(Editor’s Note: I received a hard copy of this piece from Tita Lacambra-Ayala, who had unearthed it from her files but we do not have the date when it was written. Still, I think Aida Ford’s message remains relevant to the present time.)
We live in absolutely horrendous times, and the only certainty we have is that when we think we have hit the very bottom—the nadir—we haven’t. The nadir is yet to be reached.
How do we rise above these trying times? The resiliency of Filipinos is best manifested by our ability to face the greatest shock with humor. But humor alone or escapism will not solve the situation. Is there really hope for us? What can I say to you? One super-qualification that I have is a panoramic perspective of the Pandora’s box: to live with the good and its disasters; its ideals and actualities; its moments of glory and its deep depression.
In youth, my generation had the experience of looking up to leaders like Quezon, Osmena, and Roxas; of being part of a system where the leaders made it possible for training of others to take over as leaders. I cannot say the same for the present system. Neither in bureaucracy nor in education.
My generation also had the experience of facing up to a World War with its patriotic fervor and its deprivation of freedom; with its high excitement in moments of risk and its fears and anxiety and tragedy of loss of property and loved ones. (I lost a brother in Capas and my father was in and out of the Kempeitai.) But through all this there was hope that we would regain the freedom that we so palpably missed—the freedom to express ourselves without fear of repression or disappearing without a gasp or trace into the night.
In retrospect, the war was a crucible that crystallized values. What were the things one cannot do without? What are the things worth risking life and property for?
Then we had the experience of rehabilitations. We took seriously the “Back to the Farm” movement advocated by Roxas and Osias. That’s how our family came to Davao. We plunged into abaca production and ramie, relying on government promises of a steady market. What the experience taught us was that we should not rely on whatever pet project the government advocates. What succeeded in post-war Davao was hard work and endurance; private enterprise and the Chinese concept of setting aside working capital, never drawing on it for clothes, cars, expensive houses. What was meant for farming or business was kept intact. Only then could we compete with the Chinese—by emulating the Chinese way of life.
The experience of studying abroad gave me added insights on the nature of my own identity. By contrast and through what we miss do we gauge the Filipino in us. There is also that stimulus and challenge to show one’s worth in the face of so much impersonality and competition. I had the exhilaration of winning a major prize in fiction from the University of Michigan.
Then after getting married I had the experience of a sojourn in Korea, a war-torn country split artificially into the Communist North and the supposedly Democratic South. Korea in 1958 was as depressing as its coal-blackened buildings and the suicidal look on the faces of the people due to tyranny and corruption in government. When I revisited Korea in 1978, twenty years after my sojourn there, I saw tremendous progress, unusual change from an individualistic, pushy way of life to one of order and organization; from corruption as a way of life to a disciplined society.
My experience in education—teaching at what was then the Mindanao Colleges, and then the Armed Forces School of the University of Maryland, the University of Mindanao, and the Ateneo de Davao University, and finally setting up the Learning Center of the Arts in 1980, now the Ford Academy of the Arts, Inc. I learned that teaching by example is still a very effective way in education. One can never inculcate a work ethic or a creative way of life by standing in the sidelines giving instructions. I learned that some enjoy working alone and some enjoy working in groups. But joy makes work light, whatever the obstructions are.
On that note, we enter the experience in Marcos’s time, of the Philippines being “martialized.” More and more, joy became an alien experience, but suddenly a new awesome phenomenon confronted us: the phenomenon of the parliament of the streets imposing its own discipline—a parliament of professionals and students and housewives and workers standing up for principle in peaceful manifestation of the worth of the human being. That was indeed beautiful.
Yet a time comes when man or woman must give expression to the very deep-seated desire for beauty and truth and justice—the old verities that have motivated the great arts of the world, from Neolithic man’s attempt to express movement, energy, and a moment in time in his cave-drawings of animals and men to the marvels of the monumental architecture of the Egyptians and the Mayans, to the glories of Greek architecture and sculpture, literature and philosophy to the Roman structures and the Gothic spires pointing straight up to heaven and then to the Renaissance focus on the person again—in our God-given magnificence. No amount of repression can really keep artists from expressing themselves, as in the work of Picasso, Goya, and Diego Rivera. I’m not saying that art should be revolutionary. Art for the most part can be enjoyed for itself. The design does not have to mean something. But whatever artists express in painting or sculpture or architecture or music or literature, they must be true to themselves.
What must we do to bring ourselves up from the nadir of the times?
First, we must face up to the problems of the times squarely, honestly, and with humor, if possible.
Second, we can learn from our mistakes and take a tip from countries or people who have sunk into deeper holes and resuscitated themselves.
Third, we must depend solely on ourselves and not depend on government assistance or initiative nor on outside loans. Old Filipino common sense tells us to borrow only what we can pay back; spend only what we can afford. If we see an opening out of the hold, let’s find a way to get everyone out without trampling on each other. Let us stop the cycle of corruption by beginning with ourselves.
Fourth, when faced with oppression, let us have the courage to take a stance, singly or in groups. Let us assert our humanity.
Last, when we reach the bottom, let us not lose hope. We trust that our built-in moral and spiritual values will sustain us for the hard climb up.
Aida Rivera Ford is a founding member of the Davao Writers Guild and president of the Ford Academy of the Arts, Inc. She celebrates her 87th birthday on 22 January 2016.