If there is one thing that the late Frankie Sionil Jose would perhaps like to be remembered for, it is his unequivocal fight for social justice. If one would closely examine the themes of his books and novels, many of them translated in 28 languages, opinion pieces, and interests he had pursued, it is the search for Filipino identity and an authentic desire that our country and people would be able to free themselves from shackles that had kept them from fulfilling their aspirations for freedom and equality.
I had known Frankie for over five decades most of this time he spent writing novels, traveling and working in some foreign country and engaging in cultural exchange and building a body of work (Solidarity, an international journal on critical development concerns; the Solidaridad Bookstore, which he managed together with wife Tessie, and regarded as the best independent literary bookshop in the country, a venue for various workshops and literary gatherings; as well as founding the local chapter of the global PEN where he was elected international vice-president in 2019). For all these, he is perhaps today one of the most multi-awarded Filipino – a National Artist in 2001, a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature, a Carlos Palanca Awardee, and recipient of awards from France, Chile, and a Doctor of Humanities recognition from UP, among many others. He convened national conferences on culture which recommended policy guidelines on how the country can mobilize its resources towards the construction of a desired vision – the common good.
This search for “alternatives” was shown when he asked me to prepare a paper on communication with focus on community media, and to invite other scholars to do the same and to participate in an all-day meeting which he had convened. The papers and proceedings were subsequently published in “Solidarity,” as one of the issues of national and regional concerns.
In several writings, FSJ presented historical antecedents of this passion for equity and justice by citing some peasant uprisings in the country brought about by the agrarian problem. One of that of how his forefathers, unlettered Ilokano peasants became victims of mestizo ilustrados who stole their land; the others included the Colorum uprising in Tayug Pangasinan in 1931 by Pedro Caloso who said: “God created land, air water for all men, not just for one man and family”; the 1935 Sakdal revolt that engulfed parts of Laguna, Bulacan, and Nueva Ecija; and the Huk uprising in 1949-1953. Our foreign colonizers have gone, he said. But they had left behind the elites who are now the holders of wealth, of power, who hold hostage our political system. Verily, a nation does not have to be a colony of a foreign power. It can be the colony of its own leaders, our oligarchy…This is what had created our national malaise.”
And as his son had said after he passed away, “My father truly believed what he had written.”
Now, we can understand why the much admired, and now, a controversial figure, is an angry senior citizen. Those who know him well had said that he died of a broken heart because our social and political structure and our values had not changed over the years. I am inclined to believe too that even if he wanted to go on living because much still needed to be done, his “brave heart” had said “No,” let your followers carry on.
Thus, FSJ who quietly went into the night (I pray it would be the same for me), had said his goodbye and had expressed his best hopes for the country he loves through his novels, poetry, opinion pieces, and several other mementoes of a life well-lived. Our country is much poorer by his passing.
Farewell, and we pray that Tessie would continue Frankie’s unfinished task – his quest for social justice and freedom.
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