National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera passes away at 89

Mario Dumaual, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 28 2021 12:54 PM | Updated as of Sep 28 2021 05:16 PM

National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera presents an award at the 40th Gawad Urian Awards at the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center in this July 20, 2017 file photo. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News
National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera presents an award at the 40th Gawad Urian Awards at the ABS-CBN Broadcasting Center in this July 20, 2017 file photo. Gigie Cruz, ABS-CBN News

(UPDATED) Bienvenido Lumbera, a revered cultural icon and National Artist for Literature, passed on Tuesday, leaving behind a rich legacy of works in the field of creative communication arts. 

Lumbera’s daughter Tala told ABSCBN News her father died peacefully at their Quezon City home at 9:14 a.m. due to complications of stroke in June this year. He was 89. 

“Salamat sa lahat ng suporta at pagmamahal sa aming Tatay," said Tala referring to the outpouring of condolences and remembrances on social media and the family’s social circle. “Masaya kami dahil din Tatay lived a long and full life. Nakapagpaalam din ang halos lahat sa kanya before he passed on.” 

Veteran writer Ricky Lee, one of Lumbera’s closest friends also, paid homage to the National Artist, a fellow detainee during the martial law period. 

“Bien has always taken care of me, lalo na noong nasa kulungan kami sa Ipil sa Fort Bonifacio, at matagal akong nagkasakit," Lee told ABS-CBN News. “Lima kaming magkakasamang nakulong, at magkakasama ding nakalabas after a year. Lagi siyang andiyan to give blurbs and introductions to my books. Laging andiyan kapag may mga booklaumch ako o party. Laging andyan tuwing may kailangan ako. Ngayon ay wala na siya.” 

Lee is consoled by the thought of his last visit of Lumbera a few months ago. “Bien said he was ready to go,” Lee recalled their last conversation. 

Regarded as one of the pillars of Filipino literature, film, stage and cultural studies, Lumbera wrote and edited several books on literary history, criticism, and film. 

Among the awards listed under his name are the 1975 Palanca Award for Literature; the 1993 Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts; several National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle; the 1998 Philippine Centennial Literary Prize for Drama; and the 1999 Cultural Center of the Philippines Centennial Honors for the Arts. 

He also wrote librettos for musical theater, including Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) musical based on Carlos Bulosan’s “America Is in the Heart,” “Tales of the Manuvu,” “Rama Hari,” “Bayani,” “Noli Me Tángere” and “Hibik at Himagsik nina Victoria Laktaw.” 

One of his most unforgettable output in musical theater was his stirring lyrics to the song “Magbalik Ka Na Mahal” from “Rama Hari.” 

Kuh Ledesma, who first interpreted the song in 1980, said it was a singular honor for her to sing the Lumbera classic. 

“It is still one of my favorite love songs that I recorded," Ledesma told ABS-CBN News. “'Magbalik Ka Na Mahal' is a song that I will treasure for the rest of my life and what makes it even more special is that my fans continue to love the song to this day." 

“He wrote many poems, many musical shows, definitely he is a real treasure of our country. There will be no Bienvenido Lumbera again for he was unique in his way of writing. The way that he expressed the Filipino sentiment in a song was in a league of his own,” she added. 

In his post, veteran writer-director Jose Javier Reyes said “Magbalik Ka Na Mahal" also inspired him to discover new heights of lyricism in the Filipino language.

“Thank you for your eternal words and the greatness that you have given to the value of language in literature and music,” Reyes said . 

For “Rama Hari,” Lumbera collaborated with three other National Artists -- production design by Salvador Bernal, music by Ryan Cayabyab and choreography by Alice Reyes.

“Sa Sariling Bayan: Apat na Dulang May Musika," an anthology of Lumbera's musical dramas, was published in 2004. 

Lumbera also authored numerous books, anthologies and textbooks such as: "Revaluation"; Pedagogy"; "Philippine Literature: A History and Anthology"; "Rediscovery: Essays in Philippine Life and Culture"; "Filipinos Writing: Philippine Literature from the Regions"; and "Paano Magbasa ng Panitikang Filipino: Mga Babasahing Pangkolehiyo."

Online novena masses are set to be scheduled beginning Tuesday following the cremation of Lumbera’s remains at Arlington, Quezon City. 

Tala Lumbera said their family will await official government arrangements for his final burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City.