Monthly Archives: January 2011

Column: “Where the hell was Gabby Lopez?”

This piece on the hostage-taking tragedy in Luneta was published on August 31, 2010.

Imagine, for a moment, that criticism of media coverage of the Aug. 23 tragedy extended to the whereabouts of network CEOs on that fateful day. In reflecting on the work of the ABS-CBN news organization, for instance, people would then demand to know, “Where the hell was Gabby Lopez?” And however Lopez (or Felipe Gozon of GMA, or Manny Pangilinan of TV5) would choose to answer, perhaps by talking about operational responsibility, or the division of labor that allows a news and entertainment enterprise to do its work, or the daily reality of editorial independence, the answer would always come across as so much defensive posturing.

This absurd, where-is-the-network-CEO scenario is, of course, meant to provoke reflection on the assumption, held by many Filipinos, that President Benigno Aquino III should have been “present” (either physically or through sheer force of character) during the developing crisis. Both Conrad de Quiros and Jarius Bondoc have already answered in the negative. I share their view, but I am more interested in the fact that it was a common assumption. Common, but still erroneous. Continue reading



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Kermode, the sense of an ending

A sample of the many sendoffs to the great literary critic Frank Kermode, whose books helped give shape to my reading:

The New York Times: “I wanted to write about Kermode because I admired him. In my years in academia, I had watched the study of literature go down any number of rabbit holes — chasing after theory and ideology and system. The very point of reading and talking about what we read seemed to have been lost in a kind of strangulating self-seriousness and alienation. That’s where Kermode came in.”

The Telegraph: “Kermode had initially been a scholar of the Renaissance, notably of Shakespeare, Spenser and Donne, but he came to the attention of fellow academics with Romantic Image (1957), a study of the use of imagery in poetry by romantic and modern writers.”

“He continued thereafter to combine Renaissance and modern studies, but in both his preoccupations remained broadly the same – the relationship between art and order, and that between writers and the changing world of which they had tried to form a coherent vision.” Continue reading

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Column: Worth a life

Published on August 24, 2010.

A change of pace, from the political: Frank Kermode, the finest literary critic of our time, passed away last week, at the age of 90. I discovered him—that is to say, for myself—in the 1980s, when I was haunting the airy rooms of the British Council when it was still based in a converted house in New Manila. Finding him was a fruit of that habit that a reader who has no means of income quickly learns to make his own: inhabiting the spaces between bookshelves for hours on end. It was, in other words, pure accident, the result of one book, one author’s name, leading to another.

At least that is how I remember it, of how I came to fall under his spell. It seems a long way from the common rooms of Cambridge or the Isle of Man to the tragicomic reality of Philippine politics and journalism, but I did learn at least two formative lessons from two decades of reading Kermode. (It should come as no surprise to his devoted readers that he wrote a charming piece on the very notion of “formation,” too.) Bear with me. Continue reading

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Column: On the two kinds of corruption

Every now and then I use my column space in the Inquirer to run someone else’s counter-argument. This one, published on August 17, 2010, was, as we have learned to say these days, a real winner.

It is a pleasure to cede today’s column space to Herbert Docena’s elegant, carefully considered reply to “‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero’”—last week’s first attempt to classify the types of criticism leveled, this early, against President Aquino. I do not agree with all of Herbert’s points, and with one key assumption of his, but all that is for another time. It is to his instructive reply (I’ve deleted a few passages, to fit the available space) that we first ought to pay attention:

Your proposed typology of the criticisms against President Aquino is very much welcome at a time when his overwhelming popularity seems to be suffocating such criticisms. I fear, however, that I may have failed to express my idea lucidly enough so as to avoid interpretations that diverge from my own intended presentation. Continue reading

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Column: ‘Politico,’ ‘Inglisero,’ ‘hacendero’

A first attempt to “classify” about six weeks’ worth of criticism against a new administration and the new President. I forgot to explain, to the non-Filipino reader who may stumble upon the column, that “Inglisero” meant English-speaking. Published on August 10, 2010.

I became interested in the types of criticism being leveled against President Benigno Aquino III and his administration, now all of six weeks old, when he was criticized soon after his proclamation for, essentially, fulfilling a campaign promise. Criticism is vital to public discourse, of course; in opinion journalism, it is nothing less than the primary function. But it can and ought to be studied and critiqued. Continue reading


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Column: What he didn’t say

Published on August 3, 2010.

Last week, a series of editorials in the Inquirer discussed various aspects of President Benigno Aquino III’s first State of the Nation Address, starting with a piece entitled “What he said.”

I would like to respond to that first editorial by writing about what President Aquino did not say—in the obvious hope that what he left out proves to be as revealing, of his frame of mind if not of his priorities, as what he left in. Continue reading

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Partial truths about the Philippine Revolution

The epilogue of John Schumacher SJ’s Revolutionary Clergy begins with a summary of four “certain stereotypes”, or partial views, or (if understood ideologically) outright myths of the Revolution that in my view is a marvel of lucidity and precision. Immediately after the summing-up, he hastens to clarify that “all of them contain some greater or lesser portions of the whole picture of the Revolution” (and all ignore, to a greater or lesser extent, the role of the Filipino clergy as “an essential element” of that same  Revolution).

I thought it might be worth our while to run those four paragraphs (from Schumacher 1981: 267-268) here, as a reminder, in Schumacher’s words, of “the one Revolution and the many revolutions.” Continue reading

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Column: The last Arroyo, the only Abad

Published on July 27, 2010.

By the last of the Arroyos, I do not mean Mikey Arroyo, who returned to Congress Monday as the “prince of security guards”; or his brother Dato, for whom a gerrymandered duchy was carved out of Camarines Sur; or indeed for their mother, the queen herself, the new representative of the second district of Pampanga. The last Arroyo in national office is the dauphin Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Do I protest too much? Zubiri is not even related to the Arroyos (at least as far as I know). And I am certainly biased in favor of the senatorial candidate he cheated, who is a friend from childhood. But if there is a national politician who follows the Arroyo political template, who can be considered Arroyo’s true political heir, then it is Zubiri. (I am happy to say that I am not alone in thinking of Zubiri as Arroyo redux. Manuel Buencamino, to cite just one example, has written a strongly argued case for it.) Continue reading

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Column: What are you doing in the Senate, Migz?

Another gratifying inbox-filler, published on July 20, 2010.

In Surabaya, Indonesia, where I did some research over the weekend, we can find one answer to what, for lack of a better term, we can call the “Fall of Bataan Complex.” Someone afflicted with that complex tends to ask: Why do we celebrate our defeats? And tends to add, indignantly: We must be the only country in the world that does that!

Actually, no. In Indonesia, Heroes Day is marked on Nov. 10, the date hallowed by tradition as the start, in 1945, of the Battle of Surabaya. In fact, clashes between the pemuda (youth) and some of the remaining Japanese soldiers, and between the pemuda and the British forces perceived as preparing the way for the return of the Dutch, the former colonial rulers, had been taking place since September. But it was on Nov. 10 that a predominantly British allied force launched a major offensive against the Indonesians. The ensuing battle lasted almost an entire month, with superior Allied resources and discipline proving decisive. But the famous “arek-arek Suroboyo,” the under-equipped, under-trained youth volunteers of Surabaya, fought so fiercely, so valiantly, that no one could any longer doubt, not even the Dutch, that the Indonesians were ready to die for “merdeka.” Surabaya proved to be the beginning of the end. Continue reading

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Column: Media can be wrong too

Got a whole lot of feedback on this column, which was published on July 13, 2010. Quite a few of the letters seemed to have used the column as permission to bash away at the media; many others were more thoughtful, reflective.

Journalists have been in the news lately, and not always in a good way. I think, for instance, of the redoubtable Ellen Tordesillas, a reporter-blogger I admire, tangling with Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo. “Tangle” may not even be the right word to describe her encounter with the country’s chief diplomat. She argued with Romulo, passionately and even heatedly, in a news conference called by the Department of Foreign Affairs, about the legality of retaining political envoys for a few more months. Romulo sought to put an end to the discussion by talking about judgment calls: This is mine; deal with it. (He did say it more diplomatically.)

Ellen defended her conduct as professional: It’s part of my job, she said. Continue reading

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“But my cause is good and that is enough for me”

When Pablo Pastells SJ chided Rizal, then in exile in Dapitan, for not dedicating himself to worthier causes, Rizal replied with an eloquent defense, and a ringing affirmation of the least or even the lost cause. I think of his answer as his fanfare for the common man, but on closer reading it reveals itself to be a reply that is, at one and the same time, earnest and ironic. (I do not know if Pastells, at one time Rizal’s spiritual director, sensed the irony of it all.)

What follows is a series of three translations; the first is Raul Bonoan SJ’s, from his definitive Rizal-Pastells Correspondence; the second is Encarnacion Alzona’s, from Miscellaneous Correspondence of Dr. Jose Rizal, one of the many volumes prepared, somewhat hastily, for the Rizal centennial in 1961; and the third is Roman Ozaeta’s, from his translation of Rafael Palma’s biography of Rizal (the title by which we know it now, The Pride of the Malay Race, is Ozaeta’s own; Palma’s award-winning work, somewhat unimaginatively, was called “Biography of Rizal”).

The Spanish original, as reconstructed by Father Bonoan (but without the Spanish orthographical marks, due to my ignorance), follows after.

This particular passage, incidentally, figured in the Indonesian appropriation of Rizal. A high-profile feature article on Rizal in the December 30, 1944 issue of Asia Raya ran the passage (in Indonesian), and two years later a short-lived political magazine published in East Java ran it again. I suspect the young Indonesian journalists at that time of great upheaval heard the fanfare, and took arms. Continue reading


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