PGTW: Literary – and literacy – month

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 18 September 2014, Thursday

Literary – and literacy – month

September is literary month in the Philippines; it’s when the two major literary awards nights are held, events that draw writers from all over the country, and sometimes from different parts of the world.

Sept. 1 is reserved for the Carlos Palanca Memorials Awards, a glittering night of festivities that I had the honor of attending as an awardee a few years ago. Medalists are dressed to the hilt, according to their aesthetic sensibilities and temperament; as a fellow writer told me, “We don’t know when we’ll win again, so make the most of it! Isuot ang pinaka-bonggang outfit!”

Mid-September is when the Philippines Graphic magazine’s Nick Joaquin Literary Awards for short fiction are held at the Ramon Magsaysay Center.

There’s usually a costume theme. This year, the event was held Sep. 11 with a “Speakeasy” mood (think “The Great Gatsby”). This year’s first prize winner was Michelle Cheidjew; Ma. Amparo Warren placed third. I was grateful to receive second prize, a step up from the third I won last year, from Graphic editor-in-chief Joel Pablo Salud and literary editor Alma Anonas-Carpio, and judges Alfred “Krip” Yuson, Susan Lara, and Sarge Lacuesta.

Also honored at the 2014 NJLA as Poet of the Year was Dr. Cesar Ruiz Aquino, while Charlson Ong, Rachel Salud, and Nikki Alfar received honorable mentions for their stories.

September is also National Literacy Month in the United States. We don’t seem to have a literacy month, only a literacy day – Sept. 8 – as per Proclamation No. 1886, s. 1979, in line with a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) recommendation in 1965.

The day passed by with barely a whimper, though it was marked with a notice over at the government’s Official Gazette website (

According to the National Statistics Office’s 2010 Census of Population and Housing, 97.5 percent or 69.8 million Filipinos are considered literate or “can read and write in any language or dialect in the Philippines.” Given this, why are we still are not a reading society?

One reason could be the cost of ink-and-paper books. With the availability online of some texts for free, such as the Wattpad stories and novels, reading is gaining ground with young people. One such story became so popular that it was recently made into a movie (“She’s Dating the Gangster”).

Most Filipinos would rather watch television and films. More people have heard of Willie Revillame than of F. Sionil Jose, Anne Curtis than of Merlinda Bobis.

This is a gap that lawmakers should address. Instead of those stupid bills some of them filed, like the “anti-selfie law” (reminds me of that “anti-planking” law of 2011), why not a bill for a national literacy month, or year? Or maybe the president can issue another proclamation to this effect.

Private sponsors can back spelling bees; there used to be more of those back in the day, nowadays they are unheard of. How about essay, poetry, and short fiction contests, especially for children and teenagers? How about staging a World Book Night, like that in the US, Ireland, and UK, when free books are given away?

And when will big corporations fund writing workshops, give grants for works-in-progress, or sponsor writers-in-residence or poets laureate? The advocacies of education and literacy are worthy causes for any company’s corporate social responsibility program.

September may be literary and literacy month, but just how many people care? This apathy is society’s loss, because literature weaves together a people’s past, present, and future in narrative with insight, lyricism, and passion, in a way that journalism cannot.

The person who brought about the deepest and most profound change in this country was a writer – Jose Rizal. His two novels changed the course of Philippine history. Think about it.

* * * * *

To mark the 150th birth anniversaries of Apolinario Mabini and Isabelo de los Reyes, the University of the Philippines will hold an interdisciplinary conference titled “Intellectuals, the Public Arena, and the Nation,” on Sept. 22 to 24 at the College of Arts and Letters Auditorium, UP Diliman.

Mabini was the “Brains of the Philippine Revolution” while De Los Reyes, “The Father of Filipino Socialism,” was a folklorist, journalist, and labor activist; both were numbered among the intellectuals of their time.

To be presented are about 60 papers on various subjects such as media and society; artists, writers, and musicians as intellectuals; performance and public spaces; and narratology and authorship.

The conference is organized by the College of Mass Communication in partnership with other UP colleges. For details, email, visit 150, or call 920-6864. ***

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