Ramon Magsaysay Essay Writing Contest

  • Joaquin wrote brilliant short stories such as “Guardia de Honor” and “The Summer Solstice” and his classic play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”, revealing his preoccupation with the Spain-and-America-infused Filipino psyche and its deep roots in a pre-Christian past.
  • As Quijano de Manila, his now famous nom de plume, he chronicled the high life and low life of Manila’s politicos and crooks, starlets and famous lovers and, in trenchant essays and articles, examined intimately the mores and passions of the city.
  • In 1976, the year he was named National Artist of the Philippines, he also published lyrical translations from Spanish of the poems of Jose Rizal.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his exploring the mysteries of the Filipino body and soul in sixty inspired years as a writer.”

Born in Manila just seventeen years into the century, Nick Joaquin witnessed as a boy the slow metamorphosis of his home city as it awakened from three hundred years of languorous Spanish dominion and quickened to the newer rhythms of America and the modern age. Schooled in the neighborhood of Paco and, for two or three years, at Mapa High School in the old city of Intramuros, he set out early on a life of his own. While working as a typesetter for the Tribune newspaper at the age of seventeen, he submitted a poem to the editors. It was published and thus began his life as a writer.

Years of menial work and wartime followed, but in 1945 a Joaquin short story won first prize in a Philippines Free Press fiction contest. The next several years yielded brilliant short stories such as “Guardia de Honor” and “The Summer Solstice” and Joaquin’s classic play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” set in a faded and beaten post-war Intramuros. In these and other early master works, Joaquin revealed his preoccupation with the Spain-and-America-infused Filipino psyche and its deep roots in a pre-Christian past–for in Nick Joaquin’s Philippines, the past always haunts the present.

Following two years at St. Albert’s College in Hong Kong, in 1950 Joaquin joined the Philippines Free Press and rose eventually to associate editor. As Quijano de Manila–his now famous nom de plume–he chronicled the high life and low life of Manila’s politicos and crooks, starlets and famous lovers and, in trenchant essays and articles, examined intimately the mores and passions of the city. Prizes and fellowships permitted him to travel widely and return to fiction. He concluded his signature novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels, with the postscript: “Madrid-Mallorca-Manhattan-Mexico-Manila, 1960.”

Siding with workers in a labor dispute in 1970, Joaquin left the Free Press for the Asia Philippines Leader, where he served as editor-in-chief until the Marcos dictatorship shut it down two years later. Working independently now, Joaquin brought out several collections of articles and wrote three new plays, several children’s stories, and a detective novel–Cave and Shadows. In 1976, the year he was named National Artist of the Philippines, he also published lyrical translations from Spanish of the poems of Jose Rizal. And beginning in 1979, he launched a new series of narrative oral histories about Philippine notables; today, twelve volumes later, he is the country’s most prolific biographer.

Joaquin also mastered the Philippines’ most popular and widely-read literary form, the newspaper column. In offerings titled “Jottings,” “Small Beer,” and such, he dished out regular rounds of history, opinion, and gossip with such flair, candor, and intelligence that he managed to raise this quotidian newspaper exercise to an art.

Long recognized as the Philippines’ premier literary artist, Joaquin has influenced and inspired generations of aspiring writers. English is his preferred metier and he uses the language masterfully to convey his own quintessentially Filipino persona. As he explains, “Whether it is in Tagalog or English, because I am Filipino, every single line I write is in Filipino.”

Notoriously publicity shy, Joaquin prefers a life of anonymity, camaraderie, and work. Today at seventy-eight, his days are busy, still, with writing. When asked once if he ever intended to retire, Joaquin is said to have responded, with typical verbal mischief, “I’m not retiring and I’m not resigned.” He was sixty-five at the time, twenty-three books ago.

In electing Nick Joaquin to receive the 1996 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the board of trustees recognizes his exploring the mysteries of the Filipino body and soul in sixty inspired years as a writer.

To all of you here: peace. And God loves you.

Tonight’s award–this one–is such a high for me because I am supposed to be already down, down, over the hill, and out, out, on the way out. But I look at this prize and you know what it says to me, what it shouts to me? Hear it hooraying: “Hey, guy, you’re not finished yet, you’re not yet for retiring, you’re still where the action is. Yes, man, you’re right here where they run races and give out prizes.”

That is what this award is saying.

Some people say I should have got it long ago. I don’t agree. I think the timing is perfect, as is. I should, by now, be in a rocking chair, hugging the shadows–or worse, in a wheelchair, ready to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Instead, here I am in the limelight, still winning prizes, thanks to this award.

Not that my writing career hasn’t been one steady harvest of laurels. I enjoyed winning them, of course, but all the time I was also nervous. Even as I exulted, I kept warning myself: “This is hubris, this is hubris, you’ll end up kaput.” Well, I may end up kaput–but what the heck: at the moment–this moment–I find myself on still another high. Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be! Whoever said that must have been a previous me.

For today, even with so much to be thankful for in the past, I can still say in utter astonishment: “But thou hast kept the good wine until now!” Happy is the senior who can say that.

Thank you. I have spoken.

He was the greatest Filipino writer of his generation. Over six decades and a half, he produced a body of work unmatched in richness and range by any of his contemporaries. Living a life wholly devoted to the craft of conjuring a world through words, he was the writer’s writer. In the passion with which he embraced his country’s manifold being, he was his people’s writer as well.
Nick Joaquin was born in the old district of Paco in Manila, Philippines, on September 15, 1917, the feast day of Saint Nicomedes, a protomartyr of Rome, after whom he took his baptismal name. He was born to a home deeply Catholic, educated, and prosperous. His father, Leocadio Joaquin, was a person of some prominence. Leocadio was a procurador (attorney) in the Court of First Instance of Laguna, where he met and married his first wife, at the time of the Philippine Revolution. He shortly joined the insurrection, had the rank of colonel, and was wounded in action. When the hostilities ceased and the country came under American rule, he built a successful practice in law. Around 1906, after the death of his first wife, he married Salome Marquez, Nick’s mother. A friend of General Emilio Aguinaldo, Leocadio was a popular lawyer in Manila and the Southern Tagalog provinces. He was unsuccessful however when he made a bid for a seat in the Philippine Assembly representing Laguna.

Nick Joaquin’s mother was a pretty, well-read woman of her time who had studied in a teacher-training institute during the Spanish period. Though still in her teens when the United States took possession of the Philippines, she was among the first to be trained by the Americans in English, a language she taught in a Manila public school before she left teaching after her marriage.

Leocadio and Salome built a genteel, privileged home where Spanish was spoken, the family went to church regularly, had outings in the family’s huge European car (one of the first Renaults in the city), and the children were tutored in Spanish and piano. Salome (“who sings beautiful melodies and writes with an exquisite hand,” recalls a family member) encouraged in her children an interest in the arts. There were ten children in the family, eight boys and two girls, with Nick as the fifth child. The Joaquin home on Herran Street in Paco was a large section of a two-story residential-commercial building—the first such building in Paco—that Leocadio had built and from which the family drew a handsome income from rentals. In this home the young Nick had “an extremely happy childhood.”

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)

To commemorate the 105th birthday of President Ramon Magsaysay, I am reposting an essay I wrote when I was fourteen years old.  It placed third in the high school division of the very first Ramon Magsaysay Essay Writing Contest in 1998.  Encoded from the typewritten original with minimal revision:

Xiao Chua and THE “GUY,” 31 August 2011, Cultural Center of the Philippines


Michael Charleston “Xiao” B. Chua

What can a late president give to the young people of today?  What does Ramon Magsaysay mean to the youth?

Ramon Magsaysay, the man who said “Those who have less in life should have more in law” was born on August 31, 1907 in Iba, Zambales:  the first president to be born in the 20th century.  Because of poverty, he worked as a jeepney driver and finished his studies of commerce by his hardwork.  But his real love is engineering so he became a mechanic.  His triumph in politics came from his records of being a guerilla fighter in World War II.  He was elected Congressman and was appointed Secretary of National Defense.  He succeeded in tho surrender of the rebel group “Huk” or “Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan” (People’s Liberation Army).  In 1953, he was elected as the Third President of the Third Republic of thePhilippines.

My grandmother, Mrs. Ma. Constancia Chua, told me two anecdotes she know about Ramon Magsaysay.

When he was still a Defense Secretary, he was going to Malacañang to have a meeting with then president Elpidio Quirino.  Aboard his car with wife, Luz Banzon-Magsaysay, and driver, Kosme, they suddenly stopped in the middle of the night.  Magsaysay asked the driver what happened. The driver answered “Nasiraan po tayo!”  Luz became nervous. “This place is dangerous” she said.  Magsaysay calmed her down.  Kosme tried his best to fix the car but he cannot start it.  “I know how to fix car engines, but I cannot fix this one” he admitted to Magsaysay.  So the latter went outside the car, pushed up the sleeves of his barong tagalog and he started fixing the car.

“What are you doing?”  Luz asked her husband.  He answered “Don’t you remember? I’m a mechanic!”

“We understand that Ramon. But your clothes will be dirty.”  Luz said. “She’s right sir!”  Kosme added, “Just tell me how and I’ll do it.”

Magsaysay answered, “I’m used to dirt, and I’m a worker too.”

Both Luz and Kosme were amazed [with] what he is doing. He is not shy to do humble things even if he has a high position in the government.

After some moments, the car started.  He fixed his clothes and went back inside the car like nothing happened.

“Let’s go, Kosme” he said, “The president is waiting.”

Another anecdote is about the violation of traffic rules committed by his driver, Kosme.

“Slow down a bit, Kosme, we’ll be charged of overspeeding!”  The president told his driver. The driver answered “yes” but he didn’t listen to him.  Kosme proceeded to the intersection and he ignored the red light so the police chased the car.  The car was forced to stop.  Kosme talked to the policeman, the latter asked the license of the former.

“I’m in a hurry chief,” Kosme said.

“The law is the law, and you broke it, here’s your ticket,” the policeman said. “Claim your ticket [at] the fiscal’s office.”  But Kosme answered, “Don’t you know my passenger?”

The policeman inspected the plate number, Number one, and he immediately looked inside the car.  “My goodness! Pardon me Mr. President.”  The policeman told Magsaysay. “You can now proceed.”

“Oh no, sargeant,” Maysaysay said. “You said awhile ago that the law is the law.  And in that principle I do believe.  While I am the president, the law applies to everyone, there is equality.  Please give us the necessary ticket.”

And the policeman issued the ticket.  Kosme scratched his head.

Ramon Magsaysay was a popular president.  The people loved him, and his jingle is much awaited in the radio:

“That is why, that is why, you would hear the people cry

Our democracy will die, Kung wala si Magsaysay

Mambo Mambo Magsaysay, Mabu Mabu Mabuhay

Our democracy will die, Kung wala si Magsaysay”

Magsaysay is called “The Champion of the Common Man.”  My Lola Ching said, “He is the kindest president I know.”  He socialized with the man on the street, with the commuters in a bus, with the common “tao.”  The proof of his being “The Man of the Masses” is he opened Malacañang and the Office of the President to the people.  Two or three times a week he listens personally to the problems of the people.  A character that must be possessed by every government official.

When there are state functions or there are some foreign visitors.  “My husband wants to serve them local dishes and local wines.”  Mrs. Luz Banzon-Magsaysay once said in a T.V. special, “He always supports and promote local products.  The curtains in our house must be locally made,” she said.

Magsaysay meets the press informally in the open-air balcony of Malacanang. Nestor Mata, a journalist said, “In our press conferences, we can feel the breeze of the Pasig River.”  Magsaysay, being considerate, knows the need of fresh air of every man. This also indicates his love of nature.

But the role of Malacañang as the palace of the common man ended on March 17, 1957 when the Presidential plane “Pinatubo” crashed on Mt. Manunggal, Cebu leaving the nation a dead champion.

“I cried when I heard the news” my Lola Ching said. “I was shocked and I cannot think of it.”  Magsaysayts body was laid in state in Malacañang, and even in death, his greatness increase[d].  People from all walks of life paid their last respects from his wake in Malacañang to his burial in theNorth Cemetery.  His funeral was attended by thousands of people.

Magsaysay means something to the youth of today and that is his great legacy, the legacy of his character.  He loves his work, he loves the law, he loves nature, he loves the people and he loves his nation.  A legacy of love that must [be instilled] in the hearts of every young people.  Truly, Ramon Magsaysay is the role model for the youth.

People’s Journal, 18 October 1998

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 17 October 1998

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