Rinconada young poet wins first Premyo Manlagñit

In a virtual ceremony last September 16, 2021, young poet Dhan Carl Cabaltera Biag from Baao, Camarines Sur and a senior high school student of Perpetual Help National High School in Iriga City was announced as the top prizewinner of the First Premyo Gualberto Cea Manlagñit for Young Bikolnon Poet.

Established to honor the poet, visual artist and lawyer, Manlagñit, the poetry prize was jointly sponsored by the literary estate of the Manlagñit, the Ateneo de Naga University Press, Savage Mind Bookshop and in cooperation with the Department of Education Region V, headed by Director Gilber Sadsad and Dr. Olay Laguda Regional Superintendent of Filipino.


Writing in Bikol Rinconada, Biag’s “Berdeng Asupring Oras” is an ekphrasis poem based from the painting Sa Baybayon nin Sisiran by Manlagñit. Pay Bentoy as Manlagñt is fondly called is is the acknowledged lyricist of the famous Bikol adaptation of Come Back to Sorrrento, made popularized by Kundiman diva from Catanduanes, Carmen Camacho.


Award-winning poet Frank Peñones who also writes in Rinconada attended the virtual launching and was so excited to learn that another young voice from the area won the first Premyo Manlagñit. He commended Biag for his short but powerful poem that calls for a radical change among the young people to never forget that like the painting of Manlagñit there is always beauty and hope that can inspire us.


Aside from Biag, the other winners include “Sulnopan”, a poem in Bikol-Naga by Jessa Mae Villar of Mariners Polytechnic Colleges, Naga (Second Prize), “Surmatun san mga Balud”, a poem in Minasbate by Ian Moralde Falcon of Masbate National High School (Third Place). The jury also decided to give the special jury prizes to Allyza Mae Paz of Perpetual Help National High School Iriga for her poem, “Lulubngan” and to Karyl Tugay of Palta National High School, Virac, Catanduanes for her poem “Sa Baybay Sisiran.” The three winning poems were read by Christian Azares and Bikol actors Marc Felix and Victor Loquias.


The top winners will receive cash prizes with Biag receiving P 10, 000.00; Villar, P 7,500; Falcon, P 5, 000,00, and book packages and special plaque medallions designed by Rustom Pujado and crafted by Seth Gacer. The schools of the twenty finalists and winners will also receive book packages courtesy of the estate of the honored poet.

195 entries were submitted from different parts of the Bikol region writing in different ‘vocalities and intimacies and metaphoric registers’ as described by one of the jury, Professor Jesus Federico Hernandez of the Department of Linguistics, University of the Philippines-Diliman. It was difficult and challenging but at the same time illuminating as to how we can chart new directions for Bikol poetry, says poet and Ani ng Dangal awardee, Enrique Villasis. Other judges include art and media critic Tito Genova Valiente, Bikolista and theologian Fr. Philip Bersabe, US-based poet and migrants rights worker, Cynthia Buiza and ADNU press deputy director and Savage Mind founder, Kristian Sendon Cordero.


Buiza and Fr. Bersabe called on the young people to keep on writing poetry specially in this time of the pandemic and the massive influence of the social media in our lives. Poetry for Buiza can shape a voice and the person you will be while for Bersabe, the social media is a good avenue to celebrate the beauty and diversity of the Bikol languages instead of subscribing to fake news and historical revisionism.


Atty. Celestina Manlagñit-Tam, Regional Director of the Department of Agrarian Reform (Region III) and one of the children of Manlagñit congratulated the winners and finalists and assured the Bikol literary community of their family’s support in the continuous promotion of Bikol literature and arts. She further announced that if this year, the competition is for the young poets, come 2022, it will be for the young Bikolnon visuals artists. If this year, poets were asked to write a Bikol poem based on the painting of Manlagñit, next year, visual artists will be asked to paint based on one of the poems of Pay Bentoy. Details will be announced soon in the social media pages of the Premyo and Savage Mind.


For his message, Fr. Wilmer Tria, a Bikolista and the director of the Ateneo de Naga University Press challenged the teachers and students to continue the work of decolonization, which is the main thrust of the university press. The Premyo Manlagñit highlights the importance of thinking, reading and teaching in Bikol and for Bikol, and there can be no better way to intellectualize and decolonize our languages and our people than to keep on writing and thinking in the language of the people, said Fr. Tria.