Of a total population of 102 million, only one out of 51 is bound to win the most coveted literary prize in the country. At least this is how the best literary minds were sifted from grain for the Palanca Awards’ 67th edition.
Considered the gold standard in writing excellence – coveted by both young and old Filipino writers the world over – this year’s Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature held at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula Manila in Makati City on September 1, saw 23 first-time awardees with four contenders each taking home prizes in two separate categories.
Named after businessman-philanthropist Don Carlos Palanca Sr., the awards were established in 1950 “to inspire and recognize Filipino writers including poets, playwrights and screenwriters, and writers for children.”
By its second decade, the Palanca Awards Committee started to fund the publication of Palanca Award-winning plays, with production funds committed in 1975.
In 1995, the Hall of Fame was established and presented to every time a Palanca awardee wins five first prizes in any of the regular categories.
A category for poetry for children for both Filipino and English, meanwhile, was added in 2009.
Decorated writer and professor Jose “Butch” Dalisay, a 16-time Palanca awardee and a Hall of Famer since 2000, was this year’s guest of honor and speaker. He was bestowed the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi for his contributions to the country’s literary wealth with his essays, plays, stories, screenplays, biographies and books.
Known as former President Fidel Ramos’ speechwriter, he said at one point in his speech that he was quoting the military general-turned-president, which meant he was also quoting himself.
“It is both literature’s virtue and responsibility to reaffirm our fundamental humanity, and the unity of our interests and aspirations as a people. Every act of writing re-humanizes us, both writer and reader,” went the excerpt.
He likewise related his metamorphosis from a journalist beholden to facts to having been liberated by fiction.
“Writing for the truth, writing for the honor, writing for the love of language, these are what your being here is all about, and why the Palancas have existed for these 67 years,” he said.
With political undertones, he expressed, “This is especially important in these darkening times, when megalomaniacal and murderous despotism threatens societies across the ocean, debases the truth, and cheapens human life.”
With the advent of social media, Dalisay shared how to battle fake news and misleading information.
“The best antidote to fake news is true fiction. You and I have much to write about. If you write for truth, reason and justice, and for the beauty and value of life itself, you will always be a first-prize winner in my book,” he challenged the audience.
Criselda “Dang” Cecilio-Palanca revealed in her sponsor’s remarks that there were 954 entries submitted for all categories this year.
“Sixty-three judges selected 55 winning works of 51 writers, 23 of whom are new winners, while 28 are former Palanca Awardees. Of these winners, 18 were of the 21 to 30 age bracket, while 16 were in the 31 to 40 age bracket, and eight for the 41 to 50 age bracket.
“Seven were 20 years old or under, and since six of these won in the Kabataan Essay category for 18 years of age or below, [it]means that one winner under 20 years of age won in one of the adult categories; and finally, there was one winner each from the 51 to 60 and 60 to 70 groups respectively,” said the 1979 Binibining Pilipinas-Universe who married a grandson of Carlos Palanca.
“This brings the number of winning authors to a total of 2,303 from 1951 to 2017, and the total of winning works to 2,385. Our Hall of Famers remain at 25,” she added.
For this year, the biannual Novel and Nobela categories were included to make it a total of 22 categories. No entries were found deem worthy by the judges for the Short Story for Children category.
This year’s youngest winner was 13-year-old Pauline Sherice Wee who won second prize in the Kabataan Essay with her entry, “Culture Redefined.” Third prize winner, 17-year-old Marielle Fatima Tuazon, was proud of her entry, “The Pursuit of Lucidity.” First prize winner Alpheus Matthew Llantero won for his “The Adventures of an Alien and the Matalino Kid.” He won third prize last year in the same category.
For Kabataan Sanaysay, no winner was chosen for first prize, but second prize went to Carmel Joy Vergara for her “Patlang,” and the third prize going to Robyn Therese Jocom with her entry, “Sungkitin Pabalik ang Nakalipas.”
Big double winners
Winning for the same category for both in the Filipino and English Divisions was a rare feat, and at the center of this unprecedented distinction was Dustin Edward Celestino for winning first prize in Dulang Ganap Ang Haba with his “Ang Pangahas na si Pepe,” with Joshua Lim So winning second prize for his “Araw-araw, Gabi-gabi,” and third prize going to Vincent De Jesus for his “Changing Partners.”
Celestino, with his “The Story of This Father,” won first prize in the Full-Length Play category with Joachim Emilio Antonio winning second prize for his “exesanonymous.com.” No third prize was declared.
In an interview with The Sunday Times Magazine after the awards rites, Celestino intimated that he joined the contest 10 years ago and did not win. Between that time until he submitted his entries this year, all he did was read and study the elements of the winning pieces. And lo and behold, all his effort paid off winning first prize both for his submitted pieces.
Asked if he is selling his works to movie or TV production outfits, he said that he would rather have it performed first by the Dulaang UP, the dramatics guild of the University of the Philippines, where he learned Creative Writing.
“After that I can consider going commercial,” he said.
Seasoned scriptwriter Rodolfo Carlos “Rody” Vera won first prize in Dulang Pampelikula for his “Ang Aking Juan Luna,” with Kristian Sendon Cordero winning second prize for his “Kulto ni Santiago,” and third prize going to Avelino Mark Balmes Jr. for his “Pablo Ocampo Extension.”
Vera, who wrote the gender-bending “Die Beautiful” and most awarded film in the movie awards season so far, also won second prize in the Dulang May Isang Yugto category with his “Indigo Child,” while the first prize went to Eljay Castro Deldoc with his “Pilipinas Kong Mahal With All the Overcoat,” and the third prize going to Dominique Beatrice La Victoria for her “Ang Bata Sa Drum.”
The noted playwright said that his Palanca-winning script is already considered for film production by photographer-movie producer David Fabros, which the latter confirmed on a Facebook post days later.
Filipino Division winners are as follows: Maikling Kuwento – 1st Prize, Andrian Legaspi, “Sa Pagitan ng Sabaw ng Chaolang at Hilab ng Tiyan;” 2nd Prize, Valentine Dula, “Patintero;” and 3rd Prize, Nicko de Guzman, “Troll.”
Maikling Kuwentong Pambata – 1st Prize, Maryrose Jairene Cruz-Eusebio;” 2nd Prize, Josel Luigi Creencia, “Lato’t Ginto;” and 3rd Prize, Cheeno Marlo Sayuno, “Si Tiya Salome.”
Sanaysay – 1st Prize, Eugene Evasco, “Ang Mapa ng Taglagas sa Aking Maleta;” 2nd Prize, Will Ortiz, “Sisid;” and 3rd Prize, Mubarak Tahir, “Aden Bon Besen Uyag-Uyag (May Buhay Pa Pala).”
Tula – 1st Prize, Christian Vallez, “Sa Pagitan ng Banal at Karnal;” 2nd Prize, Jason Tabinas, “Na Inyong Ikinalulunod;” and 3rd Prize, Rogelio Dela Rosa Jr., “Tanghod at iba pang Paghihintay.”
Tula Para Sa Mga Bata – 1st Prize, John Vincent Bucal, “Muwang ng Musmos;” 2nd Prize, Errol Merquita, “Tagulilong: Ang mga Nawawala;” and 3rd Prize, Paterno Baloloy Jr., “Agam-Agam ng Langgam.”
Regional Division winners – Short Story Cebuano: 1st Prize, Jondy Arpilleda, “Bunok;” 2nd Prize, Manuel Avenido Jr., “Panagtigi;” and 3rd Prize, Errol Merquita, “Aninipot.” Short Story Hiligaynon: 1st Prize, Jesus Insilada, “Tinuom;” 2nd Prize, Peter Solis Nery, “Ang Milagro sa Ermita;” and 3rd Prize, Leonard Francis Alcoran, “Ang Itlog nga wala Nagabalibad.” Short Story Ilokano: 1st Prize, Ronelyn Ramones, “Ti Lubong ni Anastasia;” 2nd Prize, Lila Quindoza Santiago, “Siak Ti Interpreter Yo;” and 3rd Prize, Ariel Sotelo Tabag, “Dado.”
English Division winners – Short Story: 1st Prize, John Bengan, “Disguise;”
2nd Prize, Katrina Guiang Gomez, “Misericodia;” and 3rd Prize, Joe Bert Lazarte, “Don’t Blink.” Essay: 1st Prize, Michelle Josephine Rivera, “In My Father’s Kitchen;” 2nd Prize, Paul Gideon Lasco, “The Art of ‘Hugot’ in our Republic of ‘Sawi’;” and 3rd Prize, Jade Mark Capiñanes, “A Portrait of a Young Man as a Banak.”
Poetry – 1st Prize, Noelle Leslie dela Cruz, “Sisyphus on the Penrise Stairs: Meta-Reveries;” 2nd Prize, Rodrigo Dela Peña Jr., “Blood Compact;” and 3rd Prize, Hurjay Medilo, “Elegy for a Dying World.” Poetry Written For Children: 1st Prize, Cynthia Baculi-Condez, “From Dawn to Dusk;” 2nd Prize, Patricia Celina Ngo, “Magical Mall of Mysteries;” and 3rd Prize, Ma. Amparo Warren, “Animal Songs/Just So Poems.” One-Act Play – no 1st and 2nd Prizes; 3rd Prize, Joshua Lim So, “Sa Syquia, Malate, Kabanata II: Letting The Days Go By.”
Grand Prizes: Nobela – Eros Atalia, “Ang Ikatlong Anti-Kristo;” Novel – Glenn Diaz, “The Quiet Ones.”
The roster of judges of each category was comprised of respected personalities in their fields of specialization including award-winning director Joel Lamangan, literary stalwart Victor Emmanuel Nadera, The Manila Times College president Danton Remoto, actor Lou Veloso, arts and culture editor Lito Zulueta, and academician Wendell Capili among others.