By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Saturday, March 21, 2015
That is the wordplay on the “war cry” of the forthcoming special summer month of April—Alab Panitikan! (“Alab” is, of course, the lovely Filipino word for blaze, ardor, kindle, rage.)
There is a new and wonderful reason for welcoming the month of April this year and in the years to come. Last Feb. 10, Proclamation No. 968 was signed by President Aquino designating April of every year as “Buwan ng Panitikang Filipino” or National Literature Month. As if any explanation were still needed to justify this presidential decree, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts headed by Felipe M. de Leon Jr., the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) headed by Virgilio S. Almario, and the National Book Development Board that I represent had a request pending for about a year at the Office of the President to name April as a month dedicated to literature.
This had been a longstanding dream. After all, Section 15, Article XIV of our Constitution states that “arts and letters shall enjoy the patronage of the State, and that the State shall conserve, promote, and popularize the Nation’s historical and cultural heritage and resources, as well as artistic creations.” It is with a deep sigh that I read and reread that opening statement of Proclamation No. 968. How to keep alive with pride the very soul of all that make us the people that we are?
Calling attention to Philippine literature written in the different Philippine languages, today numbering more than 170, is a necessity for us as a people to promote awareness of the beauty and richness of our history and cultural legacy.
And why April out of the 12 months of the year? April is the milestone month of many of our literary greats—Francisco “Balagtas” Baltazar, born on April 2, 1788; Emilio Jacinto, died on April 16, 1899; Paciano Rizal, propagandist and elder brother of Jose Rizal, died on April 13, 1930; Nick Joaquin, died on April 29, 2004; Edith Tiempo, born on April 22, 1919; Bienvenido Lumbera, born on April 11, 1932. (These are the names specifically cited in the official proclamation.)
Happily, four times a year now (yet not often enough for me and many others), we focus on books, literature, and the acts of reading and writing. In July we have National Children’s Book Day with literacy activities spread throughout the month. August is “Buwan ng Wika,” and November is Philippine Book Development Month.
Internationally, April is also celebrated to coincide with Shakespeare’s baptismal day on April 26, 1564 (no record of his birth date), and death on April 23, 1616. Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, and Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805. Other literary celebrations for the month are International Children’s Book Day, International Day of the Book or World Book Day, and World Intellectual Property Rights Day. The Academy of American Poets marks April as National Poetry Month.
There are so many activities on our April calendar, too many for me to name in this space. A wonderful problem to have, I should say. Let me start chronologically, with how the month will begin.
April 2, “Araw ni Balagtas,” will be commemorated in Pandacan, Manila, where he moved from his birthplace of Bigaa, Bulacan, with a floral offering and a short program. It was in Pandacan where he met Maria Asuncion Rivera, who served as his muse. She is “Selya” and “MAR” in “Florante at Laura.”
On April 6, KWF invites the public to a tertulia on poetry, 2-5 p.m., at its office (2nd floor, Watson Building, 1610 JP Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila), featuring a literary discussion with its Poets of the Year.
On April 9-11, the celebration moves to Lingayen, Pangasinan, for daylong Baybayin Summit (the first). “Baybayin” is the Philippines’ ancient, precolonial writing system.
On April 11, the High Fantasy & Young Adult Writing Workshop at Ateneo de Manila University begins with award-winning writers as facilitators.
On April 13-15, Bulacan State University hosts Uswag Filipino!, a seminar on national orthography based on the KWF manual on the writing of official correspondence in the national language.
Majayjay, Laguna, is the next stop on April 16 for Lakbay-Panitik para kay Emilio Jacinto, Lira’s literary tour to honor the contributions of Jacinto, now acknowledged as the brains of the Revolution. It was in Magdalena, Laguna, where he died. Lira, founded in 1985 by a group of young poets and their mentors, including National Artist Almario, is the Institute of Image, Rhetoric and Format. It runs volunteer programs to nurture the “growth of our national literature and culture, highlighting teaching of Filipino poetry.” Lira is the oldest organization of poets in Filipino.
That brings us to mid-April, with the promise of richer literary programs to come. Keep our love for literature ablaze!
For more information, contact the KWF at (632) 73-625/24 736-2519 708-6972, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit https://www.facebook.com/notes/398175873686850.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( email@example.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.