Nation needs ‘army of intelligent readers,’ Ombudsman says in Philippine PEN conference

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Photo by Deejae S. Dumlao

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales urged writers to defend the truth at the 60th National Congress of the Philippine PEN (Poets and Playwrights, Essayists and Novelists) on Wednesday at the Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, O.P. Building.

“Whether in Jose Rizal’s time or in this lifetime of ours, truth is constantly under siege. Only the boldest can rise to this occasion with pens as swords. It is the high time for writers to reaffirm their commitment to truth and freedom,” Morales said in her Jose Rizal lecture.

Morales said writers should not just beat the deadline and instead encourage readers to be prudent. “I think the nation has an abundance of writers. What the nation now needs is an army of intelligent readers,” she said.

The ombudsman, who has been threatened with impeachment by allies of President Rodrigo Duterte, said public service requires a high standard of ethics and leaders should be compassionate and consistent.

“Ang puwesto mo ay hindi mo nakamit. Iyan ay ipinagkatiwala lang sa’yo ng mga Pilipino. What we need is a good, compassionate and consistent leader. Service requires a high standard of ethics. It is sometimes a thankless job. Being a leader is a reward in itself, she added.

Writers were also urged to write about the atrocious human rights conditions under Duterte’s bloody drug war.

“The killings have not stopped. What then is the task ahead of us? The challenge to us (writers) is to be true to our hearts. For any killings that happen, to any assault to the truth, we counter these atrocities with our work,” Filipino screenwriter Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. said.

“Unlike guns that destroy and kill, our work creates. Each work of ideas […] makes us experience the values of being more Filipino,” he added.

Writings that discuss current social issues can also enlighten the authorities to correct their wrongdoings, del Mundo said.

The conference of the Philippine PEN, the local chapter of the international federation of writers promoting freedom of expression, focused on reaffirming writers’ commitment to truth and freedom.

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