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F. Sionil Jose's Speech @ University of Pangasinan, February 12, 2009
Rosales where I was born is close to the borders of Tarlac and Nueva Ecija. My forefathers were Ilokanos who migrated to this part of the province at the turn of the 19th century; they had intended to go to the Cagayan Valley but were enamored by the lure of the verdant plains of eastern Pangasinan and they decided to settle there instead. In the early thirties, as a boy, I witnessed this migration; the Ilokanos came in their bull carts with their plows the uprooted posts of their houses and weaving looms. They parked in the town plaza for the night. They were all Ilokanos; some of those who came in bull carts were Pangasinan traders with coconut candy (bocayo) dried fish, salt and bagoong to sell.
There was commerce and, of course, intermarriage and one of my cousins married a pretty girl from Calasiao.
I got interested in history, having read Rizal’s novels in Grade School, and concentrated on the Revolution of 1896 after I learned that my grandfather was in it. I came to know so many details, the building of the railroad to Dagupan, the flight of Aguinaldo’s aid Colonel Villa, the father of the poet Jose Garcia Villa, described the town of San Carlos as surrounded by jungle still. This was, mind you, in 1899. Such details were retrieved when I wrote POON the first novel in my Rosales saga. In the novel, too, there is a girl from Lingayen whose family was killed by pirates of the Ilokos coast. This heroic woman becomes the wife of Istak, the novel’s main character, who follows Aguinaldo to Tirad Pass.
I cite all these to impress upon you the importance of Pangasinan in my work, and of history to all of us. This province, aside from one of the richest and the largest in the country, is a focal point of history. It is here were Limahong was based, where Princess Urduja---whether real or not---reign, where Palaris fought the Spaniards. Close by is the beach where the Japanese landed in 1941 and where the Americans and MacArthur returned in 1945. Indeed, Pangasinan province occupies a precious niche in our country’s history.
I am sorry to note that Pangasinan as a literary language is waning. It should not and I am glad that there is an effort now to revive it. Santiago B. Villafania has just published a book of sonnets in Pangasinan. I hope that one of these days; this University will set up a Center of Pangasinan Studies to record the culture, the contribution of the people of Pangasinan to the national trove.
Having said these let me now thank the University for honoring me as a writer. Most Filipino’s, our leaders included, do not consider literature important---it is only storytelling and, therefore, mere entertainment. Moreover, although our national hero was a novelist, Filipinos do not read novels.
I will dispute these common assumptions if only to rationalize my vocation---for writing is indeed a vocation. Writers are historians, too. It is in literature that the greater truths about a people and their past are found. Perceptive scholars read the literature of societies they are studying for this reason, and more. A people’s culture is best dredged and understood from their literature.
Writers are also the ultimate teachers for it is only in literature that we learn ethics---not in classes in religion or theology. The literary depiction of life and its moral dilemmas compels us to use our conscience, to make those infallible distinctions between right and wrong.
Today, more than any time in our history, we need to be ethical. More than this vital function, literature anchors us tenaciously to the land in its evocation of time and place. It helps construct the sense of identity and preserve our racial memory without which there is no nation. Just remember this, what is England without Shakespeare, Greece without Homer, Spain without Cervantes. Great writers helped shape the identities of these equally great nations.
What is our history/ it is so many centuries of colonialism, of Filipinos oppressed by foreign powers. Colonialism subdues in many dulcet guises. It conquered under the pretext of spreading Christianity, civilization, law and order. To make the world safe for democracy. As an African writer said, “The European missionaries came and told us to close our eyes and pray. And we did, but when we opened our eyes, our lands were gone.”
To paraphrase this, I now say, the Americans told us to go to school to be educated, and we did but when we left school, we realized that we have lost our souls.
What is the logic of colonialism? It is very simple---exploitation. The imperialist has no compunction about exploiting a people then sending his native land. When I visited Spain for the first time in 1955, I saw those magnificent churches, even the humblest chapels, and found their altars gorgeously gilded with silver was plundered by the conquistador from Mexico, from South America.
If colonialism, by whatever devious way it seduces is exploitation, therefore, colonialism is immoral.
I say this emphasize this for there are so many among us who apologize for Spanish or American colonialism. As Rizal also said, slaves get to love their chains.
I come from a barrio where the agrarian problem still rankles. From the Spanish regime onwards, peasant uprisings were common all over Filipinas. My forefathers, unlettered Ilokano peasants who migrated to eastern Pangasinan were victimized by the mestizo ilustrados who stole the land my forebears clawed from the forest. In 1931 the colorum peasant uprising erupted in Tayug, Pangasinan close to my hometown. And in 1935, the Sakdal revolt engulfed parts of Laguna, Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. In the early 1950’s when I was in the old Manila times, the Huk uprising was its zenith. All these were lucid precursors of the New People’s Army rebellion which exacerbates and torments us to this very day.
In pleading for agrarian reform in the fifties, just as I still do today, I quoted the American social reformer; Wendell Philip’s who said, “If land is in the hands of a few, you don’t have a democracy. You have an oligarchy.”
Infused with the virus of colonialism, these elites have no loyalty to this country, they have no faith in the talent of Filipinos. And because they have no fealty to this nation, they send their loot abroad---the Chinese mestizos to China and to Taiwan, the Spanish mestizos to Spain and Europe, and the Indios like Marcos send their billions to Switzerland, to America, instead of keeping those moneys here to modernized this country, to create new industries, so that our women need not go abroad to work as housemaids and prostitutes---so that the bulk of you will not leave your families in search for greener pastures.
I have stated simply our national malaise, the reason for our poverty. For so many decades, I have also suggested a solution---nationalism directed to the upliftment of the common Filipino. This, the Filipino peasant understands instinctively Pedro Calosa who led the Colorum uprising in Tayug in 1931 explained it to me so succinctly, so simply. “God created land, air and water for all men, not just for one man or one family. It is against God’s laws for one man or one family to own all of it.”
Nationalism is to be lived, it is not just the flag, or the singing of the national anthem. The nationalist icons of my generation Recto and Tanada were merely anti-American; both opposed agrarian reform in the Fifties, the single most important political action that would have provided social justice for the millions who are oppressed.
Nationalism is education, the wisdom for us to elect public officials we can be proud of, not ignoramus movie stars and basketball players.
Nationalism means being rooted in this soil acting out the truth, which is justice in action. This justice is not an abstraction, for our very poor it is three meals a day. Are you aware that today so many poor Filipinos eat only once a day? Education for our children, medicine, and medical care for the poor who are sick. When government cannot assure these to its citizens, it commits violence. Who promote bad government? The crooked politician, the racketeering businessman, the traitorous oligarch.
Do we ostracize them? NO, we glorify them in front pages of our newspapers, we give them awards, we give them awards, we invite them to grace our social gatherings when we should spit at their faces, or at the very least, turn our backs to them.
How long will it take us to turn this country around? Look at Vietnam now; after it had resolved its internal contradiction and defeated the Americans in 1975 – it is well on the way to progress, it could even surpass us. Look at Japan after the Meiji Restoration in 1886-in thirty years, it had become a major power, defeating Russia in 1901. Look at Korea, Taiwan, even Japan again after World War II. After the rubble of the Korean War in 1953, or the flight of the Nationalists to Taiwan in 1949, in one generation they were able to develop into dynamic countries they are today. And Singapore next door- what was it in the 1950’s? No more than a backwater port not much different from Binondo.
It is not just the oligarchy then that is the enemy- it is us ourselves. And education will resolve our difficulties and catapult us towards prosperity and peace. My generation was influenced by barnacled ideas, by Marxism, by anti-Americanism which in some instances is legitimate, but these ideologies are not enough. I am glad that it has started, this long and tedious process of reexamination, of education and change that is so difficult and painful to achieve.
And this education is not just learning how to produce cheaper and better products as did Korea and Taiwan. It has to do with our insides, our guts. It involves imbibing in our blood stream iron confidence, deep and lasting pride in our sinews so that our very rich won’t send their monies abroad. They will then stop erecting shopping malls, fancy condominiums, plush resorts and golf courses; they will start building instead more factories, more research facilities, so that our brilliant young people will stay. How wonderful it would be our if our banks do not behave like pawn shops but as sources of venture capital, if our businessmen realize that money is like fertilizer, to do any good it must be spread around.
We are now 90 million- just think of this population not as a liability but as an asset, a mass market. Remember, too, that Japan was only 60 million when it challenged the United States in 1941. We don’t need to challenge a foreign power- all we have to do now is challenge ourselves.
Look deep within ourselves, and remember, that the indelible love of this earth and people is in the heart, that when it dies there, no constitution can ever revive it.
Let me remind you-we have many things to be proud of, not just Manny Pacquiao. A corrupt leadership? Ramon Magsaysay, Jose W. Diokno, Manny Pelaez - Raul Manglapus –just a few sterling names to wash away the perception. Just think of our history - -of our recent past. Remember the Battle of Tirad Pass in December in 1899, where the young general Gregorio del Pilar and 48 of his men died defending against the invading American Texas Rangers. It is no different from the Battle of Thermopylae in ancient Greece, where King Leonidas and his Spartans died to a man defending that pass against the invading Persians.
We mounted the first Asian revolution against Western imperialism and set up Asia’s first Republic in Malolos in 1898. More than any country in Southeast Asia, we fought the Japanese bravely, in World War II. Not just in Bataan but in a nationwide guerilla war. All of thus is forgotten. And Rizal – what country has ever produced someone like him, a poet, a novelist, a linguist, a medical doctor, an anthropologist and a martyr at 35.
We go through life remembering those soothing bromides, those gladsome messages from the ancients and hope that we will be guided by them. Let us then hearken to Mabini’s Decalogue, the Ten Commandments.
In this rickety age of 84 and still writing, I recall how, when death was at his doorstep, Alexander the Great had asked that he be buried with his hand outstretched and empty to show to the world, half of which is his dominion- that he was not bringing anything with him to the grave, not even a clod of earth. If all rich Filipinos imbibed this truth in their bones, we will be a prosperous nation.
I need not tell you of all the brutal reality outside, that the air is foul, that the people are unkind, and that the powerful who hand out jobs can be finicky and callous. I hope that you are spiritually prepared, and iron hearted enough to face this reality of our unhappy country.
I pray, too, that you will remember always that you are not only Pangasinan, Tagalog or Ilokano, but that you are Filipino, heir to an exalted past which tells us that in our genes are the eternal codes of what we truly are, a heroic people.
(Courtesy of Simon Francis Blaise Vistro)
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Santiago B. Villafania, a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, is the author of poetry collections Bonsaic Verses (2012), Pinabli and Other Poems (2012), Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles (2007), and Balikas na Caboloan (Voices from Caboloan, 2005) published by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) under its UBOD New Authors Series. He has been published in several countries and translated into several languages. Villafania is one of the 11 Outstanding Pangasinan conferred with the 2010 ASNA Award for the Arts and Culture (literature) during the first Agew na Pangasinan and also the 430th Foundation Day of the province on April 2010. He is a member of Philippine PEN writes a regular weekly column for the Sunday Punch.