The Country's Literary Produce for 2000
Bienvenido L. Lumbera



Articles
The closing weeks of the year 2000 saw millions on weekday afternoons glued to the TV set and trying to piece together a detective story of government and gambling, indeed a drama of criminal greed and political culpability. The year 2000 was going, a lean Christmas season was hobbling towards the new year, and the Filipino public was getting an education on the labyrinthine coils of due process and the mores of its political leadership. And that was how the literary year came to an unobtrusive close, bequeathing the incoming year with proceedings of several conferences, a surprisingly plentiful harvest of books, and wads and wads of workshop manuscripts by young writers dreaming of going canonical before the new decade expires.

Philippine Literatures of the New Century was the title of a conference that brought together four Metro Manila universities with creative writing centers for a three-day encounter between teachers of literature and the writers they have been teaching to their students. The event was an affirmation of the key role of the academe in contemporary literary production. In the past, the influential role in the formation of writers was performed by literary outlets like the Liwayway and Philippine Magazine, but since the 1960s the universities with their workshops, creative writing programs, and their presses had been encroaching on the turf of The Philippines Free Press, Philippine Graphic, Liwayway, Bannawag, and Bisaya.

Literatures, instead of the customary singular noun, is an eloquent insistence of the current thrust of literary education—the plurality of what used to be designated as “Philippine Literature,” the many bodies of literary writing existing alongside what had hitherto been assumed by Manila to be a unified entity represented by works in Tagalog, English, and Spanish.

Conferences, conceptualized and convoked in the academe, are an index of current thinking and concerns in the field of literary studies.

In the year 2000, conferences pointed in the direction of mainstreaming of hitherto marginalized writing. Such was the thrust of the Ateneo Conference on Philippine Epics organized by Nicole Revel and Localities of Nationhood: The Nation in Philippine Literature. The Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature of the College of Arts and Letters of UP organized a conference on oral lore titled Pagdadalumat sa Panitikang Bayan, Pagdalumat ng Bayan sa Panitikan. The Indiana University Alumni Foundation of the Philippines organized “Seminar-Workshop on Literature from the Regions. Early in the year, the National Committee on Literary Arts of the NCCA convened in Tagbilaran, Bohol, a conference that brought together young writers working with different Philippine languages. A highlight of the event was the awarding of the Gawad Emmanuel Lacaba to three new writers in Iloko (Clesencio Rambaud), Hiligaynon (Alain Russ Dimzon), and Cebuano (Adonis G. Durado).

In line with the bias for new and old works outside the canon, the academe of the year 2000 attended to the continuing mainstreaming of Filipino women writers and works about women. This receptiveness to women writing is no doubt part of the legacy of feminism as a social movement that began in the late 1960s and gained momentum and aggressiveness in the post-EDSA years. In the year 2000, the number of books written by women and about women is overwhelming, attesting to the breadth of the reach of the influence of the feminist movement.

A book of special relevance to the writing community was Narita M. Gonzalez's compilation of narratives by wives of such well-known literary figures as Gemino Abad, Carlos Angeles, Cirilo Bautista, Leonard Casper, Isagani Cruz, Jose Dalisay Jr., Antonio Enriquez, Alejandrino G. Hufana, Domingo Landicho, Mario Miclat, Maximo Soliven and, of course, NVM Gonzalez. The Writers’ Wives gave the wives a venue for airing their plight as “support force” for artist spouses and allowed lovers of literature and curious feminists a glimpse into the residues of patriarchy in the households of creative writers.

Women writers themselves get to tell about their lives and works in two books. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo edited Pinay: Autobiographical Narratives by Women Writers, and the list of writers gathered together by the editor is a veritable roster of the most distinguished creative writers and journalists writing in English. Some of the writers are Maria Luna Lopez, Estrella Alfon, Kerima Polotan, Dolores Stephens Feria, Tita Lacambra Ayala, Jessica Hagedorn, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, and Gilda Cordero-Fernando.

A counterpart work on women writers in Tagalog and Filipino is Rosario Torres-Yu’s Sarilaya, Tinig ng 20 Babae sa Sariling Danas bilang Manunulat. The writers were grouped into generations, so aside from allowing a peek over the shoulders into the writing lives of the women, the book also gives readers a glimpse at the changing roles of women intellectuals across decades. Writers featured include elders Genoveva Edroza Matute, Liwayway Arceo, and Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio. The middle generation includes some of the most distinguished names in contemporary Filipino writing, such as Lualhati Bautista, Fanny Garcia, Ruth Elynia Mabanglo, Marra Pl. Lanot, and Lilia Quindoza Santiago. The third generation is led by Joi Barrios, Benilda Santos, and Rebecca Añonuevo.

The feminist movement’s contribution to the literary field is not confined to the presence of self-possessed women who can write. Literary theories developed within the feminist movement abroad have introduced new ways of reading that accord appropriate dignity to literary works that were previously stigmatized by patriarchal literary criticism. And so it is no longer a sin for a woman writer to be identified with the subject of love and all the “soft” emotions associated with it. For example, it is no longer an embarrassment that the author of the phenomenally successful radio soap opera Gulong ng Palad should be honored with a collection of her works edited by a reputable critic. Lina Flor: Collected Works, edited by Soledad S. Reyes, vindicates an author whose literary reputation had rested on spinning tales of love and loss for the popular audience.

The audacious Joi Barrios, poet and playwright identified with socially committed writing, has put together three of her previously published romance novels and got the imprimatur of the UP Creative Writing Center and had it published by the UP Press. Ang Aking Prince Charming at Iba Pang Nobela bids fair notice that popular culture has attained stature as a legitimate field of study in the academe. This means that it is no longer a liability that a work of fiction first appeared in popular publications previously maligned as bakya. Maningning ang Pag-ibig: Labingwalong Kuwento by Gloria Villaraza Guzman and Timbulan ng Pag-ibig at Iba Pang Kuwento by Rosario Ladia Jose appeared under the imprint of the Ateneo de Manila University Press, and that was already a badge of respectability. The two books together put within the reach of present-day readers the works of two skilled Tagalog fictionists whose works did not find space in earlier anthologies presumably because they were writing “feminine” fiction.

Paz Latorena is another feminine” writer who is being put up for a contemporary reading. Although she was popular with literary editors during the pioneering years of writing in English, Latorena was typecast as the author of “The Small Key” and because she did not come out with a collection of her fiction, she remained a marginal figure remembered as the author of a “tender” story in a high school reader. Now, she has been made available as a multi-story writer through Eva V. Kalaw’s seductively titled compilation Desire and Other Stories of Paz Latorena.

From the US comes Babaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina-American Writer which brings to the attention of readers abroad specimens of women writing. Edited by two Filipino-American creative writers, Eileen Tabios and Nick Carbo, the collection is part of the continuing effort to imbue Filipinos in the US with a sense of belonging to a culture of their own, at the same time that women are being projected as creative artists.

When the Manila Critics Circle, at its annual awards ceremonies during the Philippine Book Fair in September 2000, chose to cite the best of the previous year’s fiction, three women writers emerged the winners: Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo for Catch a Falling Star; Reine Arcache Melvin for A Normal Life and Other Stories; and Merlinda Bobis for White Turtle: A Collection of Short Stories. The choices may be seen from the perspective of gender that Philippine literature/literatures have ceased to be the near-exclusive domain of male writers.

The people behind the critics’ award ought to be cited by some other organization, perhaps from the optometrical industry, for the heroic service they are rendering Filipino book readers. In their attempt to cover such a broad field as publishing, they had had to establish every category that would enable them to encompass the great number and variety of books that local publishers have been putting out, and sub-categories under literature are enough to keep them reading way into the late hours of the night till their eyesight begins to wear out. More crucial, however, is the need to expand their ranks by inviting more reviewers who read Filipino with comfort. As the years of citing the best books pass, the Manila Critics Circle is creating more and more the impression that English is the privileged language that gets one’s book cited by critics and, more important, gets the writer’s art and message understood and appreciated for an award. This is the impression created when a work in Filipino finds itself pitted against a work in English, and, fairly or not, the English work wins.

In the year 2000, there is no mistaking the justness of its choice of A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, ’60s to the ’90s, edited by Gemino H. Abad. Together with the previous volumes in the series, the present anthology is ample evidence of the variety and artistry of the ouput of our poets in English since Filipinos began to use the English language for creative writing.

In the Filipino essay category, Rene O. Villanueva’s journey back to his boyhood was a felicitous choice as winner. Titled Personal and told in Filipino, the slim volume would read like fiction to readers clueless about Villanueva’s early life. The anecdotes composing the narrative thread of the book are a mix of the humorous, the painful, and the poignant, but together they do not leave the reader depressed for one is inspired by the writer’s grit and determination to rise above the poverty and tawdry experiences that Villanueva would later transform into plots, characters and themes in plays, poems, film scripts, TV dramas, and children’s stories.

In 2000, Rizal found another translator, this time in the distinguished poet-critic Virgilio S. Almario. Almario’s Filipino Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo join the plethora of translations vying for the patronage of high schools and colleges that, by law, require the study of the novels. His varied experience as poet, critic, translator, and scholar has given his language the fidelity and felicity demanded by Rizal’s text.

The writing workshops in Luzon (the UP National Summer Writers Workshop in Baguio City, the Ateneo Heights Workshop, and the UST National Writers Workshop), in the Visayas (the UP workshop that the three UP campuses sponsor in alternating years, and the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop), and in Mindanao ( the MSU-IIT Iligan Writers Workshop) are the smithy where new writers, especially writers in English, are forged. There are other workshops, a number of them catering to the needs of writers using local languages such as the GUMIL workshops for Iloko writers and the Cornelio Faigao Cebuano workshop, and these are usually set up by organizations promoting creative writing in the language of the locality. Truly, the workshop has become an institution that looks back to the early 1950s when the Tiempos (Edilberto and Edith) brought home the concept from their studies in the U.S., and drew writers from various parts of the country to Silliman University in Dumaguete City.

In our time, the new names that figure as winners of awards and prizes invariably come from the ranks of those who have spent a week or two in a writing workshop. This year the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature marked its golden anniversary, and it elevated three “winningest” writers to its Hall of Fame, each one of them an alumnus of any one of the university writing workshops. The new “Hall of Famers” joined eight other writers who had in the past won five first prizes in any of the categories of the annual contest. Poet-essayist Roberto Añonuevo, poet-fictionist-essayist-playwright Edgardo Maranan, and fictionist-essayist-playwright Jose Dalisay Jr. took their places alongside Cirilo Bautista, Gregorio Brillantes, Ma. Luisa Igloria, Elsa Coscolluela, B.S. Medina Jr., Jesus T. Peralta, Rolando S. Tinio, and Rene O. Villanueva.

This year’s Palanca contest, to mark its golden year, opened a new category both in English and Filipino—Future Fiction, for which entries would require writers to look into the future and project into the years ahead concerns of the past or the present. Winners in this categories are Luis J. Katigbak (“Subterrania,” first prize), Lakambini Sitoy (“Secret Notes on a Dead Star,” second prize) and Adel Gabot (“The Field,” third prize) for stories in English. Winners in the competition among Filipino stories are Johannes L. Chua (“Kalinangan,” first prize), George A. de Jesus (“Cell Phone,” second prize), and Alwinn C. Aguirre (“Desaparecidos,” third prize).

Writers who were able to make it to the list of winners in any of the 21 categories are probably hard at work on next year’s entries this early, determined to win a first prize so as to move closer to the Hall of Fame, or win any prize just to be able to savor the sweetness of staying in the awards list. Among the top winners in selected categories are the following: English short story, Dalisay, “The Woman in the Box,” first prize; English poetry, Maranan, “Tabon and Other Poems,” first prize; English essay, Alexis A. L. Abola, “Many Mansions,” first prize; Filipino short story, Placido R. Parcero Jr., “Alyas Juan de la Cruz,” first prize; Filipino poetry, Eugene Y. Evasco, “Ang Maisisilid sa Pandama,” first prize; Filipino essay, Roberto T. Añonuevo, “Ang Resureksiyon,” first prize; Filipino one-act play, George A. de Jesus III, “Linggo ng Palaspas,” first prize; Filipino television drama, Aurora D. Yumul, “Selyo at Kastilyo,” first prize; screenplay, Floy Quintos, “Gabi ng Tinggirin,” first prize; Cebuano short story, Arturo G. Peñaserada, “Saloma sa Dagat,” first prize; Iluko short story, Jimmy M. Agpalo Jr., “Tupa: Ladawan ni Pangalatok Idi Daan a Milenio,” first prize; and Hiligaynon short story, Isabel D. Sebullen, “Aswang,” first prize.

Another award-giving body, the NVM Gonzalez Literary Award, honored its first winner in the year 2000. Carmen Aquino Sarmiento had originally submitted her winning story titled “Good Intentions 101: SY 72-73” at the UP workshop in Baguio where it rated very highly among the panelists. The story was subsequently published in Graphic Magazine, and won first prize in the magazine’s year-end competition. When the First NVM Gonzalez Literary Award chose Sarmiento as the recipient of the award commemorating the late National Artist, it simply cited “her literary excellence.” In all likelihood, however, the judges must have, on the basis of “Good Intentions 101,” noted in their winner the sophisticated wit and humor of a promising satirist serenely confident of her analytic power and insight.

Surat is a literary contest conceptualized by the NCCA Committee on Literary Arts to tap at an early stage potential writers in secondary schools all over the Philippines. On its second year in 2000, Surat picked winners only in the Filipino poetry category (Aries Cruz III, Pedro E. Diaz High School, first prize; and Nathaniel V. Soberano, Las Piñas National High School, second prize), and in the English essay category (Pamela Joy Mariano, Philippine High School for the Arts, first prize; Catherine Candano, Immaculate Conception Academy, second prize; and Marguerite de Leon, PHSA, third prize). In what is perhaps a sign of the times, there were no winners in the English poetry category, only recognition awards for Pamela Joy Mariano, Marguerite de Leon and Faye Johanna Cara, all of the PHSA.

To disseminate information about its awardees for the past 42 years and propagate the vision behind the awards, the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation sponsored an ambitious essay contest that was intended to generate entries from as many high schools and colleges all over the country. “The Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Who Inspires Me Most” was the theme for the essays. The national winner in the college category was Vanessa Ann Remoquillo of Ateneo de Davao University writing about Angela Gomes. In the high school category, Enrique Miguel S. Unson of La Salle Greenhills, writing about Sister Eva Fidela Maamo, was declared national winner.

An award-giving body that keeps literary observers updated on the community of canonical authors of the Philippines is the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL). At its annual assembly in August 2000, UMPIL honored seven individuals and one organization as recipients of the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas.

Prospero E. Covar, UP anthropology professor, was cited as “historical essayist,” referring perhaps to Dr. Covar’s research and theoretical studies on Filipino culture. Leoncio P. Deriada of the UP Visayas was honored as a fictionist in English and Hiligaynon. Ricardo A. Lee, much sought-after scriptwriter, received the award for his contribution to Filipino film and his fiction output before he turned to filmmaking. Jaime An Lim, professor of literature and creative writing at MSU-IIT in Iligan City, was awarded for his poetry and fiction. Feminist poet Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo, currently teaching at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, was honored for her achievement in Filipino poetry.

A fictionist and poet from the Ilocos, Juan Ben Quimba, was cited for his contribution to Iloko literature. Widely published and authoritative as critic, Soledad S. Reyes joined the company of creative writers. Winner of numerous prizes and awards, both local and international, Rene O. Villanueva was cited for his writing for the theater, film, and television, and his body of works as a writer of children’s stories.

Two special awards went to a retired literature professor at UP and to an organization of Ilocano writers. GUMIL Filipinas received the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg for Outstanding Literary Organization. Prof. Nieves Benito Epistola was awarded as Outstanding Literary Educator.

The biggest publishing event of the year, insofar as literature is concerned, is the release by the UP Press of the top winners in the Centennial Literary Awards held in 1998. In the September book fair, the first and second prize winners in the poetry, novel, drama, and essay categories were launched. All categories required as subject historical figures and events being commemorated in the Centennial celebrations. The rules of the competition had stipulated specific forms for poetry (epic) and Filipino drama (zarzuela).

Teo T. Antonio’s winning Filipino epic Piping-Dilat is on Marcelo H. del Pilar. Candon , Reynaldo Duque’s epic on the “Cry of Candon” in Ilocos Sur, is about the revolutionary Don Isabelo Abaya.

Vim Nadera, in Mujer Indigena, depicts the revolution from the point of view of women. In Lupang Hinirang, Pedro L. Ricarte traces the roots of the Revolution to the earliest days of the settlement of the Philippine islands. Cirilo F. Bautista’s Sunlight on Broken Stones weaves together many voices from 1800 to the present.

In the novel category, Jose Rey Munsayac and Jun Cruz Reyes shared the first prize. In Ang Aso, ang Pulgas, ang Bonsai, at ang Kolorum, Munsayac writes about the ordinary man as rebel who continues to persevere in the struggle even after their leaders had allowed themselves to be coopted by those in power. Cruz Reyes’ Etsa-Puwera deploys a variety of characters marginalized for various reasons, e.g., ethnic origins, racial roots, physical defect, lack of educational opportunities, etc. Winning second prize, Tari by Sergio R. Custodio Jr. is based on a revolt in Surigao where rebels fought the enemy with only the cockspur as weapon.

Eric Gamalinda’s first prize-winning novel My Sad Republic uses the messianic faith healer Papa Isio as central character. Charlson Ong’s An Embarrassment of Riches is about an exile who finds a very different country and a very different people when he returns to the Philippines.

Jason Co won the English essay award for his The Spirit of 1896: A Mirror of the Philippine Past, a Mirror on the Nation’s Future. The essay is a reflection on what the author perceives as the unique features of the Filipino nation. Nicolas Pichay’s Almanac for a Revolution, winner of the first prize in English drama, is a “magical” narrative based on M.H. del Pilar and his sacrifice towards the birth of a Filipino nation.

The year’s “Most Honored Canonical Writer” would be Francisco Sionil Jose on whom Far Eastern University conferred a Doctorate in Humane Letters. On top of that Jose achieved what Filipino writers most covet—exposure in the US. The publication of his Rosales Saga (composed of Po-on, Tree, My Brother, My Executioner, The Pretenders and Mass) by the prestigious Random House Publishing affirms Jose’s international stature that translations into Dutch, Russian, Japanese, and other languages had earlier endowed him.

Jose, as the rumor mills would have it, has been in the list of finalists for the Nobel Prize in Literature for the past two years. Because a French translation of Jose’s major stories has now been completed, it is said that he has moved closer towards what is considered the highest literary honor in the world.

Not quite Nobel but definitely an honor “devoutly to be wish’d” by any author is the SEA Write award annually conferred by the King of Thailand on writers representing different countries in Southeast Asia. Antonio Enriquez, fictionist with several books to his name, had previously been given a regional projection—The Surveyors of Liguasan Marsh, a novel, and Dance a White Horse to Sleep and Other Stories, a book of stories, were both published by the University of Queensland Press of Australia. Through his short fiction, Enriquez has been making the national audience aware of the distinctive culture of the Christian and ethnic peoples of his beloved Zamboanga from his home in Cagayan de Oro City.

Silvino V. Epistola was a young writer in the 1950s, and among his writing contemporaries were such formidable figures as NVM Gonzalez, Francisco Arcellana, Nick Joaquin, Bienvenido Santos and the Tuvera couple, Juan and Kerima. Two of his stories had won in the Palanca contest in the early years of the competition, but somehow he never got into the ranks of the canonical figures of the 1950s. The Home We Remember: Selected Short Fiction of the 1950s, a collection of short stories, ought to occasion a revaluation of Epistola’s achievement in our time.

In spite of publishers who are wont to insist that poetry does not sell, the year 2000 yielded a rich harvest of poetry collections, each one of them vying for critical attention. It is unfortunate that a brief survey of the year’s total literary production can savor only a few books that serve the purpose of establishing the profile of the total output. The rest can only be accorded simple mention which should serve as a call to attention that critics with greater leisure and space might heed.

In 2000, the early activist poems of Epifanio San Juan Jr. turned 40 years old. The publication of Alay sa Paglikha ng Bukang-Liwayway, a volume of selected poems from San Juan’s books from 1960 to1998, like a bolt of lightning from the not too long ago past, reminds readers that poetry in Filipino used to be a militant vehicle for political protest. Sadly, today’s generation of poets, under the spell perhaps of recent literary theories from capitalist countries, has given up the power of voices like San Juan’s for little ironies and cerebrations.

After three decades of designing for the theater, Salvador Bernal has returned to poetry and gifts us with a first book, the most artfully crafted poetry book of 2000.The Firetrees Burn All Summer comes with drawings by R.M. de Leon and, against competition from the exquisite book design by Brian U. Tenorio, the poems refuse to be overwhelmed, thanks to the intelligence and fine technique of the poet.

In Ochre Tones, Poems in English and Cebuano, Marjorie M. Evasco, poet of many finely crafted pieces, tries her hand at translating her English poems into her native Cebuano. Relating that “whenever I tried my hand in my mother language, my ears curled like a child’s fingers around the vowels of a tongue I knew, but seemed to have forgotten how to dream in,” Evasco lets us in on her adventure of discovering another way of writing poetry, intimating that she is perhaps on the verge of turning into a different poet.

Ricardo de Ungria’s Waking Ice is a very personal book of confessional poems memorializing a drug-dependent son who ended his own life. In poems that hide nothing, the poet has stripped off the mask of art, revealing a vulnerable parent discovering too late how in the pursuit of his art, he had tended on many occasions to miss cues for caring and affection.

In Jose F. Lacaba’s Edad Medya, we have another book of personal poems where the poet in the city finds social realities of urban life pressing on the consciousness of a middle-aging artist. Pitched at a key lower than we have ever known in Lacaba’s earlier works, the poems intimate to the reader a growing distaste for a deteriorating city and notes with irony and regret the decay of sensibility and the imminence of mortality.

A young poet writing in Filipino, English and Bikol, has quietly made his presence felt with a book, his first, of Filipino poems. In Hunos, Allan Popa demands that his reader contemplate intently what his poems are saying. At first glance, because they use rime and meter, the poems seem accessible enough, but once the reader enters any one of them, he gets himself deliciously enmeshed in the poet’s experiments in the versification and imaging of themes.

Other important poets who came out with books of their poems included: Benilda Santos, Alipato: Mga Piling Tula; Simeon Dumdum Jr., Poems: Selected and New 1982-1997; D.M. Reyes, Promising Lights; Rebecca Añonuevo, Pananahan; Ligaya T. Rubin, Paano Tumutula ang Isang Ina: Tula ng Buhay at Bayan;
J. Neil C. Garcia, The Sorrows of Water; Rowena T. Torrevillas, The Sea-Gypsies Stay; Roberto T. Añonuevo, Pagsiping sa Lupain; and Teo T. Antonio, Karikatura at Iba Pang Kontra-Banda.

The output in fiction is leaner compared to the number of volumes of poetry. Aside from the awardees of the Manila Critics Circle, other fictionists included: Ernesto Superal Yee, Ember Days and Other Tales and Stories; Natasha Vizcarra, Notes of a Frigid Dormer and Other Stories; Jesus Q. Cruz, Games and Other Stories; Renato Madrid, Mass for the Death of an Enemy; Erma M. Cuizon, Homecoming and Other Short Stories; and Esther Vallado Daroy, House of Jacob.

Two young writers in 2000 joined the roster of “authors with books.” Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta and Luis Joaquin M. Katigbak are both products of several national workshops and have won awards in the Palanca contest. Katigbak’s Happy Endings assembles stories that reveal a new author with a penchant for fantastication and absurd humor. Life Before X and Other Stories by Lacuesta, on the other hand, is a collection of stories about aloneness and a sense of impermanence.

Eric Gamalinda, author of the prizewinning My Sad Republic, is looked up to as the shining hope of the Philippine novel in English. This, by virtue of the ease with which he has been able to break into US literary publications, is a sign that he has the requisite linguistic artistry that makes editors take note and that he is into the temper of the contemporary scene as this is perceived by the reading public in the US. The publication of My Sad Republic puts the novel within the reach of the local public for fiction. So much interest is focused now on Gamalinda’s work.

The fictionist in the local scene that claims our attention is Rolando Tolentino whose experimentalist stories are found in two books released within the same year. Fastfood, Megamall at Iba Pang Kuwento sa Pagsasara ng Ikalawang Milenyum is a collection of short narratives that barely resemble the tightly constructed pieces called “short stories” before the 1990s. His second book is titled as cryptically as the first; it is called Sapin-Saping Pag-ibig at Pagtangis: Tatlong Novella ng Pagsinta’t Paghihinagpis. Tolentino has dissolved plot as the requisite intercalated incidents culminating in a closure. Instead, his method of laying out or suggesting a narrrative is quite eclectic, liberally borrowing from filmic narration such devices as jumpcuts, montage and associated techniques, with the resulting narrative giving the impression of spontaneity, aimlessness even, in presenting character and incident.

With the appearance of Necessary Fictions: Philippine Literature and the Nation, 1946-1980, Philippine writing finds a new critical voice in Caroline S. Hau. The essays in Hau’s book use the works of Jose Rizal, Amado V. Hernandez, Nick Joaquin, Edgardo M. Reyes, Ricardo Lee, Kerima Polotan, Carlos Bulosan, and Mano de Verdades Posadas to explore issues centering on literature and the nation.

Thirty years ago, Talaang Ginto, a contest sponsored by the then Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, found itself in trouble with activist poets when an elderly and decidedly politically conservative poet was conferred the title “Makata ng Taon” as the winner over younger poets who saw themselves as “revolutionaries.” On the afternoon of the awarding of recognition plaques, the younger poets threw their plaques into a bonfire in front of The National Library where a rally of writers was in progress.

In 2000, protest over the awarding of the title “Makata ng Taon” has been registered in print by a poet unhappy about the change ordered by the new leadership in the Commission of the Filipino Language in the conduct of the competition. It was decreed that from the year 2000, Talaang Ginto would be open only to poets who have not won major prizes in any contest. The complaint is that the title “Makata ng Taon” has by the change lost its prestigious character because the competition excludes the best poets whose best works should set the standards for the contest. The protest did not pertain specifically to the declared winners: Eugene V. Evasco, “Makata ng Taon,” and Daniel L. Nisperos and Bayani S. Abadilla, runners-up.

Over the years, since Lino Brocka made a movie out of Edgardo M. Reyes’ novel Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag from the script by Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., literature has stood by as a potential source of material for movies of substance. The producers, however, were not ready, in the mid-’70s, to follow Brocka’s example. It remained for Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa?, Chito Rono’s version of Lualhati Bautista’s feminist novel, to generate interest in novels as cinematic material. Then, one production company picked up Domingo Landicho’s Bulaklak ng Maynila, and the box-office yield of the movie made producers more optimistic about the selling capacity of literary materials. In 2000, Edgardo M. Reyes’ tale about the moral dimensions of male sexuality in Laro sa Baga was translated by Chito Roño on film, and the movie did well at the box office. Coming up next year is the film version of Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ’70, a novel much admired for its sensitive and politically correct depiction of a middle-class family growing in maturity and political consciousness during the period of the Marcos dictatorship.

Two major scriptwriting competitions yielded a good number of scripts that indicate that writers, who in the past would have taken up the novel or the full-length play as the vehicle for their narrative or insight, have been turning more and more to writing for the movies or television. The Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, Inc., turned up 15 finalists, and Jerry B. Gracio ran off with the first prize for his Santa-Santita, with Antonio D. Sison (Nine [9] Mornings) and Jeanne T. Lim (Saling-Pusa), taking second and third places, respectively. Star Cinema’s competition drew in more than 200 scripts, and the winners were: Edward Trespeces, Jologs, first prize; Rogelio Ramos, Kutos, second; and Paulo Herras, “P1.00/min,” third.

The Palanca Memorial Awards has had screenplay writing as one of the categories of the contest. This year, the winners were: Floy Quintos, Gabi ng Tinggiirin, first prize; Jose Dennis C. Teodosio, Sirena, second; and Joel V. Almazan, Ang Bata sa Daan-Pari, third.

Two screenplays were in the running for honors in the Manila Critics Circle awards. One entry was Edgardo M. Reyes’ screenplay based on his own novel, Laro sa Baga. The screenplay that won the award was Ang Screenplay ng “Jose Rizal” by Ricardo Lee, Jun Lana, and Peter Ong Lim.

The year 2000 saw the telecasting of the series known as Pahina by the ABS-CBN Educational Foundation intended to supplement the teaching of literature in high school. The series took literary works in high school textbooks and dramatized excerpts, relating these to the fictional day-to-day lives of teenage students in a provincial high school. The objective of the show was to interest students in poems, short stories, plays, and even essays by showing how the imaginary life in the literary work impacts on real life. Francisco Baltazar, Jose Rizal, Julian Balmaseda, Jose Corazon de Jesus, Efren Abueg and Genoveva Edroza-Matute were introduced in the earlier episodes, and a new set of writers will be taken up in the new episodes in the making. Pahina, in its present Saturday morning telecast, has yet to find a time slot that will allow it to be viewed during schooldays at class hours. Educational television is still television, a costly medium that sells entertainment and will bend only so much to the interests of education.

The organization of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) as an institution separate from the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports, which attends to basic education, has created an opening for Philippine literature in the college curriculum. In 1996, CHED issued Memorandum No. 59 which provided for two required literature courses in the General Education Curriculum of tertiary courses of study leading to a bachelor’s degree. The two courses are “The Literatures of the Philippines” and “The Literatures of the World.” Finally, with the first course, Filipino youth in the course of their stay in college will be exposed to oral and written works by Filipinos. Somehow, college education will prepare for Filipino writers the audience that will spur them on, hopefully, to greater productivity. This early, there is much optimism about the benefits the CHED memo will bring about in the development of a culture where the creative writer will find respect and appreciation and literature will cease to be regarded as a subject that must be endured so that a student could move on to the more useful components of his program of study.


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about the author:
Bienvenido L. Lumbera Sanghaya editor-in-chief, is one of the pillars of contemporary Philippine literature and film, having written and edited numerous books on literary history, literary criticism, and film. The professor emeritus of the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature of UP Diliman, he has received several awards citing his contribution to Philippine letters, most notably the 1993 Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts and the 1999 CCP Centennial Honors for the Arts. He currently teaches at De La Salle University.

 

 

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