MANILA, MARCH 20, 2008
(STAR) PENMAN By Butch Dalisay- ‘Bok, may 200 ka dito’.

No, this has nothing to do with broadband and burgers, but now that I have your attention, let me take a break this week from more ponderous topics such as Pelikans and PowerBooks to make a few announcements having to do with language and literature (how’s that for abusive alliteration?).

The first has to do with the UP Gawad Likhaan Centennial Literary Award, which is being given out by the University of the Philippines to celebrate its ongoing centennial. The UP Institute of Creative Writing, which is in charge of the competition, has decided to extend the deadline for the submission of entries by a month, to April 30, 2008. That should give people just a little more time to finish and polish their masterpieces in English and/or Filipino. There are three categories under each language (the novel/short story collection, poetry, and creative nonfiction), for each of which the sole winner will be awarded P200,000. For more details and entry forms, please visit http://www.upd.edu.ph/~icw/gawadlikhaan/index.htm.

We’ll be plugging the competition (and the deadline extension) in the media and on an electronic billboard in UP Manila — which prompted a question, in our meeting, about what message we could put on that billboard to draw public attention to the Gawad Likhaan. I had an easy answer to that one — “How about ‘Bok, may 200 ka dito?’” Not quite P200 million — but hey, at least it’s honest money.

At that same meeting, I learned that our two National-Artist colleagues — Virgilio “Rio” Almario and Bien Lumbera — were leaving together soon for a working visit to Hawaii, where I expect they’ll be properly feted by their compatriots for the literary luminaries that they are. Just out of curiosity, I asked, “Are you flying first class? Business class?” Rio made a sad face. “Hindi, e.” He didn’t mind it, of course — we writers are a scruffy, pedestrian bunch, happier with pancit than caviar — but something in me wondered if and when the day will come when we can afford our finest artists a little comfort, at least with an upgrade to business class on our flag carriers. No self-respecting senator or congressman would expect any less.

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Speaking of poetry in Filipino, the Filipinas Institute of Translation, Inc. (FIT) has opened a “Katext Mo sa Katotohan” (Your Textmate for Truth) contest to bring tradition and technology together in pressing for the truth, given the recent course of Filipino events. Texters are invited to send in a four-line, eight-syllable, rhymed dalit — a traditional Tagalog verse form — commenting on “the value of telling the truth.” Entries can be texted to 0915-7832810 or e-mailed to dalitext@yahoo.com. The weekly winners get P2,000 with runners-up getting certificates.

Thousands of entries from as far away as Guam and Hong Kong made up the first week’s batch, which was judged by Virgilio Almario, Vim Nadera, Joey Baquiran, and Ronald Atilano. The winner was Danilo de la Cruz, who sent this in: “Noon ay bulag na pinya / Ang burukratang Lozada / At nang imulat ang mata / Pati madla’y nakakita.” My personal favorite among the runners-up was Adjani Arumpac’s sly four-liner: “Dear wala akong sikreto. / Tingnan mo pa ang selpon ko. / Naka-save dya’y puro text mo. / ‘Wag lang buksan ang inbox 2.”

Right on — if you can’t march, at least text for the truth!

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I’d like to announce a change at the helm of the English Speaking Union of the Philippines Inc., of which yours truly was president these past four years. In a recent meeting, our board elected Dr. Marlu Vilches — former chair of the Department of English and incoming dean of the School of Humanities of the Ateneo de Manila University, and a specialist in English-language education — to take over ESUPhil.

The ESU was founded in London 90 years ago to promote international understanding and friendship through the English language, with one of its first chairmen being no less than Winston Churchill. (And just to get this clear, the ESU isn’t one of those snooty, we-wannabe-Brits, English-only or English-forever clubs; we’re working on helping Filipino teachers improve their English-language skills, among other initiatives, but respect and value multilingualism in our society.)

Since its founding, the ESU has grown into a worldwide organization operating in more than 50 countries; its Philippine branch was chartered in 2005 — a year after our first entrant to the ESU-sponsored International Public Speaking Competition, Patricia Evangelista, emerged world champion in London.

It’s time to prepare for that annual competition again, and as we’ve done for the past several years, we’re collaborating with the UP Debate Society in selecting this year’s Philippine representative to the 2008 IPSC, which will be held May 6 to 9 in London on the general theme of “New Horizons, New Frontiers.” IPSC participants — who should be no younger than 16 and no older than 20 by the date of the competition — will be expected to give a five-minute speech on the given topic.

Elimination rounds will be held by the UPDS in conjunction with the Philippine Intercollegiate Debating Championship. The finals will be held in the afternoon of April 7, Monday, at the College of Engineering Theater at UP Diliman. (He doesn’t know it yet, but since public announcements have the force of law, this goose is as good as cooked: my friend Krip Yuson is once again going to be in charge of this event from the ESU side. I’m going to be in Baguio at that time for the UP Writers Workshop.) If you’re interested in the competition and fall within the age limits, please email the UPDS at jez.magpantay@gmail.com for more details.

And to Marlu Vilches as well as to ESUPhil regulars Ambassador Cesar Bautista, Pilipinas Shell Chairman Ed Chua, and writer-artist Linda Panlilio, my best wishes for a more fruitful year ahead!

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For the past few years, a visionary family in Bicol has been doing what the Palancas have done for nearly six decades now on a national scale: promote literature in Bikol (that’s spelled with a “K” when it refers to the language — or, actually, several varieties of it). The Arejolas of Camarines Sur established the Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon and the Juliana Arejola-Fajardo Workshop sa Pagsurat Bikol to help revive and promote creative writing in Bikol.

Open to anyone who writes in Bikol, the 2008 Premio Arejola offers prizes for the best entries in the poetry, fiction, essay, drama, and novel categories. Winners in each category will receive P3,000 and a diploma of merit; the Grand Prize winner, chosen from among them, will be given an additional P10,000.

Looking forward beyond writing to its audience, the Premio Arejola is reserving a special prize for young readers (aged 16 to 22), the Premio para sa Parabasa, given to the best 150-to-250-word review of a Bikol book (a list of eligible titles is provided).

If you’re thinking of joining, please email the organizers at premiotomasarejola@gmail.com for more details. The deadline is July 31, 2008. The names of the winners and members of the Board of Judges will be announced on or before September 18, 2008, Tomas Arejola’s 143rd birth anniversary, in awarding ceremonies to be held in Naga City.

Arejola Foundation chairman Carlos Arejola also wrote me to share the good news about the workshop, which has been instrumental in launching new, young Bikol writers onto the national scene. “Since its launching in December 2003,” Carlos says, “the Pagsurat-Bikol Workshop has awarded about 60 writing fellowships to aspiring writers from Camarines Sur, Sorsogon, Albay, and Camarines Norte, providing them the forum to hone their craft. The workshop has, likewise, continued its pro-environmental advocacy by symbolically planting pili, a tree indigenous to Bicol, in honor of Bicolano writers and literary scholars, thus drawing attention to their contribution to the advancement of literature in the region. Almost 200 pili trees have been planted by the workshop over the past four years.”

That’s great work, Carlos. I’ve always believed that aside from seeking a larger and fairer share of national resources, regional and local cultural workers and enthusiasts could begin with what they have, tapping the vision and the goodwill of such local families as the Arejolas to get projects off the ground. Our regional literatures have always had a hard time competing for space, attention, and funding with writing in English and Filipino (not to mention Harry Potter and Tom Clancy), but thankfully the Internet has evened things up a bit, and today there are a number of literary blogs devoted to the resurgence of writing in Bikol, bannered by such young writers as Rizaldy Manrique, Jason Chancoco, and Kristian Cordero — previous winners all of the Arejola Prize.

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Email me at penmanila@yahoo.com, and visit my blog at www.penmanila.net.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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