The contest’s organizer, the Carlos Palanca Foundation, made this announcement on their official website earlier this month.
“The CPMA 2021 is canceled due to coronavirus concerns,” it said.
The Palanca Awards, generally considered as the Philippines’ foremost literary awards, also canceled the contest last year due to the pandemic. Some writers had hoped that this longest-running literary derby in the country would push through this year. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
Many writers considered the cancellation of the Palanca Awards’ 2020 edition as “sad” and “unhistoric,” given that it had been running since 1950, and has awarded some of the country’s most important and well-known writers including novelists Lualhati Bautista and Eros Atalia, filmmaker Jun Lana and Antoinette Jadaone, and National Artists such as Cirilo Bautista.
The contest’s deadline is usually set every April or May, with the awarding ceremony held before the end of the year. It is open to writers in more than 20 categories—including poetry, short story, novel, and screenplay—in English, Filipino, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Ilokano.
In a Facebook post, writer Reuel Molina Aguila, a Palanca Award Hall of Famer, wonders why the Palanca Awards had to be canceled again this year, adding the submission of entries and the awarding ceremony could be done online to get around quarantine restrictions.
“Nakapagtataka lamang. Kung kailan hinog at hitik sa mga paksang maisusulat (lalo na sa danas ng pandemya), at kung kailangan may malaking panahon at matinding sidhi sa pagsulat ang mga manunulat, saka wala na namang Palanca?” he said. “Pwede namang online ang pasahan ng mga akda, online ang deliberasyon ng mga hurado, at online din ang awarding (makakamura pa nga dahil menos gastos sa hotel at pagkain).”
He also said: “Ano sa palagay ng mga manunulat at mahilig sa panitikan: pandemya nga ba ang dahilan? nais ba nating magkaroong muli ng Palanca awards? o, panahon na para may bagong pambansang timpalak ang pumalit dito?”
Newspaper editor and writer Jen Balboa, who won a Palanca Award in English Essay in 2015, hopes the contest will return next year.
“It's sad because I look forward to it every year. It serves as a working deadline of sorts, it gives some form of encouragement to produce something good. So whenever I join and do not win, or not even make the deadline, it's still good, because at least I got myself to work on something,” she said.
Balboa added: “Lalo na ngayon, may pandemya, kailangan natin ng lahat ng dahilan para magpatuloy. So kahit pa totoo namang di kailangan ng contest para magkadahilan para magsulat, nakakatulong pa din yung mayroon kang ina-abangan na tulad ng Palanca. Aside from that, if we look at the numbers, those who are first time winners have been increasing, and that's a good sign, it proves that we indeed have a growing and thriving writing scene, despite all the odds.”
Meanwhile, Louie Jon Sanchez, a professor at the Ateneo de Manila University and Palanca-winning poet, believes the cancellation of the contest could create a “new literary landscape” in the country.
“I think the absence of the awards creates an altogether new literary landscape, as well as new modes and motivations of production and circulation. Perhaps this is indeed the new normal in Philippine Literature,” he said. “And it might be a good thing.”
Banner photo and thumbnail from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature website