Fil-Am editor, art director win top Palanca awards

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By Susan Claire Agbayani and
Michelle Anne P. Soliman

“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote, as cited by Criselda Dang Cecilio-Palanca during her speech on behalf of the Palanca family at the Palanca Awards.

FILIPINO-AMERICAN freelance editor Reine Arcache Melvin flew in from Paris for just two days to receive one of two grand prizes at the 69th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature at the Rigodon Ballroom of Peninsula Manila on Friday night.

A former International Herald Tribune editor, Ms. Melvin received the Grand Prize for the Novel category for The Betrayed, which is her “first completed novel.” It was published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press last year, which also published her The Normal Life, an anthology of short stories many years ago.

“(The Betrayed) takes place in the immediate period after Martial Law. It’s a story of two sisters who love the same man. But the background is (about the) political uprising going on. It’s really a story of how people (who) try to do good or to find their own personal satisfaction in a very narrow sphere, unwittingly or from a lack of vision can do extreme harm, to themselves, to other people, and the country. It’s a lot about violence and corruption, but by people who are a little bit clueless — who don’t actively mean to do harm — but can create tremendous destruction despite themselves,” Ms. Melvin told BusinessWorld prior to the awarding ceremonies.

Meanwhile, GMA News and Public Affairs Art Director Jerking Guzman Pingol, 36, was the Grand Prize winner of the Nobela category for Agaw Anino, a 350-page, three-volume novel in Filipino.

Mr. Pingol described his novel as a coming-of-age story of a group of children who are born at a time when “kababalaghan (mystery), myth, and the aswang (evil spirits) are fading” and they seek these things out, but this search leads to tragedy.

Talking to BusinessWorld, Mr. Pingol said his novel shows changes in society, and culture. He is considering transforming the novel into a graphic novel.

The Palanca’s Novel and Nobela categories are open only every two years.

Translator, retired editor, and Insiang co-screenwriter Lamberto E. Antonio, 73, braved the distance from his native Cabiao, Nueva Ecija to accept the Palanca Hall of Fame Award. Mr. Antonio has received 10 Palanca awards, five of which were 1st prize awards for his poetry collections in the years 1976, 1977, 1999, and 2019; and for his essay “Bakasin mo sa Bakasyon” in 1999.

Professor Vim Nadera read excerpts from “Pinakamagandang Pagluha sa Balat ng Lupa,” “Uliliang Mandirigma,” and “Hain sa Gitna” from Mr. Antonio’s award-winning 2019 poetry collection titled Turno Kung Nokturno at iba pang Tiyempo ng Rilyebo sa Pagberso last Friday.

Mr. Antonio, who has been writing for over half a century, told BusinessWorld after the awarding rites, “I started writing in 1965 — without letup. My first love was fiction. But I branched out to poetry, then essay, then — the art form of the 20th century: film (where he was contemporaries with Pete Lacaba),” until he got into journalism and worked as an editor for 30 years for Manila Times and Diyaryo Filipino.

At 73, he is not slowing down. Mr. Antonio started writing in English, and wishes to go back to writing in that language because of the “information age” and because it’s an international language. He is reviewing his Spanish, and is also studying Italian and French. He wants to write a literary biography about what’s happening in the country (“like Samuel Taylor Coleridge”).

He said a writer should mine folk wisdom; and that it’s important to combine what’s traditional and modern to give readers a choice.

Entering the Palanca Hall of Fame would give him the impetus to continue writing, he said. However, “Manalo’t matalo, sumusulat ako. Hindi naman nagre-retire ang writer hanggang di patay.” (Whether I win or not, I write. A writer doesn’t retire until he dies.”)

Mr. Antonio co-wrote the screenplay of Lino Brocka’s Insiang (1976), the first Philippine film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978. He is the author of critically acclaimed books and has translated the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rabindranath Tagore, and Leo Tolstoy, among others.

Chavacano-speaking Zamboangeña Mary Honeylyn Joy Alipio won first prize in what was her very first Palanca win for the Filipino division of full-length screenplay for Teatro Pacifico (Pacific Theater).

“It’s a period play set during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II. It’s about Filipinos who were working in the film industry when the Japanese forces arrived in the Philippines, and the colonizers prohibited the production of films because our filmmaking was patterned after Hollywood. The Japanese forces closed theaters, confiscated film equipment… When the sense of normalcy was restored, there emerged the golden years of theater or vaudeville,” Ms. Alipio said in Taglish during an interview with BusinessWorld before the awards were given.

Ms. Alipio said that director Paul Soriano commissioned her to write the screenplay, and that she and director Bing Lao had to hire four to five readers, and pored over 50 books in order to write a faithful interpretation of this part of our history.

De La Salle University (DLSU) Literature and Creative Writing professor Eros Atalia is now one 1st prize short of joining the Palanca Hall of Fame. He received his 7th (or 8th, he’s not sure) Palanca award, and his 4th first prize win for the short story “Si Etot,” which is about love in the time of EJK. The story revolves around Etot, who is going to be treated by a girl during a date for the first time. However, he never shows up because he is picked up by the police and is summarily killed during due to “mistaken identity.”

Mr. Atalia told BusinessWorld that he got his inspiration from the story of EJK casualty Kian de los Santos. He is hoping that this work of fiction will be included in the anthology of short stories he is publishing next year.

Adrian Carl Pescador, 31, won two awards on his first try. The MBA-turned-MA Creative Writing major and LGBTQ champion won 2nd place for Daddy Complex in the One-Act play in English category, and 3rd place for “Neon English” in the Short Story in English category.

The evening continued with a posthumous award given to Milagros Palanca Furer “in recognition to her being the proponent of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, sponsored by the Palanca family, which spurred creative writing in the country and for unwavering dedication to the interest of the Filipino writer.”

This year’s first prize winner for the Maiking Kwentong Pambata (Filipino Division) of the Palanca Awards narrates the experience of teachers and families who were evacuated during the Marawi siege in his winning piece.

Luis P. Gatmaitan was inspired to write “Maselan ang Tanong ng Batang si Usman” after an immersion with Maranao teachers who had evacuated to Cagayan de Oro from Marawi City during the siege in 2017. The pediatrician-writer had been sent by the Cultural Center of the Philippines Arts and Education Department to conduct arts therapy sessions with the teachers. One day, a teacher talked about her son who asked a difficult question.

To paraphrase the boy’s question, Mr. Gatmaitan said: “Bakit ang kinakampihan natin sa giyera ay mga sundalo? ‘Di ba ang sundalo ay Kristiyano? (Why do we side with the soldiers in the war? Aren’t the soldiers Christians?),” Mr. Gatmaitan told BusinessWorld prior to the ceremony. Mr. Gatmaitan said that the boy was confused, believing that Muslims should support their fellow Muslims. The teacher — the boy’s mother — did not have an answer.

“I pondered on the question. Then one day, I decided to write a story to answer it,” Mr. Gatmaitan said.

He added that in writing about serious topics for children, the author should be mindful of their use of vocabulary in storytelling.

Nasa maingat na kamay ng isang manunulat kung paano niya tatalakayin ang isang difficult topic. (It is in the hands of the writer how they will tackle a difficult topic.) I believe that any topic can be written for kids, kahit gaano pa siya ka-complicated (despite how complicated it is),” he said.

Multi-awarded writer and recipient of three Palanca Awards, Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo was the Guest of Honor and Speaker at this year’s awarding ceremony and recipient of the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi award.

Dr. Pantoja-Hidalgo, Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines. She is a multi-awarded fictionist, critic, and pioneer of creative nonfiction (CNF) in the Philippines, and has published more than 40 books: novels, short story collections, numerous CNF collections, autobiographical travel books, and literary criticism focusing on women’s literature. She has received three Palanca awards — including the Grand Prize for Novel in 1996 for Recuerdo — and is the Director of the Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies of the University of Santo Tomas.

In her speech, Dr. Pantoja-Hidalgo posed the question: “How long will writers keep wanting to write and trying to produce the kind of writing that wins a Palanca award?”

She urged writers to explore various types of writing from pop fiction to “hard” literature or “serious literature” (a term she recently encountered for the first time in the publishing industry) to which she gave her own definition as “literature that is carefully crafted, literature that seeks to explore ideas which the writer feels strongly about, literature that is written, not just to share experiences, but to offer insights about its subject.”

While acknowledging the emergence of various platforms from Wattpad writing to online self-publishing as opportunities for writers to share their stories, Ms. Pantoja-Hidalgo noted that young writers have to figure out several things as they go along: “First, what kind of books do they want to write? Second, what kind of writers do they want to be, or think they can be? Third, do they mainly want to entertain readers, or to challenge them intellectually, or to influence them politically? Do they want to make as much money as they can? Or do they want to write in the best way they know how? Or do they want to try and do both? And, finally, how do they want their books distributed — by commercial publishers? by academic publishing houses? by themselves, online and in small expos?

“These choices will be determined by what they believe the function of literature is in a country like ours, at the time in which we live, and what role they want to play in it as writers. Because I am a writer who is also a publisher, I understand the need to be commercially viable. But, as an educator, I also believe that public service is an important responsibility of the publishing industry. And this means recognizing that expanding the market for books is important, not just for bigger profits, but because more educated citizens make more mature citizens — an indispensable element for any experiment in democracy like ours.

“In concrete terms, this means: on the one hand, accepting the level at which most of our reading public is — what it’s willing to read, what it enjoys reading — and, on the other hand, committing at least a part of the resources available to producing books which will upgrade standards and tastes,” she said.

She concluded: “We will observe, we will record, we will protest. Above all, we will remember. And, we will endure.”