The story behind the assassination of Fernando Manuel Bustamante

A few years ago, in Palacio de Malacañán‘s official Facebook page, the below post was published:

#todayinhistory — On August 9, 1717, Fernando Bustamante y Rueda assumed his post as the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines. He stirred trouble with the religious orders and also with the archbishop, which lead to his assassination by mob.

I just find it irritatingly odd that instead of commemorating the reforms and projects of the Bustamante administration since today is the anniversary of his installation as Gobernador-General de las Islas Filipinas, Malacañán’s Facebook handlers found time to instead harp on the governor-general’s assassination. Shouldn’t they have, instead, posted the above info on the anniversary of his death which falls every 11th of October (1719)? Because it’s more timely that way. And is the assassination the only thing our historians remember about Bustamante? Furthermore, how much do we even know about his character?

The said Facebook post (which is no longer available) garnered several shares when it was first published, not to mention eliciting another round of those now classic “frailocracy at its finest” and “Padre Dámaso” comments. Open-minded people will then start to wonder if the said post was meant to make people not really to remember but to  “keep on hating”. And when you ask these anti-Catholic bashers (deplorably, many of them are Catholics themselves) what’s the real score behind the assassination, they will not be able to provide a decent answer.

So what’s the real story behind this infamous scene in our history? Let us now hear it from historian extraordinaire, Nick Joaquín:

What’s often cited against the 18th century are grisly happenings like the killing of Governor Fernando Manuel Bustamante — happenings that seem to indicate a priest-ridden society still groping about in the Dark Ages.

Bustamante was a reform governor (1717-1719) with good intentions but a violent temper. He used the militia to terrorize the public. He filled the jails to overflowing but his prisoners were not all government crooks he had caught; some were people who merely disagreed with him. When he jailed the archbishop of Manila, it provoked a demo.

Angry mobs marched to the palace waving banners and crucifixes and yelling: ‘Church, religion, and king!’ They were met on the palace stairway by Bustamante, who wielded a gun in one hand, a sword in the other. ‘Death to the tyrant!’ shouted his visitors, rushing up the stairs. The governor plunged his sword into the first body to approach him and then could not pull out the sword fast enough to drive back those who were surrounding him. He was cut down with dagger and spear. A son of his who came to his rescue was likewise stabbed to death.

The mob then stormed Fort Santiago and released the imprisoned archbishop. The prelate would assume the governorship, as interim head of state. He decreed a pension of a thousand pesos for the family of Bustamante but the widow rejected it.

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Me, Juanito, and Krystal (photo taken on 30 October 2012 by my wife Yeyette) at the foot of the massive “El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante y su Hijo” at the National Museum. This oil on canvas was completed in 1853 by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo.

Out-of-school Nick had poured over first source materials and had made researches in various libraries and archives. He had spent so much of his time in such places more than any schooled historian that I know of. And since Spanish was his language, it was easy for him to decipher the “encrypted stories” about our country’s oft-misunderstood past. That is why the PhDs and the MAs of the world fear and respect him. And that is why I trust him more about the Bustamante story more than anyone else’s version of it, most of which are twisted anyway.

To continue, the cause of Bustamante’s assassination was not exactly done out of religious sentiments. In a time when there were still no senators nor congressmen, when the political climate was still different, it was actually the Church who served as the “opposition” against a form of governmental setup that had all the potentials of turning into a dictatorship. Although violent and bloody, the demo against Bustamante was our country’s first dealings with democracy.

The happening is ugly but what caused it can be equated with the system of checks and balances, a beautiful feature of democracy. Because of the distance of Manila from Madrid, the Spanish kings were persuaded to grant their Philippine royal governors almost absolute powers. In effect, the executive was also the legislative and the judiciary. He headed army and navy. And he was answerable only to the king.

Against this potentate, the only checks and balances were provided by the Church, principally the friars, who served as the opposition. The opposition was sometimes “holy”, as in the friars’ campaign against the abuses of the encomenderos, and sometimes “unholy”, as in this killing of Bustamante — though we should remember that, before the fatal demo, the governor had called out and sicked his vigilantes in public.

So much slur has been thrown at those hated Spanish friars. Bashers don’t even think that if such events did not happen, who would have stopped potentially abusive government leaders? To wit: it was the opposition (friars) who acted against the majority (encomenderos) on the continued implementation of the corrupted encomienda system. And how come I don’t see anyone praising the friars for this? Why the double standard?

Anyway, good ‘ol Nick concluded Bustamante’s assassination story with this…

…the point here is not interference between Church and State, but the natural feud between government and opposition. It’s like the clash between King Henry II of England and Archbishop Becket, with the difference that in the Philippine case it was the King Henry who got slain.

Just a piece of advice: read widely and think critically to avoid bashing benightedly.

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A clarification about my allegiance

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Photo: Sapían PNP.

In the ongoing congressional hearing over ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal, Rep. Rodante Marcoleta questioned Gabby López, the media giant’s chairman emeritus, about the latter’s loyalty to our country. In a humorous scene, López was made to recite the first line of the patriotic oath, commonly known in Tagálog as the “Panatang Makabayan“. He was able to do so, but with the help of his lawyer.

This hilarious moment reminded me of a few years ago when José Mario de Vega, a rude history professor from PUP Santa Mesa, disparagingly questioned my loyalty to my country just because I keep on acknowledging Spain’s pivotal role to its establishment. I believe he isn’t the only one who has misunderstood me. For many years, I have been accused as a colonial-minded Filipino who is a blind follower of Spain. So just to clarify: my loyalty remains to my country, not to Spain. But like José Rizal, I regard Spain as my “patria grande“, as Filipinas is my “patria chica. Historic Spain (not the modernist one that we have now), in a historico-poetic sense, is our mother. In the immortal words of National Artist Nick Joaquín:

“For three and a half centuries we lay within the womb of Spain; the Revolution was our violent birth… the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy, Spain has created for us”.

Is it, therefore, a sin to give credit where credit is due? My loyalty remains to my country. My love for it is deepened by accepting basic historical truths, free from hatred and exclusivist notions of patriotic sentiment. It is even more intensified because of the Spanish language —THE LANGUAGE OF OUR PATRIOTS— as it has enabled me to decipher much about my country’s past.

And one more thing. My loyalty lies with Filipinas, not “Pilipinas” nor “Philippines”. The latter two are aberrations brought about by WASP miseducation.

¡Viva Filipinas para siempre!

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King Felipe II: our “cultural godfather”

I didn’t join the happy uproar when veteran musician Ryan Cayabyab was proclaimed as National Artist for Music last 2018. It’s not because I’m not a fan of his. I actually dig his music (well, not all of it). In fact, one of the songs he composed, Kailan, still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it play as it delivers that good old nostalgia feels. Many consider it as one of the anthems of our lovesick generation.

Kailan was performed by Smokey Mountain, a teen singing group formed by Cayabyab. The song has two versions: the first one was from the group’s first incarnation in 1989. The second which came out two years later was just a relaunch, also from the same but heavily revamped choir. I didn’t have a copy of their debut album containing the first version as I was still too young to enjoy pop music. But in 1991, I was already starting to appreciate and explore various genres. I was then 11 turning 12.

Smokey Mountain’s second album titled Paraíso which came out that year was a smash hit. Its carrier single, Da Coconut Nut, became hugely popular not only here but also abroad (particularly in the United States). Paraíso surpassed the commercial success of the group’s self-titled debut album. Having a copy of it back then was a fad. Soon it went on to becoming one of the biggest-selling albums in Filipinas.

Speaking of Filipinas, today is the birth anniversary of King Felipe II or Philip II of Spain, the monarch from whom our country was named after. This segue is deliberate as I am tying up this historic date to one of the songs found in Paraíso. I am referring to King Philip, the first track on the album.

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The second name of my son Jefe (Jesús Felipe) comes from His Royal Majesty. This monument of the King behind him is at Plaza de España within the Walled City of Intramuros (photo taken on 19 October 2013, when Jefe was just six). | “The story goes that, on being told once again that money was needed to complete the walls of Manila, King Philip II rose and, shading his eyes, peered out a window. ‘Considering how much they’re costing,’ said the king, ‘I should be able to see the top of those walls from here'” (–Nick Joaquín– Manila, My Manila).

Below are the disparaging lyrics…

KING PHILIP

Four hundred years ago, our islands were named after you.
Your traveling boys claimed us, forced in us your religion too.
Though we tried so hard to fight, we just couldn’t take your might.
In the end we lost our country, our spirit, our basic rights.

But now, what we are in due are (sic) of no concern to you.

Coz your dead, King Philip, King Philip
You’re dead, King Philip, King Philip
You’re dead, King Philip, King Philip
You’re dead, King Philip, King Philip
You’re dead!

He came one day and made us pray
And took our land by Church command.
The Bishop said, “Our gods were dead”.
His Church would stay, we must obey.

Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip…
Goodbye!

Let’s change our name, forget he came,
No more bad dreams, no Philippines!
With a new name, we’re free from Spain
It’s a good start, to heal our hearts.

Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip…
Goodbye!

We are no fools for Western rules.
Let’s send them home, leave us alone.
Let’s clear our minds, don’t look behind.
Forget our past, we’re free at last.

Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip…

Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip, Goodbye!
Goodbye, King Philip…

Not goodbye but why

When my classmates and I first heard this song, we thought it was really cool. So young as we were, the idea that a song would even go so far as to challenge the legitimacy of our country’s name was already something revolutionary to us. But now, as I try to remember those fresher years, I can still recall that I was not easily swayed by the lyrics. Yes, it made me think, but, rather strangely, I did not become an instant convert (was I already “destined” to be like this?), unlike some of my classmates who enjoyed the stupid song as much we did Da Coconut Nut and the other songs in Paraíso.

Instead of agreeing to change the country’s name, the initial reaction that was going on inside my head was “why?” And why disparage a religion we have lovingly embraced for centuries if it was really that vile (He came one day and made us pray | and took our land by Church command | The Bishop said, “Our gods were dead” | His Church would stay, we must obey). Truly, can Filipinos be that spiritually gullible?

But since I didn’t have the answers back then, nor did I already have the intellectual capacity to ask the right questions, I just left the question hanging within the recesses of my mind. I continued being the badly behaved student that I was during that time.

The myth of Maharlika

Later on, when I became a student of history (only by avocation, not a literal student taking up a history course), I encountered a small movement clamoring to change our country’s name. Foremost in this cause is a former Marcos-era solon, Eddie Ilarde (of “Napakasakit, Kuya Eddie” fame). In 1978, he passed a bill to change the name of our country to Maharlika. While the bill fortunately did not see the light of day, Kuya Eddie to this very day insists on erasing King Felipe II from the Filipino psyche. Out of such obsession, nay, hispanophobia, his Maharlika Movement for National Transformation was born.

Aside from Spanish colonization, he lists down the following reasons (mostly lame) why our country should no longer bear the king’s name:

  1. That King Felipe II’s parents were both cousins.
  2. That the King’s grandmother (Juana I de Castilla) died of insanity.
  3. He had several wives; three were cousins, one was a niece.
  4. That the King’s first official act was the execution of thousands of Muslims through immolation as well as the later beheading of thousands of Protestants across Spanish Europe.
  5. That he, together with his father, Emperor Carlos V, looted Rome and carted away treasures from the Vatican, and that they even burned a huge bonfire inside the Sistine Chapel.
  6. That Pope Paul lV excommunicated both father and son in 1552 on account of their transgressions against the Church.
  7. That King Felipe II died of syphilis, with his body covered with ulcerous skin eruptions infested by hundreds of insects during his final days.

In various articles and speeches, Ilarde desperately defended the nobility behind the name Maharlika but failed all the same to substantiate with hard facts that a country or a state already existed with that name even before the Spaniards arrived in 1521. Neither did he want to recognize the fact that Maharlika was not the name of an ancient Southeast Asian kingdom but of a feudal warrior class in ancient Tagálog society. Other than that, Maharlika has an embarrassing etymology..

MAHARLIKA

British-born historian Bob Couttie has a much better explanation here

In defense of the King

Going back to Ilarde’s seven (lame) points, we have a ready answer:

  1. That the King’s parents were cousins should not be an issue — royal families marrying off their children to relatives was then considered customary in order to preserve power, establish stronger ties between kingdoms, and extend dominions. Even today, some elite families still practice the same. Ilarde failed to put this issue in its proper historical context.
  2. While it is true that the King’s grandmother had mental problems, it was not the direct cause of her death. Her health spiraled down when she was locked in a palace by her own son — the King’s father himself, Emperor Carlos V. And having an “insane” queen for a grandmother is an absolute non-issue in the move to strike down our country’s name.
  3. So he had several wives — but how several is several? Because he only had four. And the reason for the successive marriages? All his wives died during his lifetime; he was widowed four times. He did not remarry just because of a whim. Also, only two of those wives were his cousins. His second wife was in fact an auntie of his: Mary Tudor. He was forced to marry her out of political reasons (long story). His final marriage with his niece was neither an issue (see item #1). It was even a happy one.
  4. The King’s first official act was not the execution of thousands of Muslims. Neither were thousands of them burned. And the beheading of thousands of Protestants across Spanish Europe is a brazen lie. If we are to believe the findings of Dr. Helen Rawlings, King Felipe II’s first official act was to preside over the second anti-Protestant auto de fe in which only twelve suspected Lutherans were condemned to death. And again: historical context. This was a time when Christianity was put to a test when it started to “crumble from within” due to the Protestant Reformation, and heresy was on a threatening march. The politico-religious climate brought about by those unprecedented and tense events was extremely different from ours.
  5. That the King and his Emperor father looted Rome and stole treasures together from the Vatican is as pure a myth as Maharlika. Only Carlos V sacked Rome on 6 May 1527, fifteen days before King Felipe II was born. The sacking of Rome, too, was more political than mere banditry.
  6. Both father and son’s double excommunication are dubious, considering that those “historians” who put this forward (such as William Thomas Walsh and Andrew Wheatcroft) failed to mention their sources.
  7. The syphilis and ulcerous skin stories should not even be dealt with seriously.

Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let us pretend that Ilarde’s fables are all true… so what then? Simón Bolívar in 1814 ordered the execution of more than a thousand civilians yet we don’t hear Bolivians clamoring for a new name for their country because of that atrocity. We don’t hear the people of the Solomon Islands complaining that their isles were named after that famous Biblical womanizer who was also King of Israel and Judah. Qin Shi Huang from whom China was named after burned books and enslaved and castrated the people of neighboring states that he had invaded. Denmark wasn’t even named after a real person.

So what is eating Kuya Eddie?

Historian and National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquín must have taken wind of Ilarde and his followers’ public rantings, compelling him to write about the name change controversy:

“…by gathering us under the sound of the bell, Spain created the beginning of a national community… we developed such a strong sense of community that we can now declare that, even before 1521, what is now known as the Philippines already existed as a nation known as Maharlika. One wonders who was its president in 1521. Madame Urduja?

“Moreover, this effort to locate before 1521 something that started developing only from 1565 on, is an irrelevant effort today and could even be harmful. Prove that the Filipino existed before 1521 and you prove that we don’t need to have one nation, or one government, or one head of state, since the Filipino was able to develop and maintain a national identity without any of these things. In which case, why not just dissolve the Republic and return to a system of small independent kingdoms? Which, in fact, is what the Muslim secessionists are saying…

“…we are currently asking why we should bear the name of a king of Spain, Don Felipe Segundo… Culturally, Don Felipe is our godfather — and isn’t it usual among us to carry a godfather’s name? He is our cultural godfather because the thirteen epochal events I have mentioned (see list below –Pepe) occurred under his auspices; so that, symbolically, we can say that it was Felipe Segundo who brought us the wheel, who taught us the plow, who built our first roads and bridges and who gave us the horse, the clock, the factory, the cabbage, the cow, the printing press and the book; as it was Felipe Segundo who started the development of a national community by gathering us under the bell. We are merely continuing his work when, for instance, we gather our nomadic tribes together under the sound of the school bell…

“This is the Spanish heritage that almost never gets mentioned among us. And so the average Filipino thinks that Spain brought us nothing except ‘religion’. And it is therefore with astonishment that the Filipino learns that Spain brought us corn and ‘camote’, coffee and tobacco, beef and bread, potatoes and tomatoes, ‘lechugas’ and ‘repollo’, the ruler of the engineer and the brush of the artist, and even many of the trees that give our landscape so distinctly Philippine a look.”

* * * * * * *

1) The Introduction of the Wheel.
2) The Introduction of the Plow.
3) The Introduction of Road and Bridge.
4) The Introduction of New Crops like Corn, Tobacco, ‘Camote’, Coffee, Tea, Cocoa, Beans, ‘Achuete’, Onion, Potato, Guava, Papaya, Pineapple, Avocado, Squash, Lettuce, Cucumber, Cabbage, ‘Sincamás’, ‘Sigadillas’, ‘Manì’, etc.
5) The Introduction of New Livestock like the Horse, the Cow, the Sheep, the Turkey, the Goose, etc., and of the Carabao as Draft Animal.
6) The Introduction of the ‘Fábrica’, or Factory.
7) The Introduction of Paper and Printing.
8) The Introduction of the Roman Alphabet.
9) The Introduction of Calendar and Clock.
10) The Introduction of the Map and the Charting of the Philippine Shape.
11) The Introduction of the Arts of Painting and Architecture.
12) The Introduction of the ‘Guisado’.
13) The Introduction of the Bell.

One must go

Going back to Cayabyab. To my understanding, he wrote all the songs that appeared in Paraíso, or perhaps most of it, if not all. But what I’m sure of is that he produced and arranged the music performed by Smokey Mountain. Now, in case it was not him who wrote the disrespectful, historically baseless, and hispanophobic King Philip song, all the other songs in Paraíso —lyrics and all— had to go through him before final recording as he was the brains behind the singing group’s album.

Having said that, the burden of liability all falls on Cayabyab’s shoulders. Now, using Joaquín’s historical perceptiveness as a measuring stick, it can be adjudged that Smokey Mountain’s King Philip, with its hilarious 1990s Pinoy action film tune, is a disgraceful ditty that should be cursed to the flames by all patriotic Filipinos as it is filled with historical ignorance and ingratitude.

So now we are in a quagmire. Here we are, talking about two National Artists tackling the same subject: King Felipe II. One, already dead, had nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the King, and he wrote extensively in protecting the name of our country that was lifted from the said monarch’s appellation. On the one hand, the other National Artist made fun of the king’s demise through a synth-silly sing-song using young singers to suit his hispanophobic agenda.

The irony is that both are in our pantheon of National Artists. Will the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts continue allowing this dissonance? To get rid of this dilemma, one of them, of course, has to go, for we cannot afford to have two national artists at loggerheads with each other while tackling the same subject, a subject that affects all of us, is as profound as anything that is Filipino.

By the way. Da coconut nut production became a real industry only during the Spanish times. And you will have to thank the Spanish galleons for that, Mr. Cayabyab.

FELIPE II

Vd. sigue siendo mi Rey.

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Calle Santa Potenciana

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Santa Potenciana in the mosaic of the apse of her basilica in Rome (photo: Marcus Cyron).

Today is the feast day of Saint Pudenciana or Santa Potenciana, one of the earliest patron saints of our country. A traditional Christian saint and martyress from the second century, Santa Potenciana was, according to Sacred Tradition, a daughter of a Roman senator turned saint who was mentioned in the Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:21). Unfortunately, when the General Roman Calendar was revised in 1969, her name was excluded, a casualty of the Second Vatican Council. Nevertheless, her 4th-century basilica in Rome still stands and is in fact considered there as a national church for Filipinos.

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Basilica di Santa Pudenziana (photo: Globus.tut.by).

Santa Potenciana Street, one of the oldest —if not the oldest— in Intramuros, Manila was named after her when the Walled City (back then the original Manila) was taken by Miguel López de Legazpi in the name of King Felipe II of Spain on her feast day. The following photo (taken on 23 January 2011) shows my then 10-year-old daughter Krystal behind San Agustín Church’s back wall.

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“May 19 is the feast of St. Potenciana, who was therefore proclaimed the patroness of Manila. St. Potenciana was an early Roman Christian who died a virgin. When Legazpi laid out the map of Manila, one of the streets was named after her, a street that still exists (Nick Joaquín, Manila, My Manila).”

Notice the original street sign of Sta. Potenciana melded to the wall above the new one? It is fading, barely discernible, but still exists up to this very day.

Go visit the Walled City after the quarantine and take photos of this precious street sign before it vanishes for good. Because like what happened to the saint’s name after Vatican II, this ancient street sign might totally disappear especially since authorities have this penchant of being reckless when it comes to heritage preservation.

Santa Potenciana, ruega por Filipinas.

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Shutting down press freedom

My wife and I for a brief period were once Kapamilya. That was in 2002. She, being a fan of local celebrities and Star Cinema romcoms, enjoyed her stay there. But not me. I hated being there especially whenever I encounter celebrities suffering from star complex, i.e., each celebrity, because of fame, thinks that the center of the world revolves around him/her (star complex should be regarded as a mental illness, but that’s for another topic). With the exception, perhaps, of Carlos Agassi (where is he now?) and the late comedian Bentong, every single ABS-CBN talent, from its biggest names of 2002 down to its most forgettable starlets, comported himself/herself as if he/she were royalty, especially off cam. But that’s just my observation.

I first read about ABS-CBN’s history under the López Group when I was still in my early 20s. At that young age, I couldn’t stop equating the word greed to the said media conglomerate simply because it was owned by the greedy López clan of Iloílo (I remember those fountains of champagne flowing freely during family parties at a time when many poor Filipinos were going hungry). And weren’t they the same family that owned Meralco, the electric power distribution company that charges one of the most exorbitant electric fees in Southeast Asia? That is why I rejoiced when I read about the persecution of the Lópezes and the shutting down of ABS-CBN during the Martial Law years. To my mind, if there was anything good that came out of that era, that was it.

Aside from the irritable star complex behavior of its talents, I have my personal issues with ABS-CBN: they twisted Pope Francisco’s messages back in 2015 just to sell merchandise (and to suit their gay agenda) as well as putting tomfoolery and lasciviousness to the fore (I’m referring to Vice Ganda) in exchange for high ratings.

KBP says ABS-CBN franchise renewal is for 'best interest of public'

Photo: Rappler.

But with this latest news of ABS-CBN’s second closure, I cannot rejoice. Having gone public in 1992, ABS-CBN is no longer a family enterprise. And with its charity arm (ABS-CBN Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation) still active at this very moment in helping out with relief operations brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, it is unwise to call them as greedy as the Lópezes of yore, and doubly unwise to shut them down now.

And then I think of their TV shows and films. Despite its ubiquitous news programs and updates, the company is known more for entertainment. I’ve seen a couple during my nightly commute to the office (inside buses with TVs) and whenever my wife insists that I bring her to the cinema. In fairness, they have been churning out quality productions. Admittedly, these productions can go toe-to-toe with foreign rivals especially when it comes to cinematography, storytelling, and yes, acting (the titles, though, are a drab). With the economic troubles that have been besetting our country for so long, it is hard to blame our countrymen if they have become so attached to such shows that, in one way or another, mirror their personal lives. How would the masses react if it was Malacañang who pulled the trigger on nine-lifer Ricardo Dalísay?

I may understand the attempt to shut down Rappler because of its alleged links to foreign investors, but shutting down ABS-CBN just to satiate bloated presidential vindictiveness is way too much. Personal vendetta will certainly put ABS-CBN’s thousands of employees in peril because of the shutdown. Not a good move when millions of Filipinos have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

As stated in the beginning, I am no ABS-CBN fan. But they had to be defended. As trite as this may sound, it is the right thing to do. ABS-CBN may have committed political sins. But what media outfit didn’t? Love it or hate it, ABS-CBN has become a vanguard of press freedom. If the government can harass the country’s largest entertainment and media conglomerate, what more the fledgling ones? If I do not join the call to defend press freedom this time, I have no right to call myself a writer. I am sure Nick Joaquín himself would have been angered with the recent developments that are hounding “Asia’s most admired media company”.

Enough with your ego, Mr. President. Focus on the COVID-19 issue instead.

#NoToABSCBNShutDown

 

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!

SIX P.M.
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.

21427141_1811784375800845_4502938975600946059_o

Screenshot from Babtothebone Productions‘ uploaded video on YouTube.

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Biography of Nick Joaquín (1917-2004)

The following brief biographical essay of 1976 National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquín written by Resil Mojares (who himself became a National Artist for Literature in 2018) is the best delineation of my favorite writer that I’ve encountered so far. I first read it years ago in some printed material (can’t remember if it was from a book or a magazine), then saw it again years later on the Ramón Magsaysay Award Foundation website (Nick was conferred that award in 1996 for his journalism and creative writing). I reblogged it on my erstwhile blog FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES, and I’m glad that I did because the biographical sketch no longer appears on the said website. I am now reblogging it here since I no longer use FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES (WordPress might decide to delete it due to inactivity). And it’s Nick’s birth anniversary today. Happy #NickJoaquínWeek!

 

BIOGRAPHY OF NICK JOAQUÍN
Resil B. Mojares

He was the greatest Filipino writer of his generation. Over six decades and a half, he produced a body of work unmatched in richness and range by any of his contemporaries. Living a life wholly devoted to the craft of conjuring a world through words, he was the writer’s writer. In the passion with which he embraced his country’s manifold being, he was his people’s writer as well.

Nick Joaquín was born in the old district of Pacò in Manila, Philippines, on September 15, 1917, the feast day of Saint Nicomedes, a protomartyr of Rome, after whom he took his baptismal name. He was born to a home deeply Catholic, educated, and prosperous. His father, Leocadio Joaquín, was a person of some prominence. Leocadio was a procurador (attorney) in the Court of First Instance of La Laguna, where he met and married his first wife, at the time of the Philippine Revolution. He shortly joined the insurrection, had the rank of colonel, and was wounded in action. When the hostilities ceased and the country came under American rule, he built a successful practice in law. Around 1906, after the death of his first wife, he married Salomé Márquez, Nick’s mother. A friend of General Emilio Aguinaldo, Leocadio was a popular lawyer in Manila and the Southern Tagalog provinces. He was unsuccessful however when he made a bid for a seat in the Philippine Assembly representing Laguna.

Nick Joaquín’s mother was a pretty, well-read woman of her time who had studied in a teacher-training institute during the Spanish period. Though still in her teens when the United States took possession of the Philippines, she was among the first to be trained by the Americans in English, a language she taught in a Manila public school before she left teaching after her marriage.

Leocadio and Salomé built a genteel, privileged home where Spanish was spoken, the family went to church regularly, had outings in the family’s huge European car (one of the first Renaults in the city), and the children were tutored in Spanish and piano. Salomé (“who sings beautiful melodies and writes with an exquisite hand,” recalls a family member) encouraged in her children an interest in the arts. There were ten children in the family, eight boys and two girls, with Nick as the fifth child. The Joaquín home on Herrán Street in Pacò was a large section of a two-story residential-commercial building —the first such building in Pacò— that Leocadio had built and from which the family drew a handsome income from rentals. In this home the young Nick had “an extremely happy childhood.”

Leocadio Joaquín, however, lost the family fortune in an investment in a pioneering oil exploration project somewhere in the Visayas in the late 1920s. The family had to move out of Herrán to a rented house in Pásay. Leocadio’s death not long after, when Nick was only around twelve years old, was a turning point in the life of the family.

Reticent about his private life, Nick Joaquín revealed little about his father. In the manner of fathers of his time, Leocadio must have been a presence both distant and dominant. He was already an accomplished man when Nick was born. One has a glimpse of him in the character of the proud Doctor Chávez in Joaquín’s short story “After the Picnic,” the father who lives by a strict patriarchal code and yet is all at once remote, vulnerable, and sympathetic. In an early poem, Joaquín vaguely alluded to what in his father was somehow beyond reach (“the patriot life and the failed politician buried with the first wife”). Yet he mourned the void his father’s death left: “One froze at the graveside in December’s cold, / childhood stashed with the bier. Oh, afterwards / was no time to be young, until one was old.”

The young Joaquín dropped out of school. He had attended Pacò Elementary School and had three years of secondary education in Mapa High School but was too intellectually restless to be confined in a classroom. Among other changes, he was unable to pursue the religious vocation that his strictly Catholic family had envisioned to be his future. Joaquín himself confessed that he always had the vocation for the religious life and would have entered a seminary if it were not for his father’s death.

After he left school, Joaquín worked as a mozo (boy apprentice) in a bakery in Pásay and then as a printer’s devil in the composing department of the Tribune, of the TVT (Tribune-Vanguardia-Taliba) publishing company, which had its offices on F. Torres Street in Manila’s Santa Cruz district. This got him started on what would be a lifelong association with the world of print.

Through this time he pursued a passion for reading. Sarah K. Joaquín, Nick’s sister-in-law, recounts that in his teens Nick had a “rabid and insane love for books.” He would hold a book with one hand and read while polishing with a coconut husk the floor with his feet. He would walk down a street, on an errand to buy the family’s meal, with a dinner pail in one hand and an open book in the other.

Both his parents had encouraged his interest in books. When he was around ten, his father got him a borrower’s card at the National Library (then in the basement of the Legislative Building in Luneta) and there he discovered Bambi and Heidi and the novels of Stevenson, Dumas, and Dickens (David Copperfield was his great favorite). He explored his father’s library and the bookstores of Carriedo in downtown Manila. He was voracious, reading practically everything that caught his fancy, from the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Vachel Lindsay to the stories of Anton Chekhov, to the novels of Dostoyevsky, D. H. Lawrence, and Willa Cather. He read American magazines (Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Magazine) and discovered the fiction of Booth Tarkington, Somerset Maugham, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.

Joaquín’s choice of early readings was not exceptional. Joaquín and other writers of his generation who were schooled in the American era discovered Dostoyevsky and Hemingway before they did such Tagalog writers as Lope K. Santos and Rosauro Almario. Yet, it can be said that Joaquín never really lost his sense of where he was. He read Manila’s English-language newspapers and magazines for what Filipinos themselves were writing. (He had read the José Rizal novels in the Charles Derbyshire translation before he was thirteen, Joaquín said.) He always had a strong sense of place, a virtue that was to become a hallmark of his body of work. “When I started writing in the late 1930s,” he would recall many years later, “I was aware enough of my milieu to know that it was missing from our writing in English. The Manila I had been born into and had grown up in had yet to appear in our English fiction, although that fiction was mostly written in Manila and about Manila.”

His first short story dealt with the vaudeville of Manila, “The Sorrows of Vaudeville,” and was published in Sunday Tribune Magazine in 1937. (The editors changed its title to “Behind Tinsel and Grease.”) Earlier, in 1934, he published his first poem in English, a piece about Don Quixote. The story is told that when this poem appeared in the Tribune, Serafín Lanot, the Tribune’s poetry editor, liked the poem very much and went to congratulate the poet when he came to collect his fee, but the shy and elusive Joaquín ran away.

Very early, Joaquín was set on crafting his own voice. Writing in 1985 on his early years as a writer, he said that it appeared to him in the 1930s that both an American language and an American education had distanced Filipino writers in English from their immediate surroundings. “These young writers could only see what the American language saw.” It was “modern” to snub anything that wore the name of tradition and, for the boys and girls who trooped to the American-instituted schools, Philippine history began with Commodore Dewey and the Battle of Manila Bay. “The result was a fiction so strictly contemporary that both the authors and their characters seemed to be, as I put it once, ‘without grandfathers.’” He recalled: “I realize now that what impelled me to start writing was a desire to bring in the perspective, to bring in the grandfathers, to manifest roots.”

This was Nick Joaquín recalling in 1985 what it was like in the 1930s. Back then, the young Joaquín was just beginning to find his way into a literary life. He was gaining notice as a promising writer, publishing between 1934 and 1941 a few stories and over a dozen poems in the Herald Mid-Week Magazine and the Sunday Tribune Magazine. The literary scene was vibrant in the Commonwealth years, as writers and critics debated the role and direction of Philippine writing and formed feuding groups such as the Philippine Writers League and the Veronicans. Joaquín stood at the periphery of this scene. He probably had little time to be too reflective. He was already trying to fend for himself while quite young. He was also growing into a world that was marching toward the cataclysm of a world war.

The period of the Japanese occupation was a difficult time for the Joaquíns who, at this time, had moved from Pásay to a house on Arlegui Street in the historic San Miguel district of Manila, where Malacañang Palace is located. Like other residents in the enemy-occupied city, Joaquín scavenged for work to help support the family. The Japanese had closed down the Tribune and other publications at the onset of the occupation. Joaquín worked as a port stevedore, factory watchman, rig driver, road worker, and buy-and-sell salesman. Seeing corpses on the street, working for a wage in rice, demeaned by fear and poverty, Joaquín detested the war. He later said in an interview that the experience of the war so drained both his body and spirit that when it was over, he was filled with the desire to leave the country and go somewhere far. He dreamed of pursuing a religious vocation by going to a monastery in Spain or somewhere in Europe, “somewhere where you could clean up.”

Through the war years, he continued writing when and where he could. He finished “The Woman Who Felt Like Lazarus,” a story about an aging vaudeville star, and the essay “La Naval de Manila.” Both appeared in the wartime English-language journal Philippine Review in 1943. A monthly published by the Manila Sinbun-sya and edited by Vicente Albano Pacis and Francisco Icasiano, the Review also published Joaquín’s story “It Was Later Than We Thought” (1943) and his translation of Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios (1944). Readers were beginning to take notice. He cultivated a persona inaccessible and mysterious. When he was asked to fill up a biographical form for the Review, he simply wrote down: “25 years old, salesman.”

“La Naval de Manila” tells of a Manila religious celebration built on the tradition that the Blessed Virgin had miraculously intervened in the Spanish victory over a Dutch invasion fleet in 1646. Already it sets forth a major theme Joaquín would develop in the years ahead: that the Filipino nation was formed in the matrix of Spanish colonialism and that it was important for Filipinos to appreciate their Spanish past. He wrote: “The content of our national destiny is ours to create, but the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy, Spain created for us.” The article triggered an angry response in a subsequent issue of the Review from Federico Mañgahas, then a leading intellectual, who testily inquired why the Review was “building up” this young writer who would have readers believe that precolonial Philippine society was just a primeval “drift of totem-and-taboo tribes” and that Catholic saints can be the country’s unifying national symbols. Joaquín declined to reply but he had raised an issue that would continue to be debated after the war.

After the Americans liberated Manila in February–April 1945, Joaquín worked as a stage manager for his sister-in-law’s acting troupe and dreamed of getting away. In the meantime, he continued writing and publishing. He obviously did not sleepwalk through the years of the war but was writing out stories in his head. In heady years right after the war, he published in rapid succession such stories as “Summer Solstice,” “May Day Eve,” and “Guardia de Honor.” These stories have become Nick Joaquín’s signature stories and classics in Philippine writing in English.

The opportunity to leave the country came in 1947 when he was accepted as a novice at Saint Albert’s College, a Dominican monastery in Hong Kong. The story is told that the Dominicans in Manila were so impressed by his “La Naval de Manila” that they offered him a scholarship to Saint Albert’s and had the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomás award him an honorary Associate in Arts certificate so he would qualify. His stay at Saint Albert’s schooled him in Latin and the classics. He enjoyed the pleasant diversions of the scenic port city and the occasional company of his brother Porfirio (Ping) who was in Hong Kong on a stint as a jazz musician. It seemed, however, that he was too restless for life in a monastery. He stayed less than two years and returned to Manila.

Back in the Philippines in 1950, he joined the country’s leading magazine, Philippines Free Press, working as a proofreader, copywriter, and then member of the staff. At this time, Free Press was so widely circulated across the country and so dominant a medium for political reportage and creative writing, it was called “the Bible of the Filipinos.” Practically all middle-class homes in the country had a copy of the magazine.

Joaquín’s Free Press years established him as a leading public figure in Philippine letters. In its pages appeared the stories and essays that made him known to a wide national audience. The publication of Prose and Poems (1952), a collection of short stories, poems, a novella, and a play, cemented his reputation as an original voice in Philippine literature. He mined a lode of local experience that no one had quite dealt with in the way he did. He summoned ancient rites and legends, evoked a Filipino Christianity at once mystical and profane, and dramatized generational conflicts in a modern society that had not quite come to terms with its past. His was a vision that ranged through a large expanse of history in an English so full-bodied and a style sensuous and sure.

In 1955, his first play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino: An Elegy in Three Scenes, was premiered on stage at the Aurora Gardens in Intramuros, Manila, by the Barangay Theater Guild. He had written the play sometime around 1950 upon the urgings of Sarah Joaquín, who was active in Manila’s theater circles. Though it had been published in Weekly Women’s Magazine and Prose and Poems in 1952 and had been aired on radio, the play was not staged until 1955. It proved to be an immense success. It was made into an English-language movie by the highly respected Filipino filmmaker Lamberto V. Avellana in 1965, translated into Tagalog, adapted in other forms, and staged hundreds of times. No Filipino play in English has been as popular.

Using the flashback device of a narrator who recalls the sad fate of a prewar family as he stands in the ruins of postwar Manila, the play sets itself not only in the divide of war but that of past and present in Philippine society. Tracing the disintegration of an old and proud family in the transition from past to present, Nick Joaquín explored what had been abiding themes in his writing across the years.

He did not see the premiere of the play since, in 1955, Joaquín left the country on a Rockefeller Foundation creative writing fellowship. The prestigious award took him to Spain, the United States, and (with a Eugene F. Saxton Fellowship from the publishers of Harper’s Magazine) Mexico. In this sojourn, which lasted more than two years, he worked on his first novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961), a short and early version of which had appeared in Prose and Poems. The Woman Who Had Two Navels is a many-layered and less-than-perfect novel that teases out universal antinomies of truth and falsehood, illusion and reality, past and present, and locates them in the context of the Filipino search for identity. Though Joaquín had been criticized for a romantic “nostalgia for the past,” this novel and his other works, including Portrait, showed that he looked at the past always with the consciousness of the need for engaging the present world in its own terms.

Joaquín enjoyed his travels. He traveled all over Spain, lived in Madrid and Mallorca, visited France, stayed a year in Manhattan, went on an American cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus, crossed the border to Laredo, and had fun exploring Mexico. Spain and Mexico fascinated him (“my kind of country,” he says). He would, in the years that followed, take trips to Cuba, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Australia. Yet he was clearly in his element in his homeland and in Manila, the city that has been his imagination’s favorite haunt.

From the time he rejoined Free Press in 1957 until he left it in 1970 (during which time he rose to be the magazine’s literary editor and associate editor), Joaquin was as prominent in his persona as Quijano de Manila (a pseudonym he adopted for his journalistic writings when he joined the Free Press in 1950) as he was the creative artist Nick Joaquín. He churned out an average of fifty feature articles a year during this period. He wrote with eloquence and verve on the most democratic range of subjects, from the arts and popular culture to history and current politics. He was a widely read chronicler of the times, original and provocative in his insights and energetic and compassionate in his embrace of local realities.

One of his contemporaries remarked: “Nick Joaquín the journalist has brought to the craft the sensibility and style of the literary artist, the perceptions of an astute student of the Filipino psyche, and the integrity and idealism of the man of conscience, and the result has been a class of journalism that is dramatic, insightful, memorable, and eminently readable.”

He raised journalistic reportage to an art form. In his crime stories—for example, “The House on Zapote Street” (1961) and “The Boy Who Wanted to Become Society’” (1961)—he deployed his narrative skills in producing gripping psychological thrillers rich in scene, incident, and character. More important, he turned what would otherwise be ordinary crime reports (e.g., a crime of passion in an unremarkable Makati suburban home or the poor boy who gets caught up in a teenage gang war) into priceless vignettes of Philippine social history.

As Free Press literary editor, he virtually presided over the country’s literary scene. Free Press was the standard in Philippine writing in English because of its wide circulation and Joaquín’s editorship. Its weekly publication of short stories and poems was avidly followed. Joaquin was generous in encouraging young writers and exerted an influence on writers not only in English but in the Philippine languages. In a Filipino generation that had seen outstanding fictionists (N. V. M. González, F. Sionil José, and others), he was fondly spoken of as primus inter pares.

Since he joined the Free Press, he had been a full-time writer. The only other “job” he took was an appointment to the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, from 1961 to 1972, under both presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos. He took the post because, in large part, he loved the movies and practically did no cutting or banning of films, believing in the intelligence and good sense of moviegoers. He described this stint: “I was non-censoring.”

Philippine society was going through a period of deepening social crisis. The high hopes engendered during the popular rule of Ramón Magsaysay began to dissipate after Magsaysay’s death in 1957, as corruption, factional politics, and economic crisis buffeted the administrations of presidents Carlos García, Diosdado Macapagal, and Ferdinand Marcos. The Vietnam War politicized the Filipino intelligentsia, the economy floundered, a new Communist Party was established in 1969, and a new wave of militant nationalism swept through such institutions as universities and the media.

In the highly charged days leading up to the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972, Joaquin maintained his independence as an autonomous voice in Philippine media. He wrote articles that were current, stayed close to the events, and were deeply fired by liberal sentiments. In a time polarized by ideological conflict, he continued to speak in his own voice and not in those of others. This independence had always been a signal virtue of his writing career.

In the 1930s, when he started writing, he was already a writer apart. At a time when the United States was viewed as “the very measure of all goodness,” and “history” and “civilization” in the Philippines seemed to have begun with the advent of America, Joaquin invoked a deeper past. At a time when to be contemporary was to be “secular,” Joaquín evoked the country’s Christian tradition. At a time when “proletarian literature” was the “correct” line for young writers to follow, Joaquín was the skeptic who felt it was one more instance of local literary hierarchs’ “parroting the Americans, among whom ‘proletarian’ was then the latest buzzword.” He wrote: “I can see now that my start as a writer was a swimming against the current, a going against the grain.”

He had always been a writer engaged but apart. Part of the explanation resided in his character. Engaged in a public profession, with a very public name, he was a very private person. His reclusive character was formed early. In a rare, affectionate piece his sister-in-law Sarah Joaquín wrote about him in Philippine Review in 1943, she spoke of the young Nick as a modest and unassuming young man who was ill at ease with public praise and shied away from being interviewed or photographed (“he hadn’t had any taken for fifteen years”). Even then he lived his days according to certain well-loved rites. He loved going out on long walks (“a tall, thin fellow, a little slouched, walking in Intramuros, almost always hurriedly”), simply dressed, shoes worn out from a great deal of walking (which helped him cogitate), observing the street life of the city, making the rounds of churches. “He is the most religious fellow I know,” Sarah wrote. “Except when his work interferes, he receives Holy Communion everyday.” He was generous with friends and devoted to the family with whom, even in his teens, he shared what little money he earned.

A person of habit, he scribbled about himself many decades ago:

I have no hobbies, no degrees; belong to no party, club, or association;
and I like long walks; any kind of guinataan; Dickens and Booth Tarking-
ton; the old Garbo pictures; anything with Fred Astaire… the
 Opus Dei

according to the Dominican rite… Jimmy Durante and Cole Porter tunes…
the Marx brothers; the 
Brothers Karamazov; Carmen Miranda; Paul’s
Epistles and Mark’s; Piedmont cigarettes… my mother’s cooking…
playing tres-siete; praying the Rosary and the Officium Parvum… I don’t
like fish, sports, and having to dress up.

Though he cut the image of one gregarious with his loud, booming voice; his love for San Miguel beer (a product that turned him into an icon for Filipino beer drinkers); and his joy in belting out Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra songs in intimate gatherings in his favorite Manila cafés, he stuck close to the company of a few friends and hated making formal appearances in public. He grudgingly gave interviews and revealed such scant detail about his personal life that there are many gaps and contradictions in his published biographies. He was not above making mischief on unwitting interviewers by inventing stories about himself. He refused to give the exact date of his birth (May 4 and September 15 in 1917 have been cited) because, he said, he hated having people come around to celebrate his birthday.

He had zealously carved out private space in his home where he wrote reams in longhand or on a typewriter. Though he gave strangers the impression of someone careless and even dissolute, Joaquín was a very disciplined writer. He woke up early to read the newspapers, took breakfast, and, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, retired to his library on the second floor of his house where no one was allowed to disturb him. In his clean and spare study, with books on shelves lining the walls and, in the center, a chair and a table with a manual typewriter, Nick did his work. From 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., he took a siesta and, often, his second bath of the day, and then from around 4:00 p.m. onward, he was out of the house to go to the editorial office or explore his favorite haunts in Manila.

The turbulent days of political activism, as the 1960s came to a close, did not leave this very private person unaffected. In 1970, he joined a labor union organized by the workers of Free Press and agreed to be its president. This was the first union to be organized in the sixty-two-year-old publishing company that was widely regarded as a beacon of libertarian ideas. Organized at a time when Manila was seething with civil unrest, the appearance of the union sparked a bitter fight in the company. When management cracked down on the union, Joaquín resigned. With Free Press editor-writers Gregorio C. Brillantes and José F. Lacaba, artist Danilo Dalena, and close to thirty personnel of the administrative and printing departments, Joaquín launched the weekly Asia-Philippines Leader in 1971 and served as its editor-in-chief. In the pages of the magazine he wrote a regular column, “This Week’s Jottings,” where he continued his trenchant commentaries on the Philippine scene.

Martial law closed down Philippine media, including Free Press and Asia-Philippines Leader. The Marcos government subsequently allowed the publication of a few favored periodicals controlled by the Marcoses and their cronies. Joaquín refused to contribute. Among many intellectuals, silence became a form of protest. Joaquín’s irrepressible pen, however, could not be stilled. “I was never silent during martial law,” Joaquín declared in an interview in 1980. “I’ve never been silent.” He continued to write, worked independently, and contributed to both the underground and aboveground alternative press, the small newspapers and news sheets that came to be referred to as the “mosquito press” during the martial-law period.

Ironically, there was probably no other time when there was as much publishing of Joaquín writings as in the 1970s. These publications showcased his boundless creativity and versatility. In 1977, the National Book Store started issuing popular compilations of his Free Press human-interest features and crime stories (Reportage on LoversReportage on Crime) as well as articles on local icons of popular culture (Nora Aunor and Other ProfilesRonnie Poe and Other SilhouettesAmalia Fuentes and Other EtchingsDoveglion and Other CameosGloria Díaz and Other DelineationsJoseph Estrada and Other Sketches). Such was his readership that, between 1979 and 1983, more collections of his journalistic articles were issued: Reportage on the MarcosesReportage on PoliticsLanguage of the Street and Other Essays, and Manila: Sin City and Other Chronicles. A selection of his speeches and articles appeared in Discourses of the Devil’s Advocate and Other Controversies (1983). It is not disingenuous to say that such burst of publishing may have been fueled by a certain nostalgia for the colorful, rough-and-tumble years before martial law imposed an order of repression and dull conformism.

Mr. & Ms. Publishing published Nick Joaquín’s Almanac for Manileños (1979), a coffee-table book that turns the form of the old almanac into “a weather chart, a sanctoral, a zodiac guide, and a mini-encyclopedia on the world of the Manileño.” Almanac is a romp for a writer whose knowledge of the country’s capital city —from churches to brothels, politicians and criminals, fashions high and low, past and present— has not been matched by anyone. In 1978–1979, the same publisher also commissioned Joaquin’s children’s stories and modernized fairy tales and put them out as independent titles as well as in an anthology, Pop Stories for Groovy Kids. Some of these stories also appeared in a volume entitled Joaquinesquerie: Myth á la Mod (1983). He had been asked to write just one story in the beginning, but he so enjoyed doing it that more followed (“it’s like eating peanuts”). That this writer of metaphysical thrillers also had a deft hand writing for young readers is shown in his essays on Manila for young Manileños, Manila, My Manila (1990), and his retelling of the biography of José Rizal, Rizal in Saga: A Life for Student Fans (1996).

He translated Spanish works into English, something he had done intermittently for years. His most important in this field was The Complete Poems and Plays of José Rizal (1976). Nick also returned to theater. He adapted the stories “Three Generations” and “Summer Solstice” as the plays Fathers and Sons (1977) and Tatarín (1978), respectively. In 1976, he wrote The Beatas, the story of a seventeenth-century Filipino beguinage, a religious community of lay women, repressed by a male-dominated, colonial order. The subversive message of the play, in the particular context of martial rule, lent itself to a staging in Tagalog translation in the highly political campus of the University of the Philippines in 1978. These plays later appeared in the volume, Tropical Baroque: Four Manileño Theatricals, published in Manila in 1979 and in Australia in 1982.

In 1972, the University of Queensland Press in Australia published a new edition of his fiction under the title, Tropical Gothic. An important feature of this edition was the inclusion of three novellas that originally appeared in Free Press, “Cándido’s Apocalypse,” “Doña Jerónima,” and “The Order of Melkizedek.” These novellas are powerful, historically resonant narratives that probably best represent the inventiveness and depth of Joaquín as fictionist. They are among the most outstanding pieces of Philippine fiction that have been written.

He went back to writing poetry, something he had not done since 1965. El Camino Real and Other Rimes appeared in 1983 and Collected Verse, the author’s choice of thirty-three poems, was published in 1987. Ranging from light verse to long narrative pieces, these poems —robust, confident, expansive, elegant— are markers in the development of Philippine poetry. They demonstrate, says the poet-critic Gémino H. Abad, a level of achievement in which the Filipino is no longer writing in English but has indeed “wrought from English, having as it were colonized that language.”

That the Filipino writer wrote in English was a virtue that seemed self-evident when Joaquin started his career in the 1930s. English was the language of government, the schools, and the leading publications. It was, for young Filipinos, the language of modernity and the future. In the late 1960s, however, the use of the English language in such fields as education, literature, and publishing came under serious question as a Marxist-inspired nationalism sought to establish a radical, popular basis for the national culture. Those who wrote in English either switched languages or felt called upon to defend their use of a foreign tongue. Arguing out of his favorite thesis that the Filipino is enriched by his creative appropriation of new technologies, Joaquin extolled the fresh values of temper and sensibility that English had brought into the national literature. As for his own writings, Joaquin’s response to the issue was more blunt: “Whether it is in Tagalog or English, because I am Filipino, every single line I write is in Filipino.” In a more jocular vein, he had written about how the local milieu was irrevocably present in his works: “I tell my readers that the best compliment they can pay me is to say that they smell adobo and lechón when they read me. I was smelling adobo and lechon when I wrote me.”

In 1976, Nick Joaquín was named National Artist of the Philippines in the field of literature, the highest recognition given by the state for an artist in the country. Conferred in Manila on March 27, 1976, the award praised his works as “beacons in the racial landscape” and the author for his “rare excellence and significant contribution to literature.”

Joaquín had reservations about accepting an award conceived by the Marcos government as part of First Lady Imelda Marcos’s high-profile program of arts promotion in the country, but he decided to accept it on the advice of family and friends. He also felt the award would give him leverage to ask Malacañang Palace to release from prison José F. Lacaba, a close friend of his and one of the country’s best writers, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the anti-Marcos resistance. Lacaba was released in 1976.

Joaquín kept his distance from power, studiously resisting invitations to attend state functions in Malacañang Palace. At a ceremony on Mount Makiling, Laguna, attended by Mrs. Marcos, who had built on the fabled mountain site a National Arts Center, Joaquín delivered a speech in which he provocatively spoke of freedom and the artist. He was never again invited to address formal cultural occasions for the rest of the Marcos regime. He was too unpredictable to suit the pious pretensions of the martial-law government.

The fact that government had conferred on him the honor of National Artist did not prevent him from criticizing government. In 1982, he put himself at the forefront of a public demonstration to protest government’s closure of the oppositionist newspaper We Forum and the arrest and detention of its publisher and editors. The newspaper had just published a series of articles exposing Ferdinand Marcos’s fake war medals.

The street appearance was not characteristic of the man. It was in the field of writing that he engaged power. Joaquin was the provocateur who delighted in debunking what was politically and intellectually fashionable. One such “fashion” was the interest in the “ethnic” and “indigenous” during the Marcos era. A legitimate expression of post-Vietnam Filipino nationalism, the return to the “native” was appropriated by state nationalism during the martial-law period. In the attempt to clothe with legitimacy Marcos’s “experiment” in Philippine-style democracy (and authoritarianism) and blunt both the insurgent opposition to his rule and Western criticism of human-rights violations, the Marcos government appealed to “nationalism” based on an indigenous and Asian heritage. In the intellectual field, this found expression in many intersecting ways: the glorification of barangay democracy; the promotion of Tagalog as the national language and the downgrading of English writing; the “Filipinization” of scholarly disciplines; the romancing of the 1971 discovery of the allegedly Stone-Age Tasadays; and the state-sponsored Tadhanà project started in 1975, in which a group of Filipino historians wrote a “new history” of the Philippines under the name of Ferdinand Marcos.

Addressing this trend, Nick Joaquín wrote articles attacking nativism and the glorification of the indigenous and the ethnic. Describing the Filipino as a “work in progress” whose national identity is the dynamic product of the various cultural influences in his history (in particular, he stresses, the Spanish-Christian experience), he debunked the idea of a “pure” native culture and lamented the denigration of Western influence. A vigorous polemicist, he taunted the “new” nationalists with statements such as “Asia, before 1521, was conspicuous by its absence in Philippine culture” or “Those who want Philippine culture to be what it was 400 years ago are afflicted with the Dorian Gray illusion: the illusion that innocence can be frozen or that a personality can be kept from showing the effects on it of time, space, nature, society, the outside world.”

The terrain had changed but Joaquín was fighting a battle he had started to wage as early as the 1930s. Then he was reacting to an intellectual establishment that, infatuated with America, wanted to wean itself from the past much too quickly. Now he was responding to leaders and intellectuals who, desiring to break away from the West, were invoking a golden past he felt was not there. In the years of the Japanese occupation, he was writing against the grain when he wrote the seminal essay “La Naval de Manila.” Then he was responding (whether deliberately or not) to the trend, encouraged by the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” for Filipinos to return to their “Asian” and “Malayan” roots. Now, in the 1970s, he was interrogating the scapegoating of the West and the romancing of “Asianness.”

Polemical rather than academic, he simplified the terms of the debate, drew dividing lines much too sharply, and couched arguments in hyperbolic terms. He was impatient with the either/or rhetoric of indigenists and nationalists. “Why isn’t it enough to be just Filipino?” Quoting James Joyce, he declared of his own work: “This country and this people shaped me; I shall express myself as I am.” He was, as always, the writer apart but passionately engaged.

In A Question of Heroes: Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History (1977) and Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (1988), he showed himself an insightful historian and vigorous cultural critic. Addressing a general public rather than specialists, he said that it was his aim to “open up fresh viewpoints on the national process” by asking “those pesky questions which, though they seem so obvious, have somehow never been asked about our history and culture.”

In Question of Heroes, a series of articles on Filipino heroes that first appeared in the Free Press in the 1960s, he demystified the heroes associated with the birth of the nation in the late nineteenth century. He humanized them, thickened their lives with sharp and telling detail, and situated them in the living context of their times. The result was not just a critical reevaluation of historical figures but a coherent picture of a nation in formation. Culture and History offered a more varied fare of fifteen essays that developed Joaquin’s ideas on what he called “the process of Filipino becoming.” Underlying these ideas was an evolutionary and optimistic confidence in the Filipino capacity to invent himself out of the constraints and opportunities of his historical experience. Attacking the syndrome of shame over the colonial past and guilt over being “neither East nor West,” Joaquín celebrated hybridity. Attacking nativism and other forms of exclusionism, he said (quoting Oswald Spengler), “Historic is that which is, or has been, effective,” and he gloried in what the Filipino has and will become.

There are conceptual gaps in Joaquín’s view of Philippine history. He tended to be too dismissive of precolonial culture (even as it figured in his own fiction), overstressed the transformative role of technology, and was perhaps too apologetic of the Spanish and Christian influence in Philippine culture. There was no denying, however, the intelligent passion with which he embraced his people’s culture and history. Few in his time played as effective a role in the public discourse on the national culture.

The shaking loose of the structure of the martial-law regime after the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, and the eventual collapse of the regime in the “People Power Revolution” of 1986, saw Nick Joaquín right in the public stream as the country’s premier chronicler of current history. A book that he started writing before martial law was declared in 1972, The Aquinos of Tarlac: An Essay on History as Three Generations, appeared in 1983. His chronicle of the People Power Revolution, The Quartet of the Tiger Moon, was published in 1986.

Twenty-two years after The Woman Who Had Two Navels, Joaquín came out with his second novel, Cave and Shadows (1983). He jokingly remarked at its appearance: “Now, I’ll be known as the man who has two novels.” Fervid and dense, Cave and Shadows was Joaquín’s “objective correlative” to the Crisis of ’72. Set in Manila in the steamy month of August 1972, just before the declaration of martial law, the novel weaves a plot around the discovery of a woman’s naked body in a cave in the suburbs of Manila. The search for answers to the mystery of the woman’s death becomes a metaphysical thriller in which past and present collide and reality is unhinged as a social order breaks down in division and revolution.

A deep fount of creative energy, Joaquín was a much sought-after biographer. From 1979 to 2000, he authored more than a dozen book-length biographies of prominent Filipinos, from artists and educators to business people and politicians. These include the biographies of diplomat Carlos Rómulo, senators Manuel Manahan and Salvador Laurel, technocrat Rafaél Salas, businessmen Jaime Ongpín and D. M. Guevara, artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco, educator Nicanor Reyes, civic leader Estefania Aldaba-Lim, and Jaime Cardinal Sin. He also wrote local and institutional histories—such as San Miguel de Manila: Memoirs of a Regal Parish (1990) and Hers, This Grove: The Story of Philippine Women’s University (1996)—and authored or edited diverse other volumes.

He was criticized for “writing too much,” producing commissioned biographies of uneven quality, and forsaking creative writing for journalism. While his Aquinos of Tarlac was a masterful interweaving of the life of a family and that of a nation, May Langit Din Ang Mahirap (1998), his biography of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, seemed like a hurried, paste-up job. While his talent could be quite profligate, there was no mistaking the genuineness of his appetite for local life and drive to convert this to memorable form.

Nick Joaquín’s stature in his country is demonstrated by the numerous prizes he received for his literary and journalistic writings. His contributions to Philippine culture were acknowledged by the City of Manila with an Araw ng Maynila Award (1963), a Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award (1964), and a Diwa ng Lahi Award (1979). The national government conferred on him its highest cultural honors, the Republic Cultural Heritage Award (1961) and the title of National Artist of the Philippines (1976).

In 1996, he received the Ramón Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the highest honor for a writer in Asia. The citation honored him for “exploring the mysteries of the Filipino body and soul in sixty inspired years as a writer.” Accepting the award on August 31, 1996, Joaquin did not look back on past achievements but relished the moment, saying that indeed the good wine has been reserved for last and “the best is yet to be.” This from a man who was about to turn eighty when he received the award.

In his 1996 Ramón Magsaysay Award lecture, Joaquín addressed what, he said, had troubled his critics as his “Jekyll/Hyde” personality as journalist and litterateur. He had never been the hothouse artist, he declared, and had always felt there was no subject not worthy of his attention. The practice of journalism nourished his populist sympathies. “Journalism trained me never, never to feel superior to whatever I was reporting, and always, always to respect an assignment, whether it was a basketball game, or a political campaign, or a fashion show, or a murder case, or a movie-star interview.” Journalism exercised his powers of storytelling. “Good reportage is telling it as it is but at the same time telling it new, telling it surprising, telling it significant.”

Though he largely played his life and career “by ear,” Joaquín relished how he had moved in the right directions. On the one hand, he could trace himself back to the times when Plato and Cervantes or the Arabian Nights and the Letters of Saint Paul were all “literature” and there were no fine distinctions as to which mode of writing was belle and not belle enough. On the other hand, he had foreshadowed current trends that had broken down the generic boundaries of fiction and nonfiction or “journalism” and “literature.”

With the mischievous glee of one who enjoyed what he was doing, he said that such Joaquín reportage as “House on Zapote Street” and “The Boy Who Wanted to Become ‘Society’” antedated the American “New Journalism” that writers such as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, and Gore Vidal made famous. Moreover, the fiction that he wrote—from “May Day Eve” and “The Mass of St. Sylvester” to “Doña Jerónima” and “Cándido’s Apocalypse”—bodied forth “magic realism” long before the Latin American novelists made it fashionable.

While Nick Joaquín wrote in English, was published abroad, and had some of his works translated into foreign languages, he did not quite receive the high attention he deserved outside the Philippines. This was something probably of no great moment to Joaquín himself. He was firmly rooted in place and in active dialogue with his Filipino audience. This speaking to and about his people had always framed his writing life. Though he spoke from a specific location—writing in English out of Manila (he had not lived for any significant amount of time outside the capital)—his voice carried far among Filipinos.

In the Philippines, Nick Joaquín was a keeper of tradition and a maker of memory. He grew up in what he called an “Age of Innocence” in Philippine history, an era when Filipinos, seduced by the promise of America and modernity, distanced themselves from their Spanish colonial past and slipped into a kind of amnesia. He saw—having grown up in a home where his father told stories about the revolution and his mother encouraged a love for Spanish poetry—that it was his calling “to bring in the perspective, to bring in the grandfathers, to manifest roots.” In his writings, he traced a landscape haunted by the past—pagan rites in the shadows of the Christian church, legends of a woman in the cave, strange prophets roaming the countryside, grandfathers who seem like ghosts who have strayed into the present. He conjured a society stranded in the present and not quite whole because it had not come to terms with its past.

The problem of identity was central in Joaquín’s works. In an impressive body of literary, historical, and journalistic writings, Joaquín was a significant participant in the public discourse on “Filipino identity.” What marked the positions he took was his refusal of easy orthodoxies. An outsider to government, the political parties, and the universities, he kept his space to be an independent thinker on the issues confronting the nation. From the 1930s to until his death, he was consistent in his role as the critic of what passed for the politically “correct” of the day. In this manner, he opened up spaces for the Filipino to imagine himself in novel ways and act on this basis.

Nick Joaquín lived through eight decades of Philippine history and witnessed the slow, uneven, and often violent transformation of the nation—the American idyll of the prewar years, the violence and degradation of an enemy occupation, the Communist insurgency and the hard choices it confronted the Filipino with, the dark years of martial rule, the waxing and waning of hopes for a better nation. It is history that tempts many with despair. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Nick Joaquín, the writer, was that his was always the voice of a deep, inclusive, and compassionate optimism in the Filipino.

He had always—as Joaquín himself would say, quoting one of his favorite literary lines—raged, raged against the dying of the light. This was true not only of what he had written but how he had lived his life. When many of his contemporaries had long faded into the background, Joaquín continued to speak of his craft with the verve of a young writer. Well into his eighties, with close to sixty book titles to his name, he was working on more. He also continued to practice journalism. He wrote the regular columns “Small Beer” and “Jottings” for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Sunday Inquirer Magazine from 1988 to 1990; served as editor of Philippine Graphic magazine and publisher of its sister publication, Mirror Weekly, in 1990; and continued to contribute to various publications until his final days. When asked once if he ever intended to retire, Joaquín was said to have responded, with typical mischief, “I’m not retiring and I’m not resigned.”

NICK Joaquín lived in the city and country of his affections and continued to write until his death in April 2004 at the age of eighty-six.

La Identidad Filipina (videoconferencia)

COLOQUIO LA IDENTIDAD FILIPINA

El Instituto Cervantes de Manila ofrecerá varios coloquios en los que intelectuales filipinos dialogarán sobre aspectos de la identidad filipina ligados a la huella hispana. En esta primera conferencia de la Tribuna Quijano de Manila, el antropólogo Fernando Ziálcita disertará sobre la identidad filipina. ¡No te pierdas esta experiencia!

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COLLOQUIUM THE FILIPINO IDENTITY

Instituto Cervantes de Manila will offer various colloquia wherein Filipino intellectuals will discuss some aspects of Filipino identity with Hispanic traces. In this first lecture, anthropologist Fernando Ziálcita will talk about the Filipino identity. Don’t miss this opportunity!

A heritage of smallness

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

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Rise's review of Culture and History

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

A HERITAGE OF SMALLNESS
Nick Joaquín

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

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

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

Is the disparity to our disparagement?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One could go on and on with this litany.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Close encounters with Nick

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

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

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

Joaquinesquerie

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

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

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

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

Hermanas Marasigan

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

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

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

Champion of beer

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

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

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

Near encounters

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

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

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

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

Wala ka bang pulutan, Nick?” Greg says.

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

Near brush with greatness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion of the Rosary

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

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

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

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

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

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