Human Face

Women Writers in Media Now in Aliww exhibit

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We, the Women Writers in Media Now (Women), upon the prodding of the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (Aliww), are “exhibiting ourselves” as writers starting today until April 30. The 4:30 p.m. exhibit opening is preceded by a 3 p.m. forum where three of us—Marites D. Vitug, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon and I—will speak. (See details of the 18th Paz Marquez Benitez Memorial Lecture-Exhibit at http://womenwritersinmedianow.blogspot.ca/.)

“Procure, preserve, promote” writings by and about Filipino women. These three Ps sum up Aliww’s mandate, which has led to the creation of archival “rooms” for women where print items are preserved, items that “allow entry into the world of a woman who has distinguished herself in a particular field.” By providing researchers access to such primary sources, Aliww facilitates the writing of a national history that includes and acknowledges the contribution of Filipino women.

I did write about Aliww a couple of years ago in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine (“More than a library of her own,” March 26, 2011). Now on its 18th year, Aliww holds at least two exhibits a year, says director Rica Bolipata Santos.

Here’s Women’s history:

Women writers on edge, gathered on the edge… In 1981, nine years into the martial law era, a handful of women journalists and literary writers, appalled by the suppression of freedom of expression by the dictatorial regime, gathered, planned, plotted.

The first meetings were tame. The women wanted to hone their writing skills, critique one another’s works and invite veterans to share writing tips and secrets.

Their favorite venue was the Heritage Art Gallery where Odette Alcantara welcomed groups and individuals who needed a place to meet, create and express. The women’s meetings soon evolved into regular forums on issues such as press freedom. The mood would shift from serious to irreverent, from heady to intense, from silly to downright subversive.

From and through all these, things began to emerge and converge.

The women needed a name and came up with several—hilarious, absurd, grim and determined—but they later calmly settled for the no-nonsense Women acronym for Women Writers in Media Now.

Membership was inclusive, with almost no requirements. The Women events attracted a variety of women of all ages and interests—editors, columnists, feature writers, fictionists, poets, scriptwriters. The first anniversary of Women’s founding was well-attended despite dark clouds ahead.

Birthed as it was during the dark days of dictatorial rule, Women was naturally drawn into the national struggle for freedom and human rights. The intrepid women did so by writing courageously about crucial issues in both the mainstream media and the alternative or “mosquito” press.

As a consequence, several Women members went through military interrogation and were grilled on the “subversive” pieces they had written in the 1980s. Undaunted, the women writers conspired with FLAG and Mabini human rights lawyers. They haled the high-handed military officials to the Supreme Court, and won. The interrogations stopped.

Undeterred by harassment and the likelihood of detention or disappearance, the women writers continued to join protests against martial rule, took up the cudgels for political prisoners, detained journalists, and the padlocked We Forum. They also espoused the rights of other oppressed sectors and linked up with like-minded militant groups.

To show the power of the written word, Women published “Filipina” volumes 1 and 2, anthologies of their early works, and “Philippine Press Under Siege” volumes 1 and 2 (1984 and 1985), which contained “dangerous writing” by both women and men that riled the dictatorship. The latter two volumes were copublished with the National Press Club’s Committee to Protect Writers, which Women initiated.

In 1986, the women of Women were present where and when the first word of defiance by the breakaway military was spoken and the People Power uprising that stunned the world was begun. They hailed the fall of the Marcos dictatorship and the rise to the presidency of Corazon C. Aquino.

But Women’s journey was not just about danger and daring. There have been many fun outings through the years, including a miniconcert that revealed the women’s musical talents and their stint as bit players in an award-winning movie. They’ve gone on trips, shared meals and long conversations.

Awards and recognition have come the individual members’ way, mainly for their writing and also for their various involvements as concerned Filipinos. They have carved their individual niches as writers in the Philippines and abroad.

What they upheld then—truth, integrity, professionalism, compassion—they continue to uphold and practice now. Since then and till the present, the women of Women have remained supportive of one another.

And now, in 2013, the treasure trove of written works that these women have entrusted to Aliww serves as proof of their passion for writing. The books they have authored and the memorabilia showcased in this exhibit are further proof of the substance of their work—and their lives—as women and as writers.

This exhibit is a celebration not only of their achievements in the media but also of their 33-year friendship and sisterhood.

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The women writers-exhibitors: Leonor Aureus Briscoe, Arlene Babst Vokey, Sheila S. Coronel, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Fanny A. Garcia, Mila Astorga Garcia, Sol F. Juvida, Fe Panaligan Koons, Marra PL. Lanot, Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, Gemma Nemenzo, Sylvia L. Mayuga, Lilia Quindoza Santiago, Paulynn Paredes Sicam, Rochit I. Tañedo, Marites Danguilan Vitug and Criselda Yabes.

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