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.
Continue reading Ilhanay 2016: The Pleasure is Mutual

Ang Jihad ng Manunulat: Pagsusulat ng Kasaysayan ng Bangsamoro sa Pamamagitan ng Tula

Nonfiction by | October 30, 2016

Lubos akong nagagalak na maibahagi sa malaking hanay sa akademya ang aking sariling persepsyon tungkol sa panitikang Mindanao. Nararapat lamang na ipamulat sa mga mag-aaral at guro ang kamalayang malimit na nauunawan ng madla. Ito ay bilang tugon at pagsalungat sa kadalasang maling perspektibong hatid ng panggagaway ng midya. Nais kong ikwento ang pinagmulan o “hugot” ng aking mga nakakathang tula – ang aking paglalayong isalamin ang Mindanawong pagsusulat, partikular na ang panitikan ng Bangsamoro.

Itinuturing kong isang malaking misyon ang pagsusulat. Ang paghahabi ng mga salita upang mabuo ang mga tula ay tila naging aking paraan sa pagdiskarga ng mga pasaning matagal nang nailagak sa aking mga balikat. Hindi naging mahirap sa akin ang pag-angkin ng naturang gampanin sa mahigit na apat (4) na taon nang pagsusulat. Bagama’t musmos pa sa larangan at tila hindi pa lubos na maitumpak ang tamang pagsukat o pagputol ng mga linya, tamang pagpili ng mga salitang gagamitin, tamang paggamit ng wika, at iba pang teknikal na aspeto ng paggawa ng tula, malinaw na sa akin na mayroong mga kwentong kailangang ipaabot sa madla, mga kwentong tila naghihintay lamang na ilarawan sa pamamagitan ng mga salita at ito ang kwento ng Bangsamoro. Ito ay isang bagay at kasanayang hinding-hindi maituturo ng kahit na sinong magagaling at nauna sa larangan ng panitikan. Mananatili itong likas at pambihirang kayamanan ng isang manunulat. Magiging makatwiran kung aking iuugnay ang paksa sa aking mga tulang nabubuo sa kamalayang aking namulatan.

Continue reading Ang Jihad ng Manunulat: Pagsusulat ng Kasaysayan ng Bangsamoro sa Pamamagitan ng Tula

War as a Human Product: Wars, Conflicts and The Writers’ Imagination

Nonfiction by | October 23, 2016

(Paper read during the Annual Congress of the Philippine Center for International PEN, December 3-4, 2013, De La Salle University, Manila)


Former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said that “In war, whichever side may call itself the victor, there are no winners, but all are losers.” This statement is a gospel truth when we talk about wars and conflicts.

It is a fact that human existence, or human history, has been replete with wars and conflicts. In the Bible, we can read stories about wars and conflicts. In History books, we can likewise read stories about war and conflicts, which lead me to believe that as long as man is man, there will always be wars and conflicts. There are small wars and conflicts as there are also big wars and conflicts. And no matter how small or big it is, it is always disturbing. Along the way, there is always a collateral damage—innocent people including children, die as result thereof. These flaring conflicts and wars also create economic hardships, dire refugee problems, and a sustain sense of despair.

Continue reading War as a Human Product: Wars, Conflicts and The Writers’ Imagination

Pamalandong Bahin sa Panuwat, Pinulongang Binisaya, ug Mindanawon Writing by a Former English Spakaner

Nonfiction by | October 16, 2016

(Gibatbat ni sa Forum sa Mindanawon Writing katong 16 September 2016 sa Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Bukidnon.)

To tell you the truth, I don’t have the wisdom and know-how to discuss the topic because “Mindanawon Writing” is so vast. However, what I can share is a part of Mindanao that I’m more familiar with which is Cagayan de Oro because I was born and raised there as well as my affair with Binisaya. Ever since I wore diapers, I was trained to speak English. I also studied in a school where English and Filipino are absolute, though the latter language and I never seem to get along.

Continue reading Pamalandong Bahin sa Panuwat, Pinulongang Binisaya, ug Mindanawon Writing by a Former English Spakaner

Gatsby Wears Levi’s (Part 2)

Nonfiction by | October 2, 2016

It always appeared to me that introducing my future fiancée to my dad would not be a problem given the circumstance he had back then; yet I have been engaged for almost five years now and dad knows nothing about it.

They did marry, right after dad convinced my mom’s family that he would become a licensed engineer; and that he would also give her more than the Tamaraw FX that the other suitor promised. I smile when I see a picture of me as a baby held by my dad, in his toga beside my mom. The vastness of the MSU golf course filled the background.

Getting his license was an elusive thing. Dad was already teaching as a part-time instructor when he started his review for the board exam. During daytime, he taught disinterested engineering majors. At noon, he dealt with death threats from failing seniors. At night, he studied for his board and was in-charge of getting me to sleep. Mom told me that dad used to read his reviewer out loud while carrying me in one arm. I had heard of circuit theorems first before fables and fairy tales.

Dad never got any result, whether pass or fail, from the first board exam. No one in that batch did. All the test papers were burnt in a fire, which the examiners said was an “accident”. Dad would have left his dreams to die like the extinguished flame had he not met mom. With his wife, plus the baby that rested in his arm getting heavier, dad brushed the ashes off and was determined to do it all over again.

The examiners made sure to keep the test papers safe. Dad had his result the second time around.

He passed.

Continue reading Gatsby Wears Levi’s (Part 2)

Gatsby Wears Levi’s (Part 1)

Nonfiction by | September 25, 2016

My dad loves expensive clothing brands. He bought his first pair of Levi’s when he got his first pay.

This, people would assume, stemmed from the lack of luxury he experienced during his childhood. But there is more to it than just that. He would rather own just one pair of Levi’s than a dozen low quality jeans.

Dipolog, 1970

When he was only fourteen years old, my dad became the head of his family. Two successive deaths made him the caretaker of his mother and three younger siblings. His father (Jose), according to my lola, was stabbed multiple times by at least ten men because he wanted to build what could have been the first copra mill in their town. Later on, I’d learn that these men were members of the National People’s Army. Later on, I’d also learn that it was because lolo Jose left a woman heartbroken (having learned that he was already married to my lola), and that woman happened to be the sister of the NPA’s commander.

His eldest brother, Manolito, too young and too brave, joined the military to avenge their father only to be killed a month after. Both their deaths were accounted to the same rebel group.

Dad grew up in a town where relatives treated other members based on their status and the material things they own. Dad and his siblings ranked at the bottom because they wore nothing but relief clothes (relip or ukay) that lola had bought from the market. These clothes never fit them right. These were always too big and their color too pale, opposite to their cousins who were lavished with clothes from Dubai.

Dad’s sisters did the laundry. And the contrast of their clothes was obvious: while their cousins’ shirts hanged outstretched and clipped tightly to the rope, theirs were dumped in clumps and stacked sloppy on top of each bamboo pole.

I thought my dad, as a kid, surely must have complained about things. I was wrong.

Continue reading Gatsby Wears Levi’s (Part 1)

Tablea Tales, Part 2

Nonfiction by | September 11, 2016

Tablea Tales, Part 1

I was 19 when I first experienced harvesting cacao fruits with my father. I realized it was my father’s first time to pluck cacao fruits off the tree as well. He was surprised how difficult it was to remove the fruits from their twigs. We discovered that the fruits were so attached with the tree that they just dry there hanging on the twig and only fall down when they were entirely black. The tree looked grim with all the hanging black, rotten cacaos. We plucked them off and threw them on the ground. It was as hard to remove as the fresh fruits.

My father rarely talked when we started harvesting and collecting the ripe cacao fruits. The only times he talked was when he would tell me to pick up the fruit that fell on the ground and put it on the huge plastic bag I was holding.  I was used to having imported chocolates in golden foils handed to me by my father when he would come home from work abroad. And after years of struggling overseas, here was my father with me in our backyard, harvesting yellowish cacao to add to the dozen I already had in my bag.

When I was a kid, I never wanted anything else but the chocolates father brought home almost every year. It didn’t matter then whether he was home for Christmas or not. We grew used to it. We grew used to having chocolates as a consolation for his long absence. But now as I was plucking off cacao with him, I realized I wanted him more than all the creamy, bitter-sweet chocolates combined. He had been away for years and I realized, as his calloused hands were struggling to pluck off some ripe cacao fruit, that there was nothing more beautiful than this moment.

Continue reading Tablea Tales, Part 2

Tablea Tales, Part 1

Nonfiction by | September 4, 2016

Tablea Tales, Part 2

Chocolates. I love how the mouth moves with the expression of the word. I love how the mouth pouts in the first syllable, how it opens and makes the cracking k sound, how the tip of the tongue touches the palate, creating the l sound and slowly creating a smile showing the teeth, as the tongue rests in the middle of the mouth. It’s funny how the whole mouth – the teeth, the lips, the tongue, everything – when combined together, could create such a beautiful word. Chocolates, I know, creates much pleasure as much as the ears take pleasure in listening to it when uttered.

I couldn’t remember a time when Krishelle, a childhood friend, ever missed a piece of Wiggles after lunch. Every after lunch, she would have me go with her outside the school for her daily dessert. Wiggles is a twisted colorful marshmallow coated in rich chocolate. It was nothing special, really, but I had seen how this small piece of sweets capped her lunchtime. She looked satisfied with it. Happy, even, that she always looked forward to its taste to cap her lunch for the day.

I was a witness of how this small twist of chocolate made her so happy and excited. She always offered me some and I just couldn’t refuse. I also wanted to feel the same delight she felt every single time she ate Wiggles. It was sweet like any other chocolates and there was actually nothing about it that was special at all. There was nothing extraordinary with the way the marshmallow complemented with the chocolate coating. I have tasted better marshmallows in chocolates before. And yet, she was happy. For us kids, that was all that mattered, then.

Continue reading Tablea Tales, Part 1