‘Writer ka lang pala’: Remembering the power of Conrado de Quiros

Fellow writers and political observers mourn the late writer and pay tribute to his 'courage to speak truth to power'

Conrad de Quiros (Photo from the post of Paul de Quiros)

I have many things in common with Conrad de Quiros, who died Monday, November 6, at age 72. We would find ourselves, unintentionally, in the same media establishments, Philippine media landscape small as it has always been.

We both wrote for the Daily Globe edited by Teddy Boy Locsin, where his column, Here’s the Rub, started in 1987.

When he moved his column to the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1991, I was writing an arts column called Culture Beat in the Manila Chronicle.

Before Martial Law, I contributed to the Asia-Philippines Leader, where he was in the editorial department with Pete Lacaba and Nick Joaquin.

I found out he also worked with Kit Tatad’s Department of Public Information, where I found myself after losing my job with Graphic magazine upon the declaration of martial law.

But since 1991, when he started writing for the Inquirer, I was drawn to his regular columns, only to discover that he considered himself a Bicolano from Naga City, where I briefly worked with the media office of the National Irrigation Administration.

He wrote in his column once: “My own hometown is Naga City, though I was born in Manila. It is where I spent my boyhood and adolescence and learned my first language, which is Bicol. It is where I go to charge my psychic batteries. I barely know anybody there anymore from childhood, but the place itself holds a raging volcano of memories for me, which sends electrical surges through my soul. Hometowns give you a sense of bearing in a world—especially so this country—seemingly drifting in space, bound for nowhere.”

Then I discovered we have common friends in Naga City (Jun Ragragio) and Albay (Marne Kilates and Mike Molina).

It was just a matter of time before I found myself in watering holes frequented by Kilates and Molina in the company of De Quiros.

Then we found ourselves bumping into each other at Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) concerts (he is married to Tita de Quiros, who plays the piano). He loves music and not just classical music. I just saw a video of him singing with Noel Cabangon who, like me, has Catanduanes roots.

Conrad de Quiros with wife Tita de Quiros, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., and the author during intermission at a CCP concert

But of course, his greatest admiration iswasreserved for Cecile Licad, who he met in the house of Odette Alcantara in Blue Ridge. When he heard her perform in the upright piano of the lady of the house after a thunderstorm and during the brownout, he wrote in his PDI column that the Licad performance gave him “a glimpse of heaven.”

Conrad de Quiros with pianist Cecile Licad and the late Kerima Tariman in the house of Odette Alcantara in Blue Ridge (Pablo Tariman collection)

In 2001, shortly after the release of my late daughter Kerima from the Isabela jail, the Inquirer put out a special Father’s Day Issue with pictorials of media Dads with their daughters. Apart from Conrad de Quiros and his daughter Miranda, the Inquirer also featured Jaime Fabregas (another Bicolano) and his daughter Lara, Randy David and his daughter Kara, and me with my daughter Kerima.

Inquirer Father’s Day feature on Media Dads with daughters: Conrad de Quiros with daughter Miranda, Pablo Tariman with daughter Kerima, Jaime Fabregas with daughter Lara and Randy David with daughter Kara

By coincidence, the Inquirer media dads are all my friends now.

(Looking over his birth background, I noticed that De Quiros was born in the month of May in 1951, and so were my daughter Kerima, 1979, and my son-in-law Ericson Acosta, 1972. The columnist and my son-in-law even have the same birthday, May 27, and I just realized both died on the same month: November 6, 2023 for De Quiros and November 30, 2022 for Ericson.)

Both readers and friends agree on what they like about De Quiros as a columnist.

Gibbs Cadiz, former opinion editor of the Inquirer, reacted: “What a loss. Since 2016 when the country (willingly) went down the rabbit hole, it was his voice above all, unwavering…that we missed, that we needed hearing. Godspeed, Sir Conrad—was a great privilege to have known you, read you, learned from you.”

Former Inquirer Opinion Editor Rosario A. Garcellano: “A gap never filled. A force in the society in which he lived—critical, quite undiplomatic, often opposed to (because unconvinced by) popular opinion.”

Former ‘Inquirer’ Opinion Editor Rosario A. Garcellano: ‘A gap never filled. A force in the society in which he lived—critical, quite undiplomatic, often opposed to (because unconvinced by) popular opinion’

Media activist Raymund Villanueva recalled the last time he met Conrad de Quiros was at the Titus Brandsma Award 2015. “He was among the first awardees; I was a recipient that year. He was already frail at the time. He was among my favorite columnists and essayists, more so after I learned of his revolutionary past in his younger days. He was a constant presence in our CEGP (College Editors Guild of the Philippines) days teaching column writing. He also once told me he really liked Bulatlat (an underground paper formerly edited by my late daughter.)”

International human rights lawyer Ruben Carranza, who also helped my daughter Kerima, said, “Conrad was the influencer who deepened the thinking of everyone who read him, long before most influencers emerged and made influencing shallow.”

Human rights advocate Robert Francis Garcia pointed out, “A generation of us grew up on Conrado de Quiros. A fresh political issue comes up, we grab a hard copy of the Inquirer to get his views. And be guided accordingly. I did not agree with him 100 percent of the time, perhaps only 90, give or take. But his eloquence had often been persuasive enough.”

PDI columnist Richard Heydarian openly expressed his admiration for the late Bicolano columnist: “Conrado S. de Quiros, who has just joined the Almighty, has had a special place in my life. Although a fellow columnist at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I never had the privilege of meeting him in person,” he wrote, praising the columnists’ “soulful works, cherished writings, and, in the case of Conrado, truly pioneering contributions to social discourse.”

He admitted it was De Quiros’s courage to speak truth to power that compelled him to, following in his legendary style, write his own protest column (notably a blank one on “Duterte’s Independent Foreign Policy”).

“I wanted to call out the former president’s unfathomable subservience to a foreign power even as their hostile militia vessel rammed into and almost drowned dozens of our fishermen in the Recto Bank. When I submitted the ‘blank’ column, our good editors exactly knew what was going on, thanks to Conrado’s precedence.”

Heydarian concluded his farewell piece, “It was his renowned courage and literary brilliance—just as Rizal’s and our forefathers’—that continued to inspire courage of conviction in my tumultuous soul.”

More outpouringa of love and respect:

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen: “Rest in peace Conrad. You led a meaningful life that touched us all. Thank you for the gift and the courage of your words.”

Columnist Gideon Lasco: “I join my colleagues in mourning the passing of Conrado de Quiros, the columnist who fearlessly stood up to presidents and presciently warned against Rodrigo Duterte.”

Human rights activist Carlos Conde: “He is the best Filipino opinion writer since the Marcos dictatorship bar none. His masterfully written columns, often laden with a fierce moral outrage the times required, helped shape PH politics in ways no other columnist did.”

JR Santiago: “I consider every interaction I’ve had with Conrado de Quiros a privilege because of his generosity in sharing his wisdom. We have lost a giant in journalism, and we may never see the likes of him again.”

Alma Cruz Miclat: “I remember looking forward to reading his column all the time until it stopped when he had a stroke. The last time I saw him was a few years ago when I was with my late husband Mario Ignacio Miclat and he was coming out of the cinema at SM in a wheelchair with his wife. My friend Eurostat whispered to him, ‘Alma and Mario Miclat,’ and he looked at us with the sweetest smile ever. His June 17, 2009 column below, ‘Writer ka lang pala,’ chronicles why Conrad has been so missed and will still be missed. You’re such a big loss, Conrad! But your light will shine forever in this pathetic country of ours which needs your light now more than ever!”

Conrad de Quiros by Joan Bondoc

Sample column of Conrad de Quiros:

‘Writer ka lang pala’
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:20:00 06/17/2009

I remember an experience I once had with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This was way back during Cory’s time when I was still paying my taxes. I am not paying my taxes now—not since 2005, when the “Hello, Garci” tape came to light. I was paying my taxes then, but for one reason or another failed to do so one particular year. Being a dutiful citizen, and having no problems recognizing Cory as a perfectly legitimate president, I resolved to rectify it.

I went to the BIR, waited a couple of hours for my turn, and finally got to talk with an appraiser, or whatever they call the people there that deal with these things. He took the documents I handed over to him solemnly, flexing his hands like a doctor about to perform a delicate operation. His solemnity vanished in an instant as he scanned my documents, and dismay overran his face like the hordes of Atilla. He suppressed an expletive and groaned, “Writer ka lang pala!” (You’re just a writer!)

I took it those words were a reaction to the couple of hundred pesos I owed government. I took it moreover that those words were a reaction to my entry in the box “occupation,” which was “journalist.” Whatever plans he might have had about negotiating a deal with me were dashed to pieces by that proclamation, or admission. His deflation was a thing to behold. “Writer ka lang pala,” he repeated.

He stamped my papers and dismissed me with a wave of his hand. He probably wondered what he had done to make God punish him that day by sending him someone who wasted his precious time.

That is the one phrase that has stayed with me all these years, one I wear proudly like a medal, and humbly like a reminder: “Writer ka lang pala.”

I remembered this in connection with something I’ve encountered over the years while writing a column for the Inquirer. It’s what detractors tell me when they cannot find a way to refute or get around, my argument. Which is: What you say is all very fine. But those are just words, they are not actions. When will you stop writing and act?

Sometimes, friends, and not just detractors, say this as well. Particularly those who have wondered why I do not entertain going into politics. “Why don’t you run for this or that?” they ask. “With the exposure you have in the country’s number one newspaper, you have an advantage which you can turn into votes. If you win, you can be in a position to do something for this country.”

My answer to this is not that I see no way of winning, although that’s probably true too, since the vote-friendly medium is TV. My answer to that is: “I’m already a writer, as ascertained by the BIR. Why should I want to demote myself and become a politician?”

I am not being entirely facetious when I say this. My point is simply, if a bit airily, that I cannot think of a better way to do something for the country than by writing.

Doctors will never be accused of merely saying and not doing. I do not know of another profession more resolutely associated with acting. You either cure or you do not. The patient either lives or dies. No action could be more fraught with meaning, no action could be more laden with consequence.

It is writers who routinely get to be charged with saying and not doing, of talking and not acting. It is writers who routinely get to be told: That’s all very fine, but when will you act?

‘It is writers who routinely get to be charged with saying and not doing, of talking and not acting’

It is the most astonishing thing because writing is acting. That is why we call it “the act of writing,” because it is an act. And like physically ministering to the sick, it is a vital act. It is spiritually ministering to the sick, an act that is fraught with meaning, an act that is laden with consequence. When you write, you either cure or you do not. When you write, the world either lives or dies.

What the writer does specifically, an act of awesome reverberations, is to articulate. It is to put reality into words. It is to make reality real.

We’ve all heard Socrates’ famous aphorism, “A life unexamined is a life unlived.” It is a profound insight into life. It is the difference between merely existing and living. Just drawing out the length of your days without looking at where you’ve come from and where you are going, without looking at whether you have been of service to others or only to yourself, without wondering what all this means or what all this amounts to, is not living, it is just existing. You may as well not have been there at all.

It is writers most of all that make that examination, of themselves and the reality around them. It is writers most of all who make that interrogation, of themselves and of the reality around them. It is writers most of all who articulate themselves and the reality around them.

Without that articulation, the world and ourselves are just as unreal as ghostly apparitions. Without that action, the world and ourselves are just a jumble of sense impressions.

We often speak of “grasping” things when we are able to understand them. The word “grasp” is only too apt. The action, like seizing something with the hand, is seizing something with the mind, turning it around, feeling its shape, marveling at its texture, realizing (there goes that word “real” again) that it is there.

You put things into words, you make things real.

It’s not true at all that sticks and stones may break your bones but words can’t. The opposite is true: More than sticks and stones, or indeed more than Manny Pacquiao’s fists, words crush bones. At the very least, you see that in the many knife fights that break out during drinking sprees in dingy neighborhoods because someone called another name.

At the very most you see that in what writers have done. In what a writer of no mean talent named Jose Rizal has done.

Rizal was first and foremost, a writer – a fact that many people have interpreted in various ways, some disparagingly.

I recall that many activists of my time submitted that Andres Bonifacio was the greater hero because he had done something marvelous. He had almost impossibly, given his personal circumstances (he was a plebeian) and his social circumstances (the indios were abject and acquiescent), founded the first truly revolutionary organization of his time. Rizal had merely written essays and novels, which however grand and brilliant did not quite equal in importance the creation of the Katipunan.

Their equation was: Where Rizal had just written, Bonifacio had done. Where Rizal had just expostulated, Bonifacio had acted.

It was no small irony, they went on, that Rizal was tried and executed for subversion. Which we could only attribute to the stupidity of the Spaniards; they had bad intelligence in more ways than one. Rizal was never a member of the Katipunan, however the organization tried to recruit him, or offered the leadership of it to him. In fact, he had openly discouraged, if not opposed, it, saying the country was not prepared for a revolution. All Rizal had done, they said, was to become a martyr, which even more ironically only helped to fuel the very thing he tried to hold back.

Looking back, you see how wrong that judgment was. Looking back, you see how the Spanish authorities knew something the activists of my time did not. Namely, that by writing his essays and his novels, Rizal had become more subversive than Bonifacio or any of the Katipuneros. By writing his essays and novels—and doing so better than Marcelo del Pilar and the other propagandists in Spain—he had done more than those who took up arms.

The Spaniards were not wrong in jailing him for subversion, even if they did it for the wrong reasons, even if they did it on the wrong evidence. Rizal was the most subversive Filipino of his time. He did so by putting the plight of the Filipino under Spanish rule into words. He did so by putting the anger, the restiveness and the growing awareness of the indios they were a separate people into words. He did so by putting the reality of his time and place into words.

By doing so, he made that reality real.

It is no surprise that the Spaniards would make this recognition. Given that they had a Miguel Cervantes who had blown up the conventions of his own time and place. Indeed, given that they themselves had deprived the indios of Spanish out of the belief that giving them a unified and unifying language would make them ungovernable.

Spanish rule had lasted more than 300 years not just because the Spanish rulers had divided and conquered, it had done so also because the Spanish rulers had kept the indios mute, silent, voiceless. But then toward the end of that rule, which hastened the end of that rule, the same indios found a voice in Jose Rizal.

By satirizing the friars in his essays, by depicting them as bumbling fools quite apart from womanizing hypocrites, Rizal turned them not just into ordinary mortals but into objects of ridicule. By indicting the Spanish authorities in “Noli” and “Fili,” by railing against their corruption and their backwardness, Rizal turned them into obstacles in the path to progress of the indios that needed to be, and could be, removed. By the ferocity of his mind and the breadth of his talents, Rizal showed his fellow Filipinos how limitless their possibilities were, if only they could be free.

You cannot have anything more subversive than that.

These days, when some people tell me, “That’s all very fine, but when are you going to act?” I just smile and remember this.

I do not mean to compare myself to Rizal. He was one of a kind, a man of resplendent abilities and character, the likes of which we may not see again in a long time, if ever. But it can’t hurt to aspire to become like him in one or two of his many facets. I myself aspire only to catch a glint of his spirit in writing.

‘I do not mean to compare myself to Rizal…But it can’t hurt to aspire to become like him in one or two of his many facets’

Certainly, our time lends itself to that aspiration. For the simple reason that our time is not unlike Rizal’s time. In fact, it is almost a mirror image of Rizal’s time—talk of those who do not read history being condemned to repeat it.

It is a time when the rulers are as alien as a colonizing power, pillaging the land with a ruthlessness and ferocity to make the pirates of Tortuga blush. It is a time when the people tasked to safeguard the morals of the indios are as besotted and venal and hypocritical as the friars and oidores, making right wrong and wrong right, and proclaiming God to have ordained this order of things. It is a time when the masa are prostrate and broken and abject, unable to lift the yoke off their backs, reposing their deliverance in false prophets and clowns and sellers of snake oil.

It is a time when you realize that there is no action without articulation, there is no flesh without word, and look for ways to capture the agony of oppression and the ecstasy of liberation. It is a time when you realize that there is no direction without interrogation, there is no life without examination, and look for ways to release the power of a subjected race and the glory of a people longing to be free. It is a time when you realize that to do all this, you have to grope and grasp and clasp with your mind the truth of your plight, to impale with words the thoughts and feelings that flit around you, the fears and aspirations that well up within you, to make reality real so that you can face it, so that you can confront it, so that you can live it.

It is a time when you can tell yourself proudly: Writer ka pala. It is a time when you can remind yourself humbly: Writer ka lang pala.

As a journalist, De Quiros  was the recipient of the Best Column citation from the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 1995, and the Rotary Journalism Award in Print Category for his commentary on various issues in 1999. In 2003, he was also given the Society of Publishers in Asia Editorial Excellence Award, and the Rotary Club of Manila cited him as Opinion Writer of the Year. He wrote several books, including Flowers from the Rubble: Essays on Life, Death and Remembering (1990), Dance of the Dunces (1991), Dead Aim: How Marcos Ambushed Philippine Democracy (1997), and Tongues on Fire (2007), as well as The February Revolution: Three Views (co-authored with Alex Magno and Rene Ofreneo, 1986) and The Bird-Catcher Was a Poet: The Life and Passion of Eduardo A. Makabenta Sr. (co-authored with Eduardo A. Makabenta Sr., Yen Makabenta, and Gregorio B. Macabenta, 2002). He was a fellow of the Silliman University National Writer Workshop in 1970.

The wake for Conrad de Quiros at Loyola Memorial Chapels (Premier 1), Commonwealth Ave. QC is until Friday, Nov. 10.

About author


He’s a freelance journalist who loves film, theater and classical music. Known as the Bard of Facebook for his poems that have gone viral on the internet, he is author of a first book of poetry, Love, Life and Loss – Poems During the Pandemic and was one of 160 Asian poets in the Singapore-published anthology, The Best Asian Poetry 2021-22. An impresario on the side, he is one of the Salute awardees of Philippines Graphic Magazine during this year’s Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. His poem, Ode to Frontliners, is now a marker at Plaza Familia in Pasig City unveiled by Mayor Vico Sotto December 30, 2020.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up for’s Weekly Digest and get the best of, tailored for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.