The writer is even more relevant in the 21st century,” declared Raymond Girard Tan, De La Salle University (DLSU) vice chancellor for research and innovation, at the opening of the 59th annual conference of the Philippine Center for International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists), held recently at the Henry Sy Sr. Hall, DLSU Manila.
The conference theme was “Change: Perils and Possibilities.”
Veteran journalist Nelson Navarro delivered the keynote address of the conference, with Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio delivering the traditional José Rizal lecture.
There were four literary sessions: “Literature, Linguistic Diversity and Federal Frontiers” (chaired by H. Francisco Peñones); “Whatever Happened to Protest?” (chaired by Charlson Ong); “The Way We Write: Panel on New Writing” (chaired by Karina Bolasco); and “Spins, Trolls and Comms” (chaired by Angelo Lacuesta).
Philippine PEN was founded by National Artist F. Sionil José in 1957: its chair is National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera.
Navarro took a critical look at recent Philippine history, recalling the Federalistas who were pro-American, the rivalry between Quezon and Osmeña, then on to February 1986.
“Edsa did not change the fundamental structure perfected by Quezon,” Navarro opined. “After Edsa it just became Marcos and Aquino. There is no need to demonize Marcos, as he demonized himself. We did not move forward.”
Navarro then issued a warning: “As writers of conscience, we must be witnesses and participants. This is the challenge. We must wake up from our political infancy. We must warn them of our failures. They say journalism is ‘history on the run.’ Literature is not about making people happy but to make them think, a painful process which might lead to wisdom.”
“Change is coming and we all agree that we should be part of change,” said Sukarno Tanggol, chancellor of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. “Federalism is no panacea, but structurally I believe it is a step closer, a solution to the ills in our society, and reduces oppression and alienation.”
For Jonathan Malaya of the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute, “a federal society is one which recognizes the diversity of Philippine identity, a diverse culture with many languages and ethnicity.”
Christine Godinez predicted that, with federalism, “Mindanao writers will benefit and there will much to write about Mindanao. There are 60 languages and hundreds of dialects in Mindanao. Cebuano is No. 10 in world lingua franca, while many write in English and Filipino.”
Santiago Villafania reported that “the works of major writers in Pangasinan are still in a pristine condition because they have not been translated. But the local government is supportive and has launched a contest similar to the Palanca Awards. There are one and a half million Pangasinan speakers. Perhaps with the right leaders, the Pangasinan and Pampango languages will develop.”
Alvin Yapan, citing the enduring popularity of Che Guevara
T-shirts, observed that protest had become “cool” among the youth: “This is protest within the boundaries of literature, within the boundaries of a capitalist structure. Art has to imagine new ways of solidarity, instead of focusing on conflicts.”
Lourd de Veyra said that “protest has always been there, long before us. It is the literature of revolution. Everyone is protesting against each other, thanks to social media. So protest is still very much around, just don’t look for it in the usual avenues.”
Charlson Ong noted that “writing itself is an act of protest, considering the challenges facing the writer today. It gives synthesis to what is happening. Protest goes on in many forms.”
The print medium still has value, Angelo Lacuesta pointed out. “There is a hunger for publishers,” he said, citing the 200-250 entries for the volume “Maximum Value,” an anthology for writers “under 45.”
Nikki Alfar, on the other hand, made a pitch for the women: “There are so many young women writers today. Some say the women are outwriting the men. There is a wonderful opportunity for the writer. Literature is evolving.”
Are you a troll?
Citing the dictators Stalin, Mussolini and Franco, and the way they used communication propaganda (“centralized states like Turkey today and similar to what is happening in the Philippines”), Lisandro Claudio concluded: “Propaganda and brainwashing, that is what is happening today on Facebook.”
During the discussions, he fumed: “Politicans like Duterte should not get away with profanity and mean and sexist language. We should not tolerate this. I don’t think he could have gotten away with cursing the Pope six years ago. Now it’s normalized.”
Inday Espina Varona said, “Bashers have absolutely no sense of humor.” She added, “It’s the older people who are fixated with the internet. The kids are all right. It is nothing new, it is only the technology that has changed.”
Yol Jamendang asked what writers, teachers and activists can do about social media: “Why is it so effective despite the falsehood? We should study and analyze this. They are able to repeat a lie a thousand times, per second. This is the new literacy.”
What was left unsaid was that one need not be too literate to avail of this new literacy. Lacuesta opined: “The best way to fight a troll is to be a troll, post-truth.”
In his lecture, Justice Carpio enumerated the various ways in which the Philippines can counter Chinese intransigence in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea dispute.
“We can ask the United Nations to suspend Chinese explorations,” he said. “Coastal states that stand to benefit (from the UN ruling) can invoke this. The Philippines can now negotiate its maritime boundaries with Malaysia and Vietnam. In case of an armed attack on a Philippine public vessel, we can invoke the Philippines-US Mutual Defense Treaty. The Chinese don’t want the Americans to come in. We can convert the Spratlys into a protected area, and suspend operations for 100 years. We can convert these into marine research vessels or tourist attractions. It can be done.”
He added: “We can marshal support from other claimant states, present a common front and use world opinion. We can convince the Chinese people to comply with international law.”
But the latter approach, Carpio admitted, “will take time.” —CONTRIBUTED