Selected Essays Of F Sionil Jose Philippine

F.Sionil Jose’s “Why are Filipinos So Poor?” November 23, 2006

Posted by liberaleconomy in Liberal Leadership Seminar Report.

Hi Libs!

I was just browsing through the internet when I stumbled on this one. It was “serendipitous” – as Atty Jen might want to call it. Have you ever experienced something like this – when one thing leads to another and the whole chain of events feels like it has been woven by some Divine hand? Anyway, this is an article posted at tackling the issue of why Filipinos are “so poor.”

Its amazing how F. Sionil Jose interlocked the ideas and issues we have so touched during the seminar into one meaningful essay. One thing that struck me was his line on – we are poor because we are poor. Indeed, we need to get out of a “poverty” mindset lest we rot in the rut. It has a lot to do with attitude. Because even if we have means or access to capital or wealth if our attitude treats poverty as an excuse not to better our lives, we will remain where we are until kingdom come.

I just thought the essay might interest you, so I am sharing it with you. A word of caution though, its quite long, so read it if you truly have the time. There are lots of provocative insights that can be derived from it. One good thing about the essay is that it is still infected with one distinctly Filipino trait: the Big O. As in Optimism. Hope springs eternal – if we only have the “courage to change ourselves.”

Happy Reading!


Why are Filipinos so Poor?

In the ’50s and ’60s, the Philippines was the most envied country in Southeast Asia. What happened?

By F. Sionil Jose

What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953? Battered, poor – but look at Korea now. In the Fifties, the traffic in Taipei was composed of bicycles and army trucks, the streets flanked by tile-roofed low buildings. Jakarta was a giant village and Kuala Lumpur a small village surrounded by jungle and rubber plantations. Bangkok was criss-crossed with canals, the tallest structure was the Wat Arun, the Temple of the Sun, and it dominated the city’s skyline. Ricefields all the way from Don Muang airport — then a huddle of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to the Victory monument.Visit these cities today and weep — for they are more beautiful, cleaner and prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we were the most envied country in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got its independence in 1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared with the hundreds of Ph.D.’s that were already in our universities. Why then were we left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not produce cheaper and better products.

The basic question really is why we did not modernize fast enough and thereby doomed our people to poverty. This is the harsh truth about us today. Just consider these: some 15 years ago a survey showed that half of all grade school pupils dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continue schooling.Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to find jobs. Our natural resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable. Our tremendous population increase eats up all of our economic gains. There is hunger in this country now; our poorest eat only once a day.But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit.

Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged culture which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him but I do find a great deal of truth in his analysis.This is not to say that I blame our social and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a social system and an elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses. Then, too, in the Iberian peninsula, to work with one’s hands is frowned upon and we inherited that vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was, but we are now a colony of our own elite.

We are poor because we are poor — this is not a tautology. The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I pass by a slum area every morning – dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and drink. We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the fact that the interest given them by their banks is so little. They work very hard too.

We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-coiffed they are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their manicured nails, their personal jewelry, their diamond rings. Yabang – that is what we are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang. How much better if it were channeled into production.

We are poor because our nationalism is inward looking. Under its guise we protect inefficient industries and monopolies. We did not pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is not so much the development of the rural sector, making it productive and a good market as well. Agrarian reform releases the energies of the landlords who, before the reform, merely waited for the harvest. They become entrepreneurs, the harbingers of change.

Our nationalist icons like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tanada opposed agrarian reform, the single most important factor that would have altered the rural areas and lifted the peasant from poverty. Both of them were merely anti-American.

And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone cronyism and corruption and we don’t ostracize or punish the crooks in our midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.

We can tackle our poverty in two very distinct ways. The first choice: a nationalist revolution, a continuation of the revolution in 1896. But even before we can use violence to change inequities in our society, we must first have a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My regret about EDSA is that change would have been possible then with a minimum of bloodshed. In fact, a revolution may not be bloody at all if something like EDSA would present itself again. Or a dictator unlike Marcos.

The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex process. The only problem is that it may take so long and by the time conditions have changed, we may be back where we were, caught up with this tremendous population explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in its conformity with doctrinal purity.We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the communists won, they will rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same obstructions in our culture, the barkada, the vaulting egos that sundered the revolution in 1896, the Huk revolt in 1949-53.

To repeat, neither education nor revolution can succeed if we do not internalize new attitudes, new ways of thinking. Let us go back to basics and remember those American slogans: A Ford in every garage. A chicken in every pot. Money is like fertilizer: to do any good it must be spread around.Some Filipinos, taunted wherever they are, are shamed to admit they are Filipinos. I have, myself, been embarrassed to explain, for instance, why Imelda, her children and the Marcos cronies are back, and in positions of power. Are there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of course, lots of them. When people say, for instance, that our corruption will never be banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as mayor of Manila and Ramon Magsaysay as president brought a clean government.We do not have the classical arts that brought Hinduism and Buddhism to continental and archipelagic Southeast Asia, but our artists have now ranged the world, showing what we have done with Western art forms, enriched with our own ethnic traditions. Our professionals, not just our domestics, are all over, showing how accomplished a people we are!

Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against Western colonialism, the first to establish a republic. Recall the Battle of Tirad Pass and glory in the heroism of Gregorio del Pilar and the 48 Filipinos who died but stopped the Texas Rangers from capturing the president of that First Republic. Its equivalent in ancient history is the Battle of Thermopylae where the Spartans and their king Leonidas, died to a man, defending the pass against the invading Persians. Rizal — what nation on earth has produced a man like him? At 35, he was a novelist, a poet, an anthropologist, a sculptor, a medical doctor, a teacher and martyr.We are now 80 million and in another two decades we will pass the 100 million mark.

Eighty million — that is a mass market in any language, a mass market that should absorb our increased production in goods and services – a mass market which any entrepreneur can hope to exploit, like the proverbial oil for the lamps of China.
Japan was only 70 million when it had confidence enough and the wherewithal to challenge the United States and almost won. It is the same confidence that enabled Japan to flourish from the rubble of defeat in World War II.
I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we have a real and insidious enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse than the intransigence of any foreign power. We are our own enemy. And we must have the courage, the will, to change ourselves.

F. Sionil Jose, whose works have been published in 24 languages, is also a bookseller, editor, publisher and founding president of the the PhilippinesÕ PEN Center. The foregoing is an excerpt from a speech delivered by Mr. Jose in Manila, Philippines.

Like this:



F. Sionil José

Francisco Sionil José in December 2017.

BornFrancisco Sionil José
(1924-12-03) December 3, 1924 (age 93)
Rosales, Pangasinan, Philippine Islands
Pen nameF. Sionil José
OccupationFilipino novelist, writer, journalist
Alma materUniversity of Santo Tomas (dropped out)
Period1962 – present
Literary movementPhilippine literature in English
Notable worksThe "Rosales Saga" Novels (1962–1984)
Notable awards
  • Pablo Neruda Centennial Award (2004)
  • Philippine National Artist for Literature (2001)
  • Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres (2000)
  • Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts (1980)
  • City of Manila Award for Literature (1979
  • Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature (1959, 1979, 1980, 1981)

Literature portal

Francisco Sionil José (born 3 December 1924) is one of the most widely read Filipino writers in the English language.[1][2] His novels and short stories depict the social underpinnings of class struggles and colonialism in Filipino society.[3][4] José's works—written in English—have been translated into 28 languages, including Korean, Indonesian, Czech, Russian, Latvian, Ukrainian and Dutch.[5][6]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

José was born in Rosales, Pangasinan, the setting of many of his stories. He spent his childhood in Barrio Cabugawan, Rosales, where he first began to write. José is of Ilocano descent whose family had migrated to Pangasinan prior to his birth. Fleeing poverty, his forefathers traveled from Ilocos towards Cagayan Valley through the Santa Fe Trail. Like many migrant families, they brought their lifetime possessions with them, including uprooted molave posts of their old houses and their alsong, a stone mortar for pounding rice.[1][2][3][4]

One of the greatest influences to José was his industrious mother who went out of her way to get him the books he loved to read, while making sure her family did not go hungry despite poverty and landlessness. José started writing in grade school, at the time he started reading. In the fifth grade, one of José’s teachers opened the school library to her students, which is how José managed to read the novels of José Rizal, Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Faulkner and Steinbeck. Reading about Basilio and Crispin in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere made the young José cry, because injustice was not an alien thing to him. When José was five years old, his grandfather who was a soldier during the Philippine revolution, had once tearfully showed him the land their family had once tilled but was taken away by rich mestizolandlords who knew how to work the system against illiterates like his grandfather.[1][2][3][4]

Writing career[edit]

José attended the University of Santo Tomas after World War II, but dropped out and plunged into writing and journalism in Manila. In subsequent years, he edited various literary and journalistic publications, started a publishing house, and founded the Philippine branch of PEN, an international organization for writers.[1][2] José received numerous awards for his work. The Pretenders is his most popular novel, which is the story of one man's alienation from his poor background and the decadence of his wife's wealthy family.[3][4]

José Rizal's life and writings profoundly influenced José's work. The five volume Rosales Saga, in particular, employs and integrates themes and characters from Rizal's work.[7] Throughout his career, José's writings espouse social justice and change to better the lives of average Filipino families. He is one of the most critically acclaimed Filipino authors internationally, although much underrated in his own country because of his authentic Filipino English and his anti-elite views.[1][2][3][4]

"Authors like myself choose the city as a setting for their fiction because the city itself illustrates the progress or the sophistication that a particular country has achieved. Or, on the other hand, it might also reflect the kind of decay, both social and perhaps moral, that has come upon a particular people."

— F. Sionil José,, 30 July 2003[1]

Sionil José also owns Solidaridad Bookshop, which is on Padre Faura Street in Ermita, Manila. The bookshop offers mostly hard-to-find books and Filipiniana reading materials. It is said to be one of the favorite haunts of many local writers.[1][2][3][4]

In his regular column, Hindsight, in The Philippine STAR, dated 12 September 2011, he wrote "Why we are shallow", blaming the decline of Filipino intellectual and cultural standards on a variety of modern amenities, including media, the education system—particularly the loss of emphasis on classic literature and the study of Greek and Latin—and the abundance and immediacy of information on the Internet.[8]


Five of José's works have won the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature: his short stories The God Stealer in 1959, Waywaya in 1979, Arbol de Fuego (Firetree) in 1980, his novel Mass in 1981, and his essay A Scenario for Philippine Resistance in 1979.[9]

Since the 1980s, various award-giving bodies have feted José with awards for his outstanding works and for being an outstanding Filipino in the field of literature. His first award was the 1979 City of Manila Award for Literature which was presented to him by Manila Mayor Ramon Bagatsing. The following year, he was given the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts. Among his other awards during that period include the Outstanding Fulbrighters Award for Literature (1988) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines Award (Gawad para sa Sining) for Literature (1989).

By the turn of the century, José continued to receive recognition from several award-giving bodies. These include the Cultural Center of the Philippines Centennial Award in 1999, the prestigious Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 2000, and the Order of Sacred Treasure (Kun Santo Zuiho Sho) in 2001. In that same year, the Philippine government bestowed upon him the prestigious title of National Artist for Literature for his outstanding contributions to Philippine literature.[10] In 2004, José was garnered the coveted Pablo Neruda Centennial Award in Chile.


Rosales Saga novels[edit]

A five-novel series that spans three centuries of Philippine history, translated into 22 languages

Original novels containing the Rosales Saga[edit]

Other novels[edit]


Short story collections[edit]

Children's books[edit]

  • The Molave and The Orchid (November 2004)


Essays and non-fiction[edit]

  • In Search of the Word (De La Salle University Press, March 15, 1998) ISBN 971-555-264-1 and ISBN 978-971-555-264-6
  • We Filipinos: Our Moral Malaise, Our Heroic Heritage
  • Soba, Senbei and Shibuya: A Memoir of Post-War JapanISBN 971-8845-31-3 and ISBN 978-971-8845-31-8
  • Heroes in the Attic, Termites in the Sala: Why We are Poor (2005)
  • This I Believe: Gleanings from a Life in Literature (2006)
  • Literature and Liberation (co-author) (1988)

In translation[edit]

In anthologies[edit]

  • Tong (a short story from Brown River, White Ocean: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Philippine Literature in English by Luis Francia, Rutgers University Press, August 1993) ISBN 0-8135-1999-3 and ISBN 978-0-8135-1999-9

In film documentaries[edit]

  • Francisco Sionil José – A Filipino Odyssey by Art Makosinski (Documentary, in color, 28min, 16mm. Winner of the Golden Shortie for Best Documentary at the 1996 Victoria Film and Video Festival)[11]

Books about F. Sionil José[edit]

  • Frankie Sionil José: A Tribute by Edwin Thuboo (editor) (Times Academic Press, Singapore, January 2005) ISBN 981-210-425-9 and ISBN 978-981-210-425-0
  • Conversations with F. Sionil José by Miguel A. Bernard (editor) (Vera-Reyes Publishing Inc., Philippines, 304 pages, 1991
  • The Ilocos: A Philippine Discovery by James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly magazine, Volume 267, No. 5, May 1991
  • F. Sionil José and His Fiction by Alfredo T. Morales (Vera-Reyes Publishing Inc., Philippines, 129 pages)
  • Die Rosales Saga von Francisco Sionil José. Postkoloniale Diskurse in der Romanfolge eines Philippinischen Autors by Hergen Albus (SEACOM Edition, Berlin, 2009)
  • Post-colonial Discourses in Francisco Sionil José's Rosales Saga: Post-colonial Theory vs. Philippine Reality in the Works of a Philippine Autor by Hergen Albus (Südwestdeutscher Verlag für Hochschulschriften, 14. November 2012)


"...the foremost Filipino novelist in English... his novels deserve a much wider readership than the Philippines can offer. His major work, the Rosales saga, can be read as an allegory for the Filipino in search of an identity..."

— Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books[12]

"Sionil José writes English prose with a passion that, at its best moments, transcends the immediate scene. (He) is a masterful short story writer..."

— Christine Chapman, International Herald Tribune, Paris[12]

"...America has no counterpart to José – no one who is simultaneously a prolific novelist, a social and political organizer, and a small scale entrepreneur...José's identity has equipped him to be fully sensitive to the nation's miseries without succumbing, like many of his characters to corruption or despair...

— James Fallows, The Atlantic Monthly[12]

"...The reader of his well crafted stories will learn more about the Philippines, its people and its concerns than from any journalistic account or from a holiday trip there. José's books takes us to the heart of the Filipino mind and soul, to the strengths and weaknesses of its men, women, and culture.

— Lynne Bundesen, Los Angeles Times[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ abcdefgJose, F. Sionil (30 July 2003). "Sense of the City: Manila". BBC News. Retrieved 14 June 2007. 
  2. ^ abcdef"Author Spotlight: F. Sionil Jose". Random House. Retrieved 14 June 2007. 
  3. ^ abcdefMacansantos, Priscilla S. (25 April 2007). "A Hometown as Literature for F. Sionil José". Global Nation. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2007. 
  4. ^ abcdefYabes, Leopoldo Y. and Judson Knight. "Francisco Sionil Jose Biography". Contemporary Novelists, Vol. 16. Retrieved 16 June 2007. 
  5. ^Garcia, Cathy Rose. (27 April 2007). "Author F. Sionil Jose's Insight on Philippines". Arts & Living. The Korea Times. Retrieved 19 December 2008. 
  6. ^Garcia, Cathy Rose. (27 April 2007). "Author F. Sionil Jose's Insight on Philippines". (Korean website). Retrieved 19 December 2008. 
  7. ^Scalice, Joseph (17 December 2004). "Articulating Revolution: Rizal in F. Sionil José's Rosales Saga". Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 19 December 2006. 
  8. ^José, F. Sionil (11 September 2011). "Why we are shallow". The Philippine Star. Retrieved 11 October 2014. 
  9. ^"Guest of Honor Introduction - NATIONAL ARTIST FOR LITERATURE – MR. F. SIONIL JOSE". Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards. 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  10. ^"Culture Profile: F. Sionil José". About Culture and Arts. National Commission for Culture and Arts. 2002. Retrieved 16 June 2007. 
  11. ^Makosinski, Art (1996). "Francisco Sionil José – A Filipino Odyssey". Archived from the original on 11 June 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2007. 
  12. ^ abcdMakosinski, Art. "About Francisco Sionil José". Archived from the original on 9 June 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2007. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The Writings of F. Sionil Jose, Archives, The New York Times. Retrieved on 16 June 2007
  • The Works of Francisco Sionil Jose, The New York Public Library. Retrieved on 16 June 2007
  • Books of F. Sionil Jose, Retrieved on 16 June 2007
  • Filipino English: Literature As We Think It (from F. Sionil Jose's Keynote Lecture at the Conference on "Literatures in Englishes" at the National University of Singapore), F. Sionil Jose: National Artist for Literature, Foremost Novelist, and, March 19, 2006. Retrieved on 16 June 2007
  • Jose, F. Sionil. "We Who Stayed Behind (Many fled the Philippines during the Marcos years, writes F. Sionil Jose. But what about those who remained?)", Asian Journey, Time Asia magazine (18–25 August 2003 issue),, 11 August 2007. Retrieved on 21 June 2007
  • Allen Gaborro, A book review about Sins, a novel by F. Sionil Jose, Random House, 1996, Retrieved on 22 April 2008

External links[edit]

The Inscription in the Monument (February 23, 2007).

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