By Alvin I. Dacanay
A 20-year-old college student who has written stories on the online reading platform Wattpad and a 32-year-old business writer have emerged as the top winners at the 65th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards (CPMA) for Literature, which saw 55 other creative writers, including two previous Hall of Fame inductees and an independent filmmaker, clinch prizes.
In a three-hour-plus ceremony held at The Peninsula Manila hotel in Makati City on September 1, Charmaine Mercader Lasar, an accountancy student at the Lyceum of the Philippines-Laguna, won the Grand Prize for the Novel (Filipino division) for her entry Toto O.—an obvious play on the Filipino word for “true”—while Victorette Joy Z. Campilan, an MFA Creative Writing graduate of De La Salle University (DLSU), received the same award in the English division for her manuscript titled All My Lonely Islands.
In an online interview, Lasar said her novel focuses on a boy and his perception of truth, and is inspired by a cousin’s story. “Sabi kasi nila, hindi nagsisinungaling ang mga bata, pero paano kung may mga bagay na kailangang itago ang batang ‘to para maging maayos ang takbo ng pamilya nila (They say children don’t lie, but what if there are certain things that this child needs to hide so that all would go well in his family)?” she asked.
Lasar, who has several short stories and three novels—Ab Initio, Quantum Meruit and Fallacious Romance—on Wattpad, revealed that it took her almost the entire April to write Toto O., and admitted that she had struggled to finish it. She also revealed that her winning novel was her first entry to the prestigious literary competition.
The young novelist hopes that her triumph would inspire people, especially those with no professional writing background, like her. “Sana rin ay maging daan ‘to para mas maging bukas ang lahat sa pagtanggap sa mga manunulat mula sa Wattpad (I also hope that this would pave the way for a more open acceptance of writers from Wattpad),” she said.
On the sidelines of the awarding ceremony, novelist Jun Cruz Reyes, who headed the board of judges for Lasar’s category, praised Toto O. as a “fresh” young-adult novel, and noted that it won over 20 other entries that included erotica, a thriller and a futuristic-fiction work.
For her part, Campilan described All My Lonely Islands as a “coming-of-age story, spanning a decade of the life of a young woman, Crisanta, and how she has to come to terms with being a Third-Culture Kid (TCK), or a kid who grows up in a country other than his homeland. It explores Crisanta’s struggles with her identity as a Filipino and as an international citizen, and how a personal tragedy leads her to lose faith and find it again.”
“My inspiration (for the novel) came from my personal experiences as a TCK, spending my high school years in Dhaka, Bangladesh, because of my parents’ work as missionaries/community developers,” Campilan said in an e-mail.
She said it took her four months to write All My Lonely Islands, adding that “the whole conceptualization (for it) started as a writing exercise during my fiction class for my master’s degree in Fine Arts, Creative Writing,” at DSLU.
As far as Campilan was concerned, her victory was “a miracle,” saying, “When I submitted my novel (to the contest), I told God that I needed a miracle in my life right now. He has more than obliged. I feel humbled and honored.”
In an interview, fictionist Susan S. Lara, the chairwoman of the board of judges for the English-language novel category, said the decision to bestow the prize on All My Lonely Islands was unanimous. She added that, even during the first deliberation on the 18 manuscripts submitted, she and fellow judges Benjamin Bautista and Dr. Shirley O. Lua already “had a winner in mind.”
Lara revealed that, during one of their deliberations, Bautista had likened Campilan’s work to “a very fine jade.”
Besides Lasar and Campilan, another important winner was the guest of honor and speaker, poet-critic-scholar Dr. Gemino H. Abad, who was conferred the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi by CPMA Director General Sylvia Palanca-Quirino and Carlos Palanca Foundation Inc. Vice President Carl Anthony S. Palanca.
In his speech, titled “The Poem Is What You Will”—which he described as his “humble tribute” to Carlos Palanca Sr. and his family—Abad emphasized the value of language—“the Muse” of the writer—and of poetry.
“Without language, the finest invention of the human imagination, there is no memory, no history, no culture, no civilization,” said Abad, a professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines-Diliman who has edited significant anthologies of Philippine poetry and short fiction.
Other notable winners include Palanca Hall of Fame honorees Edgardo B. Maranan, who won second prize for his Filipino-language full-length play Diwata ng Bayan, and Peter Solis Nery, whose set of English-language poems for children, The Rainbow Collection, earned first prize; Jonathan R. Guillermo, who garnered second prize for his English-language short story for children The Three Questions of Tarongoy and third prize for his English-language one-act play The Hawk and the Viper; and Kanakan-Balintagos, the director of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) and Esprit de Corps, who won first prize in the Full-length Play in Filipino category for Mga Buhay na Apoy (A Breath of Fire), which will be staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines next month.
During the ceremony, prize-winning poet Mikael de Lara Co read “Panubigan,” from Christa I. de la Cruz’s collection Mula sa Silong, which won first prize in the Poetry in Filipino category, and “Sa Antipolo Dumadaan ang Fault Line ng Marikina,” from Abner Dormiendo’s collection Sa Antipolo pa rin ang Antipolo, which clinched second prize in the same category; and actors Banaue Miclat-Janssen, Bart Guingona and Miguel Faustmann performed Jose Elvin Bueno’s Looking for Ulysses, the second-prize winner in the One-act Play in English category.
Established in 1950 to honor Carlos Palanca Sr., the Palanca Awards aims to develop and strengthen Philippine literature by providing incentives for writers to craft their best works, and by serving as a treasury for such works for students and the general public to discover and learn from. It is widely considered the Philippine counterpart of the Pulitzer Prize.
Below is the complete list of winners:
Nobela. Grand Prize: Charmaine Mercader Lasar, Toto O.
Dulang Pampelikula. First Prize: Eloisa Angeli Andrada Palileo, Pink o Blue. Second prize: Brylle B. Tabora, Sekyu. Third Prize: Nita Eden So, Alyas FPJ.
Dulang Ganap ang Haba. First Prize: Kanakan-Balintagos, Mga Buhay na Apoy. Second Prize: Edgardo B. Maranan, Diwata ng Bayan. Third Prize: George A. de Jesus III, Maniacal.
Dulang May Isang Yugto. First Prize: Allan B. Lopez, Sa Isang Hindi Natatanging Umaga, at ang mga Ulap ay Dahan-Dahang Pumaibabaw sa Nabubulok na Lungsod. Second Prize: Vladimeir B. Gonzales, Mal. Third Prize: Marco Antonio R. Rodas, Igba.
Tula. First Prize: Christa I. de la Cruz, Mula sa Silong. Second Prize: Abner Dormiendo, Sa Antipolo pa rin ang Antipolo. Third Prize: Christian Jil R. Benitez, Sapagkat Umiibig: Mga Tula.
Tula para sa mga Bata. First Prize: Errol A. Merquita, Ang Iisang Paa ng Tsinelas. Second Prize: John Romeo Leongson Venturero, Si Iking Pasaway. Third Prize: no winner.
Maikling Kuwento. First Prize: John Carlo I. Pacala, Ang Reyna ng Espada at mga Pusa. Second Prize: Lilia Quindoza Santiago, Mag-ambahan Tayo. Third Prize: Andrian M. Legaspi, Johnson at Putol.
Maikling Kuwentong Pambata. Manuelita Contreras-Cabrera, Sulat sa Birhen. Second Prize: Salvador T. Biglaen, Ang Alamat ng Gulugod Baka. Third Prize: Corazon L. Santos, Ang Hiling sa Punso.
Sanaysay. First Prize: Adelma L. Salvador, Silat. Second Prize: Dionie Cabral Tañada, Tawag ng Pangangailangan. Third Prize: Third Prize: Jayson Bernard B. Santos, Ang Tiktik sa Kalye Moriones.
Kabataan Sanaysay. First Prize: Karl Gabrielle B. de los Santos, Hindi Ko Alam. Second Prize: Lance Lauren L. Santiago, Ang Nakakikiliting Kalabit ng Bukang-Liwayway. Third Prize: Jason Renz D. Barrios, Kahimanawari: Mga Kwentong Aswang ni Lola Basyang.
Novel. Grand Prize: Victorette Joy Z. Campilan, All My Lonely Islands.
Full-length Play. First Prize: no winner. Second Prize: Jose Maria Manalo, Obando. Third Prize: Jorshinelle Taleon-Sonza, Haiyan.
One-act Play. First Prize: Layeta P. Bucoy, The Adopted Healthy Baby. Second Prize: Jose Elvin Bueno, Looking for Ulysses. Third Prize: Jonathan R. Guillermo, The Hawk and the Viper.
Poetry. First Prize: Charisse-Fuschia A. Paderna, An Abundance of Selves. Second Prize: Arkaye Kierulf, There Are No Monsters. Third Prize: Rodrigo V. dela Peña Jr., Aria and Trumpet Flourish.
Poetry Written for Children. First Prize: Peter Solis Nery, The Rainbow Collection. Second Prize: Patricia Celina A. Ngo, Ordinary Adventures. Third Prize: Elyrah L. Salanga-Torralba, The Cockroach’s Prayer.
Short Story. First Prize: Exie Abola, Phallic Symbols. Second Prize: Maria Carmen G. Aquino Sarmiento, The Backroom Angels Buggaloo. Third Prize: Hammed Q. Bolotaolo, The Storyteller.
Short Story for Children. First Prize: Raymond G. Falgui, Monster Rescue: A Children’s Story for Adult Readers. Second Prize: Victoria Estrella C. Bravo, The Bear. Third Prize: Jonathan R. Guillermo, The Three Questions of Tarongoy.
Essay. First Prize: Eli Rueda Guieb III, Symphony of Dry Winds in a Time without Rain. Second Prize: Jennifer dela Rosa Balboa, Violence, A Biography. Third Prize: Miguel Antonio N. Lizada, The Bangkok Masseur.
Kabataan Essay. First Prize: Catherine Regina Hanopol Borlaza, That Man, That Hero in Our Stories. Second Prize: Richard C. Cornelio, A Loaded Gun in the House Next Door. Third Prize: Annicka B. Koteh, Until Transcendence.
Short Story—Cebuano. First Prize: Lamberto G. Ceballos, Tuba. Second Prize: Manuel M. Avenido Jr., Sa Lalaking Naligsan sa may Interseksyon. Third Prize: Januar E. Yap, Liboa’g Usa Ka Hugon-Hugon Kabahin sa Tagulilong.
Short Story—Hiligaynon. First Prize: Jesus C. Insilada, Amburukay. Second Prize: Ritchie D. Pagunsan, Kalamay Nga Pula. Third Prize: Gil S. Montinola, Ang Lapsag sa Taguangkan ni Belen.
Short Story—Iluko. First Prize: no winner. Second Prize: no winner. Third Prize: Rhea Domasing Berroy, Ti Naimas a Luto ni Inangko ken Dagiti Babbai iti Biwong.