Monday, April 11, 2005

Personal ni Rene Villanueva: The Individual and Society

I am retracting what I said regarding Villanueva’s autobiography as reflective of the story of the people.

Although the chapters did present common stories of the masa and the lower middle classes during the pre-martial law years, especially on the matter of the disintegration of traditional customs to give way to the urban way of life. He talked passionately about the bargain techie center of Raon and the rundown theaters of Avenida. Also, he contemplated on the dysfunctional traditional family that he have which persisted in upholding traditional Pinoy customs in the middle of suburban La Loma. It presented serious problems to Rene especially when he was not allowed to take the UPCAT by his parents.

Yes, the book did talk about common stories of the people in the urban areas, but he stopped short of creating an autobiography that contained nuances on the politics and crises of those times. It played silent to the gripping issues that should have had been a part of the psyche of an urban row of apartments cum slum in Quezon City. It did not and instead focused on day-to-day activities such as the amazement of people over television and radio and the black-and-white girlie mags of those days, and the double-header films for cheap-ass poor folk.

It did reflect mass culture, but it failed to capture the struggles, hopes and aspirations of a people exploited and oppressed. Hell, he did not even talk about an evicted apartment tenant who could not pay, which was common place in any lower middle class apartment. He looked down with pity and compassion on those people he left in La Loma went he rose to fame writing his plays but ended at just that – feeling pity to stop feeling guilty that he left them behind to rise on his own. He reflected on his grade school days in the burned Ramon Magsaysay Elementary School and boy was he proud of his being a product of the public education system. But none in the book were there mentions regarding why the public schools now are at the gutters of education indices.

He probably idolized Saarte with his existentialist angst, and the individualism brought forth by the entire postmodernist urge to cease problematizing things, especially grand narratives such as that of the collective spirit of struggle and hope. I would have to admit that I was swayed by the talinghagas of the book but in retrospect, towards what good are books like such if it does not even liberate us petty-bourgeois intellectuals about our responsibility to take up the cudgels of struggle in alliance with oppressed sectors and classes of Philippine society. To write even an autobiography like such is saddening even, because he himself came from down below and stopped short at criticizing the poverty he was enmeshed with for a good number of years. I know that he is a prolific writer, that he has the poetic license to write such things, as though it were only for art’s sake and posterity. But that precisely is the critique of this piece on writers and intellectuals who put themselves on a pedestal far from the experiences and struggles of the people. It was great to learn about his childhood and nuances in cultures of those times, but at the same time, the period in which he lived contained people’s struggles that deserved notice other than talking merely about one’s growing up years as people can never separate themselves from the society in which they live, no matter how sorry their fate is. Society itself dictates how they are supposed to live.

I’d like to theorize though, that sometimes this is the tragedy of brilliant and gifted people who were born poor but made it out big in their fields of expertise. They lose track of the concept of their class and devote themselves to the lifelong dream of upward social mobility and leave their sorry neighbors and friends in their quagmire of poverty. They tend to forget to whom they owe their lives and for whom they should sacrifice their lives. Instead of fighting for the people’s rights writers like these are the one who even capitulate to the fangs of the ruling system and evens ell themselves to be living showcases in state infomercials on how the poor boy can fulfill his dreams through luck and perseverance.

Gripping poverty drives people to anger and desensitizes them from believing that one day everyone can be champions of their own destinies, as a class and as a people. I hope such did/does not happen to Rene Villanueva. The revolution needs more writers who can explain the struggle to the broader masses of people.

bata ka pa nga. you have a lot of growing up to do.
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