Saturday, June 25, 2016

Quest for Rizal

THANKS to reader Lucille Lozada’s question, I found an excuse to recently visit a bookstore, guilt-free.

After reading last week’s “Finding Rizal,” Lucille texted me. A retiree, she had read the national hero’s biography, and was now “ready to tackle his 2 novels and last poem.”

“Where can I buy a copy of ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and “El Filibusterismo’?,” asked Lucille.

Last Sunday, I directed her to this national chain of bookstores. By some coincidence, I was near a branch last week and decided to check out my advice.

I expected the Rizal novels to be in the textbook section because these are still required reading in high school and college. Functional reading is still the strongest motivation for many Filipinos to open a book, let alone buy one.

Reading for a utilitarian purpose—defined for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by William S. Gray in 1956 as literacy to enable adults to “meet independently the reading and writing demands placed on them”—seems to be a disservice to Rizal’s classic novels.

In the tradition of the American Adult Education Act of 1966 and the British Right-to-Read movements of the 1970s, functional literacy targets raising an adult from illiteracy to a survival level of literacy. If our educational system and reading culture only promotes reading so that we can, say, know how to read signs and follow written instructions, how will we aspire to read with sensitivity and depth the great written works, which Rizal’s two novels unquestionably are?

On the other hand, my Filipino teacher in high school, Prof. Rosario Montaño of St. Theresa’s College Cebu then, is the reason why I think of Noli and Fili as, first and foremost, love stories. Noli weaves the flowering of the first blush of romance between Ibarra and Maria Clara with the soul-destroying love of Sisa for Basilio and the doomed Crispin. In Fili, love’s underside—betrayed and vengeful—consumes Simoun, the resurrected Ibarra, as he plots to wrest his twin loves—Maria Clara and the country—from the Spanish usurpers.

Prof. Montaño got her students to read and reread the entire Noli. My first Noli copy was a Filipino translation riddled with words I could not find in my pocket Filipino-English dictionary.

If I persevered and later searched for the translations by Leon Ma. Guerrero, National Artist Virgilio Almario, and Charles Derbyshire of The Project Gutenberg, it was due to the probing questions of my Filipino teacher who made me curious about and then later care for the characters of Ibarra/Simoun, Sisa and Basilio.

Functional, school-required reading must then be also seen as a boon for reading in the Philippine context. In the hands of mentors like Prof. Rosario Montaño, the classics will always be with us.

For reader Lucille and other curious souls, this bookstore’s shelves occupied by Noli and Fili are not exactly groaning under but decently occupied by sweet-smelling copies of titles devoted to Rizal, who had his 155th birth anniversary last June 19. I brought home Ambeth Ocampo’s “Rizal Without the Overcoat,” which deserves another column. Cheers and a belated happy birthday to the Pambansang Pepe!

Question: Why is Pepe Rizal’s nickname?

Clues: Felice Prudente Santa Maria’s “In Excelsis,” the National Historical Commission, or Rappler

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 26, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finding Rizal

ON the evening of the last day of pre-enlistment for the coming first semester in our school, I received frantic messages from graduating students.

These incoming seniors were worried that they might not be able to graduate on time because of a misunderstanding over P. I. 100, which is the mandated course on Rizal’s Life, Works and Writings.

The University of the Philippines (UP) system requires all undergraduates to enroll in P. I. 100 in compliance with Republic Act (RA) No. 1425. Some students mistakenly presumed that P. I. 100 is one of the options to meet six units of Philippine studies, which are also prerequisites for graduation.

Millennial frustrations with Jose Rizal come to mind today, June 19, the 155th birth anniversary of the national hero. Students gripe about the relevance of Rizal to their lives, specially since P. I. 100 is required during the final year of college, when seniors address weightier concerns, such as thesis, internship and the dilemma to date or go solo on their last prom.

So while the course description is Philippine Institutions 100 on paper, among generations of students resentful of the “useless” academic burden of studying the “national sell-out” chosen by American imperialists for epitomizing the unheroic values of accommodation and assimilation, P. I. 100 is sometimes referred to in less exalted terms as “P__ I__, Rizal” 100.

Long before the curse-spewing presidential elect Rodrigo Duterte turned this profanity into a statement of “cool,” I noticed how the youth may be the most irreverent but they’re not alone in being cavalier in their remembrance of Jose Rizal.

One of the quizzes I give to test students’ power of observation is to ask them to recall the heroes and historical figures featured in our coins and bills. While reviewing the mistakes I made in taking the quiz, I noticed for the first time how the profile of Jose Rizal is featured in the P1.00 coin.

Among the coins of lower denomination—P0.01, P0.25, and P0.10—P1.00 is the coin that’s most commonly used. It’s telling that I didn’t even remember the familiar profile before taking the pop quiz.

Passed on June 12, 1956, RA 1425 was posted on Vol. 52, No. 6, p. 2971 in the June 1956 edition of the Official Gazette. Viewed online on, the law mandates the youth to read Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo”.

Section 3 directs the Board of National Education to translate the novels and other Rizal works into “English, Tagalog and the principal Philippine dialects”. It also stipulates that Rizal’s works should be printed in “cheap, popular editions” and distributed for free through purok organizations and barrio councils throughout the country.

In the 60 years since the passage of RA 1425, Section 3 remains a pipe dream, a delusion, even an unkindness. It is not just our failure to translate Rizal into all the mother tongues and make him accessible to the masses. Not even the absence of free copies of Rizal’s great novels of national consciousness in the barangay and pure.

The phrase that cuts is buried, fittingly, in Section 3: free copies of Rizal’s novels should be made available to “persons desiring to read them”.

Where do we find them?

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu's June 19, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"

Making memories

AMERICANS take to the road. According to a June 7 article in the International New York Times, lower gasoline prices and a shift inpost-recession values are spurring Americans to get behind the wheel.

The “great American road trip,” writes Clifford Krauss, comes on the tail of the 2008 financial crisis. Americans are savouring their money to “buy happiness” in the form of “adventures and memories”. Unlike “tangible goods that expire and wear out,” a marketing executive described memories as the ultimate acquisitions: “you can’t take away my memory”.

Contrasting with this view of a memory that can be fixed and insured from loss or theft is a line I encountered in Haruki Murakami’s short story, “Yesterday,” published in The New Yorker’s June 9 & 16, 2014

Murakami’s story about lost youth and lost love revolves around a confusing youth named Kitaru, his obsession (or not) for the too-nice-to-be-real Kuritani, and the confused narrator who was Kitaru’s close friend (or not) Tanimura.

However, “Yesterday” isn’t about the eternal love triangle. Murakami starts and ends the story with a meditation over Tanimura’s recall, broken by a16-year gap, of the Kansai translation Kitaru makes of the
Beatles’ classic, “Yesterday”.

When they were 20 and working in a coffee shop, Kitaru translated Paul McCartney’s lyrics into the Kansai dialect. Tanimura listened to Kitaru sing this version as he soaked for an hour or so in the bath: “Yesterday/ Is two days before tomorrow,/ The day after two days ago.”

Trying to make sense of this translation is impossible. I grew up with my yaya’s portable radio always blaring love songs while she ironed clothes and I was supposed to stay put and avoid mischief (and trouble with my parents for her).

So my memory of “Yesterday” is stuck on the groove of these lines, “Yesterday/ All my troubles seemed so far away/ Now it looks as if they’re here to stay/ Yesterday came suddenly.”

Kitaru’s Kansai translation is impenetrable, given my memory of “Yesterday”. Even if I comprehended Kansai (Murakami’s story was translated for The New Yorker by Philip Gabriel), I would not still be able to choose which was the better remembrance of Paul’s poetry: Kitaru’s or mine.

But I take solace in Murakami’s line: “As time passes, memory, inevitably, reconstitutes itself.”

Reading about America’s post-recession wisdom was disappointing. I understand how it is to lose one’s job and lose one’s home. I, too, would cling to something. But memories?

There is no recipe for making memories. I recently emailed my sister photos of my late father’s Beetle. She emailed me that seeing again the old dashboard made her cry. She remembers holding tightly on to the handle placed in front of the passenger seated next to the driver when my father was in one of his moods.

When I was sorting his things, 11 years after he passed away, I cried only once. My father watched over me while I delivered my first born. He scrubbed for exactly an hour. When I didn’t cry during the worst labor pain, he directed my doctor to open me. My daughter never cries, he said. Ergo, she must be in pain.

I found a paper bag where he saved everything he used in that dawn delivery, including the gloves. When I opened the paper-wrapped maroon scrub gown, I cried. I don’t recall him wearing red at all. Memories cannot be counted on.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's June 12, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"

Roar, Id!

HONESTY is the new best policy.

At the end of term, my fellow teachers and I move, in reverse order, from the hell week of final exams and terminal requirements to the purgatory of determining whether to pass or fail a student.

From conversations, it would seem that the new normal among Millennials is to tell the plain, unvarnished truth, in contrast to past generations’ survival instinct to concoct the most elaborate excuse to explain tardiness.

Teacher: Why are you entering my class an hour late, Isko? And where is your assignment?

Student of old: I joined a multi-sectoral mobilization to protest the onerous priorities of the U.S.-backed, military-propped dictatorship to foist their imperialistic bombast through grossly inaccurate and ungrammatical textbooks. We ended hours of street marching with a book- and effigy-burning spectacle. As a symbolic act, I also threw the books in my knapsack into the bonfire. My assignment for your class was inserted in one of the books that are now, inevitably, part of the cold ashes that is but a precursor of what will happen to all U.S.-backed, military-propped dictatorships. “Ibagsak!”

Student today: I forgot the time while having lunch with friends.

What do the young think when they explain that they cannot possibly wake early enough for a 9 a.m. class? I appreciate direct honesty, specially because I don’t have to wade through Marx and Mao (or Freud, if the student prefers psychoanalysis over polemics).

However, my fellow teachers and I wonder about young people’s chances with future bosses who will hire or fire employees not according to liberal principles of freedom of expression but the values of the marketplace.

On a deeper level, teachers are concerned about the sense of entitlement that lies beneath this indifference to the consequences of saying the first thing that’s on one’s mind.

“I couldn’t get up early” can be interpreted to mean many things, each one only varying in degrees of unpalatability: I prefer sleeping to the class. I’m not going through the effort of making an excuse. Why should I apologize when the class is too early for insomniacs like me?

In standard English: I don’t care. IDC, according to Internet slang.

Words and actions have consequences. That’s probably the earliest restraint the Superego and the Ego put on the Id, to simplify Freud. The primal urges we satisfied heedlessly as babies should be submerged or managed by our more mature selves.

That’s a challenging message to put across to 16-year-olds now. See a pretty lady? Wolf-whistle and leer. Like a woman who’s indifferent to your attentions? Joke about raping her (even if she’s indifferent because she’s dead).

Criminals? Order “shoot-to-kill.” Criminal suspects? Same prescription. Corrupt journalists? Endorse “assassination.”

Chastising Millennials for saying and doing less insensitive things changes in the time of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

Parents and educators have challenges lined up when the infantile and the puerile, the dehumanizing and the polarizing emanate from a 71-year-old politician whose foul mouth and antics failed to dent a landslide victory that handed to him the leadership of 100 million Filipinos.

One is so tempted to shrug and walk away: IDC MEH. But what then?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu's June 5, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, "Matamata"