High-ranking government officials and some of the country’s leading creative writers saluted the late National Artist for Literature Cirilo F. Bautista in a ceremony that highlighted his immense contributions to Philippine letters and offered glimpses into his personality.
This came as Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista ordered his city’s public library to dedicate a section featuring the works of the 76-year-old author, who died of pneumonia, complicated by his muscular dystrophy, at the Philippine Heart Center last Sunday.
In a speech delivered by Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Officer-in-Charge J. Prospero E. de Vera 3rd at a necrological service at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in Pasay City last Thursday, the Office of the President called Bautista “a poet who wrote verses that captured the imagination of a fragmented nation.”
“His works have become one of the hallmarks of Philippine literature, ensuring that his illustrious creative process lives on, even after his passing,” it added.
“Dr. Bautista’s body of work reminds us that culture and the arts reflect and define our national identity, which is vital to nation-building,” the office said.
“No one could ever replace Cirilo or equal his standing in [our]national literature, for he had created a singular world, a universe of images, stories, and history,” National Artist for Literature and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Chairman Virgilio S. Almario said in Filipino in a speech delivered by NCCA Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Rev. Fr. Harold Ll. Rentoria, OSA.
“He is one loss that would never be replaced,” he added.
“Throughout his career that spanned more than four decades, Bautista established a reputation for fine and profound artistry,” CCP Chairman Margarita “Margie” Moran-Floirendo said in her speech.
She noted that the late author had “made significant contributions to the development of Philippine literature: as a writer, through his significant body of works; as a teacher, through his discovery and encouragement of young writers in workshops and lectures; and as a critic, through his essays that provide insights into the craft of writing and correctives to misconceptions about art.”
The NCCA and CCP administer the National Artist award, and the President confers the honor on those recommended by both institutions to receive it.
Then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd formally bestowed on Bautista that honor in Malacañang on April 14, 2016, almost three years after he was proclaimed as such.
‘Two major requirements’
In his tribute, National Artist for Literature F. Sionil José recounted that he had recommended Bautista to be honored with the title because he had “fulfilled the two major requirements” for it.
“One, a distinguished body of work, and second—and this must be in your work, and it is in your work—a rootedness, deep and profound, in this native soil, and a very, very, very lasting affection for our unhappy country,” he said.
“Cirilo traveled a lot, like most writers and artists. He was, in a sense, a cosmopolite, but though well-traveled and familiar with cultural trends all over the world, he always returned to this country,” the novelist said.
He did so to “celebrate not just himself, but its anguish, the aspirations of its people, and the agony of nation-building and rising from the dungheap of war, corruption, and the misery that Filipinos have brought upon themselves because of their willful misuse of the ballot,” he added.
Award-winning essayist Ronald Baytan, director of De La Salle University’s (DLSU) Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center, said Bautista’s genius as a writer, total commitment to his craft, and kindness toward fellow writers, especially aspiring ones, made him “an important presence in Philippine literature.”
The National Artist “is a writer of the highest order. He is the greatest epic poet of the Filipino race in our time,” he added.
Writer Ken Ishikawa shared how his former teacher Bautista loved to make jokes; how he would often talk to him about growing up in Balic-Balic in Manila’s Sampaloc district; and how poor his family then.
He noted how simple and decent the National Artist was; how he loved sardines; and how he cared for plants and cats, so much so that, Ishikawa suspected, he would choose the life of any of his cats than that of any of his students.
Prize-winning author Alfred A. Yuson, who first met Bautista in the 1970s and later worked with him drafting or editing speeches and messages in the now-defunct President’s Center for Special Studies (PCSS) in the early 1980s, also noted the poet’s fondness for jokes.
“He told jokes, mostly folksy, some of them corny, but underpinned by values that place a premium on humanistic sharing,” said Yuson, who, with Bautista and other poets that included Gemino H. Abad and Ricardo M. de Ungria, founded the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC) during the last years of the Marcos regime.
Recalling that Bautista used to fill idle time at PCSS by “making artworks, diligently using colored pencils for his detailed geometric abstractions,” the author said this confirmed that “Cirilo was totally committed to creativity.”
“All his waking hours were devoted to addressing one vision after another of how the world should be,” he added.
In response to the tributes, Bautista’s widow, the former Rose Marie Jimenez, called them, and the music and dance performed at the service, “fitting” for “one who appreciated beauty in any form.”
“To me and my family, it is a balm which soothes our hearts,” she said.
In a statement, Mayor Bautista ordered a special section in his city’s public library to the late writer “to honor his valuable contributions to Philippine literature.”
“I believe that it’s the type of honor that he deserves from the people of Quezon City,” the official said during the launch of Lessons and Legacies, a collection of his significant speeches for which the national artist, a longtime resident of the city, wrote the foreword.
Mayor Bautista dedicated Lessons and Legacies to the writer for being an exemplary and outstanding citizen of the city.