Cirilo F. Bautista: A true man of letters
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2018 - 12:00am

The De La Salle University department of Literature and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center posted this warm and loving announcement on Facebook on May 6, “It is with deep sadness we announce the passing of our beloved professor/mentor and perhaps the greatest poet in the annals of Philippine literature – Dr. Cirilo F. Bautista. Rest in peace, our Moses, Gandalf, Nero Wolfe, Obi Wan Kenobi. Till we meet again in Paradise.”

My wife Neni was at the memorial service for him at the CCP and writes with awe and admiration:

To many who knew Cirilo, he was much more than the National Artist for Literature that he was publicly known and acknowledged for. At the Cultural Center’s “Pagdadalamhati ng Bayan,” he was sent off in a farewell ceremony rich in music (even his favorite “Moon River” was sang by the Philippine Vocal Ensemble), dance, poetry, and words of tribute that were generous but still not adequate for the richness of his literary life. 

It was fitting that his poetry, his own words would be read during the ceremony. Poet-performer Lourd Ernest de Veyra began with “Kung Paano Mamatay.” Jen Balboa of the Philippine Daily Inquirer read “To Define is to Know” while comrade poet Gemino Abad recited from memory “Addressed to Myself.

The sharing of reminiscences was warm, affectionate and humorous. Ken Ishikawa was a student of Bautista’s and he quoted the harsh critical comments of his teacher on his early attempts at poetry which today had turned amusing. The mentor-mentee relationship had grown so that the former could tease, rubbing in his status as a major poet to this minor poet. But Ishikawa had matured and grown in his craft, qualifying him to be co-editor with Bautista for “Crowns and Oranges: Works by Young Filipino Poets.”

Ronald Baytan, current director of DLSU’s Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center which Bautista founded in 1991 and named in memory of his favorite Filipino writer, remembers how Bautista emphasized the importance of continuing creative writing workshops to develop quality writing and research.

Babeth Lolarga spoke as representative of the Baguio Writers’ Group which Bautista organized while he was teaching at St. Louis University. Baguio had always been a special place for him because as Babeth recounted, it was there where he met his wife, Rose Marie Jimenez, then a student at St. Theresa’s. Rose Marie’s parents were against the marriage, fearful that their daughter would starve with a poet for a husband. But a Theresian nun facilitated the poor boy-middle class girl romance.

An audio-visual presentation of the CCP on Bautista, the National Artist showed him reciting a poem dedicated to his wife, from “One Hundred and Twelve Words for Rose Marie”:

Three times a mother and still a wife, moving in life’s most troubled times, she marks her claim
on memory: Rose Marie: alive, aflame. Thus fixed in fate, wise in the works of loving,
she multiplies the grace in this household, such that simple things bloom in plenitude: flowers grow in her gestures, solitude retreats with her smile, and Death in his cold exactitude accepts her compromise.

Krip Yuson spoke as a close family friend and along with Jimmy Abad and Davao-based Ricky de Ungria are close associates of Bautista’s as co-founders of the Philippine Literary Arts Council which published the poetry journal “Caracoa.” A publication that is missed.

National Artist F. Sionil Jose in his characteristic outspoken manner, lauded Bautista’s love of country and literary excellence, but added that not all national artists seem to have met those criteria. Addressing Bautista, he admitted that this may not be the proper venue to say this, but it had to be said.

The arrival and departure honors for Cirilo F. Bautista’s remains now held in an urn were moving and impressive – and one wished National Artists and writers like him were paid the same lavish attention in their lifetimes, in their prime.

It is really his students who remember him best, generous as he was with his time and talent and concerned that young writers, especially those outside Metro Manila, are mentored by more senior writers in writing workshops. Our son Roel wrote this Facebook tribute:

“The first time I met him was back in ‘94 for my Intro to Poetry class. I had just shifted to AB-Literature as my major (from being a Business major because I used darts in my college application), and (true to form back then) walked in his class, late, on the third week of the term. Still being the terror he was known to be, he singled me out. Bellowing to summon me to the front of the class (“You...who are you? What are you doing in my class?”), he proceeded to suggest (to myself and the rest of my classmates) that maybe I just shifted because I incorrectly assumed Literature would be an easier course. I didn’t, of course, but stayed fearfully silent.

That was my baptism of fire as a lifelong student of literature and writing. I’m grateful he gave me a hard time, as it pushed me to work harder and prove my worth. The perfect grade he gave me for my final paper provided much-needed encouragement to seriously pursue a life and career always intertwined with literature.

He was never my teacher again, but we’d always have brief, yet meaningful encounters in campus during my stay in DLSU, turning into the warm and painfully kind man known to many. The last of which was during a book launch as he giddily recounted a few anecdotes about my batch while signing my copy of “Believe and Betray.”

He will certainly stand out as one of the sturdiest of lights whenever I look back at my long and winding years in Taft as an undergraduate. And I will always be grateful.”

Summer creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on May 19, 26 and June 2 (1:30 pm-3 pm; independent sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration contact 0945-2273216 or writethingsph@gmail.com.

*      *      *

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com.

CIRILO F. BAUTISTA
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