ON THE night of the first of September, 2007, the Rigodon Ballroom of Peninsula Manila teemed with Filipino creative writers of different generations gathering for a night of celebration of Philippine literary excellence.

Now on its 57th year, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature stayed true to its goal of discovering the best in Philippine literature. With 27 new names in its roster of winners, six of whom are below 20 years old, the most respected literary award-giving body in the country continues to be the aspiring writer’s doorway into the foyer of the literary circle.

Senator Mar Roxas, the event’s guest of honor, commended the assembly of writers present in the awards night.

“I am awed by the commitment, the continuity, and the steadfastness that the Palanca family has given in recognition of the men and women who have excelled in arts and letters here in our country,’” he said in his speech.

Aside from the usual awarding ceremonies and intermission numbers consisting of a poetry reading and play presentation, the Palanca Foundation also gave out several hundred thousands to the judges and the winners in a surprise raffle.

Conservatory of Music alumnus Allan Pastrana, who won third place in the essay category, was the first person to who bagged PhP 100,000.

“It was a surreal evening, almost hilarious, but glorious nonetheless. I was terribly happy,” the first-time Palanca winner said.

Pastrana, who had been winning prizes for his poetry from the USTetika and Maningning Miclat Awards, said that the leap from poetry to prose was not as difficult as it seemed.

“I would have to admit I am personally a lot more comfortable writing verses, but I have been contributing feature articles to the Inquirer, so I guess I am not entirely alien to the idea of organizing my thoughts in a prose piece,” he told the Varsitarian.

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His winning essay, titled, “The Lady’s Train,” is a creative nonfiction piece based on Salvacion “Dinday” Oppus-Yñiguez, an acclaimed opera singer in the ‘50s, who also served as a professor in the Conservatory of Music until her death in 2004.

“I never really got to talk to her when she was still alive but she fascinated me as a person,” Pastrana said. “I mean, this amazing old lady exuding an unbelievably warm character you’d ordinarily meet in the corridor, who happens to be one of the pillars of ‘classical’ music in this country–who wouldn’t want to write about her?”

Indeed, he gives justice to the Maestra’s glorious memory as he writes, “…half of her life she spent on the stage and inside the studio, overly familiar with the glitz, glamour, and din that follows every performance, from major theaters to lowly, second-class movie houses, and the insidious silence and facades of the more established academes in her country.”

Meanwhile, former Varsitarian Filipino editor Michael Coroza bagged his fifth Palanca for his children’s short story, “Imbisibol Man ang Tatay.”

“I wrote it for my son,” Coroza told the Varsitarian.

It is the story of Miguelito, a boy longing for a father he seldom sees, only to find out a bitter truth: “Dumaan si Tatay, ang batang akay niya, at ang babaeng nakapostura sa harap namin ni Nanay. ‘Tatay, narito kami ni Nanay,’ impit na nasambit ko. Pero hindi niya ako narinig. Kakalabitin ko sana siya sa braso pero mabilis at tuloy-tuloy ang lakad nila papalabas ng mall. Parang hindi kami napansin ni Tatay. Parang bigla kaming naging imbisibol.” This leads him to promise himself, “Gusto kong magmahal na tulad ng pagmamahal ng Nanay ko sa akin. At kung magiging tatay ako balang araw, titiyakin kong hindi ako magiging imbisibol man.”

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It was Coroza’s first time to write a children’s story. Previously, he has won prizes for his Filipino poetry and essay. For him, writing verses is not that different from writing prose pieces.

“Sa tula, may personang nagsasalita. Kinailangan ko lang isipin na parang tula ang aking ginagawa at ang persona ko ay isang bata,” he says.

Coroza is currently teaching at the Ateneo de Manila University and UST Graduate School.

Of poets and playwrights

Rebecca Añonuevo, a graduate of Literature from the Faculty of Arts and Letters and a former Varsitarian staff member, placed second in the Tula division of the 2007 Palanca awards with her collection titled, “Paglingon sa Pagasa at Iba pang Tula.”

The collection provides an optimistic view on the transition between young adult life and the trials of middle to late adulthood.

“Paglingon sa Pag-asa at Iba pang Tula is a continuation of what I submitted last year on midlife thoughts and experiences, with emphasis on the gift of hope, which has been my fascination for quite some time,” Añonuevo told the Varsitarian.

Añonuevo’s poetry provides a sort of therapy for those undergoing the tribulations of midlife crisis, creating an avenue for healing through self-expression. For example, her poem titled “Simbang Gabi” tackles the plight of the spinstress­–the woman who has not found a husband yet even when she is nearing past her prime.

“Hindi ko alam kung ang mundong kasabay ko/ Ay dumadagsa dahil may mga hinihiling din sila /Katulad ni Nanay para sa hindi nag-aasawang anak,” Añonuevo writes.

But Añonuevo provides a positive twist to this dilemma that has pressured women for years to find a man in able to feel complete. The poem concludes with the persona stating that she is satisfied with her life, even when no man stands by her side.

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“Sa pagkakataong maging payak, walang inaalalang pagkalugi / O pagtatamasa sa tangkilik ng iba, walang paghahangad,” Añonuevo writes.

When asked about what inspired her to write about this difficult phase in a person’s life, Añonuevo cites the world in which she lives in, as well as her own experiences as a source of material for her works and motivation for her writing process.

“Always a source of inspiration for my writing is the environment I live in, the events and developments in our time, the country and the people I love, in spite of our excesses and shortcomings, and my own selfish, self-absorbed musings,” Añonuevo said.

A fellow of the UST National Writer’s Workshop and an honorary member of the Thomasian Writers Guild, Mikael Co of Ateneo de Manila also won first place in the English poetry division for his collection titled, “Hands for a Fistful of Sand.”

Meanwhile, lawyer and playwright Nicolas Pichay was elevated to the Palanca’s Hall of Fame after he grabbed his fifth first place award with his full-length play, “Tres Ataques de Corazon.” Pichay was featured in last year’s Montage, Varsitarian’s literary magazine. Myla Jasmine U. Bantog and Raydon L. Reyes

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