I first heard of Carlos Chan from Ramon Sy, a self-made man and the Cavite banker who breathed new life into the moribund Coco Bank. Ramon and I talked about our country’s problems, the great wealth amassed by our ethnic Chinese, and the social responsibility of the rich. Carlos Chan, Ramon said, is the rara avis I have been looking for. For sure, all business owners are lured by profit; Carlos Chan, the chairman of Filipino multinational Liwayway Group, is not an exception. But among our ethnic Chinese, he is one who he is deeply concerned about our people trapped in the vagaries of a turbulent world.
Before President Gloria Arroyo appointed Carlos Chan special envoy to China, a position which President Aquino and President Duterte also conferred on Chan, the man was already acting out the job, introducing visiting Filipinos to China and to the fundamentals of dealing with the Chinese bureaucracy, and how they should comport themselves in that culture. He has had a lot of experience in this for he started his enterprise in China early enough in the 1990s to corner a large share of the snack food market there.
THIS SOFT-SPOKEN, LOW-PROFILE BUSINESSMAN was born in Tanay, Rizal, but grew up in Paco, Manila. His parents were from Fujian, and were the original distributors of Liwayway Gawgaw, that memorable brand of starch popular among two generations of Filipino housewives. The family is still in the gawgaw business, more out of sentimental reasons for the manufacture and distribution of Oishi snacks is now Liwayway’s flagship enterprise.
Oishi is an ascending brand beyond Southeast Asia and China. Carlos Chan’s employees are in the thousands, many of them Filipino managers. He has more than a dozen factories in China, plus those in the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, and South Africa, all of which -- with the exception of India -- fly the Philippine flag.
In 2014, China positioned an oil rig in Vietnamese waters. The Vietnamese responded with a flotilla of ships and, amid anti-China protests, demonstrators set fire to several factories believed to be Chinese-run, affecting Singaporean and Taiwanese plants as well. The Oishi factory was spared.
With his enterprises in countries of varying cultures and food habits, how does Chan flourish and maintain industrial peace? He says we Filipinos know how to adapt. As for sound labor relations, he said we Filipinos are traditional practitioners of "pakikisama."
Influenced by our colonial past, many of our wealthiest build shopping malls, condos, casinos and resorts. Sure, they employ thousands, but these members of the oligarchy are mere landlords, waiting for the rent, their share of the harvest. As Ramon Sy correctly observed, they are not producers. Neither are they builders of a modern and dynamic economy, which Carlos Chan is. Liwayway is in Cavite, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, and Tarlac, with another factory under construction in Iloilo.
He is concerned with food security, with agriculture, which is ignored. He is helping to develop our agriculture potential, the production of cassava -- a lot of which he currently has to import for his products — and the production of affordable coffee. Most important, in a country afflicted with malnutrition, there is a focused effort to make Oishi products nutritious.
Why Oishi? It is a Japanese term which means delicious. Way back in the 1980s, on a visit to Japan, he saw a machine producing snacks. He brought one to the Philippines and started the snack food business.
Chinese civilization is a continuum. Long before the Spaniards came to the Philippines, the Chinese already traded with us. It accepted tributes from neighboring states. From the Philippines, the Sultan of Sulu went to China with such a tribute. He died in China. The tomb of this Filipino ruler (there was no Philippine nation then) was restored by Carlos Chan to commemorate that ancient connection.
THE CHINESE TAKE THE LONG VIEW of their own history. We must also learn to take the long view of our history, and of our relations with China and with other countries in the region. We must deal with China as a neighbor. This means being patient with China, appreciating its pre-eminence as the middle kingdom, and kowtowing to it as the occasion demands. At the same time, we must show how resolute we are in defending our sovereignty; we were the first Asian nation to oppose western imperialism with arms. We should be prepared to do the same to a country that encroaches on our sovereignty and demeans us.
If loyalty to this country is quantified, Carlos Chan thinks the second-generation Chinese-Filipinos are 80 percent Filipino. He says the third and succeeding generations are Filipinos; they grew up here, their friends are here, they know no other country.
He also says that the Confucian tradition, which was dented during Mao's cultural revolution, is reviving at a pace in keeping with China's economic ascendancy, and that the Confucian ethos, which emphasizes hierarchy and harmony, will eventually guide China.
While so many look at China as a bully, they should also look at that vast nation for opportunities, a market for our products, a source of new technologies.
The philanthropies of Carlos Chan are low-key like the man himself, but very extensive. In the Philippines, they are in education, culture, and humanitarian assistance. Imus in Cavite is the home of Oishi's main Philippine factory. He founded a school in the town and provided homes for his employees so that they do not have to commute. I visited the factory; it is a model of efficiency and cleanliness. The town of Imus has adopted Carlos Chan as a son. I think that this acclaim is perhaps the most meaningful among the many awards of this quiet yet significant Filipino entrepreneur.
First published in the The Philippine Star, February 23, 2019
Nick Lizaso, President of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, told me that the Cultural Center sent the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra to Iloilo as part of its program to bring music and art to the regions and rural areas. More than 10,000 people attended the concert. The orchestra also went to Bacolod, and concerts are being planned for Dagupan and Isabela as well. Such concert tours are expensive but they have to be held so our rural folk will experience listening to a full symphony orchestra and be introduced to the finer aspects of music and to the world-class talent of our classical music artists.
The same effort was made by the violinist Gilopez Kabayao, who in the 1960s onwards gave violin concerts at town fiestas and in cockpits.
Several plays staged at the Cultural Center will also be on tour. They will enrich our stage tradition and may even inspire new approaches to our defunct comedia and zarzuela. This cultural outreach will make the folk aware of the vast difference between folk and classical culture.
The two great religions of Asia -- Buddhism and Hinduism -- did not really reach us. These two religions were responsible for the development of Asian classical art.
When the Spaniards brought Christianity to the Philippines, they inevitably also brought the Western cultural tradition, super-imposing it on our folk culture. Today, almost every town has a small brass band whose repertoire is very Western. How do we Filipinize this Western patina on our art?
From our folk songs, our composers can draw so many themes. With imagination, we can even embellish and revive. A Swedish journalist told me about how ABBA, popular the world over, adapted Swedish folk music in their songs.
Our folk dramas, even the old poetry, balagtasan, can replace the absurd television shows we have today. The same goes for the craft in metal work, in which the Tausug and Maranaw used to excel. The Kris that the Tausug forged, the betelnut containers of the Maranaw, these are exquisite examples of classical art that has died. However, much of the weaving by the Maranaw and the Sulu people has already transcended the limits of folk art. In these, we see the finest artistry as evolved from folk craft.
If I can help it, I do not want to see another folk dance. It is standard fare in convocations and in Filipino celebrations abroad. What I am most anxious to see are the modern dance creations extracted from the movements of our folk dances and choreographed by original artists like the late Leonor Orosa-Goquingco and Agnes Locsin, dances that are executed by professional dancers who have trained in both classical and modern dance, and whose skills push the limits of the human body.
Our folk craft and the cultures of the regions cannot be preserved as is, frozen in time. Culture is not static. It is continually an evolving process wherein the people themselves change as do their environment, their tools.
Take, for instance, the traditional Ifugao houses -- they are disappearing. The Ifugao who have achieved improvement in their lives now build houses to conform with modern needs. As for the old Ifugao houses, some should be preserved, for sure, as specimens of the past. Even the famous rice terraces face the problem of dissolution and decay; first, they do not produce enough rice for the region, and second, they require hard manual labor to maintain.
It is not only wrong but terribly unjust to have our ethnics continue with their traditional forms of livelihood and lifestyle. They should be given all the opportunities available to all other Filipinos to achieve the good life, to be adept in the use of new tools and gadgets that make for more comfortable living. And most important, they should be provided with justice.
Art is elitist. Art is not created by the lower classes although an artist may come from their ranks and the art that is created in itself may glorify the masa. The artist is a special creature, with God-given creativity and imagination. This gift, however, has to be polished, nourished, maintained, and even protected from the onslaught of barbarians who do not understand the importance of artists and art, literature most of all, the noblest of the arts.
Dictators want artists on their side; those who oppose them are neutralized and killed because art thrives on freedom, truth -- both anathema to dictators.
Yes, art is elitist and artists are a country's real aristocrats, although of course, artists and writers can be corrupt, vain, and traitorous. Without their art, they are ordinary, and should be judged not on the basis of their work alone but also on how they live. Mediocrity should never be glorified
Although they are excellent, many artists, particularly writers, live poorly. Their excellence should be recognized and rewarded.
The government institutions directly involved with cultural development are the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Museum, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Those officials with direct involvement in cultural development must not only be professionals but also equipped with critical faculties to determine what is art and what is not.
All too often, they are very decisive in the granting of awards and honors. So we have today National Artists who are undeserving. And at the National Museum are mediocre paintings. Officials responsible for these dismal choices should be replaced by more competent critics. Otherwise, injustice will continue to be committed against our greater artists.
First published in The Philippine Star, February 16, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/02/16/1894027/folk-and-art
It is the most profound of human emotions. It can be as short-lived as a flash, or it can grow from a spark into a flame that burns forever. It is the truest subject for the arts, for literature. It is a desire to possess, to hold close to one's heart, to live with, a sweet and tender ache that brings tears to the eyes, this love for another, for the truth as Socrates did, for gold, for success. It is reaching out for the unknown in the vastness of space and deep within the secret folds of the mind. This is love, and on the other side is another consuming passion, hate.
Almost all human endeavors have a logic of their own. It is when we understand this that we are able to explain why people and institutions fail or succeed, or why things happen as they do.
What is the logic of imperialism? Exploitation. And capitalism? Profit. What is the logic of government? Service. What is the logic of diplomacy? To advance a nation’s self-interest without resorting to war. What is the logic of nationalism?
Love, too, has its own unswerving logic.
Poets and writers from antiquity to this very day have celebrated love and its prism of emotions. I have written about it, too, in my novels and short stories. I am very fond of "Puppy Love" and “Tong.” “Puppy Love” is about two very young people discovering love, how they maintained this love through the years. But in the end, their fidelity could only live as palpable memory. “Tong,” on the other hand is about a love that tried to bridge two cultures and how culture triumphed.
My favorite love story, however, is “Waywaya,” which is also an allegory. Waywaya in my native Ilokano means freedom. This is a very important translation because in literature, there are almost always symbols behind the story, particularly if it is also an allegory.
I wrote “Waywaya” during the martial law years when the word freedom had much more resonance than today. Actually, it is an adaptation of a Papua New Guinea story, as told to me by Georgina Beier, a painter and the wife of Ulli Beier, a German anthropologist who founded the Institute of PNG Studies in Port Moresby.
It is the story of two warring tribes separated by a river. Dayaw, a boy from the Taga Daya tribe, crosses the river and kidnaps Waywaya, who is from the Taga Laud tribe. He brings her to the Daya region as a slave and eventually they fall in love. Waywaya dies giving birth to their son. Dayaw defies his father, follows tradition, and returns Waywaya’s body to her father. As the chief walks him to the edge of the village, Dayaw knows “as sure as sunset, he would not reach the river.”
In my longer works, love acquires a wider, deeper resonance.
If love of country is the logic of nationalism, what is the logic of love?
Mass concludes the five-novel Rosales saga. It is set in 1972. The young Pepe Samson questions his professor, who is recruiting him into the student movement. “What can I get in return? You cannot ask the poor for sacrifices. We are already poor. What can we give? How do you measure the patriotism of the poor?”
Three generations earlier, in my novel, Po-on, which is set in 1872, Pepe's great-grandfather, Eustaquio Samson, asks the same question. To which the fictional Apolinario Mabini answered:
"If there is no country as such or as you know and recognize, then in your mind you must give it its boundaries. Do this because without this country you are nothing. This land where you stand, from which you draw sustenance, is the Mother you deny. It’s to her where your thoughts will go even if you refuse to think so, for this is where you were born, where your loved ones live, and where in all probability you will all die. We will love her, protect her, all of us – Bisaya, Tagalog, Ilokano, so many islands, so many tribes – because if we act as one, we will be strong and so will she be. I am not asking that you love Filipinas. I am asking you to do what is right, to do what is duty…”
And like the great-grandson who becomes a revolutionary, Eustaquio Samson leaves Rosales for Tirad to defend that pass against the invading Americans.
In its profoundest sense, love is no longer a story but a personification. It is no longer a personal feeling, but a living being, the very life of an individual, an expression defined by that very life itself -- and how it is used, and how it ends.
Rizal expresses this love in his “Mi Ultimo Adios,” the poem he wrote before his execution on December 30, 1896:
My motherland beloved whose burden of grief I share
My Filipinas for you this last farewell
Rizal epitomizes love of country first by his writing; he knew that with his first novel critical of the Spaniards, he had sealed his fate. He could have saved his life by living abroad, but he elected to come back to die in his native land.
And, finally, the greatest love of all, as retold in the greatest book of all time, the Bible. When Jesus, whose core teaching is love, arrives in Jerusalem for the first time, he is greeted with hosannas and the waving of palms. Eventually, however, he is reviled, betrayed, and crucified. On the cross, Jesus the man suffers in agony and dies. Today, in the Catholic holy mass, the priest intones what Jesus said at the last supper: “This is my body, which will be given up for you. This is my blood. It will be shed for you.”
For us, for mankind, that we may be saved, for God is love.
The logic of love is sacrifice.
First published in The Philippine Star, February 9, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/02/09/1892096/logic-love
I grew up Ilokano and Ilokano food is very austere – everything is simply boiled, broiled, or eaten raw. So dining away from the Spartan Ilokano cuisine and my peasant boyhood had always been an adventure.
I was about ten when I first read stories about the dungeons of medieval Europe. The prisoners slept on straw mats and were fed only bread and water. What a good life, I thought. It was only on Sundays that my mother would bring home pan de sal from the market.
My first formal dinner was at the Carbungco restaurant near Santo Tomas University. I was a new assistant literary editor of the Varsitarian, the college paper, and the staff was invited to a formal dinner by then Secretary General of UST, Father Francisco Munoz. I was a stranger to all the finery, the food, and the different kinds of knives, forks, and spoons. The wine glasses were always filled. Then, after dinner, what looked to me like an almost empty glass of wine was placed in front of me. I gulped it down. My eyes and throat burned. That was my first brandy.
I had the good fortune to dine at the White House when I first went to the United States in 1955 as a State Department fellow, and I never miss the chance to brag about it. General Dwight Eisenhower was the President then. I enjoyed my simple American fare very much. My host was an Ilokano cook, who had been a U.S. Navy sailor, and we ate in the kitchen.
I read somewhere that the great Swedish writer, Isak Dinesen, ate nothing but oysters and champagne. My daughter, Jette, and I had an unforgettable feast of oysters in Paris in 1971.
We spotted an ordinary-looking restaurant with a sign outside announcing oysters. We ordered one dozen, and then another dozen. When the bill came, I was shocked. I paid and we walked away, but the Ilokano in me made me go back to ask why the bill was so high. Each oyster was one U.S. dollar, equivalent to seven U.S. dollars today.
Jette and I had another memorable meal in a Dublin restaurant, where we had our first Chateaubriand. But it is not the steak that I remember. It was the young Irish waiter. Perhaps it was his first time to see a pretty brown girl. He could not take his eyes off her, and I yelled at him. The service napkin hanging on his arm had caught fire from the lighted candle on our table.
Speaking of steaks, the best steak I’ve ever had was at Gallagher’s in New York. I went back after a decade, and it was not as good as I remembered it. My host asked me how it was. I said the steak had character.
Also in New York, my Random House editor, Sam Vaughan, took me to the Four Seasons. It was my first time to see steak tartar on the menu, and sure that I wouldn’t get food poisoning in that fancy restaurant, I ordered it. The raw steak was topped with a raw egg.
I think though that the Ilokano kilawin – diced goat skin -- tastes better.
I visited Moscow for the first time in 1967 for the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. I stayed at the National Hotel, the most famous hotel in Russia, where Lenin stayed during the October Revolution. My room had no lock or key; a middle-aged woman sat at the end of the corridor, watching the guests.
It was at the National Hotel that I had what is perhaps the most delicious breakfast of my life – freshly baked Russian black bread, all the fresh butter and caviar I could slap on it, and a cup of aromatic Russian tea.
I have always been partial to soba. My best soba lunch was in this restaurant in Kanda, where the waiters announced each dish with flourish. Kanda is an area in Tokyo where all the bookshops are. My hosts were the anthropologist couple, Louie and Kyoko Kikuchi, who studied the Mangyans and the Cordillera people.
The best Japanese meal my wife and I have ever had was at the residence of the Japanese ambassador. Never before have I had chawanmushi so delicate or beef so flavorful and tender.
My favorite Japanese restaurant in Manila is Tanabe. My Japanese journalist friends call it the best in Manila. The staff know that I will want cold soba or chirashi with only half the usual amount of rice, just the way my wife wants me to have it.
I have other favorites in Manila. The best siopao is at Emerald, in front of the U.S. Embassy on Roxas Boulevard. The best chicken barbecue is at the Aristocrat, also on Roxas Boulevard. The Hainan chicken and laksa at Tao Yuan in Malate are the best in Manila. Chowking serves the best halo-halo, and the best tropical fruits are at Robinsons Supermarket in Ermita. The ensaymada at Za’s on Bacobo remains incomparable until today.
Gilbert Teodoro, whose Ilokano is far better than mine, and I were once talking about typical Ilocano peasant food that is now extinct. He reminded me of ar-aro, a small fresh water fish. It was usually found in waterlogged rice fields, and is either broiled or boiled.
I have looked all over the public markets of Northern Luzon for birabid. It is a shellfish with a very thin, almost translucent shell. It is usually found in the rice fields and small ponds during the planting season. Before cooking it, the mucus the shell excretes has to be thoroughly rinsed off. If not, you can get slightly dizzy from eating birabid.
A regular on our dining table at home is papait. It is a weed which grows at the beginning of the rainy season. It is bitter and you have to grow up eating it to like it. The small leaves are blanched with hot water, flavored with bagoong, and served with diced tomatoes and onions.
Way back when I was a boy, I was in the fallow fields gathering weeds for my pig. I came across papait, and immediately uprooted the whole plant. My mother admonished me. I should always leave some for the next hungry person, she said. This was one of my earliest lessons on compassion.
First published in The Philippine Star, February 2, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/02/02/1890073/ilokanos-notes-fancy-dining
Photo Credit: Anak Ti Luna