Analyzing `Rosas ng Digma’ and `Ang Tugon’

If you’re an activist, you might have already heard of the album Rosas ng Digma (loose translation: “Rose of War”) by Musikang Bayan which was launched in 2001. I also can’t blame you if the songs in the album are among your favorites. The songs have, after all, a progressive take on love and relationship.

Even if I think I don’t deserve to be called an activist, I am somewhat hooked on listening to these songs every now and then. Suffice it to say that the entire album is in my MP4 player. My personal favorites are I Could Have Said, Sa Duyan ng Digma, Kahit Kailan, Rosas ng Digma and Ang Tugon (in that particular order).

But just how progressive is it? I discussed in one of my classes that the songs are good, but not good enough to pass the highest standards of ideological, political and organizational correctness.

Upon visiting the Philippine Revolution Web Central (PRWC), a website maintained by the information bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), you may notice that Rosas ng Digma is not included in the section “Mga Rebolusyonaryong Awit” (Revolutionary Songs).

Don’t get me wrong. The songs in Rosas ng Digma talk about love at a time of chronic crisis and use the revolutionary movement as a backdrop in creatively illustrating the joys and hardships that those in love go through. However, the discourse on love has, from time to time, delved more on the personal rather than political. There are also lines in the song that border on sexism.

Please read carefully the lyrics of the title cut Rosas ng Digma:

Sumibol sa isang panahong marahas
Bawat pagsubok ay iyong hinarap
At hangga’t laya’y di pa nakakamtan
Buhay mo’y laging laan

Namumukadkad at puno ng sigla
Tulad mo’y rosas sa hardin ng digma
At di maiwasang sa’yo ay humanga
Ang tulad kong mandirigma

(Refrain) Ako’y nangangarap na ika’y makasama
Taglay ang pangakong iingatan kita
Ang ganda mong nahubog sa piling ng masa
Hinding hindi kukupas, di malalanta

Ang kulay mong angkin, sintingkad ng dugo
Nagbibigay-buhay sa bawat puso
Tinik mo’y sagisag ng tapang at giting
Sa langara’y kislap ng bituin

(Repeat refrain twice)

Gaya ng pag-ibig na alay ko sinta

While the revolutionary backdrop is clear, it’s unfortunate that the male singer likens his loved one to a rose that should be taken care of. The subtext is that women are inherently weak and, like roses and other plants, cannot survive without kindness of those who care. Perhaps those involved in the armed struggle frown upon the use of the phrase “hardin ng digma” (garden of war) because there is nothing green or beautiful about the ongoing war. To be blunt about it, the people’s war may be just, but it is inherently ugly, very much unlike a garden with its pristine greenery.

The answer to this song, aptly titled Ang Tugon and sung by a female, proves to be much worse:

Ika’y paru-parong nangahas lumipad
Sa dilim ng gabi pilit na umalpas
Pagkat hanap mo’y ningning at laya ng bukas
Sa aking mundo’y napadpad

Katulad ng iba ay nagmamahal din
Kahit malayo ay liliparin
Upang pag-ibig mo’y iparating
Sa rosas ng iyong paningin

(Refrain) Ako’y nangangarap na ika’y makasama
Taglay ang pangakong iingatan kita
Ang ganda mong nahubog sa piling ng masa
Hinding hindi kukupas, di malalanta

(Repeat refrain)

Gaya ng pag-ibig na alay ko sinta

My tip to those who are planning to profess their love: Please do not say that your loved one is like a butterfly. The latter’s life span is only up to two weeks, and studies show that “the male tends to live a few days than the female.” I remember a moderate student political party at UP Diliman was criticized a few years ago for using the butterfly as its symbol of change. So why is it now used as a symbol of militancy?

That both the male and female singers of Rosas ng Digma and Ang Tugon are yearning to be together may sound harmless; but in the context of revolutionary struggle, isn’t it logical for both of them to be part of it? In other words, both the man and the woman should be mga pulang mandirigma (red warriors). It may not be the intention of the singers and composers, but those who have listened to this song could have the impression that the revolution gets in the way of unrequited love between two people.

The weaknesses of the two songs partly explain why I like the other songs in the album more, even if they also have their own share of weaknesses, the details of which could be the subject of another post.

Then again, I am very happy to note that there are efforts by Musikang Bayan to sort of rectify the weaknesses of the song Ang Tugon. Below is a video from YouTube (uploaded on August 3, 2007) which shows a live performance of Musikang Bayan in Cebu City. Please pay close attention to the revised lyrics of the second song, widely applauded by the audience. (Technical note: If you’re using Dilnet, chances are you won’t be able to view the video as the UP Computer Center blocks YouTube.)

Now, isn’t that much better, even if the allusion to the man as the butterfly is still there? And isn’t it a coincidence that the female singer is a former student of mine?By the way, I am constrained to make this post as a rejoinder to a discussion I had in my J 122 (Publication Design and Layout) class.

Yes, design and layout have nothing to do with music, but both of them need to adjust to a target audience which was the subject of my discussion. Thank you for reading.

14 thoughts on “Analyzing `Rosas ng Digma’ and `Ang Tugon’”

  1. I enjoyed our discussion about that in class. Although I was the one who said that the lyrics are a bit…well slanted in terms of gender awareness, i would have to admit that RND is one of my favorites in terms of musicality. Of course you made us listen to it when I was a freshman, back in your j100 class.
    I could have said was my first favorite “progressive” song then. But the Anak ng Bayan CD is much much better…

    Reply: It’s good to know that you appreciate our class discussion. I agree that other albums like Anak ng Bayan are better, in the sense that they are more “politically correct.” But to be fair to Rosas ng Digma, it’s a very good attempt to present love at a time of chronic crisis and to try to be popular at the same time. That would also explain why I like the album despite its weaknesses.

  2. about the rosas ng digma.. well, i am not a feminist but more of a womanist. i do not believe in the concept that women are the stronger sex but are of equal footing with men.

    The person I’m with now is an activist, and he was the one who introduced me to this song.. I have seen him in the midst of a mob a lot of times, and this song touched my heart. I agree that there isn’t any manifestation of being “political” per se in the lyrics, but It’s in the context- the first hand experience and the memory of seeing someone you love standing on the line fighting that compensates to what seems to lack in the lyrics of the song. That made it extra special for us because it makes us realize more that people who join the mobs or people who take active roles in political issues aren’t just mechanical organisms-but real, living, and feeling human beings.. .

    When I heard him sing this to me, I did not feel offended or even bothered of being likened to a rose.. because in love we are of the same footing- we are all weak, and yet in weakness, we find strength.

    ..about the “hardin ng digma”.. pakalimiin natin na ang isang hardin ay hindi lamang nagtataglay ng ganda, o ng katahimikan.. sa hardin, madalas na may mga damong unti-unting pumapatay sa mga halaman.. i believe that that’s the point of it- the rose, in its being termed as “delicate” finds the strength to grow and fight against the severity of the “hardin ng digma”… the strength in the midst of weakness is the strength of a woman.

    Nonetheless, I appreciate men like you who happens to become more gender sensitive…

    ^_^ take care and God bless.

    Long Reply:

    Thanks for your message which raised a lot of interesting points:

    1. Feminist and womanist – From what I’ve read, feminism does not advocate female superiority but gender equality, which is what you believe in. The struggle for the liberation of women is rooted in the patriarchy (or male superiority) that exists in society. The objective is to remove any form of superiority on the basis of gender, not to replace male with female superiority. From what I know, “womanism” is the word coined by Alice Walker to describe the situation of African-American women.
    2. The movement’s “human face” – I agree that the song gives a human face to the revolutionary movement that is often perceived to be mechanistic, given the rigidity of its organization. However, I think the songs in Rosas ng Digma have become “too subjective” for comfort. In other words, the feelings tend to be more significant than the cause. One gets the impression that the revolution gets in the way of true love, as is the case of “Ang Tugon” (though one can better appreciate this point after listening to the song “Kahit Kailan” where even failure in pushing the revolution forward was considered an option.)
    3. “Hardin” as venue for “digma” – You have an excellent point that gardens also have weeds that can destroy the beauty, or the illusion of it. I think that is a valid, alternative way of analyzing the lyrics of “Rosas ng Digma.” As an “enlightened male” who cannot be considered a feminist, I hope you understand our difference of opinion: Your interpretation of the garden still cannot explain why the male has to “take care” of the female (likened to a rose) when the latter should be able to stand on her own two feet.

    Nevertheless, I repeat my appreciation for the production of an album like “Rosas ng Digma.” As in your case, my wife and I also like listening to the songs. Mabuhay ka!

  3. .,great great.. ^_^

    was just trying to look for the lyrics and i found your blog.. hmm.. interesting..

    i’m just nineteen and i would surely want to know more and mature more in terms of my perspectives. ^_^

    thanks po.. hehe

  4. dani,
    napadaan ako sa web site na ito at nakapag-basa ng ilang ma kwento sa pag-ibig, kritka sa mga awit at iba pa.

    maya napansin lang ako na napasingit, bakit may pampanga scandal 4 sa nasa taas na mga short videos.

    good luck and more power

  5. this is the first time that i have visited this site and i am already getting hooked. anyway, in my opinion, the person who wrote this song probably wasn’t really conscious about the gender-awareness thing as his/her main objective of writing the song was to convey what he/she feels inside in an activist’s perspective.

    i once wrote a piece about rekindling a dying relationship using a “candle” as the objective. my point is, there is a lot of things in this world that we can use to describe what we feel subliminally. on the surface, a candle is a mere piece of wax that is useless without fire. but when you use it to channel your love for somebody, combine it with words, the world will be a bright place for you, at least for me. although i just pretended that my girlfriend and i was about to part ways (we did part ways eventually \m/).

    rosas ng digma is like beauty i ugly.

    Reply: So nice of you to drop by! I guess you’re right about the composer of the song not being conscious about gender. But I’m sure you’ll agree that an intrinsic part of activism is being gender-sensitive, and a composer-activist should try his or her best to be one. I’m curious about the love song you composed and I hope you’ll make it public someday through your blog or public profile (e.g., Friendster or Facebook). It’s unfortunate that you’ve parted ways with your loved one, and I wish that you’ll find happiness in the near future. All the best!

  6. it’s not a “love song”, btw. a short poem it was, and i thank the stars above that we broke up for i wouldn’t have met my constant reminder that life is beautiful: Shirlene and Li’l Leela. here is the piece:


    Muli nating sindihan, o aking irog
    At paluhain ang bulag niyang mata
    Mabigyan man lang ng liwanag
    Ang kadilimang natamo
    Dahil sa panaghoy ng hangin
    Ng ating hindi pagkakaunawaan


    very obvious? ;-) i have posted a few of my pieces @ my friendster blogspot ( but sadly i couldn’t keep it updated. i was busy or “nagbi-busy-bisihan” these past months. another reason is (as i have read from another blog) that it might be “stolen” from me. anyways, if you find something wrong or anything about this piece, feel free to bash me in the head. i have always wanted somebody to help me hone my writing skills, if you even call it “skills”.


    Reply: No bashing necessary for it’s obviously very inspired writing. But don’t take my word for it because I am not an authority when it comes to poetry, or creative writing for that matter: With the exception of a recent column article (Nakakapatula ang mga sandaling ito), the last time I had a couple of poems published was in the mid-1990s.

    But I hope you don’t get offended when I say that your poem seems incomplete or unfinished. Or perhaps you decided to just provide an excerpt given your apprehension about your work being stolen, a sad reality in making it part of the public domain which is cyberspace.

    Then again, your friends and other discerning readers of this blog may have a different take: It’s supposed to be bitin (to use a Filipino term) because the poem talks about one’s emotional uncertainty brought about by one’s affection.

    Either way (incomplete or not), I like the use of the characteristics of the candle in depicting one’s depression, not to mention the darkness resulting from the separation. I hope you’ll continue writing. Don’t think I’m being patronizing when I say that I see a lot of potential. All the best!

  7. thank you…

    i really intended it to be incomplete. i want my readers (naks!) to use their creativeness, to use their poetic side that’s not being used. i used to write complete poems, but once in a while i tend to keep the rest to my self, like not totally giving all of my soul to them. anyone may disagree but that’s just me.

    i am currently looking for a spark to ignite the passion in me again. for the more i grow old, the more my hands get tied this routine life: i have to till more now for my family. again, my sincerest thank you. i do bless my stars for having met a person like you. irie!

    Reply: Your reason for making your poem incomplete makes sense, I guess. Barthes believes, after all, in the “death of the author” (not literally, of course) when it comes to works of art. I’m sure you know that writing is more of perspiration than inspiration (a popular saying puts it at 99:1), so the only suggestion I can give you is to just go ahead and write and not wait for divine intervention euphemistically called inspiration. In other words, procrastination is an enemy of writing! I can, however, understand your apprehension because whatever you write (creative or not) is a reflection of who you are. Good luck on your writing!

  8. mabuhay ang malayang aktibismo marami akong songs ng rosas ng digmaan justice fro those people killed na ang tanging hangad eh malayang pagpapahayag ng kanilang saluobin

  9. pls po paki sendnan nyo ako ng songs ng musikang bayan, specially rosas ng digma album.wla kc akong mahanap na cd nito eh.thank you so much

  10. San po pwedeng makuha mga songs ng musikang bayan?

    Sagot: May mga nagbebenta ng CDs ng Musikang Bayan. Nabibili ang mga ito sa ilang tiangge ng mga NGO. Salamat.

  11. May I repost your writeup regarding Rosas ng Digma and Ang tugon? With your credits in my blog plus your URL as its source.

    In fact, I listened much to progressive and revolutionary music during my freshmen days in college (although during my elementary days I listened to the Internationale) and Rosas ng Digma as one of its examples that I listened very much back then. Well… reminiscing the past

    Reply: Sure. Be my guest.

  12. tanong ko lang po kung sino ung voice behind the song rosas ng digma sa album ng musikang bayan? sino rin po ung sumulat ng rosas ng digma? kasi iba po yung voice nung lalake sa rosas ng digma ang tugon with the female vocals n napanood ko sa youtube na OST pala ng sigwa. Mas may dating kasi yung voice nung original na kumanta na lalake dun sa album.

    Sagot: Si Danny Fabella ang nagsulat ng Rosas ng Digma. Boses din niya ang nasa orihinal na bersyon. Salamat.

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