For Nick Joaquin and F. Sionil José

Disclaimer: This post was shelved almost a year ago. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it since I felt that it was not enough to show the greatness of these two giants. But the following circumstances just made me do it:

  1. Just last week, I read in the Philippine Star that F. Sionil Jose made a visit to Rosales, the place of origin of his masterpiece– The Rosales Saga. A tribute was given to this National Artist (Sa wakas!).
  2. I just bumped into an opinion column in the Phil. Daily Inquirer that gave homage to Nick Joaquin. It’s his third death anniversary today and I felt that it is just apt to post this.

Revisions were made today but the topic tries to cover Philippine History and how these two Filipino writers saw it. Their works made me proud to be a Filipino.


F. Sionil Jose and Quijano de Manila. No disrespect to the flag. And to FSJ.

I’ve been trying to find good words to put in this blog about these two great Filipino writers. Both are National Artists and both have deep love for this country. I collected their works that mostly discuss the Filipino social caste and their take on a lot of different things. A warning though, this is how I understand them and this is how their works differ from each other but one thing is sure: It makes feel proud to be a Filipino. Even during these times.

  1. NATIONAL PRIDE: “Myth” vs. Fact
    FSJ believes that we should continue creating stories of how heroic we are as a people. He sees this as way to instill national pride. In his recent writings he said that he wanted to give his people memory and I’d agree that is where we could draw inspiration to make this country better. Our pre-colonial history is a good starting point.

    Nick Joaquin, on the other hand, tells us that we should be mature enough to accept that Philippine history began in 1521. In his controversial book (controversial to those ultra-nationalistic folks of ours) Culture & History, he argues that it is time for us to not to ignore our history under Spain. His biggest point: We were ignored by Asia for a long time with its culture, literature, religion, and technology, and it took a European superpower to transform us. Just like a Cinderella Story.

  2. PROTAGONIST: The Samsons of Rosales vs. The Aquinos of Tarlac
    Nick Joaquin is the Man of Manila. Most of his works are about this Distinguished and Ever Loyal City and its history is retold in a very good book that I had the guts to buy Manila, My Manila. He pointed out that the Tagalog and Pampango tribes were the chief stewards of our history. Furthermore, his work, The Aquinos of Tarlac shows this through three generations that got involved in our country’s most pivotal moments. Gen. Servillano Aquino fought alongside President Aguinaldo. Senator Benigno Aquino Sr. fought for independence wherever it is whoever we would have to press our case. Sen. Ninoy Aquino fought Martial Law and died by its bullet. These were all real.

    A counterweight is F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales Saga (Po-on, Pretenders, Mass) that tells the struggle of a Filipino family coming from the other end of the social spectrum. For me, each novel posed different questions to the reader.

    Po-on (Spanish/ American Period): How far are you willing to go for this group of islands called Filipinas? Istak in barefoot with trembling hands holding his riffle and asking himself. The last lines of the book struck me: Duty. Duty. Duty.

    Pretenders: Are you willing to be part of the establishment and betray your roots? The resolution of Antonio Samson’s story was suicide.

    Mass: How do we solve this perennial problem of a native elite taking advantage of the masses? Pepe Samson calls for revolution.

  3. del Pilar: Hero of Tirad Pass vs. del Pilar: Aguinaldo’s Hatchetman
    In Po-on, one of his novels in the Rosales Saga, FSJ retells the Battle of Tirad Pass and the heroism of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar through the eyes of Istak, a peasant shaman who is the main protagonist.

    Joaquin sees the Bulacan general differently in his book, A Question of Heroes. Based on historical accounts from a revolutionary, Jose Alejandrino, it was claimed that del Pilar was an ineffective tactician. Joaquin cites the Battle of Thermopylae as the ultimate example of how to stop the enemy. The advantage goes to side that has the terrain. Unfortunately, del Pilar met his tragic end even before the battle began. He was shot by a sniper based on other accounts.

  4. 1896 Revolution: The Ilustrado’s Battle and the Masa’s Battle
    Quijano de Manila stressed that there were two revolutions at play in 1896. One was a failure because it was disorganized and was easily crushed and pushed out by the Spaniards to the hills of Balara. The other was spawned by educated men in Cavite who were prepared for it. Revolutionaries from Manila who were then labeled as alsa-balutan joined their compatriots in Cavite.

    Trenches were built and the Katipuneros of Cavite were more knowledgable about warfare. The revolution made early gains in Cavite. Other provinces began to raise arms when they heard that their fellow Filipinos were successful in Cavite. It was logical to elect a new leader from Cavite.

    Nick Joaquin pointed out Bonifacio’s role as a catalyst and another role as a rabbler-rouser. Bonifacio was there to divide the movement. It’s hard to admit it but it was a necessity to get rid of him. That’s why there are guilt feelings whenever we remember Bonifacio. We know that his own countrymen got rid of him.

    FSJ sees the Revolution in a different way. He believes that ours is unfinished since it was a just cause betrayed by unjust men– the Ilustrados. The burgis collaborated with the Spaniards and then the Americans and then the Japs. Jose’s books, the Rosales Saga, gives a glimpse of the Philippine social caste system. The characters (Eusataquio Salvador, Victor, Jose Samson, Pepe Samson) were from the masses and they take center stage. It’s well-written and inspiring. And mostly true. Balzac said that behind every great wealth there is a great crime. In the case of the rich Filipino families, there is some measure of truth in it. MOST OF THE TIME.

On a lighter note, Nick Joaquin would be turning 90 years old on May 4. I just hope that some of his works would resurface (or some kindred soul would do me a big favor of lending me): Nora Aunor & Other Profiles; Ronnie Poe & Other Silhouettes; Reportage on Lovers; Reportage on Crime; Amalia Fuentes & Other Etchings; Gloria Diaz & Other Delineations; Doveglion & Other Cameos; Language of the Streets and Other Essays; and Manila: Sin City and Other Chronicles.

For FSJ, I just hope that his works would be noticed and bring more honor to this country by bagging a Nobel Prize for Literature. Though, I know that this is a small feat compared to what he really wants to happen to this beloved land of ours.

Plus Ultra!

One Comment

  1. Arnaldo says:

    I had a gran time reading your comparisons between this two national artist. Nick Joaquin in my opinion together with Villa, are the two greatest Filipino writers, bar none.

    This Sionil fellow and the great Quijano de Manila have known each other for the longest time, both being journalist. But never did I read Nick say a single bad word about Sionil’s “hispanophobia”, and his disregard to that great epoch in our history. While Sionil, this big bald fat aging guy had repeatedly attacked the beer loving writer, calling him a ‘hispanist’ and an ‘apologist’.

    He just doesn’t get it. After listening to him talk about history, it dawned upon me that this guy is not much of a historian, he should stick with his fiction writing.

    Great blog! thanks!

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