By Manuel L. Quezon III
[Remarks delivered at the launching of Heroes and Villains, Filipinas Heritage Library, December 2, 2010]
Tonight is too important to risk speaking off the cuff; and so I have taken the liberty of preparing something written.
Tonight we are gathered here as a cross-section of generations, of classes, and occupations, bound together by affection and recognition: affection for Tita Chitang and in recognition of this, her latest work. Some of us here are Tita Chitang’s contemporaries; others, representatives of those who were and are her friends.
In my case, I am here as much to bear witness to Tita Chitang’s friendship for my late father, to whom she gave the epitaph inscribed on his tomb; and to represent my mother, with whose family Tita Chitang has also been life-long friends. But I am also here for myself, as a writer who has received her encouragement and support. Over a decade ago, recovering from an eye operation, she not only allowed me to pester her for an essay for our late, lamented literary journal, Pen & Ink, but actually delivered, I’m pretty sure knowing at the time what I have only belatedly come to realize: what gall, what cheek, for us to badger her –but such is the folly of youth, and such is the wisdom of those of sufficient age to know it is, indeed, a good thing to indulge those follies.
For folly can truly be instructive, as Barbara Tuchman chronicled; and as the doyenne of Philippine writers, Tita Chitang, whom we honor here tonight, has taken pains to point out in her prose. In this, she is only being true to the fighting form of the Guerreros.
In his collection of essays titled We Filipinos, Tita Chitang’s brother, the late Leon Ma. Guerrero wrote of the “glory and the shame” of our inheritance from Spain, and pointed to the Duke of Mura and his Grandeza y Decadencia de España, in which the duke observed that Spain’s greatest weakness, which Guerrero says we seem to have inherited, is “the atrophy of the civic spirit, the lack of civic responsibility, the habit of submission to absolute and irresponsible power.”
That mixed inheritance, too, includes “a primitive instinctive piety that sustains us in misfortune; a sense of personal dignity, the amor propio that drives us to do things which are sometimes comic and sometimes tragic; an avid and restless amorousness which contrives to combine the idolatry of woman with a selfish and boastful carnality; an understanding of death, death as the final sanction of life…”
Guerrero wrote that that inheritance could be found not in “masonry or literature” but rather in the “heart, the secret heart, of the nation,” that is, “in a servant’s sense of honor, in the dance hall girl going on her knees in the crowded aisle to kiss the feet of the Nazarene and pray for better trade, in the venal politician dreaming of a seat in the Senate, as Sancho Panza dreamed of the governorship of Barataria, and in the honest public servant who, like Don Quixote, sees a princess in every maid.”
Thus did brother Leon write –so truthfully, so probingly, so eloquently- and so, too, has his sister Chitang written, whether in her journalism or her much-underappreciated novel The Rice Conspiracy, or in her volumes of memoirs: with an, at times, a mordant eye, a trenchant wit, but always, with a deep conviction of the innate dignity and beauty of the Filipino soul. If brother Leon was hispanist and anglophile, depending on which of his many works you decide to read, then sister Chitang is feminist and belle vivante, in everything of hers you read: independent and informative.
But I am not here to write her epitaph; rather, we are here to provide a kind of semicolon in one sentence in the continuing paragraph of her creative life; not full stop, but a meaningful pause, to take stock.
Of what? That we sorely lack mentors; that far too few have taken on that role, much less been able to fulfill it. For so many here and outside this small building, Tita Chitang has taken on that role, whether personally or through her writings, by means of sharing her memories and examining her own life and times.
In his slim volume on the Philippine Revolution, Apolinario Mabini, in his dedication, offered it up to the memory of his mother, saying it was an unworthy thing, but the best he could do. Whether in “The Benevolence” or in the book we will take home to read tonight, Tita Chitang has made so many offerings to God, country, and family, that I dare say I will be old and stooped and still be able to say, that wherever a home is fortunate enough to contain at least a volume of her work, the air is permamently sweet and redolent with the good odor, perhaps not of sanctity because that would be too cloying a term, but of patriotism and good character. Always fresh, always sweet. Always capable of bringing us where we, at times. have stopped believing we could ever end up: that self-assured state of true independence of mind and spirit Tita Chitang has already achieved.
Thank you and happy reading.