Indolence as insolence

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My recent three-day bout with the flu was anything but normal. Younger, I was of the habit of easily dispensing with the bone and muscle pain which go with the viral infection.

Close to fifty-six, it appears that my body has weakened to the point that I crunched up the necessary words for this Editor’s Corner way past my deadline. The reason was simple: my arthritis, which I can normally shrug aside on a normal day, tripled in intensity over the course of my bout of the flu.

My humble household is no stranger to hard work. I have, time and again, shared my experiences as a former stevedore for a popular meat company during my younger years.

Like any other Filipino worker, my job required the utmost dedication: rise before the break of day, sweat out a maximum 12-hour shift delivering 1.9 tons of canned goods and meat products, then rush home in the wee hours to a household that was largely fast asleep. That went on for four years.

After my eldest daughter Rei left the University of Santo Tomas as one of its quadri-centennial graduates, she took on the job of a proofreader for an online Canadian book publishing company. Her job required her to handle about 50 authors, thereabouts, proofreading roughly 15 manuscripts a month.

After a year, I saw her running the gauntlet at the same level of production, but this time she had been promoted to writing coach and editor (and she finished her quotas regardless of the company’s refusal to grant her the last title).

Rei had long since left that company. Recently, she landed a job where the online content firm, this time owned by an Australian, refused to be stingy with the job title of “editor” and the salary that goes with it. Each day, she edits a little over thirty articles for publication in different online media outlets, which is more than I could say for some editors of newspapers.

She’s as hard a worker as her dad, apparently, proving the axiom that the fruit doesn’t fall too far from the tree. But then, of course, we live with someone whose example of hard work puts our own attempts to break her record to shame.

Four years ago, my wife Che, the lifestyle editor of our sister publication, Pilipino Mirror, gave birth to my bunso, Likha. On the night of Sept. 2, 2014, sometime at seven in the evening, we were already cruising down Quirino Avenue on our way to the Chinese General Hospital because her water broke.

The nearly 10-hour labor did little to push the baby out of a narrow three-centimeter opening. This forced the doctor to put my wife under the knife for a C-section. By eight in the morning of Sept. 3, my wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

She spent the next few minutes inside the delivery room, after which she was led to the cheapest room in the whole hospital—a P700/day ward with only one ceiling fan, six beds, and a row of huge windows with no screens.

In the room, my daughter Rei and I waited for my wife. Che, still looking bloated after the operation, arrived shortly after with three nurses, one of whom was carrying the baby in her arms.

Well, the long and short of it is that after the nurses placed my wife on the bed with our baby, we took the obligatory pictures, a photo session that probably lasted about 15 minutes. Immediately after that, Che sat up, instructed my eldest daughter to place the laptop on the bed and find an internet signal.

She switched on her laptop, and started editing a slew of submitted articles and stories for next day’s issue of the newspaper. And yes, by the looks of it, she also beat the deadline.

If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.

The editors and staff of the Philippines Graphic—by all standards a mere skeletal crew of seven editorial staff—are some of the hardest workers bar none. Our managing editor, Psyche Roxas-Mendoza, runs the magazine the way a race car driver runs his Maserati Levante—close to 300 k/hour at top speed. And this is outside the close assistance she gives our sister publication, The BusinessMirror.

Alma Anonas-Carpio, our multi-awarded associate editor and literary editor, puts her skills to the test by choosing the week’s fiction and poetry from dozens upon dozens of works sent via email. That’s outside the two to three articles I ask her to write on a weekly basis, and the time and effort she is putting in to launch the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards, both the local and the Asia-Pacific, each year.

Fil Elefante, our associate editor and recipient of the Jaime Ongpin Award for Investigative Journalism, while recently in therapy for a broken knee after a leap from 18,000 feet during a skydiving exercise, still crunches out article after article for the week’s issue. His analyses of the day’s politics remain spot on, his work ethic yet unsurpassed.

Our teammates Boying, Malou and Susan, each one living in Pampanga, Malabon and Paranaque, respectively, hardly miss their daily beat of arriving at the newsroom on time and working on the pages as soon as the stories arrive.

Why am I writing all this? Well, apparently our country’s envoy to China had something nasty to say about Filipino workers—that they are “lazy” and “slowpokes”. This statement came on the heels of calls by labor groups for the envoy to resign (

Unapologetic to the core, that Philippine envoy to China even quoted, though very mistakenly, José Rizal’s essay, “The Indolence of the Filipino” as a defense of his statement. He posted it on Twitter at around 6:45AM of March 2, 2019, saying: “To those who have been bashing me: Read Jose Rizal’s essay about the indolence of the Filipino in his time. Thank you.”

Little did that envoy know this essay was a brilliant defense by Rizal against the impressions mistakenly made by the foreign colonizing power, Spain, about the Filipino.

Here’s a passage in the essay that basically explains and summarizes what Rizal meant:

“Without education and liberty, that soil and that sun of mankind, no reform is possible, no measure can give the result desired. This does not mean that we should ask first for the native the instruction of a sage and all imaginable liberties, in order then to put a hoe in his hand or place him in a workshop; such a pretension would be an absurdity and vain folly. What we wish is that obstacles be not put in his way, that the many his climate and the situation of the islands afford be not augmented, that instruction be not begrudged him for fear that when he becomes intelligent he may separate from the colonizing nation or ask for the rights of which he makes himself worthy.”

In a nutshell, Rizal was saying that reasons vary as to the hurdles Filipinos faced back then and I believe that holds true now. If obstacles are not put in his way, if the conditions in his country change for the better, and if education is not begrudged him by the powers that be so he can learn about his rights and his obligation to be intelligent, then you can watch the Filipino soar to greater heights.

I will not go so far as to taunt our envoy to China into reading such a blazing defense of the Filipino’s indomitable spirit. It’s a total waste of time to try and convince him of the significance of actually reading first, in its entirety, what one chooses to quote in part.

But then again, as in most, if not all of Duterte’s minions, common sense is wasted on them. I might as well have a conversation with a rock.

See, what the envoy to China actually did by quoting Rizal can be rightly considered the laziest form of intellectual banter—to quote, but not to read—especially from one so enamored by his own assessment of his intellect.

To lay a false charge against a fellow Filipino using the words of our national hero as a highly-flawed justification: There is insolence in the form of indolence. What a shame. G



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