Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Intensifying the Light of Literature: The Commemoration of Balagtas and the Launch of National Literature Month

The new bronze statue of 19th-century Tagalog poet Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar was unveiled in Orion, Bataan, made by sculptor Julie Lluch.
Manila Bay, from the vantage point of Roxas Boulevard and the districts of Malate and Ermita, is where the sun sets most beautifully in the sprawling metropolis. But in the town of Orion in Bataan, a province northwest of the Philippine capital and which hugs the northern portion of the bay, the sun disperses its first light. It lightly gilds the shore of Wawa, a coastal barangay of Orion, where the neighborhood children play among the ashen sand; the families and lovers watch the sun rise on the breakwater; and the fishermen cast their nets out in the sea.
On the early morning of March 30, 2015, the most beautiful monument to Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar first saw golden light here, as it was unveiled in the presence of cultural and local government officials including National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) chairman Felipe de Leon, Jr.; National Artist for literature and chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) Virgilio Almario; Antonio Raymundo, Jr., mayor of Orion; and Albert S. Garcia, Bataan governor, stirring up the usually quiet neighbourhood and indicating the importance of the event.
The 19th century poet is widely considered the greatest of poets in Filipino and one of the greatest writers in the Philippines, whose metrical romance or awit Florante at Laura is included in the high school curriculum. While regarded a hero, he was perhaps the least commemorated and there was no decent monument of him.
The recently unveiled monument was “para tunay na mailuklok natin sa tumpak na dambana ng karangalan ang ating bayaning manunulat” (to truly place our writer-hero in his right shrine of honor), according to Almario.
KWF commissioned Julie Lluch to do the monument. The prominent sculptor did the monuments of Apolinario Mabini for the 150th birth anniversary celebration, which is now in Tanauan, Batangas; Carlos P. Romulo along United Nations Avenue, Manila; Jose Abad-Santos and Cayetano Arellano on Padre Faura Street, Manila; and President Manuel L. Quezon in the province of Quezon. For Balagtas, she took inspiration, upon the suggestion of Almario, from the depiction of Balagtas by National Artist for visual arts Carlos “Botong” Francisco in his mural that was originally installed at the Manila City and now owned by the National Museum of the Philippines. The new bronze monument portrays the poet seated beside a table, a quill in one hand and looking at the sea, seemingly in deep thought.
Surrounding the monument, a park was under construction, including part of the bay still to be reclaimed. The Hardin ni Balagtas, or the Garden of Balagtas is envisioned to serve as a “cultural park” with native plants and trees. When the reclamation and landscaping are finished, Almario wished it to be national park, a destination for tourists and literature lovers. A library is envisioned so that the park is “hindi lang hardin ng pagmamahalan kundi hardin din ng karunungan” (not only a garden of love but also a garden of knowledge) and those who will visit “‘di lang mamasyal, para rin mag-aral and magbasa.” (not only lounge around but also to study and read) A big plan of the KWF and the municipal government are finding the remains of Balagtas and their re-internment at the park. It is a popular belief in Orion that the Balagtas remains are buried at the Saint Michael the Arcangel Parish Church, near the altar.
Gusto naming itangi ng buong Filipinas ang ating manunulat,” (We wish that the whole Philippines will distinguish our writer) Almario said. “Kung mapapansin mo kasi, ang halos lahat ng deklaradong national heroes ng Filipinas ay puro mga patriots, mga martir, mga heneral, mga napatay para sa bayan. Ang gusto natin ngayon ay magkaroon din tayo ng isang modelo sa ating mga kabataan na isang bayani na kahahangaan dahil sa kanyang malikhaing talino, hindi nagpakamatay sa bayan, hindi naghirap sa kung anuman para sa bayan, ngunit inihandog ang kanyang talino, ang kanyang dakilang talino, para sa pagsulong ng kamulatan ng ating mga kababayan. At nais naming na si Balagtas ang maging modelo ng gayong uri ng bayani.” (Because you would notice, almost all of the declared national heroes of the Philippines were patriots, martyrs, generals, those killed for the country. What we want now is to also have a model for our youth, a hero admired because of his creative genius, not because he died or suffered for the country, but he offered his talent, his great talent, for the advancement of our countrymen’s consciousness. We wish Balagtas to be the model for that kind of hero.)
Almario said these to hundreds of young participants of the youth camp Kampo Balagtas, which immediately began at the Orion Elementary School after the unveiling of the statue. These two events were held in commemoration of the 227th birth anniversary of Balagtas or the Araw ni Balagtas (Balagtas Day), which falls on April 2. Since becoming KWF chairman, Almario made it a point to pay tribute to Balagtas in a significant way. Last year, he spearheaded commemorative events in three places closely associated to Balagtas, including Orion. The town, then called Udyong, is said to be close to Balagtas’s heart. Here, he wrote some of his masterpieces and died on February 20, 1862.
Ito pa lamang ang ikalawang pagkakataon ng paglalakbay ng KWF dito sa Bataan,” (This is just the second time KWF traveled to Bataan) he related. “Naisip namin ito noong nakaraang taon upang kilalanin ang pangyayari na kung tutuusin kahit ipinanganak sa Bulakan, kahit sa Pandacan sinasabing sinulat niya ang kanyang Florante at Laura, ang mahigit na mahabang panahon sa buhay ni Balagtas ay dito naganap sa Udyong, sa Balanga at saka sa Udyong. Dito niya nakatagpo ang kanyang naging kabiyak na si Juana Tiambeng.” (We thought of this last year to give recognition to the fact that even though he was born in Bulacan, even though it is said that he wrote Florante at Laura in Pandacan, it was here in Udyong, in Balanga and Udyong, Balagtas lived a large part of his life. He met his wife Juana Tiambeng here.)
 Almario expressed many big plans for the commemoration of Balagtas as well as in the efforts of promoting Philippine literature in general. One is to make Araw ni Balagtas a national non-working holiday, and he hopes that by the third time they will celebrate Araw ni Balagtas it comes to fruition. A resolution has been sent to Malacanan Palace. He was glad though that Bataan had declared Araw ni Balagtas a provincial holiday.
He was much pleased that another dream was realized this year—the declaration of April as National Literature Month.
Tinaon naming Abril dahil gusto naming magsimula ang pagdiriwang ng National Literature Month sa Araw ni Balagtas. Simula sa araw na ito, ang pagdiriwang ng Araw ni Balagtas ay pambungad na ng National Literature Month,” (We timed it in April because we want to start the celebration of National Literature Month with Araw ni Balagtas. Beginning today, the celebration of Araw ni Balagtas is already the introduction of National Literature Month) Almario explained.
Aside from Araw ni Balagtas, many literature-related events fall under April such as the birth and death anniversaries of literary icons Emilio Jacinto, Paciano Rizal, Nick Joaquin, Edith Tiempo and Bienvenido Lumbera, and international literary celebrations including International Children’s Book Day, International Day of the Book or World Book Day, and World Intellectual Property Rights Day. Also, during this summer month, several writers’ workshops are being held.
The uses and roles of literature are multitudinous and multifarious. One universally accepted attribute of literature is its ability to provide elevating and edifying experiences which enlarge our horizons and enhance us as a people. In the Philippines, as in numerous countries in the world, literature also has a vital role in turning the course of history and shaping society. These literary works are not necessarily revolutionary and patriotic, but also works even by sheer beauty and deepness of thought that came to define us as a people, as human. 
According to poet and officer in charge of the Sangay ng Edukasyon at Networking of KWF John Enrico Torralba: “Sa kasaysayan, naging kasangkapan ang panitikan sa pagsulong at pagpapalaganap ng mga adhikain ng mga dakilang tao at karaniwang masa, lalo na ang dalumat ng pagkabansa. Mula noon hanggang kasalukuyan, ang panitikan ang isa sa mga pangunahing sanggunian ng pagkatao ng mga Filipino, ng pagiging tao ng mga Filipino. Sumasalamin at naglalatag ang panitikan ng kung ano tayo at kung saan ang maaari nating kahantungan.” (In history, literature has been instrumental in the flourishing and promulgation of the goals of great persons as well as of the ordinary masses, especially on the concept of nationhood. From the olden times until now, literature is one of the primary guides in shaping Filipino identity and humanity. Literature mirrors and illustrates what we are and where we are going.)
Malawak at malayo na din ang naabot ng ating panitikan. May pagtanggap at pagkilala na sa iba’t ibang antas ang lipunan—mula sa mga internasyonal na larang hanggang sa mga karaniwang sulok ng mga tahanan, mula sa maseselang panlasa hanggang sa simpleng pagkalibang,” (Our literature has gone a long way. It has garnered reception and recognition in different levels of society—from the international field to the ordinary corners of the home, from critics with the most discerning tastes to the ones who just want diversion) he further explained. “Ang kapangyarihan at kabuluhang ito ng panitikan ng mga Filipino ang siyang dahilan, sa tingin ko, kung bakit may Buwan ng Panitikang Filipino. Dagdag pa, may sakit na pagkalito at pagkalimot ang maraming Filipino kung kaya’t kailangang ipaalam at ipaalala sa kanila ang kapangyarihan at kabuluhang ito, na tayo ay may panitikan, na tayo ay Filipinong may maipagmamalaking panitikan.” (The power and significance of Philippine literature are reasons, in my opinion, why there is a Philippine Literature Month. Additionally, many Filipinos are afflicted with confusion and forgetfulness, and there is need to remind them of literature’s power and significance, that we have a literature we can be proud of.)
Now, the whole nation can highlight the importance of literature every year. President Benigno Aquino III signed Proclamation No. 968 on February 10, 2015, which declares the month of April as Buwan ng Panitikang Filipino or National Literature Month.
The proclamation states that “Philippine literature, written in different Philippine languages, is associated with the history and cultural legacy of the State, and must be promoted among Filipinos,” and that “national literature plays an important role in preserving and inspiring the literature of today and in introducing to future generations the Filipino values that we have inherited from our ancestors.”
Right after the establishment of National Literature Month, the government agency on the national language and other Philippine languages, with support from the NCCA, the government’s overall agency on arts and culture, rushed through its first-ever celebration.
First, KWF chose the theme “Alab Panitikan,” literally “fire of literature,” which is also a play on the phrase “I love panitikan.” The theme also encapsulated the goals of the celebration this year.
“Nag-aalab ang panitikang Filipino,” (Philippine literature is burning) Torralba said. “Isang layunin ng pagdiriwang ay ipaalala na may mahabang kasaysayan, kung kaya’t may malalim at malawak na lawas ng mga akda ang Filipinas; at ipakilala na patuloy na nabubuhay ang ating panitikan.” (One objective of the celebration is to remind people of the long history of Philippine literature—thus, it has a deep and wide body of works— and that it continues to be alive.)
Pag-alabin ang panitikang Filipino,” (To kindle Philippine literature further) he continued. “Isa pang layunin ay hikayatin ang mga Filipino, mga propesyonal , di-propesyonal, mag-aaral, guro, at iba pa na makibahagi sa pagpapanatili, pagpapalaganap, at pagpapalawak ng pagkamalikhain ng mga Filipino sa pamamagitan ng tuloy-tuloy na produksiyon at promosyon.” (Another objective is to encourage Filipinos, the professionals, the non-professionals, students, teachers and others to take part in sustaining, popularizing and disseminating Filipino creativity through continuous production and promotion.)
He concluded: “Ay lab panitikan. Sa kabuuan, ang nais na maabot ng selebrasyon ay mas malalim na pagpapahalaga sa ating panitikan, at higit sa lahat, ipakita na mahal natin ang ating panitikan.” (I love literature. Overall, the celebration hopes to foment a deeper appreciation for our literature and to show that we love our literature.)
The line-up of activities and events consisted of established regular endeavors as well as new ones. Even though the preparation for the celebration was rushed, KWF was able to draw a calendar of activities. Foremost were the monument unveiling and the Kampo Balagtas from March 30 to 31, which gathered around 500 Grade 8 students in the Central Luzon region and delegations from different indigenous groups of the country. With the theme “Si Balagtas at ang Kabataan” (Balagtas and the youth), the camp gave lessons on first aid and martial arts, among other things, and featured cultural presentations and discussions on the importance of Balagtas’s life and legacy. During its opening, the winners of Talaang Ginto: Makata ng Taon and Gawad Dangal ni Balagtas were declared. Freelance writer Christian Ray Pilares was honored as Makata ng Taon in the poetry contest in Filipino for his poem “Pingkian,” while Michael Jude Cagumbay Tumamac placed second for “Pananaginip kay Tud Bulul” and Francisco Arias Montesena third for “Bahagdan, Walang Sukat ang Bayaning Kabataan.” Rogelio Mangahas, known as part of a triumvirate that ushered in the second movement in Modernism in poetry in Filipino, was given the lifetime achievement award.
Literary events for the rest of the month included Tertulya sa Tula: Isang Hapon ng mga Makata ng Taon every Monday at the KWF headquarters, where audiences had the opportunity to interact with the Makata ng Taon winners. Meanwhile, the Filipino poets’ group Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) conducted the Lakbay-Panitik para kay Emilio Jacinto in Majayjay, Laguna, in celebration of the hero’s death anniversary. On the other hand, Gumil Filipinas (Gunglo dagiti Mannurat nga Ilokano iti Filipinas) or Ilokano Writers Association of the Philippines held its 47th national conference at the Cubao Expo in Quezon City with the theme “Ang Papel ng Gumiliano sa Lipunang Ilokano.” (The role of a Gumil member in Ilocano society). LIRA also had a poetry reading program at the Conspiracy Bar in Quezon City, while in Davao City, the Davao Writers’ Guild and Young Davao Writers held Kumbira! which included a poetry reading, an exhibit and a book sale. A poetry reading by the Katig Writers Network was mounted at University of the Philippines Tacloban in Leyte and at the Northwestern State University in Calbayog City, Samar. A Cebuano version of the play The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, called V-Latanay, was staged at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao.
Some of the activities were educational such as “Tradisyon at Modernidad: Isang Simposyum” of the University of Santo Tomas’s Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies, and a translation seminar for teachers at the Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City. The Old Tagalog abugida or baybayin was the focus of a summit in Lingayen, Pangasinan, from April 9 to 11, participated in by teachers, scholars, researchers and students, tackling the issue of introducing the abugida into the school curriculum. On the other hand, the Ortograpiyang Pambansa, KWF Manwal sa Masinop na Pagsulat, and Korespondensiya Opisyal was tackled at the Uswag Filipino!, an annual seminar-workshop on language and literature for teachers, at the Bulacan State University.  The Klasrum Adarna session for teachers tackled “Pagtuturo ng Noli at Fili/Ibong Adarna” in Makati City while the “Folk on Badiw: Ibaloy Legacy to Poetry and Music” was held at the University of the Philippines in Baguio City with National Artist for music Ramon Santos as guest of honor. Also in Baguio City, the Kapisanan ng mga Superbisor at Guro sa Filipino (Kasugufil) mounted the Pambansang Kongreso sa Wikang Filipino.
The Pambansang Araw ng Gawad sa KWF Timpalak Uswag Darepdep , a contest of the KWF for 12 to 17-year-old aspiring writers writing in different Philippine languages was opened. This year, language categories open for competition are Ilocano, Cebuano, Bicol and Mëranaw.
The month also abounded in writing workshops. Ateneo de Manila University’s Ateneo Institute of Literary Arts and Practices held the High Fantasy and Young Adult Writing Workshop every Saturday of the month while the Bienvenido Santos Creative Writing Center of the De La Salle University held the Young Writers Workshop for very young children with literary inclinations. The Manila Times College in Intramuros, Manila conducted a literary journalism workshop with veterans that included critic and playwright Dr. Isagani Cruz. From April 26 to 28, the Iyas National Writers Workshop of the University of St. La Salle-Bacolod was held in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.
On April 23, the National Book Development Board spearheaded the celebration of the National Book and Copyright Day.
The Holy Week is not the only occasion that provides spirituality, reflection and meaningfulness during this season popularly known for excursions and beaches. With the newly declared Buwan ng Panitikang Filipino or National Literature Month, April in the Philippines will be a more enriching and soulful time.
Mas malalaki at bonggang uri ng mga gawain,” (Bigger and spectacular activities) promised Torralba on future celebrations. “Noong huling meeting sa NCCA, nakaiisip na ng ilang malalaking gawain para sa susunod na taong pagdiriwang. Nariyan ang mga pagkakaroon ng mga pambansang timpalak sa mga tradisyonal na anyo ng panitikan ng bansa gaya ng timpalak sa balagtasan, tigsik, ambahan, balitao, etc.  Isa ding mungkahi ay ang pagkakaroon ng Gawad Alab Panitikan.  Siyempre, ninanais na buong bansa o karamihan ng mga sektor, institusyon, o organisasyong may direkta o di-direktang may kinalaman sa panitikan ay magiging bahagi ng mga susunod pang pagdiriwang. Sa madaling salita, asahang paganda nang paganda at palaki nang palaki ang mga pagdiriwang sa hinaharap. Ano pa ba ang maaasahan natin sa mga taong puro paglikha ang nasa isip at puso?” (In the last meeting at the NCCA, several big events were suggested for the subsequent celebrations. One is a national contest on traditional literary forms such as the balagtasan, tigsik, ambahan, balitao, etc. Another suggestion is having an Alab Panitikan Award. Of course, it is hoped that the whole country or most of the sectors, institutions or organizations directly or indirectly connected with literature will take part in the coming celebrations. In other words, expect that the future celebrations will be bigger and more beautiful. What can we expect from people whose hearts and minds are into creating?”)
As the sun shines bright that season, so will the immortal words come alive and become dazzling, illuminating the path for and make luminous the nation’s soul.

A new monument of Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar was unveiled on March 30, 2015, in Orion, Bataan, led by NCCA chairman Felipe de Leon, Jr.; National Artist for literature and chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino Virgilio Almario; Antonio Raymundo, Jr., mayor of Orion; and Albert S. Garcia, Bataan governor, among others.

The Saint Michael the Archangel Church
The winners of Talaang Ginto: Makata ng Taon and Gawad Dangal ni Balagtas: Christian Ray Pilares, Makata ng Taon; Michael Jude Cagumbay Tumamac, second placer; and Francisco Arias Montesena, third placer
Manila Bay from the shore of Wawa

The town proper of Orion

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