Cirilo F. Bautista and Baguio: How the poet became the muse of the city

The Baguio Writers Group has since expanded, and literature is no longer the weak link in the Baguio art scene, thanks to the Sampaloc boy who decided to teach here more than 50 years ago

Frank Cimatu

Published: 6:06 PM May 8, 2018

Updated: 6:13 PM May 10, 2018

BAGUIO'S MUSE. Cirilo Bautista leaves a lasting legacy in the city, where he started writing and met his future wife. Photo courtesy of Shirley Lua

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – After graduating magna cum laude in AB Literature at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in 1963, Cirilo Bautista was in a quandary on what to do.

A friend invited him to come up to Baguio and teach at St Louis University.  

He went on to teach there for 5 years as well as finish his Masters Degree in Literature in SLU, magna cum laude, in 1968 . More importantly, he was able to write poems and publish his first book of poetry, The Cave and Other Poems.

The 70-page chapbook, which included his paean to Baguio – like “Pegasus at Session Road,” “Burnham Park,” and “Woods: for Rose Marie” – was published by Ato Bookshop, a small bookstore along Session Road owned by Cecile Hamada Afable. 

The “Rose Marie” in the poem is Rose Marie Jimenez, whom he met in Baguio and would later become his wife. The Cave and Other Poems would be Bautista’s passport to the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. 

He would leave Baguio and teach at UST and De La Salle University. He would become one of the foremost poets in English and Filipino.

But he left his heart in Baguio and forged friendship with some of the residents here.

One of them was Nap Javier, the anchor of Radyo ng Bayan. Whenever Cirilo came up, he would join Javier on air and they would recite poetry and discuss poetics. 

On many of the nights in late 1990s, he would host some of the young Baguio-based poets, like Francis Macansantos, Luisa Aguilar Igloria, Gaby Keith, and me at Mandarin Restaurant. A shy person, Cirilo would rather listen as the rest would quaff beer and eat the Chinese feast in front of us. 

It was here that he broached his idea of forming the Baguio Writers Group (BWG). The Baguio Arts Guild by then had firmed its roots but, sadly, literature was lagging behind. He had just built his house here and promised to be our first president.

CIRILO AND ROSE MARIE. The couple celebrates Cirilo's last birthday in July. Photo courtesy of Alice Sun-Cua

And then, in 1998, he won the Centennial Prize for his epic, Sunlight on Broken Stones. He bought a car with the huge cash prize so he could go up to Baguio more often, he said. 

But this was not to be. Bautista contracted a heart ailment, which forbade him from staying long in a cold place like his beloved Baguio.

He later sold his house and the plans for the BWG was shelved.

It was in the early 2000 that other Baguio writers like Babeth Lolarga, Baboo Mondonedo, Luchie and Ed Maranan (who passed on Tuesday, May 8), Grace Subido, Precy Macansantos, Nonnette Bennett, Merci Dulawan, Precy Macansantos, Joy Cruz, Junley Lazaga, Chi Balmaceda, Wilfredo Pascual, Jenny Carino, Ronald Rabang, Padma Perez, and a host of others revived the group. 

Cirilo remained the mentor, and even hosted the first BWG workshops.

“Baguio continues to be a working retreat for the creative imagination. There is always some serene spot where writers can pursue the thread of a metaphor or simply unravel the knotted webbings of their unproductive mind,” Cirilo wrote in the afterword of Baguio Calligraphy which, together with The Baguio We Know, were the first book offerings of BWG. 

The group has since expanded, and literature is no longer the weak link in the Baguio art scene, thanks to the Sampaloc boy who decided to teach here more than 50 years ago. –