The Manila Critics Circle

MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - November 25, 2015 - 9:00am

Next week, the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) will give the 34th National Book Awards at appropriate ceremonies in the National Museum. Last week in Davao, during the 6th Philippine International Literary Festival, I was asked to give a talk on the history of the Circle. Here is an abridged version:

The Manila Critics Circle was founded in 1981, when Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta, Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, Alfred A. Yuson, and I realized that Philippine books were not getting the attention they deserved. What seemed like a quixotic venture at that time was featured in the Asiaweek Literary Review, in an article that began this way: “Considering the Philippines’ relatively high literacy rate, it is ironic that reading is not a favourite pastime among Filipinos. A quartet of dedicated Manila littérateurs believe it’s high time something were done to dispel this literary lassitude.”

Soon, we were joined by other literary reviewers and critics, some of whom unfortunately have died (and so have Dimalanta and Salanga): Leonides V. Benesa (+), Arlene Babst-Vokey, Virgilio S. Almario, Alice Guillermo, Doreen G. Fernandez (+), Resil B. Mojares, Roger Bresnahan, Miguel A. Bernad SJ (+), Danton R. Remoto, Juaniyo Arcellana, Ruel de Vera, Cirilo F. Bautista, Shirley O. Lua, Soledad S. Reyes, Joel Pablo Salud, Dean Francis Alfar, and Alma Anonas-Carpio.

We instituted the National Book Awards. In the early years, there were several sculptors who donated trophies (later, when the NBDB took over the management of the awards, we were able to pay for trophies). Our sculptors were Eduardo Castrillo, Agnes Arellano, Cesare and Jean Marie Syjuco, Edgar Doctor, Gino Gonzalez, Napoleon Abueva, Tito Sanchez, Michael Allen R. Cacnio, Salvador Joel Alonday, Pete Jimenez, and Lawin Abueva.

Even without paying for the trophies, however, we had huge expenses for holding the awards. We were helped by several corporations, agencies, and schools, such as Artlab, Ateneo de Manila University, Ayala Museum, Benguet Corporation, Betty’s Sans-Rival & Catering Service, Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Cultural Center of the Philippines, De La Salle University, Equitable Philippine Commercial International Bank, Far Eastern University, Filipinas Foundation, Filipino Bookstore, Fortune Tobacco Corporation, Ganesh Art Center, Heritage Art Gallery, Jollibee Foods Corporation, La Tondeña, Land Bank of the Philippines, Magnolia Corporation, Manila Electric Company, Mobil Philippines, Nestlé Philippines, Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, Philippine Studies Association, Primetrade Asia, San Miguel Corporation, SGV & Company, University of Santo Tomas, and the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center. We were always supported by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Today, NBDB covers the costs, with help from the NCCA. NBDB also adds to our expertise by inviting many other critics, organizations, and schools to join the judging.

Some winners receive cash awards from various donors. We have the Alfonso T. Ongpin Prize for Art, the Artline Highlighters Prize for Nonfiction in English, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Prize for Business/Economics/Finance, the Cirilo F. Bautista Prize for Short Fiction in English, the Clodualdo del Mundo Sr. Prize for Literary Criticism in a Local Language, the Elfren S. Cruz Prize for Social Sciences, the John C. Kaw Prize for History, the Juan C. Laya Prize for the Novel, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino Prize for Language Studies, the Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta Prize for Literary Criticism in English, the Philippine Literary Arts Council Prize for Poetry in English, the Pilipinas Shell Prize for Science, and the Victorio C. Valledor Prize for Professions.

The categories for the awards have changed practically every year, depending on the types of books being published in the country. Since 1981, we have awarded books in Art Studies, Bibliography, Biography/Autobiography, Business/Economics/Finance, Cartoons, Children’s Literature, Comicbooks, Cookbooks, Cultural Criticism, Cultural Studies, Dictionaries, Documentation, Drama, Editing, Education, Environment, Creative Nonfiction, Film or Film Criticism, Folklore, History and Essay, Law, Linguistics, Literary Studies, Media, Medicine, Music, Personal Anthology, Philosophy, Photography, Photo-Journalism, Reference, Screenplay, Special Interest, Sports, Theology/Religion, Travel, and Young Adult Literature.

This year, we have the following categories: Novel in English, Novel in Filipino, Short Stories in English, Nonfiction in English, Essays in English, Essays in Filipino, Anthology in Filipino, Literary Criticism/Literary History in English, Literary Criticism/Literary History in Filipino, Poetry in English, Poetry in Filipino, Poetry in Hiligaynon/Kinaray-a, Graphic Literature in English, Graphic Literature in Filipino, Wordless Graphic Literature, Translation, Language Studies, Food, Social Sciences, Professions, Leisure, Art, Science, History, Journalism, and Design.

Our top award is Publisher of the Year. So far, the winners are Anvil Publishing (11 times), New Day Publishing, Cacho Hermanos / Solar Publishing, Kalikasan Press, Bookmark, University of the Philippines Press, University of the Philippines Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Ateneo de Manila University Press, and Visprint. The Panitikan Series of ADMU Press, De La Salle University Press, and UP Press was also named Publisher of the Year.

We have also given Lifetime Achievement Awards to Gloria Rodriguez, Esther M. Pacheco, and Gilda Cordero Fernando.

When we started in 1981, there were very few quality books being published in the Philippines. Today there are hundreds of Philippine books marvelously written, beautifully designed, professionally published, and widely read. We critics can ask for nothing more.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with