A WRITER’S duty includes advocating for peace during times of turmoil.

Such was the message conveyed by the Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists and Novelists) in its 56th annual literature conference at the Henry Sy Hall of De La Salle University last Dec. 3 to 4. Theme was “Literature of Concord and Solidarity: The Writer as Peacemaker

Philippine PEN founder and National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil Jose opened the conference by stressing the importance of writers belonging to one community. He referred to fellow National Artist Bienvenido “Bien” Lumbera, who is PEN chairman. “Bien and I understand the grief of the creative writers in this country—we are truly alone.”

In his keynote speech, Jaime An Lim, award-winning fictionist and Metrobank Outstanding Teacher honoree, urged writers to renounce violence by “writing honestly and well so that people never forget the sacrifices made in the crossfires of war.”

Lim hails from Cagayan and had taught for a long time at the Mindanao State University before becoming dean of arts and sciences of the Far Eastern University until last year when he retired from the academe.

National Book Award winner and UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies associate Rebecca Anonuevo cited the effects of war on women.

Reading her paper, “Dear Alice Walker: Ang Babae at ang Tunggali para sa Kapayapaan,” an imaginary letter to the African-American writer and activist, she said it was not in the nature of women caught in a war to destroy their kin.

“May sumpa ang ina sa anak, ‘Kung maibabalik lang kita sa aking sinapupunan’—mas nanaisin niyang siya ang magdusa kaysa pagmulan ng pagdurusa ng iba ang kanyang anak (The mother has a curse on her child: I would rather return you to my womb than be the source of conflict and violence),” she said.

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Anonuevo added that as long as the humanity that resides in women exists, peace will always be an attainable dream.

Two Higaonon writers, meanwhile, shared their perspectives on the tension in Mindanao caused by colonization and the lack of understanding from Filipinos in Luzon and the Visayas about the issues revolving around the conflict there.

Telesforo Sungkit Jr. said the Higaonon like him are the lumad or native people of his region who never recognized Spanish and American colonization and Islamization.

“The colonizers do not know what damage they are causing the natives and the difference in belief and closed-mindedness hinders mutual growth,” he said.

For Sungkit, different peoples have different ideas of progress—one does not necessarily apply to the other. No one should force their ideals, which they deem “proper” on others.

Poet Shem Salait Linohon believed that the colonizers brought with them domestic violence, saying that Higaonon men did not underrate their women and that both men and women were as tribe leaders.

“Love is essential in the pursuit of peace because love begets respect,” he said. “Let us be harbingers of peace and dissipate gender wars as writer.”

Former University of the Philippines president Jose Abueva, who delivered the annual PEN Jose Rizal Lecture, said that peace means building a just, humane and “non-killing” Filipino nation.

“With creativity and dedication, we shall build a great Filipino nation,” he said. Sarah Mae Jenna A. Ramos

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