Category: elmer ordonez

Not quite goodbye to all that

By Elmer Ordonez

Eight years is not a particularly long time for a columnist but having started late (2004) I feel a need to take a leave to attend to unfinished matters in my other writing.

Rony Diaz, the Manila Times editor-in-chief who started me out in column writing, himself felt that need and took time off. Hence he was able to finish three novels under the title Canticles for Three Women.

December 2012 has been both a sad and gratifying month. For one typhoon Pablo wreaked havoc in Mindanao particularly the Compostela Valley, with 1500 dead, hundreds of thousands rendered homeless, and countless millions lost in destroyed crops and property.

On the other, long delayed laws were passed: the RH, the sin tax and the anti-enforced disappearance bills. The victory of Donato Donaire over Jorge Arce of Mexico, redeeming somewhat lost national honor with the humiliating defeat of Pacquiao.

Closer to home, Philippine PEN held a “feel good” annual conference in Manila on the theme “The Writer as Public Intellectual,” all in all. UP Dean Luis Teodoro as keynote speaker reasserted what he and fellow writers in the late 50s had believed in all along that “the philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.”

Anyone who visits the London High Gate cemetery would see the author himself memorialized in an imposing granite bust and his famous lines etched in stone. Luis paraphrased Marx’s quotation by stating “every writer/public intellectual . . . can contribute, in these times of crisis, to the realization of that human need for coherence and understanding that can arm men and women with the consciousness and will to change the world. To interpret the world is to begin to transform it.”

In the panel on “Filipino intellectual tradition” John Nery, author of a book on the national hero, brought out Rizal’s concept, in condensed form, of an intellectual tradition: Write it down, pass it on. Rizal had learned from fellow exile Mariano Ponce that an old Filipino priest and theologian, Fr. Vicente Garcia, at the Manila Cathedral, had defended the Noli from the attacks of Augustinian friar, Jose Rodriguez. No direct quotes cited by Ponce, but Rizal was moved by Fr. Garcia’s defense whom he saw as telling him to continue with his writing.

Indeed, revolutionary writers like Rizal first write about the human condition in a specific time and place and may live or not to see the consequences of their writing. Incendiary is the word to describe the effects of what Rizal, del Pilar, Lopez Jaena, Bonifacio, Jacinto, and Aguinaldo wrote at the turn of the century. As Rizal presciently said through Elias in his first novel, I die without seeing the dawn. He was shot in Bagumbayan facing the west, as history tells us.

Rony Diaz brought in the literary tradition (e.g. the debates between social consciousness and art for art’s sake in writing) giving the panel a literary justification and a more contemporary dimension. Filipino writers in English who came of age during the 30s have been primarily the ones preoccupied with the aesthetics of writing.

The other panels were participated in by writers/public intellectuals/academics who made the conference a very lively one. Philippine PEN, the oldest existing writers group, is notable not only for keeping the discourse on literature (in all its aspects (craft, technique, form and context) alive but also in sustaining the intellectual and cultural life of the nation, with public intellectuals Salvador Lopez, Alfredo Morales, Alejandro Roces, F. Sionil Jose, and Bienvenido Lumbera, chairs in the span of fifty years—whom Frankie himself described as the “parade horses” of Philippine PEN. The “workhorses” of PEN are the national secretaries with Frankie serving for about forty years, followed by Isagani Cruz, Elmer Ordonez, and Lito Zulueta (incumbent).

I enjoyed helping organize PEN conferences around a theme, forming panels, and inviting speakers. The Rizal lecture is a regular feature of the PEN annual conference, and we look forward to the PEN anthology of Rizal lectures.

Writing this column has enabled me to pursue an alternative outlook, the “other view” first used as a title of a book on writing and culture. (1989) After five years of this column, I have put two volumes through the University of the Philippines Press, the first book on literature, culture and society, the second on academe, politics and memory. The last three years of writing (2010-2012)—the third volume is in my bucket list.

Among my readers who have encouraged me in writing this column are readers who send comments like the following from Connecticut-based Prof Sonny San Juan about my piece on Edward Said:

“I wonder how many Diliman colleagues and counterparts in Ateneo and La Salle still quote Said. He did play an important role in the criticism of Zionism but his criticism is a throw back to an abstract, safe, Eurocentric version idolizing Gramsci and French intellectuals. He rejected the PLO later on for the Oslo accords. Not very many Palestinian militants quote Said nowadays.

Academic fashions here are rapid in adjusting to market demands. No one pays attention to Jameson or any American Marxists here. Eagleton is still active in the UK in his reviews of books. Unionism is on the defensive.

“The last spark of mass activism was the OCCUPY movement which is mutating or sublimating into many other organizations and campaigns but humanism is not their slogan; it is 99 percent versus 1 percent, real material inequality more down than to earth than Said’s pebble-throwing gesture.”

With reminders from Rizal and Marx (thanks to John and Luis) how can one turn his back on writing? As the song goes, we’ll meet again some sunny day.

More than a century of Lope K. Santos’ Banaag at Sikat

By Elmer Ordoñez

As a columnist in English I cannot ignore intellectual trends in Filipino, which has been the preferred language of many professors in their fields (notably Ateneo, UP, La Salle, all elite schools) – which is only just and necessary in a country whose discourses are dominated by English.

Maria Luisa Torres Reyes’ Banaag at Sikat: Metakritisismo at Antolohiya (NCCA, 2011) is one of numerous examples of scholarship in Filipino. This belies the hoary claim of the elite in English that Filipino does not have the vocabulary for intellectual discourse. An Ateneo professor of English, Torres Reyes edits KritikaKultura, a bilingual e-journalon linguistic studies, literature and culture.

Her book is metacriticism, the study of criticism or reception of Lope K. Santos’ Banaag at Sikat since 1907. Santos’ novel (along with its criticism in Filipino) established early enough the capability of Tagalog for handling ideas like socialism.

As editor of Muling Pagsilang, the Tagalog version of El Renacimiento, Santos published in his weekly journal excerpts of his novel Banaag at Sikat for almost two years – read by the intelligentsia and the workers involved in struggle in the first decade of American Occupation. The novel was issued in book form (1906).

Lope K. Santos took over the labor movement, together with Crisanto Evangelista, Herminigildo Cruz, and others when Isabelo de los Reyes and DominadorGomez were arrested for leading mass actions of workers in 1902 and 1903 respectively. Both leaders of the Union Obrero Democratico de Filipinas were “balikbayan” ilustrados who brought with them books on socialism which circulated among nationalists and labor leaders. Santos peppered his novel with discursive passages – uttered by progressive characters like Delfin and Felipe and in exchanges like those between Delfin and lawyer Madlang Layon — alluding to socialist thinkers like Marx and Engels, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Proudhon and Malatesta.

Santos was 25 years of age when he wrote Banaag at Sikat in the thick of labor organizing and demonstrations. (Rizal was 23 when he wrote Noli Me Tangere). Anarcho-syndicalism was the dominant ideology at the time. Crisanto Evangelista persevered in the labor movement (ultimately becoming a Marxist-Leninist when he founded the Partido Komunistang Pilipinas) while Santos (heavily indebted because of his novel) was elected to represent labor in the First Philippine Assembly in 1907, and later to the Senate. He also became governor of Rizal and director of the Institute of National Language (Surian ng Wikang Pambansa).

The critical reception of Banaag at Sikat began right after its publication with an introduction by Santos’ colleague Gabriel Beato Francisco who felt that while the novel was meritorious it was too early (“hindi pa panahon”) for socialism. This was countered by Godofredo Herrera in a three-part essay, followed by Manuel Francisco in a two-part essay, agreeing with Gabriel Francisco. Herrera had a rejoinder in two parts, and so did Francisco also in two parts.

No reviews came out in the 20s. There was renewed interest in the 30s when Teodoro Agoncillo commented that the novel was a “socialist tract” implying it was propaganda and not “literary.” The ‘formal’’ weaknesses (e.g. the didacticism) of the novel were echoed in Juan C. Laya’s review in 1947, and those of Romeo Virtusio and Vedasto Suarez in the 60s, and Rogelio G. Mangahas in 1970. Epifanio San Juan, Jr. using the Marxist approach wrote that contrary to what critics had said about the long speeches, the latter were integral to the thrust of the socialist novel. Comments in passing or as parts of critical essays of other writers (Macario Adriatico, ResilMojares, Soledad Reyes, Virgilio Almario, Inigo Regalado, and others) are cited in Torres Reyes’ assessment.

In 1980 Gregorio C. Borlaza tried to connect the novel to the aims of the “Bagong Filipinas” of the Marcos regime. His essay appropriates the novel to suit the purposes of the New Society – like what was done to a progressive film “Juan Makabayan” where at the end was the claim that agrarian reform was already being carried out.

Torres Reyes noted that formalist or normative criticism runs through the essays and notes except for that of San Juan.Jr., and that there is consistent “dichotomizing” of the dualisms “form and theme,” “intrinsic v. extrinsic,” and “text and context.” The prevailing aesthetics during the turn of the century could only be what was taught in Ateneo or UST which surely included Aristotlean notions of plot, character, conflict/resolution and themes carried over to the University of the Philippines where Agoncillo imbibed the craft of fiction in the 30s. New Criticism, Marxist, Freudian and archetypal approaches may have informed the criticism produced during the 50s through the 70s—.followed by structuralism/post structuralism and post-modernism. Subjective or impressionistic criticism plays a role in judging literary works.

Torres Reyes’ metacriticism is one of its kind. While there may have been studies of the history of criticism in the country, Torres Reyes’ focus on a particular book generates interest in the contexts of the novel and the author, his times or milieu, influences, his literary contemporaries (like Valeriano Hernandez Pena, Modesto Santiago, Francisco Lacsamana, Faustino Aguilar and the “seditious” zarzuelistas) at a crucial period – whence took place the beginnings of the workers movement and its repression, the staging of nationalist plays, the ban on the Filipino flag and the hanging of patriot Macario Sakay as a “bandit,” parliamentary struggle for independence, proletarian or social realist literature in what some call the “golden age” of the Tagalog novel.

After more than a century Banaag at Sikat, for all its “esthetic” shortcomings, has a secure place in the literary canon as the first proletarian novel in the country.

Sleeping with the enemy

By Elmer Ordonez

Affiliates of a party-list group are hard put to justify their participation in the Aquino administration holding key positions in national security, human rights, and antipoverty program and possibly other lesser posts in government. That is, if they claim to be still part of the legitimate Left.

As it stands, they have become part of the ruling elite, whose power derives from vested interests, economic oligarchies, and political dynasties. The party-list group has been absorbed in the political mainstream which is probably their goal in the first place.

If they claim to still represent a segment of the Left, what they are doing up there is in effect “sleeping with the enemy” which is close collaboration with the Left’s natural adversary. They are no longer fighting (supposedly with other party-list groups representing the marginalized) for “crumbs on the master’s table” (to quote another columnist).

What their prominent members are having at the master’s table are not “crumbs” but big stakes.

National security covers the peace talks with opposing armed groups. The government has come to initial terms with the Muslim movement. Now the next in the agenda is the resumption of negotiations with the National Democratic Front. Surely the President would be guided by what his staff, the military, and his national security adviser (who himself came in from the cold) tell him – like, is it worth negotiating with a “spent force” — which the opponents of the NDF like to think. Let them lay down their arms first, or better still surrender. This would be wishful thinking. In the meantime, arrested NDF consultants remain in prison in violation of earlier agreements forged between the NDF and the government. No wonder the negotiations do not move. Also, do not discount US influence in this matter.

Human rights is a crucial program of the government. Despite the big sign at a gate of Camp Aguinaldo along EDSA, “I am a soldier and a human rights advocate,” the salvagings, torture, and enforced disappearances continue with impunity. (The House bill on enforced disappearances is the work of legislators, particularly one whose older brother, a desaparecido, was a former student.) But what is curious about the human rights watch of the government is its failure to differentiate between state/military violations and those allegedly committed by the New People’s Army. Giving them equal weight detracts from the commission’s mandate to go after state violators. Statistics cited by human rights watch groups abroad belie the parity, And if there are indeed violations by “enemies of the state” let the NPA impose discipline and punish offenders — as they have done.

The national anti-poverty program is also strategic. The anti-poverty drive is an area where politicians try to leave an impact on the impoverished but voting masses by attending to their problems of decent housing, food, and schooling for their children. The possibilities for the party-list group to make hay in this field are many.

The ruling party has already considered the party-list group a part of its alliance, and an attractive party-list personality is one of its senatorial candidates for the 2013 election.

Is the Left participation in national elections “sleeping with the enemy”? Not at all unless the group becomes an organic part of a traditional political machine.

Well before the implementation of the party-list provision of the 1987 constitution, the dominant Left tried to test the “restoration of democracy” after EDSA.

The Partidong Bayan was founded in December 1986 and fielded candidates for senatorial and congressional seats the following year. It was foolhardy then to venture in national elections with the oligarchies and political dynasties still in control. But the PnB did not have illusions about winning a senatorial seat. Word went around that the purpose of the exercise was educational and organizational. This would enable the Partido ng Bayan to conduct in effect teach-ins on the basic problems of society, and to expand and consolidate the ranks of the Left.

Then began the harassment by the military and the political establishment of Partido ng Bayan candidates and members. Alan Jazmines, PnB secretary general, experienced several assassination attempts on his life. PnB’s chairman Jose Maria Sison (with constant threats and attempts on his life until the present) left for abroad to accept invitations for lectures. In other words the ruling class (with the intrusion of the military with putschist designs) could not abide the presence of the Left in the electoral arena. Only two PnB candidates made it to Congress. No senator.

The PnB had to disband eventually. Hence it is understandable that the dominant Left did not participate in the first party-list elections. Their leaders/members have always been aware of the hazards of being involved in people’s struggles against injustice and state abuses, or just by running for public office. Look at the affiliations of victims of human rights violations since Cory Aquino’s regime.

People’s organizations associated with the Left fielding candidates outside of the party-list will not be “sleeping with the enemy.” They are simply reviving the spirit of Partido ng Bayan. The party-list group co-opted by the ruling party will have to decide what they want to be – another national political party identified with the government partaking of the largesse at Malacanang, or an independent political party with a clear ideology and platform vying with others for seats in Congress where ruling class and people’s interests contend in the passing of the laws of the land.

The ‘golden age’ and the little magazine

By Elmer Ordoñez

The post-war years were euphoric—being free again, going back to school, and meeting friends who had all become adults, and missing some, casualties of a brutal war.

They were also uneasy times because of the Huk rebellion with the rebels (as some said) knocking on the doors of Manila. In fact some were already around. In Diliman, Huk bands patrolled the campus from midnight and UP police were afraid to venture out. Students had to show their IDs at PC checkpoints. By 1950 the “in-politburo” was rounded up in Manila and scores of intellectuals and journalists were “invited” to army camps for interrogation.

Abroad the Cold War had begun to intensify with the Soviet blockade of the Allied zones of Berlin and C-47s flew in supplies for the beleaguered city. North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel and drove the combined US and South Korean forces into a perimeter around the port of Pusan. The war was fought to a stalemate at Panmunjon to an uneasy truce up to now.

The Cold War created an anti-communist hysteria exploited by US Senator McCarthy who recklessly accused State Department officials of being communists. The House of Representatives through its committee on un-American activities (HUAC) also began its own witch-hunt for Reds in the academe, media, film industry (blacklisting directors, actors, writers like the Hollywood Ten), labor and other sectors. Carlos Bulosan was undeterred and wrote the editorial for the 1952 yearbook of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union attacking McCarthyism. The UP campus would have its first taste of witch-hunting when names of four faculty members were revealed at a board of regents hearing as having been given by administration people to an MIS (Military Intelligence Service) officer.

In Manila most broadsheet journalists kept silent when some of their colleagues were “invited” to the army camps. A bookstore owner was himself “invited” and tortured along with other suspected media people. On campus the MIS agents were on the prowl. Ex-GI William Pomeroy, a classmate in our American lit class, left the campus in summer of 1950, to join his rebel wife Celia Mariano in the Sierra Madre. (cf. The Forest)

It was in this exciting period that the campus developed writers that would produce what Jose “Butch” Dalisay called “the golden age” of Philippine writing. How did this come about when visiting American writer Wallace Stegner asked in 1951 where was the writing about the times—the tensions in Manila and agrarian unrest in Central Luzon. It would seem that writers had turned inwards, writing about their angsts or the traumas of the last war. NVM Gonzalez himself wryly noted that a favorite of students was what he called the “Tennessee Waltz” theme. His workshop yielded stories of lost love, lost innocence, tales of you can’t go home again or goodbye to all that. There was actually a lot more than these.

A good index of the writing of the period would be the Literary Apprentice from its revival in 1948-49 to the rest of the 50s. The Apprentice was open to both beginners and established writers usually members of the UP Writers Club. The little magazine came out annually during the 50s, after which it was issued irregularly until 1993.

Editor Armando Manalo put out in the 1948-49 Apprentice a special section on Jose Garcia Villa (“to keep up with the cultural lag”), with Hernando Ocampo doing the cover with a Christ figure as a “common tao.” (H.R. would again do the cover of 1955 Apprentice (which I edited) rendering a recumbent proletarian figure in abstract form.) The Apprentice during the 30s were noted for colorful covers and this practice was followed by post-war editors. Reuben Canoy, one of three editors of the 1949-50 Apprentice (the two others SV Epistola and William Pomeroy), used the same humanistic motif for the cover. Raul R. Ingles, with Epistola, used Pegasus (drawn by Danny Aguila) for the 1951 cover, while Maro Santaromana, with Ray Ekern as co-editor, designed the 1952 cover himself, using the writer as thinker in blue on a black background. Amelia Lapena, one of three editors (Andres Cristobal Cruz and Tita Lacambra) did the typographic cover of the 1953 cover in white letters and velvet background. Rony Diaz’s story “The Centipede” and Andes Cristobal Cruz “The Quarrel” in this issue won top prizes in the newly opened Carlos Palanca memorial awards for literature.

The 1954 Apprentice edited by Rony V. Diaz, with Pacifico Aprieto and Lourdes Paez, had a striking yellow cover with a bright red lizard on it. Two of its stories “The Beads” by SV Epistola and “Death in a Sawmill” by Rony V. Diaz won top prizes in the Palanca contest.

As Maro Santaromana noted: “We are fortunate here in Diliman (for) the more than a dozen volumes of this yearbook, and in the general literary activity that one finds on the campus.” Maro believed that it was “the independence which writers as well as editors . . . have had as their principal platform for launching their creative work.”

Other things conspired to make UP Diliman a center of literary activity. There were good teachers of creative writing like Prof. NVM Gonzalez, Dr. Leonard Casper, and Prof. Francisco Arcellana who focused on the craft of fiction and poetry. Inevitably they developed a group of young writers who were taken in the UP Writers Club that sustained the Apprentice through the years. Eight of them formed the original Ravens who also edited the Philippine Collegian, Collegian Folio, Philippinensian, and non-UP publications like Comment. In the late 50s a new radical breed of writers took over and put out independent little magazines like Signatures, Blast, and Diliman Observer.

(To be continued)