Writing congress highlights importance of truth and freedom

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SINCE its first conference in Baguio city in 1958, the Philippine Center of International PEN, founded by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, has grown to nurture prominent Filipino writers (some of them now National Artists). On its 60th year, it continues to develop the skills of young writers. The organization has expanded to hosting book launches for new titles, workshops and conferences all over the country. It takes a stand with statements published by media when writers are victims of oppression.

This year, the organization hosted the 60th Philippine National Conference at the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, OP bldg. (UST Alumni Center) on Nov. 21-22 with the theme “PEN at 60: Reaffirming the Writer’s Commitment to Truth and Freedom.”

Writers, poets, literature professors spoke about the beginnings of the Philippine Center of International PEN, writing socially relevant topics in poetry, and depicting truth in fiction.

Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Director of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies, opened the first session by recalling the humble beginnings of PEN as a writers’ organization.

“There was not much a literary culture, let alone a literary community in those days despite the fact that there were so many writers working alone… A bookstore like Solidaridad and an association like PEN were like beacons of light. They have stayed the course serving as a haven not just for Filipino writers but for writers from other countries including Nobel laureates. … PEN has done its job of nurturing literature and the literary life in the Philippines,” Ms. Hidalgo said.

Palanca award-winning writer Rony Diaz talked about finding the purpose of PEN and its members as writers in the Philippines.

Mr. Diaz recalled the first conference in Baguio saying that its first meeting as an organization to determine its goal did not work out due to divided views among members. In contrast, the events that transpired in 2016 at the previous conference at De La Salle University (DLSU) finally gave light to the organization’s purpose.

“Today, we have writers who express themselves. We have writers who talk about the past, and talk about our [the country’s] problems. This is where the writer is an important element,” Mr. Diaz said during the conference.

Mr. Diaz cited the prevalence of the denial of truth in news and the country’s history through events such as former president Marcos’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and the deaths resulting from the current administration’s war on drugs.

“Now, more than ever, our direction is clear and it is for PEN (Philippines) to be a messiah of freedom and truth,” Mr. Diaz concluded.

Meanwhile, poet, songwriter, and activist Erickson Acosta stressed that it is important for writers and poets to know about the current issues and events in order to present the truth.

Huwag tayong mag-alangan na alamin ang mga usapin at isulat ang naoobserbahan. Maging mag-aaral ang bawat isa para isiwalat ang katotohanan [Let us not be uncertain of issues and write what we observe. Be diligent to reveal the truth],” Mr. Acosta said.

Likewise, award-winning author and Miriam College literature professor Rebecca Añonuevo said that the writing is a powerful tool in expressing the truth.

Bakit matatakot sa katotohanan at mga komplikasyong tinatayuan nito? Sa kabilang banda, ay bakit hindi ka matatakot? Ang kalayaan sa kanyang kaganapan ay kapangyarihan. Ang pagsulat bilang malayang gawain ay kapangyarihan [Why fear the truth and its complications? On the other hand, why not be afraid? The freedom at present is power. Writing as an independent activity is power].”

As for the fictionists, elements in their stories are often based from truths and realities. “Sa fiction, hindi totoo na walang totoo. Lagi tayong nagsisimula sa veracity [In fiction, it is not true that nothing is true. We always start with veracity],” two-time Carlos Palanca award winner Allan Derain said.

He also suggested that is it important for fictionists to learn from fellow writers and begin a dialogue with people from outside their field so as to not limit the content that his/her story aims to achieve.

“In fiction, truth is revealed when we regain a new perspective from a unique experience by encountering people we’ve never met before and getting our mind blown by the choices they make and the things they say,” Carlos Palanca Memorial Awardee for Novel 2015 VJ Campilan said. “Now is when we need to be more creative in our truth-telling and be accessible.” As likewise stated by the previous speakers, Ms. Campilan stressed on the incorporating current issues such as the lack of value on human rights, and the growing circulation of falsehoods in social media in fiction will make readers realize and understand realities in our society at present. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman