Becoming a WILA member

Women in Disaster Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop Women in Literary Arts WILA Cebu
Participants and panelists of the "Women in Disaster" 
Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop in 2015 
(Photo by Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu)
Four years ago, I sat by the edge of the horseshoe seating arrangement in a workshop that would propel my membership application to the Women in Literary Arts-Cebu. To my right was poet Mrs. Ma. Milagros “Gingging” T. Dumdum. In 2018, she successfully launched a book of poems titled Falling on Quiet Water (Haiku Sequence). She is also a former president of WILA. To my left was Prof. Lilia T. Tio, associate professor of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu College of Communication, Art and Design. She received the Gawad Paz Marquez Benitez 2019 from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas or Umpil.

Before me was a panel of first-rate experts and award-winning writers: Dr. Marjorie Evasco, Prof. Susan Lara, Prof. Victor Peñaranda, and retired Judge Simeon Dumdum Jr. The room we occupied at St. Mark Hotel for the Women in Disaster creative nonfiction writing seminar-workshop was filled with people I admire. There was the late Ms. Erma Cuizon, co-founder of WILA, whose Sunday column in SunStar Cebu I had enjoyed reading. There was Prof. Erlinda Kintanar-Alburo, a literary scholar and my teacher when I took up some units in literature at the University of San Carlos (USC). There was Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu, director of the USC Cebuano Studies Center. And there was my former supervisor at work, Ms. Haidee Palapar, former president of WILA and whose strength and leadership I respect.

I felt both misplaced and humbled to be in the same room with all of them. It was not the first literary workshop I attended. Many years ago, when I was a dense and ignorant college student, I was miraculously accepted as a fellow to a workshop where Prof. Alburo and esteemed poet Prof. Merlie Alunan sat as panelists. I submitted silly short stories about death and sex, and how I got accepted still boggles my mind to this day.

During that workshop, while Prof. Alburo was considerate and kind, a balm to our aching dignities, Prof. Alunan was strict and her words of critique were painfully true yet harsh to a sheltered teenager’s ears. I like them both, so much so that I read their works in the years that followed. But a couple of my young co-fellows cried and I was ready to piss in my school uniform myself. I never attended a literary workshop after thatmore for the career direction I decided to take then than for the fear of reproachnot until my former boss and good friend, Ms. Palapar (who now works as head of research and publications at Casa Gorordo Museum), kept encouraging me to submit a creative nonfiction piece for the Women in Disaster seminar-workshop and, if accepted, to use it as part of my credentials in my application to be a member of WILA. Eventually, I did, because I have been writing essays on my blog for a long time, so why not?

Now intending to be part of WILA was another matter. In truth, I didn’t intend to. WILA, to me, was like a will-o’-the-wisp; it’s there, it’s beautiful, it’s crème de la crème, it’s an elite group, the only organized women writers’ group in the Philippines that I know of, and I was content to be a mere spectator of it. I have known about WILA since I was in college and more so when I worked as a news reporter, with Ms. Cuizon often in the library, just beyond the wall of the business section where I was stationed. When I worked with Ms. Palapar, who at the time of our working relationship was the president of WILA, I was unwittingly drawn to the organization. Soon, I found myself attending WILA’s 23rd anniversary in 2014 and the launching ceremony of Prof. Alburo’s book titled Bisayangdako: Writing Cebuano Culture and Arts during WILA’s 24th anniversary, as, in Ms. Palapar’s words, an “observer.”

Women in Literary Arts WILA Cebu Oath of Commiment
WILA members renew their Oath of Commitment
(Photo from Ms. Haidee Palapar)
I became a member this year, four years since that time at the WILA-organized workshop in a hotel function room where I was so overwhelmed by the presence of beautiful and talented ladies beside and around me. The event was an eye-opener to me, to what WILA could possibly be for me, as an enabler and as a stimulator. Now I see Ms. Palapar’s wisdom in her words of encouragement, although what she sees in me as a writer is something I have yet to see myself.

I attended WILA’s 28th anniversary celebration on September 14, 2019, with Desiree Balota, college instructor at St. Theresa’s College and poet whose latest book of poems is titled What Name Do You Give Her? And Other Birthrises, as the mistress of ceremonies. In this affair, I was finally inducted as member by Ms. Ester Tapia, an esteemed Cebuano poet, winner of the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Francisco Balagtas 2019 for Cebuano poetry, and one of WILA’s founding members. Before her and the group, I pledged to “faithfully and truly perform my duty, to uphold and promote the objectives of the Women in Literary Arts.”

I joined the old members in their renewal of oath of commitment, pledging to continue believing that “there is life in being together with other women in the nurture of the literary” and that “WILA’s invaluable reason for being is the celebration of the spirit.”

New officers were also inducted. Ms. Jiji Borlasa, filmmaker and UP Cebu instructor, is the new WILA chairperson, picking up where past president Joanalyn Gabales left off. Malou Alfaro Alorro, who released a book of poems titled The Winter Lady in 2017, is the vice chairperson. Joan Maris Rosos is the secretary and Leah May Lim-Atienza is the PRO.

We also remembered in memoriam with love and gratitude the WILA members who left before us and their beautiful contributions to the world of literary: Ana Escalante Neri (1978-2007), Pura L. Kintanar (died on Nov. 5, 2013), WILA founding chairperson Erma Cuizon (1936-2017), Teodosia Vicenta “Dindin” Villarino (1970-2017), Allene Angelica Simmons (died on April 10, 2018), and Danessa Alinsug (died on May 3, 2019).

Women in Literary Arts WILA Cebu November 2019 Monthly Meeting
WILA monthly meeting in November 2019. Not in photo: 
Joan Maris Rosos (Photo from Ms. Lilia Tio)
Now that I have several chances to interact with other WILA members, I realized how down-to-earth, encouraging, connected, funny, and passionate about the arts they are. I can no longer explain my yearslong hesitation to apply when I have always enjoyed being a member of groups and causes since my college years. To WILA, thank you for accepting my membership application. I look forward to exciting years with you.

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