Dr. Mario I. Miclat, former dean and Professor of the UP Asian Center, passed away this past weekend. He was 71.
Dean Miclat, or Doc Mic, was a well-loved teacher; fluent in Mandarin, he taught under the China program, handling, among other subjects, the Culture and Society course, and Philippine Studies subjects until his retirement in 2011. Once College Secretary and Assistant to the Dean for Administration under dean Ajit Singh Rye in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he was dean of the UP Asian Center from 2009 to 2011.
Alma Cruz Miclat, wife of Doc Mic, supplies the contours of his life in an essay, “Mario’s Mighty Heart.” Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s website on 24 September 2019, it has been reposted on Facebook several times over the past few days. In this essay, we learn that Dean Miclat was a student activist in UP Diliman, went to China in 1971, and, because of Martial Law, stayed there until 1986. Returning to the Philippines, he started teaching at the UP Asian Center, pursued his master’s degree in Asian Studies and his PhD in Filipino, and made his mark in his writings on language and literature. Tributes from fellow poets and colleagues, as well as students, in the academe and Philippine literary establishment poured in over the weekend.
Panitikan.ph lists some of Doc Mic's notable publications, including Mga Kuwento ng Kabayanihan (1988), a collection of children’s stories; Pinoy Odyssey (1989), a “short story collection that was relaunched by UP Press in 2005 as Pinoy Odyssey 2049.” An accomplished poet, Dr. Miclat has won several accolades, including “Asiaweek Short Story Competition (1984), Gawad CCP (1988) and Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards (1986–1987),” the latter for the short story category.
He was also an associate at Likhaan: University of the Philippines’ Institute of Creative Writing, which published his 2010 short story, Ay! Kablentong and recognized his contribution to Philippine letters. The Likhaan citation reads in part, “accomplished essayist and fiction writer, whose skill and craftsmanship have created stories of remarkable sharpness and poignancy in both English and Filipino, and whose extraordinary insights into culture, politics, history, literature and the human condition have enriched local and international discourse on nation and imagination.”
He was Director of the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino (SWF) from 1996 to 2001 and headed the National Committee on Language and Translation of the NCCA. In 1998, he received the Kampeon ng Wika award from the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF), and the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas Lifetime Achievement Award in August 2013.
Equally well-known are two books, Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal, which he co-wrote with his family, which won a National Book Award in 2006, and a novel, Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions, which was long-listed for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize. Arguably his most directly political work, the latter was one of several works that recall and seek to reckon with the turbulent social and political struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, including and especially those of the Philippine left. "Eighteen Mansions" is a reference to the Shibasuo, the Compound Eighteen Mansions, were Dean Miclat lived with his wife and daughter, Maninging (Banaue was born after they out of the Shibasuo).
Beyond The Great Wall features a series of essays by Dean Miclat, his wife, Alma, and their two daughters, Maningning and Banaue. The book has four sections, "Situating the Family," "Searching for Self," "Reversing the Diaspora," and "Finding the Nation," which, as Dean Miclat writes in the preface, "continues our long process of situating the family and searching for self, if in a broader sense." But Beyond the Great Wall is also their attempt to "share with our people [the Filipinos] a unique view of a country as old and as alive as our neighbor, China."
For 15 years, my family of native Filipinos lived in the shadows of the Great Wall. All through 1971 to 1986, we experienced the Middle Kingdom in depth and breadth. We made regular sojours to different places, many of which were restricted not only to foreigners but also to the ordinary Chinese. We were privileged to see a world beyond the Great Wall. It was a world much bigger than China itself. (Preface, Beyond the Great Wall)
Editor of Beyond the Great Wall, Dean Miclat also wrote several essays for the book, "Learning My First Mandarin Words," "Confession of Faith," where he "bares my writer's soul;" "The Commune is Dead, Long Live the Commune," "A Massacre in Peking," "Tiananmen: The Other View (Go Fly a Kite)," and "In Quest for Democracy." In these essays, he shares, "my Filipino heart sympathizes with the Chinese as a nation, as a people and as fellow human beings..." Other essays include "Edjop, the FQS, and Other Rebo Lingoes," "From Bakya to Reebok," "Dizhen! Earth Shake! Lindol!;" "Memories of a September Coup;" "Paalam, Mrs. E.; Goodbye, Dr. SV," and "Globalization and National Language." Key excerpts from the preface can be read in a 2006 short essay, "The Family That Writes Together," by Alfred Yuson.
Mario Miclat: A Photo Gallery
The Chinese Connection
Both Beyond the Great Wall and Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions attest to the formative impact of his 15-year experience, if not exile, in China, where, he and his wife had a program in Radio Peking that was broadcast to the Philippines. During this time, he was also employed as “a foreign expert” in the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television. The family lived through a crucial period of Chinese history. The 1970s, Dean Miclat shares in the preface to Beyond the Great Wall,
was a period that saw Mao Zedong consolidating the gains of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, followed by the ascendancy and then the sudden collapse of the so-called Gang of Four and the abrupt appearance of a Chairman Hua Kuo-feng. Early on, our Chinese hosts had advised us not to be too cozy with our neighbors. We could never be sure, so they said, who our friends and enemies were in a complicated internal and international situation China was constantly in. We were ushered in and out of this compound almost solely by a chauffeured Red Flag limousine, a Shanghai green car or, later, a Mercedes Benz.
Unsurprisingly, China would leave a lifelong mark on the Miclats. "It goes without saying," Dean Miclat writes in the preface of Beyond the Great Wall, "that China has become so much a part of us. Until now, we like our soup scalding hot. We use chopsticks eating Filipino pancit." His daughter, Maninging, became proficient in Chinese painting and spoke and wrote, including poetry, fluently in Mandarin. The country also figured much in his academic writings, including his M.A. thesis, “The Commune System in China: Its Rise and Fall” (1990) and his PhD dissertation, “Ang Pagsasalin ng Taong Yungib ng Peking ni Cao Yu: Mga Implikasyong Teoretikal ng Semantikong Salin sa Filipino mula sa Orihinal na Tsino ng dulang Beijingren” (1994).
“Taong Yungib ng Peking” is his translation into Filipino of Beijing-Ren (Peking Man in English trasnation) by Cao Yu, one of modern China’s leading playwrights. Written in 1940, it portrays the final days of Beiping household during the preceding decade. The play, according to Edward Gunn, is an attack on the extended-family system and, through this, a denunciation of the traditional elite culture for which such a family was an ideal…” At least one more essay flowed from his engagement with Chinese culture and literature, “Ang Panitikang Tsino at ang Filipino” (2000).
Although he is known for his work on language and literature, Dean Miclat also wrote "Reebok Shoes and Special Economic Zones: A Case of Local Autonomy in China" (1992), which was published by the UP Asian Center in the journal, Asian Studies. “Reebok Shoes” was written after, and as part of, a UP Asian Center delegation’s visit to Beijing, Xi’an, Guangzhou, Guilin, and Shenzhen in May 19–29, 1992. The essay also contains his findings on “interviews in Baoan County near Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Xiamen from 29 May to June 2, 1992.” He stayed in China until 5 June as part of another delegation, this time from the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS), of which he was a founding member. PACS was established in 1987.
The Reebok essay was part of a broader effort in Philippine academe and civil society, not least PACS, to engage China, which in the early 1990s was already experiencing economic growth, and which prompted new developments in Philippine foreign policy in the aftermath of the Cold War. The essay examines the development of southern China’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of Shenzhen, and asks if and what the Philippines can learn from or avoid from the Chinese experience. In 1992, the Philippines was seeking ways to develop its economy, especially in light of China’s capitalist turn, the global shift to free-market economics in the 1990s, and the Philippine government’s project of “development diplomacy.” Dean Miclat ends his essay thus:
When asked if he thought Shenzhen could serve as a development model for China, Zhang Yi replied that the SEZ should share its excellent experiences with the whole country for the sake of the common weal, socialist education and the people's spiritual development. One may observe, though, that investments in Shenzhen are mostly concentrated on export-oriented light- and medium-sized industries. It has not built heavy and highly technical industrial bases as have Shanghai, Beijing, Harbin, Wuhan, and Xian. It can only complement, not replace, the contributions of the traditional industrial bases to the national economy. Shenzhen, including the other SEZs in China, is an example of an area within a country tasked with a clearly defined function, i.e., that of providing replicable experiences for a whole economic structure which is undergoing reforms. The flexibility it needs for such a task is provided by a clear-cut central government policy of least interference in its experimentations. The policies it derives from its own experimentations, however, such as those with regard to management, hiring, and social security, although for most parts applicable to other cities, must not be confused with the needs of the whole economy which is still largely agricultural. Zoning it, and making it produce goods almost exclusively for export, helps lessen the adverse impact of rapid development on a largely rural population. Strict control over population movement which characterizes its traditional Soviet model, still serve China in good stead in terms of minimizing social imbalances that arise from what otherwise would be hasty modernization. The very liberal package Shenzhen and the other SEZs offer to foreign investors make them very competitive with Philippine efforts at industrialization. What makes the Shenzhen example relevant to the Philippines, then? The Reebok experience may be an indication.
Dean Miclat also wrote an allegorical essay, "Beijing...The Other View "(1991), which showcases his intimate familiarity with Chinese history and culture, not least the cultural history of kite-flying in China. The essay also captures his sentiments on the events of Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and on Chinese communism. The essay was published in 1991 as part of the maiden issue of Chinese Studies, the journal of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS). These China articles form part of his writing on Asian and area studies, which also includes an essay, “Suri: Our Asian Past, Present and Future: A High School Textbook,” which was published in 2004 in Bulawan: Journal of Philippine Arts and Culture.
Language and Translation
But a larger bulk of his work centered on, and was written in, Filipino. Part of this oeuvre was appeared in the mid- to late-1990s in various journals, such as Daluyan: Journal ng Wikang Filipino. These include:
Ang Wikang Filipino sa Dayuhang Media [The Filipino Language in Foreign Media] (1997)
Bakit Bantay-Wika [Why Language-Guarding] (1998; in a periodical, Bantay-Wika)
Ako, Filipino (Produkto ng Rebolusyong Pangkultura, Tumutungo sa Ikatlong Milenyo [I, Filipino, Product of a Cultural Revolution Towards the Third Millennium] (2000)
Pagsulong ng mga Pamamaraan ng Pagsulat sa Filipino at an Ambag ng mga Ito sa Intelektuwalisasyon ng Wikang Pambasa: Isang Multidisiplinaryong Pagdulog [Advancing the Methods of Writing in Filipino and their Contributions to the Intellectualization of the National Language: A Multidisciplinary Appeal] (2001)
Leksikograpiya, Domain ng lingguwistika or Lingguwistika, Katulong ng Leksikograpiya? [Lexicography, Domain of Linguistics or Linguistics: An Aid to Lexicography?] (2002)
Ang Kalagayan ng Filipino sa Panahon Ngayon [The State of Filipino Today]
Pagsulong sa Ortograpiyang Filipino Bilang Salamin ng Kasaysayan at Kulturang Pambansa [Advancing Filipino Orthography as a Mirror of History and National Culture]
As a translator, he also wrote articles on the theory and practice of translation, “Ang Hamon ng Pagsasalin ng mga Teknikal na Sulatin” [The Challenge of Translation in Technical Writing] (1995); “Isang Bilingguwal na Diksiyonaryo Para sa Pagsasalin” [ A Bilingual Dictionary for Translation] (1996); and "Pagsasalin ng mga Akdang Banyaga" [Translating Foreign Works] (2001). He oversaw, (co)wrote, and/or helped translate several into Filipino three science fiction works, Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars; Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman; and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. As SWF Director, he shepherded to publication:
Matematika para sa Pangkalahatang Edukasyon [Mathematics for General Education] (1997)
Sangguniang Gramatika ng Wikang Filipino [Grammatical Reference for the Filipino Language] (1999); and
Dean Miclat also took part in two roundtables, "Salita at Diwa: Challenges and Opportunities in Translation" and "Come Together Under What Flag? Writers and their Advocacies" during the 3rd Philippine International Writers Festival. He also wrote, and presented, a paper at the International Conference on Rizal’s Sesquicentennial at the UP Asian Center in 2011. “Rizal’s Theoretical Basis for Philippine Revolution and Independence” seeks to, among other things, recuperate the national hero’s anticolonial and pro-independence credentials.
Dean Miclat leaves behind these and other writings, not least the numerous poems; they comprise significant interventions in the debates over language, nationalism, and identity in the Philippines. These works illustrate his “exemplary contribution toward the development, dissemination, growth and preservation of [the national language],” as the citation for his Kampeon ng Wika Award states, (Translation from Filipino by Alma Cruz Miclat).
Mario I. Miclat was born in September 1949, just a few weeks before the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949. It was, perhaps, a proximity that foreshadowed his intimacy and relationship with China, a country that shaped his intellectual development. He is survived by his wife, Alma, and his daughter, Banaue, and a grandson.
By way of a closure, I share an untitled poem by Dean Miclat. It is, I suppose, a suitable, even the only, way for an essay about a poet to end.
I bring my naked soul
to the operating table
While holding a bunch of flowers
from family and friends.
As Time comes to tell me
that indeed He has,
I offer no excuses, no apologies, no regrets.
But only my naked soul.
Dissected and proved
to have a multiple of heart blocks,
I hold nothing in my hands
but a bunch of flowers.