F. Sionil Jose, portly and tenacious elder of Philippine letters, author of more than 29 books that make an epic sweep of Philippine society, National Artist for Literature, passes on at 97.
By Marne Kilates
COLORFUL would be de trop to describe a complicated, definitely interesting, controversial, fascinating―scintillating, yes, that maybe the word―national and international figure like Francisco Sionil Jose, or more known by his literary signature, F. Sionil Jose. A character and presence all his own in the literary community, a friend and advocate to many and especially young writers of various ages and persuasions, he was, invariably, ‘Manong Frankie’.
Manong Frankie, F. Sionil Jose, National Artist for Literature, has passed on at 97, died in his sleep at the Makati Medical Center, as he was awaiting a scheduled angioplasty. Born in Pangasinan on December 3, 1924 and died on January 6, 2022, Manong Frankie was a Filipino writer who was one of the most widely read in the English language, was conferred the Order of National Artist of the Philippines for Literature in 2001. Manong Frankie’s novels and short stories depict the social underpinnings of class struggles and colonialism in Filipino society.
A portly and ubiquitous elder of Philippine letters, being owner of the famous Solidaridad Bookshop in Ermita frequented by writers and unofficial headquarters of the Philippine Center for PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) of which he was the founder, Manong Frankie is famous for his sizable body of work: some 29 or more novels, novellas, short stories, including the five-novel Rosales saga which takes a sweep of three centuries of Philippine history and has been translated into 28 languages, including Korean, Indonesian, Czech, Russian, Latvian, Ukrainian, French, and Dutch.
Following are some of the tributes pouring in on his demise, mostly on Facebook pages;
“F. Sionil Jose’s writings since the late 60s, when taken collectively can best be described as epic. Its sheer volume puts him at the forefront of Philippine writing in English. But ultimately, it is the consistent espousal of the aspirations of the Filipino—for national sovereignty and social justice—that guarantees the value of his oeuvre.” ―National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)
“Manong Frankie, your Brave Heart has stopped beating but the stories you wrote will live forever! Thank you for supporting the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation and our family all these years. Rest in peace, Manong, and hug my Mario Ignacio Miclat and Maningning Miclatfor me! Praying for Manang Tessie and family for comfort in their grief!” ―Alma Cruz Miclat
‘[I]n conversations, Manong would ask unanswerable questions like, "Do you know why we're poor?" or "The feet of the poor are wide like this," and he would spread his hand, stubby fingers and all. "You know why?" I had answers in my head I thought would probably be wrong. "Why?" "Read my books." But I've read them, I thought. I would buy all his books all over again… ‘After my stint at the NBDB, he asked me, "Did you make enemies?" "A few," I said. "Good!"’ ―Andrea Pasion Flores
“He was not only an exceptional author, but also after more than 70 years a promoter of literature at home and abroad. He founded and led the Philippine PEN club [and] three years ago, the [PEN] World Congress took place in Manila. He founded and led his bookstore Solidaridad for almost six decades, where I bought my first books about the Philippines in 1994, and [edited] a social-cultural magazine of the same name for a quarter century. And he worked until the last minute—he published his last Facebook post a few hours before his unexpected death.” ―Jaroslav Olsa Jr., former Czech Ambassador
“I believe we need a space where we can engage in a healthy debate, and Manong Frankie made sure he throws in the proverbial monkey wrench each time. It keeps us alert and think on our feet. His death clearly mark the end of the 20th century that we've been grasping on to for too long and refuse to let it go. Thank you for Solidaridad. Rest in Peace Manong Frankie.” ―Ige Ramos
“Speaking of Frankie: Don't be surprised/ That I love him still,/ No matter the sword words/ That clashed between us.//I've loved people who/ Hurt me with nuclear blasts/ Right in the heart of me,/ Kept loving them/ Even as I kept/ To my position/ Amid the fallout/ Of black glass.” —Alma Anonas-Carpio
“Paalam Manong Frankie. You were many things to many people. But most importantly, you were always true to your beliefs. Thank you for the example and the many kindnesses you've shown. Deep condolences to Manang Tess. There are no words, Manang.” ―Nicolas Pichay
“Go and rest now, F. Sionil Jose. I hope this society will recover the merits of your literature, despite everything. But who I want to pray for now, really, is Tiya Tessie who's ever kind, quiet, patient, strong, persevering. In the few events I've done with the two of you around, she's the one I really remember. Because you were so busy with your comments on everything. May Tiya Tessie be spared from the burden of the weight of your words. My she continuously be blessed with the glow she's always had.” ―Victor Dennis Tino Nierva
“You had to take him as he was, all of a package, or reject him outright, which would also be a pity. Nearly all great writers had their quirks and imperfections, but it’s their work that survives and surpasses all our momentary misgivings.” ―Jose Y. Dalisay
"His deep perspective, understanding and insights of the Philippines tortured history and corrupted present were amazingly on point. Yet despite all the country’s challenges, he was at his core an optimistic person. He truly believed in his people and that one day their future would improve." ―Ted Nugent
“The reader of his well-crafted stories will learn more about the Philippines, its people and its concerns than from any journalistic account or from a holiday trip there. José’s books take
us to the heart of the Filipino mind and soul, to the strengths and weaknesses of its men, women and culture.”―James Fallows
'“HINDI ka pa mamamatay, Frankie,” nakatáwa kong iwas. Subalit hindi ko mapigil isúlat ngayon ang paggunitang ito. Kalakip ang pangakong itulóy ang tungkuling ninais niya para sa lahat ng mga manunulat—ang tungkuling lagìng manindigan para sa kapakanan ng Filipinas, sa anumang paraan, at sa kabilâ ng anumang hadlang at panganib.' ―Virgilio S. Almario, National Artist
IT WOULD be apropos if we end with the words of FSJ himself, first with his message to young writers during the Pinoy Bookshop Tour in celebration of Buwan ng Wika in 2016. He said:
"Don't give up. Don’t give it up kung talagang gusto ninyo [if you really want it]. No matter what kind of criticism you get—even if you are called the lousiest writer in this country. If you really want to be Filipinos, commit yourselves not only to your literature or to your art but also to your country.”
Lastly, his final words to himself as he awaited his angioplasty and which he posted on Facebook. It was a letter to his own “Brave Heart”:
"Thank you brave heart. There are times when as an agnostic I doubt the presence of an almighty and loving God. But dear brave heart you are here to disprove this illusion, to do away with the conclusion that if you doubt Him, you kill Him. I cannot kill you dear heart; you have to do that yourself. For 97 years you have been constantly working patiently pumping much more efficiently and longer than most machines. Of course, I know that a book lasts long too, as the libraries have shown, books that have lived more than 300 years. Now, that I am here… waiting for an angioplasty, I hope that you will survive it and I with it, so that I will be able to continue what I have been doing with so much energy that only you have been able to give. Thank you dear brave heart and dear Lord for this most precious gift."
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