Monday, July 7, 2008

Under the Romblon Sun, a writer returns

In a province where opinion is as opinionated as the street-corner opinion-maker, opinion columns, unread though they may be, come cheap.

So why write another? Indeed, why suffer another opinion writer?

This question popped up as I lay on a rubber bank of a bed of M/V Princess Annavell while it navigated blindly the dark seas of the Tablas Strait on its way to Batangas last week.

To this quiz, the answer is easy.

Salman Rushdie, the famous British author of the ‘Satanic Verses’, the book that sent him into hiding and seclusion because the head of the Revolutionary Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran declared a ‘fatwah’ or death decree on him for alleged blasphemy against Allah, once said that the duty of the writer “is to say the unsayable, speak the unspeakable”.

I am not a Rushdie fan, but I have faith in his defense of the writer. Writers, whether they are writing fiction or writing opinion pieces, are civilization’s last defense against tyranny in all its ugly forms.

I consider myself a writer and proudly wear a badge with a large “W” mark on it. However, I don’t distinguish myself according to what I write, because writing—including opinion writing—should not be burdened by labels. Writers are writers, that’s all there is to it.

I refer, of course, to the serious ones, those who consider their craft as a moral duty to society—to their readers, if you may. Serious writers are those who write because they felt it an obligation “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”, as the writer Conrado de Quiros so succinctly put it.

I have very low regard for writers who consider writing as a source of power with which they can injure or inflict moral harm to declared and perceived enemies; those who engage in the use of the word to pursue personal agendas.

Alas, the writing profession, including some newspapers, is inhabited by creatures who use the pen to settle scores and ain personal advantage; by writers who smear personalities with gutter paint. Such are not serious writers. They are demagogues who should be exposed as such.

Let’s go back to the genesis of this piece. I said, “Why write an opinion column?”

Fair comment (that’s what opinion pieces should be) reinforces public perception that views expressed in a newspaper is a mirror of society—and reality. And the reality—at least that which newspapers report and commented on by opinion writers—is harsh. Very harsh.

That reality, as well as the injustices in society and the meanness of man to his fellow man, comes under the minute scrutiny of opinion writers.

The news reporter may be the writer of history in a hurry; he may report which public persona is dipping his fingers into the public coffers, or write about who is bedding whom, but it is the opinion writer who interprets that history. It is he who delves into the motivation of men and who pries open the doors of the power corridors and brings to light the darker side of the news. A columnist does not write calumny. He expresses his views and comment on the news.

And so, I write another opinion column. Thank you, Tony Macalisang. You are courageous to admit into the pages of the Romblon Sun a writer whose views are often recalcitrant, if not downright “blasphemous” against officialdom’s. But Romblon Sun readers, I suppose, would be curious, interested, in reading the views of one who has grown up whistling in the dark and battling odds as a ‘struggling’ writer.

By ‘struggling’, I meant I have always been trying to figure out why we continue to wallow in poverty despite our rich natural resources; why despite our people’s high literacy, ignorance in governance continues to permeate the Romblon air; and why an elected official, SP member Benjamin Irao, Jr., could blurt out in Odiongan’s public plaza a blanket accusation that “lahat sila corrupt, ako lang ang hindi”.

As a writer, I struggle to answer questions that affect our debilitating provincial existence. I am trying, for example, to fathom Irao’s pontification, as if all of us, except him, should be admitted to hell. Are we that desperate as a people to fry ourselves in our own lard?

It is this, and the larger questions in society, that I, as a writer, will address in this column. I will fail in my duty if I do not do so. Not writing about the demons that torment our province would mean that we will, as a people, continue to suffocate the ‘struggling’—there, that word again—Romblomanon whose only dream is to live a decent life. Not writing about Irao’s accusation would mean we permit him to occupy a bigger plaza and, without proof, smear again with gutter paint his fellow elected officials.

Of course, Irao has a point. It is a reality that on our streets—paved or rough—prowls the corrupt and the vile, mostly politicians garbed in fine clothing, preening in official arrogance, but hatching dark schemes of abuse and misdeeds and crimes so nauseating they would make Al Capone’s evading tax payment a gentle stroll in the park.

And they are who the writers must write about. I shall do that. I shall strive to prick the conscience of the readers, to incite them to think, and to clarify their doubts.

A writer has no choice but to present, through his own prism, the view which the readers may not see. He should be true to this role, to his calling which only he as an observer of events and as a writer could see and hear. This is true if he is to raise the shutters that blind the people. Otherwise, he will only contribute to human ignorance if he fails to do so.

The acid test of a serious writer is his loyalty to the truth and his fidelity to the facts. An opinion writer, indeed, any writer worth his salt, should remain under the dictates of his conscience, within the ambit of public interest. An opinion writer, indeed, any writer for that matter, who considers public interest secondary to his many other interests, is not a serious writer. He is a dealer in cheap talk.

The elected public official who is corrupt is kicked out by disgruntled voters in an election. That is democracy. The writer who dispenses opinion wildly without regard for the truth and the public interest is not read, and his newspaper is bought to be used as fish wrap. That, too, is democracy. That is also an insult to the writer.

I welcome you to this corner of the Romblon Sun. Space permitting and with the above as self-imposed guidelines, I will, once a week, offer you a menu of crisp views on the events as they unfold and comment on the news, even on the weather.

I will be generous with praise to public officials who, under tremendous constraints, succeed in serving the people, but I will be unremitting in excoriating misdeeds and injustices whenever and wherever they are committed. I will write about the dispossessed, the powerful and the powerless, the afflicted and the comfortable. In short, I will write about Romblon and the Romblomanons.

What do I do after I write?

Na-wilig-wilig ako. Na-liong-liong. That is not an opinion. That is a gesture of telling myself I have fulfilled my duty as a writer.

That is also the title of this column.

(First article under the column, "Liong-Liong, Wilig-Wilig", that appears weekly in the Romblon Sun).

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