Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Martial Law Painting

This painting sums up all my recollection of the Martial Law years and this inspires me to no end. Not only because it is one of the masterpieces of a man whom I know personally, born and raised in Mindoro but because it's message is still relevant after 42 years of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos’ Proclamation 1081 in September 21, 1972. The painting, “Notes for a Theology of Struggle” was created inside the prison cell in Bago Bantay, Quezon City by Edicio Dela Torre, former SVD priest and one of the pillars of the Christians for National Liberation or CNL. According to him as he cited in his blog, the reason why he painted a Christ figure with the right hand stretched out in resignation, even unto death, while the left hand is a clenched fist of resistance is, “[t]o portray the tension between our understanding of Christianity as a call to struggle for justice and the more dominant interpretation of Christianity as a consolation for the poor and oppressed who bear their suffering patiently.” Suffering, without doubt, can inspire artistic expression. But also true with comfort. Unluckily, the Christ image that dominates us is the suffering Christ and not the Christ who rejected the dominant religious and political systems of His time. The clenched fist of Jesus at the left side of the cross in Manong Ed’s painting.

When asked about the meaning of the figures at both sides of the cross, Dela Torre explained, “I decided to add leaves sprouting from the left arm of the cross, beyond the fist of resistance. Although the theology of struggle focuses on resistance, we do not need end there. We believe that new life will rise, like the leaves, from the dead wood of the cross. It adds the perspective of hope. To balance the leaves on the left, I filled the space beyond the right arm of the cross with leaf-like patterns on jungle uniforms of the military, and the face of a frightened child.” The “Notes for a Theology of Struggle” is an unfinished work of art and still an opus magnum in progress. Despite of the horrors of Martial Law, the painting comforts us for it leaves us a message that Christ shares in our suffering and struggle.

The turbulent times brought about by Martial Law in the Philippines gave birth to excellent works of art,- movies, novels, music, etc. that are too many to mention. Men and women who lived through it at least have a story or two to tell or re-tell. We need to keep alive the works of progressive artists coming from those dark sides of history when more than 3 thousand people have been killed and faced death. Their works are essential not only to inspire us though the struggle for justice and lasting peace is not yet over, but to celebrate that we, the “Martial Law babies” or survivors, are still alive. And the Generation X to be thankful for they are not yet born during those times. Those victims of "veneration without understanding" and "miseducation", as how nationalist historian Renato Constantino calls them. The "neo-Marcosists" as others would call them. 

The democratic space and the incomplete freedom that we are experiencing after EDSA, should not hinder budding artists here and now, to show their talents along this social or mass line. Pure entertainment is a staple of mass media nowadays without considering its redeeming social and literary value. We need works of art which depict the lives of ordinary people living in poverty, powerlessness and short-mindedness. These are the present-day artists’ battlefield. This must be their desk, studio and workshop aside from city streets and meeting places in the rural areas.

Now is the time they must even simply share artistic “notes” (not manuals) of struggle in case another Martial Law in whatever form and substance, threatens us again or in keeping up flame of freedom against this prevailing “selfie” mindset of our present political system…

(Photo : Ed Dela Torre's Blog)


  1. I know Fr. Ed dela Torre since my childhood as a family friend, for their batch which include Fr. Balweg, Bishop Palang, Bishop Vicente Manuel and some other seminarians at that time I can not remember anymore, they are always in San Jose during summertime they even have a basketball team participating in the summer league before, pero ngayun ko lang nalaman na magaling pala syang painter , tnx for the info

  2. He has other painting that gain prominence during Martial Law and beyond. Actually, Bishop Manuel told us that Manong Ed himself designed the present logo of the Apostolic Vicariate of San Jose. Thanks for dropping by and good luck..