a blog-tribute by a.a.


The Best Novelist reminisces about the Best Filipino Writer

by Deni Rose M. Afinidad

“Nick, who died on April 29, is our greatest writer. I’m the greatest novelist.”

National Artist Francisco Sionil Jose always taught us to be boastful. Writers are never humble, he always said, to 15 of us who attended the Fifth UST National Writers’ Workshop in Baguio City from April 25 to May 1.

More than just our panelist, F. Sionil Jose, or Sir Frankie as we call him, provided us with some wine to toast and to toss us up as we painlessly sang videoke oldies during the first three socialization nights of the workshop.

But April 30 was a different day. Almost everyone got up early and woke up without a hangover. Sir Frankie didn’t pour any wine on our glasses. That day, a Friday morning, he sank his grief in a smile. He sat plainly before the panelists’ center table, and humbled himself in memory of a friend.

Looking at the ceiling, Sir Frankie placed his cane over the table and rekindled his first years with fellow National Artist, Nick Joaquin. “I’ve known Nick since the late forties. Having known him, I can talk about him as a human being and a writer.”

Like Sir Frankie, Nick wrote history, legends, journalism, poetry, drama, and award-winning fiction. For Sir Frankie, Nick’s greatest masterpiece is the book “A Question of Heroes.”

“He knew Philippine History very well. His knowledge of Philippine History helped him very much in his writing. He makes history come alive,” said Sir Frankie, who also shared his admiration for national hero Jose Rizal with his reposed friend. Rizal’s novels laid the foundation for both of them to start honing their career as fictionists.

“Nick was a Manileño through and through. Others thought that he was an ilustrado because he came from a well-to-do family, yet in reality, he is strongly anti-elitist. He can’t write about peasants, but he was never detached from the masa. Although he can’t write about peasantry, he felt deeply for them.”

Despite having the same interests, Sir Frankie and Nick also had some disagreements. “We had serious arguments about the Philippines and the Filipinos, up to the point that we’ll shout at each other . . . He is very much in love with Spain. I tell him to never forget that it was the Spaniards who killed Rizal.”

Nevertheless, the arguments that they had did not make Nick less endeared to Sir Frankie. “He is very loyal to his friends,” he recalls, giving as an example how Nick accepted the 1976 National Artist award just to persuade Ferdinand Marcos to free his friend Emman Lacaba, a poet who was then being detained for rebellion.

“Filipino writers had a social and economic base during the Martial law years. Some writers enriched themselves during the Marcos regime. They oppressed other writers. Nick has a very strong violent reaction on this. He rarely expresses his views, but I know that he despised writers bound to Marcos . . . Nick perhaps is the most decent Filipino writer I’ve known. When I say decent, it’s just that.”

In defense against the misconception that his friend was a drunkard, Sir Frankie once told one of the workshop fellows that Nick used to pretend that he was drunk to escape media exposure. “He drank a lot of beer, but he never got drunk. He never was drunk. He just seemed drunk but he knew what he was saying,” Sir Frankie reiterated.

“Nick showed that it’s possible not only to be a true artist, but also to be a moral person. It’s not enough to have a sense of history or to be loyal to your country. It’s also necessary that you’re a moral person so that you’ll be able to impart a sense of ethics to your readers. Literature is the noblest of the arts. Writers should always have a noble bearing. They should be pious not only in writings, but also in the way they live.”

Nick’s moral stature is grounded on his deep-seated religiosity, Sir Frankie said. “There’s paganism in his writing, but he’s very religious. Nick has a profound sense of piety as showed in his fiction.”

“Nick believes that we should have to let go of the American influence and to think first of being published in our own country because our audience is here. We write for Filipinos.”

Sir Frankie flashed a grin at us as he ended his eulogy. That morning, he was supposed to explore an Ilocos beach with his wife, but this plan was postponed in lieu of a trip back to Manila to see Nick’s wake.

The day before, a sudden heat wave hit Baguio when a workshop fellow burst out of the bathroom and announced to everyone the worst joke she has ever gotten from a text message: Nick Joaquin is dead.

The slumberous atmosphere of April 29 turned hysterical for all writers attending the fourth day of the workshop. A loud “Ssshhh . . .” then tormented the room when one of the panelists, Eric Melendez, tried to slow down the commotion, in hope that Sir Frankie would not be shocked to know about his friend’s sudden death. Sir Frankie sat just after Melendez in the panelists’ table. One of the panelists asked Sir Frankie to go upstairs to have lunch. As Sir Frankie slowly turned his back from the rest of us, the panelists, one by one, broke into tears.

That day, we watched how professional writers Ophelia Dimalanta and Cirilo Bautista exchanged sobs for the loss of an older writer. The next day, we listened to the sentiments of another veteran writer—F. Sionil Jose.

We, the young writers, don’t know where to pick up the pieces of our emotions. We don’t know whether we’ll remain twirling our thumbs in silence or mourn with the rest of the older writers. I was staring at my fellows as I sucked on a strawberry-flavored candy. Tomorrow, we could be mourning for ourselves.

Source: http://www.manilatimes.net/national/2004/may/09/yehey/weekend/20040509wek3.html na

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