F. Sionil Jose (Photo courtesy by PEP.ph)
By Armenio Manuel
MANILA — The Philippines has lost one of its literary giants, the Rosales, Pangasinan-born Francisco “Frank” Sionil Jose, National Artist for Literature and founder of the country’s chapter of PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists). He was 97.
His wife, the former Tessie G. Jovellanos, said her husband of 72 years, passed away on January 6, 2022, at the Makati Medical Center where he was confined while waiting for an angioplasty, also known as balloon angioplasty and percutaneous transluminal angioplasty.
Sionil Jose was a columnist of the Maharlika.TV News until his confinement at the Makati Medical Center, his columns, which tackled many issues, titled Musings.
This is a minimally invasive endovascular procedure used to widen narrowed or obstructed arteries or veins, typically to treat arterial atherosclerosis.
While Jose had Ilocano roots and could speak the language, he wrote largely in English, and many of his books have since been widely translated into foreign languages – his writing career spanning seven decades.
But Sionil Jose, a 1980 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, and a 2001 National Artist for Literature awardee, was respected by many Ilocano writers, such admiration shared by non-Ilocano writers.
The last he formally appeared before Ilocano writers was in December 2016 – when he was 92 – during the 50th golden anniversary of GUMIL Metro Manila at the Aberdeen Court in Quezon City, where he was introduced by poet and essayist Honor Blanco Cabie.
He talked about “roots” of the Ilocano language and “roots” as related to a blood lineage and regaled his audience with anecdotes when he was still an adolescent and teener in his barangay in Rosales.
Known for his novels and literary works espousing national sovereignty and social justice, his notable works include the Rosales saga, a five-novel series consisting of The Pretenders, Tree, My Brother, My Executioner, Mass, and Po-on.
The novels narrate the stories of the Samsons in different generations, intertwining their personal lives with the social struggles of the nation.
Through his prolific writing since the 1960s using common parlance English, Sionil Jose received various accolades including the CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts in 1998, the Outstanding Fulbrighters Award for Literature in 1988, as well as several Palanca Awards.
A day before he was to undergo angioplasty, the self-defined “agnostic” took to Facebook in what would effectively be his last words, thanking God as well as his “braveheart” for “this most precious gift” as he waited for his blood vessel procedure.
Said he: “Now, that I am here in 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.”
The son of a church minister and a dressmaker, Sionil Jose, who traced his roots to the Ilocos, grew up in a rural barangay in Rosales, Pangasinan, where he developed an early love for reading and later became the setting of many of his novels.
In a 2011 interview, Sionil Jose said: “One of the greatest tasks of Filipino writers is how to make Filipinos remember. Not only to remember but to love this country.”
Born on December 3, 1924, when the Philippines was headed by an American governor-general, Sionil Jose worked at the now-defunct United States Information Agency at the US Embassy in Manila after attending the Catholic University of Santo Tomas where he edited the Varsitarian and then joined the old Manila Times where he worked for a decade.
One of his children – he had five sons and two daughters – wrote: “Our father passed away peacefully this evening (January 6, 2022). Many years ago, he told us this is what he wants written about him: ‘He wrote stories and he believed in them.’”
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.