Saturday, December 22, 2007

Death of an intellectual

The Philippine Daily Inquirer news-eulogy on Adrian E. Cristobal Sr. didn’t mention that he kept friends.

By this, I mean Adrian, when he was alive, really remained steady with a coterie of friends that, like constellations gravitating around a planet, were drawn to Adrian’s light which shone like a sun’s.

I cannot claim to be one those, for the simple reason of age: his friends were his contemporaries and I knew him only when I was in my late twenties, (I was then an aide to the late Blas F. Ople, Adrian’s kumpadre, and one of his closest friends). Yet, I was drawn to him because I’m a fanatic of good writers, Ople and Adrian being two of the most serious writers I have ever encountered, walked with, and learned from.

Serious writers, much more, deep thinkers, are rare. And Adrian belonged to this rarefied race of artisans. This is not to be explained, for serious writers and deep thinkers prefer that their craft explain them. It is their work’s impact on society that serves as their badges, their identikit, and while alive, Adrian prominently wore his despite the difficulties of political labels that hounded him to the very end.

As a public intellectual, Adrian abhorred, despised, mediocrity and shallow thought, and thus spared no one from his acerbic tongue and the satiric tip of his pen. He was always quick on the draw when shooting down mundane ideas, but quicker in encouraging sincere discussion of issues affecting our common life. He was always engaged.

“O, buhay ka pa!” was his greeting when we last met at a birthday lunch of a writer, but I knew it was more of a compliment than a cynical jab at a willing apostle. There, I saw in his eyes his own sense of his mortality: he was already feeble in his steps.

I remember most vividly his exchanges with Ople about the burning issues of the day, exchanges which, to me, were on the highest level of serious thought that only public intellectuals were capable of. Adrian’s deep knowledge of public policy, foreign affairs, and history complemented Ople’s experience and learning as a writer and as a senator. His sagacity of mind and keen perception of historical currents would have made him an ideal public official, if there is such, but then again, he would have dismissed the idea, given at that time the degenerate culture of government.

As a member of the publications committee of the National Centennial Commission from 1997 to 1998, Adrian edited Siglo, the committee’s short-lived journal. Adrian himself predicted the journal’s “limited tenure” but he did not despair, saying Siglo would serve as a ‘vehicle’ for the most significant thinking on the themes and issues of the Philippine Revolution and Independence.

Revolution. Independence. These are two issues that Adrian took to heart in many of his writings. His favorite revolutionary persona was Andres Bonifacio, about whom he wrote a scholarly tome, “The Tragedy of the Revolution”, and an essay, “In Search of the Hero.”

In the latter, he tore to pieces the canon of some historians to “deconstruct” Bonifacio by saying their “historicizing” is a “mere elegant substitute for gossip.” He reserved his venom for the American historian who wrote that Bonifacio was an invention. He said the historian is a psychologist who has not gone to school. The poor American did not bother a reply. The wounds inflicted by Adrian’s pen must have incapacitated him.

Only 75 when he died yesterday, Adrian has joined his compatriot-writers and public intellectuals, like Ople, Salvador P. Lopez, Fred Mangahas, E. Aguilar Cruz, Nick Joaquin, I. P. Soliongco, and Guillermo de Vega in the great beyond. There, they could resume their debate and intellectual meditation, while we, the living, can remain reeling and stammering in our intellectual poverty because one by one, the few genius and really articulate public minds are slowly deserting us.

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