Sunday, September 20, 2009

Going to the Singapore Sun Festival 2009

I'll be returning to the Singapore Sun Festival to cover the events, interviewing artists, tasting signature dishes, watching performances and imbibing beautiful Singapore once again. I had an enriching time last year when I attended the festival for the first time and got enamored with the city state.

The Singapore Sun Festival will happen from October 3 to 12, 2009, and celebrates the "art of living well." It is a premium festival, the Asian version of the Tuscan Sun Festival and the Napa Valley Sun Festival with events involving wine and cuisine, film, literature, music, visual arts and wellness.

You may read my article on the 2008 Singapore Sun Festival in this blog.

I will be there from October 5 to 8, and my itinerary just arrived via e-mail:

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11.30AM – 12.00NN

12.00NN – 12.15PM

12.15PM – 1.30PM

1.30PM – 3.00PM

3.00PM – 4.30PM


6.00PM – 7.00PM

7.30PM – 9.30PM

7.30PM – 9.30PM





7.00PM – 9.00PM








(Recommendations by STB, personal time for media)















Flight: Phil Airlines 511

Venue: Fullerton Hotel


Venue: Gunther’s or Garibaldi

Venue: Fullerton Hotel

Venue: True Blue Cuisine @ Armenian Street

Venue : Esplanade Concert Hall,

1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore

Venue: SIA Theatre @ Lasalle College of the


Venue : Sun Tent, Esplanade Park

Connaught Drive


Venue: The Straits Room @ Fullerton Hotel

Venue : Sun Tent, Esplanade Park

Connaught Drive





09.30 AM

10.00AM – 12.00NN


2.00PM – 2.45PM

2.45PM – 5.30PM


6.00PM – 7.00PM

7.00 PM

7.30 PM

10:00 PM

11:00 PM





(Recommendations by STB, personal time for media)







Venue : Coriander Leaf

3A Merchant Court, River Valley

Road #02-03 Clarke Quay,

Venue : Space @ My Humble House

Venue : Esplanade Concert Hall,

1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore

Venue : Sun Tent, Esplanade Park

Connaught Drive





11:30 AM

12.00NN –1.30PM

1.30 PM

1.30 PM – 2.30PM


3.00PM – 3.30PM

3.30PM – 5.30PM


5.45PM – 7.00PM


7.30PM – 10.00PM

10:00 PM

11:00 PM







(Recommendations by STB, personal time for media)







Venue: 53 @ 53 Armenian Street

Venue: Peranakan Museum

Venue: Otto@Red Dot Museum

Venue : Esplanade Concert Hall,

1 Esplanade Drive, Singapore

Venue : Sun Tent, Esplanade Park

Connaught Drive





10.00AM – 5.00PM

5.00PM – 5.30PM


(Recommendations by STB, personal time for media)



Flight: Phil Airline 512

Here's the press release:

Highly-Anticipated ‘Firsts’ in Singapore Sun Festival 2009

Asia’s premium lifestyle festival ups the ante to feature never-been-seen performances over the 10-day event

The Singapore Sun Festival returns on the 3 to 12 October 2009 to celebrate the art of living well. Featuring over 190 international artists and celebrities in more than 90 events, the Festival, which is held at some of Singapore’s leading venues, will also be presenting new elements and several “first experiences” this year.

Kicking off with a gala performance at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Saturday, 3 October, audiences will be treated to a stunning world premiere ballet performance as part of the Opening Celebrations. Starring principal dancers of the renowned Bolshoi Theatre and Mariinsky Theatre, they will be sharing the stage for the first time in this unique collaboration under the artistic direction of Maxim Beloserkovsky and Irina Dvorovenko from the American Ballet Theatre.

Classical music highlights include concerts by one of the world’s finest radio orchestras Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra – visiting Singapore with its chief conductor and artistic director, Jaap van Zweden. The Orchestra will perform with glamorous soloists like Sir James Galway (8 October); 14 year-old prodigy, Conrad Tao and Russian Cellist, Nina Kotova (9 October); and a Singapore premiere performance by opera superstar Angela Gheorghiu (10 October) with tenor Marius Manea.

Another "first" is the indoor film screenings with multi-talented and highly-respected film star and director, Joan Chen. As film curator for the Singapore Sun Festival, she will select eight unique films that depict the art of living well for screening. In addition, Joan will also be conducting an on-stage interview facilitated by film writer Ben Slater at the Singapore Airlines Theatre at Lasalle College of the Arts a brand new programming element that’s included in this year’s festival.

Other "first" celebrity appearances at the Festival include prolific author and spiritual advisor, Deepak Chopra, who will enlighten Festival-goers on physical and mental wellbeing; whilst Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, will expand the horizons of literary aficionados and playwrights as he shares his insights on writing for the stage; singer-songwriter, Elvis Costello, will be rocking Singapore at the Esplanade Concert Hall with his greatest hits at his one-night-only Singapore premiere concert!

The enigmatic secrets of flavorsome spices will also unravel as a new Indian cuisine component has been added to the festival for 2009. Experimental chef Floyd Cardoz, executive chef of groundbreaking New York restaurant Tabla, will be serving a myriad of sensational flavours that will leave guests hungry for more during the exclusive signature dinner and cooking class.

“The genius of modern French cuisine,” Thierry Marx will be using the finest produce to express his avant-garde cuisine in Singapore! The two Michelin star chef will prepare gastronomic treats that perfectly match the finest Bordeaux wines, ensuring a unique and sumptuous experience for his diners at the Fullerton Hotel.

Visual arts will be exciting in 2009, with newly-added interactive and themed workshops. Painting workshops will be conducted by contemporary painter Diana Francis at the Singapore Art Museum and budding artists and painters will get to learn techniques and tips on producing vibrant oil paintings.

A unique “singing art” event will be hosted at the Asian Civilisations Museum by jazz artist, Claressa Monteiro, opening up a new perspective of art appreciation when music and the visual arts combines in this audio visual special event.

The festival also celebrates Singapore’s rich Peranakan heritage offering interactive guided charity tours at the NUS Baba House. Festival-goers can also enjoy a showcase of over 300 pieces of intricately crafted Peranakan jewellery at the Peranakan Museum.

Jeff Fuhrman, global chief operating officer of IMG Artists, said, “In keeping with our aim to deliver premium international music and lifestyle events that are exclusive and fresh, we are proud to offer festival audiences a series of “firsts” in the festival’s third year. The program for the Singapore Sun Festival 2009 will have a spectacular line-up, featuring world-renowned celebrities and artists, boosting Singapore’s position as a truly global entertainment and lifestyle destination.”

Furthermore, in an effort to bring added enjoyment and magnificent experiences of fine living to festival-goers, ticket prices to various events have also been reduced from the previous year and more free events have been included.

Mindy Coppin, senior vice president, director of IMG Artists (Asia Pacific) and executive producer of the Singapore Sun Festival said, “We believe that living well can be experienced without an expensive price tag as we’re all about advocating a high quality holistic and balanced way of life at any price.”

Tickets for the Singapore Sun Festival are on sale and can be booked directly with Sistic at; Sistic hotline (65) 6348 5555; and all Sistic authorized agents.

The Singapore Sun Festival also works with a group of selected travel agents around the region to offer special packages which include hotel accommodation and festival tickets. Details of participating travel agents can be found on

Join the Singapore Sun Festival online community on Facebook and Twitter.

The Singapore Sun Festival is the third and only Asian chapter of a global lifestyle brand owned by the international arts management group, IMG Artists. The Sun Festival is also celebrated annually in Cortona, Tuscany (Italy) and the Napa Valley, California (USA).

The Singapore Sun Festival is supported by the Singapore Tourism Board.

For latest updates, visit and sign up for mailing list.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The 2009 Palanca Awards: A Persistence of Excellence

For more than half a century, the Palanca family, which is into the distillery business, has been promoting literature and excellence in writing in different fields and languages through the annual contest Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. Through the years, the contest has become a benchmark of literary achievement for any writer in the Philippines and a tradition in the Philippine literary world.
"Ang Gantimpalang Palanca ay isa nang tradisyon sa kasaysayan ng kontemporaneong panitikan ng Filipinas (The Palanca Award is already a tradition in the history of contemporary literature of the Philippines)," confirmed National Artist for literature Bienvenido Lumbera, who was the guest of honor and speaker during the Palanca awarding ceremony on Sept. 1 at the Rigodon Ballroom of the Peninsula Manila Hotel in Makati City.
A poet, literary critic and historian, professor and much respected literary figure, Lumbera was honored that night with a Gawad Dangal ng Lahi (literally, pride or honor of a race or nation), which is given to those who have prominently excelled in their fields of expertise and have become role models for the Filipinos.
"Bilang parangal, itinuturing itong katibayang 'may dangal' na ikinakapit sa isang akda ang pasya ng tatlo/limang eksperto na nagsuri at nasiyahan sa tula/kuwento/dula/nobela na kanilang binasa (As an award, it is considered a testament 'of honor' to a work given by three/five experts who judged and enjoyed the poem/story/play/novel)," he elaborated.
The Palanca Award is perhaps one of the few arenas in the country where excellence is still continually upheld, although the inclusion of komiks writer and movie director Carlo J. Caparas as one of the judges in the screenplay category this year may be considered a blemish by some. Though popular, Caparas made what many consider as the worst films in Philippine cinema history.
Currently, he is embroiled in the National Artist controversy in which his name was inserted by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into the roster of new National Artists, along with National Commission for Culture and the Arts executive director Cecile Guidote Alvarez, architect Francisco Manosa and fashion designer Jose "Pitoy" Moreno, without going through the proper process and evaluation. Now brought to the Supreme Court and being investigated by Congress, the incident, which engendered protests, is still causing uproar and indignation.
Lumbera is one of the prominent figures in protest of what many call the "manipulation" of the National Artist awards, and his keynote speech in the Palancas showed the sentiment.
"Ang pagkapagwagi ng akda ay bunga ng matamang pagtimbang sa halaga at ganda ng likha ayon sa mga pamantayang umiiral sa akademya. May mga kritiko at awtor na nagpasubali na sa pamantayang 'Palanca,' ngunit masasabi naman na sa mahabang panahong namili ang kompetisyong Palanca ng mahuhusay na akda, matagumpay nitong nagampanan ang pagpapalanaganap ng kamalayang makasining sa hanay ng mga kabataang manunulat. Ang mga antolohiya ng nagwaging mga akda na inilabas ng Palanca ay tunay na kayamanan ng panitikan, at hindi kataka-takang ang Parangal Palanca ay patuloy na kinikilala bilang pamantayang pampanitikan na hindi matatawaran. Tunay na masasandigan ng isang manlilikha ang kanyang mga nagwaging akda bilang mga likhang nagdulot ng dangal sa kanyang pangalan (The choice of winning works is a result of conscientious evaluation of the value and beauty of craft according to the standards of the academe. There may be critics and authors who take exemptation of a 'Palanca' standard, but it can be said that in the length of time the Palanca contest has been choosing the best works it succeeds in spreading artistic consciousness among young writers. The anthology of winning works published by the Palanca is truly a literary treasure, and it is not surprising that the Palanca Awards continue to be recognized as a literary standard. The author can rely on his winning works as something that brought honor to his name)," Lumbera said.
He added that the value of an award is measured by the reputation of those who decided upon the winners, and writers are fortunate that the entity that bestows the Palancas, although a mercantile company, is not tempted to manipulate the results of its own contest.
"Ang karangalang kanilang tinatanggap mula sa La Tondena Incorporada ay walang bahid ng manipulasyong pumapabor sa isa o ilang naghahangad ng 'dangal' (The honor they receive from La Tondena is without taint of manipulation that favor one or the few that desire the 'honor')," Lumbera reiterated.
The Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature was established in 1950 to honor the Palanca patriarch as well as "to help develop Philippine literature for writers to craft their most outstanding literary work; to be a treasury of the Philippines ' literary gems from our gifted writers; and to assist in its dissemination to the public, especially the students."
Lumbera further said: "Sa ating kapitalistang lipunan, ang dangal ay kalakal na minimithing makamtan ng mga mamamayang hangad kilalaning nakaaangat ang katayuan sa lipunan. At ang parangal ay pagkakataon na nagbubukas ng daan, kaya't ang taong may ambisyong matanghal bilang 'may dangal' ay humahanap ng paraan upang magkamit ng 'dangal.' Maaaring iyon ay taong impluwensyal, maaaring serbisyo, at maaari din namang suhol kung kinakailangan. Nangyayari din ang kabaligtaran. Ginagamit din ng nagbibigay ng 'dangal' ang parangal upang pag-ibayuhin ang kanyang impluwensiya sa taong pinararangalan, upang magbayad ng utang na loob sa taong subsob sa paglilingkod sa kanya, at upang suhulan ng 'dangal' ang taong gusto niyang maging tauhan." (In our capitalist society, honor is a business, desired by people who want to be seen as above everyone else in the society. By chance, an award opens a door that people who have ambition of being proclaimed as someone 'with honor' finds ways to clinch the 'honor.' That way may be influential connection, service and also bribery if need be. The opposite also happens. Honor-giving is used to further someone's hold on the person honored, to show gratitude to the person for his loyal service, and to bribe a person to be on someone's side)
Lumbera cited the recent National Artist awards fiasco.
"Ang dangal na dulot ng parangal ay hindi laging kanais-nais. Kailangang malinis ang kamay na nag-aalay nito. At walang manipulasyong ginawa ang tatangap upang magkamit ng karangalan. Ang burak ng transaksiyong politikal ay nagpapamura sa dangal na tinatanggap at sa tumatanggap na rin. Kayong tumanggap ng dangal ngayong gabi, mapalad kayo. Ang parangal sa inyo ay walang bahid ng pamumulitika, pagkat ang tanging hinihingi nito sa pinararangalan ay magpatuloy na lumikha ng masining at makabuluhang mga akda sa mga darating pang araw (The honor brought by an award is not always desirable. The hand that bestows it must be clean. And there must be no manipulation made by the receiver. The filth of political transaction devalues the honor and the also those who received it. You who are receiving honor tonight are fortunate. Your award is without taint because it only asks for your commitment to write more artistic and meaningful works in the days to come)," Lumbera concludes.
Caparas and his wife Donna Villa arrived late and thus failed to hear Lumbera's speech. Although most of the people in the ceremony disapprove of his proclamation and behavior, he was courteously received and even welcomed by his known opponents like writer Butch Dalisay.
Aside from the regular winners, 62 percent of which are first-timers, the Palanca Awards also inducted two writers into its Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame awardees are those who have won five first prizes in the Palanca Awards, "have consistently met the critical standards of the various boards of judges, and have maintained a reputation in the literary circles worthy of recognition by his peers."
Reuel Molina Aguila and Eugene Evasco, both professors from the University of the Philippines, are this year's inductees. Aguila won his fifth first prize this year for his essay in Filipino titled "Ngunit Wala Akong Litrato Noong Nasa Kolehiyo Ako," while Evasco won his fifth children's poetry in Filipino, a newly introduced category, titled "May Tiyanak Sa Loob Ng Aking Bag."
Aguila won his first first-prize in 1992 for an essay in Filipino ("How I Spent My Summer Vacation o Kung Papaano Ko Ipinaliwanag Sa Aking Mga Anak Ang Pagkatalo Ng Aking Kandidato Sa Nakaraang Eleksyon”). He also won first prize in 1993 for an essay in Filipino ("May Katulong Sa Aking Sopas"), in 2001 for futuristic fiction in Filipino ("Ampalaya") and in 2005 for full-length play in Filipino (Baligho [Ikatlo sa Trilohiya]).
Evasco started winning first prize in 2000 with poetry in Filipino ("Ang Maisisilid Sa Pandama") and children's story in Filipino ("Hilong Talilong"). These were followed in 2001 ("Mga Pilat Sa Pilak," essay in Filipino) and 2005 ("Tag-Araw Ng Mga Ibong Hilaga," a children's story in Filipino).
The Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature once again celebrated a year of bountiful and brilliant literary harvest.

Winners of the 59th Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature

Dulang may isang yugto
: Layeta P. Bucoy for Doc Resureccion: Gagamutin ang Bayan, first; Liza C. Magtoto for Paigan, second; and Jose Dennis C. Teodosio for Asunto, third.
Dulang ganap ang haba: Rodolfo C. Vera for Ismail at Isabel, first; Reuel Molina Aguila for Sa Kanto ng Wakas at Katotohanan Ext., second; and Sir Anril P. Tiatco for Miss Dulce Extranjera, third.
Maikling kuwento: Rogelio Braga for "MGA," second; and Jimmuel C. Naval for "Ang Kamatayan ng Isang Linggo," third. No first prize winner.
Sanaysay: Reuel Molina Aguila for "Ngunit Wala Akong Litrato Noong Nasa Kolehiyo Ako," First; Jing Panganiban-Mendoza for "Kumander," second; and Domingo G. Landicho for "Kamay," third.
Kabataan essay: Axcel L. Trinidad for "Si Ate Elsa, Si Aling Carmen, at Ako Laban sa mga Nangungunang Bansa sa Mundo,” first; Johanna Rose E. Calisin for "Nagkakaisang Isip, Damdamin at Lakas," second; and Maya Victoria S. Rojas for "Humabol Ka, Pilipino!" third.
Tulang isinulat para sa mga bata: Eugene Y. Evasco for "May Tiyanak sa Loob ng Aking Bag," first; Jesus M. Santiago for "Kuwentong Matanda, Bersong Bata," second; and Michael M. Coroza for "Munting Daigdig ng Dalit at Awit," third.
Tula: Reagan R. Maiquez for "Ilang Sandali Makalipas ang Huling Araw ng Mundo," first; Alwynn C. Javier for "Yaong Pakpak na Binunot sa Akin," second; and Charles B. Tuvilla for "Sambutil na Daigdig sa Ilalim ng Pilik," third.
Maikling kuwentong pambata: Genaro R. Gojo Cruz for "Mahabang-mahabang-mahaba," first; Michael M. Coroza for "Ang mga Kahon ni Kalon," second; and Milagros B. Gonzales for "Ang Nanay Kong Lola," third.
Dulang pampelikula: Seymour Barros Sanchez and Christian M. Lacuesta for Hiwaga, first; Jerry B. Gracio for Muli, second; and Enrique Ramos for Moonlight Over Baler, third.

Short story in Cebuano: Corazon M. Almerino for "Sugmat," first; Richel G. Dorotan for "Biyahe," second; and Ferdinand L. Balino for "Mga Mananap sa Kagabhion," third.
Short story in Hiligaynon: Ferdinand L. Balino for "Kanamit Gid Sang Arroz Valenciana," first; Alice Tan Gonzales for "Baha," second; and Joselito Vladimir D. Perez for "Ang Santo Intiero," third.
Short story in Iluko: Danilo B. Antalan for "Vigan," first; Ariel S. Tabag for "Dagiti Ayup Iti Bantay Quimmallugong," second; and Reynaldo A. Duque for "Ti Kararua Ni Roman Catolico, Mannaniw, Nga Immulog Iti Impierno," third.

Full-length play: Floy C. Quintos for Fake, third. No first and second prizes.
One-act play: Violet B. Lucasi for "Balangao," third. No first and second prizes.
Kabataan essay: Cristina Gratia T. Tantengco for "The Benefits of Selflessness," first; Vincen Gregory Y. Yu for "Dreams and Pastures," second; and Angelita A. Bombarda for "On Being Filipino: A Citizen to the World," third.
Poetry: Vincenz Serrano for "The Collapse of What Separates Us," first; Eliza A. Victoria for "Reportage," second; and Mark Anthony R. Cayanan for "Placelessness: Poems from a Series," third.
Poetry written for children: Edgardo B. Maranan for "The Google Song and Other Rhymes for Children," first; Heidi Emily Eusebio Abad for "Child of Earth Poems," second; and H. Francisco V. Penones Jr. for "Turtle and Other Poems for Children," third.
Short story: Sigfredo R. Iñigo for "Home of the Sierra Madre," first; Anne Lagamayo for "Mr. & Mrs. Reyes and the Polka-dotted Sofa," second; and Luis Katigbak for "Dear Distance," third.
Short story for children: Kathleen Aton-Osias for "Apolinario and the Name Trader," first; Edgardo B. Maranan for "The Artist of the Cave," second; and Paolo Gabriel V. Chikiamco for "Dear Mr. Supremo," third.
Essay: Edgardo B. Maranan for "A Passage Through the Storm," first; Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio for "Saying Goodbye to the House," second; and Maria Teresa P. Garcia for "Sweet of the Earth," third.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Virgilio S. Almario's Why Literature is Literature, Or Why This Must Be Beyond the Grasp of the Obtuse Carlo J. Caparas

Translated by poet Marne L. Kilates, this is Almario's speech delivered at the UMPIL Convention at the GSIS Museum on August 29, 2009.

I am posting this as recommended reading for NJ who commented on "Roman Catablan's 'For Art’s Sake: The 2009 National Artist Awards Controversy'" posted here on August 18, 2009.

Towards the end of An Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx suddenly mentions the mysterious appeal of Greek art and epic poetry. Why do they “continue to give us esthetic pleasure and are often considered the standard and incomparable ideal” of art and literature even up to the present?

Deliberately or mentioned only in passing, this was a big anomaly Marx himself felt was present in the political economy he had constructed. It is not possible that what had been created in ancient slave society could continue to be admired in the modern capitalist state. According to Marxist analysis, the appeal of Greek art should have died together with or after the death of Greek society and civilization. And like the great thinker that he was, Marx tried to explain the problem in the succeeding chapter. He compared ancient slave society with civilization’s age of innocence and proposed that the appeal of Greek art might be equivalent to the joy we feel towards little children and our happiness in recalling times past and unrecoverable.

But his explanation was rather brief and “un-Marxist.” Especially remarkable was that it even used, perhaps unintentionally, the Hegelian metaphor for civilization. Or perhaps his materialist dialectic was simply inadequate in grasping the “mystery” of art and literature—the esthetic of how art is art and literature is literature. Even here in Asia, the Taj Majal, Angkor Wat, and Borobodur are not just simple tourist attractions. Part of the fascination for them is their amazing ancient art and architecture which today’s mechanics and technology would be hard put to equal. Not only is the Mahabharata amazing because it is prodigiously longer than the Iliad but more so because of the imagination that shaped the narrative and lured the listener or reader into the intricate details of war and adventure and let them “believe” in the intervention of the gods and the use of wondrous weaponry. From the orthodox Marxist perspective, these are products of labor, and because they are products of labor, they are the result of the prevailing relations of economic production. Thus, the products of labor are fated to disappear when change occurs in the prevailing relations of production that created them. The Angkor Wat is the result of what was then the setup and which has since disappeared—the religious society of Cambodia. Darangan has been the Maranaws’ folk epic even before they embraced Islam. But today’s tourists are wide-eyed, not at the power of the religion that dictated Angkor Wat but at the opulent imagination that was poured into the intricate ornamentation of the walls and other parts of the temple. Until the American period, the Muslims’ chanting of the Darangan epic echoed along the banks of Lake Lanao in order for them, as it were, not to forget the magnificent narrative of their forefathers. And it is here that I am more trustful of the critiques from the Frankfurt School, especially those of Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse, who insist on a distinct and independent respect for the subversive and revolutionary work of esthetics, the interior and psychological components of form in order to recreate a reality that cannot be dictated upon by the relations of economic production and class conflict.

The Freedom of Literature
Literature has its own and firm standard as to why it is literature. It recreates the world through the world it creates in literature. That is the basic tenet of its freedom and, if ever, of its liberating power. Perhaps, this was what Marx couldn’t accept while addressing the problem of the long-lasting attraction of Greek art and literature. Why literature is literature is precisely what the obtuseness of Carlo J. Caparas cannot, at the very least, contemplate.

[My mention of Carlo J. Caparas needs an explanation. How does a junkie comics-maker suddenly become part of this decent conversation? That’s why I must, first of all, apologize for this. But it was a good opportunity that I wrote this as the National Artist controversy rages—the DNA (Dagdag National Artist) proclaimed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo one Wednesday, on 29 July 2009. Caparas is one of the four DNAs and currently the busiest and most diligent in defending himself against the brickbats coming his way. In cahoots with him are second wife Donna Villa, co-conspirators NCCA Executive Director Cecile Guidote-Alvarez and Undersecretary Vilma Labrador, and fellow racketeers like Manuel Morato who just about stormed the radio and TV networks, and tabloids to (1) defend the prerogative of the President of the Philippines in selecting National Artists, (2) insist on their own qualifications as artists, and in the hard labor of ass-licking (3) praise GMA to high heavens as a good leader. The case concerning Presidential discretion has been elevated to the Supreme Court. But Caparas’ assertions of his own qualifications are laughable if not altogether strange for unintentionally using the “class struggle” or what he considers as the class struggle in national literature. The PDI put on record his 10 August statement thus:

“I am thankful for this experience because I have seen the height of our
society’s hypocrisy. The elite are angry because I was able to enter their
territory. I’m from the bakya (masses). They are not.”

Caparas wants to split literature in the middle according to its readers. The one kind with its scarce population of readers, he calls “elitist” literature, where current National Artists F. Sionil Jose, Bienvenido Lumbera, and yours truly, belong. At the other end of the weighing scale is literature “for the masses,” which he leads as merchant for his comics creations and commercial movies.]

In brief, literature has one standard because there is, after all, only one literature. Other literatures always need modifiers to their names, for example, children’s literature, academic literature, political literature (especially the type used in political campaigns), campus literature, popular literature, and Caparas’ specialization, commercial literature. The adjectives are needed to clarify either the noble or the earthly intentions of the writer who entered these distinct worlds of writing and not to let him bear the weight and dignity of the overall standard of literature. There should have been a daily literature (the origin of the journal, the daily, and the diary) to distinguish the service-in-a-hurry rendered by newspapers but this kind has become a republic unto itself under the name of “Journalism” although there are often journalists who attempt in their articles or columns what they dream to be recognized as “literary” essays.

A Case of Rulers and the Ruled
On the other hand, Caparas’ protestations using the labels of “elitist literature” and “literature for the masses” bears many traces of the long-opened dichotomy of society into the small ruling class and the broad ruled and oppressed classes. Such protestations echo the pre-War debate among writers on Art-for-Art’s-Sake, represented by Jose Garcia Villa, and the socially committed writers led by Salvador P. Lopez. But the split intensified even more during the period of activism at the close of the 60s decade until the early 70s, and was due as much to efforts to present the protests against the Marcos regime as Marxist in nature, including the concurrent and surrounding political upheaval. If there is such a thing as class struggle, according to the formulation of PAKSA (Panitikan para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan)—the writers’ arm that the activist movement created for the National Democratic Front—then class consciousness pervades all writing and authorship. Accordingly, there is a reactionary literature that serves the interest of the ruling class, and opposite is the hoped-for revolutionary literature that participates in the oppressed classes’ struggle for more freedom and justice.

Caparas’ problem is that the writerly manner he wants to revive has long fallen into disuse. After almost half a century, the prophets of socially conscious writing have widened their horizons, taken longer views. These days, to be politically correct, the socially conscious writer must recognize other prevailing oppressions besides those coming from the ruling classes lording it over the economy and society. Even if Caparas is for the masses, he might not make the grade if assessed from the safety standards of phallocentrism—since he seems to be flaunting his machism—by the feminists and by the standards of racism from the Blacks, as he seems to be moving in the opposite direction of the dominant mindset of Orientalism in Europe, the United States, and other White societies.

Neither can the obtuseness of Caparas comprehend the notion that it is not sales that dictates the standards of literature. If his commercial standards were applied, then J.K. Rowling should have won the Nobel Prize after her second book, and so should the creators of Marvel superheroes whom Caparas imitates. But where are the bestsellers from the ranks of Gabriela Mistral, Octavio Paz, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Boris Paternak, Kawabata, Wole Soyinka, Derek Walcott, Nadine Gordimer, Tagore, and Wislawa Szymborska? Well, the best selling among Nobel Prize winners would be Saul Bellow and Gabriel Garcia Marquez but they would eat dust behind the bursting warehousefuls and container-shipfuls of orders just on the first day of release for the newest Harry Potter book.

Commercialist Yardstick
And Rizal would be pathetic if measured according to the commercialist yardstick. It is not even known if the hundred copies of the Noli ever ran out that’s why he needed financial help once more from his Propagandist friends to be able to publish the Fili. And he would be pitiful, from Morato’s point of view, if he happened to walk alongside the likes of Caparas on Manila’s sidewalks. No one might recognize him while fans would swarm over their favorite, Caparas. For all we know, this might be the origin of the urban legend that Rizal did not die at the Luneta. Because no one among the ranks of the guardia civil would know or recognize Rizal, they arrested a different person. According to another legend, a Rizal substitute submitted to the arrest, got himself imprisoned at Fort Santiago, underwent trial, and sacrificed himself to the firing squad on 30 December 1896. And so it was even hoped that Rizal was alive and would later surface to lead the Filipino people during the time of the Americans.

But Rizal himself is proof contrary to the senseless claim of Caparas’ commercialist yardstick. How many Indios could have read the Noli and Fili? Maybe less than ten. Or maybe none, since none of them knew how to read novels, especially novels in the Spanish language, the language of education, the education denied them by the colonists. And only a small group of ilustrados could have claimed they read Rizal before the Revolution of 1896 broke out. And that was enough. It was not necessary that every Filipino set eyes on the Rizal novel. Enough that there was a small and “elitist” group that could read Spanish that was stirred by Rizal’s analysis of the colonial society to spark the tinder of revolution and form the subversive Katipunan that tore down the three-hundred-year-old redoubt of colonization in the Philippines.

Still on the other hand, for what purpose is the enticement of hundreds of thousands of people into the comics and commercial movies if not to entertain them and make money from them? Well, the weekly “to be continued” comics episodes simply outdo the similarly weekly sermons on hope and self-sacrifice of the Church. Both are legal opiates of the people. No wonder then that a security guard could succeed in the comics and be able to build himself a house in Ayala Alabang, in the same manner that a bishop of the new faith had been able to build a church to the tune of P1 billion culled from the alms of the blind and the sick. The millionaire prophets of commercial literature are never shot in Bagumbayan nor are made to drink hemlock.

The Desire of Literature
And so Caparas would neither understand Walter Benjamin when he says, “a literary work can be politically correct only if it is correct by literary standards.” This is an extremely metaphorical, if not altogether venomous, statement even for the activists at UP who have complete faith in the decisive function of the “economic base,” and especially of the “relations of production.”

Benjamin’s statement is founded on a liberating principle that has to do with why art is art and literature is literature. It proposes a literary consciousness that is within but not necessarily subsumed to a social and political order, moving according to its own and independent hopes, motivations, visions to create change in both the world of literature and in the present world that overarches literature. According to this point of view, literature is not society’s obedient tool for economic and political change. Instead, it actively moves and participates in scrutinizing the present and in shaping the possibilities of the future.

In 1957, Northrop Frye stated that the whole structure of civilization was not only the imitation of nature, like the idea of mimesis that we picked up from Aristotle, but a general form of desire—the desire of man to shape nature according to his own will. Example, he needs food and shelter. This is the desire that urges him not to be satisfied with tubers and caves for his uses but to put together and create the art and science of agriculture and architecture. Fry involved Marx when he said: “The efficient cause of civilization is work,” only to add “and poetry in its social aspect has the function of expressing, as a verbal hypothesis, a vision of the goal of work and the formation of desire.” Thus, according to Frye, the expert envisioning of archetypes is the work of critics in order for them to look at literature not only as mirror to nature but as part of civilization or the overall history of the human desire to give nature a human shape.

It was way back in the 1920-30s when the Frankfurt School spread the idea that there are no honest mirrors. If literature were a mirror, it was a deceptive one. Each metaphor or figurative in literature is a mechanism for distorting the truth. Distortion that results in what they call estrangement or what Slovski calls defamiliarization or even Todorov’s fantastique. Every metaphor in literature is a product of the intense and acute experiencing of the reality of the world so that it comes to us in the reading as not-ordinary, puzzling, and often unbelievable. And here, I think, is what must be marked from the Moscow, Prague, and Frankfurt schools. Distortion in literature happens in language—through the various games and operations of language—by way of amazing and unexpected comparisons and ironies, in imbuing the sentence with tone and music, in compressing or loosening the line of verse or paragraph, in the restraint or letting loose of emotion after the prolonged contemplation of memory and experience, in the refining of the roughages of pain and joy in daily life.

Popular Literature and History
Now, Caparas sobs, the “elitists” look down on him because he is only a comics writer. Apart from belittling his own livelihood Caparas is truly ignorant of history.

If he even bothered to read Rizal, he would have discovered that Rizal first admired a popular writer like him. This is Balagtas, also recognized as the first great poet of Filipino literature. Balagtas rose to fame at a time when the awit at korido was the equivalent of the comics for the masses’ popular consumption. What did Balagtas do in Florante at Laura? He raised the level of the metrical romance from whimsical verse narratives about princes and princesses to an original and symbolical romance of love for the beloved, for parents, and for country. Apart from Balagtas’ refining of the verse form and use of fresh metaphors, Rizal admired Balagtas’ political vision, thus pronouncing him a great poet and philosopher. When Florante expressed his grief thus:

Sa loob at labas ng bayan kong sawi
Kaliluha’y siyang nangyayaring hari…

He only wanted to present the grave conditions of the kingdom of Albania, but Rizal read in the verses the grave conditions of the latter’s Filipinas and became a beacon that guided the national hero in his writing of the Noli. Another Balagtas admirer and the most popular poet of the 20th century, Jose Corazon de Jesus, makes such melancholic sentiments reverberate thus:

Ibong mang may layang lumipad
Kulungin mo at umiiyak;
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag
Ang di magnasang makaalpas?

And this was the song sung during the American period and until EDSA I against the Marcos dictatorship.

The author himself cannot hinder or thwart the power of his own words. It is possible that Filipinas was not in Balagtas’ mind when he made Florante protest about “my country of grief” but Rizal was able to read it. Surely Batute could never dream of the Marcos dictatorship but his complaint about the “bird that’s free to fly” found its home and lodged in the heart of the Coristas. On the other hand, what did Caparas do with the comics? Did he attempt to shape them in order to, in the Frye’s words, make them part of the shaping of civilization?

No. Because he wrote for the comics only to earn a livelihood. At best, to entertain the masses. “Entertain the masses?” That is the most despicable purpose of writing. As filthy and as evil-smelling as the capitalist motive of profiting from anything sold. The capitalist studies the masses’ preferences, needs, dreams, and weaknesses to sell them products no matter that it might kill the consumer or destroy our planet. Likewise the entertainer studies the masses’ preferences, needs, dreams, and weaknesses in order to sell his comics, telenovela, or CD no matter that beggars and the homeless swarm the streets and the country drowns in debt from the World Bank. Which does not mean that the writer must become the “voice of the masses.” There are voices upon voices “of the masses” who only want to replace the trapos in Congress to become the next trapos.

The Country of Literature
Truth is, literature cannot be the “voice of the masses.” It was a Marxist illusion, a crazy dream of the apostles in Christ’s time for a “literature from the masses and for the masses.” Often the writer with this ambition has two options. First, study the cultural condition of the target masses and adjust to their capacities the kind and manner of writing he must do. Second, study likewise the cultural condition of the target masses and give them the kind and manner of writing that will elevate them from their condition and unite them in a revolution against the prevailing order.

If the “voice of the masses” really and truthfully studies his target public, he will soon discover what entertainers, capitalists, and traditional politicians have long known. Because it is a beggarly life, the public’s heart and mind are as beggarly. They are the same victims of the powerful exploitation and deception by businessmen and politicians and of the long history of frustration in dreaming of salvation and the instant satisfaction derived from public entertainment, vices (from liquor to drugs, from numbers games and lotto to the casinos), and sex. Thus the mass mind is far removed from the Marxist ideal of the “proletarian consciousness.” Instead of being progressive and revolutionary, it carries all the qualities of a seemingly eternal state of ignorance—broken dreams, distorted values and worldviews, and a superficial, easy-to-please kind of happiness.

What is the prevailing condition of culture? Here is how Joaquin Sy summarizes it while mourning the death of Aunt Cory:

And nowadays we are a nation having corruption anomalies for breakfast,
Wowowee and Eat Bulaga for lunch, candied scams for the afternoon snack,
and for supper an eat-all-you-can of scandals, after which we are lulled to
sleep by the Korean telenovelas and the comics stories of Carlo Caparas, whose
naming as national artist is being protested by national artists as I write this.

In these conditions of the national culture, where could the two options of the “voice of the masses” lead him? To bring down or to elevate? In the first option, it is impossible for him to write literature tailored to the capacities of his readers. He will be incomprehensible to the masses anyway. In the second option, he will need urgently to become a propagandist, a fiery propagandist, rather than a poet or novelist. As W.H. Auden said, the masses will not rise even if you wrote a thousand “When All Your Tears are Dry, My People” and read it daily at Plaza Miranda.

Country and society are now captive of this historic cultural condition. A cultural condition that begs for the transformative and liberating force of education, if not of a radical political and economic revolution. This maddening cultural state of affairs is being nurtured by Caparas as a commercial writer and by his capitalist and political co-conspirators. They nurture it to hold it captive and to profit from it. This is the same cultural condition that casts literature outside the prevailing order. Contrary to the good fortune of Greek art, which Marx admired, the poet and artist today are outsiders. On the one hand, he would not be welcome to the ruling classes. The capitalists will not patronize him because there is no profit to be had from his literature. Poems or short stories don’t make big and instant earnings. He will be considered a dangerous risk by government and other established institutions. On the other hand, neither would the oppressed classes love him. Why? The people can’t understand his own insistence on the humanity of man, because that’s not what is taught them by religion, television, their favorite commentator, or by the textbook they read in elementary school. Due to their ignorance, which is no different from the ignorance and obtuseness of Caparas, they might even condemn literature as “elitist”—useless because it doesn’t bring coffee and bread for breakfast, a dud at the tills because it fails to deliver sex and violence, too obscure if filled with mythological allusions (native or Greek), and when bold enough to expose the rot of their society, they themselves might accuse it of being an Enemy of the People.

Ferndale Homes
25 August 2009


NOTE: This translation was originally intended for Filipino readers who don't speak the National Language, but subsequently was requested by our Korean guests at the UMPIL Convention for their Asia Magazine issue on Philippine literature, which is only timely. So I provided an end notes which has been converted here into a glossary (below) because the format of Facebook does not allow footnotes or end notes. The glossary terms follow the sequence of mentions in the text. I take full responsibility for whatever inadequacies of translation.

Carlo J. Caparas. Comics writer and movie director whose naming as National Artist for Visual Arts and Film is being disputed by the arts and literary community in view of the questionable quality of his work, and because he is one of four more persons whose names were arbitrarily added by Malacañang Palace, citing “presidential prerogative,” to the list recommended by the CCP and NCCA. The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) are the two agencies mandated to conduct the selection process for the National Artist Awards. The dispute has been elevated to the Philippine Supreme Court, which has issued an injunction postponing the awards until all issues are cleared.
UMPIL. Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (Writers Union of the Philippines)
GSIS. Government Service Insurance System (which has its own Museum of Art)
Virgilio S. Almario. Leading Filipino poet, critic, literary historian, and university professor, also called Rio Alma, who was named to the Order of National Artist for Literature in 2003 and is one of the main protagonists in the National Artist dispute and a petitioner for the Supreme Court to suspend the awards and rule on the violations of the selection process.
“DNA.” Literally, “Additional National Artist,” the mocking epithet for the persons the President inserted into the official list of persons who underwent the regular selection process.
GMA. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
PDI. Philippine Daily Inquirer
PAKSA. The acronym spells the word theme or subject in Tagalog. It stands for “Literature for People’s Progress.”
Noli. Short for Noli me Tangere, the first of two novels written by the Filipino national hero, Jose Rizal
Propagandista. The 19th century Propagandist movement of Filipino exiles in Spain seeking initially colonial reform
Fili. Short for El Filibusterismo
Manuel Morato. Former government official and supporter of Caparas and company
Guardia civil. The equivalent of a Constabulary or National Police in colonial Philippines
Indio. Pejorative for Philippine natives used by the Spaniards
Ilustrado. The educated elite of natives and mestizos (half-breeds) that composed the intelligent middle class during colonial times
Katipunan. “Sons of the People” revolutionary organization
Ayala Alabang. A wealthy and elitist enclave south of Manila
Bishop.” A very popular “born-again” evangelist
Bagumbayan Field. The old name of Luneta Park (now Rizal Park), where the national hero was executed by musketry
UP. University of the Philippines (known for its progressive ideas)
Balagtas. Francisco Baltazar Balagtas (1788-1862), considered the premier Tagalog poet, author of the metrical romance, Florante at Laura, which apart from being a masterpiece was first recognized by Rizal and others as an allegory for the suffering of Filipinos under the Spanish colonists.
Awit at korido. Songs and ballads. Metrical romance
Sa loob at labas… “Within and without my country of grief / Betrayal reigns…”
Ibon mang may layang… “Even the bird that’s free to fly / Encage it and it will weep; / So shouldn’t our lovely country / Hunger to free itself?”
EDSA I. The People Power Revolt (on EDSA, Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) in February 1986, as distinguished from the second EDSA uprising that deposed President Joseph Estrada and put then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroy in his place
Batute. Huseng Batute: nickname for Jose Corazon de Jesus
Coristas. Cory Aquino supporters
Trapo. Another name for “tradpols” or traditional or “dirty” politicians, but the term preferred by Filipinos because “trapo” has the same sound as the word for rag
Aunt Cory. “Tita Cory.” Popular appellation for Cory Aquino
Wowowee and Eat Bulaga. Popular noontime television shows
“When all your trears…” Poem by National Artist Amado V. Hernandez usually read at protest rallies
Plaza Miranda. A Manila square that serves as a freedom park or venue for both political campaigns and protest rallies