Guillermo Gómez Rivera (left) at the book launching of his novel Quis ut Deus. At right, clockwise:  Raul Manglapus, the late former Philippine foreign affairs secretary, meets with Guillermo to discuss the possible restoration of the Spanish language in Philippine schools (circa 1989); Guillermo delivering a lecture on Spanish legacy in the Philippines; his novel Quis ut Deus.
:Guillermo Gómez Rivera

The Don Quixote of Philippine Letters

Neguri, Spain: In the 1980s, a group of Filipino writers in Spanish advocated for the continued teaching of the Spanish language in Philippine colleges and universities. In the face of efforts by philistines in government to excise it from the Philippine educational system, these pro-Spanish advocates vigorously argued that the language is a valuable part of the Filipino heritage and that removing it from the curriculum was like stripping the Filipinos of their very soul. Some of the best pieces of literature ever produced by Filipino writers, after all, were written in Spanish, notably José Rizal's two novels against Spanish abuses during Spanish rule. But besides its cultural importance, Spanish was also seen by its advocates through economic prism. Filipinos who speak and write in Spanish increase their chances of getting a job in Spanish-speaking countries, especially in Spain which has always been welcoming to Filipino workers. In that sense, they were way ahead of their time for "globalization," today's catchword, was not yet in vogue then.

Their plea to keep Spanish in schools fell on deaf ears, however. It was removed from the curriculum by the shortsighted 1987 Cory Aquino constitution. It would take almost three decades before the logic of the Spanish language visionaries, led by Guillermo Gómez Rivera , could find a receptive audience in President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She not only speaks Spanish but was also the recipient of the 2010 Don Quixote International Award from former Spanish King Juan Carlos I, along with Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. She acted to restore Spanish in the curriculum, a move that is only now taking roots in some pilot areas. Instituto Cervantes in Manila has begun training teachers in Spanish and is seriously doing all it can to restore Spanish as a language that binds the Philippines to Spain, its mother country. These are baby steps, and it remains to be seen how long it will take to undo the damage of the Aquino constitution. Nonetheless these efforts can be considered a small triumph for Guillermo Gómez Rivera and other Hispanists in the Philippines.

In 1989 I started writing a column under a pseudonym for Philippine Newsday, a now defunct political and economic newspaper published in Manila. In a 1992 column titled "A Poem for Nick Joaquín," which I am reproducing below, I focused on Guillermo Gómez Rivera and equated his works in the Spanish language to those by Nick Joaquín in English. The late Nick Joaquín is considered by many as one of the best Philippine literary writers. Guillermo's stature as a Filipino writer in Spanish, on the other hand, is recognized not only in the Philippines but also in Latin America and in Spain, where he is highly regarded by Spanish authors and intellectuals. He is a member of the Philippine branch of the  Royal Academy of the Spanish Language . Guillermo recently released a novel in Spanish, the first to be published in the Philippines in that language by a Filipino author after a drought of over fifty years. His uphill battle to preserve the Spanish language in the Philippines had made this multi-faceted artist look like the Don Quijote of Philippine letters for many years but his arduous struggle is finally bearing fruit. In my fifth and latest poetry collection, Getxo and Other Poems , I paid homage to this Renaissance Man and true Philippine national treasure.

A Poem
For Nick

The late Philippine National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquín (above left, photo courtesy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer) and a collage showcasing the talents of Guillermo Gómez Rivera as a book author and recording artist (above right, photo courtesy of Pepe Alas).
Gómez Rivera, a generation or two younger than Nick Joaquín, is the Nick Joaquín of contemporary Filipino literature in Spanish.
The great Nick Joaquín, proclaimed “National Artist” during the glorious years of Ferdinand Marcos, has turned seventy-five. Three-fourths of a century. And as he ages into immortality and mythology, the English language appears to be on the way out in the Philippines. Overpopulation, lack of funds, and diploma mills are seeing to that.

This is so because English has not taken root as Spanish did take root. And if the English language has a Filipino writer like Nick Joaquín, it is because Nick Joaquín’s real language is Spanish. By Hispanizing English, he has succeeded in Filipinizing it. And lo, in the very Filipino works of Nick Joaquín, English has become Filipino! After 92 neocolonial years of deception and bitterness, we only have this writer who can be considered significant in what we may call “Philippines Literature.”

But Nick Joaquín had to will this Filipinization of English. Rizal and Recto did not have to Filipinize Spanish through their writings. Spanish was already the Filipino Language when they wrote in it without having to choose it from English or “Filipino.” Nick Joaquín's merit according to his ardent follower, Don Guillermo Gómez Rivera, is his having been able to pour into English a good part of the essential message of what has been Filipino since 1571. No other writer in English has done this.

Gómez Rivera, a generation or two younger than Nick Joaquín, is the Nick Joaquín of contemporary Filipino literature in Spanish. Were Gómez Rivera to write in English as he does in Spanish, he would sound almost, if not exactly, like Nick Joaquín. If Nick Joaquín is a continuation of Claro M. Recto, who wrote in Spanish in local English letters, Gómez Rivera is the continuation of Nick Joaquín back in the same language of Rizal and Recto.

This is so because both Nick Joaquín and Guillermo Gómez Rivera actually belong to the same Filipino tradition even if they don’t write in the same language. Of course, if Nick Joaquín were to write in Spanish, he would in turn sound almost, if not exactly, like Guillermo Gómez Rivera. Don Lorenzo Marasigan’s portrait for his two daughters, Cándida and Paula, has become alive, both artistically and literally. The young man, Anchise, is Guillermo Gómez Rivera, and the old man is Nick Joaquín, and the burning city that both are leaving behind is our country, ravaged and ruined in almost every sense of the word by this despicable galungóng-brained
* “democracy” that would condemn our people with the Bataán Nuclear Plant. And, possibly, with a vacuum of power after frustrating so brazenly the national elections without our people really knowing about it until after a few months, or years, later.

And Guillermo Gómez Rivera wrote a poem in homage of Nick Joaquín after the latter had dedicated to him a copy of his play, "Portrait", in book form, saying in Spanish, “A Guillermo Gómez Rivera, el nuevo Colón de la música filipina…” this was so, because Gómez Rivera, after recording his third long-playing of Filipino songs, in their original Spanish versions, asked Nick Joaquín to listen to them. Nick Joaquín obliged and enjoyed listening to Gómez Rivera’s singing of “El collar de Sampaguita” with Bert Buena’s rondalla. He went to Gómez Rivera’s office library, that of Solidaridad Filipino-Hispana Inc., at the third floor of the Citadel Bldg. on Bonifacio Street, way back in 1969. Since then, Gómez Rivera has held Nick Joaquín in utmost reverence and, as a member of the Academia Filipina, he has suggested to the Fundación del Premio Zóbel, to adjudicate, one of these years, the said prize to Nick Joaquín.

The poem titled “Nick Joaquín prismático,” is worth transcribing and translating here:

Traductor de la historial por toda una / generación perdida en inglés./ Maestro / que enseña la verdad: / —luz opurtuna / para los que no tienen / ni alma ni estro.

(“History’s translator / for entire generations / lost in the English language. / A teacher who teaches / the truth, that pertinent light / needed by those / who misplaced / their soul / and their poetry of life.”)

Pues,  el candor y el arte. / La sapiencia de toda una cultura: / —la cultura que es la de Filipinas— es la ciencia; / es la gloria; / es toda la emvoltura / de este gran hombre prismático — trazluz / del madero / que alzamos hoy en cruz.

(“Because candor, art / and the knowledge / of an entire culture / which is Filipino / is the science, the glory, and the whole shroud / of this great and prismatic man / who stands / as the background light / for the planks of wood / we’d now lift into a cross.”)

Ese es  / Don Nicolás Joaquín, / flamante / fragua de este país / de sordociegos, / tabla de salvación / del ignorante / que perdió sus estribos / y sus pliegos.

(“That man is / Nick Joaquín, / the burning torch, / over this country of deaf-mutes / He is the phalanx / of redemption / for those that ignore / what is truly Filpino / because they have lost / their documents / and the running board / upon which they could have stood.”).

 *Galungóng is the Tagalog word for round scad. Corazon Aquino campaigned against President Ferdinand E. Marcos in the 1986 Philippine presidential elections, promising to lower the price of round scad which was the least expensive fish in the market that poor Filipinos could afford at the time. She never delivered on her promise.
Guillermo Gómez Rivera, 1975 winner of the prestigious Premío Zobel , the Philippines' highest literary honor for Spanish writers.

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