Concepts for a collection of poems in Iluko dealing with the sweetness of life despite tragedy and for a novel in Filipino following the adventures of an aswang are awarded the 2009 National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Writers’ Prize, which will bestow financial grants for the authors to finish their works.
The entries of 52-year-old managing editor of Bannawag Cles B. Rambaud and 44-year-old freelance writer, editor and translator Rosy May M. Bayuga, more known as Mayette Bayuga, were judged the best out of 10 in poetry in Iluko and 19 in novel in Filipino, two of the five categories open for 2009. The other categories—drama in Bicol, language in southern Luzon Island, and essay Pampangan, language of Pampanga in central Luzon—do not have winners.
Rambaud’s project in mind is called “Tagisam-itek Pay Laeng ti Tagapulot” (I Still Find Molasses Sweet), a collection of about 30 poems, written in Iluko, the language in the Ilocos region and the dominant one in northern Luzon, chronicles his own experiences and life. The poet chooses to be cull from his own life to lend truthfulness to his work.
Rambaud wrote: “Awanen, para iti proponent (kalpasan ti personal a pannakaisangolna iti datdatlag a pagteng nga isu ti ipupusay), ti kasayaatan, kapupudnuan a mabalinna nga isurat a dandaniw no di met laeng dagiti agwerret iti bukodna a biag, nga isu ti am-ammona unay, a patienna met a saanna laeng a bukod a rikna wenno padas no di pay ket nariknan, napadasan wenno marikna ken mapadasanto met ti sabsabali ken mangibatinto met kadakuada a mangam-amiris iti bukodda a biag. Iti sabali a pannao, gapu ta ti liday, ragsak, namnama, pannakapaay, ipupusay, pannakaipasngay ket saan a kabukbukodan a mapadasan ti maymaysa laeng a tao, patien ngarud ti proponent a saan nga agbalin dagiti daniw a kas orasion ti maysa a mangngagas wenno Latin a litania ti maysa a padi nga isuda laeng ti makaawat no di ket babaen dagitoy a daniw, daydiay makabasa, makipagragsak, makipagladingit, makikinnatawa, makiinnisem, makipagbaklay met iti pungtot, suron nga imet dagiti daniw. Ngarud, saan nga agtungpal a kabukbukodan ti proponent dagiti daniw no di ket agbalin a daniw met ti asino man a makabasa, nangruna ket kadagitoy a daniw, maibagasan met ti kultura a dinakkelanna.” (After having been personally put through the painful experience known as death, there will be no other poem that could ever come out of my pen that is better, more truthful than those that come about through my experiences, my life which I know so well…experiences that [I] believe are not mine alone, but which others must have also felt, gone through, and/or will experience in the future and which will make them analyze their own lives. In other words, because pain, happiness, hope, failure, birth and death are not the monopoly of just one person, [I] believe that these poems will not become like a faith healers’ oracion or a priest’s Latin litany which they alone can understand. Through these poems, the readers will laugh, cry, and smile with the persona; and will share the same burden and hatred that the poems contain. And so the poems will not just be the author’s but the readers’ as well.)
Sadly, the very personal collection was prompted by the death of Rambaud’s 20-year-old daughter, the firstborn of three. Just graduated from a nursing course, she was waiting for the results of the Nursing Licensure Examination when she died, six months after her heart operation.
“Dayta nga ipupusay ti inauna iti dua a mutiami ken baket ti nangiselsel iti panunotko (iti pammatik) iti pudpudno a kaipapanan ti biag— ken patay,” Rambaud further wrote. “Nakakaskasdaaw, no di man nakalaladingit, ngem kadagiti napalpalabas, iti laksid ti ipupusay dagiti dadduma nga ipatpateg iti biag: gagayyem, kakabagian, ken mismo a kameng ti pamilia, nupay naipanurok idi, iti ammomi, ti panangus-usigmi iti kaipapanan ti biag ken patay, nagbalin dagitoy nga ubbaw iti ipupusay ti anakmi, a gapu ta inauna, isu ti nakaitalimudokan ti panunotmi a kas mangkitkitanto iti pagimbagan dagiti dua a kakabsatna.” (I believe that the death of our first child instilled in our minds the real essence of life and death. It is amazing, if not sad, that while the deaths of other loved ones—friends, relatives and other members of our families—had caused us so much pain, the pain these deaths had caused us is incomparable to that caused by our child’s death. Because she was the eldest, we had always looked upon her as the one who would look after her younger siblings.)
“Manipud iti ipupusay, adda biag (nga isu dagiti daniw) nga agrusing a mangitan-ok, mangrambak, mangsangit, mangkatawa iti biag (From death there is a life [which is these poems] that grows to cry and laugh at, glory in and celebrate life.),” he said.
And despite the pain and tragedy, the writer still find life sweet, a realization to be distilled and crystallized in poems in the mother tongue of Rambaud, who is born in the town of Pinili in Ilocos Norte, and now living in Caloocan City in Metro Manila.
“Ken kas met laeng iti panagrupsa ti sipnget a nangbalkot iti biagmi ken baket gapu iti ipupusay ti balasangmi, ad-adda nga agtalimudok dagitoy a daniw iti panangrambak iti biag—a ti biag naan-anag gapu met laeng kadagiti rekadona a katawa ken lua, sam-it ken pait, pannakapaay ken namnama (And in the same way that the darkness that cloaked my wife and me when our daughter died slowly gave way to light, these poems will be more of a celebration of life, a life that is more meaningful because of its many spices—tears and laughter, happiness and pain, failure and hope),” he ended.
A long-time writer, Rambaud has had several awards and grants for his works in Iluko, and his short stories, poems and articles were published in different publications, many in Bannawag, the leading if not the only magazine in Iluko, published by The Manila Bulletin. Educated to be a civil engineer and a teacher, Rambaud chose to be a writer instead, working for Bannawag for 31 years now.
The judges for the category—veteran writers in Iluko Herminio Beltran, Juan S.P. Hidalgo and Jose Bragado— evaluated the entries and their authors according to their contribution to Iluko poetry and to Filipino poetry as well; authenticity of [presenting] Ilocano culture; originality; and credibility (of the author).
On the other hand, Bayuga’s work may be considered larger in scope and ambitious. The concept of her novel called Sa Amin, Sa Dagatdagatang Apoy (In Our Place, In Dagatdagatang Apoy) examines life and its power struggles, taking inspirations from folklore and mythology, with plots, characters and places that operate simultaneously in the literally and symbolic/figurative levels.
At first, the concept is intriguing because of our familiarity and popularity of Western works such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. While these works’ protagonists are wizards and vampires, Bayuga’s is an aswang¸ vampire-like creature in Philippine folklore, named Darling Kaloloy-on from the place called Dagatdagatang Apoy (literary, sea of fire). The novel follows her adventures with a narrator that will present another theme of the novel: “pagsusulat bilang pagbabalyan” or writing as a mystical act.
Written in the Tagalog-based national language Filipino, the novel overall has a heavy social comment. Bayuga wrote: “Bubuksan at tutuldukan ang nobela sa usapin ng kapangyarihan. Ang pagyakap sa esensiya ng salitang ito ang magiging salalayan ng kuwento. Hahaging ang nobela sa mga landas na kaugnay ng isyu ng kapangyarihan—tunggalian ng babae’t lalake, pamantayan ng naghaharing-uri at ng alipin, palihan ng iskolar at ng laking-kanto, at marami pang iba—pero ang tuwirang dadalirutin nito ay ang naiibang uri ng kapangyarihan.” (The novel will begin and end with a discourse on power. The embracing of this word’s essence will be the axis of the story. The novel will touch on issues concerning power—the sexual battle between women and men, the standard of the dominant kind and the slave, the exchange between the scholar and the street-smart, and many others—but what it will directly analyze is a different kind of power).
Additionally, Bayuga also said that the novel is an end-of the-world story: “Ihahain ang tunay na kahulugan ng gunaw—hindi bilang kahindik-hindik na apokalipsis kundi isang pagbuwag ng mga institusyong makamundo; hindi bilang katapusan ng sansinukob kundi isang simula ng bagong kamalayan; at hindi pagluluwal sa isang bagong daigdig kundi isang pagbabalik sa sinapupunan ng paglikha.” (It will present the true meaning of end of the world—not as a terrible apocalypse but the demolition of worldly institutions; not as the end of the universe but the beginning of a new consciousness; and not as a birthing of a new world but a return to the womb of creation.)
Currently based in San Pedro, Laguna, Bayuga has won second prize for short story in Filipino in the 1997 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and other awards. She has been a fellow, panellist, judge and resource speaker for various writing workshops and literary contests. In 2002, she published a collection of short stories in Filipino, Virgintarian at Iba Pang Akda (University of the Philippines Press).
The judges for the novel in Filipino—poet-professor Cirilo Bautista, novelist Jun Cruz Reyes and scholar and critic Rolando Tolentino—found the concept and the initial output to be “fantastic, witty and poetic.” Additionally, “seryoso ang paksa,” (the topic is serious) and the work has “panlipunang kabuluhan at magaan at kontemporaryo ang gamit sa wika. Matalinghaga rin ang pagkakasulat.” (social relevance, and the use of language is easy-flowing and contemporary. The writing is also metaphorical.)
Rambaud and Bayuga will be given a grant of P250,000 gross each to assist them during the writing stage of the project and will be given in four tranches. The grant is good for one year, after which a manuscript of the writing project will be submitted to the NCCA for possible publication.
The biennial award was spearheaded in 2001 by National Artist for literature Virgilio Almario when he was executive director of the NCCA, the leading government arm and funding institution for arts and culture. This is in line with its mission of “encouraging the continuing development of a pluralistic culture by the people themselves,” and of creating the opportunity to have a direct hand in the development of Filipino literature. With this grant, the NCCA Writers’ Prize, writers will be freed from the demands of their work and shall be able to focus on the writing of the project for one year.
Open to all Filipino writers, the NCCA Writers’ Prize has different genre categories such as the novel, short story, essay, poetry and drama. Since 2007, it has opened to other vernacular languages. The NCCA announces what categories and languages are open for the year.
Since 2001, the prize has been bestowed to several established and emerging writers. In 2001, the winners were Timothy Montes for his novel in English Running Amok; Lourd Ernest de Veyra for his collection of poetry in English; Jimmuel C. Naval for a collection of short stories in Filipino Dalumat sa Labinlimang Pagkatha; and Alfred A. Yuson for the English translation of Mike Bigornia’s poetry in Filipino, which was published in a book, Love’s A Vice (Bisyo ang Pag-Ibig): Translation from Filipino to English of 60 poems of Mike L. Bigornia, by the NCCA in 2004.
In 2003, the grantees included Ramon “Mes” de Guzman for his novel in Filipino Rancho Dyanggo; Francis Macansantos for his epic Womb of Ocean, Breasts of Earth, which was published by NCCA in 2008; Eugene Evasco for a collection of essays in Filipino Nasa Dulo ng Dila: Mula Kina Mariang Sinukuan, Mariang Alimango, Pilandok Hanggang Kina San Roque, Binembi at Edward Stratemeyer;
Virginia Mercado-Villanueva for a collection of children’s stories, Stories from the South; and Helen V. Banez, translation of the poetry of Fernando A. Buyser from Cebuano to Filipino.
In 2005, Edgar Calabia Samar was awarded the NCCA Writers’ Prize for his novel in Filipino, Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog, which was published by Anvil Publishing in 2009, together with Alvin B. Yapan for his collection of short stories in Filipino, Sa Paghahanay ng Bagong Anyo Para sa Moda ng Panlipunang Realismo: Isang Proyekto ng Labinlimang Kuwento; Rebekah M. Alami for a collection of essays in English, A Rose for Angela: The Muslim Filipino Woman Taking the Word to Create Textual Expression of Hu Psyche; and Joel M. Toledo for a collection of poetry in English called What Little I Know of Luminosity, which won first prize in poetry at the 2005 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature; and Danton Remoto for Awit Para sa Tuyong Panahon, a translation project.
In 2007, Ed Maranan won for his essays in English, The Country in the Heart: A Writer’s Times and Travels; Elyrah Loyola Salanga for literary biography in Filipino, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga: Sa Mga Pahina at Ibang Salaysay ; Telesforo Sungkit, Jr. for a novel in Cebuano, Mga Gapnod sa Kamad-an; Kristian Sendon Cordero for poetry in Bicol, Segunda Mano: and Rosario Cruz-Lucero, for a collection of short stories in English called Papa’s Field and Other Stories of the Disappeared.
For a poor country like the Philippines, writers constantly struggle between making a living and writing and staying true to his/her art. With the NCCA Writers’ Prize, an opportunity is presented to them to create their works, which will become part of the nation’s imperishable treasure and heritage, and to touch and enrich other people’s lives with their art and insights on life itself—bitter, sweet, harsh and wonderful.
Writer in Iluko Cles Rambaud
Judges in the poetry in Iluko category - Juan SP. Hidalgo, Herminio Beltran and Jose Bragado - deliberating on the entries. With them are a couple of NCCA employees.