I take my beret off to Ambassador Delia Domingo Albert, former foreign affairs secretary, and perhaps our finest diplomat ever. I’ve known Ambassador Albert since the early 1960s, when she was a fledgling foreign service officer. The Department of Foreign Affairs was then on Padre Faura and she used to visit my bookshop with her colleagues. I followed her career through the years.
Delia Albert has contributed so much to building not only cultural but also economic relationships with our ASEAN neighbors and with every country where she has served. She is fluent in eight languages, including her native Ilokano. Once I had as houseguests Mr. & Mrs. Akira Kanda, owners of an art gallery in Tokyo. Delia had come to our house for dinner and when she left, the Kandas said they were awed by her very refined Japanese.
Last month, Ambassador Albert went to Tokyo, where Prime Minister Abe presented her with one of the highest recognitions conferred by the Japanese Emperor, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star. Last week, the Japanese ambassador, Koji Haneda, gave a reception in her honor. This is excerpted from her response.
My Japan Story
Two years ago some of us gathered here to witness the conferment of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star on Washington Sycip, an icon in the Philippine business community. It was Mr. SyCip, who, a day after my retirement from four decades of diplomatic service, invited me to join SGV, the company he founded 72 years ago, and gave me a clear and specific mandate to “continue serving the country."
My own Japan story began at the University of the Philippines where a noted Japan specialist, Professor Josefa Saniel, impressed me with her keen knowledge and appreciation of Japan that I aspired to see for myself what I had learned about the fascinating country.
The prize opportunity came in 1962, when I participated in an international students seminar at Tsuda College in Tokyo, followed by a workcamp in Awajishima, where, together with Japanese and foreign students, I worked on a road that would link the small fishing village of Nigoro to other places on the island.
It was my first experience not only in physically building a road with a pick and shovel but also in building friendships with people from different nationalities and cultures, and especially with the people of Nigoro. After the workcamp, I was invited to teach at a pioneer school for girls, the Tokyo Friends Girls School, run by the international Quaker community.
Soon after my return to the country, I was invited to introduce then Secretary of Foreign Affairs Narciso Ramos at the annual "Soiree Diplomatique" of the University of the Philippines Foreign Service Corps. Because his CV was too short, I introduced him in three languages -- English, French, and Japanese. This prompted the Secretary to engage me on the spot as his social and appointments secretary because, as he said, I could say "no" in different languages.
Soon I was arranging the negotiations on the Host Agreement between the Philippines and the Asian Development Bank, which had just been founded. I was also tasked to arrange the calls and meetings of the Secretary with his counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and later with Singapore as they prepared to meet for a historical game of golf in Bangsaen, Thailand, and later draw up the Bangkok Declaration, which established ASEAN.
When economic diplomacy became the focus of our foreign policy, we pursued the negotiations for the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement, otherwise known as JPEPA, which provided the framework for increased bilateral economic relations.
At this point I would like to recognize a dear friend, a partner in economic diplomacy and a recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun Gold and Silver Star, Lilia de Lima, who, as the trusted and respected Director General of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority or PEZA, successfully convinced Japanese companies to invest as well as increase their presence in the Philippines.
After thirty-six years in the Foreign Service I became the first woman career diplomat to serve as Secretary of Foreign Affairs in Asia, I felt a natural responsibility to promote women participation not only in diplomacy but especially in the economy. In support of Prime Minister Abe's policy of "womenomics," I led a group of Filipino women entrepreneurs to meet with their Japanese counterparts at the ASEAN-Japan Centre during the 26th Global Summit of Women held in Tokyo in 2016. At that Summit the keynote speakers, Vice President Leonor Robredo and Prime Minister Abe, enjoined women in Asia to take more active and responsible roles in various aspects of society.
Last July, Ambassador and Madame Haneda visited my hometown, Baguio. They met with the new set of city officials and the descendants of the Japanese settlers who worked in the construction of the famous Kennon Road from 1903 to 1909. At the Baguio market, Madame Haneda was pleasantly surprised to see familiar fruits and vegetables introduced by the Japanese communities who settled mainly in Trinidad Valley, which became known as the “salad bowl” of the Philippines.
For me, personally, road-building, whether in the island of Awajishima or the Kennon road, represents a very special connection between the Philippines and Japan. Not only did they connect places, they also connected people.
May I now take this wonderful opportunity to thank you, Ambassador Haneda, for your kind and generous hospitality and, through you, the people and government of Japan, for conferring on me on May 23, 2019, the Order of the Rising Sun Gold, and Silver Star, which I received from the hands of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, followed by a most heartwarming and memorable audience with His Majesty Emperor Naruhito.
Saigoni kansha wo komete kokoroyori onrei moushi agemasu.
(Finally, please accept my heartfelt gratitude).
First published in The Philippine Star, October 7, 2019
International PEN is a global organization of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists. This week, around 200 members from some 120 PEN Centers will convene in Manila for the annual PEN Congress to discuss the future of minority languages and the condition of writers and literature today.
In focusing on minority languages, the conference emphasizes their importance and their plight. In our own country, several languages, among them Zambal, Pangasinan, and Kapampangan, will probably die in the next century. It is important that a record of the literature in these languages is made, a study, too, of their cultural attributes.
This year’s Congress is hosted by the Philippine Center, which I organized in 1957. It came about this way. In New Haven, Connecticut, in 1955, I met Malcolm Cowley, the poet and editor of Viking, a major publisher. He saw my novel, Tree, and wanted it published in the Spring of 1956. Why I did not let him is another story. He asked if there was an organization of writers in Manila. When I said there wasn’t and since I was going home via Europe, he told me to stop in London and see David Carver, who was then PEN’s International Secretary.
I met Mr. Carver in London and upon arriving in Manila, I set up the Philippine Center immediately. The following year, the Philippine Center held the first National PEN Conference in Baguio. Alfredo T. Morales was the first PEN Chairman, Virginia Moreno was the Treasurer, and I was the National Secretary. President Carlos Garcia opened the conference, and Senator Claro M. Recto delivered the first Jose Rizal lecture, which has become the main feature of PEN annual conferences.
OUR FOREMOST WRITERS, including Leon Ma. Guerrero, Teodoro Locsin, and Nick Joaquin, have delivered that lecture. At one time, the famous Spanish writer, Salvador de Madariaga (I met him in Berlin in 1960) delivered the lecture, too, and he said, a country need not be colonized by a foreign power, it can be colonized by its own leaders. Chief Justice Hilario Davide from Cebu has also delivered the lecture. This year’s Jose Rizal lecture will be delivered by the historian, Resil Mojares, also from Cebu and the newest National Artist for Literature.
The economic insecurity of Filipino writers persists; no one can live on their writing. Still many young writers persist; and they are our fond hope for the future of our literature, particularly if they recognize their roots, and belong to a community much larger than themselves.
The first years of the Philippine PEN were really difficult. Hardly any Philippine writer at the time could afford to pay the annual dues. Every so often, I had to pay the dues for some members to keep the status of our Center. The Philippine Center also hosted two Asian writers conferences and published an Asian PEN anthology that included the foremost writers of the region.
Our darkest days came when President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972. Some of our members were imprisoned, and several publications, including my journal Solidarity, and radio stations were closed. I myself was harassed and prevented from traveling for four years.
At the time, when we felt so helpless and in despair, International PEN did not forget us, The international secretary, David Carver, the English writer, Kathleen Nott, and PEN President Mario Vargas Llosa came to Manila to ask Marcos to release the imprisoned writers. It was during this time, when we were so despondent, that I realized how important PEN is as a beacon not only to preserve freedom but also to assist writers in prison.
THE MARTIAL LAW REGIME was, in a sense, the moment of truth for so many of us. It illustrated clearly where so many of our writers stood. It was indeed a time when courage, as well as integrity, were clearly defined. Some writers who were with Marcos oppressed their fellow writers and even made fortunes for themselves shouting hosanna for Marcos and his wife. Marcos was, of course, very deliberate. He censored movies and newspapers, but not the stage and he allowed literature, knowing as he did that Filipinos do not read novels or appreciate poetry.
PEN gave a reception for Norman Mailer when he visited during the Marcos years. He declared how much he appreciated the writers who opposed dictators, particularly the Russians because if he were in the Soviet Union, he would have conformed. He liked his comforts, he said.
PEN Chairman, the writer Salvador P. Lopez who was also President of the State University declared it is better to be silenced than be silent. He was fired from his job.
Writers are solitary workers, sometimes, so immersed in themselves and their work that they seem detached from society itself and from all its tensions. They often cannot appreciate the group, the community, and the nation that nourishes them. They forget that, as writers, they are the staunch and traditional keepers of memory, without which no nation can exist.
Writers often thrive best in the most difficult times. There is that old saying, bad times create good literature. But who are those who really desire the worst of times except masochists?
But then, perhaps, there is a bit of masochism in us, for which reason there is even a nostalgia now for the dictatorship of Marcos. If writers are the staunchest keepers of memory, then we have not succeeded in making our country remember.
In citing all these, I hope that not just our writers in the region but all writers elsewhere are bonded together to comfort and assist one another in times of stress and distress. But most of all, to uphold freedom not just for us writers but for all.
First published in The Philippine Star, September 30, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/09/30/1956067/why-pen
I have always considered teaching as the second noblest vocation, motherhood being the first. It can also be the most satisfying and the most trying. I know -- I was once a teacher too.
In 1965, when I returned to Manila from Sri Lanka where I had worked for a couple of years, I met with Prof. Antonio Isidro for dinner. He was then dean of the University of the East’s Graduate School of Education, and later became President of the State University in Marawi.
Our conversation drifted to the problems of culture change. Having by then travelled extensively in the Philippines and Asia, I recounted some of my observations, starting with what I had seen in the country – why Ifugaos were leaving their domain, how geography and environment influence a particular way of life, even the arts. It was then that Dean Isidro told me to teach at his college. I told him I did not even finish college. He said all I had to do was to tell the students what I had told him.
Since then, I have taught a course on culture change at the University of Santo Tomas, La Salle, the University of California at Berkeley, and lectured on the subject in many schools and elsewhere. I made a syllabus that clearly defined the objective of the course — to know ourselves and our country. I brought back to mind the teachers who influenced me the most -- first, my own mother; remember always that the home is the first school in life, and in grade school, Miss Soledad , who urged me to read, and in college, my writer professor, Paz Latorena, and the Spanish Dominican Juan Labrador, who impressed upon me the importance of clarity in thinking and writing.
As a writer, I have always tried to be observant and also curious. Way back in the 1950s, I was travelling all over the country, getting to know our geography, history, and ethnicity. I did a lot of walking in the Cordilleras, appreciated how hard our mountain people worked, and wondered how the Ifugaos could maintain those terraces. I knew even then that many of them would leave.
I SAW HOW INFERTILE LAND made the Ilocanos and the Cebuanos so industrious. And how the two great religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, shaped the cultures of Asia, and how Catholicism kept us from developing classical cultures similar to those of our Asian neighbors. I realized also how religion shapes not just social structures but economic structures as well, the great divides in thinking and the unities evoked by nationalism. But above all these divisions, that the universal aspiration for dignity and justice is in every one.
I had no training in pedagogy and one time, a professor friend from Diliman monitored my class for a week and said I was using the Socratic method. I read Socrates in college, of course, but I had not realized he had a method. My friend said, you are always asking questions.
As a journalist and creative writer, asking questions is almost instinctive—questions that require definitive answers, questions that elicit more questions. With my syllabus, my lectures were structured like short stories, with beginnings and plots that lead to conclusions and more questions. I always I tried to infuse my lectures with tension to keep the students awake, to incite their curiosity, to make them think and resolve the questions themselves.
I remembered my mother’s advice about patience and industry. I read Gilbert Highet’s The Art of Teaching, how he urged teachers to repeat and repeat, how knowledge becomes a mantra almost. I often interrupted my lectures as I stumbled across fresh insights, and got my students into arguments among themselves whenever I could.
I spoke with my class about the similarities in traditions across cultures. In Sri Lanka, for instance, the playwright Ediriweera Sarachandra revived and modernized Sinhalese drama – what Filipino dramatists themselves could do with our folk moro-moro or comedia. High up in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, I saw girls perform a harvest dance that was an exact copy of the Manobo harvest dance and the dugso of Bukidnon — the girls forming a semi-circle around a bonfire, chanting and stomping their feet, strings of small bells wrapped around their ankles.
THE IMAGINATION IS INFINITE but knowledge is not. How can I ever explain those Tamil villagers, including children, dancing barefoot across a plot of red-hot stones. I also explained why we Filipinos have so little memory; if we had, the Marcoses would not be back in power.
In teaching, I found out how much knowledge I had collected through the years and from my many travels. But at the same time, I also was aware how little I knew, and teaching, which I really enjoyed was also, for me, a continuing learning process.
But I had to give up teaching, which had given me so much joy. Teaching required so much discipline and interfered with my own personal schedules, my writing, and particularly the travels that I also enjoyed. After a few years, I left La Salle. But it was also in this university where I was truly fulfilled.
Once, at the start of a trimester, as I was going over the class cards of my new students, I recognized two who were in my last class. I really never failed any of my students. I told myself that even if they were not all that bright, it was very unlikely they would kill a person, unlike if they were medical students. I asked the two students why they were repeating – and paying for -- a course they had already taken. They told me happily that they had learned so much in my course, and they were back to learn more.
First published in The Philippine Star, September 23, 2019: https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/09/23/1954017/joy-teaching