Bikol writers, theater troupe to get awards

By Doods M. Santos


A writer from Albay, a teacher from Baao, and a Bikol-wide theater troupe will be awarded by the Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas (UMPIL) on April 30.


Niles Jordan Breis will receive the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas, in recognition of his talent and skill as a poet and essayist in Filipino and Bikol. A four-time Palanca awardee, he was also 1994 Makata ng Taon, Best Writing Fellow of the 1996 UP National Writers’ Workshop, and 2012 Premio Arejola Writer of the Year.


In 2016, he was named Outstanding Albayano, and in 2019, Grand Winner of the Valledor Prize for Best Novel for his Kalatraban sa Alkawaraan (Barking Dogs Never Die). His poetry book rubrica, was published in 2013, and his Tabaco, a trio of award-winning essays was released in 2021.


As founding adviser of South Road LitForum, an interdisciplinary cultural collective, he has been conducting free writing lecture-workshops. Presently, he is an ExeCom Board member and South Luzon Representative of the National Committee on Literary Arts of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), as well as founding chair of InterNos, an independent literary publishing firm. Breis studied Sacred Theology and Classical Philosophy meritissimus at the St. Francis de Sales Major Seminary and was a visiting playwright-director in selected college seminaries.


Dr. Jazmin Badong Llana will accept the Gawad Paz Marquez Benitez. The award is named in honor of the writer of “Dead Stars,” the first successful Philippine short story in English. Benitez was also a teacher of successful writers and the Gawad Benitez recognizes the contribution of literature teachers.


Dr. Llana has been a long-time teacher of literature and culture, both in the community and in the classroom. In the 1980s, she gave social orientation seminars to teachers and trained the youth in leadership. She helped found the Kaboronyogan-Bicol Cultural Network and the Camarines Sur Arts Council, and is a key founder of Pagsurat Bikol, a gathering of Bikol writers and teachers held every four years since 2000.


She taught at the Aquinas University in Legazpi while serving as college coordinator for research and extension and as the university theater group’s director. She later moved to the De La Salle University as literature teacher, then department chair, and eventually Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. A literary researcher and performing artist in both drama and film as well, among her awards are the Research Fellow Dwight Conquergood Award and the 2008 Helsinki Prize for performance studies. She has a PhD from Aberystwyth University in Wales as a Ford Foundation scholar, and has published widely on the Bicol dotoc.


Meanwhile, Sining Banwa (SB) will receive the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg, named after the renowned creator of the Ilokano epic Biag ni Lam-ang. A decade-old independent community theater company in Bikol, SB was nominated for its members’ volunteerism and dedication in producing literary works that integrate the literary arts, music, dance, film, visual arts and theater, for advocacies such as the environment, education, disaster preparedness, and gender and sexuality. During the pandemic, Sining Banwa continued its programs to encourage the writing of flash plays. It was instrumental in organizing Pista nin Teatro, an annual festival of Bikol theater companies.


This resulted in the formation of the Taragbo Bikol Theater Network, initiated also by Sining Banwa. The group continues to sponsor its SB Skul, a series of workshop-classes on different art disciplines such as playwriting, directing, acting, music, visual arts and others. Sining Banwa’s valuable contributions are evident, not only in its sustained programs and projects, but also in its ability to partner with, and gain support from government and non-government groups, locally, nationally, and internationally as a literary and cultural organization.