The Renaissance man
HIS MIEN and mustache make him appear like a creature from a fabled golden age. Despite the wrinkles and the graying hair, his look remains agile and authoritative.
Meet the scholar and writer, Dr. Florentino Hornedo. In a venerable institution of masterful minds and mentors, he seems a cut above the rest for his solid credentials as pedagogue, pundit and pen-pusher.
A Biology major at first, Hornedo found the laboratory fees too prohibitive for his family's rather modest means, so he shifted to the College of Education, finishing B.S. in Secondary Education, major in English, minor in Spanish.
The shift prefigured his career as teacher, language expert, scholar (his historical researches often involved poring over ancient tomes in Spanish or the Latin languages), and writer.
Along the way, Hornedo has also become an expert in political science, philosophy and anthropology.
Florentino Hornedo is indubitably a Renaissance man.
It is not surprising then that he has authored books covering nearly disparate topics–from letters to education, from politics to ethics. The diversity could be gleaned from some of the titles of the books: Laji Anu Maddaw Ka Mu Lipus: An Ivatan Folk Lyric Tradition (1997); The Power To Be: A Phenomenology Of Freedom (2000), Culture and Community in the Philippine Fiesta and Other Celebrations (2000), Taming the Wind: The Ethno-Cultural History on the Ivatan of the Batanes Isles (2000), Pagpapakatao and Other Essays in Contemporary Philosophy and Literature (2002), The Favor of Gods: Essays in Filipino Religious Thought and Behavior (2001). All of the books are published by the UST Publishing House. For his writing, Hornedo has received the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, National Catholic Authors Award, and Pilak Award for Service to Culture, the Arts and Community of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
"I always read and research," Hornedo told the Varsitarian. "Since I cannot afford to know everything, I may as well learn things little by little."
Born in Sabtang, Batanes in 1938, Hornedo said he has always been inspired by Ivatan oral traditions.
"The feeling of being an heir to the traditions of my people has all the more enticed me to pursue a career in writing," he said. "I believe that Ivatan culture has a lot to offer in the enrichment of Philippine literature."
As a young child, he wrote essays in school which impressed his teachers. But he said he never took writing seriously until he entered UST in 1957.
As an Education freshman, Hornedo said he was asked by Dr. Josephine Bass-Serrano, the publication adviser of the Education Journal and a much-respected professor of English, to join the staff.
"I took the examination for the (Education) journal, hoping that I would not pass. But the contrary proved my intuition wrong because I even made it with flying colors," Hornedo said.
Inspired by the example of such sterling Thomasian writers as Paz Latorena, Jose Villa Panganiban, Cecilio Apostol, and Jesus Balmori, Hornedo then seized the opportunity to harness skills in writing and communication.
He became the editor in chief of the journal during his senior year.
"At that time, Thomasian writers were ruling journalism and other forms of writing," Hornedo said. "It made me realize that language and leadership could go together because one needs language to express his profound understanding of things and be on top."
After graduation, Hornedo taught at the Saint Louis University Boys' High School in Baguio City. At the graduate school of St. Louis, he finished his Masteral degrees in English and Philosophy in 1966 and 1972, respectively.
When Hornedo decided to take up doctoral studies, he went back to UST. Although Ateneo and UP could have been better choices because of their accessibility, he chose UST because of its well-anchored tradition.
"I chose UST over the other universities because others tend to be monolithic, being Marxist all the way," Hornedo said. "Thomasian writings, on the other hand, are more of a tradition but also a reaction to the changing times."
Hornedo further explained UP was too hooked up on Marxism. Meanwhile, Ateneo, he said, was "too elitist" at first, but out of "guilt" feeling, later turned uncritical to radical politics.
In contrast, UST has always struck the middle ground, with the old guard zealously watching over tradition and serving as a check to the experimentations and excesses of the new.
Perhaps also because UST attracted students from the middle class, the University has a better grip of social reality compared with other universities in the thrall of Marxism and modern social ideas, Hornedo explained.
He said UST's well-balanced social sensibility could be gleaned from the writings of its writers and humanists, which invariably have a strong flavor of "social and moral justice" in them.
Hornedo finished Ph.D. in Literature in 1977 and a post-doctorate in History and Political Science in 1988, both at the UST Graduate School.
But even before he finished his doctorate, he was already a faculty member of the Ateneo de Manila, where he, together with Bienvenido Lumbera and Rolando Tinio, formed a fearsome troika of Dominican-trained Thomasian professors who would hold sway over a generation of Ateneans under the very noses of the Jesuits.
In 1979, as chair of the Cultural Society of the Philippines, Hornedo, together with his co-Ateneo professors Lumbera and Nicanor Tiongson, visited China on the invitation of Beijing authorities to see for themselves and the world the cultural progress that had been achieved there after the Mao Tse Tung years and the disastrous Cultural Revolution.
"Initially, we visited China to study the Peking Opera of Chinese theater. On the other hand, we also went there to see how China was progressing from its initial opening to the world and subsequent adoption of new policies in politics, economics and culture," Hornedo said.
"Basically, the Chinese government wanted to make the world know that China was no longer the world of Mao and now a friend of the world."
At a time when China was seeking to enhance the intellectual wealth of its people, its government then sought help from foreign experts, who are then given teachings terms to establish an academic program and to train local experts.
Upon trailblazing the first Philippine Studies program in China, Hornedo then busied himself with training a new breed of broadcast journalist who could speak in foreign languages for the China Broadcast International.
Hornedo has also been invited to lecture in more than 30 conferences abroad. These include the conferences on the Preservation and Promotion of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (Tokyo,1998), Preservation and Promotion of Traditional/Folk Performing Arts (Bangkok,1999), Building a Network for Preservation and Promotion of Traditional/Folk Performing Arts (Tokyo,2000) and Promotion of Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage (Osaka,2004).
He has also served various posts in the Philippine government, such as being a commissioner of the Komisyon ng Wika and vice-chairman of the Committee for the National Sciences of the Philippine Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) Commission. He is also a member of the Batanes Development Foundation and has lectured at the National Defense College.
Hornedo said he does not write just for the sake of writing.
"A writer should not be a slave to his own writing," he said. "Identifying the core problems of human nature is one way of improving one's craft because it brings the writer closer to reality.
"Reality, in a sense, helps empower social consciousness."
Amid the tendency of many writers to gaze at their navels, Hornedo prefers to swim against the tide.
"Literature people nowadays are in an unhappy position of talking to themselves because the audience, mostly the lower class, does not have a profound understanding of their works," he said.
He said many writers often deal with the lives of the elite.
"Literature is for people, not only for the elite," he said. "With those plots, how can you expect the masses to appreciate your work?"
Citing the difference between a good story teller and a "piece of paper wrapped in gray letters," Hornedo cited the times when poems were performed rather than recited.
"We have lost a lot in Philippine literature because everything is reduced to the written word," he said. "Teachers today were made readers than performers, thus alienating the very essence of literature from their students."
But when he is not too preoccupied with all this writings and researches, Hornedo suddenly becomes a painter. He paints a lot, believing that the visual arts are a tool for expressing what people feel.
In fact, the late Pacita Abad, her provincemate who had become an acclaimed painter here and abroad, often referred to Hornedo as her mentor.
"Pacita Abad would come and watch me paint and how I play with colors," Hornedo recalled. "Later on, she would introduce me as her teacher in painting. But actually I never taught her; she only watched me; I did not take up formal painting classes."
Hornedo said that as a young man he would dabble in oil painting in his godfather's house.
"I was so engrossed in painting at that time that during one occasion I tried to use enamel paint for my artworks," Hornedo disclosed.
During his childhood, Hornedo also engaged in clay-modelling, given the proximity of the source of natural clay from their village. When someone gave him a nice Swiss knife, he instantly fell in love with sculpture.
"I may not have any professional background in those forms of art, but I love doing them and as a professor of aesthetics, I think I also had something to say about art as a whole," Hornedo said.
The breakthrough in Hornedo's career as a visual artist came in 1961 when he was tasked by the English department of the College of Education to organize an exhibit in celebration of the University's 350th year anniversary. Hornedo came up with a unique display of paintings featuring the grammatical mistakes often committed by students his age.
Educator at heart
A wordsmith par-excellence, Hornedo simply cannot help but recount the ways by which his mentors enabled him to be an intellectual heavyweight in various fields of study.
"My teachers has a special interest in challenging me. They know how to handle our pride. Looking back they did not make things difficult to defeat you but difficult enough to challenge you. It's either you give up or accept the challenge and you get the best of things," Hornedo said.
"In our Spanish class, we couldn't answer our teacher in English, so we had to answer in Spanish no matter how broken our Spanish. At the end of the day, we were surprised to learn that we had the highest grades in our class."
Teachers, Hornedo said, "would not care whether you love them or not. They simply felt that their job as teachers was to shape you up, to make you somebody in the future. That is why they are using two things; a very inspiring thing like grades and a very oppressive one like discipline."
Indebted to his mentors, Hornedo said he believes that the minor bashing he received from his teacher built his confidence.
"In a particular gathering, I met my mentor, who once told me that I would never be teaching in a city with the kind of provincial English that I had," Hornedo said.
"Fortunately I have never taught anywhere else but in cities." A. A. G. Divinagracia and L.T. Panti
Montage Vol. 10 • December 2006