Conrado de Quiros: A homage
The week should not pass without us paying homage to a writer who profoundly influenced so many readers in our contemporary times, and who left us for the great beyond three days ago. From 1987 to 2014, Conrado de Quiros wrote an opinion column entitled “There’s The Rub” that inspired, provoked, enraged, entertained, and ridiculed people, government, country, and the universe.
It’s been almost a decade since ill-health stopped his vein of ink from flowing into his mighty pen, but social media teems with people who are vividly recollecting how they eagerly awaited each of the days when his opinion pieces came out. People fondly recall how they started their mornings reading his articles over mugs of coffee, and how they were deeply impressed by his incisive reasoning and exquisite prose, even if they didn’t always agree with him all of the time. I can’t think of any other writer in recent memory who has had such an impact on so many of our citizens.
When he was writing for the Inquirer, De Quiros came out with opinion pieces for four consecutive days each week, a feat that’s inconceivable for a mortal like me. I often scramble in deciding on a topic, get constipated in coming out with the right words, and all I can handle is just one piece a week.
I started reading De Quiros’ column pieces in the early ‘90s, and like many of his readers, I was captivated and hooked. I always took leisurely time reading his sentences, even committing to memory his brilliant turn of phrases. His out-of-the-box reckoning of issues, his crisp sentences, and his imaginative figures of speech, left me with indelible influences. I started writing for this paper a year after De Quiros parked his pen. I met him in a couple of meetings where I sat beside him while we participated in a gathering of civil society leaders, discussing and planning actions against the politically and morally bankrupt administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. De Quiros was not the bombast that most public personalities are, but you could sense that he absorbs viewpoints and sizes up their proponents.
In addition to his opinion columns which were compiled in book forms in “Flowers from the Rubble” and “Dance of the Dunces,” De Quiros authored several other books including a compilation of his speeches in “Tongues on Fire,” a book about martial law entitled “Dead Aim: How Marcos Ambushed Philippine Democracy,” “The February Revolution: Three Views,” and “The Bird-Catcher Was a Poet: The Life and Passion of Eduardo A. Makabenta Sr.,” the latter two he coauthored with other writers.
Silliman University professor Ian Casocot posted online De Quiros’ poignant meditation on the importance of our roots: “My own hometown is Naga City, though I was born in Manila,” he once wrote. “It is where I spent my boyhood and adolescence and learned my first language, which is Bicol. It is where I go to charge my psychic batteries. I barely know anybody there anymore from childhood, but the place itself holds a raging volcano of memories for me, which sends electrical surges through my soul. Hometowns give you a sense of bearing in a world—especially so this country—seemingly drifting in space, bound for nowhere.”
Journalist Leo Udtohan quoted De Quiros’ exaltation of the Filipino: “Truly the Filipino rises to his finest self during trying times, the more trying the times, the finer the rising. Or it is in times of disaster that the Filipino ceases to be a disaster, thinking of others first before self. ”
Al Delgado who blogs as “Malditang Librarian” extracted a passage from one of De Quiros’ speeches: “The greatest enemy is never somebody else, it is oneself. The greatest deterrent is not today, it is yesterday and tomorrow. Or at least the yesterday that never was, and the tomorrow that never will be” (from “Heroes of our Time”).
Delgado also quotes from another speech of De Quiros which forewarns us to be mindful of our past: “For the past always catches up in more ways than it has the way of rattling the skeletons in our closet. The past always catches up in that it pervades the present, like air, or the vultures that circle in the air. You may not leave the past like a one-night stand or a stale love. It hounds. It dogs. It tracks. And it finds. Always it finds. You cannot escape the past. You can only do two things with the past. You can make it a fiercely loyal lover or you can make it a scorned and bitter one. There is no in-between. It admits of nothing else” (from “A Real Book”).
De Quiros may have produced a literary output written in the context of bygone days. But his exhortations reverberate as timeless classics because the demons of our past thrive in our present, and they have even grown and multiplied. The writings of Conrado de Quiros should be required reading in our schools. He was one of the finest specimens of our race.
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