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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


How I survived as an Immigrant worker, Writer in Exile, and Academic Manque

1980. That’s when I left the Philippines for Canada. I endured two lonely years without my family; they left in 1978 for this North American country for reasons I am still angry about.

I was not prepared to lose my job as a civil servant at the Department of Public Information under the Martial Law Government. Francisco S. Tatad, the university classmate who recruited me to work for President Ferdinand Marcos’ s government, had left the Information Department which he headed as the youngest Philippine Press Secretary in the country’s history.

He ran successfully as his province’s (Catanduanes. “The Philippine island which is geographically closest to the United States,” Tatad describes his province, tongue-in-cheek.) representative to the Philippine House of Representatives, but I could no longer go back to my academic post at the De La Salle University (as an English and Literature Senior Instructor) where he recruited me from. Tatad had to fend for himself, too, having been accused of “unexplained wealth” by the Martial Law government. The case did not prosper while Marcos stayed in command. Nor thereafter.

Labelled as one of his “cronies”, I was not about to retain my job as Technical Services director under Tatad’s replacement. Even as a career service civil servant, I could not be “salvaged” by then Presidential Executive Secretary and Civil Service Commissioner Jacobo “Jake” Clave. I asked that I be posted as Region I Information Director (the region included Clave’s Pangasinan province where he was hoping to run for governor before Marcos would leave his teetering government) so that “I could be of some help to him” when the time came.

My credentials did not count. So much for being a civil service employee, a established writer, and an academic from two of the most prestigious private colleges in the country (San Beda College (Benedictines), and De La Salle University (Christian Brothers). I was writing for Philippine periodicals, television, and ghostwriting speeches for business and government leaders. I was not information man enough for Gregorio Cendana who took over Tatad’s job. Clave said Cendana thought I was “arrogant”, and I proved him right by not begging for the job.

(Cendana, himself, left the Philippines for the U.S. of A. when Marcos was toppled.)

So I left for Canada, a repentant husband and father, who could not hack it as a La Union province politician, unlike Tatad who made it to the Batasan (Philippine National Legislative Assembly) even when he parted ways with Marcos, and I was a Kapisanan ng Bagong Lipunan (Marcos’ New Society Party) wannabe politician in my home province where the dynasties (cronies of Marcos), then as now, reign – yes, the Ortegas are still there. Three of them (Francisco, Jr., Pablo, and Manuel) were my students in high school and university. And I was a come-back kid of the old Casuga dynasty (San Fernando Mayors and La Union governors, Lauro, Mauro, Alejandro, and Constante, who were there even before the Ortegas. But their issues could not win elections thereafter, and I was an ambitious grand nephew who would like to raise the dynasty from its political grave.)

So much for dynasties under the revised Constitution under which present President Gloria Arroyo ran -- she herself has perpetuated these dynasties with two of her sons serving as Congressmen in the province of her husband, Miguel, and her own province in Pampanga.

How did I fare in Canada? In my exile, did I like James Joyce “forge into the smithy of my soul, the conscience of our race”?

No. Like any father and husband reconciled finally in a strange, cold country, I had to find a job quickly, so I could resume the job of “provider” while the children grew up. Started from scratch. One thing I am proud I did not do was the suggestion of a sister-in-law that I “could always pump gas at the kanto station if I could not find a job in my field.”

I found that self-esteem-preserving job with my skills as a writer. I was not licensed to teach in any school, so I settled for a copy editor’s job at the Metroland Publishing Company, a subsidiary of the Torstar Corporation, publisher of North America’s biggest daily, The Toronto Star, and owner of the most profitable romance/pulp book publishers, Harlequin.

For the next 10 years, until my whole department – Editorial Production -- was replaced by editorial-staff-handled computers, I edited copy (stories, ads, promos, and what-have-you). Talent will out; and I got a short-lived whack publishing and editing one of Metroland’s 24 publications, S.M.I.L.E., the life, entertainment, information features magazine that supplemented the 24 community papers, (mostly advertising rags, really) that remain to this day as the Torstar’s moneybag.

It was at this time that then Globe and Mail business-page reporter Oscar Rojo and I invited the owners of the Filipino diaspora “newspapers” (Atin Ito of Vic Lee, Balita of Ruben Cusipag, and Bong Koo’s Filipiniana – all distributed free to Philippine expatriates through the countless convenience stores and bakeries ran by Philippine immigrant workers) to put their resources together, form a corporation, and publish a decent weekly paper to service the needs of the Philippine community in Ontario (about 90,000 paisans then).

It was also at this time that the Corriere Canadense, an Italian newspaper, was being published monthly like those Pinoy papers. The Filipino publishers demurred; they wanted to have their own niches, thank you.

Today, ((two decades later) the Corriere is a daily and it pays its staffers handsomely, while the Filipino-run papers are still handouts, hardly subsisting on ads from tardy-paying Philippine-run businesses, and in fact, they have grown to more sporadically-published monthlies and bi-weeklies, that are really advertising sheets of the Filipino-run restaurants and stores that seem to fold up after a year or two. Writing for the ethnic diaspora here will not pay. I could not have put up my own paper in this clime of mediocrity and ego-sustained vanity publications. The writers are volunteers who can hardly put sentences together. The “society” news is staple – drum up a party, publish pictures in Balita, and you have something to boast about in the “community”.

As of this writing, Hermie Garcia’s The Philippine Reporter is still around (he was with the Manila Times before it shut down under the martial law government). It is the best-edited diaspora paper hereabouts, but advertising ads are barely shoring the monthly up. Ace Alvarez has the monthly Media Monitor, and some other stragglers that have served the Chinese grocery stores as wrappers for tilapia and lechon . Not unlike the 7000 islands or so in the old archipelago, Filipinos anywhere on earth will always be “islands on their own.”

There are also associations for every two Filipinos that can excite a “ningas cogon” (brushfire) interest in an issue that get scuttled by court suits on who is stealing whose contribution to donated calamity funds for the old flooded country. Whose election was legitimate? Who is the “bida” (starring role) in the diaspora?

When I ran for the school board after my retirement (served for nine years) from wage-earning, I did not depend upon the so-called Filipino community hereabouts. There is no such thing as “Filipino” community. There are only permanent Filipino individual interests. But that’s for another blog.

When the Toronto Star, our mother company newspaper, could not absorb me into their retrenched staff (that was a bad recession Canada had in 1990), I accepted a teaching job at the International Business Schools (at the Toronto School of Business) teaching English as a Second Language, Writing Effective English, Business English and Communications, Marketing and Promotions.

I fell back on academic skills I had back home, and the writing skills were always something I could fall back on. I put up my own marketing and promotions agency, between jobs, and managed to hold on to writing copy jobs that augmented my severance pay and pension from Metroland. In fact, I parlayed this to become the Communications director of the school that IBS got me into, The Toronto School of Business in the cities of Mississauga, Brampton, and North York.

In that school, I was commissioned by the IBS to write a Career Education and Employment Trends monograph for its schools in Canada, which I reproduce below, (see part 2) to give blog followers an idea of what a writer gets into when one is pushed against the ropes to earn a living.

At that time, futurists writing about what’s in store for the years 2000 and beyond were in vogue. Toffler, Naisbitt, and Kiechel III were authors whose future-visions were quoted like mantra in business circles and in the graduate schools.

Because I had to teach immigrants (Chinese, Indian, Nigerian, Filipinos, Romanians, Easter European, Italian, etcetera, a diversity that astounds me up to now) how to speak and write English, not to mention effective business communication and English, I got IBS to publish my Fundamentals of Writing (English), which is a carryover from my penchant in the Philippine schools to write a book for every course I taught.

I did not get into full-time secondary or tertiary education teaching in my adopted country, but being afforded gainful opportunity to write compensated for the regular cheque. (I would even win literary contests for the cash! No vanities here. Cash is good.) Besides, when I got elected as a member of the school board, I had a chance of writing policy for education in Canada.

Was this a vast departure from what I had going for myself back in the Philippines?

In a new country, it could appear that way. After all, in another life, in another country, one could have had a cycle of it. Yes, I lived by writing, too, in the Philippines. While I taught, I wrote those textbooks for my classes and earned royalty which I surrendered to my wife to augment family income. I wrote for Philippine television (“Our Doctors” – Tommy Abuel et al, directed by Geoge Rowe; “Oh, Rosemarie” directed by Kitchie Benedicto, starring Rosemarie Sonora et al). I wrote arts and culture features for the Philippines Herald circa Nestor Mata editorship. I wrote for the pittance that magazines could pay me for the poems, short stories, and features (Philippines Free Press, NOW Magazine, Sunday Times, Asia-Philippines Leader, Graphic Magazine, Solidarity, Philippine Writing, La Salle’s Library Magazine edited by Marcelino Foronda. Jr.) I even won first prize for poetry in a national contest, Parnaso, where I was awarded a handsome 1000 pesos that my wife gleefully received to add to her grocery money. (Yes, all the paltry sums I earned writing went to her bank account.)

I knew I could not live by writing alone, but I was able to live in order to write by earning through other writing venues.

This habit continued in Canada, my strange and adopted country.

It is for this reason, that including this in my blog of recherché du temps perdu, means including for archival purposes where (what clime, what hapless instances) writing could bring the writer to – if only to prove true to his reason for being alive. To write until he writes 30.

Next: Taking Stock 2 (Part 2)

(Click on Images to read the monograph).

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