Land of Bondage, Land of the Free by Raul Manglapus and The Man with the Hoe by Edwin Markham were two inspiring compositions written in the English language which were utilized by the Jesuits of the Ateneo de Manila University to light the torch of social awareness and involvement among the Blue Eagles — as Ateneo students were popularly called.
The Manglapus composition was written to promote Land Reform in the 1960s. When we were introduced to the Manglapus composition in High School, it was mentioned that the former Senator and Cory cabinet secretary drew inspiration from Edwin Markham’s “The Man with the Hoe” and thus adapted it to Philippine social conditions.
Both the Markham and Manglapus compositions were written to call attention and promote positive action towards alleviating the plight of the most oppressed and exploited members of society.
Europe has since improved the lot of the peon but the Philippine poor deteriorated from bad to worse. Compared to the 1960s when Raul Manglapus wrote Land of Bondage, Land of the Free — our poorest members of society have been reduced to eating one meal a day.
In the 1960s, the Philippines was second only to Japan in economic performance. China, South Korea, many of our ASEAN neighbors who used to envy us have outperformed and outpaced us by leaps and bounds. From being touted before as a showcase of democracy, we are now being watched if the social conditions here will deteriorate into a social explosion.
For the benefit of our youth especially, it is good to reflect today on the messages of Manglapus and Markham.
Land of Bondage, Land of the Free
By Raul Manglapus
And yet gentlemen, the tao (term for the ordinary Filipino) is constitutionally free. No wonder, then that the tao, being a slave, has acquired the habits of a slave. No wonder that after three centuries in chains, without freedom, without hope, he should lose the erect and fearless posture of the freeman, and become the bent, misshapen, indolent, vicious, pitiful thing that he is! Who dares accuse him, who dares rise up in judgment against this man, reduced to this sub-human level by three centuries of oppression. The tao does not come here tonight to be judged — but to judge! Hear then his accusation and his sentence:
I indict the Spanish encomendero for inventing taxes impossible to bear.
I indict the usurer for saddling me with debts impossible to pay.
I indict the irresponsible radical leaders who undermine, with insidious eloquence, the confidence of my kind in our government.
You accuse me of not supporting my family. Free me from bondage, and I shall prove you false.
You accuse me of ignorance. But I am ignorant because my master finds it profitable to keep me ignorant. Free me from bondage, and I shall prove you false.
You accuse me of indolence. But I am indolent not because I have no will, but because I have no hope. Why should I labor, if all the fruits of my labor go to pay an unpayable debt. Free me from bondage, and I shall prove you false.
Give me land. Land to own. Land unbeholden to any tyrant. Land that will be free. Give me land for I am starving. Give me land that my children may not die. Sell it to me, sell it to me at a fair price, as one freeman sells to another and not as a usurer sells to a slave. I am poor, but I will pay it! I will work, work until I fall from weariness for my privilege, for my inalienable right to be free!
BUT IF YOU WILL NOT GRANT ME THIS ... If you will not grant me this last request, this ultimate demand, then build a wall around your home ... build it high! ... build it strong! Place a sentry on every parapet! ... for I who have been silent these three hundred years will come in the night when you are feasting, with my cry and my bolo at your door. And may God have mercy on your soul!
The Man with a Hoe
By Edwin Markham
Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back, the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?
Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity?
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this -
More tongued with cries against the world’s blind greed -
More filled with signs and portents for the soul —
More packed with danger to the universe.
What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of the Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Through this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Through this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Powers that made the world,
A protest that is also prophecy.
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quenched?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?
O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings -
With those who shaped him to the thing he is -
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?
Only an idiot with no sense of history will remain smug to a social condition like what is described in these two masterpieces. In our heart of hearts, we know that this type of social imbalance is a time bomb waiting to detonate. It’s time that we Filipinos realize that we must go down there and bring them up or else they will ultimately bring us down.