|A rare smile coaxed out of Luis Teodoro|
--Excerpt from Luis V. Teodoro's "Interpreting the World: The Writer as Public Intellectual," keynote address as the PEN Philippines Conference at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Silangan Hall, Dec. 6, 2012
This being a belated account of what transpired at the last Philippine PEN conference, the blogger finds it fitting to begin with what Prof. Teodoro had said less than a month ago.
He pointed out that "the intellectual, like the writer, is necessarily public." Apart from this, he enlarged the definition of what a writer is to include not just poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists (the traditional membership of PEN which has chapters all over the world) but especially journalists.
He spoke in the latter's defense, saying, "Those writers who are neither poets nor novelists and 'only journalists,' are too often denied the distinction of being included in the august company called writers, the products of their craft being thought to be too ephemeral, too bound by time, and in some if not most cases, constricted as well by the interests, whether political or corporate, of the media organizations they write for.
"Journalism is truly writing by the numbers, that virtue, if virtue it indeed be, being driven primarily by the need for information gathering skills. But journalism can be more than information gathering, as many journalists, among them Nick Joaquin, have demonstrated. The journalist who guards and fights for his independence and who is more than a gatherer of information can also be a great writer, if, as Joaquin warned, he approached every article as if it involved the parting of the Red Sea or the splitting of the atom."
"Emman Lacaba was slain without the benefit of charge or trial for joining the army of the poor, departing thus from the conventional path of middle class ease and the Bohemian excess usually—and mistakenly—associated with writers. The poet Lorena Barros was similarly executed—the exquisitely ironic term devised by the military is 'salvaged'—while hundreds of intellectuals in academia and outside were arrested, others were made to disappear never to be seen or heard of again, or thrown into prison, as some of those present today were.
|Teodoro: "..[T]he intellectual speaks the truth and exposes lies—to the end... of interpreting the world towards changing it."|
Teodoro pointed out that not all journalists are blemish-free, saying,"Among journalists some have been more successful than others, and many have succumbed to the blandishments of wealth and power, serving as the spokespersons of local tyrants, business interests, criminal syndicates, the military and/or the police. But public intellectuals have nevertheless emerged among journalists despite the chaos in the communities, where warlordism and corruption, environmental degradation and human rights violations are most pronounced and occurring in the larger context of the poverty and injustice that for centuries have afflicted that portion of humanity we know as Filipinos. These public intellectuals and writers have armed themselves, out of sheer necessity, with a coherent theoretical framework with which they examine and report events in behalf of the fundamental need to understand the roots of human misery.
"Many are in military Orders of Battle and almost regularly receive death threats as the reward for their work. They write with the constant possibility of being ambushed and slain, in courageous affirmation of that commitment to 'speaking the truth and exposing lies' Noam Chomsky declares is the intellectual’s responsibility, interpreting the Philippine world to their readers as part of their contribution to the historic necessity to change it. In what is known as the alternative press, the same focus is as evident in the work of those who labor unrecognized but who have found among those Filipinos fighting for the change that for at least a century has eluded this land, the growing and appreciative audience that can do something about it."
After Teodoro, what could one say or dare add?
|Nery called Rizal "a man of projects...a scholar of history."|
The rest of Dec. 6 went by like a blur, forgive the cliche. For this blogger, it was enough that the most solitary, almost anti-social beings that writers and journalists could be sometimes, weren't clawing the eyes out of each other's faces.
|Angela Stuart Santiago|
She accused Enrile, who came out smelling like roses after the Corona trial, of rewriting history in his so-called autobiography, an exercise that she called a throwback to the Dark Ages when politicians reinvented themselves as icons.
On Enrile's attempt to rewrite history, moderator Rony V. Diaz said, "If that is not sad, I don't know what sad is."
Quite moving was Jaime An Lim's reading of his poem "I Am Finally All I Have" about a "short-time" encounter between two men.
He spoke of how hard it was for homosexual men of his generation to blend in, to "banish the limp wrist, cultivate a manly baritone" so they could not give themselves away. He considered himself one of those "not visible" gays even if he and the others had been around for the longest time.
|Lim: "Liberation starts with self-affirmation."|
That was why he considered the anthology Ladlad, edited by Danton Remoto and Neil Garcia, as "the first Cry of Balintawak of the gay community." In a bigoted world, Lim said, Ladlad helped unite the gay writing community in the belief in the power of numbers "to be heard" and "to change the world...Listen, because we are many."
Jun Cruz Reyes spoke in Filipino about the need for writers to shake the power structures of society given the speed with which today's generation moves: "May nakakarating, may naiiwan."
He noted how topics discussed among writers have veered towards safe ones instead of their seeking out a national discourse that could capture the public's imagination. Such a discourse would be characterized by "pukpukan ng bayag."
He lamented how Rizal has been reduced to "a myth," apart from his figure appearing on the cover of matchboxes and in cement monuments. Cruz Reyes cited the not so recent history of Filipino writers during the dictatorship wherein they were jailed, tortured or executed while confronting issues of oppression. He said this situation goes on in countries like China, Burma and Turkey.
|Jun Cruz Reyes|
He closed by saying writing should go beyond celebrating the self or setting up one's own literary clique.
In most conferences of this kind, sometimes the most exciting discussions, in whispered tones, happen at the back of the room.
It was great to hang out by the secretariat table staffed by Shirley Lua who looked as young as her college literature students. Sometimes, she'd scold us, with a smile, for doubling over in laughter as we found ourselves engaging in pleasurable gossip.
I felt the temperature in that air-conditioned hall go up a bit when Ed Cabagnot marched in partly to listen to the discussions, partly to play.
When I asked why he doesn't co-emcee Writers' Night at UP Diliman with Gou de Jesus anymore, he explained why he was banned from the event. I don't know if this physical reaction of mine is possible. But my non-virgin ears blushed!
|Backroom crowd: Lito Zulueta, Shirley Lua, nice decent lady, Nic Tiongson, someone whose jaw must be locked sometimes and Ed Cabagnot|
|The adjective "patrician" becomes the old guard: National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, Rony Diaz and Elmer Ordoñez|
|Gemma aging young-ly|
|Guerrero cousins Amadis and Gemma|
On the last month of 2012, the old guard, the avant garde, even the guarded and shy convened at Dencio's by Manila Bay for prose and poetry readings in English, Filipino, Chavacano and other languages, drinking, more gossiping and photo ops with the country's first Miss International, Gemma Cruz Araneta, herself an essayist and fictionist.
|That's anthologist Erlinda Panlilio caught in the middle.|
I should've butted in by crooning, "Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng buhay ko."
|Boys at heart at the back: Francis Macansantos and Arnold Molina Azurin. Seated are a Chinay writer who prefers to use a pen name, Gemma and Mrs. Panlilio.|