Thursday, December 10, 2009




In light of human rights violations all over the world, the issue is certainly one of the most pressing concerns of all men who respect their humanity.

In the southern Philippines, in Maguindanao, recent killings of journalists and civilians attributed to political groups have reached a point of brutality and meanness that the country's leadership is considering the imposition of Martial Law purportedly to stem the tide of a "rebellion" that threatens civilian society thereat.

Martial Law regimes, however, have been known to have sponsored the violation of human rights to "correct" another evil. Must another evil be invoked to rectify another evil? Does this qualify as one of those described by quite a number of people (even by the oppresssed themselves) as a case of "grandes malos, grandes remedios" (great wrongs require great remedies)?

How must human rights be regarded? Is it inherent in man to have rights? Why must these rights be defended even unto death? Why should it even be considered heroic to defend that which is man's right in the first place?

A philosophical and theological perspective on the concept of human rights is presented here by Philippine poet and scholar Francisco R. Albano , who runs a seminary for the Catholic priesthood in the Northern Philippines, so that the sturdy underpinnings of human rights may be better understood and defended by all men as the ultimate legacy that comes down from God, and as old as Creation.

Albano's persuasion is felicitously un-parochial; it speaks of universal human rights, and we are the richer for knowing and understanding his positon.

As a monitor of human rights, I am proud to publish Albano's essay in this blog of issues "that deserve spending precious lifetime on." --- ALBERT B. CASUGA

* * *


By Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano

Diocese of Ilagan

My task is to share with you some philosophico-theological reflections on human rights. From the point of view of my Catholic faith and what I consider sound humanist philosophical tenets, I would like discuss here the issue of human rights as asserted, promoted, violated or denied.

My philosophical point of departure is Robert M. Pirsig’s metaphysics of value, some of Jacques Maritain’s insights on human rights, and Emmanuel Levinas’ discourse on the Other. My faith reflections are based on the Bible and my personal and ecclesial commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord God and Savior. My reflections focus on values which determine the exercise of human rights and not on particular human rights.

Philosopher Robert M. Pirsig reminds us that we live in a world of values and that these values are graduated from lowest to highest. Thus:

 Inorganic value – the value/worth/quality of inanimate objects such as atoms, molecules, elements, basic compounds, arms, robots and so on, and their relationships
 Biological value – the value/worth/quality of flora and fauna and their relationships
 Social value – the value/worth/quality of human persons and their relationships (including those with the inanimate and biological world) according to law or to custom and other forms of social contract
 Intellectual value – value/worth/quality of ideas and principles based on reason produced by human persons
I think that to these four kinds of values must be added a fifth:
 Spiritual/transcendental – the values/worth/quality of ideas, principles, insights, including relationships, based on faith in a Supreme Being.; and, for Christians, the Good News of revelation. These ideas, principles, insights, truths are derived through personal and/or collective (specially ecclesial) prayer (meditation/ contemplation).
Before inorganic value is chaos.

Value is synonymous with worth and quality, and one can say there are five grades of quality. Christians would perhaps call the highest Quality God, but it is not necessary to do so. The human person knows how to judge “subjects, objects, data, values”, in terms of quality, even if unable to define quality. Everything has quality, worth or value of whatever kind. And when we speak of value we speak of morals/ ethics. The issue of human rights in all its aspects is therefore essentially one of values/ethics.

But why are we concerned with human rights today? We are concerned because human rights is/must be a basis for the establishment of a just social order. In a world where God, King, Pope, the Goddess of Reason, Political Parties are no longer at the center of social life; in a world characterized by differences of all sorts -- economic, political, cultural, ideological and religious – nations have agreed on human rights as practical conclusions for the establishment of a just social order despite respective differences on rational justifications. As Jacques Maritain has pointed out, we agree for different reasons and this is enough for now for joint action and solidarity among peoples. Arguably, by common consensus, human rights today has become the universal judge of the quality of law, power and public opinion in society – these three separate but interrelated essential dynamics of the social order.

I say outright that human rights conclusions as enunciated by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966/76) as well as the UN Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights as Human rights (1991) are of high social, intellectual and spiritual value. However, they are not of the quality of principles. They are, says Maritain, practical formulations and may be considered the collective highest achievement of nations to date. National constitutional formulations or particularizations of human rights are also practical conclusions themselves and are in the main judged in relation to the UN statements. For the Christian, however, this is not enough. A fuller richer understanding of human rights must take into consideration rational and faith dimensions that make it different from lower modes of understanding.

The issue with regard to human rights as practical conclusions has to do with praxis -- the exercise of human rights. Even as big business, government, civil society celebrate the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights, they differ on how human rights are respected, promoted, violated or even denied. The differences are determined and explained by the predominant value/s or value systems permeating the praxis, or the point of view of value from which one regards human rights. Let us look at the value patterns of big business, government and civil society of present day social (dis)order.

By big business I mean big monopoly capitalist business (and its allies of big merchants and landlords) determining contemporary globalization and regionalization. Have you ever heard of big business denouncing human rights violations by the government, the military establishment and by big business itself? It would of course denounce alleged human rights violations by civil society, specially by radical movements for social change. Does it view trade liberalization, deregulation, privatization and de-nationalization of industries as human rights violations responsible for so much human suffering? No, it would use these as arguments that it upholds human rights.

Its justifications aside, big business engages in this nefarious quaternity of evils because in truth it views human rights from the point of view of chaos-inorganic values of technology and economic profit. Inorganic values are the center of gravity of all other values. Higher values are brought down and humiliated. And so we understand that, for big business, peasants and workers are mere cogs of machines. Or if the toiling masses are considered alive, they are regarded as purely biological specimens deserving not living family wages but only minimum wages for biological survival and preservation of labor power. Perhaps the middle classes are treated a little better?

Government with its bodyguard of armed forces and police share the chaos-inorganic values of big business. Many of the human rights violations hurled by civil society against government and its military arm are politico-military aggressions against the people. They are an abuse of power entrusted by the people where people can be maltreated, tortured, maimed, harassed or killed to preserve the power structures of government, the military and big business. People are regarded not as human beings but as mere biological cells or tissues that can be excised if judged cancerous to established power. The dominant inorganic-biological value patterns of government are the center of gravity pulling down higher values and humiliating these.

The military has a low regard for even biological life. For the military the inorganic value of gun and bullet is supreme. Its favorite programs are “total war”, militarization of the countryside, and violent dispersal of mass actions and peaceful assemblies. It deems it impossible that the “enemy” can be made to surrender without firing a single shot, and that peace can be forged at the negotiating table and not in the battlefield. For it there is no such thing as “reasonable force’, only sheer violent inorganic force.

However, when they become the targets of legitimate legal and paralegal protest by the people, by civil society, big business, the government and the military are quick to shout that their human rights are being violated. Their technocrats would manipulate interpretations of law and UN protocols to serve their vested interests.

The value patterns of civil society in general are different from that of big business, the government cum military establishment. The dominant value patterns of civil society since the 18th century or since the French formulated the “Rights of Man and the Citizen” in 1789, are of high social-intellectual quality. The UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are today a center of gravity that pulls up lower values, including that of ethnocentricity, to higher levels of integrative human quality life. The Bill of Rights of national constitutions participate in the quality of the UN Declaration even if the Bill is not respected in social practice and, ironically, constitutional provisions contradict it.

Certainly different in value patterns from present day conventional establishment are civil society’s NGOs at the forefront of the human rights movement in the Philippines: Karapatan, the Promotion of Church People’s Response, the Ecumenical Bishops’ Conference, and of course the Isabela Ecumenical Conference.

The philosophical foundation of the high patterns of value of civil society (comprising free and voluntary associations including non-government organizations, people’s organizations and Church groups) and its formulations of human rights is unwritten Natural Law, the basic premise of which is “do good and avoid evil”, intuited by human beings as their law and applicable to them. There is of course in the universe natural law for other things, and which may be defined, according to Maritain, as the “normality of functioning.” Men and women do not know Natural Law in the same way and in the same degree, but the basic premise is common to all. They know it through “the inclinations of human nature,” as Thomas Aquinas would put it. It is the Natural Law of human dignity; of people as human and civic persons. It is for all. Natural human rights grounded on the normal functioning of human nature are inalienable.

Now, where does the faith of the Christian believer as part of civil society come in? It must come in, be part of the pattern of values of the human person. The faith foundation of patterns of value of the Christian believer is of course the Word of God in the Bible and as incarnated as Jesus Christ. Spiritual transcendental values of faith are value added to the social-intellectual values discerned by philosophy and the other human sciences and raise all values to the level of the human person as “unto God’s image”; the human person as, in Trinitarian language, created by the Father, redeemed by the Son and sanctified and blessed by the Holy Spirit. Human rights conclusions are therefore imaged differently from the point of value of the Christian believer. The center of gravity is faith. His anger, unleashed because of human rights violations, is called prophetic according to the normality of his functioning as Child of God.

My faith reflection takes off from Genesis 1:26-27. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Here is faith justification of human rights: man and woman are unto the image not only of God but also of the whole of creation. Male and female contain all values including participatory divine value. They are precious in the sight of God; they are good. The divine value beyond intellectual values and beyond natural law is the center of gravity of man and woman’s pattern of values. Man and woman are of high value because they are capable of producing ideas and, above all, because they reflect supreme divinity. Therefore are they empowered to rule over creation. Therefore man and woman are value judgments against all perpetrators of human rights violations. Therefore the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Women’s Rights are of great value and are basis for sound social order because to a great extent they are in accord with man and woman of the first creation.

If the fact that man and woman in the image of creation and of God is not enough, then one must view human rights in the light of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). The first three govern our duties to reverence God, while the last seven command respect for others and oneself in social relationships. Jesus gestalts all into two. The first and greatest commandment, he says, is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And another like it is: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”(Matt. 22:37-39). One is commanded to love neighbor as himself; and to love others as the Lord Jesus loves. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 16:12). Man and woman are lovable and must be loved because the Lord loves them. Loves us. Are not love of God and love of neighbor then faith justifications of human rights? And it is love that must take many forms – economic, political, cultural, and social. Love imaged as light, leaven, salt. Love as living and life-giving bread and wine for all; as Jesus Christ himself. Again it is divine value that is crucial.

It is interesting to note that Jesus uses the word “neighbor” in the singular. It would seem that he wants to inculcate in us all the fact that not only must each person in himself or herself be loved but also the fact that all persons must be loved in each one. Each one carries the world; this enables us to say that the martial law regime of President Marcos, the total war campaign of President Aquino, the low intensity conflict of President Ramos and the war against terrorism of President Arroyo did not kill thousands of Filipinos but killed a Filipino a thousand and more times; just as the great Emmanuel Levinas could say that Hitler did not kill six million Jews but killed a Jew six million times.

The neighbor who is himself and all of us philosophy calls the “Other”, with a capital “O”. He/she is not abstract, Levinas reminds us, but pure signification. The Jewish philosopher explains that the “Other” is “Face” present, undefined by shape of nose, thickness of lips or color of eyes; naked, vulnerable, commanding you, me: “Thou shalt not kill.” To which in the normality of my functions, through the inclinations of my human nature I respond, must respond: “I am answerable, I am responsible for you! I shall not violate your rights but shall uphold, protect and promote them.” With Levinas I acknowledge that “the rights of Man are the rights of the Other.” They are the rights of neighbor.

A concrete sign of one’s responsibility for the Other, for neighbor, God’s beloved, is respect for and promotion and defense human rights. Another sign, Levinas and the compassionate Jesus would surely point out, is acknowledgement of “guilt without fault and without debt” by survivors (the “nakaligtas”) if human rights of people, of the Other, are violated by oppressors and exploiters and criminals whether these be persons or institutions which, of course, would have a totally different kind of guilt. I take responsibility for what is not my deed; for human rights violations anywhere, not of my making!

A conclusion must be made at this point. It is immoral for big business and government and the military establishment determined and dominated by chaos-inorganic-biological values to dominate civil society possessed of higher social-intellectual-spiritual / transcendental values. It is moral for such civil society to subdue the unholy trinity.

Levinas does not say so, but I’d like to believe that the face of the Other is my face before I was born; what God saw and knew before I was conceived, when he looked at the goodness of himself. (Jeremiah 1.5) If this is so, then indeed the whole issue of human rights is about holiness; about being holy “for I, Yahweh, your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19.2)

Be holy, uphold human rights. #

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Today’s Toronto Star bannered a curious – even startling – headline: “Schools plan leaner lessons.”

It is not meant to dumb down lessons, but Ontario’s government seeks to review curricula from Grades 1 to 8 to “fix what educators charge is an overcrowding jumble of disconnected facts that fail to prepare the province’s 1.4 million students for the future.”

“The curriculum does not engage students within their own realities, or does it integrate the skills society hopes to see in a 21st century learner,” posits a recent submission by a group of principals, teachers, superintendents and trustees.

“Our kids live in a world where they are immersed in content through things like Twitter and Google, so we don’t want them memorizing facts they can access easily, but we want them to think about how to apply that knowledge, and how it affects how they live as citizens and workers,” Karen Grose, Toronto District School Board system superintendent summarized the intention of the submission.

What were the planners thinking of in the first place? What future did they have in mind when they set up the curricular expectations? Were they napping when futurists like Alvin Toffler, Daniel Bell, and John Naisbitt were postulating that this future (21st century) revolved around an “information age”?

When did the expectations of education veer away from the acquisition of knowledge and skills that would serve as equipment of the citizen to participate productively in a democratic society? When was education ever merely the acquisition of inert information? Education has always been “educare” and “educire” – an enterprise to “educate” in order to make one “educable”.

At no time in human history has education been merely the amassing of information or even knowledge. Education has always been geared toward the development of an equipment to make man capable of adopting and adapting to his chosen habitat and milieu.

It is foolhardy to premise educational efforts in pursuit of shibboleths like “education for education’s sake,” or “art for art’s sake”, or “knowledge for knowledge‘s sake.” There is always a purpose behind these human activities --- to prepare the individual to live as comfortably as he could a life of dignity and achievement.

Alvin Toffler, author of the futuristic trilogy Future Shock (1970), The Third Wave (1980), and Power Shift (1990), situates this future in what he terms the “Third Wave,” which is broadly the era after the 19th century’s age of industrialization preceded by the “agricultural age” in the 18th century. Toffler himself called it “super industrialization”; Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell termed it “post industrial society,” and John Naisbitt (publisher of the quarterly Trends Report) called it the “new information society.”

This is the advent of the electronic technology and information economy.

“In the information society, we have systematized the production of knowledge and simplified our brainpower...we now mass-produce knowledge and this knowledge is the driving force of our economy,” Naisbitt wrote in his book, Megatrends, in 1982. A decade later, the knowledge industry was upon us.

Education --- which should foster skills of learning how to learn, relating, and critical selection ---- prepares one for this and the next century.

Naisbitt expresses the urgency of preparing for this future when he wrote: “while the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society took 100 years, the present restructuring from an industrial to an information society took only two decades (20 years). Change is occurring so rapidly that there is no time to react; instead, we must anticipate the future.”

In Toffler’s terms, “the curriculum of tomorrow must. . . include not only an extremely wide range of data-oriented courses, but a strong emphasis on future-relevant behaviour skills.”

Even as early as the 1920s, educator-scholars like Will Durant have warned: “Human knowledge had become unmanageably vast; every science had begotten a dozen more, each subtler than the rest...Human knowledge had become too great for the human mind.

“All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew ‘more and more about less and less’, and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more. The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out from his vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his nose. Perspective was lost. “Facts” replaced understanding; and knowledge, split into a thousand isolated fragments, no longer generated wisdom. Every science, every branch of philosophy, developed a technical terminology intelligible only to its exclusive devotees; as men learned more about the world, they found themselves ever less capable of expressing to their educated fellowmen what it was that they had learned. The gap between life and knowledge grew wider and wider; those who governed could not understand those who thought, and those who wanted to know could not understand those who knew. In the midst of unprecedented learning popular ignorance flourished...

“In this situation the function of the professional teacher was clear. It should have been to mediate between the specialist and the nation; to learn the specialist’s language, as the specialist had learned nature’s, in order to break down the barriers between knowledge and need, and find for new truths old terms that all literate people might understand.”

This called for the humanization of modern knowledge.

Lest it be muddled once again in this effort to review the curricula, perspectives for learning must not be lost. Facts must not replace understanding, and knowledge must generate wisdom.

In this scheme, the classroom teacher is and has always been the primary and major instrument of education as mediators between the expectations of education and the pupils.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


(Sa atin din may Wasteland)


(For Cesar Leyco Aguila in Australia and Isagani R. Cruz who advocates this type of multilingual writing.)

--- I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
---T .S. Eliot, The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock

It’s garbage day today; it’s time to discard the refuse.
An inspiring mantra, I mutter, before I slip into autumn galoshes
Looking brightly at a voyeur’s walk through neighbourhood muck
Arranged immaculately into green, blue, grey, and sepia bins
Mandated to guarantee that the week’s basura and mierda ---
Prophylactics and sanitary napkins, masticated fries vomited
With the arrant fish bones, newsprint-wrapped pet faeces,
Faded pictures of grandmere leering at grandpere glancing
At some tightly dungareed wench flaunting palpable haunches
Sans underpants that was last millennium’s acceptance of taste
If not coyness or even breeding in vaulted manors of delicadeza ---
Are picked up by the City Dump Meister on an antiseptic mission
To rid these fallen-leaves-strewn paseos of accidental memories,
Recuerdos de faltas pasadas, putrid waste of body functions
And memento mori gone past their memorial usefulness.

These streets are the starkest salons of the rejected.
But I, an essential old man of windy spaces, I build caminos
Of broken dreams, the day’s fleeting temple of crumpled portraits
(A lass on a pony, a go-soon clamping down on a pell-mell skirt
Blowing up with the wind come to frolic with limbs on a swing
Of wings, (Aieeee….que bueno! Que linda! Siempre fuiste la razon
De mi existir! Las lindisimas mujeres! Sangre del amor! ),
a campesino
With the ugliest-looking bass this side of the Credit River dangling
From the rod of ages, old women in antediluvian bloomers
Cavorting with Holocaust-surviving skeletons picking grapes
From a refuge of Neapolitan vineyards. Forgotten portraits,
Forgiven hurts, nurtured loves, haunting desires:
C’est mon vocu le plus cher.)

On garbage days, I walk the boulevards of refuse absented from
Their satiated origins, pick up discarded whistles or some such
Aeolian reeds, pick up reusable stuff better known as un tesoro
Hallado de basura de otro hombre
– televisions, computers, ipods,
Stereos, stoves, microwave ovens gone kaput or obsolescent,
Bathroom douches, screws, nails, tacks, pens, mock penile-shaped
Doorstoppers, and music boxes still wound to play Volver a Sorento.
The dumpster looking majestically impregnable upon its pedestal
At the Senior’s Home is spray-painted with blood-red letters “J.C.” ---
A startling graffiti proclaiming “SAVES” (a jumble of garbage chutes
Astride the metal bin) makes one cogitate: JC SAVES. Jesus Christ
Saves. The Catcher in the Rye, indeed. El hombre propongo,
Y Dios Dispongo.
What man has built on his crumbling sandboxes
Only God can make last, like the Temple J.C. built upon some Rock
“Where the Gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

I, an old man, accept the wisdom of the dumpster: How much
Garbage, indeed, has Jesus as dumpster caught that they may
Be delivered to the proper dumpsites of vile, filth, and dirt
So that they may, as human dregs, be recomposed as food
For the worms, the essential worms? On a morning constitutional,
A cathedral is no better than the dumpster where J.C. saves
The refuse of a lost paradise as compost for a paradise regained.
I am in good company as a picker. The Good Fisherman picked
His minions from the dissolute fisherfolk and bade them fish
Where fish was not. The Great Mao gathered his rebels as firesticks
On Hunan and burnt the hills to bear the fruit for the wakened Tiger.
Did not Mahatma Gandhi-ji gather his poor to cram the railways
That rendered them supine and in penury, that they may rise
And subdue the Empire that once did not see a sunset? Shantih.

Onto my dying days, I, an old man on the streets of dung,
Shall recall to any lad or lass who would listen: Ang Kagalangalangan,
Kataastaasang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan ay siyang gumulpe
Sa mga Kastilang nagbenta sa Amerika ang Inang Bayang Pilipinas,
At tumuli sa mga dayuhang Yanqui upang ang PIlipinas ay lumayang muli.
At ang mga Bolomen? Hindi nga ba sila ang mga gerilyang pumutakte sa
Mga sakang ng Bayang Hapon nang ang Pilipinas ay muling nagwagi
Maski na hindi nakabalik on opportune time si Heneral Douglas McArthur
Upang kanyang tuparin ang kanyang pangako: I shall return?
Sila man din, itong mga kababayan ay lahat mistulang dukha, pulut sa basura
Ng tadhana, namayani, ang tuloy na ring sumugpo sa karimlan maging ito’y
Digmaan or dili kaya’y baha, martial law, GMA, at iba pa. Sa Manila ngayon,
Basura sa baba, basura sa gitna, at basura para rin sa kataastaasan. ( 1)

Its garbage day on Tuesdays here, Hermano, and that’s when I go picking
Refuse, myself included. I pick my decrepit body up from its hapless
Detritus, and whistle for the wind. We cannot be old men here,
Where when we reach the end of our walk, a little boy or girl awaits
With outstretched hands, running on the wings of love and glee, to give
Their grand abrazo, besito y abuelo, abuelo! The old man is back.
He did not perish along the way. So should you not, Hermano.
We need to walk through more garbage days. Because I have not seen
Any discarded book along the way, I promise you garbage days
Are good while the Word is not yet muck with the filth of waste.
Do you have garbage days in Wales? Sydney? The Outback?
In garbage days we trust.

Missisauga, Canada, October 27, 2009
(1) Translation by author
Onto my dying days, I, an old man on the streets of dung,
Shall recall to any lad or lass who would listen:
The Honourable and Supreme Organization of the Country’s
Children (KKK) destroyed the Spanish colonial master
Who sold the Philippines to America and also cut the Yankee
Balls asunder so that the Philippines would again reign free.
And the Bolo Men? Did not its freedom fighters wreak havoc
On Japan’s bow-legged troops to win yet another war despite
The tardy return of General Douglas MacArthur who pledged:
I shall return? They, too, these impoverished compatriots,
Veritable recruits from the dumpster bins of Colonial Fate
And fortune, have overcome the grim disasters be they wars,
Floods, martial law, GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), etcetera.
In Manila this time around, there’s garbage below, garbage
In the center, and garbage, too, above.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Four days ago, I wrote one of those rare love poems that I hazard to create with considerable trepidation. Not only are love poems difficult to write, but they also turn out to be risky business. “Love in the Butterfly Garden” is one of the only two love poems I ever dared to write for my wife of almost half a century. Now I am revising it.

Revising it? Why and what for?

Although rewrites and endless revisions are part of the artistic discipline, in this case, one risks being asked: What was wrong with it? Not enough sincerity in it? Was it for real? How about the raw feelings that spontaneously gave rise to the amorous and poetic utterance? How authentic were they? Did you mean it at all? The love element at least?

This late in life, I like to believe that would not be the trigger for the rewrite. It is, as it has always been, a case of the critical mind vetting the initial pristine utterance -- once upon time, this was the sacred core of the creative process. What initially issues from the depths of the balance of thought and emotion was THE creation. Frequently, out of artistic arrogance, the first draft is THE poem until a revisiting in the tranquility of post-creation would reveal possible sections that could come back to embarrass the poet because he could have done a better job with those essentials of style and technique.

What if revision resulted in the stultification of the original aesthetic experience? What if the strictures of style and technique would only obfuscate the fervour of the initial poetic utterance? Revision could certainly be a result of artistic dread. Nevertheless, it is always accepted as the artist’s exercise of creative prerogative – the art remains unfinished until the artist says he is done. His divine right, like it or not.

In this revision, however, I thought the first version’s long lines dulled the function of the internal rhymes, the subtlety of the feminine rhymes to control otherwise effusive outbursts of verbal effluence (maybe even of periphrastic effluvium). The shorter lines serendipitously objectify the shape of the papillons involved in the act of love and immolation, of birthing and dying. The sensory-impressionistic ideograph of poem-on-the-paper could suggest the butterflies, the flitting female bearing the pupa (in stanza 1) and the supine male (resigned as victual; i.e., food for post maternity) in a force majeure ordaining its supreme sacrifice of becoming food for the short-lived birthing mariposa, all for the grand design of issuing another butterfly to go through the same process (stanza 2.) ad infinitum.

The tonal impressions from the preponderant sounds of b, p, f, ing, and alliterations shaped out of these phonemes suggest the process of flight and birthing, the reproductive ritual, and the eventual “pfffttting” of all that effort.

This being merely the beginning of a string of revisiting and hopefully not eviscerating revisions, I leave the reader to his preference. Did the revision do the poem any good? At this point, which do you prefer?


--- The female carries the male butterfly on her back while they reproduce, and then the female eats the male while waiting for the pupa to become another butterfly, and then she dies shortly after. --- Bohol Butterfly Farm Guide Felix.

How a butterfly farm can turn
an upside down imitation of life,
haunts me still this side of art as life
or life as art as transfixed visions
of what we must be now:
like the gravid mariposa luring its mate
in a flight of duty -– she must bear
the male of her specie on her back
while they consummate a dance on air
not unlike our act of mating ---
she enamouring her mate
with scents purloined from blossoms
as, conjoined, they flit from flower to leaf
tumbling on air in ecstasy
not unknown to us when wild and young
and brave with joie de vivre,
for they must breed their kind
in a chrysalis of quiescence hurriedly,
urgently, before an inexorable end
where the male must be consumed
as her victual while she clings
to bramble branches bearing her pupa
seen to us now, voyeurs of unfolding
beauty and arresting splendour,
as the preening papillon bestirring
the dry air into a flutter of magic
sprung from throes of death and dying,
for she, too, must soon perish
after this function of issuing
a magnificence that for us can only be
borne of love and loving, yes,
perhaps also onto death and dying.

The poet’s refrain, “how do I love thee”,
is supercilious here, cher ami,
it cannot match the male butterfly’s sacrifice,
nor this mariposa’s dying
to bear life, beauty, and splendour.
Alas, beauty is an omen here.

(Revised August 28, 2009)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009



--- The female carries the male butterfly on her back while they reproduce, and then the female eats the male while waiting for the pupa to become another butterfly, and then she dies shortly after. --- Bohol Butterfly Farm Guide Felix.

How a butterfly farm can turn an upside down imitation of life,
Haunts me still this side of art as life or life as art as transfixed visions
Of what we must be now: like the gravid mariposa luring its mate
In a flight of duty -– she must bear the male of her specie on her back
While they consummate a dance on air not unlike our act of mating,
She enamouring her mate with scents purloined from blossoms
As, conjoined, they flit from flower to leaf tumbling on air in ecstasy
Not unknown to us when wild and young and brave with joie de vivre,
For they must breed their kind in a chrysalis of quiescence hurriedly,
Urgently, before an inexorable end where the male must be consumed
As victual for her while she clings to bramble branches to bear her pupa
Seen to us now, voyeurs of unfolding beauty and arresting splendour,
As the preening papillon bestirring the dry air into a flutter of magic
Sprung from throes of death and dying, for she, too, must soon perish
After this function of issuing a magnificence that for us can only be borne
Of love and loving, yes, perhaps also onto death and dying.

The poet’s refrain, “how do I love thee”, is supercilious here,
cher ami,
It cannot match the male butterfly’s sacrifice, nor this mariposa’s dying
To bear life, beauty, and splendour. Alas, beauty here is an omen.

August 26, 2009 (From the Writer’s Notebook of a Visayan Vacation, 2009)

Thursday, August 13, 2009


(Click on image to zoom on text and pictures)

There was a lot of dying to do in August during my holiday in the Philippines.

Philippine heroine and former President Corazon C. Aquino succumbed to colon cancer August 1. The grief and nation-wide angst over her demise just about obscured another death or dying --- that of the National Artist Award, a presidential recognition for Filipino artists who have distinguished themselves as assets of Philippine culture and patrimony. We will not even mention those who died in the landslides and floods triggered by yet another typhoon pummelling this archipelago in the season of the storms. Drowning of kids in fetid, bloated esteros and murky rivers around Manila and its environs excite scant column inches in the papers and desultory sound bites on broadcast media. Insurgency in Mindanao rounds up the death count with citizens, soldiers, and rebels snuffed out in the hands of territorial wars. Dying is de rigueur here.

“At a ‘necrological service’ for the award (National Artist Award)---a protest action held yesterday afternoon (August 7)---four National Artists ‘buried’ their gold medallions to protest what they said was a mockery of the recognition given to exceptional Filipino artists,” a daily, Philippine Daily Inquirer, reported.

The kerfuffle resulted from President Gloria Arroyo’s appointment of a film director and “funnies" writer Carlo J. Caparas and National Commission on Culture and the Arts executive director and stage and theatre artist Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, who runs the recommending body for the awards. Their appointment did not go through the nomination process of the joint recommendatory boards of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines and the NCCA. Nothing, however, in the process precluded the President from appointing her own nominees.

“We want to show our disgust. We will not use our medallion until the issue is settled,” National Artist for Literature awardee, poet Virgilio Almario told the Inquirer.

“It‘s really frustrating how some people like (Mrs. Arroyo) disregard the real essence of the award,” Bienvenido Lumbera, another awardee for literature, protested.

National Artists for Visual Arts Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera and Arturo Luz also laid their medallions to rest in a symbolic funeral ceremony in front of the CCP in Pasay City. National Artists (for Sculpture) Napoleon Abueva, (for Cinema Arts ) Salvador Bernal and Eddie Romero were “also in attendance” according to the paper.Novelist and National Artist for Literature Francisco Sionil Jose was among the leaders of the protest who lambasted President Arroyo’s exercise of her prerogative.

They all heaped umbrage on Caparas’ and Alvarez’s nomination. In the process of lambasting President Arroyo for her choices, they also attacked the awardees -- Caparas as not up to par and Alvarez’s as “inappropriate” or without “delicadeza” (sensitivity to niceties), simply crass.

None of the protesting awardees, however, returned their medals, a hundred-thousand-peso lump sum award, or waived a 24,000-peso monthly pension, health benefits, and ceremonial place of honour prerogatives in state functions. A genuinely no-holds-barred grand gesture of dumping the award altogether, a surrender of these perquisites was the logical conclusion of their loss of faith and disgust over the Presidential “mockery” of the process of selecting awardees. A symbolic funeral for the awards sufficed for the “insulted” National Artists. Some branded it as a theatrical “palabas” (show or spectacle). Former Censor Board chief Manuel Morato alluded to this as “so much falsehood, insincerity, and hypocrisy have infected our culture…it is indicative of the culture of hatred that is so embedded in our society today,” Morato said in the course of lamenting the violent reactions to the President’s awards of the title to his friends Carlo J. Caparas and Cecile Alvarez, the paper reported.

Caparas, who said he did not ask for the award, called a press conference and labelled his critics as “elitist”, and his wife said “if you don’t belong to their cliques, you are declared unqualified.” The issue cracked a wide chasm between the “elitist” and the popular “mass” artists, and exposed an essential flaw in the awards. Critic Lumbera invokes the sanctity of the “real essence of the awards” as a source of frustration, disgust, and insult. Is not the award a recognition of artistic achievement whether it is “high brow” or “low brow” art as long as they are a contribution to the national patrimony and cultural heritage? Are these critics prepared to denounce popular art (like stage burlesque, soap operas, exportable scenery paintings of the Ermita Impressionists) as flotsam and therefore not contributory to national culture? Is Dolphy not an artist on his own? What about the late Chichay and Tolindoy, Pogo and Togo, et al as stand-up comics of pre-and-post-war years?

Alvarez said she did not have anything to do with her selection. A pioneer in educational theatre, she is deemed in various artistic quarters as eminently qualified, but why did she have to be appointed to the order outside of the normal process? The NCCA chairman, Dr. Vilma Labrador, said President Arroyo was attentive to Alvarez’s “lifetime dedication to the arts … in leading the movement for a national theatre and its development to forge our cultural identity and preserve our heritage.”

Who is an artist? If he comes from the disparate regions and not Manila-based, what are his chances of being considered for the title? Is he a fine artist or an artisan? What has he contributed to the culture of the nation? Who will pass judgment on his particular art? Is there a standard state yardstick for what a national artist must be? Will this not delimit the universe of celebration of the creative artist who must hew close to “national aspirations” as opposed to free expression and creative imagination? Why must there be a national artist, but not a national teacher, scientist, biologist, pharmacist, farmer, businessman, overseas worker, salesman, or call-centre expert? Reductio ad absurdum, it is pretentious, superfluous, and discriminatory to recognize only the national artist.

If the awards are calculated to compensate the artists for their work, why not create a National Arts Council that would determine the subsidy for the artist’s work. That is a more substantial recognition of his work than any photo-op award or medallion. That guarantees continued production of art as part of the stockpiling of treasures that form part of the nation’s cultural heritage. Otherwise, the artist will be pigeonholed as destitute and deserving of a pension to continue supporting him throughout his lifetime. Why limit it to artists? Are there no other contributors to culture who deserve the financial support?

It is just as well that the protest took the form of a funeral and necrological tableau. Let the National Artist Award die this ignominious death.

When it was first conceived during the rule of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos, its exponent, Mrs. Imelda Marcos, saw it as a manner of getting the art community behind the Marcos regime. Then Presidential Strategic Services Institute director, the late Adrian E. Cristobal, saw it as an opportunity to recognize Philippine artists, some of them expatriates like Jose Garcia Villa. A noisy critic of the Marcos regime, the late lamented writer Nick Joaquin was a hesitant awardee who saw it as a chance to create leverage for petitioning the martial law government to free incarcerated writers and journalists.

Hatched in one of those Cristobal-led meetings of artists and intellectuals in the 70s, the award offered a P75.000 prize for the winning artist, a medal, and a chance to grace all state functions as an honoured guest. In one of these meetings at the Solidaridad Bookshop of author and now National Artist Francisco Sionil Jose, Joaquin said he might consider to receive the award if the martial law government would release political prisoners like poet and journalist Jose F. Lacaba, imprisoned for vitriolic articles in the Philippines Free Press against the Marcos regime.

Throughout the subsequent years, the Award metamorphosed into a pension fund for the awardees who would then consider themselves beholden to the leader who appointed them.

Because there was money behind the award, it became a sought-after award; lobbying for it became a game of chance for whoever felt like an entitled artist. (What would prevent graffiti artists to lay claim?) Cliques of artists considered others outside of the ambit of the award. Those in the academic circles felt those practising their art in the “market” (Ermita art shops, script writers, commercial movie directors, fashion designers) were not of the same league as they were who preen in the ivory towers of the academe. Academics doubled as cushioned poets, novelists, and avant-garde authors whose works got published by their university publishing houses. They provided for their own health benefits and pension funds. Meanwhile, those in the “palengke” had to scrounge to please the bakya (wooden clogs) crowd to support their popularized by-products.

Hence, Carlo Caparas cannot be an “artist” within the ambit of the National Artist Award, if Virgilo Almario and Bienvenido Lumbera were consulted. Who has the right and the imprimatur to determine who is a qualified artist who might compete for the awards? Dare other artists do that? When did art hew only to the line of the Parnassian? What is so base about the artistic aspirations of massmen or the great unwashed? What is art for, but also for those among the benighted that they may edify their small lives in the slums of unforgiving poverty? Arts gratia artis (art for art’s sake) died with Aristotle, Cervantes, and Shakespeare and the authentic artists who lifted their audience from the depths of ignorance to the light of celebration. Art is for all men. Art will be democratic, like it or not. "Let the artist beware" is his own caveat in a world of diminished sensitivity.

Davao City Writers’ Guild president, poet, and university professor Ricardo de Ungria wrote the NCCA and CCP a comprehensive set of proposals to improve the selection process and policies of the National Artist Award last May 2009 to forestall the looming disrepute and disenchantment over the awards. His suggestions were not acted upon. Author Jose Dalisay, Jr. said in his Penman blog, had the NCCA and CCP acted on de Ungria’s suggestions, the imbroglio that has become the “other death” in tandem with Corazon Aquino’s would not have happened.

Artists as contributors to a distinct patrimonial, cultural heritage deserve to be honoured. The country’s now moribund Republic Heritage Award would have been a better vehicle for this award. Artists are not the only contributors to a heritage worth living in the Philippines for – there are as many sectors as there are Filipinos who believe that greatness abides in this nation. If heroes have to be “emulated” by the restive populace, a system of recognition could be developed by the Philippine Government that is free of partisanship, political opportunism, and spurious image building. The Filipino as a hero in his homeland need not be a puffed-up “bayaning huwad” (fake hero) na karaniwa’y hubad” (often stripped of value). The Filipino as hero is a paradigm of Citizen Juan de la Cruz, but not at the expense of authenticity.

Leave the artists to carve their own monuments among the people. No Government award can do that. If Caparas’ komiks and movies are more cogent communicators of Philippine culture and values, they will be supported by art’s consumers, the masa, the Philippine everyman. The authentic culture of a people is what they develop and live by. Neither Presidential award nor isolated artistic persuasion (artistic cliques, salon artistry, boutique and haute couture, ad nauseam) can beget this. Besides, awards for those who strive to create beauty in their souls are nothing but craven vanities -- a refuge of the shallow and vacuous poseurs who strive for the wind -- vanity of vanities. Art remains as the artist’s life blood. Awards or none.