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Name of the game

While many regard the arts, particularly literature, as useless fields and careers, historical works and events beg to differ.

I chose a useless degree program. 

I think my course isn’t as beneficial, lucrative, and serious as the other courses offered in the University. I could’ve easily chosen engineering, business, or the sciences because of how valued they are in the country. But no, I chose Creative Writing as my major because I treasured passion over practicality.   

My first venture with literature occurred when I was about nine years old. I guess the birth of my literary days started when I was cloud watching. My brain would conjure up any scenario based on the clouds’ patterns: a prince saving a maiden, animals having a caucus race, or big, bustling metropolises found among the heavens. I wanted to document all of these worlds because of my goldfish memory, so I started to write everything down in my handy-dandy notebooks.

As I filled up the pages, I constantly wondered where these characters came from or if they had tales to tell. It was there when I wrote my first fiction piece: anthropomorphic words living in wordville. It’s not really the best; I wanted to burn that book everytime I look back on it. But nine-year old me wanted to receive a Palanca award for creating a “masterpiece”. Even if the stories I wrote back then were horrible, I still felt bliss seeing my narratives come to life. It was just a mindless hobby; but it was something that I looked forward to when my days started to feel boring.

My zest for writing seamlessly continued when I entered high school. My writing became more grounded in or mirrored reality, talking about oppression and injustices with every narrative I crafted. It was also the time when I realized that I can earn a college degree in writing. So I decided to take a chance and to take a risk. But not everyone was well acquainted with what I wanted to pursue; not everyone appreciated my decision to tread this path.

In some instances when I meet someone—perhaps that one relative in a family gathering or the overly judgemental friend—they will unapologetically ask what job I will get after I graduate or if my degree can earn me money. In all honesty, I could come up with a thousand responses to their inquiries faster than a lightning bolt’s strike. But because I know that behind their beaming eyes, there’s a voice in their heads saying I am not smart enough to think of my future, that I am out of my mind pursuing an “impractical” degree—I keep quiet. 

It’s not what most parents envision their children to become simply because it doesn’t lead one to an ideal future: becoming successful, rich, and powerful. Why would Juan Dela Cruz be the penniless author when he could be the triumphant Atty. or Dr. Dela Cruz.  

But while authors aren’t always rich, many have become successful and powerful in their own ways. Many literary works have influenced generations of Filipinos. Dr. Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo cemented how resistance is vital amid collective struggle; Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ‘70 reminded the masses of the onslaughts of the Marcos regime; Gina Apostol’s Insurrecto redefined how Filipinos understood our current society and our colonized past. 

Sadly, the Philippine literary circle has always been at the receiving end of systemic discrimination against the arts. In a society that heavily values the sciences and commerce, the arts are severely underappreciated. But it’s all the more difficult to safeguard literature when it is the brunt end of state-sponsored vilification and censorship. One example is during Martial Law, where many writers pursued underground operations to critique the Marcos dictatorship.

While Martial Law ended roughly around 36 years ago, last March, the façades of Popular Bookstore and Solidaridad Bookshop—stores known for selling progressive literature—were vandalized with the words “NPA” and “terorista” spray painted in red. Immediately after the 2022 presidential elections last May, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo red-tagged children’s publishing firm Adarna House. Their crime? Selling a bundle of children’s books containing narratives centered on Martial Law. 

In Monteagudo’s words, these books are meant to “subtly radicalize the Filipino youth against [the] government.” But this desperate attempt to uphold the government’s us-versus-them storyline throws everything our ancestors have fought for outside the proverbial window. If the administration’s cards are played just enough to think they can topple our writers, then the local literary canon will surely favor the oppressors. 

Without its inherent criticality or their pivotal perspectives on varying issues, Philippine literature may no longer influence the masses toward good governance. Many individuals may believe that the truth written by those in power is the only valid reality. Various sectors may be discouraged to speak their mind when tyrannical influences impede on them. Worst of all, opinions will once again be monitored to fit into the government’s picture-perfect narrative, labeling any contrary thoughts as misguided and radical.

We are not going to let our guards down that easily. We must be warriors who slay revisionism to uphold our integrity. With literature as our guide, we can join in the race toward a future that promises national improvement, where the truth always prevails. But with our current society already pressuring those who take a stand to retreat from battle, we might as well be slaves in another Philippine dark age. But we shouldn’t allow that to happen—never again. 

Indeed, literature is needed more than ever. Hence, we must also do our part to protect local authors, critics, journalists, and even students from being silenced. What we’re writing shouldn’t be censored by state factors because we can provide solutions to our nation’s problems through literary means. The people’s voice may soon succumb to this anti-literary laryngitis. So I—and many others—will continue to write and prevent that from happening. This is the name of the game for many aspiring writers in the country. But before I can really pursue my craft, before I feel safe writing about what I feel is right, I challenge you, dear reader: 

Do you still not see the value of my degree program?

By The LaSallian

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