Distinguished author Francisco Sionil José or Manong Frankie, as he is fondly called by his peers, died peacefully in his sleep at the Makati Medical Center, Thursday evening. He was declared dead 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, at the age of 97.
On an earlier social media post, Manong Frankie wrote what constitutes as his last words:
“Thank you brave heart. There are times when as an agnostic I doubt the presence of an almighty and loving God. But dear brave heart you are here to disprove this illusion, to do away with the conclusion that if you doubt Him, you kill Him. I cannot kill you dear heart; you have to do that yourself. For 97 years you have been constantly working patiently pumping much more efficiently and longer than most machines. Of course, I know that a book lasts long too, as the libraries have shown, books that have lived more than 300 years. Now, that I am here in waiting for an angioplasty, I hope that you will survive it and I with it, so that I will be able to continue what I have been doing with so much energy that only you have been able to give. Thank you dear brave heart and dear Lord for this most precious gift.”
He is survived by his wife Teresita Jose, with whom he had seven children Antonio, Evelina, Brigida, Epharam, Eugene, Alejo, and Irwin.
The Ilocano writer recently celebrated his birthday on Dec. 3, 1924. He was born in Rosales, Pangasinan, which is the setting for many of his stories. Among his works, five won the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, in particular, the short stories The God Stealer in 1959, Waywaya in 1979, Arbol de Fuego (Firetree) in 1980, the novel Mass in 1981, and the essay A Scenario for Philippine Resistance in 1979.
Various award-giving bodies have feted Manong Frankie with distinctions for his exceptional works and for being an outstanding Filipino in the field of literature since the ’80s. The first of his many recognitions was the 1979 City of Manila Award for Literature, which was presented to him by then Manila Mayor Ramon Bagatsing. He was conferred with the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts the following year. His other accolades include the Outstanding Fulbrighters Award for Literature in 1988, the Cultural Center of the Philippines Award (CCP) Gawad para sa Sining in 1989, CCP Centennial Award in 1999, the prestigious Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 2000, and the Order of Sacred Treasure (Kun Santo Zuiho Sho) in 2001.
Also in 2001, the government named him a National Artist for Literature for his indispensable contributions to Philippine literature. Three years later, he garnered the coveted Pablo Neruda Centennial Award in Chile. In 2015, the French ambassador to the Philippines Gilles Garachon presented him a medal of Officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters, which promoted him from knight to officier.
In a BBC News report, Manong Frankie was deemed as the most widely read Filipino author in English with his “numerous short stories, essays, and novels, including the five-volume Rosales Saga that chronicles the lives of generations of a family, whose story intertwines with the social struggles of the Philippines.”
Prior to him being published by Random House, Manong Frankie’s works had been translated in several languages, 28 to be exact, including French, Russian, Korean, Indonesian, Czech, Russian, Latvian, Ukrainian, Dutch Japanese, to name a few.
Manong Frankie was supposed to have undergone angioplasty on Dec. 28, but on his doctors’ advice, the procedure was delayed for fear that he might not survive it. The operation was rescheduled on Friday, Jan. 7, just a few hours away from his passing.