My musical confession

Close friends and family members know that I’m a huge rock music fan. Back in high school and college, I worshipped Kurt Cobain and know all Nirvana songs by heart. My day was never complete without tuning in to LA Rock 105.9 and NU 107.5 FM, both of which, sadly, are no longer around. I could even imitate the voices of Beavis and Butt-Head (not anymore). But the truth is I enjoy all kinds of music. And when I say all kinds, I really mean it.

HOME CODE

I love Metallica’s energetic “Battery” as much as I enjoy listening to Rachel Alejandro’s nostalgic “Nakapagtátaka“. The built-in playlist inside my head ranges from Rage Against The Machine’s “Bullet in the Head” to Thalía’s “Piel Morena“, from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” to the Gypsy Kings’ “A Tu Vera“, and from Chenoa’s “Todo Irá Bien” to Beyoncé’s “Love On Top”. I am also fond of listening to classics such as The Platters’ “The Great Pretender”, ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All”, and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. Whenever urged to sing during karaoke sessions, I usually belt out Tom Jones’ “Green, Green Grass of Home” to break the ice.

Did you know? My wife and I chose “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie to be our theme song, haha (it’s the first song we sang together in a karaoke bar when we were still college classmates); for Tagalog, our theme song is Celeste Legaspi’s “Gaano Ko Ikáw Kamahál“. We are also planning to record ourselves singing that beloved Filipino Catholic anthem “No Más Amor Que El Tuyo” by Simeón Resurrección and Manuel Bernabé.

Believe it or not, I have nothing but respect for Justin Bieber especially when I hear his relaxing acoustic pop song “Love Yourself”. And I really don’t see (or rather hear) anything funny with April Boy Regino’s “Di Ko Kayang Tanggapin“. All songs by LANY are pure gold.

Don’t say I’m “badúy” just because I listen to Willie Revillamé’s “I Love You”, because The Prodigy and Tom Morello‘s “One Man Army” as well as Stone Cold Steve Austin‘s WWE ring entrance music are my personal war songs.

I can easily switch from Pantera’s “I’m Broken” to Gerardo Matos Rodríguez’s “La Cumparsita“. I don’t understand anything at all with K-pop group BLΛƆKPIИK’s “Kill This Love” but I should say now it’s one of the most badass songs I’ve ever heard. I will also never tire of listening to Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal “Klaviersonate Nr. 14” (popularly known as “Moonlight Sonata”). I can even tolerate Kim Chiu’s “Bawal Lumabás“; as a matter of fact, I’m having LSS from that accidental novelty song these past few weeks.

And of course, the soulful ancient Catholic chant “Anima Christi” will never be left out.

Am I normal?

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King George III and his peacock

Many years ago, my wife Yeyette and I bought a picture book for our eldest daughter Krystal entitled True Facts (1000s of Freaky, Scary, Gross, Extraordinary, and Simply Unbelievable Facts!) by John Guest. It contains interesting facts about the sciences, world history, and other weird topics such as the case of a Kansas tornado that lifted an 88-coach train from its track, or that of the price of Russia’s Diamond Crypto SmartPhone which cost more or less $1,300,000.

What caught my interest more was a freakily funny entry about King George William Frederick, otherwise known as King George III:

THE MADNESS OF GEORGE III

British King George III (1738-1820) had a mental illness. For a time, he ended every sentence with the word “peacock.” He also sometimes spoke for many hours without pause, and claimed to talk to angels.

A portrait of the King George III by English portrait-painter William Beechey.

King George III, by the way, was the monarch during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) in which our country had a small but unfortunate role. The British, under the command of his daring peacocks Admiral Samuel Cornish and Brigadier General William Draper, invaded Manila on 23 September 1762. After a fierce battle, Intramuros finally fell the following month, 4 October 1762. Aside from the capital, however, the Brits were only able to hold captive Cavite and Pásig; their occupation of Malolos, Bulacán, was short-lived. Finally, when the war ended two years later, the Brits left.

George III was also the same king who lost the United States in 1776. Many years later, he lost his favorite daughter, Princess Amelia, to lingering illnesses. Whereupon he lost his mind.

But his peacock wasn’t lost on me, hahaha! 😂

Although I already know of King George’s madness, I didn’t know about the hilarious peacock part… it was infectiously funny! When I first read about it, I couldn’t help ending all my sentences with that word, too, much to Yeyette’s chagrin, hehe! Of course, I was just playing around peacock. But you know, my wife is so picón (touchy) peacock. So I better shut up peacock.

But did you know peacock? It’s King George III’s birth anniversary today peacock! Well, gotta go peacock. It’s getting late peacock.

Have a good peacock!

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

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

NILO VALDECANTOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

NILO VALDECANTOS

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

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

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

 

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

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

NILO VALDECANTOS

Doc Nilo’s final message to me…

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

I miss him dearly.

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

–Dr. Nilo Valdecantos–

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

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“Real” means royal

As May is about to end, the dry season (PAGASA teaches us that there’s no summer in Filipinas) is already showing signs that it’s about to pack off, with rainshowers becoming more frequent as the days pass. Times like this makes one yearn for more last-minute beach trips. After all, our country experiences only about two months of unmitigated sunshine. After that, the storm clouds arrive. Filipinos are not exactly fond of the wet season as it usually leaves many places flooded. As such, many of us delve into immediate nostalgic summer escapades and sharing “hulíng hírit sa tag-inít” posts in social media whenever the dry season is nearing its last hurrah.

But this year, there’s no hurrah to be heard because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. With millions of beach-loving Filipinos locked up in their homes, there’s nothing much left to do but to muster up memories of good old times in the sun and sand. Which brings me to exactly two years ago when my wife Yeyette and I went on a one-day visit to the faraway and mountainous municipality of Real in Tayabas Province (now Quezon) to enjoy fresh air as part of my respiratory rehabilitation (I suffered from TB and pneumonia a few months prior to that).

While Real offered a lot of sun despite the dying days of May, there was not enough sand to enjoy. The beach resort we went to was filled with pebbles and rock formations with sharp edges. There were even spots that were difficult to tread on without sandals. To assuage any hidden disappointment, I told my wife that we go to beaches to swim in the water; it doesn’t look cute swimming through sand. Nevertheless, the totality of the place didn’t disappoint. The view was breathtaking nonetheless. And it was equally thrilling to be swimming in the waters of the Pacific Ocean for the very first time.

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My first time to see the Pacific Ocean!

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Whenever I feel that the Muses have abandoned me, I turn to Fernando Ma. Guererro (Spanish) and José Garcia Villa (English) for help.

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Believe it or not, we’re the only ones swimming on this place during our visit. But we couldn’t go beyond the rocks because the waters are already deep, and the waves riotous.

Between the two of us, Yeyette is the beach person. While I do enjoy the sea as much as she does, I am more of a forestal type of guy. However, I visit places not just to enjoy its natural surroundings but to explore more on its history.

The Municipality of Real used to be a barrio of nearby Infanta. Infanta in turn was carved out from the Spanish-era district of La Infanta. There were in fact two districts north of the old province of Tayabas. Aside from La Infanta, the other one was called El Príncipe. Both were created in 1856, or five years before José Rizal was born. The names behind these two districts had royal significance (“significado real“): both were royal Iberian titles. El Príncipe referred to King Felipe II (Philip II) when he was still a prince (“Príncipe de Asturias“) while La Infanta referred to his would-be wife Princess María Manuela of Portugal (“Infanta de Portugal“).

Upon its creation, the District of El Príncipe was composed of the following: Baler, Casiguran, Dipaculao, and Casignán (now San José City, Nueva Écija). On the other hand, the District of La Infanta had Binañgonan de Lampón (or “Binañgonan del Ampón”; now Infanta) and Isla Polillo.

Today, these two districts no longer exist, mostly because of too much gerrymandering. The name of the Municipality of Infanta, just a couple of kilometers away from Real, is just a remnant of that old district of La Infanta. El Príncipe, which used to be under the jurisdiction of the Province of Nueva Écija before being transferred to Tayabas in 1902, suffered a much sadder fate: it left no eponymous heir. Worse, the province to which it was transferred to, Tayabas, was renamed and butchered: in 1946, it was renamed as Quezon; then in 1951, a huge chunk of its northern part was converted into the sub-province of Aurora which eventually became a separate province in 1979.

The Municipality of Real is fairly new, having been established only in 1960. But its name, which in Spanish means “royal”, serves as a testament to its royal beginnings and to how Filipinas gave honor to its “padrino“, King Felipe II, as well as to his wife María Manuela.

The sad and infuriating result of manipulating boundaries and renaming places, not to mention the taking away of the Spanish language, is that Filipinos tend to forget the origins and meanings of the names of places in which they live. In one way or another, it leads to an unawareness of local history thus leading the way to complete apathy towards their locality as a whole.

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The población (town proper) lies at the foot of the 680-km long Sierra Madre.

Anyway, Since El Príncipe and La Infanta are no longer around, my wife and I thought of calling ourselves as “El Príncipe Pepe” y “La Infanta Yeyette” to preserve their memory. 😁

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Yeyette on breast cancer awareness

My wife Yeyette guested last night in a local radio talk show wherein she discussed her ordeal against breast cancer. The name of the show is “Usapang Popcorn” which is broadcast over 103.5 FM and 91.5 FM based in Majayjay, La Laguna. The program is hosted by Raymond Kaibigan with co-hosts Mejean Peña-Magboó, Mark Castillo, and Cheryl Andal. It was done via Zoom which was then streamed live on Facebook.

USAPANG POPCORN

USAPANG POPCORN

 

El Filipinismo Facebook page

 

PEPE ALAS

EL FILIPINISMO now has a Facebook page! You may like/follow it by clicking on the image above, or right here.

This Facebook page, however, is not new. Actually, it is the old Facebook page of my defunct blog FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES. I just renamed it for possible monetization (I don’t think Facebook monetizes personal accounts such as mine). I thought of overhauling my social media presence especially since I’ve been receiving a lot of requests from friends and officemates to set up a vlog (more on that in a future blogpost). Humorously, my wife already beat me to it as she had just launched her own vlog last night (please subscribe to her channel; it’s her diversion from her cancer). Her first vlog is raw, unedited, especially since we are not that tech-savvy when it comes to video editing. But we’ll get into that one day. Hopefully.

My other Facebook page, Alas Filipinas, an offshoot of my Spanish-language blog which I also shut down in 2016, is still up. But I only use it whenever sharing Spanish-language content and whenever I feel the urge/need to write in Spanish here in EL FILIPINISMO.

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Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Fátima as well as the sixteenth birthday of my eldest son Mómay (who could very well turn out to be our video editor). ¡Feliz día!

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.

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Screenshot from Babtothebone Productions‘ uploaded video on YouTube.

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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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Forever grateful

Hi. I have made a list of all the kind-hearted people (in alphabetical order) who had reached out to my desperate call for help last March 4 and made the extra effort to share their hard-earned money, offer special Masses and fervent prayers, as well as technical/medical assistance and advise for my wife’s battle against breast cancer.

Leigh Abaña
Camilla Abatecola
John Paul Abellera
Ishmael Ahab
Amador Alas
Gloria Punzalán-Alas
Coach Louie Alas
María Rubia Alas
Maurice Almadrones
Angel Alon
Walter Ian Along
Claudette Álvarez-Alonsabe
Pía Alpaño
Lorna Cruz-Ambas
Aris Andaluz
Leonardo Atienza & Diane Genosa-Atienza
Fátima Autor
Nicole Baes
Chara Chávez-Banaag
Fritz Barredo
María Anna Berroya-Báky
Tere Belardo
Atty. Ceferino Benedicto Jr.
Jing Bolaños
May Bolígao
María Grace Brobson
Giselle Cabrera
María Christina Capacete
Chel Carandang
Angelo Joseph Carcallas
Dan Carmona & Ann Luz-Carmona
Meng Casácop
Councilor Aaron Catáquiz
Abraham Catáquiz & María Ángela Catáquiz
Calixto Catáquiz
Mayor Lourdes Catáquiz
Amboy Cortez & Chámeng de la Cruz-Cortez
Anna Cosio
Julie Cox
María Victoria Cristi
Mark Anthony Cristi
Jennifer Amanda Cruz
Jennifer S. de la Cruz
Gilda Atienza-Custodio
Ai Chua
Audrey Kerstin Dánac
Sheila Déximo
Kathleen Perey-Diezon
Dennis Dolojan
Elizabeth Palmos-Dolor
Gayle Emeterio
Alex Évora
Angelito Évora & Cora Évora
Ceres Fe Évora
Paul Évora III & Corina Unson
Rafaelita Évora
Raymond Évora
Jaime Fábregas
Ángela Alas-Feasey
Lelanie Alas-Fernández
Karen Joyce Fiel
Fr. Paul Martín Gápuz
Guillermo Gómez
Guillermo Felipe Gómez
Thelma Isaac-Grey
Olive Guiao
Heide Hildebrandt
Rosey Patricio-Israel
Tonette Izon
Ivan José
Nenè Junio
Sem. Anthony Koa
Hanna Aranda-Lara
Joe Bert Lazarte
Jeanette Sy-Leocadio
Hanz Lombos
Jeity Macalálad
Maylene Macandog
Miguel Madárang
Jordan Maderada
Merry Jean Peña-Magboo
Bing Santillán-Mago
Baby Marie Malabanan
Christian Málig & Mary Ann Antazo
Aprille Manalo
Dave Arjie Manandeg
Anmie Samson-Martínez
Jorge Mojarro & Jem Balúyot-Mojarro
Shenna Kudo-Monroy
Katrina Napigkit
Mª Kresna Navarro
Mark Hugh Neri
Ambeth Ocampo
Jaynie Ocampo
Divina Olivárez
Richard Órgano & María Cecila Alas-Órgano
Buenafé de Padua
Yesa Polínag-de Padua
Kristin Cruz-Palacol
Carlos Antonio Pálad & Estie Santos-Pálad
Myles Parás
Myla Irene Penson
Ría Peñarubia
José Perdigón
Jaime Perey
Teresa Atienza-Perey
Jameela Pérez
Orion Pérez
Jemuel Pilápil
Greg Quimado
Jhoncent Quiocho & Sheng Barrameda-Quiocho
Riah Ramírez
Radney Ranario
Ederlyn Revilla
María Corazón Ribón
Von Rosales & Marie Grizelle
Marco Salonga
John Ly Santos
Henry Siy
PCPT Jervies Soriano & Jennifer Ann Soriano
Joy Soriano y Évora
Michelle Dimaculañgan-Tarriela
Antonia “Nonia” Tiongco Joanna Tscharntke
Anthony Clark Uy
Antonio Saturnino Velasco
Liza Villagarcía
Arlene Villaluz
Cheryl Villapando
Jaira Marie Amuráo-Villavicencio
Malou Villegas
William Wolf (Guillermo Lobo)
Roseflor Ygar
Diego Pastor Zambrano
Fr. Jojo Zerrudo
Irish Zoleta

And of course, special thanks to Dr. Rouel Azores for the splendid job he did during the mastectomy (he is, by the way, the same surgeon who had operated on all of Yeyette’s five caesarean deliveries, with the last one involving a fatal placenta percreta).

There are those who sent us financial help but sent word that they do not want to to be acknowledged. Still, there are others who, because of various predicaments, couldn’t help out financially but instead sent messages of prayers and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But please note that the abovementioned people did not request to be acknowledged as well. This show of gratefulness is my call, not theirs.

Some of our friends and relatives apologized for not being able to send money. Dear people, there is no need to apologize. We fully understand that everybody has money problems, even those in the upper class. It’s the thought and concern that always count.

But Yeyette’s ordeal is not yet over. A month after her surgery, it was discovered that her breast cancer has progressed from stage 2 to stage 3. She will need to undergo a six-month chemotherapy. More prayers and financial support are needed for her full recovery. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, we are not pressuring anyone.

Bank of the Philippine Islands account number: 9829-0918-41
BPI Account name: José Mario S. Alas
BPI branch: Ortigas Emerald (Unit 101 G/F Jollibee Plaza Condominium, F. Ortigas Jr. Road, Brgy. San Antonio, Ortigas Center, Pásig City 1605)
Swift code: BOPIPHMM

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My wife has read all your messages (including Facebook reactions) sent to us through various social media and SMS. She is forever grateful for the overwhelming support and love. All of us in the family are. Gracias por vuestra caridad. Maraming, maraming salamat pô. 😇