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Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr.

Text and photos by Dexter R. Matilla
For the Philippine Daily Inquirer

IF THE presiding judge in your court case was Simeon Dumdum Jr., whatever the decision might be, wouldn’t you think that it would be the very definition of poetic justice?

Anybody with a playful mind would probably be thinking the same while listening to Dumdum Jr. as he delivered the keynote speech during the 53rd national congress of the the Philippine PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) at the Montebello Resort Hotel in Cebu City. (The conference was supported by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.)

Dumdum, Cebu Regional Trial Court executive judge and a multi-awarded poet and essayist, certainly displayed his duality as he asked questions that should inspire heavy discourse: What does it matter to the child of an accused being tried in a court where the judge writes poems and essays?

The possible answers are much too many, yet not one may be the right one and, as Judge Dumdum emphasized the writer’s commitment to justice and compassion, he likewise underscored the promotion of a “justice that restores, and not just punishes.”

Dumdum then read a poem that he wrote on the Maguindanao massacre. Perhaps to cushion the impact of the painful imagery of the Mindanao poen, he ended his talk with a poem from his new collection, a series on birds, “If I Write You this Poem, Will You Make it Fly?” Written during Dumdum’s rehabilitation from cancer, the avian poems, according to the Judge, exemplify the meaning of living “without borders,” an allusion to the theme of the 2010 PEN congress, “Solidarity in Literature Without Borders.”

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, the Philippine PEN chair, explained that the conference theme is a call for writing that opens up and demolishes borders set up by racism, elitism, gender discrimination, and ideological stereotyping.


National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera

The call, he said, is a counterpoint to the illusion of ’no borders’ that capitalist globalization has manufactured for underdeveloped economies in that the exploitation of the natural wealth of countries that can be lured into bartering their patrimony for short-term gains, indiscriminating hospitality to wealthy multinational corporations.

“We must learn to create and develop our own native-specific borders to protect our people against the subliminal subversion our TV sets, our computers and our movie screens work into the national psyche,” Lumbera said.

“Creative writers are our irrepressible allies in this endeavor.”

 Writers all at the 2010 Philippine PEN Congress


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