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 Aldave Pilapil 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!

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Marcelo H. del Pilar, a broken dad till the end…

Today is the birth anniversary of Marcelo H. del Pilar, one of the leaders of the Propaganda Movement.

Below is a brief biographical sketch of the bulaqueño native written by Carmencita H. Acosta from the 1965 book Eminent Filipinos which was published by the National Historical Commission, a precursor of today’s National Historical Commission of the Philippines (recently known as the National Historical Institute).

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My wife Yeyette in front of Marcelo H. del Pilar’s monument in Plaza Plaridel (Remedios Circle), Malate, Manila. This monument used to be in front of nearby Manila Zoo. Fellow Círculo Hispano-Filipino member and my comadre, Gemma Cruz Araneta (a descendant of José Rizal’s sister María) suggested the transfer of this monument to this site while she was the president of the Heritage Conservation Society.  The transfer was done last 2009 under the guidance of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim (this photo was taken on 24 August 2010).

MARCELO H. DEL PILAR
(1850-1896)

“The most intelligent leader, the real soul of the separatists…” — these were the words used by Governor General Ramón Blanco, chief executive of the Philippine colony, in describing Marcelo H. del Pilar. A master polemist in both the Tagalog and Spanish languages, del Pilar was the most feared by the Spanish colonial authorities.

Del Pilar was born in Bulacán, Bulacán on August 30, 1850, the youngest of ten children of Julián H. del Pilar and Blasa Gatmaitán. His father had held thrice the post of gobernadorcillo in their home town. Del Pilar studied at the Colegio de San José in Manila and at the University of Santo Tomás; at the age of thirty he finished the course in law. He devoted more time to writing than in the practice of his profession because in the former he saw a better opportunity to be of service to his oppressed country. His oldest brother, Father Toribio H. del Pilar, a Catholic priest, had been deported along with other Filipino patriots to Guam in 1872 following the Cavite Mutiny.

He founded the Diariong Tagalog in 1882, the first daily published in the Tagalog text, where he publicly denounced Spanish maladministration of the Philippines. His attacks were mostly directed against the friars whom he considered to be mainly responsible for the oppression of the Filipinos.

In 1885, he urged the cabezas de barangay of Malolos to resist the government order giving the friars blanket authority to revise the tax lists. He instigated the gobernadorcillo of Malolos, Manuel Crisóstomo, to denounce in 1887 the town curate who violated government prohibition against the exposure of corpses in the churches. In the same year, he denounced the curate of Binondo for consigning Filipinos to poor seats in the church while assigning the good ones to Spanish half-castes.

On March 1, 1888, the populace of Manila staged a public demonstration against the friars. Led by the lawyer Doroteo Cortés, the demonstrators presented to the civil governor of Manila a manifesto entitled “¡Viva España! ¡Viva la Reina! ¡Viva el Ejército! ¡Fuera los Frailes!“. This document, which had been signed by eight hundred persons, was written by Marcelo H. del Pilar. It enumerated the abuses of the friars, petitioned for the deportation of the archbishop of Manila, the Dominican Pedro Payo, and urged the expulsion of the friars.

It was because of his having written this anti-friar document that del Pilar was forced to exile himself from the Philippines in order to escape arrest and possible execution by the colonial authorities.

“I have come here not to fight the strong but to solicit reforms for my country,” del Pilar declared upon arrival in Barcelona, Spain. La Soberanía Monacal en Filipinas(Friar Supremacy in the Philippines) was among the first pamphlets he wrote in Spain. The others included Sagót ng España sa Hibíc ng Filipinas (Spain’s Answer to the Pleas of the Philippines), Caiigat Cayó (Be Like the Eel) — del Pilar’s defense of Rizal against a friar pamphlet entitled Caiiñgat Cayó denouncing the Noli Me Tangere.

Del Pilar headed the political section of the Asociación Hispano-Filipina founded in Madrid by Filipinos and Spanish sympathizers, the purpose of which was to agitate for reforms from Spain.

In Madrid, del Pilar edited for five years La Solidaridad, the newspaper founded by Graciano López Jaena in 1889 which championed the cause for greater Philippine autonomy. His fiery and convincing editorials earned from him the respect and admiration of his own Spanish enemies. “Plaridel” became well-known as his nom de plume.

In November, 1895, La Solidaridad was forced to close its offices for lack of funds. Del Pilar himself was by then a much emaciated man, suffering from malnutrition and overwork. He was finally convinced that Spain would never grant concessions to the Philippines and that the well-being of his beloved country could be achieved only by means of bloodshed — revolution.

Weakened by tuberculosis and feeling that his days were numbered, he decided to return to the Philippines to rally his countrymen for the libertarian struggle.

But as he was about to leave Barcelona, death overtook him on July 4, 1896.

His passing was deeply mourned by the Filipinos for in him they had their staunchest champion and most fearless defender. His death marked the passing of an era –the era of the Reform Movement– because scarcely two months after his death, the Philippine Revolution was launched.

I am not really a big fan of Marcelo H. del Pilar, especially when I learned that he was a high-ranking Mason. Besides, I believe that what he fought for would not equate to heroism. He was, to put it more bluntly, another American-invented hero. The American government, during their colonization of Filipinas, virtually influenced the Filipino puppet government to recognize “heroes” who fought against Spain.

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But a closer observation on Marcelo’s life will reveal that, like Rizal and other Filipino “heroes” of his generation, he never fought against Spain. They fought against the Church, the sworn enemy of their fraternity (Freemasonry).

What really captivated me about Marcelo is his heartbreaking fatherhood. Since I am a father of five, I can empathize with his sorrowful plight.

A few years ago, when Yeyette and I had only one child (Krystal), and we were still living in a decrepit bodega somewhere in Las Piñas, I happened to stumble upon Fr. Fidel Villaroel’s (eminent historian and former archivist of the University of Santo Tomás) monograph on del Pilar — Marcelo H. del Pilar: His Religious Conversions. It was so timely because during that time, I had just gone through my own religious conversion, having returned to the Catholic fold after a few years of being an atheist and agnostic.

In the said treatise by Fr. Villaroel, I learned of del Pilar’s anguish over being separated from his two daughters, Sofía and Anita. Due to his radical activities as an anti-friar, as can be gleaned in Acosta’s biographical sketch above, del Pilar escaped deportation. He left the country on 28 October 1888, escaping to Hong Kong before moving to Spain. He never saw his little kids and his wife ever again.

Sofía was just nine years old at the time of his escape; Anita, one year and four months. Father Villaroel couldn’t have written this painful separation better:

Month after month, day after day, for eight endless years, the thought of returning to his dear ones was del Pilar’s permanent obsession, dream, hope, and pain. Of all the sufferings he had to go through, this was the only one that made the “warrior” shed tears like a boy, and put his soul in a trance of madness and insanity. His 104 surviving letters to the family attest to this painful situation…

…He felt and expressed nostalgia for home as soon as he arrived in Barcelona in May 1889, when he wrote to his wife: “It will not be long before we see each other again.” “My return” is the topic of every letter. Why then did he not return? Two things stood in the way: money for the fare, and the hope of seeing a bill passed in the Spanish Cortes suppressing summary deportations like the one hanging on del Pilar’s head. “We are now working on that bill.” “Wait for me, I am going, soon I will embrace my little daughters, I dream with the return.” How sweet, how repetitious and monotonous, how long the delay, but how difficult, almost impossible!

Here are some of those heartbreaking letters, translated by Fr. Villaroel into English from the Spanish and Tagálog originals, of Marcelo to his wife (and second cousin) Marciana “Chanay” del Pilar and Sofía:

In 1890: I want to return this year in November (letter of February 4); Day and night I dream about Sofía (February 18), I will return next February or March (December 10).

In 1891: It will not be long before I carry Anita on my shoulders (January 22); Sofía, you will always pray that we will see each other soon (August 31).

In 1892: If it were not for lack of the money I need for the voyage, I would be there already (February 3); I am already too restless (March 2); I feel already too impatient because I am not able to return (April 14); This year will not pass before we see each other (May 11); Be good, Sofía, every night you will pray one Our Father, asking for our early reunion (September 14; it is interesting to note that del Pilar advised her daughter to pray the Our Father despite his being a high-ranking Mason –Pepe–); Don’t worry if, when I return, I will be exiled to another part of the Archipelago (November 9).

In 1893: Who knows if I will close my eyes without seeing Anita (January 18)!; My heart is shattered every time I have news that my wife and daughters are suffering; hence, my anxiety to return and fulfill my duty to care for those bits of my life (May 24); I always dream that I have Anita on my lap and Sofía by her side; that I kiss them by turns and that both tell me: ‘Remain with us, papá, and don’t return to Madrid’. I awake soaked in tears, and at this very moment that I write this, I cannot contain the tears that drop from my eyes (August 3); It is already five years that we don’t see each other (December 21).

In 1894: Tell them (Sofía and Anita) to implore the grace of Our Lord so that their parents may guide them along the right path (February 15); Every day I prepare myself to return there. Thanks that the children are well. Tears begin to fall from my eyes every time I think of their orfandad (bereavement). But I just try to cure my sadness by invoking God, while I pray: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ I am the most unfortunate father because my daughters are the most unfortunate among all daughters… I cannot write more, because tears are flowing from my eyes aplenty (July 18); We shall meet soon (December 5)

I have to admit, reading these letters never fail to move me to tears because I, too, have experienced the same orfandad and the longingness for a father. It is because I have never lived with my dad for a long time since he was always overseas. When we were young, he only stayed with us for a couple of weeks or a few months. And my dad was a very silent man.

His work overseas, of course, was for our own benefit. But the price was depressing: we’ve been detached from each other forever. Whenever he comes home to us, my dad was like a total stranger to me. Especially now that I have my own family and I rarely see him nowadays. No, we are not in bad terms (although I know that he still resents the fact that I married at a very early age). But we are simply not close to each other because of those years of separation and lack of communication. I do not know him, and he doesn’t know me. We do not know each other personally. But I know for a fact that my dad loved us dearly, and that he experienced the same anguish experienced by del Pilar. I’ve read some of dad’s letters to mom, and in those letters he expressed the same desire to come home with us and stay permanently. But nothing like that happened (and now, my parents are no longer together).

The same thing with del Pilar. After all those patriotic talk and nationalistic activities, nothing happened. His sacrifice of being separated from his family was, sadly, all for naught…

When he died a Christian death in Barcelona (yes, he also retracted from Masonry shortly before he passed away), he was buried in the Cementerio del Oeste/Cementerio Nuevo where his remains stayed for the next twenty-four years. Paradoxically, a renowned Christian member of the Filipino magistrate, Justice Daniel Romuáldez, made all the necessary procedures of exhuming the body of del Pilar, one of the highest-ranking Masons of the Propaganda Movement. His remains finally arrived on 3 December 1920. He was welcomed by members of Masonic lodges (perhaps unaware of del Pilar’s conversion, or they simply refused to believe it), government officials, and his family of course.

Sofía by then was already 41; and del Pilar’s little Anita was no longer little — she was already 33.

Anita was very much traumatized by that fateful separation. Bitter up to the end, she still could not accept the fact that her father chose the country, ang bayan, before family. An interesting (and another heartbreaking) anecdote is shared by Anita’s son, Father Vicente Marasigan, S.J., regarding her mother’s wounded emotions:

[My] first flashback recalls April 1942. Radio listeners in Manila had just been stunned by the announcement of the surrender of Corregidor. There was an emotional scene between my father, my mother, and myself. My mother was objecting to something my father wanted to do ‘para sa kabutihan ng bayan’. My mother answered, ‘Lagi na lang bang para sa kabutihan ng bayan?’ [‘Is it always for the good of the country?’] And she choked in fits of hysterical sobbing. All her childhood years have been spent in emotional starvation due to the absence of ‘Lolo’ [Grandfather] Marcelo, far away in Barcelona sacrificing his family para sa kabutihan ng bayan.

“The second flashback is rather dim in memory. I was then two years old, in December 1920. I think I was on board a ship that had just docked at the [Manila] pier, carrying the remains of Lolo Marcelo. All our relatives from Bulacán were present for the festive occasion. Some aunt or grandaunt was telling me how proud and happy I must be. I did not understand what it meant to feel proud, but I knew I was unhappy because I felt that my mother was unhappy. In the presence of that casket of bones, how could she forget the emotional wounds inflicted on her by her father ‘para sa kabutihan ng bayan’ [for the good of the country]?

History is not just about dead dates, historical markers, and bronze statues of heroes. It has its share of eventful dramas and personal heartbreaks. And this is one heartbreak that I will never allow my children to experience.

To all the fathers who read this: cherish each and every moment that you have with your children.

This blogpost was originally published in FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES exactly eight years ago today; reblogged here with minor edits. Later on, this blogpost won me the friendship of del Pilar’s descendants and found out that I’m actually related to them by affinity.

Heart Anatomy (a heartrequiem, not a literary critique)

Because justice is the hip word today, I thought it best to render one to a now-forgotten collection of poetry written by Amelita Málig, née Cuala, a native of Luisiana, La Laguna. The book, entitled Heart Anatomy, was published in 1973, six years before I was born. It didn’t receive much fanfare. It didn’t catapult the author to literary stardom. Copies were very limited and were given only to a select few, mostly to friends. But the book had served its purpose: it released the author from her “promethean / sea of agonized / red”, putting her “putrefied heart” and “blasted brain” and “broken body” at peace with the God she once doubted.

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Mrs. Málig (1934-2000), as most students used to call her, was my literary instructor at Adamson University. Her only son Christian was a batchmate who became a dear friend of mine (he, myself, and Yeyette who is now my wife once formed a faction; we called ourselves “The Triad” although that silly faction was really meant to be a joke on my then girlfriend). Naturally, I first knew about Mrs. Málig through Christian but never had the chance to talk to her. I only got to meet her two years into college. To my observation, Christian seemed to be apprehensive in introducing his friends to her. But perhaps rightly so because to us students, there seemed to be a touch of eccentricity in her (a usual trait of writers, anyway). Her Bohemian appearance (it’s difficult not to remember her large circular earrings, loose and wild-colored blouses, and heavily made-up face) and booming voice shook fear in the hearts of youngsters who had had traumatic experiences from terror teachers during their high school years. These same kids called her names behind her back (one such memorable tag was “Mrs. Maligno”).

But Mrs. Málig was no terror. She just had a peculiar way of dealing with people. This I found out when she became my teacher in one of the subjects she had handled (Essay and Essay Writing if I remember correctly). She entered the class with aplomb despite her small stature, immediately instructed a student in front to lead the prayer, and off she went with a fun rhetoric that seemed to have been delivered many times before but nonetheless still effective. Not once did she look us in the eye, her scrutinizing iris always gazing at the ceiling as she spoke. And she spoke only English, but her witty one-liners drew down the whole class of mostly provincial kids who rarely use this language in everyday speech, even in English subjects.

After the obligatory introductions, she then bid us to write an essay, any essay. Almost the whole class winced, even myself (believe me, writing is not an enjoyable task). She didn’t explain, but it seemed to me that what she was doing was some sort of a diagnostic test. After several minutes of contemplation, I jotted down a list of pet peeves in sarcastic fashion, ending each item with a “blast it!” exclamation. I then counted the number of students: around 30. There’s no way for her to read all our essays, I thought back then. I was sure that she will not read everybody’s work.

Two or three days later, Christian reported to me about that essay I wrote. He said her mom was all into it. I couldn’t remember if I had laughed. All that I remember was that I was able to grab hold of her attention, and it excited me of course. It was the first time I have submitted a written work to be read by somebody. I immediately got praise although to my mind, even at that early stage of my life, I have always thought that all my writings were mediocre.

On the second day of class, me and my classmates stood up to greet her and to prepare for the mandatory prayers. But she ignored the courtesy and called out my last name instead. In a loud and seemingly angry voice, she boomed:

“Where is Mr. Alas?”

I could feel the blood streaming up to my cheeks. What happened this time? Was Christian playing jokes on me? Slowly, I dragged my feet towards the front of the class. I walked down the aisle, with all my classmates looking down at me as if I was to be sent to the gallows. When I was a few feet from the poetess, she interrogated me… without even looking at my face!

“Since when have you been writing? What books do you read? Who are your favorite authors?”

I didn’t know if I should feel proud or embarrassed. I was sweating profusely as I answered her rapid-fire questions in a low voice. I could feel my classmates inquisitive eyes, wondering what in the world was happening.

She didn’t mention anything about the essay. She lavished no praises. After questioning me, she simply bid me back to my seat. After the day’s lecture, she called me again and asked me to accompany her back to the faculty room. She had some packages and books. I carried them for her.

It was the start of a weird friendship. She rarely talked about her son to me (I never bothered to ask anyway, haha). We didn’t even talk about literature at all, nor about the day’s lectures. She never taught me anything, never recommended any authors. I simply accompanied her from time to time, doing small talk. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t even remember the things we had talked about during those times that we had trod the aisles of the university.

It was during one of these walks when we bumped into Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, a colleague of hers in the College of Liberal Arts. She introduced me to him as a fine young writer. I was embarrassed because Señor Gómez already knew me as one of his naughty students who never paid attention in his Spanish class, in fact was always absent; he later on gave me an incomplete grade (humorously enough, I later became a lifetime advocate for the return of the Spanish language in Filipinas). In response to Mrs. Málig’s introduction, the jolly Hispanist looked at me from head to foot and exclaimed in his thick Spanish-accent: “Admirable!” Señor Gómez has since become a close associate and a friend.

But there was this one time when me and Mrs. Málig walked home together that I will never forget. I was accompanying her towards the LRT station in United Nations Avenue. It was nighttime and there was a light drizzle as we hurried toward the covered Falcon Walkway. I’ve been having problems at home, so I involuntarily made a comment about the rain, and how it makes me lonely all the time (up to that point, I had never liked the rain). But I stiffened. I couldn’t pour out my heart to her, and she wouldn’t let me. She never probed. But she had said something about the rain, about its connection and non-connection to whatever I was feeling at the moment. About being and seeing. It was not the rain who’s at fault. It’s how I perceive the rain to be.

She had made me love the rain in an instant. Since then, I’ve become a pluviophile.

Mrs. Málig became my instructor again in another subject: Introduction to Literature. It was there where she introduced us to José García Villa’s poetry, paying more attention to his work than any other writer I could remember from that class. She pronounced Villa’s name as “Hosey Garsha Vila” (for all I know, Doveglion must have had pronounced his name in that manner when he was still alive in the States). It was obvious that she was an admirer of Villa’s uncanny poetry. Inadvertently (or was it purposely?), she made me an admirer, too.

Almost nobody in our class paid her much attention. What I mean is that the few others who had excelled in that subject did it for the sake of grades, not for the sake of learning the craft of versifying. I remember her instructing me and Christian to photocopy pages from her book of poetry to be given away to the rest of the class. The book contained techniques on how to master allegory, metonymy, imagery, alliteration, consonance, and a lot of other stylistic devices. We had it photocopied for days because the book was thick. After it was given away, nothing happened afterwards. We never discussed about literary devices. Nobody from the class bothered to ask. But I have always wondered.

(Fast forward to 2001, or a year before Mrs. Málig’s unexpected demise: On top of the mountain ranges of Abra de Ilog, my wife’s hometown in Mindoro Occidental. I was studying the contents of those photocopies. I studied and learned the literary devices she had given to us on top of a cloudy mountain, all by myself. Sometimes, I’d like to tease myself that those photocopies were really meant for me and not for the whole class).

Life had shown to me its rather unfriendly side when, in late 1999, I allowed immaturity to take over reason. Yeyette became pregnant, and we haven’t even graduated yet. Christian and her mom were one of the very few people whom we divulged our predicament to. Me and Yeyette got to talk with her in front of the SV Building. She gave us moral support by telling her lifestory. She was once a freethinker during her days in UP Dilimán, prompting her disappointed father to transfer her to St. Theresa’s College Manila (which has become a part of our alma mater since 1980). During her inquisitiveness, she had suffered a nervous breakdown, then went on a retreat with a group of religious to find herself. Along the way, she had met Jesuits as well as famous literary critic and poetess Josefina Constantino. She then took pen and paper and focused all her strength into creating this book that I now speak of  (Constantino gave it positive reviews).

She later invited us to her house. Actually, it wasn’t a house but a cramped up, studio type room in an ageing condominium near the expressway. There were three of them living there: she, Christian, and her husband who was suffering from colon cancer. Much of the small room was taken over by their large, double deck bed and a shelf filled with Mrs. Málig’s books and a TV set (Christian says she didn’t have any liking for it, calling it an “idiot box”). The shelf also served as a divider, creating a make-shift room for their dining space. There were boxes underneath the double deck bed, filled with more books and other papers. The room was dank and lonely, blighted even more by artificial light. Little did I imagine that a fashionable poetess like her would be living in such a cramped condition. But then again, she’s a writer, not an office worker.

We had dinner and small talk that evening. I remember it to be a cold one as Christmas was fast approaching. Before we left, she gifted us with a blanket, some pillow cases, and a ladle with her nickname etched on it. Something for us to start with, she said. We still use those items to this very day. And Yeyette is now a very excellent cook.

That was the last time we saw Mrs. Málig. A few weeks later, we confessed the pregnancy to our respective families. Life soon followed, a life that ached the heart.

Yeyette gave birth to Krystal in July the following year. We were already on our own, living in a basement somewhere in Villamor Air Base. And a few months after she gave birth, Christian gave us the shock of our lives when he brought news of his mother’s demise. It practically stunned us since we were all expecting Mr. Málig to go first. We regret the chance of not being able to show Krystal to her in spite of our place’s proximity to hers.

Without mincing any words, Heart Anatomy is the story of Mrs. Málig’s poetic journey from agnosticism to Catholicism, and her newfound devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s divided in two parts. The first is about her spiritual struggles, her “heart transmutation”. The second is a new insight on the world, using her heart (instead of just her senses) from her newfound devotion. All her poems on this book are short. But it doesn’t matter. Just like what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “The Poet”:

It does not need that a poem should be long. Every word was once a poem. Every new relation is a new word.

And like Villa, she was nontraditional. Almost all her verses were experimental, dictated not by tradition but by the heart.

Ever since I became active on the Internet, I have always planned of publishing Heart Anatomy online as a token of gratitude for the literary inspiration she had planted in me and to a few other kindred souls (Palanca Awardee Joe Bert Lazarte, award-winning essayist Imee Rabang, and award-winning poet Radney Ranario) in one way or another. I feel bad and guilty because when I was still an active blogger (I was more active before than now), I’ve never given time for that plan. But two years ago, when I unceremoniously freed myself from writing constraints, I was able to snatch enough time to convert my only copy of her book into PDF form. I then uploaded each PDF page into my Facebook account as an album format, even changing its privacy settings to public in the hopes that it would reach many people. But the endeavor only proved how terrible I was when it comes to online marketing. Only four people “liked” it, and the only other person who left a couple of comments other than myself was Mrs. Málig’s daughter-in-law whom she had never even met.

About an hour ago, I received a chat message from Joe Bert (Mrs. Málig was much closer to him compared to myself and the other writers I mentioned on this blogpost). He told me of his plan to republish our teacher’s only collection of poetry. It excited me because exactly a year from now would be Mrs. Málig 85th birth anniversary (today’s her 84th, which is also the feast day of Saint Augustine of Hippo). It would be the best time to relaunch her book. I then thought of changing that PDF album to private, choosing only a very select few who can access it. It will do her justice if littérateurs would get to read her poetry collection in book form. Nevertheless, to honor her on her 84th natal day, I included below seven of her sensory-filled verses from her book’s poem one: you. You will, at least, be treated to witness a few steps of her versified journey from barrenness to a Land of Promise.

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Uicang Español = Uicang Filipino (Buwan ng Wika)

At dahil “Buwan ng Wika” ñgayón, pahintulutan niyó po munà acóng gamitin ang uica na sariling atin.

Ñgunit…

Ang español ay uicang Filipino. Hindî itó uicang bañagà. Atin itóng pag-aralan, pagyabuñgin, mahalín, at gamitin sa pang-arao-arao na paquíquipagtálastasan sa capua nating Filipino. Sapagcát sa uícang itó nabuô ang ating pambansáng identidad (identidad nacional). Sa uicang itó nahubóg ang ating nacionalismo. Sa uicang itó binigquís ang ating mg̃a isla, at pinagbuclód ang ibá’t-ibáng raza sa ating archipiélago/capuluán. Yumaman ang vocabulario ng ating mg̃a uicang catutubo (tagálog, bisayà, ilocano, etc.) dahil sa uicang español. Itó ang uicang guinamit ng ating mg̃a bayani para macamít ang ináasam-asám na casarinlán… ¿Hindí ñga bat itó ang uica ng ating pambansáng bayani? Sa pamamaguitan ng uicang español, nilabanan ng maguiguiting na Filipino ang mg̃a manlulupig at mananacop. Sa uicang español din cumalat at tumibay ang ating cultura. Ang tunay na casaysayan ng Filipinas ay nacasulat sa uicang español. At higuít sa lahát, ang ating pananámpalataya sa Dios ay umiral at namulaclác sa pamamaguitan ng uicang español.

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Hindí mababauasan ang ating pagca-Filipino capág tayo’y nagsásalita ng español. Bagcús, maguiguing más completo pa ang ating pagca-Filipino sa uicang itó.

Samacatuíd, ang tunay na Uicang Filipino ay español, hindí tagálog.

¡Mag-aral na ng uicang castila sa Instituto Cervantes de Manila!

 

Confessing the Katipunan

Deponatur sacerdos qui peccata penitentis publicare præsumit.

The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, commonly known as the Sacrament of Confession, is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church and is very much a part of the Filipino Christian’s way of life. Through it, Christians are able to confess their sins to a priest in order to obtain absolution (forgiveness) for sins committed against God and fellowman. Being absolved allows the Christian to be reconciled to the greater Catholic community.

We are not about to engage on the necessity, benefits, and Biblical veracity of the Sacrament of Confession. Rather, this blogpost seeks to clarify the involvement of the alleged violation of the Seal of the Confessional to an important event in Filipino History at the turn of the 20th century: the discovery of the Katipunan.

Today, history reminds us how government authorities discovered in the afternoon of 19 August 1896 the existence of the underground rebel group Katipunan (officially known as the Kataas-taasang, Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng̃ mg̃á Anak ng̃ Bayan or the “Supreme and Honorable Society of the Children of the Nation”) which was, for years, already plotting the downfall of the Spanish regime. Conventional history tells us that the existence of the Katipunan was divulged as a result of a petty quarrel between two of its members, Teodoro Patiño and Apolonio de la Cruz. It is said that the two had a misunderstanding regarding wages (both were employees of the Diario de Manila), and that de la Cruz also blamed Patiño for the loss of some printing supplies. As an act of vengeance, Patiño angrily revealed the secrets of the Katipunan to his sister Honoria who was a nun at an orphanage in Mandaluyong (it was not explained to us the rationale of how Patiño’s quarrel with de la Cruz prompted him to reveal the existence of the Katipunan to his sister).

Honoria, being a nun, naturally grew shocked and upset upon finding out that his brother was part of a rebel group related to the Freemasons, the ancient enemy of the Catholic Church. Sor Teresa de Jesús, the mother portress of the orphanage, saw Honoria distraught, prompting the former to interrogate the latter. Honoria told everything she heard from her brother. Later in the evening, Sor Teresa called Patiño and advised him to tell everything he knew about the Katipunan to Fray Mariano Gil, the Augustinian curate of Tondo. Father Gil, in turn, alerted the authorities who then unleashed a crackdown on suspected members after incriminating evidence was found. The unexpected discovery of the Katipunan compelled its leader, Andrés Bonifacio, to publicly declare an uprising days later. The rest, as they say, is history.

Through the years, Filipino students have been taught that the Katipunan was discovered as a result of Fr. Gil’s violation of the seal of the confessional. The poor friar has been painted as a villain since. And this event in our history has become a favorite target of Filipino anti-Catholics and other Hispanophobes.

But is it true that Fr. Mariano Gil violated the seal of the confessional?

In many textbooks, it is written that the Augustinian parish priest of Tondo indeed violated the secrecy of confession. Take one instance, for example (taken from Rex Bookstore’s The Filipino Moving Onward and My Country and My People for Grade 5 students):

Upon the advice of the Mother Portress of the orphanage, Teodoro Patiño made a confession to Fr. Mariano Gil…

But if we are to consult standard history books written by big names such as Teodoro Agoncillo and Renato Constantino, we will see that they did not even mention the word “confession” nor did they allude to the sacrament. And in Gregorio Zaide’s first book, Documentary History of the Katipunan Discovery: A Critico-historical Study of the Betrayal of the K.K.K. New Revelations, the controversy regarding the alleged breaching of the seal of confession was tackled, but it seemed to center more on breaking the then prevailing myth that a woman confessed the existence of the Katipunan to Fr. Gil (the “traitor” was then believed to be either Juana de Guzmán [Patiño’s wife] or Honoria).

It is not known to many, however, that this controversy was already put to rest many years ago, at least by Concepción Escalada, Honoria’s daughter. According to Zaide, Concepción revealed that she heard her mother deny that Teodoro gave the information inside the confessional. Her uncle Teodoro simply told the Katipunan plot to her mother Honoria in the presence of Sor Teresa.

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Fr. Mariano Gil had been receiving death threats from the dreaded Katipunan.

Nevertheless, Zaide’s account of Honoria’s revelation was doubted by Agoncillo. Even to this day, many historians are divided on the issue. So for the sake of argument… what if Patiño really did confess, and Fr. Gil did divulge the details of his confession to the authorities?

In order to resolve this once and for all, try putting yourselves in Fr. Mariano Gil’s shoes: pretend that you are a priest. Then one day, a tearful penitent visits you for a confession. You are surprised because you know her as a prominent public servant. She is a Catholic, but a Bangsamoro sympathizer and collaborator. During the confession, she also gives you details of an impending attack by her Bangsamoro separatist friends on the capital city. As a priest, you are not allowed to divulge her other sins of having knowledge about bombs being detonated in major cities all over the archipelago through the years. You can only advice her to do the right thing: that is, to surrender to the authorities for having been an accomplice. But regarding her other confession, that of a major attack on the capital city in which many innocent lives are certainly at stake… as a citizen, what are you going to do about it?

President Duterte is anti-depression (prelude to SONA)

While I have seen President Rodrigo Duterte talk many times on TV and on the Internet, I’m still excited to personally witness him deliver a speech, but just for entertainment value, not for anything else. I’m pretty sure many others like me feel the same, most especially the media who are hungry for more quotable quotes, focusing more on any forthcoming curse-laden quips from the president rather than on his accomplishments. It’s because he is starting to sound more of a comedian than a statesman, more of a jokester than a public servant. But why shouldn’t he? Public opinion is running wild with unwanted news about Chinese encroachment of our territory and the insane rise in prices of goods because of an unforeseen TRAIN wreck. And now, with four local government executives assassinated in just over a week, an underperforming stock market, and another transportation fare hike, he of all people knows that the public needs a respite from it all. All this is very depressing. So yeah, I’m very much willing to hear a presidential stand-up comedy myself. Nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

I just can’t wait for his SONA this Monday.

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Thank you for signing Republic Act No. 11036.

“Gracias”: una manera fácil de promover el español en Filipinas

La palabra “gracias” es fácilmente una de las palabras castellanas más conocidas por los estudiantes de este idioma. Diciendo gracias se demuestra no sólo gratitud sino también educación (refinamiento). Y puesto que gracias tiene traducciones en casi todos los idiomas del mundo, es una de las primeras palabras que se enseñan a los estudiantes de la lengua española.

Curiosamente, incluso los que no estudian idiomas están familiarizados con esta sencilla palabra poderosa pero amistosa. Aún más en Filipinas que ha venido siendo un bastión del idioma español en Asia por desde hace más de cuatro siglos.

¿Qué estoy tratando de decir? Sí, estoy sugiriendo que nosotros filipinos siempre debemos decir gracias en lugar de “salamat pô” o hasta “thank you“. Esa es una forma de promoción de la lengua española. Lo he estado haciendo durante años. Cada vez que recibo un buen servicio en los restaurantes de comida rápida, tiendas, y varios establecimientos, cada vez que recibo mi cambio de los conductores de autobuses y chóferes de taxis o jeepneys, cada vez que alguien me da una mano amiga, siempre digo gracias a ellos. Ni una sola vez me dan una mirada de perplejidad, ni una sola vez me preguntan qué significa gracias. De algún modo, entendieron la palabra.

Usad gracias todo el tiempo. Usadlo dentro de vuestros hogares, usadlo en las calles, dentro de vuestras escuelas, las oficinas, incluso en las iglesias. Usadlo con frecuencia entre vosotros. Usadlo de Aparrí hasta Joló. Cuando un desconocido/a te ha ayudado con algo, di “gracias” a él/ella. No os avergoncéis ni siquiera os preocupéis de que no se os entiendan. Creedme — ¡os entenderán! Y ésa es la magia de la lengua española en nuestras islas.

Ya que si es español, entonces es verdaderamente filipino.

¡Gracias por leerme!

Originalmente publicado en ALAS FILIPINAS, con ligeras correcciones.