Tito Onching and me

Nick Joaquin. Painting by BenCab

By Tony Joaquin

When Mama was carrying me in her womb, Tito Onching was asked by my father, Ping, to stay with her and keep her company especially in the evenings when Papa played piano as a jazz musician at stage shows around Manila at the time. That would be the beginning of Nick Joaquin’s involvement with our family.

I was the oldest of the nephews. When I was about 7 years old, Tito Onching would tease me because by that time he had decided to go on his own by quitting second year high school and pursuing self-education. He acquired most of his information by visiting the national library daily.  He also visited the University of Sto. Tomas library when he could and developed a strong friendship with the Dominicans priests.

When Nick won first prize for his essay on the Feast of La Naval de Manila, the more he became a Dominican favorite. He was offered a scholarship to study at the seminary in Hong Kong hoping that Nick would eventually become part of the Dominican Order. It was not to be because in a year’s time in the seminary he opted out and returned to Manila and pursued his career as a journalist and fiction writer.

We had moments teasing each other about one’s preferred religious Order — he for the Dominicans and me championing the Jesuits as I was educated at the Ateneo de Manila from grade school through college.

Despite these petty rivalries, I grew to admire and love him as a nephew would, but especially because of his deep religious devotion to Our Blessed Mother who was also the patron saint of the Ateneo de Manila, my school.  Nick never failed to attend mass and receive communion on a daily basis and continued this practice even when he was already writing for the Philippine Free Press where he became known for his modern reportage under the pen name of Quijano de Manila.

As I write this, I am in Manila having recently launched the book “Nick: A Portrait of the Artist Nick Joaquin,” which I co-authored with Gloria Castro Kismadi.

“There were only three occasions in my life when I wept,” said F. Sionil Jose, National Artist for Literature, “and that was when my own mother died, when my father in-law Monsignor Jovellanos died, and when Nick Joaquin died.”

It was an emotional evening for many of us who knew Nick. We all came to the book party with our own memories and commentaries of Nick Joaquin and his genius which earned him the title one of the Best Filipino Writers in English.

F. Sionil

F. Sionil – or Frankie to friends and those who frequented his La Solidaridad Bookstore — was sharing his moments with Nick over the years stating that each time they met they argued about many things – but they always parted as friends.

Gloria, my co-writer, resides in Jakarta, Indonesia.  We put together the book by email for almost three years.  A Filipina married to an Indonesian gentleman from Java, she has never met Nick, except through his writings. She confessed during her remarks at the event that “In no time at all I fell in love with Nick.  I could not have enough of his writings which I have a complete collection of in my home in Jakarta.”

Co-authors Tony and Gloria

The event was held July 6 at PowerBooks Store at Greenbelt IV Makati City. It was organized by Anvil Publishing Inc.

It was Mama Sarah who first noticed, through bits and pieces of Nick’s writings, that here was a young man who showed brilliance with the pen, and so she got Nick started by getting him to publish his poems in a Manila newspaper.

Also sharing a Nick moment was poet Marra Lanot Lacaba, whose father Serafin was the literary editor of the prewar Tribune where Nick’s poems were first published.  Serafin was so impressed by the young man’s writings that he wanted to meet him face to face. When it was time for Nick to come collect his fee, Serafin was alerted by the cashier of the newspaper so that Serafin could come and meet the writer. Upon sensing that this was about to happen, Nick fled the scene without bothering to collect his payment.

Anvil publisher Karina Bolasco keynoted the event by announcing T-shirt giveaways for those who bought copies that evening. She also thanked the people who helped her get the book out — Ani Habulan, assistant publishing executive; Joysh Bersales, editorial assistant for trade books; and Gwen Galvez, marketing manager.

The book will be available at the Filipino American International Book Festival scheduled to take place at the San Francisco Main Public Library on October 1 and 2, 2011.

Tony Joaquin is the nephew of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, who died in April 2004. Tony’s musician father, Ping, is Nick’s older brother.

One Comment

  1. Imelda Cu wrote:

    Good one, Tony.

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