Sometime last month, I saw this letter going the rounds in Facebook.
To make a long story short, the above letter is from National Artist F. Sionil José, and he’s asking Ramón del Rosario, chairman of the National Museum of the Philippines, to remove the paintings of RENOWNED ARTISTS E. Aguilar Cruz and Andrés Cristóbal Cruz that were being displayed there. His reason? He’s erudite enough to differentiate true art from inability.
Apparently, the letter was leaked online without his knowledge. So a few days later, after his pompous erudition captured the ire of several netizens, Frankie Boy explained himself on his Facebook account.
When I first read Frankie Boy’s letter to Mr. del Rosario, it made my blood boil. You know, I’ve purchased some of his books. I find his Rosales novels entertaining (but forgettable). His take on social justice is praiseworthy. But as an individual, I never had a fondness for him. Because, in spite of his close friendship to fellow National Artist Nick Joaquín (a renowned Hispanista and a true humble spirit), Frankie Boy is a certified hispanófobo, and his views on Filipino History are vehemently contradictory to how I view it based on documentation and cultural evidence (judging from his writings, his are obviously based on textbook material, stuff he learned only from school). I even find it hard to forgive him for lambasting the late chemist-historian Pío Andrade at a historical forum held in Instituto Cervantes de Manila ten years ago. This humiliating scene was witnessed by my friend Arnaldo Arnáiz who told me that old man Frankie Boy angrily walked out from the room when he couldn’t take anymore all the historical truth coming out of Andrade’s mouth regarding the Calamba agrarian dispute in which the Rizal family was a party.
I was hurt and embarrassed for those artists (the two Cruzes) whose works I am not even familiar with. I could relate to being belittled, so I guess maybe that’s where all this anger is coming from. At first I tried to ignore Frankie Boy’s pompous letter, but I couldn’t. It just didn’t feel good seeing a writer his stature —and my, how physically big he is, even for his age— belittling accomplished writers and painters who are no longer around to defend themselves from his arrogance and yet I do nothing about it. I won’t be able to sleep well, I thought. Other than that, the last words that he wrote on his Facebook post (“the time has not yet come for me to be silent”) prompted me all the more to give him a piece of my mind. So immediately after reading his unapologetic post on his wall, off I went to my wall and posted an open letter to him (see below, with minor edits).
Good day! I hope this post of mine finds you well and good.
First of all, a confession: I’m one of those who shared that “Straight-From-Mount-Olympus” letter of yours (on Twitter; you’re not famous there). Anyway, enough of that. I’m just here to comment on your humble defense of your soon-to-be-legendary letter to the National Museum of the Philippines. So to borrow your own words: “straightforward ito“…
Your best chum, the late, great Nick Joaquín, by far a much BETTER National Artist for Literature than anyone around, living or dead (and I’m 100% sure you won’t contest that), published one of his last books which was about E. Aguilar Cruz titled “ABÉ: A FRANK SKETCH OF E. AGUILAR CRUZ”. Between the two of us, you should know better that Nick would have never wasted his precious time on a subject if it was as paltry as… what’s that poor fellah’s name again? Ben Singkil? If Abé was good enough for a giant like Nick, then he’s good enough for everybody. And even before Nick, our country’s foremost historian today already published a book about Abé’s paintings many years before he became famous enough to correct that glaring syphilitic error that you committed in one of your novels (we all know who that historian is).
Simple lang ang sinasabi co. I won’t go about parading Abé’s achievements. People from the literary and art circles are already mighty aware of them, anyway. Including yourself (you just won’t admit it, c’mon). I’m not a fan of his in the first place. But hey, I’ve been hearing quite a LOT about this “non-entity” since I was a lunchbox-toting kid… a non-entity as a writer, you say?! Yet he was cited in José Garcia Villa‘s annual selections — and Villa is our country’s FIRST National Artist for Literature! Abé also graced the literary pages of the Graphic Magazine quite a number of times and even became the editor of the Sunday Times Magazine. But hey, if you insist of his being a non-entity, then he could probably well be our country’s very first non-existent permanent representative to the UNESCO. So let’s just consider that NHI historical marker in his hometown as a big joke, shall we? Anyway, as I have said at the beginning of this paragraph, I won’t go about parading Abé’s achievements. So, moving forward…
…do we even have to discuss that other Cruz you crucified? Well, I might agree with you that Andrés Cristóbal Cruz was a non-entity as a painter. He was known more for his award-winning writings than for his paintings (by the way, not once did he solicit foreign publishers to have his works translated into other languages just so that he’d be tagged as the most translated Filipino author). However, he was mentored by Abé. Therefore, the National Museum is only emphasizing the latter’s influence on the former. The fact that Andrés’s painting is on exhibit there is to give weight, legitimacy, and RESPECT to Abé’s artistic influence over an award-winning writer who tried his luck in the visual arts.
But what can we non-existing mediocrats do? You have spoken from your laureled throne: “Both have not produced any significant body of work, either paintings or books, of great artistry.” May I just ask where have you been all these years? Did Thanos travel back in time and snap his fingers on top of your regal beret, that’s why you didn’t notice these things going on? Who in blue blazes is Thanos? you might ask. Don’t bother; he’s just another non-entity who could never rival your fictional characters.
Now going back to that letter of yours. Some netizens have commented that we should all be cautious with whatever words we throw at you you since you’re already in the twilight of your mind-boggling existence. “He’s in his 90s. Let him be. Humor him” says one netizen. “Gonna give him a pass, sa katandaan na siguro din“ says another. But you yourself have said that the time has not yet come for you to be silent. Well, if that’s the case, since you are so willing to talk, then you should be willing to listen. So listen to this…
As far as MANY people are concerned, you are a fantastic novelist (I still love your Rosales novels although a huge chunk of them is as boring as Harold Clavite‘s online existence), a piercing essayist, and a sterling social justice activist (funny that I mentioned the word “justice” on this post). But as a national artist? You, sir, are a non-entity.
Your opinion may be “learned”, but it is still an opinion. And you’re imposing it on all of us. Sorry, Frankie me boyo. I’m still not convinced.
PS: If you wish to block me afterwards, forget it. I’m a non-entity troll. So how could you possibly even care about me?
Am I being disrespectful towards F. Sionil José? Well, I’ve been calling him “Frankie Boy” throughout this whole blogpost, so go figure. Let’s not even talk about seniority nor age here. He had this coming a long time ago. He may be a giant in Filipino Literature, but in real life, he’s just a cantankerous old-timer, the type you really want to beat up but couldn’t because of his age. Besides, he said that the time for him to shut up has not yet come. Now that’s a terrifying prospect that I just couldn’t ignore. And more importantly, respect begets respect. Out of all National Artists whose lives and works I’ve read in various books, newspapers, magazines, and websites, he is the only one whom I noticed to be so full of himself (I’m trying to suppress myself from writing plus-size jokes). Don’t get me wrong. I wish him no ill, really. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write about my resentment of him.
Having said that, I should reveal this now: the ONLY reason why F. Sionil José is the most translated among Filipino writers (something he loves to brag about) is because he has solicited foreign translators to have his works translated. As a publisher himself, he has the clout to do so. Siyá ang lumalapit sa canilá. It wasn’t the other way around. His books were not translated because of the quality of their forgettable stories. So being the most translated writer in Filipinas does not equate to being the best. All you need are PR skills.
If he denies what I have just revealed here, then he should throw away the virtue of HONESTY from his writings.
Before I end this online rant, you must be wondering: what prompted Frankie Boy to belittle Abé and Andrés just like that? I have no idea. My suspicion: maybe he had some ugly misunderstanding with the two Cruzes in the past. Or he’s just jealous of them. But let us not dig into that anymore. Whatever squabble he may have had with the two Cruzes (and may they rest in peace), it’s none of our business. What we should marvel at, however, is this cute photo of Frankie Boy attending the opening of an art exhibit three years ago in which the paintings of those two Cruzes he had looked down upon last month were included. Now that’s neurotically classy of him, don’t you think! 😂