A harvest of issues at the PEN Congress

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NATIONAL Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose; dramatist and former NCCA executive director Malou Jacob; cultural scholar Nicanor Tiongson Jr.; CCP artistic director Chris Millado; National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera

The 2012 Conference of the Philippine Center for International PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) unleashed a barrage of issues, subthemes, papers, points for discussion, opinions, questions and answers closely or loosely connected with the main theme: “The Writer as Public Intellectual.”

The conference, with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and other organizations, was held recently at the Silangan Hall of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The literary sessions consisted of panels on: The Philippine Intellectual Tradition; The Writer and National Discourse; The Writer and Social Commentator; The Writer and Popular Culture; The Writer and Social Media; and the Writer and a Current Concern (The Quest for Peace in Mindanao).

Among the writers who participated in the several panel discussions were National Artists for Literature F. Sionil Jose and Bienvenido Lumbera.

Keynote speaker Luis V. Teodoro said, “Fifty years ago there was a demand for writers and intellectuals to go public, to understand the nature and task of society.” Today, he added, “in the Philippine setting lies are presented as the truth and so the intellectual should speak the truth and expose lies.”

Teodoro opined that “some (writers) have become spokesperson of those in power” and that the killings continue” under the Aquino Administration.

Pitch for women

Anna Leah Sarabia questioned why all the resource persons in one panel were men, as if women intellectuals did not exist. “The whole tradition of who is or who is not intellectual is male-dominated,” she claimed. “This needs to be corrected.”

SEN. AQUILINO Pimentel Jr.

Talking of feminism, my aunt Carmen Guerrero  Nakpil, who considers herself beyond feminism, was invited last year by the PEN to deliver the traditional Rizal lecture of the conference, but she couldn’t make it. She was invited again this year and so, to serve as the lecture and with her permission, I read a vintage essay of hers on Rizal and “The Young Ladies of Malolos.”

This was published in the 1977 book “The Philippines and the Filipinos,” with a properly Jesuitical introduction by the late great Fr. Horacio de la Costa. The book is now a collector’s item.

In 1888, 20 young women from Malolos, Bulacan, presented a letter to Governor-General Weyler requesting permission to open a night school where they could learn the Spanish language. This was considered a progressive, if not radical, idea then. And because of a famous letter from Rizal, the young women landed in the pages of history.

“All things considered,” the essayist wrote, “the letter remains a tract worthy of a contemporary feminist.”

Lola Concha vs Ponce Enrile

Angela Stuart Santiago raised the ante for woman power by comparing the “truth-telling” in the decades-old memoirs of her grandmother (identified only as Lola Concha) with the best-selling memoirs of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Santiago said Enrile “glosses over many events and I leave it to the National Historical Commission to check the veracity of these. He has played fast and loose with the facts.”

Panelist Arnold Azurin, an Ilocano, took National Artist Virgilio Almario (who is from Bulacan) to task for writing that the “Tagalogs ay centro ng mananakop (the Tagalogs are the center of organization). The panelist quoted this from Almario’s book “Muling-Pagkatha sa Ating Bansa,” which he waved aloft while speaking.

The National Artist “attempts to glorify the Tagalog basis of our nation,” said Azurin, making it appear that the Tagalogs suffered more during the Revolution than the Ilocanos, Pampangos, etc. And Almario, the speaker claimed, “blames the English writers for the poverty of intellectual discourse, (for him) the Engliseros (writers in English) are stunting the growth of Pambansang Panitikan (National Literature).”

To stress his point, Aazurin pointed out that Butuan City (in Northern Mindanao) has a 1,000-year-old history, “but is not part of the national discourse.”

Nicolas Pichay called for “a theater of ideas” as opposed to “a theater of nostalgia” (as in, according to him, “Miss Saigon”).

Jojie Tigno spoke of a long-range book project, “a much-needed resource for students and scholars not just in politics but in other genres.” The goal is to complete the book by 2015 “and leave something behind, as public intellectuals, for the next generation.”

Federalism the answer?

Antonio Enriquez of Zamboanga City called attention to “a day of shame in the city when Moros raided and took everything, including the utensils, while the police looked away.” And, he said, “there are bombings, abductions, ransoms paid, and terrorism in Zamboanga and Basilan.”

For former senator Aquino Pimentel, however, “we should treat the Moros as equals and not as subordinates. They want their culture to be respected.”

He outlined his concept of federalism, which envisions federal states from Luzon to Mindanao, with the latter broken up into Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao—and Bangsamoro. “Without this,” he said, “the problem will continue.”

Federalism will entail charter change. “And this will go nowhere,” Pimentel concluded, “unless the President (Aquino) says so.”

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