Penman No. 326: A Season of Winners

Cafe.jpgPenman for Monday, November 5, 2018


UNEXPECTEDLY, OCTOBER turned out to be a season of winners, with a series of important awards being announced involving culture and the arts.

Foremost, of course, were the National Artist Awards, eagerly anticipated by the cultural community every two years or so. Dismayed as I was by the Palace’s decision to drop Nora Aunor (and even more by the silly excuse they gave for doing so—I’m reasonably sure I can live with the agony and torment if they went nuts and named me a National Artist, which I would shyly accept), the rest of the list pretty much got a pass from the arts community, as far as I could tell.

I was especially happy to see old friends and acquaintances like Amel Bonifacio, Resil Mojares, Kidlat Tahimik, and Ryan Cayabyab on the list, people whose work I’ve known and respected for a long time. And not to take the shine off any of the winners, but I was also sad to find, once again, that my personal bets for this highest of creative honors—among them the poet Jimmy Abad and the artists Junyee and Jaime de Guzman—would have to wait for yet another round. Having been involved to some minor degree in the search process for previous NAs, I know that more visibility for the artist helps, and we’ll work on it next time.

But there was plenty of recognition to go around last month, albeit on a more local scale.

For the past six years, I’ve been privileged to serve on the Selection Committee of Quezon City’s Manuel L. Quezon Gawad Parangal for Outstanding Citizens and Institutions. It’s a task I’ve shared with former Budget Minister and City Administrator Manny Alba, former UP President Emer Roman, former QC councilor Bert Galarpe, lawyer Vicky Loanzon, and former QC Vice Mayor Connie Angeles.

There’s never any shortage of achievers from Quezon City to acknowledge in whatever field, from politics, education, and business to the arts, media, and entertainment. This year, in ceremonies last October 12, I was delighted to greet some friends among the awardees. (I assure you our friendship had nothing to do with their recognition, impeccably supported by the evidence.)

Among them was the engineer and educator Rey Vea, who belonged to the mythical first batch of the Philippine Science High School, two years ahead of me; we worked together in the UP Collegian, were arrested within a day of each other under martial law, and flew to the US in the same batch of Fulbright study grantees. Rey went on to become dean of the UP College of Engineering, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority, and president of Mapua University.

Another outstanding QC citizen honored was the poet, editor, and screenwriter Jose “Pete” Lacaba, one of those colleagues I deeply admire as much for his craft as for his dedication to it. Like his own hero Nick Joaquin with whom he worked, Pete never drew a line between journalism and creative writing, and produced first-rate results with whatever he put his mind to. A few years older than me and a Pateros boy, Pete hung out in the same Rizal Provincial Library that I spent many an afternoon in back in the mid-1960s. We later both wrote scripts for Lino Brocka, along with Ricky Lee and Joey Reyes, and the joke among us was that Pete got all the best, long-gestating projects like Jaguar and Bayan Ko because he also wrote the slowest.

And this is as good a time as any to congratulate my fellow STAR columnist and another good friend, the writer and entrepreneur Wilson Lee Flores, whom you’ll find smiling even in the most difficult circumstances, such as when the 79-year-old Kamuning Bakery that he had almost singlehandedly revived burned down last February. The bakery itself had won the same award last year for its artisanal bread, but our committee thought that the proprietor—also a three-time Palanca laureate—deserved one on his own.

In the institutional category, my loudest cheers went to Ma Mon Luk, the iconic house of noodles I’ve patronized since I was a boy and whose owner George Ma Mon Luk is a fellow fountain pen and typewriter collector, and the Erehwon Art Center, which its founder and patron Raffy Benitez has tirelessly guided within a few short years to becoming one of the city’s true cultural oases, virtually a mini-CCP that has projected the best of Philippine art both here and overseas.

And I can’t let this review pass without mentioning the Palanca Awards for Literature, which for the first time in its 68-year-long history held its Awards Night this year in October instead of the customary September 1. Among the winners was a neurosurgeon named Ron Baticulon who had nursed a dream of writing well enough to win a Palanca, which his work “Sometimes You Can’t Save Them All” did, for Second Prize in the Essay in English category. The piece is a powerful and moving account of a young doctor’s encounters with the families of the dying, and of the humanity that asserts itself in the bleakest of situations. I’m looking forward to the release of Ron’s first book from the UP Press early next year.

To them and all the other winners from last month’s derbies, my warmest congratulations.



Penman No. 18: My Own QC Memorial

Penman for Monday, October 29, 2012

BECAUSE OF the timing of this current trip to the US, I failed to attend the awarding ceremonies two weeks ago for Quezon City’s Gawad Parangal, which I was honored to receive this year among other sons and daughters of the city. So by way of publicly thanking the people who gave me that distinction, let me offer up my own memorial to that city which I now call home.

“Now,” I just realized, goes back almost 45 years, except for a couple of stretches we spent in Pasig and San Mateo. The Dalisays—my parents and their five kids—might as well have been gypsies in our childhood, moving around Manila at least a dozen times while we were growing up, everywhere from Pasay and Singalong to Boni Avenue and Pasig (not just one but three barrios in Pasig—Malinao, Bambang, and San Nicolas). Childhood and adolescence were to me a series of moving trucks carting increasingly smaller loads of furniture, appliances, and sundry effects from one apartment or rented space to another.

But it’s Quezon City that’s accounted for most of my life, since the early ‘60s when we found ourselves on Liberty Avenue—peppered by grainy-sweet aratiles—before our Pasig interlude. When I qualified for the Philippine Science High School in 1966, we moved back to Quezon City, to another apartment on Mahiyain Street in Teachers Village, where we ran a small and luckless poultry business in the backyard; I learned to smoke here, and I remember looking up at the tracered sky one New Year’s Eve and sighing, “It’s 1970!”

We were paying P160 a month for that apartment, but even that proved too much, and we had to move again, to what amounted to a lean-to that my father built on the side of a house on Tandang Sora; here we kept a pig in the bathroom and performed our ablutions under his watchful eye. I walked from this happy hovel to my classes in UP; the happiness ended, at least for me, when I was arrested in this same place under martial law in January 1973.

Within a year I was out of prison and married; my young bride Beng and I moved briefly to an apartment on Bignay Street in Kamuning, and then to Project 6, before settling in with Beng’s folks in Barangay Marilag in Project 4. In 1978, my parents decided to amortize a small house and lot in Modesta Village in San Mateo, so, being the good son, I took the house next to theirs, and paid that off over 15 years, even when we lived elsewhere. In those carless days, commuting to work meant leaving very early and coming home past dinnertime, so we eventually moved back to Project 4, and then to Sorsogon Street in West Triangle, Masikap Street in Barangay Central, and finally (for now) to Juan Luna in Barangay UP Campus.

It’s been a hectic but exciting journey, in the course of which I grew up, and more; I first met my wife-to-be in Quezon City; I lost my innocence (and more) in Quezon City; I received my college degree in Quezon City; my daughter went to school, had her debut, and got her first job in Quezon City; my father died in Quezon City; I’ve written most of my books in Quezon City.

I’ve often asked myself why—given how wide Metro Manila has grown and how many choices of places to live we middle-class working stiffs have—I’ve kept coming back to QC the couple of times I’ve strayed from it. It’s hardly the prettiest place on earth—although it has green fringes, like Diliman, especially where it overlooks Marikina Valley, that make you forget or want to forget its drearier swaths.

But the wonder of Quezon City is precisely its variety and mutability. A pious president lived on sedate Times Street, not too far from Timog Avenue in its raucous heyday. (And the younger me remembers, with an unrepentant grin, that Manila, Makati, and Pasay had nothing on QC in the nightlife department, back in the day.) Some neighborhoods might verge on the hoity-toity, but few approach the opulence and pretentiousness of the new upper class in Manila’s newer suburbs.

Indeed, if anything, Quezon City is staunchly middle class, my comfort zone, one that stretches from Farmer’s and Ali Mall in Cubao to SM North and Trinoma and the restaurants of Matalino Street and its pedestrian-friendly environs. A perfect Sunday for Beng and me might begin with a morning walk around the UP Academic Oval, a light lunch at Via Mare, then a P250 foot massage at Ton-Ton on V. Luna in mid-afternoon, a half-hour’s browsing through the “new” arrivals at the ukay-ukay next door, an early dinner of chicken mami and siopao in our favorite noodle place in Trinoma, capped by a movie around 7 pm.

The older we get, the less inclined Beng and I are to roam too far from our nest on the UP campus (unless it’s to some exotic destination reachable by budget fare), knowing that, in our corner of QC, everything we need is a 15-to 30-minute drive away: groceries at Rustan’s or Shoppersville, medical check-ups at your choice (or maybe not) of the Lung, Heart, or Kidney Center, certificates of all sorts at the NSO and licenses of all manner at City Hall. And, of course, there’s my workplace-cum-backyard, the University of the Philippines, where I’ll likely stay until they kick me out when I reach mandatory retirement not too long from now.

How I got there is another serendipitous QC story in itself. I’d been working, albeit as a college dropout, at the Manila and then the Makati offices of the National Economic and Development Authority in the late ‘70s when our boss, Gerry Sicat, decided to move our unit to the NEDA office on EDSA, near GMA-7. Being that close to UP, I thought I’d re-enroll and take some units when I could, and I did—and left NEDA to teach in UP.

It was probably just fitting that the person who informed me of my Gawad Parangal was another friend from NEDA days, former Budget Minister Manny Alba, who’s worked for Quezon City for many years now as City Administrator and Senior Adviser to the Mayor. After telling me the happy news, Dr. Alba shared his own reminiscences of UP:

“I note you live on Juan Luna St., UP Campus. So, did I, from 1961 (when the area was still cogonal), until 1983. I was Minister of the Budget for two years then but I left (though I did not want to), because I was feeling guilty paying just about P300 a month and displacing other deserving faculty members.

“I was on leave. In fact, I was on leave for most of the time I was working with the government and it was easy for me to go back to UP after martial law. I was on a status called ‘faculty on government service’ or FOGS (I was one of several original ‘foggies,’ which included Gerry Sicat, Cesar Virata, Jimmy Laya, Tony Aguenza, and OD Corpuz. OD himself concocted the idea of the FOGS, when he was UP President.”

And in my own odd way, that’s what and where I am now—an aging fogey killing time on the fruit farm most people call the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.