Martin Villanueva

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Martin Villanueva is an award-winning Filipino writer of both fiction and non-fiction. His notable works include his Palanca award-winning essay “He’d rather be relevant” and numerous contributions for the publications Heights and Katipunan magazines. He enjoys cooking, reading, listening to music, watching tv, and watching movies.

He lives in the Metro Manila area and is currently a senior at the Ateneo de Manila Loyola schools, majoring in the course BFA Creative Writing.


Early Life

Martin was born in Jakarta, Indonesia on October the 23rd, 1985. It was there where he spent most of his childhood and his grade school days. After moving to the Philippines, he went to high school at Reedley International School in Quezon city.

Literary influences

Unlike most Palanca winners, Martin’s interest for writing only came fourth during his college years. His current course in the Ateneo, BFA Creative writing, was only his fourth choice when he applied. Martin’s influences in writing include those writers whose works he very much enjoys reading – Nick Joaquin, Haruki Murokami, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Yuson, Scott Fitzgerald, Albert Camus, Tom Wolfe and Jessica Zafra to name a few. Martin used started out writing fictional work, but is now mainly focused on non-fiction.

Views on literature

When asked about how his fiction background affects his non-fiction work, Martin explained to us his thesis about the difference of fiction and non-fiction. He believes that there is no real significant difference between the two – because a story is a story. His goal in telling stories is being able to convey his message, and he his able to do this whether using real life characters or characters based on views and beliefs. This can clearly be seen in his work “He’d rather be relevant” where he based the main character on himself and the Philippine situation among others.

Known works

His essay “He’d rather be relevant” won third place at the 2006 Don Carlos Palanca awards for literature. He also has contributions in Katipunan, an independent student magazine in the Ateneo de Manila, where he was formerly an associate editor. He is currently a member of the org Heights, which is an arts and literary publication. He also has an online journal,, where he writes about his views about everyday events.

He'd rather be relevant

According to Martin, He’d rather be relevant started out as a scientific essay on cancer which he submitted for a creative writing class under Dr. Queena Lee Chua. After seeing the potential of the essay, Dr. Chua nudged Martin into submitting it to the Palanca awards. However, the Palanca awards required the works submitted to have a personal touch. This is how the essay came about. Martin, with the help of Tom Wolfe (whose style and technique influenced the essay) , changed the point of view of the essay and gave it his “personal touch”, which you can very well see in the essay. It includes a wide array of his beliefs, be them personal, political, or social. It is about a certain “M”, a cancer survivor choosing to live out his life not being known as “the cancer survivor” but someone who can stand up and be “relevant”.


Carlos Bauza

The first thing that would catch your attention after reading "He'd rather be relevant" would most likely be the excellent imagery Martin provides. The essay grasps the very fiber of your imagination and puts you in the shoes of "M" himself. Martin describes the experience of cancer -- from the chemo therapy cycles to the hair loss -- with such efficiency that it just captivates you. You'd probably be betting that Martin went through cancer himself. Another thing that Martin successfully brings to the table is how he uses his great imagery to express symbols. For example, he used the poster of Cassius Clay on the wall of "M"'s room to show victory and tour de France winner Lance Armstrong to show . He also used the books on "M"'s shelf and different political views to show the personal side of the essay, how "M" can be anyone, even Martin himself. "He'd rather be relevant" is an essay truly deserving of a Palanca award.

Ralph Crisostomo

The remarkable thing in Martin’s “He’d rather Be Relevant” is that it makes the reader completely think that is was a merely the author’s point of view. Little have we known that it was only because of the rules of the Palanca that Martin made his work look personal. BUT, despite the fact it was because of the rules that he made it seem personal, some of the M’s (the main character) motives were also what Martin really wanted to speak out. What's so confusing is that if M is talking about a certain issue or voicing out his aspirations, we as readers wouldn't know who the real persona is. Inevitably, we should ask ourselves, “Is the one talking here M as a character in the essay or is it Martin already?” Martin's essay made the readers realize of what's happening to this country, our country. It does concern everyone after all. His work became something people would want to read again. There's a tendency to have this feeling that the readers have to know what’s hidden behind those words; or rather what is in M's life that we cannot perceive. Let's come back to the life of a cancer patient who would rather hold onto a different battle, a battle for relevance. Truthfully, just an ordinary reader wouldn't be in the position to judge how “He’d Rather Be Relevant” won third: both how it won third and how it didn’t win first or second. But with certainty, let's congratulate Martin Villanueva and proudly say a Third Place isn’t bad for a first entry.

Author's Contribution

Martin has big contribution to the Philippines Society with his work “He’d rather Be Relevant”. His work is mainly revolves around a life of a cancer patient who eventually became a survivor. This boy and other cancer patients represent most of the Filipinos. It shows how cancer patients became winners of a lottery ticket which no one really wants. Here in our country, no one really wants to suffer. It is the effect of poverty and the ever increasing gap between the high class and the low class community. Unfortunately, there are people who become big time winners of the said lottery. Moreover, “He’d Rather Be Relevant” shows how the unfortunate ones suffer more. The line, “these patients live on false hopes” explains it all. It’s sad to say that those who need more help are those who are more paid no attention to and treated as already worthless beings. This is a fact. This is Philippines: a country wherein the word rich becomes an idol. Contrary to that, M explains how Filipinos who belong to the unfortunate group can cope with their battle. M tries to show that whatever battle we Filipinos are facing, it is still more important to be the change; that no matter how difficult the problem is, “live fruitful lives and do so honestly.” After all, we’d rather be relevant.

External Links

Martin's blog He'd rather be relevant Interview with Martin