Lazaro Francisco, Cabanatuan’s treasure
I was in my hometown Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija two weeks ago for a gala awards night that coincided with the city’s 70th anniversary. Perhaps I should not complain because my brother Chito, who is current ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, was an awardee, but I thought it a serious omission that during the ceremony, there was no mention of the city’s treasure, National Artist for Literature Lazaro Francisco. His residence on Rizal Street, Barangay Bonifacio is now the Museo ng Lazaro Francisco, a mandatory tourist spot in the city. (It is a street I am familiar with as my grandparents lived on the same street.) Truly, a prophet is not acknowledged in one’s own hometown; even I only had a belated discovery of the genius in our midst. It was reassuring to know from the Facebook post of Francisco’s son, Dr. Floriño Francisco, that the Cabanatuan city government, Department of Education Cabanatuan, and Masonic Lodge No. 53 are honoring Francisco on his 122nd birth anniversary on Saturday, Feb. 22. A zarzuela competition has been launched among students, focusing on the life and works of Lazaro Francisco. Ka Saro was not born in Cabanatuan but in Orani, Bataan, though most of his childhood and adult years were spent in Cabanatuan where the family settled after migrating from Orani because of religious differences. An interesting literary detail is that Orani was also where Francisco Baltazar or Balagtas, known for “Florante at Laura,” wandered around, presumably in search of inspiration for his poetry.
As early as the fourth grade, Lazaro was recognized for his fluency with words. This skill was put to good use when his classmates would ask him to write love letters that he would deliver himself while maintaining his anonymity.He completed his 7th grade at the Cabanatuan West Central School, which has now been renamed after him. His teacher always assigned him to handle the grammar class because he excelled in it.
It was not long after that he began contributing stories to Liwayway, where his readers awaited every week’s installment of the serial stories. He gained the reputation of being the magazine’s highest paid contributor and also having his manuscript published as is, with no editing at all.
He wrote beautifully in Tagalog but was even more commended because of his choice of subject matter—usually the plight of farmers under a tenancy system, then considered a revolutionary topic.
In his lifetime, Ka Saro received many awards, from the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1970 to Ateneo’s Tanglaw ng Lahi Award, which recognized him as a master of the Tagalog novel. It is unfortunate that the highest award that the Philippine government bestows on a Filipino person of letters—the National Artist for Literature—came 29 years after his death on June 17, 1980.
A few evenings ago, I was also at a second fellowship night of Circulo Novo Ecijano, hosted by Ambassador Francis Chua. It is with them in mind that I am listing below the titles of Lazaro Francisco’s 12 novels, especially since some continue to be available from the UP and the Ateneo publishing houses, with a few English translations, too.
“Binhi at Bunga” (1925): on corporal punishment suffered by his brother
“Cesar” (1926): one he considered a mere literary exercise
“Ama” (1929): focuses on the tenancy system
“Bayang Nagpatiwakal” (1931): speaks against foreign capital and its impact on the economy
“Sa Paanan ng Krus” (1934): about a widower who remarries and whose second wife has difficulties adjusting to her stepchildren
“Ang Pamana ng Pulubi” (1935): adapted for stage and the screen, it is the story of two orphans
“Bago Lumubog ang Araw” (1936): revolves around the conflict between duty and love
“Singsing na Pangkasal” (1939): deals with complications of love, romantic entanglements, fate, and divine providence
“Ilaw sa Hilaga” (1947): dramatized the plight of Filipinos who struggle in an economy dominated by foreigners; has a forthcoming English translation to be published in Singapore
“Sugat ng Alaala” (1951): on love and war
“Maganda Pa ang Daigdig” (1956): focuses on Central Luzon and its tenancy system
“Daluyong” (1961): a sequel to “Maganda Pa ang Daigdig”
Lazaro Francisco is a Filipino writer to know and be proud of.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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