By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo October 23,2018 - 10:29 PM

RESIL MOJARES, National Artist for Literature

Cebu finally has its first national artist.

Dr. Resil Mojares, historian and literary writer and critic, will be officially conferred the distinction as National Artist for Literature in a ceremony in Malacañang today, Wednesday.

This was confirmed by the University of San Carlos (USC) Press, through its manager, Dr. Jose Eleazar Bersales, in an interview with Cebu Daily News.

This as a “historic and proud moment for all Cebuanos all over the world” as Mojares is the “first-ever Cebuano to become National Artist,” said Bersales.

“(Mojares deserves this award) because he has a body of published scholarly and literary works written in a uniquely Mojares-que style. If I may say so, (these works) will forever remain unmatched in our lifetime and in many lifetimes to come,” said Bersales, who worked with Mojares in several publications under USC Press.

In a separate interview, Dr. Hope Yu, director of the USC Cebuano Studies Center, said the list of names who were elevated to the Order of National Artist, was released last October 20, a Saturday.

But it was only last Monday (October 22) that Mojares, who was founding director of USC’s Cebuano Studies Center in 1975, learned about the award.

Yu said they were informed that the program will start at 4:30 p.m., which means that all guests and awardees should be seated at 3:30 p.m.

Apart from Mojares, the following will also be conferred the Order of National Artist (ONA) today: Kidlat Tahimik (Film); Ryan Cayabyab (Music); Francisco Manosa (Architecture); Ramon Muzones (Literature); Larry Alcala (Visual Arts); and Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio (Theater).

USC, under the leadership of its president, Rev. Fr. Dionisio Miranda, nominated Mojares for the award.

It was Mojares’ first nomination.

“Sir Resil is very inspiring. He is in the level where I would say ‘When I grow up, I want to be like him.’ I marvel at his ideas. His indefatigable energy to continue to write, not just ordinary books, but ones that truly matter. He has intellectualized the Filipino nation,” said Yu.

Highest recognition

ONA, or Orden ng Pambansang Alagad ng Sining in Filipino, is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts.

The order is jointly administered by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). It is conferred by the President of the Philippines upon recommendation by both institutions.

According to its guidelines, the Order of National Artist aims to recognize Filipino artists who have made significant contributions to the cultural heritage of the country. It also recognizes “Filipino artistic accomplishment at its highest level and to promote creative expression as significant to the development of a national cultural identity.”

The award honors Filipino artists who have dedicated their lives to their works to forge new paths and directions for future generations of Filipino artists.

The ONA was established under Proclamation No. 1001 dated April 27, 1972.


Unassuming and self-effacing, Mojares often stirs conversation away from himself and instead encourages readers and participants of his numerous book launchings to focus on the books and its contents.

His former student, Haidee Palapar, said Mojares was always a reference and source of inspiration in different topics may it be academic or popular culture.

“Being around in the academic and literary circles in the Philippines… I think it was only a matter of time that he’d declared as national artist,” said Palapar, research and publications manager for culture and heritage of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI).

“Even senior writers already looked up to him. He was respected even by the National Artists before him,” she added.

Palapar worked with Mojares on two books published by RAFI, namely “Casa Gorordo in Cebu: Urban Residence in a Philippine Province 1860-1920” and “Tabunan: The Untold Exploits of the Famed Cebu Guerillas in World War II (by Col. Manuel F. Segura).”

Mojares wrote the Casa Gorordo book while he wrote the critical introduction of Tabunan.

Mojares was born in Dipolog, Zamboanga Del Norte but spent most of his life in Cebu. At USC, he earned his bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in Literature. He later on completed his Ph.D. in Literature from the University of the Philippines Diliman.

He was the founding director of the USC Cebuano Studies Center when it opened in 1975 and left the post in 1996 when he assumed the directorship of San Carlos Publications (now USC Press).

The Cebuano Studies Center described him as a “noted writer, critic and cultural researcher” who won several National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle for his works in literacy criticism, local and national history, urban and rural history, and political biography.

He received the Free Press and Carlos Palanca awards for his short stories. He earned a fellowship from the UP Creative Writing Center and teaching and research fellowships from Ford, Toyota, Rockfeller Foundations, Fulbright Program, and Social Science Research Council (New York).

His brilliance was also recognized abroad as he received two prizes namely: the Grant Goodman Prize for History from the Association of Asian Studies, and the Fok Ying Tung Southeast Asia Prize for his contribution to the development of civilization, culture and science in Southeast Asian countries.

Mojares further expanded his reach in his capacity as visiting professor or fellow at the Universities of Wisconsin, Hawaii, Michigan, Kyoto University, UCLA, and the National University of Singapore.

His achievements also include a Centennial Award for Cultural Research from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In 2013, he received the prestigious Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi Award from the Ateneo De Manila University. The Unyon ng Manunulat ng Pilipinas, or Writers’ Union of the Philippines honored him with a Gawad Balagtas award in 1997 for his contributions to the development of Philippine literature.

Mojares has stints as visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Hawaii, University of California at Los Angeles, Kyoto University, and National University of Singapore.

Mojares’ conferment today as National Artist is built by numerous books, novels and literary works published over decades of hardwork and research.


Now in his 70s, he continues to produce scholarly works. In January 2017, “The Feast of the Santo Niño: An Introduction to the History of a Cebuano Devotion” was launched. Later that year, in December 2017, RAFI released the new edition of the 1983 book “Casa Gorodo in Cebu.”

He wrote the critical introduction of the English versions of the 1938 book, “Lapu-Lapu: The Conqueror of Magellan,” which was written by educator Vicente Gullas, founder of the University of the Visayas. The book was launched last April 2018.

But perhaps what is ingrained in the consciousness of individuals in the literary circles and those who follow Mojares’ works is his long list of novels, short stories and literary works.

Among his works are: “Isabelo’s Archive” (2013); “Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T.H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de Los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge” (2008); “Waiting for Mariang Makiling: Essays in Philippine Cultural History” (2003); “War Against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu” (1999); and “Aboitiz: Family and Firm in the Philippines” (1998).

His other works include “House of Memory: Essays” (1997); “Vicente Sotto, The Maverick Senator” (1992); “Theatre in Society, Society in Theater: Social History of a Cebuano Village” (1985); and “Origin and Rise of the Filipino Novel: A Generic Study of the Novel Until 1940” (1983).

Screening process

For this year’s ONA awardees, NCCA and CCCP announced a call for nominations in June 2017.

The Philippines currently has 66 National Artists. Painter Fernando Amorsolo was the recipient of the first award, although it was conferred posthumously.

An initial review takes place after the submission of nomination documents. This is followed by research and verification and three rounds of deliberations.

After this multi-layer screening and multi-level deliberations, the committee composed of officials from NCCA and CCP and living National Artists come up with shortlist of nominees for the Order of National Artist to be submitted to the Office of the President.

The list is reviewed by the Office of the President’s Honors Committee before it is submitted to the President.

The President then confirms, proclaims and confers the names of the National Artists that is made official by a ceremony at the Malacañang Palace.

As National Artist for Literature, Mojares has now joined the ranks of Francisco Arcellana, Edith Tiempo, Bienvenido Lumbera, N.V.M. Gonzales, Virgilio Almario, Cirilo Bautista, Nick Joaquin, Amado Hernandez, Lazaro Francisco, F. Sionil Jose, Carlos P. Romulo, Jose Garcia Villa, Alejandro Roces, Rolando S. Tinio and Levi Celerio.

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TAGS: Artist, Cebuanos, literature, national, pride, Resil Mojares
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