February 21, 2009

I was invited as delegate during the NCCA sponsored Taboan: Philippine International Literary Arts Festival held at UP-Diliman, Ateneo de Manila and Cubao Expo on February 11-13. Some writers from Thailand and Vietnam were also in attendance to converge with our own writers coming from all over the country. Far from being just a social event, the congress had plenary and panel sessions delving on various issues surrounding the writer’s life.

I was also on official business representing not just the Bicol region but also SM City Naga (to open early May this year). Surely, the opening of the mall will clear new grounds in Bicol’s literary and cultural landscape.

During the festival I was given the inter-related topics “Writing Off-Center” and “Lingo ng Wika”. For me, language is culture and same with language art, is also defined by geography. And the center, if it exists at all could very well be just a parameter for literary practice. For instance, an academized, workshoped, publication and award centered literary practice may just be a culture of urban origin in contrast with the oral tradition still extant in some areas in the countryside. But then we cannot say that this urban literary culture has not permeated to some extent the literary practitioners in the provinces. In Bicol, we also have the academe, and the workshop, publication and award system. It is just that Bicol-based writing ought to reflect if not approximate the Bicol life and whatever universal value that could be derived from it. I would dare say that it is much easier for Bicol-based writers to achieve a higher degree of authenticity and that with this, the concept of being “tukal sa daga” or dislocation is far-fetched. Truly, a new center has emerged and more will follow. Centers defined by culture-base, that is.

But then again, there is language. How does it define authenticity? During the conference, I asserted that the language issue is a product of historical anomaly and multilingualism should not be seen as a problem but rather as a solution—as power and advantage. The Bikol writer is typically multilingual and this is good. Anyway, literary material would tend to ensconce itself in a language that suits it—as defined to some extent by the writer’s language proficiency.

In the main, the Taboan was still a success and must be replicated. The government must finance another gathering of the same magnitude and provide airplane tickets, food and drinks, and hotel accommodations for our writers. It is one way for this government to make atonement for its misgivings. Also, since most of the writerly issues have already been discussed, the next Taboan must focus on the business of partying, drinking and sharing of talents. Writers have enough solitude to last a lifetime.