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Ninoy and two women writers

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Events in Libya, with anti-Gadhafi forces already reaching Tripoli the capital, signaling the overthrow of the strongman, remind us once more of our People Power revolt some 25 years ago. This event heralded not just the end of the Marcos dictatorship but also the chain of popular uprisings around the world that have culminated in the remarkable “Arab Spring” earlier this year.

We had occasion once more to remember Edsa with the observance over the weekend of the death anniversary of Ninoy Aquino. There were public and private commemorations, but for many of us, perhaps the most immediate and intimate observance was watching the documentary “Si Ninoy sa Mata ng mga Pinoy,” aired Sunday night over ABS-CBN.

In truth, there was nothing new or startling in the documentary, since it was basically a rehash of recent history, with a telling of the late senator’s life, tracing his political career, his detention (and spiritual conversion) during martial law, the short respite he enjoyed with his family in Boston, and then his decision to fly home where he was to meet his martyrdom.

But I realize that the primary audience of the documentary, hosted by actor Piolo Pascual, were not Filipinos of my age, who lived through those turbulent years. Rather, it is the generation of young adults and teens who were not even born during Ninoy’s assassination, the years of street protests that followed it, or even the Edsa revolt.

It is to them that these periodic reviews and explanations of what makes Ninoy a hero, or why we observe the anniversary of his assassination, are directed. And it is to them that our generation, who took part in the protests and gathered at Edsa, hand over the memories of those days and their meaning in our life as a nation.

* * *

BUT “Ninoy sa Mata ng mga Pinoy (Ninoy in the Eyes of Pinoys)” serves more than just as an exercise in nostalgia. Through the testimony of historians and key figures who played a personal role in the story of Ninoy, including his daughters and son, we have an organized, cogent narrative that makes room for both the broad sweep of past and current events, as well as for intimate recollections that make us better understand Ninoy, the man.

One thing that emerges from this documentary is that to Ninoy a life in the public eye was something he sought and craved, not only because of his ambitions and sense of destiny, but also because enjoying the company of people, even utter strangers, was a vital part of his personality.

Telling, indeed, was Ballsy’s story that during their three years in Boston, her father eagerly waited for visitors “like a child during his birthday party” to drop by to give their greetings and barter news and gossip.

Indeed, as former Sen. Jovito Salonga said of Ninoy, he was “the best president the Philippines never had.” And hovering over the entire documentary was the bittersweet realization that despite the frustration of his own ambition, Ninoy would end up paving the way for the presidency of his widow Cory, who with her own passing opened the door to the presidency of their son P-Noy.

* * *

LET me pay tribute here to two women writers who passed away recently: Kerima Polotan Tuvera, a journalist, editor, novelist and short story writer; and Edith Tiempo, a poet and fictionist best known for conducting, with her late husband Edilberto, the annual writers’ workshop in their home on the grounds of Silliman University in Dumaguete.

I never had the honor of taking part in the workshops conducted by the Tiempos, so all I have to go on are the fond and fun memoirs of those who made the annual trek to Dumaguete to put their writings through the relentless scrutiny of the workshop panels.

Neither did I ever meet Polotan, although I have long been a fan. Starting with her feature pieces written for the Philippines Free Press magazine, and thence with Focus magazine which she edited, Polotan conveyed a trenchant voice observing the amusing, if sometimes exasperating, goings-on in Philippine society.

Her short stories and novels were unsentimental and clear-eyed depictions of heartbreak and disillusion. But her writing was dazzling and unflinching in its honesty.

* * *

I WRITE of them because, while I was growing up and learning the trade, these women writers provided a model of a life to aspire for.

Often, as we go through life learning the ropes of journalism and of writing, we take for our own teachers who “instruct” us in the art and skill of stringing words together simply by their own writing or by the way they lived their lives.

The Tiempos’ workshop was always a goal devoutly wished for, though ever since I had made the decision in college to pursue journalism, I knew the chances were slim I would ever get invited. But the very idea of being “Mommy” to generations of creative writers while creating one’s own personal family unit was beguiling and entrancing.

As for Kerima Polotan, I consider her a mentor, simply because her writing provided a template for honest, truthful and always entertaining journalism and fiction. Stories I heard of her personal life—her marriage to writer Juan Tuvera, her large family (one daughter was a classmate of mine), and her larger-than-life personality (and reputedly galvanic temper)—only added to her allure.

Most important, she proved it was possible, at a time in my life when I feared the challenges of balancing a career, romance and a family, to juggle the many components of a woman’s life and still keep one’s balance. And most important, still write well.


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