2019 for the win!

At the start of every year we always ask ourselves, “what’s in store for me this year?” I’m sure many of you asked poor 2019 about it when it has not even lasted a full day yet. But didn’t it even occur to you that it is us who create our own destiny? A year is not like a box filled with all of life’s goodies. A year is not a sentient being. We should not liken life to a calendar year. While life may be a box filled with chocolates, a year is an empty box. And we have an obligation to fill it up. Therefore, it is good ‘ol 2019 who should ask us instead:

“What are you gonna fill me up with?”

A year is just a number. But with our own perseverance and faith in God, we have the capability to make it come alive. Don’t falter whenever you encounter bad-tasting chocolates; that is part of life which Forrest Gump’s mom failed to tell him. Just spit it out and move on. As we say in Spanish: así es la vida.

So let us make 2019 a meaningful one. ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! And may God bless and guide us all!


Why is Rizal a hero to you?

What’s your favorite Rizal poem? Chances are, you won’t be able to name one save for, of course, the usual stuff they taught us in school: the very last one he wrote. Do you even know how many poems he wrote? Are you even aware how exquisitely beautiful his verses are, and what are the usual themes of his poetry?

(as expected, I hear crickets chirping)

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You see, Rizal was first and foremost a POET, a passionate bard who masterfully versified his profound love for Filipinas. He began his writing career as a poet and ended it as a poet. He is not all about the Noli and the Fili. He is not all about the Propaganda Movement. It is most unfortunate that he can no longer be understood by today’s generation when, at the turn of the 20th century, our forebears were cut off from his culture by a new language —THIS language I’m using right now— imposed by a nation experimenting with imperialism. When Rizal and his contemporaries were already soaring like Cervantes and Clarín, those hapless Filipinos who came after them had to learn anew the ABCs of another culture. So now we read him through bastardized and oftentimes annoying English translations. Unfortunately, we never soared like Shakespeare and Tennyson using the English language.

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There was one, however, who came close: Nick Joaquín. But he was on a league of his own: his first language was Spanish, and many attribute his mastery of English, aside from his being an indefatigable bookworm, to his proficiency of his mother tongue (English and Spanish are cognates). It can even be argued that his translation of Rizal’s valedictory poem was more superior than the original. Perhaps among all Rizal translators, it was only Nick who was able to capture the imagination and depth of the national hero as well as the spirit of the Filipino.

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But since we have been linguistically cut off from that faraway culture, our REAL culture, not all of us can be Nick anymore. Not all of us can be Rizal anymore.

Why is Rizal a hero to you?

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Rizal is a hero not because of his defiance to authority. He is a hero because of his deep love of country, a burning love that can only be understood by reading his verses (NOT his novels) in the language in which he wrote them. This is something that all patriotic Filipinos should think about every time Rizal Day falls, so that its celebration will not be rendered futile.

Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC)

It is sad to note that the essence of Rizal’s heroism today has degenerated into mere hero worship and opportunistic commercialism. There is nothing wrong in honoring Rizal, but it is best that we thoroughly understand what his heroism really is all about. Understanding him is the best way of honoring his memory.

Sobre las luchas de la vida

Vivimos en un mundo que no es perfecto y que nunca puede ser perfeccionado. No importa lo difícil que lo intentemos, no importa cuál sistema de gobierno nos gobierne, el sufrimiento continuará. Pero eso no significa que debemos dejar de hacer nuestra parte. Recuerda que el premio del esfuerzo es el esfuerzo, y es cómo luchamos contra el mal. Tenemos que trabajar por la vida más allá del sufrimiento y de la muerte. Eso es lo que más importa.

Remembering Stan Lee and his “Soapbox”

The Punisher is my favorite character from Stan Lee’s astonishing Marvel Comics universe. I remember those days when I scrimped on my allowance, saving every coin to buy copies of various Punisher titles that used to come out per month.



Those were the 90s, a time when physical simplicity and digital complexity were at the crossroads. During those happy days, when sociability was not yet confined to an android, Stan Lee maintained a column in each Marvel comic book. Titled “Stan’s Soapbox”, he gave us fans a glimpse of the ins and outs of Marvel Comics’ exciting plans for the future as well as other happenings in connection to Marvel’s creative crew that had a cult following of their own (the tandem of Chuck Dixon and John Romita Jr. was my favorite). At a time when social media was still a fevered dream, Stan Lee and his happy caboodle were our go-to-guys regarding all sorts of geekery. But from time to time, Stan Lee used his column as a platform to air his views about almost anything, some of which were controversial, nevertheless just.

Even through print, he engaged fans as if he was your friendly neighborhood grandfather that you could tell your problems to. Whenever I read him, I tried to imagine the kind of voice that he might had; years later, when he started appearing in cameos for various Marvel films, I was astonished to find out that the way I had imagined his voice would be came out quite accurately! And his grandfatherly voice as well as his gentle features perfectly fit the way he wrote: jolly and lively. There was many a time when I looked forward to his soapbox with as much excitement as I had towards the pulse-pounding storylines contained in The Punisher titles. His column also introduced me to the wider Marvel Universe, beyond the blood and bullets of The Punisher.

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Marvel trading card released in 1990 by Impel Marketing, Inc. This particular card was my first introduction to who Stan Lee was.

And do I really have to describe his language, his style of writing? The adjectives preceding some of Marvel’s iconic titles (AMAZING Spider-Man, UNCANNY X-Men, INCREDIBLE Hulk) may well be regarded as apposite laurels to his astounding talent and infinite well of imagination. His column, even though meant simply to inform readers about the goings-on in Marvel’s “House of Ideas”, is written in beautifully sculpted language. It is always an exalting experience for me whenever I read it. For a non-native English speaker, it was a challenge skimming through Stan Lee’s vast array of colorful vocabulary. It was simply impossible not to have a dictionary at hand when tackling his soapbox. But it was to my advantage: little did I know that it was to be my “training ground” as I was able to ace my English composition and grammar lessons at school.

Photograb from Anthony Oliveira.

Whenever Stan Lee wrote, he soared not like his caped heroes but like Shakespeare and Byron exposed to (red alert: Marvel jargon up ahead!) Terrigen Mists.

If you opine that my English is noteworthy, don’t. I am not an exceptional scribbler; whatever worth that I have as a writer, I simply got from years of reading Stan Lee. And yes, he was a major factor as to why I have come to love reading and writing. The best part of this all is that Stan Lee and Marvel Comics inadvertently led me to the world of English Literature.

Photograb from The Geeksverse.

I am so devastated at his passing. I’ve always thought he’d reach up to a hundred. He will be dearly missed.

Excelsior to infinity and beyond! ‘Nuff said…



Nubes encima de nuestro apartamento, cerca de la Laguna de Bay (14/09/2010).

La ciencia nos enseña que el propósito de los nubes son para contener la lluvia y envolver la tierra del calor extremo del sol. Es verdad. Pero hay otro propósito…

Tenemos los nubes entre nosotros para placer los ojos cansados de la humanidad, cansados debido a muchas tribulaciones, inundaciones, y presiones que esta realidad codiciosa nos inflige. Al mirar a estas raras blancuras en el cielo (por supuesto, es necesario usar gafas de sol cuando hace sol), se puede encontrar un tipo de comodidad que tal vez sólo una poesía pueda exponer en detalle. Es como una visión breve de la vida eterna.

Estos nubes de todos los tipos, de mechones juguetones, algodones gigantescos, como mecanismos de un sueño, complacen no sólo los ojos sino la mente agotada. Es triste que mucha gente toma los nubes un poco a la ligera.

La naturaleza no es sólo para sustentar la vida sino para animarla.

El castellano, único idioma nacional

El abogado Tirso de Irureta Goyena vivió en una época cuando el idioma español era el idioma filipino predominante pero fue poco a poco de ser “devorado” por el idioma de los invasores estadounidenses: el inglés. Alarmado por el ataque, escribió varios artículos para defender el estado de la lengua española en Filipinas.

En este blogpost publico uno de sus artículos titulado “El Castellano, Único Idioma Nacional“. Este artículo fue seleccionado de su libro POR EL IDIOMA Y LA CULTURA HISPANOS. Es una colección de ensayos suyos que fue publicada en 1917.

En “El Castellano, Único Idioma Nacional”, Irureta Goyena argumenta por qué el español debe ser el único idioma nacional de Filipinas.

El Señor Don Tirso de Irureta Goyena (con su chófer japónes). Foto cortesía del fotógrafo Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, nieto del Sr. Goyena.

Tirso de Irureta Goyena

Algunos opinan, al parecer, por la dualidad de idiomas en nuestro país, sosteniendo que ambos á dos, el castellano y el inglés, pueden constituir á la vez los idiomas nacionales de Filipinas. El idioma castellano es el idioma de un pasado de tres siglos, el idioma de las tres primeras centurias de civilización europea en el país, el idioma de epopeya y de los patriotas de la época revolucionaria. El inglés es el idioma del presente, de la nueva nación dominadora fuerte y jovén, y es la lengua, al mismo tiempo, más difundida en el Extremo Oriente, con cuyos países sostendrá Filipinas en lo futuro sus más íntimas relaciones comerciales y políticas. Ambos deben, por consiguiente, conservarse; ambos deben ser, en fin, los idiomas nacionales de la futura república filipina.

Somos los primeros en sostener que no laboramos contra el idioma inglés. Somos partidarios, consiguientemente, de la convivencia amistosa en el país de ambos idiomas. Sostenemos que el inglés no solo debe conservarse, sino que su conocimiento debe seguir siendo objeto de difusión. Pero entendemos que el castellano, ha sido, es y deberá ser el único idioma nacional de Filipinas.

Es indudable que si los filipinos pudieran poseer ambos idiomas á la perfección, sería esto lo más ventajoso para sus intereses. Pero el poseer, dominándolos, dos idiomas á la vez, y dos idiomas de léxico tan rico y tan variado como el inglés y el castellano, es cosa imposible para un pueblo en general, para una colectividad compleja y numerosa, como es toda una sociedad nacional, como es en este caso el país filipino. El poseer á la perfección dos idiomas á la vez es privilegio reservado á ciertos y determinados indivíduos dotados de especiales aptitudes filológicas. Y si extremamos las cosas, notaremos que aún aquellas personas que pasan por conocedoras de dos idiomas diferentes, dominan más uno que otro, y que, salvo rarísimas excepciones de inteligencias muy privilegiadas, no obstante poseer dos idiomas, piensan y sienten en uno de ellos exclusivamente, realizando una traducción mental de sus ideas y pensamientos de un idioma á otro.

Y ese idioma en que piensen y sienten las personas poseedoras de dos idiomas distintos, será su verdadero idioma propio, y no aquel en que exprese sus ideas y sentimientos después de haberlos traducido en su interior del idioma que brotó espontáneamente de su corazón ó de su inteligencia. Y ese idioma en que se pinesa ó se siente, cuando se refiere á todo un pueblo, ó á una gran parte del mismo, es su verdadero idioma nacional. Y es indudable que infinidad de filipinos piensan y sienten en castellano, y piensan y sienten de tal manera en este idioma, que mejor expresan en él los estados diversos de su alma que en cualquiera de los idiomas nativos.

La mejor demostración de este aserto la tenemos en nuestro insigne Rizal. En medio de las penalidades y sufrimientos de una cárcel, teniendo de cara á la muerte y bajo la tremenda exaltación patriótica de sus últimos momentos gloriosos, cogió la pluma para entonar un canto de despedida á su patria, es decir, á su madre, á nuestra madre común, su adorada Filipinas, y aquel sublime corazón habló en emocionantes é inspiradísimas estrofas castellanas.

Pero se dirá: ¿no tiene Suiza tres idiomas nacionales? ¿no tienen dos Bélgica, el Canadá y la Confederación sud-africana? ¿Por qué no ha de poder tenerlos Filipinas? Y nosotros contestaremos diciendo que esto es no tener en cuenta en absoluto la forma y las circunstancias bajo las cuales Suiza, Bélgica, el Canadá y la Unión del África del Sur tienen varios idiomas nacionales.

En primer lugar, no existen en ninguno de esos países varios idiomas nacionales, sino que los que existen son varios idiomas oficiales, idiomas á los cuales se les ha dado carácter oficial, por ser los idiomas de nacionalidades distintasexistentes dentro del mismo Estado. En la república de Suiza hay una mayoría de cantones alemanes, esto es, cantones de raza alemana, de costumbres alemanas y de idioma alemán, varios cantones franceses, ó sea, cantones de raza, costumbres é idioma francés; y un cantón de raza, costumbres é idioma italianos. No es, por consiguiente, que en Suiza todos los suizos hablen indistintamente los tres idiomas. Sino que hay suizos que poseen el alemán como único idioma nacional y lo utilizan exclusivamente, otros el francés, y otros el italiano. Claro está que esa proximidad y convivencia hace que muchos suizos alemanes hablen el francés, y muchos franceses alemanes el alemán. Pero lo hablan como uno cualquiera de nosotros hablaría el ruso ó el japonés, esto es, no como un idioma nacional, no como un idioma propio, sino como un idioma extraño adquirido por el estudio y por la práctica continuos.

Lo mismo ocurre en el Canadá. En el Canadá hay un Departamento ó Estado, el de Quebec, cuyos habitantes son, en su mayoría, descendientes de los antiguos colonos franceses, y que hablan consiguientemente el francés como idioma nacional. Y en los restantes Estados del Dominio, puede decirse que su mayoría están constituidos por colonos de raza inglesa, y que tienen, por lo tanto, al inglés por idioma propio. Más, como no podía evitarse que de hecho algunos colonos franceses fuesen á establecerse á Estados de raza inglesa, ni que colonos ingleses fuesen á vivir al Estado de Quebec, por no inferir agravio á ninguno de los dos, se han declarado á ambos idiomas, el francés y el inglés, idiomas oficiales. Pero no puede decirse que ambos á dos, y para todos los canadienses, sean el inglés y el francés los idiomas nacionales.

En Filipinas no ocurre esto. Hay una minoría de filipinos, descendientes e individuos de raza española que tienen al castellano naturalmente como idioma propio y casi por decir único. Hay algunas localidades donde filipinos indígenas, de pura raza nativa, como Cavite, San Roque, Caridad, Zamboanga, y aún muchos de los que en Manila y en otras capitales importantes viven, que no poseen asimismo otro idioma que el castellano más ó menos adulterado. Fuera de estos focos, que si son una excepción, lo son á favor del castellano, tenemos una gran masa de origen homogéneo, el malayo, y no dos ó tres nacionalidades distintas como ocurre en Suiza, Bélgica, Austria ó el Canadá.

No hay que pensar, por consiguiente, que la gran masa de filipinos tenga dos idiomas nacionales, porque no tienen todos ellos más que una tradición, unas costumbres y son de una misma raza. No existen aquí para los efectos del idioma dos nacionalidades distintas, una situada, por ejemplo, en Luzón y otra en Bisayas; y los mestizos americanos son una minoría microscópica, en muchos de cuyos descendientes, se ve el curioso fenómeno de adoptar el castellano ó alguno de los idiomas nativos, dejando por completo el idioma inglés.

Si todo esto es absolutamente cierto, no cabe duda que podrá haber filipinos que hablen los dos idiomas, el inglés y el castellano, pero en uno de ellos solamente pensarán y sentirán, y ese será su verdadero idioma nacional. Y en verdad, quizás existan excepciones individuales, pero de los dos idiomas, aquel en el cual piensan y sienten los filipinos es el idioma castellano. En él pronuncian sus discursos los políticos; en él impresionan y agitan los oradores á las masas populares y proletarias; en él brindan y se expansionan las sociedades de recreo; en él cantan los poetas; en él luchan los periodistas, y en él hablan y escriben los hombres de ciencia del país. Y si el caudal científico y literario de Filipinas, no es, cierta y afortunadamente de hoy, sino que data de ayer, es innegable que la mayor parte de las obras científicas y literarias, y la prensa filipina, son obra de unos pocos de la generación de ayer, y de unos muchos de la generación de hoy, de la generación nueva, que expontáneamente sigue pensando y sintiendo en castellano, que es y deberá ser, por consiguiente, no el único idioma, en absoluto, pero sí el único lenguaje nacional de todos los filipinos.

Este blogpost fue publicado originalmente en ALAS FILIPINAS.

Ople on the Spanish language

Having been founded in 1922, the Premio Zóbel is considered as the country’s oldest literary award open to all Filipino writers in the Spanish language. Among those who had won the prestigious prize were poet Manuel Bernabé (1924), diplomat León Mª Guerrero III (1963), and renaissance man Guillermo Gómez Rivera (1975). But in the late 1960s to the early 1970s, it was put to a halt because the number of participants dwindled. In 1974, the Zóbel de Ayala clan changed the rules of the contest so that anyone in Filipinas who promoted the preservation of the Spanish language could become an awardee. Nineteen years later, in 1993, Senator Blas Ople, a non-Spanish speaker, became a consequence of that 1974 decision.

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“80 Años del Premio Zóbel”, a compendium of Premio Zóbel’s history, was published in 2000. The book’s author, Lourdes Castrillo Brillantes, was herself an awardee in 1998.

This is not to say that the choosing of the then neophyte senator was nothing short of a scandalous matter among Filipino writers in the Spanish language. He received the award “por sus relevantes méritos en pro de la cultura hispano-filipina” (for his relevant merits in favor of the Spanish language). One such merit was the following essay that he wrote in his column “Windows” which used to appear in Panorama magazine (a supplement of Manila Bulletin’s Sunday issue). The essay was published on 30 August 1992, a year before he was awarded a Premio Zóbel medal.

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Blas Ople (1927–2003).

Our Spanish past lingers in Iloílo with subtle charm
Blas Ople

Having sat down from the rigors of an obligatory speech on current issues, I thought I would sip my coffee in peace, mentally braced for an evening of pleasant boredom.

This was Iloílo City, and the Lions clubs from all over Panay and some from Negros Occidental had filled the vast hall of the Hotel del Río by the river, for the 42nd anniversary of the Iloílo City Host Lions Club. Then magically, the grace and charm of our Spanish past rose before our eyes.

Dancers in full Spanish costumes, platoon-size formations, materialized on the floor. They called on a vast repertory, not just one, two, or three, but many numbers, turning an otherwise banal dinner into a bewitching hour redolent of history. It was only in Iloílo, I thought, that simple housewives, many of them now grandmothers, could be formed into flamenco dancers of such charm, on demand (I was told later they rehearsed for a month for this show).

I gathered that Iloílo and nearby Bacólod are just about the last places where sizable remnants of an elderly Spanish-speaking generation may be found, though this, too, is slowly fading away. But the rhythms of Spain will probably long outlive the Castilian speech in these parts, judging from the authentic passion of those movements we watched that night.

Compared with these, the rigodón de honor danced by the elite in Tagálog cities and towns has to be judged a pale initiation.

Few Filipinos are of course shedding a tear on the waning of our Spanish past, except as this has been subsumed in native speech and customs. The memories of those early centuries still rankle.

This is the revenge of Rizal and del Pilar, whose works have molded, through generations, our impressions of the era of Spain in the Philippines. But when recently, all the countries of the Iberian world met in México, as though eager to repossess their common heritage from their Spanish past, I felt a certain pain to realize that the Philippines alone was not present, for the reason that we have disinvited ourselves.

I should reveal this now. In the Constitutional Commission of 1986, I fought until the end to have Spanish retained in the new Constitution as an official language, together with Filipino and English. I wanted at least an explicit recognition of Spanish as such a language until the wealth of historical material in our archives, most of this in Spanish, can be fully translated into English or Filipino.

But the real reason was that I wanted to preserve our last formal links with the Iberian world, which includes most of the countries in Latin Américas with a population of about 400 million. I remember Claro M. Recto’s sentimental journey to Spain, which was aborted by a heart attack in Rome. If we lost that final strand of solidarity with the Spanish-speaking world, we, too, would never get to Spain.

It was as though both sides had agreed on a policy of mutual forgetfulness.

The “radicals” in the Con-Com strongly advised me not to press the provision on Spanish, because this would have the effect of reopening other controversial issues in the draft charter. It could delay the framing of the Constitution beyond an acceptable deadline.

My worst fears have been realized. We have expelled ourselves from the Iberian community of nations. The rift is final, and will never be healed.

But I felt the charms of our Spanish past will linger longest in places like Iloílo, and during that enchanted evening, I was glad for the opportunity to savor them. We may have left the Iberian world of our free choice, but the hold of Spain will never really cease in the Filipino heart.

To those who are unfamiliar with the issue, it was former President Corazón Aquino’s Constitutional Commission of 1986 (the one mentioned by Senator Ople in his column) that decided the fate of the Spanish language in Filipinas. It should be remembered that Spanish had been our country’s official language beginning 24 June 1571. It may had been unceremoniously booted out from the 1973 Constitution by pro-Tagálog politicians during the 1971 Philippine Constitutional Convention under Ferdinand Marcos’s presidency, but the former strongman, realizing its worth, issued Presidential Decree No. 155 two months after the 1973 Constitution was ratified. Believe it or not, this forgotten Marcos decree recognized Spanish (alongside the English language) as one of Filipinas’s official languages. It thus absolves his 1973 Constitution of any culpability when one wishes to point an accusing finger at the “killer” of the Spanish language in our country.

All index fingers will of course lead to the present constitution, the progenitor of the Constitutional Commission of 1986. No wonder Ople was devastated: he was its member, he fought for the Spanish language’s preservation in the present constitution, yet he was blocked by those radicals from doing so (they were probably those whom Hispanistas and non-Tagálogs today derisively call as “Tagalistas“). That is why, out of disillusionment (or anger?), he wrote that painful statement that we Filipinos have expelled ourselves from the Spanish-speaking community of nations.

But that was 1992. It’s 2018 now, and attitudes toward the Spanish language and our country’s past under Spain for that matter have drastically changed. The enlightened Filipino youth of today will surely disagree with the late Senator’s statement that the rift done by the present constitution’s non-inclusion of Spanish was final, and that it will never be healed. Already, we have several groups in social media, particularly in Facebook, that advocate the return of the Spanish language to Filipino mainstream society such as the SPANISH language should be back in the PHILIPPINES!Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (this one has more than eleven thousand members!), and Defensores de la Lengua Española en Filipinas. Outside of Facebook are blogs that extol the virtues and blessings of our country’s Spanish past: we can cite With One’s PastHecho Ayer, and the Hispanic Indio just to name a few. Then there is Jemuel Pilápil who organized the Sociedad Hispano-Filipina together with other Hispanists to safeguard and promote the language, thus inspiring me to label him as the new Isagani (watch out for his group’s website to be launched very soon!). The presence of Instituto Cervantes de Manila with its monthly cultural events is a great boost in the efforts to “reintroduce” the Spanish language and culture to our country. Not too long ago, renowned Spanish-speaking Filipinos launched a documentary citing the importance of the Spanish language as part of our national identity and heritage. Even our country’s premiere historian today, Ambeth Ocampo, already revealed himself as far removed from the usual anti-Spain mold of historians by producing very impartial write-ups about our country’s Hispanic past. Says Ocampo in one of his writings:

The concept of Filipino began not with pre-Hispanic indios but with Spain. Individuals known as Filipinos cannot be traced beyond 1521 when Magellan sailed into the Philippine archipelago. Filipino was mainly a geographic term to begin with, and the notion of Filipinas, a place, a nation, cannot be pushed beyond the first Spanish settlement established by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565.

I could go on and on, but the point is clear: the rift done by Tita Cory’s flawed constitution is not final. Ople’s fight for the Spanish language’s rightful place in the Filipino cosmos didn’t go for naught. We are healing!