By F. Sionil Jose / Philippine Star
"Only those with independent means can afford independent views.” Virginia Woolf, the English writer, stated this truism. I can honestly claim that for much of my writing life, my views were my own, unshackled and free. I’ve tried my very best to sustain that freedom till now. Sure, I have biases – all of us do – but these are not shaped in an imprisoned mind.
I have no properties that own me – just this house in Project 8 and this little bookshop in Padre Faura. My National Artist stipend of P50,000 a month, The Philippine STAR fee for my Monday column the occasional honoraria for my lectures and the 30 percent of all sales in my bookshop allow me a decent living. Thank God we have seven children who will not allow my wife and me to go hungry if we go bankrupt.
I never had social or political ambition. All I really wanted to do was to write, to compete with the world’s best whose works I had admired. Ambition? Yes, I wanted to be this country’s best novelist. In this goal, no one can really help me. It is an effort, solitary and self-consuming but come to think of it, so spiritually satisfying; in the end, I realized, it was my own self I was competing with. Vanquish the ego when I edit myself, when I yield to compassion, to others.
But I must be charitable with myself first before I offer help to others. This thought comes to mind as charitable-initiatives like the Community Pantry are very much in the news this week. Charity to one’s self is not pampering one’s self. It means being kind to one’s self, to admit our faults and forgive ourselves, to admit human frailty and likewise forgive those who did us wrong. Of course, I’ve always known the institutionalized do-gooding of the Catholic Church, but it is so rich, it could do much much more, set up soup kitchens for the hungry, shelter for the homeless. And all those billionaires. In this pandemic, why haven’t they donated vaccines by the millions?
Our political leaders
But while I was never interested in a political career, I was fascinated by our politicians and the political process, particularly how our political leaders failed. As a writer I got to know some of them not as politicians but as men of clay.
When I came to Manila in 1938 to attend high school, the flamboyant Manuel Quezon was already in Malacañan. We knew him as a playboy. He fled to the United States in 1942 to lead the government in exile. He died there. The presidents who succeeded Quezon – Osmeña, Roxas and Quirino – all belonged to the old school of political leaders who relied on their parties to propel them to power. Ramon Magsaysay is the first candidate for president to change this by going directly to the people. He was a game changer. After him, Garcia, then Macapagal. They were ordinary with occasional flashes of vision – Filipino first for Garcia, regionalism for Macapagal.
Then Marcos who ruled longest and had the most impact on society and politics, and after him Cory who was a disaster and her son, Noynoy. Cory was “mata pobre.” The Mendiola massacre of peasant demonstrators shortly after she assumed power illustrated her callousness, as did her son in his response to the Yolanda disaster and the Mamasapano slaughter. Fidel V. Ramos – he is the only president who should have modernized the Armed Forces – this was his greatest failing whose result bedevils us today as China slowly nibbles our sovereignty. And Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I owe her my National Artist Award; next to Marcos, her regime was longest, lackluster and marred by the “Hello, Garci” scandal.
In assessing our politicians and their performance, I don’t rely just on what I see on TV, Facebook or commentaries in the newspapers. I have informants, some of them academics or technocrats. It’s so easy to validate information; all Filipinos are open and they love to talk. I never met Ramon Ang, the tycoon who Danding Cojuangco named his heir, but I have heard so many good things he is doing not just for his people. There is a call for him to run for president next year. If he does and he wins, I am sure he won’t be a local version of Donald Trump.
Now, here is a forecast worth betting on. It may turn out that for all his vulgar language, Rodrigo Roa Duterte may yet be, next to Magsaysay, the best president we ever had. All the criticisms considered, just remember this – the country is far safer now than at any other time. And inspite of the poverty, the economy is sure to recover; our foreign reserves are the highest ever. So much infrastructure has been built to hasten development – and this, too, is coming as more and more landlords are becoming producers. The Moro rebellion, I hope, will now wind down as the Moros themselves realize development will assure them peace. As for the communists, their terrorist front, the New People’s Army, is now under attack. I hope it is demolished soon.
The Communist Party was decriminalized by President Ramos, but no politician wants to proclaim himself a communist. So, the party has many front organizations. All should be identified. Communist parties exist in Western Europe, in Japan but these parties don’t have front organizations engaged in armed revolt. Thousands have died and billions lost in this protracted war that is now more than 50 years. It is time the response of the State must be conclusive.
What aggravates the communist rebellion are the opportunists in Congress, in media, the business sector and politicians who curry favor for the communists’ support and for self-protection; they will cease doing this when they are convinced it is no longer necessary or profitable to do so.
Search for meaning
Sometime in our lives, we ask these questions: who am I, where am I going? In this my twilight, I have mulled over these questions and more – why am I writing? Of what use is Art? Why Freedom? And above all, have I given this mundane life any meaning? As for that lofty literary goal, it is honor enough to be nominated to the Nobel, but at 96, I know I’ll not get it. My spirit always lifts though whenever I recall what Tim Kindseth of Time magazine said, that my Rosales novels are “rivaled only by Rizal’s Noli and Fili.”