Po-on — F. Sionil Jose
Foremost book in the five-part Rosales Saga (but last to be published) by the Philippine National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil Jose—Po-on embraces an air of nationalism and gushes with an autonomous aspiration from the long oppressed Filipinos. Istak’s mere fabricated globe recounts the factual—though not concrete—burden the Filipinos has been subjected to throughout the tyranny of the Spaniards, and shortly under the regime of the Americans. Jose’s guileless yet lyrical prose, with his clear-cut exhibition of the backdrop and episodes of confrontations, promises a picturesque panorama of the Salvador’s (later Samson) expeditions and misadventures, along with an inexplicable feeling of patriotism hovering over the pages.
It isn’t so hard to penetrate into the lives of the indios (as Spaniards call the Filipinos) since the distinct attributes of the characters are very well manifested until today. A Filipino himself, Jose did not—in any way—commit any biasness towards the Filipinos. Istak’s resolute faith to a divine entity makes him an epitome of righteousness but his inadvertent fascination towards women makes him a flawed being nonetheless. Ba-ac’s sulkiness at the onset of the story creates a disagreeable impression on his part but discovering the reason behind his severed hand gives him redemption even so. And then there were the Filipino traitors who recoiled from their resistance to favor the enemy’s cause—not to mention the “tulisans” who oppress their own kindred.
Nor did Jose set any prejudices against our foreign aggressors. Albeit the ruthless governance of the Spaniards—along with the Church’s iniquitous exploits—particular individuals however were designed to project an upright disposition towards the Filipinos. Such person is Padre Jose—Istak’s mentor and father-like figure. He serves as a remembrance that goodness comes from any race, however deplorable the majority are.
I’ve never really been a patriotic individual—save for my occasional remarks about the country’s involvement in various issues—but plunging deeper into F. Sionil Jose’s engaging narrative and beautiful prose, one cannot be helped but to be terribly perturbed by the maelstrom of emotions compellingly swirling on every page. I literally felt a searing pain in my chest the moment I flipped the final page, specifically because of Istak’s last notation from his journal. We own our country, we own our resources, and we own ourselves. But why are these aliens gaining from our possessions? They hold in great awe our majestic resources and obtain an unlimited supply of opportunities from these, but degrading with its unsightly attributes. Are they here to praise or to demean us?
An insensible citizen now a compassionate native of my country—Po-on has shaped my newfound love for my motherland.