A teacher’s romance with literature

As Professor Reuel Molina Aguila walked up the stage at this year’s Palanca awards night to receive his award, his mind flashed back in 1975 when he, as a student at the University of the Philippines, first won in the country’s premier literary contest.

He won that year under the One-Act Play category. He was the first student in UP to win a Palanca award.

This time around, Aguila came up on stage to receive the distinction of Palanca Hall of Famer, for having won five first prizes in the annual Palanca Awards. Over the years, he has won as well various other prizes from Palanca.

According to Aguila, “Ang Palanca ay isang institusyon. Para sa kabataang manunulat, tulad ko noong 1975, isang rituwal na dapat maranasan ang Palanca. Hindi ganap ang pagiging manunulat ng sinuman kung ‘di pa siya nakakalahok o nananalo ng Palanca (Palanca is an institution. For the young writer, like I was in 1975, Palanca is like a ritual which needs to be experienced. One is not a complete writer if he has not yet joined or won a Palanca).”

Aguila recounted how his romance with literature started, “It was in college where I grew fond of poetry reading, plays, and any literature explaining about the things which were happening in the society; it was the 70s. I also joined a poetry writing contest in UP where I won. I realized that I enjoyed writing more,” said Aguila.

This newfound love in literature soon made him decide to shift course to Bachelor of Arts in Filipino, to the utter dismay of his father. He was then taking up accountancy at the UP College of Business Administration as his father had hoped, after he graduated at the top of his class in high school, that he would become an accountant-lawyer

“It was only after I won my first Palanca that it became easier for my father to accept my becoming a writer,” said Aguila.

His Palanca victory would be followed by a string of other winnings in various literary competitions.

“Before I knew it, I was already hooked in this field,” he said.

The literary professor is into all genres, as he is comfortable in all forms of literature, and does not favor one over the other. As such, he has been known as the complete writer – creating poems, formal and personal essays, short stories, plays, songs, and scripts for radio, television, movies, and komiks.

In poetry writing, Aguila admires Chinese and Latin American poets. He is drawn to the deftness of the Chinese in creating images, while he loves the intense emotions of Latin American poets.

In plays, the professor takes to Brechtian or Brechtian-like – painstakingly written, and one which threshes out issues in life and society. He said he likes plays not only for its entertainment value, but as a chance to enter the minds as well as the reasons why things happen.

Aguila also loves Italian movies for the simplicity of its narratives. He loves old songs also for its simple melodious pattern. And he loves his laid-back lifestyle where he enjoys being a ‘houseband’ – doing the market and cooking for his family; and tending his bonsai plants, which he says is an art in itself.

The professor, however, was quick to clarify that he has never patterned his writing from that of other writers, and advises others not to do this as well.

“Hindi uunlad ang panitikan kung nanggagaya lang tayo o inuulit lang ang istilo ng mga nauna (Our literature will not prosper if we will just imitate the style of those who came before us),” said Aguila.

And Aguila has always preferred to write in the native language as he believes that the choice of language is political. Said the literary guru, “Nagbubuo tayo ng isang pambansang panitikan. At ang bansa ay may katangian – isa rito ang pambansang wika (We are creating a national body of literature. And our country has a distinct characteristic – one of these is our national language).”

Aguila said that he derives inspiration from the ordinary people and day to day life. For Aguila, writing is both challenge and fun if only because the world is rich in topics and themes on everyday life, society, hardships, sexuality, struggles, history, and love.

That is why he is always relating what he writes to the present, and how his written works could serve as key to see or feel or understand whatever is happening to our lives today. (Carlos Palanca Foundation)