Lualhati Bautista’s ‘Dekada ’70’ May Just Become a Penguin Classic and Here’s Why it Matters Now

MANILA, Philippines—Philippine classic literary novel “Dekada ’70” written by award-winning author Lualhati Bautista might just be the next Filipino novel to be released in the international publishing house Penguin Classics.

On January 27, the veteran novelist and writer-activist shared a Facebook post about an email from the Filipina Vice President and Publisher of Penguin Classics, Elda Rotor. 

In the post Bautista shared Rotor saying, “I had learned about your modern classic ‘Dekada ’70’ from my International Sales colleagues and was intrigued by the work and its impact and study in Philippine classrooms.” 

Screengrab from Lualhati Bautista Facebook

The award-winning “Dekada ’70” is a Filipino-written fiction novel published in 1983. It centers on a middle-class family trapped in the midst of one of the darkest periods in the Philippine history, the 1970s when the late dictator and president Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in the Philippines.

The narrative explains how the Bartolome’s coped with the changes during the Marcos era and how they were able to rise to the occasion and take on the Marcos regime alongside other empowered Filipinos. The political and historical novel won the grand prize of the 1983 Palanca Awards, one of the most renowned awarding bodies for Philippine literary work.

A film adaptation of the book was then released in 2002 by Star Cinema, directed by Chito S. Roño and starred by Filipino Celebrities Vilma Santos-Recto as the family matriarch, with Christopher de Leon portraying her husband Julian Bartolome. The film also gained awards from different award-giving bodies for movies in 2003 and is now still considered as one of the most compelling depiction of the Martial Law rule.

With its historical significance and the representation of Filipinos during the crucial era, both literary text and the film adaptation are still widely utilized in Philippine classrooms as significant sources of information in the academe.

The Penguin Classics Publisher continues to mention, “I read your English translation of ‘Dekada ’70’ and found the Bartolome family’s story in the era of Martial Law, especially from the mother Amanda’s perspective, very moving, timely, and propulsive and see the potential for your classic for a wider English-language audience, especially students, outside the Philippines.”

The British publishing house proudly accommodates classic works of literature worldwide with quality-written literature and historically significant pieces. Some Filipino novels already published in the Classics include the undoubtedly classical Filipino literary “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” by the Philippine National Hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, and another honored writer and novelist Nick Joaquin and his work such as “The Woman Who Had Two Navels” and “Tales of the Tropical Gothic”. Sooner or later, there is a possibility that we can witness the culture-shaping novel, “Dekada ’70” in the list.

This phenomenal literary work provides us with an experience of the occurrences of the grueling Martial Law not only from the perspective of Amanda Bartolome and her family but also from the perspectives of protestors, pro-administration individuals, military, leftists, and even the youth.

Without a doubt, Baustista’s storytelling allowed readers to relate and even immerse themselves to the characters’ situation during that period. In addition, the story is based on the first-hand experiences of Bautista; thus, the comprehensive and vivid narratives give us a sense of what truly happened at that time.

Since August of 2021, the book has already been translated into English and may be purchased through the Palanca Awardee herself through the author’s Facebook Account.

The novelist has yet to respond to the offer, but for sure, we anticipate the book being published as a Penguin classic and reaching millions of readers around the world, as well as worldwide classrooms.

According to the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, or HRVVMC, there were 11,103 victims of human rights violations during the Martial Law era from 1972 to 1986, but these figures only applied to approved claims. Yet, according to Amnesty International, at least 107,200 were victims during the Marcos administration; among these people were those who were brutally slaughtered, tortured, or imprisoned for no cause.  

Because the Martial law era is one of the most significant, memorable, and traumatic moments in Philippine history, “Dekada ’70” has become a canon of not just Philippine literature, but of our nation’s dark history that serves as a stark reminder of what needs to be prevented from happening again. The ability to be published and shared globally will aid overseas readers in comprehending how this horrific event affected Philippine history and society, as well as how its aftermath continues to affect Filipinos today, even with many obvious efforts to erase and revise it to the benefit of the oppressors.

“Dekada ’70” and other historical literary texts exist as evidence of our history, a past in which many people were subjected to repressive regimes, a past in which people were killed as a result of abuse of power, a past that must never be forgotten, and a past that we must not repeat.

After all, history SHOULD not have to repeat itself.