EVERY Filipino writer must first examine the challenges they face in their mission to become social agents before transcending their experiences to fine writing.

This was the message of National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera during this year’s Philippine PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) congress with the theme “The Writer as Public Intellectual” last Dec. 6 and 7 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

On the panel about the “Writer and National Discourse,” UST alumnus Arnold Azurin said that the national discourse of Filipino writers we have today is a mirage of nation builders.

“The national discourse that we have is invented and remains as a mere fantasy,” Azurin said.

He also blamed the Filipino writers who opt to write in English for the poverty of our national discourse. However, he said that writing in Tagalog does not at all guarantee a writer in writing for the national discourse.

“Just because people write in Tagalog, [it] does not mean that they are writing in pambansang panitikan. One must be able to interweave the chosen medium of language with the other regional dialects of the Philippines,” Azurin said.

Peace in Mindanao

Meanwhile, former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. presented his paper during the panel “The Quest for Peace in Mindanao.”

In his presentation entitled “Framework Plan for Peace,” Pimentel said that war and peace in Mindanao is not a problem of Mindanao alone, but all of the people in the country.

Since Marcos’ reign in 1972, hundreds and thousands of innocent children, women, elderlies, and even foreigners had been mercilessly killed, and the number of internal displacement in the Philippines rose to almost 930, 000 in an attempt to escape the risk of living in Mindanao.

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For decades, the difference in religion and custom spurred never-ending conflicts between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Since then, five presidents had been elected, but the unending feud between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao still remains.

Speaking as a novelist, three-time Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature Awardee Antonio Enriquez refused to believe in the capacity of peace talks to mend and bridge gaps between Catholicism and Islam.

“I don’t believe in peace talks. We have been doing just that since the very beginning and look at what it has brought, nothing,” Enriquez said.

Pimentel said that the renewed attempts of Aquino’s current administration for a concrete plan for peace talks in Mindanao are seen positively. But he believes that gaps between the government and the MNLF still need some “fleshing out.”

“Kahit anong mangyari, kahit magkagulo, ‘wag na ‘wag niyong buburahin ang aming kultura,” Pimentel quoted Nur Misuari, a former leader of the MNLF.

Meanwhile, playwright Malou Jacob said that the sad reality about the rift with Filipino Muslims continuously aggravate because of how Christians perceive Muslims.

“Oftentimes, we treat them (Moro people) not as equal, but as subordinates. We should learn to treat the Moro people with dignity,” Jacob said.

Jacob also added that it is the notion of Christians as a superior class of people that create fear among marginalized Muslims, and thus, hinders them to mingle with Christians.

“They actually want to be reunited with us, but the problem is, we treat them as second-class citizens,” Jacob said.

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National Artist for Literature and The Varsitarian alumnus, F. Sionil Jose, moreover, said we should start referring to Filipino Muslims as “Moros” to avoid confusion and verbal offense caused by ignorance.

He also added that if we will only give them a chance to let themselves be known, we would be amazed by the similarities that bind our intermingling cultures.

“We have more things in common than things that separate us,” Jose said.

Aside from the convention of Filipino writers, the Philippine PEN congress was also an avenue for the members of the PEN board to discuss and renew their stands about the controversial national issues that captivate a Filipino’s sense of nationalism.

Few of the issues that the Philippine PEN highly upholds are the support given to imprisoned Filipino writers since the Marcos regime and the condemning of the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre. J.C.R. Obice

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