Of my five fountain pens, my favorite is the one from Chitang Nakpil, which she gifted to me after I wrote a review of her three-volume autobiography. Butch Dalisay, the real pen collector, identified it as the Parker anniversary edition.
My Parker fountain pen writes very smoothly, and I like to think it’s the same smoothness and sharp finesse with which Chitang wrote.
When she passed away on July 30th, the Philippines lost one of our very best writers. She deserved to be a National Artist. I've known Chitang early enough. I met her sometime in 1947 when she was a staff member of the now defunct Saturday Evening News magazine that was edited by NVM Gonzales. I was still starting out then. I was awed by her regal presence, her beauty, and most of all her felicitous writing. There was a time, however, when I knew she didn’t like me. The feeling was mutual.
Here was a brilliant writer, and committed to the ideals of freedom. But she disappointed me and so many others for having sided with Marcos. Chitang knew this. In her autobiography, she observed that during those years that she was cozily identified with the Marcoses, some of her friends abandoned her. This is one virtue that separated Chitang from the Marcos lapdogs. She was always honest.
I was privileged to have known Chitang personally, to have had many discussions with her. I remember one particular conversation with the historian, Teodoro Agoncillo. Chitang had a very perceptive sense of history. After all, as a writer, she is staunch keeper of our nation’s memory. I said that had the revolution of 1896 succeeded, a civil war would have erupted within a few years.
Chitang said a civil war would have immediately erupted. Teddy Agoncillo agreed. He said that the social divide was already very clear between the wealthy Filipinos and the proletariat.
The Guerreros as a clan belonged neither to the upper class nor to the proletariat. They are a learned middle-class Ermita family involved with the historical destiny of this country.
She ends her autobiography with the conclusion that in the end all else is vanity. And here Chitang points out what is so wrong with so many of us and particularly our leaders. Ego is our fatal flaw--how we never transcend ourselves to commit to an ideal bigger than us.
Chitang showed how that ego can be tamed, how it can be utilized to beautify and dignify and love our unhappy country.
Another writer, Alice Guillermo, who passed away almost at the same time as Chitang comes to mind. Alice was perhaps our most outstanding art critic. She devoted her entire career not only to teaching but also to writing, describing the development of our art, how it reflects the lives of common Filipinos. I believed with her that it is with Marxist lens that we can truly analyze and discover the essence of Filipino society and most of all the elements that obstruct the growth of this society. Although Alice taught at the University of the Philippines all her life, she never received tenure.
I recall another artist, the late playwright, Wilfredo Guerrero, who devoted his life to the development of the Filipino drama. Like Alice, he also did not get tenure and was even forced to abandon his home in Diliman.
So, again, I ask this tired question: Why does this country starve its artists and its writers?