A celebration of storytelling and literature in the Philippines

Published April 8, 2021, 10:00 PM

by Jules Vivas

The Philippine International Literary Festival happens this month and onward

Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa describes literature as “the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” Simply put, it’s the best kind of distraction. If so, then literature could easily be considered an “essential need” amid the pandemic.

In these turbulent times, the health emergency had not hindered the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Filipino Language Commission or Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) from commemorating the National Literature Month this April.

Being launched is the 12th Philippine International Literary Festival, an annual gathering of readers, storytellers, and publishers. With our circumstance today, the online event themed “Limandaang Taon ng Pagsulat sa Kalibutang Filipino (Reclaiming our narrative: 500 years of Filipino storytelling)” coincides with the quincentenary of the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines.

BALAGTASAN A sketch of Francisco ‘Balagtas’ Baltazar known as the greatest Filipino poet for having penned ‘Florante at Laura,’ an epic written during his imprisonment

“The festival re-examines our narratives and celebrates our great storytelling traditions. Although this pandemic has caused uncertainty, we endeavor to provide an avenue for our creatives and the wider public to connect, dialogue, and continue the creative process,” explains the newly appointed executive director Charisse Aquino-Tugade.

NCCA chairperson and the president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso likens local literature to a flowing river. It could change form but continues to flow through history. “Just like the ocean that foreigners used to get here. Our literature is the medium of our culture and the creative intelligence of our race,” he said adding, “This is why we celebrate this treasure with the theme 500 Years of Writing the Filipino World.”

Kicking off the celebration is “Author on Author” and “Post-Pandemic Features,” a series of lively conversations with Filipino creatives worldwide. “Grit and Grime,” reveals the creative process of some of our country’s most respected authors, the first of the Author on Author webcasts.

CRAZY FOR LITERATURE Sisa, one of the most recognizable characters in the iconic book of Jose Rizal, Noli Me Tangere

Some of the other events to be observed for the entire month include Araw ni Balagtas virtual celebration done early this month, with a wreath-laying ceremony that took place in Orion, Bataan. On the fifth, the KWF launched the first of a series of online webinars on the interplay of local literature and history, starting with “Wikang Katutubo: Wika ng Dekolonisasyon” with anthropologist Dr. Alicia Magos of the University of the Philippines Visayas as speaker. 

Together with the NCCA, KWF, and NBDB Filipinos are encouraged to be critical readers and storytellers in remembering and writing their history. 

Meanwhile, NBDB is taking readers on a virtual bookstore tour around the country starting this month with “My Book, My City,” a directory of bookshops with virtual tours of independent bookstores around the country.  

ICONIC EPIC Ibong Adarna cover from the 1929 ‘Corrido at Buhay na Pinagdaanan nang tatlong Principeng Magcacapatid na Anac nang Haring Fernando at nang Reina Valeriana sa Cahariang Berbania’

“Book Nook,” a library-building program for indigenous populations around the archipelago, will also be launched by NBDB in July. More Pinoys will now be able to read their favorite Filipino-authored publications. “Book-and-Buy,” grant-giving program, is also slated in August with the mission of providing regional micro-entrepreneurs the tools they need to create their own Filipiniana sections. 

“There is, now more than ever, a need to connect with one another through stories—and so we only thought it apt to launch, in time for National Literature Month, this year’s ‘Philippine International Literary Festival,’ a celebration that, at its root, encourages Filipinos all around the world to read, tell stories, and perhaps most importantly, listen to one another,” says Dante Francis Ang II, NBDB chairman.

Animation Studying GIF by Benjy Brooke - Find & Share on GIPHY

Together with the NCCA, KWF, and NBDB Filipinos are encouraged to be critical readers and storytellers in remembering and writing their history. 

The National Literature Month was established by Presidential Proclamation 968, signed by former President Benigno Aquino III in 2015. Its goal is to promote, conserve and popularize the country’s historical and cultural heritage and resources, as well as artistic creations through literature. 0928-5081057 | 527-2192 loc 625 | [email protected].gov.ph. | www.ncca.gov.ph.