The FilAm L.A. welcomes ‘PinoyPenman’ aka Butch Dalisay

Through his literary accomplishments, Butch Dalisay has remained folksy in his ways, in touch with his roots.

Through his literary accomplishments, Butch Dalisay has remained folksy in his ways, in touch with his roots.

By Cecile Caguingin Ochoa

My weekend brightened up when PinoyPenman aka Butch Dalisay agreed to my request about publishing some of his essays from his popular newspaper column in TheFilAmLA. He describes himself as a “Filipino collector of old pens, disused PowerBooks, ‘50s Hamiltons, creaky cameras, VW spare parts, poker bad beats and desktop lints.”

Butch was a buddy in college when UP Diliman became the hotbed of the well-known First Quarterstorm demonstrations – January to March 1970, or the first quarter of 1970 and continuing on for a period of time. I say he was a buddy but not a classmate first, because I was two years his senior. He then dropped out of college to work as a journalist before and after a period of imprisonment as Martial Law was declared in 1972. In his teens he was already a well publicized reporter for The Herald, a regular daily while I struggled to cover my beats for the Philippines News Agency, both of us working off of the historical streets of Intramuros.

Butch returned to our alma mater in 1984 and earned his B.A. English degree, cum laude. He later received an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan in 1988 and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 1991 as a Fulbright scholar.

Those who chose to take a sabbatical from the academe in favor of the school of street protests in the tumultuous ‘70s (also known as “Dekada ng Sigwa”) take his long-winding career as a model. And, rightly so. While his former college friends were navigating private and bureaucratic employment after Martial Law, he penned more than 20 books since 1984. (We even heard he was writing speeches for high level government officials during those times). Six of those books have garnered National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle. In 1998, he was included in the prestigious Cultural Center of the Philippines Centennial Honors List as one of the 100 most accomplished Filipino artists of the past century.

He served as Department Chair for U.P. — English and Comparative Literature — for three years. I’m sure he didn’t need his doctorate degree next to his name to assume the post of Vice President for Public Affairs of the U.P. System. This was from May 2003 to February 2005.

Lost track of him until last year when he was invited to read in San Diego his renowned novel, “Soledad’s Sister”, short-listed for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize in Hong Kong. By then he had already won not one, not two but 16 Palanca Awards in five genres. For winning at least five First Prize awards, he was elevated to the Palanca Hall of Fame in 2000.

Eager to catch up, we had dinner at the Hopping Pig in the Gas lamp district with our better halves– all survivors of U.P. Beloved after his reading. The famous Pinoypenman was his old self, recounting his global encounters with famous folks, genius in the arts and sciences like himself. And in all these, I observed that he’s still in touch with his roots and has maintained his folksy ways amidst his interaction and work with all classes including the bourgeoisie. For example, his wife Beng — art restorer June Poticar Dalisay — disclosed he doesn’t leave home for travels without packing his standby cans of sardines and pan de sal regardless of destination, be it Rome, Bangkok or nearby province. “Para sigurado,” he laughed.

When his wife tried to raise funds for dialysis treatments of a distressed ‘kababayan,’ he petitioned readers of his blog and daily column for contributions. I like to think that in many of his work, he never strayed from the reality of class and contradictions in people’s relationships and events, which brings ingenuity, local color and relevance in his plots — in all genre of his choice and dialects of his persuasions. He writes in English and Tagalog. He has written a few screenplays with plots, he says, catering to the taste of the “masa.”

“Walang choice, eh,” he said.

Otherwise, there are no movie producers to finance Filipino movies without the popular scenarios. But of course all his work has morals. He won best screenplay in 2000 for “Saranggola,” showing murder and corruption through the eyes of a child. It was the Philippines’ entry to the Oscar Awards; his other movies earning similar recognition from film critics.

Growing up in the suburbs of Pasig, he remembers his parents struggling to put him through school, an experience that grounded him.

He is currently a Professor of English and creative writing at the College of Arts and Letters, UP Diliman. He is also Director of the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing.

We welcome long-time friend and the world-acclaimed writer Jose Y. “Butch” Dalisay to the pages of TheFilamLA, also an adopted son of balmy Cali where his beloved daughter Demi has taken roots with her husband.


  1. Butch Dalisay wrote:

    many thanks for the warm welcome, ces! it’s a great privilege for me to be able to reach your readers. i’ll be in san diego sometime next year on sabbatical and look forward to having another drink or two with you folks! ingat kayo diyan. binabaha kami dito ngayon sa maynila pero siyempre, nakangiti pa rin ;)

    • admin wrote:

      we will be waiting for your visit Butch – hindi lang drink or two, we’ll take you to favorite haunts close to San Diego; poker waits. Maybe we can get together with some Masscom friends too. BTW When you have a chance and time would you write a few paragraphs about your memorable visits to San Diego or any parts of LA? Do you have any photo from your readings for the San Diego Writers? In the meantime, I will continue on selecting your stories.

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