Monday, December 21, 2009


Illustration by Danny Dalena

This 41-year-old article, first published in the December 14, 1968, issue of the Philippines Free Press, was recently reprinted in the December 5, 2009, issue of the same magazine. I am indebted to Ricky S. Torre, currently associate editor of the Free Press, for rediscovering, and giving new life to, this old piece—and for giving me a jpg copy of Danny Dalena’s illustration.


Being a Carol and a Paean to Downtown after Dark, Where They Celebrate a Beery Merry Christmas All Year Round.

by Jose F. Lacaba
(Philippines Free Press, December 14, 1968)

THE CROONERS at the downtown beer joints are dreaming of a White Christmas these days, just like the ones we used to know, the only White Christmases we used to know being those that saw a corner of the sala graced by a leafless guava tree painted white and covered over with thick fluffy soapsuds simulating the snow most frequenters of beer joints will never see, except in movies. Anyone can dream, right?—and the crooners, whose calling gives then better chances of making it to temperate climes, have snow-white dreams like you and me and all our little brown brothers; above the din of the beer drinkers, in the tearjerking smoky dimness, the crooners dream of a winter wonderland and valiantly assert that all is calm, all is bright, in these dives where every night, while neither silent nor holy, is always full of good cheer. Good cheer! good cheer! even if the year has not always been good and the beer is, ecchh, served warm and on the rocks. They are keeping the faith, baby, yes, they are, these crooners and their attendant combos, in this season of chill and good will they are keeping the faith in their fashion: with their profane caterwauling they are proclaiming the good news that unto us 1968 years ago was born a Savior whose feast we now celebrate with merrymaking and prayer, with misa de gallo and noche buena.

Noche buena! The good night into which none must go gentle! Quaff the glass, lads, that’s what the downtown beer joints are for, night after night, all year round; and the dolce vita, too, if you don’t mind the juxtaposition. Let us not belabor the analogy, but if Christmas is Joy to the World and No Room in the Inn, Away in a Manger and Gloria in Excelsis Deo, if Christmas is gaiety and spirits in the wretchedness of the human condition, then, downtown, Christmas isn’t a sometime thing. The essence of Christmas, which is the mystery of the Incarnation—“the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor,” Christ humbling divinity in human flesh and exalting human flesh with divinity—that is not what we are talking of here, though that, too, surely applies. What we are talking of here are merely the trappings of Christmas, and some of its grim existential reminders: the gaudy colored lights, the caroling, the feasting, and, past midnight, the sight of the homeless on the sidewalks, asleep in their rags on newspapers, unable like Christ to come in from the cold. It is so easy to be mawkish about Christmas, and downtown after dark provides grounds for perpetual mawkishness.

Now, of course, you could say the same of Dewey after dark, or Mabini after dark, or any other spot in the country where the lights are just as bright and the wretchedness no less glaring; but what the heck, the analogy stands: downtown celebrates Christmas all year round, those sordid little alleys with the peopled doorways notwithstanding, or included.

Lest the metaphor get stretched too thin and we be drawn into a theological argument, let us leave Christmas for the nonce and get back to those crooners crooning Christmas carols.

They are crooning Christmas carols because Christmas carols are the top tunes of the moment, will be for some time, and top tunes are what the beer-joint vocalists vocalize 99 percent of the time. There was a time not too long ago when they were all singing “De Colores,” which had replaced “Together Again” as the most popular number in their limited repertoire. It never failed. The moment the band struck up the tune, you got staggered by the multitudinous clapping and foot-stomping and lusty screaming all around you; and when the crooner launched into the kiri-kiri kara-kara refrain, man!—the boozy chorus that joined in was such as to bring down the walls of Jericho.

In beer joints more than in posh nightclubs does the heathen become aware of the awesome power of the Cursillo, and how far it has gone. You expect the kiri-kiri chorus in the posh places where you can’t get in unless you are in coat-and-tie or barong, because you have been told that the movement works through the pillars of society. But in the beer joints you realize that the humbler temples of the Holy Ghost have also been infused with “that Christian spirit.” You should hear them. And after the song, they go table-hopping, introducing themselves to each other. Brod! What was your Cursillo House, brod? Lipa, brod, only last month! The bunch with Father So-and-so, brod? The very same, brod! We serenaded you when you came out, brod! Is that so, brod! De colores!

Every now and then, in the midst of these effusions, you hear a dissenting “De colorum!” from some unconverted table, and then all the gentiles turn to that table with a sly smile at the heckler, as though he were a partner in crime. In that instant, there is a communion of kindred spirits—dialogue! I and Thou together, against Them!

The cursillistas, let it be said for them, never take offense; at least, I have not seen one take offense. If they do at all, it is at something said or done by one of the brethren. There was that time at the Peacetime in Quiapo. Past midnight, when “customers and waitresses are allowed to sing,” one cursillista lurched over to the bandstand, had a brief consultation with the combo, turned to the mike with hands in pockets, then softly, tunelessly crooned “Mañanita,” which is about the beautiful morning. It was a nice tune, if he only sang it properly. I know it was “Mañanita” because, a few minutes later, in the comfort room, I was the unwitting listener to a tongue-lashing. One cursillista from one table was chiding the singer, a cursillista who had come with another group.

It wasn’t really a tongue-lashing. It began with praise for the singer, but praise almost immediately turned to censure. The gist of it was that the singer shouldn’t have sung that particular song. “You were okay, brod, you sang good. But that was foul, brod, foul.” “Why, brod, what was foul, brod?” “Singing that ‘Mañanita,’ that was foul, brod. You should not have sung that here. This is not the proper place.” “Why, brod?” “Basta, brod, this is not the right place. ‘De Colores,’ puwede pa. But ‘Mañanita’—foul, brod.” “It was special request, brod. I was requested to sing it.” “Even then, brod. What is a request? You could have turned it down, you could have sung another song. That was foul.” They were using foul the way it is used in basketball, I soon realized that; but I didn’t stay to hear the end of the argument, which a third cursillista from yet another table had joined. I excused myself (they were blocking the doorway) and went back to my beer.

Audience participation in the entertainment, while permissible after midnight, is not really common in the beer joints. The drinkers here are not a timid lot (as evidenced by the occasional shootings in these places), but most of them know they are no singers, and leave the entertainment to the professional crooners and the combos. Most of the crooners can’t sing, either, but that is of little consequence. The most popular singers are not necessarily the best ones; the most popular are those who know the most people.

There are usually three singers to a joint; in one hour, each has the microphone for 15 minutes; the last quarter is break time. During break time, unless they are having dinner with their mother, sister, or maiden aunt (the chaperons are almost always seated at a corner table near the kitchen), the crooners are circulating, greeting old flames and old friends, making new ones. Making friends with the crooners is the easiest thing in the world to do; the privilege goes with the price of your beer. Just tell your waitress which one you would like to meet, and she’ll come, escorted by your waitress, as soon as she has fulfilled all her commitments, i.e., greeting and talking with the other customers. Once introduced, you will never be forgotten. A tremendous memory for names and faces seems to be one of the requisites for success at the beer joints.

There’s this slip of a girl at Alex, for instance. Sally Buena. Small, slim, creamy-skinned, and still a teen-ager in looks though she must be in her early twenties by now, Sally has been with Alex for as long as I can remember; and one reason for her staying power must be her prodigious ability to remember names and faces. She is also developing into a sophisticated singer, has extended her repertoire to include more standards, but that is not the point here. I wrote her up once long ago; she has never forgotten that. I had stopped frequenting Alex for more than a year, but when I went back there a few months ago, though I had glasses on and wore my hair longer, she spotted me right away. The waitress who had always served me failed to recognize me, and when she did she could not recall the name I had given her; not Sally.

“This coming-up song is exclusively dedicated to Pepito and company,” she said when it was her turn at the mike, “dedication coming from yours truly.” A marvelous ego-booster! I felt like Joe Quirino entering the Nile and suddenly being surrounded by all the ludicrously dressed waiters, who momentarily abandon what posts they may be manning to ask Joe for movie passes. It was a great feeling. “And company” was impressed—even when, after that exclusive dedication, Sally looked around and started reeling off the names of other guys to whom she was dedicating the coming-up song. Sally knows practically everybody who has been to Alex more than once.

All the other crooners, especially in the more popular joints like Alex, Luisa & Sons, the new Avenida Beer House, and Peacetime, cannot begin a song without first making kilometric dedications. The typical prose intro to the lyric goes like this:

“This coming up song is dedicated to Manny, Danny, Sonny, and Tony, dedication coming from yours truly. Also dedicated to Gene, Doming, Tino, Hermie, Berting, and company. And especially dedicated to Bobby, Totoy, Emet, and company, dedication from yours truly. Also heartily dedicated to Attorney De la Cruz, Engineer Punongbayan, and Director Bustamante, from yours truly. Finally, dedicated to Daniel, David, Samuel, and company. Also dedicated to Ninoy, Ferdie, Dadong, and Serging. And exclusively dedicated to Bondying, Engot, Kenkoy, and Tikyo, dedication coming from yours truly. And to everybody.”

All this time, a sophisticated piano player, like Odon Cabailo, who’s now with Avenida Beer House, will be playing a beautiful standard like, say, “I Concentrate on You” or “Manhattan.” Sometimes, the band will even go into all of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” As soon as the dedication portion is over, however, down go the standards, in more ways than one, and the band strikes up the tune of some real stinkeroo like “It Hurts to Say Goodbye” or “Memories of Our Dreams,” enough to make a grown man cry. But the grown men here just love it; they yell for more, and they don’t mean “More.” The bravest are the tenderest, as they say—tough guys are sentimental slobs at heart, raving over the ickiest song.

Not a few come to the beer joints for the singer, not the song. We all have our dreams about having famous movie stars for sweethearts, to put it mildly. Well, famous movie stars are unobtainable, unless you have the looks or the lucre; so the beer-joint habitué settles for another item in show business: the novato crooner. There is always a wolf at the corner of the bandstand where the crooners wait their turn. Some wolves not only woo but waylay, and management in some beer joints have deemed it wise to erect glass partitions to prevent the damsels from getting distressed by the drunks. The less aggressive would-be lover waits at his table for break time, where the object of his desire may be gracious enough to tell him where she lives, where she can be visited on a Sunday, when she is free to go out bowling or to the Luneta.

The less ambitious ladykillers come for the waitresses. These girls are really waitresses, make no mistake. They serve you beer and peanuts or whatever pulutan you ask for, spoon blocks of ice into your beer, dally at your table for small talk; that’s all; you can’t touch them, or dance with them, or have them sit with you, at least not while they’re on duty. Many of them are real knockouts; they’re part of the attraction, a vital part of the decor, of the beer joints. You can spot the best lookers in a trice. They have all these sampaguita necklaces dangling from their necks, the gifts of admirers. Give them a little polish and, as the class-conscious kanto boy would say, puwedeng pang-display. Scions vie with prole and peon for their hands.

A friend of mine knew a fellow who won a girlfriend at one of these beer joints. The first time he came to the place, all by himself, he cased the joint, saw a pretty waitress to his liking, got her name from one of her co-workers. Let’s call her Gina. The next time he came around, he asked for Gina; she served him; he was silent throughout it all, addressing her only to order more beer. All the time, he pretended to look glum and disconsolate, stared into his beer, seemed oblivious to his surroundings. He returned to the joint again and again, always alone, and did exactly the same thing. Of course, the girls in the place began to notice him, began to talk about him: me problema sa buhay, they said of him, me problema sa puso, etc.

It was then that this fellow decided the situation was ripe for dramatics. One night he came to the place with a box of chocolates he had bought only a few minutes earlier. When Gina arrived with his first beer, he gave her the chocolates. “Take them,” he said. “I was going to give them to my girlfriend. But when I went to her house this afternoon, she had gone out with another man.” As corny as that; but this fellow was a good actor, he really looked downcast and bitter, and there was a catch in his voice when he spoke. It broke Gina’s heart. She began acting like Miss Lonelyhearts all of a sudden, dispensing advice with the the ice. The following week, she agreed to go out to a movie with him.

This is a true story, my friend swears, and he plans to try the novel approach himself. Unless you can keep a straight face, I would advise you to try something else. Not that I’m an expert in these matters, but I would suggest a simple, corny approach (the cornier, the better) that doesn’t strain the credibility too much. Don’t be like this Chabacano I know who introduced himself as Muslim in search of a second wife, preferably Christian; he wanted a taste of Christianity. He was the ninth of 32 children, he said, his father having had three wives; himself, he was the father of five. Incredibly, his tall story worked. The waitress fell for him, thinking he was such a joker. Unfortunately for her, my Chabacano friend wasn’t joking. Though he was no Muslim, he was indeed a father, but not of five, and he was indeed married, but to a Christian girl.

Oddballs as well as cornballs abound in these dives. There’s this old man who’s at Alex almost every night, an old man somewhere in his fifties, scrawny and cadaverous. Almost always, he is alone, often comes in brown americana and garish shirt, sometimes with dark glasses. He takes a table near the bandstand and orders coffee, nothing but coffee, the only drink he will have the whole night; sitting there, enveloped by the noise, swaying to the music, he grasps the ends of his table as one would grasp a pinball machine, and sways, shakes, swings, rocks, rolls to the insistent rhythm of the drums and the electric guitars and the piano and the crooner’s reedy voice while on his table coffee cup, saucer, teaspoon, sugar bowl, and napkins’ wooden container sway with him, who now has a look of orgasmic rapture on his face, obviously feeling like a psychedelic tripper. A real music lover he is, that old man.

You know the night’s about to end when the kitchen boys push out, past drinkers and bandstands and out the door, newspaper-topped cans of garbage, and the waitresses doff their uniforms and start changing into street clothes. A few minutes before two, the combo packs up, the crooners go by with their chaperons, waving to all the boys they have dedicated songs to, and the lights are all turned on, a blinding radiance that can make you squirm and make the best-looking waitresses vain.

It is then time to go, out into the streets where cab and jeepney wait and the night is never over. The neons flash and flicker; the air is clean; the sidewalks are all yours, if you don’t count the huddled bodies near the shut stores and the security guards asleep on rattan chairs. You can jaywalk and no cop’s voice will bawl you out over a loudspeaker.

If you’re still raring for action, you can go to Plaza Miranda.

At two in the morning, Plaza Miranda becomes an impromptu Hyde Park. With nothing but the occasional honk of jeepney horns and the mesmeric swish-swish of streetsweepers’ booms as counterpoint, many Walter Mittys of daytime acquire the nerve to shoot off their mouths. They harangue; their listeners heckle. Under the bronze marker with Magsaysay’s dictum—“Can we defend this in Plaza Miranda?”—people argue, debate, discuss, dispute, wrangle, proselytize, polemicize, propagandize. There are those who say that the current issues of the day don’t really touch the man in the street, are only objects of controversy in the coffee shop patronized by businessmen and highly paid columnists. Bullshit. I’ve heard a streetsweeper arguing with a drunk over the advisability of trading with Communist China. “Bakit, kung bibili ba ako ng sigarilyo sa Intsik e Intsik na rin ako?” cried the streetsweeper, clutching his broom like a spear. "E, ba’t mo sasabihing magiging komunista tayo kung makikipagnegosyo tayo sa komunista?"
Another time, there was this popsicle vendor expostulating on the Sabah issue with apparently more lucidity than all our foreign officials put together—in English yet! It wasn’t Acchhneo or television-commentator English, but it was decidedly a notch above the English you hear in Congress. He must have been talking for some time when I heard him, at past two in the morning, for he was growing hoarse, his voice rasped each time he raised his voice, and his voice was raised practically all the time. “What Marcos did, it is wrong!” he screamed at the men clustered around his popsicle cart, some of them eating popsicles. “We should have not recognized Malaysia! Macapagal is right! We should send our beloved countrymen to Sabah to do business, to live with the people of Sabah, so that they will see the enlightenment of us Filipinos which is enviable. Not like Jabidah! Jabidah is stupidity, I tell you! We only make the Malaysians angry! That is why it is wrong that we recognized Malaysia! Now look! Look what happen! They want to burn our flag! Our flag! I tell you!”

It isn’t current events all the time. Sometimes, it’s religion.

I remember a particularly heated three-sided debate on faith and truth. I couldn’t quite follow the drift of the argument because, first of all, I was, to say the least, loaded, and secondly, the drift led to non sequitur most of the time. But the speakers were extremely good, were very fluent in Tagalog. One was a clean-cut young fellow, in his late twenties, with a boyish haircut, wearing a polo barong and slippers; his adversary was another young man about his age, kanto boyish, wearing tight maong pants and rubber shoes, holding a plastic envelope under his arm; the third was a policeman who acted like a kind of devil’s advocate to both speakers and spoke like an Iglesia Ni Cristo minister.

Belief is based on truth, argued the clean-cut young man: Ang paniniwala ay batay sa katotohanan. Not so, said the kanto boy; it is possible to believe in something that is not true. You mean to say, said Clean-Cut, who kept cutting the air with karate chops and never once raised his eyes from the ground, that you will believe in something that you know to be untrue? Why not? countered Kanto Boy, who kept jumping around and staring from face to face with mercurial eyebrows and a conspiratorial smile. You mean to tell me, went on Clean-Cut, that if this guy here were to tell you that your wife is making a cuckold of you (kinakaliwa ka ng asawa mo) and you believe him, what he tells you could still be untrue? Of course, assented Kanto Boy. Then if it is untrue, why do you believe him? Clean-Cut persisted. But belief and truth are two entirely different things! said Kanto Boy: I may believe this guy here but he could be telling a lie. Then why do you believe him if he is telling a lie? But how do I know he is telling a lie? Well, if you know he is telling a lie would you still believe him? Maybe. What do you mean maybe? You either believe because it is true or you disbelieve because it is untrue!

And so forth. Clean-Cut began to sound more and more anguished, Kanto Boy grew even more lighthearted. Finally, the policeman, who, like the rest of us, had kept silent except for laconic comments, broke in, and delivered a stirring sermon. Picture this cop, not yet 40 from the shape of his stomach, a gun at his hip, delivering a sermon on faith and truth; a sermon, no doubt about it, and just the rhythm of his words, the rise and fall and swell of his formal Tagalog sentences, was enough to rouse the most sluggish spirit. At least, I found it rousing, even if I couldn’t follow his argument. He was disputing, he acted as if he was demolishing beyond repair, the arguments of both Clean-Cut and Kanto Boy. And having had his say, even as the two flabbergasted young men started speaking at the same time, this cool cop excused himself because, he said, in a smug imperious drawl, it was time for him to make a report.

At this point, I decided it was time for me to get into a cab and report to bed, and only now that Christmas is approaching do I recall that, with the spirits of beer spreading within me at the time, I was almost tempted to give my two-cents’ worth to the theological dialogue, with some handy quotes from Kierkegaard about the leap in the dark, about the faith when faith is impossible, the belief in the incredible. For the Incarnation is the most incredible proposition of all: that God should become man is a proposition incapable of rationalization. It simply boggles the imagination, and you end up concluding that faith means Take It Or Leave It; the leap in the dark, the leap of faith.

Downtown after dark, where the beer is lousy but the atmosphere congenial—where else, I ask you, can you get drunk and have Good Clean Fun on less than ten pesos, and not once bump into an R & R gringo?—downtown after dark is the best place for indulging in maudlin sentiment and amateur philosophy. God rest you merry, gentlemen, wherever you may be. Me, I’ll take downtown to a White Christmas any time, I think.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Ipinaliliwanag Ko ang Ilang Bagay

Itatanong ninyo: At nasaan ang mga lila?
At ang metapisikang nababalot ng amapola?
At ang ulan na madalas na sumasalpok
sa kanyang mga kataga, tinatadtad iyon
ng butas at ibon?

Ikukuwento ko ang lahat ng nangyari sa akin.

Nakatira ako sa isang baryo
ng Madrid, may mga kampana,
relo, punongkahoy.

Mula roon ay natatanaw
ang tuyong mukha ng Castilla,
tila kuwerong dagat.
Ang tawag sa bahay ko’y
bahay ng mga bulaklak, pagkat sa lahat ng dako
sumasambulat ang hasmin: iyon
ay bahay na maganda,
may mga aso’t bata.
Raul, naaalaala mo?
Naaalaala mo, Rafael?
Federico, naaalaala mo
sa kinalilibingan mong lupa,
naaalaala mo ang bahay kong may mga balkonahe,
ang mga bulaklak na nilunod sa iyong bibig
ng liwanag ng Hunyo?
Kapatid, kapatid!
Ang lahat
ay tinig na matitinis, inilalakong asin,
kumpulan ng titibok-tibok na tinapay,
mga palengke ng baryo kong Arguelles na may istatwang
tila maputlang lalagyan ng tinta, napaliligiran ng isda:
ang mantika’y lumalapit sa mga kutsara,
mga paa’t kamay
ay matinding pintig sa mga kalye,
metro, litro, maanghang
na katas ng buhay,
nakatambak na tulingan,
kulu-kulubot na bubong at malamig na araw
na pumapagod sa banoglawin,
makinis at nakahihibang na garing ng patatas,
hile-hilerang kamatis na umaabot sa dagat.

At isang umaga, lahat ng ito’y nagliliyab.
At isang umaga, ang apoy
ay pumapailanlang mula sa lupa,
lumalamon ng buhay,
at mula noon, sunog,
pulbura mula noon,
at mula noon, dugo.
Ang mga bandidong may mga eroplano’t alipures,
ang mga bandidong may mga singsing at dukesa,
ang mga bandidong may mga prayleng nagbibindisyon
ay bumaba mula sa langit para pumatay ng mga bata,
at sa mga kalye ang dugo ng mga bata
ay umagos na lamang at sukat, tulad ng dugong bata.

Mga hayop na kamumuhian ng hayop,
mga batong kakagatin ng damo at iluluwa,
mga ahas na kasusuklaman ng ahas!

Sa inyong harap, nakita ko ang dugo
ng Espanya, bumubulwak
para lunurin kayo sa daluyong
ng kapalaluan at mga balaraw.

Mga taksil
na heneral:
masdan ang bahay kong patay,
masdan ang Espanyang lupaypay:
pero mula sa bawat bahay lumilitaw ang nagbabagang asero
sa halip na bulaklak,
mula sa bawat sulok ng Espanya
lumilitaw ang Espanya,
mula sa bawat batang patay lumilitaw ang baril na may mata,
mula sa bawat krimen sumisilang ang mga punglo
na isang araw ay matatagpuan sa gitna
ng inyong puso.

Itatanong ninyo kung bakit sa kanyang mga tula
ay hindi inaawit ang mga pangarap, mga dahon,
ang malalaking bulkan ng kanyang lupang tinubuan?

Halikayo’t pagmasdan ang dugo sa mga kalye,
halikayo’t pagmasdan
ang dugo sa mga kalye,
halikayo’t pagmasdan ang dugo
sa mga kalye.

Salin ni Jose F. Lacaba

Mula sa kalipunan kong SA DAIGDIG NG KONTRADIKSIYON: MGA SALING-WIKA (Anvil Publishing, 1991)

Sunday, November 29, 2009


November 6, 2009, was the 50th death anniversary of Jose P. Laurel Sr., president of the Japanese-sponsored Republic of the Philippines from 1943 to 1945. The event almost went unnoticed, although there was the usual wreath-laying at his tomb in Tanauan, Batangas, and the President of the Philippines herself attended the ceremony.

In 1991, I was commissioned by the Laurel family—specifically, then Vice-President Salvador “Doy” Laurel’s wife Celia Diaz Laurel, who got in touch with me through entertainment columnist and talent manager Bibsy Carballo—to write a script about the life of Laurel Sr. for a two-hour TV movie. I recall that they were thinking of getting Eddie Romero, now National Artist for Film, to direct the biopic. I wrote a synopsis after some quick research and interviews, completed a 16-page scene-by-scene outline (or sequence guide), and began work on the script. For reasons I can no longer recall, the project was shelved before I got to finish the full script.

In belated commemoration of my tukayo’s 50th death anniversary, I’m posting my shelved storyline here.

(Working Title)

Jose F. Lacaba

Our story is told in a series of flashbacks. The cinematic present is the period from 1945 to 1951, while the flashbacks show us Jose P. Laurel’s childhood and checkered political career, with a time span of more than 50 years.

We open in 1945, in Sugamo Prison, Japan, where Laurel, 53, is in solitary confinement. Laurel, president of the Philippines under the Japanese occupation, is accused of collaboration and treason. As he writes his war memoirs and goes about his daily prison routine, he recalls his childhood and youth.

In July 1946, after a year in Sugamo Prison, and soon after the American grant of independence, Laurel is brought back to the Philippines. He is met at the airport by a sight that brings tears to his eyes: a crowd of welcomers cheering and applauding him, though he stands accused of treason. From the airport Laurel is whisked off to another prison, Muntinlupa, where his wife and family are waiting for him.

In August 1946, Laurel’s case goes to trial in the People’s Court, with Lorenzo Tañada as prosecutor and with a defense panel that includes Claro M. Recto. In a dramatic courtroom scene, one of the judges of the People’s Court, Antonio Quirino, decides to step down and join Laurel’s defense panel.

In the course of the trial, Laurel, now 55, defends himself, explaining why he agreed to serve in the Japanese-sponsored government, first as commissioner of justice and later as President of the Second Republic. Collaboration, he points out, was forced on him by circumstances, specifically, by America’s unpreparedness to defend its colony; but collaboration was also a way to ensure national survival and protect the people against the brutality and depredations of the occupation forces.

As he delivers his fiery courtroom speeches, we intercut another series of flashbacks showing crucial incidents in the dangerous political game by which Laurel, Recto, Manuel Roxas, Benigno Aquino Sr., and other prewar political leaders, while overtly collaborating, seek to outwit and outmaneuver the enemy.


In the flashbacks, we first see Laurel in Tanuan, Batangas, as a rowdy boy who likes to play truant. Once he falls into an open well while showing off that he can walk on its edge. As a teenager he spends a night in a cemetery during Holy Week in order to acquire an anting-anting. The son of a revolutionary who fought in Aguinaldo’s army against both Spanish and American colonizers, the young Laurel seems more interested in affairs of the heart, serenading girls with his guitar and his violin, than in public affairs and patriotic concerns.

The big incident of his teenage days involves a girl from whom he steals a kiss on a dare. The girl’s boyfriend engages Laurel in a balisong duel, but it is the boyfriend who ends up severely wounded. The ensuing court case depletes the resources of Laurel’s widowed mother, forcing the remorseful son to take stock of himself and resolve to go straight. He goes off to Manila as a working student.

At 20 Laurel elopes with the strong-willed Paciencia Hidalgo, also of Batangas. As a young husband and father, he takes the bar and places second, then goes to Yale on a scholarship and earns a doctorate in constitutional law with top honors.

At 33, not long after his return to the Philippines, Laurel becomes the youngest member of the cabinet when the American governor-general, Leonard Wood, appoints him secretary of the interior. It is a short-lived assignment. Barely five months later, Laurel suspends an American police detective accused of corruption. When Wood reinstates his fellow American, Laurel clashes with his boss and subsequently resigns in disgust. His move precipitates a cabinet crisis: all the Filipino cabinet members resign in a gesture of sympathy.

Two years later Laurel runs for the Senate (election at this time is by district) and wins handily, though he is a newcomer pitted against a veteran politico. When a constitutional convention is called in 1934, the 43-year-old Laurel is elected delegate from Batangas, along with another Batangueño, a political rival who is nevertheless a close friend: Claro M. Recto.

A few days before turning 45, Laurel is appointed by Manuel Quezon, president of the Commonwealth, as associate justice of the Supreme Court. Laurel now has the singular distinction of having served in all three branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. It is in his capacity as Supreme Court justice that he acquits a young man convicted by a lower court for the murder of his father’s political rival. The young man’s name is Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Laurel is serving as chief justice of the Supreme Court when war breaks out in 1941. Quezon prevails upon him to change places with Jose Abad Santos, secretary of justice, in the wartime cabinet. Laurel has been advised to be ready to join Quezon and Douglas MacArthur in the retreat to Corregidor, but when the time comes, Quezon decides to leave Laurel behind with instructions to remain in his station “for the purpose of meeting an invading enemy force and with a view to protecting the people and interceding in their behalf.” Laurel, who has already donned regulation khakis, is disappointed to be left behind, and briefly entertains the idea of going off to the mountains, but finally decides, however reluctantly. to accept Quezon’s assignment.

This crucial decision leads to Laurel’s appointment as commissioner of justice in the Executive Commission led by Jorge Vargas, and eventually to his selection by the Japanese to be president of the Japanese-sponsored Second Republic.

As commissioner of justice, Laurel tries to prevent arbitrary arrests and to save the lives of captured guerrillas. This brings him in constant confrontation with the Kempeitai, the secret police, commanded by Colonel Nagahama.

One guerrilla unit, however, unaware of Laurel’s role, sends out a hitman to liquidate him. The assassination attempt occurs at the Wack Wack golf course, but is unsuccessful. The Kempeitai pick up a suspect, a onetime boxer named Little Joe, and bring him to the hospital where Laurel is confined. Though he immediately recognizes the hitman, Laurel tells the Kempeitai he cannot make a positive identification. Little Joe is released.

Later, as President, Laurel continues in his effort to save Filipino lives. Though he fails to prevent the execution of Jose Abad Santos in Cebu, he succeeds in the case of Roxas, who has been captured in Bukidnon with incriminating resistance documents, but who is brought to Manila alive and is even subsequently given a position in the Laurel government.

In Malacañang itself, Laurel employs a number of military officers and men who have links with the underground. With their help, a clandestine radio is set up in the Palace, and though it has to be moved from time to time because of spot checks made by the suspicious Kempeitai, it keeps the President informed of allied activities in the war.

At one time Laurel receives a tip that his aide de camp, General Jesus Vargas, is about to be arrested by the Kempeitai, who have obtained proof of Vargas’s links with the guerrillas in the hills. Laurel refuses to turn in his aide, and instructions are given to Palace guards to be ready with their arms to repulse any Kempeitai assault. Contingency plans are made for Laurel’s retreat to the mountains. But the Kempeitai back down.

On another occasion, Colonel Nagahama wants to re-arrest Roxas and bring him to the dreaded Fort Santiago. Laurel pointedly tells Nagahama: “You will have to kill me first.” Once again the Kempeitai are foiled.

Laurel’s most difficult game of wits is played not just with the Kempeitai but with the Japanese High Command, including Premier Tojo and Generals Homma and Yamashita. Pressured from the very start to declare war on the United States and Great Britain, President Laurel initially resorts to delaying tactics. Nearly a year later, as the war nears its end, no longer able to resist the pressure on pain of execution, he declares instead that “a state of war exists” (basically a statement of fact) and categorically announces that no Filipino will be conscripted (leading Yamashita to comment that the declaration of war is useless).

Realizing that they cannot use Laurel to the fullest, but unable to purge him because Japanese propaganda has been claiming that the Philippines has been granted independence, the Japanese military authorities organize the Makapili. This is led by Benigno Ramos, former Sakdal chieftain, and Artemio Ricarte, the legendary El Vibora of the 1896 revolution. The plan is to arm the members of the Makapili and put them directly under the Japanese military. At the Makapili launching ceremony, Laurel boldly contradicts Ramos and Yamashita, and declares that even the Makapili are responsible to the Philippine government.

When the tide of war turns and MacArthur makes good on his promise to return to the Philippines, Yamashita brings along the Laurel family and the members of the Laurel cabinet in the dangerous retreat to Baguio, and from there to Taiwan and Japan. After Japan’s surrender, Laurel signifies his intention to turn himself in to the American command in Tokyo, but an American team comes to arrest him just as he is about to leave for Tokyo.

This ends our series of flashbacks and brings us back to the cinematic present.


While the trial proceeds, Laurel is embittered by the fact that President Manuel Roxas, whose life he saved several times during the Japanese occupation, has made no move to help him or the Laurel family in any way. After Laurel is released on bail, he finally gets an invitation to meet with Roxas in Malacañang. But even this turns out to be a humiliating experience. Because Roxas is afraid of what the Americans will say, Laurel is made to enter through the back door and go through the kitchen.

In the end, Roxas undercuts the Laurel trial by announcing a general amnesty for accused collaborationists. Laurel resents this move because it has deprived him of the chance to prove his innocence in court.

Though he has earlier indicated that he is through with electoral politics, Laurel is prevailed upon in 1949 to be the Nacionalista Party candidate for president. Running against the unpopular Elpidio Quirino, who succeeded to the presidency after Roxas died of a heart attack in Clark Field, Laurel seems like a sure winner--but he loses in an election marred by unprecedented fraud and terrorism. Laurel partisans in Batangas take up arms in protest, and Huk emissaries from Central Luzon propose a united front with Laurel in an uprising against Quirino. Though Laurel never concedes the election, he opts for peace, calming down his followers and rejecting Huk overtures.

Two years later, in 1951, Laurel runs again, this time for senator. One of his bodyguards and most ardent supporters is Little Joe, the hitman who once made an attempt on his life. Laurel chalks up the highest number of votes. The election results are seen as a sign of the people’s continuing confidence in Laurel and his vindication at the bar of public opinion.


Laurel storyline

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Because of the uproar raised by the recent tribute that the Cultural Center of the Philippines paid to La Imeldific on its 40th anniversary, I decided to dig up my 40-year-old article about the CCP’s opening.

The Art Of Politics, The Politics Of Art.

by Jose F. Lacaba
Staff Member
Philippines Free Press, September 20, 1969

FIRST there was pre-opening night, really a dress rehearsal with an audience, the audience in this case being the workers who had built the Cultural Center, their families, and a handful of reporters who would later give warning about the bore and the botch that was dularawan. The next three nights were all, according to the calendar of events, “invitational opening nights.”

The first invitational opening night, Monday, was I think supposed to be for provincial governors, small-town mayors, and minor government bureaucrats, but the people at the Center weren’t too strict about invitations. I should know because I was there, though the invitation I got was for the third night, the black-tie-or-formal-barong night. I was with some friends, and we had come from a cocktail party where the drinks really flowed; royally smashed, and seeing the glittering lights of the Cultural Center up the boulevard, we decided to give the old gatecrash a try. As it turned out, there was no need for gatecrash. When we walked into the chandeliered lobby, nonchalant as you please, we heard a loudspeaker blaring out the good news that the show was about to begin and would everybody please go on in and find a seat, there was plenty of room and no invitations were necessary—“hindi na ho kailangan ang tiket!” We got ourselves good seats, right in the orchestra, and during the intermission we disappeared: nobody could introduce us to the lovely usherettes, and Salakot na Ginto had given each of us the craving for a stiff drink.

On gala night, Wednesday, cold sober, all dressed up, and armed with the determination to be fair and give the dularawan a second chance, a fair hearing, I was back at the Cultural Center. This time I sat the dularawan through to the end. The least said about it the better. The craving this time was for five stiff drinks.

The real drama on gala night occurred off the stage, before the show.

My ticket said the show was to begin at 8:30 in the evening. At eight, when I arrived, there was a knot of demonstrators on each side of the doors. To the left of the Center were the dissenters, to the right the defenders, their positions seemingly indicative of ideological leanings. There were some writer friends on the left, and I was trying to stop my taxi before them but a policeman waved it on to the right, where I recognized nobody and nobody noticed me. Everybody was staring at the jewels disgorged by the air-conditioned limousines with tinted windows.

The same lovely usherettes who had graced the first invitational opening night were at the lobby, tearing away ticket stubs and distributing programs, one on the Center itself (reproduced on the cover was the Hernando Ocampo painting reproduced on the outer curtain of the stage), and inside this program a smaller one on the show to be presented. Completing the handouts were two loose-leaf pages, one of acknowledgments, the second defining a dularawan.

“The word dularawan combines three words: dula (drama), awit (song) and larawan (picture). The term signifies a concept of Filipino theater which is at once radically new and deeply traditional.

“A dularawan is basically the presentation of Filipino myth and history in drama, poetry, music, dance and spectacle. In other words, it is total theatre. It is radically new in the sense that it brings together for the first time various elements of indigenous Filipino culture in an integrated composition of grand scale. It is deeply traditional in the sense that it appears to be the logical outgrowth of the development that flowered in the moro-moro and continued to prosper in the Filipino zarzuela.”

Since I couldn’t find the word awit in dularawan (maybe it should have been dularawit?), I looked around. The first thing I saw, shining on the first balcony above the lobby, was David Cortez Medalla’s bright orange shirt. What I didn’t see right away was the Muslin malong that covered his legs. David himself was flanked by two thin young men, Marciano Galang, the painter, and Jose Lansang Jr., the poet. Both were in everyday wear, Mars Galang in a long-sleeved button-down printed polo shirt, Jun Lansang in a white T-shirt and a green jacket.

Uncomfortable in the barong Tagalog I had not worn in ages, I asked enviously: “How did you get in?”

“We’ve got invitations,” said Mars.

Touché. So I said: “But you’re not dressed.”

“What do you mean we’re not dressed!” said David, indignant. “For your information, this elegant malong I’m wearing is the authentic kind used by Muslim royalty, and it’s a gift from the wife of your editor.”

That shushed me up for a while. Then, I said: “Well, what are we standing out here for? Let’s go in and sit down.”

“Stick around,” said David, his voice charged with promise and portent, his manner suggestive of mystery.

“What’s up?”

“Basta stick around,” said Mars.

“Me pakulo yata kayo, ah.”

“Maghintay ka lang, pare,” said Jun.

I was curious (and would be yellow later). So I stuck around and waited. I still didn’t know what was up, but the real drama was already beginning.

AT ABOUT 8:30, there was a flurry of activity beyond the glass doors, the sequins and diamonds in the lobby perked up, and the rumor spread that Imelda and her guests, California Governor Ronald Reagan and his family, the American President’s representatives to the grand night, had arrived. It was a false alarm, but it galvanized the three in the balcony into action, if galvanized is the right word for the very languid, very leisurely way in which they pulled out some folded cartolina sheets from the traveling bag that Jun Lansang always has with him. With a hint of a flourish, they unfurled the cartolina like banners down the sides of the balcony.

“WE WANT A HOME NOT A FASCIST TOMB!” read the red letters on Mars Galang’s placard, for a placard it was, painted in the style of psychedelia.

Jun Lansang made a Joycean pun with “RE: GUN—GO HOME!”

And hanging between these two standards was David Medalla’s cartolina, the most elaborately decorated of all, aswang with rich dark colors, primitive and messy like his paintings; you could barely make out the letters that snaked in and out of the surrounding hues: “A BAS LA MYSTIFICATION! DOWN WITH THE PHILISTINES! (A columnist who wasn’t there would later report that the sign read “Down with the Philippines!”, which gave a rather sinister cast to David’s playful protest.)

Earlier that day, Mars Galang had decided to go to Jet Snack on Mabini for a drink. Jet Snack is a favorite hangout of some young writers and painters who go there for the delicious river snail known as kuhol. When Mars looked in on the restaurant, however, he saw David Medalla and Jolico Cuadra; David, who has been converted to Buddhism, was having a glass of kalamansi juice, and Jolico, who prides himself on his drinking prowess, was having a beer. Galang knew that if he joined the pair he would be drawn into either an argument with the Buddhist or a contest with the drinker. His wife was waiting for him at home, with the new terno she had had made for the gala opening of Imelda’s Cultural Center, and Mars thought it might be wiser to forego that drink. While he was trying to make up his mind, however, David came out. Unable now to get away, Mars walked David to Indios Bravos, where the latter stays, and it was then that Mars learned of David’s plot to infiltrate the citadel of the philistine (for that is how David saw the Center) and strike at its nerve center. The painter was a reluctant accomplice: in the first place, he was thinking of his waiting wife; in the second place, he had joined only one demonstration in all his life and, because he had fled in panic at the first sign of trouble, he had since then kept away from public protest, preferring to experience no reprise of his cowardice. But at the door of Indios Bravos, waiting for a jeepney, was Jun Lansang, who is even more leery of flamboyant display than Mars Galang, and when the poet quietly gave his nod to David’ s plan, Mars felt ashamed of himself and his fears. Anyway, the idea was to stage the protest before the show; he still had time to go home, pick up his wife, and catch a substantial portion of the dularawan. So they had worked feverishly on their posters, which, when dry, they carefully folded and tucked away in Jun’s traveling bag; then they took a cab to the Cultural Center, and now here they were on the balcony with their masterpieces on display.

It was an instant demo!

And in the lobby below, instant commotion! I had gone down to read what was written on the placards, and was shaking with silent laughter and secret admiration when I noticed Kokoy Romualdez authoritatively jerk his white head sideways. A signal; and before you could say Shazam! a policeman in khaki, his face a mask of grimness, the potbelly that is a trademark of his profession shaking above his belt, was half-running towards the escalator.

Cigarette dangling from the side of my mouth, I pretended to be a suave but hardboiled private eye and tailed the cop across the lobby, up the escalator, down the corridor, toward the three musketeers of the arts. When the cop adjusted his holster, I became aware of his gun for the first time, and I slowed down to a dead stop five full steps away from Mars Galang, feeling the skittish flutter of a Judas heart beneath my shirt’s embroidery, a humiliating circumstance I justified to myself with the reminder that I was here as a reporter, therefore not as participant in the event but as impartial, objective, uninvolved spectator.

“Doon sa labas ’yan,” the cop whispered menacingly.

“Bakit?” cried David in a voice as loud as the thunder that said data, dayadhvam, damyata. Those in the lobby who had not noticed the demo now looked up in astonishment and alarm. “Isn’t this supposed to be a home of the arts?” David asked. “Isn’t this supposed to be a home for artists? Do you know who we are? We are artists, and we have come here as artists. This”—raising his placard and pulling it away like a bullfighter’s cape when the cop tried to make a grab for it—“is a work of art, and I have every right to exhibit it here in the home of the arts!”

The cop tried another tack. “Me permit ba kayong mag-demonstrate?”

The three slowly brought out their invitations from Malacañang. “I am a guest of the First Lady,” said David imperiously, “I have been invited to this gathering as an artist, and as an artist I have come to exhibit my work.”

The cop now grabbed David by the arm, the cop was embarrassed now to be the center of so much unwanted attention, and he would allow no wisp of a boy, long-haired and unwashed, to make a fool of him. “Sa labas sabi, e,” he growled between clenched teeth.

About this time, some demonstrators for the Center, men in T-shirts and sombreros, had been allowed into the lobby by a husky man carrying a bullhorn and wearing a denim jacket with the letters F.D.W. stitched on his back. “MABUHAY ANG CULTURAL CENTER!” said their placards. “MABUHAY ANG PHILIPPINE CULTURE!” “MABUHAY SI IMELDA!” The signs were neatly lettered, and down in a corner of each sign were the initials of the labor unions to which the demonstrators belonged: PAFLU, NATU, FDW.

“E, bakit ’yong mga iyon,” cried David, pointing to the counter-protest, “bakit sila pinapasok? Mga artista ba ang mga iyan? Bakit hindi sila pinapaalis? Papaano sila nakapasok? Kami, mga artista, at ito’y bahay daw ng mga artista—bakit kami ang inyong pinapaalis?”

The cop tightened his grip on David’s arm.

“Huwag mong pilipitin ang kamay ko!” David screamed in the most regal manner at his command.

The three spokesmen of the apocalypse were now completely surrounded by security men in dark suits. Juan Ponce Enrile, secretary of justice, signaled the uniformed policeman away. The pro-Center demonstrators, about ten of them, were now directed to go up and stand with their placards on both sides of Mars, David, and Jun.

“Mabuhay ang Philippine culture!” the bullhorn roared.

“Mabuhay ang Philippine culture!” David yelled. “Down with the philistines!”

“Ano ba ito,” whispered one dark-suited man to another, “Kabataang Makabayan?”

“Ang Pilipinas para sa Pilipino,” came the bullhorn, “hindi ke Mao Tse-tung!”

“At hindi rin sa Kano!” bellowed David.

“Iyang si Reagan,” Jun Lansang now interposed, “’yan ang nagsara ng Unibersidad ng California,” but his was a gentle timid voice, Jun Lansang was not used to raising his voice, so David picked up the cry. “Reagan is a fascist!” he screamed. “He closed the University of California, he gassed students, he jailed artists! Why is he here among us? What has he done for Philippine culture? I have gone around the world to spread Philippine culture, and what have you done to me? You twist my arm! You want to drive me away! It is Reagan you treat royally!” And now David lost his cool and ended his polemic with “Putang inang Reagan ’yan!”

Reagan wasn’t around yet, the First Lady had not arrived, and after cooling off a little David turned to the gaggle of glitter in the lobby. He said something in French; then: “You don’t understand that? You’re supposed to be cultured people and you don’t understand that? Let me translate it for you. Yea, I have bathed myself in the finest perfumes from Paris, but what do I know of culture?”—and then: Baka hindi n’yo pa rin naiintindihan ’yan? Tatagalugin ko na!” And he did.

Meanwhile, officialdom was in a fluster, Kokoy Romualdez gritted his teeth, Ernest Maceda’s eyes blazed like a Byzantine ikon’s. Ponce Enrile shook his head. Andres Cristobal Cruz was at David’s side, trying to calm him down, still trying to convince him to hold his protest outside. Reminded that he had been David Medalla’s comrade-in-arms in one of the very first demonstrations staged in this country, Andy Cruz replied, “Oo nga, pero Kano naman ang kalaban namin noon, hindi Cultural Center.” Finally, Andy gave a weary shrug, grabbed a poster from the PAFLU delegate and positioned himself between David and Jun. When he saw that his placard read “MABUHAY ANG CULTURAL CENTER,” Andy grew thoughtful, muttered, “Siguro ’yong MABUHAY ANG PHILIPPINE CULTURE ang dapat kong kunin, ano?”

David had by this time grown tired of yelling and was content with greeting the guests who, he said, “used to come to my barong-barong when my barong-barong was the only Cultural Center of the Philippines.” Some of these friends, like Adrian Cristobal, he taunted openly: “Oy, Adrian, sumama ka rito! Noong araw, kasa-kasama ka namin! Ngayong me atik ka na, hindi mo na kami kilala!”

Finally, the First Family arrived with the Reagans. Flash of bulbs. Applause. Cheers. The spotlight shifted. Nobody heard what Jun, Mars, and David shouted in protest. Imelda saw the posters on the balcony and turned away with an embarrassed half-smile. Ferdinand, ever the skilled practitioner of the art of politics, gave the picketers a wide grin and raised his fingers in a victory sign. Reagan read the posters and never once lost the hearty smile of an embalmer which made his face a sea of wrinkles.

It was now past nine o’clock.

THE UNIQUE DEMO was over, but there is more to our drama, this drama whose theme could very well be the politics of art, or of artists. For politics so pervades our life that even art cannot escape its taint, even culture becomes a political issue, and dissent in whatever form, nonconformity however innocuous, is immediately interpreted as obscene, or subversive, or partisan. David Medalla may flout conventional morality, but can anyone accuse him of being an agent of Mao Tse-Tung or a hack of the Liberals? Yet Mao Tse-tung somehow got into the picture during the gala opening, and the Liberals earlier: if the formal protest outside the Cultural Center was small, part of the reason is that many who planned to join it kept away for fear of being identified with the Opposition. (If the American beat poet Allen Ginsberg had made an attempt to send the Cultural Center levitating with his all-purpose incantation, “OM,” he would surely have been branded a tool of the Liberal Party and an alien meddling in Philippine affairs, for is not his magic syllable made up of the initials of Osmeña and Magsaysay?) Yes, politics so pervades our life that even those artists who shun it like the plague find themselves stricken by it, which is precisely what happened to Jaime Arevalo de Guzman, the painter, who suddenly woke up one morning to find his name in a full-page newspaper ad as part of a Committee on Arts and Sciences making a declaration of support for Marcos and Lopez—this, as he wrote in a strong letter of protest, “without prior notice and consent.” There is nothing intrinsically wrong in any artist’s proclaiming his political allegiance (Michelangelo did magnificent masterpieces for the Borgias, and there is no reason why Filipino artists cannot serve, or simply sympathize with, the present dispensation, whose reputation is surely better than that of the Borgias), what’s wrong is the use of art and the artist by politicians to serve their own ends. This is as bad as the use of political power to force the anti-Establishment artist into submission. The political propagandist who has so little regard for a man’s name that he can use it as freely as toilet paper in a public lavatory is just one side of the coin whose other side is the cop who twists the arm of anyone rude to the established order or contemptuous of it.

The moral of our story having been spelled out, let us get on with the final act of our drama.

On the second floor of the Cultural Center is the art gallery (where hang paintings by Jimmy de Guzman and Mars Galang), and here, at the door, David Medalla listened a few minutes after the demonstration to a gentle reprimand from the Center’s soft-spoken deputy director, Antonio Quintos.

David was incorrigible. “Look,” he said, “they let in all these other people with placards, these paid hacks. Were they even invited? I am a guest here, and I have come to exhibit a work of art!”—here, the placard in his hands shook like a shirt on a clothesline during Typhoon Signal No. 2. “Why should they twist my arm? I am not armed, I am not a criminal; why should men with guns surround me?”

“You call yourself a guest,” said Tony Quintos, repressed anger showing in flare of nostril and flash of eyes. “Is it your custom to insult your host?”

“Did I insult Imelda? Did I even attack the Cultural Center? I said, ‘Down with philistines!’ You are a cultured man, Tony. Do you find anything wrong with that?”

“You should at least have behaved.”

“I did behave, “said David. “I behaved as an artist should.”

The lobby and the balcony were empty of glitter now, only the security men were around, the guests were in the auditorium, the program had begun. Jun Lansang was nowhere in sight (he had gone in), Mars Galang wanted to go home to his waiting wife, and David himself was all set to leave the Center to his philistines; but I had overheard one dark-suited guy whisper to a T-shirted fellow, “Paglabas ng mga ’yan, barugin n’yo,” and fearful for their safety, I persuaded Mars and David to sit out the dularawan; it is better to suffer through a new art form than suffer at the hands of men whose loyalty to Philippine culture is unquestioned, and whose hatred of “all things counter, original, spare, strange” is beyond doubt.

At the door of the lower balcony, the pretty usherette accepted my proffered ticket with a gracious smile, but a security man with a crew cut barred the way when the shaggy-haired pair tried to go in after me. David had his ticket in hand; Mars had lost his sometime during the demo but still had his printed invitation; the security man at the door was as impassive, as immovable, as the Colossus of Rhodes.

Before David could open his mouth, Tony Quintos was at his side. “David, David,” he said, “we’ll let you in, but only if you promise not to make any further disturbance.”

“I never make any disturbance when I am before a work of art,” David replied.

“What if you don’t consider this a work of art?”

“I consider any performance that contains singing and dancing,” David said grandly, “a work of art—no matter how bad.”

“Okay,” Tony Quintos wearily told the security man, waving him away. “I’ll sit with them.”

Inside, Jun Lansang was already quietly and snugly seated. We took our seats in the same row, Tony Quintos between David and Mars: the atmosphere was as tense as a Central Luzon town’s on an election day. On the stage, the director of the Cultural Center, Jaime Zobel de Ayala (who had earlier greeted David from the lobby), was winding up his opening remarks. Very soon, Imelda was walking up the stage; the audience gave her a standing ovation.

And then the dularawan began. In Europe, Maria Callas on a bad night has been booed off the stage; the dularawan was quietly tolerated; the patience of the Filipino is as renowned as Job’s. After a stiff, uneasy silence that lasted for about a quarter of an hour, David could no longer stand it, and began to give a running commentary on the show, in discreet but steadily-getting-indiscreet whispers. If Tony Quintos was annoyed, he said nothing.

“Look, that’s just like a Noh play…. Now this one is a Balinese dance…. It’s a balagtasan…. But that’s a Viking ship, not a barangay!... If our ancestors were as inert as these people, they could never have crossed from one end of the Pasig to the other…. That dance is straight out of Martha Graham…. That’s the kind of acrobatics they have in Chinese opera…. Now we have Cecil B. DeMille…. They have a vaudeville act at the Place Pigalle which is just like that…. Why do those Jewish slaves never get up? What are they doing, taking a shit?... Is that Reli Estanislao? Hey, he’s good. He’s the only good thing so far…. That’s a Senegalese dance, complete with headfeathers…. This is just like the imitation of the Folies-Bergere they put on in Japan, but at least in Japan you see a lot of legs…. Hey, there’s the Teahouse of the August Moon!... Don’t you find the music monotonous?... Walang life, walang joy, walang adventure—all the elements that make theater!”

Actually, on the basis of David Medalla’s remarks, you can describe the dularawan as very Filipino: for do we not say of the Filipino that he is a hodgepodge of cultures and styles?

Down the escalator after the show, David said: “They’ve got a better program at Cine Dragon on Ongpin.” Out of the door a few minutes later, David shouted to the waters of the gigantic fountain and the scattering of the people around it: “It’s a great big bore! The dularawan is a great big bore! There, that fountain is more beautiful, more exciting!” In the taxi on the way to Indios Bravos, David clucked his tongue: “That was 300,000 pesos? Why didn’t they just give Nick Joaquin ten thousand to write another masterpiece?”

Jun Lansang had walked out before the intermission; did he perhaps worry about his newly acquired job at the National Library, where his immediate boss is the assistant director, Andres Cristobal Cruz? Mars Galang stayed behind after the show; had champagne in the art gallery and a discussion with a security man (“I don’t blame you, you were just doing your duty, just as I was doing my duty”); hitched a ride with Bobby Chabet on the way home and had a really heated argument this time, the upshot of which was that he was told to get out of the car (“I lost my best friend”); and thought of his wife at home, his wife who had a new dress made, waiting like Penelope.

And now, an epilogue.

AT INDIOS BRAVOS later in the night, a student who had demonstrated against the Cultural Center had a story to tell.

“The U.P. student council had voted to picket the Center, but then there was this meeting in Malacañang with the President and the First Lady. I wasn’t there, but they told me umiiyak daw si Imelda. She implored them not to embarrass the country before its guests, you know. And the councilors naman, naawa. So the student council had another meeting, and this time they voted that there would be no formal picket. If anyone wanted to demonstrate, he could do so, but he would be there as an individual, not as representative of the U.P. The council chairman, Jerry Barican, did just that.”

And a folk dancer who had demonstrated for the Cultural Center spoke of the experience.

“We walked down the boulevard, all dressed up, and with the torches yet. Then this band of kids came toward us—aaah!—and we dropped our torches and we screamed. Nagtakbuhan na po! Look, I still have mud all over my shoes and pants. But afterwards everything quieted down, and then finally there was nothing more to do, so we decided to go in and see the show. There were I think 35 of us. After the intermission, 34 had disappeared, I was the only one left.”

He must have liked the dularawan, if he stayed behind?

“Ay naku! Before, I was pro-Center. Now, I don’t know any more. Tinulugan ko! Talaga. Mabuti na lang me nakatabi akong lalaki.”

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Eto pa ang isang piyesang dapat naipost ko noong Buwan ng Wika.

Binigkas ito sa isang simposyum tungkol sa wikang pambansa. Sa National Press Club ginanap ang simposyum, kung hindi ako nagkakamali. Pero hindi ko na maalala kung anong organisasyon o grupo ang nag-isponsor ng simposyum.


Wala na akong tiyaga sa mga debate at balitaktakan tungkol sa wika. Kung ako ang tatanungin, tapos na ang panahon ng pakikipagtalo. Bilang manunulat ay may desisyon na ako sa isyu ng wika. Karamihan sa sinusulat ko ngayon--tula, dulang pampelikula, kolum sa Mr. & Ms.--ay sa Pilipino.

Hindi ko tinatalikuran ang Ingles. Matagal ko na rin itong ginamit, at patuloy kong gagamitin kung hinihingi ng pagkakataon--lalo na kung ang tagasubaybay o audience na gusto kong maabot ay walang ibang alam na lengguwahe kundi Ingles.

Pero sa ngayon, para sa akin, ang Ingles ay tulad ng isang dating girlfriend na lamang. May panahong minahal ko siya, pero magkaibigan na lang kami ngayon.

Kung tutuusin, ang importante ay hindi ang wikang ginagamit ng isang manunulat. Ang importante'y ang sinasabi niya. Kahit sa Pilipino pa siya magsulat, kung puro kabalbalan naman ang susulatin niya, wala ring mahihita ang mambabasa.

Ano ang wikang dapat gamitin ng manunulat na Pilipino? Depende iyan sa iba't ibang salik o factor. Depende kung sino ang mga mambabasang tinatarget niya. Depende kung saang wika siya mas komportable. Depende kung aling wika ang mas gusto niyang pagbuhusan ng panahon.

Batay sa mga salik na ito, maaaring ipasiya ng manunulat na gumamit ng Ingles, Espanyol, Tagalog, Sebuwano, Hiligaynon, Ilokano, Kapampangan, o kahit Esperanto.

Hindi naman kaya magkaroon ng problema sa komunikasyon? Palagay ko'y hindi. Ang kailangan lamang ay mapalaganap at malinang ang sining ng pagsasalin o translation. Ang mga akda sa Pilipino, halimbawa, ay kailangang isalin sa iba't ibang wikang panrehiyon, samantalang ang mga akda sa mga wikang panrehiyon ay kailangang maisalin din sa Pilipino. Gayundin naman, ang mga mahalagang akda ng mga wikang pandaigdig (hindi lamang Ingles) ay kailangang isalin sa Pilipino at pati na rin sa mga wikang panrehiyon ng Pilipinas.

Gayunman, mangangailangan pa rin tayo ng isang opisyal na pambansang wika. Hindi iyan maiiwasan ng alinmang bansang naghahangad ng isang kakanyahang pambansa o national identity.

Palagay ko'y hindi maaaring maging Ingles ang pambansang wikang kailangan natin. Ang Ingles ay naiintindihan lamang ng tinatawag na elite--ang mga nasa alta sosyedad, ang mga ilustrado, ang mga edukado (o misedukado).

Sa kabilang dako, ang Pilipino, anuman ang sabihin ng mga kaaway nito, ay naiintindihan ng nakararaming mamamayan, ng masa. At naiintindihan ito hindi lamang sa Katagalugan kundi sa buong kapuluan. Patunay ang mga komiks at pelikulang tinatangkilik mula Aparri hanggang Jolo.

Pero iyan na rin ang problema, sasabihin ng mga kaaway ng wika. Pangkomiks at pampelikula lang ang Pilipino. Magagamit bang midyum ng pagtuturo ang Pilipino? Magagamit ba iyan sa larangan ng siyensiya, ekonomiya, pilosopiya, atbp.? Hindi ba't kulang ang Pilipino sa mga angkop na terminolohiya?

Ang kakulangan ay wala sa wikang Pilipino. Ang kakulangan ay nasa mga siyentipiko, ekonomista, pilosopo, atbp. Karamihan sa kanila ay hindi marunong ng Pilipino o walang tiyagang mag-aral ng Pilipino. Pero mayroon nang ilang siyentipiko, ekonomista, pilosopo, atbp., na nagtatangkang gumamit ng Pilipino, at pinatutunayan nila na ang Pilipino ay may kakayahang magdebelop at umangkop sa hinihingi ng pangangailangan.

Sinasabi pa ng mga kaaway ng wika na ang Pilipino ay atrasado at samakatwid ay hindi makakatulong sa pagpapaunlad ng bansa. Pero matagal na nating ginagamit ang Ingles. Umunlad ba tayo? Mas maunlad ba tayo kaysa Hapon at Tsina na gumagamit ng sarili nilang wika sa lahat ng larangan ng kabuhayan?


Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Narito ang isa pang artikulong dapat ay noon pang isang buwan naipost dito sa aking blog. Sinulat ito noong 1978 para sa isang English-language magazine, ang yumao nang magasing Who. Lumabas ito kasabay ng isang artikulong nagtatanggol naman sa paggamit ng Ingles sa Pilipinas.



Who, August 5, 1978

SUMUSULAT ako sa Ingles, at patuloy na susulat sa Ingles kung kinakailangan, pero hindi ko maikakaila ang wika nga’y naghuhumindig na katotohanan: bilang na ang araw ng wikang Ingles sa Pilipinas. Gustuhin ko man o hindi, mawawala itong tulad ng Espanyol—at ang kuwestiyon na lang ay kung kailan.

Sa isang artikulong Ingles na sinulat ko may walong taon na ngayon ang nakararaan (“Pilipino Forever!”, Philippines Free Press, August 29, 1970), pinangahasan kong hulaan na ang itatagal ng Ingles sa Pilipinas ay isang dekada na lamang.

Sa susunod ay ipauubaya ko na ang panghuhula sa mga may bolang kristal. Aminado akong mali ang hula ko. Matatapos na ang dekadang ’70 ay narito pa rin ang Ingles. Ito pa rin ang pangunahing wika ng pamahalaan, paaralan, pamamahayag, at pangangalakal.

Gayunman, hindi nagbabago ang palagay ko. Hindi man sa dekadang ito, sa di malayong hinaharap ay maglalaho ang wikang Ingles sa bansa.

Tingnan na lamang ang nangyari sa Espanyol. Sa loob ng apat na siglo, ito ang opisyal na wika ng Pilipinas, ang wika ng komersiyo at kultura. Nang maghimagsik ang mga Pilipino, ito pa ang ginamit nilang sandata laban sa Espanya.

Nasaan ang Espanyol ngayon? Marami itong naiambag na salita’t parirala sa ating mga katutubong wika, pero ang Espanyol mismo ay 12 namemeligrong yunit na lamang sa kolehiyo ngayon. Nang mawala ang kapangyarihan ng Espanya sa Pilipinas, nawala na rin ang wika nito.

Tingnan naman ang nangyari sa Ingles mismo. Sa loob ng tatlong siglo mula 1066, ang Inglatera ay napailalim sa pananakop at paghahari ng Normandiya. Sa buong panahong iyon, Pranses at Latin ang mga opisyal na wika ng Inglatera, ang mga wika ng pamahalaan at simbahan.

“Kung susuriin ang mga napangalagaang kasulatan ng panahong iyon, at kung isasaalang-alang ang dami at kahalagahan ng nasabing mga kasulatan,” ayon sa lingguwistang si Carlton Laird (The Miracle of Language, 1953), “walang-dudang masasabi na pagkaraan ng panahong iyon ay Pranses o Latin o isang paghahalo ng dalawa ang magiging wika ng bayang Ingles.”

Hindi gayon ang nangyari. Bagamat walang prestihiyo noon ang Inggles sa Inglatera, bagamat ginagamit lamang iyon ng mahihirap at hindi nakapag-aral, iyon pa rin ang nanaig—ang sariling wika ng bayang Ingles.

Kung ano ang kinahinatnan ng Pranses at Latin sa Inglatera pagkaraan ng tatlong siglo, kung ano ang kinahinatnan ng Espanyol dito sa atin pagkaraan ng apat na siglo, ay siya ring kahihinatnan ng Ingles sa Pilipinas. Ni hindi pa nga nakakaisang siglo ang Ingles dito.

Totoo, Ingles pa rin ang pangunahing wika ng edukadong kakanggata ng lipunang Pilipino. Ingles pa rin ang nangingibabaw na wika sa punto ng prestihiyo at impluwensiya. Pero ito’y sa dahilang ang bansa kung tutuusin ay kolonya pa rin ng Estados Unidos—kolonya sa larangan ng ekonomiya, kultura, at maging sa pulitika at usaping militar. Sa sandaling magbago ang sitwasyon (at nagiging malinaw na sa parami nang paraming Pilipino na hindi ito dapat maging permanenteng sitwasyon), maglalaho ang Ingles sa Pilipinas.

Sa mga akdang Ingles na sinulat na at kasalukuyang sinusulat pa ng mga Pilipino, may ilang makikipagmatagalan sa panahon at mananatiling mahalaga’t makabuluhan. Ang mga ito’y babasahin ng mga darating na henerasyon (tulad ng ginagawa nating pagbasa kay Rizal ngayon) sa salingwika.

Malamang na ang wikang pagsasalinan ay Pilipino.

Ang wikang Pilipinong batay sa Tagalog ay may malaking kalamangan sa lahat ng iba pa nating lokal na wika: nakabase ito sa Maynila, luklukan ng pamahalaan at komersiyo, sentro ng kapangyarihan at impluwensiya. Ang wikang sinasalita sa kabisera ng isang bansa ay karaniwang nagiging pangunahing midyum ng komunikasyon ng buong bansa.

Sa kabila ng mga kakulangan at kapintasan ng wikang Pilipino, hindi maitatatwang napakalaki ng isinulong nito sa kasalukuyang dekada. Ngayon higit kailanman, masasabing ito’y siya na ngang pambansang wika ng isang kapuluang sangkaterba ang wika.

Ang mga gumagawa ng pelikula, ang mga sumusulat at kumakanta ng mga bagong awitin, ang mga nagpapakulo ng mga komersiyal at adbertisment, ang mga naglalathala ng komiks—lahat sila’y kumikilala sa katotohanang ang pinakalaganap na wika sa bansa ngayon ay Pilipinong batay sa Tagalog.

Alam nilang kung gusto nilang marating ng produkto nila ang nakararaming mamamayan, ang masa, at hindi lamang ang mga nakatataas sa lipunan, ang dapat nilang gamitin ay hindi Ingles kundi Pilipino.

Alam din nilang kung gusto nilang marating ng kanilang produkto hindi lamang ang isang lalawigan o rehiyon kundi ang buong bansa, mula Aparri hanggang Jolo, ang dapat nilang gamitin ay hindi ang alinmang wikang lokal kundi ang wikang pambansa.

Bukod sa lumalaganap ang Pilipino sa hanay ng masa at sa buong bansa, tumataas din ang prestihiyo at impluwensiya nito. Sa di iilang simposyum at palihang pangkultura at kahit pansiyensiya, Pilipino ang ginagamit sa mga panayam at talakayan. Mayroon na ring mga tesis at librong pang-iskolar na nasusulat sa Pilipino.

Mapapansin pa na na halos lahat ng mga peryodiko’t magasing Ingles ngayon ay naglalathala ng mga akdang Pilipino o kaya’y may regular na seksiyon o kolum sa Pilipino. Totoo, maliit na bagay lamang ito—pero hindi na rin masama ang maliit na bagay, dahil dati’y ni wala naman nito. Ngayon, kinikilala na ng mga patnugot na kahit ang mga mambabasa nilang bihasa sa Ingles ay nagkakaroon ng interes sa sariling wika.

Habang patuloy na ginagamit ang Pilipino sa iba’t ibang larangan, lalo itong napapanday at nahahasa. Lalo itong nagiging isang moderno’t sopistikadong wika na may kakayahang umangkop sa mga pangangailangan ng isang makabago’t siyentipikong panahon.

Darating ang panahong ang Ingles at hindi ang sariling wika ang bibigyan ng kapirasong sulok sa ating mga magasin at peryodiko.

Monday, September 7, 2009


Dapat noong isang buwan ko pa ito ipinost, dahil Agosto ang Buwan ng Wika. Sa ano't anuman, huli man daw at magaling (magaling nga kaya?), naihahabol din.

This is a slightly revised version of a piece I wrote for an English-language magazine nearly 40 years ago. I decided not to revise the "fearless forecast" that I made back then. Obviously, I am not a good manghuhula. Otherwise, I think the piece is not entirely outdated.

Or, The Decline And Foreseeable Fall Of English In the Philippines.

by Jose F. Lacaba
Staff Member
Philippines Free Press, August 29, 1970, pp. 6-7

SEVEN YEARS ago, just before I dropped out of college, I liked to annoy some of my friends—intense young writers who dreamt of crashing the New Yorker or the Free Press with labored Nabokov or Nolledo imitations, and who were all under the delusion that they were destined to write what we called the GFN, or the Great Filipino Novel—by telling them they were wasting their time mastering the niceties of English prose, for there was no future in their efforts, posterity would be able to appreciate them only in translation. English in the Philippines was on the way out, I said, and would surely go the way of Spanish. Its days were numbered. I gave it fifty years or less.

Today I am inclined to say “less.” I’m giving English in the Philippines a decade at the most. That’s a fearless forecast based on a concrete analysis of concrete conditions.

Seven years ago, being myself afflicted with the GFN Complex, I wrestled with The Language Problem. In what tongue was I to express my Filipino soul? In what language was I to write the GFN that I thought was struggling to get out of my skin? Part of the reason I became a college dropout—aside from the usual “sensitive adolescent” compound of existential angst, the alienation bit, the crisis-of-faith thing, the complete De Profundis Syndrome—was the conviction I had arrived at, that the language of my GFN could never be English. The characters I wanted to write about were people who spoke no English at all, or spoke it only when drunk. How could I make a jeepney driver curse the cop at the corner in English? I wrote about a housemaid once, and though the story was accepted for publication in this magazine, I thought it was funny to have a maid speak like a Maryknoll coed. None of the attempts made by established writers to render the native speech in English could satisfy me. The narrative portions of stories by the best Filipino writers in English were almost letter-perfect, but dialogue was something else. My ear always told me something was wrong.

What language was I to use then? Spanish was definitely out. Not only was it deader than a dodo; the 21 units of it that I had passed couldn’t even enable me to read Mabini’s memoirs without consulting a Spanish-English dictionary after every other line. Though I was born in Cagayan de Oro, a Visayan-speaking city in Mindanao, and though my father was a Boholano who wrote poetry in his native tongue, my GFN could not be in Visayan either, because I had left my birthplace at an early age and could no longer speak the language; besides, I knew absolutely nothing of its literary tradition.

The only logical choice then, for me if for nobody else, was the only other language I knew besides English, the language my mother had been teaching in school since I was a year old: the national language. At that time, I didn’t want to call it Pilipino; I preferred Tagalog.

I was an English major in a school renowned for its English, or at least for the way its students spoke English—the Ateneo. I should have been happy enough with English Lit., but the Language Problem kept, as we used to say in our philosophy classes in those days, “impinging itself on my consciousness.”

I had a professor in philosophy, a disciple of the Christian existentialists, who liked to tell the class of Tagalog’s strength and beauty as an “existential language.” At its current stage of development, he said, Tagalog was weak in abstract concepts, but in dealing with “existents,” it was more sophisticated than English. I remember one of his examples. Tagalog would say: Umuulan—“Raining”—and have a complete sentence. English, to complete the sentence, would have to say: “It is raining.” What, my professor asked, did it refer to? Nothing that could be measured by hand or eye; nothing that could be found in existence. He told us about the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, who, confronted by what in his time was also an existential language, decided to “teach German to speak philosophy.” (This was in a time when the language of philosophy was either Greek or Latin.) I wasn’t too keen on philosophy, but since I was wrestling with The Language Problem, I wanted to prove that the language I was inclined to favor was adequate for 20th-century needs. I decided to teach Tagalog to speak philosophy. I started by trying to translate Kierkegaard, and gave up after a few attempts. It was not that Tagalog could not cope with philosophy, I reasoned out; I could not cope with philosophy.

As an existential language, however, Tagalog was perfect for poetry. I had two English professors who, strangely enough, were passionately interested in Tagalog literature. They wrote Tagalog poetry, as I did. This was, I think, my most fertile period (I was writing at the rate of a tula a night), and after class I would discuss Tagalog poetry with my English professors. Twentieth-century Tagalog poetry, we agreed, not only lacked roots in native tradition, but, worse, was alienated from contemporary world literature. We arrived at the conclusion that the trouble with Tagalog poetry was its addiction to sound and conventional music; it badly needed the ballast of imagery. We thought it was vital to established the importance of the concrete thing, the real object, the image. So we launched, without benefit of manifestoes or any other formalities, the Bagay Movement.

Today, seven years later, other Tagalog poets whom we didn’t know at the time, but who were themselves on a parallel course with us, speak to me of Bagay. I am surprised that they have even heard of it; we published only in the Ateneo’s literary journal and in an avant-garde magazine that folded up after the first issue. There are those who still do not quite understand what we were trying to do at the time, equating Bagay poetry with the “mestizo poems” of one of our members, who was writing a la The Sun before The Sun was ever thought of, and with more ease and naturalness. On the whole, however, as I keep discovering to this day, the Bagay Movement created something of a ripple in Tagalog literature. I like to think that it has, anyway.

So there I was, an English major writing in Tagalog, and all the while still debating in my mind what language to champion unreservedly. In my last year of college, I began to find it more and more difficult to write term papers on “The Archetype in Canterbury Tales” or “The Early Cantos of Ezra Pound,” things like that. Down went my grades and out went my scholarship, and I decided it was time to write, not the GFN, but something, anything, in Tagalog. I dropped out.

This was towards the end of 1964. Early in 1965, an election year, I found work as an interviewer, at the six-peso minimum wage, for Robot Statistics, a survey firm and a subsidiary of the international Gallup Polls. I liked the job: there was something offbeat, adventurous, glamorous about it; it brought me closer to the people I wanted to write about but felt alienated from; and it enabled me to stop wrssh-wrsshing like a goddam Arrnean. The job brought me to the wilds of San Nicolas and Tondo, to the hinterlands of Sapang Palay, to godforsaken barrios in the Tagalog region. I made mental notes of the linguistic quirks, in accent and vocabulary, that could be discovered in Batangas, Bulacan, Rizal, Marinduque. I spoke virtually no word of English during those trips; in the barrios I met nobody who was “English-spokening.”

I left Robot after about five months because I began getting what to me were bum assignments. Robot must have found out I could wrssh-wrssh like the best of its executives, and it put me to work in the plush districts of Manila, where most of the time I had to wait outside a high gate while the maid who had peered at me through a small round hole went into the house to inform the lord and master of my presence. Never was the gap between have and have-not more clear to me than it was in those humiliating hours of waiting—and I could see that language was an important instrument to maintain the gap. Once inside the Class A home, sunk in the soft sofa, surrounded by stereo and television and refrigerator and modern painting and maids in uniform, I found myself once again exercising my Arrneow acent, what little of it I had imbibed by osmosis. After two weeks of Ermita-Malate assignments, I said goodbye to Robot. It was no way to write a GFN.

Ironically enough, I ended up here in the Free Press. Jobs that required a knowledge of Tagalog were hard to come by.

It was here in the Free Press that I became finally and irrevocably convinced that English in the Philippines was in horribly bad shape, so grievously ill I doubted if it had any chances of recovery. I worked at the desk for more than three years, as copyreader and rewrite man, and the most irritating thing I had to do was edit the copy of earnest schoolteachers who angrily insisted that Filipinos had mastered English as a medium of communication and that English was here to stay. What reached my desk was copy that the executive editor already deemed worthy of publication—that is to say, it wasn’t as excruciatingly bad as the usual stuff he received. The stuff that the executive editor rejected outright and didn’t bother to pass on to me for copyreading was simply unbelievable.

Here’s a typical example of the sort of thing that pours daily into the Free Press office (it was passed on to me because it praises one of my articles to high heavens):

“Sunog! (Ang Lagay E…?) FP—June 14/69, by Jose F. Lacaba. Its enough to fervor your feeling against this redden society of ours with all sort of evils. It’s no longer a joked this Nation is really edging to ‘Satan’s’ path. The cunning characters of all government personnel are the inherited facts from the Americans. Their excessived display of their unmannerism and auspicious wheeling of their personal needs, which is not supposed to be conducived within our Nation, plunged those with weaks humors in such dubious weal.”

I wasn’t much of a newspaper reader before I joined the Free Press. Because in the beginning part of my job was to do a weekly news roundup, I found myself reading the papers daily, almost line by line, from front page to back. Reading the papers regularly, I soon found out, was an infuriating experience, a stomach-turning exercise, not only because the news was invariably bad but also because the grammar was worse. Never mind the reporters, but the columnists who were supposed to be tops in the trade! One could count on the fingers of one’s left hand those who could write a straight English sentence without garbling the syntax, putting subject and predicate at odds, misusing words, mixing metaphors, and wallowing in clichés. The mass media were often cited as proof that English was widely understood in the country; as far as I was concerned, they were the best evidence that the language was being debased and would come to ruin.

At the same time that I despaired of the future of English in the Philippines, I became hopeful about Tagalog. It was at this time that I learned to call it Pilipino.

As staff writer for the Free Press, I have done quite a lot of traveling around the country. What strikes me the most whenever I come into a new town is the abundance of theaters showing Tagalog movies, and stands selling or renting out Tagalog comic books. Nora Aunor is everywhere, from Jolo to Sorsogon, and I suppose all the way to Ilocos Sur, where I have not been to yet. I remember a film exchange representative telling me that in the provinces Tagalog movies beat English-language pictures any time, even if the Tagalog moviehouses are mostly rundown and flea-bitten. And everywhere, too, Pogi and Pilipino Komiks and all those little comic books available at every corner in Manila are doing brisk business.

What this proves is that Tagalog-based Pilipino is more widespread than its enemies think. The squealing teenager in Naga who adores Nora Aunor will not endure the fleas and the bedbugs if she cannot understand what Nora Aunor is saying between songs, and the housewife in Samar who buys Romansa Komiks will not throw away 50 centavos of hard-earned money if Romansa Komiks will not make her momentarily forget the routine and the drudgery of housework. Thanks to the movies and the comic books, I have very seldom encountered difficulty in communicating with people born and bred in a different Philippine language. They may not be able to express themselves very clearly in Pilipino, they may not be able to pronounce it properly, but they understand me and we understand each other.

I am talking, of course, of the so-called lower classes, those who have not had much of an education and can only afford the inexpensive pleasures of Tagalog movies and comic books. Higher up on the social scale, one needs English to communicate—and these are usually the people who are opposed to Pilipino as the national language, knowing as they do that it endangers their position as the current elite.

Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, professor of English at the Ateneo, writing in Pilipino for Pilipino, sister magazine of the Free Press, has this to say on the situation:

“In the bourgeois mind of the power elite, the interests of their small group represent the interests of the entire nation. What is good for their class is good for the entire masses….

“Perhaps the Philippine situation can never be fully understood by someone belonging to the power elite. The Westernization of those who have graduated from the university is practically complete. The students who have learned English easily are the same ones who have quickly embraced the culture embodied by the English language. They are the citizens alienated from their fellow Filipinos because they live in an artificial society, a society built on the principles and objectives imported through the use of English. It is not surprising that many intellectuals believe that nationalism and the language problem are separate, that it is possible to show concern for the country without supporting Pilipino….

“As it is now, English is the language of government leaders, of the rich, of the professionals. While a leader unavoidably stands out from those he leads, the two should never be kept far apart. Neglect of the people’s needs or blindness to the nation’s true situation is the effect of the English language which, instead of being a bridge, serves as a fence separating the leader from the led.”

The students demonstrating in our streets are perceptive in that they realize their need to bring themselves closer to the masses. We keep worrying that Pilipino will cut us off from the world, but we are not bothered by the thought that English has kept us apart from our own people. The students who have turned their backs on the easy life of the privileged few, to which their education naturally qualifies them, and who have instead opted to, as they put it, “integrate with the masses” and “serve the people,” know that they can achieve their objective only by speaking a language known to the masses of the people.

Those who say that Pilipino is inadequate to meet the needs of the modern world are simply unaware that Pilipino has been making great strides in the past 10 years. Those who say that Pilipino has produced no significant literature are only confessing that they have read nothing of the literature written in Pilipino in the past 10 years. Those who say that Pilipino cannot cope with 20th-century science and technology have not heard Filipino engineers, for instance, talking business in Pilipino: their sentences are in Pilipino but they use English terminology when no terms in the language exist, in the same way that English unashamedly incorporated foreign words, spelling, and pronunciation, unchanged, into its own vocabulary. Those who fear that Pilipino will throw us back to the stone age do not know that Pilipino is already advancing into the space age, the age of revolution.

This is a very exciting period for Pilipino. The language is being bent, battered, hammered into shape, molded, to meet the needs of a rising generation. Read through the convoluted manifestoes of student radicals and you will see what I mean. The Pilipino they use may sound strange and artificial now, but that is because they are trying to make Pilipino bear a burden it has never borne before: they are teaching Pilipino to speak political science. Even now, the bright young men and women of the new generation are giving the language a cram course in philosophy, history, the social sciences, the natural sciences, even space technology. Give Pilipino a few more years and it will be the equal of any modern language in the world.

Note, 2009:
The Sun (I don't recall now if this was a tabloid or a broadsheet) was the first Philippine newspaper written in what we now call Taglish. If I remember correctly, it was still called Enggalog back then.