PIONEERING anthropologist Jesus Peralta, who is also a former director of the National Museum, was given the Parangal Hagbong for lifetime achievements in letters during the Gawad Ustetika Awards of the Varsitarian at the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, OP Building last March 9.
Peralta is the first playwright elevated to the Hall of Fame of the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in 1995. He won at least five first prizes in the prestigious annual literary derby.
Also given posthumously the Parangal Hagbong was Spanish Dominican friar Fr. Fidel Villaroel for his important writings in Philippine historiography.
Fr. Villaroel, who died at the age of 87 last October 23, is an applauded historian of the Catholic Church not only in the Philippines, but also in Asia.
Associate Professor Maria Eloisa De Castro, who teaches history in the Faculty of Arts and Letters, received the award in behalf of Fr. Villaroel.
Parangal Hagbong, which comes from an old Tagalog word in Quezon province meaning “laureate,” has been given by the Varsitarian since 1997 to UST alumni for lifetime achievement in letters.
The first Parangal Hagbong awards were given posthumously—to former Varsitarian Filipino staffer and foremost fictionist Rogelio Sicat and to National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio.
Peralta as an award-winning playwright
Peralta earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University. His Master of Arts in anthropology was obtained from the University of the Philippines, while his doctorate degree in the same field was from the University of California, Davis Campus.
In 2001, Unyon ng Manunulat ng Pilipinas (Writers Union of the Philippines -UMPIL) recognized him as “Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas.” He was also a recipient of the Dangal ng Haraya award from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, as a lifetime achievement in cultural conservation.
Among Peralta’s best playwrights are “My Brother’s Keeper,” “Play the Judas” and “Longer than Mourning.”
These plays gave him the spotlight in the literary scene when two of these, “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Play the Judas,” won the first prizes in the 1957 Arena Theater Playwriting Contest and Palanca Memorial Awards One-Act Play Contest for the Play, respectively.
Currently, Peralta is a consultant at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. As the program director of the UNESCO project, he is also involved in the conservation of “hudhud” or the Ifugao epic chant.
“I just write what I know. I don’t wave flags that I’m doing this for the Filipino. It must be knowledge that must be kept and made available to people like intangible heritage,” Peralta told the Varsitarian.
The Filipino archaeologist also emphasized the reflection of Filipino culture in most of his literary works.
“What is important to me is that the culture of the Philippines is documented and made available to the people. As I said, I do not wave flags. I do not even think that I will leave a legacy to people. Everything that I write is public property,” he said.
Peralta, who is also a poet and essayist, highlighted the importance of having self-confidence when writing a literary work, especially in preserving the country’s culture.
“First thing I tell people when they come listen to me; ‘don’t belittle the things that they say. Think it out for yourself,’” he said.
The acclaimed playwright considered language as a significant aspect in writing about the Philippine culture. For him, language is a “genus” for having a variety in its usage.
“What is the bearer of culture? It is language. If it is not in your language, it is not in your culture. You cannot even think beyond your language. It is language that will define a culture and the culture will define the people,” Peralta said.
Fr. Villaroel, the ‘saint-maker’
Fr. Villaroel was considered as one of the University’s longest-serving archivists, acclaimed for his historical research “Positio Super Introductione Causae” that paved a way to St. Lorenzo Ruiz’ canonization and his 15 martyred companions in 1987.
After the saint’s canonization, Fr. Villaroel obtained the reputation of being a “saint-maker.” The beatification of Beato Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, who is an alumnus and faculty of the University, was also advanced by him.
De Castro noted that the Spanish Dominican priest became her mentor in the University archives, whom she also considered as a “father, mentor, and friend.”
“I had this great benefit of being trained under him and he would pass on a lot of information to me,” De Castro said in an interview with the Varsitarian.
The history professor also acknowledged the great contribution of Fr. Villaroel in her knowledge about religious history.
“He patiently answered my questions about the peculiarities in religious life, why things happened the way they did, what were the different activities that they did. He gave me good answers which helped me in my writing of religious history and Philippine history in general,” she said.
Fr. Villaroel received the Gintong Aklat Award for his two-volume masterpiece, “A History of the University of Santo Tomas: Four Centuries of Higher Education in the Philippines,” published in 2012.
He also authored 23 books and 65 articles on theology and the histories of the University, the Philippines, and the Church.
“The most important for me among his works aside from the [Positio Super Introductione Causae] would be the History of UST. Nothing can match the devotion and rigor of his scholarship works, which he manifested in writing and researching. It is the product of ten years of research,” De Castro said.
For De Castro, it is important for every Thomasian “to appreciate the decade-long of work Fr. Villaroel has written” about the history of the University.
“I hope Thomasians would really find time to read it in order to be able to understand why Santo Tomas remains to be a beacon of influence, hope, and of course, a great symbol of faith and Christianity in this part of the world which is Asia.”
In 2009, Fr. Villaroel’s “Alma Mater: The University of Santo Tomas as seen by its own poets” was published by the UST Publishing House. He collected and edited the 144 poems dedicated to the University written by students and alumni.
The book includes Claro Recto’s masterpiece, “A Benavides” (To Benavides), which won first prize in Certamen poetico—a national poetry competition—during the third centennial of the University.
Recto’s poem ends with the line: Y en coro inmenso gritad; Gloria al Padre Benavides! (And in immense choir shout; Glory to the father Benavides!).