By Judge SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR.
(Speech as Guest of Honor at the Commemorative Program for 107th Birth Anniversary of Wenceslao Q. Vinzons, 28 September 2017, Provincial Capitol Grounds, Daet, Camarines Norte)
FIRST OF ALL, thank you, Dios mabalos, maraming salamat, for this great honor your provincial government has given me to speak on your province’s iconic hero Wenceslao Q. Vinzons to whom we give the greatest honor today, his 107th Birth anniversary. Vinzons Day is rightly so a non-working special holiday for Camarines Norte by virtue of R.A. No. 6720. At least, that’s clear -- non-working special holiday, unlike the nationwide quasi-holiday called the “National Day of Protest” last September 21, yun bang walang pasok na may pasok.
A “National Day of Protest” connotes that we live in troubled times. Thus, your chosen theme for this year’s Vinzons Day – “Wenceslao Q. Vinzons: A Symbol of Hope in Troubled Times” – is most relevant and timely. You here in Camarines Norte already know Vinzons well. And we all know about the troubled times – not only in Philippines but also in the world – that we are living in. The point for us today is to connect the two, Vinzons and our troubled times, to draw from the example and spirit of Vinzons in order to surmount the current and coming challenges to our province and to our nation. And for this, we need heroes, both of the past and of the present.
Camarines Norte is lucky to have at least two great national heroes: Jose Ma. Panganiban a.k.a. “Jomapa” in the 19th Century and Wenceslao Q. Vinzons a.k.a. “Bintao” in the 20th Century. You are bound to have at least one more in this 21st Century. Both Jomapa and Bintao have been favorably compared to Rizal. In the case of Bintao, I would say that he had risen to the level of a Rizal and Bonifacio combined.
But not many Filipinos, especially outside Camarines Norte, know that. The title of the first full-length book on Vinzons, published only last year and authored by playwright and essayist Efren Yambot, says it all: Wenceslao Q. Vinzons: The Hero the Nation Forgot says it all. He has yet to be given the full recognition he deserves, and because of that, many Filipinos, especially our youth, do not learn and benefit enough from the lessons of life and death that he teaches us. Perhaps this cannot be said of Camarines Norte, it knows and gives due recognition to our heroes, as shown by erecting here the first Rizal monument.
Camarines Norte has apparently imbibed the line from the Bikol folksong Si Nanay, Si Tatay which goes Balakid na boot an satuyang utang – “we owe them a debt we can never repay.” A hero is someone who is Bansay, the ancient Bikol term for exemplary, of admirable character, excellent quality, brilliance, and eminence. By the way, Bansay is the title of a Bikolnon Biography Series recently published by Ateneo de Naga University Press [my literature professor wife, legal wife, here is its General Editor] and its No. 4 in the series of short articles written mainly for students is on Jose Ma. Panganiban. One on Vinzons has also been planned.
My own first encounter with Vinzons was [as Abel mentioned in his introduction] as a student and activist at the University of the Philippines during the troubled early 1970s when I frequented the student union building aptly named Vinzons Hall in front of which was a Bonifacio statue. (It was also where I would have dates with my classmate girlfriend and future wife, kaya memorable ang Vinzons Hall.) But other than reading the Vinzons Hall plaque which summarized his short but brilliant life from his U.P. student leader days to his war hero martyrdom, I did not know or learn much more about him. For many years since my U.P. days until only in recent years, I must confess that I was part of the nation that forgot this hero.
When I finally decided to read more about Vinzons – even before the Yambot book came out – I learned so much more about how really great his example of life and death was. I learned most importantly of all about his principles and courageous integrity of character which is what impressed me most, about his being down to earth and close to the people on the ground, and about his visionary and prophetic mind (for which he may be said to be the precursor of ASEAN integration and cooperation, which by the way was the first planned theme for this Vinzons Day).
What then can we learn from Vinzons to help us through in these troubled times? Allow me to imagine a scenario of Vinzons, given his principles and personal qualities, if he were not missing and presumed dead anymore but alive at present.
As an intellectual and visionary but grounded leader, Vinzons would study and analyze what is happening (or not happening) to our province and our country, and also consult the people and experts, before deciding or moving on what is to be done. He would of course note the continuing big problem of poverty but would dig deeper into its roots. He would see how social inequity has grown since his time despite the abundance of natural resources, like the precious gold of Camarines Norte. We would know that Filipinos can somehow bear and deal with poverty and social inequity, given our characteristic resilience and family-social networks, but when there are also abuses, oppression and injustices by those in power, these altogether make fertile ground for insurgency, That Camarines Norte and other parts of the Bicol region as well as neighboring Quezon have at various times become hotbeds of Communist insurgency was never witnessed by Vinzons. How would he deal with it now? I believe he would deal with it in a more enlightened manner than declaring martial law. He would probably engage in sincere dialogue that would find fair common ground to stop the armed hostilities, and combine this with concrete progressive socio-economic programs that would benefit mainly various sectors of the poor majority.
Vinzons would look for ways to spur economic development through productive investments, employment opportunities, special economic zones, and a vibrant tourist industry in the outskirts, not only in the center, and to appropriate public funds accordingly. He would invest mostly in people, even as he builds infrastructure such as roads and bridges – with them in mind, not the S.O.P.s and kickbacks. He would definitely not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, of the mining industry here. But has mining really benefited only a few families or big companies? Do the mine workers themselves have better lives from all their hard labor? We remember how Vinzons, who once had his own gold mining company, gave higher worker salaries than the rest of the other companies. More than that, he consulted with the workers themselves to formulate company policies through an advisory council he formed. Today, he would surely also help protect the parakabod from toxic elements by putting in place modern safety measures
Economic development today would no longer be sustainable if it does not factor in environmental protection and the current phenomenon of climate change, something Vinzons never experienced. But the quick learner that Vinzons was even as a primary and secondary student in this province, I can imagine him embracing a concept of development that is holistic, not skewed to the business sector or even to humans alone, but one in harmony with the whole of the ecosystem. He would readily understand that our failure to take care of, nay even abuse of, Mother Nature, another “Ina,” is the root cause of the increasing karma of natural disasters. And so he would mobilize a reliable task force to protect the Bicol Natural Park forest from illegal loggers, big and small. He would engage the local community as stewards to protect the forest themselves and compensate them adequately for this. Since fishing is another major source of food and income for the poor, especially in the significant coastal areas of the provin
ce, he would deal with the fisherfolk the way he deals with the mine workers. Help them increase their income, and consult and allow them to participate in regulating their own activities and prevent illegal fishing. He would look for ways and means so that fishers do not opt for get-fish-quick schemes that destroy the marine ecosystem.
Vinzons would thus avoid an imbalanced kind of development, that is focused on infrastructure and on business interests, as such kind of development would ultimately just perpetuate poverty and social inequity which in turn perpetuate patronage politics, corruption, crime and yes the drug problem that has come to fore in most recent times. And how would he deal with that problem? I do not think he would deal with it by shooting the problem. He definitely knows the difference between the Japanese Imperial Army invaders and the many poor and young Filipinos who are more the victims of poverty-induced small-time drug use and selling rather than truly hardened criminal minds.
Camarines Norte’s famous small but sweet pineapple tastes and feels much better than shabu. Vinzons would certainly explore ways to expand this agriculture venture into bigger economic endeavors and link this with tourism. In Kaohshiung, Taiwan (once known as Formosa), there is an obligatory tourist destination, the Pineapple Castle which showcases and sells beautifully packaged pineapple pastries and food products. My seven-year old grandson enjoyed their delicious pineapple ice cream. I hope that he and I can taste a Daet version of the same someday soon. While helping the pineapple farmers and cottage industries, Vinzons would have studied the history of the abaca and sugar industries in Bicol and Negros, respectively, and learned from their rise and fall, including the perils of mono-cropping.
On the tourism front, Vinzons would not allow the pristine Calaguas island and the beaches in Bagasbas, Mercedes and Jose Panganiban from becoming another Boracay through unsustainable infrastructure that could eventually turn the waters into another septic tank or garbage bin like many of our big city rivers, notably the Pasig. My daughter, a travel blogger, sang praises about the pristine waters of Calaguas the first time she visited, only to be dismayed by the trash she saw the second time around. Do not over-commercialize your province with concrete-laden beach resorts and with the omnipresent malls of SM and Robinson’s which my beloved Naga City has unfortunately done in recent years. I am a proud Nagueño, but I am not proud of our big malls, na dinadayo pa ng mga taga-Daet. Keep your provincial or probinsyano charm, the foreign tourists like that better. Be proud to be promdi – just like Vinzons was.
Pride of place, this is part of the local culture, the last aspect that this speech would deal with. Pride of place because there is something to be proud about it, like its great heroes. Vinzons who was a famous orator and writer himself, would not neglect education, media, culture, and the arts. He would advocate better conditions for teachers and schools and a free, instead of a muzzled or envelopmental, press – one carrying the spirit of Jomapa. Bintao would support artists and writers to keep the arts and letters vibrant and sustained, instead of being reserved only for occasions such as fiestas and foundation anniversaries with their souvenir program kind of literature. After all, Camarines Norte has produced National Artists such as Amorsolo and Manuel Conde, and contemporary artists such as Ricky Lee, Hermes and Helena Alegre, and Sari Saysay.
Let me end with a formula inspired by Vinzons’ pen standing for local culture, on one hand, and Camarines Norte’s pineapple standing for the local economy, on the other hand. By combining these two in proper balance – like in the “pen-pineapple” pop song hit of last year that my grandson kept performing for some time -- your province can never go wrong. May the force – of the spirit of Vinzons – be with you, and with us also, in these troubled times. Dios mabalos.
SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. or SOL is Judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 61 Naga City, his adopted hometown. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history cum laude from the University of the Philippines where he used to frequent Vinzons Hall in the early 1970’s. From his U.P. years, he has been a student, political and social activist, a human rights lawyer and a peace advocate for many years in Camarines Sur before joining the judiciary there in 2010. His past two major engagements in Camarines Norte involved first a human rights fact-finding mission on the Daet or Camambugan massacre of June 14, 1981, and then a pro-bono students rights case with Mabini Colleges in 1988 which led to a landmark Supreme Court decision entitled Ariel Non et al. vs. Judge Sancho Dames II in 1990. While Judge Sol’s professional development has been as a lawyer, with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law, he finds himself occasionally going back to and dabbling in history. He has written and edited a number of books on various peace processes, on legal and constitutional matters, on alternative politics and governance, and on radical movements, all for the most part infused with history. And it gets closest to his heart and mind when it has to do with our beloved region of Bicol.