• An exercise of the soul


    Last Saturday, August 29, in ceremonies held at the Ateneo de Manila University in conjunction with the 41st Writers’ Congress, I was presented with the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas Award along with 10 other writers by the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (Writers Union of the Philippines).

    The citation said that I was being honored for my essays in English and my journalism, which all told have covered some three decades of my life, and stints as writer, editor and publisher.

    In lieu of my regular column today, I am substituting the brief remarks that I delivered in accepting the award.

    * * *

    I want to thank the trustees and members of Unyon ng mga Manunulat Sa Pilipinas for this unexpected honor and recognition.

    I am flattered that I can share the Gawad Balagtas this year with other writers from other parts of our country, one of whom is a writer from East visayas, who writes in the language of my birth – Waray or Binisaya.

    Rough draft of history
    When what you write is journalism, as I do, the last thing you expect is to be given an award. Journalism, it was once said, is “the rough draft of history.”

    This witty gem has been claimed by many, but it was a columnist by the name of George Fitch who wrote it down first on December 5, 1905. He wrote:

    “The newspapers are making morning after morning the rough draft of history. Later, the historian will come, take down the old files, and transform the crude but sincere and accurate annals of editors and reporters into history, into literature.”

    As a writer, I have kept a notebook, wherein I write down thoughts and observations of the passing scene, as well as notes from readings and viewings of films and television. This treasury was indispensable during the years when I was writing a daily front-page column called “Good Morning,” which consisted of about 300 words, in the Daily Globe and later in Today.

    In one of my notebooks, I found one entry which I believe is appropriate to cite on this occasion but whose explicit provenance alas I failed to write down. It reads:

    “Man is mind, body and soul.

    “And each of these must be regularly exercised.

    “We exercise the mind first through formal studies and through thinking in the solution of problems.

    “We exercise the body next through physical exercise, and good nutrition, which together keep us in good health.

    “Finally, we exercise the soul,

    “First by faith in a benign providence, and adherence to his teachings;

    “And second by creative work in literature and the arts –in music, painting, sculpture, etc — whose creation, some say, crowns our passage in this life.”

    The power of the written word
    All the awardees here today have exercised their soul through writing, in the different languages of our people and in different forms of writing.

    In my case, I exercise my soul in the Manila Times three times a week through my Observer column.

    Like other writers who turned to journalism as part of their vocation, I found in journalism a living, a refuge and a discipline.

    When I was writing fiction and poetry like many of you, I found it difficult to discipline myself into writing every day. It was only when I turned to journalism that I found the discipline to write every day.

    Some of the great writers of our country have been fine journalists, in addition to being novelists and poets and historians.

    National artist Nick Joaquin’s work in fiction and poetry is complemented by his work in journalism. Quijano de Manila, his pen name as journalist, is just as famous and well-remembered as the name Nick Joaquin

    Similarly, the very first chairman of UMPIL, Adrian Cristobal, wrote fiction, journalism and history, and found success in all these forms of writing.

    What brings them together – and what unites us all – is the power of the written word.

    I thank you.


    Please follow our commenting guidelines.


    1. Congratulation and God bless you and your whole family. May you continue your good work in journalism.

    2. You are one of the few journalists who speak their minds honestly, and feel the Filipino sufferings..Thank you very much sir, and may your words and thinking spread all over the country, inspire and guide our sick nation!!

    3. Leodegardo Pruna on

      Congratulations Mr. Yen for the honor of the award given to you. You well deserve it. God bless you and God bless the Philippines.