Poet, teacher, warrior

Writing Underground: A Personal Account

By Mila D. Aguilar

Philippine PEN Annual Conference

4/F Cultural Center of the Philippines

December 6, 2008

Writing about writing underground is not easy.  First, it comes with a gamut of emotions, some of which I may not have worked out yet, despite these thirty to forty intervening years.  Second, I have not asked others who wrote in the same circumstances, and since we never composed collectively, I am forced to tell you only about my personal experiences.



The following excerpt comes from the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Encyclopedia of the Arts, circa 1990's:

AGUILAR, MILA a.k.a. Clarita Roja b. Iloilo 1949.

Poet, essayist, filmmaker and Web designer.  She is the daughter of Jose and Ramona Aguilar. She married Magtangol Roque with whom she has a son.  At nine, she started writing poetry.  She edited the school paper at the University of the Philippines (UP) High School.  She was also active in theater and declamation contests. At 18, she was features editor of the Philippine Collegian and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English at UP Diliman.  The school year after graduation, Aguilar took her master's degree, taught English at UP, and became a regular staffer for Graphic magazine.  A progressive writer, she was among those hunted when Martial Law was declared in 1972.  The military failed to find her for twelve years despite several rebellion and subversion cases against her. In 1984, when she was assistant director of the extension service center of St. Joseph's College, she was finally arrested. In 1985, the Supreme Court ordered a stop to her prosecution in military court, but she was released from detention only when the Aquino administration took over in 1986.

In 1984 the Women Color Press, New York, published her poetry collection, A Comrade Is As Precious As a Rice Seedling, with an Introduction by Audre Lorde. Its second edition, l987, includes twelve from her collection of prison poems, Why Cage Pigeons?, 1984. Some of these poems were also published in Pintig (Life Pulse), 1985, an anthology of prose and poetry by political prisoners, as well as numerous other publications in the Philippines and abroad. In 1996, the University of the Philippines Press published her complete collection of poems under the title Journey: An Autobiography in Verse (1964-1995).

Aguilar's collection of 48 video documentary titles, produced, written or directed by her from 1989 to 1997, can be seen in her Web site entitled Pinoy Tok at http://www.sequel.net/~pinoytok.  She has written over a hundred essays for a weekly column in the Manila Standard since 1995 to complement the underground tracts she wrote on the woman question, democratic centralism, the united front and revolutionary mass movements in the period when she was hunted.  | M.l. Maniquis


Carolyn Forché, currently a literary scholar at the Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., wrote an extensive article about Aguilar in 1986 in an academic journal called the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars.


More recently, the website of the Asia-Pacific Writers' Network reported:

Mila D. Aguilar is a poet, essayist, teacher, video documentarist and webweaver. 

As a poet, she has written almost 240 poems in English, Pilipino and Ilonggo.  About 125 of these are in her collection of poems, Journey: An Autobiography in Verse (1964-1995), published by the University of the Philippines Press in 1996. This collection, almost out of print, contains poems from six books printed in Manila, San Francisco and New York between the years 1974 and 1987, as well as poems written in the next years up to 1995.  Her new collection of poems, entitled Chronicle of a Life Foretold: 110 Poems (1996-2004), is now available on iBookstore, Popular Bookstore on 350 Morato, Quezon City, and Solidaridad at Padre Faura, Manila.

Aguilar has written more than a hundred essays, a handful of which were done underground – first as an ordinary member, later as the head of the Regional United Front Commission of Mindanao, and last as head of the National United Front Commission of the Communist Party of the Philippines, from which she resigned in 1984.  She has produced, written, and directed almost 50 videos on subjects ranging from community organizations to regional cultures and good manners for government employees.  As a webweaver, a term she invented, she has designed her own web pages as well as the website of a non-governmental organization.  She has taught at the Department of English and Comparative Literature of the University of the Philippines as well as St. Joseph's College in Quezon City.



Aguilar is currently at work on her eighth book of poems, tentatively entitled Poemes Suisse. It may metamorphose into Poetry as Prophecy once she has added two poems to make 110 for the collection. Or more likely, In the Last Days.

She has also just published her autobiographical novel, The Nine Deaths of M, on Kindle Prime.  

It will take her some years yet to complete her long-delayed work on Tricksterism as a Filipino Survival Mechanism as she fights a recent bout with cancer. Her collection of essays, Paradigm Shift: Essaying Philippine Politics and Culture, may come out sooner. 

And oh yes, a sequel to her novel is already brewing in her head. It may be entitled The Day my Lola Rose to Heaven. Beware!


Two of Her Poems in English

The Devil is Upon Us

By Mila D. Aguilar

The devil is upon us

He thrives on harmless

Vegetables we keep

To create compost

For our hungry gardens.

The stink will invade

Your noses day to day

Stinging your skin

Developing dots

For microbes to feed on.

But that is not

The worst of it.

Ripe compost produces

Methane, which is odorless

And could kill you

Without your knowing it.

The trick is to

Throw open your windows

So God's air could come in

And dissipate the gas.

But lock your doors

Lock your doors

For the devil could get you

By climbing the fence

He himself built.

Remember, the devil is with us

Sending warts upon us all.

- May 12, 2010

7:10-7:22 am

Spirit Haiku Series

By Mila D. Aguilar

Dungeon Master

This is the spirit

Dungeon Master could not quell.

Spirit of the Lord.


Spirit of the Lord

Is with you in you. Through you

It ends all evil.


No Dungeon Master

Could stanch a soul imbued with

Jesus and water.

- October 17, 2013

6:37 - 8:00 am

Ms. Aguilar's published books so far are:

1. Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win! (Manila 1974) using nom de guerre Clarita Roja

2. The Mass Line: A Second Remoulding (Manila 1977) using nom de guerre Clarita Roja

3. Why Cage Pigeons? (Manila 1984)

4. Pall Hanging over Manila (San Francisco 1984)

5. A Comrade is as Precious as a Rice Seedling (New York 1984, 1985 and 1987); also in Braille, Womyn’s Series

6. Journey: An Autobiography in Verse (1964-1995) (U of the Philippines Press 1996)

7. Chronicle of a Life Foretold: 101 Poems (1995-2003) (iBookstore 2012, Popular Book Store 2012), available at Popular, 350 Tomas Morato, and Solidaridad, Padre Faura, Manila

8. The Nine Deaths of M (an autobiographical novel) (Kindle 2013)

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