What I’ve Learned

Esquire (Philippines) - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEWED BY JONTY CRUZ NOVEM­BER 23, 2015

I’VE BEEN IN PUB­LISH­ING FOR AL­MOST 20 YEARS. I got in The Philip­pine Star in 1996. I was 20, if I’m not mis­taken. I think they hired me be­cause of my name, but good thing I had tal­ent. Not ev­ery­one did ( laughs) .

I WAS AL­WAYS REST­LESS and I never wanted to put my­self in a box. I tried all kinds of jour­nal­ism. When I read Nick Joaquin’s dic­tum that [goes], “There are no bakya top­ics, only bakya writ­ers,” I took that to heart.

THE GREAT­EST LES­SON I LEARNED FROM MY FA­THER, was that if you’re born with a name, you have to make some­thing out of it. My dad did that. He was liv­ing un­der the name of Car­los P. Ro­mulo. But he fought hard to add value to that name rather than just rely on it. Un­like a lot of peo­ple I know and I grew up with, who just did ev­ery­thing on bor­rowed will. It’s such a waste. If you have this name to go by and it opens doors, bet­ter make sure that you can stay in long af­ter the name is gone, long af­ter the door has been closed. It doesn’t stay open for­ever.

ALEXIS TIOSECO TAUGHT ME HOW TO BE GRATE­FUL. He had such a pure love for cin­ema and he asked for noth­ing in re­turn. But he de­manded a lot from ev­ery­one. He de­manded a lot be­cause he gave a lot, but he was al­ways grate­ful for what­ever he got. He al­ways said there was much to re­pay. All the time, he kept on say­ing that and he put it in an es­say that we did to­gether. He taught me to be grate­ful, that we can ex­pe­ri­ence th­ese things, that we can look at th­ese things, that we can enjoy them, and [that] we’re liv­ing in a time we’re liv­ing in now.

I WAS A VIC­TIM OF NOSTAL­GIA. I al­ways thought that it was a bet­ter time. Ever since I was young, I read a lot of the clas­sics and ev­ery­thing. Then Alexis made me grate­ful to be alive in the present. His death taught me a lot of things. That you can’t choose your end so you bet­ter make the most of what­ever you’ve got un­til it’s gone.

I WORKED IN THE FREE PRESS. I joined it on its 100th year. But at the time I joined the Free Press, it was really on its last legs. So there was not much to do but read the ar­chives. So I read al­most ev­ery is­sue the Free Press had in its ar­chives. Oh my god, what a history les­son. And writ­ing les­son. It’s the same head­lines, even same names, re­cur­ring all through­out Philip­pine history and Philip­pine pol­i­tics.

MY DEF­I­NI­TION OF SUC­CESS, for Esquire in par­tic­u­lar, isn’t ev­ery­one’s great suc­cess. Ev­ery­one would point to the usual like the Eraser­heads is­sue, which I thought was a suc­cess, but I thought it was more suc­cess­ful to put Erwin Castillo on the cover the next month, be­cause I thought, this was some­thing no one else would do. And we did it bril­liantly. And we didn’t sac­ri­fice our prin­ci­ples or what we thought our read­ers should read. So that was a great suc­cess to me.

IF YOU PUT A CELEBRITY ON THE COVER BUT YOU SAY NOTH­ING, THAT’S THE BIG­GEST FAIL­URE OF THEM ALL. ‘Cause if you have a chance to work with a celebrity, you can’t just rely on them, you have to say some­thing more pro­found or some­thing other than just mere “look at me, I’m a celebrity,” if you can get peo­ple or even the celebrity to en­gage more, then that’s bet­ter. There al­ways has to be a turn of the screw.

I LIKE SUB­VER­SION. Irony is my best friend. Al­though a lot of peo­ple have told me Filipinos don’t get irony, they only get slap­stick. But still why would I have to dumb my­self down? Or [con­de­scend] my read­ers if I know that a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of them get it? Crit­i­cism is bet­ter than no re­ac­tion at all. We’re meant to pro­voke.

THIS IN­DUS­TRY AND AL­MOST EV­ERY OTHER IN­DUS­TRY IS BUILT ON COM­PRO­MISE. You can com­pro­mise a lit­tle bit or a lot but the thing is, if you com­pro­mise too much and it still fails, that’s a dou­ble fail­ure. And that’s what you want to kill your­self for. But if you risk some­thing and it still failed in the eyes of many peo­ple, but you knew what you did was right and good, then I’m per­fectly okay with that. My fear is not liv­ing up to the stan­dard that I set for my­self, which is al­ways push­ing [bound­aries].

I HATE BAD WRIT­ING. I’ve been at this for a long time and I’ve put so much into it and then some­body just gives you a piece of shit. You say, “What’s wrong? Do I look like a toi­let to you?” Some­times the lan­guage just doesn’t sit well. Some­times it’s so ob­scene to me for you to sub­mit sub­stan­dard work. Some­body once said, “Writ­ing is easy. You just stare at the page un- til your fore­head bleeds.” So if you do any­thing less than that, it’s not good for me.

SOME PEO­PLE THINK I’M TOO IN­TENSE. WHY SHOULDN’T I BE? We’re do­ing mag­a­zines, we’re do­ing pub­lish­ing. We’re so lucky. We’re do­ing things we love. Why shouldn’t you be in­tense about it? And who said be­ing in­tense can’t be fun?

I CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND WOMEN. I [don’t even know] how to start with them. Ev­ery one of them is really a mystery to me, to be hon­est. That’s why I’m so fas­ci­nated by women. That’s why I want to hear them talk and just let them talk. I can’t [fol­low] how they think. I really don’t.

MEN ARE BOR­ING. MEN ARE THE SAME THE WORLD OVER. They’re driven by the same things. Women seem to have a unique sense of needs. I wouldn’t be an ex­pert at women at all. I wouldn’t know what to tell them, that’s why I only lis­ten.

I DON’T KNOW THE DIF­FER­ENCE BE­TWEEN LOVE AND SEX. I’ve fallen in love with a lot of inan­i­mate ob­jects or con­cepts and ideas. But peo­ple, not many times..

I RE­AL­IZED I LIKED THE STRUC­TURE OF RE­LI­GION. I liked the rit­u­als. I liked do­ing the things that were re­quired of me to show my devo­tion. I liked the dis­ci­pline of it. That’s why I wouldn’t sub­scribe it to any­one else be­cause it’s a pe­cu­liar kind of faith. I really like go­ing to church, I like hear­ing the songs, I like go­ing to con­fes­sion, I like the cer­e­mony of it. But whether or not I be­lieved in all of this or God is some­thing else.

WHO DO I PRAY TO? SAINT JUDE, THE PA­TRON SAINT OF LOST CAUSES. Early on, in the ‘90s, it was just so ap­peal­ing, the ti­tle. I’m go­ing to go for the guy who really caters to peo­ple who are hope­less and who have hope­less causes.

I BE­LIEVE IN EN­TROPY MORE THAN HOPE. It’s more in­ter­est­ing to me.

NO, I’M NOT GOOD AT GOOD­BYES. That’s why I never say it. I just dis­ap­pear.

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