“Books and all forms of writing are terror to those who wish to suppress the truth,’ say Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate, playwright, novelist, poet and essayist in English from Nigeria. He was a strong objector of his country’s governments, especially of its military rulers. For which he was sentenced to death. Luckily, he had escaped out of his country.
The writer could wield power, if he or she so chooses, when the coin is tossed for freedom versus oppression. National Artist F. Sionil Jose consistently averred that the purpose of writers is to speak against social injustice and to assert freedom of speech. In his last few years, he stirred controversy though for heaping praise on President Duterte who was clearly an anti-thesis of Jose’s ideal leader.
The last six years was characterized by suppression where discourse was dumbed down into Tiktok and thinking, ergo reasoning, was tagged as elitist and, fed to packs of trolls, considered anti-people. Though there seems to be a waning down of DDS trolls, what with social media clampdown on fake and multiple accounts coupled with stronger push backs and fact checks, the threat of disinformation and sinister revision of history remains imminent.
Filipino writers of varied shades have formed chat rooms in the social media. Their only motivation is to monitor developments, discuss issues that affect creativity and expression, and if there are moves that would tend to curtail those, speak up. Which could be an iffy proposition.
There are established organizations of writers who could pick up the cudgels. There is PEN Philippines, for instance. Founded by Sionil Jose ostensibly to speak up particularly against the Marcos dictatorship, it has been ridiculed (by other writers) for having only a handful of members not even enough to fill the round table on the second floor of Solidaridad bookstore.
PEN International is an organization that is 101 years old. Established in the United Kingdom in 1921, PEN was originally Playwrights, Essayists, and Novelists group but has evolved to become “one of the world’s first non-governmental organizations and amongst the first international bodies advocating for human rights. It was the first worldwide association of writers, and the first organization to point out that freedom of expression and literature are inseparable – a principle it continues to champion today.”
There are almost 150 charters around the globe, one of which is in the Philippines. On September 20, 2022, the Cultural Center of the Philippines will host a hybrid congress of the Philippine Center of International PEN. Its aim is to provide a venue for the literary community to promote “truth and freedom of expression through discussion and expression.”
The newly- minted National Artist for Literature Gemino Abad will deliver the keynote address and this will be followed by an open forum – either through face-to-face or through Zoom. There will be readings and performances from esteemed local and international artists such as Nanding Josef, screenwriter Veera Tyhtilä, director Adjani Arumpac, playwright Guelan Luarca, among others.
The event also coincides with the launch of LUNA, a semi-annual literary journal featuring new Filipino writing. We are glad that, after Santelmo, there is another channel for writers.
Another score for the written words is the Manila International Book Fair on Sept. 15-19 at SMX in Pasay. After receding into the virtual world, it is back to the warmth, the smell of ink and paper. For genuine book worms and lovers of world’s wonders, there will be the quiet oohs and ahhs.