By Tiny Diapana
NO thanks to clickbait articles and “news” feeds in the internet age, it’s so easy to lose oneself and lose sight of what truly matters. Take the case of literary giant Msgr. Rodolfo Villanueva, otherwise known as Renato Madrid.
Described by national artist Nick Joaquin as one of the top five fictionists of the Philippines and is currently one of the candidates of the Panglaw ng Lahi award, Madrid has written two compelling English books about the lives lived by Filipinos: “Devil Wings” and “Mass for the Death of an Enemy.” He has a short story collection titled “Southern Harvest” and has composed many prize-winning songs as well.
Despite of all that he’s proffered, so few among Cebuanos know about the great Renato Madrid, his influence on Cebuano literature, and his hefty contributions to the literary development of the Philippines. That was until Dandaniw 2016 reintroduced the people to the man last April 8 at Robinson’s Galleria in Cebu City.
To reacquaint the people with their writers, Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu, as coordinator of the Central Visayas leg of the National Commission of the Literary Arts (NCLA) and as a warrior of the literary scene, spearheaded a tribute to Renato Madrid.
The tribute was part of Dandaniw 2016, a nationwide activity sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in celebration of the National Literature Month. Light and feathery, the word “Dandaniw” is an Iluko word that stands for poetry.
For Cebu City’s celebration of Dandaniw 2016, Dr. Yu organized the tribute to reintroduce Renato Madrid to today’s generation and rallied the support of Cebu’s five major literary organizations: Mga Anak sa Dagang (MAD), Nomads, Tinta, Women in Literary Arts (Wila), and Bathalan-ong Halad sa Dagang (Bathalad).
Writers, literature enthusiasts and local artists were in attendance, alongside batches of young seminarians and priests from the San Carlos Seminary College, the college where Renato Madrid originally graduated and eventually worked as an English and music educator.
Stories that stuck
Many of the stories that the speakers shared during the event were wistful anecdotes of encounters with Renato Madrid in and out of the seminary. For me it was a tender experience, listening to the guests conjure and piece together this amalgam image of a sweet, simple priest who also turns out to be an incredibly humorous and talented writer.
Msgr. Joseph Tan, one of Msgr. Villanueva’s colleagues in the Cebu Archdiocese and one of the speakers during the event, described him as a faithful Father who was dedicated to his profession both as an educator and as a writer. Msgr. Tan spoke about Renato Madrid’s passion for writing, about how he was committed to language, and how he believed that the comma should stay in the place he last left them. He went on listing Madrid’s literary achievements, from being considered a top fictionist by Nick Joaquin to being elected as a candidate for the “Panglaw ng Lahi” award.
Resil Mojares, another prominent literary figure and historian, described Madrid as a reclusive writer who always left him impressed. Mojares said a writer’s work always speaks for itself and Madrid’s compositions were nothing short of striking and stellar.
Bea Martinez, a young writer who also gave tribute to Madrid described his stories as exciting and compelling. With stars in the rim of her eyes, she recounted Madrid’s stories where women chased butt-naked men out in the fields, stories of passion, and stories of the slow but rambunctious life in the provinces.
But it was the anecdotes from Insoy Niñal that left the most memorable impression. An editor for Sun Star Cebu and a professor at the University of San Jose Recoletos by day and lead vocalist for Bisrock pioneer Missing Filemon at night, Niñal recounted how he had joined the ranks of the seminarians in the San Carlos Seminary College just so that he could learn writing and music from Renato Madrid himself.
Niñal talked about his life in the seminary with Madrid, how simple the man was, teaching English and Music with three ragged t-shirts for clothing and a dog for a teaching assistant. He talked about the earthiness in Madrid — though he was a priest, Msgr. Villanueva was not afraid to get down and drink with his students outside the seminary.
And the priest had a funny bone as well. Apparently, one time Madrid, underwhelmed by a students’ work crumpled the sheet of paper and gave it to his “teaching assistant,” his dog. When the dog spit the ball of paper out, Madrid exclaimed “Awa ra gud, dili makaon inyong sinuwatan sa iro (Even the dog can’t stomach your work).” The audience roared with laughter. At the end of his tribute, Niñal closed his speech describing Madrid as something like “tagiptip na dili matangtang sa panit (dirt that won’t come off the skin),” an image both lucid and memorable.
Literary giant arrives
Later on Msgr. Villanueva arrived on scene, staying at the back row as people crowded around him for pictures and the opportunity to speak with the guest of honor himself. The man was just as shy and reclusive as the speakers had pictured him out to be. He even refused to come up on stage and instead stayed at the backmost portion of the event near the area where stands sold copies of his books, along with publications from the Cebuano Studies Center, Tinta, Bathalad, Nomads, and from other literary organizations attending the event. Though Msgr. Villanueva left the event early, the spirit of his presence and of the stories from his life remained, as corporeal as the skin-dirt image described by Niñal.
Elvin Ruiz, an instructor at Cebu Normal University and an aspiring writer admitted he “had no idea that among the celestial bodies a star was quietly shining,” referring to Madrid. Ruiz felt like the event not only opened another consciousness in him, but it also helped him rediscover his identity as a Cebuano.
Denver Torres, a prolific mid-career writer also agreed that Dandaniw 2016 had a definite impact on the audience and was thankful that Dr. Yu organized the event. To have this awakening spur among the younger generation of writers is a definite sign that the Dandaniw 2016 in Cebu was a success. The only hope is that Dr. Yu, the NCLA and the literary organizations in Cebu will continue banding together to keep the embers of art and literature burning.