Close, but no cigar

KRIPOTKIN By Alfred A. Yuson
November 24, 2008 12:00 AM
Philippine Star

Those fateful three days and nights in Hong Kong before the previous weekend were alternately relaxing and suspenseful, the latter only a bit. Good thing I’ve had minimal relations with luck of late, so that hoping for a big turn was hardly in my agenda.

When the shortlist for the Man Asian Prize for the novel was announced on Oct. 22, it started a dizzying ride — from pleasant surprise to pride of place, seeing as how it meant honor not really for oneself alone, but for country. International literary agents and at least one notable publisher were quick to initiate communications, asking for a copy of the manuscript.

It was just as buddy Butch Dalisay recounted when he gained the finals in the contest’s first edition last year. He levitated for weeks, all the way to the ceremonial awards dinner in Hong Kong. Same here. Congrats were rife, and the honor was doubled because there was a fellow Pinoy in the list of five — someone much younger and who happens to have been a dear friend all these years.

Miguel “Chuck” Syjuco completed his studies in Ateneo just as I was coming in as a lecturer, so we never really shared space in a classroom together. But book launchings, poetry readings, a Dumaguete summer, and sporadic e-mail kept us in touch.

I could just be making this up as putative urban legend, but I recall that Chuck had to be “exiled” abroad after a run-in with a Jinggoy Estrada convoy around Greenhills one sultry night seven-eight years ago. It even landed in the papers, how the young Chuck was pushed around by bodyguards intent on road rage, and only escaped a pummeling by pulling out his own political card. His father Augusto “Buboy” Syjuco was then a Congressman.

Chuck wound up enrolling for a creative writing course in Columbia University in New York. All those lonely nights up in a Trump Towers unit produced tons of literature. Chuck would send poems and chunks of narrative, occasionally betraying the need to hear avuncular assurance that he was on the right track.

At some point he said he had to take a stint in photography at Sorbonne in Paris, and before I knew it he had landed in Australia. Next thing I heard, when he sent me a soft copy of his novel manuscript titled Ilustrado, he was already in Montreal, where he said he had followed his lady love, and was now working as a copy editor for a local paper.

That was about the time last summer when Tony Hidalgo and I sat down for a whisky-fed conversation at the garden of the UP Executive House. He probed if I had joined the Palanca contest in the Novel category, which he had just helped judge. I said no way; I had already won that once, “dyahe naman, pa-judge-judge na rin lang tayo.” Tony kept marveling over the quality of the chosen one for 2008. We both wondered if it could be the genius handiwork of one Greg Brillantes. Tony recalled the opening paragraph and premise. I said I didn’t think it was Greg’s.

Then the Man Asian longlist of 21, out of over 200 entries, was announced last July, with Lakambini Sitoy, Ian Casocot, Miguel Syjuco and myself in there. The brief synopses the entrants had provided gave me a clue as to the Palanca “mystery entry.” I asked Chuck for a soft copy of his draft novel. Thus did Tony and I gain advance knowledge that the young Syjuco would be declared Palanca Grand Prize winner for the Novel in English.

It was great to see him back home last September at Palanca Night. Chuck recalled that I was first to congratulate him by e-mail. I asked him and Sylvia Palanca Quirino to guest in my Talk News TV program over Destiny Cable’s GNN Channel 3, after which I disclosed that I had begun to entertain some hope that his beauteous girlfriend Edith, half-Filipina, might have a sister. Why, Chuck even showed Sylvia and me the intricate tattoo he had on his right arm that served as a visual paean to Edith. I took photos, thinking they might come in handy sometime.

Wouldn’t it be nice to meet up again in Hong Kong in case we make the Man Asian shortlist? We bantered and joked as we whistled in the dark. Six weeks later, we congratulated one another by e-mail. Indeed we had both made it.

Meeting up with Chuck and Edith again at the Kowloon Hotel lobby on Nov. 11, we laughed over how I had to “perish the thought” anent my request that they bring along her sis. Edith only had a brother. Drat. To think that I refrained from handing over his tattoo photos to a shaman in Siquijor. I just couldn’t have a hex applied on a young buddy; darn the Greg Brillantes influence re Christian values.

As we sat down for drinks at the Fringe Club, courtesy of dear friend and fellow poet Dave McKirdy, I took advantage of a media interview that pulled Chuck away and just had to confirm with Edith if her only sibling was as her boyfriend alleged. Alas, yes. Oh, well, I said, there goes my consolation prize. I just know it, I told Edith, you’ll have further reason to be proud of Chuck, as I’m certain he’ll win the Man Asian.

She probably thought the vodka sour had gotten to me. We left it at that, and proceeded to engage in camaraderie with the Indian rivals, Kavery Nambisan and Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi. The fifth finalist, Yu Hua of China, was said to be coming all the way from Mongolia by way of Xiamen, and so would arrive only the next day, the eve of the awards ceremony.

Poor fellow. And he had the least chances of bagging the prize, too, I thought in my usual wizened manner — accrued from over half-a-century of experience in geopolitical reckoning of the characteristic balance of terror between the law of averages and regional socio-political considerations.

A Chinese novelist had already won it last year. It can’t be another translated work this year. That left the Indians and us Filipinos. Our individual chances just increased from 20 to 25 percent. But an Indian writer just won the Man Booker Prize, the big one in London. It can’t be a Bollywood sweep. That left Chuck and me. One chance in two. The rest of the forecast process was easy.

Fate and I, we’ve had our quarrels, but for over a year now it’s obviously had the upper hand, and I can’t quite escape its headlock umbrage. If I thought that it would be now, it would only be a mark of desperation. Taking a page from Michael Jordan, one can’t show that one’s hurt or hurting; best to pick oneself up from the floor and give sporting chances the finger.

The young Siddarth, fop to Chuck’s dandy, was said to be Mumbai’s literary enfant terrible. He dressed elegantly, looking like a prince. And in conversation he entertained with a litany of namedrops, how he had spent a weekend at John Berendt’s Manhattan flat, and once hosted Salman Rushdie till 4 in the morning. When he returned home, he’d be looking forward to a party with Lindsay Lohan as guest. Surely, all of that counted him out for the prize.

Kavery was such a nice, lovely lady, a surgeon, who like myself knew exactly where she stood. She showed me two pages of an excerpt she would read in public; it had all kinds of revisions penned in on the margins. “It’s still a work in progress,” she admitted of her draft. “Same with mine,” I allowed. “A lot more work, and some more time for all that.” Quietly, tacitly, I believe we agreed to simply vie for the Congeniality Prize.

That left Chuck. Oh, okay, unfair, it might be said of this kind of cynical reckoning. Well then, consider these as addenda to the main contention. I’ve only read his draft in parts. But it has obvious heft and historical sweep, spanning 150 years of Philippine (literary) history. My concern was that the judges might think it too literary, with a writer as the main character investigating a senior writer’s mysterious demise, and in the end becoming a mentor to another, junior writer. Epic torch-passing? Bricolage also figures much in his experimental novel, as Chuck has acknowledged. I could then only fear for the judges’ possible stance on what could be too much of an in-bred thing.

Thankfully, there was no such stance. On the night of Nov. 13, Miguel Syjuco was adjudged the winner of the 2008 Man Asian Prize for Ilustrado.

In the wake of our high fives, quite sadly, my proposition made the night before was all but forgotten. I had suggested that we all pledge to take a ferry to Macau the morning after the awards rites, once the winner had encashed the $10,000 check, to give the also-rans a chance to bite into that prize money. Or maybe one of us would get even luckier and win much more. Oh well, now all we can do is count our blessings. We all got close to it, but no cigar.

Let’s still light one up for Chuck. Mabuhay ang Pinoy!

Honestly, how can anyone begrudge Miguel Syjuco, ever the humble one, as shown by the following remarks he’s posted in response to several e-group threads?

“Dear Krip, and all the rest of the esteemed writers on these lists,

“For a long time I’ve been a quiet observer on these threads and discussions, following your work, idolizing your achievements, dreaming of one day being able to publish a book and maybe teach creative writing, as so many of you have done before. For 15 years I’ve written stories and poems and for three years I’ve worked slowly on this, my first, novel, drawing insight from your discussions, collecting details from the online editions of our dailies, calibrating my perception of the reality of our beloved country by scouring the myriad blogs.

“Due to my frequent but never-frequent-enough trips home to Manila, the work you’ve all done, and all the encouragement I’ve received from those of you who’ve known me and my literary aspirations, I have suddenly, overnight, found myself with a very imperfect book that was lucky enough to be almost-ready and likeably enough at the right time and place.

“Often, recently, when people have been congratulating me, my response has been, ‘I’ve been lucky.’ And people would usually scoff, and say that I’m being modest (while inside they’re likely thinking me yabang). But what they don’t understand is that I don’t mean so much that I’ve been lucky to have won (though, admittedly, lit prizes are tsambahan); what I mean is that I have been so lucky to have had such support and encouragement from my Filipino teachers at Ateneo, at UP, at the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop, at Columbia. I’ve been lucky to have had the encouragement of writers like Paul Go, Rofel Brion, Danton Remoto, DM Reyes, Clinton Palanca, Marianne Villanueva, Jing Hidalgo, Mom Edith Tiempo, Sir NVM Gonzalez, Jessica Hagedorn, and so many others — too many others to list here. And that is in terms of direct experience. Indirectly, I’ve learned so much from all of you who have written such amazing and inspiring stories and poems, even if I’ve not yet met you.

“So forgive me for sounding hokey, or emotional, or even maybe grandiose, but please accept my heartfelt gratitude. For inspiring me, for encouraging me, and for accepting me as a writer. The premise of my novel Ilustrado is that we can all be ilustrados, and I could not have won the Palanca nor the Man Asian Prize without all that your words and work have enlightened.

“And now, the hard work truly begins. Salamat. Salamat. Salamat. Yours, — Miguel ‘Chuck’ Syjuco.”

Cha-Cha battleground

I agree with my friend Mon Casiple. The Cha-Cha forces only have from now until April 2009. By May 2009, the campaign season would begin. It is only one more year before the elections.

Have you seen those horrid tarpaulins of the politicians? I live in District 3, QC, and the tarpaulins range from free vaccination for your dogs, to the search for the cleanest barangays (without even giving the barangays a single walis tingting). They will do everythin got put their bloated, oily, uber-ugly faces on those toxic tarpaulins.

But this morning, in front of my building, hangs a simple white tarpaulin with the face of Ninoy and a line about being a hero.

Now that is a real hero, in my book and I am sure in yours as well.


BY Mon Casiple
Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms (IPER)

It is now joined. The battle on Charter change to enable President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to stay in power–whether as president or prime minister–starts now.

At stake here is the fate of the 2010 elections–whether or not it will push through at all. If it pushes through, whether or not it will be for positions under the present presidential system or will it be for positions under a parliamentary system. Or, will it be preceded or replaced by a plebiscite.

Also on the line–and more importantly–is the eventual fate of the GMA presidency. Will it be a lameduck presidency, be cut-off prematurely, or be transformed into martial rule or a nominally democratic rule?

Ranged on one side are the formidable forces of Malacañang located in the three major government organs of Congress, Supreme Court and Commission on Elections, the pro-GMA ruling coalition, and supporters in government, military and police, and civil society . On the other side are virtually all the other political forces and at least 64% (according to a recent SWS survey)of the people who said NO to cha-cha. Mobilizations on both sides currently is ongoing.

The timeframe allowed for the cha-cha struggle has dwindled to only a few months until the first quarter of next year. It’s a now-or-never proposition for the GMA regime.

A lesson and a warning

Ang Pahayagang Malaya

‘This is a lesson and warning which Arroyo can ignore only at her peril.’

The Makati Business Club yesterday declared its opposition to charter change aimed at extending the term of Gloria Arroyo. It said Arroyo no longer enjoys the support and confidence of the majority of the people. It added the people look forward to national renewal through the general elections in 2010. It said efforts at canceling the exercise will be met with the strongest opposition from all sectors of society.

The MBC position, including its declared alignment with all forces committed to the holding of the 2010 elections, is clear as clear can be. It should give the lie to those self-proclaimed industry leaders, whose only visible business is kissing the rump of whoever is in power, that business favors constitutional "reforms."

Through the MBC, the purported beneficiaries of charter change, especially as this relates to the lifting of constitutional limitations on doing business, have effectively disowned the initiative which was purportedly launched to promote their interests.

The House Cha-Cha drive is anchored on the resolution sponsored by Speaker Prospero Nograles which seeks to allow foreigners to own land. But owning land, as we have repeatedly said in this space, is way, way down the concerns of foreign investors.

On top is corruption, followed by effective governance. The Arroyo administration has miserably failed in addressing these concerns. As the MBC pointed out in its statement yesterday, "Mrs. Arroyo no longer has the support and confidence of the majority of our people, not only because she continues to serve under a dubious mandate, but also because of the unending corruption scandals that have marked her administration and her unwillingness to address these issues."

Business probably can live with institutionalized corruption. It has, after all, the wherewithal to buy every corrupt official in the land. What it fears most is instability, a fear which is not expressed but can be gleaned from the MBC statement.

Continued stay in power by the near-universally despised and hated Gloria will only strengthen political forces that are anti-business. We saw the same thing happen during the time of Ferdinand Marcos. For a time, it was touch and go whether Marcos could be ousted before the leftist rebellion marched triumphant. In the end the middle forces - backed by the Church, business and, finally, the military – succeeded in throwing out Marcos and in so doing preempted the left.

There is a lesson here, which Arroyo should learn. And a warning, which she could ignore only at her peril.

A time of perilous uncertainty

By Ellen Tordesillas
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

DESTABILIZATION talks are getting louder and louder as Gloria Arroyo and her henchmen make the final push to keep her in power beyond 2010.

Last Tuesday at the 58th anniversary of the Scout Rangers at Camp Tecson in Bulacan, AFP chief Alexander Yano assured the public that the military won’t be involved in any destabilization plots.

It’s significant that Yano’s audience was the elite Scout Rangers, whose much-respected commander, Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and 19 other officers, were implicated in the alleged plan to withdraw support from Gloria Arroyo following in February 2006 following the surfacing of the "Hello Garci " tapes that validated Arroyo’s primary role the tampering of election results in her favor.

Lim and the 19 Scout Rangers that include Colonels Nestor Flordeliza and Edmundo Malabanjot and Major Jason Aquino have been in detention together with nine Marine officers and one Army Special Forces officer for almost three years now.

Yano told the Scout Rangers: "With being one of the most admired soldiers in the organization come the expectation that you will not abuse your skill and unique place in the Armed Forces. Because your peers look up to you, you have the responsibility to shield the military institution from forces and interests that wish to divide us for we are only as strong as we want to be. When we break the chain of command, then the armor of strength that shields the institution is also damaged."

He said not much has changed in the mission of the FSRR since its foundation by Rafael Ileto: To obey their constitutional mandate to protect the people, the sovereignty of the state and integrity of the national territory.

This is a good reminder to the uniformed personnel at this time when Arroyo’s fake presidency is in a very precarious state and she is expected to do everything to remain in power to protect herself from the wrath of the people.

Yano should not worry about the patriotic officers, who are clear about their constitutional role of "protector of the people." They were not the ones who allowed themselves to be used in thwarting the will of the people in the 2004 election.

If there’s any lesson gained in the February 2006 and the November 29, 2008 incidents, it is that despite the fact that Arroyo is the most disliked Malacañang occupant in the post-Marcos era, civilians need to get their act together to put their outrage into effective change.

When the people are able to muster courage to stand up to put a stop to Arroyo’s thievery and trampling of the Constitution, these enlightened officers will do their duty to protect the people.

What about Yano?

A few months ago, former Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz warned of the danger that Arroyo would impose martial law or emergency rule if she can’t push through with charter change to extend her hold on power.

Cruz said this would not be new to Arroyo who had planned to impose emergency rule in December 2005 which prompted US President George W. Bush to send John Negroponte, then US Director for National Intelligence (he is now deputy secretary of state) to Manila to personally warn Arroyo against pushing through with her plan.

Cruz said he believes that Yano won’t agree for the military to be used for the imposition of an authoritarian rule.

The past months, military intelligence agents have been reporting about having monitored recruitment for a major undertaking. When those who have been approached asked for whose group, the answer was vague: "Sa nakakarami" (for the majority).

It is not far-fetched that hardliners among in the Arroyo cabinet – Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane and the new addition, Peace Adviser Hermogenes Esperon – would try to pre-empt any attempt to oust Arroyo because their own privileged positions are also at stake.

Sources said there’s also a group, identified with former President Ramos which is also moving.

These are uncertain times and I imagine even Yano is being watched closely.

Is Erap’s presidential bid foredoomed?

The Manila Times

Apparently inspired by the “warm” public reception he has been getting wherever he went, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada has stepped up his political tour around the country to feel the people’s pulse on his plan to run for president in the 2010 election.

“No one can dispute the fact that I still have the support of my people,” Erap recently said, citing the latest Pulse Asia survey placing him in the top three among presidential contenders. Vice President Noli de Castro was No. 1 in the poll, with Erap placing second with former Senate President Manny Villar.

The other presidential aspirants are Senators Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Mar Roxas, Panfilo Lacson and Richard Gordon, Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and Chairman Bayani Fernando of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Erap has said time and again that he would run for president if the opposition cannot field just one candidate. He sees no chance for the opposition to win the presidency in the 2010 election if all of its candidates run against only one administration rival, probably de Castro.

But suppose the opposition candidates finally see the light and agree on only one from among themselves to run for president. Will Erap make good his word to give way to ensure an opposition victory?

No one can tell what’s in Erap’s mind. He has the strongest motivation to seek the post he once held to vindicate himself from his ouster as president during the second EDSA People Power revolt in 2001. He was convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court, but here is his chance to appeal his case to the electorate in his desire to redeem his honor.

Erap has kept telling the people that despite the plunder charge filed against him, his wife, Loi and son, Jinggoy, won as senator in the 2001 and 2004 Senate election, respectively. This is proof, he said, that he still enjoys the support of the people.

The truth is Erap, who had been given absolute pardon by President Arroyo, can give any administration candidate a run for his money. He was the rallying point in the last senatorial poll in which majority of the opposition candidates were elected, including military detainee Antonio Trillanes, who never had the chance to go out and campaign.

However, Erap faces a host of formidable problems, constitutional or otherwise, that could thwart his presidential bid. He is barred by a constitutional provision, which says, under Article VII Section 4 that “the President shall not be eligible for any reelection.”

Erap was elected president in the 1998 election, but his ouster in 2001 allowed then Vice President Gloria Arroyo to assume the presidency.

There are a number of reasons for the disqualification of an elected president. One is to prevent the inclination of a sitting president to use public funds to promote his goal to seek a second term. Another reason is to “widen the base of leadership” by giving other qualified candidates to run for the office.

The constitutional ban is a contentious issue that can be subjected to a number of interpretations. What is prohibited is for a person who has been elected president to run for reelection. But if I remember right, Erap has maintained that he is not running for reelection but for a completely new election as president.

If the question is put to a vote by the Supreme Court today, there may be a chance for Erap to win his case on its merits. But there will be an entirely new judicial setting in 2009 when seven justices of the high tribunal will retire and be replaced with new appointees by the President.

In that event, the high tribunal will be composed mostly, if not entirely, of the President’s appointees. How will they vote if Erap’s presidential bid were questioned in the Supreme Court?

I am not saying that the President’s appointees cannot exercise their independence or vote according to the dictate of their conscience. There are many members of the high court who owe their appointment to the President but who voted against her interest in many high-profile cases in the past. They have remained steadfast in their oath of office, which is to serve the interest of law and justice.

The problem is the danger of some of the justices to succumb to the temptation of serving the interests of their benefactor—the President—against those of her perceived enemy—in this case, Erap—in a classic act of eternal gratitude. The irrationality of human behavior is such that it has often been the recurring cause of injustice.

This is Erap’s real-life dilemma. It looks like his presidential bid is foredoomed by emerging events and circumstances probably beyond his control.

15 more votes for Cha-Cha

BY Ellen Tordesillas
Ang Pahayagang Malaya

THIS is what the five bishops warned about just three weeks ago: Gloria Arroyo will ram Charter Change down the people’s throats.

A report from the House of Representatives yesterday said House Resolution 737 amending the economic provision of the Constitution has been signed by 163 congressmen. House Speaker Prospero Nograles, who authored the resolution, needs only 15 more signatures to meet the required 175 signatures, representing three-fourths of the House of Representatives membership to bring the resolution to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, then to the plenary.

The Cha-Cha train is cranking up. Destination: Beyond 2010.

This is what Press Secretary Jesus Dureza prayed for last Tuesday at the start of the Cabinet meeting: That Gloria Arroyo “have forbearance, good health, and tolerance to lead this nation until 2010, and who knows, perhaps even beyond.”

It was not a slip of the tongue. It was an announcement.

It’ was not a surprise. In fact, it’s a confirmation of what Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz said last Oct. 29 in a press conference.

Cruz said, “When congress opens in Nov. 10, charter change will be an open, public and well funded move in the lower house. Whether it will triumph in the Senate is still debatable. But then I repeat, no more camouflage, no more double-talk, no more indirect insinuations, but Charter Change will be an honest-to-goodness agenda for Congress.”

Cruz further said “that elections in 2010 is a big dream, in short elections in 2010 is a moral impossibility.”

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, president of the United Opposition, said time is running out for Arroyo and her allies. “By middle of 2009, people will be talking about the 2010 elections. If they (majority congressmen) are going to embark on a last-ditch effort for Charter change for Mrs. Arroyo’s benefit, they have to do it now.”

Binay said pro-Arroyo local executives and her House allies conducted public consultations on the issue of amending the Constitution while Congress was on a month-long recess. He said more than 100 pro-Arroyo congressmen are expected to report an “overwhelming consensus” in favor of Charter change.

“The Cha-Cha express is all set. And we should brace ourselves in the next few weeks for a final attempt to extend Mrs. Arroyo’s stay in Malacañang,” Binay warned.

Arroyo and her allies had attempted several times to amend the Constitution to shift from presidential to parliamentary system so Arroyo could remain in power beyond 2010. In December 2006, the House of Representatives led by then House Speaker Jose de Venecia railroaded a resolution calling for a Senate-less Constitutional Assembly. They had to back off after a few days when the Catholic Church and the Iglesia ni Cristo warned of massive protests.

Just two months ago, Arroyo tried to smuggle charter change in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The Supreme Court declared the MOA unconstitutional.

Cha-cha advocates are trying another tack with HR 737. Nograles is of the view that Congress can actually amend specific provisions of the Constitution.

HR 737 calls for the amendment of Sections 2 and 3 of Article 12 of the Constitution “to allow the acquisition by foreign corporations and associations and the transfer or conveyance thereto, of alienable public and private lands.”

Nograles said that while a mere resolution, even if approved by the majority members of the House of Representatives, does not have the effect of law, it can still serve as the basis of raising a point of constitutional inquiry before the Supreme Court.

“If the Supreme Court says that Congress can enact laws that in effect will repeal specific provisions of the Constitution, then we might be able to avoid this protracted legal and constitutional wrangling on how we can attune the Constitution to the new challenges confronting our country,” he said.

It is feared that with several Supreme Court justices up for retirement next year, Arroyo would be able to pack the high court with justices who would declare as legal a resolution to amend the Constitution without participation of the Senate.

Binay said survey after survey has shown that the people are overwhelmingly against charter change that will allow Arroyo to stay in power beyond 2010.

“If Malacañang pushes through with Cha-Cha despite public opinion, this could well be the tipping point for the movement to remove an unpopular pretender to the presidency,” he warned.

It could be just what the country needs.

Letter from Miguel Syjuco, winner of Man Asian Prize for the Novel

Chuck Syjuco wrote this letter and sent this to Flips, an e-group of Fil-Am writers. I am reprinting this here for all to know and see that we, indeed, have world-class literary talents in our midst.


For a long time I've been a quiet observer on these threads and discussions following your work, idolizing your achievements, dreaming of one day being able to publish a book and maybe teach creative writing, as so many of you have done before. For fifteen years I've written stories and poems and for three years I've worked slowly on this, my first, novel, drawing insight from your discussions, collecting details from the online editions of our dailies, calibrating my perception of the reality of our beloved country by scouring the myriad blogs.

Due to my frequent but never-frequent-enough trips home to Manila, the work you've all done, and all the encouragement I've received from those of you who've known me and my literary aspirations, I have suddenly, overnight, found myself with a very imperfect book that was lucky enough to be almost-ready and likeably enough at the right time and place.

Often, recently, when people have been congratulating me, my response has been,"I've been lucky." And people would usually scoff, and say that I'm being modest (while inside they're likely thinking me yabang). But what they don't understand is that I don't mean so much that I've been lucky to have won (though, admittedly, lit prizes are tsambahan); what I mean is that I have been so lucky to have had such support and encouragement from my Filipino teachers at Ateneo, at UP, at the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop, at Columbia. I've been lucky to have had the encouragement of writers like Paul Go, Rofel Brion, Danton Remoto, DM Reyes, Clinton Palanca, Marianne Villanueva, Jing Hidalgo, Mom Edith Tiempo, Sir NVM Gonzalez, Jessica Hagedorn, and so many others -- too many others to list here. And that is in terms of direct experience. Indirectly, I've learned so much from all of you who have written such amazing and inspiring stories and poems, even if I've not yet met you.

So forgive me for sounding hokey, or emotional, or even maybe grandiose, but please
accept my heartfelt gratitude. For inspiring me, for encouraging me, and for
accepting me as a writer. The premise of my novel Ilustrado is that we can all be ilustrados, and I could not have won the Palanca nor the Man Asian Prize without all that your words and work have enlightened.

And now, the hard work truly begins.

Salamat. Salamat. Salamat.


- Miguel "Chuck" Syjuco

Senatorial standings from the Pink Crystal Ball -- as of this day

I am sure you have read the results, again, of the Social Weather Stations survey on senatorial candidates for 2010 commissioned by former Senator Sergio Osmena. The names in the survey list were culled from a column by former Senator Ernesto Maceda in the Daily Tribune.

Oh these former senators!

Again, my name was not in the list given to respondents. I am sure the old, traditional politicians are afraid to put my name in that list. I think I know why.

But that is okay. The top 15 in the SWS survey jives with the results of the internal surveys, interviews, and FGDs we have been conducting the past two years through our groups in the provinces.

And so let me get my pink crystal ball, clean it, and peer into its depths again to draw the names of the possible top 12 senators for 2010.

Since the whole brouhaha started with the former senators, let us include their names and those of the reelectionist senators in the hula hoops of my pink crystal ball.

Among the reelectionists, the following will land in the top 12. The names are not listed according to rank:

Franklin Drilon -- LP
Miriam Defensor Santiago -- PRP
Bong Revilla -- Lakas-Kampi
Pia Cayetano -- Lakas-Kampi going to NP
Jamby Madrigal -- PDP-Laban
Ralph Recto -- Lakas-Kampi
Sergio Osmena -- PDP-Laban

That is already SEVEN names.

I have it on good authority that former Senators Jun Magsaysay and Johnny Flavier, as well as now Senate President Johnny Ponce Enrile, are not running anymore for the Senate.

And so there will be FIVE -- repeat, only FIVE -- new names in the top 12 senators for batch 2010.

Who are these newbies? I have my guesses, yes, but I am keeping this list close to my chest. The only clue I can give is that I am happy that all of them are young and bright candidates --and they are all friends of mine.

And the phones of these five young people, I am sure, are now ringing and ringing, because the old and established parties (mostly trapo, sadly) are now trying to lasso them into their group, to form the two-three names that would win in their 12-person senatorial slates.

For no single political party would be able to field 12 people who would capture the imagination of the nation and catapult them into the senatorial circle -- certainly a tough feat, with all those rich, fully-funded reelectionists running like a storm of Arabian horses let loose on the race track.

A political party would indeed be lucky if two, or three, or at the most, four, of its candidates would become senators of the republic in May of 2010.

As the poet Andrew Marvell said in "To His Coy Mistress:"

"And at my back I always hear/ Time's winged chariot hurrying near. . ."

I am not a mistress, at this point in the time-space continuum, but let me be coy, for once.

Villar's ouster linked to 2010 polls

By Carmela Fonbuena
Monday, 17 November 2008
Newsbreak magazine

The ouster of Senator Manuel Villar as Senate president has everything to do with the 2010 elections given that his potential rivals all voted against him, analysts said. The change in leadership also shows that the opposition is divided, unable to rally behind a leader.

“The battle lines were clear when the whole [C-5] road issue began,” political analyst Manolo Quezon told By ousting Villar from the Senate presidency, his status as front runner in the 2010 presidential polls is weakened, he said.

“That levels the playing field for the presidential aspirants," said Joel Rocamora, former executive director and now research fellow of the Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD). "The position [of Senate president] gave Villar a big advantage."

Just weels before his ouster on Monday, Villar's popularity was on the rise and had climbed to second place behind Vice President Noli de Castro.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted last October 14-27 showed that 17 percent would vote for Villar. This is five percentage points higher than his standing in July and puts him on the same rank as former President Joseph Estrada.

While Noli De Castro remains the front runner in the surveys, the vice-president's ratings dropped to 18 percent or four percentage points lower than his ratings in July.

Speculations are rife that Senators Panfilo Lacson, Manuel “Mar” Roxas, Loren Legarda, and Richard Gordon—all with presidential ambitions—were behind Villar’s ouster.

Lacson nominated Enrile as Villar’s replacement and Gordon seconded him. Fourteen, including Lacson, Roxas, Legarda, and Gordon, voted in favor of the motion nominating Enrile. Six abstained.

“This was about proving who has clout. Roxas’s status is enhanced. The Lacson and Jamby Madrigal tandem showed their mettle, and Enrile crowns his career,” added Quezon.

Villar was recently embroiled in the double funding controversy of the C-5 road project. Lacson earlier told ABS-CBN News that this controversy sparked the leadership change.

Divided opposition
The votes for Enrile further blurred the lines in the Senate, with opposition senators siding with an Arroyo ally.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who voted for Enrile, may be sending a signal that his father, former President Joseph Estrada, may not be on Villar’s side. Earlier reports said that Villar had been cozying up to Estrada in preparation for 2010.

The new Senate majority has thus put the Senate in a peculiar situation. An opposition-dominated upper chamber is now headed by an administration senator.

“Since Villar is leading the polls, other senator-candidates would rather see him down even if it means going administration,” said political and public relations analyst Greg Garcia.

Asked how this will affect the Senate position on issues involving the President, Quezon said, “ The president’s status is less relevant here than showing who will be strong going into start of the campaign this Christmas."

But whether or not the Senate stays on its current track on high-profile issues involving President Arroyo could be determined by how Enrile will distribute the committee chairmanships. Some sectors are worried.

Charter change?
As it is, President Arroyo’s allies are in control of the House and the Senate. Does this mean that the Senate will be friendlier to the administration?

Analysts said a lot depends on the committee chairmanships.

Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros warned on Monday that Malacañang stands to be the main beneficiary of this Senate leadership change.

“Malacañang now holds the leadership in the Senate and the House of Representatives. This will have major effects not only on legislative priorities but also on major inquiries being tackled by both chambers and on moves to amend the Constitution,” she said.

Rocamora shared Hontiveros’s fear on the moves to advance charter change. Enrile is the main proponent of the Senate resolution calling for a Constituent Assembly.

“We hope that his election as Senate President would not lead to a unilateral change in the Constitution at the expense of a democratic and broad process to pursue constitutional reform,” Hontiveros added.

With Villar at the helm of an opposition-dominated Senate, the chamber blocked efforts by the pro-chacha House of Representatives. The lower chamber continues to advance charter change with no less than Speaker Prospero Nograles behind one of several proposals.

Nograles’s bill seeks to scrap the 40 percent limit on foreign ownership of enterprises. While Nograles’s proposal is limited to the economic provisions of the Constitution, it is feared that any tinkering with the Constitution will eventually lead to an amendment that would extend the President’s term.

However, former Senator Franklin Drilon allayed these fears. “I don’t think Enrile’s election will affect the position of the Senate on Charter change,” he told Many in the Senate are still opposed to charter change, including allies of the administration.

Several members of the lower house are pushing for a joint voting of Congress to approve Charter change. This would mean that the 238-member lower chamber will make the 23-member Senate irrelevant.

“The senators will not agree that Congress should vote jointly. Not even Enrile will agree to that,” he said. Drilon said the only way charter change will succeed is if the Supreme Court decides that Congress should adopt joint voting.

Impact on judiciary, Senate probes
Enrile’s appointments in the committee chairmanships could also affect the judiciary and the ongoing Senate probes. As a matter of courtesy, Senators Francis Pangilinan and Alan Peter Cayetano have relinquished their posts as majority floor leader and blue ribbon committee chair, respectively.

It remains unclear if Pangilinan will retain his position in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). Supreme Court watchers are worried that an administration senator may replace Pangilinan.

The position is crucial with seven vacancies in the High Court next year. The JBC is the body that screens candidates to the Supreme Court.

The leadership change will also affect the ongoing probes by Congress, said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño . “It benefits Malacanang. It has the effect of undermining the Senate’s independence and sabotaging ongoing investigations on the fertilizer fund scam and the ‘Euro’ generals,” he said. (

De Castro Leads Poll, But Villar Closing In

By Rommel C. Lontayao, Reporter
The Manila Times

Vice President Noli de Castro topped the latest survey of likely presidential candidates for the 2010 elections, but former Senate President Manuel Villar Jr. narrowed the gap.

In a poll conducted by Pulse Asia from October 14 to 27, some 18 percent of the respondents said de Castro is their first choice as president in the next elections.

Villar and former President Joseph Estrada were tied for second, with 17 percent each.

And in a bittersweet development for Villar, who resigned as Senate president on Monday (see related front-page story), his popularity surged five percentage points from the last Pulse Asia survey that gave him only 12 percent.

Senator Francis Escudero was the fourth-most popular choice with 15 percent, followed by Senator Loren Legarda with 14 percent.

The other names picked by respondents include Senator Panfilo Lacson with 7 percent; Senator Manuel Roxas 2nd, 6 percent; and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, Chairman Bayani Fernando of the Metro Manila Development Authority and evangelist Eddie Villanueva, each with 1 percent.

Regions and economic brackets

According to the survey, respondents in Metro Manila preferred Escudero (22 percent) over all other likely presidential candidates; followed by Villar (16 percent), Estrada (13 percent), Lacson (13 percent), de Castro (9 percent), Legarda (8 percent), Roxas (6 percent), Binay (5 percent) and Fernando (3 percent).

In the balance Luzon—which covers all regions on the island, except Metro Manila—Villar and de Castro each got 18 percent. Next came Estrada, 17 percent; Escudero, 16 percent; Legarda, 8 percent; and Roxas, 6 percent.

Respondents in the Visayas preferred de Castro (22 percent), followed by Legarda (21 percent), Villar (18 percent), Escudero (12 percent), Roxas (11 percent), Estrada (8 percent), Lacson (4 percent) and Villanueva (1 percent).

Estrada got his highest preference rating in Mindanao, where he was chosen by 30 percent of the respondents. De Castro followed with 20 percent; then Villar, 13 percent; Escudero, 11 percent; Legarda, 10 percent; Lacson and Roxas, 5 percent each; and Binay and Fernando, 1 percent each.

Among respondents belonging to the upper socioeconomic brackets, Pulse Asia said Villar got 19 percent, followed by Escudero (17 percent), de Castro (14 percent), Roxas (12 percent), Estrada (10 percent), Lacson (9 percent), Legarda (8 percent), Fernando (4 percent) and Binay (1 percent).

For the middleclass, both Villar and de Castro had the highest preference ratings with 18 percent each. They were followed by Escudero (17 percent), Estrada (14 percent), Legarda (12 percent), Lacson (8 percent), Roxas (5 percent), Binay (1 percent), Fernando (1 percent) and Villanueva (also 1 percent).

Estrada remained the most popular among the masses, as he got 27 percent of the respondents from class E. They preferred him over de Castro (19 percent), Legarda (18 percent), Villar (14 percent), Escudero (10 percent), Lacson (5 percent) and Roxas (5 percent).

The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent in the national level, and plus or minus 6 percent in the regional levels, Pulse Asia said.

The Audacity of Hubris

Ma'am Liling is right. Every other Tom, Dick and Harry (or Tomasa, Dikya, and Henrietta) has activated his or her youth arm, composed mostly of Sangguniang Kabataan runners. The want to woo the youth vote, but know not what this voting bloc wants, or wishes to have.

Barack Obama won because he started a grassroots movement. He thought hard what he wanted to do, and wrote them down in two well-received books. His is a bright mind distilled into wisdom; hope flamed into action.

There is no Filipino Barack Obama in sight. None yet. They have to go out of their houses, their cars, their shells, and roam the countryside, talk to the people, there in the grassroots -- where votes cannot be bought, and hopes have been shattered, and the longing for change is keenest.

Good luck to us all.


BY Leonor-Magtolis-Briones
The Business of Governance

The entire world is enthralled with Obama’s victory, including the Philippines. It is reported that in France, the search is on for a French Obama. The other day the hosts of a popular radio program asked listeners to mention who deserves to be the “Filipino Obama.” Someone immediately texted the name of a popular young senator. Just as quickly, another texter disputed the choice and suggested the name of another senator.

The thinking is that anyone who is relatively young, tall, good-looking and smooth-talking can be a Filipino Obama. An important question to ask is: who is funding wanna-be-Obamas? Obama’s funding largely came from the public. Are our Obama pretenders using public funds for their campaigns? Are they depending on big business and trapo money?

Another important question is: what is their track record? For presidentiables who are senators and congressmen, what is the output of the committees they chair? A simpler question: are they working in the Senate or out touring campuses on public funds to seduce the youth vote?

A large percentage of those who voted for Obama are young. In the Philippines, the race is on for the youth vote. Every other candidate has its youth arm. This is not really a new thing. The youth has always been recognized as a potent force for change. At the same time, cynics note that corruption starts at a very young age, say, in the Sangguniang Kabataan.

In a forum with young political leaders, a young man asked the anguished question, ”Too often, the youth have been disappointed by those who promise to lead them. They end up worse than their trapo parents, handlers and funders.” The youth then recited a long list of politicians who wooed the youth vote and turned trapo. “What is your guarantee that you will not disappoint us when it is your turn?”

An enthusiastic journalist wrote that the Obama victory was “the first global election.” He has been described as a “historic and transformational” figure. It is too soon to swoon over a self-proclaimed Filipino Obama. We need a Filipino for the Filipinos, not a grotesque Obama imitation.

The second book which Obama wrote is entitled, “The Audacity of Hope.” Let us not be seduced by those who offer “The Audacity of Hubris.”

Dove, eagle, lion

BY Danton Remoto
Planet English
The Business Mirror Front Page
November 17, 2008


That was the pseudonym of Jose Garcia Villa, our first National Artist for Literature, who wrote luminous poems in English in the first half of the 20th century. The qualities of the three animals he conflated into one word – Doveglion – and blazoned his poetry as among the century’s best.

Penguin Classics has just published the Collected Poems of Garcia Villa, to commemorate his birth centennial. The Pope of Greenwich Village, as Villa was known, belonged to the modern literary giants of the 1950s. This global poet set the standards for fiction and poetry in English in the Philippines, through his yearly list of the best and the worst works, notable for the acidic wit of his annotations. Such iconic American poets like Marianne Moore only had awe “for the reverence, the raptness, the depth of concentration in [his] bravely deep poems.” For her part, the grande dame of English poetry, Dame Edith Sitwell, wrote: “[Villa is] a poet with a great, even an astounding, and perfectly original gift. . . . The best of his poems are among the most beautiful written in our time.”

Who was Villa and why did he make a splash on world literature? His mother was a teacher and his doctor-father a colonel in the 1898 Revolution. He was separated from them by language (they spoke Spanish, he spoke English) and by a century (they were still in the 19th, he was moving on into the Jazz Age). He turned his back on a medical, and later, legal studies, and pursued his art with ferocity of vision.

When he was 17 years old, he wrote “The Coconut Poem,” where he compared the coconuts to a woman’s nipples, followed it up with ellipses as a visual mirror to the shape of both coconuts and nipples. And then he ended with this line: “I shall kiss a coconut because it is the nipple of a woman.” Shocked, the administration of UP suspended him, and the courts fined him for obscenity. The young literary lion never went back to school. After he won first prize in the Philippines Free Press short story award for “Mir-i-Nisa,” he used the P2,000 prize money to book passage for the United States.

And thus began his life as a writer in exile. In 1930, he enrolled at the University of New Mexico and started a literary magazine, Clay. It published the masters of American literature: Erskine Caldwell, William Saroyan, Williams Carlos Williams. His own stories also captured the attention of Edward J. O’Brien, who included several of Garcia Villa’s stories in his annual Best Short Stories. He even dedicated the honor roll of 1932 to our Filipino poet. A year later, the prestigious Scribner’s published Villa’s Footnote to Youth and Other Stories. This was to be his first and last book of prose, for after this, he devoted himself completely to poetry.

Poem after poem he wrote, in the cold sadness of exile in New York. And in 1942, Viking Press published Have Come, Am Here. The title alone is a bold declaration of his intention – and he succeeded. The New York Times called Villa’s poems “an astounding discovery . . . . This is a poet of instinctive genius who creates knowingly his own communication.” Writing as a confidential evaluator of his poems for Viking, the English writer Sylvia Townsend Warner said: “It is like seeing orchids growing wild to read him . . . Since I met him he seems to have met God; but a God so much in his own image that I am sure no harm can come of the encounter.”

The other arbiters of literary taste chimed in. In the New Republic, Babette Deutsch said Villa belongs to the “small company of religious poets who have been able to communicate their vision. He belongs to the still smaller company of those who have not needed to cry out their doubt.” Even e.e. cummings, who was the idol of Villa, said upon publication of Have Come, Am Here: “and I am alive to find a brave man rediscovers the sky.” Villa also developed the rhyming scheme of reversed consonance in this book.

In his next book, Volume Two (1949), Villa introduced the comma poems. And in his last major book, Selected Poems and New (1958), he introduced Adaptations, or prose pieces cut up to achieve the tightness and lyricism of poetry. In his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, Luis Francia summed up Villa’s life and work.

“Villa’s English . . . was not the English of the colonial masters, but it was English nonetheless, or as critics of postcolonial literature describe it, English with a small e. In claiming an imperial language as his own – as such writers as Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov had done -- Villa demonstrated how linguistic ownership had nothing to do with borders. There was an accent, sure, but it was that of a prophet. “

This essay was commissioned by the British insurer Pru-Life as part of its Planet English, a project to promote the use of English and English literature in the Philippines.

The Heart of Summer

BY Danton Remoto
Philippines Free Press Magazine

On the first day of April, we moved to a row house in a subdivision carved out of the Antipolo hills. A row house is a nice word for houses that somehow managed to fit into 120-square-meter lots. They looked like matchboxes, really, built near the riverbank. The larger houses, of course, stood grandly at the center of the village, in front of the chapel. We’d be renting the house from the mayor’s mistress, one of three houses she owned there.

The living room of the house spilled over into the kitchen. The house only had two tiny rooms, but it was enough for us. The owner of the apartment we had been renting in Project 4 wrote to us (in pink stationery with the letterhead “Dr. Antonina Raquiza, Ph. D.”) to say that she’d raise the monthly rent to five thousand. If we couldn’t agree to her new terms, we’d have two months to leave. Mama glared at the letter, then said something obscene about our landlady’s father. A day later, she began poring over the ads, looking for cheaper rent in the suburbs. Papa’s monthly remittances from his engineer’s job in Saudi would not be enough if the landlady raises the rent, since he was also sending some nephews and nieces to school. Noblesse oblige is how you call it, but it was actually more oblige than noblesse. And that was how we moved to Antipolo.

It was a long, hot summer. The days were dull and endless, a desert that stretched into infinity. During the afternoons, the heat fell on your skin like a whip. The water in the village water tank began drying up a week after we moved in, so our housemaid Ludy and I had to fetch water from the fire hydrant in the street corner. Even though I hated studying in summer, this time, I actually looked forward to the first day of summer classes at the university.

But since Ludy also went home to Albay that summer (to look for a boyfriend and dance in the baile), I did the chores myself. Mama left the house every day for her piano tutorials. I did the laundry and fixed lunch. In the afternoons, I gathered the laundry so easily dried by the oppressive heat up here in the hills. I folded the clothes, then sorted them while watching old Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa cha-cha-chas on TV. Sometimes, I would read the stories of Estrella Alfon (Ay, Magnificence!), or sketch faces and places on my drawing pad.

Then in the blue hour before dusk, I would pick up our red plastic pail and walk five houses away to the street corner to fetch water.

I would line up before the wooden carts full of drums, pails, and recycled gasoline containers. I carried only a pail, but I was too timid to elbow my way to the head of the line. The short, stocky men nudged each other’s ribs and exchanged stories: “Pare, Vodka Banana did it again in her latest penetration movie, Only a Wall Between Us.” The women gossiped about their movie idols: “Sharon’s legs are like a washerwoman’s paddle,” said one, whose varicose veins strained on her legs like netting. After a long wait, I finally reached the fire hydrant. From its open mouth gushed water whose pressure was so strong that it swirled round and round my pail, the foam spilling on the dry earth. Then, I walked back to the house where I carefully poured the water into the drum. Then back to the street corner. Again.

On my way back, darkness had already settled on the hills. The chickens would be roosting on the branches of the star-apple trees, and the cicadas would begin their eternal buzzing. When I reached the street corner again, a young man was standing at the head of the line. He wasn’t there when I left earlier. He must have asked his housemaid to stand in for him, and returned only when it was time to fill his drum.

Dusk slept on his rumpled hair. Smooth, nut-brown skin. Eyes round as marbles. He wore a maroon T-shirt silk-screened with Mapua College of Engineering. Black corduroy pants on long legs, then brown sandals from Our Tribe.

When he saw me at the end of the line, he walked to me and said: “Uy, pare, you can go ahead, since you only have this pail.” Cool, deep voice. “Thank you,” I said. Then I smiled at him and followed him to the fire hydrant. I kept on looking surreptitiously at his hairy legs. When he looked at me, I would shift my attention to the water beginning to fill my pail, swirling round and round, until it flowed over the lips. I thanked him again, and then gave him my name. He mumbled his name. I smiled, and then walked away. I walked away because I was afraid that any moment now, I would tell Rene I liked him not only because he was considerate, but also because he had such well-muscled legs and clean toenails.

That summer, the Bermuda grass in our lawn turned brown. We had hoped for friendly neighborhood, similar to the one in Project 4, but we were disappointed. A young childless couple lived in the house on the left: Both were working, holding down two jobs each like everybody else. We only saw them at Sunday Mass. On the right lived an elderly couple with an only child, a teenage daughter named Maribel, who liked to bike around the village in midriff shirts and very abbreviated shorts. Her father was a big man with the face of a bulldog, his voice booming across the yard when he barked, err, spoke.

The minibus station in Cubao slouched on the street right after EDSA. It was housed in a big, abandoned garage. On the hard, earthen floor, the spilled oil looked like lost, black continents on a map.

That summer, I enrolled in two courses: Business Statistics and Financial Accounting. I took up Business Management in this Jesuit university because my father said it would make us rich. And so I signed up for the course, although the only thing I wanted to do in the world was to draw. Pencil to paper, lines forming faces. Or watercolor to paper, letting the paper soak up the rainbow of colors, forming oceans, skies, the infinity of blue.

But I had to go to business school. And so I left the house at one o’clock in the afternoon, after lunch, preferring to take the minibus rather than risk my life in those jeepneys whose drivers think they are Mad Max. More mad than Max, actually.

During the first week of classes, I was still adjusting to the hassle of commuting from house to school to house again. It was much easier in Project 4. I would just hop aboard any Cubao-bound bus, get off behind Queen’s Supermart, and then walk all the way home.

But here, I would have to wait for the minibus to fill up with passengers before we could leave. The street would be choked with hawkers selling everything: freshly-sliced squash and okra good for pinakbet, apples from New Zealand, jeans with fake brand names sewn on the back, tabloids with their headlines in red ink blown up to 72 points Times Roman (“Boa Constrictor in Dept. Store/ Dressing Room Swallows/ Up Female Customers”). Food stalls offered everything, from cow’s entrails floating in lemon-spiked congee to day-old chicks smothered in orange flour, then fried to a crisp brown. And in the air, a cumulus of black exhaust fumes while the Marcoses bled the country dry. Him with his decrees; her, with her diamonds and tears.

Oh, how I wish I could just flee from all of this. There is nothing here, really, in this city and in this country except a big, black hole that sucked you in and drowned you in its ooze of oil. I wish I could go away, but to where? To forestall what W.H. Auden called thoughts of “elsewhereishness,” I just fixed my eyes on my textbook, even if I could not read by the faint light of the minibus. I was doing this one night and when I raised my face, Rene was just coming in. His white shirt was tucked in his baggy jeans. His shirt revealed the curve of his chest. He carried a T-square in one hand and two thick books in the other. His wide forehead was furrowed. Must have had a bad day, I thought, moving to the right side of my seat so I could see him better. I wanted him to sit beside me, I wanted to feel the warmth of his hand and thigh against mine, I wanted to comfort him. But a man with halitosis sat beside me instead.

The driver finally came. The engine sputtered and roared, then crawled slowly out of the narrow street. Near the street corner, the air became smokier, loud with the cries of hawkers vending barbecued chicken’s blood, barbecued chicken’s entrails (IUD), barbecued chicken’s feet (Adidas), and barbecued chicken’s head (Helmet).

The shrill sound of a policeman’s whistle rose above the vendor’s cries. At whistle’s cry, the hawkers picked up their wares, then scattered madly in all directions, the charcoal embers glowing eerily in the dark.

I was sitting in our front yard, admiring my mother’s orchids, whose saplings she had asked from friends and which she had nurtured with uncommon care, now fully grown, the leaves shiny, with the texture of skin, and the flowers mottled with magenta and amber, the petals opening themselves layer upon layer to the dying afternoon sun.

But as the petals opened, I felt myself entering a forest of limbs. Hair like seaweeds embraced those limbs. The thighs of the men were smooth like river stones. The V-shapes of their bodies glistened with sweat. Leaves like eyes covered their crotches. But under these leaves lay breathing things.

I bolted upright with a start. I looked at the clock. The luminous hands pointed to almost midnight. My back was beaded with sweat, and in the room there was only unbearable heat. I remained motionless for a while, as my dream slipped away, and I was alone, again.

I stepped out of the room and headed for the kitchen. I turned the light on and made myself a cup of rice coffee—toasted rice turned into coffee. Cheap—and good for the heart.

Cup in hand, I opened the front door. My skin brushed against the dry, brittle air. I sat down on the stairs. The cement was cold. To my left, the skeletal branches of the neighbor’s alibangbang tree cut the moon into many, fatal fragments.

I first smelled rather than heard the oncoming rain. The sound seemed to come from so far away. It was like a voice calling my name. The sound grew louder and louder by the second. I left the cup on the stair landing, stood up, and then ran barefoot in the yard. The whole house, the whole yard, the whole village was tense, waiting.

And then it came, puncturing holes in the night sky, rattling on the roofs, pelting the flowers and the leaves: Agua de mayo! the first rains of May!

In the darkness, the rain’s fingers caressed my hair and my face. It began licking my eyelids, earlobes, and lips. I opened my mouth and let the rain’s tongue roam inside me, while its fingers traveled downward, on my inner arm and my chest. Its lips went around my nipples and navel, laving my warm, innermost spaces.

Like sunlight, heat rose from the earth, musky heat that entered my soles, warmed my body, and then broke out of the pores of my skin. It was brief but it pierced me beautifully, suddenly.

I knew now what I would do. I would soap myself in the bathroom, rinse my skin clean, change into fresh clothes that smell good and are crisp to touch. Then I would look for my sheets of Oslo paper in my drawer. I would run my fingers on my sketches of Rene. The rumpled hair and the dark, melancholy eyes. How can I tell him that there is nothing else in the world I want than to be with him? Ludy said that Rene would soon join his mother, who was working as a nurse in the States. Many departures, few arrivals. But now, I have him: He is here, contained in the purity of my ache.

I would turn the lights off, plunging the house in darkness. Then I would turn myself over to the arms of sleep. Outside, the leaves would still be moist and breathing.

This story won Third Prize in the 2005 Philippines Free Press Literary Awards

Filipino author wins Asian book prize

Jubilation fills my heart. I just read this news. Chuck Syjuco was in my creative writing classes many moons ago. He just returned from Canada, came from a well-off clan, wanted to know about writing -- and about his country. I fed him books, which he read ravenously, and workshopped his stories over and over and over again.

Now he is on the brink of a global writing career. Hooray!!!


Agence France-Presse
First Posted 11:32:00 11/14/2008

HONG KONG -- A novel by Filipino author Miguel Syjuco, which touches on 150 years of often turbulent Philippines history, has won a major Asian literary prize, organizers said.

Syjuco's "Ilustrado" was awarded the second annual Man Asian Literary Prize, which is open to novels from the region not yet published in English.

"Ilustrado seems to us to possess formal ambition, linguistic inventiveness and socio-political insight in the most satisfying measure," the panel of three judges said in a statement, after awarding the $10,000 prize Thursday.

"Brilliantly conceived, and stylishly executed, it covers a large and tumultuous historical period with seemingly effortless skill. It is also ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor."

The story is a fictional account of a young Filipino investigating the life of his mentor Crispin Salvador, a real-life writer and thinker, after the man's death.

It examines the disappearance of Salvador's manuscript about the corruption behind rich Filipino families.

Syjuco beat off competition from fellow Filipino Alfred A. Yuson for "The Music Child," Indian writers Kavery Nambisan for "The Story that Must Not be Told" and Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi for "The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay."

Chinese writer Yu Hua was also shortlisted for "Brothers."

The panel said the shortlist of five novels had shown the "great vitality" of the novel in a region "undergoing hectic and unexpected transformations."

Last year's inaugural prize was won by Chinese author Jiang Rong for his novel "Wolf Totem," which has since been published by Penguin.

The prize is backed by the company that sponsors the prestigious Booker prize, based in Britain.

And running . . . . .

The Senate hearing on Jocjoc Bolante yesterday officially opened the campaign season for the elections of May 2010. Miriam is running for re-election as senator, and has wisely begun to cut off her links with the Arroyo administration -- a sinking ship by any reckoning. She said Bolante's horrible lies almost made her suffer a heart attack.

Pia was there too, and shrewdly jogged our memory that she, too, is ever-present and would most certainly run for the senatorial elections. Check out those Downey ads for fabric conditioners. Who funded these ads? Hmmmm. The presidentials were in full fettle and finest form -- media covered Loren Legarda, in a cool, soft blue suit, head tilted at the right camera angle; and Mar Roxas in a well-cut, dark-blue suit, finally asking the tough questions -- in Tagalog. And there were Ping Lacson and also Manny Villar, and the frenzied media that rushed and broke through a glass door in the Senate, and the NGO activists in front of St Luke's Hospital, roaring their anger under the sun.

And where was I, people were asking me by text and phone call. Why was I not in the thick of the action?

I was in the Veterans Hospital, at the ICU Room, taking care of my father who just suffered a heart attack. Since visiting hours are only from 3-7 pm, I have decided to drop everything and stay there. I fed him and talked to him, and when he was asleep, I re-read The Woman Who Had Two Navels by the National Artist Nick Joaquin. This novel will be our first text in the Philippine Literature class I am teaching this semester at Ateneo.

So far, my predictions about the elections have come true. My middle name is Cassandra.

Erap wants to run, but if not allowed to run, will push for somebody's candidacy. It is either that of Mayor Jojo Binay, who is the President of the United Opposition, or Manny Villar, the President of the Nacionalista Party.

But look at the survey numbers of Chiz Escudero. He almost toppled Loren in the senatorial race last year. He is catching up in the surveys for president. He will turn 40 in October of 2009. And if Mayor Binay claims he will do an Obama because they both have dark skin (the dark horse in this election), then Chiz Escudero might also do an Obama: they look alike (same hair, shape of head), both young and bright lawyers, both media-savvy.

But Obama won because he built his formidable machinery by forming a grassroots movement. In short, he turned to the people -- mostly the young -- and built a magnificent machinery never before seen in any election.

That, I believe, is the challenge for all Obama wanna-bes in the forthcoming election. Heart attack or no heart attack.

My favorite teacher

I was a Legal Management major who shifted to Interdisciplinary Studies in my third year at the Ateneo. I could not balance the accounting books even if my whole life depended on it. The only thing I wanted to do was to go to the Rizal Library every afternoon, stand in front of the books in the PS 9991 category, and read the books of the best Philippine writers. One day, I told myself, I will also publish my own book. One book would be enough.

That semester, I enrolled in a class on Modern Poetry. Our room was on the third floor of Bellarmine Building, 4:30-7:30. The teacher arrived in a brown jacket, his hair tousled by the wind. He was Professor Emmanuel Torres. Before this class, I had read books of essays and fiction, but rarely poetry. I found poems impenetrable.

But Professor Torres simply made me see. He had that quality that many English teachers lacked – passion. He was brilliant, of course, but he also had passion for the subject that he was teaching. It was the kind of passion that – if it were tapped by the authorities – could generate enough megawatts of electricty for the whole country. He reminded me of the words of Joseph Conrad, one of my favorite novelists, in his introduction to The Nigger of the Narcissus: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see.”

Professor Torres introduced me to a universe of words. It is a luminous world inhabited by Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Verlaine and Rilke, Eliot and Hopkins, cummings and Lorca, Pound and Moore. And do not forget The Beatles.

I was the class beadle, and I collected the coins for the stenciled copies of the poems and pooled them together in a beautiful blue bowl. We had by then transferred to the Ateneo Art Gallery. When I learned that the bowl must be a Ming, I just put all the coins in a rainbow-colored purse I bought in Baguio. That bowl must be more expensive than my parent’s house in the suburbs.

Not daunted

In my fourth year, moderator Joey Ocampo of the Filipino Department appointed me as the editor-in-chief of Heights. To further hone my sense of craft, I enrolled in the Creative Writing Class of Professor Torres. It was the first class offered by the Ateneo in many, many years. Professor Torres was in his element, tearing our juvenilia apart with singular wit and irony. His eyes would widen, his nostrils would flare, and the words iof criticism would blaze from his mouth like fire.

But I was not daunted. People were afraid of him, but I was not. I knew that he only wanted us to learn. And since my father was a military officer and I grew up in a military base, I knew that the steel of discipline was good for one’s soul.

And so every Monday morning, I would step into his office at the Ateneo Art Gallery to show him my latest poems. He would welcome me with a smile, get his red ballpoint pen, and then proceed to make his corrections. In the deadly silence of that beautiful room, his ballpoint pen slashed into my poems. I would just look at him, and the painting behind him – an Amorsolo dazzling with light. And then, he would hand me back my poems with his corrections. He called my poems “effusions,” and I would just laugh

But I think I was – and still am—stubborn. Persistence is my middle name. I went on and wrote poems and stories and essays for his Creative Writing class. One of the essays I wrote for his class was “A Quick Visit to Basa,” a narrative essay on one of my rare visits to Basa Air Base, Floridablanca, Pampanga, where I was born and where I stayed until I was 12 years old.

A writer!

In my mind’s eye I still remember that day I dropped by the Art Gallery one hour before class so I could consult with him on a one-on-one basis. He read it – and oh yes, he reads so fast! – said he liked my essay. But in the next breath, he picked up his red ballpoint pen and pointed out certain holes in the text.

We went through my essay sentence by sentence, punctuation mark by punctuation mark, the way he does it with our poems. He always told us to avoid stereotyped situations and words, to throw away “all those rusty razors.” The point, he said, quoting Ezra Pound, was “to make it new.”

During the class discussion, Professor Torres said: “This essay is written by somebody already on his way to becoming a writer!” For an apprentice who was supposed to finish a degree in Legal Management and take up Law after college, this was high praise – and I went home in such a daze that I almost stubbed my toe on a rock on the way out of the gallery.

President Obama's acceptance speech

He said, from almost nothing 21months ago, to the presidency of the United States today. Nothing seems impossible. This should be food for thought for those who sneer at the campaign of the young, the brave, the new candidates in touch with the youth -- in the US and the Philippines, the largest block of voters around.


Remarks of President-Elect Barack Obama-as prepared for delivery
Election Night
Tuesday, November 4th, 2008
Chicago, Illinois

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America.

I just received a very gracious call from Senator McCain. He fought long and hard in this campaign, and he’s fought even longer and harder for the country he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine, and we are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader. I congratulate him and Governor Palin for all they have achieved, and I look forward to working with them to renew this nation’s promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on that train home to Delaware, the Vice President-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last sixteen years, the rock of our family and the love of my life, our nation’s next First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House. And while she’s no longer with us, I know my grandmother is watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight, and know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my campaign manager David Plouffe, my chief strategist David Axelrod, and the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics - you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you’ve sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to - it belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn’t start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington - it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.

It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give five dollars and ten dollars and twenty dollars to this cause. It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation’s apathy; who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep; from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on the doors of perfect strangers; from the millions of Americans who volunteered, and organized, and proved that more than two centuries later, a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from this Earth. This is your victory.

I know you didn’t do this just to win an election and I know you didn’t do it for me. You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime - two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century. Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us. There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after their children fall asleep and wonder how they’ll make the mortgage, or pay their doctor’s bills, or save enough for college. There is new energy to harness and new jobs to be created; new schools to build and threats to meet and alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won’t agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can’t solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it’s been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years - block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. Let us remember that if this financial crisis taught us anything, it’s that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers - in this country, we rise or fall as one nation; as one people.

Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. Let us remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House - a party founded on the values of self-reliance, individual liberty, and national unity. Those are values we all share, and while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress. As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn - I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down - we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security - we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that’s on my mind tonight is about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She’s a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing - Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn’t vote for two reasons - because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she’s seen throughout her century in America - the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can’t, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women’s voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs and a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that “We Shall Overcome.” Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination. And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change. Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves - if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time - to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people:

Yes We Can. Thank you, God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.


Catholic faculty heads will roll?
November 4, 2008 at 6:04 am (Prof. Danton Remoto) · Edit
Tags: reproductive health bill

Catholic faculty heads will roll?

One of our letter writers asked if the Vatican pressured Fr. Bienvenido Nebres, President of the Ateneo, into writing a memorandum to the university reminding us that the Catholic line is anti-Reproductive Health? And that heads — presumably that of the faculty — will roll? I am sure no heads will roll, since Ateneo — like all universities, I presume — value academic freedom and freedom of expression.

I do not really know if the Vatican did that, and why would they? Based on news reports, what I know is that Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of the CBCP wrote to Fr. Nebres asking him why we, the Ateneo professors, wrote a declaration of support for the Reproductive Health bill. And since when last I looked the Jesuits are still Catholics, naturally they would follow the Catholic line of thought. That is just pure and simple obedience, which is one of the three things a priest is sworn to follow, along with celibacy and poverty. Some of of my priest-friends (both Jesuit and non-Jesuit) tell me that of these three, obedience is the most difficult to follow. I am sure.

Anyway, all this reminds me of what a former Ateneo administrator told me, before I left for a Fulbright Fellowship in 2000 and I said I might not return to the Ateneo anymore because I found it such a small pond. She wickedly told me that a decade ago, when my gay anthology Ladlad first came out and became a bestseller, the secretary of the CBCP, a monsignor himself, called up Ateneo and asked if, indeed, I am teaching there? And then he demanded an explanation.

But the Ateneo administrator’s executive secretary — an elderly lady with the coolness of a cat and the claws of one — just answered nonchalantly with one word: “Yes.”

The monsignor at the other end of the line was waiting for our executive secretary to explain why this heathen who will be consigned to the flames of hell was teaching in a bastion of the Catholic Faith.

But our executive secretary herself just held the phone, and when no words came from the holy caller at the other end of the line, she just said, “Monsignor, I still have papers to type. I hope you will have a good day.”

‘Yan ang bongga.

Second sem blues

Danton Remoto
Remote Control | 11/04/2008 1:00 AM

The gloom of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days were lifted when I read my e-mail. I receive lots of letters every week, but this one from a young reader made my day.

“I would just like to express how much I appreciate your columns. You write with such wit, frankness, and passion that I often find myself laughing silently or agreeing ardently with your thoughts and views. You talk just about anything in your columns and no matter how varied the topics are, each article proves to be very much worthwhile. I highly value your opinions and insights on the different aspects of life.

“What you say and do, I believe, have helped hone my own ideals and principles as a person. You have inspired me to be more proactive about issues regarding our country through your writing. I applaud you for being the brave person that you are, continuing to rally for a better Philippines. I pray for more Filipinos like you; you are what our country needs. I wish you more power and strength for whatever trials that may come your way. I shall support you, in what little ways I can, in your future plans.”

“By the way, I’m a senior from that school on Taft. You should come over and teach us, too!”

Thank you. I have many friends over there, in that school on Taft, especially in its Literature Department: Marj Evasco, Ronald Baytan, Jerry Torres, Shirley Lua, Vince Groyon. Professor Cirilo Bautista has retired from teaching at De La Salle, but there are many other young literary lions in your school.

I would like to teach there, and at the University of the Philippines, too, but there is simply no time. M-W-F I teach 12 units, or four classes, at the Ateneo. I am also writing my dissertation for the PhD in English, major in Creative Writing, at UP Diliman, which I should finish this second semester.

Advice to students

Which brings me to the topic of today’s column: second sem.

The second sem begins on Monday, if it has not already begun in some schools. The freshmen are still hilong-talilong (higgledy-piggledy?) over the results of their first-sem work. Many must have thought college was easy and cool because you have classes only three hours a week per subject, not the usual daily grind in high school.

But this makes college more difficult. Why? Because the so-called lots of free time on your hands should be spent reading your required texts and even the recommended ones, and reviewing the notes that you took in class. Yes, you must take copious notes in class, since the teacher’s lecture consists of summaries of the textbook and the examples from his or her own store of knowledge. You can then review your notes, or rewrite them afterward. Rewriting them is better, since you can review your notes while rewriting them in a more organized fashion.

The poet Li Po said that “the palest ink is better than the most retentive memory.” This is true not only for writing, but also for studying.

Tips on reading

Teachers give you required texts because you should read them. But I find today’s students crestfallen at the sight of book chapters to read. How to read these chapters?

Before reading, put your cell phone on silent mode, turn off that TV or Ipod, lock that door and put your landline phone on mute. Place a blank sheet of paper beside the book you are reading. If you are distracted by a thought, write a fragment on the piece of paper to remind you of that thought later. When reading, use your eye the way a bird skims the landscape.

To get the flavor of the chapter, read its title, its subtitle, the chapter headings, and the summary usually found at the end of every chapter. This will fix a tentative thread of thought in your mind.

Do not use a highlighter. Engage with the book by writing on it. I like a book when its margins are full of check marks, asterisks, stars, lines, parallel lines, exclamation points, question marks, or even f--- yous! That means that the reader has wrestled with the thoughts inscribed in the book.

Avoid being a passive reader by locking your mind with that of the author. You can do this better if you are sitting upright, have a good lamp with the light coming from your right side and for me, a hot cup of chocolate.


When a teacher assigns a group work, don’t use the occasion to be a slacker. Group mates hate nothing less than a sponger, somebody who does no work but claims the grade nevertheless as part of the group. That is why I ask the group members to report to me those who did not help in making the group presentation (oral) and the group paper (written).

Slacker receives a zero for the group work, and the teacher’s dagger looks for the whole week. Oral presentations should not be occasions for boredom. Do a PowerPoint presentation. Pepper your report with well-chosen visuals and keywords. Do not read from a prepared text. Learn the art of writing a gist, or a précis, of the work. A concise report can also be substantial. A long report is often just full of pads, and pads, if you ask your girl friends, don’t work all the time.

How about recommended texts? If you have taken good notes and read all the required texts at least twice, you need not read the recommended texts. But if the subject is your major and you want to learn more about it, then go! Reading recommended texts will give you a deeper background into the subject matter. These texts can also offer another angle of vision, a different framework or context, for the same subject matter.


And how to write that darned report?

The best thing is still to read The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. It is the only book you need to read – and read three times – in order to write well. You must also remember the dictum: write in white heat, revise in cold blood. Write key words, fragments, images on a piece of paper. This is called free writing, tapping into your memory bank, brainstorming with yourself. Then later, organize these stray thoughts into a sentence, a paragraph, an essay.

My rule in my college classes is this: one sentence must have one thought. A group of related sentences constitute a paragraph. And a group of related paragraphs constitute an essay. When you can already string together a three-page-long introduction composed of one sentence, as Nick Joaquin did in “May Day Eve,” then you can junk my rule.

After writing the essay, take a break. Do something that does not involve the mind. I think that means watching MTV or MYX. Then return to the essay and begin the work of a butcher, chopping away the debris from your work. Then you can revise by pressing the computer’s automatic checker for spelling and grammar.

“You’re lucky you now have computers!” I told my class once. “You only have to press F4 and your essays are immediately corrected.”

My students laughed and, sufficiently provoked, I asked, “Why, do you think I am lying to you? It is so easy to press F4!”

Until this girl in front of me, who writes the best essays in class, said that F4 is the Taiwanese group of long-haired boys, and perhaps I meant pressing F7?

Balikbayan claims Palanca win

From the Daily Tribune

Chuck Syjuco was a student of mine at the Ateneo and I am justly proud to have taught him. His novel has won the Palanca Grand Prize for the Novel and -- along with the novel of Krip Yuson -- has been shortlisted for the Man Asia Award for the Novel. The last time I saw him was in Starbucks Greenwich Village in New York in 2001. I was returning to the Philippines after my graduate studies in the States; he was starting his. I gave him a short tour of the village and the bookstores, and we parted ways. Now he is on the way up, up, up. Hurray!


All his life, Miguel Syjuco has dreamt of winning a Palanca Award. And now, the Montreal, Canada-based expatriate Filipino writer has fulfilled his dream and won the much coveted grand prize in the competition’s novel category.

His entry was an intricately structured novel which he tried to finish for three years while working full-time as copy editor of Quebec’s largest newspaper, The Montreal Gazette.

In an interview before the Palanca awarding ceremonies, Syjuco, who flew in just three days before the Palanca Awards gala night, said, “I value my Palanca award very much. I believe that it is the most important prize I can ever win in the Philippines. I still can’t believe it. It is such a pleasant surprise.”

Syjuco spent many years studying literature and creative writing: earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Ateneo and receiving a master’s degree in creative writing from New York’s Columbia University and soon a Ph.D. also in English literature from the University of Adelaide, Australia. He has worked in two of the most prestigious magazines in the world, The New Yorker and Esquire.

Aside from being given the opportunity to study and work in prestigious institutions abroad, Syjuco considers himself lucky to have trained under New York-based Jessica Hagedorn (Dogeaters), perhaps the most popular contemporary Filipina author abroad, and, during his college years, under National Artist NVM Gonzalez. Syjuco was also quick to declare his appreciation for all the guidance he’s received from his writing teachers, from Ateneo’s Rofel Brion and Danton Remoto, to the professors at the UP Creative Writing Center, and more recently his teachers and peers at Columbia and the University of Adelaide.

Syjuco’s winning entry entitled Ilustrado is about Filipinos who go abroad and return to change their country.

“I wanted the term Ilustrado to not just refer to the elite of the late 1800s. I strongly believe that all Filipinos who go away to learn things and return to their country are all ilustrados — may they be the educated elite, or the OFWs who go out because of necessity, or even those Filipinos who go abroad and succeed in their professions and represent their country well,” stressed Syjuco.

The novel revolved around the character of Crispin Salvador, a Filipino expatriate author in New York who has been mysteriously murdered. Salvador’s protégé, also named Miguel, is on a quest to find out the truth about his mentor’s sudden death.

In Ilustrado, Syjuco has brought into existence the entire life’s work of Salvador, inventing for the dead author entire novels, short stories, essays, interviews, newspaper articles, and reviews.

Notably, Ilustrado has also been longlisted (as semifinalist) for the Man Asian Prize, Asia’s biggest literary prize organized by the same people who give the Man Booker Prize, one of the biggest literary prizes in the world. Of those semi-finalists, a shortlist of five finalists will be announce this October.

The novel categories in Filipino and English Divisions of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature only happen every other three years, making the novel a much anticipated category of the competition.

This year’s first-prize winner for the Filipino division of the novel category is entitled Gerilya by Norman Wilwayco.

On in its 58th year, the Palanca Awards remains one of the most prestigious and sought-after literary awards in the Philippines, with this year’s roster of winners almost equally distributed among Palanca veterans and first-time winners.

The awarding ceremony held at The Peninsula Manila in Makati had for its guest speaker Department of Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, whose presence gave emphasis to the importance of education in the crafting of literary masterpieces.