03 August 2008

My Bucket List

Since the movie The Bucket List, the webcast of Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture,” and books such as 1000 Places to See Before You Die, it has become fashionable to do a to-do list. Since the student-produced magazine Bounce published my list of to-dos in its Summer Break issue, letting my bucket list out of the closet (oops! mixed metaphor!), let me go through each of the items in the list. Such self-reflection, though public, may perhaps be allowed since I just celebrated my 63rd birthday. (Thanks, by the way, to all those that texted, emailed, and called to greet me. Special thanks to Crispina Martinez-Belen, who never fails to greet me in her “Celebrity World” column.)

The magazine list does not include any of the impossible things I wish I could do before I die, such as rolling a perfect game in bowling, learning how to do the jump shot in pool, playing blindfold chess against a grandmaster (of course, the grandmaster will be wearing the blindfold), owning a library that looks exactly like that of Henry Higgins in the movie My Fair Lady, directing a superhero movie, finding the perfect banana split (no one remembers anymore how to do the one that Magnolia used to serve in Quiapo), and, of course, to give my Last Lecture and have everyone download it from Google, YouTube, Vodpod, or whatever will come next.

This is my more serious list as published in the student magazine:

1. Win the lottery and buy all the gadgets I want.
2. Get Philippine journals to join Philippine Journals Online (accessed through a UK website).
3. Institutionalize the National Book Awards.
4. Gather fellow Fulbright scholars for common projects that would accelerate the nation’s development.
5. Give 40 educational videos to literature classes and teachers in high schools through a project for the Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education.
6. Have the Department of Education mandate the use of local languages as the medium of instruction.
7. Establish an Asian Critics Circle.
8. Write the Encyclopedia of Philippine Literature (arranged by language).
9. Write a series for Anvil Publishing from my columns.
10. Write a long-promised volume on Teaching Literature for Giraffe Publishing.
11. Write the third part in my trilogy of plays on Bienvenido N. Santos.
12. Play tournament bridge at a level good enough to compete internationally.
13. Think up more to-dos.

The student interviewer was very good at getting me to reveal all of these to-dos, though I obviously held back in order to appear professorial to the magazine editors. It was, after all, a feature on a professor in a magazine otherwise devoted to features about students.

First, gadgets. Next only to Philippine Star columnist Jose “Butch” Dalisay, I have the most number of gadgets of any Filipino writer. I do not have the financial resources of Butch (which is why I need to win the lotto), who has the latest paper-thin Mac, but I do have the competing Vista-run Acer. (The Acer is great, Vista is not, and if you’re about to buy a computer, be sure it has Windows XP and not Vista. I can hear Butch say, that’s why you should shift to Mac.)

I don’t think even Butch has my latest gadget: a dual-SIM cellphone that doubles as a portable TV set, with all the usual cellphone things (two cameras for video calls, FM radio, 1GB memory for films in mp4 format, and so on), all for less than ten thousand pesos. Oh, I don’t have to pay anyone anything for the TV shows, since the TV works even without a SIM card.

Second on my bucket list is getting Philippine journals to join Philippines Journals Online (PJOL). This wish is about to be completely fulfilled, with the coming to Manila in May 2008 of two key persons from the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), which sponsors PJOL.

INASP’s Sioux Cumming (Publishing Programme Officer) and Julie Walker (Head of Publishing Support) will train more than twenty editors of Philippine journals in the use of the free journal management software called Open Journal Systems (OJS). INASP has been very generous to the Philippines, paying most of the expenses of the workshop, even the transportation of editors from outside Manila. C&E is sponsoring the meals, Ateneo is sponsoring the venue and computer time, and various universities are sending their editors on official time.

Why is it important that Philippine journals are available through a website or portal based in the U.K. and Canada? Right now, our Philippine-based academic websites are not exactly on the top of the list of resources scholars refer to when they do their articles. If you googled any of the current hot issues in academic research, it is highly unlikely that an article published in a Philippine journal would be on the first few pages of the search results.

Why is it important that our articles are read or cited by foreign scholars? Because the name of the game is citation.

One of the major criteria for ranking a university internationally is the number of times articles written by faculty members in that university are used in the footnotes or bibliographies of articles in what are known as “ISI journals.” The abbreviation ISI refers to a now-outdated term (Institute for Scientific Information). ISI is a list of journals considered important by scholars around the world, as evidenced by being routinely included in footnotes and bibliographies. The list is available on the Thomson Reuters website.

Thomson Reuters lists about 9,000 journals. A similar journal list, generated by Scopus, covers 15,000 journals. There are an estimated 100,000 journals in the world, with about 30,000 of them published by universities, rather than organizations or commercial publishers.

There is a formula used to find out what are called the “Impact Factor” and the “Prestige Factor” of a journal. As explained in a 2001 article by Ioan-Iovitz Popescu, “the impact factor of a journal is defined as the ratio between citations and recent (previous two years) citable items published or, in other words, as the average number of citations in a given year of articles published in that journal in the preceding two years.” The logarithm for the prestige factor is more complicated and has six independent variables, but the idea is simple enough: a journal is important if most of its articles are cited by scholars.

University libraries around the world subscribe only to journals with very high impact or prestige factors, since no library is rich enough to subscribe to 100,000 journals. Even financially, therefore, it makes sense for a university journal to get itself cited and, therefore, bought by librarians worldwide.

Currently, as far as I know, there are only six Philippine journals included in the ISI list: Philippine Agricultural Scientist (UP Los Baños), Philippine Entomologist (UP Los Baños), Philippine Journal of Crop Science (UP Los Baños), Philippine Journal of Science (Science Technology Information Institute), Philippine Journal of Veterinary Medicine (UP Los Baños), and Philippine Scientist (University of San Carlos). No other Philippine journal is considered good enough to be cited by foreign scholars.

In order for an article to be cited by anyone, it should first be easily accessible and it should be available in full. This is what PJOL aims to achieve.
Once a journal is easily accessible online, because it is hosted by prestigious British and Canadian sites, it can reach ISI or Scopus status more quickly. Although I have been very vocal against ISI (ironically, my anti-ISI article was recently published in an ISI journal!), I do not think we have a choice at this point. We have to have our journals listed by ISI and Scopus.

The first step is to be read by others. Once international scholars read us, I am confident that they will find that we are in step with (and in some cases, ahead of) other scholars outside the country.

As I always boast whenever I speak in international conferences, I have read all of the sonnets of Shakespeare, but who among British or North American critics today have read Florante at Laura? But if we do not get Shakespeare scholars to read our articles about Balagtas, nobody will ever think that Balagtas was as good a poet (though not as good a playwright) as Shakespeare. Sad to say, even most Filipinos think that Shakespeare was the better poet, even if they have not yet read either Shakespeare or Balagtas. But colonial mentality is another topic altogether, and I am too realistic to put the eradication of colonial mentality on my wish list.

Third on my bucket list is institutionalizing the National Book Awards of the Manila Critics Circle.

In 1981, Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, Alfred A. Yuson, and I met in a small eatery across the street from the University of Santo Tomas and decided to establish the Manila Critics Circle. Except for textbooks, there were very few books being published then in the Philippines. We wanted to honor the authors and publishers of the best of the non-textbooks. The next year, we gave the first of what would be annual National Book Awards, with trophies donated by Eduardo Castrillo.

We eventually invited more book reviewers to join us. We unfortunately also eventually lost some of our members – Salanga himself, Leonidas V. Benesa, and Doreen G. Fernandez. Right now, the members of the Circle are, aside from the three surviving founders, Virgilio S. Almario, Juaniyo Arcellana, Cirilo F. Bautista, Fr. Miguel A. Bernad, S.J., Ruel de Vera, Resil B. Mojares, Danton R. Remoto, and Soledad S. Reyes. Our honorary member who does not join our deliberations because he lives in Michigan is Roger Bresnahan.

Except for a couple of years when I was either abroad or in government, I did most of the secretarial work for the Circle, such as asking publishers for copies of their books, soliciting funds and trophies, and setting up the awarding ceremonies.
Since I was not getting any younger, and neither were most of the other members of the Circle, we decided sometime last year to find a way to get an institution to take over the National Book Awards. We still wanted to be the ones to decide which books should get awards, but we (certainly, I) no longer had the energy to run around looking for money, sculptors, and venues.

We turned to the National Book Development Board (NBDB), which had been supporting us financially in recent years. (In our early years, the Circle even sat on the Board.) We were very lucky that the Chair of the Board, Dennis T. Gonzalez, and its Executive Director, Andrea Pasion-Flores, loved good books as passionately as we did. We asked them and the members of the current NBDB board (also a particularly well-chosen group of governors) to take over the awards, and they agreed.
As authors and publishers already know, the process of choosing finalists for the awards has been democratized, with professional organizations now invited to help the Manila Critics Circle choose the best books in their respective fields. Now, instead of having to read all the books published in a given year (last year, each of us in the Circle had to read something like 400 books, which probably contributed to my having to have a laser operation recently), we have to read only 50 or so pre-selected books.

Now, I have one less thing to worry about.

I believe that a project manager should be able to let go of the project and watch on the sidelines as it becomes more successful once he or she is out of the picture.

Through the years, I accumulated a lot of debts of gratitude, most especially to Primetrade Asia, which hosted the awards during the Manila International Book Fair. To Primetrade and to all the government agencies (such as NCCA), publishers, sponsors, universities, sculptors, and others that supported the National Book Awards, thank you very much!

Fourth on my bucket list is gathering fellow Fulbright scholars for common projects that will help accelerate the nation’s development.

I have had two Fulbright grants, one to study for my doctorate at the University of Maryland from 1972 to 1976, the second in 2003 to read the papers left behind by Bienvenido N. Santos at the Wichita State University Library.

I first became a member of the board of the Philippine Fulbright Scholars Association (PFSA), composed of almost 2,000 Filipino Fulbright alumni, in 1988, when the association president was Marcelo B. Fernan, then Supreme Court Chief Justice. Being typecast since college days as PRO of various organizations, I was elected PRO (which was defined as both press relations officer and public relations officer).

One of my first tasks was to write the lyrics of the 40th anniversary song, composed by Lucrecia Kasilag. Unfortunately for me, when the song was performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in September, 1988, I was on a British Council Senior Fellowship at the University of Oxford. Since the song demanded a full orchestra and only the most experienced singers (it was, after all, a Kasilag composition), it has never again been performed.

Recently, for the 60th Fulbright anniversary, the association wanted me to do another song. Menchie Mantaring of the CCP did the music and I wrote lyrics to fit the music. With Arwin Tan arranging the music and conducting the CCP Chorale, the crowd never knew that, because my schedule was too full to allow lead time, I had written the lyrics overnight.

Among the several projects I was asked by Fernan to handle was an essay contest in 1990 on the American Bill of Rights. We secured the cooperation of Magnolia, the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution, the Philippine American Education Foundation (PAEF), and the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center, and were able to offer prizes consisting of tickets to the U.S.A., with cash allowances from $1,000 to $2,000 per winner. Another project I enjoyed doing was a rather short-lived PFSA newsletter in 1995 entitled The Filipino Fulbrighter.

Initiated by Fernan was a livelihood project in 1990 in Marilaw, Bulacan, in cooperation with the Hubert H. Humphrey Alumni Association, the East-West Center Alumni Association, and the Marilaw Jaycees. I remember distinctly walking the alleys between the houses constructed on top of the dumpsite (this was before Payatas), with Fernan in the lead; he was completely focused on asking the residents there how they wanted Fulbright scholars to help them.

In 1995 Corazon S. de la Paz (still with the private sector then and not yet with SSS) was elected president. I was re-elected to the board; this time, I shared the position of PRO with Ma. Mercedes M. Fajardo-Robles.

One project assigned to me by the board was the editing and publication of two anthologies of public lectures given by Fulbrighters. The first was The J. William Fulbright Memorial Lectures, 1995-1996 (1996), containing the first to the fifth lectures, as well as the acceptance speech of Corazon C. Aquino when we successfully nominated her in 1996 for the very prestigious Washington-based J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. The second was The J. William Fulbright Memorial Lectures, 1997-1998, containing the 6th to 16th JWF Memorial Lectures, launched in 2000.

In 2005 I succeeded De la Paz as president of the association. I wanted to continue the vision of Fernan to engage Fulbrighters more directly in poverty-alleviation projects. I also wanted to be as active as De la Paz, who was a house on fire. Under her, the association engaged in numerous projects. Of course, under me, the association has not been as active as it was under De la Paz (I have less than half of her energy and hardly a tenth of her network).

Having put in so much of myself in Fulbright work, I included on my bucket list the desire to have Fulbrighters work more directly as a group with the poor. There are already hundreds of Fulbrighters working with the poor, individually or as heads of various community-oriented organizations. But I want the association to adopt a municipality, the way we once did with Marilaw, Bulacan.

Fortunately, the other alumni organizations have the same desire. Humphrey and East-West, in fact, have been doing direct community outreach for some time now.
You can imagine how difficult it is to manage a program that involves just about everyone that went to the U.S. on American taxpayers’ money. The only organization outside our federation is the United States International Visitor Program Philippine Alumni Foundation (of which I happen to be a very inactive member), which I hope also one day to invite to our alumni presidents’ breakfast meetings.

My fourth wish on my bucket list is about to be fulfilled. There are high hopes now that the Fulbrighters will be able to adopt a municipality in Laguna, thanks to the efforts of Fulbright board member Liborio S. Cabanilla, who happens to be a board member (and former president) of the Fulbright Philippine Agriculture Alumni Association.

Fifth on my bucket list is giving forty educational videos to literature classes and teachers in high schools through a project for the Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education (FUSE).

I am well on my way to fulfilling this wish.

Since June, 2006, FUSE has been funding my project called “Continuing Studies via Technology (CONSTEC) on Literature: A Telecourse for Students and Teachers of Literature,” a series of 25-minute telelessons meant to enhance the teaching of literature in secondary school.

So far, the project has produced twenty 25-minute video lessons showing different ways of teaching literary texts. Each module consists of two parts: the first part meant to be watched by students in a classroom, the second part meant to be watched only by teachers.

If used inside a classroom, a teacher may plan a lesson in which the first part (about 10 minutes) is shown to the students. In that part, an expert discusses the text being studied, and I give instructions to the students on what to do with the text.

Before the class, the teacher should watch the second part (about 15 minutes), which consists of a discussion of the teaching method used in the first part, plus a demonstration lesson taught by an outstanding teacher. The demonstration teachers are either Metrobank Outstanding Teachers or the best literature teachers in Metro Manila as chosen by DepEd NCR. The demonstration students, taught under actual classroom conditions (there is no script; the teacher actually teaches the class), come from different public and private schools.

Printed teacher’s guides are currently being prepared by a team of expert teachers from Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Philippine Normal University, and DepEd. These guides will help teachers make full use of the videos in their classrooms.

The following are the completed telelessons. Each item lists the title of the literary text, the author (if applicable), the expert, the demonstration teacher, the school where the students come from, and the teaching method used.

For First Year:

Darangen, Nagasura Madale, Regina Tirones, Manila Science High School (MSHS), Jingle Rap.

My Brother’s Peculiar Chicken, Alejandro Roces, the author himself, Patricia Jocson, Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), Closure.

A Sigh in the Dark, Angela Manalang Gloria, Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, Marjorie Evasco, PHSA, Interpretative Reading.

Wedding Dance, Amador Daguio, Bienvenido Lumbera, Nerissa Lomeda, MSHS, Fashion Design.

The Monkey and the Turtle, Jose Rizal, Carla Pacis, Rosalinda Juan, MSHS, Emoticon.

For Second Year:

Frog Haiku, Matsuo Basho, Minoru Kikuchi, Marjorie Evasco, PHSA, Group Creative Writing.

An Incident, Lu Xun, David Jonathan Bayot, Patricia Jocson, PHSA, Talk Show.

Ramayana, Maharshi Valmiki, Juan Francisco, Pamela Tayag Salvosa, MSHS, Music.

A Singapore Fairy Tale, Catherine Lim, Lily Rose Tope, Leny Pagdanganan, MSHS, Debate.

Mama Wata and the Monster, Veronique Tadjo, Carla Pacis, Pamela Tayag Salvosa, MSHS, Quiz Show.

The Spider’s Thread, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Minoru Kikuchi, Patricia Jocson, PHSA, Multiple Intelligences.

For Third Year:

The Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Kral, Azucena Erencio, MSHS, Virtual Filmmaking.

How Do I Love Thee, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Leodivico Lacsamana, MSHS, Memorization.

I Shall Not Live in Vain, Emily Dickinson, Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Marjorie Evasco, PHSA, Journal Writing.

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare, Jaime Ong, Patricia Jocson, MSHS, Modern Adaptation.

For Fourth Year:

The Cave (Qur’an), Mashur Vin-Ghalib Jundam, Patricia Jocson, PHSA, Open Forum.

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo, Cornelio Bascarra, Cecile Correa, MSHS, Question Matrix.


On Writing Poetry
, Margaret Atwood, Elmer Ordoñez, Marjorie Evasco, PHSA, Exhibit.


Parable of the Talents (New Testament)
, Bienvenido Nebres SJ, Leodivico Lacsamana, MSHS, Letter Writing.

The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Jaime An Lim, MSHS, Twenty Questions.

Secondary schools may request free copies of the telelessons from FUSE. The telelessons are in DVD format.

The series has started airing over Knowledge Channel on the following schedule: Sundays 7:40-8:20 p.m.; Mondays 10:00-10:40 a.m., 12:20-1:00 p.m., 7:40-8:20 p.m.; Tuesdays 7:40-8:20 p.m.; Wednesdays 2:00-2:40 p.m., 7:40-8:20 p.m.; Thursdays 7:40-8:20 p.m.; Fridays 7:00-7:40 a.m., 12:20-1:00 p.m., 7:40-8:20 p.m.

Sixth on my bucket list is getting the Department of Education to mandate the use of the local language as the medium of instruction in all regions of the country.

In our history, there has been only one professional linguist who became Secretary of Education. That was the late Brother Andrew Gonzalez, FSC, who not only had a doctorate in linguistics from Berkeley, but was recognized internationally as a leading language scholar. He published dozens of articles in international journals on language policy, language learning, and education.

Even before he headed the Department, Gonzalez already believed that English should not be the main medium of instruction in the Philippines. From his studies and experience, he knew that students learn faster and better if taught in their own home language, not in a foreign one. He knew, however, that it was politically naive, not to mention logistically impossible, to shift immediately to a monolingual vernacular medium from the purely English-medium system imposed by Americans at the turn of the century. He, therefore, proposed the Bilingual Education Program (BEP) as a transitory step towards a monolingual vernacular system.

When he became Secretary, he started the Lingua Franca Project, which successfully transformed several elementary schools into monolingual vernacular systems, at least until third grade. When Raul Roco succeeded him as Secretary, I expanded the project from using only three vernaculars (Cebuano, Ilocano, and Tagalog) to several vernaculars (including Bicol, which was Roco’s native language).

After he left the Department, Gonzalez became more vocal about shifting to a purely vernacular system of education. In the writings that he left behind, he made it clear that bilingualism was only a step towards monolingualism within regions. I should stress that monolingualism did not mean, to him, having every Filipino use only Filipino, but that Cebuanos would be taught in Cebuano, Ilocanos in Ilocano, Bikolanos in Bikol, and so on.

I have argued myself hoarse on innumerable occasions about the shift, especially since I happen to be one of Gonzalez’s admirers (read: disciples). I have often wondered, in fact, why people do not believe linguists when it comes to matters of language. In every other matter, we always turn to experts. We go to a medical doctor if we are sick, we go to an architect if we want to build a house, we even get a professional driver to drive our car, but for some strange reason, we do not want to listen to a linguist when it comes to the language of instruction.

I have paid dearly for my stand on the medium of instruction. I will tell you a story I have told very few friends. I worked closely with Cory Aquino on a few speeches and video scripts during the anti-Marcos years.

Once, when we were alone in her office in Makati and she was considering running for president, she asked me, “What would you do if you were Minister or Secretary of Education?”

I answered without hesitation, “Change the medium of instruction to Filipino.”

I remember her answer very well. She said, “Sobra ka naman.” [That’s too much.]

That is probably why she never invited me to become a cabinet member during her presidency.

When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wrote Executive Order 210, which mandated the use of English as the primary medium of instruction in basic education, I was one of the main signatories to a petition filed in the Supreme Court to declare her action unconstitutional. Since the Supreme Court is still deciding this issue and although I no longer am a party to the petition currently pending, I cannot speak about it because it is sub judice. That is why I write about the issue only in personal terms (my interactions with Gonzalez, Roco, and Aquino), not in the legal terms the Justices are using as they deliberate on the medium of instruction.

Seventh on my bucket list is, or rather, was establishing an Asian Critics Circle.

Because of the success of the Manila Critics Circle (if I may say so myself), I toyed with the idea of bringing together critics from various Asian countries to come up with Asian Book Awards, similar to our National Book Awards.

I made friends with a number of literary critics in Asia, primarily because I met them fairly regularly in international conferences. We referred to ourselves jokingly as conference types, because we enjoyed sitting down in conference rooms for hours and pretending to listen to each other.

I say “pretending” because, most of the time, the talks were either in areas which were so specialized that only the speakers knew what they were talking about or were delivered in languages that needed simultaneous translation.

Don’t get me wrong. Most simultaneous translators are very competent and manage to convey the ideas in conference papers, but they miss the tones and undertones (which, in literary or cultural conferences, are as important as the ideas). Seeing someone saying something in one language and hearing another person on headphones is like watching dubbed movies: it’s distracting, to say the least.

In any case, during conference breaks or evening drinking sessions, much talk passed about choosing this book or that and giving authors trophies or cash awards. Nothing much was ever remembered the morning after.

I did manage to get a huge amount of funding once, from an aging Taiwan professor, to host a meeting in Taiwan of a few leading Asian critics. Unfortunately, he died before we could all agree on a date.

I once also started an e-mail discussion, but revered and aging critics are not as computer-literate as their grandchildren, and there were too few of us digital immigrants in the egroup to make our decisions credible.

One issue always stumped us – that of language. Although most of us were literate in English, all of us thought that some novels in our own native languages clearly deserved regional awards much more than those written in English. The SEAWRITE (the award given by Thailand) manages to circumvent the issue of language by letting national boards do the judging, but we did not want to do that. We wanted to give awards to books that most, if not all of us would have read. Since none of us read more than a few languages, we could not figure out how we could judge works in Chinese, Malay, Tamil, Japanese, Filipino, and so on.

You see, at the highest levels of literary criticism, critics read a work in its original language. Literature is a particular or specialized use of language, and many literary values are lost in the process of moving from one language to another.

We all knew the hazards of basing judgments on translations. The Chinese, in particular, are often upset that the works translated into non-Chinese languages are not their best. (There is, of course, a political dimension here, since most non-communist translators prefer to work on Chinese works that attack the Chinese government.)

I know the limits of translation from experience. When I was teaching in Iran, I learned from my Iranian friends that Omar Khayyam was not their best poet. Since he was the only one I had read in translation, I thought he was pretty good, but the Iranians swore that their other poets were much better. Unfortunately, until I got to Iran, I had never read those other poets. Even in Iran, my Persian was good only for shopping, not for reading poetry.

Sad to say, I have given up on this item in my bucket list. I’m glad that regional awards like SEAWRITE and MAN are around, but critics’ awards like our own National Book Awards would give more significant recognition to the excellent work writers are doing in our part of the world.

Eighth on my bucket list is writing or publishing an Encyclopedia of Philippine Literature, the volumes arranged by the original language of the anthologized texts.
The idea comes from my teacher, mentor, idol, and now National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera.

He was the first scholar to suggest that all Philippine literary texts are part of national literature and that the dichotomy of “national vs. regional” is false. He said that we should not talk of Cebuano literature or Ilocano literature, but of Philippine literature in Cebuano, Philippine literature in Ilocano, Philippine literature in Tagalog, Philippine literature in Maranao, Philippine literature in English, Philippine literature in Spanish, Philippine literature in Chinese, and so on.

This idea has many implications. First, it is not true that our writings in English are more significant than our writings in, say, Bikol. Philippine literature in Bikol is just as important a stream of our national literature as that written in English. In an encyclopedia of Philippine literature, the volume on Philippine literature in Bikol would be as impressive as the volume on Philippine literature in English.

Second, it is not true that our writings in Tagalog are national while writings in, say, Hiligaynon are regional. The Tagalog region is as much a region as the Ilonggo or Hiligaynon region. The National Capital Region is a region and, therefore, has no claim to being more “national” than any other part of the country. Philippine literature in Tagalog enjoys exactly the same stature as Philippine literature in Hiligaynon or in any other language. The word “regional,” therefore, should now be removed from the vocabulary of literary critics.

Third, it is not true that Philippine literature in Chinese is not part of our national literature. For a long time, Filipino writers writing in Mandarin were not taken up in Philippine literature classes, because they were, for racist reasons, not considered by most teachers to be Filipinos. An encyclopedia volume on Philippine literature in Chinese would show that there are many texts written in that language by Filipinos.

I digress at this point to boast a little. The volume Ang Ating Panitikan, which Soledad S. Reyes and I edited in 1984 for the Association of Philippine Colleges of Arts and Sciences (APCAS), was the first textbook, to my knowledge, to include texts originally written in Mandarin Chinese as part of Philippine literature.

Since then, I have been lobbying fairly successfully for the inclusion of Filipinos writing in Chinese in reference materials on Philippine literature, such as the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, a project for which I served as a consultant.

With so many Filipinos winning international awards for their literary works in Chinese, literary critics should not be racist in their treatment of our national literature. Literary critics should rejoice when Hsieh Hsing (Grace Lee) wins yet another poetry award or when Yinchow Sy publishes yet another translation in China.

Back to the idea of an encyclopedia. As publisher of the now defunct De La Salle University Press, I tried very hard to get writers and editors to put together anthologies of Philippine literary texts. I even started a long-term project in the 1980s (still ongoing) called Literary History of the Philippines (LIHIP), which has managed to collect thousands of literary texts written in various Philippine languages. Unfortunately, I got out of the DLSU Press before I could finish the project (because I had to quit when I joined government in 2001).

Now that I am back in De La Salle University as Executive Publisher of its Academic Publications Office, I will try again to get enough editors to spend time on this project. An Encyclopedia of Philippine Literature would be a handsome companion to the CCP encyclopedia.

Ninth on my bucket list is writing a series for Anvil Publishing from my columns.

Books made up of columns are very popular among Filipino readers.

Karina Bolasco, Publishing Manager of Anvil, tells us why. “Columns have a following,” she says during her lectures, “and column readers naturally become book readers.”

Columns have an ephemeral existence. Unless readers take the trouble to clip them and keep them somewhere, columns disappear together with yesterday’s newspapers.
By collecting columns into books, publishers allow readers to keep their favorite writers on bookshelves, to be read and enjoyed once again and, writers hope, again and again.

In fact, one of my first books was a collection of columns. Movie Times, published in 1984 by National Book Store, put together various columns and articles I had written on Philippine films. The publishing manager of National Book Store at that time was Bolasco.

Of course, because columns need not last more than one day, most writers (including me) do not spend more than one day writing them. When columns are collected to become part of a book, they need to be rewritten, checked not just for grammar and style, but for timeliness or, more ambitiously, timelessness.

I have more than enough to fill several books with my columns.

I have been writing columns for various newspapers and magazines since 1972, when I accepted Oscar Villadolid and Gerry Gil’s invitation to join the English daily Philippines Herald as a movie and book reviewer and its sister Tagalog daily Mabuhay as Associate Editor. (I was bilingual from the very beginning of my life as a columnist.)

After I returned from graduate studies in Maryland in the late 1970s, Melinda de Jesus and Rodolfo Reyes invited me to do movie reviews for TV Times. It was at that time that I gained notoriety for bashing popular movies such as The Deer Hunter. The core of the book Movie Times came from this magazine.

In the 1980s, I did weekly movie columns for magazines such as Bulaklak, Glitter, Manila Hotline, Modern Romances, Pilipino Daily Mirror, Silver Screen, and Student Canteen. Part of the movie press then, I frequented showbiz parties and hangouts and got to know many of our superstars and would-be stars. (Oh, the stories I could tell if I dared!)

I wrote less showbiz and, to academics, more serious movie reviewing, as well as general commentaries on books, culture, and education for newspapers and magazines such as Asiaweek, Business Star, Diwa, Diyaryo Filipino, Filipino Magazin, Mediawatch, Observer, Onboard Philippines, Parade, Philippine Panorama, Pilipino Tribune, and Times Journal.

For a while, I was also writing for Starweek and Student Star, until I had to limit my time to this column.

I wrote the editorials of the weekly Tagalog Chronicle, which I did not edit, and of course those of the periodicals I edited, such as Interlock, National Book Review, and Palabas. (To name drop, Boy Abunda was my assistant in Palabas.)

I even wrote daily political columns for Manila Times when Alejandro “Anding” Roces was its publisher. When the editors and writers went on strike, I did not join them, since Anding was my ninong (godfather); for this I was labelled a scab for the first and only time in my otherwise union-friendly life.

All my life, I have put personal friendship above ideology or politics. (This particular trait of mine has puzzled many of my very close friends, some of whom cannot stand each other.)

Why Anvil Publishing? Simple. I have long envied the commercial success of writers such as Margarita Holmes, Ambeth Ocampo, Danton Remoto, and Jessica Zafra, all Anvil authors. Whatever it is that Anvil does for them, I hope it will do for me.
And, yes, I already have two fairly well-selling books with Anvil – A Dictionary of Philippine English (which I did with Ma. Lourdes “Tish” Bautista) and The Basic Education Curriculum in 17 Easy Lessons.

Tenth on my bucket list is doing a book on the teaching of literature. I promised this book ages ago to Gloria Rodriguez, proprietor of Giraffe Books.

I have been preaching (that’s the word, really) two things about the teaching of literature.

First is that teachers of literature should not teach language. Language teachers teach language and literature teachers teach literature. The teaching of literature is not the same as the teaching of language.

After all, the great writers are not exactly good models of language use.

Take Emily Dickinson. She did not care about punctuation, capitalization, nor even grammar. In her poem that begins with the line “The Grass so little has to do,” she wrote, “I wish I were a Hay.” No matter how you look at that last line of the poem, it is ungrammatical. Yet the poem is considered one of the best that she wrote. Clearly, literary value is not dependent on linguistic value.

William Shakespeare, considered by most critics as the best playwright not only in English but in any language, wrote in the first scene of his play King Lear: “stranger’d with our oath.” Grammarians had a field day condemning what they called a mistake by Shakespeare, since he used a noun as a verb. But these grammarians are now all forgotten, and Shakespeare lives on.

Examples are legion of literary masters deliberately (and in some cases, not so deliberately) committing what would be grammatical errors in the hands of lesser mortals. William Faulkner, who won a Nobel Prize, was notorious for not knowing grammar; this was admitted after his death by his own editors at Random House. Our own Jose Rizal, according to at least one major literary critic in Spain, had all kinds of grammatical problems with his Spanish.

In any case, if we were teaching infinitives in a language class, we certainly could do much better than to use Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be: that is the question,” because some smart student will ask how that can be a question since there is no question mark or what the antecedent of the pronoun “that” is or even why there is a comma after the first “to be.” Instead of trying to explain why writers do funny things with language, the language teacher would save a lot of aggravation by simply using what linguists call “authentic texts,” or texts that people actually use in real life, not on stage or in books.

The second thing I preach is that teachers of literature should not lecture. More precisely, although they may lecture occasionally, they should not limit themselves to that particular method of teaching literature. Many literature teachers lecture too much in their classes.

All educators know that the lecture method, while useful in imparting information quickly, is not very good at changing attitudes or empowering students. There are many other ways of teaching literature. In my FUSE CONSTEC series that is now running over Knowledge Channel, I show forty different ways of teaching literature. Only one of these ways involves lecturing or talking for a long time to students.

Since I have written a number of articles on the teaching of literature, Gloria Rodriguez has been nagging me to put them together in a book. I really should, not only because it might be useful to literature teachers, but also because I owe her a great debt of gratitude. While she was with New Day Publishers, she published my first book of literary criticism, Beyond Futility. Although I have now outgrown some of the critical positions I took in that book, it is still one of my favorites, if only because I was very young then and so iconoclastic.

Now, after more than 39 years of teaching literature, I really should share what I have learned with younger teachers. One of these days, I will.

Eleventh on my bucket list is writing the third part in my trilogy of plays on Bienvenido N. Santos.

Santos was my literary father. From him I learned many things, such as the usefulness of memorizing lines of poetry (to get you through life’s crises), the indecency or vanity of calling yourself a writer (instead, other people should call you that), the need to be kind to everyone (he would always say, echoing Tennessee Williams, that he relied on the kindness of others), and the importance of thinking in the vernacular even while writing in English (he claimed that he wrote “in Capampangan, using English words”).

I started writing his biography while he was alive. It was, strictly speaking, not a biography, but a combination literary critique and life story, something like what today is called “creative nonfiction.” He used to call it “Project Numero Uno.” He would sometimes scold me for spending time teaching, lecturing, managing, or even writing a column when I should be writing the book on him. (He may have been only joking, but since he was always joking, it was hard to say when he was already serious.)

On his grave in 1996, I swore that I would finish Project Numero Uno. I applied for a Senior Fulbright grant and luckily got it. The grant allowed to me stay in Wichita State University for three months in 2003. Santos left many of his drafts, letters, and other papers at Wichita (from which he retired as a professor), and the grant paid for my travel, lodging, meals, and research expenses. The librarians there gave me full access to the Santos archives. They even allowed me to photocopy most of the materials. (The photocopies are now with the Bienvenido N. Santos Museum in De La Salle University.)

I was well into writing a regular prose biography of him when I realized that it would not do justice to my personal relationship with him. I had written (and am still writing) biographies of other famous persons, but I had no emotional links to them. The outline I had made for the prose biography had, as its chapters, “Wonderer” (childhood, the first twin novels), an interchapter on poetry, “Wanderer” (exile, hyphenation as Asian-American), an interchapter on fiction, and “Wonder” (return to the Philippines). It might have made a good read, but it would have been too impersonal.

Mang Ben (my nickname for Santos) deserved more than the usual prose biography, I told myself, and promptly decided to do a trilogy of plays on him. That was my creative way to respond to his creative influence on me.

The first of the trilogy, The Lovely Bienvenido N. Santos: A Creative Nonfictional Biographical Play in Two Acts, clinched the Hall of Fame award I got from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature. Clearly, Mang Ben worked on the judges from his powerful place in heaven! The play has not yet been staged, but it was broadcast over Radio Balintataw in a Filipino translation.

The second of the trilogy, Bienvenido, My Brother: A Creative Nonfictional Biographical Play in One Act, has been staged as well as broadcast. Both the first and the second plays were published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2005.

What I still have to do is the third play in the trilogy, tentatively entitled Bienvenido’s Santas. It will consist of short monologues by various women in Mang Ben’s life, such as his wife, daughters, friends, students, and fans. Just as I had to take time off my regular activities to write the first two plays, I need to get a grant and stay away for a couple of months to do the third play.

You see, when I finally meet Mang Ben again in the afterworld, I want to be able to face him and say that I fulfilled my promise to him about Project Numero Uno. I am sure he will be happy to know that the man he used to call “the other son I never had” has been true to his word.

Twelfth and last on my bucket list is to play tournament bridge at a level good enough to compete internationally.

I started playing contract bridge in college with friends. I did not know then that I was playing “social bridge” or, more technically, “rubber bridge.”

I had no idea that there were bidding conventions, defensive signals, squeeze plays, and things of that sort. I simply looked at my cards, relied on my instincts, and enjoyed winning or, more often, hated losing.

After college, I discovered that there were such things as bridge books. I learned that there were various bidding conventions and despaired that I could not possibly memorize them all.

There were no computers then, so I could not practice with the bridge programs now available. I just contented myself with reading about the clever tricks famous players did at various tournaments.

Of course, at that time, I really did not know what tournaments were like. It was only much later, when I got invited to contract bridge games at the Manila Polo Club (and various other places, including military social halls), that I realized that my book knowledge and my experience in rubber bridge were not sufficient to make me win duplicates (as players call tournaments where pairs compete with each other) or teams-of-four (as the name suggests, teams consisting of four players compete with each other).

I did win a tournament once, when I was lucky enough to be invited by a Life Master (the equivalent of a chess grandmaster) to be his teammate in a teams-of-four Senior-Junior event. That was the only time I got a trophy from the Philippine professional bridge league. In the innumerable other tournaments I played in, I invariably ended up in the bottom half of the heap, sometimes embarrassingly at the very bottom.

Fortunately, our country’s Life Masters were very good to me, inviting me occasionally to play with them. I suppose it gave them some comic relief from the very high level of play they were used to. (After all, these Life Masters would compete regularly in, and even sometimes win, international tournaments.)

I do have something to boast about, though. While I was teaching one term at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, I joined the city individual tournament (individual because you keep changing partners, so your individual score matters, rather than your partnership or team score as in other tournaments). I won the tournament and was declared Athens Individual Bridge Champion. (Applause, please!)

My Ohio story, however, does not have a good ending. Because I was Athens Individual Champion, I was asked to represent Athens in the Ohio state tournament that year. Of course, my teammates (three Life Masters) and I ended up somewhere near the bottom of the rankings. Since we had driven all night to get to the tournament, not to mention paid the huge tournament fees, they did not exactly excuse my horrible errors. I never got to play in an Athens tournament again!

Aside from playing bridge, I have tried to help promote the game. I joined the Philippine professional bridge league and handled its press relations for several years.

I even tried teaching a bridge class at De La Salle University for a couple of years. My students learned so fast that, when I took them to the tournaments, they would beat me regularly. I gave up teaching bridge when I realized that I was not even as good as my students.

Sad to say, I have not joined any tournament for the past few years, due to the pressure of work.

Before I kick the bucket, I want to start playing tournament bridge again. I want to win at least one more national tournament and perhaps even represent the country in a Bridge Olympiad. I must admit though that, since I have weak playing skills, this is the item in my bucket list least likely to be fulfilled.

(First published in The Philippine Star from 15 May to 31 July 2008.)

11 comments:

marj ibanez said...

wow, Sir, i never thought you're past 60! i revisited your site as we're now working on the blogroll of the fsgo site. i particularly look forward to your bucket list #8. keep on writing po!

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