Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Featured Article: “Her Story”: Loving, leaving and living the laurels

Personal experience undoubtedly remains the paramount repository of any narrative. While other writers can still spin off reality from an entirely fictitious recount, the natural sensitivity and sincerity of a narrative can only come from one’s life trove.

If the above statement is the gauge, then "The Colors of My Life: Celia Diaz-Laurel – Painter,” the first of a book trilogy series is indubitably an exemplar. While it is an easy read, its short yet fluid recollection of experiences repaints not only the past relevant to her, but also the past germane to all us. Coiled in her own reminiscence of the 86 years that had gone by, the widow of the late Vice President Salvador H. Laurel incidentally was able to relay significant points of our history too.

Written without a single trace of being an octogenarian, the first book consists mainly of Celia Diaz Laurel’s journey from her native town of Talisay, Negros Occidental until her later years in UP Diliman as a budding Fine Arts student. However, aside from her theatrical and oratorical triumphs which raised her from college anonymity, memorable are her personal anecdotes about her esteemed professors like Fernando Amorsolo and Guillermo Tolentino, both of whom became national artists in their respective fields.

Also noteworthy is her recount of the first Oblation, its association with Rizal and his Mi Ultimo Adios, its journey from the Padre Faura campus to its “new” Diliman campus in Quezon City and its trite censorship in the form of a fig leaf. A personal favorite though is the story about the Maria Makiling sculpture, of the mountain “nymph” which freaked out her mother-in-law – yes, by mother-in-law, we refer to the wife of the Second President of our Republic, Dr. Jose P. Laurel.

The generous revelation of truly private stories like these, details that even history books, do not divulge or cannot divulge for lack of reference, make people like Dr. Jose P. Laurel, human.

Without a doubt, by sharing “her story,” not only through words but also widely through her art works; she too imparts a part of our history. Timed during the post Japanese occupation, the interesting stories of the earliest UP, and the rise of arts and theatre with the likes of Amorsolo and Tolentino leading the hurdle are the humble yet worthy “asides” of this coffeetable book. Ultimately though, it is the magnificent masterpieces of Madame Celia Diaz Laurel, her narratives in paints, which is the heart of this publication.

Loving a Laurel

And of course, “her story” would not be complete without “his story.” Since the first book shares her unforgettable collegiate hay years in the UP College of Fine Arts, a no mention of Doy Laurel is highly improbable. In fact, the mere reference of Doy Laurel and their sweet friendship and courtship through poetry, every now and then in the book, is sure to give the readers a reason to smile. Needless to say, this college loving has accorded her the “better half” of Doy Laurel title –a moniker she has full heartedly accepted and assumed until this very day.

Leaving her laurels

Now at 86, Celia Diaz-Laurel remains to be primarily known as the widow of Doy Laurel –a detail she seems to discount. In fact, according to the colophon of a book she has authored, she is “the constant wife” of the late VP Doy Laurel.

Unknown however to many, Celia Diaz-Laurel, away from the shadows of her husband, is an established writer, painter and thespian. And like the late VP, Celia Diaz-Laurel belongs to a gallant lineage too, being the granddaughter of Domingo Franco, one of the 13 Martyrs of Bagumbayan – the unsung heroes of the Philippine revolution. She also has an impeccable educational pedigree with a Yale University degree to add up to her laurels.

At any rate, she is incomparable with other widows of famous local politicos who attempted or forced attention to be drawn in their favor, she did not try to level, compete with or ride on the popularity of her late husband. This even if she can. She held her guns and she held them tight. Truly a woman of class and candor, Celia Diaz Laurel dared not steal the show from Doy, that, even after his death. If at all loving a Laurel means leaving her own laurels behind, it was a fate she seemed to have proudly conceded to.

Living with the Laurels and their laurels

Following his death, there was a conscious and collective effort to preserve the memories of the former Vice President. Thus, despite the laborious transport of the late Vice President’s whole library and his other effects from their Shaw mansion to their 4-hectate Holiday Hills property in San Pedro, Laguna, the Laurel matriarch dedicatedly heeded to the duty. Now, the Salvador H. Laurel Museum and Gardens houses, preserves and celebrates the beginning and glorious days of the late statesman. Alongside, Celia Diaz Laurel, being the writer that she is, has also immortalized many times over in her books her beloved Doy, livening his aspirations and love for the Philippines.

Arranged in a meticulously laden ensemble, Doy’s personal and political effects in the Laurel Museum are too inviting for a fastidious scrutiny. Strangely though, a visit to the Laurel Museum will not only touch one’s historical penchants. In fact, more than its admirable grandeur, that hilltop haven will forever imprint on me as a wife’s undying love and loyalty for her beloved husband. Without a doubt, the Laurel Museum displays an aura of a well kept “home” with an evident personal touch of the lady of the house. It also exudes a kind of love that is both selfless and timeless. In fact, except for a Fernando Amorsolo oil painting portrait of her and a single framed picture in the library, the museum is entirely dedicated to Doy and his Laurel lineage – a proof of Celia Diaz Laurel’s full embrace of being and living with the Laurels and their laurels.

Indubitably, Madame Celia Diaz Laurel has been, for decades, raconteur to Doy Laurel’s story but the time has come for the light to shine on her.

"The Colors of My Life: Celia Diaz Laurel – Painter," the first of a trilogy of books was launched yesterday, June 18, 2014 at the Executive House, Maramag St. corner Tavera St., Area 14, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City. Graced by no less than UP President Alfredo Pascual and other influential people like Teddy Locsin Jr., Manny Villar, House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, Sen. Joker Arroyo, former Prime Minister Cesar Virata, Sen. Jun Magsaysay, Philippine Star columnist Babes Romualdez, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Willie Nepomuceno among others, the event also exhibited some of Madame Celia's impressive works as a painter.

Congratulations to Madame Celia Diaz Laurel and the rest of her family and staff for the successful and well-attended book launch.

Editors Note: The author, Donna Dimaano-Bonoan, teaches at the University of the Philippines Los Banos.

Photo credits belong to Cocoy Laurel and to my perpetual photographer...the author herself, my wife Donna.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Of books, bolo and Bonifacio

Rappler 6/12/14

We have a fascination for the extraordinary

My personal library alone is stacked with entrancing biographies about extraordinary figures, great men who, for a moment in time, have set the world on fire and changed the course of history.

From Churchill, Jefferson, and Ghandi to Rizal, Recto, Laurel, and Marcos, these men appeared to have been endowed with wisdom and erudition that would distinguish them from the genius of the ordinary.

I have often wondered if there is any room for ordinary men to shine in history. But I have long since answered this question. Quite honestly, one need not look any farther because the leader of the “bolo movement,” Gat Andres Bonifacio perfectly fits the bill.


True, he hardly had a formal education. He did not seem to possess any special talent unlike his professional paisanos in the propaganda movement. In many respects, the simple Andres Bonifacio was no match to the oratorical prowess of Graciano Lopez Jaena nor did he write with the flair of Jose Rizal. Even in terms of military acumen he was no way within the range of Emilio Aguinaldo; and as evidenced later in the Tejeros Convention of 1897, he was definitely not a good politician either.

But cutting through the surface and superficialities, Bonifacio’s supposed “ordinariness” says something about his indubitable conviction and strength of character that would ultimately foster the birth of a secret society known as the Katipunan.

Among the handful illustrious figures in the pantheon of national heroes, Andres Bonifacio towers above everybody else because he came from the common people of his day, the unlettered indios who formed the womb of the revolutionary movement in 1896. But that is not the end of story. My admiration for the Supremo goes beyond personal abhorrence on elitism and rooted empathy for the underdogs; my own personal struggle against the fripperies of life─ striving for recognition in my chosen field─ accounts for my choice of hero.

Indio origins

Born of lowly parents in Tondo, Manila, it is said that Bonifacio had died as he had lived, a poor man. Orphaned at a very young age, Bonifacio abandoned schooling and had to work all his life to support his siblings. He peddled canes and paper fans, dabbled in zarzuelas, and did some clerk work for an English firm. Yet, despite all the restrictions that poverty has to offer, Bonifacio was not exactly the classic indio that we pictured him to be. He was, by and large, a self-taught man─ a wide reader in his own right.

Setting the record straight

Contrary to popular belief, he was in fact a home-schooled fellow, having learned to read and do simple math under the care of a private tutor. As he grew older, and as life becomes more and more pressing, Bonifacio struggled to improve himself by sharpening his mind through books. As the story goes, while working as a bodeguero in a brick factory, the young Bonifacio was often seen with a book propped open in front of him even while he was eating his lunch. And before the night ends, armed with a flickering lamplight, Bonifacio would once again pore over his tomes, one of which was a book on the history of the French Revolution.

From this, chroniclers and scholars are one in saying that Andres Bonifacio could at least speak some English (having worked as a messenger-clerk in an English firm), and could read Spanish too for almost all the books in his collection were either written or translated into Spanish.

The making of a revolutionist

Of the books found in his small library in the warehouse, mostly in Spanish translations, these were his favourite titles: History of the French Revolution, Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew, Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, Ruins of Palmyra, the Bible, Hugo’s Les Miserables, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, the Penal and Civil Codes and International Law.

Of course, we could not say with optimum certainty that Bonifacio read all those books from cover to cover, much less understood every word in them. But by all accounts, it is reasonable to say that this progressive literature vividly explains why Bonifacio’s passion for revolution turned out to be infectious; that he was able to sway others, cultured or not, to follow him even unto death. Undoubtedly, the sufferings of the people of his class and the circumstances of his life could have been enough reason to raise his bolo and challenge the power of Spain─ but Bonifacio walked the extra mile.

His selective readings, I believe, did appear fruitful for it gave him the idea of revolution.

Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog, a call-to-arms manifesto against Spanish tyranny, showcased Bonifacio’s bent as the emerging revolutionist of the people. The amount of time he spent devouring the philosophy of the French Revolution had indeed showed him that it can be done.

It was a rare yet poignant combination of ‘feelings’ and ‘thought,’ of personal injustice and native intellect that moulded him; that ultimately ushered his people into the glorious period of Philippine history and the Revolution.

And so while the ilustrados, the perceived extraordinary men of his day, cried for gradual reforms, for Bonifacio, it’s all or nothing. No fuss, no frills: death or independencia!


It is a fact that the middle-class, the intellectual segment looked down on Bonifacio on account of his uncultured ways and intellectual shortcomings. Yet, in a blink of an eye, the ruling class captured the “revolution” from the masses and coloured it as its own. In a larger sense, one could only imagine what he went through as he tried to forge a united front against a common enemy, Spain. On his side, however, another war was brewing headed by the ilustrados themselves, this time, he was the target.

But Bonifacio was not to be distracted by innuendos. With a wave of hand, maybe he simply dismissed “regionalism” and “elitism” as mere frivolities. Instead, in his naiveté, he focused his energy on the mission to liberate the Filipino people not knowing the pitfalls of power.

History records that Andres Bonifacio did not live to see the glorious day of our redemption. At the age of thirty-three, he was summarily executed on the hills of Maragondon for wanting to destroy the revolution that he himself had started.

But this seemingly ordinary folk hero still haunts the victors or traitors like the pursuing “tabak” that allegedly butchered him to death. Very Bonifacio, his life and death, remains a silent call for the rise of the ordinary under extraordinary circumstances.

Mabuhay ang mga Anak ng Bayan!-Rappler