Love of country
LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - June 13, 2020 - 12:00am

It has its deep roots sunk many years ago. For me, it was when we kicked out a homegrown dictator on Feb. 27, 1986. Millions massed on an avenue that would later spawn malls and mega-malls. But during those days, it was just an avenue that linked the metropolis from north to south, suddenly becoming a symbol for a revolution powered by the people.

It was on the same week that I received a letter from a university in the American Midwest, telling me that I had been accepted into their Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Writing. Aside from free tuition and fees, the offer came with a teaching assistantship to tide me over for the next two years. I had been working for two years at the Batasang Pambansa (Interim National Assembly), editing the unimaginable prose of our dear assemblymen.

But to leave meant to leave family and country. Family was okay, since my father had taught us the household chores. My mother was cool about it, since many of her relatives and their children have crossed the Pacific Ocean, and I would not be wanting for company and counsel over there.

But I stayed. I stayed, took a Master of Arts in Literature at the Ateneo de Manila University, whose Department of English chairperson – the peerless Fr. Joseph A. Galdon, SJ – promptly offered me free tuition and fees, plus a job as an instructor even without a single unit in Education. I stayed because my grandparents were teachers and my parents were teachers and in my bones, I knew that if you want to rebuild a country in ruins, you have to start with teaching.

We swam in a sea of yellow and elected a stoic widow to the presidency, but after that, we left her alone. She tried her best, but she is more symbol than substance. Surrounded by some people who were not at all as kind-hearted as she was, she was soon fending off one coup d’état after another, one farmers’ strike after another.

We still talked in English, or Taglish, and wore shirts with alligators sewn on the chest and jeans from Levi’s. All imported, or knocked off and sold in Divisoria or Baclaran. Everyone and his father or mother wanted to leave again, what with the massive brownouts and the despair that gripped the land.

And so when the British Council offered me another graduate-school scholarship to study in the United Kingdom, I left. The BC asked which school they should send my papers to. I sent my papers instead to two smaller schools: East Anglia, for its Creative Writing (CW) program, and Stirling, for its Publishing Studies program. But East Anglia’s CW program was full and so my papers were sent to Stirling in Scotland.

Halfway through my stay in Scotland, I sent some papers for the Ph.D. program in the United States, to test the waters.

In December 1989, my noisy Brazilian flat mate Carlos knocked on my window at 1 a.m. He woke me up from my sleep. He said, “There is a war in your country!” I told him to shut up, Carlos, you’re drunk again. He told me to turn on my radio and listen to the BBC Radio, and indeed there it was, the clipped accent reporting about a coup d’état in Makati. For a week I listened to the radio and watched TV and talked to my sister on the phone. She was living in New Jersey and I told her I wish the coup would be over soon, because I don’t want to be stranded in Scotland. The coup died down, thanks (or no thanks) to American jet fighter planes that grazed the streets of Makati where the coup plotters and their soldiers were holed up.

A month later, I got letters from American universities offering me Ph.D. scholarships with all the sweeteners: free tuition and fees, writing awards, a teaching assistantship. I did not know what to do. One day, we watched Dead Poets’ Society at Mac Roberts Arts Centre. Robin Williams played a Poetry teacher whose teaching methods are out of the box, and out of this world. He opened a new world before the eyes of his students. I will never stand on top of a table to discuss poetry or turn my face to rubber to imitate personas in a poem, but I understood the spirit that animated his character in the film.

It was no choice. I returned to the country, where my Scottish accent became the students’ butt of jokes. Still we talked in our own kinds of English, or Taglish, and I wore the African vests and colorful fez that I brought home.

President Cory’s regime ended and Fidel V. Ramos took over, an administration that restored electricity in our homes, built flyovers in our cities, raised our Gross National Product (GNP). Then the former movie actor, mayor, senator and vice-president, Joseph “Erap” Estrada took over, with his distinctly nationalist agenda: during his inauguration, he had Mass at Barasoain Church, and was sworn into office at Rizal Park. He wore crisp, cream Barong Tagalog and spoke his kind of buffalo English.

Then he was kicked out of office and an Economics teacher at Ateneo took over, a bookish and studious woman who castigated students who came late to her class.

And in August of 2009, when people were not sure whether Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would leave the presidency or not, Mrs. Cory Aquino died of cancer. Suddenly, a new generation of Filipinos became aware of how it was to have a leader who might be a character straight out of Bores Ville, but “she never stole a single centavo from you.”

This is what I want to say to people who despair because another round of elections has descended upon the land and the usual suspects – thieves, cockroaches, and centipedes – are running for public office. But there are also those amongst us who are running as independent candidates, a hardy breed that is hardly funded, steeped in social development and with concrete platforms for the nation.

We should rally around these candidates in 2022, heir to the heroes who tilted windmills and wrote books about revolutions, Don Quixote and Don Simoun rolled into one.  We should rally around their causes because if we don’t, then we will be governed again by the least amongst us.

[Danton Remoto is a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia. His website is www.dantonremoto.com]

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