Mojares: National artist makes Cebuanos proud
CEBU CITY—They saw him in a coffee shop on Roxas Boulevard that Friday morning with a red ball pen and sheets of paper before him.
Lourdes Gocotano and her family were in the shop around 11 a.m., killing time before their flight back to Cebu, when she noticed a familiar face.
“It was my first time to see him up close. His coffee cup had the name ‘Resil’ on it. I had to Google his full name, though, to be sure that it was really him before our family approached him and had our picture taken with him,” said Gocotano, of Minglanilla town in southern Cebu.
Dr. Resil Mojares, who was named national artist for literature on Oct. 24, is indeed known to spend time writing in coffee shops.
He doesn’t draw attention to himself, preferring instead to have quiet moments in a corner as he creates masterpieces that will, undoubtedly, rise in the hallmarks of literature along with six of his finest works, which all received Philippine National Book Awards.
The conferment of this national recognition on Mojares is a cause for celebration for Cebuanos.
“This is a historic and proud moment for all Cebuanos all over the world as he is the first-ever Cebuano to become a national artist,” said Dr. Jose Eleazar “Jobers” Bersales, manager of the University of San Carlos (USC) Press and Mojares’ colleague at USC in Cebu City.
Dr. Hope Yu, director of the USC Cebuano Studies Center, said it was the USC board of trustees and its president, Fr. Dionisio Miranda, who nominated Mojares as national artist.
“Sir Resil is in the level where I would say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like him.’ I marvel at his ideas, his indefatigable energy to continue to write, not just ordinary books, but ones that truly matter. He has intellectualized the Filipino nation,” Yu said.
Student leader, teacher
Mojares was born in Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, on Sept. 4, 1943. Now a resident of Barangay Talamban in Cebu City, he is married to Salvacion Ouano Go with whom he has four children, namely Kim Carmel, Mark Soren, Ressa Gail and Anna Leigh.
His mother was from the southern Cebu town of Ginatilan.
Mojares, the son of public school teachers, earned his degree in AB English in 1964 and MA in literature in 1969 at USC.
He also took up graduate studies in anthropology (1973-74) at the same university. He obtained his Ph.D. in literature in 1979 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
According to Bersales, Mojares was a student council president at USC. He became a full-fledged professor at USC in 1983.
“He started his writing career early on. As a student, he won prizes by writing short stories in the Philippine Free Press Annual Short Story Contest,” Bersales said.
Mojares was teaching at USC when he was detained during martial law. “He was detained because he was a columnist of Republic News. His stance was anti-Marcos,” Bersales said.
Five years after retiring from teaching on July 1, 2000, he was conferred the title of professor emeritus by USC.
In between teaching and writing, Mojares became a visiting professor in various US universities, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1989), University of Hawaii (1990), University of Michigan Ann Arbor (1992) and University of California at Los Angeles (2001).
In Asia, he lent his expertise as visiting professor to Kyoto University and National University of Singapore.
His achievements also include a Centennial Award for Cultural Research from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In 2013, he received the prestigious Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi award from Ateneo de Manila University.
In his acceptance speech for the Tanglaw ng Lahi award, Mojares shared his thoughts on his devotion to Philippine cultural and historical studies.
“I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision made at a particular point in time. It is more like a natural, organic extension—of growing up, the son of public school teachers, in a town in northern Mindanao, at a time when civics was not just a lesson in class but part of the reality of community life; of dreaming very early on of becoming a writer, and then embracing a career as a teacher; of finding oneself detained upon the declaration of martial law, and being impelled by a sense of urgency in understanding why the society of which one is a part is what it is; and then, finally and quite simply, of finding great joy in learning, in writing, and in sharing what one has learned,” Mojares said.
Mojares was the founding director, in 1975, of USC Cebuano Studies Center.
He earned teaching and research fellowships from Ford, Toyota, Rockefeller Foundations, Fulbright Program and the Social Science Research Council of New York.
His brilliance was also recognized abroad. He is a recipient of the Grant Goodman Prize for History from the Association of Asian Studies, as well as the Fok Ying Tung Southeast Asia Prize for his contribution to culture and science in Southeast Asian countries.
He has been the general editor of the Book of Records Project of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards Foundation since 2007.
Source of inspiration
A former student, Haidee Palapar, said Mojares was always a source of inspiration on different topics, be it academic or popular culture.
“Even senior writers look up to him. He is respected even by the national artists before him,” said Palapar, research and publications manager for culture and heritage of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi).
Palapar worked with Mojares on two books published by Rafi, namely, “Casa Gorordo in Cebu: Urban Residence in a Philippine Province 1860-1920” and “Tabunan: The Untold Exploits of the Famed Cebu Guerillas in World War II (by Col. Manuel F. Segura).”
At 75, Mojares continues to produce scholarly works. In January 2017, “The Feast of the Santo Niño: An Introduction to the History of a Cebuano Devotion” was published. Later that year, Rafi released the new edition of his 1983 book “Casa Gorordo in Cebu.”
Mojares wrote the critical introduction to the English version of the 1938 book, “Lapu-Lapu: The Conqueror of Magellan,” which was written by educator Vicente Gullas, founder of the University of the Visayas.
Among Mojares’ works are: “Isabelo’s Archive” (2013); “Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge” (2008); “Waiting for Mariang Makiling: Essays in Philippine Cultural History” (2003); “War Against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu” (1999); and “Aboitiz: Family and Firm in the Philippines” (1998).
As national artist for literature, Mojares has now joined the esteemed ranks of Francisco Arcellana, Edith Tiempo, Bienvenido Lumbera, N.V.M. Gonzales, Virgilio Almario, Cirilo Bautista, Nick Joaquin, Amado Hernandez, Lazaro Francisco, F. Sionil Jose, Carlos P. Romulo, Jose Garcia Villa, Alejandro Roces, Rolando S. Tinio and Levi Celerio.
For Gocotano and her family—especially her children, Yesha Alexandra, 11, and Yeshua Emmanuel, 7—meeting Mojares is a motivation for the younger generation to dream big and work hard.
“It was a humanizing experience to meet a national artist, a person who received the highest recognition for artists in our country. I told my children that if a person will do his or her best in things that they are passionate about, then they can become a national artist like Dr. Mojares,” she said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.