24 de junio de 1571: bendito comensalismo

BENDITO COMENSALISMO
(Pepe Alas)

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

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

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

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

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

Rizal the Romantic

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

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

What is your favorite Rizalian poem?

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

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

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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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Fr. Centina washed himself for another wake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A heritage of smallness

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

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Rise's review of Culture and History

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

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.”

Siren / Sirena

Marra PL. Lanot is a poet, essayist, and freelance journalist. She has published articles and columns in newspapers and magazines on the arts, culture, and politics. She also translates poems from English and Filipino into Spanish, just as her own poems have been translated and published abroad into foreign languages such as Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Dutch, and Japanese.

From Likhaan portal.

SIREN
Marra PL. Lanot

In the dead of lockdown,
a siren rips the air
from ambulance to ambulance
from hospital to hospital
like a long gasp for breath.
The sun cannot cut it,
a storm cannot drown it,
the hungry children can’t grasp
the death it portends,
and the stray cats and dogs,
like the children, cannot
see the stars up high
for the waters are too murky
to drink, the garbage cans are empty
because restos are closed
and nobody throws anything anymore for beggars or for homeless animals.

Only the frontliners feel and face
the end every minute
trying to save lives.
And prayers grow longer
and longer with the names of those
who succumb to the virus.
In the dead of lockdown,
a siren rips the air
from ambulance to ambulance
from hospital to hospital
like a long, long gasp for breath.

coronavirus-k7d-U100113382963s-1248x770@El Norte

Photo: Leonoticias.

Below is my Spanish translation of “Siren” Marra PL. Lanot’s latest poem which was inspired by our health frontliners’ perilous battle against the deadly coronavirus pandemic. To those who don’t know her, Marra is the daughter of journalist Serafín Lanot, the wife of celebrated poet Pete Lacaba, and the goddaughter of legendary writer Nick Joaquín.

SIRENA
Marra PL. Lanot
(traducido del original en inglés por Pepe Alas)

En la mitad del encierro,
una sirena rasga el aire
de ambulancia a ambulancia
de hospital a hospital
como una bocanada larga para respirar.
El sol no puede cortarla,
ni la tormenta puede ahogarla,
los niños hambrientos no pueden comprender
la muerte que presagia,
y los perros y gatos callejeros,
no pueden como los niños
ver las estrellas en lo alto
porque son demasiado turbias para beber
las aguas; están vacíos los botes de basura
porque están cerrados los ambigús
y ya nadie arroja nada para los mendigos ni para los animales vagabundos.

Tratando de salvar vidas
sólo los en la vanguardia sienten y enfrentan
el fin cada minuto.
Y se alargan más y más
las oraciones con los nombres de aquellos
que sucumben al virus.
Una sirena rasga el aire
en la mitad del encierro,
de ambulancia a ambulancia
de hospital a hospital
como una larga, larga bocanada para respirar.

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Fake history spotted!

It has recently come to my attention that a certain Wassily Clavecillas (who, if I’m not mistaken, holds a certain position at the Limbagang Pinpín Museum and Heritage Resort in Abúcay, Bataán) is spreading some fake history item on Facebook regarding an alleged tribute to Lapu-Lapu written by José Rizal.

FAKE HISTORY

Below is a blow-up of the alleged Rizalian praise for Lapu-Lapu, in case you have difficulty in reading the above text…

FAKE HISTORY

For those who do not understand Spanish, below is the translation (image also provided by Clavecillas):

FAKE HISTORY

According to Clavecillas, he got this Rizalian acclamation from Cronología Filipina by Domingo Ponce, a rare book that was published in 1958 (judging from its contents, it seems like a textbook, but I could be wrong). His FB post has been shared and praised by many clueless Filipinos who are not familiar with Rizal’s original works in Spanish.

But was the above text really written by the national hero?

To those who are familiar with Rizal’s body of work, the answer, of course, is no. Rizal wrote not a single word of praise to the Mactán chieftain. In fact, during his time, Lapu-Lapu —or to be more precise, Cali Pulaco— was considered by Filipinos as the antagonist of the Mactán narrative. Remember Carlos Calao’s 17th-century poem?

However, Rizal did compose a poem of praise, but not for Cali Pulaco / Lapu-Lapu. He wrote one for Fernando de Magallanes, aka Ferdinand Magellan. As a matter of fact, today is the anniversary of that poem…

EL EMBARQUE
(Himno a la Flota de Magallanes)

–José Rizal–

          En bello día
Cuando radiante
Febo en Levante
Feliz brilló,
En Barrameda
Con gran contento
El movimiento
Doquier reinó.

          Es que en las playas
Las carabelas
Hinchan las velas
Y a partir van;
Y un mundo ignoto,
Nobles guerreros
Con sus aceros
Conquistarán.

          Y todo es júbilo,
Todo alegría
Y bizarría
En la ciudad;
Doquier resuenan
Roncos rumores
De los tambores
Con majestad.

          Mil y mil salvas
Hace a las naves
Con ecos graves
Ronco cañón;
Y a los soldados
El pueblo hispano
Saluda ufano
Con affección.

          ¡Adiós!, les dice,
Hijos amados,
Bravos soldados
Del patrio hogar;
Ceñid de glorias
A nuestra España,
En la campaña
De ignoto mar.

          Mientras se alejan
Al suave aliento
De fresco viento
Con emoción;
Todos bendicen
Con vos piadosa
Tan gloriosa
Heróica acción.

          Saluda el pueblo
Por ves postrera
A la bandera
De Magallán,
Que lleva el rumbo
Al océano
Do ruge insano
El huracán.

5 de diciembre de 1875.

Rizal wrote this poem of praise when he was only 14 years old, as a student of the Ateneo Municipal de Manila (now Ateneo de Manila University). There was not a hint of rancor  or sarcasm at all. This poem is made up of beautiful verses of pure admiration for Magallanes and his fleet as they sailed away “To the gentle breath / Of the fresh wind / With emotion, / All bless / With pious voice / So glorious / Heroic action” (click here to read the complete English translation).

Moved as I was with its stirring imagery, I recorded my declamation of the said poem in its Spanish original…

Now that we have cleared this issue of false attribution, the next question would be: where did the publishers of Cronología Filipina cull that text? Actually, it is true that Rizal wrote that text which Clavecillas had proudly shared in social media. However, Rizal wrote it without Lapu-Lapu in mind — those words were lifted straight out of his second novel, El Filibusterismo. In fact, they were the words of a disenchanted Isagani.

Whoever the publishers were of Cronología Filipina were either as ignorant as Clavecillas is of Rizalian literature, or they really had an agenda in mind: to spread the so-called Leyenda Negra, the weapon of the Hispanophobe. We are inclined to believe in the latter especially if we are to read the heading on the page that was shared by Clavecillas: ¡LOOR AL HÉROE DE MACTÁN! Praise to the Hero of Mactán! And they even used a sketch of Lapu-Lapu to make it appear as if Rizal was really praising him!

Sad to say, Clavecillas is a perfect example of a messed-up Pinoy who could no longer understand Rizal’s nationalistic thoughts and ideals due to his ignorance of the Spanish language which up to now he erroneously associates with elitism. Nevertheless, we have to thank Clavecillas because, wittingly or unwittingly, he was able to produce evidence on how early books were already using Rizal to brainwash Filipinos into hating their Spanish past.

P.S. I use the words “ignorant” and “ignorance” on this blogpost without meaning to offend.
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El Embarque (Himno a la Flota de Magallanes)

EL EMBARQUE
(Himno a la Flota de Magallanes)

–José Rizal–

          En bello día
Cuando radiante
Febo en Levante
Feliz brilló,
En Barrameda
Con gran contento
El movimiento
Doquier reinó.

          Es que en las playas
Las carabelas
Hinchan las velas
Y a partir van;
Y un mundo ignoto,
Nobles guerreros
Con sus aceros
Conquistarán.

          Y todo es júbilo,
Todo alegría
Y bizarría
En la ciudad;
Doquier resuenan
Roncos rumores
De los tambores
Con majestad.

          Mil y mil salvas
Hace a las naves
Con ecos graves
Ronco cañón;
Y a los soldados
El pueblo hispano
Saluda ufano
Con affección.

          ¡Adiós!, les dice,
Hijos amados,
Bravos soldados
Del patrio hogar;
Ceñid de glorias
A nuestra España,
En la campaña
De ignoto mar.

          Mientras se alejan
Al suave aliento
De fresco viento
Con emoción;
Todos bendicen
Con vos piadosa
Tan gloriosa
Heróica acción.

          Saluda el pueblo
Por ves postrera
A la bandera
De Magallán,
Que lleva el rumbo
Al océano
Do ruge insano
El huracán.

5 de diciembre de 1875.

THE EMBARKATION
(Hymn to Magellan’s Fleet)

–José Rizal–

          On fair day
When radiant
Phoebus in the East
Happily shone,
In Barrameda
With great contentment
Movement
Reigned everywhere.

           ‘This because on the shores
The caravels
Swell their sails
And shall depart;
And an unknown world
Noble warriors
With their steel
Shall conquer.

          And all is jubilation,
All happiness
And gallantry
In the city;
Everywhere reverberate
Hoarse sounds
Of the drums
With majesty.

          Thousands and thousands of salvos
Greet vessels
With echoes grave,
Of hoarse cannon,
And to the soldiers
The Spanish people
Render proud salute
With affection.

          Adieu, she tells them,
Beloved sons,
Brave soldiers
Of the native home;
With glories crown
Our Spain,
In the campaign
On sea unknown.

          As they sail away
To the gentle breath
Of the fresh wind
With emotion,
All bless
With pious voice
So glorious
Heroic action.

          The people salute
For the last time,
The flag
Of Magellan,
That is enroute
To the ocean
Where rages insane
The hurricane.

(English translation by Alfredo S. Veloso)

A la Virgen del Pilar

PEPE ALAS

Nuestra Señora del Pilar en el Catedral de Imus, Provincia de Cavite.

A LA VIRGEN DEL PILAR
(Pepe Alas)

Cuantiosas sangres e idiomas:
taco del tiempo.
Numerosas islas, montes:
un reto histórico.

Vinieron Cruz y galeones,
un maremoto
de fe y civilización
que los unieron.

Taco y reto: conquistados
por la corona
no del Monarca sino de
la firme Virgen.

Los rayos que brillan de su
digna corona
son aquellos pueblos que ella
ha ministrado.

Esto es el cuento de nuestra
historia: cómo
nos convertimos en uno
de sus estrellas.

Derechos de reproducción © 2019
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.

¡Feliz Día de la Hispanidad!

 

Mi Último Adiós (recital de poesía)

Unos días antes el Día del Libro 2019 (27 de abril), el Instituto Cervantes de Manila anunció en sus redes sociales que producirá un recital del famoso poema “Mi Último Adiós” de José Rizal. Invitó a filipinos hispanohablantes y estudiantes del idioma a participar. El recital fue grabado el mismo día dentro de la Biblioteca Miguel Hernández del instituto, y fue dirigido por el actor Pepe Gros. Se le dio una estrofa del poema a cada participante que luego recitó frente a la cámara, pero sólo se mostró una línea en el resultado final para dar cabida a más participantes. Krystal aparece en la sexta pantalla, y yo en la novena. El vídeo fue lanzado el miércoles pasado. ¡Feliz viendo!