Winners: Agri Writers And A Body Poet
December 23, 2013

The 7th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards were given on Dec. 10 at the Hyatt Hotel. It’s been the third or fourth year that I’ve been included among the judges for this distinctive writing competition, and I must say that each year the entries have increasingly improved in quality.

While there are the usual repeat winners, given that agriculture writing remains a narrow genre for journalists beholden to a not too particularly rewarding “beat,” new winners also constantly emerge.

For 2013, the Agriculture Story of the Year was an article that appeared in Lamb magazine, “What’s behind the fuss over CP Foods?” written by Fermin Diaz.

For Tobacco Story of the Year, Teodoro Molina of The Philippine Star won for his comprehensive piece titled “Is the Tobacco Industry Headed for Collapse?”

These two major winners received hefty prizes: a cash prize of P50,000 each, an Ipad Mini, a trophy sculpted by Seb Chua, and an Asian trip to be conducted in April next year. 

Two other major prizes were for Agriculture Photo of the Year, won by David Leprozo, Jr. of Manila Standard Today for “Planting Time”; and Tobacco Photo of the Year, won by Mauricio Victa of Business Mirror for “The Sun Life Farm.” They received the same major prizes but a lesser cash prize of P20,000.

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For electronic media, Best Agriculture TV Program/Segment went to Kenneth Bajo for “Kakao Eskuwela: Cacao Check,” which aired on Sky Cable / DE Channel 32; while Best Agriculture Radio Program/Segment was ”The importance of tobacco in the culture of Mt. Province and the indigenous way of planting tobacco” by Rose Malekchan of DWZT 540 Radyo Totoo  —  with each winning P50,000 and a certificate.

Gaining P20,000 and a certificate each were Eva Visperas of The Star for “BFAR promotes use of aerators to increase shrimp production” as Best Agriculture News Story (National); Romer Sarmiento of Minda News for “Farmers in Region 12 urged to plant organic rice to foreign market” as Best Agriculture News Story (Regional); Marilou Guieb of Business Mirror for “Highlands in Yuyu in Cordillera nearing extinction” as Best Agriculture Feature Story (National); and Ian Ocampo Flora of Sun Star for “Urban Village takes initiative on Adoptive Climate Change Farming” as Best Agriculture Feature Story (Regional).

Lastly, the prestigious Oriental Leaf Award was given to

Inez G. Magbual, who received an iPad Mini and a trophy.

Judges for the preliminary phase were: Crispin C. Maslog, Ph.D., a Journalism professor and environmental activist as well as a Science columnist for SciDev.net and a consultant for the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication; Albert Gamboa, columnist of Business World; Michele Logarta, information officer of the Corporate Communication Division, CCP, and professor in Communication at De La Salle University; Steve Nicol Ching, professor in Agriculture at De La Salle Araneta University and a contributor for Agriculture magazine; and Alfredo Gabot, professor in Media Criticism and Photo Journalism at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, and editor in chief of Philippines Today currently circulating in San Francisco, California.

The judges for the final phase were Niñez Cacho-Olivares, publisher and editor-in-chief of Daily Tribune (who served as BLAJA 2013 Chairperson of the Board of Judges); ABS-CBN broadcast journalist Ces Orena-Drilon; ABS-CBN field reporter for TV Patrol and DZMM news anchor Jasmin Romero; Rice Today magazine editor Lanie Reyes; Edward Cabagnot, officer-in-charge of Media Arts and Communication at CCP and lecturer in Communications at De La Salle University; Philippine Daily Inquirer contributor Rene Guatlo; and this writer.

The BLAJA or Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards are sponsored annually by PMFTC, Inc., which was represented in the awarding rites by director for corporate affairs Bayen Elero-Tinga. 

Congratulations and kudos to young poet Allan Justo Pastrana for winning the 13th Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award (MGBFBA) for his poetry collection Body Haul.

A UST alumnus who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Music Literature, Pastrana had his book published by the UST Publishing House, which has been on a roll this year, having been declared Publisher of the Year by the Manila Critics Circle and the National Book Development Board (NBDB) at the recent National Book Awards rites.

Among the six titles vying for the Best First Book award supervised by The LIKHAAN: UP Institute of Creative Writing (ICW) and the Madrigal-Gonzalez family, UST Publishing House had the distinction of having four other finalists apart from Pastrana’s: Silver Fish, Hook of Moon by Neal Imperial; After the Body Displaces Water by Daryll Delgado; Agueda: A Ballad of Stone and Wind by Anna Maria L. Harper; and Falling Into thManhole: A Memoir by John Jack Wigley. Wigley also happens to be the UST Publishing House’s director. The sixth “first book” nominated was Have by poet-artist Marc Gaba.

I’ve had a high regard for Allan Justo Pastrana’s well-crafted poetry, which has always impressed me for being both cerebral and musical, with his themes and motifs ranging widely through concerns marked by gravitas.

Last summer Allan revisited Dumaguete for a week of the National Writers Workshop at Silliman University, and we had time to get together over food and drinks, along with his poet-buddy and fellow balik-workshopper Joel Toledo.

One evening Joel received somewhat unhappy SMS word that his recommendation for Allan to be considered for the International Writing Program at University of Iowa would have to be held in abeyance, as someone else had already gained the grant. Well, with this prestigious award for his first collection of poems, next year Allan should have stronger chances for the IWP fellowship.

He says of his award: “I did not expect it at all. I was just happy, and I thought that it’s an honor to be nominated alongside these wonderful writers. When Sir Charlson started reading the citation for the winning book, I was hoping that the phrase ‘Like Orpheus’ lyre…’ (which began the citation) was a telling reference already to my musical background. The whole experience was exhilarating. I am just glad the judges appreciated ‘Body Haul’.”

Indeed they did. Our esteemed confrere Butch Dalisay already shared the official citation for the winning title in his column last week. Here now is what one of the judges, Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta, who herself is fast becoming an illustrious poet, also recalls writing after the deliberations:

“Pastrana’s poetry cannot be classified. Perhaps Pastrana’s poetry does not want to be classified. Whether difficult, whether lyric, whether difficult lyric, the poet’s gift is how he makes his work rise above such distinctions. First and last is his music. First and last is music of such virtuosity. Pastrana must be one of our finest poets.”

I agree. Here’s eminent evidence, Allan’s poem “Signs”:

“Again, one of the usual stops we make./ This antique shop is a cold and dark/ warehouse of the heart — reckonings, slow/ like death. Notice that china’s edge,/ chipped but true to its imperfections./ You say it has to be hand-painted and/ I imagine the delicate strokes, blue/ stirrings where an artisan’s steady hand/ had mustered love, at once tender and muscular./ Always, we believe that a story has kept/ each detailed treasure here, what is to be/ repeatedly glazed over beneath the carbide lamp, while that old phonograph plays Faust/ like a bad translation of our years together./ So we keep on rummaging through piles and/ heaps, among shelves. This is a panic of memory, the wild arrest when desire/ reads like a code: I want to acquire everything./ Study that wooden image, the one resembling/ a caryatid, the bad carmine paint peeling off./ The quaint detail of its face reminds you/ of someone you might have met anywhere./ Signs will fail us, the way anything here/ resumes with little breath-space. This cold/ heaven’s everything we would have wanted it/ to be — fallible, random, alive.”

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