OMBUDSMAN Conchita Carpio-Morales has urged creative writers to “reaffirm their commitment to truth and freedom” by penning works critical of wrongdoing in society and fighting the falsehoods being spread on social media and elsewhere.
“With pens as swords, it is high time that writers reaffirm their commitment to truth and freedom by putting pen to paper in order for the story to see the light of print and combat the falsities that surround us,” Morales said in her keynote speech—formally called the José Rizal Lecture—during the two-day 60th Philippine PEN (Poets and Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) National Conference at the Buenaventura Garcia Parades, OP Building at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) on Wednesday.
Keeping in mind the author-physician after whom her speech was named, the retired Supreme Court justice called Rizal “one of the earliest whistleblowers,” who, through his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, and in countless other articles, “exposed the corruption, scandals and abuses perpetrated by the [Spanish] friars and secular [officials], lending a voice to [a] people shivering with fear in a land shivered by colonialism.”
She said that, like in Rizal’s time, “truth is constantly under siege” today, when Filipinos are confronted with “distortions of the truth as presented by impotent viewpoints on the pressing issues in the nation’s life, ruffled by the colors of the political spectrum, and the brusque flexing of political muscle.”
Using author Randall Young’s informal definition of fraud as “the perpetration of a complex lie,” Morales said “it becomes the challenge of the new writer worth his or her salt to entangle this level of complexity and exact a degree of transparency.”
“The writer ought to defeat the counterfeit,” she added.
In the same way that those involved in corruption use sophisticated measures to weaken transparency and fool the public, the Ombudsman said “principled writers [must] arm themselves with upgraded weapons and superior countertactics to crush the enemy.”
Amid today’s loud, abusive and provocative discourses, “there is always room to listen to the whispers of the voice of principled reason and…an impassioned conscience. There is wisdom in sobriety. After all, truth is not measured by decibels,” she added.
“The toughest weapon to combat a complex lie is truth itself. With truth, you can never go wrong. With truth, your pen can trounce any keyboard army hiding behind computer monitors,” Morales said.
Noting how social media have grown to such a degree that they have influenced and even shaped public opinion and called the government to action, the ex-justice said that “if Rizal were alive today, he would have taken his advocacy to the next level.”
“Rizal would have taken his advocacies online and blogged or tweeted his thoughts on the burning issues of the day. Millions probably would’ve subscribed, ‘liked’ or followed his tweets or posts, while those critical of him or simply against him would’ve blocked or unfriended him,” she added.
“With the onset of social media and [the] information explosion, I think the nation has an abundance of writers. What the nation needs now is an army of intelligent readers,” Morales said.
The Ombudsman also said today’s generation has “entered the so-called post-truth era, [when the] truth doesn’t really matter anymore,” adding that, at this time, truth has become “irrelevant” and discussions have become “irreverent.”
“Truth is not served on a silver platter. One must continually assert one’s right to information in order to arrive at a factual truth. History tells us that freedom of speech and the right to information have been fought and won, and so must” be steadfastly protected, she said.
“History likewise tells us that modern-day truths and exposés were considered hearsays and blasphemies at their inception until after they were painstakingly challenged and distilled in the agora of ideas, where sacred leaves and sacrilegious opinions clash to produce that spark that enlightens,” Morales added.
Truth and freedom
The Ombudsman’s lecture was one ofthe featured speeches and sessions that echoed this year’s conference theme, “PEN at 60: Reaffirming the Writer’s Commitment to Truth and Freedom.”
National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, novelist Charlson Ong, and essayist and Philippine Daily Inquirer editor Lito Zulueta were the conference’s overall convenors, with Cesar Quinagan, De La Salle University’s Dr. Shirley Lua, and the UST Varsitarian newspaper as secretariat. Filmmaker Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. gave the keynote address on the first day.
Writers who participated in the sessions were Ong, Zulueta, Rony Diaz, Elmer Ordoñez, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Santiago Villafania, H. Francisco Penoñes Jr., Alfred Yuson, Rebecca Añonuevo, Ericson Acosta, Maria L.M. Fres-Felix, Glenn Diaz, VJ Campilan, Allan Derain, Joselito de los Reyes, Lito Casaje, Joshua Lim So, Rogelio Braga, Alberto “Treb” Monteras 2nd, Layeta Bucoy, Maimona Magayoong, Diandra-Ditma Macarambon, Sorhaila Latip-Yusoph and German Gervacio.
The Philippine PEN—formally known as the Philippine Center of PEN International—held an election for its board of directors for 2018–2021 after the conference sessions. Ong, Fres-Felix, Casaje, Villafania, Peñones, Ateneo de Manila University Press Director Ma. Karina Bolasco, playwright-professor Glenn Sevilla Mas and poet Herminio Beltran Jr. won new terms. They are joined on the board by Magayoong and de los Reyes; poet-translator Marne Kilates; and fictionists Angelo Lacuesta, Eros Atalia and Menchu Aquino Sarmiento.
National Artist for Literature F. Sionil José founded the Philippine PEN in 1957. The association is one of the 149 centers of PEN International, established by British writer-activist C.A. Dawson Scott in London in 1921.
Its website says PEN International “promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations.”