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a blog-tribute by a.a.
Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts
Ramon Magsaysay Award Presentation Ceremonies
31 August 1980, Manila, Philippines
It is the hard task of serious writers and artists in this setting to survive and be effective; the quality of their creativity alone is no guarantee. Only by joining in common cause with like-minded men and women can they become significant. This, in turn, requires self-effacing leadership, a stimulating, congenial gathering place and forums for publication or exhibition.
FRANCISCO SIONIL JOSÉ's role in this many-faceted arena is a product of his wit and formative experience. Born into a poor family in the Philippine province of Pangasinan in 1924, he learned as a boy the hard life of a farmer, following a water buffalo to plow the rice field. After high school he worked with the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the 1945 battles for northern Luzon. Lacking funds for a medical education, he worked his way through school as a liberal arts student at the University of Santo Tomas. There he had his first experience in journalism, working on the collegiate Varsitarian and later on Commonweal, the national Catholic weekly.
JOSÉ pursued his career in journalism as managing editor of the Manila Times Sunday Magazine, editor of Progress and later Comment, and in Hong Kong as managing editor of Asia Magazine. After two years as Information Officer for the Colombo Plan in Sri Lanka, he returned to Manila in 1965 to open the Solidaridad Book Shop and Publishing House, and the following year launched Solidarity, a monthly magazine of comment on current affairs, ideas and the arts. A year later he opened the Solidaridad Galleries to allow little known artists an outlet for their work.
Possessed of prodigious energy and curiosity, JOSÉ made himself an authority on land tenure and in 1968 became a consultant to the Department of Agrarian Reform. He had earlier been a founder and national secretary of the Philippine PEN and a moving spirit in the International Association for Cultural Freedom. He continued as a prolific writer of essays, short stories and novels, some of which have been translated into half a dozen languages, all the while lecturing at universities in the Philippines and abroad.
Although it is difficult to quantify, JOSÉ has probably made his greatest contribution through the guidance and assistance he has offered numerous Filipino and foreign writers, artists and scholars. From Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas they have come to browse among the carefully selected titles in his bookstore and glean ideas.
JOSÉ has earned only a modest living through his many activities. He has won instead, for the Philippines, himself, his wife Teresita and their seven children—who all help manage his enterprises—a roster of extraordinary international friends. He has fostered a cultural and intellectual exchange which is enriched by his abiding solicitude for the welfare of ordinary people and enlivened by his vigorous sense of humor. In his writings he has expressed that dimension of caring about human beings that separates trivia from writing of worth.
In electing FRANCISCO SIONIL JOSÉ to receive the 1980 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, the Board of Trustees recognizes his intellectual courage and his concern for and encouragement of Asian and other writers and artists, for many of whom his Solidaridad Book Shop is a cultural mecca.