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Nick Joaquin: Friend and Compadre

Tribute by Jose Maria Sison and Julieta de Lima

May 1, 2004

In the late fifties, Julie and I got to know Nick Joaquin by reading his Prose and Poems, by watching a theatrical production of his Portrait of An Artist as a Filipino and by attending a seminar of writers in which he was a special guest. We admired him only from a distance.

In the summer of 1967 we visited China. At some point in our tour, our hosts in the Chinese foreign ministry put us in the same group of visitors as the delegation of the Philippines Free Press, which included Mr. And Mrs. Teodoro Locsin, Sr. Teddy Boy Locsin, Nick Joaquin and Jose "Pete" Lacaba. Together we toured Beijing, Shanghai and Hangchow.

Pete Lacaba who had covered Kabataang Makabayan events and had previously known us made us instantly comfortable in the company of his senior editors. We had the privilege of conversing with Nick Joaquin during meals, during trips and during free time. We came to know him at close quarters. He was fun to be with, quite informal and often comical and jovial.

After the trip to China, we became friends with Nick and Pete as with the rest of the Free Press delegation. We visited them at their Free Press office almost everytime that we were in Makati. Then, Nick, Pete, Greg Brillantes and others in the editorial staff sided with the workers’ union against management. Eventually, they joined another publication.

Julie and I became preoccupied with the building of the revolutionary party of the proletariat in 1968. When we were already underground, we continued to admire Nick Joaquin as a writer with a strong sense of the revolutionary history of the Filipino people. In an understated or subtle way, he was supportive of the patriotic and progressive cause of the working people and the militant youth movement.

We like the element of critical realism in his depiction of the cultural frustrations in the psyche or social psychology of the Filipino and creollo. He was acutely critical of servility to alien domination and of either the parochial or petty bourgeois small-mindedness of Kawitismo.

When Julie was released from detention with our newborn son Jasm in 1982, my mother planned to have him baptized by Cardinal Sin and friends agreed to make the baptism become a united front event. Outstanding personalities stood as the godparents of my child, including Senator Lorenzo Tanada, Juan T. David, Joker Arroyo and Nick Joaquin.

Soon after I was released from prison in 1986, I had a reunion with Nick Joaquin and others and had once more the opportunity to drink chilled beer with him. He hated like hell beer on the rocks and never ceased to be amused by many Filipinos who drank beer that way.

We will always remember Nick fondly and vividly as a friend and compadre. His godson Jasm will never forget that in most of the eighties he always received a 100-peso bill from him every time they met, Christmas time or not. More importantly, our now 22-year old son honors him and is proud of him as a source of inspiration.

Most important of all, Nick Joaquiin will always be remembered as a national artist by the Filipino people. His works are a shining part of the cultural heritage. We mourn his demise and at the same time we celebrate his brilliant contributions to Philippine literature. ###




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