Arts and Culture

Prizewinning young essayists

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star

It’s that time of year: Judgment month, or weeks. This here battered gavel of mine has pounded twice, with one or two more occasions to go.

I still don’t know who won the three prizes for Poetry in English of the Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, to be handed out on trad Palanca Night on Sept. 1. All I can say is that co-judge Dr. Marjorie Evasco and I had a wonderful lunch for our first deliberation at Poetry & Prose, that newly opened and oh-so-appropriate venue offering deli stuff et al. on the ground floor of Shangri-La Plaza Mall.

Our co-judge Dr. Elsa Martinez-Coscolluela of Bacolod academe couldn’t join us for the face-to-face treats, but her choices and remarks were duly factored via e-mail correspondence. The second and final deliberation over lunch was at Corazon, terrific for Pinoy-Español dishes, on the 4th level of the same mall’s new East Wing. Ahh, the morcon.

Marj and I couldn’t quite put any finger on who the winners might be. Why, we weren’t even sure if the “voices” behind the strongest collections were of which gender. Suffice it to say that we selected, after rigorous rounds of long-listing, shortlisting, and scoring by collective ranking, what we thought were the most consistent and worthiest among the final seven we preferred. Well, we’ll know soon enough, exactly a fortnight from today.

And ten days after Palanca Night, in what’s becoming just as anticipated an annual tradition, writers will also celebrate the 2014 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards of Philippines Graphic magazine — by toasting to the best in Philippine fiction and poetry that appeared in Graphic’s pages over the past year.

I shouldn’t yet divulge the names of my two co-judges for the Short Fiction contest, since neither has a safehouse as I do. We’ve received a shortlist of 18 published stories — as the choices of the screening committee of Graphic editors. I’ve begun to read them. We make our decision early in September for the top three prizes. The Poet of the Year will also be announced on the same night, as the choice of the Graphic editors.

While I’m on this, might as well mention that it could be a bittersweet night on Sept. 11. The dauntless efforts of Graphic literary editor Alma Anonas-Carpio in keeping these twin contests humming by way of editorial choice, as well as gaining commitments from prize sponsors, have been known to pale only in comparison to her heroism in caregiving for her bedridden husband Relly, himself a journalist, who suffered a stroke three years ago.

We were all aware of how Alma or Jerri had kept trying to nurse him back to health. We all cheered her on. Sadly, Relly passed away after a respiratory-cardiac arrest on Aug. 12. We have condoled with Jerri and her Twin Towers, daughters Alessandra Brigitte and Sabrina. That week of the wake was the only time she had ever missed out on helping put the Graphic to bed on a Thursday night, in tandem with EIC Joel Pablo Salud.

For sure she’ll be her spirited, spunky, joyous and jaunty self on NJ Awards Night. But we’ll all be missing Jerri’s account of how she had bathed, fed, and sweetly taken her leave of her beloved Relly earlier that evening. A group hug might be in order.

Another writing contest, essays by teachers all over the country, has been underway, spearheaded by Graphic in coordination with DepEd. Chances are the awards will also be given on 9/11, if not conducted earlier as a separate activity. Our gavel’s been tapped for this exercise, too. Tough. I understand there are 51 selected draft entries, three for each region, which the judges will have to go through starting any day now.

What is done is the choice for the top winners of an essay-writing contest involving high school students. The prizes have been won and given — on Aug. 7 at Sofitel’s Sunset Pavilion where “60 Years of Japan-Philippines Cooperation” was marked with a celebratory dinner.

For the 60th year of Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the Philippines, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Philippines launched its first Essay Writing Contest for Filipino high school students as one of its activities.

While highlighting the importance of strengthening Japan-Philippines friendship and cooperation, it also became an opportunity for our youth to think critically about the connection between the two countries in the age of globalization. The contest topic focused on young people’s points of view on JICA’s role in Philippine dynamic development through the years.

This writer joined Mr. Juro Chikaraishi, JICA Senior Advisor, and Ms. Bernadette Neri, UP Professor and Palanca Awardee for Short Story for Children, to select the first five winners from among the pre-selected Top Ten outstanding essays.

I was elated to hear that my first-prize choice did win that top spot: “Dumanay Meets JICA” by 15-year-old, 4th-year student Angel Joy K. Orpilla of Tabuk City National High School, Dagupan West, Tabuk City, Kalinga.

Winning 2nd Place was “The Ingredients for a Better World” by Luis Antonio M. Valdez, 14 years old, Grade 9, of South Hill School Incorporated, Los Baños, Laguna.

In 3rd Place was “A Permanent Piece of Home: JICA” by Katherine Anne M. del Rosario, 13, Grade 9, of Cavite National Science High School, Garita-B, Maragondon, Cavite.

In 4th Place was “Maneuvering Velocity: Speed and Direction in Progress through JICA” by Krystel Iris M. de Castro, 16, 4th Year, Recto Memorial National High School, Brgy. Quipot, Tiaong, Quezon.

In 5th Place was “JICA-ODA and the YOUTH: Fostering Partnership in Quest for Development” by Theresa Mae D. Villanueva, 13, Grade 8, also of South Hill School Incorporated, Los Baños, Laguna.

During the dinner, it was pleasurable to see the student winners gathered around two tables with their proud parents, mostly mothers. Such bright, happy faces. A teacher from South Hill School was particularly overjoyed that two of his students had landed among the Top Five winners.

The prizewinners and parents were provided transport costs to Manila, as well as accommodations for the evening. They also received certificates and cash prizes — P15,000, P10,000, P7,000, and P5,000 each for 4th and 5th.

I recall marveling at the way the first-prize winner had chosen to craft her essay, in dramatic fashion, as a narrative. It was what made Angel Joy K. Orpilla’s essay stand out. And what a pleasant surprise to learn that she was from the Cordilleras.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Barefoot, Dumanay labored with each careful step along the path of the slippery mounain slope. It had rained hard the night before; the water-soaked trail that she now traversed had become a great obstacle in her desire to reach her elementary school.

“… In this remote mountain village where Dumanay lived, houses clung close to each other. This is why it is called a tribal village. People here live off the fat of their swidden farm or uma high up in the mounains, their payaw or rice terraces, and whatever game their hunting expeditions bring. Life, then, is hard; poverty a reality to contend with.

“… (W)hen Dumanay was in sixth grade, construction workers came to build a road which passed by their school. Not long after, construction work started in the river below; she came to know that they were building a micro-hydro there.

“Dumanay found out from her teacher that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funded these works. She said that through Japan’s kindness, life for the people in the community would now be much better.

“… Dumanay, in her young age, noticed all these improvements. ‘Even the behavior of the people has changed,’ she thought. ‘They can now afford a smile on their faces; it seems that they are now more confident in facing the challenges of the future.’”

This essay, evidently owing its influence to creative non-fiction, goes on to project how Dumanay finished college, organized a cooperative, and led the community in reforestation projects. Clearly, the young writer has an angelic future in whatever form of writing.

To have recently assessed essays and poetry, and now poring over short fiction — I consider it a privilege, a peek into the future of creative writing in our country. Everything bodes well.

Now if only I can get a call soon from beauty pageant organizers. Evaluating quarter-turns conducted with exquisite grace might yet be another enjoyable metier.

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