The Pilot’s Vantage Point

Nonfiction by | April 2, 2017

(Part 1 of 2)

“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day, he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man – he is a mushroom!”

~ The Little Prince

When temperature went down during that ber-month, I was in the living room scrolling through my FB while the TV showed some teleserye I was not interested in. A lot of posts were on fright nights. There were people posting Halloween costumes, make up tutorials for Halloween. Team Kramer was in all black. That was cute.

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There was a photo of Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau dressed as the Pilot and his son, the Little Prince. Fallen leaves were on the ground. Behind them, the leaves of the trees were yellow with hints of orange.

How fitting. The foliage almost imitating the sunset.

That was all it took and a distant memory replayed.

Hands were passing around glues and scissors. Scented papers of various colors and cut out pictures were scattered on the floor where eleven students were sitting and chatting. The troublesome flower accessories and yarns were lost in the mess.
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Of Memories and Letters

Nonfiction by | March 26, 2017

I live to write letters. I have lived because of letters.

When a parent decides to leave, there is infinity of questions. Inside my head was an avalanche of questions. When I was five, the black jar, a familiar fixture in our living room, accidentally got broken, spilling over my brokenness in scraps of paper scribbled with love letters to a father who decided to leave. This memory regurgitates in conversations with my mother and in spite of the heartbreaking back story, she uses this story to lovingly prod that writing is just as important as breathing. I must live.

I wrote letters to express my love for family and friends because certain moments merit not only non-verbal expression, they deserve to be documented, reconstructed and reread in my small universe. Writing is my human attempt to immortalize fleeting moments of happiness.

My passion to write and my stubborn impulse to document my thoughts are evidenced in various notebooks I have collected over the years. I write notes to my past, present, and future self. When I accidentally come across these old letters, I often find myself smiling, as if reading a letter from another who writes with raw and shameless honesty. It is overwhelming at times. I find that the letters to my younger self are most difficult to write, as she has been through a labyrinth of thorns – she deserves a good one.

I have written countless letters to my mother, many of these I have given to her, the others I kept somewhere. There is infinity of words but there are number of people who deserve my letters – just as the ink from my pen bleeds when I write my letters, my heart bleeds as well. There are infinite words but finite number of years. Words must be written. Pain, the breaking, must be transformed in written form.

Just as there are infinite characters and words, humans have finite number of days. The freedom to write must not be wasted – the other one, the intended receiver has to know. My mother once told me that she loves my letters but could not find the words to respond. I told her that my letters demand no answers and require no affirmation.
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History Matters

Nonfiction by | March 19, 2017

In August 2016, I finally submitted the approved manuscript of my PhD thesis. In the weeks after my final defense, I took a deep breath of relief, knowing that at last I can finally return to a normal life. Now I am able to sleep at normal hours, watch my favorite HGTV or do whatever fancies me without the guilty feeling of an impending deadline dominating my every waking moment.

To take advantage of this new status, I decided to resume reading fiction and picked up George Orwell’s 1984. Some people, who have been in similar circumstances, would understand the need for some time away from any scholarly undertaking.

I have been acquainted with Orwell’s writing, but it was a mistake on my part to plunge into his landmark novel at this time. Just a few pages into it, any conception of light reading flew out of the window. This book was dark, to say the least. It is a tragic illustration of what can transpire if we do not guard our democratic freedom to speak and think.

The novel is set in 1984, in the state of Oceania, one of the three super-states fighting for global dominance while engaged in harsh, domestic suppression. Where individual thought is forbidden and only Big Brother, the totalitarian leader, is allowed to reason and make decisions. The story revolves around Winston Smith, an employee of the Ministry of Truth, which operates in keeping with its motto that “Ignorance is Strength.” His job is to search old newspapers and other records for facts, then delete or “unfact” those that are politically inconvenient in the eyes of Big Brother. Winston is well-skilled at “doublethink,” which he defines as being “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies…consciously to induce unconsciousness.” Completing the political realities of this society are the Thought Police – secret police that monitor and punish any “thoughtcrime” rejected by the Party. The citizens of Oceania know they are being watched, but no longer know how to care. Except for Winston, who starts to question these actions and writes down unauthorized information in a diary.

Thinking about the recent celebration of EDSA, it was not much of a leap to imagine a similar situation of “doublethink” working in some version of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth, gliding through the fake news that circulate through social media in our time.
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The Feast at Barangay Bagontapay

Nonfiction by | January 29, 2017

The news that someone had gotten into a motorcycle accident at Bagontapay Crossing, two kilometers away from our house, reached our neighborhood a few minutes after it happened. It was just after the second power outage that day. I was sitting in our terrace when Ante Doday, who lives across our house, walked toward our rusty pink gate and casually informed me about the accident. She is a wellspring of information in our area, spending most of her day sitting on a wooden bench attached to her small sari-sari store and talking to customers who dish out the stories.

Bagontapay Crossing, where the “roundball” or traffic circle is located, became an accident prone area after its construction. According to my father, who had worked in the road construction, the original road junction – three triangle islands – was safer because of its limited size and intricate course that slowed down the vehicles. It’s interesting how we, taga-Bagontapay and other nearby places, call the roundabout, “roundball.” I guess it is because of the circular concrete wall that looks like a big wishing well in the middle of the intersection. This also reminds me of how we call the sickle, “cycle,” because, again, maybe of the rotating movements of the hand when cutting long grass.

After hearing the news, I remained still in my seat, just waiting for my parents to come home from work. Because it happens all the time, news of the accident didn’t bother me. Unless, of course, I know the person involved or it happens in a very strange way like that time a husband was caught by his wife early in the morning in another woman’s house at the market. I was more worried about how I would spend the remaining one month of my long school break before I go back to Davao City for enrolment. In fact, I couldn’t wait to be a second year college student.
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Davao Writers Workshop 2016: Learning Once More

Nonfiction by | January 22, 2017

November 30, 2016 was a holiday commemorating Andres Bonifacio’s heroism as usual, but for me, it seemed as if I went to my first day of class in a bigger classroom. That was the day I took off my hat as a teacher and put on the uniform of a student again for five humbling days.

The Davao Writers Workshop (DWW) 2016 served as my fast-paced, short course in Creative Writing. Everything happened in a snap from the time I submitted my manuscript with high hopes (as if I were submitting my school requirements) until the time I received the acceptance e-mail. Reading “Congratulations” really took me to Cloud Nine, as if I had won a prize. In fact, they said I had won a “fellowship.” At that point I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but I told myself, This is it! I am ready to learn again.

Bringing along my backpack, I went to our “classroom,” The Big House: A Heritage Home in Juna Subdivision. When I finally met my “classmates” for that workshop, I realized they were fourteen diverse people coming from different parts of Mindanao.  Most of them were college students and two fellow teachers, Deejay Maravilla from Dapitan and Jet Paclar from Cagayan de Oro. Just like me, they also set aside their red pens and they were eager to learn from the pros. Despite our diversity of culture, age, and gender, it did not hinder me from relating to them and building rapport especially with my roommates, Krizza Udal and Emmylou Layog who were both senior college students. We were the only females in the group. It reminded me that learning and teaching is indeed a cycle–I may be a teacher by profession but during the workshop, we were all students.

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Caught in the Middle

Nonfiction by | January 15, 2017

Whenever we talk about Marcos in the family, I do not hear stories of disgust or condemnation especially from my mother and father. Because of this, I grew up neither hating nor loving Ferdinand Marcos.

My father had a firsthand experience of the war in Mindanao during Martial Law in the late 70s and early 80s. His family was one of the bakwit, evacuees who transferred from one place to another to avoid armed conflict. Their community in Kiamba, Sarangani Province (back then Sarangani had not yet been declared a separate province of South Cotabato) became one of the war zones in the SOCSKSARGEN region. Thousands of families were displaced and many young Muslims joined the fighting. Because he could not anymore tolerate the injustices they had experienced in the hands of the Ilaga, the Christian paramilitary group tasked to purge Mindanao of Muslims, my father enlisted in the Black Shirt movement. By joining the Muslim militia, he helped avenge his fellow Moro brothers and sisters who had been killed by the Ilaga and the military.

As my father shared this war story, I was waiting for him to blame Pres. Marcos for it. But he put more emphasis on the effects of intense militarization and the chaos it brought to their lives. I wondered what their leaders had indoctrinated in them that their view of the war seemed only on the surface.

This sentiment is similar to what I heard when we interviewed Moros who had been victims of Martial Law. The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) assigned our group to make a documentary film on Moro issues. We visited various places in Mindanao to interview Moros and Lumad who experienced marginalization through land dispossession, historical injustices, and human rights violations. In one of our interviews, we visited Malisbong in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, which was one of the greatly affected places during Martial Law, and talked to the survivors of what is known as the Malisbong massacre.

As the survivors recalled, soldiers and officers of the 15th and 19th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine military carried out search-and-destroy missions around the coastal villages in Palimbang. The thundering sound and explosion of bombs and cannons overwhelmed the community, destroying public and private properties.
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On Meranaw, Mindanawon Writing

Nonfiction by | December 25, 2016

Bismillah. Assalaamu ‘alaykum.

My name is Diandra-Ditma Macarambon. I am a Mindanawon. I write. Or, at least, I try to. And, that makes me a Mindanawon writer. But, really, what is the Mindanawon writer? Or who is the Mindanawon writer?

I was raised in the Islamic City of Marawi; I spent most of my adult years there as well. Marawi is a place distinct from any other place. It’s very different from its nearest neighbor, Iligan City. I remember my father saying that, from any other city in the Philippines, when one reaches Marawi, it is as though one has reached a different country or even a different planet, he joked. Now that I’m older and “wiser”, I know that he was right. Marawi is a special place and it has definitely shaped me into the person that I am today.

Marawi, obviously, is part of Muslim Mindanao (or the part of Mindanao whose population is generally Muslim) and this fact has really influenced me in so many ways. Of course, we all know that one embodies the culture in which s/he is raised. I am no different. I am not just a Mindanawon, I am not just a Muslim Filipino, I am a Meranaw. And, my being a Meranaw differentiates me from others. Not in a special or superior way, no, but in terms of traditions and practices. I belong to a family that sticks to and honors the traditional ways of the Meranaw. In everything that I do, I am this way. And, of course, even in writing, I am a Meranaw.

Now, being a Meranaw writer and accepting that I, we, as Meranaws, are different from others, does that mean that I write differently, too? Are my works limited to the Meranaw experience? But, then, a question comes to mind, is the Meranaw experience really that unique? Say, compared to the Mindanawon experience as a whole?
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The Double Bind in Writing

Nonfiction by | December 4, 2016

Friends, lovers of literature, dreamers in writing and in life, good morning.

When I left Davao years ago, I left in tears. My students gave me a truly memorable despedida – I felt that I was already dead, and their testimonies were eulogies for someone who had reached the end of his tether. Davao will always hold a special place in my heart, and I feel no different from Pres. Digong when he sighs in a special way and always yearns to come back here, to the consternation of a lot of people in Manila. “The city of my last breath,” the poet Ricardo de Ungria calls this place, and I always heave that same sigh when I utter the name of this beloved city.

I came here in 1999 thinking of myself as a literary missionary. After 15 years in Dumaguete City where the first writers workshop in the country was established in Silliman University by the Tiempos, I arrived here at the turn of the 21st century thinking that it would be a literary desert. But I was immediately embraced upon arrival by the founding members of the Davao Writers Guild – Aida Rivera-Ford, TIta Lacambra-Ayala, Ricardo de Ungria, Macario Tiu, and many others who like me, seemed to have idealized and romanticized their experience of the writers workshop in Dumaguete and wanted to establish one here, too.

Now it feels that that dreaming has borne fruit. My former students have taken the helm of the Writers Guild and I see a vibrant literary culture among the young people here in Mindanao. It takes time to cultivate a literary generation, in the same way that a single writer has to know how to make his writing, his life, and his environment merge into a confluence of what the French call “belle lettres” (beautiful writing). Continue reading The Double Bind in Writing

Laundry Problems

Nonfiction by | November 27, 2016

What could be more mundane than doing laundry? You wear clothes because you have to. They get dirty. You wash them. Day after day. Rinse. Repeat.

Sometimes, a full life is measured by how large a pile of laundry one accumulates.

I am rushing to and fro, ignoring the growing pile. There are just too many busy days. There are children to take care of and a house to clean. There are canvases to fill up, deadlines to meet, and mountains to climb.

One day it happens. The pile of laundry refuses to be ignored much longer. So I make time, pushing everyone’s schedules around. I need an afternoon, a day, maybe three days at the most because that’s how much laundry my family has sometimes.

I inspect this growing monster with equal measure of determination and despair. There is no running away from it. It has to be done.

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Ilhanay 2016: The Pleasure is Mutual

Nonfiction by | November 17, 2016

Last October 13, some members of the Davao Writers Guild (DWG) participated in Ilhanay 2016, the first literary festival of North Davao Colleges, Panabo City, through the initiative of faculty member Mohammed Nassefh Macla. Through Macla’s vision, the school’s former “English Week” turned into a celebration of contemporary Mindanawon writing, an unequivocal act of defiance toward the hegemony of English as a language of intellectual and literary pursuits in the Philippines. That day, it was clear that Binisaya is the language that speaks to and of the heart of the Mindanawon.

Panabo is a city in its own right, nestled between the larger cities of Tagum and Davao. Our trip there is part of the outreach activities of the Guild in order to ensure that aspiring writers from outside Davao also have the opportunity to meet and learn from more established writers. In the past, DWG as a group has gone to Samal Island, Digos City, Kapalong, Davao del Norte, and Bukidnon, and each time, participating writers came home inspired by the enthusiasm of the audience. In Panabo, I joined Noi Narciso, Darylle Rubino, Errol Merquita, and Macla in the usual forum and reading. What we didn’t know was that the students had actually prepared a treat for us.
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