NJLA 2023: Return of a Literary Tradition

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For 75 years since it first became a magazine in 1927, the Philippines Graphic has featured the literary works of Filipino short story writers and poets in its pages.

Together with the newspapers and magazines of the first half of the 20th century, Philippine literature had its respectable space in the daily or weekly pages of publications until the Second World War and later, Martial Law closed down many print media establishments. 

In 1986, media made a strong comeback in the national scene and with it, the usual fare of politics, entertainment, and lifestyle stories. But for many, gone was the literary section. No longer did poetry and short stories in English or Pilipino grace the pages of the majority of media publications.


Four years since the People Power revolution, in 1990, the Philippines Graphic was reborn through its third owners—the late media mogul-businessman and philanthropist Ambassador Antonio L. Cabangon Chua and his family.

National Artist Nick Joaquin with media mogul-businessman, philanthropist, and Philippines Graphic owner, Ambassador Antonio L. Cabangon Chua

At its helm as its editor-in chief was National Artist Nick Joaquin, a good friend of the Ambassador and a pivotal figure in devoting ample pages of the magazine to short stories and poetry in English, written by established and budding Filipino writers.

As recalled by ALC Media Group chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon: “My late father, Ambassador Antonio L. Cabangon Chua and the late National Artist Nick Joaquin, both cherished literature. They vowed to nurture excellent literary works in the pages of the magazine.” 

The initial Philippines Graphic staff under the helm of Nick Joaquin was composed of fellow multi-awarded poet, fictionist, and author Jose “Pete” Lacaba, staff members Jhomar Kho Indanan, Raul “JR” Alibutud, Dana Batnag, Carlos Conde, Bayani San Diego, Guillermo Altre, and Malou Francisco, as well as fiction writer Greg Brillantes, essayists Adrian Cristobal and Blas F. Ople, and senior writer Manuel F. Almario, with Juan P. Dayang as its first publisher.

Philippine literature in English bloomed on the pages of the Philippines Graphic. It featured the early works of writers that would later become the next generation of established fictionists and poets in the country—Charlson Ong, Clovis Nazareno, Carlos Ojeda Aureus, Carina C. David, Angelo Rodriguez Lacuesta, Katrina Tuvera, Andrea Pasion, Ernesto Superal Yee, Luis Joaquin Katigbak, Lakambini Sitoy, and Erwin E. Castillo, to name a few.

Not only did the Philippines Graphic give space to Philippine literature in English, it also recognized the top three contributors of short stories through the annual Graphic Literary Awards (1990-2004).

Upon Nick Joaquin’s death in 2004, the management of Philippines Graphic renamed the Graphic Literary Awards and called it the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards (NJLA), in honor of the late National Artist for Literature.


 Every year, the Graphic gave out plaques and cash prizes of P50,000 (first place), P30,000 (second place) and P20,000 (third place) for its short story awardees. It also gave a material prize for the “Poet of the Year.” 

At the 2017 NJLA, (L-R) Philippines Graphic Publisher T. Anthony Cabangon, National Artists for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera and F. Sionil Jose, and ALC Media Group chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon. Both Lumbera and Jose, together with fellow National Artists Virgilio Almario and Cirilo Bautista were proclaimed “Guardians of the National Memory.”

In 2017, the Philippines Graphic celebrated the 100th birthday of Nick Joaquin. It also proclaimed as “Guardians of the National Memory,” four of the country’s then-living National Artists for Literature—F. Sionil Jose, Bienvenido Lumbera, Virgilio Almario, and Cirilo Bautista. 

Memory is important to the Philippines Graphic. By its existence, the magazine makes sure that a published literary work could be retrieved and read across generations. 

A short story or poem will not gather dust in some shelf or room or building, away from the eyes of the public. People will be able to read the works by getting a copy of the Philippines Graphic or by accessing past issues of the magazine in the National Library where copies of the Graphic have always been sent and filed.


But then came 2020, when the COVID-19 virus ravaged the country and the world, threatening the health and survival of billions of people. As the pandemic progressed it began to choke the economic life of nations, shackling financially-fragile business establishments in its wake.

COVID-19 hit hard the Philippines Graphic but the magazine refused to close down. As related by its publisher T. Anthony Cabangon: “We know, the publishing landscape is bleak everywhere in the world. In America, Europe, and Asia, there are magazines that laid-off nearly its entire staff and folded after decades of existence. We will not fold. True, the Graphic’s continuity has come at a steep price—losing some of our best people. We thank them and bid them goodbye, confident in the thought that they understand and affirm the primordial need to keep the magazine alive.”

The year 2020 should have been the 30th iteration of the NJLA. But, following the fate of other literary events and contests that have postponed or cancelled their awarding ceremonies that year, the NJLA was indefinitely deferred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The publication of the poetry and fiction pieces for both contests were likewise suspended, since these published works are considered entered into the NJLA.


The Graphic didn’t completely let go of its literature advocacy. With the pandemic still raging, the magazine turned to social media and launched a webinar on Literature.

On Nov. 30, 2020, “How’s your soul quotient? The state of Philippine Literature in the time of the pandemic” webinar was aired with the full support of the late National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose as main speaker. 

Jose gathered two panel reactors for the webinar: multi-awarded poet, fictionist, and academician Jose “Butch” Dalisay and veteran journalist and literary & film critic Lito Zulueta.

Philippines Graphic and BusinessMirror publisher T. Anthony C. Cabangon said that the Graphic made history for being the first magazine to launch a webinar on literature during the pandemic. 

The webinar was a success, garnering 8,500 views, 437 likes and 247 comments. Senior high school students from schools as far north as Sta. Ana, Cagayan to as far south as Maguindanao in Mindanao watched and asked questions throughout the two-hour webinar.

The holding of literature webinar was successfully repeated on April 30, 2022. The two-hour masterclass webinar, “Aba, gusto mo pala magsulat: Tips & Trade Secrets on Writing the Short Story,” had Philippine Literature’s inspiring literary greats: Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay and Charlson Ong as speakers. It reached 30,000 people and elicited almost 6,000 comments and shares.

Hosted by Philippines Graphic Reader Literary editor Marra PL. Lanot and poet-freelance journalist Kris Lacaba, the webinar also had as reactor, Dra. Edna Faura-Agustin, School Division Superintendent of Biñan City in Laguna.


The first issue of the Philippines Graphic Reader in February 2022

In February 2022, the Philippines Graphic opened its doors once again to Filipino writers of short fiction and poetry in English.

It did one better. Before, the 48-page magazine accommodated literary work in its inside pages. By 2022, the Graphic spawned a companion magazine, the Philippines Graphic Reader. It is the first monthly literary magazine in the country that devoted all its pages to Philippine literature in English.

“It took us about a year and a half before we could publish again first-time literary works in English through the generous support of San Miguel Corporation. We hope to gather more patrons in the coming months to sustain our plans for a more robust, engaging, and expansive way to promote Philippine Literature in English in the country,” Graphic publisher T. Anthony C. Cabangon said.

The Philippines Graphic Reader had multi-awarded and multi-lingual poet, essayist, and freelance journalist Marra PL. Lanot as Literary Editor. 

Published in newsprint, the Graphic Reader exclusively contained four short stories and four poems selected from literary works submitted to the Graphic via its new email address: GraphicLitRevival2022@phlgraphic.

Both the Philippines Graphic Reader and the Philippines Graphic are available at Lazada, Shopee, and 7-Eleven stores.

NJLA 2023

It has been a year since the Philippines Graphic Reader began publication. It has featured short stories and poems with colorful illustrations from the country’s budding and established illustrators.  

Three of its illustrator mainstays include veteran artist Jimbo Albano, with the Graphic Reader covers rendered by Randy Constantino and Ardie Aquino.

Come May 4, the best of the best from among these short stories and poems will be feted at the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards 2023.

Another highlight of NJLA 2023 is the Philippines Graphic Reader Book I, featuring the 48 short stories and 48 poems that the literary magazine published from February 2022 to January 2023.

It is hoped that from hereafter, the annual NJLA will also include the release of the book-form compilation of all the literary works and illustrations published in the Philippines Graphic Reader in a given year.

Welcome the return of the NJLA!


Psyche Roxas-Mendoza
Psyche Roxas-Mendoza
Editor-in-Chief of Philippines Graphic


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