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Creative writing centers call for more support

“It is [through] the arts that we can actually become globally competitive.”



The disparity of institutional support between the sciences and the humanities was one of the pressing topics tackled during the forum on “The Literary Muse in Manila” last Oct. 5 at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex Auditorium.

During her opening remarks, Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, director of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (UST CCWLS), addressed these concerns by emphasizing the importance of the arts and the humanities in the academe.

“It is [through] the arts that we can actually become globally competitive,” Hidalgo said.

Similar issues on the current status of literature and creative writing in the different universities of Manila surfaced in the gathering of literature teachers, students, and literary enthusiasts from all over the country in the forum held in celebration of Taboan, the annual literary festival of the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

Collaborations and engagement

De La Salle University Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center Director Dr. Shirley Lua stressed the need for research collaborations between fellows in centers.

Moreover, Lua encouraged more joint efforts with other universities and centers, even with fields and disciplines outside literature.

She said that multidisciplinary research is integral to “demystify” literature and open it as a medium for communication and dialogue between different disciplines.

Research was also the focus of Prof. Diego José Abad, program head of the Department of Literature and Humanities of the Far Eastern University (FEU), who mentioned the need to establish a “culture of research” not only within FEU, but with centers from other universities as well.

He continued that student organizations are also crucial in establishing engagement with the student body—citing FEU’s Literary Society and Literary Guild as key figures in revitalizing literature in their university.

‘Rethinking’ literature and coping with change

Lua, Abad, and Prof. Ralph Semino Galán, assistant director of the UST CCWLS, have suggested the introduction of new courses and literary materials in their respective curricula.

“What new courses [can we offer]? Do we consider [fanfiction], blogs, Wattpad, Facebook [posts] as new literary materials?” Lua asked, stating the need for more workshops on popular media such as flash fiction, graphic fiction, personal essays and even video games.

Galán said that a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing in UST was proposed last 2012, but the degree can only be offered by the University’s Faculty of Arts and Letters starting 2018 after the moratorium on the introduction of new courses following the implementation of the K-12 program.

Currently, the University only offers a master’s degree in Creative Writing.

With select General Education (GE) subjects such as World Literature and Philippine Literature moved to Senior High School, Galán and the CCWLS proposed to replace these GE subjects with Creative Writing subjects and Philippine Literary History.

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Meanwhile, Abad called for internships for FEU’s Literature program. He proposed working in publishing houses or freelance writing as internships for Literature majors in their university whom he described as “sheltered.” Abad is compelled that an OJT for the program would open more career paths for the students.

Dr. Jun Cruz Reyes, Jr., a fellow of the UP Institute of Creative Writing and senior adviser of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) Creative Writing Center, discussed writing style stereotypes of different universities as well as writing trends in millennial culture.

“Ang pumapatay sa mga panitikan ay ang mga manunulat mismo,” Reyes adds, as he emphasizes the need to be creative in teaching literature, especially in using a realistic and natural language as a medium of instruction and in writing.

Opening of new centers, funding, calls for support

FEU and the Philippine Normal University (PNU) currently do not have Creative Writing centers.

Prof. Ferdinand Jarin of PNU recounted his days in the Creative Writing club Bolpen at Papel (BAP) with Joselito Delos Reyes and Eros Atalia, which he described as a “guerilla organization” since it was not accredited by PNU.
Despite the lack of administrative recognition and budget, BAP was able to organize literary events and contests and even publish anthologies.

Nonetheless, Jarin recognized the need to formalize a Creative Writing center in PNU and offer a diploma program in Creative Writing with the purpose of training teachers in the instruction of literature and creative writing – which, he says, often ends up in discussions of mere “moral lessons” and vocabulary.

He hopes that the program would be finally implemented this semester.

Abad, meanwhile, points out a budgetary deficiency as a hindrance for FEU to establish a Creative Writing center.
He also noticed a consistently low enrollment rate in the Literature program and said that there may be a need for their department to offer new, “hipper” courses such as Gay Literature and Creative Nonfiction, as well as offer more Creative Writing courses, in order to attract more students to the program.

Lua also called for support for the humanities from university administrators, the government, funding agencies, legislators and even colleagues in other disciplines and sciences—and even more so, strengthening connections between the different Creative Writing centers in Manila in order to stimulate a strong literary culture in all schools and universities in the city.

“The Literary Muse in Manila” was organized by the UST CCWLS in conjunction with Taboan. Proceedings of the conference will be submitted to the NCCA and to the Commission for Higher Education. The annual festival opened last Sept. 14 at the Central Mindanao University, Bukidnon.



Art and media should highlight women’s struggles, gender issues —women artists

“If we are truly sincere in welcoming women into these spaces, maybe it’s also time to make stories that actually portray women’s different choices,” urged Pen&Ink founder Ingrid Shannah Calapit.



Photo by Hannah Arboleda/TomasinoWeb.

Women still lack appropriate representation and recognition in art and media, according to four women artists.

In the forum “Women in Art: As Producer and As Represented” at the De La Salle University last Feb. 10., Palanca award-winning writer Genevieve Asenjo, Pen&Ink founder Ingrid Shannah Calapit, filmmaker Nana Buxani and visual artist Nikki Luna shared their insights on their different fields of expertise—from literature to conceptual pieces and even to advocacy work—and the struggles they faced as women working in the arts.

Asenjo discussed the presence of femininity and womanhood in the context of Filipino language and literature, with women playing an active roles not only in stories, but also in making them.

She also cited the image of the woman in the intersection of feminism and Filipino literature, stating that the notion of feminism in the literary world has not changed much since it first was introduced to the Philippines.

Nonetheless, Calapit said that despite the greater acceptance of the feminist movement in the country, discourse on the struggles of women in art were still marginalized.

“If we are truly sincere in welcoming women into these spaces, maybe it’s also time to make stories that actually portray women’s different choices,” she urged.

Having worked in the media industry for years as well as heading feminist art magazine Pen&Ink , Calapit further elaborated on the representation of women in popular culture.

“There seems to be an illusion sold to us, that women are already at the same level as men when women actually have to work harder,” she said, alluding to the still-existing issues of gender inequality in the workplace.

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Calapit, who has worked with community media advocates and activist groups, likewise tackled press freedom, particularly with President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against Rappler, which various groups have decried as an attack on press freedom.

She said the concept of press freedom is especially sensitive as it parallels the transgressions of past administrations.

Meanwhile, Buxani—also known for her photography, documentaries and reportage—featured one of her documentaries on the challenges faced by female overseas Filipino workers in Japan. She also highlighted the plight of Filipina photojournalists, detailing how she persevered in a male-dominated field with only a handful of other women and how the field eventually transformed and opened for women.

She encouraged young women to continue with their passions but use caution when necessary.

Luna, meanwhile, portrayed gender-based violence as well the inequality between class and gender as she showcased her work in the convention, detailing the work she does with women who have experienced gender-based violence.

She urged artists to highlight social issues—particularly the struggles of women—in art.

“Art should talk about the world we live in. If not, then what’s the point of having it?” Luna asked, critiquing that the need to have art is to use it as “another form for people to grasp what is happening in society, in their world.”

“Women in Art: As Producer and As Represented” was organized by the Malate Literary Folio at La Salle’s Yuchengco Hall.


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A Celestial Date



Photo by JC Alvero/TomasinoWeb.

It was suffocating.

Stuck on a heavy traffic along Roxas Boulevard, with horns blaring from lanes after lanes, the overwhelming urban tension sizzles in the air. I was desperate for an escape–and the soothing light gleaming through the windshield calmed me that night.

If it were a different night, I would have been already drowned in a swarm of thoughts, being alone on the backseat with no one to talk to other than myself, but the tranquil gaze of the big rock resting on the starless sky kept me distracted. It was as if it’s inviting me to a show, a big and remarkable one, something I would not dare pass on.

It was magical.

As I stared at my screen, I knew that the universe was on my side because for the first time in 150 years, the night of January 31st will be filled with lunar grandeur for three lunar events will transpire: supermoon, blood moon, and blue moon.

A supermoon happens when the moon is at its closest distance to the Earth, making it 14% larger and 30% brighter than the usual, while a blood moon, also known as the lunar eclipse is when the Earth’s shadow gives the moon a reddish hue. Blue moon, on the other hand, is the term used for the second full moon of the month, and it only appears every two or three years. Also known as the Super Blue Blood Moon, this rare occurrence took place last March 31, 1866. Starting at 6:49 P.M., PST, the moon will start to unveil itself, and by the time the clock strikes at 9:29 P.M., the moon’s magnificence will be at its peak until the midnight of February 1.

This lunar magic wove a tale of endings and beginnings–its mystical thread wove beauty through the end of January to bring spring towards February.  

I stared above, amidst the noise of the city rush, I can hear the soft whispers of the moon. I remembered how I used to challenge myself as a child, trying to get away from the moon by continuously running and running and still ended up being chased by this celestial being.  Truly, I’ve been caught in eternal awe at the way the moon can illuminate even the darkest of nights, its gravitational pull working on my soul every time I see one of its different phases.

Even though my face was shrouded with darkness, the driver seemed to sense how tense I had been for the past hour.

“Tingin lang po kayo sa langit, ma’am,” the driver uttered softly.

I sighed and stared momentarily at the moon, its bright light tugging on my heartstrings.

“It’s a date,” I then whispered with a smile.


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December Blues

“Papa will be home soon,” she whispered to him, “he always goes home.”



Animation by Renzo Hipolito/TomasinoWeb

It was past eight in the evening, and the people of the village had never been more thrilled with the upcoming season as it was coming sooner than they expected.

Indeed, Christmas was only a few days away, the evening wind breezing through the trees, hinting its arrival.

While having dinner with his mother, the child stared at his spoon. His right hand turned it around, and his attention was caught not by the Christmas tree from the spoon’s reflection, but by how the tree has gained numerous things that were wrapped in papers of distinct colors, designs, and symbols.

After telling his mother he wasn’t that hungry anymore, she took the plates and washed the dishes first, then before bringing him to his bedroom. As he laid on his bed, the child’s thoughts still focused on what he saw under the tree.

There was a knock on his door, and his mother came in, with a glass of milk on her hand.

“I can’t sleep, mama,” the child said, scratching his eyes.

“Time to sleep,” she told him, “or you won’t get to open those gifts under the Christmas tree.”

The child, having understood what his mother said, or perhaps, a little bit of what she was trying to tell him, nodded and asked her where his father was.

“Papa will be home soon,” she whispered to him, “he always goes home.”

His mother knew his difficulty of drifting off to a deep sleep. He saw her smirking as she looked down at him. She handed him the glass, and while he drank, she told him again to have a good night’s sleep.

Then she turned out the lights and left him alone.

Something suddenly came up in his mind: He set the emptied glass aside and stepped down from his bed. Little did his mother know that she left the windows open, but it wasn’t the idea that came to the child’s mind. Instead, he approached the door, managed to reach for the knob — and he turned it.

The child reached for the doorknob once more ashe silently pulled the door. A faint sound of the door closing — the deadbolt locking it from the inside — echoed faintly along the short hall that would lead downstairs to the living room, then to the kitchen.

As a typical child, he didn’t tiptoe like what an adolescent would do; he carelessly walked towards the stairs, and step by step, not even sure if his mother even heard the door closing.

Surprisingly, he didn’t fall over as his attempt on walking down the stairs became a triumph for him.

Aha! he thought to himself. Mama didn’t notice me.

He was even proud of having left his bedroom without the knowledge of his mother, who would scold him whenever he, as other parents would call it, was “disobedient.”

In the living room, where the Christmas tree stood, he–with a grin on his face–walked closer towards it, his feet trembling in the cold, but it actually helped.

At first, he stared at the things covered in wrappings.

They look lovely! the child thought.

He bent down to reach for one and held it in his hand. It didn’t seem heavy for his soft palms and fingers. He settled himself on the floor and tried to tear off the wrappings, which was another triumph for him. Having accomplished what he set out to do for the night, the child giggled and held the newly-bought teddy bear. I love you, mama.

Little did the child see the letter attached on the wrappings; in a thin ballpen mark, it read: “Miss na kita anak. Love, Papa.”


He was waiting for a ride along the boulevard plagued with traffic; he was already standing under the waiting shed across his school for nearly half an hour.

The traffic was getting worse and he still had a lot to accomplish. Being impatient while waiting for a ride, he pulled out his earphones.

People ran towards buses that seemed to accommodate more passengers, and people complaining about the usual Manila traffic. He glanced at his watch: It was already eight in the evening. That would take him two hours or more to make it to their house, where his mother would be more or less waiting for him.

While he stood under the shed for another fifteen minutes, he watched the cars veering along the road. Then, he felt raindrops falling on his hair and the lens of his glasses. He slowly took a step backwards and found a bench where he settled himself.

Seated alone in the bench, he stared at the Christmas lights at his school from across the road. He saw students walking in and out of the premises — some with their umbrellas, the others braving the sudden downpour of rain. He opened his backpack, rummaging through his things for his umbrella.

Unfortunately — and unsurprisingly, he thought to himself — he left it at home. He remained seated at the bench under the shed and wondered what time would he arrive home.

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Despite having his earphones on, he heard someone hurrying down the footbridge, and he saw a boy standing inches away from where he was seated.

The boy seemed vexed with how his uniform turned out: He obviously dared to walk under the rain. The boy rolled his sleeves up to his elbow, cursed at himself for being reckless.

And he, the unfortunate kid seated on the bench, thought, Poor guy. He must have had a bad day. The boy pulled out his phone and when nobody seemed to answer his call, he threw his phone along the road, where a car just passed by — and his phone crashed to the windshield.

He was surprised with what the boy did. Indeed, the boy was the kind of person he shouldn’t mess with on a Monday night; so, he ignored what he just saw and continued listening to his playlist.

When he looked up to see if a cab or even a jeepney pulled over to accommodate him, the boy walked towards the shed. The boy settled himself next to him, and they both remained silent for a minute, not glancing at each other, his hands on his phone, and the boy’s hands in his pockets.

“You know how it feels to be disowned?” the boy asked him.

He shook his head. “I have no idea,” he said.

“It freaking sucks,” the boy said angrily, “imagine having a father who hits you with anything he sees and forces you to leave the house today, and a mother who doesn’t even go home anymore? Yeah, I’m not that lucky.”

Then he asked the boy, “What made him disown you?”

The boy just stared at him, his eyes burning with sarcasm.

When he knew what the boy was implying, he remained silent and said he was sorry with how the boy was going through. Somehow, he wanted to comfort the boy for he knew how it felt to be isolated. However, he never knew the feeling of being disowned. He glanced at the boy, who, to his surprise, began to sob. He lifted his hands to cover his eyes as he cried, his nails on the verge of scratching his face.

He didn’t know what to do at first, but when the boy leaned on his shoulder, he handed him the left half of his earphones. The boy put it in his ear to listen to the playlist. He realized that the music he was listening to had calmed the boy. He didn’t bother if his shoulder had gone wet because of the boy’s soaked uniform.

He looked up at the shed’s roof where drops of rain poured down the muddy pavement. Having forgotten what time it was — and this time, he didn’t want to know how long he stayed under the shed with the boy.

It felt new for him to be with a boy, but it didn’t surprise him at all. When a jeepney pulled over by the shed, the boy suddenly rose from the bench. The boy told him that he had to go, and the next thing he saw was the jeepney leaving the shed, with the boy looking at him with a slight smile on his face.

As he arrived at their village, where every house was lit with Christmas lights and different kinds of lanterns, he walked all the way to his home and knocked on the door, and he waited for his mother to open it for him.

Mama greeted him with a kiss on his cheek and asked how his day at school went and how were his friends doing. All he said was, “The fireworks were nice, Mama.” He shut the door behind him while his mother walked upstairs hurriedly.

He wondered why she was in such a hurry. He shrugged at that thought, dropped his backpack on the floor, and slouched himself exhaustingly on the couch. While he waited for his mother, he thought of the boy from the shed and wondered how his Christmas would go.

Perhaps, school was more of a home for him than his actual home, he thought.

“Anak, look who’s home just in time for Christmas!” his mother said excitedly, as she bolted down the stairs.

For a moment, he had no idea what his mother was talking about. Then he heard the door of his bedroom open. He looked up and watched while the person slowly walked his way out of his room.

He didn’t recognize the person at all. He was a stranger to him, like the people, whom he never talked to, in their village. He looked new to his eyes. He glanced at his mother and made a gesture that would give her the expected question: Who was he?

His mother gave him a response, a smile that he had never witnessed with his own eyes. It was the kind of smile from his mother that he never saw because it gave him a feeling of something new — something that felt lovelier than home.

It was Papa.

by Ian Jozel Jerez


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