Poet, fictionist, essayist and National Artist for Literature Cirilo F. Bautista has passed away after a long battle with muscular dystrophy. Cirilo was 76, and had worked as a professor of literature at De La Salle University, Manila, eventually being named Professor Emeritus of Literature and University Fellow.
Cirilo gained international recognition for his unparalleled ability to articulate the complexity of the human condition with his work in fiction and poetry, according to a biography uploaded to the DLSU website.
He shepherded the literary section of Panorama, the Sunday magazine of the Manila Bulletin, for many years. Thus did Cirilo share his keen mentorship with generations of the nation’s young writers—formally, in the classroom, and informally through the pages of the Panorama that he devoted to publishing their work and his essays on writing.
The National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has written that Cirilo has many “exceptional achievements and significant contributions to the development of the country’s literary arts. He is acknowledged by peers and critics, and the nation at large as the foremost writer of his generation.” He was also a painter, and was known to his intimates as “Toti.”
More than being the foremost writer of his generation, he was one of the keenest, kindest writers the Philippines Graphic was given the honor of publishing. He was a generous soul who gave of his time and expertise to those who approached him with a desire to learn how to write. He was a patient man who took the time needed to teach young Filipino writers the ropes. Beyond that, fire and passion lit every word he wrote with a luminescence that was purely Cirilo, and purely Filipino—even when those words he crafted were written in English.
Cirilo’s career spanned more than four decades. The NCCA wrote that “he has established a reputation for fine and profound artistry; his books, lectures, poetry readings and creative writing workshops continue to influence his peers and generations of young writers.”
He won multiple Palanca Awards, as well as acclaim overseas for the masterful crafting of his work. His work has appeared in the Philippines Graphic literary section as well—both before he was named National Artist for Literature in 2014, and after.
He attained his Doctor of Arts in Language and Literature from De La Salle University, Manila in 1991 and was the university’s 2015 DLSAA Distinguished Lasallian Awardee, as the citation puts it, “for being our poet of pure and true strength, a National Artist writing verses and prose that capture all our challenges and triumphs as a people, and whose works heighten our awareness and appreciation of our greatness.”
Lack of resources, to Cirilo, did not mean denying those who wanted to learn. Until his illness made it impossible to do, Cirilo welcomed writers to his home. He also held workshops—both funded and not—across the country. He was a regular on the campus lecture series where he kept students and young writers updated on the latest literary developments and techniques. He was instrumental in forming the Bienvenido Santos Creative Writing Center and one of the driving forces behind the Philippine Literary Arts Council in 1981. He helped set up the Iligan National Writers Workshop in 1993 and the founder of the Baguio Writers Group.
He contributed to the treasury of Philippine Letters in these ways: With his stellar work as a writer; through the works of the students who benefited greatly from his mentorship; via the workshops and writers’ groups he helped to found and grow and; through the publication of works he’d vetted for the Panorama literary section.
Cirilo was also a critic of note, and he left in his formidable body of work that included many essays that share his insights into writing and light up corrections to misconceptions on art and writing—work that outlives him and which will continue to share his learning and teaching in the ages to come.
Listed among Cirilo’s most notable works are the books Summer Suns (1963), The Cave and Other Poems (1968), Charts (poetry, 1973), Stories (1990), Words and Battlefields (1998), Sugat ng Salita (poetry, 1986), The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus (2001), Galaw ng Asoge (2003).