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Preserving the best of what humanity can offer

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 04, 2023 5:00 am

If there’s any indication that my advanced age has long set me out to pasture, this must be it. Full disclosure: I’ve even older than what are called the Palancas.

Exeunt the pandemic, my timetable as a literary judge gets bundled up towards the yearend. In recent succession, I’ve deliberated on writing merits for the 16th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards given out in October, then the 20th Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Awards last Nov. 22, and five days later, the 71st Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

For the DGF Awards, it also marked 20 years of collegial camaraderie with Micky Fenix Makabenta, who has organized the contest for that long. Now she’s retiring from the thankful chore, with chef Myrna Segismundo, also of the FWAP or Food Writers Association of the Philippines, taking over. Well, they’ll be changing places, with Micky now presumably joining the judges’ table with other OGs or “original gangstas” such as Felice Prudente Sta. Maria and Mol Fernando.

For the last judging, we were joined by Datu Shariff Pendatun and Nana Ozaeta. A special lunch at Chef Jessie Sincioco’s Place in Makati was the first treat for the winners, who also came away with food books, glass plaques crafted by Bobby Castillo, and gift boxes from sponsor Mama Sita, represented by Clara Reyes Lapuz, daughter of The Aristocrat founder. Representing the annual awards was Doreen’s niece Maya Besa Roxas. 

DGF Food Writing Awards first-prize winner Edel Cayetano

Claiming first prize was Edel V. Cayetano with her “Reclaiming Philippine Ube.” A communication arts major graduating cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas, she has had over 15 years of experience in award-winning content creation across media platforms, and is presently a segment producer and story editor for ABS-CBN. An excerpt:

“Ube figures prominently in the history of the Boholanos. During pre-Hispanic times, the natives experienced a long drought when all vegetation died, and new settlers in the municipalities of Dawis, Panglao, and Panghayon in Bohol starved. Only ube survived and provided the locals with sustenance. From then on, it has been venerated as a sacred crop, so much so that when someone dropped an ube on the ground, they had to kiss it in apology. This crop is so endeared by the people of Bohol they even included it in the Boholano Hymn.”

Second-place winner was Jeanne Jakob-Ashkenazi with “The Comforting Squidginess of Slow-Cooked Veggies.” A previous DGF Awards winner based in Valencia, Spain where she researches and writes on food history, she has co-authored the books The Essence of Japanese Cuisine and Food Culture in Japan.

All of these options offer the writers of upcoming generations a way out of the perceived morass of any given time. In fact, the more that constricting challenges appear to overwhelm us, we can trust the antennae of the race, any race, to sort out and feel the precious spaces that suggest redemption.

The third prize was shared by Alfonso Delgado of Victorias City, Negros Occidental for “The Breadfruit: A Superfruit and So Much More” and Kaye Leah Cacho-Sitchon of Baguio City with “Pakbet: The Kumintang of the Women in Santa Maria.” Delgado is a CPA with accounting and assurance experience in the Philippines and South Korea. He is also a blogger and contributes to, the Culture and Information Service of Korea. Cacho-Sitchon is a Communications Instructor at St. Louis University. She won first prize in the 2020 edition of the DGF Food Writing contest.

Palanca Poetry in English first-prize winner Trish Shishikura

The Palanca Awards held at the PICC a week ago marked the second year of an actual physical reunion with literary writers, after a stoppage of two years. Still, us judges had to undertake Zoom deliberations. Chairing the judges for Poetry in English, I had no violent quarrel with Dinah Roma and Marne Kilates in selecting the following winners, from first to third:

Trish Shishikura for her collection, “Translating Wildfires,” Vince Agcaoili for “Carrying,” and Michael Maniquiz for “Lou Reed Meets Delmore Schwartz at a Bar.” Our comments on their manuscripts included the following:

“Translating Wildfires” stands out for the collection’s sophisticated and modernist variety of modes—with prose poems, interrogations, even an anecdote with a blank page and the footnote becoming the prose poem. The collection displays an assured feminine voice, but a tough one.

“Particularly memorable are the following lines: ‘I stare so hard my eyes can trace/ my man’s world without moving; I dismantle all utterances of grace./”—from ‘Warning Sign.’ Also from the same poem: ‘Warning. They’re speaking in tongues./ Warning. I must have seared his lips wishing/ he was someone whispering my name./.’

“The collection ‘Carrying’ is solid and consistent, from poem to poem, with strong refrains that seemingly reappear, or reverberate. The thematic concerns are evident, complementary, and supportive of one another, with the phrasing tight and discreet. What’s left seemingly unsaid echoes throughout the collection.” 

Marne Kilates observed about “Lou Reed…”: “A light touch. Strong suits are levity and humor. Consistent in its musicality. Such titles as ‘The Old Filipino Couple at the Immigration Counter” and ‘Peacocks in Imelda’s Garden’ are memorable.” We lauded the line: “grief and the conversations that come from it” from “Apples from Atoy the Smuggler.”

Both Shishikura and Agcaoili are first-time Palanca winners, while Maniquiz is a previous winner who’s been based in the US.

A special video feature honored writers who have entered the Hall of Fame, now numbering 26. One of these, Dr. Luis Gatmaitan, was awarded the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi and delivered the guest of honor’s speech. The Palanca Foundation’s Dang Cecilio Palanca in turn responded with the Sponsor’s Remarks, excerpts of which we share here:

“To date, since the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature began in 1951, there have been a total of 2,526 winning authors, with 2,617 winning works….

“The challenges faced by a creative writer have never been as daunting as today…. I believe that we can trust our writers to join the rest of the powerful voices across the world in introducing ideas, sentiments, insights on relationships, and rational measures to cut bias and prejudice down to size, indeed to minimal discomfort in our existence….

“All of these options offer the writers of upcoming generations a way out of the perceived morass of any given time. In fact, the more that constricting challenges appear to overwhelm us, we can trust the antennae of the race, any race, to sort out and feel the precious spaces that suggest redemption.

“In our own small way, we of the Palanca Foundation will continue to offer the opportunity for Filipino writers to be on the side of redemption. Just as you hope that your efforts will someday be rewarded with recognition, rest assured that institutional support and encouragement will meet up with you, and perhaps welcome you through that threshold of genuine appreciation.

“Welcome again to a community that seeks nothing but to redeem and preserve the best of what humanity can offer.”