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Jerry Acuzar and heritage conservation

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For the heritage conservationist, San Nicolás in Manila is a well of opportunities to tap into one’s worth as a cultural worker. It is because this fabled district is filled with decaying centuries-old Filipino houses that are yet to be saved by the government and other concerned sectors. It is but unfortunate that there has been no move yet to salvage these historical treasures from the deathly claws of urbanization and civil apathy. Around three years ago, me and my friends Arnaldo Arnáiz and Will Tolosa visited the place and took pictures of almost all the antique houses. One that stood out from among the rest was the so-called Casa Vizantina.

BEFORE: A picture that I took of a decrepit-looking Casa Vizantina when it was still in the corner of Calles Madrid and Peñarubia, San Nicolás, Manila in 2008.

AFTER: Casa Vizantina restored to its former glory by Jerry Acuzar when we visited it last year in its new home in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataán.

I am very familiar with Casa Vizantina’s façade. Whenever we go to my mom’s home in Tondo, we often pass by San Nicolás, right in front of this house. Throughout my growing-up years of traveling to and from Tondo, I do notice this house’s gradual deterioration. Year after year, the house turns more uninhabitable although several squatter families still live inside it.

It is interesting to note that the popular Casa Manila in nearby Intramuros was modeled after Casa Vizantina. This San Nicolás gem was built in the late 1800s by a certain Don Lorenzo del Rosario. During the First World War, the house was leased out to the Instituto de Manila (former president Manuel Roxas once studied there! today, the school proper is in Sampáloc district and is now known as the University of Manila). When all of Manila was being burned and bombed by the Japanese Imperial Army and the US WASPs, almost all of San Nicolás was miraculously spared. But what the war did not do to this once majestic arrabal the neo-poor did. Casa Vizantina, for instance, was leased out to “various tenants”. Little by little, the house was apparently abandoned by its original owners. Sadly, this once-upon-a-time palace became a castle of various squatter families —a “legacy” of US WASP governance— from the Visayas and elsewhere. Many other old houses in San Nicolás were being toppled down almost every year. And this alarming travesty continues to this day. It is very disheartening to hear that in every regime change, promises of a booming economy are continuously thrown at our faces. But we never hear anything from them about conserving our past treasures such as these San Nicolás houses that could even rival those in Taal, Batangas. The San Nicolás houses have a very big potential to attract tourists especially our Spanish, Latin American, and even Southeast Asian friends (remember that the bahay na bató is a perfect blend of Oriental and Occidental). Since the dawn of the internet, blogging, and Facebook, we have been seeing so many self-appointed heritage advocates clamoring for the conservation of various heritage sites throughout the country. But the government paid attention to other duties. And hardly do we find any philanthropical action dedicated towards the conservation of our past architectural masterpieces.

Enter Jerry Acuzar in the picture.

This self-made millionaire from Quiapò, Manila has been collecting heritage houses (bahay na bató) from all over the Philippines for several years already. As a young boy, he used to pass by Calle Hidalgo on his way to school. In his growing-up years, he witnessed how the beautiful Filipino ancestral homes found in the said street deteriorated. He then wondered why these houses were not being taken cared of by both the owners and the local government. Years later, he took it upon himself to save prominent but abandoned/semi-abandoned antique houses found all over the country. After buying them from their respective owners, Acuzar had these houses dismantled (his critics use the word “demolition”), had them transported to his seaside hacienda in Bagac, Bataán, and from there resurrected to how they originally looked like. Originally, Acuzar planned to make his Bataán property his own private getaway, but changed his mind. He then opened his 400-hectare seaside resort to the general public. The once private hacienda became known as Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Casa Vizantina is one of the houses he was able to save from further humiliation, neglect, and possible destruction. It is now back to its former glory, albeit in a different site.

This herculean effort of Acuzar, however, received both praise and negative criticism from various sectors. Indignation against him reached its crescendo last year when the nation learned that he already bought and started dismantling the ancestral home of the national hero’s mother in Biñán, La Laguna. The dismantling was put to a halt when heritage conservation groups led by Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. María of the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, Inc. (UACCD) pressured the local government. As of this writing, the impasse between the City of Biñán and the UACCD vs Jerry Acuzar and Gerry Alberto has yet to be resolved. Over the past few months, my ambivalent stance towards the actions of Mr. Acuzar remains to be unresolved as well. Me and my wife had the opportunity to visit his estate late last year. Right after that visit, it dawned upon me that if it is possible to dismantle houses from their original locations, is it not possible to return them there as well? Shouldn’t we just consider Acuzar’s estate as a temporary haven for these houses, as a “safe-keeping” enclave where they will be maintained everyday until their local governments and/or original owners will be able to afford to take them back?

Various hispanistas and conservation heritage advocates such as popular travel blogger Ivan Henares and my Círculo Hispano-Filipino contertulios Gemma Cruz de Araneta and Dr. Fernando N. Ziálcita maintained that heritage structures should remain in situ. As Henares put it, “structures should remain where they are, preserved together with the environment they were built in”. But should these houses continue to remain where they are even if their very own environment starts neglecting them? That will no longer be heritage conservation.

Based on my observation (and experience), perhaps 99% of local governments all over our country do not have heritage conservation on the top of their to-do list. About a decade ago, I was working part-time for the now defunct Nueva Era newspaper which Señor Guillermo Gómez edited. It was the last Spanish-language newspaper in the Philippines. Me and Señor Gómez usually went around Metro Manila taking photos of all ancestral houses that our eyes could catch, for we feared that they will not remain standing in the next few years (before I joined the old man, he was already traveling around the country taking photos of various bahay na bató). We would then publish the photos in the said newspaper (those were the days before blogging, Facebook and Twitter ruled the universe). To our quixotic minds, since we are powerless to physically save those houses from being torn down, we were at least able to record historical memories for posterity’s sake. And browsing through past issues of Nueva Era, our fears proved to be true after all. We noticed that year after year, these Filipino houses continue to be demolished to give way to modernity. No worth at all is given for their historical value. Our patrimony was placed further into the darkest background. A bahay na bató was turned into nothing more but a mere bahay na bató that has no more place in modern times. It seemed as if nobody even cared to save these houses anymore.

But Acuzar is doing exactly that — saving Filipino structures from years and decades of neglect by having them transferred to his estate where they will remain taken cared of for good. Of course, the thought that he will earn money from it should be taken out of the question in the meantime. The fact remains that Acuzar will shell out money regularly to have these ancestral houses he had “snatched away” from neglect and ruin to be well-maintained and preserved for ages. Henares will definitely counter this. He wrote in his blog that the best solution is to educate the masses about the importance and worth of heritage structures found within their locality. I agree, or should agree. But is anybody doing this? With all due respect to Mr. Henares, has he or anybody else offered any concrete steps on how to do this? Who exactly should be responsible to educate the masses? And more importantly, who and how will this project be funded? And will this “education” immediately save the Alberto Mansion? Remember: around 20% of that structure was already dismantled last year. Only an official verdict is keeping it from being totally transported from Biñán to Bagac. Also, the owner, Gerry Alberto, needs no education on heritage; he is a highly educated man, and a distant relative of Rizal himself.

Henares also added that Acuzar should just build replicas in his hacienda instead. Still, building a replica of, say, the Alberto Mansion will not exactly save the Alberto House in Biñán. Gerry Alberto gave up on it already due to financial problems of maintaining it. If he hadn’t sold it to Acuzar, then he would have sold it to other people. And if that ever happened, perhaps a more terrible scenario could have occurred to the house itself. But in Acuzar’s hands, at least future generations will still be able to see it. And, as I have mentioned earlier, there is always the possibility of bringing the whole house back to Biñán once the Biñenses are truly ready to take care of it.

Going back to the Alberto House, what matters here now is how it should be conserved. And Acuzar was able to find a more viable solution. Before the Acuzar purchase, almost nobody ever gave a damn as to what this house is all about. But when the purchase and dismantling commenced, out came the “concerned” activists. Out came the “angry voices”. Out came Facebook pages trying to save the Alberto House. I guess what I hate about this hullaballoo is why do we have to wait for an Acuzar to enter the picture before we TRULY act? Now, it’s almost too late.

I would like to stress out that I am not against movements such as the UACCD. It’s just that their protestations came out a little too late. And although I am saddened by the thought that the spot where the Alberto house still stands might become vacant soon, I admit that I have now become somewhat soft against Acuzar’s ancestral-house purchases because to date only he has provided the most viable solution against the destruction of Filipino ancestral homes. Sometimes, unwanted methods had to be used for the sake of heritage conservation. Such are the methods of Acuzar. So let me make this clear once more: what I dislike about this heritage controversy is the apparent tardiness of Filipinos. They usually make noise only when the trouble has started to make serious damages.

I received some flak against members of the UACCD for my rather unfriendly remarks against their protest rally last year. One member even dared me on my sentiment about not writing anything about Biñán anymore. But let bygones be bygones. Right now, what is important is for all people concerned to save Doña Teodora Alonso’s ancestral house in situ. Besides, Dr. Sta. María himself revealed to me that he and his group has finally made some “strategic plan” to save the Alberto ancestral house. I have yet to interview him to know more about this. It is still worth a try. It might save not only the Alberto Mansion but also all ancestral homes in San Nicolás as well as those found all over the country.

But if this proves to be another failure, then let us all leave Jerry Acuzar alone.

Lastly, if P-Noy is really sincere in attaining everything good for our country’s sake, then may he be able to transfer the still existing military slush funds into saving the Alberto Mansión. With political will, he can do that in just a snap of a finger. Turn bad money into good.

Heritage conservation should not rest solely on non-governmental institutions such as the UACCD. It should be one of our government’s top priorities. Conserving our patrimony will help us map out our future because through it, we will be able to catch a glimpse of our future by reflecting on images of our beautiful past. And glimpses of our beautiful past are still within our midst.

Not everything is lost yet. Just look around; you might be able to see a bahay na bató “shimmering” alone on a street corner…

Biography of Nick Joaquín (1917-2004)

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http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/Biography/BiographyJoaquinNic.htm

Nicomedes "Nick" Joaquín

This is the best biography of Nick that I’ve encountered so far…

The 1996 Ramón Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts

BIOGRAPHY of Nick Joaquín
Resil B. Mojares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

Culled from the Ramón Magsaysay Award Foundation website.

King George III and his “peacock”

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A few days ago, Yeyette and I bought a picture book for 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 various topics such as the case of a Kansas tornado that lifted an 88-coach train from the track, or that of the price of Russia’s Diamond Crypto SmartPhone which costs 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). 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, the Brits left two years later.

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, LOL!!!

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

Well, gotta go peacock. It’s getting late peacock.

Have a good peacock! ;-)

Spread the love! Malate love! (Malate, Manila)

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The past Valentine weekend was a busy one, full of fun and love! My wife Yeyette Perey de Alas and I spent most of it in Malate’s scenic bayside area. And like what I promised yesterday, I’ll be writing articles about beautiful Malate in the next few days starting today (ang dami rin casíng fotos, eh)

Malate is one of Manila’s 16 geographical units south of the Río de Pásig. It was once a part of extramuros or outside the walls of the original City of Manila which was Intramuros (within the walls). Since Malate was extramuros, it was known as an arrabal or district.

Malate is most famous for its historic and iconic baroque church, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Our Lady of Remedies). Calle Remedios was named after the church’s patroness. Today, however, Malate is popularly known as Manila’s nightlife capital. Several bars and restaurants catering foreign delicacies line its colorful streets. Through the years, Malate also gained the notoriety for its flesh trade. Several politicians have tried to stop this foul image but to no avail. A young hooker even tried to sell me her “services” — right in front of Malate Church! Me and wifey were so amused and appalled at the same time, LOL!!!

Our Lady of Remedies, by the way, is the patroness of childbirth. The Virgin’s image, brought here from Spain in 1624, stands at the altar inside the sixteenth-century Augustinian church. The church was heavily damaged during World War II but was later restored. Below is a picture of how the church and its surrounding looked like hundreds of years ago:

View of Malate Church in 1831, from Frenchman Cyrille Pierre Théodore Laplace's Voyage autour du Monde par les Mers de l'Inde et de la Chine.

As you can see, the place where Plaza Rajah Sulayman now stands used to be a beach! And the site where the famous Aristocrat restaurant now stands used to have huts and foliage! Roxas Boulevard runs through what used to be Bahía de Manila‘s coastline!

Below are more Malate pictures! It was fun to see the romantic Baywalk as a convergence point of various Filipinos –Manileños in particular– doing nothing but enjoying the company of friends and family members. People from different walks of life mingle with the sea breeze. And me and my wife mingled with all of them: vendors, beggars, hobbyists, etc., greeting them as if we’ve known them for years.

It was a night filled with friendship, for friendship is love as well. We were spreading love the “Malate way!”

Spread the love, Malate love!

My beloved queen Yeyette Perey de Alas. Plaza Rajah Sulayman (Solimán in Spanish) is at the background.

Ped Xing, LOL!!!

The long wait to cross the famous boulevard.

Fast cars racing against Manila's urban twilight.

Finally made it! The romantic Roxas Boulevard Baywalk!

The sun had just set when we crossed the boulevard from the Plaza Rajah Sulayman.

Backpacker!

Pre-Valentine romance!

¡Sorbetes!

Our Sony Cyber-Shot® Digital Camera W220 in twilight mode.

The former King of the Road: the calesa

Yeyette posing with a shy nilagang manî vendor.

Fishing is a common hobby by the bayside. But that night, we found out that there was a fishing tournament going on!

¡Maíz! Lots of it!

Evelio Javier was one of many lesser-known oppositionists who were assassinated during the Marcos regime.

Dried calamares (squids)!

Eavesdropping! LOL!!!

A hammock between the bay and the boulevard.

A young-looking balete tree with my young-looking wife. -)

As mentioned in an earlier photo caption, little did we know that there was a recreational fishing tournament going on! I’m already familiar with recreational fishing going on in the Manila Baywalk area for years, but I didn’t know that there is already an angling organization! It is called the Manila Bay Angler’s Association. And on the eve of Valentine’s Day, they were having their first Open Tournament which also served as a fundraising activity for their group. The even started at exactly 6:30 PM. We had the opportunity to meet almost everyone who joined the activity, as well as the organizer’s of the group/event. Nice fisher folk!

First fish caught in the first ever Manila Bay Angler's Association Open Tournament Fundraising.

Manila Bay Angler's Association (Open Tournament Fundraising, 02/13/2010)

Posing with the friendly organizers and officers of the Manila Bay Angler's Association.

Trophies are in line for the best anglers!

Participants of the event line up most of the esplanade in the Malate area.

We met a very young couple selling roses for Valentine's Day. The young man's 21 and his wife's only 18! And their eldest daughter, almost as old as our daughter, was too shy to join the picture taking!

These two young street urchins kept on following us. I got fed up and so I took their pictures. They happily obliged...

...Wifey even joined them.

My wife's lovely hand over the waters of Manila Bay.

Can't get enough of ourselves, LOL!!!

¡Paá namán!

Ancient Malate Church looming behind us.

Posing with other participants in Manila Bay Angler's Association's first fishing tournament. They were the happiest of the bunch!

They said they're into recreational fishing just to avoid boredom. And it's a fascinating hobby for them. At least, they're not into something vile. So good for them. =)

Malate Love continues tomorrow! May pasoc pa mámayang gabí, eh, LOL!!!

Malate love!

Desecrating the Philippine flag

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The Fourth Estate got too elated over Pacman’s systematic decimation of Miguel Cotto last November 15 that it failed to notice that a law was already being violated.

Many didn’t notice this, but the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a photo last November 17 showing a man unwittingly desecrating the Philippine flag at the expense of his admiration for Manny Pacquiáo(see below):

This action grossly violated the provisions of the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines (Republic Act No. 8491):

Section 34 of the Prohibited Acts;
f. To add any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawings, advertisements or imprints of any nature on the flag;

But what if that guy holding the flag is a Filipino who’s already a US citizen — would he still be exempted from Republic Act 8491? Besides, the crime was done overseas — would it still matter?

Right now, what matters most is that our local leaders, particularly Senators Richard “The Dick” Gordon, “Candid” Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Francis “El Queso” Escudero, have proposed to “legally desecrate” the flag that has been known to us –and to our patriots who first hoisted it– as a symbol of our nationhood for more than a century already. The details of this “legal desecration” can be found in the provisions of Senate Bill 3307 which proposes to amend Republic Act 8491.

The bill seeks to add a ninth ray to our flag’s sun. With tons of national problems continuously disturbing our lives every day, why do our solons want to do such a thing?

In a statement, Gordon, who’s the most vocal on this latest move to make a graffiti out of our country’s beloved symbol, has this to say: “We are a country that has had a conflict with our Muslim brothers for the last so many decades. I think this is a big step toward reuniting our country, recognizing the contributions of our fellow countrymen, the Filipino Muslims. We should recognize their deeds in our country.”

He did not say, however, what those contributions were, if there were any at all. We’re speaking here in the context of Philippine historiography, something that the good senator is trying to imply especially when he mentioned that our country has been in conflict with Mindanáo Muslims for decades.

Well, not exactly decades, but for centuries. Or perhaps since the Fall of the Byzantine Empire. Or perhaps since their “prophet” Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh wrote these hate-filled passages in the Qur’an:

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (S IX 29)

“O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you; and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (S IX 123)

“O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (For friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guided not a people unjust.” (S V 54)

(The People of the Book are the Christians; jizya, on the other hand, is the tribute.)

As you can see, lasting peace between Muslims and non-Muslims is nothing but a pie in the sky.

Here in the Philippines, the government has tried everything it can to break the dividing wall between Muslim Filipinos and non-Muslims, particularly Christians. But it is the Muslims who keep on distancing themselves. And with much bravado. We long for peace, but they take pride in war. Why? Just refer to their Qur’an.

And now they have the nerve to claim Mindanáo for themselves. This should not be a surprise anymore because Filipinos today do not know much about Philippine history…

Renowned US historian John Leddy Phelan’s monumental work, The Hispanization of the Philippines (University of Wisconsin Press, Menasha, WI, 1959), recounts the story of one of the processes of how our nation was built:

In various provinces of the Philippines native chieftains and freeman were assembled during the year 1599 in order to “elect” the Castilian king as their natural lord and sovereign. These election ceremonies were organized upon the urging of a royal cedula from Spain. The Filipinos based their voluntary submission on the contractual promise that the king and his new subjects would render each other certain services.

To reiterate, the Filipino identity is the product of the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. The Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language.

As stated in Phelan’s book, the previously existing native ethnic states went into the Filipino State as co-founding members in 1599. They incorporated themselves with the Filipino State when they elected the Spanish King (Rey Felipe II) as their natural sovereign. This election was verified during a synod-plebiscite held also that year.

From that time on, and after forming part of the 1571 Filipino State, our pre-Hispanic ancestors also accepted Spanish as their official and national language with their respective native languages as auxiliary official languages. Thus, the previously autonomous Ethnic States that existed before 1599 were respectively the ones that belonged to the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Pampangueños, Bicolanos, Visayans, Mindanáo Lumads, etc. including the Moro Sultanates of Joló and Maguindanáo.

Yes, even Mindanáo’s Muslim leaders had a deal with the Spanish monarchy.

Thus, before we go off topic here, adding a ninth ray to the sun will not be a solution that there will be everlasting peace between Christian Filipinos and Muslim Filipinos. This is not to say that we should continue hating the Muslims. No, of course not. It’s useless. Jesus Christ didn’t teach us to hate. But the tenets of Islam teach Muslims to hate: “O ye who believe! Fight the unbelievers who gird you about…

Sadly, their fundamentalism can never be denied.

Now, let us discuss what the symbols of the flag stand for. The white triangle stands for equality and fraternity. The blue field is for peace, truth, and justice. The red field for patriotism, and valor, and bravery. The stars are for Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo. And the eight rays of the sun represent the first eight provinces which declared themselves in a state of rebellion against Spain: Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Écija, Bataán, Laguna, and Batangas (these provinces were then placed under martial law by the Spanish government).

Adding a ninth ray to the sun tarnishes the significance of the meaning of the other eight rays. What province does the ninth ray represent? And what if other groups ask to be represented in the flag as well? Besides, the Moros fought the Spaniards in order not for them to be assimilated to the Philippine government. Is that what you call a fight for freedom? Yes, it is. But they fought only for themselves, not for the whole country.

To put it more bluntly, they fought against the Philippine government during the Spanish times, like what they’re still doing to this very day. And then our politicians want to reward them something that they never did?

In another angle, Emmanuel Libre Osorio postulated in a column of his in Business Mirror (25 June 2009) that “until the ninth ray is added to the Philippine flag, the Philippines cannot be a truly national community. It is that simple and yet its truth has eluded many.” (Business Mirror).

Simple? Unbeknownst to Mr. Osorio, the Philippines has been a national community since 24 June 1571. And that was when Manila was founded and declared as the capital city of the Philippine Islands during the reign of the first Spanish Governor-General, El Adelantado Miguel López de Legazpi.

The Filipino State, therefore, was simultaneously founded with the founding of the City of Manila. Logically speaking, why should there be a capital city, seat of a central government with its laws, without a corresponding state to govern?

We should thus celebrate June 24 each year as the birthdate of our country, and not merely as Araw ng Maynilà.

In the same article, Mr. Osorio also implied that this clamor for a ninth ray has much weight in it because it has been raised numerous times in the past by people of influence and political significance: former Cagayán de Oro City, Misamis Oriental Mayor (and now Senator) Aquilino Pimentel, Jr.; two-time Speaker of the House of Representatives José B. Laurel, Jr., and; Carmen Guerrero-Nakpil, ex-chairperson of the National Historical Institute. But that is beside the point. Mr. Osorio is already using appeal to authority here. Even if, say, José Rizal were alive today and he’d also opt for a ninth ray, that doesn’t necessarily mean that their argument would be correct already. Einstein may have been a genius, but that didn’t make him infallible.

Mr. Osorio then asks: is the addition of the ninth ray a constitutional heresy?

What does the Constitution say?

Article XVI, Section 1 of the Constitution states: “The flag of the Philippines shall be red, white and blue, with a sun and three stars, as consecrated and honored by the people and recognized by law.”

The Constitution is silent on the number of rays.

But that silence doesn’t mean that we should allow creativity –or should I say POLITICAL WHIMSICALITY– to meddle with what Marcela Marino de Agoncillo, together with her daughter Lorenza and Rizal’s niece Delfina Herbosa de Natividad, toiled for in Hong Kong way back in 1897. The constitution is also silent with the color of the sun and even on the shape of the flag. It can be “silent” about so many other things regarding the attributes of our flag; all one needs is an imaginative mind. I’m sure Mr. Osorio doesn’t want to encourage “creativity” such as what that boxing fan did when he hoisted the Philippine flag last Sunday with a “PACQUIAO FOR PRESIDENT” lettering, does he? But if Mr. Osorio is cool with that, then God save the Philippine flag and all other things which symbolize our national identity.

“The revolution, which is a commitment to freedom, is being recognized, symbolized by the rays. In the search for national unity, a common bond is sought and found. The common bond is the commitment to freedom. A commitment to freedom different from staging a revolution may also be symbolized by a ray or rays. It is all very simple.”

No, it is not all very simple. We are speaking of concepts here, beautiful concepts that exist only in the mind, in a distant future, a fevered dream, utopia. The “ninth ray advocates” may have a good intention: peace and harmony in Mindanáo. But no, adding a ninth ray to finally hault the neverending insurrection in the south is not a simple thing to do. Frankly speaking, it’s a waste of time, money, energy, effort, not to mention a crime against history. It is 100% guaranteed that the Muslim insurectos in Mindanáo and elsewhere will never give a monkey’s @$$ whether we add a ninth ray, or perhaps a tenth ray for Sultan Kudarat, or an eleventh for Shariff Kabunsuan, or a twelfth ray for Christmas, etc. The Muslims never asked for a ninth ray. The hungry and jobless Filipino masses do not need a ninth ray for their flag; what the masses are asking for are for food, stable jobs, and a trustworthy government. That is what the people are clamoring — THAT IS WHAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD GIVE. The Mindanáo Muslims (led by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other self-styled Islamic patriots) on the other hand, are asking for the whole island of Mindanáo, or at least the areas covered by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanáo. That is what the government should focus, on how to make them understand that it is not possible because it’s tantamount to destroying Filipino patrimony which Spain bequeathed to us.

This futile effort of adding a ninth ray to the sun’s flag in order to achieve peace can be compared with those peace talks the government conducts with local communists under the leadership of José Mª Sison. Malacañang Palace should realize that the communists will not stop until they have set-up a dictatorship of the proletariat, something that is vague and strange under republican and big-business politicians that we have today.

Sad but true.

The government’s efforts to find a solution to end these hostilities are laudable. But please, not at the expense of our flag. It has been an unwavering symbol of our national identity.

To repeat Arnaldo Arnáiz, LEAVE THE FLAG ALONE.

Lorenzo Guerrero: artist, genius, Filipino.

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Today is the birth anniversary of Lorenzo Guerrero. He’s from Ermita, Manila, belonging to the legendary ilustrado family: los Guerrero.

Guerrero was one of eminent painter Juan Luna’s teachers during the latter’s youth.

Below is a brief biographical sketch of Lorenzo Guerrero written by Héctor K. Villaroel (from the 1965 book EMINENT FILIPINOS which was published by the National Historical Commission, a precursor of today’s National Historical Institute).

LORENZO GUERRERO
(1835-1904)

A great painter and art teacher whose “primitive brush strokes found solidity and vigor in the canvases of Luna and de la Rosa,” Lorenzo Guerrero was born in Ermita, Manila, on November 4, 1835, to León Jorge Guerrero and Clara Leogardo.

He studied Latin at San José College; and painting, briefly, under different Spanish masters, like Cortina and Valdez; and, perhaps for a long period, under Agustín Sáez. At the age of 16 he started giving lessons in drawing. José Rizal described him as a “master who had virtually taught himself.”

In 1858, together with Lorenzo Rocha y Ycaza, he was appointed ayudante de naturales in the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura. Likewise, he gave drawing lessons at Santa Isabel and La Concordia colleges, and worked as a private tutor of the sons and daughters of Manila’s prominent families. Two of his students, Juan Luna and Fabián de la Rosa, won international acclaim.

As a connoisseur of music and literature, he had his house in Ermita turned to a veritable salon where Manila’s intellectuals met and exchanged views. As a gifted painter, whose delicacy of execution and handling of light and shadow was incomparable, he centered his work on two subjects — religious themes and scenes depicting native life and customs. His religious paintings that were housed and greatly treasured in the churches were “Nuestra Señora de Guía,” “Santa Filomena,” “Saint John the Baptist,” and “Santa Verónica de Julianus.” Similarly appreciated were the reproductions of local scenes, like the “Chinese Vendor of Tsin-Tsao,” “River’s Bend,” and “Scene at a Brook,” which were exhibited at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904.

Lorenzo married Clemencia Ramírez in 1868 by whom he had two children.

He died rather suddenly of acute asthma in Ermita on April 8, 1904.

A Gibberish Language Month

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MULA BALER HANGGANG BUONG PILIPINAS

MULA BALER HANGGANG BUONG PILIPINAS

August is the Philippines’ Buwan ng Wika (Language Month, formerly known as the week-long Linggo ng Wika), but which among the more than 170 languages should we really consider as our mother tongue? What is really our wikang pambansâ?

These questions have been wading like a lost fish within the convoluted sea of thoughts of concerned linguists and scholars for almost a century now. But regardless of legal pronouncements and declarations, the matter over our national language hasn’t been officially resolved yet. And with the series of unfortunate events that have been pounding us like ferocious typhoons all these years, it might even be impossible for our generation to witness our country to finally obtain an undisputed national language.

The controversial 1987 Constitution unclearly states that “the national language of the Philippines is Filipino.” However, in a historical sense, the term Filipino pertains not to a language but to a group of Spaniards who were born in the Philippines at the height of Spanish rule (they were introduced to us in our elementary school days as insulares). In a nationalistic sense, and as politically defined, the term Filipino means the native inhabitants of the Republic of the Philippines. Thus, this vague statement that Filipino is the national language is just that — simply vague. And the authors of this confusing constitutional passage chose Tagalog as the basis of our national language. Anyway, from Aparri to Joló, it’s unthinkable nowadays to encounter someone who doesn’t know how to speak or understand it. Mass media, which utilizes Tagalog exclusively, is the main disseminator of the language. Thus, is it safe to assume that the constitution is right after all, that we should all concede to Tagalog as the nation’s lingua franca?

But that’s beside the point of all this.

A la tagale

The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) recently declared that this month’s theme is Mula Baler Hanggang Buong Pilipinas, implying that Tagalog is indeed the national language, with Baler being the birthplace of the Father of the National Language, Manuel L. Quezon (who ironically thought, wrote, and spoke more in Spanish).

But just a few years ago, the KWF celebrated this theme — Ang Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa ay Buwan ng mga Wika sa Pilipinas — the language month is the month of all Philippine languages. With this theme, it seems that the Komisyon is putting more confusion into the minds of Filipinos, especially the studentry. Are they now telling us that all Philippine languages are considered and accepted as the national language in lieu of Tagalog? If they were just speaking metaphorically, then the simple, impoverished, and half-starved Pinoy pitifully missed their point. Fortunately, the Filipino studentry do not seem to care about the Komisyon’s confusing theme; they’re more concerned over Lady Gaga, The Pussycat Dolls, Korean soaps, personalized shirts, fruit-flavored condoms, and the like.

But at the rate this language crisis is going, I think I’d rather have the Filipino youth’s eyes be ensconced in Scarlett Johansson’s cleavage and Hugh Jackman’s six-pack.

Pinoy tower of babel

The Philippines is an archipelagic Babylon, a maelström of tongues. This issue over our country’s national language has been an ageless controversy that has not been given much limelight in national issues and public fora. Anyway, the Philippines has so much laundry to do, so why should it bother with a “harmless” little critter in the form of a pesky language turmoil?

For one: language is a national and social phenomenon. It’s more important than one’s daily Kapamilya or Kapuso schedule.

A long time ago, a mighty language from the West (ever since the advent of our neocolonized patrimony, Spanish has been maligned and taught to us by a neocolonial education as nothing but a foreign atrocity) united the more than a hundred tongues (and united the more than a thousand islands, as well as hundreds of tribal kingdoms) in the Philippines which resulted in the country’s short-lived independence in 1898 (sorrowfully, since the American invasion, we were never able to look back to that glorious and legendary self-governance with impartiality and kindness). But this 1898 event served as the impetus for a very few well-intentioned politicians of the Commonwealth of the Philippines to continuously disturb the US colonizers for our country’s complete freedom (which up to now seems to be futile).

During the Commonwealth wherein Manuel L. Quezon was then president, the creation of a national language was naturally inevitable. On 31 December 1937, Tagalog was chosen as the country’s national language (this became the basis as to why the current constitution still uses Tagalog for our national language), eventually earning Quezon the title Ama ng Wikang Pambansa (Father of the National Language).

This is when the controversy actually began. And it worsened when, in 1959, Tagalog was renamed Pilipino. But it reverted back to Tagalog under the 1973 Constitution.

It’s not only the terminology that’s in question here but the orthography of the language as well. It is well known that Tagalog, including all the rest of the native languages, used an ancient alphabet (from a vague Arab influence) called alíbata (some say that it should be called baybayin). Propagandistas and literate indios used this alphabet, as well.

During the US occupation, the Americans were able to murder, bit by bit, almost all traces of our Spanish heritage. One of the victims was the abecedario, already part and parcel of the Filipino soul for more than three decades. The change of alphabet took ominous form when, in 1937, the Commonwealth created the National Language Institute which made a study and survey on which national language should be used. Tagalog won amidst the chagrin of other natives who spoke other languages. But US desecration of our country’s language never stopped there.

The Santos Debacle

On 18 June 1938, the Commonwealth’s National Assembly created the Institute of National Language (not to be confused with the National Language Institute). This new language body was tasked to prepare a dictionary and grammar. Thus was born the erroneous, faulty, and clumsy Balarila ng Wikang Pambansa authored by none other than the great Filipino lexicon and writer, Lope K. Santos. He was the J.R.R. Tolkien of his time in terms of inventing words. But Santos’ work was of no great help in the development of a national language. It only made things worse. It virtually murdered the Filipino alphabet, killing many Filipino words in the process.

And I suspect that he knew that.

Santos was a journalist who was entangled in the celebrated libel case of the newspaper he was working with during the early 1900s. On 30 October 1908, his newspaper El Renacimiento (The Rebirth) published an editorial entitled Aves de Rapiña (Birds of Prey). It was a “blind item” meant for then Secretary of the Interior Dean C. Worcester, but the American diplomat immediately felt that he was the one being alluded to by the attacks mentioned in the editorial, e.g., that he was economically exploiting certain parts of the Philippines (particularly Benguet and Mindanáo). He filed a lawsuit against the newspaper’s owner and men, which included Santos. The trial lasted for several years. Worcester won the case.

During the course of the trial, it wasn’t impossible that Santos may have been under duress from a Worcester payback…

The composition of the Balarila must have began during those years. Most probably, during the younger years of the 1900s, the US government in the Philippines, under the auspices of Worcester, have been plotting all along on how to destroy the foundation of our language: the abecedario. It should be noted that even during the final years of Spanish rule, Worcester was already in the Philippines. So I won’t be surprised if, in a future historical discovery, he was acting as a spy for the US. Therefore, plotting out the destruction of our language must have begun several years before the Commonwealth.

Now, many scholars say that the decision to choose Tagalog over other languages in the country is that the said language is the language of the nation’s capital, Manila. Furthermore, alongside Spanish, it was the language of the 1896 Revolution and the violent Katipunan. And again, the center of action during the Revolution was in Tagalog Manila. Another reason is that Tagalog has a vast treasure trove of literary works. Tagalog has published more books compared to other native languages. But for all we know, another factor could be president Quezon’s Tagalog origin.

But if we are to look closely into this matter, then one would find out that something fishy is going on.

It’s not easy to convince the Filipinos to accept Tagalog as the national language since we have several languages to consider. So the plotters have found a very reliable weapon in the persona of National Hero José Rizal.

A Dubious Poem

Pepe Rizal was already a legend, an icon even before the Commonwealth. And what better way to convince the Filipinos to accept Tagalog as the mother tongue by using a poem that was allegedly authored by him: the dubious Sa Aking Mga Kabata (To My Fellow Youth).

Take into account this passage from the said poem (with an English translation).

Ang hindi magmahal sa kanyang salita
Mahigit sa hayop at malansang isda,
Kaya ang marapat pagyamaning kusa
Na tulad sa inang tunay na nagpala.

One who doesn’t love his native tongue,
Is worse than putrid fish and beast;
And like a truly precious thing
It therefore deserves to be cherished.

Nobody at that time would had ever wanted to go against the ghost of Rizal. Unlike now (what with iconoclast historians such as Ambeth Ocampo and Pío Andrade, Jr. challenging already established historical knowledge), he was almost considered a god. Everything he said in his writings can transform doubtful things into golden truth. So, why not follow his advice? Since he “postulated” that you’re but a stinkin’ blowfish if you don’t love your language, which is the language he “used” in writing Sa Aking Mga Kabata, why not believe in “his wisdom”?

But this is all hogwash. Our “educators” are very proud to say that Pepe Rizal wrote this poem at a very young age of eight.

I say, they’re high on crack.

JOSÉ RIZAL NEVER WROTE SA AKING MGA KABATA! It’s a brazen lie! Even popular historian Ambeth Ocampo himself doesn’t believe that this was written by Rizal.

To prove my point, let us again take a closer look, this time by examining two curious lines from this doubtful verse:

THE Tagalog language’s akin to Latin,
To English, Spanish, angelical tongue

The Tagalog original goes this way:

Ang wikang Tagalog tulad din sa Latin
Sa Ingles, Kastila at salitang anghel

No Meralco, no problemo.

No Meralco, no problemo.

Boys and girls, if you still remember your school days, this poem was allegedly written by Rizal when he was only eight years old. However, at that age, he wasn’t studying Latin yet (his Latin lessons began in 1872 at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila; he was then 11) Although it is known that his Spanish is superb compared to his Tagalog, he wasn’t that confident with the Castilian language during his younger years (remember the “un poco, señor” incident he had with maestro Justiniano Cruz during his early studies in Biñán, Laguna?) since he was just a freakin’ kid. And most of all, English was almost unknown in the country (or at least in Calambâ where he grew up) at that time. When he was eight years old, Rizal never knew the difference between the English language from the Spanish word puta. He never engaged in Tagalog literature. He did attempt to write a novel in Tagalog during his later years (Makamisa), but he wasn’t even able to finish it due to his poor mastery of the language. When Rizal wrote personal letters to his family members and friends, he wrote mostly in Spanish, not Tagalog. His diary was written in the language of Miguel de Cervantes. And most of all, AN EIGHT YEAR OLD DOESN’T HAVE THE INTELLECTUAL CAPACITY YET TO MAKE A CRITICAL ANALYSIS ON COMPARING VARIOUS LANGUAGES.

In addition, the Rizal home was a Spanish-speaking home. The Rizal kids are today’s equivalent of English-speaking Filipino children. During young Pepe Rizal’s naughty fits, he was scolded not in Tagalog but in Spanish.

Yes, he may have been a prodigy. But please, let us not treat Rizal as though he’s some omniscient heavenly deity that was sent back to earth as punishment for whatever shit he did up there.

So there you have it, a brief overview of the lies tucked in neatly by those who handle the language situation in the Philippines. They have masterfully erected Tagalog as the national language. Afterwards, the butchering began. We no longer have the correct and polite and respectable Tagalog. We now have an abomination of the language, a freak of linguistics called Taglish (or Engalog). And according to some friends of mine who speak other native Filipino languages, theirs too are slowly being eaten up by this unholy mixture of English, which is an unphonetic language, to that of their native languages. All Filipino languages are phonetic. Mix these two up (phonetic+unphonetic), then what do you get?

I won’t bother answer that. Let some cheap starlet dish out her language on national TV then you’ll get the picture. In the meantime, the US is basking in economic security since they have captured a permanent market in the Philippines due to the fact that almost all Pinoys have embraced English, whether or not they could understand it wholly.

So from Baler to other Philippine dominions, the wikang pambansâ is Taglish.

Filipinas, when will you ever wake up?

*****

NOTE: I originally published the foregoing blogpost here (that was three years ago today!). I just did some minor editing to help this blogpost keep up with the times. And today’s Manuel L. Quezon’s natal day, as well.

Happy language month!… is such a greeting even necessary?

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