Akademyang Filipino: Reenvisioning the Filipino intelligentsia

As early as Sept. 2017, I received an email informing me that I was recommended to be part of a group which was soon to be formed: originally named Academia Filipina. Months went by and I didn’t hear from any of them again. Initially I thought it was a fluke in the email.

On the afternoon of May 5, 2018, my inbox rang again, this time with a letter from National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose. It was an invitation to take part in the first General Assembly and forum as a member of the newly-formed Akademyang Filipino. The group, I later found out, was the brainchild of National Artist F. Sionil Jose and the late Senate President Edgardo “Ed” Angara.

At the inaugural meeting in February 2017, it was said that Angara hoped the organization “may provide an intellectual climate conducive to reform and change.”

The third (or was that the fourth?) installment of letters which arrived this year told me that my membership to the aforementioned group was approved by the Akademya’s Board of Trustees: namely Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and the Akademya’s chair Conchita Carpio-Morales; National Artist for Literature and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee F. Sionil Jose; President and Chief Executive Officer of A. Magsaysay, Inc. Doris Magsaysay Ho; Silliman University Professor Emeritus and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Angel C. Alcala; Senator of the Philippines Sonny Angara; Senior Associate Justice and former acting Justice of the Supreme Court Antonio T. Carpio; University of the Philippines’ Vice President for Public Affairs and esteemed novelist Jose Y. Dalisay Jr.; Independent Director PLCs Lydia B. Echauz; Chairman and CEO of GMA Network, Inc. Felipe L. Gozon; and Chairman of Asian Vision Cable Holdings Ramon Magsaysay Jr.

Truth to tell, I didn’t readily think I would fit into an assembly of such esteemed personalities. It was daunting enough as it is to read the group’s mission and vision:

“In 2016, the late Senate President Ed Angara and National Artist F. Sionil Jose began building an organization that would bring together the Philippines’ pre-eminent achievers, who have distinguished themselves in the arts, sciences, and professions in service to the nation. In setting up what would eventually be Akademyang Filipino, they envisioned a diverse society of some 100 purposeful leaders that would start and sustain an ongoing dialogue among the country’s decision-makers. Akademyang Filipino’s core members are National Artists, National Scientists, and the Philippines’ Ramon Magsaysay Awardees. It’s purpose is to help meet the country’s most crucial challenges and to build a just, prosperous, and sovereign nation.”

First of all, I was not, and probably never will be, a part of the academe. Not that I shun the thought. Not at all. On the contrary, I have probably spent more time in the country’s universities and colleges in the last five years, lecturing on Journalism Ethics and Creative Writing, than in all my college years combined.

In fact, it’s a running joke in my lectures to say that I have done my utmost best, during my younger years, to get kicked out of school. And I had some measure of success in that regard, much to my pride and amazement. Then, with the flair of the great Al Pacino, who played Michael Corleone in “The Godfather III,” I’d scream on stage, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” So much for B-movie acting.

While I’m deeply aware of the hundreds of people who would be in a better position to take my place in the roster of members of Akademyang Filipino, I guess some heartfelt gratitude is in order. For one, I value people’s trust more than their praises. I’d been taught by my late father to look at the latter always with suspicion.

I owe my membership in this group to two people: Manong Frankie who, I strongly suspect, had recommended and vouched for me to the Board of Trustees (I have yet to ask him about it, as of this writing). The other is my publisher in the Philippines Graphic, T. Anthony C. Cabangon, who shouldered the rather pricey membership fee.

And so, on the morning of Nov. 24, the day the Akademya held its first General Assembly and Forum on the West Philippine Sea held at the University of the Philippines Professional Schools at the BGC, I happily bumped into friends and fellow authors Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo and Andrea Pasion Flores. They, too, are members, and who, in the same cone, wondered why they were there in the first place. I guess such esteemed company could make doubters of the country’s true best and brightest.

I have always lived my life, as cliche would say, a lone wolf. I have always looked at groups with some suspicion. As a journalist and writer of literature, I guess a healthy sort of doubt goes with the territory. What I have learned in 55 years is that groups crumble easily at the slightest imbalance. Power makes up much of that imbalance, and for what it’s worth in sustainability, groups that actually survive the wear and tear of decades are the ones which are truly democratic.

Don’t get me wrong. I have only high hopes for Akademyang Filipino. It’s about time this country pulls its intelligentsia together, away from our actual and virtual Ivory Towers, to finally roll up our sleeves, get our hands dirty. What this sad Republic needs, while it teeters on the brink of destruction, is a sun to light our way, not the faint shimmer of individual stars.

That the Akademya’s Board of Trustees was able to bring together such a diverse assembly of achievers is in and by itself a miracle. I am a believer in miracles.

These days, the word “intelligentsia”—the thinking citizenry—had come to a distorted meaning, what with smart-shaming taking the form of elitist populism. The Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was right: “The intellectual is not defined by professional pursuit or type of occupation. Nor are good upbringing or good family enough in themselves to produce an intellectual. An intellectual is a person whose interests in and preoccupation with the spiritual side of life are insistent and constant, and not forced by external circumstances, even flying in the face of them. An intellectual is a person whose thought is non-imitative.”

God knows how much originality in thought and freshness of ideas we need nowadays. In the era of the stupid and barbaric Dutertismo, what weapon could better serve the cause of liberty than the moral obligation to be intelligent? G





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