Fair-weather friendship is what PhilSTAR lifestyle writer Joel Pablo Salud exhibits in his recent Facebook post where, to highlight how close a friend he was to national artist F. Sionil Jose, writes about how he had “spent a night in his home in QC, tasted Tita Tessie’s cooking, and enjoyed untold number of hours listening to his stories”. But then…
My doubts began when he first wrote “Duterte’s Revolution” at the beginning of the President’s term. I confronted him with it, first during a visit to Solidaridad, then during our trip to Rosales. On the way there, he sounded as if he had a change of mind, hence I took his word for it.
The friendship whizzed and tumbled and finally came to an end after he wrote his piece on the closure of ABS-CBN. I wrote a piece countering his own, and emailed it to him first out of courtesy to the old man. When he refused me the dignity of an answer, I posted the piece online.
When news of our retrenchment from Graphic reached him, he emailed me and asked if my wife and I were okay–like nothing ever happened. I find that absolutely weird. This time, I refused to give him the courtesy of a reply.
Salud’s hate for his old friend is such that he writes, “the National Artist title still belongs under the purview and funding of the Office of the President. Maybe it’s time we change all that. How? Your guess is as good as mine.” Who does Salud think he is? The National Artist for Literature worked hard for him to be accorded that honor. But aside from that, one does need talent in order to become a writer of Sionil Jose’s stature. What is wrong about writing about the current issues of the time? Voicing an opinion is freedom of expression. Every one has a right to do so. The latest claimed wrong done by the national artist to the “editor in-chief” is his view about the death of Kerima Tariman. If you read Sionil Jose, you will realize that he had the tendency for socialism during his youth. This was the result of his background as the child of farmers in Rosales, Pangasinan. Unlike most Filipinos whose goal is to cross over to the other side of the social divide, Jose doesn’t have much material wealth to show for his achievements. There is his book store Solidaridad alone and the royalties from his books.
I have never formally met him but I have seen him up close whenever I was invited to one of Ramon Orlina’s soirees in Manila or his hometown of Taal. Last May when Salud let loose one of his crybaby diatribes, I was surprised to find a message and friend request from Jose on Facebook. In his message, he thanked me for a piece I wrote defending him against that diatribe. Being the gentleman that he is, Jose wrote in his message that he wished that I had been “kinder” to Salud in my writing and offered to send me his favourite books. I picked up the books from Solidaridad. Prior to this, I never read any of his novels but followed his column in the Philippine Star.
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When he changed his opinion about President Rodrigo Duterte after the issue of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s burial and began criticizing the President, I didn’t find it fitting to write about it. When he wrote a scathing piece against Chinoys during the heated debate about Duterte’s foreign policy shift and his closeness to China, my reaction was the same although it was obvious that he was going to take a lot of flak for it.
There is such a thing as agreeing to disagree to begin with. But more importantly, there is also not professing blind obedience to anything or anyone. You’d be a fool if you don’t see through the issues about the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise or the social transgressions of the Lopez family. The same is true with the Communist Party of the Philippines, its terrorist arm the New People’s Army, and its “legal” front, the National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). The Left has flirted with every post-Marcos President. Duterte appointed three of their leaders to Cabinet Departments. We all know what happened to the peace talks in Oslo. Perhaps this is why we fail as a nation. There is not much room for objective analysis.
Salud goes on to describe the national artist as grasping at straws, implying that he has become what is in the vernacular as “patay-gutom.” Who is patay-gutom? The man who stands by the principles of his beliefs or the man who associates himself with another in order to gain a measure of fame and stature as he himself admits? Is Kerima Tariman a legitimate heroine or is she just a propaganda tool for the communists? I don’t see Salud and his ilk living in poverty. It is easy to bandy the books you have read but it’s another for you to prove that you actually understood the message the author is trying to convey to the reader. The national artist has written about the prostitution of journalism in the past and of how journalists have become mercenaries in their own right. Independence comes at a high price for journalists because it means going against the establishment by writing about the truth. Take a cold hard look at journalism today and you will realize that objectivity has been thrown out the window. This is the first tenet of journalism which is taught to those who aspire to practice the profession. What is happening now is most practitioners have become mouthpieces for opinions which need to be sold to the public. There is no more dividing line between politics and journalism which is why the public has lost trust in mainstream media.
As for the issue of respect, while I agree that it is earned, one also has to learn how to distinguish what the difference is between experience and wisdom. The National Artist for Literature is a nonagenarian who is a walking oral history book. He has lived through all of the Presidents since Quezon. You can’t be a know-it-all which is the problem with journalists today. There is no genuine love of country but only the love of self. There is no principled stand except for how to get ahead to earn a comfortable living by their standards and hobnob with the personalities who matter. It is the fake-it-until-you-make-it mantra which pervades and governs their ethics and morality. There is no more focus on the honing of the craft or the trade and taking pride in the how one conducts himself in the practice of what once was a noble profession.
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