F. Sionil Jose at 90: Remarks for a Dear Friend.

An Unusual Birthday Cake

A few weeks ago I was asked to prepare remarks for Manong Frankie’s 90th birthday. A day after having said my piece, I still have to pinch myself and ask if that really happened. Here is the speech as I recall it–I’ve also added things I should have said but missed. Part of me regrets not having typed this all out. I don’t often speak extemporaneously but preparing for this was difficult. How does one capture the essence of a man and his impact on one’s life in three minutes tops? How do I to talk about the books and the way his words have sparked and sealed my love for my motherland? I can’t do it all in one speech–but if you catch me somewhere, somehow, I will tell you everything and there is so much to tell.

——————————

December 3, 2014, Cultural Center of the Philippines

Ten years ago, I would have been happy just to read you but tonight, allow me to honor you. You are ahead of me by 64 years, a lifetime in itself! You are one of my dearest friends and I have only gratefulness to share.

I am grateful to a certain Miguel, who, when we were both sophomores in high school, thought it sophisticated to read aloud lines from your book, Platinum. This was how I discovered you. He was trying to woo me but alas, I ended up with you instead, Manong.

I am grateful to the Jose family. If it’s true that your father writes from life then he’s not only shared his own life but yours in the many pages of his work. You form part and parcel of the Filipino story–the one your father likes to tell–and I can only imagine what this must have cost you by way of privacy and time with him. You’ve given us so much and though your family is big by comparison, I appreciate feeling like the youngest daughter. Your warmth and love encourages that.

I am grateful to Tita Tessie who is patient beyond compare. You (Manong) have grown old and difficult, often saying things you should never say in public for fear of losing friends–but just look at this crowd gathered here tonight, Manong.

We’re all here to celebrate you.

If there’s one thing you’ve taught me by your own example, it’s that a writer’s integrity is paramount.

I am grateful to you. You are ahead of me by 64 years and there is very little by way of experience that binds us but the time you give young writers like me, the way you listen, the effort you take to break bread with us and do as friends do–that’s what I cherish.

I can spend the next twenty years of my life explaining how deeply your words and your friendship has meant to me but I know you’ll have none of that. You’d rather I find my own voice and write. So I will.

But let me just say, and I’ll end with this: It’s difficult to be young these days and find reason to love one’s country. It’s lonelier still to love it because so few really do–and this is why our friendship means the most to me. So many of our leaders have let us down and even in the realm of literature and art, we are not spared from betrayal. But I just want you to know–you haven’t let me down. You haven’t let me down.

Happy birthday, Manong.

Blowing his candles.One last thing. This isn’t the first time I’ve celebrated him. Here’s an excerpt from an article I did for Rogue Magazine a year ago:

I have been in and out of Solidaridad many times over the past years. I keep the tradition of going in the afternoon and staying as long as Mang Frankie will allow my curiosity. We’ve shared many differences in opinion and though neither of us backs down, the steam we generate only triggers more pressing and vital questions. In the middle of a tirade against our constant forgetfulness, I watch as one of the most brilliant Filipino savants devours a doughnut. Harsh words are then tempered by the sugar that forms on his lips and immediately, I am endeared to this old man who despite his age still relishes the company of someone equally as stubborn, but less informed.

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