Being enlightened by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil

Carmen Guerro Nakpil portrait by Isa Lorenzo

Writing is not magic. It is just a grind, and you do it or you don’t. It’s an arbitrary preference. Nothing to crow about.

This quote packs a punch and it is by one of the greatest Filipino writers ever, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil.

Not to sound self-righteous but it is baffling to hear writers, particularly, from those among us who do it for business, talk about what they do with as much affectation as a Texas minister on Sunday morning! Snobs. Guys, the statement above should put things in perspective. It’s “nothing to crow about” and the point is further magnified if you would read the context under which she delivered that line. She is a woman ahead of her time.

Her three-part memoir — Myself, Elsewhere, Legends & Adventures, and Exeunt — should be required reading for students of communication and anyone considering writing as a profession. And if anyone out there knows where to get Legends & Adventures (cover image below), please do let us know as it is no longer in the bookshops. A used copy is selling on Amazon for $500. Grabe ha! ‘Chitang’ would not approve.

Carmen Guerrero Nakpil - Legends and Adventures cover

CGN, as some fans refer to her, has also been blessed to have lived with the very people who endured the birth pains leading up to the Philippine Republic. Her own grandfather was part of the revolt against Spain and in the video below, she relates how her abuelito would share first-hand accounts of being in Aguinaldo’s circle when the western powers were negotiating at our doorstep or that moment when the Katipunan was right at the gates of Intramuros, the colonial seat of power, ready to capture it and declare victory for the motherland only to be told to stand down and allow the Spanish to save face for the latter would prefer to surrender to the Americans and not to the indios.



This video belongs to a series of clips featuring the same CGN interview that should be played in history classes across the country. It’s fascinating to watch not only because of the story but also the eloquence with which the woman tells it.

It’s no wonder that her writing bears so much passion and pride for the nation. Aside from her paternal grandfather, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil also lived with key personas who were otherwise just names on the pages of our textbooks.

In 1942, during the Japanese Occupation, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil married Ismael “Toto” Cruz, who was Jose Rizal’s grandnephew by his elder sister Maria. Sadly, Toto was killed in 1945 as the Battle of Manila ensued. In ‘Myself, Elsewhere’, she described Lola Maria as quiet and one who did not speak much of what happened to her brother, our national hero, because the pain remained too overwhelming to call up.

Later, she married into the Nakpil family, to Angel Nakpil, nephew of Julio Nakpil who was Gregoria de Jesus‘s second husband. I wonder what she now thinks of this in hindsight. It’s sort of a chicken and egg situation. She was either drawn to or drew to herself individuals who were willing to lay down lives for this country.

On the surface, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s connection to the Philippine revolution and her life story itself makes her a national treasure. But beyond these circumstances, it’s what she has done with her lot that makes her deserving of honor from all generations after. We will have a second part to this blog post, which we hope encourages more people to read CGN’s works.