The World According to Jim Paredes
By Wilfredo G. Villanueva
It gets you. How come surveys do not indicate intelligent choice? Will we depart from Daang Matuwid just when Bloomberg has called our country the strong man of Asia? Will we lose democratic space because voters seem to prefer a would-be despot, or our growth upended by a new dynastic kleptocracy? The head spins, but a conversation with Jim Paredes helps to regain balance and perspective. I wrap up the interview as if I have climbed a mountain, the rolling hills and plains under my feet, breathing rarefied air, gaining understanding. The musician-philosopher, 64 years old, but still, uhm, spoiling for a fight, says we’ll be all right.
First, the elephant in the room: Is he or isn’t he an Australian citizen? “No,” Jim says, “my two younger children chose foreign citizenship, exercising their option to choose, but I remain a Filipino citizen, so does Lydia my wife.”
As if to silence his critics once and for all, he confides that he did surrender his United States green card in 1989, after the most serious coup that almost toppled Cory Aquino’s government. “I deprived myself of an exit,” he said. “If I will fight for democracy I will stand and fight to the finish.” Thoughts of Sun Tzu came to mind: never fight an enemy who has no exit. He will not compromise, having no means to retreat—heavy casualties on both sides, a costly war. Meet Jim Paredes of APO Hiking Society fame, musician, singer, book author, writer, poet, patriot, warrior.
He has 27 albums which he shares with Danny Javier and Boboy Garrovillo of APO, he who was a 100 per cent ingglisero being Ateneo de Manila born and raised, but had to learn Tagalog to make APO’s songs more lasting, give them a common touch, so people can own them. They had about three songs in English who made the grade, but almost all their songs in Tagalog ring loud and true as Original Pilipino Music or OPM, sparkling diamonds in the days when the country would not have its fill of foreign songs, even up to the present time.
I asked him to divide an imaginary pie into the things he likes to do, for example, what part music, what part politics for social change. “The whole pie is music, it just so happens that I am a liberal democrat and everything I do speaks of my stand on certain issues, but on the whole, my life is about music, just music,” flashing the same boyish grin that has endeared him to the population, across the sexes.
Edgar Lores of the Society of Honor asked if the Philippines has any philosophers, in other words, are we a thinking people? No one in the talkative group could provide an answer, perhaps it was a resounding no, but no one had the heart to say, “No we don’t have a philosophy of our own, therefore, no philosophers because we love fiestas and siestas, but never thoughts, for we don’t like deep, ‘babaw lang.”
Backtrack a bit, to the time when Jim was five years old. He is the ninth of ten children. His father Jesus Paredes, Sr., Horacio de la Costa, S.J., and Leon Maria Guerrero were in the same honors’ class in Ateneo, all graduated summa cum laude. Both Paredes and de la Costa had a calling for priesthood but it was only Horacio de la Costa who responded to the call. When Jim was five, his father died in a plane crash. The plane was called Mt. Pinatubo, so named because it was the tallest mountain in Zambales, the province of the plane’s main passenger. It was a presidential plane, carrying the late President Ramon Magsaysay, crashed on a mountainside in Cebu, killing all passengers. If the plane hadn’t crashed, Jim’s father, Magsaysay’s speechwriter and adviser, would have been appointed as Secretary of Education.
Horacio de la Costa was a permanent fixture in the Paredes household before and after the tragedy, and it was in this milieu where Jim grew up, loving his music, playing his guitar and piano, catching conversations of the philosophic kind, all the while missing his father.
Years from now, when we look back, we could say perhaps Jim Paredes is one of the country’s philosophers, constantly thinking of country and how to reach out, solidifying his Philippine-view through the music he, Danny Javier and Boboy Garrovillo composed, sang to their audiences, recorded, by doing so they had the time of their lives. Twenty-seven albums. A lifetime achievement.
But he wouldn’t rest. Moved his family to Sydney, left the two youngest Ala and Mio in Oz to make a life there, came back to the beloved country, sang some, wrote some, marched some, fought some.
He is a familiar face in rallies. Recently, he led a “walk your talk” on Ayala Avenue initially with an anti-corruption message but lately adding an anti-dictatorship theme under the tag #DiNaKoPapayag, planning it with Leah Navarro, Noel Tolentino, JJ Soriano, Cynthia Patag and others. It was basically a coming out party for social-media activists, who, upon taking a stand and hammering on it, walked their talk. They didn’t apply for rally permits, so they just walked in a file, four abreast please, making the least noise, maybe just a gong, and a three-meter by one meter tarpaulin carried in front saying Down with the Binays basically. Three walks already, and all of the events were well-attended. During the first two occasions, Jim was handed a megaphone by one of the marchers, but at the third time, he just approached every grouping among the walkers to make announcements: “Friend us in Facebook for future action, okay?” he says, his voice hoarse.
“Are you not, uhm, in fear of your life?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I had close brushes in the Marcos years, but this time, no. A friend says someone is following me when we walk through Ayala Avenue, taking pictures, but that’s about it,” he said.
“And do you think too much noise in a democracy will lead to repression in the future?”
“No. People are aware. With social media, we are aware of our freedom to speak out, and it will take a great force to stop people from speaking out. Democracy, with the right to express oneself, is here to stay.”
“Like pushing toothpaste back to the tube?” I asked.
The man is tireless. He has written four books: Humming in My Universe, Between Blinks, Writing on Water, As Is Where Is. He does not dwell on political analysis in the books, only general observations, to understand life in a silent way. Yes, it’s about Zen.
His favorite line in the interview: “To become accident-prone to perfection, by doing it repetitively until it leads to an awakening to the interconnectedness of things and the disappearance of self.” Whew. Figure that out yourself. Or go buy his books at lulu.com. National bookstore? Try, he said.
The guy is perpetual motion personified. Sixty pushups every day. Walking an hour or two. Teaching in the Ateneo: Special Topics in Performance and Practice—World Music, OPM, Humor, Creativity, and Songwriting. An album of his own coming out this month, a complete departure from the APO signature melody. For the Mar Roxas-Leni Robredo campaign, concerts and maybe two more walk your talk down Ayala Avenue. Twitter feeds for not more than 140 characters, for which he has 973,000 followers as we spoke in interview. Jim’s health is also his wealth. At 161 pounds in a 5’11 frame, he could do “three rounds of tennis and still have sex,” this according to his Australian doctor after his latest medical exam.
His proudest moments? The first anniversary of EDSA, and the song he wrote, Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo was performed and sang before hundreds of thousands of people, singing in Carnegie Hall with APO, his four books, when he read on-cam the curfew order of Marcos at PTV-4, after which he said, “H’wag natin sundin!”
How would he want to be remembered? “Just build a tiny statue of a man playing the guitar in some small corner in a barangay where kids can gather and play music. Or just keep singing my songs and keep them alive.”
His second most important line in the interview: “The best thing about a democracy is that everybody has a voice; the worst thing about a democracy is that everybody has a voice.” He kept on repeating it, laughing his heart out.
It wasn’t an easy interview, but don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t distrustful at all, opening his doors wide for me, showing me the skylight in the bathroom of the guest room of his Filipino inspired, wooden, glass, steel house, yes, a tour of the entire Paredes home. But Jim isn’t easy to draw, to write about, because he doesn’t keep still, his mind wraps around every concept in his mind like a lover would. The interview was like attending a party and he welcomes you to a buffet of every thought his mind contained, and your brain expands like a stomach would expand after a feast. No wonder he could write songs as naturally as breathing.
I’m glad I asked for the interview. It’s not every day you sit down in conversation with a Filipino and you don’t feel dispirited afterwards, saddled with all the negative thoughts that every normal Filipino would have in times like these. Jim Paredes believes in the country. He has had two chances to break free, but in 1989 he chucked his green card, and when he relocated his family in Australia in the ’90s, he said no to citizenship, my place is in the Philippines, Australia is a good country and my younger children have chosen to live in it, but my place is in the Philippines, from which I will have no exit.
Mabuhay ka, Jim.