F. Sionil Jose receives the award from Ambassador Franz Jessen at the Europe Day Reception in Makati City. (Photo by Joyce Ann L. Rocamora)

MANILA-- Francisco Sionil Jose, the country's National Artist for Literature, was conferred an award of distinction for strengthening the cultural links between the European Union (EU) and the Philippines.

At the EU Reception Day in Makati on Wednesday, Ambassador Franz Jessen, who handed the award, said Sionil Jose's acclaimed writings brought closer the people of Europe and the Philippines.

Sionil Jose, one of the living literary treasures of the Philippines, thanked Jessen for the recognition.

"I am not going to be coy about it. I'm 93 years old and after all these many years of hardwork, I know I deserve this award. It's not only I who deserves it, however. There are others in my generation who do– Nick Joaquin and Salvador Lopez and beyond them – the Spanish writer of the early 1900s, Rafael Palma, to Marcelo del Pilar and most of all Jose Rizal," he said.

"I also add to this distinguished list our vernacular writers who, like most of us, were rooted in the profound humanist tradition of the West."

During his speech, Sionil Jose left a strong message before the audience, composed of both locals and more than 50 other nationals.

He started with recounting the Japan Meiji Restoration in 1869, which saw Yukichi Fukuzawa, one of the movement's leaders, advance the program of Datsu-A, commonly translated as "Leaving Asia."

Sionil Jose said this essentially proposed that for Japan to modernize, it must reject Asia, because it meant "backwardness."

Though, the renowned author clarified that he does not suggest for such rejection of Asia, or of "us being Filipinos." He said that the essence of Asian tradition is harmony and respect for hierarchy, whereas Western tradition enshrines revolution and freedom.

"I propose instead that we look deeply into our Western heritage, and perceive the strengths that have made Europe endure. Therein lies the answer to the many problems we face today and why this award should have more meaning, not only for me but to all my countrymen."

"Beyong the strong nation state that we are to build are the great possibilities that harmony with our neighbors brings-- the same harmony that the European Union has achieved and nurtures."

Most of Sionil Jose's novels have been translated into European languages.

After receiving the distinction, Sionil Jose said that his first brush with Europe was not with a country on the continent, but with a fellow Filipino, who became his major inspiration as a writer-- Jose Rizal, who, he described "was Hispanized and Europeanized, and reached intellectual maturity in Germany."

Sionil Jose, who is also a publisher and lecturer on cultural issues, was bestowed the Cultural Center of the Philippines Centennial Honors for the Arts in 1999; the Outstanding Fulbrighters Award for Literature in 1988; and the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts in 1980.

His latest award given by the EU marks the celebration of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage. (PNA)