It’s not an exaggeration to say that the Palanca Awards is a guiding star for a Filipino writer’s artistic expression. Awards aren’t everything. They are not accurate measures of one’s artistic ability, but the Palanca is more than an award. Despite its intimidating stature as one of the premier literary awards and one of the longest-running literary competitions in the Philippines, the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature serves not as a blockade, but as an invitation for the country’s artists to pick up a pen and write.
This year, there were 20 regular categories opened for submissions, with judges handpicked from various fields to discern which literary piece out of the thousands should win the coveted awards. Like the winners, the judges stood out against the sea of people because of the lovely blue ribbon pinned to their chest.
Many of the judges were from De La Salle University’s Literature Department: Sir Eros S. Atalia for Maikling Kuwento, Sir Genaro Gojo Cruz for Tula Para Sa Mga Bata, and Sir John Iremil Teodoro for Short Story (Hiligaynon). It is quite a shock to see one’s former professor waiting in line with you to get lechon at the buffet table, but such is life. It has its ways of surprising us.
Exceeding the expectations of one without
When I first stepped foot in the Peninsula Makati last October 5, I admit I was nervous beyond belief. Here I was, a mere student about to witness the awarding of some of our most talented writers. I had no expectations, and yet, the night exceeded all of them. I sat beside seasoned journalists, and they kindly took me under their wing. I won’t ever forget what they told me that night, “If you can pick up a pen and write, you can win a Palanca. There is no age limit to greatness.” Tito Will smiled.
I don’t know what I expected but seeing students who looked no older than 15 years old win Palanca Awards was not one of them. Somehow, even if I didn’t know who they are, and what their stories are, I felt proud of them. It might have been a little weird for me to root for strangers, but I genuinely felt humbled that I was there to witness the tenacity of young writers who deserved every bit of the praise they got that night.
A gaggle of writers? No, a family
All 54 winners deserved their win. Nearly half of them won their very first Palanca that night. The night’s guest of honor put it best, Alfred “Krip” Yuson shared that it took years after his first Palanca win before he got his second. He made a lighthearted joke as he told the winners to savor the night as it might be years before they win their next Palanca like what happened to him.
Yuson, a recipient of 13 Palanca Awards himself, gave the audience a glimpse into how he perceived the Awards. He began by welcoming everyone. By everyone, he meant the “Palanca family” and the “Palanca blood clan”. Yuson clarified, “I say the Palanca family and the Palanca clan because we are all a part of the Palanca family.” This was met with laughter from the other writers in the room and a few shouts of agreement ringing from the throng.
Earlier that night, it wasn’t odd to see people greet each other with the glee of someone finally seeing a person they’ve missed again. It might not be for me to say, but from what I saw, the night’s attendees have truly made a family. Albeit one that’s particularly talented in writing.
Our writers are humans too
Upon hearing about our country’s best writers, an air of mysticism surrounds their forms in our minds. You don’t expect to hear the writer of that dog-eared book you keep on your library shelf to make jokes, nor do you expect other writers to react with glee when they see other authors they admire. But it was nice finding out that the people we admire get flustered when they meet their favorites as well. No matter how many Palanca Awards one wins, it doesn’t change how much they love literature.
Winning a Palanca might be the dream for many, but others find contentment in just joining the competition. Tito Reach, another journalist I had the pleasure of talking to that night, shared to me that he also tried joining years before. “It is enough that I joined. I don’t have to win; joining in itself is an honor.” he said. Next year he plans on joining again. Maybe next year instead of being there at the side cheering at the beautiful renditions of the winning poetry collections, he’ll be up there receiving a Palanca too.
Being there to see the Palanca Awards gave me a peek into the Philippine literary scene. The Palanca Awards isn’t some indiscernible giant looming over our arts, it has a face—a face that is made up of the different human expressions that our writers try to capture in their writing. The Palanca is more like a family reunion—a reunion of hearts that beat in tune with the nation’s literary pulse.