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All-out for Alab (‘Ay Lab’) Panitikan 2016

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All-out for Alab (‘Ay Lab’) Panitikan 2016

FRANCISCO BALAGTAS’ birth anniversary on April 2 was the most appropriate reason for Presidential Proclamation No. 968, issued on Feb. 10, 2015, and declaring the month of April as “Buwan ng Panitikang Filipino” (National Literature Month). But now, on its second year, we find many other reasons for celebrating the month and partners for happy collaboration. The lead agencies spearheading the events are the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF), and the National Book Development Board (NBDB), along with the PUP Creative Writing Center and the DLSU B.N. Santos Creative Writing Center.

Ateneo de Manila University, Jose Rizal Memorial State University in Dapitan, Zamboanga, University of Cebu, University of Santo Tomas, University of San Carlos in Cebu, and University of Saint La Salle Bacolod are also initiating their own activities.

So we will find an April rich with daily events to call attention and pay homage to Philippine literature, past and present. “Alab ng Panitikan,” as the month is billed, evokes passion for literature. The month is also marked by the birth and death anniversaries of literary luminaries Emilio Jacinto, Nick Joaquin, Edith Tiempo and Bien Lumbera.

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The all-out festive launch at the NCCA in Intramuros early this week was a sneak preview of things to come for all lovers of the printed and spoken word. There was band music from an Angono group and strings performances from the NCCA, which included the day’s host, OIC-executive director Adelina M. Suemith. The program hosted by actress Mae Paner highlighted two popular activities. The first was a balagtasan on whether a leader or his or her constituents are directly responsible for the corruption in our midst today.  The talented and enduring MTV trio of Mike Coroza, Teo Antonio and Vim Nadera had all of us listening to every word of their poetic joust. Next, storyteller icon Bodjie Pascua delighted the audience with the children’s classic by Ompong Remigio, “Papel de Liha.”

That the “Buwan ng Panitikan” is dead serious in its intent to reach out to today’s youth is evident in the organizers’ choice of official celebrity ambassadors and spokespersons, crowd drawers both: musician and TV personality Lourd de Veyra and cartoonist Manix Abrera. De Veyra, speaking in the catchy lingo that the youth can identify with, calls April the Superbowl of panitikan.

Kampo Balagtas, a three-day writing camp for the youth in Orion, Bataan, begins on April 1.  Although Balagtas (also known as Francisco Baltazar, the surname he chose when Spanish Governor General Narciso Claveria ordered all Filipinos to adopt names from a given list) was born in Bigaa, Bulacan, he lived in Pandacan, Manila, where he met his muse, Maria Asuncion Rivera.  However, a powerful rival used his influence to send Balagtas to jail on false charges and married Rivera.  Balagtas later moved to Orion where he met and married Juana Tiambeng, a well-off native of that town. How is that for today’s literary gossip? There is a plaza in his honor in Pandacan, while a new Julie Lluch sculpture now stands

in Orion.

National Artist Virgilio Almario reminds us why a month devoted to Philippine literature should be considered essential, especially today. What would we be as a people without an awareness and appreciation of our own literature in our various languages?  The role of literature in our lives can be seen in the richness of our oral tradition and how our ancestors valued the myths, legends and songs that they committed to memory and that embodied all they valued.

How can the NBDB, with its mandate to promote readership and authorship, not be part of the month’s planning and implementation?  Three major events have been tailored for April, all open to the public.

There is the Pinoy Bookstore Tour that the NBDB has scheduled on April 8-10 to celebrate the diversity of Philippine publishing and to show support for establishments carrying Philippine titles or carefully selected foreign titles—Solidaridad Bookshop in Manila, Artbooks.ph in Mandaluyong, Uno Morato in Quezon City, Pandayan Bookshop in Bulacan, and Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio.

In Manila, the NBDB and Instituto Cervantes, along with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, NCCA, KWF and Ayala Land, will mark World Book and Copyright Day (or “Dia del Libro”) on April 23 at Ayala Triangle Gardens to make it more accessible to the public. There will be book fairs, poetry readings, balagtasan performances, and even an innovative pop-up library conceptualized by WTA Architecture & Design Studio.

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The 7th Philippine International Literary Festival on April 28-29 at the QCX Museum is an annual event featuring discussions on responsible industry practices, promotion of locally published titles and Philippine literary talent, and honing one’s craft. “Against Forgetting” is this year’s theme, focusing on literature as an agency of memory, a medium allowing all and diverse voices to be heard.

In April and beyond, let us fall in love with literature all over again. (For details, visit the agency websites or e-mail info@ncca.gov.ph, komfil@kwf.gov.ph, helpdesk@nbdb.gov.ph.)

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board,  a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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