Maya Daniel: poet-painter, revolutionary

“Just posted 17 poems and visuals… Feel free to share, friends. Goodnight!”
This was the last Facebook update of Maya Daniel just before Aug. 14 midnight. A few minutes later, he would be killed along with six others by state forces in Barangay Atabay, San Jose, Antique. Maya Daniel (also Mayamor) was the pen name of 60-year-old poet and artist Felix Salditos, who had spent the greater part of his life as part of the Communist Party-led revolutionary movement in Panay Island. According to the National Democratic Front, the “Antique 7” were part of the Panay-based underground movement’s education and propaganda staff. Apart from Salditos, the group included Eldie Labinghisa, Karen Ceralvo, Liezl Nadiola, Jason Talibo, and Jason Sanchez. Authorities claim the seven were killed after a “33-minute firefight” with the San Jose police and Philippine Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade Intelligence Task Group that allegedly netted various weapons and ammunition. But human rights group Karapatan said that it was more likely a massacre. The group found that all seven were shot frontally on the head and at close range. Some say their ill-luck forms part of the risks entailed by their calling. But even if they were rebels, they were entitled to humane treatment following international humanitarian law and rules of war—something the Duterte administration is notorious for violating with its blatant disregard for human lives. Because of the clandestine nature of Daniel’s work in the revolutionary underground, not much was known about him apart from his close involvement with the struggles of the indigenous people’s group Tumandok (Panay-Bukidnon) of Central Panay. For, while generally tackling themes of social injustices, agrarian unrest and armed struggle typical of the genre of communist poetry in the vein of Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Neruda, Roque Dalton, and Amado Hernandez, among others, Daniel’s poetry also speaks of his immersion in the life-world of the Tumandok. His poems bring together, on the one hand, Tumandok knowledge—from their epic cosmology of water forms, landmarks and constellations and taxonomy of indigenous flora and fauna to their epic heroes—and, on the other hand, their long history of resistance against oppressors: “This is our life, this land is priceless/The flesh of our generations has been embedded to its history/The fertile lands are the bones of our ancestors/Witnessed by this old spear, witnessed by the skies/Kamandag Tree has its curse, the poison of death/The lightning in Mount Angas, the sharp bolo of Amag-iran/The moans of abangay, all affirms to this truth” (“Dut’ang Ginpakig-awayan). In the same vein, Daniel earned renown for majestic paintings on the Tumandok that were the subjects of solo exhibits in 2009 and 2017. In summary, both his poetic and artistic works make for an encyclopedic documentation of the plight and struggles of the Tumandok, who now face intense militarization and the threat of displacement from the construction of megadams in the Jalaur and Pan’ay Rivers. Daniel’s writings are not ordinarily found in mainstream outlets, except for some contributions to The Manila Times, online magazines and some campus papers. They are read in the context of the communist-led armed resistance, in whose publications like Ulos, Daba-Daba, and Sublak his writings saw print. He wrote in both English and Hiligaynon. He also penned short stories, essays and translations of poems by Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong into Hiligaynon. Daniel’s self-published poems and art can be accessed at mayadanielblog.wordpress.com. Much of his oeuvre, however, still awaits publication. Indeed, as a revolutionary, Daniel was conscious of the way his own writing had been molded by the everyday exigencies of revolutionary work: “I write / Not on a table / But while crawling on dirt / Not on the computer / But on cigarette packs, newspaper margins / Not in a peaceful place / But in the midst of war…” (“Ang Hilwaybay Ko”). Maya Daniel’s last poem from that fateful night begins: “Today, / I prepared a small anthology of poems for you / I know we have unfinished conversations…” He may be gone, but his example lives on. The dialogues he opened on the struggle for people’s rights, dignity, justice and the small things of quotidian being will not be silenced. [This commentary was originally published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 7, 2018.]
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