Category: literati

nita herrera-umali berthelsen (1923-2014)

she was my mother‘s youngest sister, the writer i wanted to be like when i grew up.  sharing here an essay she wrote sometime around independence day the 4th of july 1946.  little more than four years later her eldest brother narciso, congressman of quezon province, was falsely accused of and jailed for murder and communist-coddling, this in the time of the huks and lansdale and magsaysay, in aid of increased military aid from america.  it was like tia nita had sadly seen into a troubled future a country still in the shadow of the stars and stripes.

Nita H. Umali

–And of course the proper answer, the one I should quite emphatically give myself, would be, “Why, stupid, it is almost dawn, the light is seeping in! A new day is being born. Why do you close your eyes to it? And why do you turn your back to the sun?” Maybe it is because I am nearsighted, physically and otherwise, and I am afraid of dazzling glares, and because emotionally I am not looking through rose-colored glasses.

This, of course, is striking a discordant note somewhere, and at such a time as this is very improper. I just hope that on the very day of July four the afternoon mist is here to make me realize that all are not sharp angles, except in my noonday imaginations.

Yes, freedom is here and hundreds of years ago they started to gather the bricks for the stronghold that we have today. Women in long, swishing skirts and upswept hair, going to Church in slipper-shod feet, whispering to God that their men should be saved. Mangled bodies and wet blood smelted and the foundation laid. Time went on, and the materials for building were not so dearly priced, until a few years ago, the iron yoke was laid on our backs. Once more, women, now in short skirts, their wooden shoes punctuating the hush in the chapel, asked from God. Not whispered prayers, but in silent supplication, because spoken words were so dangerous. Maimed limbs, numb minds, and closed mouths. The flame of the blood red sun trying to engulf them, and the blood of past ages and the present day flowing by their feet, urging them on, to fight for freedom, for the greater glory.

And now we shall get it. By a piece of paper, signed and sealed, everything will be different. Or will it? Will there be a change in us as we go to class, or walk the streets? Will our way of thinking, our mode of reasoning, alter? Will our country, with all its men and women, its strong-willed leaders, its weak officials, its priests, and lawyers and doctors, its teachers and bandits, its carefree youths and discontented peasants, its beggars and criminals, will she, the Philippines, with her tropic skies and lazy palms, that small group of islands, after long years of restfully reclining on the solid hunk that is America, will she learn to stand erect, unsupported, even on a pair of wobbly feet?

We have what we want, what every other dependent nation has long wanted — we have it in our hands; shall we let it slip away? Will the four freedoms that we have fought for, will it, be just a mockery to what we are? The present dust of Manila is in our eyes, and the dust of the world in our consciousness. The way is dim and shadowy, and though now and then there are erratic shafts of light, still the sudden brightness of tomorrow may blind us.

Faith, hope, and love, those age old standards, these are the sole supports we have, the beacons that are here to guide us, as we leave the protecting shadows of the stars and stripes, and venture forth into a new life that is but a continuity to the old.

the clipping is posted on her facebook page managed by daughter karen.

The Manila Review interviews Katrina Stuart Santiago


Last April, literary critic and essayist Katrina Stuart Santiago wrote a controversial polemic about patronage and cliquishness in the Philippine writing establishment. MR editors Caroline S. Hau (CSH) and Miguel Syjuco (MS) probe deeper.

CSH: Your article, “Burn After Reading” (Rogue Magazine, April 13, 2012) is critical of the “us-vs-them” cliquishness of the Philippine writing establishment. You talk about “an unspoken/unconscious/unexplained set of rules” for gaining entry into the writing community, rules that you say have nothing to do with literary merit. What are these rules?

Read on

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.

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)