"The death of Pepe Samson: The struggle continues" ni Elmer A. Ordoñez

[Narito ang kolum ni Ordoñez ngayon sa The Manila Times tungkol kay F. Sionil Jose. Inilalagay ko rito dahil baka mawala ang link, at kailangan ko itong maalala kapag nagsusulat na ng disertasyon. Isang beses ko pa lang nakakasama si Jose, noong fellow ako noong 2000 para sa unang UST National Writers Workshop. Isinama niya ang ilang piling fellow, kasama ako, sa bookstore niyang Solidaridad sa Ermita at iniakyat kami sa 2nd floor at ipinakita ang salin ng mga nobela niya sa iba't ibang wika ng daigdig. Hindi ko naramdaman noon na nagmamalaki siya; pakiramdam ko'y ipinapakita niya lamang sa amin ang lawak ng maaaring pangarapin, lalo pa't nagsisimula pa lamang kaming magsulat noon. Pagkatapos, isinama niya kami para kumain sa isang Japanese restaurant. Naisip ko noon, kung nagsusulat lang ako sa Ingles, magpapabasa ako sa kaniya ng mga sinusulat ko. Pagkatapos ng workshop, binasa ko agad ang kopya ng Viajero na ibinigay niya sa amin. Pagkatapos noon, ang Tree sa Rosales Saga. Pero sa iba't ibang dahilan at pinagkakaabalahan, hindi pa ulit ako nakapagbubuklat ng nobela ni Jose.]

Readers of Frankie Sionil Jose’s novel Mass will remember Pepe Samson who evolves from an irresponsible/apolitical youth to an activist who in the end takes to the hills to fight the regime.

Finished in 1979, Mass could not have been published during martial law, so Frankie (Solidarity editor-publisher/Philippine PEN national secretary barred from travel) had the novel printed in Dutch abroad. In time, the original English version came out and was sold in the country. The editors of Kamao (CCP, 1987) included a chapter from Mass in the anthology of protest writing.

I met Frankie (a longtime friend, now allowed to travel by the regime) in an Asian studies conference in Chicago (1979). We were attending a panel on Philippine literary criticism chaired by the professor son of exile Bienvenido Santos whose novel The Praying Man was banned during martial law. We took turns criticizing a panelist’s preoccupation with New Criticism at a time when protest literature was being produced in the country. Watch for my new novel, Frankie said, before we parted. On my return from Montreal in 1985, Frankie gifted me with a copy of Mass.

Mass is the sequel to The Pretenders where Tony Samson, Ph.D. and Pepe’s father, left the academe to become part of the corrupt oligarchic system and family he married into. Pangs of conscience and loss of self-esteem set in, and Tony ends his life under the wheels of a train in Blumentritt. Since then, Frankie and I have had arguments about how to close a novel of social criticism.

With Mass the ending hews more closely to revolutionary closure. No matter the dreariness of a decadent society, the lead character in a social protest novel does not yield to despair or to what Marxists call “bourgeois pessimism.” John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is an example, with Tom Joad vowing to be everywhere to fight injustice.

After being severely tortured by his captors—including electrocution of his private parts, Pepe in Mass does not surrender or compromise but strengthens his resolve; ultimately he says goodbye to Tia Nena (Ma Joad’s counterpart) and joins the underground. Thus the novel is open-ended and the reader applauds Pepe’s decision.

Pepe Samson is heard from in Viajero where his doppelganger is killed by the military. So, I got Frankie to talk about the ultimate fate of Pepe Samson. Oh, he said, he would be betrayed and killed. Here I thought the novelist was succumbing not to bourgeois pessimism but cynicism of a sort about the radical movement with what he says is a borrowed ideology. I was mistaken of course. Watch my play Dong-Ao at the CCP, Frankie said in July. A play by Frankie? I didn’t know about his writing plays. My wife and I went to see the last performance. Mr. and Mrs. Jose also came to watch the play.

I had written about Dong-ao in an earlier column(July 19,2008). But I did not mention that after the Ilocano funeral ceremony ending with the coffin borne by the youth (accepting Tia Nena’s dare) to militant music. Frankie told the cheering audience that he dedicated the play to his fellow National Artist Bien Lumbera and to myself. Thus, Frankie has closed the book on Pepe Samson but there will be others.

Before U.P. students sometime ago, Frankie reiterated his call for a nationalist revolution and the role of the youth in pursuing it. The speech elicited learned reactions from sociologist Randy David, philosophy professor Zosimo Lee, and Bien Lumbera. It is Bien who notes that while Frankie is critical of the Marxist-led national democratic revolution the novelist acknowledges, through the lead character (whose daughter joined the NPA) in Ermita, the necessity of joining the resistance.

Recently, Frankie walked out of the necrological services for National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag when former First Lady Imelda Marcos started “bragging” about her achievements. Frankie wrote to the Cultural Center of the Philippines why he walked out and why “plunderers of the nation” should not be honored and let off easy.

Frankie Jose, our “white hope” (to quote Nick Joa­quin) for the Nobel Prize, has received countless awards and honors plus accolades from critics around the world. His “Rosales saga” may well be our national epic.

Late last year, he said, the newly issued Sherds was his last novel. Well, at age 83, he has continued playing the role of the nation’s seer in a country that has lost its “ethical moorings.” Watch for my next novel, he intimated, letting slip the title “To Whom It May Concern.” For sure, he will not spare anyone involved in why the people are poor and the country is in a pretty mess.