Multi-awarded screenwriter, filmmaker, playwright, writer and editor, Bonifacio Parabuac Ilagan, added a new entry to his long list of accomplishments when he was awarded the 2019 Gawad Plaridel award on November 20, 2019.
After being presented the award, Ilagan also delivered the 2019 Plaridel lecture in a ceremony held at the UP Film Institute in Diliman. It was attended by University of the Philippines (UP) System, UP Diliman and UP College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) officials, students from the UP CMC and other UP units, fellow Gawad Plaridel awardees, and guests from media organizations and other universities.
As the citation for his award stated, Ilagan was presented the Gawad Plaridel “for his socially-conscious works in theater, film and television, which have garnered recognition from the Cultural Center of the Philippines Centennial Honors for the Arts, Gawad Balagtas, the UP Creative Writing Center, Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, CCP Playwriting Contest, Palihang Aurelio V. Tolentino. Catholic Mass Media Awards, Film Academy of the Philippines, Star Awards, and the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences.” He was also cited for his passionate commitment to the promotion of a progressive social agenda through his works on various media platforms, for his brave leadership of activist organizations, and for his dedication to advancing art and media that are liberated and liberative for the last 50 years.
The Gawad Plaridel is an annual award given by the UP System and the UP College of Mass Communication to outstanding media practitioners who have excelled in media (print, film, radio, television, and new media) and have performed with the highest level of professional integrity in the interest of public service. Mr. Ilagan was given the award in recognition of his lifetime achievement in the transmedia category, that is, as a Filipino media practitioner who has achieved excellence in at least two media platforms. He is the fifteenth recipient of the Gawad Plaridel and the second for the transmedia category, the first being Nora Cabaltera Villamayor, more popularly known as “Nora Aunor”, who was given the award in 2014.
In the footsteps of The Propagandist
A Martial Law survivor, lifelong activist and human rights advocate, Ilagan opened his Plaridel lecture by dedicating it to the memory of the Filipino heroes and martyrs who fought and died to defend democracy, freedom and human rights. “Ang Gawad Plaridel para sa akin ay isang hamon upang ipagpatuloy ang kanilang simulain,” he said.
He observed that propaganda can be a tool wielded by both those seeking to stifle freedom and those fighting to protect it. He noted that national hero Marcelo H. Del Pilar, who was editor of the reformist paper, La Solidaridad, from 1889 to 1895 and who helped crystallize nationalist sentiments and ignite libertarian ideas through his writings, had been given the label “The Propagandist”.
“Pero take note: ng kalayaan, hindi ng repression, ng liwanag, hindi ng dilim, ng demokrasya, hindi ng autokrasiya,” Ilagan added. The Gawad Plaridel is named after Del Pilar’s nom de plume, Plaridel.
Ilagan recounted his personal experience of the events of the so-called Second Propaganda Movement, the tumultuous period from the 1960s to the early 1970s that led to the First Quarter Storm, the Diliman Commune and the widespread activist movement against a fascist, increasingly authoritarian government.
“The portal that opened to me in the arts and the media was theater, and it happened during the life-changing tempest of my youth,” Ilagan recalled. He entered UP in 1968 as a political science student at the UP College of Arts and Sciences, and joined Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero’s UP Mobile Theater. He then later joined the Student Cultural Association of UP. After the First Quarter Storm, he became the chairperson of the Diliman Kabataang Makabayan, and organized a cultural group that eventually became Panday-Sining, one of at least four Manila-based street theater troupes that performed plays which hailed workers, peasants and the proletarian rebellion. He left UP Diliman to join the underground resistance movement in 1971, a year before President Ferdinand Marcos signed Proclamation 1081 declaring martial law.
Along with journalist Jose Ma. “Pete” Lacaba, a fellow Gawad Plaridel awardee for print, Ilagan was arrested in 1974, brought to Camp Crame and tortured. He was conditionally released from prison in 1976. He reenrolled in UP, and wrote his first play, the liturgical Pagsambang Bayan, which dramatized the wanton human rights violations of the Marcoses. Pagsambang Bayan was dedicated to the memory of his younger sister, Rizalina, an agriculture student in UP Los Baños, who was abducted in 1976 by a special military intelligence operative team along with nine other activists in Southern Tagalog.They later came to be known as the Southern Tagalog 10.
Ilagan continued to deepen his theater collaboration and to write subversive propaganda following Pagsambang Bayan. He also worked as a reporter for the TV Times magazine and as executive editor of The Review Philippines magazine. He worked for the RPN 9 TV network as script writer for public affairs shows, documentaries, soap operas and specials. He also had a chance to be a director. Two earlier works he did for television were the docu-drama series on Filipino freedom fighters called Alab ng Lahi, and Bisperas ng Kasaysayan, a 13-episode fictional story on the revolt of the masses. He also ventured into film with multi-awarded director Joel Lamangan, and co-wrote The Flor Contemplacion Story with screenwriter Ricardo Lee, another fellow Gawad Plaridel Awardee for film. His other screenplays include Dukot, which focuses on extrajudicial killings and political abductions, and Sigwa, about the First Quarter Storm and Martial Law, which won him the FAMAS award for Best Story and Best Screenplay in 2011.
“All through the years, I knew I had had to be a propagandist whose task was to seize opportunities when they came along in the pursuit of a commitment far beyond the personal,” Ilagan said. “The difficult task did not appear as daunting when one was bursting to communicate to people, to say what ought to be said precisely when it was prohibited to say so.”
He stressed that there is a need for propagandists like him to continue speaking up today. “Tyranny has resurrected, proclaiming authority over the land. History is being turned upside down, because the evils of the past have returned. To claim that the arts and media should be separated from and be free of politics is to perpetuate the oppressive and the exploitative cycle inflicted by an elite against the people. It is to discourage critical thinking at the very least and to abet the stifling of freedoms.”
He finished by declaring: “Never again to Martial Law!”
Commemorating the First Quarter Storm
In his opening remarks, UP Diliman Chancellor Michael L. Tan said that Ilagan’s first media platform “were the streets of Manila and of UP Diliman.” “We see him as the true transmedia practitioner through the years, exploring all these different platforms even as those platforms were developing. Boni will continue to be our model for being a transmedia practitioner.”
Tan also added that the conferment of the Gawad Plaridel to “one of our greatest cultural activists” was timely, since UP Diliman will be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the First Quarter Storm from January to February n 2020. Tan also reaffirmed UP’s tradition of activism in all forms and in all media. “We call on the generations of activists who joined us here. Here we proclaim that activism is part of UP.”
Delivering UP President Danilo L. Concepcion’s message, UP Vice President for Public Affairs Elena E. Pernia affirmed the full support of the UP Office of the President for the UP CMC in its annual search for exemplars whose professionalism has contributed invaluably to the growth of Philippine media. For her part, Pernia, a faculty member and former dean of the UP CMC, expressed her belief that the UP CMC should maintain its leadership in communication and media education. “The Gawad Plaridel is one way of raising the standards of communication and media performance. I personally have a stake in the continued prize of the UP CMC and in this Gawad Plaridel. I am happy to announce that the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs will adopt the Gawad Plaridel awards as one of its key projects, most possibly under its program on bringing UP closer to the people,” she said.
Finally, UP CMC Dean Arminda V. Santiago reminded the audience of the role that Gawad Plaridel awardees play: “The Gawad Plaridel is an award that honors outstanding Filipino media professionals’ lifetime achievements, and we recognize their passion and the outcomes of this passion that contributes to the greater good. It promotes the value of being a socially responsible media professional who is critical and vigilant. Thus, the recipient of the 2019 GP serves as a role model, not only for media professionals, our students of Communication in Media, but the citizens of our country.”