By the time Angela won in the Centennial Literary Awards for her Tagalog essay on EDSA entitled “Himagsikan Sa EDSA: Walang Himala!” in 2000, I was more certain about my political beliefs and my relationship with the academe. I was not fearless, oh no! but I sure was becoming more critical. I knew enough about the literary and academic establishment to keep a healthy distance from it – thanks in large part to teachers who were still open to criticism.
It would be that critical distance that allowed me the luxury not to be surprised by the Centennial Literary Prize’s snub of Angela’s work. I had heard from the academe’s grapevine that she had at first been listed for second place; when the winners were announced her work was but one of four honorably mentioned. No winners in her Tagalog essay category.
It could not have been because of content: the works in that category were diverse, the writers even more so. I had an inkling that it had everything to do with Rio Alma, who was the chairman of the panel of judges, and whose macho attitude about imposing one “correct way” of writing Tagalog was legendary in the academe.
I knew Angela’s Tagalog – easy to read, light on the eyes, with some Taglish – did not stand a chance.
It was ironic, of course, that a work that spoke of freedom and liberation from dictators would be so required to stick to a certain set of rules as far as its telling was concerned. I knew too that were Angela a part of the literary establishment, were she part of the academe, her work would’ve gotten the attention it deserved, if not “won” those prizes. For one thing she would’ve gotten invited to the National Book Awards in 1996, when The Chronology of a Revolution won for documentation. But the one who got the invitation to attend the awards was Lorna Kalaw Tirol who was editor of The Chronology’s accompanying anthology of essays and not quite of Angela’s book.
I knew enough to realize that were she part of a literary or academic barkada, she would’ve gotten that invite to the NBA, and would not have been so easily snubbed by someone like Rio Alma. Or who knows. We cannot underestimate the power the latter wields.
But there is also no overestimating Angela’s sense of letting her work speak for itself, which could also only be an inadvertent lesson in being free from the trappings of the literary and academic establishment, and being free to write. And think.
It is what allowed us to imagine doing EDSA Uno Dos Tres in 2013, shamelessly and unapologetically self-published with funds from a diverse group of friends and kindred spirits (from Howie and Ipat Severino to Kenneth Cobonpue, Baboo Mondoñedo to Lyca Benitez-Brown among others) who thought the book worthy of getting printed and into readers’ hands. That would have everything to do with Angela, of course, and the body of work she already had on EDSA.
My contribution was some experience, having become exposed to the world of independent publishing – not out of vanity but independent because critical (deliberately and otherwise) in form and / or content– of the establishment. These are far from being a set of rich kids publishing because they can afford it, but a bunch of writers and illustrators and creators who are happy enough getting 10 copies each of their books or zines printed or xeroxed, for selling at independent fairs or online.
Angela’s books of course are an abomination in this context, printing as she has a thousand each of both Revolutionary Routes (2012) and EDSA Uno Dos Tres (2013) and with history as her form and subject matter. It is an abomination as far as the history-establishment is concerned because, what? No safeguards of a publisher’s editorial board and no lawyer to oversee the publications?
That is, of course, precisely the point. ***