Wednesday, November 21, 2012

THE KING AND “THE KING” (April 4, 2011)


Two days ago, the Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA), the oldest active organization of poets in Filipino, collaborated with the Samahan ng Sining at Kalinangan ng Pandacan and the Office of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim to celebrate this year's birthday ofFrancisco Balagtas who turned 223. In a gathering of writers and artists called Pahayag: Panitikan Laban sa Korupsiyon, there was the expected crowning of flowers on the statue of Balagtas at the Balagtas Shrine in Pandacan, Manila led by Mayor Lim, with National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, LIRA's founder and adviser, who were assisted by the Knights of the Columbus from the San Fernando de Dilao Parish.

Before the said ritual and the release of a cultural manifesto against corruption in the government, we did a Balagtasan about graft with Mike Coroza and Teo Antonio.

Teo, the “King of Balagtasan,” told us that his father, Emilio Mar. Antonio, the last real King of Balagtasan will turn 108 on the 13th of May.

Emilio Martinez Antonio (EMA) was born on in Bambang, Bulacan, Bulacan to Andres Antonio and Maria Asuncion Martinez. After marrying Andrea Teodoro in 1941, he sired six children.
Teo who was born on 29 November 1946 when his dad was 43.

At that time, EMA began his career as part of the editorial staff of Liwayway until 1949 and as a Lakandiwa in a Balagtasan on air over DZRH until 1956.

And it seemed providential that after 60 years or so, it would be his son, Teo, who would be doing Balagtasan on air for the Cultural Center of the Philippines' projectSugpuin ang Korupsiyon over DZRH.

Ever since, we had been asking Teo about his father and he would always portray him as loving and understanding, that eldom would he spank us, that they obeyed and respected him as a disciplinarian who would pale in comparison with his mom. As a husband, was EMA was a far cry from Teo who is a rose-and-chocolate type of lover. His dad was a sweet lover though. Never did he witness his parents fight. His mom simply followed what he wanted to do. They were perfect as a give-and-take couple.Being a busybody, his dad was always on the go but whenever he would come home all of them would surely get his or share of pancit as pasalubong. At home, he loved playing with his kids. The Antonios grew up happy. They shared everything they had.

Especially his achievements:Makatang Lawreado (1937); Makata ng Diwang Ginto (1938); Balagtasan ng Taon (1947); Prinsipe ng Balagtasan (1951); Hari ng Balagtasan (1954); Sampung Pangunahing Manunulat sa Pilipino (1961); Pangunahing Manunulat na Bulakenyo sa Pilipino (1961); Outstanding King of Balagtasan (1965); Hari ng Balagtasan (1965); National Press Club of the Philippines tribute (1967). EMA has written three novels written in verse; a novel in Liwayway which he co-authored with Macario Pineda; three novels in Bulaklak; five novels turned into film; a poem version of Noli Me Tangere; three novels written in verse aired over DZRH; and a novel as comics Suplungan ng mga Hayop published by the UST Publishing House with Maya: Mga Tulang Pambata.

Truth to tell, Teo was not the only writer in the family. There was Emilio Jr., who became the Pilipino editor of Mapazette, the official student organ of V. Mapa High School where he studied too. But he took up Chemical Engineering at the Manuel Luis Quezon University. And Teo took up Fine Arts at the University of Santo Tomas.

Emilio Jr. ended up as an economist while Teo became a poet. Had he not pursued his doctorate in economics, could Emilio Jr. end up as a better poet? Ask Teo.

VN: How did you learn about his legacy?
TA: When I was a kid I was always asked to recite poems in school. My dad would teach me before the break of dawn. Little did I know that I'd become a poet. I'd read all his poems. More so, I was also exposed to books written by his friends.

VN: Who were his literary barkadas?
TA: His peer was Nemesio Caravana. He used to play madjong with Florentino Collantes, another King of Balagtasan; Alejandro Abadilla, the Father of Modernist Poetry in Filipino; and Catalino Flores, his editor in Liwayway.

VN: What was his ritual as a writer?
TA: He'd sit in front of a typewriter, then think quietly. He loved smoking. He could fill up an ashtray. His pointing finger turned yellow due to cigarettes. He never was a heavy drinker.

VN: Could you tell us the literary scene during his time?
TA: It was the heyday of Florentino Collantes. Inigo Ed Regalado, Amado V. Hernandez, Alejandro Abadilla, Nemesio Caravana and others. In Taliba, he was able to meet Carmen
Guerrero Nakpil and J.V. Cruz who were with The Manila Times. There a lot of groups. It was Lope K. Santos who was the leader of writers in Tagalog.

VH: How did he influence you as an artist?
TA: When my dad died on 13 May1963, I began writing poems. Liwayway, Bulaklak,Taliba, Tagumpay, and Free Press in Filipino published my works. I didn't know he had a great impact on me. I'd love reading him. In his last Balagtasan in Liwayway, he was very ill. So he just dictated it to me. I think I woke up The Muse sleeping inside of me.

VN: What were the tips he gave you?
TA: When I was small, he taught how to deal with people while on stage. I would always cry after each poem recited. He advised me to treat them like banana trees. He just told me to speak slowly. And he would reiterate that I must memorize my poems.

VN: What did your family do during the centennial of his birth?
TA: With Rio Alma and P.T. Martin, our family sought the help of the late Bokal Ricky Meneses who became the mayor of Bulacan, Bulacan where we celebrated his 100th birthday. Bulacan's capitol remembered it too and make May 13 a special day. There was an exhibit of his books, trophies, crowns as the King of Balagtasan. There was a program to where Rio Alma was the guest of honor. It was made successful by Arman Sta. Ana and the Office of the Governor of Bulacan. Emilio Jr. and I submitted his works to the UST Publishing House. Now under Dr. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo's leadership, two of his books was out. It will be launched as part of the 400 Years, 400 Books project in November.

VN: What are your plans to immortalize him?
TA: Emilio Jr. searched for all the works of our father. Hopefully we'll be able to publish them all. I am writing his biography right now.

VN: What are your plans to immortalize Balagtasan?
TA: I'm plannning to conduct seminars on Balagtasan with Mike Coroza and you.

VN: Could you give us pointers on how to become as mambabalagtas?
TA: There's a need for training how to read or perform poetry. But I would prefer to teach him or her first how to write poems.

VN: What about hints on how to read or recite a poem properly?
TA: My advise is to understand the poem first. You have to get the feel of it.

VN: Can Balagtasan outlive you?
TA: must get the support of institutions like the Cultural Center of the Philippines which has been airing Balagtasan over DZRH. Or the National Commission for Culture and the Arts which had been inviting us on stage almost every year.

VN: What must be done?
TA: Balagtasan must be taught in schools. Trainings and seminars must be offered. The Pambansang Balagtasan must be done annually. The Department of Education must continue what the Division of City Schools in Manila did earlier. Calling all sponsors.

Reasons why government gives discounts to senior citizens.
  1. Food – because they can't everything.
  2. Transpo – because they can't ride.
  3. Sine – because their eyes can't see.
  4. Gamot -- because they can't swallow.
  5. Concerts – because they can't hear.
  6. Hotels – what for?
Never use failure as an excuse for not trying again. We may not be available to do the damage or reverse the consequences. But we can always make a new start.

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