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a blog-tribute by a.a.
OUR ROOTS, OUR RIZAL
Hindsight by F. Sionil Jose
Philstar May 16, 2011
I have this dubious distinction now of being “the old man of Philippine letters.” I am 86; most of my contemporaries the first post-war generation of writers have gone and I am the last to bear witness to what transpired historically and culturally in the last century and on to this new and uncertain age.
The other year, I spoke before literature teachers also here in Santo Tomas as again, invited by Professor Ferdinand Lopez. We honored then the late Paz Latorena who was my favorite teacher here when I was a student in 1946 to 1949. Mila Tanlayco whom we are honoring now was not my teacher I am much older than her. Mila also taught a couple of generations in this university imparting to her brood her vast knowledge of modern and classical literature. Her scholarship was impeccable as was her dedication to her profession. She inherited the mantle which Ms. Latorena had so devotedly worn.
I apologize for sounding so patronizing as I will now define what you should do, impressed as I was with Ms. Latorena in the past and in more recent times, with Mila Tanlayco. Bear in mind, too, that I have taught in this university and elsewhere, that I have written criticism but now I am just an old, tired hack.
First, don’t make literature difficult. Do not torture your students with too much mind-bending tests. Make literature interesting; enjoyable. Do not overload your students with literary theory, obtuse explications indicating superior academic honing. In the first place, in a high school or undergraduate class of 60 you will be lucky if you will be able to develop five teachers, critics or writers. Impress upon them that only literature teaches ethics, that with it, we get to understand ourselves and society better and in the process we develop into better members of a community and therefore of a nation. Be highly selective in the novels, stories, poems and plays you assign. And avoid boring verbose writers such as those endorsed by American academe, the likes of Henry James, and E. M. Forster. Do not be uppity and ignore crime and science fiction they will reveal to your students the most important element in writing: the narrative technique. Stories are moved forward by their plots not always, but plots hook readers and make them hang on to a book to the very last page.
Literary theory is important if you are also a critic but a teacher does not need to be an expert on it unless you are teaching a Ph.D. or M.A. class on the very subject of theory itself.
Know then our own literary traditions, aesthetics, but not to specialize in them unless, like I said, you are teaching a postgraduate class. Personally, I don’t bother at all with theory; I rarely attend to critics unless they are writing about my work. Then I read them in the hope that I’ll get a wee bit something that might help me. I don’t need critics because I am my own severest critic. You should be, too.
Craft is knowing the writing tools and using them well. The teacher who can teach craft is a better teacher. Literature workshops are useful when they teach craft and shortcuts to good writing identity, the mistakes young writers should avoid. I never really believed in workshops. The really good that they do is not in the official sessions, but outside it when workshops get writers together and develop in them a sense of communality. And of course, writers and teachers who never earn enough get financial and emotional aid from workshops.
Agood writer is both a teacher and a critic. With apologies to Ms. Venus Raj, I borrowed her phrase, “major, major” to categorize writers. These are the categories Major Major, Major Minor, Minor Major, Minor Minor. The Major Majors are at the top; the best, they are all dead. The Major Minors are the next in line they are still living. The Minor Majors are the best of the second raters and the least appreciated are the Minor Minors. This ranking is, of course, personal it is my word as against all others but then, I have the authority of age, of experience. My ranking may be arbitrary and I may change my mind because some of the writers are still very much alive. But for those who have passed away, my rating stands. Practice using these.
There is a caveat to this system of rating. No matter how learned or solid his reputation the critic is not the final judge of literary quality. Not even the public which is fickle, whose taste changes as easily as the seasons. Time is the ultimate judge. If after a mere hundred years, or a thousand years, a literary work is still appreciated, then it is truly great it is classic.
For this reason, teachers, critics and writers must have a solid grounding in the classics so that they will be anchored on the great canons and will know in their very marrow what is also mediocre. In the Philippines, the absence of a strong critical tradition enables bogus reputations to flourish, awards to be given to counterfeits.
Reading some of the new writing in English by the young, I am impressed by their command of the language, their innovative gimmicks, so much so that I lose the narrative thread and I have to go back to pick it up. Reading them brings back my own youth when I was so enamored with the prolix prose of William Faulkner and, at the same time, conscious of the simplicity of William Saroyan. There were no literary workshops in the ’40s but we were being introduced to the New Criticism in vogue in the United States.
In my teens, I was weaned on the English classics; in grade school, I was introduced to the basics of American literature, the poetry of Longfellow, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the essays of Tom Paine, of Lincoln, and to top them all, the novels of Rizal.
In hindsight, I am glad that this was my background for I was to shape my craft with what is aptly defined perhaps as Western technology, while rooted in the mores of my own village.
I say this as an oblique comment on our young writers. They have been attending too many workshops and are too bewitched by techniques and neglecting the most important technique of all which is how to tell a story. They have so much love for words but not enough for thought. If they try to be thoughtful as all writers hope to do, the attempt at profundity is drowned in the diarrhea of words.
Sometime ago, I was with a young writer who asked why, even if writing does not pay, I have persisted to this decrepit old age. I have never wondered about myself and all the others who wrote to the very last day of their lives. NVM Gonzalez, Bienvenido Santos, and of course, Nick Joaquin, and closer to my time, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil; in her late eighties, she had written three books, a two-volume autobiography, and a historical essay.
Going back, there is Jose Garcia Villa, who produced nothing after he was 50 although he created the myth that he had something in the works. In my own old circle, I recall so many who were brilliant but who dropped by the wayside even before middle age.
Then there is Yasunari Kawabata of Japan, Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow in the United States they also persevered to the very end.
In the ’60s the painter Vicente Manansala and I were talking about longevity in art. He recalled that famous story attributed to Rizal, how the turtle and the monkey fought over the possession of a banana plant. They decided to halve it the monkey chose the upper part because it already had fruit and the turtle chose the lower part. Both planted their choices; soon enough the monkey’s upper portion died while the turtle’s choice lived.
Roots our truest, biggest, is Rizal himself they explain why some plants, like men and particularly the artist, endure. Look at the trees some have very short roots and come a strong typhoon, they are soon bowled over. But those whose roots have sunk deep and wide into the earth are not easily uprooted they may be broken, but they survive not just the typhoon but the drought as well.
And what strength! We see some cemented sidewalks broken by the sheer power of roots that make the tree grow. Rocks, inhospitable ground these are not obstructions to the upward surge of trees or of the artistic spirit.
How does an artist acquire such formidable roots? They adapt the mangrove to the salt of the sea, the cactus to the waterless desert, the orchid to God’s sweet air and, of course to the dead bark which anchors it.
And the weeds that die in the dry season, they grow again when the rains start their seeds left on the soil.
This is the miracle of life, and of art itself.
In history, we see the triumph of the hu-man spirit Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova who shone through the gloom of Stalinist tyranny. These writers’ roots were buried deeply in the sacred soil of their native land.
But there are also writers welded to no particular niche in the earth, to a country, or to a place in time. They are the exiles of memory from some trauma of the soul, political persecution; they are tenacious refugees or castaways. Their sustenance and passion whorl from that cosmos called ideal, ideology, religion, faith, whatever that enlivens and perpetuates.
The writer’s own life is now his richest material; he must study himself, shed all sense of pride and be naked to his own creative eye. He knows if he is his own critic that art is the most tyrannical and demanding mistress he has to serve with unblemished constancy.
Ideals also chain a writer to reality. These ideals are different from ideas although it is very possible that ideas may strengthen or at the same time erode such ideals. They may be so lofty as to be unreachable the perfectibility of man, for instance, or equality and justice for all. Such goals are avidly sought; sometimes those who seek to achieve them give up their property, their very lives. The search for a moral order and social justice is difficult if not impossible. In the context of our own society; writing, articulating the ideal, no matter how eloquently and constantly, is never enough. It is in pursuing such an ideal that many writers are often trapped in that most troubling of dilemmas; the rigid requirements of art are just as stringent as the demands of the ideals artists cling to. Art squeezes so much from the sensibility, the mastery of the craft, as against the need for propaganda, for the political inertia which the ideal compels. In espousing social justice, Rizal was a consummate artist; Jose Maria Sison, in espousing the same, was not he used words crudely to advance his cause. This difference should be ingested by those who write and teach.
This year, we mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of our National Hero. His monument is in every town plaza, all the main streets of our towns are named after him. It is to be expected then that even after a century and a half, his novels are still read, his influence pervasive and wide.
It should not be just the ideas, or the work of writers that should be embedded in our consciousness and woven with our genes. Indeed, if Homer, Goethe, Cervantes, Shakespeare if these anointed writers shaped the granite foundations of their countries, so did Rizal for what is Filipinas without him?
All too often, writers are exalted because of what they wrote. It is not just Rizal’s work alone that inspires. It is his life. He conversed with the highest Spanish officials, the Spanish governor general, the Archbishop; if he was not so highly stationed and was of the common clod, he would have been executed sooner. Remember he belonged to the privileged principalia, well educated, socially groomed. But such attributes did not prevent him from serving his people not just as a writer but as a teacher, a medical doctor, a builder.
His class origins did not narrow his perspectives or limit his roots from sinking farther, deeper into the earth. In his novels, he had “two eternal heroes” who suffered, who will always live in memory Sisa in the Noli, and Cabesang Tales in the El Filibusterismo both from the lower classes. I recreated them in my novels, Sisa as Tia Nena the mother of Victor and Luis in My Brother, My Executioner and Cabesang Tales as Ba-ac, the old patriarch in Po-on.
We are seldom aware of our own roots, how fathomless and far they cling, until we unravel and identify with them. Beyond this simple identification, we can then belong to the community such roots nourish. Our fealty develops, our commitment deepens and we then learn to love not just the emblems of this community but most important, its Sisas and Cabesang Taleses as well. Thus Rizal instructed us with the literature he wrote. Jose Maria Sison produced propaganda. After a hundred years Rizal’s novels are still read because art endures. Jose Maria Sison’s writings are soon forgotten except by his acolytes because they are propaganda.
Rizal epitomized the logic of love sacrifice.
Today, the truest heirs of Rizal are not the arty farty poets, not the wayward dreamers who crave awards, or those wishy-washy campus upstarts blindly imitating the bestsellers in the West and imbibing in their innards the transient vagaries of literary fashions. Nor those writers who divorced themselves from their environment. Rizal scorned them.
Rizal’s truest heirs are writers like Manuel Arguilla, Eman Lacaba, the engagee in our vernaculars who are the staunchest critics of society, those who tapped into the roots of our native culture like Nick Joaquin, all of them committed to this land so loved and yet so willfully betrayed.
In the twilight of Spanish domination, from among the Spanish rulers themselves, there were those who thought that killing Rizal was a grievous mistake. But from the perspective of those who held absolute power, they were correct in doing so. Rizal had attacked them mortally with the most powerful instrument that man has in his handsa weapon which we often do not recognize. This is truth the shining and noble truth that can only be best molded by the artist affectionately rooted in the reality of that truth itself. This truth touches, graces the deepest sensibility of man, his mind, his heart where all emotions start. This truth which art adorns and bears high is made even stouter and permanent precisely because it is the purest quintessence of our humanity.
Now, I ask: can this truth be acquired in the classroom by a generation which has ignored Rizal, but is now besieged by the same corruption, decay and apathy which he battled in his time?
I am not too sure, but at the very least, those of us who teach and write can try. We must if only to prove that we are.
* * *
F. Sionil Jose delivered this speech at the recent national conference of teachers of literature at the University of Santo Tomas.
Jose “ Ka Pepe” W. Diokno: Makatao, Makabayan By Bernardo Noceda Sepeda
Diokno On Trial is a complete guide to the handling of a case in court by Jose Manuel (Chel) Diokno, the lawyer-son of Jose W. Diokno, who is now dean of the La Salle College of Law. It is a slim book that should be in the hands of every Filipino lawyer for it includes not just lawyerly techniques but some of his distinguished father’s speeches. It should be read not just by lawyers but by all Filipinos who want to know more about their unhappy country and how this brilliant lawyer and patriot served his people.
The new Diokno biography is by Professor Sepeda who teaches at La Salle in Dasma-rinas; he has added insightful information about this patriot. His book is in Tagalog so I haven’t thoroughly read it but Professor Sepeda’s credentials are impeccable; I am sure it is a good book because by some arcane osmosis, the subject is also good. It was launched last week at De La Salle on Taft and present were Mrs. Carmen (Nena) Diokno, her daughters Maris and Cookie and her son Chel. All three are chips off the old block I hope that Maris will be president of the University of Philippines and Chel a future Supreme Court justice. He has revived FLAG the pro bono covey of lawyers originally set up by his father during the martial law years; FLAG defended the victims of martial law oppression in the courts.
The truest leaders of a nation are not always anointed by elections or popular acclaim. They do not preen before an adoring populace, or strut in the perfumed corridors of power in fact, they stay away from the sharp focus of media, from the rambunctious pulpits of quasi-religious charlatans. It is in their nature, their sterling character, to work quietly, persistently, often at their own expense and personal sacrifice or discomfort. And some, as a matter of fact, are reduced to penury by their own virtue. What they do is voice the aspirations of the silenced and the silent, and are the pithy conscience of a people often mired in ignorance and apathy. Apolinario Mabini of the Revolution of 1896 was one crippled, poor, but enlightened, he provided the ideological underpinning of that revolution, and though thrust away from the inner councils of the President of the first Republic, Emilio Aguinaldo, he went on to write and speak for the nation that had become an American colony. Jose Wright Diokno is another the truly marmoreal opponent to the Marcos dictatorship, in a sense stronger than Ninoy Aquino because he never aspired to take over from Marcos. And also because he stayed home.
I first knew Pepe Diokno when I was in the old Manila Times in the 1950s; I had gravitated to politicians like him Raul Manglapus, Manny Pelaez, Manny Manahan all of whom championed agrarian reform. I really got to know him best after my return from Sri Lanka in 1964 and I opened Solidaridad Bookshop late that year. I often saw him in Joaquin Po’s Popular Bookstore at Doroteo Jose where, in the ‘50s, Manila’s tiny circle of writers/intellectuals often perused Joaquin’s latest books from the United States and the United Kingdom.
I was fascinated by Pepe primarily because of what he had done in 1962 the year that I left for Sri Lanka for a diplomatic posting. As Secretary of Justice in the Macapagal cabinet, he prosecuted Harry Stonehill and had the American businessman thrown out of the country.
Harry Stonehill came to the Philippines with the US Army of Liberation in 1945 and had stayed on like a few of those GIs who saw opportunities in the erstwhile American colony. He had married into one of the wealthy local families and, with his business savvy, had started a conglomerate of enterprises pioneering and innovative. It included a ramie plantation in Mindanao that would have developed into a major textile industry, glass manufacturing, and whatever else. He had allied himself with Filipino industrialists and was far ahead of so many of them in vision and energy.
Addressing a crowd in Manila: Pepe was a very good writer and a brilliant speaker in English and Tagalog.
But Stonehill was too loudmouthed, even for Filipino politicians who were adept at boasting. He made it known that he could have any politician in his pocket, and to me personally, he said that one reason for his success was that he diligently followed the 11th commandment: Never get caught.
But he did. Jose W. Diokno was his nemesis. Stonehill was banished, the enterprises he started dismantled and taken over by his lackeys.
Was the ousting of Stonehill evidence of Diokno’s anti-Americanism? In those many years that I knew Pepe, we had a continuing argument on two issues: his pronounced opposition to the American presence in the Philippines, and violence as a final option in revolutionary change.
Many in my generation had opposed the Parity Agreement imposed on us by the Americans upon the grant of our independence in 1946 that they have equal rights in the exploitation of our natural resources. And above all, the military bases the huge tracts of land which they controlled in Clark, Subic and elsewhere.
I had argued that his anti-American stance was politically bad for him because he was a politician in a country whose population is so pervasively pro-American.
As for violence as an option in a revolution against a tyrannical regime, I had argued that the state uses “white” violence against its own people when the justice system, which it controls, does not provide even simple justice to the oppressed. The answer to this intransigence is “red” violence which the people must exercise.
Pepe was truly a man of the law, of peace. “When you accept violence,” he said, “there is no way by which you can control it.” While he did not accept violence as such, many of those he defended in the courts subscribed to this belief.
Diokno’s opposition to the American bases was anchored on nationalist principles. I recall a lunch with the New Yorker writer, the late Robert Shaplen an old Asia hand and one of America’s foremost journalists covering the Philippines.
Bob had asked what the root of his opposition to the bases was, why he wanted them out when countries like Japan a very nationalistic country had them and so did Thailand. So many countries had defense treaties with the United States.
Diokno said, “We are a young country. We cannot develop without a strong sense of nation. The very presence of the bases here impedes precisely that feeling. You mention Japan, the other countries these are mature countries, they do not need to emphasize the importance of nationalism.”
I was in complete agreement with him. The American bases, the tremendous American influence in the country inhibited Philippine development because they perpetuated dependency and the teacher/pupil relationship.
Bob Shaplen understood that. Diokno admired America, so many of the egalitarian qualities of American society. He sent his children there to study, and when he was finally stricken with cancer, it was to the United States where he hurried for treatment.
From solitary imprisonment: Jose W. Diokno with wife Carmen, upon release from detention. Diokno was among the first jailed by the Marcos dictatorship, but he was never charged of any crime.
Diokno’s opposition to the American bases was shared by a vociferous minority. I had worried about it for the simple reason that it was not productive for any politician to harbor such sentiments. Even the New People’s Army could have gotten more mass support if it was not anti-American and pro-Chinese.
But later on, I changed my thinking. The Japanese were paying for the American bases in their soil. There were American bases in Korea, in Taiwan, and these countries were forging ahead of us. Verily, the American presence did not obstruct progress. On the contrary, these countries were able to take advantage of the best market in the world the United States.
Pepe was a very good writer and a brilliant speaker in English and Tagalog. Wherever it was, at the halls of Congress, a small caucus or a massive crowd at a political rally, his audience listened raptly, attentively for he was no common rabble rouser, spouting big words and hurling bombas as the rabble would call bombast.
Recounts Chel, his lawyer son, sometime in 1978 or there abouts, Diokno spoke at Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila. His theme: Marcos and his oppressive regime. The crowd was huge; it hung on to every word that he uttered, and at the end of his speech, as Chel observed, had he urged the crowd to march to Malacañang, he was sure that it would have done so. Was it Lenin who said that “power was in the streets, and all one had to do was pick it up”?
But after that speech, he asked his sons to go with him for a cup of coffee and Diokno told them why he had held back his mesmerized listeners: it was the right thing to do.
He was also a very good photographer; this not many knew. I saw his pictures, I saw him work in the dark room. He had vision, an artist’s clear and observant eye.
I say all these to illustrate the wide arc of his talents. I enjoyed visiting Pepe; for one, his secretary Perla Castillo is a schoolmate at the elementary school in the old hometown. It was also at his office were I often met the late Haydee Yorac, one of the stalwarts of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) which Pepe set up. And there was Cookie, his ever-helpful daughter.
When Marcos declared martial law in September 1972, Pepe was arrested and confined in solitary in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija at the same time that Ninoy Aquino was also jailed there. That month during which he was in solitary, he almost lost his sanity. The imprisonment was psychologically designed to humiliate and demean him. The tiny room was bare except for a cot. The window was barred, the door had no knob, and the fluorescent lamp couldn’t be switched off. He was denied reading and writing materials as well as material possessions.
He said Marcos was deliberate he released him but he continued to imprison Ninoy because Marcos knew Diokno was not a real threat to him. He did not aspire for the presidency, he did not have the political machine that Ninoy had.
He could now oppose Marcos in the open and that is what he did. More than this, he continued to work for the workers and the peasants. There were occasions when I accompanied him to the provinces where he went at his own expense to defend the poor in court trials.
He confided that he intimidated the judges with his presence, a national figure, a political and legal luminary, on the side of the peasantry. Almost always, he won the court battles with his presence alone. The peasants adored him.
As with most of those who opposed Marcos, Diokno suffered financially. He had to let go of his house in Magallanes to transfer to a more modest and accessible house in Quezon City. But even with his diminished income, he continued his free legal service to the poor.
He was already on his deathbed when I last visited Pepe. Nena, his devoted wife, no longer permitted visitors, but because she recognized our long friendship, she allowed me to see him. I almost broke down when I saw him so wan, so emaciated. I did not want to tax his mind any further but I just couldn’t help myself. That Mendiola tragedy had just transpired; President Cory had refused to see the farmers asking for agrarian reform; they had demonstrated and 19 were killed.
“Pepe,” I said, “those who were killed in Mendiola how will they ever get justice? Their fate argues for revolution.”
He smiled. “Frankie, hindi nag-iba ang isip ko. Once you accept violence, there is no way you can control it.”
When he died, his body was brought to that church near his house. I went there one morning and on my way out, I came across them along the sidewalk outside the churchyard, recognized some the farmers whom Pepe had helped.
I asked, “Why aren’t you there inside close to him?”
One of them said, “We are here because Cory’s security people do not want us inside.”
I was so shocked and angry, as I left them tears burned in my eyes.
Achievers become popular, famous, rich even. But greatness? This exalted condition is reserved for those who have transcended themselves and given themselves sincerely to others, helped them in their time of need, comforted them in their grief, and lifted them from the sorry drudgery of this world. Jose W. Diokno was not an ordinary Filipino the way most of us are with our passports. He was a great Filipino, like all those paragons who make us proud.
My generation, which survived the Japanese Occupation, Marcos and the gross incompetence of the Cory and Erap administrations can make infallible judgments on our history and the decrepit quality of our leadership. History has always tested us the Revolution of 1896 and the subsequent coming of the American imperialists tested our grandfathers. The Japanese Occupation did the same to our fathers and my generation was sorely tried by the Marcos dictatorship. We know now why, alas, we failed.
We have honored so many political leaders who never deserved to be even on the shortest of pedestals, men who collaborated with our enemies, men who should be labeled as prostitutes and traitors.
Jose W. Diokno has yet to be fully recognized for what he has done, for what he stood for. At long last, there is a street named after him, a stretch of highway not often used, parallel to Roxas Boulevard; if comparisons are to be made, I would say that Pepe Diokno was greater than President Roxas although Diokno never achieved the eminence, the high office which Roxas reached as President of this Republic.
What is greatness in a man? Not all famous people to my mind are great in spite of their widespread popularity or fame; greatness presumes more than achievement, which makes an individual famous. Greatness is the essence of a person, the compassion that he exudes, the moral influence that he holds over people and events.
The young film director Pepe Diokno, who writes for this paper, has already won several awards for his brilliant work. I would urge him now to do a documentary on his grandfather and in this documentary, juxtapose Apolinario Mabini in it. It is my belief that Pepe Diokno, Sr. belongs to the same breed as the Sublime Paralytic. Like Mabini, Pepe Diokno possessed adamantine integrity; in his fight for the oppressed, he often stood fiercely alone from among his class of politicians. I am sure that among the very young today are many who will inherit not just his vision but the guts to fructify that vision.
A Conversation with Adolf Azcuna
HINDSIGHT By F Sionil Jose Updated June 14, 2009 12:00 AM
Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna of the Supreme Court
Since my bookshop is within walking distance from the Department of Justice, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, every so often, my customers are mandarins of the legal profession who, for so many years, have also reinforced my scant knowledge of the law. They include the late Chief Justice Enrique Fernando and, of late, the lawyer Saul Hofileña. During the last few years, however, my frequent mentor has been Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna of the Supreme Court. He has defined for me many vexatious quandaries in government, the wrinkles in the faded fabric of our free institutions.
His last Supreme Court decision, for instance, on the American marine who raped a Filipina resulted in the SC ordering the Department of Foreign Affairs to renegotiate the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. That treaty, according to Azcuna, did not give enough recognition to Philippine sovereignty. Convicted Americans should be jailed in local prisons, not in American facilities.
So once again, one lazy Saturday afternoon the other week, we were at Za’s Café behind my bookshop. Just retired at the mandatory age of 70, he does not look his years. Tall, suave — he could easily pass for a middle-aged movie star. But behind those macho and urbane attributes is, perhaps, one of the keenest legal minds in this country honed in academe, in the murky alleys of the Filipino reality as well as in its perfumed corridors of power.
Za’s Café is, of course, an Ermita landmark (this is a free commercial) and is the discreet rendezvous of politicians, government hierarchs and a few writers like Teddy Boy Locsin who journeys all the way from Makati to have an American turkey-style lunch on Thursdays. Adolf and I often settle for chocolate and Za’s gourmet ensaymada.
Most of us know that our courts are inefficient and viciously corrupted. Lawyers are known to write favorable decisions for the cases that they have won with grease; people say that such and such judge is “the best that money can buy.”
In a society where cynicism and apathy validate and exacerbate malfeasance of government, the ordinary Filipino must trust one — and perhaps the last — institution to provide him haven from persecution. What could that impregnable rock be? It is the Supreme Court, which is not only the final arbiter of the law, but hopefully, the unassailable redoubt of truth.
This being so, how may this court retain and fortify its credibility? As the third co-equal pillar of government the SC supervises the entire justice system. All judges and lower courts are its responsibility. It follows then, that it must oversee the system with unblinkered scrutiny, weed out its “crooks in robes.” The justices themselves must be transparent. Like all government employees, they must make public their assets and liabilities. This, Justice Adolf Azcuna has already done.
For all this burden heaped upon the SC, it is hobbled by so many obvious problems; perhaps the most trying is its miniscule budget. This is evident in the palpable and ramshackle buildings that pass off as houses of justice. Alas, the budget of the Judiciary is just one percent of the total national budget. To earn additional funding, the courts charge a “filing fee” — that is to say, when a case is filed, a certain fee is paid by the litigants. This fee is contentious because if it is too high, the very poor will be denied access to justice.
The Writ of Amparo, as initiated by Justice Azcuna, is perhaps the most meaningful rule that the Supreme Court has adopted to defend us. This is Azcuna’s enduring legacy to Philippine jurisprudence. Broadly, it is a “remedy to protect the right to life, liberty and security of every person.”
It strengthens the legal foundation of human rights, the writ of habeas corpus that protects the liberty of individuals by compelling the presentation of the body of a person detained without charges.
Amparo — which derives from the Spanish amparar, “to protect” — does more than the writ of habeas corpus because it grants “protection orders, inspection orders, and production orders in cases of extralegal killings and enforced disappearance.”
The writ was not legislated. The Supreme Court as mandated by the Constitution can formulate rules for the justice system and the writ is the latest of such rules.
The writ originated in Mexico as provided for the Constitution of the State of Yucatan in 1841; it was later incorporated in Mexico’s Federal Constitution in 1857.
Shortly after assuming his Supreme Court robe, Adolf Azcuna journeyed to South America to see how the Amparo Writ operates in that continent, notably in Mexico and Argentina. It also works in India and in the state of Minnesota in the United States. In fact, it is now included in the Protocol of the United Nations.
As a postgraduate in International Law and Jurisprudence of the University of Salzburg in Austria, Azcuna has long been familiar with the writ and its necessary adoption in the Philippines. In the dictatorships in South America — and, in more recent times, particularly during the Marcos regime, the “salvaging” of so-called enemies of the state and the unexplained disappearance of hundreds — these dictatorial brutalities demanded it.
Azcuna comes from Zamboanga. He graduated with honors from the Ateneo de Manila, placed fourth in the bar exams in 1962. He was a member of the 1971 Constitutional Convention and, yet again, of the 1986 Constitutional Commission. As early as the 1971 Convention he already began working for the adoption of the writ in the nation’s fundamental law. He was 32 at the time.
From 1992 to 2002, he was a partner in the Azcuna, Yorac, Arroyo and Chua Law Office.
Azcuna was spokesperson to President Corazon Aquino and later Press Secretary until 1991 and Presidential Legal Counsel from 1987 to 1991. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed him to the Supreme Court in October 2002.
As Associate Justice, his major decisions illustrate his concerns for the welfare of the common man. For instance, he promoted the Justice on Wheels program of the Supreme Court patterned after the World Bank supported project in Guatemala; the use of mobile courts to improve the access to justice of the very poor and “encourage speedy disposition of cases through the alternative means of dispute resolution.”
Azcuna attributes the tremendous backlog of SC cases to the vaulting ego of Filipinos, to their penchant for filing cases when so many of these disputes can be settled by arbitration or dialogue. Then, too, such cases are the bread and butter of our surfeit of lawyers. Lawyering is a growth industry; for so many Filipinos it is the most attractive job — how people love to be addressed as “Attorney”! Our surplus of lawyers is also due to the perception that lawyering is the sure path to wealth — just, as Azcuna says, soldiering is the most glamorous and lucrative profession in Thailand.
Adolf Azcuna is married to Maria Asuncion Aunario, dean for the last two decades at St. Scholastica College. They have four children. Aside from being a prodigious author of law books, Azcuna is also a seasoned photographer.
On his last birthday — the day that he retired — his staunch ally, Chief Justice Reynato Puno, convened an en banc session of the high tribunal. In that special meeting, Azcuna reaped a rich harvest from his colleagues who unanimously applauded his early and dogged effort to make the “Writ of Amparo” actually work for the people.
Unwilling to lose a good man, the Supreme Court appointed Azcuna, Chancellor of the Philippine Judicial Academy, in Tagaytay on June 1. The Academy, with a faculty of 30, trains judges. Slots for judges are not filled fast enough because the salaries of judges are not all that high. Though all judges are lawyers, some are not thoroughly familiar with the workings of the courts. Since decisions are in English, many judges need refresher courses in the language.
Shortly after he left the Department of Education where he was Secretary, the brilliant scholar and educator Edilberto de Jesus told me of the gladsome presence of many excellent and diligent men and women in the bureaucracy. He said that, though they often receive dismal pay, loyalty to duty sustains them.
So then, this government will eventually be delivered from the quagmire — not by peacock politicians or by mealy-mouthed radicals but by these Filipinos of sterling faith, good will and compassion, working often in anonymous crannies and believing that truth is justice in action or it is not truth at all. Adolf Azcuna belongs to this noble breed.
Here are some of the questions I asked him:
Philippine Star: In your years as Associate Justice, what did you see as our greatest problem insofar as the justice system is concerned? And how may it be corrected?
Adolf Azcuna: The backlog of cases. It can be corrected by a systems approach: computerization, increase of budget for the judiciary, training of Judges, pursuing the Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR).
Is morality, religion, or an abiding faith in God a necessary prerequisite in the making of a judge? Isn’t it enough that laws are interpreted as they are?
Probity, integrity, competence, independence are the requisites. A good moral character is part of that. Religious beliefs are left to one’s free choice.
You have served under three chief justices, Davide, Panganiban and Puno. There were those who questioned Davide’s decision to legitimize Gloria Arroyo’s takeover from Erap. I asked Chief Justice Davide why he did what he did, as a person and not as an interpreter of the law. He said he was afraid the military would take over. What is your take on this issue?
I was not a member of the Supreme Court then so I am not aware of its deliberations except through its published decision. I would rather simply abide by that Supreme Court decision.
Should the Supreme Court be activist, as is happening now?
The Constitution provides that it is the power and duty of the courts to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government. The exercise of this power and duty makes the courts “activists.”
It is the president who appoints the Supreme Court Justices. In the United States, the justices serve for life. What do you think of this system? Should judges be elected?
I believe our system of appointing judges and justices by the president from a list submitted by the Judicial and Bar Council is all right as well as the mandatory retirement age of 70.
There are voices critical of Chief Justice’s Puno moral crusade; saying that, again, the Supreme Court should be deciding on legal issues, not on moral problems. What is your view on this?
Chief Justice Puno’s moral crusade is a personal one and is not inconsistent with his position or office.
There is criticism that the Supreme Court is intruding into the prerogatives of the legislative and the executive branch in strictly economic matters, in legislating laws that it considers as rules. Is this criticism valid?
I subscribe to the philosophy (See, H.L.A. Hart, “Concept of Law”) that law is a fusion of rules and that these rules are accepted by society as having binding force because the people agree on the basic principles of what counts for law in our polity and how law may be changed and enforced. If this underlying agreement unravels we would be in trouble. That is why there is need to recognize and uphold the rule of law in every instance.
Filipino English: Literature as we think it
The author delivered this keynote lecture at the Conference on "Literatures in Englishes," National University of Singapore.
First, let me thank Prof. Edwin Thumboo for my presence here.
Natives often take for granted the icons in their midst, living as we do with them. It is often outsiders who notice them – and I must now, as that outsider who appreciates Singapore, who has watched this city state achieve its stature through the years, pay homage to Edwin whom I have known since the Sixties. I salute him as Singapore’s foremost cultural guru not just as a persevering educator but as an innovative poet, critic and impresario who has helped put this island nation on the map.
I will mention several authors and their work. Some of them are universally known. As for the Filipino authors, their currency is no longer limited to the Philippines, for some are published internationally. I also mention some of my work, to illustrate how my reading of English literature affected my imagination. English, after all, has become the lingua franca of the world, and for us in the region, the medium of communication. But more than this, we get to know a people better not through their history books but through their literature.
A bit of background on our literatures. Before the Spaniards came in 1521, five indigenous scripts were used by the early Filipinos although we were not known by that name for we were then, as now, many tribes on many islands. Two of such scripts are still in use, one by a group on the island of Palawan, and another by the Mangyans on the island of Mindoro. A word about Mangyan poetry – it is not the work of just one poet but a community effort for soon enough, a stanza is added to it, and the new stanza, if accepted by the group, becomes part of the poem that is recited by the community. The Mangyan script, like the other indigenous scripts, is phonetic.
The major tribes had their own epics. One of the most durable is the Darangen of the Maranaws. She has not been accorded the honor she deserves for what Sr. Delia Coronel did was translate this epic into English – several volumes that will now endure for, like so many folk epics, many are no longer chanted as the old people who know them pass away. It is one of the duties of Filipino scholarship to record them now.
The continuity in our literary tradition lies in our vernaculars, what is written by the writers in the major language groups, Tagalog, Cebuano and Ilokano.
Our Spanish literature flourished during the 19th century, and all but disappeared in the 20th century when the Americans invaded my country in 1898 and gave Filipinos a universal education in English, which the Spaniards did not with Spanish. The victorious American troops became the first English teachers and we came to recognize the public schools as their best legacy to us. I have been using English since I was six years old. When will it also fade away?
I like repeating this story for it illustrates how a writer loses a language and gains another. Like Prof. Thumboo who speaks Teochiu but writes in English, I also speak Ilokano and write in English. I am from the northern part of my country. We Ilokanos are a hardy breed, I like to brag that we are the most industrious of all the Filipino tribes, and like the Scots, we are also the stingiest. My tribe inhabits that narrow strip of coastal plain in Northern Luzon facing the China Sea. We are also known to be very patient, mindful of our own affairs. Because of our limited land resource, many have migrated – about 80 percent of the Filipinos in Hawaii are Ilokano, and the majority of Philippine immigrants on the American West Coast are Ilokanos.
My story happened some 40 years ago or so. By that time, I had worked abroad for several years, and had written entirely in English four novels and many short stories.
So here I was in my hometown as the guest speaker at a conference of Ilokano writers. They had asked me to lecture on the craft of fiction. The sponsoring organization — GUMIL — is one of the largest writers groups in my country, with branches in the United States and the Middle East.
It was very refreshing to listen to Ilokano flowing all over the place, to understand every word, every nuance. Then, it was my turn to speak and confidently, I started with the archaic and flowery greetings which I had not forgotten. But as I went on, although what I wanted to say was crystal clear in my mind, I couldn’t articulate it – the Ilokano words wouldn’t shape no matter how hard I tried.
I was helpless, enervated by an awful feeling of inadequacy which I had never felt before. I had become a stranger to my own language. I reverted to English which all of them understood for, as a matter of fact, most Filipinos have a working knowledge of English. The words then came smoothly and crisply.
My early education included the Greek myths, the poems of Longfellow, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. We were made to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysberg Address, the slogans of the American ethos like "Give me liberty or give me death." Then, on my own, I discovered Herman Melville, Thoreaux, Emerson, and later on F. Scott Fitzgerald, onward to Somerset Maugham, George Orwell, and on to Borges and Neruda, Soseki and Akutagawa, Brecht all in English translation, the whole exhilarating world of literature in English that included Rabindranath Tagore, and of course, our very own, the Ilokano writer, Manuel Arguilla before whom, at our National Library reading room, I used to sit but was too shy to tell him I was reading and admiring him. This was in 1941 when I was a high school senior.
In one generation, by the late twenties and early thirties, we were already producing a literature in English that could equal the best short fiction anywhere – the stories of Paz Marquez Benitez and Paz Latorena, to name just a couple.
By the thirties, our writers were completely at home with English, and in that period, a major literary debate took place, a debate which dates back to the ancient Greeks – literature, and its social function. This debate continues to this very day although no longer in such hortatory terms.
As a reminder, maybe we should digress a bit to this vestigial theme. For those of us in Asia whose traditions are different, in our pre-colonial societies, what was the function of the storytellers? The chanters of epics. The keepers of the faith and of tribal memory? Were they also possessors of arcane talismans that gave them power? Were they guardians of morals? Were they teachers? And today, are writers modernizers? Do we believe as some Westerners do that the pen is mightier than the sword? Have we contributed a stone to the skyscrapers of our cities, or as in my country, have we hastened its decay? After all, as our recent past has shown, so many gladly served the dictator Marcos and legitimized his plunder of our country. Ponder these questions for they are central to our existence.
There will always be writers who are flotsam, adrift and uninvolved with their own societies. We who write in a language not our own, in a sense, automatically become exiles whether we live or not in our own countries. This sense of exile is more pronounced in those who have imbibed in their consciousness those attitudes prevalent in the colonizer, attitudes which condemn the native culture as inferior, which distances them from the affectionate embrace of community and nation.
Rizal who wrote in Spanish was, therefore, a Spaniard, and Nick Joaquin who wrote in English, who said that all the good things in Filipinas were brought by Spain, was an American Hispanophile but both were thoroughly enamored with our country’s history, Nick in the Filipino’s celebration of a pagan past. And NVM Gonzalez and Manuel Arguilla – both wrote in English and reflected in their work the agrarian anxieties; NVM, having spent years in America, was entirely Americanized in his literary views; and Manuel Arguilla, influenced by proletarian American literature of the Great Depression, communed with the Filipino masa in passionate brotherhood.
The most pathetic of the exiles was the poet Jose Garcia Villa who, in the Thirties, blazed through our literary firmament with his clever and charming poetry which was not Filipino. He was seduced by the cultural exuberance of New York which he refused to leave. And yet others who clamor for a Filipino revolution in the safety of America, wallowing in American largesse.
In 1945, during a brief stint in the American Army, I amassed paperbacks that the Americans discarded after reading. I mulled over the novels of William Faulkner, his prolix prose which I soon imitated. His literary geography, his Yoknapatawpha County impressed me, reminded me of Rizal’s own literary territory. Both gave me the idea for a series of novels, also set in a geography such as Faulkner’s and Rizal’s, but more focused, with characters related to one another not so much by sanguinity, but by plot.
During the same period, I read the Steinbeck novels; they have a strong sense of place, as did Richard Lewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley. Steinbeck’s least known novel, The Pastures of Heaven, is about a small town and how a wayward bus stalls into it. I brought to mind my own boyhood; I could also use my own hometown as a setting for my novel Tree but that the stories should be interrelated. Then Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, and Albert Camus’ The Plague; they impinged upon me the need for an overriding theme. I looked around, turned inward, to our own tortured past; it was there like sacred parchment – our unending, even futile search for social justice and a moral order.
In citing these readings, I am deracinated, too, just as Rizal, Nick Joaquin, Manuel Arguilla and NVM Gonzalez were. But we achieved kinship with our vernacular writers whose defining work, as the cultural critic Bienvenido Lumbera stated, is characterized by stern social criticism. With them then, we are that continuum which strengthened the fragile pillar of our literary tradition and identifies us as Filipinos and not as aliens in our own land.
A friend had urged me to write finally a happy story with joyous circumstance and God knows I have searched for that particular milieu, for that fiesta atmosphere that will suffuse my fiction so that my readers will be elated rather than depressed. But everywhere I turn in my unhappy country – although there are smiles everywhere, although we are known for our flamboyance, our vivid and dazzling fiestas – underneath it all is this everlasting sorrow which pervades our very lives. And so, I continue to write what I know, which disappoints those who want joy, escape. I am sorry, I cannot please you. Perhaps I never will.
Exile is also a theme pursued by writers who are themselves ideological or cultural émigrés. This sense of alienation – what a heavy and abused word! is particularly rife among many middle-class Filipinos anguished by the poverty and the injustice with which the Philippines is now afflicted. Their comfortable lives threatened, many are migrating to "provide" as they say, a brighter future for their children.
This abandonment – for what else could it be – of the native land, can easily be justified of course, not just in its socioeconomic dimension, but even in its spirituality, for this is what it becomes when a literature not just of exile but of escape develops from this matrix of desperation.
In whatever language we write, we can profit from the West whose technology we can borrow and use in any way we want, never, never forgetting that we belong to a particular place, that our loyalties are to a particular people, and it is from this particularity that universality starts. It is also from this particular place, this nation which gives our work its identity. We should bear in mind that art always has nationality. What, after all, is Greece without Homer, Spain without Cervantes, England without Shakespeare, and Filipinas without Rizal.
But the literature of the West today has little thematically to impart or teach us. In these pampered, sybaritic societies, contemporary literature is often surfeited with of the trivia of suburbia – inert, bloodless, lifeless, to name just a few; Tom Wolfe’s, Paul Theroux’s, John Updike’s, Julian Barnes’, the modern I-novels of Japan. There’s nothing heroic or truly melancholy in them.
Surely affluent societies like Singapore throb with ambition, but there is bitter failure, too, and greed, corruption and vengeance lurking in corporate crevices. Death, suicide, passionate love, all these verities, the untenable contradictions, the ingredients for gripping narrative – the writer has to probe deep into the imagination then weave all these conflicts with conscience and with God even to create literature. The rich, after all, also bleed.
Some 50 years ago, J. D. Salinger wrote about one teenager’s anxieties and pain in wealthy America. Catcher in the Rye is now a classic. And censorship? It is a minor challenge to the artist. Remember, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote under the baleful eye of the dreaded Spanish Inquisitions.
Much of this aridity I surmise, is also due to the numbing influence of an academe that must rationalize its so-called high calling, its "science."
Literature is entertainment before it is anything else, just as all art should enrich our lives, explicate this dismal world. And these academics make literature difficult and tedious, when their function is to elucidate, to entice more readers not diminish them.
Many of our academics who earned their postgraduate degrees in Europe and the United States have done more harm than good in the development of our literatures. They immersed themselves in the cultures of the West or in countries other than their own. They honed their analytical skills on models foisted on them by their foreign teachers. In coming back, they repeat lessons from foreign literatures, at times transferring without any transformation of the pedagogical formulae they learned abroad. They force upon their students the same often boring literary models, the same analytical techniques without considering how necessary it is to look deeply at their own literature, its aesthetics, its linguistics and context.
They talk glibly about exotic literary trends and expect their students and colleagues to pay attention to such trends if they are to succeed. They parrot Jacques Derrida, and others – but these neo-fangled critics – study them, they say little or nothing pithy to us–they are new for newness sake.
In referring to foreign models, in alluding to their supposed superiority, we shackle our own imagination, our capacity to analyze on their own merits these aspects of our own literature (or culture) that we need to study, strengthen, and use in the creation of our own art, in lifting our folk culture to a higher plateau of sophistication and modernity.
Attention is now being focused on what the gurus label as post colonialism – the literature critical or emanating from colonialism itself. But is colonialism really over? It has assumed new forms in beguiling and seductive guises, as Borders or Kinokuniya, as Starbucks, as information technology, as globalism. Its worst form, of course, is the native variety when local elites are our own colonizers.
Is our writing useful not only to us, but to a larger community, to a people, to a nation? It is this search for justification, for an explanation of what we are doing, which will then give depth to what we do, not just relevance which we also seek, because we want to belong, because we want to go beyond the confines of our skins, to participate in the larger drama of existence, although in the end, what may happen is that we join the herd, we conform, we are homogenized and we lose that identity which we have so zealously tried to uphold.
In opting to write in English. I have not abandoned my Ilokano, which I love no less. What for do I continue pilgrimaging to the Ilokos where my ancestors came from, but to dip every so often into the hallowed well spring of my past.
English has strengths and weaknesses. Ditto with our languages which are imprecise in measurements but not in sensual expressions, indescribing attitudes, states of mind.
To emphasize color, I write mango green, tamarind brown, I use native flora, the landscape as metaphors, our myths, folk tales as themes. A hundred years ago, American soldiers fought our guerrillas in the mountains – bundok in Tagalog. That word has entered the American lexicon – boondocks. And our conversion of the jeep into the omnipresent jeepney it’s Filipino English now.
Our English literature will continue to developing and dominate the cultural landscape – to name just a few fictionists: Charlson Ong, Eric Gamalinda, Jose Dalisay Jr., the late bloomers, Rosario Lucero and Lilia Ramos de Leon, and the younger Lakambini Sitoy, Menchu Sarmiento, Dada Felix, Dennis Aguinaldo the poets Cirilo Bautista, Ricardo de Ungria, Krip Yuson, Jimmy Abad, and the younger Neil Garcia, Paolo Manalo, Angelo Suarez; the women, Ophelia Dimalanta and Marjorie Evasco. From the South, Tony Enriquez, Leo Deriada, and Carlos Cortes, Gilda Cordero Fernando and Gregorio Brillantes were iconized a generation back.
Our linguistic scholars like Andrew Gonzalez and Lourdes Bautista, and critics like Isagani R. Cruz, have recognized the existence of this Filipino English, as apart from English English and American English, conditioned by Filipino usage and vernaculars, which give the language its distinctive timbre.
For this English variety to flourish, it is necessary for our writers in English to strengthen their roots and withstand the subtle yet pervasive influences from the West. This is very difficult for so many of us look to the West not just for models but as a market and as the imprimatur of our having arrived.
Our literatures in Tagalog, Cebuano and Ilokano will continue developing as the writers in these languages become more facile with craft. Tagalog has truly become a national language. But the minor languages like Pampango, Zambal and Pangasinan will be poorer – there are no novels written in these languages now, and even their poetry is disappearing.
What we need, which we needed way way back, are true cultural critics, undaunted and contemptuous of the restricting attitudes, of values which render us incapable of making truthful judgements on the quality, the validity of our so called cultural achievements. Many of the awards routinely handed down to our artists are thus glittering inanities.
But words are just words, meaningless by themselves, until the writer breathes life into them, and moves readers to think, to act!
Looking back, I deeply regret that I had not acted as much and as well as I should have. I have watched my country sink deeper into poverty and corruption, seen opportunities wasted and lost and no river of tears can resuscitate the fond hopes that were aborted by our own apathy and perfidy.
At a recent Instituto Cervantes seminar I attended by Filipino and Spanish writers, the perception emerged that neither the Spaniards nor the Americans know us. And Singaporeans? If they do at all, in recent times, it is because of Imelda’s 3,000 pairs of shoes We should ask ourselves – does it really matter if the Spaniards or the Americans, do not know us?
Far more important: do our neighbors know us, do we know them? How many Singaporeans have read the authors of Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam? Shirley Lim, Lloyd Fernando, Mohammad Haji Salleh of next door Malaysia. In fact, how many Singaporeans have read Christine Suchen Lim, perhaps your best novelist in English today, or Gopal Baratham, the poetry of Lee Tzu Peng, Arthur Yap. How many among us are truly immersed in our own culture so that knowing it, living it, we can then reproduce it not only for ourselves, but for the world to behold.
It is a writer’s primordial function to explain his countrymen to themselves, to remind them of their past no matter how demeaning, to give them a sense of nation, and hopefully as well – ideals, a destiny.
Language is the vessel with which we carry ourselves, our message to ourselves and to our readers. We must recognize this – that language is not as important as what it carries, our beliefs, our hopes and most of all, our courage.
In a novel, as in a short story, we are propelled to the end – to the denouement as it were – and see in it the meaning of it all. We then judge a work of fiction by the way it ends.
There are no ifs in history, so it is in literature as well. The text is there, complete, even sacrosanct as the writer had ended it. Given our circumstances today, how I’d like to tamper with these finished texts–but cannot.
Yet, as an exercise of the imagination, here is how I would have ended Don Quixote.
By way of background, 400 years ago, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra published Don Quixote. And about a hundred years ago, Jose Rizal also published his first novel. Rizal read Cervantes and I read both.
In the end, Cervantes sends Don Quixote home to renounce his madness and to die. His passing is so mundane, so bereft of heroism, of pathos. All that brave posturing, that crusading journey – to end so tritely like this. All this irony is, of course, the simple realism of life itself. How wonderful, how truly romantic – even symbolic – if Don Quixote did not end in such a prosaic manner.
Consider this ending then: Sancho Panza returns to his village, older and perhaps wiser. He is alone, his memory is failing, he had spent time looking for his master. He dimly recalls they were somewhere near the ocean, at some port among seamen about to embark on a voyage to the New World. And that is the last he saw Don Quixote for when he woke up the next morning, the old knight errant was gone. Sancho Panza had looked around, asking, but no one had seen Don Quixote. Could he have gotten in one of those puny ships and sailed to distant lands to wage battle against the perceived ogres that ravage the world? Could be have gone by himself? Surely, he who stands alone is the strongest!
Rizal told his fellow exiles in Spain that the struggle for the freedom of Filipinas was not in Spain but in the homeland. And the fight was not just against the Spanish hierarchs. The Indios–their apathy, their indolence and incapacity to understand the underpinnings of nationhood were just as important objects of revolution.
Rizal the intellectual equivocated, argued against revolution, as all intellectuals must. But in raising such arguments, he only convinced his Indio readers of the urgency of revolution itself.
In the conclusion of El Filibusterismo, Simoun, the revolutionary, fails; the bomb that would demolish a household of his enemies fails to explode because one – only one individual – loses heart.
Chekhov said, if you bring a gun to the stage, fire it! I would have exploded the bomb.
If literature is the noblest of the arts, it follows that writers should also be of noble bearing, that we may judge them then not only on the basis of what they have written, their unctuous pronouncements, but also by how they live, and perhaps, even by how they die.
Rizal’s death was sealed even before he returned home. At the Luneta Park facing the sea, he was executed at daybreak on December 30, 1896.
By then, the revolution against Spain – the first anti-colonial rebellion in Asia – had broken out. His martyrdom was in itself the final Indio approval of the revolution that he doubted and railed against.
To sum it all up – we were colonized, we use a colonial language which we have transformed and made into our own. This language has brought us closer to our colonizers so we could understand them, and also curse them–to repeat, curse them in the language they handed down to us. But in doing so, do we free ourselves from the colonial baggage that the language has burdened us with?
We are now much closer to our neighbors who under colonialism were distanced from us. Do we now know them better than our former colonizers? And most of all, has the colonial language made us more aware of ourselves? Do we use it not so much to free ourselves from our colonial hangover, but to provide justice for our own people – this is the perpetual challenge which faces us, a challenge exacerbated by a harsher and more compact world.
Earlier in this presentation, I mentioned Manuel Arguilla, the superb Ilokano who wrote equally superb English. The Japanese executed Arguilla for his guerilla activities in World War II. And yet again, that greatest of Filipino novelists, Jose Rizal–two writers who lived their ideals.
History doomed me to write in English just as it compelled me to leave my village, to strike out for myself and make a living. I knew that I would not go back but that abandoned barrio will always sustain me more than food in the belly can. In accepting this exile, I also recognized and nurtured that enduring bonding with those I left behind, to voice their feeble hopes which they, in their meekness and destitution cannot express.
In fulfilling this duty, I am reminded of Arguilla, and of that writer who is above us all – Rizal, they whose exemplar lives I cannot equal. I would ask our writers to remember them. In fact I would ask writers everywhere to go home if they can, not so much to where they were born but to remember always where they came from, for by doing so, they will give their work not just its magic sense of place but that universality which art always has. I would ask writers, too, to reach out for the sublime nobility of their vocation by being virtuous as well.
So memory, help us.
HINDSIGHT By F Sionil Jose
The Philippine STAR
Hiroshima and Us
The Philippine STAR 08/21/2005
Some 30 years ago or so, I was in Kawazaki near Tokyo attending a conference sponsored by the Afro Asian Writers Union–a Moscow supported organization. During the first plenary session, an Indian communist took the floor and started lambasting the United States for dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He made it appear that the Japanese were the tragic victims of World War II.
I was so infuriated, I rose from my seat and shouted, "Mr Singh, your country was never occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army! When the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I called the Americans ninnies for they did not atomize Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto–in fact, all of Japan. This nation deserved to be atom-bombed for the atrocities it committed in my country."
That weekend, all the delegates were invited to Kyoto; only my wife and I were excluded from that tour.
We mark this week the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender. I am not sorry at all–through this span of years–for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; I just pray though that such a holocaust will never visit any nation in the future.
Those who condemn now the atomic bombing of these two cities do so out of the context of those times, ignorant as they are of the feelings of people ravaged by the Japanese Imperial Army.
There was no moral barrier when these cities were bombed–it was total war, a response to the Japanese rape of Nanking in China, to the leveling of Coventry in England by the Nazis and their extermination of the Jews, the massacres in Ermita-Malate and elsewhere in the Philippines. No, I will never weep over Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
And if any strategic justification is needed, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were major staging areas for the Japanese Army. The bombings forced Emperor Hirohito to end the war, thereby saving millions of both American and Japanese lives. Just remember that the Japanese were prepared to die for their homeland with every man, woman and child; their suicidal stand in Okinawa was a grim foreboding of what would have transpired if those bombs were not dropped.
I was a high school senior in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked but before that attack, war clouds already hovered over Asia. Japan had occupied French Indochina, half of China and Manchuria. Close to us in the North, Formosa was already in Japanese hands. Chunks of Davao were Japanese abaca plantations that produced hemp for the Japanese navy and maritime industry. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, retired, had come to the Philippines to help set up an Army of 21 year olds and Camp O’Donnel in Capas, Tarlac, where the recruits trained–would later become the notorious prison camp for the survivors of Bataan.
Air raid, black out and evacuation drills were held in Manila. All of these, however, proved useless when war finally came.
The Japanese planes bombed first Nichols airbase near Manila, Fort Stotsenberg in Pampanga and the airbase in Iba, Zambales; MacArthur had an eight-hour advance warning of the debacle at Pearl but the US Air Force was caught on the ground.
Classes were stopped. I went home to Rosales, Pangasinan, and was there when the Japanese arrived. They came in bicycles, open trucks, and like most Filipinos at the time, I thought they would not last, that the Americans would come in a massive convoy and drive the Japanese back to their homeland. After all, through all those years, we didn’t expect them to produce those airplanes and battleships. We knew Japanese products were shoddy and easily broken. Made in Japan was inferior. We were, of course, sadly mistaken.
The miles and miles of convoys did not arrive; Bataan, then Corregidor fell.
The first weeks of occupation in my hometown were quite correct. The Japanese distributed rice, textiles, then, their true nature surfaced. They started slapping and beating up people for the slightest infractions. By the second year, supplies, particularly medicines and food, became scarce. We had to do with ersatz products, castanog (roasted coconut meat), charcoal-fed engines, talinum and camote gardens even in the islands in the streets. Towards the end of the Occupation, the poorest Filipinos wore sackcloth. Without rubber and leather, fancy wooden shoes became fashionable.
I commuted between Manila and Pangasinan, bringing rice to my relatives in Manila. The buy- and-sell business flourished, Divisoria in Manila, the center. In June of 1944, I enrolled in preparatory medicine at the University of Santo Tomas walking every morning from Antipolo Street near Blumentritt all the way to Intramuros. The streetcars still ran but they were extremely crowded. The rich had dokars–fancy calesas drawn by retired racehorses. Only the Japanese and their powerful puppets had cars.
One morning, while we were having Nippongo lessons, suddenly the anti-aircraft guns atop San Juan de Letran College nearby started popping, then gray, stubby planes with a white star and bars roared over Intramuros. Some flew so low, their canopies open, we could see the pilots waving. Americans! The whole class started jumping, shouting, shrieking. Our instructor–a young Japanese officer with his sword on his side always–slinked away. Classes were permanently stopped. And that afternoon, at around 2, the second wave came, so many planes, they darkened the sky. Anti- aircraft guns spat at them, their black puffs dotting the sky, but not a single plane was shot down. When they came again the following day, the anti- aircraft guns were silent.
By this time, there was already very little food in the city. Even gutter rats were trapped and eaten. We stayed on for another month, then in early November, my mother, a cousin and I left Manila with a small bag of rice, a cooking pot, and some dried fish. We walked all the way to Pangasinan for seven days.
The highway was deserted in the daytime but for people like us fleeing the starving city. American planes from Leyte ranged the plains, the highways, blasting bridges and trucks–we came across one burning in Angeles, the dead Japanese in it. At night, we slept under empty houses along the highway–their inhabitants had fled to the interior. And at night we could hear the Japanese marching, retreating.
In early January 1945, the Americans finally returned to Luzon. From that distance in Rosales we could hear the big guns off Lingayen as battleships pounded the beaches for the landing. That was a terrible waste for the Japanese had all left.
When the Americans got to Rosales, at the first opportunity I joined a medical unit of the Combat Engineers. I had one ambition–to go to Japan with the invasion, and once there, first chance I got, I woull kill as many Japanese as I can.
That was 60 years ago and thinking back, this is how I truly felt and, I am sure, so did many others, particularly those who lost their loved ones to Japanese villainy. It embarrasses me to recall this objective–a result of my witnessing what they did and in a way, what they did to me which certainly is nothing compared to those who survived Fort Santiago, and the torture sessions with their kempei-tai.
Collateral damage–some blame the Americans for the destruction of Ermita-Malate and Intramuros and the death of thousands there. But the Japanese were there, raping, burning, killing. If they were not killed, what would have happened? Was there ever a less violent alternative?
We can get sentimental and nostalgic over history in mind and we must restore Intramuros as a reminder of our past and as a tourist attraction. But we must also never forget that Intramuros was the seat of a colonial power that shackled us for three centuries, just as Ermita-Malate–and the beautiful antiseptic Makati today–was the seat of domestic imperialism which keeps us poor.
Many aspects of that three-year Occupation need to be studied more for they reveal so much of the Filipino character, of the myriad reasons why this society has evolved into what it is now, almost rudderless, without any lasting memory and therefore, without a sense of nation–this, in spite of the heroic sacrifice of many Filipinos. After all, while much of the region succumbed easily to Japanese blandishments and power, we Filipinos fought them tenaciously, valiantly.
But in the guerrilla war, for instance, all too often the guerrillas were not fighting the Japanese alone–they were also fighting each other over turf, over leaderships. Perhaps as many Filipinos were killed by the guerrillas as by the Japanese.
It is the height of irony that the best organized, and the most courageous guerrilla group that fought the Japanese–the Hukbalahap–was demonized almost immediately after World War II, to preserve the hold of the landlords and their American allies on government.
The Occupation showed how the peasant in such adversity could survive and thrive and as the Huks had abundantly shown; the peasants could also fight and win. If at all, the Occupation strengthened the grassroots movement, infused iron into the peasant’s backbone and his liberation could, perhaps, be this blighted nation’s hope as well.
Developments such as these cannot be quantified–they can only be perceived.
For a brief period during the Occupation, Filipinos also got to know a bit more about Japanese culture, what an accomplished people they are and, most of all, how they modernized their country in just one generation by adopting Western technology but never abandoning their Japaneseness.
And finally, the issue of collaboration, not just with the Japanese but with all the colonizers who ravaged this nation.
In looking at this issue, perhaps it is also time that we attended to one man whose unique position in our history is clouded by controversy and misinterpretation.
I am now very clear in my understanding of Artemio Ricarte, the Ilokano general who was one of the leaders of our 1896 revolution. He had refused to pledge allegiance to the United States after the defeat of the rag-tag revolutionary army. Steadfast in his refusal to accept American rule, he eventually fled into exile in Japan from 1911 until his return to the Philippines with the Japanese in 1941.
He was not given a high position by his Japanese friends. He was too old then–late ’70s–but he served them particularly in their pacification campaign.
When the Japanese retreated from Baguio deep into the Cordilleras in 1945, Ricarte went with them. Without his knowing it, the Japanese executed some 20 of his relatives because the Japanese feared that these relatives knew too much. His own grandson, Besulmino, would have been executed, too, had he not understood what the Japanese were saying and pleaded with them to spare his life.
Ricarte had no choice but to join the Japanese. He was afraid of the guerrillas who were by then better armed with the continuous arrival of aid from the Americans.
In Funduang, in Ifugao, he was afflicted with dysentery. With very little to eat, he fell ill and died. I was able to interview one of the Japanese civilians who was with him to the very end. His aide wrote a book about Ricarte titled Even the Devil Will Weep–for that, indeed, was the tragedy of this Filipino revolutionary and patriot whose undoing was his stubbornness, and his dependence on a foreign power.
Ricarte teaches us one very important lesson–a nationalist revolution must never, never seek outside assistance, in ideology as well as in resources. It must triumph with its native genius and sinews.
The political ramifications of collaboration with the Japanese extended into the political life and destiny of the nation. Those who collaborated with the Japanese. Claro M. Recto, for instance, was instrumental in developing a post-war inward- looking nationalism that was virulently anti-American, much to our disadvantage. We had a foot in the door to the vast United States market–a market which was exploited by Korea, Japan, Taiwan. We didn’t exploit it. Imprisoned by the Americans in Iwahig for his collaboration with the Japanese, he vowed never to let the Americans forget what they did, claiming that Roxas collaborated more than him.
At the very least, those who collaborated with the Japanese were granted amnesty by Roxas. But those who collaborated with Marcos, who helped him plunder this nation, are now openly in power without an amnesty from the Filipino people.
What else should we remember of the Occupation? It exacerbated our moral decline. During that period, all rules were thrown out and it was each man for himself. So much of this attitude remains even after the invader had left.
Our elites had collaborated with whoever ruled–the Spaniards, the Japanese, the Americans, and Marcos. As a political issue, collaboration with the Japanese died when Jose Laurel, the Japanese puppet president, got elected to the Senate. But as a moral issue, collaboration still rankles, and because we have not collectively denounced and punished those collaborators, does this mean then that we are not a moral people?
There is such a huge gap between being 18 and being 80. Today, I now have several Japanese friends and I value their friendships. We do not talk about World War II, about Hiroshima–they know how I feel. But while we do not talk, this does not mean that we will forget. Many Japanese feel guilty over their country’s past, many do not approve of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasakuni shrine which honors their war dead, including some war criminals. This issue has no consensus in Japan although it is evident that the swing towards rationalizing and justifying that war is gaining ground.
Life must go on and our future, which is bleak indeed, demands our intelligent attention, our hindsight.
In 1905, Japan defeated Russia and emerged from that war a Pacific power with vaulting nationalist confidence to embark on an expansion into Korea, Manchuria, China, then the Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere.
A hundred years later, today, 2005 we see the emergence of China rivaling not just Japan but America.
In 1955, the American scholar Theodore Friend wrote a book, Between Two Empires–that is us–the Philippines–caught between America and Japan. In that book, he concluded: "Could the Philippines accomplish the work of economic diversification and social and cultural unification necessary to make a national community out of an ex-colony? How long would the Philippines remain in confusion between two civilizations, inherent and emergent, as well as in peril between two empires, Chinese and American?"
In our relations with China, we must not forget that we have a small but powerful Chinese minority which controls 80 percent of the economy, who are in manufacturing, trade, banking, media, shipping–you name it.
These taipans came to the Philippines very poor as all immigrants from China were. Through their industry, cunning and exploitation of elite politics, they built profitable conglomerates, then remit billions made in this country to China, billions that should have stayed here to build industries so our women don’t have to go abroad as housemaids and prostitutes.
There is an old Asian saying that when elephants quarrel, the grass gets trampled. A corollary to that is, when the elephants make peace, the grass gets eaten.
But this, perhaps, is the subject for another conference.
* * *
This was presented by the author at the conference on World War II August 16-17 sponsored by The National Historical Institute at UST.
F Sionil's Talk on Don Quixote
Call 526-1482 to 85
Literature as history
By F. Sionil Jose
The Philippine STAR 06/13/2005
(The author gave this lecture at Cubberley Auditorium at Stanford, May 5, 2005.)
I am grateful to Stanford, to Prof. Roland Greene and the Department of Comparative Literature in particular, for having me here as writer-in-residence, to Prof. Ann Gelder who is looking after the details of this visit.
I am only too aware of this university’s greatness, its trove of Nobel Prize winners. I have a bookshop and I know the distinguished publications of the Hoover Institute. Our best doctors in the Philippines trained here. As for Stanford’s contribution to literature, in the mid-Fifties, your famous writing guru, Wallace Stegner, visited Manila. If I may brag, we have the same editor, Samuel S. Vaughan, at Random House. Mr. Stegner correctly observed that there was yet no literary record of the Hukbalahap peasant uprising that was then winding down. I should have told him then – give me time, for I was conceptualizing a novel on that subject.
I originally titled this talk "Revolution as Literature," but my wife said it may not sit well with an American audience. Certainly, it does not sit well with Filipinos. But I will digress into it just the same.
When we arrived last month, I was sent to a room where I was detained for about half an hour. When I finally joined my wife at the baggage claim area, we were the last passengers there.
I will share with you my conversation with the Homeland Security officer who corrected my immigration form. He asked what I wrote and I said novels and articles on current affairs, politics, history. That started it. He wanted to know more about we Filipinos.
First, we are not Asians, like the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indians. The two great religions of Asia, Buddhism and Hinduism, responsible for the civilization and classical traditions of that continent never reached us although geographically, we are there. We are Christians who could have been Islamized if Islam came a few decades earlier.
I told the officer we are many islands and tribes. In the past, we were at war with one another. Much of that ethnicity remains in our languages, customs, attitudes. And like the United States, we are a young nation.
I am here now to finish a novel which, will help us understand our history better. The novel is about Artemio Ricarte, the revolutionary general who refused to pledge allegiance to the United States at the end of the Philippine-American War in 1902. Yes, there was such a war, which brought America to Asia in 1898 – America’s first colonial venture. We became America’s first and only colony. But not after more than 250 thousand Filipinos, mostly civilians, were killed. In that war, America committed its first atrocities in Asia.
I have been working on this novel for so long, the research is flowing out of my ears, shackling my imagination. The English novelist, Robert Graves, advised an Australian writer to write the novel first then do the research afterwards. But I got that advice too late.
My five-novel saga is named after my hometown, Rosales. It is framed within a hundred years, from 1872, when three Filipino priests were executed by the Spaniards, to 1972, when Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. This century is marked by peasant revolts. Through three centuries that we were ruled by Spain, peasant revolts erupted intermittently.
A word of caution to those who plan writing historical fiction. Dusk, the first novel in this saga, has a real-life character, Apolinario Mabini, the brains in the revolution against Spain – the first anti-imperialist rebellion in Asia – and later on in the war with the United States. He was a cripple, and I attributed his infirmity to syphilis as told to me by two venerable historians.
Wrong! When his bones were exhumed in 1980, as told to me by a much younger historian, Ambeth Ocampo, it was found that he had polio. I confronted the historians and both scolded me for giving credence to what they told me was gossip.
According to Ocampo, the upright Mabini opposed a scheme by some of the rich men who joined the revolution to raise money that would have enriched them but would have tainted the revolution. So they discredited Mabini.
The second novel in the saga is called Tree after the balete tree, scientifically named Ficus Benjamina Linn. A scholar visited Rosales then returned to Manila to tell me there was no such tree in Rosales. Of course, it is not there but is in many places in the country, in all of Southeast Asia. As a sapling, the young tree is soon surrounded by many vines. The vines grow to be the trunk of the tree itself; they strangle to death the sapling they had embraced. A very apt metaphor for so many of us.
Literature is mythmaking. For a young nation, it is necessary. Who can prove there was a cherry tree the young George Washington chopped down and couldn’t lie about?
Mythmakers or not, all artists are ego driven, impelled by the human impulse to celebrate themselves in the most personal manner thereby achieving style, originality. They seek originality, although in the end, so many are just plain imitators of life and of other artists, sometimes doing willfully so, sometimes in blissful ignorance. But the self gets satiated with narcissism, so artists attempt to transcend the self and transcendence becomes the motive for a more profound expression. I do not claim profundity; there is nothing deep in my motives. They are moored on the reality of my country, and fiction has difficulty catching up with that reality.
I use history to impress upon my readers this memory so that if they remember, they will not only survive, they will prevail.
I also present a nobler image of ordinary Filipinos, so that even if we are destitute, amidst the swirling tides of corruption, we can raise our heads. With memory, we can face our grim future with courage.
I created in this saga, characters like Istak, the farmer and healer in Dusk, his vagabond great grandson, Pepe Samson in Mass, and a real life hero from the underclass, Apolinario Mabini. These truths are often ignored by historians who focus on momentous events and big men but miss the "little people."
Critics call this effort revisionist, the formalists say I mangled the English language because I think in Ilokano – my mother tongue – and write in English. Still others say I romanticize the common, the mundane. I hope I am shaping not just myths and hollow hallelujahs, but literature.
In 1955, on my first visit here as guest of the US State Department, I spent an afternoon with the poet Robert Frost at his cottage in Ripton, Vermont. He was in his late seventies but still writing. He belonged to that generation which included Mark Twain. They objected to the American occupation of my country. They argued that America, which won its freedom through revolution, had no right to invade a nation waging revolution for freedom the first in Asia against Western imperialism. The millionaire Andrew Carnegie even offered to return the $20 million the United States paid Spain to acquire the Philippines.
Mr. Frost asked how that occupation turned out. I told him were it not for the public schools established by the United States, at that very moment, I would most probably be an unlettered farmer atop a water buffalo somewhere in the island of Luzon.
In 1972, I toured this country lecturing under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations. I told my audiences, if they did not suffer from historical amnesia and recalled the Philippine-American War, they would have never gone to Vietnam. It was not communism, which they faced in Vietnam – it was that impregnable force, Asian nationalism.
To be sure, strident voices in my country are critical of the United States. I sometimes join these out of frustration. Do no get us wrong – many Filipinos consider America our second country.
But we must wean ourselves form overpowering American influence, get rid of our American hangover induced by benevolent neglect. Our cultural workers must shed off the American veneer, which stifles creativity, and use the mud at our feet, our folk traditions, our sweat and blood to build the enduring Filipino pillars that can withstand the onslaught of globalism and McDonald’s.
I remind our writers about the "flowering of New England," how Emerson, Walt Whitman and those innovative Yankees freed themselves from 19th century European romanticism to celebrate America and give America a granite cultural foundation.
It is not easy for us to do the same. History had done its nefarious job. Stanley Karnow’s book, In our Image, sums up the colonial experience. The Americans wanted a democratic showcase and we eagerly complied. The result is a disaster. Your fault and ours.
More than 10 years ago, the Atlantic magazine editor, James Fallow’s visited us. After seeing the deadening poverty and the callousness and perfidy of our leaders, he concluded that the obstacle to our progress is our "damaged culture."
Back to our Homeland Security officer in San Francisco to illustrate this damaged culture. He had interrogated Filipinos wanting entry. He said flatly: "They are liars."
I told him they had to lie, to do anything to escape my country’s poverty and injustice.
What had happened to us?
After World War II, we were Southeast Asia’s most modern, most progressive. Students from the region came to our schools. When I traveled, the backwardness everywhere amazed me. Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur were villages. The tallest structure in Bangkok was the Wat Arun. Seoul and Taipei were quiet, with horse-drawn carts, bicycles and those low brick buildings left by the Japanese. These cities are no longer recognizable from what they were. Manila has skyscrapers now, but everywhere are the slums that show how we have decayed.
Thus, the massive hemorrhage of talent, the diaspora. There is no ocean-going vessel without a Filipino on board, from the captain down to the steward. An American diplomat had heart surgery in Washington performed by what he said is one of the top surgeons in America. He is Filipino. A Boeing executive told me Iran Air wouldn’t get off the ground were it not for the Filipino technicians there. An Indonesian businessman said most of the banks and corporate headquarters in Indonesia are managed by Filipinos. A Singaporean architect pointed to the city’s soaring skyline as the handiwork of Filipino architects and engineers.
Here, the United Nations headquarters in New York would stand still if all those Filipina secretaries were absent. And what would happen to your health service if all those Filipino doctors, nurses and technicians left?
Indeed, the Filipina is not just a maid in Hong Kong or a prostitute in Tokyo. We have become the proletariat of the world. This is our shame and our pride for as a European executive wryly commented: "You are such a wonderful people, why is your country such a mess?"
Is this mess for always?
Your Homeland Security officer said he knew of a Filipino retired general who was poor.
I said that general should be investigated for unexplained poverty.
The "damaged culture" James Fallows pointed out can be repaired. In the Fifties, President Ramon Magsaysay invigorated the Army to defeat the Hukbalahap rebellion. He cleaned up government, made it responsive to the needs of the masses. When he died in a plane crash in 1957, people in the streets wept. When Arsenio Lacson was Mayor of Manila at about the same time, the city was safe, the garbage collected, the coffers were full. A year after he died, the city was broke.
The moral decay is a slow process exacerbated by the Japanese Occupation when all the rules were thrown out and each man was for himself. The elite conditioned by colonialism collaborated all through our history with the imperialists. Like most of us, they imbibed the vices – not the virtues of our rulers – the sense of honor of the Spaniards, the enterprise and democratic ethos of the Americans, and the discipline and sense of nation of the Japanese. And like the imperialists, the rich Filipinos send their loot abroad – the Chinese to China and Taiwan, the Spanish mestizos to Spain and Europe, and the Indios like Marcos to Switzerland and the United States. As the Spanish writer Salvador de Madriaga said, "A country need not be a colony of a foreign power, it can be the colony of its own leaders."
How then can we accumulate capital to modernize? How do we end this treason? How else but through the cleansing power of a nationalist revolution, a continuation of the revolution the Americans aborted in 1898. It is not only inevitable, it is righteous.
In 1985, we finally threw out Marcos in a bloodless revolution. But Cory Aquino who succeeded him turned it into a restoration of the oligarchy – not democracy as she claims. Sure, we have free elections and etceteras but these are the empty trappings – not the essence of democracy. That essence is in the stomach, when the Manila jeepney driver eats the same food served the president in Malacañang Palace.
Listen, when I was a child, the poorest farmer ate twice a day but only in the three hungry months of the planting season. Today, the poor eat only once a day. They die when they are sick because medicines are expensive. Millions of grade school kids drop out because they cannot afford to continue. About half of 85 million do not have safe drinking water.
Two ongoing rebellions, one communist and the other secessionist, have cost us billions and thousands of lives. If the communists win – and I know they won’t – they will rule just as badly because they are Filipinos hostage to barnacled habits of mind, to ethnicity.
The real revolution has to start first in the mind and its wellsprings are not in Mao or Marx. It is in our history, in Mabini, in Rizal, our national hero, whose writing inspired the revolution of 1896.
Its creed is articulated by the peasant leader Pedro Calosa who led the Colorum uprising near my hometown in 1935. It is this: "God created land, air and water for all men. It is against God’s laws for one man, one family to own all of them."
The American reformer, Wendell Phillips confirms the Colorums. He said, "If you hold land and land is in the hands of a few, you do not have democracy – you have an oligarchy."
And this is our curse – an oligarchy that must be destroyed, whose allies are here in this bulwark of democracy. Who, after all, was Ferdinand Marcos’s best supporter but Ronald Reagan? Can you understand now why America is so crucial to us and to those in the poor countries whose despotic rulers have alliances with American leaders? Washington wants peace and stability, and so do we who are enslaved, but that peace, that stability should not be the peace of the grave.
When we parted, the Homeland Security officer said I was the first Filipino he talked with the way I did. What I told him, which I have said here, is also what I say at home. It grates the ears. For this, I have been accused of Filipino bashing, labeled a communist, a CIA agent, an opportunist. You name it. In truth, I am just an old writer whose discordant voice is drowned, unheard in the maelstrom that is my country.
I end Dusk, the first novel in the Rosales saga, with the battle of Tirad Pass in December 1900. To me, that battle is similar to Thermopylae in ancient Greece. There, Leonidas, the king of Sparta, and his men died to a man defending the pass against the invading Persians.
In Tirad Pass, high in the roof of the Cordillera range, the 24-year-old General Gregorio del Pilar and 48 of his men, most of them farmers died defending it against the invading Texas Rangers closing in on General Emilio Aguinaldo, President of Asia’s first republic.
I remind Filipinos of Jose Rizal who, at 34, was executed by the Spaniards for writing tracts against them. As Prof. Roland Greene said, he was the first post-colonial writer. In World War II, all of Southeast Asia succumbed so easily to the Japanese invasion. We didn’t. Our valiant stand in Bataan Peninsula, our bitter guerilla resistance – these are forgotten.
I repeat – we are a young nation carving our place in the sun. Young, yes, but we have a past which exalts us, which tells us that we have a revolutionary tradition, and that above all, we are heroic people.
In our search for social justice and a moral order, in our struggle to build a just society, we must rely on no one else but ourselves, endowed as we already are with a history that shaped our sinews and our genius.
And from America, what will we ask of you? Nothing, nothing but your understanding and your compassion.
But first, we must remember.