CELEBRATED journalist, poet, and screenplay writer Jose “Pete” Lacaba expressed pessimism about the future of Philippine democracy, saying that next year’s elections would not exactly improve the prospects of Philippine democracy. Lacaba urged the people to look back carefully at the lessons of the country’s traumatic past in order to ameliorate the present.

“[Ang bayan natin] ay nasadlak sa dusa at naging pugad ng luha at dalita,” he echoed.

Lacaba made the remarks during the 58th national conference of the Philippine Center of the International PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists), the oldest and most highly respected writers group in the country founded by Thomasian National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, editor in chief of the Varsitarian during his UST college days in the late 1940’s.

Lacaba, who was imprisoned during martial law, said that while some nationalists would criticize the Philippines’ colonial past for its history of underdevelopment, much of the poverty and underdevelopment experienced in Philippine contemporary history were the work of Filipinos themselves.

During the conference’s first literary session, “The Writer in Philippine Politics,” Elmer Ordoñez, former chair of National Literary Arts Committee (NCLA) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), told the story of a fresh graduate recruited to write for a pro-Quirino publication in 1953, Juan Escribo, who soon lost himself to the world of political propaganda when he became a speechwriter and propagandist of politicians.

Ordoñez later said the story was completely fictional. He said he made up the story to illustrate how a writer should never compromise his principles despite political temptations.

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“The writer should focus on issues and platforms [that would] educate voters on the problems of our society, such as poverty, the environment, social justice and human rights, national security, and the political and economic [oligarchies] in the country,” said Ordoñez.

Mindanao-based writer and professor Christine Godinez-Ortega, current chair of the NCLA, focused on the writer’s duty to tell the truth since most writers use literature as a platform for expressing their views while also “romanticizing” the issues.

Reading literary works with a political bent, she observed that these were almost always written in an angry tone.

“All (politicians) are condemned as bane of the Earth. [They] have no redeeming quality,” she said.

Meanwhile, poet and translator Marne Kilates emphasized the writer’s important role in nation-building.

“Ano man ang panahon, may isang manunulat na nasa likod ng kapangyarihan,” said Kilates, adding that the writer has the ability to give alternative versions of reality or to personify logical propositions as his written word becomes history which, in turn, becomes civilization. “Ang guni-guni ay nagiging realidad.”

Globalization

Poet Gil Won-Lee of the Korean PEN said that the Philippines has a major role to play in international congress because of its thriving economy and proficiency of its people in the English language.

“Another problem is the fact that writers tend to be proud of their work, making it difficult for them to attend congress. I would like to see the Philippine PEN become more active in international congress and organize with other countries to globalize Filipino literature,” Won-Lee said.

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Meanwhile, Filipino romance novelist Mina Esguerra said the success of her novels in the international market was because of the use of different media such as podcasts and interviews, which can pull in more readers.

“That is what going global has been about, positive contribution and participation, engaging readers and authors outside my community and finding more readers here by using the methods out there.” Esguerra said.

Bicolano poet Luis Cabalquinto, formerly based in the United States, said Filipino writers abroad are reaping the gains of globalization.

“There is a prolific gathering of Filipino in the U.S., especially in California, Los Angeles and New York both born in the Philippines and born in America,” he said. “At this point in time, this globalized writing among Filipinos will only increase in time.”

The 2014 PEN congress is supported by the NCCA, UST Varsitarian, and others. Zenmond G. Duque II and Cedric Allen P. Sta. Cruz

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