MenagerieA visit to National Artist for Literature, Dr. Cirilo Bautista
A visit to National Artist for Literature, Dr. Cirilo Bautista
August 15, 2014
August 15, 2014

“He is a genius,” says Dr. Rosemarie, referring to her husband Dr. Cirilo Bautista. A distinguished academician and poet of the Philippines, he became the 12th National Artist for Literature last June 20, putting him beside such literary giants as F. Sionil Jose, Edith Tiempo, and Nick Joaquin. He has also devoted more than 30 years of his life to teaching in De La Salle University, making him a professor emeritus of Literature.

As a young boy, he started to cultivate his deep love and habit of reading through novels and poems in Tagalog, which were the only available selections in his bookshelf, having been born to a poor family. Yet his fondness in reading and writing only grew, later earning a Bachelor of Arts in Literature in the University of Santo Tomas, a Master of Arts in Literature in St. Louis University, and a Doctor of Arts in Language and Literature in De La Salle University, graduating with two magna cum laude honors.

Currently living in Quezon City, in an old and traditional house that traces back to 1940s, he leads a quiet life with his wife, Dr. Rosemarie, herself a former Dean in School of Design and Arts in the De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde. Decorating the brown walls of their living room are the multiple certificates and plaques that Dr. Bautista has received throughout his life, but the family pictures that include his three children take up more space. Mystery thriller fictions are shelved in the blue bamboo-interwoven shelf and just nearby, an old piano idly stands by.


Writing for ego, for fellow humans

“It just came to me,” shares the National Artist.

To Dr. Bautista, his passion for writing did not come out of a decision, but as a result of his inseparable romance with reading and writing.

Admitting that he is a shy person, Dr. Bautista is the type who prefers solitude and would rather read books than converse with other people. This inclination for reading and writing helped him develop his attitude towards literature.

From his whole academic career up to the present, writing has become an essential aspect of his life. What fuels Dr. Cirilo to keep on writing?

“[It’s] the need to create. And to whom do you address your creation? You address it to yourself, to your ego. Don’t regard ego as something selfish. It’s just your inner being, your inner self that you would like to satisfy. And so you write, that urge to write something. When I don’t write, I don’t feel satisfied. Don’t take ego negatively as many of them would do. It’s positive. It’s your inner self.

“And why am I writing? I thought about my country. I’m writing for the Filipinos because I want them to change.”

Dr. Bautista’s strong sense of nationalism has manifested in a lot of his works. As he tackles social and cultural issues in his works, he is able to express the distinct quality of Philippine Literature even in a foreign medium.

Growing up reading the works of Liwayway, he reveals how much Filipino literature affected his writing. “You can’t hide it eh. If you’re from Canada, of course you’ll be writing about Canada. If you’re a Chinese, you will write about China.”


For budding writers

His advice to the aspiring writers is simple: “Write, write, write and read, read, read.”

His entire writing career is evidence and a testimony to this advice, for his life is one of strict discipline and faithfulness to what he does. Saying that he “knows not what he would do if not write or read,” everyday a desk and pen have accompanied him and still do. This discipline has come along with great pain at the same time; just look at the Trilogy of St. Lazarus that took him more than 30 years to complete.

Despite mastering both forms of literary writing, writing poetry was much more difficult than doing fiction for Dr. Bautista. “Poems take me quite some time to finish. But if I am writing fiction, it is quite different. In fiction, you can see your direction. In poetry, you cannot know where you are going when you are writing it. You don’t know when it will be finished.”

However he shares that the “act of creating—writing—is similar to that of giving birth: the process is painful, that is, until the baby comes out. Joy erases the pain then.”

Overtime, Dr. Bautista has learned to make the pain bearable through his self-made solutions. To cure himself of writer’s block, he pulls himself away from the piece he is working on. Usually, he opens a book or tries to write a different piece. “If it does not stop, I paint. Sooner or later, it will lead me to the right direction again.”

But writer’s block is just one of the problems that writing entails. How does he cope with the stress? His solution is to simply take a rest from writing. “Then if you feel hungry, you eat the best food you want. Comfort food. My comfort food are pasta dishes. I am a vegetarian so I tend to eat pasta, vegetables. Anything that would make you feel good.”


Dr. Bautista at 74

There weren’t many cataclysmic events in the life of Dr. Bautista. Despite being a constant achiever throughout his life, Dr. Bautista admits that he, too, considers having a lot of failures. The greatest of them all would be the anxiety he feels on whether he will get the award or not, “the feeling of not being appreciated as a writer when you are at 74.”

In this phase of his life, he has also had many realizations concerning his humanity and spirituality. After going through a lot of difficulties, he realizes a truth that most of us tend to forget. “We won’t live long; people die.” But being the faithful Catholic that he is, he believes that “We are not of this world.”

But above anything else, he just wants to be remembered as a good person, more than a good writer. “In the end, writing is nothing. It’s you who will stand out. It’s you apart from writing. That’s just how I think people want to be remembered as a writer. In good thoughts, in good intentions,” he shares.