possibly inadvertent kind of conditioning also came out in the songs
the American educators taught our young children. They taught "My nipa
hut is very small", "Planting rice is never fun" and "I have two
hands", which ends with "...clean little hands are good to see".
"Think," Jocano urges, "who would like to go back to the farms because
planting rice is never fun and clean little hands are good to see?"
Indeed, Jocano is no stranger to that image. He was born of a poor
family that lived off a farm in Iloilo. His parents had twelve
children, four of whom died. "We were very, very, very, very poor," he
says. "Alas singko pa lang, ginigising ka na ng Tatay. 'Hoy, ang
kalabaw, pakainin mo na.' (As early as five o'clock, Father would
wake me, saying 'Hey, feed the carabao already.)"
Early in the morning, the young Jocano would take the plow and work
the sugarcane field. Of course, he would get all wet from sweat and
splattering mud, and he ended up feeling very cold. But looking back,
he feels no reproach. "There were times I thought my father was very
cruel, but now I realize it was good I did that. Those are experiences
I love to recall."
There wasn't enough money to send every child to school. Jocano
relates they went to school by batches. Some would study while some
would work on the farm. By the time he finished Grade VI, his father
refused to send him to school and urged him to work on the farm
instead. The rationale was, if he knew enough to keep from being
fooled at the marketplace, he had sufficient education. Jocano,
however, wanted to continue his studies, so much so that he ran away
brave young boy became a stowaway on a boat bound for Manila. He had
no money, no food, and no clothes other than those he had on. He could
not beg for food for fear of being caught by the police, so "I just
turned left," he says, and he just kept walking until he came upon a
kind benefactor. She was a laundrywoman who worked for a Spanish
mestizo. He showed her what he thought would be his passport to
success: a good elementary school report card.
lady, who had a young son and was from Iloilo as well, took Jocano in
and introduced him to her employer as her cousin who had just arrived
from the province. He was hired to do menial jobs like scrubbing the
floor and cleaning the arinola, and he was happy to do it for a
mere PhP 10.00 a month.
contentment, however, never led him to complacency. On his second
month away from home, he bought a copy of Gregg Shorthand and
memorized all the strokes in one and a half months. For practice, he
paid the laundrywoman's son PhP 1.00 to read him the newspaper or he
listened to the radio. When he was in grade school, he had been
excellent at typing. These two skills would come in handy later on in
his quest for success.
daily schedule allowed him to look for a job during the late mornings
and afternoons. Jocano recalls he walked up and down the entire Rizal
Avenue and went into all the buildings looking for a job. No one hired
him, the boy wearing old rubber shoes and loose clothes he had
borrowed from the laundrywoman's son. Besides, he did not even know
how to speak Tagalog.
Persistence paid off when he found a job in the Santa Cruz area. As
the manager of one company was leaving, he again presented his report
card. He was hired as a janitor and messenger and received a salary of
PhP 15.00. He, however had no problems with rent. He got a police
clearance and asked for permission to sleep in the office. This
presented another problem for the young lad: he was afraid to sleep
alone at night when all was dark and quiet.
pass the time, he roamed around the city until he came to a place that
was bustling and bright even in the wee hours of the morning. This was
the press of the Manila Chronicle in Dasmariñas. He would just stay
there and lie around while everyone else was busy doing there jobs
until he started to get their attention. They took a liking to him and
made him do small errands like buying food and drinks. Pretty soon, he
got entrusted with more jobs like delivering galley proofs. They never
paid him, but he says it was a lot of fun. All the while he was
thinking to himself, "Makasulat kaya ako ng ganito? (Would I be
able to write like this?)"
Jocano's report card was about to get him another break. He took a
chance and ambushed Don Eugenio Lopez as he went to work one day at
about 6:00 a.m. Jocano told the story of how he ran away from home and
longed to study but lacked the money to do so. When he showed Mr.
Lopez his report card, the old man was impressed and told him to come
back to the office at 9:00 o'clock.
young Jocano came back at the set time, only to find that a board
meeting was taking place and Mr. Lopez' secretary would not let him
in. But he never lost his determination and chose to barge into the
board meeting while the secretary was distracted by a telephone call.
Lopez kept his promise and asked his Comptroller to give Jocano a job.
He was given a job in the accounting department and a salary of PhP
80.00 a month. This was the first time the young stowaway wrote home.
He started sending his family PhP 50.00 a month, and kept the rest for
himself. After all, he still had no need to pay rent. He was still an
the money he earned, he was able to enroll in high school, never
losing his desire to make something of himself. His first literary
endeavor was a piece on the life of a working student, written for the
school organ. Boldly, he again approached Mr. Lopez and showed him the
article along with a poem he had written, and declared he wanted to be
his job in the accounting department, he was assigned to the paper's
morgue. He bound papers and filed pictures for a year.
first journalistic experience was covering a fire in Villalobos,
"What happened?" he was asked as he came back to the office. Even
before he began to tell the story, he was rudely interrupted.
"Don't tell me, you WRITE it!" And this man proceeded to tear up
Jocano's earnest attempts at journalism, not only once, but five
cried, he says, but like all things in his life, he now sees that
incident in a positive light. "That's how you harden," he says, "You
destroy your image of yourself."
kind of life, however, did not have the best effect on such a youth.
Jocano took to drinking and hanging around with the tough crowd of
Tondo. He tried to enroll for college, but ended up hardly attending
was a low period in his life when he got sick and had to go home to
Iloilo. The year was 1954.
However, what was one of the lowest times in his life also became one
of his greatest turning points. While going on hunting trips with his
friends, Jocano developed an interest in folklore.
work got the attention of several people, including The National
Museum's Robert Fox. Fox was the one who invited him to work in the
national museum. Wherever Jocano was placed, he did not refuse to do
the smallest or dirtiest of jobs. He says when he was working at the
museum, he was essentially a janitor who was assigned to clean the
toilet. Jocano determined to be the best janitor in the building and
got the attention of the director, who asked that Jocano be assigned
near his office on the fourth floor.
Another chance incident, when he was again able to show his typing
skills to the director, got him transferred into the typing pool.
There, he remained the humble servant to all. He was tasked to throw
remains from specimens used in the museum. But his exposure to this
kind of work led him to conceptualize a series of articles on
Philippine legends surrounding plant and animal life. This was
published in the Manila Times and got the attention of the Department
Education officials asked if the series could be included in their
next edition of "Diwang Kayumanggi", which was used as a teaching aid
in secondary schools. Jocano agreed, on the condition that they would
also publish his position--janitor. The DECS immediately gave him a
higher pay and new position: from "research aid" he was now named
"scientist one", but his job description remained the same.
new position, however, gave him more confidence the woman who would
soon become his wife. Jocano is reluctant to tell their love story,
but admits she determinedly avoided his advances before eventually
falling in love with him. To see the two together is testament to the
love that has prevailed throughout all the tough years.
Jocano did not promise her the moon and the stars. In fact, he warned
her, "You are living with an author. Do not expect the easy type (of
several years, the couple lived in the slums. They chuckle as they
recall how they seemed to have "ringside" seats to all the fights in
Tondo. This, however, was where they learned the Filipino value of
pakikisama or camaraderie. Even the "thugs" in the area were
helpful and kind to them because of the relationships they built with
This, again, proved a valuable experience for Jocano, who took
advantage of his situation to study and record life in the slums.
making the most of everything that was dealt him, the young boy who
came to the Philippines clutching his elementary school report card
got his Bachelor's Degree at the Central Philippine University in 1958
and was given a grant to study at the University of Chicago, where he
taught for a while. When it seemed he was not going to earn a tenure,
he decided to come home and teach at the University of the
Philippines. There he remained for 31 years.
then, life was not easy. With his accomplishments, Jocano entered the
University as Associate Professor, something his colleagues resented.
As a result, he was not given a teaching assignment in his first
semester at the University. Soon after, he was sent to the province.
Others may have resented this, but Jocano took the opportunity to
write two books. His peers at the University had no books to call
their own, but by this time, he had already published three.
studying ethnology, Jocano has ventured into international relations,
rural research, and then urban research. He then turned to urban
communities and studied the development of the corporate culture.
Jocano says he has covered virtually all aspects of Philippine life.
His great interest, however, is the 500 years of pre-colonialism. He
reveals he has artifacts that will prove that Filipinos had an
advanced civilization before our colonizers came.
"When you say civilization, people are looking for big structures like
the Angkor Wat but why look for these big structures? Why look at
other cultures to rediscover ourselves? There are other indices for
civilization: science, writing, a big population, megalithic strucs,
etcetera... when our ancestors manufactured stone tools the changes
from rough stones to polished stones already indicate a kind of
"From there: ceramics/pottery... then we started to use metals... to
get metal out of the ore is no problem but to transform the metal into
tools involves metallurgy...
had science... to be able to preserve the beloved in the form of a
mummy involves a mastery of embalming... using the principles of
"Before the turn of the millenium we had (trade with) India, Thailand
for) megalithic structures we had (the) rice terraces."
Jocano points out, though that such masterpieces in engineering like
the pyramids, the Taj Mahal and the Angkor Wat can also dampen the
spirit once we recognize that these were products of slave labor. He
explains hundreds of thousands of people suffered when these were
built. "In other words, these monuments are living testimonies of
man's inhumanity to man.
ancestors built megalithic structures and used the mountains to ensure
human survival, not to document human sufferings."
Colonization, he says, is indeed a nightmare, but he asks why do we
keep looking back at it? When will we stop? Who wants to remember that
(she has) been raped? That's the past. Go on and find strength!"
long hours of research do take their toll sometimes. When that
happens, Jocano turns to a relatively new hobby: painting. "I easily
get bored," he explains. "Everytime I get bored, I go there," he
points toward a small nook where he has set up his artist's easel.
"When I am so concentrated, I get tired. All I do is get myself
immersed in the canvas." He says it is not for the sake of art but for
the sake of venting his frustrations.
subjects are images he recalls from his trips to the mountains and his
life in the slums. Someday, he says he'll enroll in Fine Arts, but for
now, he's content to exhaust his own natural talent. His chosen
subject? Not the madonna and child, but man and child.
Jocano himself has two children. His son took after him and is also
teaching at the University. His daughter is still studying and
actually designed the covers of her father's books.
the time I was at their home, the interaction between Jocano and his
family showed genuine love and concern. His wife served us homebaked
goodies we had never tasted before--like cornflake and mango flavored
cookies. These, she said, were products of her cooking class.
Behind the man was a loving and caring homemaker. She took up
Chemistry and taught at the Philippine Women's University. She did not
speak much, but when she spoke, she was as her husband, having nary a
tinge of bitterness or resentment at the hardships they endured in
Maybe she, too, shares her husband's belief that "there are no
biktima (victims)" in life. "Poverty is good," he exhorts. "We
should all suffer so that we will make good." Part of me wanted to
react violently to that statement, but poverty seems to have brought a
lot of good to this man. In fact, it is what makes his story amazing.