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Remembering the Pioneers: Angela Manalang-Gloria & Bienvenido Santos

We arrived a little bit past ten in the morning of April 20, 2022 in Camalig. Mayon Volcano, the inveterate show-stealer, had not shown its peak; in fact, fat clouds covered half of its base and more stray white-gray smoke enveloped the crater. We were there to honor Bienvenido Santos, a non-Bikolano who had settled in the area, married one of its local lasses, and is now buried there.

Our bus could not enter anymore the narrow street leading to the church, and behind it, the municipal cemetery. We got down – delegates to the First Bikol Book Festival and the team from the National Book Development Board who, by this time, were known already by the Bikolano organizers by their first name, Tony (Balisi), Evangeline (Alvarez ), Jason (Tabinas), Carlos (Escobar), and Arvin (Sia). The familiarity spoke of how long we were all together in this journey to celebrating writing, writers, and the very act of reading.

We would meet Raffy Banzuela, a local writer with a regional and national prominence (the latter because of his Gawad Sining ni Balagtas), on our way to the church, from which we walked together to the cemetery. Entering its arch, we were met by the local executives led by the Camalig Mayor, Caloy Baldo and his Vice-Mayor, Ding Baldo, and the councilors. It was heartwarming to see the good mayor and other officials at the event, their presence adding significance to the whole tribute. Flowers were placed on the tomb of Santos, which adjoined his wife’s, Beatriz. Elvert Baeta, a poet from Nabua read the citation for Santos.

Dr. Lily S. Anonas, one of the daughters of Bienvenido Santos, helped in facilitating for us the tribute.

We capped the visit to Camalig by a lunch courtesy of the Camalig local government. The cuisine on the table were all documented during a cultural mapping, initiated by Jed Villanueva, the Arts and Culture Officer of the town. The Mayor gave a short talk, which disclosed to us a government keen about culture and tourism, local literature and music. Raffy read his poem and it was time for us to move on.

Outside, Mayon loomed over the area where the eatery was. The volcano appeared so near it was intimidating. Still no peak. Recalling the speech of Mayor Baldo, somewhere on our way to the city of Tabaco, there would be an area where Mayon could be viewed in all its majesty.

We reached Tabaco at about two in the afternoon. It was a hot afternoon. We parked in front of the black and forbidding arch of the centuries-old Tabaco Cemetery. In a few minutes, Eric Valeriano, the Arts and Culture Officer of the city arrived at the site. We crossed the street to the cemetery. Waiting for the family of Angela Manalang-Gloria to arrive, we waited under the shade of the brooding chapel. The daughter, Angeline Gloria Ong, soon arrived. Under the punishing mid-noon sun, we thought it wise to do the tribute short and sweet. Kristian Sendon Cordero, the convenor of the festival explained why we were there. The family together with the NBDP representatives offered the flowers. Later in the forum back in the center of the city, Niles Breis, the multi-awarded poet, novelist and essayist, would talk about how his curiosity of the magnificently singular Angela Manalang-Gloria, urged him to write about her in his prize-winning essay.

The assembly honoring one of the greatest daughters of Tabaco or, for that matter, the entire region, was graced by the City Mayor, Krisel Lagman-Luistro. The gathering was festive, with the Mayor herself paying tribute to her parents and those other parents who introduced their children the art and discipline of reading.

Angela Manalang Gloria, like Luis Dato, was a pioneering literary spirit. But hers was not only in the usage of English language but in the pursuit of the daring in the theme around which she composed her poetry. She was among the first generation of women students in the University of the Philippines. In a world overruled by men, Angela Manalang-Gloria battled it out to be able to pay homage to the physicality of the woman to the embarrassment of critics (actually jurors) who were not prepared to listen to her sensual candor and accept an intellectualism from a woman.

Bienvenido N. Santos was a celebrated writer who travelled back and forth from the Philippines and the United States. In this country, he navigated his birthplace in Tondo and his wife’s hometown, Camalig, in Albay. Few Nagueños perhaps know that Santos once taught in Naga, in the University of Nueva Caceres. His recollection of Naga remains incomparable.

For all his peripatetic ways, Santos’s works are about home, or journey home, of the nurturing cultures of childhood. Memories become his sublime tool even if in his often quoted thoughts he wrote of memory as knowing no logic. For Santos, memory is “capricious, tarries at odd moments, or simply flits by barely alighting and moves on, turning over layers and layers of things past, things completely forgotten.”

To Santos, writers owe the lessons of looking back and writing back to the past.

We left Tabaco at four in the afternoon of that day, April 20, 2022. Traversing the road that would lead us to Sorsogon, our final destination, as the passengers of the bus were in were all dozing, a voice soared over sleepiness: Stop the Bus. It was Evangeline (Bangge)! She saw from the window Mayon Volcano, her full beauty exposed, and the tip of the crater perfect at near sunset. Mayon was, to paraphrase the words of the poet, Angela Manalang-Gloria, like an old maid, and ancient beautiful woman, unapologetic, at dusk, of her concupiscence.


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