It was during the early 1950s, when I was writing a series of articles on our agrarian problem, that I met then National Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Lt. Joe Guerrero, his Ilokano aide, told me that agrarian reform was Magsaysay’s main interest, his answer to the Huk rebellion which was then winding down. With the approval of President Quirino, he had opened the wilds of Mindanao, Palawan, and Northern Luzon for resettlement by the land-hungry farmers of the Visayas and Luzon.
Lt. Guerrero and Magsaysay spoke in Ilokano. It is my mother tongue so I spoke with Magsaysay in Ilokano too, but his Ilokano was far better than mine. He was tall for a Filipino. His manner was urbane but he had a common touch; he could speak to the lower classes in their own idiom, and he was quite direct. His questions were direct too.
His interest in the masa was not a political put on, it was genuine. Sure, he had his faults. He was imperious and impatient, and he often reacted impulsively. But when he committed a mistake, he corrected it immediately. The love of the people for Magsaysay was genuine and deep.
He was also the subject of some jokes – that he was going to repeal the law of supply and demand. My favorite is this: A group of farmers went to Malacanang to complain about the artesian well that Magsaysay had set up in their barrio. It had no water. Magsaysay said, “I promised you an artesian well. I did not promise you water.”
A narrative still current today is that Magsaysay was a CIA creation, that General Edward Lansdale was instrumental in his rise. After working in the Philippines, General Lansdale went to Vietnam to influence the South Vietnamese in the Vietnam War. He failed and the Vietnamese eventually triumphed.
The United States spent billions in the Vietnam War compared with the pittance that they spent in the Philippines to support Ramon Magsaysay. Magsaysay's success, however, is not due to American support. He was elected to office by a great majority. He campaigned personally in the villages. Before him, candidates for the presidency relied on their leaders to do that for them.
When Magsaysay was President, Malacañang was wide open, without the elaborate security arrangements of today. It would have been easy to assassinate him, particularly when he went to the provinces without bodyguards.
Magsaysay also gathered around him the best minds of the day and relied on them for advice. It is with these that he was able to create an honest government, at a time when politicians were already regarding their positions as sinecure. Mark the words of Jose Avelino, Senate President during the Quirino administration, “What are we in power for?”
Sure, we were only 30 million then. We are more than a hundred million now, yet so many of the problems that the Philippines faced in the 1950s are no different from those we face today. Which is why the forthcoming election is important. We must vote for the candidates who will revive Magsaysay's ideals, who will strive for transparency, for honest government, because at the root of our problems is the death of honesty and sincerity in the Filipino.
Magsaysay came from a comfortable middle-class family. He got to know poverty and the onerous tenancy system when, as a guerilla leader in Zambales, he lived with the farmers. He sympathized with the Hukbalahap who were demonized as communist in the beginning of the cold war. He was pressured by the Americans, and Taruc and the Huk leaders were jailed.
He was also shackled in his efforts to free the peasants from their bondage by a landlord-dominated Congress. Had he declared Martial Law, as one of his political allies, former Pangasinan Governor Conrado Estrella said, the people would not have objected. I have a feeling Magsaysay wanted to establish a new political party and a socialist government patterned after Scandinavian socialism. But there are no ifs in history and fate claimed his life too soon.
The day after Magsaysay died, corruption was back. The clean government that was ushered in by Magsaysay had not been institutionalized. It would have been very easy for his successor, President Carlos Garcia, to have continued his legacy, but he did not. This is an important lesson for us, and particularly for our political elite.
I visited President Quirino when he retired in Novaliches. Like Magsaysay, he was also very honest; all those stories about his expensive bed were concoctions to destroy him. He was responsible for plotting our economic recovery after our devastation during the war. And he was magnanimity personified when he forgave the Japanese for killing his family.
He was happy, he said, that Magsaysay had turned out very well. After all, it was he who appointed him Secretary of National Defense. But Claro M. Recto opposed agrarian reform because it was Magsaysay who had made it his major concern: "That ignoramus stole the presidency from me," Recto said.
It was not so much that Magsaysay defeated the Huk insurgency. He got a lot of help from the Huks themselves when their leadership broke up because of their egos. What he did was to show that we Filipinos, given the proper leadership, can have a very honest government.
It is almost seven decades ago that the best president we ever had died in a plane crash. His death anniversary on March 17 went largely unnoticed, and it may seem that he has been forgotten, too, like EDSA I.
First published in The Philippine Star, March 23, 2019
I also read Kit Tatad's last column for The Manila Times, and the rebuttal of the paper's publisher, Dante Ang. It is an undeniable fact there is overt censorship in the media today because of the President's hypersensitivity to criticism.
Kit Tatad is a superb writer and an enterprising journalist. I first met him in the 1960s when he was covering the Department of Foreign Affairs on Padre Faura, which was close to my bookshop. He was an avid reader and often dropped-by.
He became Marcos’s Minister of Public Information in 1969, yet on the morning of the first day of martial law, I was still surprised to see him on TV, reading Marcos's martial law decree.
During the martial law years, Kit kept his office open to journalists. At a recent Philippine PEN conference which he attended as a speaker, some of the writers were angry that he was there. I said Kit was one of PEN's earliest members, and during the martial law years it was he who brought PEN officials and foreign writers to Malacañang so Marcos could hear their plea to release the writers in jail.
A writer, someone I counted as a close friend, had placed me on the blacklist, and for four years I was not allowed to travel out of the country. It was Kit who helped remove me from that blacklist so I could attend a couple of conferences in Dublin and Paris.
AFTER THE LIFTING OF MARTIAL LAW, Kit ran for the Senate and was elected. As a politician, he had the best tutor on opportunism in the country – Marcos. President Duterte admires Marcos, and it would have been logical for Kit to become the President’s comfortable ally. That Kit chose not to be speaks volumes for the man.
I know he has already written a novel and I hope he will release it soon. In the meantime, although he is no longer a Manila Times columnist, I hope he will continue writing even if he is the last writer to rail against this erratic presidency.
All these brought to mind those ten years, 1949-1960, that I worked at the old Manila Times, first as associate editor of the Sunday Times Magazine which was then the most widely circulated magazine in the country. I also edited Progress, the Manila Times’ annual publication. I never took a vacation. Instead, I travelled all over the country, from Sabtang in the Batanes in the north, to Sitankai in Tawi-Tawi in the south. I remember the first advice given to me by Primitivo C. Mauricio, the editor of the magazine. He said: “We don’t own the magazine. It belongs to the people who buy it.”
Joaquin P. Roces, the Manila Times publisher, was a hands-on executive. Every day he was in the newspaper and there were occasions he went to the upper floor where the magazine offices were to talk with me. I was usually there after office hours, working on my novels and short stories. We had protracted conversations about current events, national personalities, and the books I had read. He wasn’t a reader but he kept himself informed by being a good listener.
All of us in the editorial department called him Chino, his nickname because he looked Chinese. But I always addressed him as Sir when he was talking with me as publisher. Chino was warm-hearted and so was his older sister, Isabel, who was the company treasurer. We called her Bebing. I felt she was the paper’s real boss. Both of them never interfered with the work of the editorial department.
NOT ONCE IN MY TEN YEARS at the Manila Times did Chino tell me what to write or criticize what I wrote. I had absolute freedom even when I got to be the editor of the magazine itself. He also gave me the most expensive cameras at the time. He never examined the figures in my travel and expense vouchers. He signed them immediately.
When I left the Manila Times in 1960 to go to Hong Kong to work for the Asia Magazine, I was one of the Times’ ten highest-paid employees, but still I did not have a car. Chino gifted me with a Volkswagen.
His sister called me to her office twice. The first time to tell me she had accepted an award at the National Press Club on my behalf and to ask why I had not been there. I told her outright -- I did not have a barong tagalog. Within the hour I received one.
On another instance, she sounded very anxious and worried because some of her landlord friends had questioned her about my articles on agrarian reform. I told her that if I were to be sued for libel, I would stand by everything I wrote. Not only did I know the libel laws, but my articles were filled with facts. Immediately, she smiled. She then asked me if I had problems writing those articles. They were to win several awards later. I told her I had difficulty because they involved a lot of research. She told me to hire a researcher immediately.
Journalism 1950s was already tainted with some corruption. It was obvious in the lifestyle of some journalists. The Manila Times was the most profitable paper at the time, primarily I think because of the great freedom that its writers enjoyed. The paper had credibility. In remembering those days, I understand why Marcos closed the Manila Times and the other newspapers. It was not so much because media were critical of him but because he wanted the profitable papers, and the radio and TV stations to be in the hands of his cronies.
There is apprehension in the country today that we are on the verge of a dictatorship. I don’t think so but just the same, I hope that the cry, Never Again, is being heard by all those who hold enormous power today.
First published in The Philippine Star, March 16, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/03/16/1901844/kit-tatad-and-old-manila-times
In Berlin, in June 1960, Raul Manglapus and I had lunch with Robert Oppenheimer, one of the scientists who created the atomic bomb. He was soft-spoken, tall, with sandy hair. We talked about the possibilities of a world powered by cheap nuclear energy. Indeed, further research in nuclear physics had led to so many refinements in the electronics industry and in nuclear medicine. Then, somehow, Oppenheimer reminisced about how the atom bomb came to be. He paused and cried silently. I told him I could not share his grief over Hiroshima and Nagasaki; we had been brutalized for three years by the Japanese.
If anything, that encounter with Oppenheimer impressed me, convinced me of how neutral science is and how it can easily be evil if those who develop and use it are not moored to ethics. All these came to mind as I perused the major events last week -- the failure of the Trump-Kim summit meeting in Hanoi and the visit of U.S. State Department Secretary Michael R. Pompeo, who assured us that the United States will defend us from any attack by China in the South China Sea. China responded that it will not attack us, while at the same time occupying Scarborough Shoal, Philippine sovereign territory just off the coast of Zambales.
IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN OBVIOUS to the Americans that North Korea will not give up its major achievement, a delivery system for its atomic weapons. This small, insignificant country has achieved parity with the United States. A unified Korean peninsula is probably North Korea's eventual goal -- but on its own terms. And North Korea can always argue the atomic bomb had long ceased to be an American monopoly. Russia, China, Britain, France, India, and Pakistan have it. Israel is rumored to have it, too, and soon Iran. Pandora's box has been opened, and cannot be closed.
The Philippines is a mere bit player on the global stage. The world problems that the major powers exacerbate -- their trade wars, climate change -- these eventually impact us but we can do little about them. For us then, a world view is not only a luxury, it can also be a distraction. But not a regional view for we need regional security, and active and profitable interaction with our neighbors. And the domestic view, if anything, this should be our sharpest focus -- our dismal poverty, our dysfunctional political system, our civic decay.
It is in this insecure world wherein we are situated that we must think for ourselves -- what we need to survive and, hopefully, to thrive, unable as we are to participate in developing nuclear power or preventing a nuclear holocaust, and to counter the other threats not just to our country but to humanity as well. We are at the edge of a scientific renaissance that could portend disaster, too. As the scientist, Stephen Hawking, warned, the development of artificial intelligence may usher the end of civilization.
On the very specific threat from a recalcitrant neighbor, it is so easy and simple for the United States to give us more military assistance, yet it has not done so. We can no longer depend on the American pledge of assistance. In the first place, all through history, pledges have always been broken once they are no longer useful. Each country and people must decide on how they should resolve the challenges they face, and their response eventually defines them and their future.
NATIONALISM SPELLS SURVIVAL In my lectures before committees of the American Council of Foreign Relations in the United States in the 1970s, I told the Americans who were embroiled in Vietnam that if they remembered the Philippine-American War in 1898, they wouldn’t have gone to Vietnam. Asian nationalism was their enemy, not communism.
The Vietnamese decided to fight the Americans and they succeeded. Vietnam is now united and doing very well. And the Vietnamese have not sought war reparations from the United States. From this, we may draw insight on the hardiness of the Vietnamese character.
It was the other way around in Thailand. The Thais opened their doors to the Japanese in 1942. I do not think such willful collaboration with the Japanese dented Thai nationalism. Thailand today is doing much better than us.
On those few occasions that I have spoken before the National Defense College, I tried to connect culture and the arts to the development of our national security. I told military officers and government executives that we are a very divided people, riven by geography, language, religion, ethnicity. In our effort to unite the nation, we need to recognize and use the elements that can weld us together -- the water, our history, our culture.
AND SO WE COME TO THE ARTS, to literature. They reveal so much of ourselves, our character, our identity. Our arts give us a profound knowledge of ourselves and eventually and hopefully, develop in us a sense of nation and, most of all, a profound commitment to our Motherland. As a people so committed and dedicated, we are the formidable bastion against any enemy, not the quantifiable weapons that a nation can muster.
I bring to mind the Roman siege of Masada in the first century A.D. This ultimate sacrifice, to my mind, is epitomized by the Jewish rebels who defended the plateau fortress, now part of Israel. When the imperial Roman legions finally captured it, they were greeted by eerie silence. To a man, the 700 defenders had committed suicide.
I always remind the young people of our history that we have a revolutionary tradition and that we are a heroic people. We don’t deserve this poverty, this corrupt government, these incompetent leaders. Our first duty then is to banish all these so we can build a secure future for ourselves.
First published in The Philippine Star, March 9, 2019
I have been watching movies since I was a boy in that small town where I grew up. I saw my first silent cowboy film starring Tom Mix in the early 1930s, in the rice bodega that was also the town cinema. The town's five-piece band provided the musical score. In fight scenes, the band would strike up a jaunty tune and in love scenes, a smaltzy piece.
The first Filipino picture I saw was "Bituing Marikit," starring Elsa Oria. When I moved to Manila in 1938, I saw more American films than Filipino. The major movie theatres in Manila -- the Avenue, State, and the Ideal on Rizal Avenue, and the Lyric and Capitol on the Escolta -- showed only American pictures; Grand and Dalisay on Rizal Avenue and Life on Quezon Boulevard showed only Filipino films. Rogelio dela Rosa, Carmen Rosales, Arsenia Francisco, and Corazon Noble were the stars.
During the war, there being no films to show, these first-class theaters staged Filipino drama, with the movie stars playing the lead roles. The plays in Tagalog were adapted from the popular western classics. Then Liberation, and Tagalog movies were revived, and a new generation of actors and actresses surfaced and new directors as well, Bert Avellana, Gerry de Leon, and Eddie Romero, were followed by Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, but none approximated the brilliance of Chaplin, Kurosawa, or Rossellini.
A new breed of actresses, too. Vilma Santos, Hilda Coronel, Nora Aunor. I think that Nora Aunor is our greatest movie actress ever. No actress in all these years acted roles with such candor and fealty to the character portrayed. And as she ages, her worth increases. She does not need that National Artist Award that was denied her by ignoramus authorities.
IN THE 1950s, the movie personalities, Rosa Rosal and Eddie Romero, and the writers D. Paulo Dizon, Vic Generoso, Fred Munoz, Fred Bunao, J.C. Tuvera, and myself formed FAMAS, similar to the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts, to select the year's best Filipino movies. I remember those many nights that we spent at Premiere studios in Caloocan, at Sampaguita in Quezon City reviewing all those films and evaluating them.
I don’t know what has happened to FAMAS; I hear that it is still around but is now overshadowed by more active organizations. Their credibility is validated by their choices of the best.
I cite this background to assure my readers of my bonafides as a critic of Filipino films. And here is my judgment -- our movies are developing yet are still inferior to what is being produced in Korea, or in Japan. It is not the technology that is wanting, or the lack of skilled workers. In almost all instances, our motion pictures are dreadful because their scripts are.
From the very start, many foreign movies have used the best literary material produced in those countries. Not in the Philippines.
Compare our movies with those Korean global attractions. Their scripts are written by the best Korean writers steeped in both Asian and Western literary traditions. There was a time when Hollywood also got the services of the best American writers like William Faulkner and Scott Fitzgerald.
I saw Gerry de Leon’s film, “Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo,” in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. The ravishing beauty, Anita Linda, played the female lead. Gerry worked without a script. But he was meticulous and each scene was fully rehearsed and discussed before it was shot.
KOREA'S TELENOVELAS have gained an international audience because they are well made and they also project much information about Korea itself since many of the stories are based on Korean history. On a recent visit to South Korea, I was taken to a site where one of Korea's novels was made into a film. The Koreans are also sticklers for authenticity.
I can't recall how many films I have walked out of.
The films of Fernando Poe, Jr. for instance, were for ten-year-olds and below. Almost always, they are so unreal and I have to suspend belief to see them.
I WALKED OUT of Abaya's Rizal -- it was well crafted, realistic, but oh-so-boring for a Filipino who already knows the Rizal story by heart. Perhaps it was meant for a foreign audience.
I once talked with Dolphy, whose films were slapstick comedies. He was a Charlie Chaplin fan and I told him I would help him with the script if he did something like Charlie Chaplin's "Limelight," which was both funny and moving. He said he had tried making that kind of film but he lost money on it. If it is mush that the public wants, give it to them.
The films of Kidlat Tahimik are crude and so was Manuel Conde's Genghis Khan. We have gone quite a long way from these primitive efforts particularly with the developments in photographic technology. Producing films now is not as expensive as it used to be. Today we have a slew of independent movie makers whose problem basically is national and global distribution. This will be surmounted by demand, when our moviemakers start producing world-class movies.
The best Filipino moviemakers now are Mike de Leon and Brillante Mendoza. De Leon is a slow worker. His last film, "Citizen Jack" is superb, but it could have had more impact had it not been overloaded with extraneous themes. Mendoza is a fast worker and of his dozen films, half are truly excellent. But like de Leon, he has yet to produce a truly great movie. This will be done for sure, within the next few years. We also now have producers like Wilson Tieng who are willing to invest in quality. But always, they should concentrate on scripts that truly fulfill the requirements of an excellent narrative.
Meanwhile, I would like to see a movie scripted by that genius Rody Vera and directed by that equally gifted Chris Millado.
First published in The Philippine Star, March 2, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/03/02/1897888/our-pitiful-movies
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
In a sense, all of us are egoists, particularly those of us who are writers because we are in everything we write and our personal memories are our best assets.
The reverse political tack, however, is taken by those who identify themselves with the poor, who claim community with the poor in our slums because they have lived in Tondo. But once these politicians have reached the pinnacle of their dreams, Tondo and the poor are forgotten.
For egoists, personal preening begins with “modesty aside," followed by a torrent of self-praise. This self-glorification is also very evident in the way we like to be addressed. My wife told me of her embarrassment when she introduced a professor as Professor So-and-so. He cut her short and re-introduced himself as Dr. So-and-so.
This hankering for titles to convey a prestigious or superior place in social hierarchy is part of our character.
Filipinos are deeply aware of ego. Introductions of public speakers are their curriculum vitae – education, from high school to advance degrees, past positions, awards. And many times, the speaker will repeat and embellish the information.
Filipino organizations proliferate to accommodate ego, social climbing, and personal ambition. In California, for example, there are hundreds of Filipino organizations. It is not unusual for a person wanting to be president to start his or her own organization. I don’t think there are more than a thousand immigrants from my hometown, Rosales, Pangasinan, in the San Francisco Bay Area but there are two Rosales organizations there.
Manila newspapers cater to ego. Our major dailies, compared with other respectable papers in the world, have unusually extensive "society" pages.
EGO CAN OBSTRUCT consensus for the common good. Ego has crippled political organizations that otherwise would have been united and strong.
That major upheaval in the late 1940s, the Hukbalahap uprising, our understanding is that it was defeated by Ramon Magsaysay with American assistance. That is only part of the truth.
I had wanted to understand why the Hukbalahap failed. Was it because the leaders were urban intellectuals and the soldiers were farmers? Or was there an ethnic rivalry between the Tagalogs and the Pampangos who led it?
In 1985, I brought together the four surviving Huk leaders, Luis Taruc and Casto Alejandrino, both Pampangos, and Fred Saulo and Jesus Lava, both Tagalogs. All four had been imprisoned for not less than ten years. When they met that morning in my bookshop, although they had had a falling out, they greeted each other amiably. The quarrelling began after lunch.
I have a bit of knowledge of Marxism and I listened carefully to their Marxist-loaded arguments, which became very heated. I soon realized that their arguments had very little ideological validity, that it was their vaulting egos that had destroyed the organization, the same ego that has also emasculated the New People's Army.
This ego and the self-righteousness of our leaders sunder our political parties. I remember an old argument with Harry Benda, the Czech scholar who specialized in Southeast Asia. We had talked about the necessity of a Filipino revolution, a continuation of 1896. He flatly concluded it would never happen because, as he said, "You Filipinos are such a divided people. Look at the Katipunan."
I know Harry Benda will one day be proven wrong, although I might not be able to see that triumphant event happen.
LET ME NOW ILLUSTRATE specific examples of Filipino ego-centrism.
Imelda Marcos epitomizes extravagance. She is over-coiffed, over-jeweled, overdressed. And those 3,000 pairs of shoes – the world still talks about them, even those who know little about the Philippines or Filipinos.
Ferdinand Marcos, too, for all his Ilokanoness, was a fastidious dresser, and also prided himself on his physique. He was always combing his hair. He even tried poetry to illustrate his literary prowess. He attracted loyal followers because of his perceived intelligence, patriotism, and military service, although some of his war medals are phony.
Max V. Soliven personifies the Filipino yabang. And, why not, he deserved all his awards. He was a spellbinding speaker: I remember his PEN Jose Rizal Lecture in Baguio, extemporaneous and without notes. It was a bravura performance. His essays on history, culture, and politics were brilliant. He could have easily ingratiated himself with Marcos because he was a fellow Ilokano. He fought Marcos instead, and the dictator respected him for it.
Carlos P. Romulo, the country's foremost diplomat, and author of I Walked with Heroes, I Saw the Fall of the Philippines, and I See the Philippines Rise, was the original. He was barely five feet tall, and handled this shortcoming with great self-confidence, wit, and humor. He said he stood on a couple of telephone books when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly after he was elected its president. He also said a dime is more valuable than a nickel. And this takes the cake: “My wife, Beth, charged me in court for assault with a dead weapon.”
The Duterte ego is as gigantic as the Titanic. It is even perhaps unique. It is shock treatment -- the same technique used to treat catatonic patients. It draws immediate reaction, but come a time when constant use induces numbness. To prevent that, Duterte has to concoct new and even perhaps more outlandish techniques.
The extreme opposite of the peacock leader is the selfless champion who gains devotees with his unadorned activism and simplicity. President Ramon Magsaysay comes to mind immediately. He was down to earth and identified himself with the masa, as Duterte now does. The similarities end there. Knowing his limitations, Magsaysay surrounded himself with the best and the brightest of his time. When he made mistakes, he corrected them immediately. No Filipino leader has equaled him.
I define hindsight, which is also the title of this column, as the lowest form of wisdom. From that you can deduct that when it comes to humility, I am number one.
First published in the The Philippine Star, January 26, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/01/26/1888182/ego-enemy
The surveys continue to conclude that we trust the United States but we don’t trust China. For all the good will most of us feel towards America, it is time we subject this conclusion to further scrutiny.
For sure, the best test of America as a trusted ally was when China invaded Philippine territory -- Scarborough Shoal off the coast of Zambales -- in 2012. Our treaty with the United States says that the U.S. will assist us if we are attacked. And Scarborough Shoal was a downright attack, one which we could not repel. Only the United States could have helped us but it did not.
We have always overestimated our relationship with the United States. The reality is that a small laidback country like ours is just an expendable pawn in the game of international geopolitics, and we are ignored because we are not strong like Japan or South Korea.
American policies towards Asia do not always tally with ours. Mood swings in the United States can also affect its relationship with other countries. At the moment, there seems to be a slow swing towards isolation. This is not because America has lost its dynamism but because it finds that sustaining all its global commitments can be very expensive and can even sap the morale of the party in power and at the same time give strength to the opposition.
AMERICAN PRESIDENTS have always been wary of entanglement in a land war in Asia. This must be uppermost in the minds of those policymakers in Washington when they mulled over the problem of a recalcitrant China in the South China Sea.
Our South China Sea problem with China has an ominous collateral at home. Realize that 80 percent of the Philippine economy is now in the hands of ethnic Chinese. They came to the Philippines with nothing, and became wealthy through exploitation of the land and the people. The priority, therefore, is for us now to see to it that the economic power of these ethnic Chinese, whose loyalty to the Philippines is in doubt, should be emasculated. The silence of our Filipino Chinese on this crucial issue is deafening. Vietnam is a very good model.
Vietnam has not hesitated to fight the Chinese frontally and yet maintains a close relationship with China. Its economy had been dominated by ethnic Chinese. Cholon, then Saigon's busiest district, was actually a Chinese enclave. After the triumph of the Revolution in 1975, Vietnam applied a simple solution to its China problem. The Chinese were simply expelled and their properties were confiscated. Several Chinese establishments were set up through the following years, but during the riots some three years ago, when China set up an oil rig in Vietnamese waters, to which the Vietnamese objected furiously, the Chinese factories in Vietnam were burned.
The United States has billions of dollars in mothballed war material, and has excuses for why it is niggardly in its military aid to the Philippines, compared with its assistance to other governments.
WE MUST BE PREPARED to increase our military capability on our own, to sacrifice for it even. One of our first priorities is to build a navy with fast frigates to patrol and defend our country. We already have shipbuilding facilities to do this.
We should have three military academies, the military academy in Baguio, perhaps a naval academy in Cebu, and an air force academy in Davao. The first two years of military study will be spent in Baguio. And in the following four years, army officers will continue in Baguio, while naval officers will be in Davao, and air force officers in Cebu.
The ROTC should also be revived. It will be a two-year course, after which anyone aspiring for a military career is qualified to take exams for the military academy. The last six months of the course should be spent with the army units. We will then have ready reserve forces whenever the country needs them. We can gain some lessons from Singapore and Israel.
We also should strengthen our ties with our ASEAN neighbors, and also see to it that these ties have military significance. We must always remember that a strong and united ASEAN is our best defense against any imperial design to colonize Southeast Asia. It is important that ASEAN should form a pillar not only in trade and cultural relations but also in our military ties with neighbor countries.
OUR DIMINISHED RELATIONSHIP with the United States may be replaced with alliances with other nations -- Australia, Japan, South Korea. Because of its consensus decision making process, ASEAN may not be a military deterrent to China's land grabbing. On the other hand, we can forge alliances with Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
The Defense Secretary has asked for a review of our defense treaties with the United States. All military aid from other countries should also be reviewed.
An American author described us in the 1930s as "the Orphans of the Pacific." Perhaps that definition fits us now for, in a sense, to be truly free, we must reject our colonial past and struggle not only to survive but to preserve our hard-won sovereignty. Orphans know they are alone so they strive hard to prevail.
To alter our barnacled attitudes towards the United States means that we will have to be less dependent on the United States for aid; we will also diminish the teacher-pupil relationship. In reviewing our alliances with America, it must be noted that Japan, Korea, and Taiwan took advantage of the American umbrella and market to develop economically and militarily. We did not.
I remember Joseph Lelyveld, former managing editor of the New York Times. He said it is very difficult for America to take our leaders seriously because they are silly. Herein lies the problem: if we should no longer trust America, with our kind of leaders, can we trust ourselves?
First published in The Philippine Star, January 19,2019
Photo credit: AP Photo/Bullit Marquez