Alejandro Roces

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Alejandro Reyes Roces is a Filipino short story writer, essayist, dramatist and a National Artist of the Philippines. He is considered to be country's best writer of comic short stories.

Early Life & Education

Alejandro Reyes Roces was known to almost everyone as Anding. Anding was a natural teacher, a deadly wit and one of the finest short story writers and humorists the Philippines has ever produced. He was a fighter and one of our great nationalists. Like his hero Jose Rizal he believed in the power of education, the strength of the pen and the boundless possibilities of the Philippines. Anding was born on July 13, 1924 in Manila. His family traces their ancestral roots to Asturias, Spain. His great-grandfather, Alejandro, immigrated to the Philippines in the late 19th century. He founded a business family that eventually became involved in real estate, publishing, timber and even movie theaters (they owned the famed Ideal Theater). Anding’s father was Rafael Roces and his mother Inocencia Reyes. He was the sixth of nine brothers.

Anding was born on July 13, 1924 in Manila. His family traces their ancestral roots to Asturias, Spain. His great-grandfather, Alejandro, immigrated to the Philippines in the late 19th century. He founded a business family that eventually became involved in real estate, publishing, timber and even movie theaters (they owned the famed Ideal Theater). Anding’s father was Rafael Roces and his mother Inocencia Reyes. He was the sixth of nine brothers.

He married Irene Yorston Viola, grand daughter of Maximo S. Viola, and they had one child, Elizabeth Roces-Pedrosa

Anding was educated at the Ateneo de Manila through high school, received his undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona and his masters degree from Far Eastern University. He was then bestowed Doctor of Arts and Letters by Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) by Toyo University in Japan, Doctorate Degree in Humane Letters (Honoris Causa) by Ateneo de Manila University and Doctorate Degree in Humanities (Honoris Causa) by St. Louis University, Baguio City.

American Short Story Winner Returns Home

After World War II, the Roces family sent Anding to the United States for undergraduate studies. He enrolled in the University of Arizona, spending his first year struggling through engineering and mining studies; a course that his family wished him to take. By the end of that first year, it looked like his studies abroad were at an end. But, opportunity to remain was found when his short story "We Filipino's Are Mild Drinkers" won a number of literary awards, besting professionals in the process and was noted in Martha Foley's anthology Best American Short Stories. His follow up story, "My Brother's Peculiar Chicken" was honored with the same distinction. However, writers and professors on campus were shocked that a Filipino could write so well. As a result he was called in to a panel interview to ascertain if he truly wrote the story. After a grueling interview session during which he was peppered with literary questions, they believed. They offered him the opportunity to stay at the University of Arizona on one condition: He switched to Fine Arts. He quickly agreed.

After he graduated in 1950, he returned to the Philippines to teach writing and American literature. He set out to encourage generations of students at the Far Eastern University and University of the East to see the Philippines differently, to write about the Filipino in new ways. He came back to the country brash, full of energy, armed with his craft and backed by award-winning experience. He tried, and succeeded, in translating those elements to students. Into his classroom he invited luminaries like Nick Joaquin to talk to his students and exchange ideas. Later he became Dean of the Institute of Arts and Sciences at FEU. The creative atmosphere he created at the university gave birth to a renaissance in Philippine writing and the arts. It spawned a generation of writers and artists. He was a natural as an educator; it was what he was born to do. Even well into his 80s he loved to talk about his country and try to inspire people to think more, to think deeply about the Philippines.

Department of Education Secretary Supports June 12 Independence Day

Anding was one of the most stalwart nationalists the Philippines produced. He had very specific ideas about what it meant to be Filipino and he did his best to express them through is various works; from his columns to his short stories to his essays and through his epic work Fiesta.

Under President Diosdado Macapagal he was named Secretary of Education, still the youngest to ever be named to a Cabinet position. During his time he initiated reforms to encourage a deeper, stronger, more holistic and organic understanding of what it meant to be Filipino. Among his more public major reforms was the shift of Independence Day from July 4 to June 12. Simply, he believed it is more important to honor when Filipinos declared independence, and not when it was granted by an imperial power.

That was not all that he pushed while a member of Macapagal’s government. It was under him that all passports, coins, bills and diplomas were first written in Wikang Pambansa. He firmly believed that the Philippines could be united through shared history and shared languages, all the while pushing for fluency in English and other languages. He approached Philippine history and cultural from a holistic perspective. He sought to uncover what it meant to be Filipino.

Once he even played James Bond, as Nick Joaquin so wittily put it. During his time as Secretary of Education the original manuscripts of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo and Mi Ultimo Adios were stolen. Anding made it his mission to get those manuscripts back, holding secret meetings and telephone conversations with the thieves and their representatives. Eventually, he was able to repatriate them, convincing the individuals to return those precious manuscripts to the Filipino people, with not a centavo of ransom spent by the Philippine government.

LABAN’s Political Humorist Candidate Draws Crowds

Anding was a fighter. It started when he was a child and neighborhood boys would call him “Rizal Killer.” A reference to his mestizo looks. He didn’t understand. In his house Rizal was idolized. Anding never lost his appreciation for Jose Rizal. For his entire life Rizal remained his hero, the epitome of the Filipino. When faced with the epithet “Rizal Killer”, Anding fought back, never backing down. It is in those years that he became a boxer.

In the midst of the Japanese Occupation during World War II he was inspired to join the underground resistance when the Japanese assassinated his brother Liling. For the remainder of the Occupation he was a member of Marking's guerrillas, their youngest member and captain in fact.

His fighting spirit was seen during Martial Law. The Roces family were publishers, he was a journalist, and they were among the first targeted when Martial Law was declared. He was able to evade arrest in the beginning and spent the rest of Martial Law resisting. He helped organize LABAN and ran for Senate under the ticket. His weapons were not fists or arms. He wielded wit and humor adroitly instead. Anding would regale crowds and enlighten with his jokes. It came to the point that all jokes in circulation during Martial Law were suspected to begin with him. Supporters of the opposition came to laugh, to cheer, to be together. The humor in the air helped buoy the opposition for another day and each new battle. He knew how to make a scene, even going so far as to conceptualize and organize the cacophony of banging pots, pans and car horns that became known as the noise barrage.

Unsurprisingly he did draw the attention of those on high. Prior to a presidential election, the government of Ferdinand Marcos declared that all Filipinos were compelled to vote. Among the millions who did not vote, Anding was singled out. He was arrested and brought to court to face the charges.

He stood alone, before the Judge Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and presented his simple defense: The compulsion to vote in a mock election comes from a dictator, the obligation to not vote in a mock election is given by God. The case was thrown out.

CCP Gives 1st Tanging Parangal for a Lifetime’s Cultural Action

Today, Anding is widely known as the Philippine National Artist in Literature. Prior to that accolade the Cultural Center of the Philippines honored him with an award: the Tanging Parangal of the CCP Gawad Para sa Sining award. This award was created with a specific purpose in mind, to honor the lifetime achievement of the most deserving luminaries in Philippine culture. Anding dedicated his life to Philippine culture, not only through is own writings, but the support and inspiration he gave to so many.

National Hermano Mayor Elevates the Philippine Fiesta to Culture Treasure

Anding once wrote: “Fiesta is our highest form of community expression. In its production, it exemplifies the talents and culture of the Filipino. The fiesta is Philippine culture and history in microcosm.” Through his monumental work, Fiesta, he demonstrated how true this was. Few remember, but there was even a move to ban the fiesta. Anding vociferously came out against the measure. Soon after he began to research and study the fiesta in-depth. He believed that by understanding the fiesta, we will better understand what it meant to be Filipino. Anding gave us back the fiesta. That is why he is known as the National Hermano Mayor. Through his efforts, fiestas like the Moriones and the Ati-Atihan were not only preserved, they became famous. He elevated fiestas from a quaint pastoral tradition, to their rightful place as cultural treasures of the Philippines.

In the forward to the first edition of Fiesta, Nick Joaquin wrote: “At a time when it was being damned as superstition and colonial rubbish, our Christian folk culture found a champion in Anding Roces. If today we have a different vision of, say, the Philippine fiesta, it is because Roces corrected our perspective, moving us from prejudice to appreciation.”

Dean of Newspaper Columnists Shares Knowledge and Wisdom

For years the Races family was in newspaper publishing. Anding continued that tradition for almost sixty continuous years (only broken by Martial Law) as a columnist first in the Daily Mirror, then the Manila Times and finally the Philippine Star. He retired quietly and gracefully from the scene on July 2010. During that time Roses and Thorns was one of, if not the, longest running columns in the Philippines. Anding was the Dean of Newspaper Columnists.

For those years he wrote in-depth and compellingly about Philippines culture and history, incisively about Philippine politics and always with a view of how to educate the country. All the while with his trademark wit and good humor. He once described journalism as the pillar of a free society and one of the beacons that can guide a nation to greatness. He saw journalism as he saw education: Mechanisms for enlightenment, avenues for change and forces for social equality.

National Artist for Literature Continues New Works

Currently, a re-issue of Fiesta is in the works by the award-winning publishing house Studio 5. It will be the first time all four volumes are published together. Previously, only the first volume has been available. As well, the family is working on a smaller compilation of selections of his social, cultural and political essays and columns that best express his inimitable style and ideas on Filipinas and the Filipino.

Anding was teacher, an educator, a fighter, a writer and a raconteur who possessed a singular wit. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather and to so many he was the inimitable Tito Anding. The man with a joke always at the ready and a warm smile for all. He was a Filipino who gave so much to his country in so many different areas: From public service to education to the culture and the arts. His contributions extended beyond what he produced, it encompasses all those who he selflessly influenced and supported through the years. Anding lived simply and passed on just the same, peacefully and quietly. In his wake he left a truly remarkable legacy.

Achievements in Literature & Journalism

A national artist

Roces is known for his widely anthologized “My Brother's Peculiar Chicken”. He has always focused on the neglected aspects of the Filipino cultural heritage as evident in his newspaper columns. His written works have been published in several international magazines.

He has also brought to public attention the aesthetics of Philippine fiestas. He was instrumental in popularizing local fiestas like Moriones and Ati-Atihan. He was also part of the group who led the campaign to change the country's Independence Day from July 4 to June 12 and changed the language from English to Filipino in the country's stamps, currency and passport. He was also the one who recovered Jose Rizal's manuscript that were stolen from the National Archives.

  • Author - Something to Crow About, zarsuela, 2005
  • Author - Something to Crow About, collection of short stories and sequel to the highly acclaimed Of Cocks and Kites, 2005
  • Author - Fiesta, a collection of seminal work on the celebration of the Philippines' festivals 1980
  • Author - Of Cocks and Kites, 1959, A collection of satirical and humorous stories revolving around the age-old game of cock fighting which picture the Filipino.
  • Author - “My Brother's Peculiar Chicken”
  • Author - “We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers” cited in Martha Foley's Anthology of Best American Stories, 1951
  • Author - "Roses and Thorns", A tri-weekly column in the Philippine Star noted for its searching observations on pressing national issues
  • Director/Writer/Documentalist of El Legado and Campana de Baler, documentary films that won the Conde de Foxa award of the Certamen Cine Documental Ibero-Anericano y Filipino in Bilbao, Spain. These films portray the Spanish influence on Philippine culture.
  • Author - Published stories in avant-garde magazine in the United States such as Arizona Quarterly, the Southwest Review, the Pacific Spectator, and the New Mexico Quarterly and in Australia, the Hemisphere

National Awards/Honors Received

  • National Artist for Literature - Republic of the Philippines
  • Rizal Pro-Patria Award - Republic of the Philippines
  • Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines - Manila Jaycess
  • Outstanding Journalist of the Year - Confederation of Filipino Veterans Journalism
  • Diwa ng Lahi (Spirit of the Race) 1988 - City of Manila
  • Patnubay ng Kalinangan (Vanguard of Culture), 1970 - City of Manila
  • Gawad CCP Para sa Sining 1990 - Cultural Center of the Philippines
  • Zobel Award for Literature , 1995
  • Green & Gold Award - Far Eastern University
  • Plaque of Recognition - Department of Education, Culture & Sports
  • Plaque of Recognition - The Royal & Pontificial, University of Santo Tomas
  • CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts - Cultural Center of the Philippines
  • Outstanding Citizen Award - Lungsod ng Makati
  • Medal of Valor as World War II Veteran - Veterans Federation of the Philippines

International Awards/Honors Received

(incomplete list)

  • S.E.A. Write Award for 1997 - Kingdom of Thailand
  • Grand Cross for Distinguished Service with Star Epaulement of the Order for Distinguished Service - Federal Republic of Germany
  • Orden de Isabela La Catolica - Government of Spain
  • Gran Cruz la Order del Merito Civil - Government of Spain
  • Orden de Aguila Azteca - United States of Mexico
  • Tanda Kahormatan Bintang Mahaputera - Republic of Indonesia
  • Grand Maitre de L'Ordre National - Republic of Malagasy
  • Order of the Brilliant Star - Republic of China
  • Order of the White Elephant - Kingdom of Thailand
  • Conde de Foxa Award from Certamen Cine Documental Ibero-Americana y Filipino - Bilbao, Spain
  • Special Plaque of Appreciation - Consulate General of the Philippines and the Filipino Community of Guam
  • Honorary Ambassador-at-Large - Guam, U.S.A.

Socio-Cultural-Civic Affiliations

  • Trustee, Government Service Insurance System (GSIS)
  • Chairman, College Assurance Plan Foundation
  • Columnist, “Roses and Thorns” of The Philippine Star
  • Chairman, Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), 2001
  • President, Bagong Katipunan Foundation
  • President, UNESCO Philippine Centre of the International Theatre Institute
  • President, Bulletin Publishing Corporation
  • Secretary of Education, Republic of the Philippines, 1961
  • Dean of the Institute of Arts and Science, Far Eastern University
  • Co-Founder of the Philippine PEN
  • Board of Regents, University of the Philippines
  • Chairman, Board of Trustees, Colegio San Agustin
  • Chairman, Board of Regents, Pamantasan ng Lungsond ng Maynila
  • Chairman, Board of Regents, St. Louis University, Baguio City
  • Chairman, Board of Regents, St. Mary's University, Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya
  • Chair, United Way Philippines
  • Chairman, UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines
  • President, Cultural Nationalism of the Philippines
  • Head, FEU Cultural Research Team
  • President, Philippine International Friendship Organization
  • President, Research Foundation in Philippine Anthropology and Archeology, Inc.
  • Vice President, Art Association of the Philippines
  • Vice President, Manila Symphony Society
  • President, Philippine-Italian Association
  • Chair, Philippine Selection Committee - Eisenhower Fellowship Inc.
  • Member of the Board, Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española
  • Member of the Board, Association for Philippine China Understanding
  • Member of the Board, National Historical Commission of the Philippines
  • Board of Authenticators, National Museum
  • Member of the Board, TOYM Foundation
  • Member of the Board, Casino Español de Manila
  • Member of the Board, Philippine National Bank
  • Member of the Board, Brent International School, Baguio
  • Member of the Board, Yuchengco Museum
  • First Chairman of the Board, PETA Theater
  • First Chairman of the Board, Philippine Ballet Theater


  • Jose, F. Sionil. The National Artists of the Philippines 1999-2003. Vol. II. Pasay City: Cultural Center of the Philippines and Anvil, 2003.
  • Roces, Alejandro R. Something to Crow About. Manila: Solidaridad House and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, 1997.
  • “Alejandro R. on February 17, 2010
  • “Alejandro R. Roces”.National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Accessed on February 17, 2011
  • “Alejandro Roces”.WorldLingo.Accessed on February 17, 2011
  • “Alejandro “Anding” Reyes Roces”.Contemporary Roces Progenies.Accessed on February 17, 2011



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