22 November 2009

ERF: Cory Aquino 2

In one of my one-on-one meetings with Cory Aquino when she was running for Philippine president, she asked me, "What would you do if you were Secretary of Education?"

Without hesitation, I answered, "I would make Filipino the medium of instruction."

She said, shaking her head, "Sobra ka naman" [You're too much).

That did in any possibility of my being named Education Secretary when she won the election against Ferdinand Marcos. Instead, she chose Lourdes Quisumbing, then president of Miriam College (formerly Maryknoll College), a much better choice than me. Quisumbing stayed in the Department of Education the whole time Cory was president, thus becoming the longest-serving Education Secretary in the history of the Philippines. Other Secretaries came and went, often without any impact on the educational system. Quisumbing introduced and advocated Values Education, a newer version of what I had during my elementary school days as "Good Manners and Right Conduct" or "Behavior."

I will always remember that particular conversation with Cory not because I lost my chance at being a member of her cabinet (whew!), but because it showed that she chose her cabinet members not because they were personally known to her, but because of their beliefs or advocacies.

Ironically, when she was President, Cory signed an Executive Order urging all government employees to use Filipino in their official transactions and communications. She was the only president to have done that. Other presidents have been, for political reasons, unwilling to comply with the Philippine Constitution, that mandates that Filipino be indeed the primary medium of official communication and the primary medium of instruction.

15 November 2009

28th National Book Awards


Arts & Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize for Best Book on Art: The Shared Voice: Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines, Grace Nono (Anvil Publishing and Fundacion Santiago)

Autobiography/Biography: Afro-Asia in Upheaval: A Memoir of Front-line Reporting, Amando Doronila (Anvil Publishing)

General Nonfiction: Ah, Wilderness! A Journey Through Sacred Time, Simeon Dumdum Jr. (Ateneo de Manila University Press)

Leisure: Café by the Ruins: Memories and Recipes, Lia Llamado, Adelaida Lim and Feliz Perez (Anvil Publishing)

Literary Criticism/Literary History: Our Scene So Fair: Filipino Poetry in English, 1905 to 1955, Gémino H. Abad (University of the Philippines Press)

Poetry: The Gods We Worship Live Next Door, Bino A Realuyo (Anvil Publishing)

Professions: Sine Gabay: A Film Study Guide, Nick Deocampo and the Center for New Cinema (Anvil Publishing)

Sciences: Diabetes is BitterSweet: A Guide to Understanding Diabetes, edited by Estrellita V. Fernando-Lopez, et. al (SweetStar Publication)

Social Sciences: Competing Views and Strategies on Agrarian Reform, Volume I: International Perspective and Volume II: Philippine Perspective, Saturnino M. Borras Jr. (Ateneo de Manila University Press)

Design: The Philippines Through European Lenses: Late 19th Century Photographs from the Meekamp Van Embden Collection, designed by Karl Frederick M. Castro (Ateneo de Manila University Press)

Publisher of the Year: Anvil Publishing

06 November 2009

ERF: Cory Aquino 1

It was after the murder of Ninoy Aquino and before Marcos announced a snap election. I was part of a group doing a video on Ninoy to be shown underground to Filipinos, so that people would know exactly why he was such a threat to Marcos that he had to be shot at the airport. I was working closely with the Cojuangco family. I met regularly with Cory in the Cojuangco building in Makati. I have so many memories of those days. Here's one:

Cory and I were left alone in the room after everybody else had left. We chatted a bit about Ninoy (I will not break confidence!). What I can reveal is this: it was after dark and there was no one left on the floor where we were. At that time, Cory was not considered in danger nor a threat to the Marcoses, so she had no bodyguards, no secretaries, no one to care for her person.

Cory said it was time for us to go home. She got up, went to the window, closed the blinds, checked the electric plugs, and as we went out the door, made sure the door was locked. There was absolutely no "presidential air" in the manner she went about making sure the office was okay before she left it. Right there, I knew that, if there were any chance at all, she should be president of the country.

A few months later, Marcos announced the snap election. Of course, I wrote Cory's first speeches, including the proclamation speech at Liwasang Bonifacio. I wrote all the speeches in Filipino. One afternoon, when she and I were again alone in her office, she asked me, "Do you think I should be running for president?"

I said, unhesitating, "Ma'am, you will make a great president."

Then she asked me something that I will never forget.

"Promise me," she said, "that if I become president, you will break through my cordon sanitaire." She was so afraid that she would be isolated from the people by the people around her.

"I promise, Ma'am," I said. That is one promise that I never fulfilled, because when she did become president, no matter how hard I tried (and I knew the people closest to her), I could never get through her cordon sanitaire.

After her term, it was much easier for me to get to her. I invited her to a couple of events I managed, and she always came. She even consented to swear me in as president of the Fulbright alumni association. But that was after her term. Before her term, I was fairly close to her. After her term, she was very nice to me. But during her term, I never got to see her. Sadly, she was indeed kept isolated by her unwanted cordon sanitaire.

03 November 2009

ERF: Imelda Romualdez Marcos 2

I headed the Secretariat of the World Population Congress, held at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in 1979. There was a typhoon then, devastating a number of places in Manila. Past midnight, I was alone in the huge Secretariat room, still proofreading the newsletter for the next day. Suddenly, Imelda walked in, alone. She went to the window, looked at the raging wind outside, and said, loud enough for me to hear (obviously meant for my ears), "We build, but nature destroys." (She said it in Filipino, "Kawawa naman tayo. Itatayo natin tapos gigibain lang ng bagyo.") At that moment, although I was no admirer of hers because I had worked in the anti-Marcos newspaper Imelda's Monthly in 1972 and had written the obviously anti-Imelda plays Tao and Halimaw for PETA in 1970, I could not help but be awed. She was then, as many who knew her then attest, extremely charming.

After I had written the two anti-Imelda plays, she called me and a number of other PETA people to Malacanang. When she came face to face with me in the line of handshakers, she said, "So you're the one." (She said it in Filipino, "Ikaw pala iyon.") She didn't say anything else.

A couple of weeks later, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, in a huge crowd, she saw me across the hall and shouted, "Isagani!" I remember not being able to get through the crowd to shake her hand, but I felt very good then, since I thought she remembered my name. Now, looking back, I realize that an aide must have whispered my name and pointed me out to her. On the other hand, she is reputed to have a photographic memory. I would also have remembered a playwright who made a fool of me onstage!

02 November 2009

ERF: Imelda Romualdez Marcos

I want eventually to publish a book entitled Encounters with the Rich and Famous (ERF), consisting of accounts of my brief interactions with, well, the rich and famous.

Let me start the book by putting in this blog, in no special order, my memories of such encounters.

I briefly headed the Audiovisual Division of the Population Center Foundation (PCF) during the last years of martial law, when Ferdinand E. Marcos was the dictator in the Philippines. (The pay was good and, at that time, I was not a particularly politically sensitive person.) No one, therefore, dared cross his wife Imelda Romualdez Marcos, whose brainless remarks were then fodder for the alternative press.

I was sitting in a small meeting with her and the President (or was it Prime Minister) of Cambodia (I'm not sure it was the Khmer Republic then). Naturally, there was an interpreter from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines to translate the Cambodian's French remarks into English and Imelda's English remarks into French.

Imelda was explaining why we had a Population Center Foundation (a quasi-private foundation that she founded and headed) when the government had a Population Commission.

Imelda said, "There is a lot of duplicity in our government."

We all kept poker faces and held our breaths, wondering how the interpreter was going to handle that sentence.

I knew a little French, and I understood what the interpreter said in French. The Filipino ambassador (who shall remain unnamed in order that his reputation shall not be enhanced or tarnished, depending on your political persuasion) said, "The First Lady said that our government does all it can to face the challenge of population growth" (or words to that effect).

He then proceeded to create a totally different discourse in French than the one Imelda was doing. For every stupid sentence that Imelda uttered, he invented a perfectly logical and even brilliant sentence in French, with no relationship at all to the original English sentence.

That's diplomacy at its highest (or lowest)!