When A Wattpad Writer Wins

Note: Some of the surnames were removed to protect the privacy of certain sources, since the original article was meant for academic purposes only.

She stands skittishly on the left side of this luxurious ballroom, where glamor is spelled by glass and silk. Sophistication fills the atmosphere, thanks to people prancing in it. Like an honor student on her graduation day, she counts down to the time her name resounds in every stranger’s consciousness. And when it does, she inhales deeply, sighs shortly, and walks promptly to the stage. Extending her right hand, she shakes those of the somebodies carrying the surname that defined all this grandness.

And just like that, she gets hold of her Palanca grand prize for a nobela. And, yes, this 20-year-old Wattpad writer crammed her way to seizing the prestigious award.

The almost-magical scene still lives in Charmaine Lasar’s mind like it was a dream she had last night. More distant and probably strangely reminiscent was a memory from months back where she encountered well-known Filipino writer Eros Atalia in what seemed like just another forum held at their high school in Batangas.

“Sir, paano po ba manalo sa Palanca?” the wide-eyed writer asked Atalia during a question-and-answer segment. Atalia answered, “Read a lot.” And the girl did.

‘Di ko alam kung naging kasalanan ko o ano,” Atalia says jokingly, still in awe of the news that a Wattpad writer actually won a Palanca—like he did several years before. “At ang ganda-ganda (noong nangyari), kasi pwede palang manalo sa Palanca ang isang Wattpad writer, na kinabog niya ang established novelist,” adds the author of Ligo na U, Lapit na Me.

The news was initially a big question mark for the fourth year Accountancy student when she got a text in the morning of August 17 from a certain “Ms. Leslie” telling her she just won the grand prize for the 65th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards. Charmaine or “Maine” to her friends, was told she should call right away after receiving the message. But her mind suggested a more natural reaction: jump and scream like a kid.

Sabi ko, “Kurt, magpa-load ka!” Tapos umiyak siya (8-year-old brother) kasi akala niya may nangyari.

Bakit, ate?

Bilis, nanalo ako!

The minute she brought down her phone, she went straight to her computer and reread her novel Toto O, which is about 13-year-old Toto who left his home in the province to go to an industrialized city but eventually found out that life there isn’t much better after all. “Ano ‘yung dahilan kung ba’t ako nanalo?” she told herself as she revisited what she thought were the best parts of her story.

Tapos dun palang ako naiyak! Ewan ko kung naiyak ako sa story or naiyak ako dahil nanalo ako,” she says to me humbly. She then folds her arms and subtly rubs her almost-watery eyes. From where we were sitting, the afternoon sky looked sorry with its shade of gloomy blue. And as if wanting to join her in her personal rain, the sky shed tears, too.

Her thin frame hid under a gray shirt and a black jacket that kept her warm but also gave the impression of toughness. The image, though, was easily wiped out the minute she gave me a weak, awkward handshake when we said our first hellos, that I imagined if I squeezed her childlike fingers they would break.

But I thought to myself these were the same hands that typed 33,000 words in a genre she never had the chance to practice for and had to finish within only 30 days.

Maybe she could attribute a huge part of her success to deactivating her Facebook account for a week to focus writing her novel, like a real responsible millennial. Or probably it’s the more obvious answer: writing more than 30 short stories of different genres on Wattpad—horror, romance, and usually inspirational—taught her to do just that.

After all, because of her experience in joining contests within the Wattpad community, she already earned the title “Queen of Wattpad Writing Contests,” she says in jest.

Wala akong background sa pagsusulat ng novel. Wattpad lang,” she adds, sharing that because of her frequent victory in the competitions, some fans would even ask her to stay away and, as she would say in her rough accent, “give chance to others.” “Di ko alam [kung] anong kaswertihan [ang] meron ako.

Wattpad is often dubbed by critics as an online writing platform that produces only “low quality works”—in the harshest terms, even “garbage.” While some are aware of its positives like the “democratization of space for literature,” some people in the formal writing community still can’t help but comment on the nature of stories posted on the site.

Maayos at sincere ‘yung attempt ng mga writers ng Wattpad na magsulat ng literature. Mas honest pa nga sila, feeling ko, sa mga ‘writers’ na kailangan mag-churn out ng libro sa loob ng time frame,” says Alvin, a literary editor in his college publication during his senior year. “Pero since available sa everyman, dahil nga online at libre‘yung quality [ang] nagsu-suffer.”

The fact that young people are now more into reading is a good thing, says Jasper, also a literary writer who joins creative writing contests in his university. However, he says there might be a need to elevate the discussion and topics in Wattpad stories once writers become more mature. “Nakikita naman natin sa komersyo ‘yung mga aklat na ‘I’m dating a gangster’ o ‘I’m dating my teacher’…Sana [lang talaga], magbago ‘yung panlasa nila na hindi lang sa mga ganoong sulatin nakukulob ang mundo nila,” he says.

The writers themselves are admittedly aware of this perception, and some of the most cruel comments tend to make or badly break an aspiring writer. The most painful comment that almost stopped Lasar from writing? “May boyfriend ka ba? Halata kasing wala, kasi ‘yung sinulat mong romance, walang walang romance,” she recalls.

Iniyakan ko ‘yun. Feeling ko, kung di ako inalalayan ng friends ko, tumigil na ako sa pagsusulat kasi nakaka-discourage,” she says, openly telling the tendency of fans and haters to either hinder or help their favorite and most hated writers. “Kapag sikat ka, ‘yung mga fans mo, sobrang supportive na…bulag na sila sa lahat ng pwedeng ipuna sa story mo. [Pero] sa contest, maraming pupuna.” She says these are usually corrections like “ng” to “nang” or “din” to “rin” and correct use of punctuation marks.

But one comment by a Wattpad writer and friend of hers triggered her move to change this negative perception. It was her wanting to prove critics wrong that pushed Lasar to elevate her work to the national stage.

Atalia, known for his inclination to popular literature or coined by some as “literature for the masses,” says it’s important to understand who Wattpad writers write for. “Malinaw ‘yung target audience ng mga bata—‘yung community nila. Hindi nila tina-target ‘yung mga nasa literature department na kumuha ng creative writing. Hindi naman nila ginawa ang Wattpad para sa atin eh, para sa sarili nila…Tapos papakialaman natin, hindi nga nila tayo pinapakialaman?

Atalia’s statements are peppered with jokingly uttered curses as he reiterated there’s no need for “academic intervention” on Wattpad writers—at least, in the context that no person can dictate what is good literature and what is not.

But would it help if Wattpad writers tried to take up formal writing courses? Yes, says Ella, an AB Literature student in the same university.

Already an established Wattpad writer with a huge following before she even enrolled in the University, the 19-year-old said in an interview with The Flame, a local publication in UST, that it was her father who suggested she might want to take up AB Literature.“Gusto ko maging doctor, kaya lang nung high school ako, sobrang baba ng grades ko sa Science…so my English was better daw. Tapos ‘yung dad ko sabi niya sa akin why not try to improve your writing?”

Famous as being “modernongmariaclara” in the Wattpad community, Ella discovered that she could still improve her skills further through formal training. “Kung sa Wattpad, madami ka nang matututunan, dito pa kaya na you are surrounded with writers na rinirespeto mo?”

Her blockmates did not treat her any differently upon discovering she came from the infamous writing site. Some of them even bought her books, shares her favorite Literature professor Rina Garcia Chua.

“From the very first moment I read her Who Am I? essay for young adult literature, I knew that she’s not an ordinary Literature student. She wrote so fluidly, succinctly; I understood that I was reading not a student’s work but a writer’s—someone who has the discipline to sit down and write…She’ll be big in the future.”

And so with Wattpad writers, Literature professors, Palanca winners, and students of creative writing now mingling in the same sphere, nearly cultivated is a bit more understanding and appreciation for this debatable game changer.

Harvey, who personally knows Ella and was himself a Palanca winner, believes that Wattpad is a “noble platform” and is happy about Wattpad writers excelling in their own ways. “There is always a sense of second-degree satisfaction, knowing that someone like my own, a literature major new to the field, has been doing some serious writing—and in writing, is being read.”

He adds, “What we learn in the academe only are the theories, criticisms, different trends, and styles. What we learn in real life, however, is the verisimilitude of human experience.”

But making everyone say the same thing will never be easy, for the issue of academe versus practice has always been present since the rise of these institutions.

Maria, who is taking up a Creative Writing course to improve her craft, said she would always prefer the traditional way in learning how to write creatively. “While ine-embrace ko as a student of creative writing ang Wattpad bilang bagong platform na mahusay at malikhain ang pagkagawa sa sarili nitong paraan, naniniwala pa rin ako sa tradisyunal at mas tangible na uri ng pagsusulat. ‘Yung published. Mas credible pa rin sa akin ang mga ganon.

Even so, Lasar keeps this motivation to change people’s perception of them as her fuel to keep the pen ablaze and write a better future for her beloved writing community.

Nale-legitimize na ba ngayon ng Palanca ang Wattpad writers? Pwedeng tanungin. Kung ako ang taga-legitimize, tatanggapin pa ba ng institusyon, ng literary circle? I doubt it,” says Atalia, again passionately. “Bakit? Eh ganun katigas ang ulo ng mga nasa akademya eh. Baka hindi pa tanggapin sa ngayon.


Taking the #MRTChallenge

Note: This article was submitted in a news writing class in my junior year of college. We were asked to take the then popular “MRT challenge” and write a news feature article about it using the first person point of view. The dates mentioned were in 2014. Surnames of sources were removed to protect their privacy, since the original article was meant for academic purposes only.

For five years now, vendor Mona Liza has been riding the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Line 3 just to deliver packs of sweet delicacies from Boni Station to North Avenue Station. She braves the unforgiving sea of commuters every single day so she could sell her goods at a small mucky corner outside the TriNoma gateway.

This routine might seem conventional for people who also bear the struggle in riding the infamous MRT. But it isn’t so easy for Mona Liza, more so for the child she carries in her womb.

It was thrilling to learn that Mona Liza was already seven months pregnant and about to give birth to her third child. Sadly, it was not the case for other passengers with whom she rides the train.

Banggaan talaga. Walang priority,” says the 38-year-old mother, adding there was even one time where she rode the train and some of her products fell down onto the railway tracks. “Nalaglag nga ‘yung paninda ko noon kasi nga banggaan talaga. Problema, ang tagal dumating nung tren kaya ang haba ng pila.

I was unlucky enough to take the “MRT challenge” last September 24 at exactly eight o’ clock in the morning. I stood in line for at least 25 minutes and waited for the next coach to arrive. As a first-timer, I would say that the system in terms of directing the flow of passengers was rather confusing, but I figured it out eventually.

One of the MRT passengers I had the chance to have a little chat with was Amabel, who usually waits for at most an hour whenever she rides the train from North Avenue Station to Ayala Station. “Mahirap siyang transportation kasi ‘yung pagod at yung haba ng pila, parang pahirap ng pahirap,” says the 29-year-old human resource assistant.

Though she notes that there is an existing system that regulates the stream of passengers, she says that this is also encumbered by the heavy population. “Habang patagal ng patagal naman, nagkakaroon sila ng sistema. Kaso ‘yung sistema kasi, hindi rin gaanong nafi-feel kasi dumarami ‘yung pasahero.

The MRT, which has a rated capacity of only 350,000 but serves about 500,000 citizens everyday, deserves a rating of three out of ten, says 35-year-old Edward.

When asked if he has seen significant improvement in his five years of riding the train, Manlangit responds, “Oo, nagbago siya. Naging worse.”

In fact, in the afternoon of August 13, GMA News reported about a defective coach of the MRT that slammed through a steel barricade of the Taft Avenue Station in Pasay City and injured at least 50 passengers, including a six-month-old baby.

After the incident, the MRT administration apologized for the inconvenience and said in a tweet that they were “undergoing necessary intervention for the technical problem encountered.”

Recalling this ill-timed incident, I dared to step inside the train, which I now consider, albeit with exaggeration, a world that is different from what is beyond it.


In this bizarre world that I speak of, fresh air is not only a necessity; it is a luxury. As I was in the part of the train where male passengers were situated, the kind of air I was forced to inhale and exhale had already been infused with a concoction of peculiar smells.

There’s the scent of male deodorant coming from a student whose armpit was only about five inches away from my face. Of course, the trip wouldn’t be complete without the whiff coming from manong who looked like he just came from an 8-hour work of carpentry. Then there’s kuya who just could not help but smoke before taking the train so he could deliver that distinct smell of Metro Manila straight to my olfactory senses. Fresh air was rare. And sadly, it was only normal.

But it seems like (former) Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and I were not talking about the same train. Last August 27, he rode the MRT and called his ride “pleasant” and enjoyable. I cannot blame him. Who gets the chance to enjoy a ride beside the train driver at a non-peak hour?

Certainly not Edolly Ann, who shook her head in disbelief when she heard Abaya’s statement. “Ayos, kasi sila may bodyguards. Eh kapag sumakay kami, dikdikan talaga,” says the 23-year-old sales clerk. “May pa-ganun-ganun pa sila. Kalokohan.

It was also not the case for fourth year college student Jealyne Mae, who gave the MRT a grade of five out of ten. “Sobrang siksikan, so (may) mga accident na minsan nahahawakan na ‘yung maseselang parts ng katawan mo,” the 20-year-old education student says.

I will have to agree with Jealyne Mae.

In my experience, a torrent of commuters gushed as our train arrived at Shaw Boulevard. I was literally suffocated given the limited space left between me and manong, who earlier was at least two feet away. This time we were skin-to-skin. In this particular world I entered, the idea of having personal space does not exist.

Being in that miserably awkward position, one might find it hard to resist blaming the government, the system, and the MRT operators.

On the contrary, an MRT station guard* says no one should be blamed. “Natural lang ‘yan,” the guard says of the transportation situation. “Maaayos naman ‘yan. Marami lang talaga tayo. Hindi lang kinakaya ng MRT.”

Similarly, 25-year-old treasury personnel Louis thinks that the problem lies in the outlook of passengers in the transportation system.


Hindi lang nila matanggap na sa ganung binabayaran, naghahanap pa sila ng sobra. ‘Yung basic service, naibibigay naman ng MRT,” says Louis, who gave the MRT a seven-out-of-ten rating. “May mga sira, pero hindi naman kailangan magreklamo.

In an article posted on September 8, Inquirer.net reported about Abaya’s “planned improvements” for the MRT including 48 new coaches, replacement of rails, and an automated ticketing system by 2015. The Transportation Secretary said they were also considering the purchase of new elevators and escalators, and the construction of a more convenient footbridge at North Avenue.

However, Abaya said maintenance operations will be managed by MRT and Light Rail Transit (LRT) personnel unless the government decides to take over. Until then, the current maintenance provider will continue to serve the MRT and renew its contract, which when bidded out would still undergo a three-year procurement process.

With hopes of witnessing actual improvement in this rapid transit system, 51-year-old Elson says, “Kung ‘yun matutupad nila, mas maganda. Kaso wala pa eh.”

Sana (maramdaman) rin nila ‘yung agony ng pasahero para patas rin,” says Louis, adding that improvement only takes initiative from both the government and the people. “Magi-improve naman siya. Kailangan lang maghintay.

This waiting that Louis suggests will not be as simple as the 45-minute ride I took from North Avenue Station to Taft Station. It could go on for years, or worse, decades before the commuting citizenry gets to experience a decent ride—one that does not have to be a completely different world inside.


But as long as the trains continue to choo choo in the same old rotten tune, people like Amabel, Jealyne Mae, Edolly Ann, Edward, Elson, and Louis will also have to suffer the literally filthy transportation system.

Until actual transformation of the transportation system occurs, Mona Liza will have to hold tight—as firm as her grip to safety hand rails—to her wish that the precious baby boy she’s expecting may never have to experience this predicament once he grows big enough to face it.

Wanlu: Of Being In Sync And Insane

Note: Gillan Ropero, a friend and fellow UST Journalism alumna, helped in the writing of this article. We were asked to produce a feature story from a mock press conference featuring the subject.

Walking unassumingly into the dim-lighted hall, he makes his way into the microphone platform wearing a plain black shirt, a good old pair of denim jeans, and a necklace with a black circular pendant.

For a guy whose life almost depended on maneuvering of fully clad hand puppets and delivering of punch lines in varying tones and accents, Wanlu, or Juancho Lunaria in his life behind the spotlight, sure dresses too simply, almost camouflaging into the dark walls of the hall. Without ado, he talks about his life story and the characters he brings to life through his hands.

“A lot of people don’t know this but I joined Talentadong Pinoy when I was just starting out as a ventriloquist. I was just a beginner when I [became] a Hall-of-Famer,” he shares matter-of-factly, revealing not only the fact that he learned puppetry about five years ago but also his ability to speak in a learned fashion.

As it turns out, Wanlu is actually a dentistry undergraduate. “Not a lot of people know that (I was an amateur ventriloquist) because, of course, I acted like I was a professional,” Wanlu quips, exhibiting throughout the conference his deadpan humor that tickles even the rarely-smiling person in the room.

Perhaps it was the magic he had in his hands since 1988, when he first became friends with it, that makes him a master of what makes people giggle. Or maybe it was in his voice, the very attribute that now allows him to meet famous fellow ventriloquists like Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator. Probably, it was his charm that was already there in his childhood—only that time, no one was able to witness it apart from himself.

A boy who was always left alone in the house, Wanlu shares his freshest memories as the bunso in the family. “I was forced to talk to myself, which trained me unconsciously for ventriloquism,” he says with a chuckle, openly admitting his nonetheless still “not so bad” childhood.

But it wasn’t his childhood dream, of course. “I [would have been] a cellphone snatcher,” Wanlu says jokingly, eliciting claps and heaps of laughter from the audience. “I’ve always wanted to entertain people,” says the practicing magician, who was actually a gas boy and a jeepney barker before he almost gave up in his first few tries as a ventriloquist.

He confesses how his agent at first opposed his venturing into stand-up comedy. “The very first gig, I remember, my agent told me ‘Wanlu, di para sa’yo ‘yan. ‘Wag mo gawin ‘yan.’

But Wanlu never tried to quit. “I always felt ventriloquism was something unique I could offer to them. I was quite confident that if I worked hard, I would get the results [that I wanted],” he says with a hint of amazement on how the craft has gone mainstream. “Now even a magtataho knows the word.”

He again fills the room with spontaneous eruptions of hilarity, delivering every punch line and joke with proper timing and mastery through his puppets Nicolo, the charming little boy with witty banters, and Congressman Dominador, who portrays a comedic dirty old man ridiculously called Cong Dom.

For this thriving artist, ventriloquism is no longer a job but a mission—an advocacy to provide amusement through making his own Pinocchios come alive with just minimal movement and a little play on voices.

This mission does not cease for the striving puppeteer, who reveals to the audience one incident that proves how “crazy” he turned out to be for his adopted kids.

Before he and his wife go to sleep at night, he shares, he bids good night to his kids and, yes, to his puppets. To this, his wife teasingly remarks, “Sira na talaga ulo mo.

“If you want to succeed, you have to fool yourself (that) these are real characters,” says Wanlu, confidently admitting his so-called insanity. “When I first started, natatawa naman ako sa sarili ko. Kung natatawa ako sa sarili ko, [siguro naman] matatawa rin sila sa akin,” he says, adding that his driving force is himself.

“When I find myself funny, I want other people to be, too.”

Hero Guarding A Hero

Note: The subject’s name was changed to protect his privacy, since the original article was meant for academic purposes only.

Jose Regalante* stands in the middle of the most famous park in Manila, Philippines.

The prickly heat seeps into his already sunburned skin as a drop of sweat runs smoothly on the right side of his face, tickling but also making him itch. The urge to scratch that spot grows even stronger as every sluggish second slips away. His instinct tells him, of course, that he should lift his hand and rashly touch it.

But his job tells him not to.

At least for two straight hours every day, Regalante is obliged to stand as still as the man beside him. Clad in a beige long sleeve uniform with red and yellow patches, Regalante holds a firearm with a seemingly built-in knife in his right hand. The man next to him wears a long black coat and holds a book instead.

The challenge to remain motionless is apparent to both of them, except that the man beside him is made of cement and happens to be the country’s national hero.

Noong unang-una akong tumayo diyan (katabi ni) Dr. Jose Rizal, talagang mahirap at nakakapagod talaga,” recalls the ex-honor guard of the Rizal monument. “Bawal gumalaw, bawal magsalita.

Occasional pranks from bystanders are unavoidable. Of the roughly 20 people that pass by the monument every ten minutes to take obligatory selfies, at least one or two would stop and observe the honor guards. When in groups, spectators tend to be more tactless in making jokes about them.

Nangangatog na mga tuhod mo, ‘no?

Bakit hindi ka gumagalaw?

Mababa siguro ang sahod mo diyan.

Siyempre, maiinis ka rin eh,” laments the 38-year-old officer, who was wearing a black muscle tee with the word “MARINES” on it. The battle scars he got from his years of service in Mindanao are seen on his left arm. “Gusto niyo bang tumayo rin dito? Akala niyo ba madali lang?

He then tells the story of how he learned to love his work. This, while he sits at the unadorned porch of the honor guards’ barracks located near the entrance of the Manila Ocean Park, a few strides away from Luneta. The headquarters serves as both the starting point and finish line for worn-out souls being sent out to safeguard Rizal’s monument from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

This kind of routine proved to be bearable over the years as Regalante learned a few techniques to get his mind off hours of boredom and monotony.

Minsan tinitignan ko lang ‘yung mga dumadaan. Iniisip ko rin (kung) anong gagawin ko pagkatapos at sa kinabukasan,” he says with a smile—apparently something he is also not allowed to show while on duty. He also cannot sing to entertain himself since there are installed CCTV units in the area.

Most of the time, he thinks of his wife and their children, whom he once took to the park to see how he worked as an honor guard.

Mahirap ba na tumayo diyan? Mainit?” he recalls one of his children as asking when they saw him just standing beside the monument. He says he usually explains that he gets paid to protect Jose Rizal, whom the kids already recognize because of their History subject. “Kaya minsan, ‘yung anak ko rin, pinagmamalaki niya na ‘Yung daddy ko nagbabantay kay Rizal!” he warmly shares. “Sabi nila, ‘Bayani ka na rin kasi bayani siya.’

However, the guards of Rizal can only go so far in terms of “protecting” the national hero.

Threats to the preservation of the monument like the construction of the controversial Torre de Manila, which is an obvious blot on the landscape, are also upsetting honor guards like Regalante.

Tingin ko eh pangit naman talaga (‘yung Torre de Manila)…Mas maganda kung ipagiba na lang siya…” he says quite hesitantly. “Pero kung ano,” he continues, “wala rin tayong magagawa kasi inaprubahan na.

What’s important, Regalante says, is that people continue to uphold their nationalism, something that others fail to achieve nowadays. “’Yung iba parang hindi nila kilalang lubusan si Dr. Jose Rizal; ‘Yung iba naman ay kilalang-kilala nila at parang diyus-diyosan na nila (siya).

He admits he belongs to the latter since he considers himself as Rizal’s “devotee” and “knight.” This doesn’t change even now that his job is already to supervise the younger honor guards.

I proceed to ask him how much he earns by guarding a hero. He slouches, shakes his head, and gives a quick response and a half-smile. “Pagkakasyahin.

And then I asked a cliché question: “Anong sasabihin mo kay Rizal kung buhay pa siya?

He finds it a little weird, but quips, “Kung buhay siya, edi wala ako rito!

Shortly after, Regalante turns a bit serious and opens up.

His dream for the country is for the people to work together for unity and progress.

He wants to be like Rizal—he wants to die for a noble cause.

He intersperses the word “siyempre” in most of his statements but always speaks with a hint of uncertainty and unassuming nature.

He says he is very proud of what he does for the country.

The routine might have become too mundane for Regalante to realize that what he had been doing all along was much more than just staying still for as long as he can; that aside from the symbol of heroism he is guarding, there is another one—and that living, breathing hero is right there in front of me.

To this, he only replies with a grin, “Lahat naman ay bayani kung gagawin nila ‘yung dapat nilang gawin.