OD’s Legacy
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - April 15, 2013 - 12:00am

The passing of Onofre D. Corpuz, the 13th president of the University of the Philippines, signals the departure of my generation of public intellectuals — that disparate group of socially committed writers whose legacy of confrontation with crucial public issues has diminished through the years.

Yes — there are just a few now for many of those who are commenting on our country’s life threatening issues are charlatans, beholden to their group’s vested interests. This is visible in media. Worst of all, the trend now is to gloss over such issues and transform them into gross entertainment.

This is what I said at OD’s necrology at Diliman:

My compadre, OD, liked his scotch and I liked my bourbon. But just the same, as that old beer come-on says, OD and I may pinagsamahan.

I first met him in the ’50s when he had just returned from Harvard. He had written a beautiful piece which I read so I asked him if he could write for the Manila Times Sunday Magazine which I edited. He did. Thus began a beautiful friendship. Shortly afterwards, another UP friend, Elmer Ordoñez, started a quarterly, Comment, and he recruited OD, the poets Alex Hufana and Fred Bunao, the writers Raul Ingles and Rey Gregorio and me to help him out. The philanthropist Alberto D. Benipayo agreed to print it for free. Soon after, the Comment group disbanded as most of us left to pursue our careers abroad. When I returned from my foreign posting in 1965, I established my own journal, Solidarity, a publishing house and bookshop. My ties with OD were resuscitated. By then he had become Secretary of Education. Solidarity depended on how well I could fill my begging bowl. Sure enough, may pinagsamahan again. OD gave Solidarity a 2,000 subscription. My major problem — the printing cost — was resolved; the quarterly became a monthly, but not for long. Marcos declared martial law, the subscription was demolished and soon after, Solidarity and my publishing house were closed.

OD knew I did not like Marcos. I told him the reasons. At one time, OD visited me; he said, Marcos, like us, was Ilokano which meant he worked hard, persevered, and most important of all, he had a sense of history. I also wished him luck. We continued to talk about government, culture, modernization. I always argued that the ultimate modernizer was the revolutionary.

I understood fully why OD joined Marcos — it is seldom that academics, particularly intellectuals are given a chance to move the mountain. Now, he could do just that. Slowly, I kept away; I was worried that with my speaking freely, my friendship with him would end.

I was not wrong about my estimate of Marcos. On that Sunday that EDSA I was blooming, another compadre, Serafin Quiason who was then director of the National Library, joined OD who had already quit government and I for lunch at a restaurant in Angono. There, we post mortemed the Marcos regime, what the Philippines would be like without him. The anarchy and chaos that may come. And worse — the moral decay.

OD said he would write a history book.

Pepe Miranda said the other day that OD’s magnum opus, The Roots of the Filipino Nation, has never been reviewed critically by our historians. Maybe they are blighted by their lack of a wider vision, their myopic view of history, their esoteric specializations. Perhaps, they don’t realize the grand sweep of OD’s thought, his conclusions as formulated by our past, our culture, our creativity and heroism as a people.

Let me digress for this brief commercial about my own novel, The Pretenders, which was the first to be published of the five-novel Rosales saga in the very early ’60s. Like OD, the main character, Tony Samson, is a poor Ilokano scholar who goes to Harvard, returns to the University of the Philippines with a lot of idealism. The similarity ends there. In this novel, Antonio Samson confirms OD’s conclusion in his magnum opus.

The resolution of our problems — the banishment of injustice and the long-awaited emergence of a Filipino nation — says OD, all these are beyond the Constitution.

In other words, revolution.

OD also left a legacy of service from which all of us may learn. In the darkest of times, even just one man with a candle can provide some light. But there is also one caveat: he who sleeps with dogs is bound to catch some fleas.

As for this cherished revolution, I do not think I can see this in my lifetime, but many of you are so very young and so full of fire. I hope that you can witness its effulgent coming, and that, most of all, you shall have contributed to its fulfillment.

OD would like this.

This tremendous shortage of public intellectuals must be replenished and it can be done if the nabobs who own these media conglomerates will open their doors to a lot of fresh air. In TV, for instance, we need enlightening talk shows which may not have high ratings but which will bring issues clearer to the mass of uninformed Filipinos. More Winnie Monsods, Cheche Lazaros.

Print media should include more high level discussions in their pages; in installing, for instance, opinion sections. And less attention to entertainment.

And the highest officials in government should not hesitate to appear in media to answer crucial questions such as what happens in western parliaments when the rulers themselves are questioned.

We can see in this election campaign how so many candidates without any qualifications whatsoever are running for the Senate. How could this happen?

But it does because our public intellectuals are now so few or are simply guns for hire.

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