Syjuco’s ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’?

No Eulogy for the Living –  An Open Letter to the Philippines

By Ted Alcuitas

Miguel Syjuco has only 40 days or 40 years to live!

That’s the startling revelation by the prize-winning author of a piece he wrote for the Boston Review published on September 29.

Entitled ‘Eulogy for the Living, An Open Letter to the Philippines,’ Syjuco stoically wrote about his sickness but intended his piece more as a call to arms for the Filipino people than a lament for his own inevitable passing.

Syjuco is currently based in Abu Dhabi where he is a visiting Assistant Professor of Practice Literature and Creative Writing, Arts and Humanities at New York University.

According to his piece, he was diagnosed with cavernoma – “a cerebral, cavernous malformation” in his brain stem last year after finally having an MRI for his recurring migraines.

His doctors tell him he faces a 50/50 chance that the condition will get worse or get stable and is scheduled to have another MRI this December.

Faced with this grim prospect, Syjuco, who will turn 41 on November 17, opted to write an “open letter” to his country much like the national hero Jose Rizal’s ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’.

Syjuco has become a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called extra-judicial killings (EJK). His incisive analysis on the Philippines appears in the The New York Times where he is a contributing opinion writer covering politics, culture, and activism.

He maintains an active Facebook page where he posts his own commentaries on the events of the country and makes no bones about where he stands on Duterte’s administration.

Consequently, he has been attacked on social media by Duterte trolls and supporters. So vicious are the attacks that at one point he was threatened with death during a visit to Davao City to attend a conference.

He says he has to write this letter now “not because he wants the sympathy for this time-bomb in my brain, but because he doesn’t want to talk about it ever again.

“There’s too much work for us to do,” he says. And so he vows that until his final breath, “whether in forty years or forty days,” he will fight.

“Unafraid, because I know I am not alone. Unbowed, because we all deserve better.”

His wish is that he’d live long enough to see a change in the country!

About Miguel Syjuco: In 1977, five years after the declaration of martial law in the Philippines, his family left the country and settled in Vancouver where he grew up as a child for ten years.

He eventually settled in Montreal in 2007 working as a copy editor for The Montreal Gazette.

His debut novel Ilustrado was a NY Times Notable Book of 2010, as well as the winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize, the Hugh MacLennan Prize, the Palanca Award, and the Filipino Readers’ Choice Award.

Translated into 16 languages, it was also a finalist for several international prizes in its various editions and is currently taught in universities and high schools in the Philippines and around the world.

He has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Adelaide, a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia University, and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the Ateneo de Manila University. He has received fellowships from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Santa Maddalena Foundation, the Adelaide International Scholarship, Canada Council grants for emerging artists, and Quebec Arts Council grants.

Review: Ilustrado, by Miguel Syjuco