Of and in Bikol

IT IS already official, the Aréjola Foundation for Social Responsibility, Inc. (AFSRI) will be conferred with the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg, a recognition for organizations promoting advancements in Philippine literature, by the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL). Former director of UP Institute of Creative Writing and UMPIL President Vim Nadera says that Gawad Bucaneg had not been awarded in the recent years, only this year when Arejola Foundation reached their knowing and proved itself to be worthy of the prestigious recognition.

Juliana Arejola-Fajardo Workshop sa Pagsurat-Bikol

Not too widely known to many Bikolanos, The Arejola Foundation runs two of the most essential components of the contemporary Bikol literary scenes: the Juliana Arejola-Fajardo Workshop sa Pagsurat-Bikol (JAFWPB) and the Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon (PTALB). Without these two projects by the Foundation, Bikol literary scene could have been less animated and still somehow Manilacentric in many things.

Gone were the days when our young creative writers took chance solely in the literary workshops sponsored by Manila universities like the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, and University of Sto. Tomas. A few of our writers even went island-hopping to Iligan, Bacolod, or Dumaguete for their works to be workshopped by some of the country’s best writers. None of the mentioned literary workshops, however, offered slots for Bikol literary works. I was a fellow of the 44th UP National Writers Workshop to which I brought in poems—ráwitdáwit—in Bikol, but my batch was the last UPNWW accepting literary works in the regional languages. UPNWWs thereafter have been devoted to mid-career writers. When I became a fellow of the 5th JAFWPB two years ago, I recognized a big difference between UPNWW and JAFWPB panelists critiquing works in Bikol. In UPNWW, only Jun Balde and co-fellow Jo Bisuña could write in Bikol, everybody else wrote in either English or Tagalog. In JAFWPB, we had panelists, teacher-participants, and co-fellows who were also writing in Bikol, and thus, we were able to look into each other’s works with whole heart and spirit.

Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon

In the realm of national literary awards, the prestigious Don Carlos Memorial Palanca Awards for Philippine Literature still has no category for Bikol. This is despite the obvious emergence of Bikolano writers writing in Bikol, a movement that is recognized by almost every Filipino writer. A number of Bikolano writers are already Palanca awardees—Maryanne Moll for short fiction in English, Carlo Arejola for screenplay in Filipino, Kristian Cordero for short fiction in Filipino, and some more—both those who are either in Bikol or Manila or in any other part of the globe. But what about works in the languages of Bikol? Thanks to the Foundation the Arejola family established, we have for the PTALB. In PTALB, literary works in every possible ethnolinguistic group we have in Bikol can have the chance to be recognized as an outstanding work of art. In one of the recent PTALB, there was an entry of poems in Buhînon. In this case, PTALB is no longer a mere literary contest, it becomes a venue for Bikol languages, especially those that still have no written literatures, to be recognized in the field of literature and culture. It is indubitable then, that the institution is sincere and active in its efforts toward advancements in Bikol literary and cultural qualities. Not to mention that the funding for these projects mainly come from resource of the Arejola family despite its tie-ups with some civic organizations and government agencies.

In a greater scheme of things, the Gawad Bucaneg which Arejola Foundation will receive at the end of the month is a recognition of something good and beautiful in Bikol. It is a testament that in the contemporary Ibalóng, native literature and culture is being taken care of, studied, developed, made known to its real owners—very much of and in Bikol. Then, this is something to celebrate for not just by the Arejola family and their cultural chums, but by all of us Bikolanos.

Let me end by quoting UMPIL’s citation for the Gawad Bucaneg awardee: “For the special support and attention to, and the resources it has given and reserved for, the development and promotion of Bikol literature and culture.

“During the past five years, the Foundation has initiated and pursued two major literary projects: the [JAFWPB], Bicol's only annual creative writing workshop, and the [PTALB], the last now widely regarded as the region's premiere literary prize. It has, moreover, collaborated with civic organizations in literary campaigns by distributing books and reading materials to public elementary schools in remote barangays of Camarines Sur. From its own heart and coffers, therefore, the Foundation has done no small part in the current resurgence in Bikol writing, and in the end enriching Filipino literature.”


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