Alice Tan Gonzales and Rodolfo (“Rody”) Vera have won the top honours in this years’ Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, the Philippines’ top literary awards.
Organised by the Carlos Palanca Foundation and awarded for new and unpublished work, the Palanca awards are now in their 64th year.
Dr Gonzales began her literary career writing in English but she was ‘more effective’ when she started writing in her native Hiligaynon, a language spoken by about 11 million Filippinos.
‘Your native tongue is your mother language, your ‘gut language’ because you feel the intensity of the words when they are written and said in your own language. Writing in Hiligaynon, I can see and feel how powerful my words are,” she said.
‘I feel that it is my duty to perpetuate the use of the language, especially the literary language. Much of the literary language is not used anymore, even in the Visayas. We cannot truly be people of the national community and the international community unless we understand, first of all, that we are Western Visayans.’
While many youth in her hometown, the city of Bacolod, can neither read nor speak Hiligaynon, Dr Gonzales believes this will change. Thanks to the integration of Hiligaynon into the local school curricula and language categories in competitions like the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, more young audiences now learn the language and can write nationally recognised literature in their native tongue.
‘My dream is for Hiligaynon and Philippine Literature to come up with very strong figures that would leave a mark in the international scene,’ Dr Gonzales said. ‘I hope that our regional literature will become very strong so that we will no longer be considered second fiddle.’
Rodolfo C. Vera (“Rody” among his peers), is a playwright, actor, and singer. He would like to see more writers in the Philippines delve into the nation’s history ‘to show that it is still relevant and that it continues to resonate to this day.’
He said, ‘Filipinos find it easy to forget, but I’d like to think that this frame of mind can still change; that we will remember the issues of the past to understand our present society. This is where writers can come in and do their part.’
Rody Vera believes that the role of a writer in the Philippines is to hold a mirror in front of Filipinos to allow them to contemplate their history as a nation and as a people. He is interested now in writing about the Japanese occupation in the Philippines and the La Salle massacre based on the account of his mother, a survivor.
‘I’m excited about the many possibilities in film which is more accessible,’ said the writer who has begun a career as a screenwriter.
See the full list of winners HERE.