24 de junio de 1571: bendito comensalismo

(Pepe Alas)

España: fuerte árbol de bellas artes.
Filipinas: avecillas indígenas.

España: pintora de la luz, madre.
Filipinas: lienzo de promesa, hija.

España: dadora humilde del Verbo
Filipinas: portadora del faro.

Derechos de reproducción © 2020
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.

¡Feliz 449° aniversario de nacimiento a mi patria adorada!

Rizal the Romantic

In a few days, Rizalists and historians will be commemorating the 159th birth anniversary of our country’s foremost national hero. Many of them will once more be extolling Rizalian virtues and exploits, many of which we have been hearing over and over again during his birth and death anniversaries.



But Rizal, having lived during the Romantic era as his education was Western, was more of a poet than a political thinker. He started his writing career with a poem (Mi Primera Inspiración) and ended it with another poem (Mi Último Adiós, originally without a title). He peppered his life with rhymes, versifying syllables as much as he could despite his political ventures and travels (El Embarque, A Filipinas, A la Virgen María, Adiós a Leonor, A Las Flores de Heidelberg, etc.). If he were alive today, I bet that he would have liked that his poetry be read and appreciated more than his political writings and novels. Having said that…

What is your favorite Rizalian poem?

Pero siempre ualáng sásagot. And yet you have the nerve to say that you idolize Rizal.

Let us not make it seem as if Rizal wrote for a generation that would ignore his verses. Always remember: the framework of Rizal’s mind is nestled in his poetry.

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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


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).


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.


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–


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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After the lockdown

As soon as the announcement was made, the merriment gushed out from homes like pressurized water from a fire hydrant. It was that swift. Every alley, street, and major road was suddenly brimming with people: screaming, jumping, dancing, hollering at the top of their voices. The young ones, most especially, leaped out immediately from their couches and bedrooms and ran straight for the door as soon as the President announced on TV and live streaming the full lifting of the quarantine.

It’s been years since EDSA was filled with a cheering throng. Instead of dull vehicular traffic, the country’s most famous highway burst with wave after wave of excited individuals, hugging, shaking hands, patting each other’s backs, wiping away each other’s tears even if all of them did not know each other. The color of yellow —that beaten highway’s political color— was drowned with shirts of various colors. “It’s over, we’re free!” they all screamed in unison. “We’re free! We’re free! We’re free!” It was to be EDSA’s new mantra from then on, replacing the cheerless “never again” chants of yesteryears.

webcam-toy-photo3 (1)

Image: Tawng.

Tondo was in an uproar too. Divisoria was filled with merrymakers with booze taken from convenience stores. It was not known anymore if they were bought or looted; there were no worried or angry faces even in stores where goods were being taken out in droves and placed at the center of the pavement, as if a huge picnic was about to take place. The people were thirsty, a desire that can be quenched only by alcohol, a drink that they have not enjoyed for a long, long time. Laughter was all around, Budots blaring everywhere. From afar, a much thicker crowd with raised arms (not fists) was amassed around a small statuette paraded on top of a handsome carroza, shaking with the fervor of the faithful. It was the storied Señor Santo Niño taken out from the parish church.

Even gated communities were not to be left out in the gaiety. Off they went to major roads and public spaces on foot to join the unexpected revelry that has trended worldwide in a matter of minutes. Many of them still donned home apparel, others didn’t mind being in pyjamas. A few legendary doñas were spotted, tugging along their reluctant maids to where the fun was happening.

Manila City Hall opened its gates to a celebrating multitude. The mayor didn’t care. In fact, he was with his people, right there above Lagusnilad, on top of a jeepney, with megaphone in hand. With tears streaming down his mestizo cheeks, he was congratulating everyone. He no longer had his glasses prior to climbing the roof of the jeepney as it got lost in the excitement. From within the nearby Walled City, the last two remaining great churches from a bygone era pealed their bells relentlessly.

No amount of precautions even from the President himself could contain the people’s restrained jubilation. The whole metropolis had been on lockdown for a whole straight year. The military themselves defied orders to contain the euphoria; they themselves, weary all year long from the barricaded frontlines, joined the metro-wide street parties.

The happiness was inexplicable, next to being unbearable even, but it had to be expressed, it had to be incited. This was the people’s moment. This was their freedom.

That night, the starry skies of Metro Manila were filled with fireworks.

Culled from Chapter 19 of “Viral Eulogies”, a novel in progress.

Six P.M.

Six P.M. is my favorite Nick Joaquín poem because I can relate to it very much. Written in free verse (he was one of its progenitors, it being a novelty in our country during the 1930s), this poem expressed his lament from his monotonous life as a laborer: Nick did odd jobs during his younger years, particularly during the war.

In this poem, Nick unhappily describes his yearning to be home in the afternoon (hence the title, supported also by “women reaping the washlines as the Angelus tolls”) so that he could continue his being a “trouvère at night” (medieval epic poet) all the way to being a “grammarian” (“ruefully architecting syllables” could imply the editing process of a work composed the whole night). But the falling “ivory tower” is a contradiction to the yearning: in poetic language, ivory tower pertains to a place where people are happily cut off from the rest of the world in order to accomplish Bohemian pursuits such as poetry. The contradictive yearning, therefore, seems to be self-sacrificial, almost Christ-like, as he implies that his Bohemian yearning is close to being tragic: the falling ivory tower therefore complements “Apocalypse awaits me: urgent my sorrow”. He had to do what he had to do.

In Tony Joaquín’s biography of his Uncle Onching (Nick), he recalls that Nick had already prepared “bits and pieces of prose and poetry” but he never showed it to anyone. Tony’s mother Sarah once tried to take a peek, but Nick didn’t allow her as he wasn’t ready to show them yet — the self-sacrifice was already set as early as that time.

Six P.M. poetically describes a more or less similar predicament for my part, for I too am a slave wage at night but a striving writer-historian by day. And so I take the first line (“Trouvère at night, grammarian in the morning”) in a somewhat literal sense, but in reverse because I’m a night shifter. The only problem is that, at 40, I couldn’t even come close to becoming a twelve-year-old Nick who by then had already read Charles Derbyshire’s translations of Rizal’s novels. Urgent my sorrow.

But tonight is no time for dismay… because it’s Nick Joaquín’s birthday! Happy #NickJoaquínWeek!

Nick Joaquín

Trouvère at night, grammarian in the morning,
ruefully architecting syllables—
but in the afternoon my ivory tower falls.
I take a place in the bus among people returning
to love (domesticated) and the smell of onions burning
and women reaping the washlines as the Angelus tolls.

But I — where am I bound?

My garden, my four walls
and you project strange shores upon my yearning:
Atlantis? the Caribbeans? or Cathay?
Conductor, do I get off at Sinai?
Apocalypse awaits me: urgent my sorrow
towards the undiscovered world that I
from warm responding flesh for a while shall borrow:
conquistador tonight, clock-puncher tomorrow.


Screenshot from Babtothebone Productions‘ uploaded video on YouTube.

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Exaltation is the norm

During the Spanish times, Filipinos were usually named after the feast day of saints whom, or religious events that, they share their birthday with. It was, in fact, the usual practice throughout all Hispanized/Catholicized territories (note: it was not a strict religious norm). For example, girls who were born on September 4 were baptized as Consolación because the feast day of Our Lady of Consolation falls on that date. Those who are named Rosario have October 7 for their birthdate, the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. Andrés Bonifacio was named as such because he was born on November 30, the feast day of Saint Andrew. Long even after Spain had left our islands, or during the US occupation, Filipinos still followed the practice.

My paternal grandfather, Godofredo Alas, was born on 8 November 1925, on the feast day of San Godofredo, Bishop of Amiens, France. My name, which is even loftier because it was taken from the parents of our Lord and Savior, was given to me by my grandmother, Norma Évora-Alas. Today, May 3, is her birthday. Which led me to think: is there a connection between her name and today’s feast day?


Norma Évora vda. de Alas (3 de mayo – 30 de enero de 2011).

May 3 is the traditional feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which commemorates the cross used in the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. The name Norma is Spanish for rule or norm. Hardly any connection, one might say. However, while browsing for gospel readings in connection to today’s feast day, I stumbled upon Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians (6:14-16):

14 But as for me, it is out of the question that I should boast at all, except of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

15 It is not being circumcised or uncircumcised that matters; but what matters is a new creation.

16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this as their rule and to the Israel of God.

The above verses are better read with 2:19 – 3:7 and 13–14 for more context.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps my grandmother’s parents (Paulo Évora and Rafaela Bonilla) must have had other ideas in thinking up of a name for her. But I couldn’t stop teasing myself of the Biblical connection. After all, the Epistle to the Galatians dealt with the controversy between the laws (norma) of Moses and that of our Lord and Savior as well as an emphasis on the Holy Cross (1:1–10 and 6:11–18).

Furthermore, Filipinos of yore were deeply devout Catholics. Unlike today, many of their activities were always hinged upon things spiritual, including the naming of children. Such a practice was not done out of a whim as Filipinos today tend to do. It is now common to Anglicize the first names of their children. Worse, many parents today give some of the most bizarre names to their children just to make people think how uniquely creative they are.

Moving on. Today’s date, incidentally, is also the traditional feast day of my family’s adoptive city, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, now referred to by its Anglicized and coarse appellation: the City of San Pedro, Laguna. When we first moved here in 2004, San Pedro, then still a municipality, was already celebrating its feast day every February 22, and it had been that way for many decades. But when I started delving into its history, I found out (through interviews with its senior citizens) that its grandest fiesta was celebrated every May 3, the traditional feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It only makes sense because our young city’s most prized historico-religious relic is none other than the fabled Cross of Tunasán, a huge wooden cross made popular when José Rizal made it a victim of his anti-Catholic sarcasm in his novel Noli Me Tangere. The cross was said to be miraculous — it used to be a small crucifix but grew big overtime (could that explain the metal bars attached to all its three upper points, to keep it from growing any further?).


La antigua Cruz de Tunasán (que se encuentra dentro de la iglesia de nuestra parroquia) es uno de los íconos más famosos de mi ciudad adoptiva.

In the past, the Cross of Tunasán was visited in droves by devotees far and wide every May 3, and the old town plaza fronting the parish church was in merriment from sundown to sunset. The town’s best and brightest were also recognized and awarded during the festivities. I just haven’t figured out yet as to why the devotion to this cross suddenly dwindled, and when exactly.

In 2018, for the first time in many years, San Pedro Tunasán’s traditional fiesta was highlighted once more when the city government under Mayor Lourdes S. Catáquiz and then parish priest Fr. Pablo Búgay decided to move the city fiesta (its secular name is Sampaguita Festival) from February 22 to May 3. Hopefully, this calendarial revival would resuscitate old pieties and devotion.

As for me, my heart is gladdened that the feast day of my family’s place of exile is somewhat connected to my beloved grandmother’s name. Because of that, I am reassured that I am at home with her, at least in spirit.

Qué su alma descanse en paz eterna. ¡Feliz fiesta de la exultación de la Santa Cruz (de Tunasán)!

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Fr. Centina washed himself for another wake

The dreaded coronavirus pandemic has taken another notable person who is a pillar of contemporary Filhispanic poetry as well as a vanguard of rare Catholic poetry.

Fr. Gilbert Luis R. Centina III, O.S.A. (19 May 1947–1 May 2020), was a rarity. An award-winning friar-poet, he has authored several books of poetry as well as other writings in four languages: English, Spanish, Tagálog, and Hiligaynón. He entered the Augustinian Monastery in Intramuros and graduated cum laude in each of his four ecclesiastical degrees from the University of Santo Tomás (BA classical, Ph.B., STB, and STL). He later earned an MA in comparative literature at the University of the Philippines and briefly served as a missionary in Perú after his ordination where he taught literature as a professorial lecturer. He also served as a school chaplain for many years and as pastor of a parish church in Manhattan, New York.

Throughout all his priestly and administrative tasks, Fr. Centina still found time to edit a scholarly journal on Saint Augustine and write hundreds of newspaper columns, magazine articles, and verses in four languages. When he was still in Filipinas, he wrote maintained a column for the now-defunct Newsday under the pen name Jorge Seurat. He also delved on history. Many years ago, he maintained a column in People’s Tonight. I wrote him two reaction letters which he published in full (I was then in my early 20s). I am forever grateful for that.

His final years were spent in Spain, one of the hardest hit countries of the ongoing pandemic. He succumbed to COVID-19 on Labor Day. His death is a big blow to Filhispanic poetry which is suffering from a dearth of writers.

I am now sharing to you one of his poems, “Myself I wash for another wake”, which was included from his collection of poetry “Glass of Liquid Truths” (Bayanihan Books, 1979). This poem somehow eerily echoes his exaunt yesterday (Yesterday has died, today is | Dying; tomorrow will soon be dead) as well as a reflection on today’s global crisis (This world explodes with daily wakers).


Que descanse en paz eterna, Padre Gilbert. Vaya con Dios.

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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.

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.


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.


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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Los Filipinistas

Fernando María Guerrero, ang tinaguriáng “Príncipe de la poesía lírica filipina”.

Magalit na ang magalit. Mayabañgan ná ang mayabañgan. Pero sa totoó láng, acó’y AUÁNG-AUÁ sa capua co filipino na hindí man lamang nacababasa ng mg̃a isinulat nilá Claro M. Recto, Manuel Bernabé, Cecilio Apóstol, Fernando María Guerrero, Jesús Balmori, Evangelina Zacarías, Manuel Rávago, Rosa Sevilla de Alvero, Adelina Gurrea, Conchita Huerta, Emeterio Barcelón, Ramón Escoda, Antonio Abad, at ibá pang mg̃a patriótico’t maguiguiting na mg̃a filipino noóng unang panahón, particular noóng mg̃a taón ng pananacop ng Estados Unidos de América. Sapagcát cung canilá lamang mababasa ang naglálagablab na mg̃a tulá’t sanaysáy ng mg̃a mánunulat na nabanguít, más lalo niláng mámahalin ang bansáng Filipinas ng higuít pá sa cung anó ang noción ng caramihan ñgayón sa pag-ibig sa lupang sinilañgan. Tahasan co ring idédeclara na más lamáng pá ang cabayanihan ng mg̃a mánunulat na itó quesa sa mg̃a propagandista noóng panahón ng castilà. Ñgunit hindí co rin masisisi ang aquing capua filipino cung hindí na nilá maintíndihan ang mg̃a acdá nilá Recto, Bernabé, Apóstol, atbp. Itó’y dahil na rin sa neocolonialismong Yankee na yumurac sa ating tunay na lenguaje simulá nang tayo’y caniláng sinalacay noóng 1898. Itó’y isáng uri ng neocolonialismo na hangáng ñgayó’y umaalipin pa rin sa atin, na cahit mayroón nang bagong bantá sa ating casarinlán (China), tilá bang lalong humíhigpit ang caniláng pagcacadena sa atin.

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