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Intramuros Administration responds to “graffiti art”

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I am reposting here the reply of Atty. Marco Antonio Luisito V. Sardillo III, Intramuros Administration administrator, to my Facebook complaint concerning the existence of a graffit mural art within the historic Hispanic walls of Intramuros which people like me find out of place (and my response to it is right below):

Mr. Alas, allow me to begin my “explanation” by setting out the factual context within which I hope my “explanation” is received. First, I assumed office in August 5, 2013. The graffiti wall that you are referring to was a project that took place long before I assumed office. (In fact, if you google, you will see that this has been written about before, eg: http://www.rappler.com/…/arts…/35516-legal-graffiti-wall) Second, I believe that some/most of the explanation that you are seeking has already been supplied by Carlos, when you posted a link to your article in the Heritage Conservation Society FB page. As I mentioned, I was not around at the time, and so, this project was not something that I could have “disallowed.”

I do not have the expertise and neither am I qualified to engage in a debate on whether graffiti constitutes art; thus, anything I say about graffitis would be but a mere comment and not an “informed” opinion. As such, I am not inclined to pass judgment or chime in, as my thoughts will not add value to that “debate” (that you alluded to).

That being said, I do believe that, as we chart the path towards the “orderly restoration and development of Intramuros,” we should be able to accommodate a more inclusive appreciation of what it means to be “Filipino” — and in that process, expand and enrich our notion of it. Indeed, Intramuros, by law, should be a monument to the Hispanic period of Philippine history. I should emphasize that it is a monument “to” and not a monument “of.” What this means is that Intramuros’ “orderly restoration and development” should not be a mere snapshot or recreation based on photographs — or what others have referred to as a “disneyfication.” Intramuros, too, is about what the Filipinos have made of it, and what it has become as a result of that enriching process. This ongoing process should be able to tolerate a difference in opinion, even as we are continuing to understand and unpack the meaning and value of “Intramuros.” (Case in point: I have been in conversations with “experts” where the only apparent consensus is that they can’t come to an agreement about what we really mean about the “past.”) [N.B. Under existing laws, it is Fort Santiago that has been declared as "hallowed" ground, and not all of Intramuros. Even then, there is no specifically mandated or required form of respect or reverence. After all, respect or reverence is, essentially, an internal movement.]

As a final note, and here my personal thoughts would indicate my general inclination towards that graffiti project. Do I personally find it disrespectful of Intramuros? Personally, I don’t. The fact that that project exists on the fence of a vacant lot indicates to me that its context is not premised on permanence. As a “public policy” issue, I also recognize that (1) there is a tension between “graffiti” as art and its street cred and (2) I appreciate that having a “graffiti wall”–particularly, on a temporarily designated fence–provides a venue for expression, and a disincentive for vandalism (that could occur elsewhere). That fence can just as easily be torn down–or the graffiti be painted over or whitewashed. In the greater scheme of things, within the context of the fence of a vacant lot, personally, I can tolerate (and, on some level, even appreciate) the effort made towards transforming bare concrete–and inciting thought and debate.

If the Intramuros Administration allows the proliferation of graffiti and other similar “art” within the Walled City, then our dear Old Manila would be relegated to the status of just another EDSA and the like.

Thank you so much for taking time to reply, sir, and for stating your honest-to-goodness stand regarding this matter. I do not desire to prolong this especially since our friend Carlos regards it as a “non-issue” (if a famous celebrity activist declares it as such, then poor anonymous me cannot do anything much about it). Besides, I have already made and proven my point that graffiti, no matter how cool it looks or how much you glorify it, is not Filipino art. No art appreciation nor rocket science needed to discern it.

Anyway, I would like to clarify a few things. One of them is your remark that Intramuros is a monument “to” and not a monument “of” our country’s Hispanic past, and that the Intramuros today “should not be a mere snapshot or recreation based on (old) photographs”. But sir, I wasn’t even thinking of old photographs when I first saw that graffit on Twitter. I simply deemed it correct that it shouldn’t be there. You know, I may agree with you to some extent that we can no longer bring back the Intramuros of old (if that is what you mean by “mere snapshot”). With huge buildings such as those of the Manila Bulletin, Bank of the Philippine Islands, and The Bayleaf Intramuros (gasp!) towering over the original edifices, squatter settlements such as the one fronting the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (irony of ironies), as well as several fastfoods and other commercial establishments firmly scattered throughout the Walled City, there is this huge impossibility of ever bringing back the original Manila of our nostalgia. But my point is simply this: what little we can do to conserve what Intramuros is all about —a monument OF our country’s Hispanic past, as you said— then that is what we must do.

That graffiti art simply does not fit the above statement.

And that is why, even though it is painted on private property, I am still against it. And speaking of private property, we should even avoid using that argument. So with all due respect, dear sir, I discourage you from even saying it. Remember that it is always used as an excuse by people without any regard to heritage for them to tear down or sell their privately owned ancestral houses (case in point: the fabled Alberto Mansion in Biñán, La Laguna).

Now, just like the debate on whether graffiti constitutes art or not, there is, too, an ongoing debate on what really is a Filipino (again, not who but what) which was aggravated more when renowned historian Teorodo Agoncillo, in his book History of the Filipino People, stated that “it is difficult, if not impossible, to define what a Filipino is“, confusing many students in the process. That is why today, we have different versions of our national identity: some claim that it dates far back before the Spanish advent; some say that it is based on our Hispanic past; some say that it is an amalgam of both our Hispanic heritage and US pop culture; still others say that our identity was fully formed only after 1872 or 1898 (or even 1986). The reason why I share this to you is that, in view of the ongoing identity crisis, it is highly unlikely that we can “expand and enrich” our notion of it.

To be honest —and you will certainly find this biased— I belong to that minority who believes that our national identity was formed from our Hispanic past, the very same era which created that walled enclave that you have sworn to protect as per the IA’s mandate.

And with all due respect to your personal opinions, they really do not matter here. What matters is what the IA’s national mandate to Intramuros is, and not what its officials personally think of what should or should not constitute the Walled City. Personally, I also find graffiti art cool. But as I have already mentioned, it is simply out of place. Un-Filipino. We don’t need to use it as a “disincentive for vandalism”. What we need is stringent measures to prevent it.

Be that as it may, I would still like to thank you for your humbleness to respond to a “non-issue” (unlike current NCCA chairman Felipe M. de León, Jr. who simply walked away with his tail between his legs, completely ignoring my grievance). I am sure that you and I have genuine concern for Intramuros. The only problem is that both of us do not possess the same eye on how to approach it. I see Intramuros as our country’s “heart and soul” (the state of Intramuros is a reflection of our country). I bet you see it differently.

He dicho.

Finding Nick Joaquín through podcasting

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Podcasting‘s not my thing. But if it’s about Nick Joaquín, then I’m in.

A tête-à-tête between FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES and WITH ONE’S PAST last August 31st about Nick Joaquín’s significance to Filipino History. We usually spend hours talking about history and related topics. But the difference this time around is that we had it recorded.

At least twice a month, or whenever we could, Arnaldo and I will podcast many of our informal “cuentuhan tuncól sa casaysayan” for our niche audience. For our first outing, we thought of discussing about our favorite historian, 1976 National Artist for Literature, Nicomedes “Nick” Joaquín y Márquez, and his significance to Filipino History.

But why do a podcast?

Arnaldo has been an avid listener to podcasts and is familiar with people who are known for it (like Joe Rogan, for instance). He was the one who broached the idea to me. However, it is more precise to say that it was his wife Mhaan who spurred him to pursue it. You see, Arnaldo has been lecturing weird stuff to his wife; I’ve been doing the same thing to my family, too. That weird stuff I’m referring to, of course, is Filipino History (I refuse to call it Philippine; more on that in a future blogpost… podcast). Weird, because I’m sure that many of our friends and family members find us peculiar whenever we talk about the past — national heroes, the return of the Spanish language in our country, vintage photographs, ancestral houses, old names of streets, etc. To many people, such topics are confined only in history books (or perhaps restricted only for aging scholars whose backs have become crooked due to years of study). Anyway, this podcasting project about Filipino History was technically —and perhaps inadvertently— an idea of Arnaldo’s wife. According to Arnaldo, Mhaan chided him once that instead of giving out unsolicited “lectures” to her, most of which remain unrecorded or unblogged, why not put them all in a podcast? She may not have been serious when she said that, but it was a light-bulb moment for With One’s Cookbook.

And why not? We both think it’s a wonderful idea because it’s going to capture a lot of stuff that we couldn’t write much about. And our ideas just might reach another online audience that prefers to listen than to read. Admittedly, though, I still have my reservations because I’m not that much of a talker. When it comes to discussing history and related subjects with like-minded people, I prefer to listen, ask questions, then write. Arnaldo, Señor Gómez, and JMG know about this (I am talkative about the subject only to my wife and kids, hehe!). I’m a slow thinker, too. My mind tends to process thoughts quite longer before I am able to speak them out, and in a cluttered manner at that. Furthermore, my spoken voice is hoarse, raspy, unpalatable to the ear (a usual problem for good looking men :D ). And according to Eugenio Ynión, Jr., the ever respectable multibillionaire CEO of Yngen General Holdings, I sound like a faggot (yes, he’s the same saintly gentlemen who threatened to kill me last summer).

But the most important thing about this podcasting activity of ours (which could probably be the very first podcast in the country to focus on Filipino History) is that we are able to record many important facts that we fail to jot down in our respective blogs, and then broadcast it later on. You see, we cannot submit 100% of our time to what we are doing online. The two of us are not well-heeled scribblers of the past; we need to survive, too. As such, mundane tasks take away much of our energy to think and to write, and that is a major factor (or should I say a big blow) as to why we irregularly update our blogs. Especially in my case. I’ve been living like a vampire for almost a decade and have five kids to raise with my wife. So it’s not an easy lifestyle for a struggling pundit like me.

Whenever Arnaldo drops by at our place, or whenever we meet up with Señor Gómez (and very rarely with JMG), hours seem like minutes as we discuss the day away with many aspects of all things Filipino, and how this affects our national identity. We never tire talking to one another. It’s just disappointing that, after a wonderful and intellectually productive day spent with these dear scholarly friends, I couldn’t seem to have the energy to write the important things that we have talked about. And so the ideas start piling up, becoming a burden to the mind as it becomes difficult on which topic should be written first. I’m pretty sure Arnaldo feels the same way. So yes, podcasting our off-the-cuff discussions should do the trick.

As mentioned earlier, our podcast will consist of our usual informal discussions. Parang nagcucuentuhan lang talagá camí. So please don’t expect it to sound like a radio talk show. It isn’t. For this first episode of ours, however, I did notice that we sounded a bit stiff because we were conscious that we’re recording our chat. We’ll try to do better the next time around.

So, without further ado, here’s to Nick. :-)

Incidentally, it’s going to be Nick’s 97th birthday this coming Monday, September 15th.

Stay tuned for upcoming episodes. For episode 2, we will feature another Filipinista, well-known travel blogger Glenn Martínez of Traveler On Foot. In fact, we have already interviewed him last Sunday. We will also be “guesting” more interesting people to make our podcasts more lively, more interesting, and to expand more knowledge about what we are really advocating about — not Filipino History per se but the recovery of our true Filipino National Identity.

And yeah, pardon me for my faggot-like voice on the podcast (Kapitan Jun Ynión‘s words, not mine). I’ll take some salabát next time. I might even sing a song or two.

Pilipinas vs Filipinas (in defense of the KWF)

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Hi folks!

It’s been four years since the last time you heard of our unified voice. It was a huge hit because our collective take on the state of Filipino History disturbed and ruffled a few feathers, proving our effectiveness in annoying people, hehehe! It even alarmed a former cabinet member of a former president (no kidding), prompting her to send a cautionary email. So we thought of “volting in” once again, this time to defend National Artist Virgilio Almario’s stand on what should really be the name of our country.

Should it be FILIPINAS or PILIPINAS/PHILIPPINES?

Almario is currently the chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Filipino Language), the official regulating body of the national language which is based on Tagalog. I have attacked this institution on numerous occasions in various online forums and even wrote a scathing commentary about it on this very blog due to its apparent cluelessness on what should really be our country’s national tongue. But me and my friends think that it’s high time to defend it, not on the national language issue (incidentally, the country is now celebrating Buwan ng Wika or Language Month) but on the controversial decision of its chief executive to restore the original name of our country which is FILIPINAS.

For over a year, a huge majority of local netizens have continuously bashed Almario and the KWF over their decision to push for the return of our country’s original name. I have read several blogs, websites, online news, and social media commentaries heavily criticizing and even making fun of the issue. And judging by these people’s comments, I notice that most of them are even unaware of the real reason why the KWF has been insisting on the name Filipinas. Hilariously, many of these bashers even find the name Filipinas “too gay” compared to Pilipinas (obviously, these kids didn’t even bother to read the whole story but instead relied on headlines and images). And I have yet to find a blog/website that supports KWF’s patriotic decision to stand firm on what is historically correct. But I am saddened to realize that there are really only a handful of Filipino netizens who are sensible towards our country’s history.

If you have time, please read what we have to say about this controversial issue in our respective blogs:

1) Juan Luis García in VIAJAR EN FILIPINAS.
2) José Miguel García in PATRIA.
3) Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera in FILHISPÁNICO.
4) Arnaldo Arnáiz in WITH ONE’S PAST.
5) And me in ALAS FILIPINAS.

We do not wish to wage war against those who are “anti-Filipinas“. All we ask is for you to listen. Read carefully what we have to say before you even decide on letting prejudice consume you.

Remember what your idol José Rizal wrote during his final moments on Spaceship Earth…

Mi patria idolatrada, dolor de mis dolores,
Querida Filipinas, oye el postrer adiós.
Ahí te dejo todo, mis padres, mis amores.
Voy donde no hay esclavos, verdugos ni opresores,
Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios.

Have a nice day!

Congratulations to La Familia Viajera for “Junífera Clarita”!

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And here she is!

 

Junífera Clarita Alas y Perey

Junífera Clarita Alas y Perey is the great great granddaughter of Don Paulo Évora (Calapán, Mindoro) and Doña Rafaela Bonilla (Unisan, Tayabas). She was born earlier this afternoon, on the feast day of Saint Clare of Assisi, and at the hospital bearing the name of the said saint. Providence? =) (photo by Jessica Alas)

 

Click here for more info about her!

The story behind the assassination of Fernando Manuel Bustamante

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Earlier today, 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 has garnered several shares already, 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 stored 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.

Me, Juanito, and Krystal at the foot of the massive EL ASESINATO DEL GOBERNADOR BUSTAMANTE Y SU HIJO, an oil on canvas completed in 1853 by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo y Padilla, at the National Museum (photo taken on 10/30/2012 by my wife).

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.

Del Superior Govierno: our country’s first newspaper

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Today marks the 213th anniversary of Del Superior Govierno, our country’s first newspaper. Making its debut on 8 August 1811, or 218 years after printing was introduced here by the Spanish friars, it was intended for local Spaniards to satisfy their need for the latest develpments in Spain and the rest of Europe.

 

 

Del Govierno Superior was edited by Mariano Fernández del Folgueras, a two-time governor-general of Filipinas (he’s the same man who gave English traders permission to establish the first commercial houses here). The newspaper came out during a time when Spain was in tumult — the mother country was then ruled by a French monarch, Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte, the elder brother of the more famous Napoléon Bonaparte. The French invasion of Spain, however, had little to no impact at all in our insular affairs. Nevertheless, the happenings in the peninsula explains as to why throughout Del Govierno Superior‘s brief stint (it came out with only 15 issues over a six month period), much of its content was about the events surrounding the costly Napoleonic Wars.

In addition, Del Govierno Superior was also our country’s  first newspaper to show in its layout the name, date, and place of its publication. And despite its brief existence, it paved the way for more newspapers, albeit belatedly, to appear in later years such as La Esperanza (1846), La Estrella (1847), Diario de Manila (1848), and a host of others. All the newspapers that followed soon expanded to a much wider readership, not just to the Spaniards. There were also “specialty newspapers” which catered to a specific audience (for instance, the Revista Mercantil de Filipinas was a weekly newspaper founded in 1892 and was dedicated solely to financial, agricultural, and commercial interests).

I just wonder why this newspaper was not included in Wenceslao Retana’s El Periodismo Filipino (1811-1894). In the said book, Retana made a list of all known newspapers in Filipinas throughout Spain’s rule. But instead of Del Govierno Superior, he cited La Estrella as our country’s first real daily.

Of course there’s no need to mention that our first dailies were all written in the sonorous language of Miguel de Cervantes and José Rizal. And that’s the odd thing about it. We are commemorating today the inception of our country’s first ever newspaper, a newspaper that was written in the Spanish language, in a milieu dominated by English-language newspapers and Taglish tabloids.

*F*I*L*I*P*I*N*O*e*S*C*R*I*B*B*L*E*S*

As an aside, it is sad to note that there are no more Spanish-language newspapers in our country. The last such newspaper was the weekly Nueva Era which ceased publication in 2008. I am proud to say that I was a part of that newspaper, having worked there as assistant to its editor-in-chief on a part-time basis (nothing big; I just swept floors and made coffee). Aside from Nueva Era, the now defunct Manila Chronicle used to have a Spanish section on its Sunday edition called Crónica de Manila (edited by former Instituto Cervantes de Manila Director José Rodríguez y Rodríguez and the late statesman Raúl Manglapus). But it didn’t last long; eventually, the newspaper itself folded up sometime during the last decade.

Critics will be quick to say that, of course, there are no more Spanish-speaking communities for such newspapers to cater to. However, keen observers will immediately point out that, bit by bit, the language of our forefathers is making a comeback, thanks in part to BPOs that pay above par salaries to those who are fluent in the language.  It should also be remembered that a couple of years ago (3 July 2006), the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines created Resolution No. 2006-028 which urged the national government to support and promote the teaching of the Spanish language in all public and private universities and colleges throughout the country. Then a year later (17 December 2007), the Department of Education issued Memorandum No. 490, s. 2007 which encouraged secondary schools to offer basic and advanced Spanish subjecs in the 3rd and 4th year levels respectively, as an elective.

And then there’s social media (and my other blog, hehe). Speaking of which, the Internet may already be sounding the death knell for print journalism in our country and elsewhere, regardless of language usage, especially since all major dailies today have their own websites. Even known columnists have their own blogs. Some are also predicting that the impending death of print journalism will happen in the next couple of years. But that’s another story altogether.

Of statesmen and politicians

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We are suffering from a drought of statesmen and a flood of politicians. It’s like a diet full of calories with almost no nutrition. Statesmen are like vegetables. Many people don’t like them, but they’re good for you. Politicians are like too much ice cream. Yummy. I’ll worry about the stomach ache later.
—Mike North—

Several scandals and controversies in national politics have withered away public trust and confidence on our so-called public servants. From the Rolex 12 controversy of the 1970s up to the recent Pork Barrel Scam, the image of the present-day Filipino politician has been mired down. And so stuck in the rut is this image that it has become easy not to distinguish anymore the difference between a political imbroglio and the latest celebrity sex scandal. Social media stewards are always on the lookout not only for the latest confession from some pregnant starlet but also for an interesting below-the-belt altercation between two senators.

It has come to a point that we no longer differentiate an erring celebrity from a grandstanding politician. Both have become entertainers, and they do succeed in entertaining us. It’s that bad. Yet we don’t find this repulsive anymore because such news puts a smirk on our faces. It’s that worse.

Public servants, most especially our supposedly esteemed senators, are now regarded as smartly dressed comedians grandstanding behind podiums. Gone are the days when the august halls of the Senate were just that — august, venerable. filled with grandeur and eloquence. They deliver speeches (most of which were in Spanish) in a manner as if they were the treasured epic poetry of a generation. From the peanut gallery of the Senate, debates (most of which, again, were in Spanish) were highly anticipated by an audience who were eager to listen not only to the sense of the arguments but also to the artistic eloquence of the debaters. Each and every senator displayed the highest respect for each other and for their individual selves. Although some of them do not agree on each other regarding various national issues, they do not in any way regarded each other as enemies even if their respective political parties were warring against each other.

Simply put, they were not just politicians. Even “public servant” is too hackneyed a term to apply to them. These gentlemen of the old school were statesmen. And of the highest order.

Many are in agreement that a statesman is usually a politician, a diplomat, or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career at the national or international level. But there is a vast difference between a politician and a statesman. Various people, from movie stars to boxers to obscure money launderers, can be elected into public office, turning into bona fide government officials in the process. But not all politicians can be statesmen. While being a politician can be learned through experience, people management, and even cunning*, being a statesman is something that is more of a responsibility. Of course, being an elected official entails having responsibilities to his constituents, but as often is the case nowadays, a politician is tied to the goals and objectives of his party while a statesman is tied to the state, whether half the state dislikes him or not.

But what does it take to be a statesman? Brilliance and clarity of mind, a cultured environment, lofty ideals for the state. And most importantly: CHARACTER. And while both politician and statesman can claim to have a genuine concern for the people, only the latter can rouse his people into action against social apathy by injecting into them the same fiery passion, the same patriotism, that he has in his noble heart. Statesmen are not just sagacious thinkers but also masters of the oratory. It can be argued that being a masterful public speaker is an imperative element of a statesman because projecting elegance is also a political necessity. And it really was during the days when our country was not bereft of “philosopher kings”.

Yes, our history is replete with statesmen. Names of legendary luminaries such as Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tañada, Cipriano Primicias, Manuel Briones, Eulogio A. Rodríguez, Sr., Mariano Jesús Cuenco, Lorenzo Sumúlong (an uncle of former President Cory Aquino), Enrique Magalona (a fierce defender of the Spanish language; grandfather of FrancisM), Rogelio de la Rosa, Quintín Paredes, José P. Laurel, Gil Púyat, Francisco Rodrigo, and a host of others still continue to echo grandiose trumpets celebrating the grandeur and glory of Filipinas from a not so distant past. And even when they iniquitably stumble down from time to time, as is the wont of all human beings, the prestige that was built by their statesmanship easily displaces any discomposure, like a torrential rain washing a soiled window pane. And no matter what political principles and beliefs they brandish, whether it was popular or not, the public never dared deride them. They were like ancient priests that commanded both fear and respect (but with the latter, of course, superseding the former). Indeed, theirs was an epoch filled with conviction, with respect, with honor.

Great statesmen of a bygone era. Senators Cipriano Primicias vs Quintín Paredes debating in Spanish (circa 1951). Photo taken from the book “Senator Cipriano Primicias: Great Statesman, Most Outstanding Parliamentarian”.

We can liken statesmanship to a “Super Soldier Serum“. But instead of soldiers, it will produce the compleat politician. Politicians are elected. They are made, not born. But statesmen are not just born nor made but bred. A rare species they are nowadays because we no longer breed such people. But statesmanship is part and parcel of the Filipino politician’s identity. Have we completely forgotten how our forefathers at a very young age were trained into statesmanship? Filipino nationalist and statesman Salvador Araneta offers us a glimpse of how young Filipino children were prepared to be silver-tongued orators:

During one of my birthdays as a very young child, my parents organized a banquet where we were treated as grown-ups. A formal dining table for sixteen was set up for my cousin José Tuason and his cousins Tony Prieto and Ben Legarda, for our neighbors and friends, the Paternos, the Valdeses and Roceses, for my eldest brother José and me. After the banquet, a few of us gave prepared speeches, with one acting as the toastmaster. As honoree and celebrant, I stood up to make the final speech on that occasion.

Today, a children’s party for the Filipino child is entrusted to fastfood party hosts and clowns.

And what kind of government leaders do we have now? Instead of passing and upholding laws, they bicker at each other, they walk out if they cannot take the heat anymore, some dance while others prefer to sing. Some even curse on national television. Worse, even neophyte government officials already have the gall to issue death threats! Todays privilege speeches were meant to either accuse colleagues or defend one’s self from them. And in worse case scenarios, such speeches are filled with unparliamentary language.

Alas, the clownish comportment of today’s politician has killed statesmanship and parliamentarianism. And not only that, it has left a rift among themselves. In the aftermath of the aborted impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada, Francisco “Kit” Tátad (an unappreciated statesman if I may add) ruefully observed in his book “A Nation On Fire”:

Meantime, the tradition of civility that had previously characterized all relationships in the Senate now disappeared. At the lounge where majority and minority used to sit together, even after the sharpest clashes on the floor, senators now sat in two opposing camps, separated by an invisible wall that may not be breached by camaraderie or fellowship. On the eighty- first anniversary of the Senate, only 12 of the 24 members joined Mrs. Arroyo and a few former senators at the Senate President’s dinner. And the few who were there ate dinner together without breaking the ice between and the few who were there ate dinner together without breaking the ice between and among seatmates.

The decline of civility among senators is matched only by their increasing lack of regard for the Senate as an institution. Seniority rule, which is honored in every parliament, has been jettisoned without a hearing, and neophytes, who have yet to learn the ropes, have been given senior posts. Against all rules of parliamentary decorum, senators now smoke freely during committee hearings, and consume their victuals inside the hall during plenary sessions. Those with floor duties also tend to their handheld phones more than they listen to the deliberations and often lose track of what is happening on the floor.

Arguably, the last such statesman that we had was former Vice President Salvador “Doy” Laurel. During the relaunching of his biography last year, journalist Teddyboy Locsín, Jr. aptly said that when his uncle Doy passed away, “that old world of honor passed away with him”.

You may regard me as a hopeless romantic, because despite my frustrations on modern Filipino society, I still believe that we can bring back that old world.

*F*I*L*I*P*I*N*O*e*S*C*R*I*B*B*L*E*S*

*What I meant here is the skill to wield political reality to one’s advantage. Once this skill has been utilized effectively, then political power will fall into one’s hands easily. The only question now is if the person who gains political power is worthy of such power. Such are the risks of electing a government official.

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