Dr. Nilo Valdecantos: “El Patrón de las Artes de La Laguna

Ang La Laguna ay isáng nápacagandang lugar.
Mayaman sa calicasan, cultura, at casaysayan.
Daluyan ng macasining na camalayán at mg̃a obra.
May auit ang bauat diuang malayà.
Nilo Valdecantos

NILO VALDECANTOS

We easily clicked the first time we met in his cozy, bahay na bató inspired café-slash-art-gallery. At least, that was how Dr. Nilo Valdecantos made me feel upon welcoming me to Kape Kesada Art Gallery, a popular cultural nook tucked in the heart of artistic Paeté, La Laguna Province.

Dressed in short pants and a tee (what we Filipinos endearingly call a pambahay), I found him in his art gallery seated by a customized wooden table, laughing vociferously with another gentleman. After the formalities of introduction, I nervously took my seat in front of him. But at that very instant, he bade me —no, ordered me— stand up again.

Tumayo ca ñga muna, p’re,” he said, to which I complied. No sooner had I stood up when he suddenly asked me this question: “¿anó’ng height mo?” I was stunned by the seeming irrelevance but was already trying to remember measurements in my head when he suddenly shrieked in laughter, prompting the gentleman with him and my companion who was also his friend to laugh along with him. Little did I know that I was the victim of some sort of classic Doc Nilo prank. Apparently, the two gentlemen with us were also unknowing victims of the same question when they first met the jolly dentist.

That was eight years ago. The companion I was with was the one who brought me to Kape Kesada to introduce me to the rather eccentric dentist. Doc Nilo was then a cultural consultant under former La Laguna Governor E.R. Ejército. During that time, I was commissioned to write a history book for the province, a project which was later aborted when Ejército was unceremoniously kicked out of office due to an election campaign case.

The main reason I was introduced to him was to familiarize myself with the arts and culture of Paeté as part of the mentioned book project. Little did I know that it was going to be the beginning of a friendship that was anchored in our mutual love and respect for the arts and for La Laguna’s history.

During the course of my research on the history of our province, I stumbled upon its long-lost foundation date which, I’ve been told, has long been sought after by many other historians and provincial administrations before me. In my impromptu quest to have the date officially recognized, I received stiff opposition from various individuals and from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines itself. Doc Nilo was one of the very few who supported me. He always accompanied me to meetings regarding the recognition of the date. He even organized the first public celebration of the province’s founding anniversary at his Kape Kesada Art Gallery without any prodding from me, and even before the date was officially declared to be canon (La Laguna’s founding anniversary has since been celebrated officially beginning 2015 when Ramil Hernández already took over the governorship of the province Ejército).

NILO VALDECANTOS

Since then, Doc Nilo has never failed to invite me to Kape Kesada’s major events, and apologizing for those rare moments that the invitations failed to arrive. He even made me the main speaker in an arts event that he sponsored at the University of Asia and the Pacific. Indeed, he was both an admirer and a friend.

A funny thing that I notice in him is that during media interviews (as éminence grise of Paeté’s arts and culture scene, he was always the town’s representative), he is a man of praise, a glorious spokesman in the mold of Tagalog statesmen of yore. But among friends he was riotous and loud, the typical drinking buddy with guitar in hand and a drunken voice ever-ready to belt out Louis Armstrong tunes and other folk songs. Only among loved ones can one see the real Nilo Valdecantos: a jovial person, full of mirth. He was that fun to be with.

Sometime in 2017, tragedy struck the Valdecantos household when Doc Nilo was diagnosed with cancer: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He then underwent months of grueling chemotheraphy (the upside was that he lost a lot of weight, including his signature pot belly). After surviving the ordeal, he immediately organized a fund-raiser for the benefit of poor cancer patients, gathering La Laguna’s best artists in an art exhibit for a cause that was held at the LRI Design Plaza. It was the last major event that he had organized. Several months later, the cancer came back to take him away.

 

When it comes to the town’s arts and culture scene, Doc Nilo was the go-to-guy. While Paeté is known throughout the country for its visual artists (the Department of Tourism markets it as the “Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines”), Doc Nilo was no sculptor, neither did he sketch nor paint. But he served as the picturesque town’s patron of the arts. Through his Kape Kesada Art Gallery, he had helped launch and sustain the careers of many wood carvers and painters of Paeté, among them Dominic Rubio, the Cagandahan siblings, Fred Baldemor (Doc Nilo dubbed him as our country’s Michaelangelo), the late Patricio “Peping” Balquiedra (he died just a few months ago), and many others. Even artists from outside of town were welcomed and treated as family. For Kape Kesada is home to kindred soul, whethere Lagunense or not.

Kape Kesada Art Gallery is hands down the de facto cultural center of Paeté. It is thus a haven for both art aficionados and coffee lovers. Its founder, the poetic and ever jovial Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, was undoubtedly La Laguna Province’s most loyal and staunch patron of culture and the arts. His altruism towards the province’s artists is genuine, pure, something to marvel at. He and his café-slash-art gallery is the beating heart of the province’s culture and the arts, and thus should be recognized and honored by all art institutions in the country.

NILO VALDECANTOS

Doc Nilo’s final message to me…

I have yet to meet another kind soul whose love for La Laguna is as ardent and as deep as Doc Nilo’s. I doubt if that love could be equaled in the coming years.

I miss him dearly.

Sabi nung ibá, “hindi ca mapapacáin ng cultura”. Pero ang nasa isip co, sinagót co sa canilá: “pero caya tayong buhayin ng cultura.”

–Dr. Nilo Valdecantos–

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Our last photo together at the LRI Design Plaza, one of the events he organized. Behind us is famous folk musician Joey Ayala, another friend of Doc Nilo.

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A heritage of smallness

Hello there. For #NickJoaquínWeek (April 29 – May 4), I present to you one of Nick’s best and well-known essays which is a MUST-READ for all Filipinos. It is also one of my favorites. In fact, I’ve memorized each and every word of this essay and can recite it extemporaneously. JOKE. Anyway, I implore that you please please PLEASE read it in full. We’re still in ECQ, so I’m sure you have more than enough time; your smartphones can wait. Reading this will only take you a few minutes and will make you smarter (something that your smartphones cannot do for you). In this essay, Nick plays psychologist to the collective Filipino psyche. He has pried deep into the Filipino’s historical psychology, thus deciphering our psychological history which hopefully would help us pull ourselves out of the decades-old rut that has been suppressing our long-delayed flight to greatness. Again, this excellent essay from our 1976 National Artist for Literature is a must-read for Filipinos who still have a genuine and selfless love of country. PLEASE SHARE AFTER READING!

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Rise's review of Culture and History

“A Heritage of Smallness”, one of Nick Joaquín’s most well-known essays, appears on this book which is still available in major bookstores.

A HERITAGE OF SMALLNESS
Nick Joaquín

Society for the Filipino is a small rowboat: the barangay. Geography for the Filipino is a small locality: the barrio. History for the Filipino is a small vague saying: matandá pá cay mahomanoóng peacetime. Enterprise for the Filipino is a small stall: the sari-sarì. Industry and production for the Filipino are the small immediate searchings of each day: isáng cahig, isáng tucâ. And commerce for the Filipino is the smallest degree of retail: the tiñgî.

What most astonishes foreigners in the Philippines is that this is a country, perhaps the only one in the world, where people buy and sell one stick of cigarette, half a head of garlic, a dab of pomade, part of the contents of a can or bottle, one single egg, one single banana. To foreigners used to buying things by the carton or the dozen or pound and in the large economy sizes, the exquisite transactions of Philippine tingís cannot but seem Lilliputian. So much effort by so many for so little. Like all those children risking neck and limb in the traffic to sell one stick of cigarette at a time. Or those grown-up men hunting the sidewalks all day to sell a puppy or a lantern or a pair of socks. The amount of effort they spend seems out of all proportion to the returns. Such folk are, obviously, not enough. Laboriousness just can never be the equal of labor as skill, labor as audacity, labor as enterprise.

The Filipino who travels abroad gets to thinking that his is the hardest working country in the world. By six or seven in the morning we are already up on our way to work, shops and markets are open; the wheels of industry are already agrind. Abroad, especially in the West, if you go out at seven in the morning you’re in a dead-town. Everybody’s still in bed; everything’s still closed up. Activity doesn’t begin till nine or ten — and ceases promptly at five p.m. By six, the business sections are dead towns again. The entire cities go to sleep on weekends. They have a shorter working day, a shorter working week. Yet they pile up more mileage than we who work all day and all week.

Is the disparity to our disparagement?

We work more but make less. Why? Because we act on such a pygmy scale. Abroad they would think you mad if you went in a store and tried to buy just one stick of cigarette. They don’t operate on the scale. The difference is greater than between having and not having; the difference is in the way of thinking. They are accustomed to thinking dynamically. We have the habit, whatever our individual resources, of thinking poor, of thinking petty.

Is that the explanation for our continuing failure to rise — that we buy small and sell small, that we think small and do small?

Are we not confusing timidity for humility and making a virtue of what may be the worst of our vices? Is not our timorous clinging to smallness the bondage we must break if we are ever to inherit the earth and be free, independent, progressive? The small must ever be prey to the big. Aldous Huxley said that some people are born victims, or “murderers.” He came to the Philippines and thought us the “least original” of people. Is there not a relation between his two terms? Originality requires daring: the daring to destroy the obsolete, to annihilate the petty. It’s cold comfort to think we haven’t developed that kind of “murderer mentality.”

But till we do we had best stop talking about “our heritage of greatness” for the national heritage is —let’s face it— a heritage of smallness.

However far we go back in our history it’s the small we find — the nipa hut, the barangay, the petty kingship, the slight tillage, the tingí trade. All our artifacts are miniatures and so is our folk literature, which is mostly proverbs, or dogmas in miniature. About the one big labor we can point to in our remote past are the rice terraces —and even that grandeur shrinks, on scrutiny, into numberless little separate plots into a series of layers added to previous ones, all this being the accumulation of ages of small routine efforts (like a colony of ant hills) rather than one grand labor following one grand design. We could bring in here the nursery diota about the little drops of water that make the mighty ocean, or the peso that’s not a peso if it lacks a centavo; but creative labor, alas, has sterner standards, a stricter hierarchy of values. Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. A galleryful of even the most charming statuettes is bound to look scant beside a Pieta or Moses by Michelangelo; and you could stack up the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace.

The depressing fact in Philippine history is what seems to be our native aversion to the large venture, the big risk, the bold extensive enterprise. The pattern may have been set by the migration. We try to equate the odyssey of the migrating barangays with that of the Pilgrim, Father of America, but a glance of the map suffices to show the differences between the two ventures. One was a voyage across an ocean into an unknown world; the other was a going to and from among neighboring islands. One was a blind leap into space; the other seems, in comparison, a mere crossing of rivers. The nature of the one required organization, a sustained effort, special skills, special tools, the building of large ships. The nature of the other is revealed by its vehicle, the barangay, which is a small rowboat, not a seafaring vessel designed for long distances on the avenues of the ocean.

The migrations were thus self-limited, never moved far from their point of origin, and clung to the heart of a small known world; the islands clustered round the Malay Peninsula. The movement into the Philippines, for instance, was from points as next-door geographically as Borneo and Sumatra. Since the Philippines is at heart of this region, the movement was toward center, or, one may say, from near to still nearer, rather than to farther out. Just off the small brief circuit of these migrations was another world: the vast mysterious continent of Australia; but there was significantly no movement towards this terra incognita. It must have seemed too perilous, too unfriendly of climate, too big, too hard. So, Australia was conquered not by the fold next door, but by strangers from across two oceans and the other side of the world. They were more enterprising, they have been rewarded. But history has punished the laggard by setting up over them a White Australia with doors closed to the crowded Malay world.

The barangays that came to the Philippines were small both in scope and size. A barangay with a hundred households would already be enormous; some barangays had only 30 families, or less. These, however, could have been the seed of a great society if there had not been in that a fatal aversion to synthesis. The barangay settlements already displayed a Philippine characteristic: the tendency to petrify in isolation instead of consolidating, or to split smaller instead of growing. That within the small area of Manila Bay there should be three different kingdoms (Tondo, Manila, and Pasay) may mean that the area was originally settled by three different barangays that remained distinct, never came together, never fused; or it could mean that a single original settlement; as it grew split into three smaller pieces.

Philippine society, as though fearing bigness, ever tends to revert the condition of the barangay of the small enclosed society. We don’t grow like a seed, we split like an amoeba. The moment a town grows big it becomes two towns. The moment a province becomes populous it disintegrates into two or three smaller provinces. The excuse offered for divisions is always the alleged difficulty of administering so huge an entity. But Philippines provinces are microscopic compared to an American state like, say, Texas, where the local government isn’t heard complaining it can’t efficiently handle so vast an area. We, on the other hand, make a confession of character whenever we split up a town or province to avoid having of cope, admitting that, on that scale, we can’t be efficient; we are capable only of the small. The decentralization and barrio-autonomy movement expresses our craving to return to the one unit of society we feel adequate to: the barangay, with its 30 to a hundred families. Anything larger intimidates. We would deliberately limit ourselves to the small performance. This attitude, an immemorial one, explains why we’re finding it so hard to become a nation, and why our pagan forefathers could not even imagine the task. Not E pluribus unum is the impulse in our culture but “Out of many, fragments”. Foreigners had to come and unite our land for us; the labor was far beyond our powers. Great was the King of Sugbú, but he couldn’t even control the tiny isle across his bay. Federation is still not even an idea for the tribes of the North; and the Moro sultanates behave like our political parties: they keep splitting off into particles.

Because we cannot unite for the large effort, even the small effort is increasingly beyond us. There is less to learn in our schools, but even this little is protested by our young as too hard. The falling line on the graph of effort is, alas, a recurring pattern in our history. Our artifacts but repeat a refrain of decline and fall, which wouldn’t be so sad if there had been a summit decline from, but the evidence is that we start small and end small without ever having scaled any peaks. Used only to the small effort, we are not, as a result, capable of the sustained effort and lose momentum fast. We have a term for it: niñgás cogon.

Go to any exhibit of Philippine artifacts and the items that from our “cultural heritage” but confirm three theories about us, which should be stated again.

First: that the Filipino works best on small scale — tiny figurines, small pots, filigree work in gold or silver, decorative arabesques. The deduction here is that we feel adequate to the challenge of the small, but are cowed by the challenge of the big.

Second: that the Filipino chooses to work in soft easy materials — clay, molten metal, tree searching has failed to turn up anything really monumental in hardstone. Even carabao horn, an obvious material for native craftsmen, has not been used to any extent remotely comparable to the use of ivory in the ivory countries. The deduction here is that we feel equal to the materials that yield but evade the challenge of materials that resist.

Third: that having mastered a material, craft or product, we tend to rut in it and don’t move on to a next phase, a larger development, based on what we have learned. In fact, we instantly lay down even what mastery we already posses when confronted by a challenge from outside of something more masterly, instead of being provoked to develop by the threat of competition. Faced by the challenge of Chinese porcelain, the native art of pottery simply declined, though porcelain should have been the next phase for our pottery makers. There was apparently no effort to steal and master the arts of the Chinese. The excuse offered here that we did not have the materials for the techniques for the making of porcelain — unites in glum brotherhood yesterday’s pottery makers and today’s would be industrialists. The native pot got buried by Chinese porcelain as Philippine tobacco is still being buried by the blue seal.

Our cultural history, rather than a cumulative development, seems mostly a series of dead ends. One reason is a fear of moving on to a more complex phase; another reason is a fear of tools. Native pottery, for instance, somehow never got far enough to grasp the principle of the wheel. Neither did native agriculture ever reach the point of discovering the plow for itself, or even the idea of the draft animal, though the carabao was handy. Wheel and plow had to come from outside because we always stopped short of technology, This stoppage at a certain level is the recurring fate of our arts and crafts.

The santo everybody’s collecting now are charming as legacies, depressing as indices, for the art of the santero was a small art, in a not very demanding medium: wood. Having achieved perfection in it, the santero was faced by the challenge of proving he could achieve equal perfection on a larger scale and in more difficult materials: hardstone, marble, bronze. The challenge was not met. Like the pagan potter before him, the santero stuck to his tiny rut, repeating his little perfections over and over. The iron law of life is: Develop or decay. The art of the santero did not advance; so it declined. Instead of moving onto a harder material, it retreated to a material even easier than wool: Plaster–and plaster has wrought the death of relax art.

One could go on and on with this litany.

Philippine movies started 50 years ago and, during the ’30s, reached a certain level of proficiency, where it stopped and has rutted ever since looking more and more primitive as the rest of the cinema world speeds by on the way to new frontiers. We have to be realistic, say local movie producers we’re in this business not to make art but money. But even from the business viewpoint, they’re not “realistic” at all. The true businessman ever seeks to increase his market and therefore ever tries to improve his product. Business dies when it resigns itself, as local movies have done, to a limited market.

After more than half a century of writing in English, Philippine Literature in that medium is still identified with the short story. That small literary form is apparently as much as we feel equal to. But by limiting ourselves less and less capable even of the small thing — as the fate of the pagan potter and the Christian santero should have warned us. It’s no longer as obvious today that the Filipino writer has mastered the short story form.

It’s two decades since the war but what were mere makeshift in postwar days have petrified into institutions like the jeepney, which we all know to be uncomfortable and inadequate, yet cannot get rid of, because the would mean to tackle the problem of modernizing our systems of transportation–a problem we think so huge we hide from it in the comforting smallness of the jeepney. A small solution to a huge problem–do we deceive ourselves into thinking that possible? The jeepney hints that we do, for the jeepney carrier is about as adequate as a spoon to empty a river with.

With the population welling, and land values rising, there should be in our cities, an upward thrust in architecture, but we continue to build small, in our timid two-story fashion. Oh, we have excuses. The land is soft: earthquakes are frequent. But Mexico City, for instance, is on far swampier land and Mexico City is not a two-story town. San Francisco and Tokyo are in worse earthquake belts, but San Francisco and Tokyo reach up for the skies. Isn’t our architecture another expression of our smallness spirit? To build big would pose problems too big for us. The water pressure, for example, would have to be improved–and it’s hard enough to get water on the ground floor flat and frail, our cities indicate our disinclination to make any but the smallest effort possible.

It wouldn’t be so bad if our aversion for bigness and our clinging to the small denoted a preference for quality over bulk; but the little things we take forever to do too often turn out to be worse than the mass-produced article. Our couturiers, for instance, grow even limper of wrist when, after waiting months and months for a pin, a weaver to produce a yard or two of the fabric, they find they have to discard most of the stuff because it’s so sloppily done. Foreigners who think of pushing Philippine fabric in the world market give up in despair after experiencing our inability to deliver in quantity. Our proud apologia is that mass production would ruin the “quality” of our products. But Philippine crafts might be roused from the doldrums if forced to come up to mass-production standards.

It’s easy enough to quote the West against itself, to cite all those Western artists and writers who rail against the cult of bigness and mass production and the “bitch goddess success”; but the arguments against technological progress, like the arguments against nationalism, are possible only to those who have already gone through that stage so successfully they can now afford to revile it. The rest of us can only crave to be big enough to be able to deplore bigness.

For the present all we seen to be able to do is ignore pagan evidence and blame our inability to sustain the big effort of our colonizers: they crushed our will and spirit, our initiative and originality. But colonialism is not uniquely our ordeal but rather a universal experience. Other nations went under the heel of the conqueror but have not spent the rest of their lives whining. What people were more trod under than the Jews? But each have been a thoroughly crushed nation get up and conquered new worlds instead. The Norman conquest of England was followed by a subjugation very similar to our experience, but what issued from that subjugation were the will to empire and the verve of a new language.

If it be true that we were enervated by the loss of our primordial freedom, culture and institutions, then the native tribes that were never under Spain and didn’t lose what we did should be showing a stronger will and spirit, more initiative and originality, a richer culture and greater progress, than the Christian Filipino. Do they? And this favorite apologia of ours gets further blasted when we consider a people who, alongside us, suffered a far greater trampling yet never lost their enterprising spirit. On the contrary, despite centuries of ghettos and programs and repressive measures and racial scorn, the Chinese in the Philippines clambered to the top of economic heap and are still right up there when it comes to the big deal. Shouldn’t they have long come to the conclusion (as we say we did) that there’s no point in hustling and laboring and amassing wealth only to see it wrested away and oneself punished for rising?

An honest reading of our history should rather force us to admit that it was the colonial years that pushed us toward the larger effort. There was actually an advance in freedom, for the unification of the land, the organization of towns and provinces, and the influx of new ideas, started our liberation from the rule of the petty, whether of clan, locality or custom. Are we not vexed at the hinterlander still bound by primordial terrors and taboos? Do we not say we have to set him “free” through education? Freedom, after all is more than a political condition; and the colonial lowlander –especially a person like, say, Rizal– was surely more of a freeman than the unconquered tribesman up in the hills. As wheel and plow set us free from a bondage to nature, so town and province liberated us from the bounds of the barangáy.

The liberation can be seen just by comparing our pagan with our Christian statuary. What was static and stolid in the one becomes, in the other, dynamic motion and expression. It can be read in the rear of architecture. Now, at last, the Filipino attempts the massive — the stone bridge that unites, the irrigation dam that gives increase, the adobe church that identified. If we have a “heritage of greatness it’s in these labors and in three epic acts of the colonial period; first, the defense of the land during two centuries of siege; second, the Propaganda Movement; and the third, the Revolution.

The first, a heroic age that profoundly shaped us, began 1600 with the 50-year war with the Dutch and may be said to have drawn to a close with the British invasion of 1762. The War with the Dutch is the most under-rated event in our history, for it was the Great War in our history. It had to be pointed out that the Philippines, a small colony practically abandoned to itself, yet held at bay for half a century the mightiest naval power in the world at the time, though the Dutch sent armada after armada, year after year, to conquer the colony, or by cutting off the galleons that were its links with America, starve the colony to its knees. We rose so gloriously to the challenge the impetus of spirit sent us spilling down to Borneo and the Moluccas and Indo-China, and it seemed for a moment we might create an empire. But the tremendous effort did create an elite vital to our history: the Creole-Tagalog-Pampango principalia – and ruled it together during these centuries of siege, and which would which was the nation in embryo, which defended the land climax its military career with the war of resistance against the British in the 1660’s. By then, this elite already deeply felt itself a nation that the government it set up in Bacolor actually defined the captive government in Manila as illegitimate. From her flows the heritage that would flower in Malolos, for centuries of heroic effort had bred, in Tagalog and the Pampango, a habit of leadership, a lordliness of spirit. They had proved themselves capable of the great and sustained enterprise, destiny was theirs. An analyst of our history notes that the sun on our flag has eight rays, each of which stands for a Tagalog or Pampango province, and the the Tagalogs and Pampangos at Biak-na-Bato “assumed the representation of the entire country and, therefore, became in fact the Philippines.

From the field of battle this elite would, after the British war, shift to the field of politics, a significant move; and the Propaganda, which began as a Creole campaign against the Peninsulars, would turn into the nationalist movement of Rizal and Del Pilar. This second epic act in our history seemed a further annulment of the timidity. A man like Rizal was a deliberate rebel against the cult of the small; he was so various a magus because he was set on proving that the Filipino could tackle the big thing, the complex job. His novels have epic intentions; his poems sustain the long line and go against Garcia Villa’s more characteristically Philippine dictum that poetry is the small intense line.

With the Revolution, our culture is in dichotomy. This epic of 1896 is indeed a great effort — but by a small minority. The Tagalog and Pampango had taken it upon themselves to protest the grievances of the entire archipelago. Moreover, within the movement was a clash between the two strains in our culture — between the propensity for the small activity and the will to something more ambitious. Bonifacio’s Katipunan was large in number but small in scope; it was a rattling of bolos; and its post fiasco efforts are little more than amok raids in the manner the Filipino is said to excel in. (An observation about us in the last war was that we fight best not as an army, but in small informal guerrilla outfits; not in pitched battle, but in rapid hit-and-run raids.) On the other hand, there was, in Cavite, an army with officers, engineers, trenches, plans of battle and a complex organization — a Revolution unlike all the little uprisings or mere raids of the past because it had risen above tribe and saw itself as the national destiny. This was the highest we have reached in nationalistic effort. But here again, having reached a certain level of achievement, we stopped. The Revolution is, as we say today, “unfinished.”

The trend since the turn of the century, and especially since the war, seems to be back to the tradition of timidity, the heritage of smallness. We seem to be making less and less effort, thinking ever smaller, doing even smaller. The air droops with a feeling of inadequacy. We can’t cope; we don’t respond; we are not rising to challenges. So tiny a land as ours shouldn’t be too hard to connect with transportation – but we get crushed on small jeepneys, get killed on small trains, get drowned in small boats. Larger and more populous cities abroad find it no problem to keep themselves clean – but the simple matter of garbage can create a “crisis” in the small city of Manila. One American remarked that, after seeing Manila’s chaos of traffic, he began to appreciate how his city of Los Angeles handles its far, far greater volume of traffic. Is building a road that won’t break down when it rains no longer within our powers? Is even the building of sidewalks too herculean of task for us?

One writer, as he surveyed the landscape of shortages —no rice, no water, no garbage collectors, no peace, no order—gloomily mumbled that disintegration seems to be creeping upon us and groped for Yeat’s terrifying lines:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold:
Mere anarchy is loosed…

Have our capacities been so diminished by the small efforts we are becoming incapable even to the small things? Our present problems are surely not what might be called colossal or insurmountable — yet we stand helpless before them. As the population swells, those problems will expand and multiply. If they daunt us now, will they crush us then? The prospect is terrifying.

On the Feast of Freedom we may do well to ponder the Parable of the Servants and the Talents. The enterprising servants who increase talents entrusted to them were rewarded by their Lord; but the timid servant who made no effort to double the one talent given to him was deprived of that talent and cast into the outer darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth:

“For to him who has, more shall be given; but from him who has not, even the little he has shall be taken away.”

Close encounters with Nick

During the first few days of the enhanced community quarantine, I still had three bottles of my favorite San Miguel Cerveza Negra inside the fridge. But during that time, I wasn’t aware of any liquor ban as I was fixated more on the rising cases of COVID-19 patients. I gulped down my final bottle about a week into the ECQ. Now I regret doing that because I have nothing to quaff anymore during “Nick Joaquín Week”, a modest online initiative started in 2018 by Pangasinán-based teacher Dave Arjie Manandeg who himself is a big Nick Joaquín fan (I also suspect that he is one of the administrators of the Facebook page Nick Joaquín. He Lives.). He does this by simply publishing Joaquinesque-related posts on social media using the hashtag #NickJoaquínWeek. The commemoration begins on the anniversary of Nick’s death (April 29) up to anniversary of his birth (May 4).

I first heard of the name Nick Joaquín in the same manner that most Filipinos today have first known about him: in school, during literary class. It must have been his “Three Generations” that we tackled, but I wasn’t so sure because during elementary and high school, I wasn’t interested in Filipino Literature in English just as yet (I couldn’t even remember having read that short story in full). I was more into foreign reads and comic books. However, his name has already become a byword. That means that even without having read any of his works, one is already so sure of his value and quality as a writer. After all, he’s been a National Artist for Literature since 1976.

Interest in Filipino Literature in English came during my tertiary years. I encountered his name again during election season of 1998, the first time that I was to join the electoral process (I was then 18). I was at a bookstore when I saw a biography of presidential candidate Alfredo Lim. I was then an admirer of Dirty Harry, drawn by his constant public condemnation of crime and drug use. Since I had the money for a book or two, I decided to grab a copy. My decision to buy that biography (with the corny title of “May Langit Din Ang Mahirap: The Life Story of Alfredo Siojo Lim“, for sure an idea of the presidentiable). But before doing so, I browsed its pages and read a few lines. I didn’t immediately like what I read, in fact it was a let-down. The English was way too off for me. I could clearly remember saying to myself: “Is this really Nick Joaquín?” It was my first time to really read something from him.

Joaquinesquerie

Little did I know back then that Nick had his own brand of English, a variation which literary critics refer to as “Joaquinesque” or Spanish-flavored English, the kind of literary language that helped catapult him to the top. And I think the reason for the momentary comedown is that my mind had already been ensconced to too much superhero fiction written in Yankee idiom. But after reading the book, I gradually developed an interest in his other works. His biography of Mayor Lim was not simply a life story as it was peppered here and there with historical riddles that whetted my appetite even more. For instance: why in the world did he even include the story of a Chinese mestizo in Emilio Aguinaldo’s army whose daughter got pregnant which caused trouble in her family? What is the relevance to Mayor Lim’s life story of those treasure-filled pushcarts that were delivered to the poor Chinese mestizo’s daughter? At first, the first-time Joaquín reader would be thinking that the author was simply rambling, trying to fill up pages perhaps to thicken a commissioned biography.

Years later, however, after having read his other works (poetry, essays, novels), I realized that he was hinting at something else. In fact, he usually does these “peppering” in many of his non-fiction. It seems that Joaquinesquerie is not just about language and style but about essence — his life’s work, from personal verses to seemingly sell-out biographies, was all part of a much grander design, but a design that was hinged upon his historical essays, the core of his thinking, his philosophy on national identity.

This could explain why José García Villa, the “divine poet” who had placed our country on the map of English-language poetry, once declared that Nick was the only Filipino writer with a real imagination…

“…that imagination of power and depth and great metaphysical seeing — and which knows how to express itself in great language, who writes poetry, and who reveals behind his writings a genuine first-rate mind.”

Hermanas Marasigan

My second Joaquinesque experience was Nick’s most famous work: “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”. It was in college, and I was already in a relationship with the beauteous but hilarious Yeyette Perey, my future wife who was then my classmate. She was already a few weeks pregnant during that time. We were both in drama class. But our professor, Mr. Joey Dividina (now Project Director of the Children’s Museum and Library), did not require us to read the play in full. Since it was a drama class, we were just instructed to act out certain scenes for a major school stage play at the Saint Therese Auditorium (now the Adamson Theatre). Our class was divided into groups. Humorously, my group’s assignment was to portray that sad practice blackout scene between Cándida and Paula Marasigan. Since Yeyette was the only female actress in our group, I had to go drag just to be able to portray Paula to Yeyette’s Cándida. But that’s OK because according to Sir Dividina, the scene, although sad, really had to be comical. The intention was to make the audience laugh using burlesque acting.

On the night of the play, I was wearing a classmate’s skirt that was too small for me. It failed to hide the hair on my legs, prompting a gay student to shout “¡Balbón!“, much to the amusement of everyone inside the jam-packed auditorium. There was laughter all throughout. I didn’t know if it was the burlesque acting or if it was because of my attire. At any rate, we were able to pull it off.

It was not until a few years later when I finally decided to read the play in full, and I did so while I was taking in customers’ phone calls as a nightshift call center agent. Life was already hitting me hard during those times, but I had Nick’s writings to accompany me for (mental) survival. In between phone calls, I witnessed (in print) the steadfastness of the Marasigan sisters toward heritage and tradition. Their deaths at the end of the play left me in tears, much to the amused wonderment of another gay colleague seated beside me. I don’t usually cry after reading a very sad tale. But Nick was able to make me do so. His Portrait strengthened my resolve to fight for the survival of heritage structures, even as an armchair activist.

Champion of beer

It is but natural for a fan to mimic his idol. One facet of Nick that I copied was his fancy for beer. Nick was not just a National Artist for Literature. He was also one of the country’s most celebrated beer drinkers. During my younger years, I thought it was cool to imitate his beer-guzzling, Bohemian lifestyle. But his signature beer, San Miguel Pale Pilsen, was something hard for my system to tolerate. I experimented with Colt 45, but it made me do unspeakable things in college (running away from guards just for the heck of it, throwing a cardboard box in the middle of another stage play in which I was a part of, toppling down auditorium speakers backstage during a rock concert, puking here and there, etc.). That is why I had to make do with Cerveza Negra, a drink which I discovered when I was already a call center agent (but it was love at first taste).

I read somewhere that, because of his publicized attachment to Pale Pilsen, he was invited by no less than San Miguel Corporation to do a TV commercial (together with other well-known writers) for their flagship product. His widely-read column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer was titled “Small Beer”, a clear influence of his love for the alcoholic drink.

I sometimes wonder if the profoundness of his writings was partly a result of his drunken state (a la Edgar Allan Poe).

Near encounters

In the biography written for him by his nephew Tony Joaquín, there is a section there on testimonials from other famous Filipinos who had the blessed opportunity to have rubbed shoulders with the Manileño legend. One of the most memorable (at least to me) was that of artist Migs Villanueva wherein she recounted a hilarious first-time visit to Nick’s house (she was actually being reintroduced to the National Artist by fellow writer Gregorio Brillantes since Nick had the weird tendency to forget people he had already met). During that rainy day, Villanueva experienced first hand Nick’s sardonic humor in spite of his octogenarian state. It was also found out that Nick was an unfaithful beer drinker:

Nick now offers us beer, and when we accept, he barks for them. One of his boys produces three cold bottles of Beer na Beer and an unopened pack of white table napkins. He puts them on the bare coffee table.

Greg complains. He wonders why there is no San Miguel beer.

“I drink this at home, I drink San Miguel elsewhere, to divide my culture,” Nick says.

Wala ka bang pulutan, Nick?” Greg says.

“Whoa!” Nick roars. The man is 84, and he has the vocal chords of a 20-year-old. “Where do ya think ya are, the Holiday Inn?” Within minutes, his attendant comes out with plates of tapa, hotdogs and toast bread.

Near brush with greatness

How I wish I had been introduced too to the man who had indirectly instilled in me a deep love of country and national identity. Actually, it did almost happen —twice— sometime in 2002 (or was it 2003)? During that time, I was working part-time as an editorial assistant to Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera’s Nueva Era, the last Spanish-language newspaper in Filipinas. Señor Gómez was a good friend of Nick. He had told me lots of personal stories between them which I, as a huge fan, listened to intently. I then shared to him how great my admiration was for his famous friend, and that one time, I even played Paula in drag. He was amused and told me: “You make an ugly Paula!” followed by his hearty Iberian laughter.

One day, he told me what if we visit Nick Joaquín in his San Juan residence. I had no reason to hesitate. It was to be an experience of a lifetime!

And that day finally came. We drove in his car from his house in San Pedro Macati (Makati City) but agreed to make a brief stopover in Santa Ana, Manila to take pictures of old ancestral houses that were still there for a future issue of Nueva Era. After about an hour or so, we set off to continue our visit to Nick’s place. But just as we entered his car, his cellphone rang — there was an emergency back home, and we had to go back to Makati (I couldn’t remember anymore what the emergency was all about, but it wasn’t something fatal or anything like that). We had to reschedule the trip to Nick’s house. I was successful in hiding my disappointment on our way back.

The second brush with Nick came a couple of months after that first disappointment. With nothing else to do, Señor Gómez again thought of bringing me to Nick’s house. Unfortunately, visitors to his dance studio —he was then active with his Flamenco engagements— came in trickles. And then the dances didn’t stop until evening. The trip to Nick’s house was completely forgotten. I didn’t remind him anymore after that.

Fast forward to 30 April 2004. I was already a corporate slave working for a data science company in Parañaque. It was a balmy Friday morning. During an idle moment at work, I browsed the Internet for the day’s news. One headline froze me from where I sat: I felt like a cat about to meet its death from a speeding truck.

There was a momentary gasp not from the chest but from deep within me. All sound had deafened. My surroundings appeared like paper images.I had wanted to share the news to my officemates but they were pure muppets when it came to anything literary. With nobody else to share my grief, I slowly stood up, left my cubicle, and sought to find a solitary place where I could compose myself and gather my thoughts. I saw one corner much farther away from all the cubicles: a floor-to-ceiling glass wall right beside the stairway. A handful of robots (my brutally honest description of office workers) passed by during that time. From that area, an airy view of far off Mount Maquiling could be seen. I stood there gazing at the storied lagunense mountain from a distance. I suddenly remember that during Martial Law, Nick had been there (at the Philippine High School for the Arts), delivering a speech at a ceremony that was attended by  Imelda Marcos. It is said that he made an invocation to María Maquiling (from whom the mountain was named after) during that speech, angering the First Lady, because the invocation touched on the importance of freedom. He was never again invited by the Marcos regime to address formal cultural occasions.

At that moment of recall, the tears fell down. Silently. I didn’t care anymore if anyone saw. But I think nobody did because my gaze was against the glass wall, fixated toward the hazy blue mountain from afar.

Champion of the Rosary

My daughter Krystal and I were there at the Cultural Center of the Philippines to participate in the nostalgic celebration of Nick’s birth centennial three years ago. Many literary celebrities who had become part of Nick’s life and career were also in attendance. I’m not the type who gets starstruck when seeing celebrities, but I really got excited to see that Nick’s youngest sister (and only living sibling), Carmen Joaquín de Enríquez, was there as well. I had wanted a photo opportunity with her but couldn’t gather the courage to go near her. It took a long while for my daughter to finally pull me toward her for a photo-op. That, I think, was the closest encounter I’ve ever had with my idol.

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There was also zero fascination with all the famous people I spoke with (or chatted with on Facebook) who have already met Nick. The conversations that I have had with the likes of Cocoy Laurel, Gemma Cruz Araneta, F. Sionil José, Danilo Dalena, Chino Trinidad, etc. almost always had Nick in mind. In one way or another, I had asked them questions about what Nick was like, how he dressed up, how his voice sounded like, etc. I tried the best I could just to be “near him”, perhaps to compensate for those two aborted meetings.

Sometimes I wonder: what it would be like if we had met? Would he have liked my company? Would we have become friends? Would he have tried my Cerveza Negra? Would he have time to assist me to combat my mediocrities? Would we have prayed the Rosary together? Oh yes, how I’d love to tell him that he (together with my dearly departed grandmother) was my greatest influence as to why I pray the Rosary. And why I have come to like beer (black beer, that is).

How I’d love to tell him in person that I consider him as the “Padre del Filipinismo“. But that will not happen anymore. I only have his books, his philosophy, to cherish.

There is not a single day that I don’t remember him. Not a single day. Because I have already enshrined an altar for him in my mind (an altar with beer and rosary). Everything Filipino that I see or seem always has his imprint…

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Enjoy it while it lasts, cherish it when it’s gone

Years from now, we will all look back to our quarantined lives with nostalgia, how we lived it in the confines of our homes, bonding like never before with our loved ones. We will miss the empty, pollution-free roads. We will miss the disciplined queues in groceries, including the monotone flavors of relief goods. We will miss the tranquil nights with its bright stars hovering (surprisingly) above deserted city streets. We will miss the comforts of working from home. We will miss how we looked forward to “The Late Show With Digong Duterte” and all those mind-boggling math challenges on Facebook, both of which accompanied us entertainingly during boring moments.

And of course, there’s TikTok. Because we Filipinos always find ways to smile even in the face of tragedies. It is in our identity.

 

But now that the quarantine is about to end, enjoy it while it lasts, because we will all go back to the hard-pressed, “normal” lives that made us forget who we really are right at this very moment: mortal men. The coronavirus pandemic, despite the suffering and death it brought to the whole world, has its positives. It gave our lives meaning. Death always does because it makes us realize that we are not forever. Hopefully, in the midst of all the solitude that the worldwide quarantines brought forth, it made us somehow meditative and contemplative. For my part, when I realized that the quarantines turned the tables on the anthropogenic impact on the environment, it made me ask: why is it that people have to die just so the planet could heal?

When we were still students, we couldn’t wait for the day to graduate so as to finally bid our stressful studies and projects and grumpy teachers goodbye. But now we look back to those days with so much yearning. So enjoy this confinement while it lasts. We might not get another opportunity in the next hundred years.

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The medium is the key

I’ve been noticing a lot of new and younger historians today, giving lectures, interviews, and tours here and there, working extra hard to multiply their followers in their respective social media accounts. Many are probably looking forward to becoming “the next Ambeth Ocampo​” or something to that effect. And even more are willing to become iconoclasts, eager to rewrite historical canon when opportunity knocks. Nothing wrong with that. But Filipino History is a complex study. It is incomparable to the histories of other nations. Our history is more about discovering new data and thrashing out the older ones. Because ours is a sad case, is in fact tainted with lies and absurdities (“leyenda negra“, hispanophobia, regionalism, ultranationalism, etc.). Our history does not need a simple rewrite. It requires effort for self-justification of the Filipino and a reaffirmation of what it really is. It needs an interpretation based not on nationalistic emotions but on hard data. Because our country’s history, to put it more bluntly, offers salvation of identity. This identity is power for it will return the dignity and swagger that we once wielded. It is the kind dignity that will enable ourselves to FIGHT all elements that dare trample on our beaten and tired souls.

Our true identity is locked away inside the forgotten chest of history. Today’s new breed of historians need not destroy it, for doing so will only do more harm to our already damaged culture. All they need is a key to unlock it. That should be their sole purpose today. Historians should not act like celebrities. Rather, and modesty aside, they should behave more like superheroes (loser by day, crime fighter by night). In reality, they really are. The Filipino Historian has a far more nobler purpose. He does not merely dig through sheets of yellowing paper to uncover hitherto unknown data and simply write about it, no. The purpose is to unravel and expose in order to help the Filipino self to recognize who and what he really is.

However, the Filipino Historian, who is also a writer, is not spared from the travails and hardships brought about by economic realities. More often than not, this reality serves as a hindrance to that noble purpose we speak of. But let not these deprivations discourage the Filipino Historian, for the fruits of their labor are for the betterment of their patria.

But where is that key? It’s not difficult to find: our forefathers who used pen and paper to elucidate and express their thoughts and ideas in aspiring for a better Filipinas left us just that — a medium in which to disseminate what was on their minds. That medium is the key to interpret our muddied history. 😉

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Mærsk on the frontlines vs COVID-19

For the past few months, we have been astounded by inspiring stories of heroism, dedication, and stellar sacrifice shown by medical frontliners all over the world in the fight against the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic. Like the patients under their care, many of them —from doctors to nurses— also started to succumb to the virus. We helplessly read or watch in the news about new reports of these selfless frontliners falling one by one like soldiers in the battlefield, slowly ebbing away.

Aside from these admirable people, there are other frontliners who also deserve to be acknowledged: the military and police who make sure that quarantines and lockdowns are being complied with, governmental staff who distribute relief goods to those affected by the previously mentioned emergency protocols, vehicular drivers who transport other frontliners, etc. These people virtually risk their lives against an unseen force in order to save others.

But then I realize that they are not the only frontliners in this terrifying age of pandemic. I think I can also say that, without blowing one’s own trumpet (just an honest-to-goodness realization), my colleagues and I in the container logistics industry are also frontliners. If our medical practitioners are considered as the first line of defense against the outbreak, I think it’s safe to say that we at Mærsk are leading the battle in keeping the global economy afloat.

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The crew of Emma Mærsk (led by Captain Jens Boysen, right-center) advising people to stay at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The vessel departed for sail with 150,000 tons of medicine, food, and equipment.

 

During our company’s annual general meeting (virtually transmitted live from Copenhagen, Denmark last March 23 as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus pandemic), our Chairman of the Board of Directors had this to say:

“As the world’s largest container shipping company, we play a significant role in ensuring that there’s food on the shelves in the supermarket and medicines in the pharmacies. During this crisis where many things are closing down, it’s even more important that the global network of ports, roads, and other critical infrastructure remain open and well-functioning.”
Jim Hagemann Snabe

Imagen

The first-ever digital annual general meeting at Mærsk (image: Snabe’s Twitter account).

Thus we here at Mærsk have no lockdown. There is no “quarantine vacation” for us. Many of us still have to work from home not just to keep our business going but to keep the global economy running as smoothly as possible: our seafarers are still at sea delivering goods amidst the global health crisis; our crews can still be found at ports and terminals manning the loading and unloading of containers; our trucks, rail systems, and barges continue to operate so as not to impede the supply chain conveyor belt, and; our office workers (of which I am a part of) who are compelled to work from home due to lockdowns and quarantines still carry on with the usual documentation work and other related processes.

PEPE ALAS

The Live Help / eRegistration team (led by Dandy Tablizo, left) is one of Mærsk’s many frontline groups that continue to serve customers during the coronavirus pandemic.

This is not to say that Mærsk is the only transport and logistics company that struggles in keeping the world economy safe from the throes of a recession, but it has to be acknowledged that, modesty aside, the company leads the industry’s twenty-foot equivalent unit capacity index (3,879,439) with a dominant market share of 15.3% (leading its nearest competitor by 3%). Snabe’s commentary during the virtual meeting was as perceptive as reality.

With numerous supply chains being disrupted due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we at Mærsk cannot afford to treat our industry halfway — we have to do it All The Way in the midst of strict quarantines and lockdowns. We just had to. For the survival of humanity, we have our medical frontliners. And for the survival of global economy, we have Mærsk.

door to door cargo insurance

Madrid Mærsk is one of the largest container ships in the world (image: maersk.com).

COVID-19 pandemic: a test for humanity

This is nothing like we’ve ever seen before.

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Map of infected countries as of 15 March 2020.

Metro Manila is currently on a one-month lockdown in a desperate attempt to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this has disrupted the lives of millions of Filipinos who live and work within and without the national capital region. The economy, in particular, is well on its way to a state of doldrums.

Supply chains have been disrupted: logistics and supplies will either have to bear the horrible traffic near checkpoints or will be forced to look for alternate routes. That will, in turn, disrupt schedules. In big business, time is always of the essence. And speaking of business, profits are spiraling down due to low turnout of consumers. Worse, workers’ pay is adversely affected. Conversely, if there is panic buying because of the lockdown, there will be panic among workers since they will soon have no more money to buy for food and other basic commodities.

While it is true that nobody is safe from being infected, that both rich and poor are prone to the disease, the poor are the most vulnerable to its economic consequences. This is, therefore, the perfect time for the wealthiest sectors of society to share what they have to the needy. This is the perfect time to showcase their much-revered corporate social responsibility. May they forego EBITDAs and revenues for the meantime; they have enjoyed the fat of the land for decades anyway, and now society is living on the edge. But it shouldn’t be just them. If a household has extra food, hand them down to the nearest neighbor who doesn’t. Magbigayan tayo ng alcohol at papel higiénico (toilet paper) imbés na maquipág-agauán. Mag-abutan tayo ng ulam, gaya ng sinaúnang panahón. Ibalíc natin ang diuá ng bayanihan at hindî ang paguiguing macasarili. We’re all in this together.

If I heard him right, Fr. Jojo Zerrudo in his homily during yesterday’s online Holy Mass said that pandemics are of demonic origin. But we can also regard it as a test for humanity’s charity. “The best and the worst in us come out in times of distress,” a friend of mine said. Let us then give humanity a good name.

And while we’re at it: later, at 5:00 PM, let us take a moment to show support for our health workers who risk their lives to battle the spread of COVID-19. Let us go to our balconies, windows, or rooftops (if possible) and applaud them as loud as we can (share this and use the hashtag #FrontlinersPH for more details). Spain and Italy already did this. Why shouldn’t we? Our exhausted doctors, nurses, and other health workers need a boost in these troubling times. Let us send them a message of appreciation. Appreciation is help enough.

Keep safe, everyone. And may God bless us all.

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Panahón ng pagcacáisa laban sa COVID-19

Huwág na po tayong magsisihán sa pagdami ng caso ng COVID-19 sa Filipinas. Ualâ itóng naidudulot na tulong. Oo ñga’t maraming pagcuculang ang gobierno, maraming capalpacán, pero hindí rin namán nilá cagustuhan itó. Nañgyayari itóng crisis na itó sa buóng mundo. Tayo’y mágtuluñgan na laang at supórtahan ang bauat hacbáng na puedeng pumiguil sa pagcalat ng pandémico. Hindî itó ang tamang panahón ng pamomolítica. Itó ang panahón ng pagcacáisa. Bauat isá sa atin ay may pananagutan.

¡Laban, Filipinas! ¡Huwág patitinag!

 

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The Friars of Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo”

A few days ago, my daughter Krystal asked me if I have Renato Constantino’s controversial “Veneration Without Understanding” and Gregorio Zaide’s ubiquitous “José Rizal: Life, Works, and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero”. She needed them for a school assignment under the subject “Rizal’s Life and Works”, a consequence of the late Senator Claro M. Recto’s Republic Act No. 1425*, otherwise known as the Rizal Law. This plea for assistance reminded me of an essay of hers when she was still in Grade 10, or three years ago. She was assigned by her religion teacher to write an essay comparing the friars of El Filibusterismo to the friars of today. My daughter, unfortunately, is a non-writer and doesn’t share the same passion that I have for our country’s history. So she asked me for help. But since I’m busy with other matters, I just gave her relevant reading materials for reference (while chiding her on the side that it’s her assignment, not mine). And as a guide, I cautioned her that it is not just to compare fictional characters to real people.

On the day that she was to pass her essay, I asked for it so that I could review it, but she left immediately. She didn’t want me to read it out of shame, haha.

But she forgot to delete her work from our laptop. So here it is, haha. She wowed me upon reading it. I decided to share it on my Facebook account; I originally published it here.  I am posting her essay again via this blog, again without her knowledge, haha.

Through the years, I have been lecturing my children about the important components of a true Filipino. So even though they are not as passionate as I am towards the study (and reevaluation) of Filipino History, I am still happy that they still carry on with them the spirit of our authentic national identity. That, I believe, is victory enough.

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THE FRIARS OF RIZAL’S EL FILIBUSTERISMO
Jewel Krystal Rose Alas

10 – Prophet Jeremiah

RELIGION

It is already well-known that the friars in the Philippines during Spanish times were cruel and tyrannical. This image of a bad Spanish friar is best portrayed in the novels of national hero José Rizal, particularly in his El Filibusterismo. But is this image of bad Spanish friars in Rizal’s El Filibusterismo factual?

During the foundation of our country, the friars are the ones who gave us blessings, particularly when it comes to urbanization. They taught us our mannerisms, how to speak, talk, and eat. The friars were the ones who gave us food that we still eat up to this very day. They also taught us how to be cultured and be morally urbanized (gracious manners). In other words, they were the ones who created the Filipino as they were capable of spreading the Christian faith in our country. Aside from religious activities they did for the natives as teachers of the Faith, they were also farmers, architects, writers, scientists, doctors, etc. The friars also had authority in the administration of the colony.

The friars of Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo who were depicted to show negative traits are only fictional characters. But why would Rizal imagine the friars back then as cruel? It is because he was a Freemason at the time that he was still working on the novels. Freemasons are anti-Catholics which explains why Rizal wrote negatively about the friars. Fortunately, before he was executed, he reconverted to Catholicism.

Unlike those friars in his novels, we all know how they are being respected the right way today. We see them every Sunday inside the church as they teach us the Word of God. But the fictional friars of El Filibusterismo are very much different compared to the friars today. But let’s say that we really have to compare them, we could find some similarities, but not everything. For example, some friars or priests today sometimes handle the Holy Mass in a wrong manner. We know about that priest who rode a hoverboard while singing a gospel song. Others I heard have seduced young teens and other horrible deeds. But these are isolated cases and are condemned, of course, by the Catholic Church. And let us remember this: our country will not be what it is today, a bastion of Christianity, without the friars who taught us the Catholic FAITH.

*The full name of the law is “An Act to Include in the Curricula of All Public and Private Schools, Colleges and Universities Courses On the Life, Works and Writings of José Rizal, Particularly His Novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Authorizing the Printing and Distribution Thereof, and for Other Purposes.” Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!