Antonio Reyes Enriquez, 77
Two-time Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature Grand Prize Winner Antonio Reyes Enriquez passed way on 14 June 2014 in Cagayan de Oro City at the age of 77.
Ñor Tony, as he is fondly known to his compoblanos from La Bella Ciudad de Flores Zamboanga, won the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Grand Prize for Literature in 1982 for first novel “Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh”and again in 1993 for his third novel, “Subanons”. He previously won First Prize in the Short Story Category for“Spots on their Wings” (1973) and Third Prize for the same category for “The Icon” (1969). The Palanca Award is considered the Philippines most prestigious award for literature.
His second collection of short stories, Dance a White Horse to Sleep and Other Stories (UQP, Queensland, Australia, 1977) was the first work of fiction by a Filipino writer writing in his own country to break international publication. He has been published in his homeland, the Philippines, and abroad. His short stories have been translated into Korean and German.
In 1996, he was recognized with the “Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas” Award for Fiction in English by the Unyon ng Mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL, or the Writers Union of the Philippines). In 2000, he was presented by the Thai Royal Family with the “Southeast Asia Writers Award” (S.E.A. Write) in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2013, he was recognized by the Ateneo de Zamboanga University with the “Fr. Eduardo Hontiveros SJ Award for Culture and Arts”.
He was also cited with the U.P. National Fellow for Literature lifetime award and the Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers Fellowship in Scotland, U.K.
“Truly a prolific writer that Zamboangueños and Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU) can be proud of!” noted Fr. Antonio Moreno, S.J., Jesuit Philippine Provincial and former AdZU president.
In his bio-brief in Zamboanga.com, the late author noted how his “fearful and unforgettable experience in Liguasan Marsh in Maguindanao likely started his career as a novelist; Liguasan Marsh was the setting of his first novel, “Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh.”
However, it was his “happiest times” in his grandfather’s land in a coastal village of Labuan, west of Zamboanga City that encouraged him to write about farmers, fishermen, and the rural folks. Labuan village is the setting of most of his stories; like in his short story collection, “Dance a White Horse to Sleep and Other Stories.”
Ñor Tony was born in Zamboanga City, the setting for many of his short stories and novels. Despite the formidable talent which made him besides the illustrious Quijano de Manila the only Filipino writer to be selected for inclusion in the Asian and Pacific Writings Series of the University of Queensland Press in Australia, he was never much of a journalist.
The only time he dabbled with the press was during the early 1960s when he was invited to join Proc Montesino’s Mindanao Life magazine with Tony Elias of the Philippine Free Press. Commissioned in 1993 by Time Magazine to do a feature on Zamboanga City for its Village Series (published in its August 16, 1993 issue), he admits it took him much more effort to do than a short story on the same subject would have. He preferred creative writing, starting with the short story though gravitating to the novel and essay in his later years.
The shift from the short story to the novel was brought about mainly by the lack of outlets where to publish his short stories due to the strict censorship and curtailment of press freedom by the Marcos regime. He took a two-year leave from his job as Assistant Regional Director for the Department of Public Information in Zamboanga City to finish “Surveyors of the Liguasan Marsh,” and the rest is history. He said his greater inclination for the novel was also a graduation to a higher creative plane which allowed him greater room for expression than the short story.
“Actually I finished a second novel before Subanons, which however, was published later by Giraffe Publishers.” The Living and the Dead chronicles the decline of an aristocratic dynasty in Zamboanga when faced with the onslaught of uncouth immigrants from Luzon and the Visayas.
During the launching of the book on 17 September 17, 1994 at the VIP Hotel in Cagayan de Oro City, Sen. Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, a close friend of the author remarked in his review: “I see Tony Enriquez’s book: The Living and the Dead as more than a novel. It is a historical commentary that bears a kernel of truth concerning the evanescence of wealth that, unfortunately, to this day, continues to define many a person’s attitude towards life in purely mundane terms, forgetting that man is not only a body, he also has an immortal soul.”
The exotic locales and unforgettable characters in many of the tales of Antonio Enriquez are drawn from the colorful mosaic of his checkered past.
“There was a time when I did nothing but hunt and fish for two years in the old Basilan City during the time when my father Isidro was the City Auditor,” he recalled in an earlier interview.
“I knew in my youth on that now besieged island of Basilan (called Taquima by my ancestors). There I used to hunt wild boar, deer, monkey; they were everywhere then.”
“I remember sometimes shooting at wild boars not in the thick of forest or woods, but right there in the cornfields of Moro Abdul, shooting them without much effort as shooting at domesticated pigs that would overnight devour poor Moro Abdul’s entire corn harvest he had tended for months. But now I was told that gone are the wild game, just as the forest and the rivers are gone, and the wild orchids too, taken over by even something wilder, more cruel and unpredictable than the wildest beast or denizen: yes, man himself — hunting his own kind, Moros against Christians, in a fratricidal war!”
His favorite indulgence during that period was deep sea fishing with Samal fishermen in the Sulu Sea.
Fishing the Samal way with only hook, line and bare hands, he once caught a shark that was even bigger than the seven-man pumpboat they were riding on.
“The Samal fisherman who owned the boat pleaded with me to cut the shark loose but I refused.” In an epic battle reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the great fish towed them around in circles for hours (it was too big to be landed on the pumpboat) until it managed to shake free, much to the relief of his petrified companion.
Like Alberto Gonzales, the hero of his first novel, Ñor Tony was once a party chief of a survey team of the El Certeza Surveying Co. doing triangulation towers for a watershed project in Pikit, Cotabato during the early 60s. During those times, Mindanao was still a wild, unexplored frontier and Mr. Enriquez recalls encounters withMaguindanaos, Maranaos, and even small, curly haired Mamanwas armed with only spears and arrows who neither looked left nor right whom they once chanced upon in the deep marshland.
Ñor Tony is survived by his wife, Joy Viernes Enriquez, only daughter Vanessa and husband Ulysses Madelo, and grandchildren Anton Vladimir, Julien, Nikka Eloise, Dominique Ysabelle and Andrei Joshua.
His wake is being held at Palermo Chapel, Cosmopolitan Funeral Homes, Gen. N. Capistrano Street, Cagayan de Oro City. Final vigil and necrological services will be held on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 after which his remains will be cremated at Forest Lake.
In his acceptance speech for UMPIL’s “Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas” Award for Fiction in English in 1996, Ñor Tony recalled how the fields of Bukidnon were excellent hunting grounds for wild pigeons and wild ducks.
“And so, now, after we’ve decided which hunting area we’d go to and the pre-dawn hour we’d meet at a friend’s place, we’d conclude our meeting, saying: “Sigui, `pareng; we’ll all meet here, here at Jun’s, tomorrowabout two, buntag, morning, ha, hindi afternoon: rain or shine— basta hindi u-ulan!”
We will all see you down the road, Señor Antonio, same time, rain or shine – maskin ya ta cay ulan! Hasta la vista amigo…..vaya con Dios para siempre….
– INDNJC –