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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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.

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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.

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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.

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