Response to TOFIL

Dr. Isagani Cruz of the Manila Critics Circle is one of my good friends. Congratulations, Gani, for winning the TOFIL. I am reprinting his wise words on how writers shaped -- and gave a habitatin and a name -- to our country. Then and now, our writers are public intellectuals who never shirked from their roles as voices and commentators in our quotidian lives.

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Response to TOFIL
MINI CRITIQUE By Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) Updated December 23, 2010 12:00

Here are excerpts from the response I prepared for the awarding ceremonies last Dec. 9 of The Outstanding Filipino (TOFIL), which had the theme “Of Hopes and Heroes” (I have translated the Filipino portions into English):

Thank you very much for the great honor you gifted me with this Christmas season. I cannot possibly repay your kindness.

Please allow me to use my three minutes of fame to appeal for outstanding writing and outstanding reading.

You gave the TOFIL to Dionisio Salazar in 1994 for “Drama and Literature” and to Crispin Maslog in 1995 and Florangel Braid in 2007 for “Literature and Journalism.” You have always attached literature to another field. This is the first TOFIL you awarded solely for literature.

Although I am happy that I am the first awardee solely for literature, I am unhappy that this is apparently the first time you have acknowledged that there are many writers that have contributed to national development.

Why do I mention this? Because literature united and will unite the Philippines.

The Philippines is a country created by writers. The first natives to imagine the Philippines as a separate and free country – the first true Filipinos – were writers. The poet and novelist Jose Rizal, the poet Andres Bonifacio, the poet Marcelo del Pilar, the novelist Pedro Paterno, the essayist Apolinario Mabini – these were all writers, wrestling with words, using words as weapons against oppression, using their imagination instead of, or in addition to, their hands. They shaped our past. They shaped the present we are living in now. They are still shaping our own future.

They were our original heroes. They gave us hope, hope that we could be free from foreign domination, from our own weaknesses, from our own tendencies to be corrupt and to be greedy and to think only of ourselves and our families. They placed country above self and family. They showed us, through the example of their own lives and through their writings, what it means to be Filipino.

They were not the last Filipino writers to be heroes. Epifanio de los Santos was a poet. Claro M. Recto was a playwright. Diosdado Macapagal was a poet. Ninoy Aquino was a poet. And since the NDF is seriously talking peace, I should mention that Jose Ma. Sison is an internationally awarded poet. There are so many writers that have played major roles in the history of our country.

But there would not be heroic writers without heroic readers. Had they not read the writings of Rizal, Bonifacio, and our other heroes, Filipinos would not have fought against Spain, America, and Japan. Had they not taken to heart what our heroes wrote, they would not have stoked the fires of nationalism and revolution.

It is true that times have changed. We can no longer live by ourselves in the world. We can no longer treat foreigners and foreign countries as enemies. Media, television, and the Internet now rule the world, no longer books, poems, plays, stories, novels, and essays.

This is the reason I stand here before you tonight.

To read today is an act of heroism, an act of hope. It is an act of heroism because it means going against the tide. It is an act of hope because it means going for sustained thinking, rather than the compartmentalized, short-lived thrills that we get from reading a newspaper or a blog or a post in Facebook. It means sitting down and talking, not with flesh-and-blood persons around us or online, but with authors long dead but who used to be as flesh-and-blood as we are, who had all kinds of things to say about what it really means to be human.

Let me quote from my favorite Filipino poet, Balagtas, who wrote about people experiencing too much joy, just as I am experiencing tonight: “Dito naniuala ang batà cong loob / na sa mundo,i, ualang catoua-áng lubós, / sa minsang ligaya,i, talì nang casunód, / macapitóng lumbáy ó hangang matapos.

There is a natural law called regression towards the mean or the law of averages or “weather-weather.” Balagtas says that I should not be too happy tonight, although of course I have great reason to be. Similarly, the Bible, which is the greatest work of literature, says that “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

What I am trying to say is that this award makes me proud, yes, but it also humbles me, because I now have to live up to its name.

This award inspires me to continue ensuring that our authors furnish the public with words of wisdom and beauty, that readers inside and outside our country view us for what we really are – a race with remarkable literary achievements second to none in the world.

Since we cannot have good writers if we do not have good readers, my Christmas message to you is this: Give a Filipino book for Christmas.

My suggestion for your New Year’s resolution is this: Read a Filipino book.

Thank you, JCI Senate and Insular Life, for having chosen me for this award. Thank you for encouraging good writing and good reading.

Thank you to my family, my mentors, my students, my fellow writers, my readers, and my friends inside and outside of Facebook.

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