obituary

[OPINION] A millennial’s homage to F. Sionil Jose

Ted Tuvera
[OPINION] A millennial’s homage to F. Sionil Jose
'I bet only a handful of us have read his works or know of him'

Perhaps only a bunch of geeks would know who F. Sionil José was, why he was quite frustrating in his twilight years, and why his death is news.

I was a fan. The God Stealer was the first short story that seriously captured my imagination for social causes – even before it was formally introduced to me in high school literature. My coming of age as a college lad a decade ago was also somewhat impressed upon by the Rosales Saga, especially Po-on and Mass.

The rural setting of his stories, which had interesting decades of the last century as their backdrop, was to me nostalgic. I, myself a promdi and fanatic of Pinoy pop culture and history, would devour them in jampacked jeeps in early morning Manila traffic, while other viajeros (college kids my age) were obviously cramming for their Calculus, Bioinformatics, or Computational Biology courses.

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National Artist F Sionil Jose dies at 97

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Some of his lectures in UST or in nearby universities taught me to adopt ninja moves – slipping smoothly into auditoriums I wasn’t supposed to be in because (a) I didn’t have enough money to pay for these lectures, or (b) I didn’t pre-register to these events because I was too lazy or dumb.

If you’ve been to one of his talks, though, you’d hear the same thoughts and anecdotes over and over again. Maybe I’d just kept at it because I had believed that seeing my “idols” would make me great, too. (I’ve since eaten and drank with some of them and I still ain’t one.)

When I already had enough money to buy books, I would occasionally pass by Solidaridad in Ermita to buy some, and, fingers-crossed, to at least strike a sensible conversation with F. Sionil José, and have something to brag about when, say, Facebook eulogies start pouring in when the inevitable happens. Now the inevitable has happened, but my wish to have a personal memory with him never had. Not even a photograph or an autograph.

I used to excite myself reading his column in the Philippine Star. I used to think of his articles as oracles. “These are treasures!” But it turns out, tastes do change. After my readings expanded, his comments became mere footnotes.

Much like the real-life Artemio Ricarte, whose life was explored by Ben Singkol (José’s persona, I guess – obvious ba?) in the 2007 historical novel Vibora! (Ricarte’s Katipunan nom-de-guerre), José’s reputation was radically dragged down by his eccentric views on contemporary politics – views which, as most of his younger friends have pointed out when he was still alive, made him tolerant , and even an enabler, of a regime that proudly killed the free press.

But who am I to criticize a National Artist? A Ramon Magsaysay Awardee? Who are we to?

But then, our irreverent generation deconstructs idols, questions authority, turns the sacred profane – especially if these idols are in the wrong.

I bet only a handful of us have read his works or know of him, at least. I bet that some of the kids who shared memes mocking him as Jabba the Hut or called him an “old fart” don’t know who Artemio Ricarte was and why his role in Philippine history was questioned. Wasn’t José just one of those trolls we detest for their red-tagging?

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But I’m sure, or I hope, that he doesn’t mind. He’s too used to engaging in discourse with the brilliant minds of his generation (i.e., the better writer Nick Joaquin), whom he thinks are way superior than we millennials (to which I disagree). He was a living legend. Such is the curse of living a long life, and of our generation’s “cancel culture.” And, in F. Sionil José’s case, of a frustrated old dreamer. 

The New York Time’s obituary for him describes him as a “novelist who saw heroism in ordinary Filipinos.” In a CNN Philippines interview some years ago, he said that an epitaph had been prepared for him. It goes: “He wrote stories and believed in them.”

Whatever it is that he believed in, the old man deserves this, his final rest. – Rappler.co

Ted Tuvera earned his journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas. He covered a major beat for a national daily for three years. Currently, he is a seminarian in the Archdiocese of Capiz.