Category: books

adam, ishmael, BBL

had to make a trip to tiaong to pay ameliar — medyo late, so merong penalty, but also got to pay 3 years in advance with a nice discount — and stayed on in the elias house for some days.

it’s been good, this distance from the literary soap opera unfolding, of adam david”s reluctant david to anvil’s glowering goliath.  read adam’s side here:  it would be good to hear, too, from anvil publishing and the two writers, i.e., the complainants/ editors of the anthology Fast Food Fiction Delivery that adam played around with via a randomizer in the spirit of literary criticism.  who would have thought anvil et al could would be so displeased, get so pikon, as though there were no other way to take it, except as an affront, when in fact it raised positive interest in the book — i wanted to get me a copy, see for myself what is fast food about it ba talaga and what the short short stories (around 500 words) of literary fat cats are like.  

the even bigger surprise was, is, the reaction when adam simply took down the website on the dictated day rather than contend with a costly lawsuit: tila na-disappoint ang literary establishment — man up daw!  tila they were really just raring to fight adam in a court of law, and no where else, i guess because in a free and intelligent and sophisticated (as opposed to sophomoric) debate, baka wala silang panalo?  worse, kami raw na pumirma sa statement of support for adam ay mga did-not-know-what-we-were-doing sort of people.  grabe naman.

disclosure:  adam designed my book revo routes, including the maps;  i’ve since come to know him  better through his works posted online.  in his place, i would have taken down the website, too.  who needs the extra aggravation.  ang pikon, talo.

the distance has also been good for my bernal book project.  given minimal distractions —  spotty internet connection and no cable TV in the dining room where  i’m set up with laptop and wifi — i have finally finished a rough timeline of the life and films of national artist ishmael bernal based on clippings of feature articles and movie reviews published from the early 1970s to his death in 1996, clippings contained in huge albums that ishmael himself, and then jorge arago, kept updated, including the goodbyes and eulogies from june to december ’96.  some 200 pieces, along with ishma’s journal and transcripts of taped conversations, that i encoded in the summer of 2012 at the height of my grief over jorge.  next, i  prepare for interviews with some of his  family,  friends, and colleagues, hopefully to fill in the blanks and flesh out the curves.  work in progress, with quite a way to go.

distance notwithstanding, caught snatches of the house of reps’ BBL hearing graced by the president’s peace corps of elderlies and not-so-elderlies.   clearly the hope is that an acceptable BBL will be passed maybe in a couple of months or so, in time for the october filing of candidacy for the 2016 election of bangsamoro officials.   clearly there will be no proper transition period to prepare the bangsamoros to govern themselves. in 2010 the MILF said that upon the enactment of a law creating the bangsamoro autonomous region, they would need a 7-year interim period  to  prepare for a plebiscite, and then for the 2016 elections and self-government.   the palace said  a 6-year interim would do, obviously expecting that a comprehensive agreement and then a bangsamoro law could be churned out in a jiffy.  LOL.  no one foresaw that the president’s best efforts would come to this.  mamasapano aside, a railroaded BBL in the offing, and no transition period to speak of — is there even time for a credible plebiscite?  recipe for disaster.  what else is new.

meanwhile, commiserating with mary jane…

Lee Kuan Yew on Filipinos and the Philippines

Posted January 2011 by, the following excerpt is from pages 299 – 305 of Lee Kuan Yew’s book From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965-2000, Chapter 18  “Building Ties with Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei.”


The Philippines was a world apart from us, running a different style of politics and government under an American military umbrella. It was not until January 1974 that I visited President Marcos in Manila. When my Singapore Airlines plane flew into Philippine airspace, a small squadron of Philippine Air Force jet fighters escorted it to Manila Airport. There Marcos received me in great style – the Filipino way. I was put up at the guest wing of Malacañang Palace in lavishly furnished rooms, valuable objects of art bought in Europe strewn all over. Our hosts were gracious, extravagant in hospitality, flamboyant. Over a thousand miles of water separated us. There was no friction and little trade. We played golf, talked about the future of ASEAN, and promised to keep in touch.

His foreign minister, Carlos P. Romulo, was a small man of about five feet some 20 years my senior, with a ready wit and a self-deprecating manner about his size and other limitations. Romulo had a good sense of humor, an eloquent tongue, and a sharp pen, and was an excellent dinner companion because he was a wonderful raconteur, with a vast repertoire of anecdotes and witticisms.He did not hide his great admiration for the Americans. One of his favourite stories was about his return to the Philippines with General MacArthur. As MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte, the water reached his knees but came up to Romulo’s chest and he had to swim ashore. His good standing with ASEAN leaders and with Americans increased the prestige of the Marcos administration. Marcos had in Romulo a man of honor and integrity who helped give a gloss of respectability to his regime as it fell into disrepute in the 1980s.

In Bali in 1976, at the first ASEAN summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in ASEAN. But we could not go faster than the others. To set the pace, Marcos and I agreed to implement a bilateral Philippines-Singapore across-the-board 10 percent reduction of existing tariffs on all products and to promote intra-ASEAN trade. We also agreed to lay a Philippines-Singapore submarine cable. I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.

We met every two to three years. He once took me on a tour of his library at Malacañang, its shelves filled with bound volumes of newspapers reporting his activities over the years since he first stood for elections. There were encyclopedia-size volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines with his name as the author. His campaign medals as an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader were displayed in glass cupboards. He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda, his wife, had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore before the Bali summit they came in stye in two DC8’s, his and hers.

Marcos did not consider China a threat for the immediate future, unlike Japan. He did not rule out the possibility of an aggressive Japan, if circumstances changed. He had memories of the horrors the Imperial Army had inflicted on Manila. We had strongly divergent views on the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia. While he, pro forma, condemned the Vietnamese occupation, he did not consider it a danger to the Philippines. There was the South China Sea separating them and the American navy guaranteed their security. As a result, Marcos was not active on the Cambodian question. Moreover, he was to become preoccupied with the deteriorating security in his country.

Marcos, ruling under martial law, had detained opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, reputed to be as charismatic and powerful a campaigner as he was. He freed Aquino and allowed him to go to the United States. As the economic situation in the Philippines deteriorated, Aquino announced his decision to return. Mrs. Marcos issued several veiled warnings. When the plane arrived at Manila Airport from Taipei in August 1983, he was shot as he descended from the aircraft. A whole posse of foreign correspondents with television camera crews accompanying him on the aircraft was not enough protection.

International outrage over the killing resulted in foreign banks stopping all loans to the Philippines, which owed over US$25 billion and could not pay the interest due. This brought Marcos to the crunch. He sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of US$300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “We will never see that money back.” Moreover, I added, everyone knew that Marcos was seriously ill and under constant medication for a wasting disease. What was needed was a strong, healthy leader, not more loans.

Shortly afterward, in February 1984, Marcos met me in Brunei at the sultanate’s independence celebrations. He had undergone a dramatic physical change. Although less puffy than he had appeared on television, his complexion was dark as if he had been out in the sun. He was breathing hard as he spoke, his voice was soft, eyes bleary, and hair thinning. He looked most unhealthy. An ambulance with all the necessary equipment and a team of Filipino doctors were on standby outside his guest bungalow. Marcos spent much of the time giving me a most improbable story of how Aquino had been shot.

As soon as all our aides left, I went straight to the point, that no bank was going to lend him any money. They wanted to know who was going to succeed him if anything were to happen to him; all the bankers could see that he no longer looked healthy. Singapore banks had lent US$8 billion of the US$25 billion owing. The hard fact was they were not likely to get repayment for some 20 years. He countered that it would be only eight years. I said the bankers wanted to see a strong leader in the Philippines who could restore stability, and the Americans hoped the election in May would throw up someone who could be such a leader. I asked whom he would nominate for the election. He said Prime Minister Cesar Virata. I was blunt. Virata was a nonstarter, a first-class administrator but no political leader; further, his most politically astute colleague, defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, was out of favour. Marcos was silent, then he admitted that succession was the nub of the problem. If he could find a successor, there would be a solution. As I left, he said, “You are a true friend.” I did not understand him. It was a strange meeting.

With medical care, Marcos dragged on. Cesar Virata met me in Singapore in January the following year. He was completely guileless, a political innocent. He said that Mrs. Imelda Marcos was likely to be nominated as the presidential candidate. I asked how that could be when there were other weighty candidates, including Juan Ponce Enrile and Blas Ople, the labor minister. Virata replied it had to do with “flow of money; she would have more money than other candidates to pay for the votes needed for nomination by the party and to win the election. He added that if she were the candidate, the opposition would put up Mrs. Cory Aquino and work up the people’s feelings. He said the economy was going down with no political stability.

The denouement came in February 1986 when Marcos held presidential elections which he claimed he won. Cory Aquino, the opposition candidate, disputed this and launched a civil disobedience campaign. Defense Minister Juan Enrile defected and admitted election fraud had taken place, and the head of the Philippine constabulary, Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos, joined him. A massive show of “people power” in the streets of Manila led to a spectacular overthrow of a dictatorship. The final indignity was on 25 February 1986, when Marcos and his wife fled in U.S. Air Force helicopters from Malacañang Palace to Clark Air Base and were flown to Hawaii. This Hollywood-style melodrama could only have happened in the Philippines.

Mrs. Aquino was sworn in as president amid jubilation. I had hopes that this honest, God-fearing woman would help regain confidence for the Philippines and get the country back on track. I visited her that June, three months after the event. She was a sincere, devout Catholic who wanted to do her best for her country by carrying out what she believed her husband would have done had he been alive, namely, restore democracy to the Philippines. Democracy would then solve their economic and social problems. At dinner, Mrs. Aquino seated the chairman of the constitutional commission, Chief Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, next to me. I asked the learned lady what lessons her commission had learned from the experience of the last 40 years since independence in 1946 would guide her in drafting the constitution. She answered without hesitation, “We will not have any reservations or limitations on our democracy. We must make sure that no dictator can ever emerge to subvert the constitution.” Was there no incompatibility of the American-type separation of powers with the culture and habits of the Filipino people that had caused problems for the presidents before Marcos? Apparently none.

Endless attempted coups added to Mrs. Aquino’s problems. The army and the constabulary had been politicized. Before the ASEAN summit in December 1987, a coup was threatened. Without President Suharto’s firm support the summit would have been postponed and confidence in Aquino’s government undermined. The Philippine government agreed that the responsibility for security should be shared between them and the other ASEAN governments, in particular the Indonesian government. General Benny Moerdani, President Suharto’s trusted aide, took charge. He positioned an Indonesian warship in the middle of Manila Bay with helicopters and a commando team ready to rescue the ASEAN heads of government if there should be a coup attempt during the summit. I was included in their rescue plans. I wondered if such a rescue could work but decided to go along with the arrangements, hoping that the show of force would scare off the coup leaders. We were all confined to the Philippine Plaza Hotel by the seafront facing Manila Bay where we could see the Indonesian warship at anchor. The hotel was completely sealed off and guarded. The summit went off without any mishap. We all hoped that this show of united support for Mrs. Aquino’s government at a time when there were many attempts to destabilize it would calm the situation.

It made no difference. There were more coup attempts, discouraging investments badly needed to create jobs. This was a pity because they had so many able people, educated in the Philippines and the United States. Their workers were English-speaking, at least in Manila. There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations.They had many children because the church discouraged birth control. The result was increasing poverty.

It was obvious that the Philippines would never take off unless there was substantial aid from the United States. George Shultz, the secretary of state, was sympathetic and wanted to help but made clear to me that the United States would be better able to do something if ASEAN showed support by making its contribution. The United States was reluctant to go it alone and adopt the Philippines as its special problem. Shultz wanted ASEAN to play a more prominent role to make it easier for the president to get the necessary votes in Congress. I persuaded Shultz to get the aid project off the ground in 1988, before President Reagan’s second term of office ended. He did. There were two meetings for a Multilateral Assistance Initiative (Philippines Assistance Programme): The first in Tokyo in 1989 brought US$3.5 billion in pledges, and the second in Hong Kong in 1991, under the Bush administration, yielded US$14 billion in pledges. But instability in the Philippines did not abate. This made donors hesitant and delayed the implementation of projects.

Mrs. Aquino’s successor, Fidel Ramos, whom she had backed, was more practical and established greater stability. In November 1992, I visited him. In a speech to the 18th Philippine Business Conference, I said, “I do not believe democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy.” In private, President Ramos said he agreed with me that British parliamentary-type constitutions worked better because the majority party in the legislature was also the government. Publicly, Ramos had to differ.

He knew well the difficulties of trying to govern with strict American-style separation of powers. The senate had already defeated Mrs. Aquino’s proposal to retain the American bases. The Philippines had a rambunctious press but it did not check corruption. Individual press reporters could be bought, as could many judges. Something had gone seriously wrong. Millions of Filipino men and women had to leave their country for jobs abroad beneath their level of education. Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours. Hundreds of thousands of them have left for Hawaii and for the American mainland. It is a problem the solution to which has not been made easier by the workings of a Philippine version of the American constitution.

The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada. General Fabian Ver, Marcos’s commander-in-chief who had been in charge of security when Aquino was assassinated, had fled the Philippines together with Marcos in 1986. When he died in Bangkok, the Estrada government gave the general military honors at his burial. One Filipino newspaper, Today, wrote on 22 November 1998, “Ver, Marcos and the rest of the official family plunged the country into two decades of lies, torture, and plunder. Over the next decade, Marcos’s cronies and immediate family would tiptoe back into the country, one by one – always to the public’s revulsion and disgust, though they showed that there was nothing that hidden money and thick hides could not withstand.” Some Filipinos write and speak with passion. If they could get their elite to share their sentiments and act, what could they not have achieved?


gringo and joe al, birds of the same feather?

i must confess to some surprise that, like juan ponce enrile’s, joe almonte’s memoir (february 2015) has turned out to be contentious, at least re EDSA, given senator gringo honasan’s instant “it’s a lie!” plus a two-part retort in the inquirer co-authored by fellow-RAM originals felix turingan and rex robles.

i haven’t read almonte’s, not having received a free copy, i’m obviously not on the list, lol, so what else is new.

but i did read enrile’s (september 2012), spent a thousand six hundred something bucks, only because i needed to check out his EDSA story asap, in case he had said anything new, para ihabol sa EDSA Uno the book (2013) na patapos ko na noon.  at buti na lang, dahil tinira niya ako, at si eggie apostol, nang bonggang bongga, at nakasagot ako.  si eggie naman ay ipinagtanggol ni butch hernandez (direktor ng worldwide foundation for people power noon, ng eggie apostol foundation ngayon) sa inquirer, in a 3-part rejoinder.  read resetting the record straight #edsa and eggie apostol laughed #enrilememoir.

siyempre noong mag-react si gringo, binalikan ko ang chronology ko.  ano na nga ba ang sabi ni alfred w. mccoy, the historian, tungkol sa planong pag-atake ng RAM sa palasyo?

Enrile would proclaim himself head of a ruling junta, the National Reconciliation Council, just after rebel troops assaulted the Palace at 2:00 AM February 23, capturing or killing Marcos.

capturing OR killing.  and, just as i remembered, it was about ver that the desired outcome was unequivocal.

At 2:00 AM of the 23rd of February, Sunday, Col. Honasan and his commandos, guided by carefully prepared maps and rebels in the Palace guard, would break into the presidential bedrooms of Malacañang Palace to arrest Marcos and his First Lady, Imelda. Simultaneously, Col. Kapunan’s force would set off a series of massive explosions near the Malacañang armories, signalling three rebel battalions to move in with reinforcements. The first and largest explosion was intended to assassinate General Fabian Ver who would be sleeping inside his home in nearby Malacañang Park.

so yes, kung RAM ako, ma-o-offend din ako.  at magugulat din kay marites danguilan vitug, almonte’s co-author, just as nagulat ako noon kay nelson navarro na nag-edit ng enrile memoir, kasi puwede namang mag-fact-check.  credibility can’t hinge on just who is making kuwento, lalo na kung may edad na, kahit pa kabilib-bilib siya.   kapag pa-historically-significant ang drama, at hindi sensational lang, serious research naman sana, kahit pang-endnotes lang, para significant talaga.

na-interview ko si general joe almonte back in 1991 when FVR was interested in my yet-unpublished chronology to buttress his first-ever account of the four days for his ED SA ’92 campaign.  that’s how i got to interview then defense secretary ramos, first in camp aguinaldo, then in alabang along with his wife ming and three of the kids and some neighbors, then back to camp aguinaldo for interviews with almonte and sonny razon.  natapos ko, at ihinahanda na ni nonoy marcelo ang cover at artwork for an early 1992 launch, ngunit subalit datapwat hindi natuloy, biglang di na type ni FVR.  hinala ko, nagalboroto ang kampo ni enrile.  but that’s another story.

two things i learned from that almonte interview.  one, that the core group of RAM wasn’t all enrile boys, there were ramos boys too, and ramos knew all about the  aborted coup plot set for feb 23, 2:00 a.m. (not feb 22, 12 midnight).  but saturday afternoon, he didn’t rush to  camp aguinaldo to join enrile right away only because, well,  he was busy, dialogue-ing, flirting, with coryistas who wanted to know why he hadn’t resigned yet, like sis letty, from the marcos government.

two, that almonte  wasn’t daw surprised by people power.

Jose Almonte: One of my principal assignments with Vic Batac concerned people power. We reviewed the many social movements in various countries in various periods, in particular, Ghandi’s work and peoples’ experiences in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. At one point I told Tingting Cojuangco na ang strategy against the soldiers of Marcos is to climb the tanks, kiss the soldiers, give them flowers. day1.htm

yes, ghandi.  even ninoy’s last message quoted ghandi on non-violence.  but in the almonte memoir, according to an inquirer editorial, Who owns EDSA, almonte cites his vietnam experience as the inspiration for people power.

He directly claims that his experience in Vietnam led to a no-casualty outcome in Edsa 1986. “The same principle eventually worked in People Power ’86, where we used it to ensure that there would be no casualties.” In fact, Edsa 1986 is best described as largely peaceful, because several died in the takeover of the government television station. And the animating spirit of active nonviolence behind People Power was definitely not learned from the Vietcong, but from the example of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Above all, he revises history to claim that he knew exactly that People Power would be needed. “It was thus ideal for [Jaime] Cardinal Sin to immediately tell the people to converge where we were to show support.” But in fact the reason the people needed to support the breakaway military faction was because Marcos had found out about the plan, and arrested key participants. The RAM repaired first to Camp Aguinaldo and then to the much more defensible Camp Crame because it was making a last stand.

hay naku.  na kay cardinal sin pa rin.  how about credit where credit is due, like to butz aquino of the august twenty-one movement (ATOM) na unang nagtawag ng people to EDSA to shield the rebel military from marcos’s military might.  cardinal sin hemmed and hawed a while.  people were already marching by the time he got around to asking them, no ifs or buts, to support the rebels.  nothing immediate about it.  read EDSA Uno the book, pages 86, 88-89, 101.

as for gringo et al, i’m only glad they’re now talking about the coup plot that he and enrile denied all through the four days of EDSA and a long time after — enrile admitted to it only in 2000, honasan and kapunan only in 2011.  RAM should really write an EDSA book na, and do it better than enrile and almonte.

on reading The Descartes Highlands

i loved eric gamalinda’s My Sad Republic (2000), but i can’t say the same for The Descartes Highlands (2014).  nothing to do with how different the english is, even if it’s far from the latin american baroque, filipino-english style, of Republic, rather, in the author’s own words, “something completely new, stripped down, and more in-your-face.”

na okay naman, except that the style is new only of him, or maybe of filipino writers in general; otherwise it just sounds and feels, well, american.  and that multiple first-person narrative is gratingly self-indulgent three times over.  where is the tension when all three personalities — american father and two fil-am sons born of different mothers — are similarly flawed and dysfunctional in their separate existences.  sure, there’s the tension in their relationships with the women, who start out fine, but who only get messed up by these self-centered mates in quite depressing ways.  life is just one closed and vicious karmic cycle of sex and drugs, violence (torture, abortion, suicide) and ennui, no recourse, no redemption.

much is made of the moon and mankind’s marks on it, and of the synchronicity (year-wise) of the apollo 16 landing with the birth of the boys and martial law in the philippines, pushing the notion of a shared immortality, but to what end.  in occult thought the moon is a powerful symbol of change and transformation as it waxes and wanes in a 28-day cycle synchronous with a woman’s menses, every new moon offering a new life, a fresh beginning.  instead, “ideas, emotions, themes, characters, and episodes swirl in a cloud of cosmic dust” that fail to coalesce into separate beings, dissipating into nothingness of the mortal kind.

and i get naman the sense of marcos-style martial law’s endless grip.  we’ve been getting the story kasi in drips and drops, or, from recent voluminous memoirs, in floods of whitewash. propaganda posing as truth.  hagiography as history.  almost three decades later, we have yet to get the full unvarnished story of the conjugal dictatorship’s reign of greed and terror.  no post-marcos administration — not cory or fvr or erap or gloria or noynoy — has cared or dared to undertake a documented research study for public consumption (guess why).  so, yes, martial law stories, fictionalized and not, continue to appeal.

however, there are aspects of that grim period that have been told and re-told, in particular, the torture and killing of political prisoners.  and no fiction, even by the greatest writer, could hold a candle to these first-person and eyewitness accounts.

this is not to say that gamalinda’s prose does not impress, and stun, but the story is dated, never moving forward, almost as if to say that martial law hasn’t ended, marcos is still around.  which is true, in a manner of thinking, but certainly not true, historically speaking.

i suppose it is gamalinda’s way of saying that he doesn’t think much of the EDSA revolt of 1986 that saw the marcoses fleeing the palace for paoay and being hijacked by the americans into exile.  even if, as he reveals in an asia society interview (45:37), he was here, among the crowd, in the vicinity of channel 4 on the very day marcos fled.

granted that cory messed up when she enjoined the country post-EDSA to forgive and forget, as gamalinda’s friend lino brocka is said to have lamented (46:47); still, to treat that wondrous event as unmentionable is quite sad for nation, and for the novel, where the people power phenomenon that has gone global, if transitorily and in fits and spurts, could have given the author something current and complicated — like the problematique of non-violent change — to wrestle with, in the process taking the philosophical eklat and existential angst to a higher plane.