LITERATURE and its capacity for values-formation and character-building were the overriding theme of the first Milagros G. Tanlayco National Conference On Teaching Literature, an academic tribute to the well-loved Thomasian literature pedagogue who died on May 10, 2010.

The forum series was held at the Tanghalang Teresita Quirino of the UST Graduate School last May 9 to 10.

American Studies expert Oscar Campomanes said that “literature is not always considered valuable intellectually and institutionally, [but] it has an influence on ethical formation.”

Campomanes, who teaches literary criticism at the Faculty of Arts and Letters and Ateneo de Manila University, discussed the value of literature in the formation and cultivation of an intellectual culture in the academe.

For the second plenary session, UST Publishing House director Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo delivered her lecture, “I Teach as I Write: Values in Literature.”

According to Pantoja-Hidalgo, “literary values” are strategies, rhetorical language, and stylistic devices through which insights are presented.

“I write because I need to make sense out of things,” she said. “The very act of writing is a way of imposing order, creating meaning out of chaos.”

The alumna from the old Philosophy and Letters (Philets) reminded fellow literature teachers who participated in the forum about their “role to cultivate in our students open-mindedness and a curiosity about the new and unfamiliar.”

“Finally, it is a measure of the work we have done if the student finds that the act of reading has indeed been worth the effort,” she said.

Ateneo professor Danilo Francisco Reyes delivered the last plenary speech titled “Exploring Theological Themes and Philosophical Values in Asian Literatures: Imaging and Imagining the Human Person and the Divine,” where he talked about literature as “a function that delights and instructs while exploring the enigmas of divinity.”

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“Literature is art, and art is persuasive, a subtle power that possess ability to change the world,” Reyes said.

Pen for the nation

In his keynote speech, “Our Roots, Our Rizal,” National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose discussed the important role of literature in building “a sense of community, and afterwards, a nation.”

“Keep in mind that we are not yet a nation because our institution is being destroyed by the egos of the people,” he said, adding that writers—as “craftsmen”—should know “the right tools and [use] them well”.

He also called on teachers to make literature an interesting subject.

Admitting that National Hero Jose Rizal has been his greatest inspiration, the Philippine PEN founder said that the hero “came back to defend the Mother who nurtured him, using the one weapon that many take for granted—literature.”

“We honor a writer not [only] because he is a good writer but because he is a good individual; bringing the topic to a well-known and talented writer, the Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal,” he said.

Jose, a former Varsitarian editor in chief, added that Filipinos should be “long-rooted” so that they will not be “easily detached from the ground that gives life to our work.”

“Roots, when long and spread, clinging to the earth, the tree will not be easily uprooted. The same is with literature,” he said. “However, it is not just the ideals of the writer that should be embedded in our genes. A writer as a writer is not the thing that should be regarded, but the writer as a person.”

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Remembering ‘Inang’

Jose also praised the late Tanlayco for her “impeccable” scholarship and “her dedication to her profession.”

“Mila Tanlayco taught a couple of generations in this University, imparting to her brood her vast knowledge of modern and classical literature,” he said.

Known as “a dynamic professor with a sense of drama,” “Inang” Tanlayco was one of the well-reputed literature pedagogues of the University. She taught for 58 years, until her death on May 10, 2010 because of a stroke.

She graduated cum laude from Philets (now Arts and Letters or Artlets) in 1951, then earned her master’s and doctorate in literature at the UST Graduate School. She was named Professor Emeritus in 2002.

The two-day conference included a panel exhibit on Tanlayco’s life and achievements mounted by the Varsitarian, as well as teaching demonstrations staged by several literature instructors, including Department of English chair Marilu Madrunio, Elmer Hibek, (College of Nursing), and Ferdinand Lopez and Ralph Galan (Artlets). R. D. Madrid

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