by Bryan Meniado
Beyond all the heart balloons and bouquets, it might be unknown to some people that Valentine’s Day is also a Christian feast day in honor of Saint Valentine, who was martyred on February 14. This piece of history is usually overlooked nowadays because people tend to focus more on the celebration of romance and love, as Valentine’s has also transformed into a significant cultural, commercial, and secular celebration embraced by people across cultures.
In the spirit of the love month, I’m sharing about Reportage on Lovers by Quijano de Manila, better known as Nick Joaquin. Nick Joaquin was a Filipino writer and journalist, who was proclaimed National Artist for Literature in 1976 and given the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Literature in 1996, among other prestigious honors. He was known for his short stories and novels in the English language, as well as the Reportage series, the classic collections of true stories and events from his career as a journalist, which includes Reportage on Crime, On Politics, On The Marcoses, and of course, On Lovers.
First published in 1977, Reportage on Lovers is a collection of true love stories. It is subtitled as “a medley of factual romances, happy or tragic, most of which made the news.” It boasts narratives on classic oriental love, modern cosmopolitan love, and tragic cold-war love based on news articles in the 1960s. If you are curious about how Filipinos are as lovers (and more!), then read on because here is why Filipinos should read Reportage on Lovers.
A glimpse of the old days
Since the book features true love stories from the 1960s, it gives us a glimpse of how life was during that time. It brings us to the various narratives of ordinary Filipinos as they experienced love and romance here and abroad. What’s more fascinating is how Nick Joaquin’s reportage and artistry made them more than just your typical kilig or heartbreak stories. Beyond the subject of love, the stories are imbued with social and historical references and contexts, making them more relevant and meaningful.
Nick Joaquin was such a treat to read because of his wit in storytelling that I got engrossed. Each story in the collection brings us into the different aspects of the Filipino psyche, culture, experience, and aspiration. Since most of the stories involve a foreigner, one can also learn a lot about the histories and cultures of various countries, as well as the socio-economic conditions at the time.
Speaking of which, I realized that some things haven’t changed that much since in terms of the economic aspirations of Filipinos. These are evident in the collection as it also touched on the issues surrounding social classes and their struggles, where one can find similarities between the plights of ordinary Filipinos then and now, such as seeking greener pastures and better opportunities here and abroad. In that sense, Nick Joaquin doesn’t only bring us into the psyche of a Filipino romantic but also into the love of the Filipino for their family, and the desire to provide a comfortable life for their loved ones.
Our love of foreigners
As mentioned, most of the stories in the collection feature foreigners as love interests of the Filipino lover. I’m not sure if the profuse inclusion of such stories is intentional on the author’s part, or that many Filipinos just truly find foreigners fascinating (or both). Regardless, I think this indeed shows our deep interest for foreigners even outside the context of romance. It might be a manifestation of our “white love” and our undying curiosity toward the ‘other,’ just like how we ascribe more value to all things imported (“galing pa sa States ‘yan!”) and how we turn our heads when we come across foreigners at the mall or elsewhere.
These kinds of intercultural love stories say a lot about us as Filipinos. They tell us more about our own culture, standards, and desires, as intercultural encounters and relationships also magnify differences that can ignite self-awareness and introspection. So we ask: What really makes foreigners attractive to us Filipinos? Why do we love anything stateside? Why do we stan our K-pop idols? Why do we want to travel abroad? And why do we have terms like “AFAM” and so on?
Newspaper as a historical resource
Another thing I realized from reading Reportage on Lovers is how we take newspapers for granted as a historical resource. We only find them useful on the day of their issue, and then after that, we trash them or use them as floor cover when we paint the walls. We don’t put much value to them beyond the date of issue because we have this notion of “luma” (old) and “panis” (stale) news. We only want the “bago” (new) and the “mainit-init pa” (still hot). Some people don’t even read the dailies anymore because they have shifted to the internet for news, information, and entertainment.
But Reportage on Lovers and other collections of old news articles remind us that they can still be useful in the present. Remember that newspapers are considered primary and secondary sources in historical research. They can be considered as the “resibo” of the important events in the past. Hence, we can use them to cross-reference and fact-check information, and to help us understand the past and its present consequences.
Showing love and support for our writers, artists, and creators
Reportage on Lovers was written by Nick Joaquin, a prominent writer and a national artist. While he may be one of the more popular Filipino writers, his works remain arcane for many Filipinos, especially the younger ones.
With that, I resonate with what Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo has said that “school made us ‘literate’ but did not teach us to read for pleasure.” He further laments how unfortunate it is that Jose Rizal wrote a lot for a nation that does not read him. While we have the Rizal Law that mandates our educational institutions to offer courses about Rizal, his works, ideas, and ideals remain obscure among Filipinos. When you ask Filipinos to summarize Noli Me Tangere or El Filibusterismo—required readings in high school—most of us would get cold feet and stammer.
But definitely, we are not short on brilliance when it comes to storytelling and literature as we have numerous talented Filipino writers, artists, and creators worthy of admiration and readership. The challenge for us is to read and appreciate them more. Again, to echo Ambeth Ocampo: the only way to know Rizal is to read Rizal. The same can be said for all our writers, aspiring or celebrated, and literary giants like Nick Joaquin.
Reading our heroes, national artists, local writers, and creators help us explore and appreciate our collective identity, as well as our artistic and intellectual traditions. Philippine literature can be a unifying force to make us realize and appreciate our shared sentiments and aspirations as a people. It can be a window to understand ourselves better and, hopefully, to move forward as a nation. (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: Filipiniana,” “Why Filipinos Should Read: Philippine Arts and Literature”)
A tragedy or a happy ending?
Reportage on Lovers, as a medley of both happy and tragic romances, reflects the reality that sometimes we cannot have all the good things in life. In as much as we want something or someone, sometimes it’s just not meant to be. But beyond our individual pursuits for romance, I hope we can also think about and express grander forms of love such as the love for our country and our fellow Filipinos.
On that note, may we become more vigilant and discerning in choosing our next leaders in this upcoming election. If we set high standards for a partner, then we should set even higher standards for our national leaders. Always bear in mind not to fall for empty promises and we should not forget the lessons of the past: “‘wag na tayong magpabudol.” Spread love and choose wisely so that we’ll all have our happy endings for our country and our children. Belated Valentine’s Day to all, and more importantly, today, February 25, marks the 36th anniversary of EDSA People Power. Let’s love our country and people!
Anything to share? :)