To Manong Frankie, with much gratitude
Two other writers and a publisher whose lives National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose touched write with much gratitude:
Kristian Cordero, writer: Manong Frankie was the first National Artist who visited us in the seminary in Naga in 2003. He and Napoleon Abueva were honored by the school and were given the chance to speak. Abueva was very reserved, a man of few words. But Manong Frankie had this bombastic voice; an instigator, he challenged us young seminarians then to really be of service to the poor and to be not like the filthy rich friars. He said we should never forget our roots, our origins. Priesthood, like the military, could give us so many opportunities and the kind of life we would hardly imagine possible in this sad and poor republic, he said. He admonished us to know the colonial origins of our religion and be brave to ask the questions.
That he had the guts to directly say this before a conservative Naga audience left a lasting impression on me.
On a personal note, I think of Manang Tessie now when I think of Manong Frankie. He is no longer just the big writer that I met when I was a young and timid seminarian. They have become business advisers, because upon learning that I had recently established my own bookshop, they immediately gave me two of their rotating bookshelves. They would always ask me how my shop is doing when I bring Ateneo de Naga University Press titles to Solidaridad. Manang Tessie would always tell me to never extend hours of operation: “If you said you close by 8 p.m., you close by 8 p.m.” Manong Frankie, meanwhile, would always give me free books to sell in the shop.
Maria L. M. “Dada” Fres-Felix, writer: He belies the stereotype of the stingy Ilocano, generous with his dime and time. Philippine PEN enjoys rent-free headquarters at Solidaridad, with an open bar to boot! He also makes time out of his busy schedule to read the work of aspiring writers. He has given blurbs and a foreword to two of my short story collections. I requested him to read a novel in progress and he gave very insightful comments. The novel has stalled because I became very busy. Whenever we meet, he urges me to finish it. I finally revisited the novel when I learned that at his age, he is currently working on his nth novel and is nearing completion!
Karina Bolasco, director, Ateneo de Manila University Press: I have known Manong Frankie for almost three decades now, though technically I first met him through “The Pretenders,” the first Filipino novel I read in college where my literature major curriculum was almost a hundred-percent American, British and European. I was deeply moved by it.
He is known to be quite upfront and transparent. Especially when he loves you, he can be very critical. So sitting at his famous round table on the second floor of his bookstore Solidaridad, where many great writers (international and local) have sat, is an invitation to engage with him and be engaged by him. There, you can argue no end. And at 95 years old, he still goes up that staircase. It’s metaphorically climbing new intellectual heights each time, to talk to, and be talked to by, the best minds.
He asks the basic but hard questions: Why do you write? For whom? Are you helping build the nation? What is important to write today? Are you happy with what you wrote?
I think what he finds strong and solid are stories that engage politically, that revolve around protests and struggles for justice, whether personal or collective.
At 95, he has given us and the nation so so much: his entire life, without distraction, without any deviation—he is doggedly stubborn that way.
And we at the PEN Board this year said yes to hosting the 85th PEN International Congress, the first in Southeast Asia, because it’s been Manong’s dream since he founded the organization in 1957. We lovingly obliged, against all odds. And boy, was he effortlessly the Congress rock star!
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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