Better known in literary circles by his pseudonym Rio Alma, Virgilio S. Almario is a foremost poet and critic in Filipino aside from being an outstanding translator, editor, teacher, and cultural manager.

He grew up in a farming community in Camias, San Miguel de Mayumo, Bulacan and spent his entire boyhood among peasants amidst the Hukbalahap insurrection in the 1950s. He completed his A.B. Political Science at the University of the Philippines in 1963 and immediately accepted a teaching job in San Miguel High School, his alma mater. There he devoted the early years of his career as a classroom teacher of social studies in his hometown.

His life as a poet started when he took Education units at the University of the East in the summer of 1963. He became associated with Rogelio G. Mangahas and Lamberto E. Antonio, and together they spearheaded the second successful modernist movement in Filipino poetry. In 1967, he came out with his first collection of poems, Makinasyon at Ilang Tula. This was followed by ten more collections, including the bilingual Selected Poems 1968-1985. All his anthologized poems were collected by U.P. Press in 1998 and published as the two-volume Una Kong Milenyum.

The earliest pieces of Almario's literary criticism were also published in the Dawn, the University of the East's weekly organ. Some of them were collected in Ang Makata Sa Panahon ng Makina (1972) and now considered as the first book of literary criticism in Filipino. He later shed off his modernist and formalist interests in favor of a nationalist and politically engaged orientation and joined the activist movement. He was eased out of his teaching job when martial law was declared, married Emelina B. Soriano in the afternoon of New Year 1973, and busied himself with research projects on literary history and the search for native traditions in Philippine literature while blacklisted by the military. This library work resulted in a seminal essay on the novel and some major critical studies including Taludtod at Talinhaga (1965; 1991), Balagtasismo Versus Modernismo (1984), Kung Sino ang Kumatha Kina Bagongbanta, Ossorio, Herrera, atbp. (1992), and Panitikan ng Rebolusyon (g 1896) (1993).

His critical works encompass vital studies on the issue of a national language, some of which are gathered in the books Filipino ng mga Filipino (1993) and Tradisyon at Wikang Filipino (1998). He also produced a stylebook, the Patnubay sa Masinop na Pagsulat (1981), and has produced the biggest monolingual dictionary in Filipino which he initiated while director of the U.P. Sentro ng Wika in 1996.

To enrich the literary experience in Filipino and to offer the best models of literature to readers and students of Filipino, he also engaged in translation and editing. He has already translated the best contemporary poets of the world. Some of these translations are included in Makabagong Tinig ng Siglo (1989), which he also edited. He has translated for theater production the plays of Nick Joaquin, Bertolt Brecht, Euripides, and Maxim Gorki. His most recent translations are Rizal's Noli and Fili (1999) which were commissioned by the Philippine Centennial Commission and adjudged the best translation of Rizal as novels by Sen. Blas F. Ople as well as the Manila Critics Circle. At the same time, he has edited collections by Jose Corazon de Jesus, Lope K. Santos, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, Pedro Dandan, selected source books on ecology and children's literature, and anthologies including Walong Dekada ng Makabagong Tulang Pilipino (1981) which featured his choices of the best Filipino poets and poems of the 20th century.

The sustained superior quality of his literary outputs and his vision of a national literature in Filipino have been rewarded by awards and recognitions, including several Palanca awards, two grand prizes from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Makata ng Taon of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino, the TOYM for literature, and the Southeast Asia Write Award of Bangkok. He was recognized as an outstanding citizen by his own province in Dangal ng Lipi Award (1993), by Manila in its Gawad Patnubay ng Sining (1992), and by Quezon City in its Gantimpalang Quezon (1993). He was declared one of the outstanding writers and artists of the century during the CCP centennial celebration.

His reputation as a writer led to an invitation to teach in the Department of Philippine Studies of Ateneo de Manila University in 1969 despite his lack of a formal degree in language or literature. It was only when he worked as an instruction specialist at the Philippine Science High School that he pursued his M.A. in Filipino at the U.P. in 1974. At present he holds the rank of a full professor in U.P.

Outside the academe, he has proved his mettle as a cultural manager holding various positions such as project officer of the Development Academy of the Philippines (1995), general manager of the NCP Publishing Corporation, and editorial board member of the newspaper The Observer and The Independent (1987-1988). He was editor-in-chief and publisher of Diyaryo Filipino (1990-1993) and Filipino Magazin (1993-1997). In 1986, he was elected chairman of the Writers Union of the Philippines which he refashioned as the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) such that it becomes the biggest umbrella organization of writers by the time his tenure ended in 1992. He was writer-in-residence of the U.P. Writers Workshop in 1984, 1987, 1994, and 1995. He was deputy secretary of the Afro-Asian Writers Union from 1988 until the break-up of the USSR. He was a member of the Manila Critics Circle (1983-1998). He has served as lecturer or delegate in various fora and conferences in Japan, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, France, Denmark, Spain, Germany, the United States, Great Britain, Bulgaria, Tunisia, in several states in the USSR, and in a few African countries.

A special interest which he has definitely helped develop is children's books and literature. In 1977, he was invited to manage a children's book project for the Nutrition Center of the Philippines. This metamorphosed into the present Adarna Books-the first comprehensive series of educational books for Filipino children-and now part of the educational projects for children under the Children's Communication Center. He also founded the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) in 1984 and served as its secretary-general until 1998.

Since 1973, he has also dedicated his weekends for young writers. He opened his apartment for workshops and consultations that helped develop younger generations of poets. In 1985, he opened the Rio Alma Clinic which is now managed by the organization LIRA (Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo) while he serves as head lecturer.

Towards the end of 1998 he was elected Executive Director by the Board of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). He accepted the challenge. Upon secondment by U.P. in January 1999, he served as Executive Director and Commissioner of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts until 2001. When he returned to U.P. he was chosen Director of the Institute of Creative Writing in 2002. He did not finished his term as Director for he was appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Letters in 2003. On 25 June 2003 he was proclaimed National Artist for Literature.


Virgilio S. Almario

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