TWO renowned writers from the Visayas joined five other Filipino arts practitioners in being inducted into the Order of National Artists (ONA) last week, with their inclusion seen as a major encouragement to and recognition of creative writing and literature in the regions.
In a ceremony in Malacañang last Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte conferred the National Artist title on essayist and literary historian Resil B. Mojares of Cebu province and the late novelist Ramon L. Muzones of Iloilo province.
He also bestowed the honor on the late illustrator Lauro “Larry” Alcala, composer Ryan Cayabyab, children’s theater pioneer Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, architect Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa and maverick filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik (real name: Eric de Guia).
The President lauded the newest National Artists for their “passion and dedication to [their] chosen craft,” and urged them to “pass down their knowledge and skills to the younger generation, because it is only by educating and training the youth [that] the legacy and work of our artists can live on.”
Mojares told The Manila Times after the ceremony that he was “honored” to receive the award.
According to him, becoming a writer was not a conscious decision, but something that he grew into.
“I grew up in a provincial town (Dipolog in Zamboanga del Norte) where my parents were public school teachers; our home had a library; my father contributed articles to journals and magazines,” the septuagenarian author said in a brief interview last Friday.
For him, writing is “not a job,” but a “passion and compulsion,” adding that he considers another National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin, as “an important influence who I came to know early in my career.”
Holder of postgraduate degrees in literature from the University of San Carlos in Cebu and the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, Mojares was lauded by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) as “one of the leading figures in the promotion of regional literature and history.”
“As founding director of the Cebuano Studies Center—an important research institution which placed Cebu in the research and documentation map—he pioneered Cebuano and national identity formation,” the state-run arts agency said in a statement, referring to the professional role he performed from 1975 to 1996.
“For over 50 years, Mojares has published in diverse forms (fiction, essay, journalism, scholarly articles and books) across a wide range of disciplines (literature, history, biography, cultural studies and others),” it added.
Mojares has published 17 books and edited, co-edited or co-authored 11 others. These include The Origins and Rise of the Filipino Novel: A Generic Study of the Filipino Novel Until 1940 (1979); From Marcos to Aquino: Local Perspectives on Political Transition in the Philippines (1991); House of Memory: Essays (1997) (“My most personal work,” Mojares said); The War Against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu, 1899–1906 (1999); Waiting for Mariang Makiling: Essays in Philippine Cultural History (2002); Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge (2006) (“The most substantial and scholarly”); and Isabelo’s Archive (2013), which the author professed to be his “current favorite,” because “it is an exercise in what I would like to do now, blur the boundary between literary and scholarly writing.”
The author won second prize for his short story “Beast in the Fields” in 1971, as well as several National Book Awards. For his contributions to Philippine literature, the Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas (Umpil, or Writers Union of the Philippines) bestowed on him the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas for lifetime achievement in 1997.
Prolific Ilonggo writer
On Muzones, the NCCA described him as a “Hiligaynon poet, essayist, short story writer, critic, grammarian, editor, lexicographer and novelist who authored an unprecedented 61 completed novels.”
Born on March 20, 1913, Muzones finished pre-law at Far Eastern University in Manila and law at Central Philippine University in Iloilo City in 1952, according to the Panitikan: Philippine Literature Portal website.
Some of his novels, a number of which are groundbreakers in Hiligaynon literature, are Ang Bag-ong Maria Clara, Maambong Nga Sapat (1940), Margosatubig (1946), Si Tamblot (1946), Si Tamblot Kandidato Man (1949), Ang Gugma sang Gugma Bayaran (1955), Babae Batuk sa Kalibutan (1959) Malala nga Gutom (1965), Shri-Bishaya (1969), and Dama de Noche (1982–1984).
“Hailed by his peers as the longest-reigning (1938 to 1972) among ‘the three kings of the Hiligaynon novel,’ Muzones brought about its most radical changes while ushering in modernism,” the agency said in the statement.
For his literary contributions, Muzones received the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas in 1988 and the Gawad CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Para sa Sining in 1989. He died on Aug. 17, 1992.
Author and scholar Ma. Cecilia Locsin-Nava, who represented Muzones in Wednesday’s ceremony and who wrote History and Society in the Novels of Ramon Muzones (2001), told The Times that this recognition for the late author was a long time coming.
According to her, Muzones’ award marked the first time an author writing in a regional language garnered it.
“In the years since the ONA was instituted, those who win are always writers in Filipino or English. For the first time this year, somebody from the region won. So this is really history-making,” Locsin-Nava said.
She expressed hope that the honor conferred on Muzones and Mojares would serve as the dawn of a new era for regional writers.
“[T]he one thing they have in common is that [they] are pioneers in their field. They’re trailblazers, they start new things, and Resil’s talent is…entirely different from Muzones’, so I’m happy the judges [recognized this],” Locsin-Nava said.
She also said it was only fair to have authors writing in different Philippine languages also win the title, since “70 percent” of Filipinos “live in the provinces.”
“[P]eople from the regions should be recognized. It’s high time that they should get their place in the sun, because for 45 years they were ignored,” she added. CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA