Ferdinand Balino has always been drawn to the work of social realist authors like Maxim Gorky. It is no surprise then that the first short story he wrote was about a poor child selling softdrinks at a bus terminal. The story that won him this years second prize in the Palanca awards (for the Cebuano short story) is about school children too poor to have decent shoes. It is this kind of stories that haunt — and inspire — him.

By Germelina A. Lacorte
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — His story about high school children, who are so poor they dont even have a pair of shoes to wear to school, won him a Palanca this year.

But Ferdinand Balino, 41, who wrote Absent, Maam, the short story that placed second in the Cebuano category in the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award, refused to take the triumph solely as his own.

If I have somebody to thank for, it would be those children, said Balino, who made it to the Sept. 1 awarding night at the Manila Peninsula. Its their story, not mine, he said. Im only a writer of their story.

One of the judges described Absent, Maam as moving and powerful. Since the 50s, the Palanca is considered the countrys most prestigious literary award. Winning the award, however, only proved to Balino that its still possible to write about the lives of peasants and workers and bring it to the mainstream literary consciousness.

If (writing about the poor) would be like setting a trend, Id be happy to do it, he said. I realize that it can be done.

His work as development worker and researcher (he also does freelance writing on the side) has exposed him to the conditions of the people in the countryside and inspired him to write in Cebuano, the language commonly spoken in Mindanao, instead of his mother tongue, Iloko, or the languages taught in school, Tagalog and English.

Balino said he is usually immersed in deep political readings but instead of isolating him from mainstream literature, these readings only made him understand deeper the conditions of the people, whom he calls the toiling masses.

He said its very rare that he gets to read about them. It seems to me that theyre rarely written about, he said, Or it could be that Im not reading much. But its the kind of story that I want to read.

The first time he wrote a story was during his student days at the Ateneo de Davao University, after he saw a boy selling softdrinks at the Ecoland bus terminal. A bus passenger had asked for a bottle of softdrinks and this boy hastily poured the drink into a plastic container because the bus was about to go. The customer got angry and refused to take the drink because he said he considered it hazardous to drink from a plastic container. He also refused to pay for it, so that the boy ended up paying for the wasted softdrinks.

Balino said it was the kind of story that haunted him for years. Most of the authors that fascinate him have been social realists, starting from the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, Liu Hsiu (he admires Anton Chekov, too, for his simplicity) and he would hang around in ukay-ukay bookshops just to look for them.

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