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Updated: Sep 18, 2023

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

An internet search for Maningning Miclat stirs up the dregs of so-called content creators whose ghoulish minds are mired in the depths of Philippine Lower Mythology. It is not the restless ghost of Maningning that we must summon, but her indomitable creative spirit. After all, she was an acclaimed poet who had published in three languages—Mandarin, English and Filipino. Having been born in Beijing, Mandarin was the language of her early education. Her Tatay (from Marikina) and Nanay (from Bataan) spoke to her in Filipino at home. 

During PROC Premier Li Peng’s visit in 1990, 18-yo Maningning was Pres. Corazon C. Aquino’s official interpreter, upon the recommendation of Amb. Nona Zaldivar. Pres. Aquino had some consternation at having this mere slip of a girl translate during such an important meeting, but Premier Li Peng was so impressed that he remarked Maningning’s Beijing Putonghua was better than his, since he hailed from Southern China. The literary editor of the Chinese journal World News, James Na/Na Teng Choon, with the pen name Yun He, published Maningning’s poetry in the paper, and brought out her first book of poetry in Chinese. The ever precocious Maningning used her earnings from her translation and writing gigs to backpack through Europe all by her lonesome—something her peers considered unusual, since typically in Filipino society, laging may-kasama kahit sa pag-kain. Remember how the slogan hindi ka nag-iisa, sparked a peaceful revolution. Maningning did join LIRA (Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika at Anyo) an association of writers in Filipino, founded by National Artist Virgilio Almario. Members included such luminaries as Vim Nadera, Joey Baquiran Jr., Michael M. Coroza, Roberto Añonuevo, Rebecca Añonuevo, Jerry Gracio, and Edgar Calabia Samar. 

The multi-talented Maningning had her first solo painting exhibit at the tender age of fifteen. She shared her knowledge of the craft, especially traditional Chinese painting, as an instructor at the FEU’s Institute of Architecture and Fine Arts. That was her job when her life on this earth ended at age 28. She would have passed the half century mark last April. All suicide is tragic, but for Maningning’s parents, Dean Mario Ignacio Miclat of the UP Asian Center and the writer Alma Cruz Miclat, their path through grief has moved on to transcendence. On April 15, 2001, on what should have been Maningning’s 29th birthday, they founded the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc. [MMAFI].

MMAFI’s mission is to encourage creativity and to recognize, nurture, and promote poets and artists aged 28 years old and below, enabling them to persist and to hone their artistry and craft. In time with MMAFI’s founding, the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (ALIWW) held a month-long exhibit of Maningning’s paintings and manuscripts.  Later that year, on her first death anniversary, MMAFI launched “Beauty for Ashes: Remembering Maningning” (Anvil, 2001) an anthology of Philippine prose and poetry. In 2002, to mark her 30th birthday, Maningning’s 44 ft. by 8 ft. mural “Soliloquy” was exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. This had first been exhibited at the CCP in 1994 when Maningning was just 22.  The opening of this second exhibit of “Soliloquy,” also marked the launch of “Voice from the Underworld: A Book of Verses (Anvil Publishing) by Maningning Miclat. In 2003, there was the 1st Maningning Miclat Trilingual Poetry Awards, at the University of the Philippines Executive House in Diliman. Also that year, Soliloquy was again exhibited in the GSIS Museum, along with the winning poems for the first Maningning Miclat Poetry Awards. 

The visual arts had its turn in 2004, with the 1st Maningning Miclat Art Award at Gallery 828, in the Edsa Shangri-La  Mall. Since then, even numbered years have been dedicated to the Visual Art Award, and odd-numbered years for the Trilingual Poetry Awards in the Filipino, English and Chinese languages. Musical performances by other young artists have always been a part of these annual award ceremonies. Maningning’s younger sister Banawe is a singer and a theatre actress. 

In 2015, ALIW Awards cited “Ginugunita Kita” a concert and performance art showcasing 11 poems by Maningning, set to music by the composer Jesse Lucas and sung by her younger sister Banaue Miclat-Janssen, as accompanied by Jesse Lucas on the piano and Renato Lucas on the cello. ALIW also gave its first “Best Performance in New Concept Production Award” to Banaue Miclat-Janssen. “Ginugunita Kita” would be shown again in 2018 at the newly-renovated Art Deco FEU Auditorium during the Maningning Art Awards. 

In an interview, Maningning’s mother Alma admitted that “Entering the campus was a test of will and courage. It has been very difficult for me to imagine coming to FEU, specifically here at the Institute of Architecture and Fine Arts. My beautiful daughter Maningning was an art teacher here, when she fell to her death from the 7th floor of this building on Sept. 29, 2000. For 17 years I could not even pass by Nicanor Reyes Avenue without crying. I am now coming to terms with my anguish, fear and anxiety all related to this place.”

Then came the pandemic, and Mario “Doc Mic’s” Miclat’s death from Covid in April 2021, just 11 days before Maningning’s 49th birthday. But this Sept. 27, 2023, Wednesday, MMAFI is back at the FEU with Ningning at Liwanag, a whole day art and poetry event at the University Conference Center. There is a Filipino Poetry Workshop from 8:00 am to 12 noon, facilitated by the Director of Likhaan, the UP Institute of Creative Writing, Romulo “Joey” Baquiran, Jr. Prof. Baquiran’s co-facilitators are two previous winners of the Maningning Miclat Poetry Award: Karl/Kid Orit, president of the Cavite Young Writers Association (CYWA), and Enrique S. Villasis, film and television writer for Viva and ABS-CBN.

Ningning at Liwanag is also the title of the Filipino poetry anthology by 10 grand prize winners of the biennial Maningning Miclat Poetry Award, from 2003 to 2021. This will be launched later on Sept. 27, 2023. The hardbound book, published by MMAFI and Erehwon Artworld Corporation, is itself a work of art, with Maningning’s painting on the cover and 10 photographs by her Tatay Mario I. Miclat, marking each collection. The poets are: Joselito D. Delos Reyes (Ang Lungsod Namin at Iba Pang mga Tula, 2003), Joseph de Luna Saguid (Pagsilip sa Bunganga ng Araw, 2005), T. Delos Reyes (Bilang Babae, 2007), Kristian Sendon Cordero (Labí, 2009), Enrique S. Villasis (Agua, 2011), Phillip Yerro Kimpo (Hanggitna, 2013), Reparado Galos III (Mga Pagtitig Mula sa Dalampasigan, 2015), Kid Orit (Para Kay P, 2017), Ralph Fonte (Mga Alimbukay ng Agwat, 2019), and Genesis Historillo (Ang Hugis ng Pandemya, 2021). 

In his introduction to Ningning at Liwanag, National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario writes: “Pambihira ang isang Maningning Miclat. Kayâ dapat maging pambihira ang Maningning Miclat Trilingual Poetry Competition. Bukod sa timpalak ito sa pagsulat ng tula sa tatlong wika, timpalak din ito para sa mga kabataang makata na edad 28 pababa. . .  Napakahalagang ilathala ngayon bílang aklat ang koleksiyong ito. Para totoong pakinabangan ng madlang Filipino. Igigiit ko pa, ang aklat na ito ay dapat bilhin ng mga paaralan at isáma sa leksiyong pampanitikan ng mga kabataan.”

Thus some two decades after her passing, through the works of other young artists who have been nurtured and encouraged by their winning the Maningning Miclat Art Award, either for poetry or for painting, Maningning’s light continues to shine and to inspire.  


Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (Iloilo Represents Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.

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