F. Sionil Jose on loving one's country and inspiring change
Any attempt to encapsulate F. Sionil José’s career here would be superfluous, as entire volumes have been written about his contributions to Philippine literature. As the Philippines' most translated writer, save perhaps for Jose Rizal, José is known the world over.
While José’s position in the pantheon of Filipino writers is more than assured, the scribe himself has another role as Oracle of Padre Faura. It is there, in his La Solidaridad Bookshop – itself an institution – that the “Oracle” still sets aside part of his week assisting customers or dispensing wisdom. His is one of the last of the old-fashioned independent book stores in the country, where the owner himself knows what he is selling.
José maintains a regular output of writing, with his column for The Philippine Star. Also, two new books, “The Feet of Juan Bacnang” – a novel – and “Gleanings from a Life in Literature” – a compilation of his numerous lectures – hit bookstores just last month.
On March 16, the legendary scribe gave a lecture at the Ortigas Foundation Library, as part of the Foundation’s series of lectures on (and by) subjects of historical or cultural importance.
The near-capacity audience in attendance was made up of academics, students, writers, invited guests, curious intellectuals and – of course – fans eager to hear what José had to share about “Nation and Culture”.
Love of country
José didn’t disappoint those who thought to come, sharing frank opinions on how local mindsets influence a country’s development and the need for strong institutions in modern society.
The lecture was a casual affair as José, before introducing new topics, would invite audience members to share their points of view on what was being presented. Participation was enthusiastic all around. Whether he was being addressed by a businessman who got out of work early or by a student looking to earn extra credit, José entertained all questions posed before him with equal gusto. With his trademark beret in place and an intellect kept sharp by decades of experience, the Oracle was in his element.
The passion he brought to his anecdotes was palpable, especially when reminiscing about times when the Philippines was the most envied and developed country in Southeast Asia. He highlighted his frustrations over the Philippines moving glacially towards development and progress with his recollections of visiting post-war Korea (“…rice fields and soot as far as the eye could see!”) and comparing it to the South Korea of today. He made similar observations about Japan and Taiwan, driving home the fact that there was no reason the Philippines can’t achieve similar – if not greater – heights if and when Filipinos get their act together.
A drop-in observer at the lecture might have gotten the impression that, given half-a-chance, José could have gone on all day about this country’s failings, sparing nothing and no one in his inimitably irreverent style. As lecture morphed into discussion, however, it became apparent to all in attendance that the main reason José’s works were successful in reflecting the aspirations of the common Filipino wasn’t his command of the English language but rather his unflinching love of country.
Through his stories in the auditorium that day, José made it clear that love for the homeland should not blind one to its flaws, but rather open one’s eyes to its imperfections and endeavor seers toward correcting them.
On that note, José stated that, historically, the duty of imparting knowledge to inspire change had always fallen to a select few. Those few, he informed us with a twinkle in his eye, were the writers. A cliché it may be to claim that the pen is mightier than the sword, José maintained that it was always the intellectuals who effected change.
Before wrapping up for the evening, José asked the audience to bear in mind that, at the age of 87, he no longer expects to see drastic positive change realized within his lifetime. He did, however, remain steadfast in his belief that after him will come those who would, through their own labors, fulfill the promise of his–of our–beloved Philippines.
The Oracle has spoken, and his tidings are of hope. –KG/HS, GMA News
The Ortigas Foundation Library’s Lecture Series is a program designed to provide the public with access to a wide variety of topics in an interactive setting between speaker and audience. Admission is FREE. For more information on this and future events, visit www.ortigasfoundationlibrary.com.ph, email email@example.com or call 631-1231 locals 222 and 228.
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