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Arts and Culture

Post-pandemic creative renewal

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star
Post-pandemic creative renewal
Palanca Foundation director general emeritus Sylvia Palanca-Quirino is honored with an Outstanding Service Award by Carl Anthony Palanca and Criselda “Dang” Cecilio-Palanca.

I’m happy about the revival of a couple of prestigious writing contests I’ve been associated with for some time. Their full return appears to stamp a closure on the pandemic period that had aggravated our lives as lockdown victims for close to three years now, even as the all-clear still has to be officially sounded far and wide.

In fact the renewal of traditional celebratory affairs that mark good writing now joins the surge of creative tides that had been suppressed by the COVID bogeyman. There’s an evident boom not only in the literary and publishing industry, but also involving other creative endeavors as in the visual arts, filmmaking, photography and music. Art exhibit openings have become daily fare. Almost as frequent are film fests and indie screenings, book launchings and literary readings. “Get back to where you once belonged!” re-echoes as a rallying cry.

In late 2019, the 13th Brightleaf Agriculture Journalism Awards thrilled 11 winners in various categories, all of whom were lavished cash prizes and Apple laptops. An additional prize was a three-to-four-day familiarization trip in a neighboring country. Previous destinations were KL, Bali, Bangkok, Beijing, Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Taiwan, and Chang Mai.

But the prize jaunt was usually arranged for the start of the following year. And COVID restrictions changed our lives early in 2020. So the tour had to be shelved. In fact, a contest couldn’t even be held that year.

PMFTI, Inc. restarted the contest in 2021, and followed it up this year. Well, since travel and social restrictions have been lifted somewhat, the 2019 Brightleaf batch of winners finally had their Asian trip last week, in Singapore. The next two batches of winners will have to take their turns at future dates, maybe both in 2023 to wipe out the backlog.

As chair of judges, I was the super-senior uncle serving as chaperone to the young journalists, photojournalists and radio/TV broadcasters. Fellow judge J. Albert Gamboa is another perennial consort, while heading the PMFTI Inc. team were contest organizer Didet Danguilan and Corinne Renes.

The 13th Brightleaf winners had familiar bylines like Henrylito Tacio from Davao, Jonathan Mayuga, Tina Panganiban-Perez, Willie Lomibao, Laila Austria, Ofilia Empian, Karl Ocampo, Elijah Felice Rosales, Louise Maureen Simeon, Joey Gabieta and Sheila Tubalinao.

We stayed at Orchard Rendezvous Hotel on Tanglin Road, at one end of Orchard Road, so this allowed the kids some time for shopping during the brief breaks between tours and meals. Selected restos were Cafe Iguana, Long Beach Robertson Quay for black pepper crab, exemplary deep-fried garoupa and assorted seafood, Boon Tong Kee for its version of Hainanese Chicken Rice, Shimbashi Soba Paragon Mall, Putein Sentosa Island which is listed in the Michelin Guide, and the farewell dinner at Lau Pa Sat hawker center.

The city tours took us to obligatory stops such as Merlion Park, Esplanade Park, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, and Little India. But the most appreciated feature on our second day was Gardens by the Bay, where the Cloud Dome has a recent additional attraction that is the Avatar Experience.

Having been mostly sedentary during lockdown isolation, I paid a price for the physical inactivity by rising with stiff legs the next morning.

The third day took us by cable car from Mount Faber to Sentosa, where I chose to break away from the group that would be subject to more walking for stops at the SEA Aquarium and Madame Tussaud’s (Universal City was closed on Tuesday). I opted for Siloso Beach for some sunbathing and a much-needed nap on a chaise lounge by the white-sand beach. No time for a dip in the waters, which were not exactly inviting anyway, as past experience had taught me. Besides, travel organizer Mia Santos Bugayong and I barely made it out of open spaces before a thunderstorm broke. By then we were safely back under a roof in time to rejoin the group for late lunch.

The 2019 Brightleaf awardees for agriculture journalism enjoyed their delayed prize jaunt last week in Singapore, courtesy of PMFTI, Inc.

So many friends in Singapore, but the blitz visit allowed me to step out of the hotel only to trek a hundred meters each time I had to make it to the closest yellow-boxed smoking spot over a block away. Stiffening limbs had me sharing limited minutes by the hotel area, on three separate occasions — with old buddies DengCoy Miel for coffee and to hand him his Santelmo T-shirts, then my book designer partner Orland Punzalan for craft beer and turnover of a thumb drive with hi-res photos for our next biography project. Neighbors back home Celina Cristobal and Nap Jamir also found time to join me for Lavazza brew and tiramisu, before Nap had to rush to the National Gallery to deliver a talk on his photography.

As it happened, the flight back on Nov. 30 allowed me to catch up with the 70th Palanca Memorial Awards, which had also taken a pandemic leave for two years.

Its revival saw former coordinator Rosendo Bautista honored with a posthumous award, while an Outstanding Service Award was given Sylvia Palanca-Quirino, the director general emeritus, by Criselda “Dang” Cecilio-Palanca and Carlos Palanca IV, president of the Palanca Foundation.

Professor emeritus Nicanor G. Tiongson delivered the Guest of Honor’s speech and was conferred the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi, while best-selling Fil-Am author Jia Tolentino sent an inspirational video message for Filipino writers.

Carl Anthony Palanca then joined his brother Carlos IV, Dang and Nemie Bermejo for the awarding of prizes.

Among the more prominent awardees were Bacolodnon Raymundo T. “Rayboy” Pandan who won the Grand Prize for the Novel in English for Bittersweetland and filmaker Khavn for the nobela for Anti Marcos; 1st prize winners Dumagueteño Ian Rosales Casocot for the Short Story; broadcaster Alfonso Tomas P. “Atom” Araullo for the Essay; Ramil Digal Gulle for Poetry; Elyrah L. Salanga-Torralba for Poetry Written for Children; Layeta P. Bucoy for Full-Length Play; Hall of Famer and fashion maven Peter Solis Nery for Short Story Hiligaynon; Ralph Lorenz G. Fonte, M.D. for Tula; and Joshua Lim So for Dulang Ganap ang Haba.

As Dang Cecilio-Palanca announced in her Sponsor’s Remarks, the oldest among the winners was a 78-year-old lady, while the youngest were twin girls at 12 years of age.

Thus does the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature continue to be a beacon and a challenge for all ages, as writers in several languages and genres bid to join the “parade of champions who may then be emulated by succeeding generations as part of the process of establishing priceless tradition.”

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