Writing workshop keeps Filipino and Panitikan alive

Palihang Rogelio Sicat, now on its 12th year, consists of lectures from distinguished writers and professors, and critiquing by both panelists and fellows. Also tackled in this year’s workshop is the epidemic of disinformation and historical revisionism.

The fellows, founders, and staff of the 12th PRS. (Photo by Chris Quintana / Laguna Now)

LOS BAÑOS — Filipino and panitikan may have received the final nail in their coffin through Commission on Higher Education memorandum order 20, which states that the two are not required subjects anymore in college, but a writing workshop held recently at the University of the Philippines Los Baños is trying to keep the two alive.

The Palihang Rogelio Sicat (PRS), also known as the National Creative Writing Workshop, “aims to discover new and emerging creative writers in Filipino and to hone their talents by providing lectures and mentoring about style and technique,” according to Dr. Jimmuel Naval, one of the co-founders of the PRS, and a professor at UP Diliman’s Departamento ng Filipino at Panitikan ng Pilipinas (DFPP).

The PRS, now on its 12th year, consists of lectures from distinguished writers and professors, and critiquing by both panelists and fellows. Aspiring fellows are selected based on the merits of literary works submitted. Only 15 fellows are chosen every year, which means that competition is fierce.

“Since we can only accommodate 15, selecting fellows become harder every year. But we delight in doing the workshops and we’re especially pleased when our fellows later on become successful writers,” said Dr. Reuel Molina Aguila, also co-founder of the PRS and DFPP professor.

Fellows for the 12th PRS include Ryan Cezar Alcarde, Evan John Daynos, Rochelle Ann Molina, Eddie Ramos, and Rod Anthony Robles for poetry; Napoleon Arcilla III, Joycel Vincent Dabalos, and Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano for short story; Jan Henry Choa, Jr. and Myla Ogaya for short story for children; Gabriela Baron for dagli or flash fiction; Ferdinand Eusebio and Geraldine Gentozala-Juachon for one-act play; and Angela Mae Pamaos and Jason Federigan Pozon for essay.

The latest batch of fellows is an interesting mix of emerging Filipino writers from all over the country. Most of them are teachers while some write for a living or are from other professions. Eddie Ramos, a farmer in Tarlac, is the oldest fellow in PRS history, at age 68. This year’s youngest fellow is Rochelle Ann Molina, a 21-year-old senior-high-school teacher from Virac, Catanduanes. Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano, 30, who teaches at a state university in Davao del Sur, is of indigenous descent—her father is Blaan and her mother Ibaloy.

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Two Laguna-based writers were able to get into the 12th PRS. Ferdinand Eusebio, 33, is a freelance online content writer residing in San Pablo City and is also a member of the Los Baños-based Arts Research and Training Institute in Southern Tagalog (ARTIST Inc.). Jason Federigan Pozon, 26, teaches Filipino at the UP Rural High School in Bay.

The PRS tapped writers and professors from the province to serve as panelists. Among them were UPLB professors Layeta Bucoy, Laurence Marvin Castillo, and Liberty Notarte-Balanquit; Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) director Victor Emmanuel Carmelo Nadera, Jr., and PHSA instructor Christian Tablazon; Ricamela Palis, Director for Culture and Arts at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran Calamba; and Edward Perez, executive director of ARTIST, Inc.

PRS fellow Eddie Ramos shares his thoughts during the workshop. (Photo by Chris Quintana)

Upholding the legacy of Rogelio Sicat

The concept for the PRS originated and evolved from a DFPP play, short story, and poetry workshop in 1984 called the Palihang Amado V. Hernandez that was run by the late Rogelio Sicat, esteemed writer and professor who wrote about the experiences of the common Filipino. The first run was a success but was not followed since.

The DFPP, led by Aguila and Naval, resurrected the workshop, holding the first one in 2008 in Angono, Rizal. On its second year, the workshop was christened the Palihang Rogelio Sicat. Subsequent ones were held in various areas around the Philippines, and this year’s was the first one held in Laguna.

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Aguila and Naval hope to continue Sicat’s legacy by promoting creative writing in our mother tongue and more importantly writing about the struggles, triumphs, and lives of ordinary Filipinos. “Nang sumulat si Rogelio Sicat ng mga kwento, ginalugad nya ang karanasan ng karaniwang tao upang magkaroon ito ng alingawngaw sa kamalayan ng ibang tao,” said PRS panelist Dr. Luna Sicat-Cleto, Sicat’s daughter.

The fight continues

The PRS promotes the usage of Filipino in creative writing and writing about the common people. Its relevance has become more apparent now that Filipino and Panitikan are being eased out of the higher education curriculum. The fellows and panelists all disagree with the Supreme Court (SC) decision.

For Eusebio, the SC decision is a big blow to our national identity. “Para sa akin, walang hanggan ang pag-aaral sa ating pagiging Pilipino, at isa sa pinakamabisang paraan upang matutuhan ito ay ang pag-aaral ng wika at panitikan… Kung hindi ito itatakda bilang isang required subject, magiging mababaw at malabnaw ang pagkaunawa ng mga susunod na henerasyon sa ating wika, lalo’t higit sa ating panitikan,” he said.

Playwright and activist Bonifacio Ilagan delivers his keynote speech at the 12th Palihang Rogelio Sicat. (Photo by Chris Quintana)

Ramos thinks that writers should put up a fight and should all the more produce literary works in Filipino. “Yung pagsulat mo sa Pilipino, parang [rebelyon na rin ‘to], batay doon sa [desisyon] ng Supreme Court na yon kasi parang sinusuway mo sila,” he said.

There is also the epidemic of disinformation and historical revisionism.

“Malaking tulong ang mga palihan tulad ng PRS upang bigyang talas at hulmahin ang mga akda upang magmulat, magpakilos at magpalaya sa bayan sa panahon ng krisis, fake news, at revisionism ng kasaysayan. Maliliit na pagkilos ang mga palihan ngunit malaking bagay upang tugunan ang hinihingi ng kasalukuyang lipunan,” said Pozon.

The PRS fellows were left with a challenge and a responsibility: to write outside of themselves, to unearth the untold stories of the Filipino people, and most importantly to surface truths that are relentlessly being buried.

Bonifacio Ilagan, playwright and former political detainee during the Martial Law years, said in his keynote speech, “Sa masalimuot na panahon ngayon ng historical revisionism, despotismo, red-tagging, tiraniya at awtokratikong paghahari, hinahamon tayong mga artista at manunulat upang pukawin ang sambayanan pigilin ang pagbabalik ng mga demonyo ng kasaysayan.” (Laguna Now)