But he seemed to have earned Kerima’s admiration that for all the troubles that the poem gave her, she sent him the cheque for his poem to help him pay for his expenses.

Kerima was not alone. For his talent and moral courage, Lacaba stands tall in the writing community.

When the Palace sent word in May 1976 that the country’s most prolific writer Nick Joaquin would be given the National Artist Award for Literature, it created a ruckus in the literary and journalistic circle.

“Nick would accept the award on one condition,” recalled another prolific writer and martial law detainee Ninotchka Rosca over coffee in an Ortigas restaurant with this newsman a few years back. “He would accept the award only if the government would free Pete Lacaba.”

Joaquin conceded only after the eminent Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil told him to receive the award first and then tell Marcos to free Lacaba. He did so during the awards night and in a few days Lacaba was a free man.

Lacaba went back to writing pieces, all of which remained critical of the Marcos dictatorship. Before Marcos supposedly lifted martial rule in July 1981, he wrote a column for the mosquito press, among them the Mr & Ms magazine. His pieces, like those of Joaquin and another freedom fighter Salvador P. Lopez, saw print unedited. “Don’t touch Pete’s piece,” the magazine’s feisty editor in chief Letty Jimenez Magsanoc reminded one of the young editors.

In 1982, Lacaba published “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage,” a compilation of on-the-spot reports on the First Quarter Storm first in the Philippine Free Press.

As Joaquin put it: "Of our journalists, one of the most able in the new style is Jose F. Lacaba. As TV and newsreel do, he puts you right on the scene . . . [H]e communicates the emotion, even the meaning of what's happening without having to spell it out."

He would later work on the screenplay of highly acclaimed movies “Sister Stella L” and “Eskapo,” all critical of the Marcos regime.

Flores said “Kape’t Ka Pete” would feature noted writers and singers Noel Cabangon, Cooky Chua, Ricky Davao, Butch Dalisay, Krip Yuson, Vim Nadera, among others, in a night of singing and poetry reading, all wishing that Lacaba would live longer and live past these days of disquiet and nights of rage. “We wish we had more (of) Pete Lacaba in our time,” he said.