Carmen Guerrero Nakpil on history's heroes and villains, Marcos' men and beauty contests

CYBER PROUST - Jojo G. Silvestre () - December 5, 2010 - 12:00am

It was not the first time I was going to interview her, but the thought of coming face to face again with the icon of Philippine literature and journalism, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, was quite daunting.

More than five years ago, when I did a story on her and her co-alumnae, I asked her what it was like to be a student at the pre-war St. Theresa’s College. “It was like living in a concentration camp,” she said at the time, with hardly a smile on her face. I didn’t know what to make of her crisp response. She was with her daughter Gemma who joined me in my queasy laughter. “She means that the nuns were very strict,” she clarified, obviously amused by the shock that showed all over my face. Chitang added that she had to get the future Miss International out of this exclusive school for girls “because she was getting sick all the time. She was turning anemic.”

How could I forget her answers? Here I was about to meet her again, and being warned by everyone that she could be frank. Menacingly frank, that is. As if I had forgotten our first encounter, I braced myself for what may come. But with Toto Cruz, her son, giving me the tip to just go with the flow, I decided to relax. If she began to get cranky, I told myself, I could just say goodbye and beg for her forgiveness.

I waited on the ground floor of the high-rise condominium building where she lives 45 minutes before the appointed time, not exactly feeling relaxed, but neither jumpy. Somewhere in my heart, I knew she would charm me, even if only unconsciously and unintentionally. It helped that the street outside was quiet, for it was a Sunday. Greenbelt, only a few steps away, didn’t seem to be in the neighborhood at all.  

Toto, who lived in a condo unit at the other side of Ayala Avenue, finally arrived. Again, he said that his mother was not up to her usual self, “So let’s see.” He probably meant the Chitang Nakpil of the 1970’s — statuesque in her mini skirt, her eyebrows raised in the manner of an aristocrat of both talent and lineage, bored or amused by what she was hearing, and now and then dropping a witty remark, not necessarily careful, or so I’ve heard, read and imagined. On the other hand, she might be kinder, I told myself. So, there I was, finally entering her condo unit on the 20th floor. Like a queen propped up in her throne, she looked at me, flashed a smile and said, “I know you.” That got me comfortable, and I started blabbering about interviewing her before.

Carmen Guerrero Nakpil — or Chitang Nakpil — was to launch her recent anthological masterpiece, Heroes and Villains, in a few days, in that late afternoon when I was fortunate to get an audience with her. Toto, Gemma e-mailed me, is the person to approach if you wish to invade the privacy of the author’s elegant home. Supposedly the look-alike of his father (or so wrote his mother), Toto is a charmer who insists that, to this day, he and sister Gemma remain students of the CGN Finishing School. He shared that he was told by his mother a few days earlier that he shouldn’t let his hair grow longer than the line of his jaw. “Why are you wearing that dress?” Chitang is known occasionally to ask her beautiful daughter who, her mother told me, got her height from her maternal grandmother, Filomena Franciso, the first Filipina to receive a university diploma. “No, I don’t give diplomas,” Chitang said of her virtual school.  

It was a good-mood late afternoon that ran all the way to early evening, for the lady is known for her candidness. She explained that Mrs. Imelda Marcos preferred Adrian Cristobal over her, because, as the former First Lady used to put it, “Kung sumulat ka, pasuntok, hindi tulad ni Adrian na pakendeng kendeng.” She recalled that she once advised Mrs. Marcos to wear a shirtdress during one of her visits to Tondo. When they saw each other again, the First Lady told her, “You were wrong. The people prefer to see me in my terno and jewelry.” 

I couldn’t resist examining her face for she is lovely and looks like the Chitang Nakpil of 20 years ago. “How do you keep beautiful?” I asked. “As a child, I was Betty La Fea,” she stressed, with the confidence of one who knows she is beautiful. “I was never a beauty. That’s why you have to put that. In Ermita, all my cousins were mestizas. Because my uncles married mestizas. The only one who married an india was my father. So my mother was the only india. She was from Sampaloc, Manila.”

She spoke of the colonial period when Society (with a capital “S”) “was rac-ist. Before that, the concept of ‘Soci-ety’ was based on royalty, nobility and aristocracy. We had Society only in pre-colonial Philippines with the datus, rajahs, the sultans and the maharlikas. But with the arrival of the Spaniards, you had to be Caucasian. It wasn’t even about wealth or talent. Basta maputi, and there were different grades of whiteness like mestizo, mesticillo, cuarteron and so on. That is the reason everybody is now doing skin whitening, laser, surgery for nose lift.”

She shared that in the olden times, before Guerrero, scientists, physicians and writers became part of the national psyche: “There were only two heroes in my family. On my second husband’s side, Julio Nakpil, before he became the assistant of Bonifacio and a hero of the Philippine Revolution, was a paid entertainer. He spent hours playing the piano because he was a great composer, but the Spaniards used him to provide music during their balls. So, for hours, he had to play. That’s the only way he could step into Malacañang.”

The other one was Lorenzo Guerrero, the painter who was invited to Malacañang only once when he was supposed to receive a prize for being the best painter. “When he was invited to receive his prize in a reception, he had to wear a black European suit,” narrated Chitang. “He said he didn’t have a black European suit. He told them he will wear a barong Tagalog. ‘If you cannot put the medal on the baro, you can keep the medal,’ he said. They kept the medal. They are really walang hiya. Somebody else would say, ‘All right, we’ll send the medal.’ He was the teacher of Juan Luna. He taught Juan Luna how to paint.”

I mentioned that she might have been referring to the painter in the Nick Joaquin play, Portrait of the Artist as Filipino. “That play is about the Guerreros, talented and poor,” she said. “He could not even pay the electric bill. Those were Lorenzo Guerrero and his daughters. Nick told me, and other people, that his inspiration was the Guerrero family.” She and Nick were very close friends. They shouted at each other and fought over issues, with Nick Joaquin holding his beer in one hand while the other gestured: “If not for the Spaniards, Chitang, you would be an Igorota.” She thought to herself, so what is wrong with being an Igorota? Aloud, she told him, “No, I would be Princess Urduja.” She was one of the boys in Philippine letters and journalism “because I drank with them. I could out-drink all of them in the National Press Club and the Overseas Press Club.”

 Of the many writers in her life, she considers her brother Leony and SP Lopez, both ambassadors, as the real good ones. Of herself, she said, “I am overrated. I believe I need an editor.”

I asked her who the better writer was, JV Cruz or Adrian Cristobal? “They are different,” she said, taking on the tone of one who knows whereof she speaks. “JV is a complete journalist. He could write at a drop of a hat. In five minutes, it was perfect. Yung mga statements ni Marcos, when Ninoy was killed, he was there, and then Marcos was sick, then he said…” Her voice trailed off, she looked at me, and with a stern voice, said, “But you must read my book,” and I immediately replied, “I have your books!”

“Then you are like many who buy books but don’t finish reading them,” she said very softly. I kept quiet. After a pause, she resumed. “But to go back to your question, Adrian was more literary, while JV was a complete journalist. He could write perfect English. No erasures. At the drop of a hat, he could say anything. That’s what Noynoy needs.”

It was time to shift gears. She continued: “Those people with Noynoy, that girl, first of all, that is bad manners. Hindi mo dapat pintasan yung nagkumbida sa iyo. I am sorry for Noynoy. He is getting better because he is from Ateneo, but yung sinasabi niya... Noynoy is a classmate of Luijo. I said to Luijo, ‘Will you call that guy who is close to Noynoy, and tell him that he immediately needs somebody at his elbow like JV?’”

What about the men under Marcos? “Marcos had the benefit of the best men. Blas Ople, Robert Ongpin, Cesar Virata was his Prime Minister. He was very clean, that’s why Marcos owed Cesar a lot. Jobo Fernandez, I remember that the peso was endangered but Jobo held it. The advantage of Marcos is the men around him.”

“How was Kit Tatad?” I asked. “Tatad was very good also. Kit is a very good man and a good writer. He just wrote a novel. He was the press secretary. He was the one who announced martial law, that’s why people hated him.”

Closing in on the biggest fish of them all, I asked, “Were you always in agreement with President Marcos?” Her response: “You know, I had the privilege of talking to him. And if he had not fallen sick, he would have reformed the country. But you see, I thought he would not be corrupt because he was very kuripot. He ate at night only tinola. He ate meat once a week. In the parties that we attended, he would not eat what we ate. I did not know about his corruption. He shielded me. Sometimes people would come to me, for a favor, so I would call him, ‘Mr. President, so and so called me and said he needs money.’ ‘Tell him to call…’ and he would mention a name.”

I told her that many thought it was she who was responsible for the transformation of Mrs. Marcos from a reticent and coy First Lady to one who could carry on a good conversation with the likes of Fidel Castro, Chou En Lai and Prince Charles. “No, she did not follow my advice. Kokoy and Mr. Marcos told me that the reason I was brought along on the trips was that Imelda would become like me. But if I told her, for instance, what to wear, like a simple dress, when she went to the slums, she would say, ‘Sige, I will try.’ Then, she would come back, she was in a bad mood. She would say, ‘Oy, yang advice mo, hindi nagkliklikAyaw ng mga tao. Yung gusto nila, they want me to look like a star.’ In a way, she was right. The people admire wealth and beauty.” As an afterthought, she said, “Even if they don’t know where the wealth came from.”

I pointed out that she was and is an activist. “Yes, that is really my character,” she confirmed. I don’t beat around the bush. I just tell people what I have in mind. That’s how I write also. I just throw it in your face.”

She explained how Heroes and Villains, her latest opus, came about. “Ah, this one. These are history articles that came out in The Philippine STAR. This book is about a new way of writing history, writing history as a narrative. History should be a narrative. It was Fr. Horacio dela Costa who told me that. In my first book, History Today, he wrote the foreword and he said, ‘Mrs. Nakpil is a storyteller, which most historians are not.’ And then he compared me to Herodotus. He said ‘Herodotus was writing stories but they were history. And the historians wrote footnotes, but nobody remembers the footnotes. But Herodotus is supreme. You have to make the past come alive.’ Then he said, ‘And Mrs. Nakpil is a storyteller, she tells stories.’ That’s why people are turned off by history. It’s tough for the children because the history teacher is not trained. They say, ‘Magellan came, when? What’s the date?’”

Chitang enlightened me. “In this book, I write the story of Magellan from the point of view of his slave. Magellan has a slave, Enrique, whom he bought in Malacca. He was kidnapped from the Visayas. And he saw this guy, and Magellan had him baptized and his name became Enrique de Malacca. Because he was bought in Malacca. He went with them back to Spain. Then he came back and Magellan was killed. The first circumnavigator was not Magellan; it was Enrique. He began in the Visayas, then he went to Malacca, then Europe. That is the true story.

“Anyway, when Magellan had the first Mass said, he told them ‘You all have to be baptized.’ He never said ‘You will be conquered.’ You know, these Pinoys liked these fiestas and there were these foreigners and they said this thing, the Mass, which is like a play. And then there was lechon. The Pinoys were rich. The Spaniards were poor, they were starving. They had not taken a bath for 12 months, they were eating rats at sea. The Visayans were saying, ‘Kawawa, ang baho nila.’ They took off their belts and boiled the leather, and that was their soup. At the onset, they were served roast pig. Magellan had to tell his men, ‘Don’t look so envious and covetous.’ The native royalty wore gold, and the Spanish soldiers were impressed. They were the poor ones, we were the rich ones.

“But Filipinos believe the colonial teachers, that we were descended from pygmies, and that we were natives and savages. No, not at all like that. The Filipinos were more literate, more educated than Magellan. The crew of Magellan consisted of fugitives from the law, jobless dregs. They were the ones who would sign up to go. And the first meal they got was lechon. And then they were given wine. And they got very drunk. The Mayflower people (Pilgrims) who took a chance in America were refugees, but the ones who came here were worse because they were maton, they committed all kinds of crimes and were fleeing from the law and Magellan got them as his men.”

Mustering some courage, but not be-ing able to decide fast enough if I was going to be sarcastic or smart or irreverent, I said, “And they all became the elite of your beloved Ermita.” She did not bite the bait. Instead, she said, “Ermita was a native fishing village. It was along the Manila Bay. They were fishermen. They were natives. The Spaniards came. Fr. De la Costa also wrote this because the first monks to live in Ermita were the Jesuits. And he got from the records of the Jesuits, ‘We are living in this little fishing village where the people are so polite. Every morning they come to us with their catch of fish and give us fish. They are the Tagalogs. We were Tagalogs, we were not Aetas.’ What I remember of Ermita in my time is the good manners of the people. They were simple, and they were polite. I miss the trees and the flowering plants on the fences, the sunset, the cleanliness of the surroundings, and the good taste that pervaded the community.”

 I reminded her that in one of her books, she said that Ermita was the upper class side, more than the Malate side. “No, I didn’t mean it that way,” she said. “It’s just that these were completely different towns. Ermita was the fishing village. Malate, at that time, was far. Ermita was tiny, just on the beach. Malate was bigger and it was full of salt beds, that’s why malate or maalat. Malate was important, much larger, that’s why that round thing, that was the Cementerio de Malate where only the Spaniards were buried, just like the cemetery in Paco. It was for Spaniards only, and that’s where they buried Rizal.”

On her all-time list, Chitang’s favorite heroes are Andres Bonifacio, Antonio Luna and Macario Sakay. “For their foolhardiness, nobility and passion, I greatly admire them,” she stated. “Since the time they died, they have been misunderstood, gossiped about and derided by the very people for whom they gave their lives.” Her all-time villains are Prince Philip II of Spain, American President William McKinley and Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita.  

The mention of Rizal and Bonifacio led me to my next question: “Are you pro-Rizal or pro-Bonifacio?” I didn’t quite realize at the moment that her first husband descended from Jose Rizal, and the second from the man who married the widow of Bonifacio. She looked at me and asked, “Why does someone have to be pro Rizal or Bonifacio?” I knew a mini-lecture was about to start. “They were very different people, they lived very different lives,” she began. “They did very different things. First, they belonged to different social classes. Rizal was a rich boy. They had a bahay na bato, he was educated in Ateneo, Santo Tomas, in Europe. Bonifacio finished only grade four. He was a peddler of canes and fans. The only thing he had was he had a great grandfather who was a Spaniard. He was mesticillo. He is guapo in his pictures. He was charismatic. When you talked with him, you were convinced. He had jobs with the British and the Belgians, and he loved to read. He was self-taught. Rizal was real upper class, an ilustrado from Madrid. Rizal is the national hero, Bonifacio was the one who started the revolution. Rizal was against the revolution, not because he was a coward, but because he was sure it would fail, and too many people would die. He was rational. He believed a revolution would not prosper. He was wrong. We won the revolution against Spain. It’s only the Americans who came and took it away from us. We actually won in the entire Luzon. Manila was in the power of the revolutionary army, and if we had not done that, we would have been treated like the red Indians. The Americans wanted to exterminate us. But there was a faction in America and they said, ‘These people have a congress. They win prizes in Europe for their paintings. They are novelists and poets. How can you exterminate them? They have a university. These are not savages.’”

“You hated the Americans?” I was both asking and stating an opinion that I had heard from others. Then, I took back my words: “You had American friends, of course.” Chitang Nakpil smiled. We were about to explore one of her favorite topics.

“You know the difference between the Spaniards and the Americans? The first were honest enough to show their feelings, ‘Mga maiitim, tabi kayo diyan.’ (‘You dark-skinned people, get out of our way.’) The Americans were hypocrites. When they saw you, they would say, ‘How are you today?’ They hated you, but they would ask you, ‘How is your wife, how are your children?’ Sabi naman ng mga Pinoy, ang bait ng mga kano. And we Filipinos felt good. (‘Ay, how good the Americans are.’) 

“I remained friends with my American friends because we tell each other the truth. ‘Why do you treat Filipinos so badly when they go ask for a visa?’ I asked them. ‘Carmen, you tried to kill us when we first came.’ ‘Who asked you to come? Did we ask you to come? So, we tried to kill you. And you deceived all our people by letting us think that America is paradise, and that you will take all of us there and we will become Americans.’ And my friend said, ‘But these Filipinos who apply for a visa are lying. They rent rings and necklaces. So that when they go to the Embassy, they have jewelry. And they borrow those land titles, or they have them made in Recto.’ Alam nila. What can I say, except ‘You did worse to us.’ Niloko nila ang Filipino people eh.”

“You adopted their language very well,” I reminded her. “English is my third language,” she explained. “We spoke Spanish and Tagalog at home. I didn’t know English when I went to school. The nuns were Belgians. So my English was very poor. My brothers laughed at me every time I spoke in English. I was five when I was published. But I learned the language maybe a week before.

“I was a very studious little girl. My mother never left me alone. She would sit there while I was writing my homework. Then, she would say, ‘Carmencita, let’s go to sleep, I am sleepy, it is already late.’ ‘Go to sleep,’ I would tell her. ‘No, I cannot go to sleep while you are still awake.’ My mother was also very studious, and she said, ‘Let’s go to sleep, never mind your assignment.’ All the other parents had to force their children to do their homework. My mother said, ‘Stop that, it’s already late.’”

“Your daughter, Gemma, must have taken after you,” I said. “After all, she was the original beauty and brains girl.”

“No, from the Franciscos,” stressed Chitang, who stands 5’8” without shoes. “We are all tall, the Franciscos and the Arguelleses. My mother-in-law, Mrs. Cruz, was almost as tall as I am. And then my mother’s father, yung mga General Francisco, they are all tall. The Guerreros are short. She looks like my brother Leony.”

“I read that Ambassador Guerrero was not pleased about Gemma joining a beauty contest,” I said. She nodded. “The Guerreros were angry. Her Tito Leony sent a cablegram to Long Beach, where the pageant was being held. ‘Basta de barbaridades,’ or ‘Stop this foolishness.’ ‘Stop this barbarism.’ They were offended. That’s a cheap thing. Today, when people ask me my opinion about beauty pageants, I tell them they should be scrapped. They should never have been invented. They teach all the wrong values, and they demean women.”

She was all ready to pack. “I told her, ‘Mimi, uwi na tayo, kasi matatalo ka. When I saw the other candidates, with their gold hair, green or blue eyes, and their boobs, I didn’t think she stood a chance. ‘No, I will try,’ she said. Gemma has the character of Rizal.”

It has been said that the mother was the strategist for her daughter’s victory in the Miss International Contest of 1964. “I mapped her campaign,” she admitted. “I would tell her, ‘You should powder here, you should powder there. You should wear this.’ She was wearing my clothes. One of her gowns was mine. And I had a Ramon Valera terno. Ginamit niya. When she won, it was a Slim’s. I had it made for her. We were not allowed to go near them while they had their activities, but when they had a break, we would see each other in the lobby. And that was when I would tell her in Tagalog, ‘Yung powder mo, masiyadong maputi.’ I also told her to play the Igorot flute, instead of the piano, for the talent portion.”

All the while, as this was going on prior to the pageant, Gemma would be seated in the lobby, reading. Or when someone struck up a conversation, she would answer po

litely, but not get too close. “A very strange thing happened in Long Beach that I never told anyone. Well, I will just tell you what happened. I will not tell you what I think. While we were there in Long Beach, there was a young American who was in the same hotel and he befriended me. He talked to me in the lobby. And I asked him, ‘Where are you working?’ ‘I work in a corporation in Manila.’ ‘I have never met you,’ I said. ‘No,’ he said, ‘because I am new.’ Then, he said, ‘I must apologize for the lack of culture in our city.’ ‘Why do you say that?’ ‘Because I read your column and I know what you think of American culture.’ I said, ‘Don’t take it so seriously.’ ‘I apologize. You see, we have very little culture of our own. There are no museums here that you can go to, we have no symphony orchestra. Well, you are right about some Americans,’ he continued. ‘Thank you for saying that I am right,’ I replied. I was thinking, what is this man doing here? And obviously, he had tracked me, even what I wrote. He knew I was anti-American. ‘No, it is all right,’ I said, because I was reading the Russians. Tinutuya ko siya. ‘I am reading the Russian novelists, Tolstoy, Dostoyevski.’ He was talking with me, trying to make me less anti-American. It was the time of the Cold War. But I was reading novels written before the Russians became communists. All the time, I didn’t know what that man was doing. And then, after she won, I didn’t see him anymore.”

“He was probably with the CIA,” I volunteered. “Maybe, after many years, when CIA documents are leaked, we will be able to find out.” She just smiled. “I don’t know, but I know that the Americans were in town when the EDSA Revolution happened.” We were fast-forwarding our conversation, while at the same time rewinding it back to the Marcoses.

“That EDSA thing was an American operation. It would not have succeeded without the CIA. The Seventh Fleet was in Manila Bay, ha? The helicopters were in Malacañang. Niloko nila si Marcos talaga. Mrs. Marcos told me that they were told, ‘We will take you wherever you want to go. You are our friend, we want you to be saved.’ Marcos said, ‘I want to go up North.” Mrs. Marcos told me, ‘When we were in the plane, I said, Bakit ang tagal naman? Puro tubig. It was Hawaii.’”

I reminded her that she was in Hong Kong when the Marcoses were brought to Hawaii. “You were mistaken for the mistress of General Ver,” I said. “Yes. She is tall and plump. And expensively dressed. She is about my size. I know her. You can describe me describing her. And she landed at the same time I landed. She was in a chartered plane from Manila. I came from Australia for a conference. She also had a diplomatic passport. I was with UNESCO so I had a diplomatic passport. The woman investigating me said, ‘I can’t understand. I don’t understand.’ Afterwards, you know what she said? ‘Would you like to be a resident of Hong Kong? You know, you are the kind of person we want. We want you to be here. You are the sort of person we want, I don’t understand why the orders are to investigate you.’”

After the EDSA Revolution, Chitang was one of the Marcos administration officials who stayed put in Manila, knowing she had nothing to hide, neither anything to be ashamed of as far as her dealings with the Marcoses, nor her management of the Technology Resource Center, an Imelda project, were concerned. “I was not accused because I was not guilty of any wrongdoing. There were no charges against me. Many Blue Ladies were given houses. Mrs. Marcos said, ‘Bibigyan kita ng bahay sa Tamarind Road.’ ‘Why will you give me a house? You should give to those who have no houses. You give to those young people who have no houses yet. Don’t give me, I have a house. All I want is one house. What my father gave me.’ ‘Ikaw naman, gaga. Ang tawag sa akin ni Mrs. Marcos, pinakagaga.’” 

Her friend, Chito Madrigal Collantes, also called her stupid. “‘Chitang, you are so stupid,’ she would tell me. ‘Why?’ ‘Because you pay your servants so much. I don’t pay them like you do. Haay, naku, you are so stupid, you will die in the poorhouse. You give everything away.’ My children always tell me that, too. ‘Mommy, you are giving everything away.’ But I would tell them, ‘You know why? I am a Laborite. I believe that all people are underpaid, that’s why I pay them high wages. I am underpaid, you are underpaid. Everyone is underpaid. I’m a socialist, not a communist. I believe in the welfare state.”

 I asked her if she has a senior citizen’s card. “Yes, it’s only for medicines. We go to restaurants, and all these doñas have senior citizen’s cards, like Chito, Mary Prieto, Millie del Rosario. Then, Chito would ask, ‘Where is your senior citizen’s card?’ ‘Oh, I forgot.’ ‘No, you didn’t forget. You know we are not really entitled to that.’ I told Chito, ‘The law says it’s for those who make only P60,000 a year. You make P50,000 a minute. One second, you make 60,000.’ I was referring to the original law. At the time we were doing that, it was P60,000. ‘How can you give your card? It’s for people who are making P60,000.’ Isang hininga lang ni Chito. And all of them.”

So, which president did she like most? Which one was compatible with her own views of leadership or advocacies? “It’s Quirino. And I fought him because I was in the Magsaysay for President Movement. You know why he is my favorite president? The historians, the National Historical Commission, did a study of presidents in the Philippines. They studied their laws, statements and decisions. The best was Elpidio Quirino.”

And the most maligned, too, I thought aloud. “Yes,” she agreed, “and he was the best. I also like Carlos P. Garcia because of his Filipino First Movement. I always wrote in favor of Garcia. One day, he sent Logarta, and Logarta came to me. I (think) he was his press secretary. He said, ‘Chitang, tinatanong ni presidente, ano raw ang gusto mo?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You know, we read what you write.’ ‘Tell him I don’t write favorably about his policy because I want favors. I don’t need favors. That’s what I really believe, that that is the right policy, Filipino First.’ And you know who dismantled it? Macapagal.”

Almost 25 years after the EDSA Revolution, Chitang is still around, a prolific octogenarian who has produced her trilogy of compiled biographical essays. She shared the reason that she stopped writing a column. “It is a very dangerous era, that’s why I stopped. That’s why I wrote my biography, I had nothing else to write. The week that Mrs. Arroyo had Malaya raided, I had a column in Malaya. Four of my colleagues are out on bail. Before that, she closed Ninez Cacho. She was arrested on a Friday and wasn’t even given time to comb her hair. I called up Jake Macasaet. I said, ‘Jake, I am quitting.’   ‘Why? You think I will not fight?’ I told him, ‘I know you will fight until you die. But I don’t want to die except in bed. I am too old to be heroic. I can die anytime, but I am not going to die for a government order. I am quitting.” She quit Malaya, next writing for the STAR the series of articles that were compiled for her latest book.

To cap off the interview, I asked her to share some tips on how one can become a good writer. “One has to read. And the only way to learn writing is to write. So, keep writing.”

 Then, she smiled at me and said softly, “In your case, Jojo, you better just interview old women.”

 “My pleasure,” I said.  

* * *

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