Winning a Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature is definitely a huge milestone for every Filipino writer. Its prestige is undoubtedly guaranteed, as winning works are reviewed and recognized by some of the all-time greats of Philippine literature. This year’s edition saw 51 successful writers claiming such distinction, with 23 joining the elite list of winners for the very first time.

Dustin Edward D. Celestin receives his first-place award in the Full-length play – English category. He also took home the first prize medal for Dulang Ganap ang Haba – Filipino category. Also in photo are Mr. Paul A. Dumol, one of the judges for Full-length play and Mrs. Sylvia Palanca-Quirino and Mrs. Dang Cecilio-Palanca of Carlos Palanca Foundation.

Leading the pack of new winners is 33-year old Dustin Edward Celestino, who won two first-place prizes for his works Ang Pangahas na si Pepe Rodriguez and The Story of This Father, which competed in the categories Dulang Ganap ang Haba and Full-length Play, respectively. Celestino is the only winner this year who won two first-place awards, and this success also places him closer in the running for a position in the Palanca Hall of Fame, a distinction given to those who have five first-place awards under their belt.

“I was very surprised because I was counting on a different entry to win!” said Celestino, who admits submitting four entries this year. “I also wrote for the one-act play in both the Filipino and English division and honestly I actually thought I did better with those.”

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War of words, tumult of opinions

Ang Pangahas na si Pepe Rodriguez tells the tale of how dangerous an ideology—regardless of the accuracy of interpretation—can be.  “It’s a metaphor. In the entire play, Pepe Rodriguez doesn’t actually exist and was just made up. But because of having so many believers, and with most of them being liars, the belief of Pepe Rodriguez becomes dangerous,” said Celestino.

Originally written as a short story, Celestino turned the piece into a farce, a type of comedy that makes use of highly exaggerated and funny situations. “It’s a different type of comedy that’s not common here in the Philippines because it’s really in your face. It acknowledges that there is an audience by breaking the fourth wall.”

The Story of This Father on the other hand provides viewers a discourse about politics and family relationship. In the middle of a heated political climate riddled with cases of missing persons and extra-judicial killings, the story revolves around a family whose members find themselves on the different ends of the political spectrum, and a Father who strives to keep them together. Celestino once again goes against the grain with this one by adding a rhyme and meter into the dialogue. “There’s a lot of rapping here. It was difficult to write because of the scale since every character has to tell a story through rap.

Conflict plays a huge theme in both winning plays as this also served as Celestino’s source of inspiration in writing, which he acknowledges is abundant in society. “Mostly what I write about are things that affect me personally and what’s always around. I took the main conflicts happening all around me plus with the personal conflict within me, like the question of what’s right or wrong, and from there I explored the idea more.”

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Molding the way to victory

In order to achieve his goals of winning a Palanca award, Celestino decided to devote all of his time in the craft of writing by giving up his post as a Creative Director for a marketing and advertising firm. Before this, he was professor for seven years at the Asia Pacific College.

“I quit my job last October for this one,” said Celestino. “I had an epiphany one day that got me thinking, what if I died tomorrow, what would I regret the most? I didn’t think of not having a family or not getting married or having kids, what I regretted the most is that I’m going to die without validating that I can write, and that’s what I did from January 1 as a New Year’s Resolution up until the final deadline of entries.”

And writing every day is an activity that Celestino advices aspiring Filipino writers to do. “Don’t let an idea stay in your head for too long. Write it down, finish it, and continue to refine and mold it. That’s your clay. It’s always going to be bad the first time but through constant rewriting, it will eventually become good. You’ll find out how much better you can be once you start rewriting what you’ve already written.”