Telling the truth is dangerous
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - October 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Before leaving for Ceylon in 1962 to work for the Colombo Plan Bureau and to have some experience in the diplomatic service, I was an aide to then vice president and foreign affairs secretary Emmanuel Pelaez for several months. Among many things, I’ve learned how to end official correspondence with the standard phrase, “Please accept the assurances of highest consideration.” Diplomatic language is often obtuse or bland as diplomats are even supposed to lie for their country, but some diplomats do not observe this practice because sometimes they really like the people of a country where they are posted.

I bring to mind Dr. Klaus Zeller, who was Germany’s Ambassador to Manila during the Marcos regime. We became friends. He read Rizal and was interested in our literature. At one of our PEN meetings in the bookshop, he brought a case of German wine. The gesture was not lost on us. I was not allowed to travel for four years, but even when I got back my passport, there were still instances that I could not leave; once, I was charged in court for stealing a P900 watch. The charge was, of course, phony. At one time that I had to leave, Ambassador Zeller went to the airport to make sure I would not be detained.

We had many conversations, all of them candid and intellectually rewarding. At one time, because we were talking about people we both knew, he had noticed that I was less candid. He said, “Frankie, between friends, it should always be the truth.”

I am, like most mortals, a sinner. But God knows, whether talking with friends or not, particularly in writing, I have always tried to tell the truth. The Rotary Club credo asks, “Is it the truth? Is it fair to everyone?” The truth is never fair to everyone because it unmasks the hypocrite, the charlatan, the criminal. Look at what the ancient Greeks did to Socrates and, in more recent times, what Stalin did to the Russians who told the truth.

I don’t aspire to be like Socrates nor do I consider myself heroic when I tell the truth. What I want is to be able to sleep soundly at night and in broad daylight and to look everyone in the eye.

I am sometimes reviled for writing as I do. It has never been my intention to hurt people, but if some are, I am sorry. I am also aware of my fallibility, for which reason I am not self-righteous. So, to the many who I do not know personally who but have come to my defense, to all of you, dearest people, I am grateful. Dios ti agngina unay! I cannot repay you at all, but God will make precious your gift of trust.

Be silent, be safe

When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he also imposed censorship. He closed all the newspapers and the radio and TV stations that he did not like, and he took over some of them.

At the time, I was no longer with the Manila Times for I had already set-up my own journal and publishing house. I had to submit to the censor the books I was going to publish, and he outrightly censored Ben Santos’ novel, a collection of essays by Fr. Dela Costa, a play by Nena Estrada Puyat and my own novel, My Brother, My Executioner.

An Army officer pirated and sold a book that I had published, The Management of Men. Aside from not being allowed to travel for four years, I was harassed in the Marcos-controlled media. Among their charges were that I could not account for the funds that I raised for the Philippine PEN. I was furious. All the charges were false, and I fought back.

It was at this juncture that Nick Joaquin, that dear old friend, came to me and said that I must stop defending myself. He asked if my conscience was clear. I told him that it was and that I can look anyone in the eye. That was when he said, “That is all that matters. You don’t know these people. They will kill you.”

This is the first time I’m writing about this incident. I did stop but only for a short while, for soon after, I could see that so many more were speaking out. The opposition to Marcos grew and culminated in EDSA I.

Sure, Marcos had many supporters. He had touched so many lives and helped so many people rise from poverty, but he did not polarize society. He united the opposition instead. This is what distinguishes him from President Duterte who gave Marcos a state burial, whose followers are fanatical. President Duterte’s popularity is phenomenal but we must judge him not on the basis of how many people believe in him but by what he has done. We should judge him at the end of his term.

To criticize him automatically brings response, often so vehement. I am not surprised if so many now are cowed into silence. We must remember, however, that silence does not mean surrender or defeat. Most of the time, it simply means acceptance of the cupidity of people and their weakness and ingratitude.

Marcos fired UP president Salvador Lopez who criticized him. Lopez‘s final response: “It is better to be silenced than to be silent.”

Truth is multi-faceted if viewed from various angles, as in the Rashomon story. It may even be denied. As that old Chinese saying goes, “We searched and searched for the truth. In the end, we found no truth.” But the objective truth is bright as day – a woman raped, a man murdered, a people deceived, a nation plundered.

Indeed, the truth shall set you free; as Tia Nena, who symbolizes Pilipinas in the Rosales Saga, declares at the end of my novel, Mass: “I am free. No one can hurt me now.”

Yes, the truth will endow you with massive strength. No calumny, betrayal or lies can hurt you since your conscience is pure; it will be natural for you to even be humane and compassionate, and it will be easy for you to forgive those who wronged you. And perhaps, just perhaps, as the good Lord said, it may even be possible for you to love those who stabbed you in the back.

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