The Third Waterfall

Poetry by | September 11, 2016

Her brute force rattles you
To the core, even from a distance.
She drops with such heaviness,
Such strength, that she sends spray
Back up the air, higher than her,
Ramming the forested slopes around
With her rumble, causing leaves
To tremble, your heart to flutter.

The most beautiful is the most
Terrifying, you tell yourself, humbled
By your smallness, by the mortality
Of your body. You stand still
Before her, and in mere minutes—
In your ears and eyes, her roar lowers
To a murmur, her fall slows
To a flow. She becomes something
Whose power you can harness,
Whose beauty you can sell.

Beasts stalk their prey, and before
They devour it, they pray.

Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
September 2016


Jude Ortega is from Sultan Kudarat Province. He was a fellow for fiction at the 2016 UP National Writers Workshop.

Myths of the Taklubos

Fiction by | October 4, 2015

  1. The crow pecked the bamboo, and Kurukusog came out. The crow pecked another bamboo, and Mahinayhinay came out. Kurukusog and Mahinayhinay gazed around them and were terrified of the things that they could not explain, which were almost everything. Their fear grew even worse when their union caused Mahinayhinay’s belly to swell and a smaller version of them came out between her legs. They named the baby Abathalgad.

While raining one day, a thunder cracked through the air. Mahinayhinay pulled the baby to herself and took refuge under Kurukusog’s arm. Kurukusog noticed that the baby had burped. He told Mahinayhinay, “Fear not, my love. Abathalgad must have caused the thunder.” Mahinayhinay doubted Kurukusog’s observation, but she was comforted.

When the rain stopped and a rainbow appeared in the sky, Mahinayhinay noticed that the baby had smiled. “Indeed,” she told Kurukusog, “Abathalgad must have something to do with what’s happening around us.”

They began to associate everything with whatever Abathalgad was doing, and they were eventually convinced that the baby had power over the world and over them. They worshipped him, and they lived their life according to what they believed was Abathalgad’s will.

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The Talisman, Part 3

Fiction by | April 5, 2015

Continued from Part 1 and Part 2

One morning, Tefu saw the woman retching. As she bent over the sink, he noticed that her belly was unusually big. “Are you pregnant?” Tefu asked her.

“Yes, I am,” the woman said.

Tefu was filled with joy. “So you have stopped taking the pill. You have learned to love me, and you now want to bear my child.”

“What are you talking about? I have not slept with you for months. You have stopped wearing that nasty necklace of yours. You’re not the father of my child.”

Tefu was filled with rage. He raised his hand to hit her. She flinched. Slowly he lowered his hand. He could not bring himself to hurt her, and, it dawned on him, it wasn’t because he loved her. It was because she had never been worthy of his love. He had made a terrible mistake. Everything he had used the talisman for was not worth it.

Continue reading The Talisman, Part 3

The Talisman, Part 2

Fiction by | March 29, 2015

Continued from Part 1

Fedawdaw laughed aloud. “Yes, indeed. You are old enough to marry. More than old enough, in fact. The men your age here already has children. But, inga, you don’t need an ungit. You don’t look bad, and you are educated. You don’t need a talisman to attract a woman. I can even arrange a marriage for you. My friend Datu Kling has a beautiful daughter. She’s—”

“The woman I like lives in the city.”

Fedawdaw fell silent.

“She’s a Catholic,” Tefu added. “She also works for the bishop, but as a secretary.”

“Well, I’m not surprised if you want to marry a Catholic woman. You are a Catholic yourself. The priest who sent you to school baptized you, didn’t he? He even gave you a new name. He calls you Ma . . .”

“Mateo. That’s who I am now. It’s the name I use in Cotabato.”

“Of course, inga. I understand. You want to marry a city girl. You want someone like you.”

“I’m still not quite like her, Iboh. She’s a college graduate. I finished high school only. I’m just a driver. She’s higher than me. I don’t even have the courage to say hello to her.”

Continue reading The Talisman, Part 2

The Talisman, Part 1

Fiction by | March 22, 2015

Fedawdaw was overjoyed when Tefu, one of his sons, came home from the city. The Teduray huntsman prepared a feast. He asked his two wives to bring out and cook the salted meat that the family had been keeping. If consumed by the family alone, the meat could last for a fortnight, but because Fedawdaw invited the neighbors, in one sitting, the meat was demolished.

“Now, my dear husband, what are we going to eat tomorrow?” complained Amung, Fedawdaw’s first wife and Tefu’s stepmother. “I don’t see why you had to invite the whole inged. There is nothing special to celebrate.”

“Tefu is here,” Fedawdaw said. “That is special. I rarely see him, Amung. He is always busy with his work in Cotabato.”

“You always prepare a feast for him. When he finished studying in the Catholic school, you slaughtered a wild boar and two deer. But what do you do for your other sons? When Minted, who is your first son, was married, you butchered a boar, and only half of it was cooked for the occasion.”

“Stop griping, Amung. Tefu may not be my eldest or strongest child, but he is the most intelligent. He deserves to be honored by his father.”

“Oh, don’t tell me that, Fedawdaw. That’s simply not true. Mesila, your youngest son with me, is the most intelligent of your children. Mesila knows where to set traps in the forest, what the chirping of a temugen means, and when to plant crops based on the position of the stars.”

“But Mesila, Amung, doesn’t know how to read and write. He did not go to school. He doesn’t know how to drive a vehicle. Don’t compare him to Tefu. Tefu studied in Notre Dame High School, as a scholar of a priest, and he’s working in Cotabato now as the driver of the bishop. Don’t you know how important that job is? In the Catholic Church, the priest is the datu, and the bishop is the sultan.”

Continue reading The Talisman, Part 1

Dear John, Part 2

Fiction by | October 12, 2014

continued from part 1

I love my mother very much. She is the only person who accept me as a gay. My brothers especially Ricky is shy to other people that I am a gay. My sisters and father is not angry to me but they do not care me. They do not make me part of their life. When my father is still living he do not talk to me. When only him and me is in one place, for example in the sala, he go to the kitchen or to outside the house to his fighting cocks. Only my mother kiss me and embrace me when she is still not a stroke victim. But sometimes I hate her, I blame her. This is her mistake. I become a gay because she dress me like a girl when I was small. She give birth to two girls and three boys straight before she give birth to me. When I go out, my two sisters are already big and my mother miss playing to a little baby girl so she always dress me with skirt and then she sing to me and said to me to do fashion show in our sala. So I want to be Miss Universe when I grow up.

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Dear John, Part 1

Fiction by | October 5, 2014

For all of my life I want to be a girl. But not this way. Not in my birth certificate. Because of this mistake my trip to New Zealand is delay. We cannot married. But don’t worry. I follow up my papers always. Please wait for a little. We will soon be together. We will live happy ever after.

I’m sorry you spend too much money for me already. I don’t know that going abroad is very expensive and very meticulous. I know you are much money. Your pension is large and one dollar there in your country is thirty-six pesos here in my country. But I’m still shy to you. You shoulder all the expenses. Last year you even go here in the Philippines to see me because it is required, because your embassy said I’m not your partner because we only chat in the internet and we never meet personal. But after you go here and you go back to New Zealand…your embassy said to you again it’s not OK, I still cannot get a partner visa, visitor visa only.

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Pregraduation

Poetry by | August 11, 2013

It’s a week before guys our age
go up the stage to receive the proof
that they’ve burned their brows,
they’ve bound their feet, for four long years.
So we sit here around the table
inside a kiosk, along a narrow street
at the back gate of the campus.
Migoy plays patron saint this afternoon,
godfather to the thirsty, boss of the bottles,
lord of the first round. The lucky guy.
Not a single red mark in his card.
Still, like the rest of us, he is wearing
his uniform an extra year. Our brother
didn’t receive any failing grade, Jess explains,
the best man in the wedding, the eldest son
in the funeral, Christ before the breaking
of bread. But just this sem, guys.
And that’s because he had taken
half his subjects before. Jess laughs,
leaping off his seat, slapping his lap.
Migoy keeps his cool, takes no offense,
for Jess finds all situations funny,
from a toddler tripping on his feet
to an old man lying in a coffin. We stare
at the golden liquid inside the rose-colored bottle
standing at the center of the table,
the center of the universe, searching
for answers to questions we won’t dare
ask one another. Jess reaches for the glass
and pours the content of the bottle into it.
We watch the liquid flow, listen to it slosh,
our parched throats itching for a shot,
untilled soil waiting for raindrops.
Jess raises the glass and clinks it
with unseen another. To brod Migoy,
he says. We nod in solemn assent.
To brod Migoy.


Jude Ortega was born and lives in Sultan Kudarat Province. He’s been published in the Philippines Graphic, the Free Press and Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Brothers, Part 2

Fiction by | July 28, 2013

He inspected the plant more closely, and he noticed that a tiny stem at the center had been cut. The stem was still oozing with fresh purple sap. He realized that someone had reached the peak ahead of him and picked the flower.

He heard footsteps on the grass, and when he turned his head, he saw Indirapatra, bleeding profusely from the wound in his arm and chest. The knees of the older datu gave in, and he fell to his side near Sulayman. His palm opened, and a purple flower slipped to the ground.

Sulayman sneered in disbelief. “This isn’t happening. You’re weak. How did you survive?”

“I may not appear as strong as you are,” Indirapatra said, “but I’m not weak. In fact, because of what you did, I found out I’m as strong as you, maybe even stronger.”

“I don’t believe you. You’re not stronger. You just deceived me. Tell me, Indirapatra. What did you do? Before we went up here, did you make a deal with a demon to help you get through the traps?”

“Don’t accuse me of doing such things, Sulayman. I got here on my own strength and skills.”

“How did you get through the crocodiles? Uncle has never taught you how to fight them. It’s only me whom he taught. Whenever you are with Father learning about statecraft and other worthless matters, Uncle would take me to the jungle and teach me how to capture and kill beasts.”

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Brothers, Part 1

Fiction by | July 21, 2013

Indirapatra and his younger brother, Sulayman, reached the lakeside almost at the same time. The people cheered, but in a few moments, they became quiet when they found out that Sulayman’s boat was empty.

“This is surprising,” the rajah said, addressing both the crowd and his young nephews. “Datu Sulayman, the greatest hunter and fiercest warrior in the sultanate, came out empty-handed today.”

Instead of appearing ashamed, Sulayman stood in his boat with a smug look in his face. No one could guess what he was thinking.

The rajah turned to Indirapatra. “My nephew, kindly show your subjects what you have for them.”

Indirapatra nodded. He addressed the people. “It has been months now since a giant crocodile appeared in the lake and started attacking human beings, forcing our fishermen to stop working and causing shortage of fish supply. I assure you, though, that the chieftains, under the orders of my father, the sultan, are doing everything they can to have the monster killed or at least driven away. For the meantime, please accept the fish that my brother and I catch for all of you. For this day, here’s what my lucky net has snagged.”

Indirapatra jumped from his boat and tipped it over. The people gasped in surprise when a fish as long and large as the boat dropped on the sand. The fish was at least thirty feet long, easily the biggest ever caught from the lake.

Continue reading Brothers, Part 1