LIKE other forms of art, literature mirrors our country’s culture and history as Filipinos. Five hundred years of the Filipinos’ story will be explored in this year’s celebration of National Literature Month.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), together with the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) mark the 7th National Literature Month in April with online workshops, talks, and contests.
This year’s celebration carries the theme, “Limandaang Taon ng Pagsulat sa Kalibutang Filipino” (500 Years of Writing the Filipino World),” coinciding with the quincentennial of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines.
“Kung marami tayong manunulat noong nakaraan sa ating kasaysayan, marami mga bagong manunulat sa kasalukuyan na dapat binibigyang halaga natin upang magsilbing gabay ng mga kabataan sa mga susunod na henerasyon (If we have had renowned writers in history, there are also many new writers today whom we have to value so that they may serve as an inspiration to the youth in the generations to come),” Arthur P. Casanova, KWF Chairperson, said in an online press conference on March 26 held via Zoom and streamed through Facebook.
“Ang pag-aaral ng panitikan ay magbibigay daan sa pagpapayaman ng magagandang kinagisnan, at mahigit na pagbubutihin natin ang kasalukuyan na hinaharap dahil sa ating patuloy na pagtangkilik ng ating panitikan (Studying literature paves the way to enrich what we grew up with, and we will face the present better because of our continued support of our literature),” Mr. Casanova added.
LOCAL LANGUAGES AND CHRISTIANITY
To kick-off the month-long celebration, a virtual celebration featuring a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate Araw ni Balagtas on April 2 (which is the birthday of Florante at Laura author Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar) at Orion, Bataan.
The KWF will hold a series of online webinars streamed through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/komfilgov) at 10 a.m. to noon on the following dates: April 5, “Wikang Katutubo: Wika ng Dekolonisasyon” (Native Languages: Language of Decolonization) with anthropologist Dr. Alicia Magos of the University of the Philippines Visayas; April 12, “Mulang Babaylan hanggang kay Darna at ang Di-Matapos-tapos na Pakikibaka ng mga Filipina” (From the Babaylan to Darna and the never ending fight for liberation of Filipinas) with speaker Dr. Raquel Buban of De La Salle University (DLSU); April 19, “Kasaysayan: Batis ng Panitikan” (History: Spring of Literature) with speaker Dr. Lhai Taylan of DLSU; and April 26, “Pagsasalin Mula Wikang Katutubo Tungong Filipino Bilang Kultural na Dekolonisasyon at Pagsasa-Filipino ng Filipino” (Translation from Native Languages into Filipino as a Cultural Decolonization and Filipinizing Filipino) with Ilokano language and culture expert, Dr. Leo Tejano.
The writers union Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas (UMPIL) will hold the lecture series “UMPILan sa Facebook Live!” (https://www.facebook.com/UnyonNgMgaManunulatSaPilipinas) on April 7, 3 p.m., with the first lecture, given by Fr. Jose Mario Francisco SJ and Leo Zafra, focusing on the significance and the correlation of Christianity with Philippine literature. The rest of the episodes will be held on the succeeding Saturdays of April at 3 p.m. Speakers include Dr. Alicia Magos and Dr. Allan Derain on April 10; Dr. Agnes Brazal and Dr. Jayeel Cornelio on April 17; and Dr. Nerissa Balce and Dr. Jovito Cariño on April 24.
PROMOTING ORAL TRADITIONS
The National Committee on Literary Arts will launch the online “Reading the National Artists for Literature Series” (https://www.facebook.com/National-Committee-on-Literary-Arts-105263157841382), this time focusing on the works of Carlos P. Romulo (in cooperation with University of the Philippines — Baguio) and Jose Garcia Villa (in cooperation with Ateneo de Manila University School of Humanities) on April 16 and 23, respectively. Dr. Jose Dalisay, Jr., Professor Emeritus of the UP Diliman Department of English, will lead the conversation on the works of Pulitzer Prize awardee Carlos P. Romulo while Dr. Jonathan Chua, Dean of the School of Humanities of Ateneo de Manila, will discuss National Artist for Literature Jose Garcia Villa. An online symposium on the works of award-winning playwright and writer Dr. Isagani Cruz, “Isagani R. Cruz: A Beautiful Mind,” will be held on April 24 (2 to 4 p.m.). It will feature speakers Dr. Ronald Baytan, Dr. Isidoro Cruz, Dr. Shirley Lua, and Dr. John Iremil Teodoro as they explore and examine the depth of Mr. Cruz’ writing and research.
The National Committee on Literary Arts will also focus on promoting Filipino oral forms and traditions with an online competition series which will be held in Batanes. The “Timpalak Florentino H. Hornedo: Ang Paglikha at Pag-awit ng Laji (Bersiyong Onlayn)” aims to encourage writing and singing of the traditional Ivatan literary art form, laji.
Meanwhile, two new competitions will be highlighting the balitaw in Visayas and leleng in Mindanao — participatory songs sung during special occasions. Launching in their respective regions on April 5, the “Timpalak Leleng” is open to high school students from the Zamboanga Peninsula, while “Timpalak Balitaw” is open to secondary and college students of Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor.
PHILIPPINE INTERNATIONAL LITERARY FESTIVAL
Other activities include the NBDB’s 12th Philippine International Literary Festival (PILF), which will be the first edition of the festival to run all year long.
According to a press release, this year’s PILF will focus on a “clear-eyed reexamination of Philippine history through the country’s literary outputs and ideas in the past 500 years.”
The first of the festival’s many activities include Author on Author webinars covering topics about historical research, post-pandemic futures, and the pre-Hispanic Philippine script Baybayin. In addition, the NBDB will also launch a nationwide virtual tour of independent bookstores called My Book, My Cities Interactive Map: Manila which will be available through Google maps. Schedules for webinars and the release of the interactive map will be posted on NBDB’s official Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nbdb.phil).
The NBDB’s upcoming projects include a nationwide library building program for indegenous communities which will begin in July. “This plan is to help encourage reading by making quality materials accessible even to those living in remote areas,” NBDB Chairperson Dante Ang II said.
“In doing so, we hope to promote award winning books in other words published by Filipino publishers, and recognized not only by NBDB, but also by other associations and organizations that give awards to such exemplary works. These efforts are symbolic of NBDB’s pivot to focus more on national book publishing development,” he added.
NBDB’s flagship program, Booklatan sa Bayan, is currently hosting its online workshops on writing stories for children.
Closing the celebration of National Literature Month is UMPIL’s Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas, Benitez, at Bucaneg which recognizes the works of the established writers and scholars on Philippine literature. The awards ceremony will be live streamed via the UMPIL Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/UnyonNgMgaManunulatSaPilipinas) on April 30.
The awardees for the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas are Albert Alejo, SJ (Poetry and Translation in Filipino), Joel David (Film Criticism in English), Patrick Flores (Art Criticism in English), Luisa Igloria (Poetry in English), Michael Obenieta (Poetry in Cebuano), Bibeth Orteza (Screenplay), and Jessica Zafra (Fiction and Essay in English). In addition, Dr. Lily Rose Tope of UP Diliman will be awarded the Gawad Paz Marquez Benitez while the Communication Foundation for Asia will be honored with the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg.
For more information, visit the NCCA’s official Facebook page. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman