Thursday, October 14, 2010


Chapter 10: Intramuros
By Nick Joaquin


First to be formally recognized as the colony’s chief executive as well as military commander was Santiago de Vera, governor of the Philippines from 1584 to 1590. De Vera ordered all construction in Manila to be of stone and he had Fort Santiago rebuilt in Pasig limestone. That first stone did not last but it was the start of fortifications that would turn Manila into a Walled City, or Intramuros.

In1590 Gomez Perez Dasmariñas became governor and the building of the city walls proceeded in earnest.
By the following year the governor could inform the king that work on the walls was running pace although no architects or engineers were available. He said that the stone Fort Santiago built by de Vera was already being eaten up by the river and the sea and would have to be reconstructed.

Chinese labor was used on the walls. Funds were raised by taxing Chinese stores, galleon shipments, and imported playing cards. The king sent an engineer, Leonardo Iturriano, to supervise the construction.

The story goes that, on being told once gain that money was needed to complete the walls of Manila, King Philip II rose and, shading his eyes, peered out a window. “Considering how much they’re costing,” said the king, “I should be able to see the top of those walls from here.”

Actually, the walls must have been a bargain since they were finished in record time. Dasmariñas governed only three years but his prime project was almost complete when he was murdered by mutinous Chinese boatmen. He was succeeded as governor by his son, Luis Perez Dasmariñas, who inaugurated the walls in 1594. The project had thus taken only about three years to finish.

The walls of Manila were some two miles of rampart, bastion and battlement, surrounded on all sides by water: either sea, river or moat. This belated medieval artifact is ranked by an American historian as one of the chief works of the 16th century.

Of the gates in the walls, three (Santa Lucia, Postigo and Banderas) opened on the sea; two (Almacenes and Santiago) opened on the river, for the use of the cargo boats; and two (Real and Parian) opened on the teeming neighborhoods then known as Extramuros, or “outside the walls.”

The original Intramuros was described as “a curious city built by amateurs.” It was “small but beautiful.” It was “very handsome and distinguished”; its halls were like palaces. It was “an island formed by sea, river and moat.” One visitor remarked that Manila enjoyed “all the arts needed in a community,” and that the galleons built in Manila were bigger the ships on the Mediterranean.

Fort Santiago dominated the western tip of the city. The fort was manned by thirty soldiers with their officers and eight artillery men, all under a commandant who lived in the fort.

Facing the fort was the cathedral, of hewn stone, with three naves. Between fort and cathedral stretched the Plaza de Armas, around which rose the royal halls. These were stone buildings of two stories, with two interior courts, each surrounded by lower and upper galleries, or corridors.

At the Palacio del Gobernador resided the chief executive and his family. The Real Audiencia had a very large and stately hall for its offices. Another hall had a throne room for the royal seal. Also on the Plaza de Armas were the royal chapel, the treasury house, the armory, and the arsenal, where workmen and convicts ground gunpowder in thirty mortars.

Down Calle Real del Palacio was the church of the Augustinians, one of the most sumptuous in the city, with a large monastery and many interior courts and gardens. Also of stone was the priority of the Dominicans, which had a church, a cloister, and accommodations for forty friars. Forty likewise were Franciscans living in the motherhouse of La Provincia de San Gregorio Magno. The Jesuit residence had a church, a seminary, and a boarding school where the students were gowned in tawny-colored frieze with red facings.

The city had a royal hospital for the Spanish and a general hospital for the public, where skillful physicians and surgeons and apothecaries wrought many marvelous cures. Santa Potenciana was a refugee for widows and orphan girls. The Intramuros houses of the 1590s about 600 of them, were already developing the Hispano-Filipino architecture that we now call the Antillan style: a ground story of stone, an upper story of stone, an upper story of wood, sliding window frames with capiz panes, an interior courtyard, a roof of red tile.

Manileños went strolling or riding on two promenades: one from the Puerta Parian along the riverside to Paco; the other from the Puerta Real along the seaside to Malate. But you had to be back in Intramuros before 11:00 p.m., when the drawbridges were raised and the gates were closed until 4:00 a.m.

(This curfew custom fell into disuse in the 19th century. When the Revolution broke out, the Spanish had a hard time getting the rusty mechanism of the drawbridges to work again.)

The Maynila of Soliman had been for Asia but “a land fit for snakes and savages.” But the Manila of the conquistador was a power that awed Asia. (Japan would close its doors to the world for fear of Manila.) Royal disputes in the Malay sultanates were referred to Manila, which backed its championship of this or that side with troops sent to the site of the conflict.

Circumstances seemed to be decreeing that Manila was inevitably to absorb the territories of Macao, Formosa, the Moluccas and Borneo. The kings of Cambodia and Siam sent embassies to Manila to sue for alliances with the imperial city. The embassies arrived with gifts of elephants that were paraded through the streets of the Walled City to a gaping public. The City Hall of Manila sent one of the elephants as a gift to the emperor of Japan.

Thus, as one equal to another, behaved the City of Manila toward kings and emperors. And this during a period that certain historians choose to bewail as a fall or decline of Philippine culture.

But it was during these supposed “dark ages” that the Philippines entered book culture: paper and printing finally reached the islands.

It was at his time that we acquired masonry culture. This meant roads and bridges, stone walls and tile roofs, engineering and architecture.

We advanced into wheel and plow culture. The carreton and the harnessed carabao ended our age-old subsistence economy. We were presently exporting rice to Asia. Growing our own wheat, we became self-sufficient in flour—until cheap wheat from Spanish California was dumped on our shores.

Factory culture started in the Philippines with the establishment of kamaligs for the mass production of bricks, cement, liquor, gunpowder, cannon, the silk thread, cigars and export sugar.

The maps that were belong made of the Philippines as a unit trained us to think of ourselves as a unit.
The once separate the warring kingdoms of Manila, Cebu and, yes, Jolo were steadily projected as a single entity: Las Filipinas. Divide and conquer? The Spanish policy seems rather to have been: “Keep ‘em one!
Keep ‘em together” There were any number of times when Spanish could have dropped Mindanao—or, at least, Sulu—from their empire; but (at the cost of much headache) they opted to keep Mindanao and Sulu Philippine.

As the 16th century waned, Philip II sent a cedula real confirming the status of Manila as the noble and ever loyal capital of the Philippines and granting it a coat of arms. Manila’s escudo featured a sea-lion rampant, with castle and crown.

Saturday, May 14, 2005



I, Lord, the world of men
confess to find, in leaving,
as rare and lovely as when
my lost locks I sat weaving;
find earth fast pair believing
thought I wish it not again,
though I bear thee, dovelike greeting,
my heart of a Magdalen.

- Such love must burn its eyes
and take veil upon veil,
which is like the serpent wise
and like the lion mighty,
yet is frail as the frail
blue doves of Aphrodite.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Nick ... bow
by Adrian Cristobal
05/09/2005 Philippine Graphic

For the Ravens, the young writers who emerged in the 50s and are now in the departure lounge in their 70s. THE WRITER was Nick Joaquin; he remains so to this day as the only honorary Raven. Except for Virginia R. Moreno, known in her time as 'the literary dictator of U.P.', the Ravens are all male (two generically), but she's the most assertive of the group, having waged
many battles and wars for literature and film. If Nick Joaquin isn't remembered for his battles, it's because he quietly won them.

I remember one. It was a time when the National Artist Award for Literature sought the writer instead of the other way around. The outrageous Xoce Garcia Villa and the Marxist Tagalog poet Amado V. Hernandez did not have any supporters and advocates who filled forms in order to qualify them for the award. When it was Nick Joaquin's turn to receive it, there were grave doubts that he would accept it. It was martial law and some writers were in detention, one of whom was Jose "Pete" Lacaba. Pressed by friends who were connected to Malacanang to accept the award, Nick Joaquin imposed as a condition Pete's release from Bicutan. As a refusal of the honor on the part of the foremost fictionist in the country would make the National Artist Award trivial, to say the least, Pete was released and Nick regally accepted the award.

That incident remains one of the most memorable moments in Philippine literature. Henceforth, there would be political finagling, even on the part of presidents, in the selection of National Artists, although it did produce worthy awardees like the Tagalog poet, critic, and translator Virgilio Almario, otherwise known as Rio. Nick Joaquin -- the Ravens never referred to him as merely "Nick", and only, when he became one of us in the camaraderie of letters and liquor -- had a good and kindly eye for erstwhile young writers. Among them are Pete Lacaba and Gregorio Brillantes. He did not, however, write literary criticism, out of a deep, sense of what is ethical. When he liked a literary piece, he said so, when he didn't like it, he kept his opinion to himself. What he wrote was literary appreciation, of which Jose Rizal was the singular beneficiary.He made the finest translation of Rizal's "Mi Ultimo Adios," and transported Garcia Lorca's "Verde yo te quiero verde" into English. Xoce Garcia Villa would never let us forget Nick's beautiful line: "the frail blue doves of Aphrodite".

Not that Nick was less of a poet but his most memorable story was "Three Generations", which popularized the crab as the symbol of our ailing society. Many an indifferent writer and enthralled, if mediocre, teachers of literature have made their reputation by discoursing on the crab and the image of the senator who gave up poetry as if they were personal discoveries.

Indeed, Nick Joaquin had been used and misused for all kinds of literary and academic pretensions, which strengthens the argument that he was a living legend. At one time, when I was talking about a famous plagiarist, Nick told me that the plagiarist had plagiarized him many times. When I asked why he never once complained publicly, he said, "He's not a writer, after all". That's the only damning remarks that he has said of anyone who considered himself a writer.

Nick's public image is that of a man who always had a bottle of beer in hand. If there's anyone who has popularized San Miguel beer, it wasn't Fernando Poe Jr, but Nick Joaquin. His happiest moments, besides being with writers he liked -- the late Larry Francia, Virgie Moreno, etc -- and, of course, with his family -- were spent in beer joints drinking with policement and assorted denizens of the city. His column was even entitled "Small Beer", though there was nothing small in his consumption, his literary vision, and large humanity. His generosity, after all, was legend. No man I know has placed so little value on money and so high a value on friendship.

Ambassador Chua, the owner of Graphic, was once asked why Nick Joaquin stuck with Graphic when he would have been paid handsomely writing for another publication. Without a moment's hesitation, the ambassador replied, "Nick Joaquin is the Graphic, and the Graphic is Nick Joaquin."

Nick Joaquin is the writer.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Nick Joaquin campaigned for a nation built on the truth

By Rene Q. Bas, Assistant Executive Editor

NICK JOAQUIN occupied the intellectual consciousness of the FEU writers when I entered the university in the late fifties. That was because Dean Alejandro Roces was shaking up the campus into developing a passion for literature and cultural nationalism, and Sarah Joaquin and Mrs. Josephine Cojuangco-Reyes were championing the FEU Drama Guild.

The campus intellectuals included some of the best short-story writers of the time, like the late Agustin “Ben” Benitez and Azucena “AG” Grajo-Uranza (who has two Palanca Award novels to her name). Both Ben and AG became friends who encouraged me to continue writing poems and short stories.

AG and her best friend, Eva San Jose (who became Mrs. Alberto Florentino), infected me with their love for Nick Joaquin’s work and their their reverence for the words and artistry of A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, an elegiac play that must, however, be read as a novel. AG always spoke in hushed tones about the magic of the play that we saw presented by Lamberto Avellana—not on the stage but in the Sunken Garden in Intramuros.

That was also the time when I first discovered the metaphysical outlook—from reading the Apologist Frank J. Sheed and translations of Saints Thomas Aquinas and Augustine lent to me by the late Fr. Michael Nolan, then the young and handsome chaplain of FEU’s Student Catholic Action. I found Nick Joaquin’s writings reinforcing that outlook within me—and my version of nationalism.

‘Great metaphysical seeing’

Later it gave me a thrill to read that Jose Garcia Villa—another icon in Philippine literature whom Dean Roces had persuaded to break his life of exile in New York for a spell to share his august existence among us Filipinos at UP and FEU—had valued Nick Joaquin for being metaphysical. Villa said not only that Nick Joaquin “is our only poet who has language, who writes poetry, and who reveals behind his writing a genuine first rate mind” but also that he “is a writer with real imagination, an imagination of power and depth and great metaphysical seeing.”

Joaquin’s rich body of works has contributed to the post-World War II Filipinos’ understanding of their place in history, the uniqueness and importance of their being—despite the antipathy toward him of some nationalist writers. They labeled as nostalgic hispanism Joaquin’s insistence on the reality that until the Spaniards came the people who were the ancestors of today’s Filipinos had no “national consciousness.” Joaquin in fact maintained that it was the martyrdom of Gomburza—the priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora—three and a quarter century after Magellan discovered the Philippines for the Europeans, which marked the beginning of Filipino nationalist consciousness.

What Nick Joaquin, the historian, advocated in handsomely crafted essays was not for Filipinos to become sentimentally attached to their Hispanic heritage but for them to become a mature people who know the truth about themselves. He never failed to remind that this truth includes the fact that much of our being is what we have become as a result of the impact on our native cultures of the Roman Catholic Christianity brought to us by the Spaniards. He wanted us Filipinos to chart our destiny as a people guided by the truth.

Nick Joaquin wrote this dedication on my copy of The Complete Poems and Plays of Jose Rizal Translated by Nick Joaquin: “For Rene Bas: Happy reading of what I hope you find to be Happy de-Hispanizing!”

His 1988 book, Culture and History, corrects a wrong historical viewpoint that erroneously leads Filipinos to believe that their sense of nationhood should be traced to a nonexistent golden age in the pre-Hispanic past and that the Spanish conquest should be blamed for aborting the development of Filipinos as an Asian people.

Against that viewpoint, Joaquin argued that “before 1521 we could have been anything and everything not Filipino; after 1565 we became nothing but Filipino.”

The essays collected in A Question of Heroes paints realistic warts-and-all portraits of the leading names in our pantheon.

Few doubt that Joaquin—born Nicomedes Marquez Joaquin on May 4, 1917, in Paco, Manila—was the greatest Filipino writer in English.

Joaquin was a dropout from the Dominican seminary in Hong Kong. He went to church almost daily and had a special devotion to the Santo Domingo Church’s Our Lady of La Naval.

Joaquin’s novels and stories often deal with the coexistence of the primitive and the cultured dimensions in the human psyche. His most graphic work that contains this concept is the short story “The Summer Solstice.”

A schizophrenic generation of Filipinos

In the novel The Woman Who Had Two Navels, the vivid human drama turns into an effective metaphor to portray the schizophrenic generation of Filipinos whose Spanish-Catholic heritage was still very much alive in their being while they were also being raised under the American version of civilization.

Joaquin was also a consummate journalist. In the fifties and sixties he began writing his reportage pieces under the pen name Quijano de Manila. These were journalistic works—on crime, politics, entertainment and various celebrities—marked with the vividness of short stories and the depth but not the academic drone of sociological treatises. In the USA, works of the kind that Joaquin called reportage had appeared only in The New Yorker at first and then came to be called “the new journalism.”

Joaquin started his literary career by contributing poems and essays to national magazines. He published his first poem in 1935 in The Tribune.

He joined the Philippines Free Press magazine in 1950 as proofreader. He soon became a staff writer, signing his work as Quijano de Manila. Then as the Free Press literary editor, he influenced the careers of young writers, most of whom have become icons of Philippine literature themselves.

He later edited the Asia-Philippine Leader magazine. And became editor in chief of the Philippine Weekly Graphic. He was publisher of the Mirror magazine when he died.

His short stories have won every major prize in the Philippines, including the Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. In 1996 he was chosen Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for literature and journalism.

He received the Republic Heritage Cultural Award in 1961 as journalist of the year.

His essays, short stories and poems have been collected into best-selling books, most of which are out of print.

A first-rate biographer

He also wrote first-rate biographies. His last work, Abe: A Frank Sketch, which he finished writing in February and is now being prepared for printing, is a biography of another cultural icon, the late editor, writer, art enthusiast and painter Emilio Aguilar “Abe” Cruz.

Joaquin was born in Paco on Calle Herran, the son of Leocadio Y. Joaquin, a lawyer and a colonel of the Philippine Revolution, and Salome Marquez, a schoolteacher. After three years of secondary education at the Mapa High School, he dropped out of school to work on Manila’s waterfront and in odd jobs.

He read widely at the National Library but before that he had read all the books in his father’s library.

He is survived by his sister Carmen Joaquin Enriquez, the wife of the former mayor of Zamboanga City, Joaquin Enriquez.

His other siblings are the late publisher Enrique (Ike) Joaquin, the jazz pianist Porfirio (Ping) Joaquin, Augusto Joaquin, Adolf Joaquin and Generosa Joaquin.

President Arroyo expressed deep emotion over Joaquin’s death. Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the President felt it as a personal loss because Joaquin was a good friend of the Macapagal family.

She declared Sunday, May 2, a day of national mourning for Joaquin.

She said: “In writing of politics and history, Nick taught us that without memories, we are orphans, without memories we are fated to repeat the past and all of its mistakes.

“But he always gave us hope and the promise of a new beginning. Even as we lay him to rest, I see a new light on the horizon. I see a new Filipino emerging: confident, self-assured, forward-looking. I see a new nation rising from the field of our past battles.

“In memory of Nick, let us come together this day to build a society worthy of our heroes, our artists, and our best selves.”

Joaquin’s ashes were buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani at Fort Bonifacio, Makati City. He was given a three-gun salute.

Fellow National Artists and some of his close friends paid tribute to him.

Nick Joaquin and his contemporaries

Sunday, May 09, 2004
Nick Joaquin and his contemporaries
By Elmer A. Ordoñez

Nick Joaquin, National Artist for Literature, born in 1917, belongs to the generation of writers, almost all of who had passed away. I say almost because Edith Tiempo, National Artist for Literature, born in 1919, is still very active in Dumaguete. Dominador Ilio, poet and engineer, born in 1913, still resides in Diliman. Silvestre Tagarao, fictionist, born in 1919, whose riveting book All This Was Bataan (1991), could still be around. There may be others.

The contemporaries of Nick Joaquin began writing well before the Second World War. The patriarch of that generation may well be Jose Garcia Villa, National Artist for Literature, born in 1908, who with Federico Mangahas, born in 1904, and Salvador P. Lopez, born in 1911, formed the UP Writers Club in 1927, which was to set the tone and pace not only of campus writing, but Philippine literature in English as well. The Literary Apprentice and the Philippine Collegian were considered national publications.

Villa gained international stature in America where he went on self-exile after being suspended from the university for a poem “Man-Songs,” considered “obscene” by a Manila court. From the United States he exercised great influence on the Manila writers through his modernist poetry, his critical essays, and his Roll of Honor for short stories. His Footnote to Youth (1933), a collection of stories, Many Voices (1939), book of verses, Poems of Doveglion (1941), Have Come, Am Here (1942), and Selected Poems and New (1957) constitute the corpus of Villa’s fiction and poetry. Jonathan Chua of Ateneo was able to retrieve the critical essays accompanying Villa’s Roll of Honor choices in the thirties in The Critical Villa (2002). Larry Francia edited a selection of Villa’s poems including the poet’s hitherto unpublished illustrations. It was launched in Diliman in 1988.

Villa’s associates abroad were leading poets in the US and Britain including Dylan Thomas who, like Villa, was a regular at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York—where I met Villa for the first time in 1957, introduced by the younger Jose Lansang. Villa started writing poems in mid-twenties in UP High School where he edited the school annual The Clarion. We of the fifties generation worshipped Villa. I even wrote my baby thesis on him.

His comma poems created a stir when they came out in the 1948-49 Literary Apprentice edited by Armando Manalo, who included the comments of Edith Sitwell, David Daiches, Marianne Moore, Babeth Deutsch and Eliot Paul along with Francisco Arcellana, Lydia Arguilla-Villanueva, Manuel A. Viray, and Angel Hidalgo—younger contemporaries of Villa and the generation of Nick Joaquin.

Manalo, the Apprentice noted: “The section on Villa has received an inordinately large amount of criticism, chiefly those who have never read him. Some of the most conscientious objectors are professors who have not caught up with the trans-Pacific cultural lag. There is no special reason for this belated tribute to Villa. Unless you wish to recall that exactly 20 years ago, Villa was expelled by the University for writing un-edifying poems. Let us take this as self-criticism still absolutely pertinent to our time. Comstockery is like sin: it thrives where it can exist unchallenged.” This was the period when Cristino Jamias said that the campus was “full of singing birds, and everyone threatened to write.”

The elders who suspended (not expelled) Villa in 1929 included the poet dean of the College of Law who could not abide the modernist trend in Villa’s poetry. This was also the time when Victorio Edades had problems with the conservative UP professors of fine arts and debated with Guillermo Tolentino, sculptor, on the issue of modernism v. classicism in art. Edades found a haven in UST where he was able to develop its school of fine arts and lead in art modernism.

Jose Garcia Villa, S. P. Lopez, Federico Mangahas, Jose Lansang, Arturo B. Rotor were original founding members of the UP Writers Club (1927), which raison d’etre was to put out the Literary Apprentice. Villa left for the US after winning his travel money from the Philippines Free Press for the prize-winning story “Mir-i-nisa.” But as soon as he was settled, he continued to be active in the local literary scene. Besides the Apprentice and Collegian, Villa read stories in the Philippine Magazine (edited by A.V. Hartendorp), Herald Midweek Magazine, Graphic, National Review, Sunday Tribune Magazine and Story Manuscripts (put out by the Veronicans) for his Roll of Honor.

The Veronicans was formed in 1935 by UP and non-UP-based writers including Arcellana, Manuel Arguilla, Narciso Reyes, Hernando Ocampo, Salvador Faustino, Delfin Fresnosa, Angel de Jesus, T.D. Agcaoili, Manuel A. Viray, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Oscar de Zuniga, Lazaro Espinosa, Armando Malay, Antonio Gabila, Lazaro Espinosa, Pacita Pestano, Lina Flor, and Ernesto Basa. Nick Joaquin was not known to be a Veronican, but later he condescended to join the post-war Ravens as honorary member.

Some of the Veronicans wrote stories that were not acceptable in big magazines; hence they put out Expression, a little magazine of experimental writing. Its Story Manuscripts made it into the writing mainstream.

Two Veronicans, Franz Arcellana and NVM Gonzalez, became National Artists for Literature, and one, Hernando Ocampo, a Natonal Artist for Visual Arts. Before he became known as a painter, Ocampo wrote and published at least 12 stories including “We and They.” They deserve to be put together and published to show his literary side.

The older writers, Lopez, Mangahas and Lansang, and others formed on the eve of the war in Europe the Philippine Writers League, which set the radical tone of literature during the Commonwealth. They supported the social justice program of Quezon and took antifascist and anti-imperialist positions. Inevitably they collided with the followers of Villa like Arcellana, Alfredo E. Litiatco of La Salle, and dramatist Jose Lardizabal. A kind of literary polemics (on the issues of literary dictatorship and committed writing v. art for art’s sake) filled the pages of the Herald Midweek Magazine and the Sunday Tribune Magazine.

I suspect though that majority of the writers during the Commonwealth were, as Fidel de Castro, a poet and UP Writers Club member, told me in the fifties, “bitten by the radical bug.” Except Franz who regretted after the war Arguilla’s involvement in politics: “He should have left patriotism to others. We have too many patriots. We don’t have too many writers.” Arguilla, a guerrilla officer, was killed by the Japanese. Litiatco died of illness during the Occupation. De La Salle named its writing center after him.

Nick Joaquin who worked as a proofreader in the Manila Tribune apparently kept to himself, but he published his first poem in 1935 and his first story “Of Tinsel and Grease” in 1937. He was not known to have mixed with the Veronicans or the Philippine Writers League. He worked as a laborer during the Occupation, but managed to contribute two stories, “The Woman Who Felt Like Lazarus,” and “It Was Later than We Thought,” and an essay “La Naval de Manila” for the Philippine Review. Mangahas, who was noted for his satirical essays (including one ostensibly in praise of Quezon who unwittingly had it framed) said of Joaquin’s essay:

“This is quite elegant if elaborate form of the mystical slave complex that has to find complete emotional fulfillment around a few naval victories for incipient, inept imperialism, and the faith. Anthropology and history can be put to more intelligent uses.”

Incidentally Claro M. Recto saw the framed essay of Mangahas in Quezon’s study and chided him. Quezon in fury smashed the frame and had Mangahas fired from his teaching post in the UP Department of English. Eventually Mangahas ingratiated himself with Quezon who took advice from him as a Palace intellectual. This is how the Philippine Writers League of which Mangahas was president was able to get Quezon to support the Commonwealth Literary Contest.

The war in Europe hanged like a pall over the literary scene alive with writers competing for the Literary Contest. The 1940 awards produced a bumper crop of stories, poems and essays. The 1941 Contest was much leaner in prizes for the subsidy was considerably reduced. Practice blackouts were then held regularly. The last Commonwealth celebration I attended on November 15, 1941, was held in then open fields of Quezon City along the boulevard that ended its pavement in what is now the Delta crossing. The parading troops and cadets marching to the tempo of “El Capitan” were an augury of the war that came on December 8, 1941 in the country.

Mangahas said in February 1941: “The world crisis is very much in evidence here. It struck the writers intimately when it induced the government to curtail the literary contests to their present narrow scope in their second year. But this development is trivial by the side of the problem of the preservation of freedom as now menaced by the march of fascism in many places Writers will write, contests or contests; but when there is absolute regimentation such as visualized under a fascist order; it is difficult to conceive of any authentic literature coming into flowering at all.”

Nick Joaquin’s “It was Later than We Thought” published in 1943, during the Japanese Occupation, using the epistolary mode, portrays a family caught up in the time’s confusion just before the Pacific War—the blackouts, the air raid drills, the near panic. But Lulu, the journalist in the Cabrera family, manages to keep her head and gives advice to the girls in “these parlous times.”

Nick Joaquin and his contemporaries—NVM Gonzalez, Franz Arcellana, Bienvenido Santos among others—after the war showed what the Filipino creative genius is capable of—a flowering of authentic literature. The post war writers like F. Sionil Jose and his generation deserve a separate piece.

Jose Marte Abueg's Ode to Old Nick

Salamander: Ode to Old Nick

Salamander on the wall, melancholy
and soundless, recalling the eve
of May, April day in sudden repose.
In our withered garden, our
diminished realm. Outside
the lone, deep sepulcher
newly unsealed.
Rise, old Solomon,
intone your myths, call in
serpents to bring jewels, stories, gifts.
Summon minstrels, dancers,
magicians to usher in
mists, enigmas, music
in riddles. Wake Sheba once more,
her temple of veils ransack anew
for icons, alchemies, portraits
of essences. Banish the shadows,
ban the unexamined, unearth
our caves. Tame our apes of dead
syllables. Cast out the pale, mute
unimagined. Demolish, old
salamander, this wall
of the unwritten. Let the peacocks
loose to roam, multiply again
in the aviary of your word garden.
Conjure history, texture, prose,
bring forth tale and ritual, weave
legendry and novel, pageantry
and poem—embroider our navels.
Genius lit like a mirror at the midnight
of generations, with Joy, Pleasure,
Aphrodite, or merely us, lay
blue eggs of frail young doves. Viva!
Viva, Old Nick! Open your eyes!

(For Nicomedes Joaquin, 1917-2004)++


Six P.M.

Trouvere at night, grammarian in the morning,
ruefully architecting syllables—
but in the afternoon my ivory tower falls.
I take a place in the bus among people returning
to love (domesticated) and the smell of onions burning
and women reaping the washlines as the Angelus tolls.

But I—where am I bound?
My garden, my four walls
and you project strange shores upon my yearning:
Atlantis? the Caribbeans? Or Cathay?
Conductor, do I get off at Sinai?
Apocalypse awaits me: urgent my sorrow
towards the undiscovered world that I
roam warm responding flesh for a while shall borrow:
conquistador tonight, clockpuncher tomorrow.

The Innocence of Solomon

Sheba, Sheba, open your eyes!
the apes defile the ivory temple,
the peacocks chant dark blasphemies;
but I take your body for mine to trample,
I laugh where once I bent the knees.
Yea, I take your mouth for mine to crumple,
drunk with the wisdom of your flesh.

But wisdom never was content
and flesh when ripened falls at last:
what will I have when the seasons mint
your golden breasts into golden dust?

Let me arise and follow the river
back to its source. I would bathe my bones
among the chaste rivulets that quiver
out of the clean primeval stones.

Yea, bathe me again in the early vision
my soul tongued forth before your mouth
made of a kiss a fierce contrition,
salting the waters of my youth!

Sheba, Sheba, close my eyes!
The apes have ravished the inner temple,
the peacocks rend the sacred veil
and on the manna feast their fill—
but chaliced drowsily in your ample
arms, with its brief bliss that dies,
my own deep sepulchre I seal.

From Bye Bye Blackbird

A death in the family. Relatives
you haven’t seen since the last
death in the family reappear
like furniture from your past
reassembled for a movie about it;
reassembling now only as props:
footlight (as it were) and backdrops,
to celebrate not a death but the family
here having one of its final stops,
here it continues where it stops.

No one is here as a person,
only as the correct representative
of his branch of the line. Only
the man that’s dead is here as himself,
is discussed as such. “Rather lonely,
his last days.” “Well, he was on the shelf
all of these years.” “He was renting
that crummy apartment?” “No, just a part
of it, the upstairs.” “Collapsed, alone
with his cats—whom someone should be representing.
They were so dear to him.” “From the start
of the stroke, unconscious.” “Four o’clock dawn.”
“Died like his father, cerebral hemorrhage.”
The crowd wake was a lively tone.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The man with two novels

by Manolo Quezon

NICK Joaquin to me was sin and stories. The first due to an early memory of my father arriving home with a copy of "Manila: Sin City" which he cautiously placed on a high shelf, beyond my reach; the second due to "Pop Stories for Groovy Kids" one set in green, the other in orange, brought back from Erehwon. Childhood was his stories for kids; my early teens, the guilty pleasure of retrieving his book of essays from the forbidden shelf, there to read about gambling and prostitution, the heat of August and the Ruby Towers quake. The forbidden "Sin City" turned out to be rather tame but tantalizing nonetheless: it opened up history. Not the history of textbooks, but history written in a hurry to meet magazine deadlines.

The pleasure of the forbidden would return when I read his novel "Caves and Shadows," the first "serious" novel I pestered my father to buy for me, my successful lobbying made more delicious by his failing to notice that the cover featured a crab on a woman's breast. The book remains my favorite novel by a Filipino, made all the more precious because it long remained out of print.

Bored to tears by textbooks and the clumsy prose of historians, his "A Question of Heroes" opened up an appreciation of our greats that might otherwise have been impossible. His "The Aquinos of Tarlac" brought forth, in turn, the discovery of political biography. His stories were now, for me, about sins: of the high and mighty, both generations gone and those in the here and now.

But it was when I found in a shop, and read with feverish delight, his "Reportage on Politics," that his influence on me became profound. I had strayed from the writings of Filipinos, entranced as I was by the journalism-as-history of Ryzard Kapuscinski, a Pole who wrote on the decay and destruction of despots: of courtiers in hiding pining for the rule of the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie; of his witnessing the collapse of the autocracy of the Shah of Iran. Abroad, watching from afar the senile last days of our home-grown dictatorship, foreigners seemed the only ones who could write about curtains coming down on dictatorships. Meaning was in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Autumn of the Patriarch," not in anything by a Filipino. James Fenton seemed more capable of writing about the flight of the conjugal dictatorship than any Filipino.

Then came Nick Joaquin's "Quartet of the Tiger Moon," and for once there was a rival to James Fenton's reportage on the fall of the House of Marcos.

But it was one slim collection, his "Reportage on Politics"-found one weekend in 1988, in a tattered condition-that finally gave me what every aspiring writer needs: a model to emulate. Here were the stories I wanted to read, about the period I found most interesting: the period of the fallen Third Republic, peopled by heroes and villains, most of whom were still alive, the rest departed not so long ago; an age so vivid to my elders but totally alien to my martial law baby eyes. Here was Mrs. Macapagal setting out to clean a Palace now gone (demolished by her husband's successor); here were political parties with rivalries stretching back generations; here were politicians castigating pollsters, denouncing survey results, movie idols making aborted runs for the presidency. Most delightful of all, the book contained the finest piece of Filipino political reportage I'd ever read: "13 o'clock": in which Speaker Pepito Laurel, drunk as a skunk, wrestles a microphone to the ground during a session of the House, and where, presiding over a sine die session in which the legislature literally commands time to stand still, a devious Ferdinand Marcos saves his Senate presidency by surreptitiously re-starting the clocks allowing him to gavel the session adjourned. This was the model; the way to write about politics and politicians; this was the keen eye for detail, the mordant wit, the way to get it done. The only other literary journalist to approach his level of influence on me would be Pete Lacaba's reportage on the First Quarter Storm-and was he not heir to the great Joaquin?

That same year, Tom Wolfe, my preeminent writing idol of the time, published a literary manifesto titled "Stalking the Billion Footed Beast." Profound was its influence, simple though its message was: Be curious! Look, observe, inquire, and by so doing, write real stories, whether in journalism or fiction. Ten years later, Nick Joaquin would make a speech with much the same message: seek out reality, embrace it, then mold it to your will; reality was the clay necessary to produce great works of the imagination. As he himself pointed out, before the Latin Americans had given birth to magical realism, the humid improbabilities of say, Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he had labored forth on what we like to call his Tropical Baroque. Long before Tom Wolfe published "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test," there had been Joaquin with his reportage on politics, on people, events and crime (he felt great pride in the authorship of his crime pieces, bellowing an exhortation to me once, that they must be included in the Free Press centennial book, something I was unable to do). And he was right; what's more, unlike Americans like Wolfe, his journalism as fine writing has aged well. "Kool Aid" suffers from artifice; Joaquin's reportage continues to shine.

He would close his more important public remarks with, "I have spoken." A literal translation of the way the Tagalogs of old would close their more solemn remarks. Aguinaldo, of whom he had written a play of penetrating psychological insight rivaled only by Gabriel Garcia Marquez's fictional meditation on Bolivar ("The General in His Labyrynth"), used to close his remarks in the same way. This small detail, to me, personified the manner in which Joaquin's heritage was made the world's by his pen.


1. Woman Who Had Two Navels
2. Caves and Shadows

Short Stories
1. Summer Solstice
2. May Day Eve

History/Informative Books
1. Manila, My Manila
2. Culture and History
3. A Question of Heroes
4. The Aquinos of Tarlac
5. Quartet of the Tiger Moon
6. Kadre's Road to Damascus (Ruben Torres's story)

Commissioned Biographies:
1. The Aquinos of Tarlac
2. Jaime Ongpin The Enigma : A Profile of The Filipino as Manager
3. Mr. FEU: The Culture Hero That was Nicanor Reyes
4. Nineteenth Century Manila: The World of Damian Domingo
5. La Orosa: The Dance Drama that is Leonor Goquinco

Latest titles :
1. Rizal in Saga
2. Palacio de Malacanan: 200 Years of a Ruling House
3. Madame Excelsis: Historifying Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

1. Prose and Poems