Five books from Iloilo
Five books from Iloilo
- Alfred A. Yuson () - March 10, 2003 - 12:00am
The invitation was to attend a fellowship dinner at University of San Agustin in Iloilo City. It came from John Iremil Teodoro, whom we knew to be an outstanding young poet and writer. Our understanding was that an important book would also be launched on the night the university commemorated its 50th anniversary.

We came away with much more than the memory of spending a night in an Augustinian convent and the acquisition of a single title. The overnight visit resulted in new friendships, a late night out with some young people with whom we did a jazz bar and a KTV parlor, a spirited breakfast at a refectory with a trio of Augustinian stalwarts, morning at a beach where we took in a sand-sculpting and body-painting contest, and by the time we were ready to fly back home, a couple of boxes of delicacies from Panaderia de Iloilo, some curious handicrafts (including arnis sticks and slingshots) from the public market, and five new books in our hands.

Another item we didn’t expect or bargain for was our delivery of the final remarks on that first evening of March, before a podium on a large stage laid out in an elegant al fresco setting – a tree-lined, grassy quadrangle where over a hundred monobloc tables and the requisite chairs had been laid out for alumni and guests to partake of roast calf, lechon Ilonggo and sundry other buffet specialties.

Dance numbers had been performed on that stage, speeches delivered, and an audio-visual presentation conducted to showcase the history of an educational institution that turned golden that night, and would in fact celebrate its centenary as a school the following year.

To mark the double-occasion, it was announced that USA’s new publishing label Libro Agustino, which operated under the University Coordinating Center for Research and Publications (UCRP), would be putting out one hundred titles within five years, starting in 2003. In fact the first three titles were being launched shortly.

John Iremil Teodoro, the headman for Libro Agustino, and UCRP director Jigger Latoza went on-stage to hand the books to their authors and/or heirs. University president Fr. Manuel M. Vergara, O.S.A., his predecessor Fr. Rodolfo M. Arreza, O.S.A. who was himself one of the authors, the young writer-editor Alex C. delos Santos, his mentor Dr. Leoncio P. Deriada, a niece of the legendary, multi-genre writer Magdalena G. Jalandoni, and her Filipino translator Annie G. Juanico took their turns offering or receiving the first copies as the crowd cheered on.

We were still extending our dining privileges, picking on the leftover lechon on a table we had joined to sit beside our old friend Leo Deriada – who’s unarguably the most prominent writer in Western Visayas – when we heard ourselves being called to deliver the final remarks. Gulp. That’s what we did to the pork in our throat; no time even to wash it down with the red wine.

With less than grudging demeanor did we troop across the lawn, nodding to the conviction that there was no such thing as a free supper, and that now we had to sing for it. Which was just as well, anyway, as we did get to inform the riveted audience of our representation of the esteemed Manila Critics Circle – surely by now a misnomer, as we rattled off the names that formed the select membership of what had become a national body, what with the inclusion of Fr. Miguel Bernad, S.J. of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, Dr. Resil Mojares of the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, and the peripatetic Danton Remoto, now frittering away his handsome cash prize from the Philippines Free Press poetry awards while on extended R&R in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – in addition to head honcho Dr. Isagani Cruz of DLSU, Dr. Ophelia A. Dimalanta of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Studies, Dr. Cirilo F. Bautista of DLSU, Virgilio S. Almario of the UP Likhaan: Institute of Creative Writing, Ruel de Vera of the Inquirer and Ateneo, and Juaniyo Arcellana of The Philippine Star.

That last namedrop had us gulping again. If he were here with us, what imagined secrets would he reveal in his next kulam? What if he joined us in conducting the eventual, eventful barhop with the fashionably garbed twentysomethings Gen dela Cruz and Marj Akil of Chalk magazine, who were also visiting from Manila and staying at the convent, a few doors down from ours, past some intervening friars’ quarters? What would Mang Juaning conceive of and report? Ah, the irrepressible youngblood of developmental journalism.

In any case, we remarked, the MCC which gave out annual National Book Awards would now have its task cut out for its 10 members. Imagine poring over and reviewing a hundred books from Libro Agustino in the next five years. That’s at least two a year for each of us, of Iloilo’s produce alone.

As we left the stage we were presented the first three books, and as we got back to our table, a couple more materialized in our hands. Now that gives us five titles to highlight for this piece alone.

Leading off the red-ribbon-wrapped first produce for the year was Ex Corde Universitatis (From the Heart of the University) by Rodolfo M. Arreza, O.S.A., recent past president of USA, from 2000 to 2002.

The good father had previously authored The Guadalupe Shrine (1991) and The University of San Agustin Through the Years (1994). His new book is a personal anthology of verbalized text compiled and edited by Nenelyn D. de la Fuente. Part I comprises homilies delivered during masses for special occasions, while Part II includes keynote addresses, inspirational messages, and welcome, opening and closing remarks.

Here’s an excerpt from the collection:

"It is important to note… that those to whom Augustine bequeathed the Augustinian cultural heritage have moved on to enrich life. Augustine’s literary genius has been noted in the works of Fray Luis de Leon, O.S.A., a truly renaissance Augustinian, and of Palanca laureate, Fray Gilbert Luis Centina, O.S.A., to name a few.

"This obsession with the power of words was also evident in the works of Augustinian missionaries in the Philippines who noted that both men and women in the 17th-18th century Philippines were ‘addicted to reading poetry.’ This observation moved them to ‘write in the various Filipino languages the passion, dalitas, and other forms of poetry to bring across the message of the gospel’ to the natives. Thus, the first passion ever written flowed from the pen of Augustinian Father Antonio Santos Mejia in the Iloko language. Aside from writing grammar books and dictionaries, the Spanish Augustinians wrote poetry in Tagalog, Iloko, Kapampangan, Hiligaynon and Cebuano."

The next book, The Rise of Kinaray-a: History and Anthology of Contemporary Literature in Antique, was written and edited by Alex C. delos Santos, who writes poetry, fiction and drama in Kinaray-a, English and Filipino, and conducts writing, theater, and children’s arts workshops. He was awarded the CCP Literature Grant for Kinaray-a poetry in 1992, and attended the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete in 2000 and the UP writers workshop the following year. He lives and teaches in San Jose de Buenavista in Antique.

Leo Deriada writes in his Foreword:

"This book on Kinaray-a language and literature is a necessary part of Philippine literary history. At last, a native speaker of this most maligned language has written a book that shows the present generation the greatness of this language that used to be considered no better than the utterance of the muchacha and the sakada… Indeed, we should jubilate. For an ancient but painfully marginalized language has resurrected its literary strength to help further develop our national literature."

We recall that on the drive from the airport, John had explained how Kinaray-a was actually the mother tongue in Panay Island, until urbanization gave rise to its corruption into Hiligaynon, which has since been spoken only in the cities, while the hinterlands retained Kinaray-a. This Delos Santos confirms in his breakthrough book: "What is now known as Hiligaynon, which most anthropologists and linguists acknowledge as the major language of West Visayas, is actually Kinaray-a influenced by the Chinese and the Spanish settlers of Iloilo City."

The book traces "The Rise of Kinaray-a" and its differences with the "Hiligaynon hegemony," reviews themes in Kinaray-a poetry, offers a selected bibliography, and just as important, presents an anthology of contemporary Kinaray-a poetry, fiction and drama, with translations into English. Indeed, it is a most impressive effort by Alex delos Santos, who humbly acknowledges the inspiration and guidance provided by Leo Deriada.

The third book in Libro Agustino’s initial triple offering of its Western Visayas Literature Series is Labi sa Bulawan (isang dulang Hiligaynon) by Magdalena G. Jalandoni, translated into Filipino by Anne G. Juanico, principal of the elementary department of USA.

Jalandoni is of course the revered Hiligaynon poet, fictionist and dramatist who was born in Jaro in 1891 and almost single-handedly made a mark for Western Visayas literature by producing 36 novels, 122 short stories, seven novellas, five corridos, eight narrative poems, 231 lyric poems, seven full-length plays, 24 short plays, seven volumes of essays, and a couple of biographies. She won the first Republic Heritage Award for literature in 1969, and passed away in 1978 at the age of 87. Safe to say that Jalandoni is due for a posthumous National Artist award for literature one of these days.

And now we get to the bonus offerings.

We were also handed Leoncio P. Deriada’s latest title, Little Workshops, Little Critiques, a follow-up of sorts to his well-received book Little Lessons, Little Lectures (on proper English), which we extolled in this space early last year. The new title, also published by Seguiban Printers and Publishing House in La Paz, Iloilo City, is a collection of Deriada’s columns in Home Life magazine. Dwelling on the writing of poetry, it is a virtual serial workshop, invaluable for any student or lover or writer of poetry. And perhaps when we find more space in the future, we can share some of the important lessons Deriada imparts in this book, with much wisdom and generosity.

John Iremil Teodoro in turn gave us a copy of SanAg 2, the literary journal of the Fray de Leon Writing Desk, USA, which he edits. "SanAg" stands not only for San Agustin, but also appropriately means a beam of light. This second volume puts together "a rainbow collection of Western Visayas culture and arts" – while featuring the five languages: Aklanon, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Filipino and English – "in which Western Visayas literature is woven, from a colorful canvas of imagination."

Among the contributors are Teodoro himself, Delos Santos, Deriada, Melchor Cichon, Isidoro Cruz, Felino Garcia, Jr., Evee Huervana, Alice Sun-Cua, Vicente Groyon and Glenn Sevilla Mas.

In his Introduction, Teodoro quotes a paragraph from Saint Augustine’s Confessions, which we immediately fell in wonder of, while sunning ourselves in the surf on Bantayan Beach in nearby Guimbas. Only proper to end our report with this lovely excerpt, among the multiple gifts we received on our overnight visit to Iloilo.

"Too late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient, O Beauty so new, too late have I loved You!… Those things kept me far from you, which, unless they existed in you, would have been no being. You have called, you have cried out and pierced my deafness. You have lightened, you have shone forth your fragrance, and I have drawn my breath and pant after you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst, you have touched me, and I am inflamed with the desire of your peace."

As Teodoro sums up, "Literature must be a rainbow-light, a reflection of God’s smiling face." Gulp.

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