A Brief History of the Iligan National Writers Workshop (INWW) 

by by Christine F. Godinez Ortega, INWW Director

In May 1994, the first Iligan National Writers Workshop (INWW) opened with 15 writing fellows, and pioneer panelists, the late Gawad CCP Leoncio P. Deriada, the late National Artist for Literature Cirilo F. Bautista, Steven PC Fernandez, Jaime An Lim (First Director), Anthony Tan and this writer (Co-Director) as co-founders and implementers of the project under the aegises of the Mindanao Creative Writers Group, Inc. (MCWG) and the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT). 

Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts and National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera gave the keynote address titled,”Young Writing and the Subversion of the Academe” published in the workshop’s first proceedings titled “Stoking the Fire: Proceedings of the 1st Iligan National Writers Workshop”. Bautista gave the introduction to this first volume.

In his address, Lumbera noted that “young writing in the Philippines is largely a production of the academe” mentioning that the Iligan workshop is hosted by the MSU-IIT at the same time, cited two writers workshops based in universities, then known as the Silliman National Summer Writers Workshop and the UP National Summer Writers Workshop.

National and Regional Writers Workshops

There are five national writers workshops in the country— Silliman, UP, MSU-IIT, University of Santo Tomas, and De La Salle University/University of St. La Salle. Except for UST, the other four receive funding from the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA). Writers workshops in the regions, on the other hand, focus on their respective writers writing in the local languages and some are funded by the NCCA. 

In the NCCA-funded project this writer headed, “A Tracer Study of Writers Workshops in the Philippines”, 11 local writers workshops were listed. The numbers may have increased today with some colleges and universities that are engaged in their own writers workshops on a smaller scale. 

For his part, Bautista viewed the Iligan workshop in 1994 as a historical event, since he said, for the first time, “writers from the south of the country acquired the long-needed voice and forum for their creative consciousness”.  

We understand where our mentor and the late National Artist for Literature Bautista came from. He had been the workshop’s spiritual father and had done more than anyone to popularize it. His contributions are partly responsible for what the workshop has become today.

But the regions have always had a strong voice through their languages and cultures and unique, creative expressions, indigenizing them too towards self-determination that has strengthened the so-called ‘regional voices’ that, first of all, need validation from its own ranks. 

Aside from this, digital media have democratized or leveled the playing field. Access to information is at one’s fingertips and one can enroll in online classes, for example, in any university of his choice, that is, if he qualifies, of course.  Creatives too from the regions can already publish their own works and promote these as they see fit, their triumphs broadcast to the world with a mere click on one’s keyboard. 

A national workshop that accepts manuscripts written in diverse languages   

The Iligan workshop is likewise the only ‘national’ workshop based in Mindanao managed by Mindanawons, catering to writers writing in diverse languages of the country, as it is conscious of its mandate in helping forge a truly national literature. Apart from English, Filipino, Cebuano, these languages are Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Waray, Samareno, the variants or dialects of Cebuano, Tausug, Meranaw, Maguindanao, Binukid, Chabacano, and once, Bicol.

Writing Fellowships from Boy Abunda, Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen, Manuel E. Buenafe, Jimmy Y. Balacuit Awards

Through the years, innovations were implemented. Three donors continuously provide their funding support of writing fellows from the various regions. TV personality Boy Abunda supports a Samareno or Waray writing fellow. Iliganon Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen has the Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen Bursary that supports a writing fellow from Iligan or around Lanao writing in Cebuano/Binisaya, while Cora Buenafe, with the family’s Manuel E. Buenafe Writing Fellowship supports a Moro or Lumad writer.  

On the other hand, after the passing of the late MSU-IIT Vice Chancellor for Research & Extension Jimmy Y. Balacuit, who had supported the workshop during its nascent years, the Balacuit family through Jimmy’s widow, former MSU-IIT College of Engineering Dean Rosalinda C. Balacuit institutionalized the Jimmy Y. Balacuit awards. Promising writing fellows were given cash awards for their best works submitted to the workshop. It is rewarding that the writers who have won this award move on to become professional and prize-winning writers in the country and abroad like J. Dennis C. Teodosio, TJ Dimacali, Glen Sevilla Mas, Adonis Durado, Roger Garcia, Bonifacio Alfonso Magno Javier III, Gil S. Montinola, Jonecito Saguban and Allen Faw Samuya.  

Many more workshop alumni have distinguished themselves as writers, editors, artists, filmmakers, educators, corporate managers, to randomly name a few: Charlson Ong, J. Neil Garcia, Ralph Semino Galan, Isidoro Cruz, Roel Hoang Manipon, Rhandee Garlitos, Denver Torres, Jondy Arpilleda, Voltaire Oyson, Diandra Macarambon, Zola Gonzalez Macarambon, Jayson Parba, Nemesco Baldesco, Jun Sungkit, Jr., John Go, Erwin A. Martinez, Cecile Locsin Nava, Jose Jason Chancoco, Arlene Yandug, Ma. Elena E. Paulma, Ferdinand Cantular, Amado C. Guinto, Jr., Sorhaila L. Latiph Yusoph, Erwin Cabucos, Louie Vincent Amante, Ma.Victoria Gaerlan, German V. Gervacio, Dulce Deriada, Jethol Paanod, Christopher Cahilig, Cherrie Sing,  Jim Pascual Agustin, Jeneen Garcia, Margarita Marfori, Genaro R. Gojo Cruz, John Enrico Torralba, Crisanto Cayon, Hope Sabanpan Yu, Saturnina S. Rodil and Rebecca T. Anonuevo. 

(We give a list of the keynote speakers and the writing fellows on this page soon). 

Innovations through the years: Publication of Workshop Proceedings; Scripts for the Stage 

Well-written scripts for the stage have not always been easy to come by. A more welcome development is the agreement between the playwrights of the workshop and the MSU-IIT Resident Theatre Company, the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG). 

IPAG mounts for the stage the workshop’s successful scripts but playwrights retain copyright to their works. Already, four Iligan workshop alumni have had their plays staged by IPAG.  

The Iligan workshop is also known as the first to publish its proceedings each year and this is the reason the workshop can easily keep track of its former writing fellows, and for the convenience of the literary historian in the future, to study the theoretical frameworks favored by its panelists at one time or other during workshop sessions. 

Encourage writing for the young and the defunct Literature Teachers’ Conference and other challenges

To provide the atmosphere and venue for young writers to listen to the latest trends in the critiquing of literary works, to write about their own regions and for the country to discover new “authentic” voices and identities “through innovation and interrogate accustomed technique and content” according to Bautista. These too had always been the foundation of the Iligan workshop.     

Helping likewise the country train its human resource is part of the general objective of the Iligan workshop but, most important, it is to provide a young writer a hearing, to know more from the panelists, to meet and compare notes with fellow writers from other regions, perhaps establish lifetime friendships, and to seek, in Dante’s words “experience of the world and of human vice and worth”.

And for whatever its value, to date, the workshop has ‘graduated’ 406 writing fellows around the country since its founding in 1994. It is not, however, without its share of challenges, and most of these would be sources of funds for it. The Iligan workshop has tapped the generosity of its alumni, among many individuals, including former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to support the workshop funding at a time when it was not available from the NCCA.  

The Iligan workshop in its early years, on the other hand, used to be held in tandem with a Literature Teachers Conference since teachers as writers’ partners should know the writers in their own backyard, and for them to improve “their teaching methodologies and materials and philosophy”. But funding constraints made the Iligan workshop end the teachers training after only a four-year run.  

Equitable Representation and Connecting with ASEAN and the rest of the World

The workshop had always aimed for equitable representation: five writing fellows each for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Lately, the number of writing fellows have been reduced for the National Capital Region to be able to increase the number from Mindanao and to invite writing fellows from the ASEAN. There are likewise several writers workshops in Luzon especially in the NCR, and for practical reasons for both organizer and would-be participants.

Other regular features include the giving of a keynote lecture during the opening program by a significant writer or, from its roster of alumni. The list of its keynote speakers read like the who’s-who in Philippine Literature. Their keynote lectures are well-documented and soon will be published as an anthology to make available to the public. 

Since 2014, one more innovation similar to the UP workshop, the Iligan Workshop has been inviting Senior Writing Fellows to share their their works-in-progress and aesthetics or creative process. 

Today, the workshop has set its sights in connecting with ASEAN/South Asian writers. This year, the pioneer writing fellows come from Myanmar, Thailand, India and Malaysia. The panelists also come from a cross section of experts from the country and abroad.

It is envisioned, therefore, that the Iligan workshop will blossom some more, and should take its firm place among its predecessors, that is, Silliman and UP, and become a center for new ideas, techniques and insights to usher new growth for writers from the South, horizons broadened through interactions with more writers from the regions, from the ASEAN to the rest of Asia and, eventually, to the rest of the world. ###  

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References:

An Lim, Jaime and Christine Godinez Ortega. 1995. Stoking the Fire: Proceedings of the Ist Iligan National Writers Workshop. Iligan City: MSU-IIT.

A Tracer Study of Writers Workshops in the Philippines, an NCCA-funded project headed by C.Godinez Ortega “Why government must support writers workshops” by Christine Godinez Ortega, Philippine Daily Inquirer (July 5, 2004), page E4.

Terminal Report for the 25th Iligan National Writers Workshop submitted by the MCWG to the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA), 2018.

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