Vic Valledor is Looking for the Next Great Bicol Novel

Vic Valledor - Executive Chronicles
Through his eponymous novel-writing contest, Lockton Philippines president and CEO Vic Valledor promotes reading, writing, and pride in the Bicol language

Vic Valledor is the man behind the Premyo Valledor Awards which encourages Bicolano writers to pursue novel writing in any Bicol language.

Years before he was founder, president, and CEO of premier insurance brokerage firm Lockton Philippines Insurance and Reinsurance, Inc., Victorio C. Valledor was simply a boy from Bicol who discovered early the pleasures of reading.

Born in Manila and raised in his family’s native Catanduanes from ages 3 to 16, the son of a home economics teacher and nephew of a school principal remembers poring over the pages of the Philippine Free Press “because that was the only magazine that could reach us, there were no newspapers in our town,” he says. He also read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and other pocketbooks his uncle brought home from trips to Manila. “My mother was a teacher so I could spend as much time as I wanted in the library and get any book I want,” he adds.

Yet despite his access to a wide array of literature, Valledor realized that there was one type of book he never got his hands on: a novel in the Bicol language. “Wala pa,” he admits. “I cannot recall ever having read a book by a Bicolano when I was younger. Maybe because they were not accessible in the libraries at the time, but I do not remember coming across a single book by a Bicolano.”

That’s about to change, and with Valledor’s involvement at that. The Lockton president and CEO is the gentleman behind Premyo Valledor, an annual writing competition and search for the best original novel written in the Bicol language. Bicolano writers of all ages are eligible to join the contest and there are no limitations on the novel’s theme, style, or number of pages.

Of the eight entries submitted to the recently concluded first Premyo Valledor, four were short-listed, and two were chosen as winners: Niles Jordan Breis’s Kalatraban sa Alkawaran and Jerome Hipolito’s Dyurnal Intris. At an awards ceremony held at the Ateneo de Naga University, Valledor presented Breis and Hipolito each with a handmade trophy by Daet artist Paolo Gerero and a cash prize of P50,000.

The honor doesn’t end there. Kalatraban sa Alkawaran and Dyurnal Intris will be published by the Ateneo de Naga University Press, and book tours will expose Bicolanos to literature of their kind, hopefully inspiring other writers and would-be authors to pen their own novels in their native tongue.

“Bicol is really the most diverse language in the country,” says Valledor, who credits his longtime friend, award-winning book author, educator, columnist, and National Book Development Board chairman Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, for pitching the idea of a novel-writing contest. “My province of Catanduanes is a very small province with only 11 towns, but the dialect in the northern part is very different from the dialect in the southern part.”

“The same is true in the mainland. Here in Naga, they claim to speak the pure Bicol, but of course, the people in Legazpi will contest that. And even if Naga is an hour-and-a-half’s drive away from Legazpi, both practically speak the same dialect—and yet the towns in between them have a different dialect. That’s how diverse the Bicol language is. So, when Neni came up with the idea of the contest, I thought it was a great opportunity to nurture and propagate the language.”

It’s certainly an expressive one, judging from the crowd’s lively reactions to the excerpts from the winning novels that were read aloud by actors at the event. Bries’ novel, a post-martial law tale about the uncorrupted body of a desaparecido resurfacing after 32 years (and his best friend who comes home to authenticate it), was written in the language of his town, Tabaco City, Albay. Hipolito’s novel, journal entries of a young student wanting to write a novel, uses the Bicol of Naga, which is spoken in his hometown of Calabanga.

“Hopefully every Bicolano will have access to these books,” says Vallador, whose eponymous contest reflects not only his pride in his mother tongue, but his love for printed, tangible reading materials. One of the first to invest in a Kindle, he never used it and ended up passing it on to his cousin, singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon.

“The feel of a book, the smell of a book,” says this lifelong reader with relish. “There’s nothing like it.”