by Joel Pablo Salud

 “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these,

‘It might have been’.”—John Greenleaf Whittier

STOP THE KILLINGS OF JOURNALISTS

Mr. President,

On August 21, 1983, on a flight back to the Philippines, your beloved father, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., was mercilessly shot by an unknown assailant at the back of the head, killing him instantly. An act of cowardice at best, but one that, in the minds of the perpetrators, had accomplished its mission: to silence the truth.

WE WILL NOT FORGET!

I was a month away from being 20—a snooty, barely out of college young man neck deep in youthful indifference. News came by a phone call from my mother at a time when my friends and I had little to do but the usual alcohol-inspired merrymaking at the CorinthianGardens.  Politics to me then was no more a crack at adult entertainment as mahjong or the pene films of the time.

My knowledge of your father, Ninoy, was limited to what I had seen and heard on television. I like him for no other reason but that he was the only personality with gumption enough to go against Ferdinand Marcos toe to toe, word for word. He moved and spoke within that air of daring no other did during his time.

I recalled Ninoy’s assassination for one reason: to relive a case of murder with impunity your whole family is all too familiar with. It was and, still is, bad enough that you had to go through the pain of loss. You share in the same torment as the families of victims of summary executions.

But more than anything, your father, too, was a member of the press, a correspondent for The Manila Times prior to his running for senator. The other message behind Ninoy’s assassination was clear: between a fiery pen and the cold barrel of a gun, power rests on the trigger finger, or so the culprits thought.

Mr. President, the Maguindanao Massacre was the result of an age-old war between the pen and the sword. Of all the things that compel a tyrant to face his or her fears, it is trough the pen by which weakness is exposed. And to expose is to, nevertheless, declare war. Voltaire couldn’t have said it better: “To hold a pen is to be at war.”

Your father, Ninoy, in the same token as those waylaid in Shariff Aguak on the morning of November 23, 2009, was at war with tyranny, with power unmitigated in its execution. They were warriors of a different kind, whose pen was their tongue and mind their canon. As Georg C. Lichtenberg had written, they have, with pen in hand, “successfully stormed bulwarks from which others armed with sword… have been repulsed.”

The public hardly expected Gloria Arroyo to understand the plight of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, let alone the issue of human rights. But from you, sir, the people expect more—as a victim of impunity, of intense political strife, of personal anguish because of the murder of your father.

With due respect, sir, I believe Ninoy Aquino would say the same.

Past two years and it seems little has been accomplished in terms of prosecuting the culprits. The Ampatuans are doing whatever they can to delay the proceedings. That the trials are going neither here nor there speaks a lot about the state of justice in this country. But even this is old hat. As you are well aware you were voted into office to make a difference.

You have shown yourself passionate against those who robbed the country of its wealth. What about those who robbed us of life and loved ones? Sir, you suffered five bullet wounds during a coup attempt against your mother, former President Corazon Aquino. One bullet is still lodged in your neck, reminding you, I guess, of the pained existence of those targeted for execution. The victims of the Maguindanao massacre hardly had the same chance as you did.

Assassination of Sen. Ninoy Aquino

Mr. President, even as you read this (which I hope you will) those left behind by the brutally murdered—wives, husbands, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers—cry out for justice. But for how long? You, among all who sit in power today, know the suffering from which no passing day or night could ever be free.

Think about it, Mr. President: what good would a straight road serve if it is splattered with the blood of the innocent? We will wait for your answer.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief  of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications (sister publication to the BusinessMirror).  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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The Geek’s Divine Comedy

Posted: November 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Joel Pablo Salud

*First published in the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature

 

“Like most pubescent boys, I found a certain pleasure in seeing the flash of a panty. In high school, even a skirt raised to reveal a bit of thigh was enough to get the blood running. So, there was a sense of accomplishment in positioning yourself in such a manner, with or without a mirror, to get a glimpse of a girl’s panty.” (Celebrity’s Panties and Other Passing Fashions)

Take that for a few first lines of a book. Carljoe Javier’s And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth makes for good reading even if it stops at the entertaining irreverence it offers. Underwear humor, however, is not all there is to expect from Javier’s playfully impish mind. The recently launched e-book edition by Flipside Digital Content Company (first published in print by Miraflores Publishing in 2009) carries with it everything—from thoughts about girls’ undies to riotous out-takes on infidelity, fashion, personal vanity, penile enhancers, FHM babes, shopping for video games and, of course, more girls. One would readily conclude this to be a journal of sorts, quite the autobiographical account of a young man’s virginal perspective on his coming of age.

Carljoe Javier’s attempt at undressing the wittier side of literature reminds one of Butch Dalisay’s uproarious take on computer gadgets in his book, Man Overboard or Jessica Zafra’s Twisted series. One book that comes readily to mind as to its comedic value and literary prowess is the collection of essays by author Joseph Epstein, Narcissus Leaves the Pool. However, Carljoe’s essays offer more than the commonplace gags about life and loves. He weaves mundane stuff, such as shopping for video games, with such remarkable eye for the funny side of Filipino life you’d hardly spend a day finishing the ebook.

Now, who would ever find it entertaining to read about being the life of the party from a self-confessed recluse, who also happens to be a geek? Ah, but Carljoe writes it with such comedic gumption it’s hardly a piece that provokes hypnotic sleep:

“People who know my drunken persona will wonder at my claims of social awkwardness. At parties, once lathered up with a good amount of liquor, I become outspoken, talkative, engaging and a generally entertaining speaker and conversationalist… I become the kind of guy that people say, ‘Hey-I-think-we-should-hang-out-more,’ to. Then I’ll pass out. But that’s the uninhibited, intoxicated me, not the real me… The real me is the one that doesn’t know how to talk to people.” (Life of the Party).

Author Carljoe Javier

A writer who uses a generous splash of wit and humor in literary expression deserves some serious attention. He or she sees the ordinary or the deathly sombre as something altogether deserving a hearty laugh, and that takes a huge amount of giftedness to accomplish. As in the case of characters in a comedy, as spoken my Miguel de Cervantes, “The most difficult character in comedy is that of the fool, and he must be no simpleton that plays that part.” In the same manner, one aspiring to write essays thick with humor must never, for any reason, treat the effort lightly.

There is no lack of healthy curiosity in Carljoe Javier, and that is the secret to this book. Life, mundane or otherwise, should never be anything but an object of untiring curiosity for a writer of exceptional talents. To pen instances of humor at a time when the world whirls toward a very uncertain future is a gift from which we can all derive healing. Laughter is a potent cure; even old generations of people knew that. Of the myriad joys Carljoe Javier may have luxuriated in while penning this book we can all freely share, inferences to little boys’ predilection to lurch and heave at the sight of an exposed girls’ undies notwithstanding.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief  of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications (sister publication to the BusinessMirror).  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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The Mindanao Odyssey

Posted: October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

 

 

 

By Joel Pablo Salud

Mindanao, being what it was, and still is—a home for Muslims in the Philippines—is a continuing odyssey of sorts. It has remained strife-torn through five centuries of its history, running second in the world compared to the death and destruction that had stained much of North and South Sudan since the 10th-century or earlier. This was the 2005 statement made by a World Bank study entitled The Mindanao Conflict in the Philippines: Roots, Costs and Potential Peace Dividends. It was authored by Salvatore Schiavo-Campo and Mary Judd.

Young MILF rebel (AP)

Joachim Von Amsberg, then Country Director (Philippines), East Asia and Pacific Region of the World Bank, said, “This paper… briefly examines the social costs, estimates the direct economic costs, lists the indirect costs and the dynamic advantages from cessation of the conflicts, and suggests certain key criteria for lasting resolution of the conflict. The overriding conclusion is that such a resolution carries the potential for vast economic and social advantages not only for the conflict-affected areas, but forMindanaoas a whole.”

In war, real cost is always difficult to quantify. Statistical data do not even come remotely close to the overall psychological, emotional and physical suffering and loss experienced by those directly and indirectly struck by conflict. Even while it may be possible for such a conflict to be quantified in and by numbers, it can only do so narrowly. It fails to offer a clear picture of the whole consequence of war.

A generation tainted by war (Photo: JP Salud)

The study was quick to admit such narrowness of scope, yet proceeds to identify nonetheless a ballpark figure of the cost of war inMindanaothrough the years, barring initially the psychological and emotional detriment of such a war.

“On average, the annual economic cost of the war in 1975–1982 was around one percent of Gross Domestic Product for Central and Southwestern Mindanao, and one half of one percent for thePhilippines—or a total of about $200 million. The absolute cost estimate is about the same for 1997–2001. The severe limits of the methodology and of the available data allow only a broad range of cost estimates. Assuming a much lower direct economic conflict cost during the ‘low-intensity’ conflict years 1983–1996, and using a discount rate of 7.5%, the direct output loss from theMindanaoconflict during 1970–2001 can be roughly estimated at between $2 and $3 billion.”

Some pegged higher estimates. Reportedly, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process pegged losses from 1975 to 2002 to have reached five to ten billion pesos annually, reaching a maximum figure of nearly P300 billion for close to three decades.

However, the direct economic cost is a mere trifle when set against the indirect economic and human and social costs that had plagued the region since the 1970s. The study states, and I quote:

  • An estimated 120,000 deaths, and uncounted numbers of wounded and disabled;
  • Displacement of more than two million people, of whom almost half in 2000 alone, during President Estrada’s “all-out-war”;
  • The emergence of “Muslim ghettos” in various cities in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country made up of displaced persons and individuals forced out of their areas of residence owing to the disappearance of employment opportunities caused by the conflict;
  • The exodus of illegal Muslim migrants to the neighboring state ofSabah,Malaysia. The recent crackdown by the Malaysian authorities as part of their anti-terrorist campaign resulted in en-masse deportation, and ensuing social and economic problems in their communities of origin;
  • Increased incidence of poverty—already the highest in the country—from 56% in 1991 to 62.5% in 1997 and 71.3% in 2000.  (Fourteen of the 20 poorest provinces in thePhilippinesare found inMindanao);
  • Rampant kidnap-for-ransom activities and other crimes against persons and property, as a result of the bad security situation directly related to the conflict;
  • And, for the same reason trafficking of illegal drugs and the criminal activities spawned by substance abuse have become a major law and order problem in the area—historically free of these problems.

Clearly another six years had passed since the drafting of this study. More lives have been lost from both the military and rebel sides. Prior to this, the country had stood witness to the all-out-war declared by former President Joseph Estrada in April 2000 against the late Hashim Salamat’s Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). History has taught us that such an all-out-war does not really put the need for peace in its list of priorities—just political pogi-points, which didn’t give Estrada the needed boost in the end on account that it failed to stop the rebellion.

When will peace arrive to the Moro homeland? (Photo: JP Salud)

The recent armed encounter that cost the lives of several young and inexperienced Rangers and rebels had sparked heated debates on whether another all-out-war is needed to quell the rising tension in the region. Apparently, neither the Armed Forces of thePhilippines, the Philippine government nor the MILF can see the so-called “peace dividends” if and when a cessation of conflict inMindanaodoes happen.

To list some: (1) better impact on foreign equity inflows due to stability; (2) prospects toward innovation in the region; (3) better fiscal potential and increased consumer activity and investment confidence; (4) realization of Mindanao’s “comparative advantage” in the export industry; (5) growth on Mindanao in hydropower potential; (6) improved management of ancestral lands; (7) tourism potential; (8) removal of extra costs on corporations for security reasons; (9) improved social services and access to legal assistance; and (10) less threats from terrorists, splinter gangs and warlordism could offer improved exercise of law and order in the region, to name a few.

These are hardly the assurances some people consider them to be, however. Even if complete and total cessation of conflict is achieved, it could take decades to resurrect the hopes of a people inured in memories of death and loss. Sporadic clashes could still go on from splinter groups who find war a more acceptable alternative to peace. And where will all the battle-scarred soldiers and rebels go? Become entrepreneurs? Suffice it to say the work of peace could cost more in time, manpower and resources, but it is nevertheless one that’s worth spending.

This Monday's issue of the Philippines Graphic

Having said all this, must the government therefore declare an all-out war against the Moro rebels? Needless to say, death and devastation is not a game one can easily reboot. The finality of such a decision—on the life of both soldier, rebel and civilian—is not the kind any leader of a nation calls without attendant wounds and scars and grief. The question we must ask is: can we—including President Aquino—live with the consequences of an all-out-war?

Novelist and Archbishop of Cambrai in 1651, François de Salignac de la Motte-Fénelon, who wrote the novel Les Aventures de Télémaque, fils d’Ulysse (The Adventures of Telemachus, son of Ulysses), once said that all wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers. If we must fight and die—and die we must in the end, anyway—then let us die working toward peace.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief  of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications (sister publication to the BusinessMirror).  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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LUSH LIFE & HIGH SPIRITS

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Uncategorized

First published in the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature

by Joel Pablo Salud

Lushes always make for good company. Those verdant in word, those teeming with brilliant metaphors, that succulent throng with alcohol for blood hardly bore the senses. They are at home wherever letters and spirits fuse to form an evening of poetry and prose, be that in a graffiti-spangled garage, a discreet piano bar at a corner in Ermita, or the historic Champagne Room of the Manila Hotel.

Author Alfred "Krip" Yuson (Photo by Che Sarigumba)

Well, one has to hand it to poet extraordinaire Alfred “Krip” Yuson to make what was otherwise an unfussy book launch feel like a royal coronation ball. Huddled in Manila Hotel’s Champagne Room last week was some of the country’s crème de la crème of Philippine letters, ever the curious, critical and inebriated crowd. But that night was a rare exception; they were neither curious not critical—only inebriated. In high spirits, if you really think about it.

This brings us to the point of Krip Yuson’s book, Lush Life, a collection of non-fiction prose spanning nine-years of the writer’s columns in the Philippine Star, Rogue magazine and, you guessed it, the inimitable Philippines Graphic. Lush, for everyone with a dictionary, means a tantrum of things: verdant, profuse, luxuriant; with a tinge of urban colloquialism, meaning cool; or a 17th-century slang describing one who laps up alcoholic beverages like sweet pearl shakes. All of which describes the incomparable Krip Yuson as award-winning poet, father and your playful Leonardo di Caprio-next-door—in that particular order.

Ditas Antenor, Krip Yuson and Erlinda Panlilio

The book is a definitive testimony to Krip’s knack for “bending language to his every whim,” as UST Publishing House chief Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo wrote on the back page. His humor is of the lofty kind, neither flippant nor heavily oxidized, even the most concupiscent of his essays. He ploughs the curious mind with nary the honk and a sudden screech to warn unsuspecting pedestrians. Not that he needs to. You see, in his case, to understand his writing is to understand the man first, not the other way around. Why he wrote what he wrote is Yuson classically flaunting his fondness for subjects other writers can only dream of putting into words sans getting jailed.

Short of penning a ‘70s pene film in his essay, Whoring in Manila, Krip takes his readers to a voyeur’s excursion of his teenage life in Kamuning. And like any Sydney Sheldon novel where the middle part opens up to the more luscious scenes, the essay unveils—funny, with a mosquito net—a scene of rumps and grinds, crotches and loins. The aborted attempt at an honest-to-goodness wet dream had all the tension and suspense of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover minus, of course, the mosquito net. But then, you just have to read it for yourself. I rarely peek and tell.

Another subject he writes with the smoothness of Scotch is booze. He could very well have outdone Nick Joaquin as San Miguel Beer’s endorser had it been proven that Krip drank it more than Quijano de Manila did. But that’s beside the point. Booze for Krip is his Desiderata, this poet’s desired thing, his indulgence and obsession. In his essay of the same title, Krip plays doting surrogate to single malt Scotch whisky like Dad to a favorite child. He mentions Glenlivet, Bowmore and the Macallan 30 Year Old (which goes up to P60K) and explains with such perspicacity why only Scotch whisky is spelled without an “e.” In reading Krip, you always have to make it past his word on booze even when you’ve dropped the habit for bottled iced tea. Because really, there’s nothing like a sip of Krip.

UST Publishing House chief Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo

It bears mentioning, too, that this poet is not all fun and tickle. This advocate of art and culture loathes the fickle minded, and sometimes wanders off to uncharted political waters in much the same gravitas as French-Algerian author Albert Camus. In Re/defining the Filipino, Krip writes:

“Like any other as a people, we have been characterized no end as readily available stereotypes. We are said to have a country that spent 300 years in a convent followed by 50 years inHollywood, suggesting a quality of schizophrenia. As the ‘Battling Bastards of Bataan’ and America’s ‘little brown brothers’ we seem to be the odd man out in Asia, ‘adrift in the wrong waters’—given to our Hispanic heritage, former ties with Mexico and Latin American temperaments.”

The Gang

Even with such “quality of schizophrenia,” Krip never shirks to promote, as he had said, his desiderata. Why I Will Vote for Noynoy and Why He Will Win makes this plain. He lists his reasons why other candidates will go the way of the Dodo during the elections—ranging from “being not quite grown up” and “self-righteous” to strutting like an “environmentalist” and the possibility of “Alzheimer’s.”  As a poet he is never content at saying it like it is. However, as non-fiction writer, humanity does sometimes get in the way of his Muse.

A night of song and sax

Overall, the book is definitively a tour de force in nonfiction writing. That’s really a trite way of stating the obvious, that Krip Yuson “has few equals in the field of nonfiction.” With close to thirty books to his name—as poet, essay writer, playwright, novelist, journalist, columnist and critic—he is by far the virtuoso among the country’s illustrious pens. Some may find Yuson a bit of a snoot, supposedly a hitch for whatever reason these Turks may have. Instead of sitting on your cranky little virginal pebbles, little boys, get more than 30 books out and only then will you be worth your words.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief  of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications (sister publication to the BusinessMirror).  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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Missed Universe?

Posted: September 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

By Joel Pablo Salud

I’m not one to spend an hour or two watching television, least of all a girly beauty pageant. A day worth spending, for me at least, is one where I could curl up in a cushioned corner with a thick book by a beloved author. And in the off-chance that television is the only option, there are always reruns of Criminal Minds and my collection of Asian horror flicks. Many may find this rather strenuous cerebral exercise an absolute bore, but that’s me—the paper bug warm between the pages.

Miss Angola crowned 2011 Miss Universe (by Reuters)

Today’s Miss Universe pageant, however, was worth the time spent away from the perennially nauseating human condition. Shamcey Supsup, the Philippines’ bet in the pageant walked and glowed on that stage in Sao Paolo, Brazil like no other Filipina contestant of past pageants had ever done, except perhaps the dazzling Ms. Universe queen, Gloria Diaz. That deep chocolate morena skin, eyes confident as they were lovely, Shamcey’s ruby lips, the well chiselled face—they were everything royalty could ever want. It was a proud moment for Filipinos that day—as I always have been—but more so because after so long a time the country was suddenly represented by one who was worth the crown.

I dropped everything I was doing and sat with my wife Che to watched the Star World telecast. It was at the middle of the contest proper, the top ten candidates vying for the crown had been chosen, and everyone in the house was cheering Shamcey on. I was literally lying in wait for the question and answer portion.

It didn’t take long until I saw Ms.Angola—Leila Lopes—on the screen. I said to myself, darn it, here’s the queen to beat. I could no more paint her face in words than I could a glistening spectacle like the Aurora Borealis. How someone so divine and lovely could come out of a nation so racked by violence and human rights violations is no less God’s work if you ask me. She was proof of the divine, that there’s an ethereal Hand that creates a beautiful smile notwithstanding the wreckage left by war and profound grief on a life. The even, smooth dark flame on her skin only proved that white is not always synonymous with divine light. A running joke on Facebook: Belo might start selling darkening cream from now on.

Miss Philippines Shamcey Supsup (3rd Runner-Up)

Inasmuch as it would be worth a hand and a foot to see Shamsey bring home the crown, a voice nagged the back of my head: “Ms.Angolawill win this one.” After hearing her answer to the question posited by one of the judges, I said, she just clinched the crown. This is probably one of those rare moments when losing was something sweet. I mean, think about it. Competition was stiff!Chinawas a stunning and headstrong beauty on her own, answering graciously as any coming from a land tainted by events atTiananmen Square, with that simple proud look that said we’re not all rooting for Spratlys.Costa Ricawas another stunner, so was MissVenezuela. The Latinas were showstoppers as these well-endowed women (and I’m not talking of implants) graciously pranced around the stage for all to see.

I failed to catch the full question thrown at Ms.Philippines.  As I understood it, it was: “Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you love?” Her answer, as I remember reading it in a Facebook post, was: “I owe my life to God and it is him who placed me on earth. He who loves me must love my God, too.”

I noticed offhand that she failed to take some time to think through the question. It was a bit hasty, and haphazardly thought through, and with obvious risk of losing wind, a bit nervously delivered. I felt that the country’s jab at first place was done for. However, my confidence that she would make it within the top three was stronger than ever. In fact, my bet, if Ukraine or China comes close in the final run for three, Shamcey could place second. Her answer to the question, however, was something totally unexpected from one who comes from a freedom-loving nation.

One could never go wrong with honesty, but in a competition where the winner would stand as the world’s ambassador of beauty and goodwill, an all-too-honest answer may not make the cut among the judges. See, as a universal ambassador for beauty and good will, the winner of the Miss Universe should not show any allusion toward prejudice, or even just the slightest hint of predisposition when it comes to race, religion, color, gender and the like. I am not saying at all that that was her intention. Far from it. She might be perceived as someone who is. She must stand for the rights of people everywhere, with a mind set on fundamental principles of goodness, not a restricted or particular system of belief.

For one, religion and God are two very different entities, and by misconstruing God to be the same as religion rang smack of a misunderstanding of what or who must come first in the exercise of faith. Too, the Christian faith teaches that love encompasses all things and, according to 1 Corinthians 13, “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If anything, marriage is an ongoing pageant of who might endure the most.

An answer well worth saying would’ve been: “Yes, I will marry the man I love despite differences in our religious beliefs. To change one’s religion is not the issue in marriage; it is to change one’s outlook in life, one’s character if need be. Whatever changes we have to make are totally up to us as a couple. What is important is that we must both be open to talking about it.” Or something close to that. Miss China’s answer to her question—one that highlighted respect for the culture and practices of every nation—is a thing Shamcey must learn from, suffice it to say. It was an answer one would not readily expect from the People’s Republic.

But then again, Shamcey’s honesty was, at best, reassuring. She said it as she believed it, sans pretensions. Her faith shall figure seriously in the choices she will make, marriage most of all, and that’s that. A woman who can speak her mind is always a good thing.

The Philippines came in third, with Ukraine second and Angola, first. Wise and worthy choice. The judges did their names proud. And to Miss Angola, your experience in a country tossed and torn by violence and war makes you the best candidate for being the world’s ambassador. To reach out and to understand, to grasp and hear even the littlest of voices crying for help—this is your job now. As for Shamcey, the country can never be prouder than what you have accomplished in Sao Paolo. No, it’s not a missed universe of possibilities, but one that will open new doors for you. It was a shining moment for the Philippines, and let no one tell you otherwise. Congratulations, all.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief  of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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GRAPHICTHEATER

 

By Joel Pablo Salud (published first in the Philippines Graphic)


Noli Me Tangere The Musical (Used with permission, Tanghalang Filipino)

The American theater master Orson Welles once wrote that what gives theater its meaning is when it becomes a social act. This is no more a suitable truism than in Audie Gemora’s Noli Me Tangere The Musical, performed by the theatre group Tanghalang Filipino at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP’s) Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. It’s part of the group’s silver anniversary celebration, in line with the 25th theatre season for 2011-2012.

The musical is staged with libretto by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, music by Ryan Cayabyab, and original costume design by National Artist Salvador Bernal. Gemora directs a young cast composed of mainstream actors, which include Mark Bautista and Gian Magdangal alternating as Crisostomo Ibarra, and Cris Villonco as Maria Clara.

Magdangal as Ibarra and Villonco as Maria Clara (Photo:: JPS)

In this carefully rendered musical play of José Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere, Tanghalang Filipino makes a brave dash into the delightfully unexpected: a gripping performance of the comedic and the profoundly dark in the national hero’s telling of the Filipino tale under Spanish colonial and religious rule. It appears that Gemora was only too pleased to bring to light the love story between the main characters—Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara. That affection, prodigious as it was, became entangled in much of the events surrounding the modest town ofSan Diego.

Eventually, the relationship took a turn for the worse.  The young Ibarra had just returned from his trip toEurope, only to find out that his father had passed away. In the middle of the main characters’ engagement, Padre Salvi, the new parish priest, had expressed a liking for Maria Clara—an obsession that led the priest to plan the capture and death of Maria Clara’s lover, Crisostomo.

The bond between Crisostomo and Maria was fraught, too, by the revelation that the young woman’s biological father—a priest by the name of Padre Damaso—was the shadowy figure behind Don Rafael’s (Crisostomo Ibarra’s father) disinterment, an act of final humiliation against the Ibarras. Having received information from the rebel Elias that he was now the target of an assassination attempt, the young Ibarra decided to make a run for it before he was killed by Padre Salvi’s minions. As in the novel, Maria’s Clara’s entering the convent and the death of Elias signalled the end of the play.

At the matinee of Saturday afternoon, Crisostomo Ibarra was played by actor Gian Magdangal, a powerful tenor who did an equally powerful performance, save for a singular part where he appeared to have been so captured by the emotion of the moment that he froze on the steps. His singing, on the other hand, had left much of the audience stunned. He reached the high notes as easily as any falcon in flight. His interpretation of the young Ibarra was nonetheless delightful in the whole, with none of the routinely clichéd acting some performers who had played the role in the past had exhibited.

Finale (Photo: JPS)

As expected, the scenes where Doña Victorina—played by Ring Antonio—swings by gives the otherwise serious play its comedic value. Red Nuestro as Kapitan Tiago and Angeli Bayani as Sisa were two of the most powerful actors on stage. The sterling line-up consists of Al Gatmaitan as Padre Salvi, Bodjie Pascua as Damaso, Gary Lim and Jonathan Tadioan alternating as Don Tiburcio, Jenny Villegas as Tia Isabel, Jerald Napoles and Riki Benedicto as the rebel Elias, and Paolo Rodriguez as the leper. Suffice it to say they did justice to the novel that had cost Jose Rizal his life.

Cris Villonco, who played Maria Clara, was the amazing revelation at the matinee. Her acting as well as her voice had transcended the expectations of many. She was able to accomplish, with seemingly little effort, the exacting demands of the play’s musical director. As to her capturing the heartbreak and tragedy of finding out that Maria Clara’s biological father was a priest, the same priest who had become her lover’s enemy, Villonco was no less breathless. Suffice it to say, she had done Rizal proud.

The near impossibility of encapsulating the whole breadth and length of the novel, and everything it stands for, seemed to have compelled the director to simply highlight the love angle of Crisostomo and Maria. It’s a simple, yet profound enough preface to start with. But that, which is often neglected in the discussions of the Noli Me Tangere, had provided the cast and crew with a sufficient peg through which the retelling of the tale could be more appreciated by a younger generation. The simplicity by which it was retold sans losing the novel’s social commentary was astounding, needless to say. Audie Gemora’s dream to bring the Noli Me Tangere to the Filipino youth has found its fulfilment in this musical.

The cast and crew will go on a world tour soon, bringing the musical to Filipinos abroad. The musical itself, in some portions, have highlighted Crisostomo Ibarra’s travels abroad and sentiments overseas Filipinos are familiar with. This gives the musical the much-needed timeless value to Filipinos everywhere.

Dona Victorina and Don Tiburcio with cast (Photo: JPS)

Grief, however, has been expressed by some who feel that this musical should get more enthusiastic support from government. As it is, the proposals submitted to some members of Congress had been given the cold shoulder. The Noli Me Tangere a story of the Filipino, by a Filipino, for the Filipino, and government—hard-pressed as it is in the controversies of the day—should not neglect efforts at bringing the Filipino tale and talents to the world. Hardly has there been an opportunity this big, hence it should not be ignored.

Noli Me Tangere The Musical opens on August 5 and will run for four weekends until August 28 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. Tickets are available at Ticketworld at 891-999 and the CCP Box. You may also visit its online site at www.tanghalangpilipino.org.ph for more information.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief  of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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The Songs of Charlson Ong

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


I have had on more than a few occasions attended dinners by special invitation. I guess it’s a perk of being the editor of a magazine. Not that the dinners I had the pleasure of attending were always worth writing about, but the one by National Artist F. Sionil Jose was definitely for the books.

Only four were invited by Manong Frankie that humid Wednesday night into his humble abode down Padre Faura Street at the heart of Manila: myself aside, there was newspaper editor Lito Zulueta, award-winning poet Ramon Sunico, celebrated novelist Charlson Ong and United States Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr.

F. Sionil Jose (Photo: ECG)

Always the early bird, I arrived and went straight into Manong Frankie’s holy of holies—his modest library and study—where we engaged in a roundabout chat about Philippine literature, my work in Philippines Graphic, and the use of English in Philippine letters. Never thought I’d hail the day when I’d be sitting in the very same room where Nobel Prize winning authors Günter Grass and Mario Vargas Llosa once had dinner with our national artist. The thought struck me as oddly reminiscent of the time the young Anton Chekhov sat humbly bowed before the grand old man of Russian literature, Leo Tolstoy.  But that was my too presumptuous imagination and a few swigs of Ballantines getting the better of me.

The other guests arrived minutes later offering the usual courtesies and curtsies to the National Artist, whose lovely wife Tessie was never far behind. US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. entered the room in a deep purple barong and a rather sombre countenance prior to breaking into a huge smile. His small entourage was as equally friendly. We all gathered about this round table where we were offered our choice drinks. There was none of the sombreness that usually mark gatherings where dignitaries were present. Talks ranged from Ernest Hemingway to other stuff less likely to hit the front page the next morning. Being a journalist, I came prepared with a camera and digital recorded at hand. It was, however, forbidden. A sumptuous dinner was served shortly thereafter.

Despite what seemed like a very private and closed gathering, it was everything but boring. Award-winning poet Ramon Sunico was quite the “host” that night, giving the roundtable chat its needed continuum. Editor Lito Zulueta, too, had much to say about the cultural and arts scene even while I itched on my seat with queries about Spratlys, the Mutual Defense Treaty and possible reestablishment of the American bases in the country. Thinking, however, that Harry (as he wants himself to be called) would give me the official Washingtonline, I had the good sense to hold back my curiosity. He was scheduled to visit the BusinessMirror and Philippines Graphic editorial offices the next day for a roundtable discussion on the said matters. I therefore reserved my questions till then. Besides, I was, for the most part, among artists, and what better way to spend a clammy evening than to engage in a verbal joust on literature and the arts.

Novelist Charlson Ong was his usual self that night—calm, hushed, enjoying an overstated tranquillity while having in hand a crisp gin tonic. I, too, kept quiet watch over what was transpiring, given over to swigs of fine whiskey and thoughts of perhaps winning a Palanca this year. Much of the evening was accented every so often with hearty laughter and talks one like myself doesn’t hear everyday. By the time US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. flew the nest, I had had a good eight double shots of Ballantines. Manong Frankie barely touched his glass of Bourbon. Charlson, too, seemed to have had his fill, but still not quite. He asked me to join him for another round of beer in Mabini’s “The Other Office.”

The Other Office stretched modestly into what seemed like a 250-square floor space, large enough to entertain a little over fifty guests. The bar hosted about ten seats, while a piano, chair and microphone stood at the side of the entryway. The village-bar mood was perfect: amber lights in a hushed dim, the air-conditioning in just the right level of chill as the pianist teased the small crowd with a balladeer’s opus. After some small talk and half past our first bottle, Charlson took to the chair beside the piano to sing. It was his very own Salin Awit rendition of the classic, The Nearness of You (Hindi ang Puting Buwan):

Hindi puting buwan / Ang may dulot / Tibok niyaring puso / Mahal, kundi ang / Paglapit mo. / Di lamang himig / Ng iyong tinig / Nagpintig sa ‘king isip / Mahal, kundi ang / Paglapit mo. Refrain: Kung kita’y hagkan / Panaginip walang hadlang / Ang mundo’y baliw / Sa aliw. / Do ko kailangan / Ang liwanag ng buwan / Sa karimlan / Mahal, basta lumapit ka lang / Sa dilim ng gabi / Ikaw ang ilaw.”

Not to be outdone, I swaggered over to the microphone to sing old Tagalog movie themes of the ‘70s and ‘80s: Kapantay ay Langit, Tubig at Langis, Kastilyong Buhangin and Martin Nievera’s Kahit Isang Saglit. Apparently our songs were tolerable enough for us not to suffer blunt force trauma from enraged customers. As the minutes trickled a little past one in the morning, the last remaining customer took his leave; the bar was now ours for the night. We sang to our hearts’ content till I had to bid the country’s most celebrated novelist farewell at around two. I left The Other Office with Charlson still on his chair by the piano, beer glass in hand and a humming tune in his heart. It was a long night for all of us, but one accentuated by laughter and music. Nothing could be more enlivening.

Hardly had I been treated of late to a night as marvellously soothing as the one I just had with Manong Frankie, Harry Thomas Jr., Lito Zulueta, Ramon Sunico and Charlson Ong. It has been years since I enjoyed singing by a piano with my father. As every other journalist knows, the work of an editor does not end when the clock strikes five. As hard-line professions go, it’s a 24/7 gig, with scarcely the hour to enjoy a wink, or in my case, time in the company of fellow writers. These rare occasions come like sprinkles of rain in the summer, with enough sweet liquid to wet one’s roots.

The strength a writer culls while among fellow pens makes it easier to face the booming issues of the next day. But more than this, exchanges as the one I had that evening, make life a tad lush than before, and for this I have Manong Frankie and wife Tessie to wholeheartedly thank. As writer David Brin once said, “If you have other things in your life—family, friends, good productive day work—then these can interact with your writing and the sum will be all the richer.”

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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