Notes on August in Myanmar

 

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  • I started the month giving my poetry classes reflection questions. When I was a student in Ateneo I found answering reflection questions boring and useless, but now I realize how much they shaped me outside the classroom.

 

  • For all the dreadful experiences I’ve had teaching in the Philippines, the four years worth of quizzes, lessons, exams, and Powerpoint presentations I accumulated is proving to be very useful.
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    Eindra Nwe’s translation of Alvin Pang’s Candles, in a mix of English and Hindi

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    I’m the only teacher I know who does this

  • I celebrated Buwan ng Wika in Myanmar! Not just with Facebook statuses, I continued my lessons on language, encouraging the kids to translate from Singlish to their hybrid tongues, and making them report publication venues for texts in their languages. I also translated some Cebuano poems to English. I think I’m succeeding in the cultural exchange so far.
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They also started writing their own poetry, and they’re turning out to be more introspective than Filipinos

  • The Burmese term for people of mixed ethnicity is ‘kabya.’ The word for poem is ‘gabya.’ I see so much possibility in the homonymy.

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    I’ve owned this notebook since I was 10, and I learned to write Korean and Greek with it. Now I’m learning the Burmese script with it too.

  • And I’m starting to learn Burmese! The letters, like many variations of plums as the writer Aung Thinn describes them, are difficult because the letters look too similar with each other and the spelling is often very different from the pronunciation. But I’m learning, and now I can pronounce my students’ names better because they write down their names for me in Burmese script.

 

  • My first Burmese sentence: ‘nananbe matharbu,’ ‘don’t put any coriander.’

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    Nananbe sometimes tastes like black bug!

  • The nearby noodle shop is getting used to me, and I’ve explored much of their menu. Even if we could hardly understand each other, I was able to order tofu nwey (chickpea pudding noodles), yi sein (vermicelli), shan khao swe (sticky rice noodles), hpet thoke (dumplings) and pauk si (vegetarian steamed buns), specify if I wanted the noodles a-yih (literally ‘watered,’ or with soup) or a-thoke (‘salad,’ or served without soup), and throw in a thankful ‘chezu be kamya.’
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The place serves the best Yi sein thoke I’ve had around

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  • I first found Burmese tea – on its own – grassy and wild. But teacher Yiyi San explained that tea in Myanmar is often home roasted, and often mixed with Lahpet Hmwe. I cannot find any resources on the internet, English or Burmese (because the best way to learn a language is to use it!), that explains what Lahpet Hmwe is, but it’s a dried leaf with a creamy, pandan-like fragrance. For teacher Yi, who is Intha, the tea is roasted with the Hmwe and some sesame seeds.
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The mysterious lahpet hmwe, smelling distinctly like creamy pandan. If you have any idea what it’s called in English or Latin tell me.

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Like the tea, the lahpet hmwe is also lightly roasted.

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You know the tea is done roasting when the stalks turn slightly silvery white

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The tea roasted with hmwe has a more reddish liqueur

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And it makes  lovely milk tea

 

  • As a tea fanboy, I am thoroughly enjoying Myanmar
  • The legacies I can leave behind are starting to emerge. First among them is tortang talong. I cooked some of my family’s version (mixed with minced garlic and served with garlic and vinegar dip) for the students one weekend, and the resident cook, Daw Benedetta, loved it. She will probably cook it herself.
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    I carve my name in egged aubergine!

  • But there are more serious projects of course. I began work on a website for English translations of Myanmar literature (the output of literature students), and by the end of the month talk already began of a student publication for SAG.
  • I have never been under an administrator like Father Paul before. I throw him an idea I think is ambitious, he thinks about it for a bit, and when he gives it back to me it’s an even bigger possibility. It can be daunting, but this is a mountain I have to climb if I am to reach the heights I know I was meant to be in.
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The blurriness of the shot foreshadows my impending loss of breath and failure

  • Goddamn mountain will not let itself be climbed easily. I joined the third years one day going up the many peaked mountain overlooking Taunggyi. I barely made it halfway. No matter the excuses (I had just woken up, I lacked sleep, I hadn’t had breakfast yet, I hadn’t worked out much since then), I failed, and nothing stings more than failure.

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    Even the humiliating way down is picturesque, with the Buddha altar on the tree growing on the bend.

  • So I vowed to not only climb that mountain alone – when you have to prove yourself you won’t be satisfied fully until you prove yourself alone – I vowed to do it every weekend.

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  • Nope, no climactic moments of Atonement with the Father or Apotheosis – I overcame that hurdle soon enough. Life’s issues do not get resolved dramatically as they do in fiction, you just learn from your mistakes, think of better ways to deal with the situation, and just climb that mountain.
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But damn the resolution (not just the camera) is breathtaking (not just from the climbing)!

  • Though the first time I did I overdid it (typical Atenista). When you climb the flight of steps on the side of Taunggyi Mountain, you will reach Naga Kankyaung, or the Naga Pond Temple. There’s a pond fed by a spring in the shape of a naga snake, a few small shrines dedicated to Nat spirits, an intricately gilded pagoda, a large Buddha statue overlooking Taunggyi, a clingy cat and an oversized goat. Most hikes end here, but I went on and tried to go to another pagoda on an even higher level of this peak, one of this ridge’s many summits. But because I misunderstood a sign, I ended up making a wrong turn and reaching another peak, far away from the pagoda I intended to go to, farther than even many locals have reached, and practically on the other side of the mountain already. I was told when I got back that the Pagoda I did end up reaching, Shwe Hkyamtha Pagoda, could only be reached by car or motorbike. I walked to it and back alone.
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    Entrance to the Naga Kankyaung

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    The eponymous pond

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    The naga spouts that feed the pond

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The clingy cat

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The diva goat

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The temple compound also has a pagoda. this is the gilded gate leading to it

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The pagoda

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The naga motif is all over the temple gounds

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It’s even inside the pagoda

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But perhaps Naga Kankyaung’s most prominent feature is this huge Buddha statue, visible from Taunggyi below

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Panorama of Naga Kankyaung

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See how high up the place is

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About an hour’s walk ahead later, I found this sign. I misunderstood it and turned left when it obviously had a white arrow pointing forward.

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Over an hour’s walk later, I came to this. the sign says ‘Shwe Hkyamtha Pagoda.’ Locals have rarely even gone here.

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Serendipity could be so gorgeous. The Pagoda complex has three large pagodas, two standing on different peaks

  • While taking that long hike, I did not know where I was heading, what was up ahead, or if anything was even up ahead for me to discover. But I kept on going because I decided I’d go and I’d go to that direction. I feel like if I turned back I’d lose. And yet I was hounded by constant fear that the long, tiring hike – like most of the things I’ve worked hard on in my life – will all be for nothing.
  • But mountains are not life, and unlike life’s failures, dead ends and detours are just as much a part of the journey’s fun as reaching the destination. Just the wonder of discovering things, even if by accident, makes the journey worth it. Or maybe life can be like mountains after all.
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Look at how beautiful that moss is!

  • Going down the mountain though somehow feels sad – ‘Numerous indeed are the heroes fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the un-aging Goddess of Immortal Being,’ as Joseph Campbell colourfully puts it. I think it prudent to know this early on: my adventure as volunteer in this wonderfully strange land will not last forever.
  • But I have a Penelope waiting for my Odyssey back to Davao, and while I’m here to make an impact in a foreign land, she’s back home, rising meteorically as a young literary star. She wrote a poem about our distance, which she often performs in the poetry readings she is invited to. Two months on and the exposure has already given her two suitors, but I hope they do not reach Penelope’s hundred and eight. I am put in a dilemma: I am jealous of the life she is living there, but I don’t want her to just wait for me and unravel the shroud she is weaving.
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My Penelope, performing a poem about me

 

  • But to quote from her poem, ‘She is her. And she has her life. And I am me, and I have my own life. But when you know you’ve met the cliched “The One,” the slow merge begins, and out emerge the sacrifices, the waiting, the hoping. The pain, the momentary regrets, the blaming, the hour and a half.’
  • I am here trying to be a lotus in this fertile faraway mud that so needs to learn how to blossom, threading silk from possibilities, and she is there in Mindanao, weaving dreams in South Cotabato and Davao. And when I return what a colourful hybrid shroud we will be able to loom for the death of our distance.

Literary Folios for my classes

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One of my best ideas as a teacher of Literature is to ask my students to make a literary folio for the whole class. Above are folios of my poetry students in SAG Taunggyi.

The project gives the students a chance to see their names in print – an indescribable pleasure, even at its most humble level.

 


Issue 1 Introduction

This project really began over rum with Jude Ortega, and I am delighted that my wild dream of a venue for Region 12 actually materialized!

In better circumstances I will definitely return to help run this journal.

Cotabato Literary Journal

The maiden issue of this online literary journal will be live on September 2, 2016. On the same date, the people behind this journal, along with other local writers, are going to conduct a poetry reading in Koronadal City, South Cotabato Province. There is nothing special about the date. It just happens to fall on a Friday and a couple of days after a payday—a good day to entice students of legal age, young professionals, and everyone close to that demographic to while away the evening in a bar, where the poetry reading will be.

The poetry reading in Koronadal is already the second of its kind. We have conducted the first one last month, on July 29, in General Santos City. As with September 2, there was nothing special with July 29 save for its being a Friday. But it served its purpose. The event was well received. The…

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Touch Move

(This story first appeared on the Inaugural issue of the Cotabato Literary Journal. This is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to reality in this story is purely coincidental. )

 

Touch Move

Gina-twist ko ang Rubik’s Cube pagpasok ni Dad sa sala. Pag-upo niya sa harap ko kalalim ng buntong-hininga niya, halos hangak na. Nakabarong siya na green na may arabesque na design sa gitna. Kakagaling lang siguro sa korte. Nagpiko siya ng likod palapit sa akin, nakapatong ang mga siko sa mga tuhod, at nakatago ang bibig sa mga kamay na nakalabid ang mga daliri.

May tatanungin siya.

“Len, ayos ka daw ng upo be.” Hindi ito yung iritable na tono niya, ito yung malumanay. Gibaba ko ang mga paa ko mula sa sofa, pero hindi ko giwala ang tingin ko sa Rubik’s Cube. Gisimula ko siya solve.

Nagbalik siya sandal sa upuan niya.

“Problema talaga yang lolo mo . . .”

Gihagisan niya ng tingin ang malaking picture ni Lolo sa ibabaw ng bookshelf ko sa kabilang gilid ng sala. Ito yung masamang tingin, makitid ang mata, pero nagalisik, ganito yan pag galit ang tingin.

Yan si Lolo ko. Jaime Saavedra, tatlong beses governor ng North Cotabato. Noong panahon ni Marcos gitawag siyang strong man ng Cotabato kay halos lahat ng pulitiko dito sa amin hawak niya.

Strong talaga yan siya noon, kahit ako matakot. Noong buhay pa siya, six pa ako, gipakita ako sa kanya ni Dad sa big house sa River Park. Matagal na yun masyado, twenty na gud ako ngayon. Sabi niya pagkakita sa akin, ano man itong anak mo Jerry, abnormal.

Natapos ko na ang Rubik’s Cube. 6.32 seconds.

Nakangiti si Dad, nakatingin sa Rubik’s Cube. A, dapat ako magtanong ano problema niya.

“Bakit, Dad, ano problema?” tanong ko pagyakap ko sa kanya. Gawain man gud yan ni Dad pag may problema, i-distract niya ang sarili niya. Minsan kailangan mo ulit i-remind sa kanya na may dapat pa siya atupagin. Joke minsan ni Mom na sa kanya ko siguro nakuha itong sakit ko.

“Tulungan mo ulit ako, Len, ha . . .”

Tango lang din ako.

Six years, three months, four days ko na ito ginagawa. Nung una ko ito gigawa kakamatay lang ni Tito Pat habang nakaupo na mayor ng Kidapawan. July 14. Tatlong bala sa dibdib, dead on arrival sa Madonna Hospital. Nagplano si Tito Jojo na gamitin ang timing para magtakbo. Pero mainit pa ang dugo ng mga rubber baron kay sila ginadiin ni Vice Mayor Balajadia na nagpapatay kay Tito Pat.

Nakasalampak din sa harap ko noon si Dad, yang pagod ang mukha niya. Siya ang gusto gawing campaign manager at legal adviser ni Tito Jojo. Naga-Rubik’s Cube lang din ako.

Sa desperasyon daw yun sabi niya sa amin ni Mom pagkatapos. Gikwento niya sa akin ang nangyari tapos gitanong niya ano daw gawin ko kung ako tanungin.

Ang tao parang Lego, ang mga kalagayan nila parang Rubik’s Cube, o kahit anong puzzle. Mga piyesa na maiba mo ang kalagayan pag alam mo anohin sila pagposisyon. Posisyon lang talaga, posisyon.

“Bakit nagpunta sa Paco si Tito Pat, Dad?” Gibaba ko na ang Rubik’s Cube.

“Gipakiusapan siya ni Balajadia na magpunta doon sa ribbon cutting ng golf course sa Balindog na gi-commitan niya pero hindi niya mapuntahan kay may meeting siya bigla with an investor sa Davao.”

“Si Balajadia malamang ang nagpapatay kay Tito Pat.” Nakataas na ang mga paa ko sa sofa, pero sa gulat niya hindi ako napagalitan. “Pero walang evidence,” dagdag ko. “At mahirap, malakas si Balajadia, hawak niya ang masa.”

“So . . . so ano suggestion mo gawin natin, Len?” Unang beses yun na pagkatiwalaan ako ni Dad magdesisyon, na sinali niya ako sa trabaho ng pamilya.

“Konsehal muna si Tito Jojo. Kausapin niyo ang mga may gomahan, ipaalam niyo na hindi sila ang ginapagbintangan niyo. Isali niyo ang ikaunlad ng mga gomahan sa platform ni Tito Jojo.”

One year tapos manalo ni Tito Jojo pagkakonsehal, nagbalik si Dad sa harap ko. Nagabasa ako noon tungkol sa Tagasatzung ng Switzerland. April 19.

“Hindi mataas ang ratings ni Tito Jojo . . .” Ulit, nagapalabas lang siya ng steam. Pero problema, at kailangan ko i-solve.

Maalala ko pa, gikuha ko ang Rubik’s Cube, at ang Rubik’s Cube naging Kidapawan. Up, side, down, left, right, left, right, right, left, center, up, down. Tapos sa loob ng ten seconds, naayos ko ulit ang Kidapawan.

“Dapat may gulo sa Kidapawan. Land grabbing dito, summary killings doon. Lahat dapat gawing kasalanan ni Mayor Balajadia. Si Tito Jojo ang lone voice na kokontra.”

Yung liwanag ng mukha na sabi sa mga libro, nakita ko sa mukha ni Dad. Mga ilang buwan tapos nun leading sa surveys si Tito Jojo. Gibilhan niya ako ng Megaminx galing Europe.

Kahirap pala ng Megaminx, pero nakatulong yun, kay nung gigawa ko siyang Kidapawan, nahulaan ko ano sunod gawin ni Balajadia.

November 27.

“Tayo ang gipagbintangan ni Balajadia sa gulo sa Mua-an!” Taranta yun sabi ng mga libro, galit na parang nawawala.

“Ano nangyari, Dad?

“Gipa-negotiate ni Tito Pat mo noon si Councilor Sirolo sa mga Manobo sa Mua-an na ibenta ang bahagi ng ancestral domain nila kay Nonoy Lu ng Regal Suites Hotels para gawing hot springs resort. Nagpayag na sila, nabigay na ang titulo kay Lu, pero pagkamatay ni Sirolo nagbago ang isip nila. Pero kay negosyante man itong mga Lu wala silang pakialam, gipa-fence ang lupa. Ganito man din nangyari noon sa kuya nito ni Lu sa Boracay ba . . . Ayan ngayon, ginademonyo ni Balajadia ang project at ginasabi niya na si Tito Jojo ang may pakana lahat kay kasosyo sila noon ni Lu.”

“Daan pa lagi ako ganito . . . Dad, ipaliwanag niyo sa radyo ang prinsipyo ng contracts. Magbayad kayo ng abogado na hindi kilalang kaibigan ni Tito Jojo.”

“Oo, ginaisip namin yun.”

“Tapos ikaw din magsalita ka rin sa radyo.”

“Ha? Ano din sabihin ko?”

“Na proposal lang yun ni Tito Pat. Si Balajadia ang nagmadali para mabango ang partido nila ni Tito Pat. Nagpakamatay si Sirolo dahil sa stress, ’di ba?”

“Oo.”

“Idiin mo si Balajadia, sabihin mo dahil gi-pressure niya yung tao na ilapastangan ang tribo niya, nagpakamatay siya. Ikaw na bahala na hindi slanderous.”

Mula noon naging spokesperson na si Dad ng pamilya. Natamaan si Balajadia, kaya gitigil niya ang atake. Napatahimik ang mga Manobo ni Tito Jojo sa ilang projects.

Ngayon ang sabi ng mga katulong sa kusina tagilid daw ang kampanya ni Tito Jojo pagka-mayor. Pero hindi ko makita bakit giproblema ni Dad si Lolo.

“Ano pala gigawa ni Lolo, Dad?”

Kalalim na buntong hininga.

“May anak na naman siya sa labas lumitaw.”

Pang-ilan na ito nangyari. Lahat, ang suggestion ko bayaran o iligpit. Anohin mo man ang Lego na hindi magamit kung hindi iligpit, maapakan mo pa lang, kasakit.

“Bayaran pala o iligpit gaya ng iba, Dad?”

“Mahirap ito . . . galing States, may marriage certificate daw siya ng nanay niya at ng lolo mo. Vegas wedding lang gud, pero bago pa sila kinasal ni lola mo. Bakit niya tanggapin ang bayad kung lahat makuha niya! At kung ipaligpit natin, halata masyado . . .”

“Hmm . . .” Pang-Megaminx ito na problema. Gikuha ko.

Up, side, down, left, right, left, right, right, left, center, up, down.

“Mag-uwi daw dito, Dad?”

“Daw. Kaka-email lang sa akin! Kakasabi ko lang kay Tito Jojo, hindi din niya alam ano gawin, tanungin daw kita”

“Sunduin niyo sa Davao.”

“Ha?”

“Tapos pag andito, i-welcome niyo. Wag niyo bigyan ng bahay, ipatuloy niyo muna sa isang bahay natin—wag siguro sa big house, may mga picture ni lola dun, sabi sa mga libro insensitive yun. Bigyan niyo rin ng driver at kotse.” Gihigpitan ko ang hawak ko sa Megaminx. “Tapos pag masaya na siya, isali niyo sa kampanya ni Tito Jojo . . .”

Kabilis naintindihan ni Dad. Giyakap niya ako, at naglabas siya, malamang para tawagan si Tito Jojo.

Gusto ko man sana talaga makatulong sa pamilya ko, pero anohin man, kahirap makipag-usap sa ibang tao. Alam ko gud pano sila magkilos, alam ko ano ibig sabihin ng kilos nila, pero kahirap pa rin. Minsan dalhin-dalhin ako ni Tito Jojo sa mga campaign niya, pero para lang may cute na abnormal kasama, pang-appeal sa mga may awa, para hindi din masyado malayo tingnan ang mga Saavedra. Pero mas makatulong pa sa mismong kampanya sina Carmina at Dinah, yung mga pinsan ko. Pasalamat ako na sa ganitong isip-isip ko makatulong ako sa kanila konti.

Kung hindi mag-solve ng puzzle or maggawa ng Lego, buong araw ako naga-basa-basa, libro man, dyaryo, o internet. Kasarap magbasa ng history, lingaw sundan ang mga nagyari noon at tingnan pano sila nakaapekto sa ngayon. Naging kalingawan na din ni Mom na bilhan ako ng dyaryo araw-araw galing sa simbahan, o kahit ano bang reading material galing sa mga constituent work niya kasama si Tita Salud, asawa ni Tito Jojo. Naging akin na ang sala, na laging puno ng Lego, mga puzzle, at libro. Minsan madaganan ko ng libro ang iPad ko.

Pagpasok mo ng bahay namin ang makita mo agad sa vestibule isang malaki masyadong Lego na winding staircase inclined 40 degrees na may malapad na tuktok. Kadaming gipadala na Lego ni Tito Margot galing Germany, kaya gigawa ko yan. Ang title niya Absolute Destiny Apocalypse.

Kalingaw mag-Lego, para silang mga tao. Pag-ibahin mo ang posisyon, maiba ang kalagayan nila. Ka-lagay-an. Yan. Kung ipag-halo-halo mo sila, iposisyon mo, makagawa ka ng gusto mong buo.

Pamilya lang ang iba, ewan bakit. Mas maintindihan sila, pero mas mahirap sila iposisyon. Alam ko na pag giiba ko sila masali ako, kaya matakot ako, tsaka lain ang pakiramdam kung gawin ko yun. Kawawa na makalungkot na makainis, pero sa sarili ako mainis. Ewan ko ano tawag dito na pakiramdam.

Mga tatlong araw tapos nun, August 11, nagsimula ako gawa ng malaking butterfly na Lego. Makulay yung bagong gipadala na Lego ni Tita Margot (2,586 pieces na lahat ng Lego ko), naisip ko i-contrast yung mga kulay. Red-black-black-white-yellow-red ba, tapos naisipan ko din paglaruan yung angles at pagposisyon sa kanila, 2×3’s para makagawa ng bilog, incremental forward lengthwise 2×4’s para concave, o 2×2’s incremental sideways para simple curve. Tapos naghalo ang kulay at angles at naging butterfly. Naisipan ko gawin, 4.6 feet siya kataas maging.

Nasa antenna na ako nang pumasok si Dad.

May kasama siyang lalaki na hindi ko pa nakita.

“This is Lenny, my son. He made that Lego staircase there. Len, bless ka kay Tito Brandon.”

Nagtango lang ako.

“Len, wag bastos.”

Gibitawan ko ang gihawakan ko na Lego at naglapit sa kanila. Nag-bless ako kay Tito Brandon.

“What’re you making?” Cartoon Network masyado ang accent niya. Nakangiti siya habang nakatingin sa butterfly. “A butterfly! Wow!”

“Opo.” At nagbalik ako ng trabaho. Narinig ko siya nagbulong sa sarili niya ng “It’s amazing.” Tapos nun gi-tour siya ni Dad sa bahay.

Kinabukasan nun, natapos ko na ang butterfly, nakadisplay na siya sa vestibule. Ang title niya Chaos Dream Metamorphosis.

Nagbalik yung Tito Brandon. Nasa sofa ako, naga-Rubik’s Cube.

May dala siyang chessboard. Hindi ko naisipan mag-chess, kaya ewan bakit nagdala siya. Habang patapos na ako sa ginagawa ko, nag-upo siya sa harap ko.

“Hey, Len. Heard hindi ka marunong mag-chess.” Bakikaw masyado pakinggan ang Tagalog niya. Nagtango lang din ako.

“Want me to teach you?”

Bitaw din, bakit hindi ko naisipan mag-chess? Gibaba ko ang Rubik’s Cube at nagtango. Napansin ko na bigla nagliwanag ang mukha niya.

Gituruan niya ako ng mga pangalan ng piece: pawn, rook, knight, bishop, queen, king. Tapos ang mga galaw nila at paano sila magkain. Tapos gituruan niya ako pano mag-arrange.

Gitanong ko kung may notation ba ang chess. Sabi niya oo, ang grid kay a to h parehong side (a sa kaliwa ng puti) tapos 1 to 8 (8 kay rook ng itim). Ang galaw ganun, pawn a4, queen d6. Mas madali kung ganun, maisip mo ang posisyon.

“I have to teach you an important rule though,” sabi niya bago kami magsimula ng laro. “It’s called touch move. Once you touch a piece, you have to move it, provided it’s allowed.”

“Kahirap pala.”

“Yes, so you have to be responsible with what you do.”

Paglaro namin ako itim siya puti. Nahirapan ako sa touch move. Ayoko magkamali, makatakot, makainis. Parang yung pakiramdam habang kausap ko yung ibang tao. Alam ko na pag magkamali ako sira ang usapan namin.

Pawn niya e4, knight ko f6, bishop ko b5 tapos kain ng bishop niya ang bishop ko d7 . . . Kahirap pa masanay sa notation.

Lamang siya konti lang, pero makita sa mukha niya na lingaw siya masyado. Ako man din enjoy.

Isang galaw at na-checkmate niya ako.

“Wow, ang galing mo. I”ve been playing for decades, you just learned, but I barely beat you!”

“One more round po.” At nagtawa siya pagsabi ko nun.

“Game!”

Habang nagalaro kami ginakausap niya ako. Mahirap, kaya ginapaulit ko ang gisabi niya pagkatapos ko mag-move. Katagalan nasanay na siya, kausapin niya lang ako pag siya na ang magkilos. Makainis din kay sa tanong niya ako mag-focus, mawala ako sa laro.

“You have any friends, Len?”

“No po. They get bored with me.” At sa bawat sagot ko magtawa siya. Hindi ko alam bakit pero hindi makahiya kung tawanan niya ako.

Nakailang round kami. Sa pangatlo nasanay na ako, at nanalo ako sa fourth round. Pero kahirap pa rin niya talunin. Gibigay niya sa akin ang chessboard, at nagpasalamat ako (dapat baya magpasalamat pag may ibigay sa iyo). Sabi niya magbalik daw siya bukas.

Tapos nun nag-practice ako. Madali na masyado magposisyon, pero mahirap ang touch move. Alam ko talaga na maling galaw lang mali na ang posisyon. Madali lang mag-isip ng solusyon sa mali, pero parang bawat piece kapamilya ko, kawawa kung makain siya, masakit isipin. Makatakot isipin na maling galaw ko lang makain yung piece. Pero kailangan maggalaw . . .

“Oo, Kuya, handa na . . . Nasa Manongol na si Leon . . . Oo, sniper, galing sa Davao . . . Ikaw na magpasunod sa kanya? Sige, sige . . . Sige, Kuya.”

Gibaba ni Dad ang phone niya. Rinig ko siya sa garden sa labas. Pumasok siya ulit sa sala at umupo sa harap ko: kita sa mukha niya ang kaba. Nakatingin ako sa gigawa kong chess game.

Naghinga siya ng malalim.

“Sige, ’nak, alis muna ako.” Tapos niya ako giyakap nag-alis na siya.

Hindi ko ma-solve ang gi-set up kong scenario. Gikuha ko ang Rubik’s Cube para makaisip. Up, side, down, left, right, left, right, right, left, center, up, down.

Mga tanghali nang dumating si Tito Brandon. Kalaki ng ngiti niya pagkakita niya na nakabukas ang chessboard.

“That looks tough,” sabi niya pagkakita niya sa bagong problem na gi-set up ko.

Pag-upo niya gi-solve ko ang problem.

“Woah!” Tumawa siya.

“Let’s play!” at gi-arrange namin ang pieces. Ako ulit ang itim.

Nakailang rounds kami. Ako lagi panalo, nahanas ko na ang notation, so madali na masyado magposisyon.

Pero para din kasing abala siya, na wala sa laro ang isip niya. Siguro nasa usapan namin: habang nagalaro kasi kung ano-ano mapag-usapan namin—history ba, mga current affairs, pagkain, kahit ano. Kaya katagal namin matapos kada laro, maggalaw lang kami kung tapos na ang isang topic.

Makapagtaka. Hindi man siya pamilya, pero para na siyang naging pamilya pag kausap ko. Siguro kasi nasa laro ang isip ko, at nasanay na ako sa kanya sa gitna ng kada galaw.

“Hey, Len, can I tell you something? Wag ka maingay sa Dad mo ha?”

Tiningnan ko siya nang patanong. Panglima na naming laro.

“I really thought when I got here your Dad and relatives would all hate me. Anak ako sa labas, remember. From all I heard from my mother about your grandma and uncles, I really thought you’d be out to get rid of me.” Nagtawa siya. “I kinda feel bad for thinking that now. Sinundo pa talaga ako ng Dad mo sa Davao! To think my email to him was so terse.”

Anak sa labas? Get rid of him? Sinundo sa Davao? Hala!

“But I’m so glad I have a loving family pala. I came here really to try to get what my father never gave me, and while I was thinking about property and all that, I did get something—a cool pamangkin like you.” Nagtawa siya. “Wala na akong family back in the States since my mom died and my wife and kids left me. But now I have someone to play chess with.” At gigulo niya ang buhok ko. Makita ko na basa kaunti ang mga mata niya.

Nag-ring ang phone niya.

“Hey, Jo . . . Yeah, I’m at Jerry’s. Estanyol, right? Haha . . . Really? Wow, I’m honored. Yeah sure, I’d love to! It’s near here? So the driver knows the place? Okay . . . I have to tell you, I don’t have any experience campaigning! Yeah okay, okay . . . See you . . .”

Hindi ito pwede. Tito Brandon? Campaigning?

“Sorry, Len, Tito Jojo wants me to join his campaign. It’s at Manungol, how do you pronounce that?” Tawa. “Though I don’t think I’ll win this game either.” Tiningnan niya ang laro namin. Nagtayo siya.

“See you later, Len!”

At umalis siya.

Hindi ako nakagalaw. Plano ko ito. Kasalanan ko ito. Dapat ako gumalaw. Pero hindi ako makagalaw, takot ako sa bigat ng galaw ko.

Gusto ko tumayo pero hindi ko kaya. Alam ko dapat ko siya tawagin, pigilan, babalaan. Pero hindi ko kaya. Hindi ko kaya gawin ang dapat ko gawin.

Wala na, nakaalis na ang sasakyan niya.

Hindi ako makaisip ng maayos. Kagulo ng isip ko. Ano dapat ko gawin?

Hindi makatulong ang ingay ng mga katulong sa kusina. Maya-maya gi-on nila ang radyo: maingay na crowd.

“Mga higala, ania na ang atong gipaabot, ang maoy angay himuong mayor sa Kidapawan, ang inyong Jojo Saavedra!” Palakpakan at hiyawan.

Ganito yun lahat. Yung mga giligpit ko para masira ang pangalan ni Balajadia, yung mga anak sa labas ni Lolo, ganito yun sila lahat . . .

Kagulo ng isip ko, kailangan ko mag-isip. Kailangan ko mag-isip.

Nagsalita si Tito Jojo. May ipakilala daw siya sa mga tao. Dahil nga daw masipag ang tatay nila (tawa ang crowd) maya-maya may bagong kapatid sumusulpot. Itong isa galing States, at mahal na mahal daw nila na kapatid. Paki-welcome daw ang kanyang Kuya Brandon.

Palakpakan at hiyawan—at may biglang tuldok ng tunog ng hangin na ginasipsip, at nahaluan ang hiyawan ng sigawan. Gulo. Pati ang mga katulong sa kusina nagkagulo.

Kasalanan ko. Plano ko ito. Sa kusina, nagsimula na salita ang mga katulong gaya ng giplano ko: sigurado, pakana ito ni Mayor Balajadia.

Naganginig ang kamay kong gikuha ang Megaminx. Kaingay ng isip ko.

Up, side, down, left, right, left, right, right, left, center, up, down . . . pero ayaw maalis ng ngiti ni Tito Brandon sa isip ko.

Nabasa na ng luha ang tiles ng Megaminx, sa dulas nabitawan ko.

 


Killing the Issue

(This play won 2nd Prize for One Act Play in English during the 201 4 Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. It got me into the Silliman Writers Workshop in 2012 and, in its embryonic Tagalog original, into the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in 2011 – it is my most successful work thus far. All rights to reserved to myself and the Palanca Foundation. This play is also available on the Cotabato Literary Journal)

Killing The Issue

 

CHARACTERS

Hon. Emmanuel “Manny ” Reyes Sr. (80s): congressman of the second district in the province of Bajada

Hon. Emmanuel “Manny ” Reyes Jr.  (60s): governor of the province of Bajada, Manny Senior’s son.

Ruth Cipriano–Reyes (60s): daughter of mayor of municipality of Bacudo, and sister of mayor of municipality of Santo Tomas, Manny Junior’s wife.

Hon. Raymond Paul Cipriano–Reyes (20s): chair of the League of Barangays, Bajada Chapter and ex-officio member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan

Arthur James Cipriano–Reyes (20s, about two years younger than Raymond): younger son of Manny Junior and Ruth­­­

Insp. John Paul Aladin (44): provincial chief of police

 

PROPS

Tables, overly expensive looking furniture, a TV, some food, maids and henchmen

 

GENERAL SETTING

In the Province of Bajada, somewhere in Christian Mindanao, Philippines, the present time and consciousness, noon up to afternoon

 

The action of the play is completed within twenty-four hours.

 

MISE-EN-SCÈNE: In the living room of the Reyes Mansion, Municipality of Santo Tomas, Province of Bajada. There are expensive-looking chairs and a coffee table at center with a flat-screen TV of the most expensive kind nearby. A door leading outside is to the left, while one leading to the rest of the house is to the right. There is a desk upstage and a radio to the right near the door. A white carpet dominates the floor. The room is furnished with luxury. Maids are constantly sweeping the floor or dusting the tops of shelves and tables.

ARTHUR REYES is sitting on one of the chairs in front, texting. He has a beautiful face, with shoulder length brown hair tied neatly in a pony tail. He has an elegant slenderness that goes well with the long sleeved polo shirt he is wearing. He moves with some degree of femininity. He speaks articulately with an indifferent nonchalance.

Enter RAYMOND REYES, with a number of maids bringing some papers and food. Raymond is taller than Arthur. The two bear some resemblance, but Arthur has smoother skin and Raymond a more tanned complexion. Raymond’s hair is in a short barber’s cut parted to the left. He is also more muscular that Arthur. The maids bring the food to the coffee table and the papers on the desk.

 

Raymond: (To a maid) Turn on the TV. (To Arthur) You’re going somewhere already, Arthur? Why, you just arrived from Davao.

Arthur: Kuya Raymond! I have a date. It’s not my fault I’m popular.

Raymond: But it will be your fault if something happens to you because of that popularity, so be careful.

Arthur: True. In every crime, the victim’s stupidity is the lead culprit. But by the way—

Raymond: Wait. (Points to the flat-screen TV)

TV: Journalist and public intellectual Celestino Fernandez is expected to arrive today in the Municipality of Santo Tomas in the Province of Bajada to begin his nationwide intellectual symposium tour entitled “Violence in the Mind: Human Rights Violations on the Level of Thought.” Fernandez’s decision to begin the tour in the province, stronghold of the Reyes Clan, was not without controversy. Not a year has passed since the acclaimed political theorist first criticized the family, which has been in power in the province for five generations, and includes current Governor Emmanuel Jr. Aside from fears for Fernandez’ss safety, low participation in the symposium, in the face of high public approval for the Reyes Clan is also feared.

And to bring us the showbiz news— (Raymond turns the TV off.)

Raymond: Our tiktik was right, it was aired nationally . . .

Arthur: So, Kuya Raymond, what will the family do?

Raymond: I can’t tell you. Have you unpacked? (As they converse he is signing papers)

Arthur: No, I haven’t yet. I’ll do it when I get back.

Raymond: Oh, nonsense. (To maid ) Beng, you can unpack Arthur’s things now.

Maid: Yes, kuya. (Turns to leave)

Arthur: No, wait. Beng, stop. I’ll do it na lang lagi, you can go.

Maid: Yes, kuya. (Exits to the right)

Reymond: What’s in your bags anyway that you don’t want the maids to unpack it for you?

Arthur: Nothing dangerous. I just don’t like the idea of having people do things for me. But come on, tell me. What are you going to talk about with Lolo today?

Raymond: Now how did you know I and papa are going to tell him something? I told you, you can’t know. It’s for officials only.

Arthur (scowling): Really now, you politicians just can’t be reached anymore.  Whatever happened to transparency.

Raymond: I owe you no transparency, you’re not a registered voter. I wouldn’t owe you any transparency if you were.

Arthur: Oh come on, Kuya, spill. For affection’s sake, if not for an FOI law.

Raymond: No.

Arthur: Even if I say please? (Walks slowly to position himself behind Raymond)

Raymond: I said no. If you want to be in the know, enter politics. And besides, you’re tabian. If you know something, everybody ends up knowing about it.

Arthur: Ah yes, having the knack for talking is one of my more flattering defects.

Raymond: How lovably vain you are. (Laughs. Rolls eyes. Scowls at paper he is holding) Domestic violence in Bacudo is up again. When will this end? (Realizes Arthur is peeking at his papers) Oh you’re as nosy as a journalist, will you stop it!

Arthur: (Laughs) I like being curious, it dispels the boredom.

Raymond: You wouldn’t be so bored if you weren’t wasting your time being idle, you know. And be careful with that curiosity of yours, curiosity kills the journalist. (Laughs at his own joke with a sinister air)

Arthur (distractedly): Yes, it can be quite dangerous . . . (Snaps back to attention) Well, about that domestic violence problem of yours.

Raymond (exasperated): It never ends, really. And there’s barely anything we could do to solve it, taking the men into custody could only do so much.

Arthur (after a moment of contemplation): What if you provide livelihood seminars to the poorer areas?

Raymond: What does that have to do with domestic violence?

Arthur: (Distractedly gets some papers from Raymond’s pile) I’m guessing the main cause of instances of fighting is livelihood related?

Raymond: Yes, apparently, husbands beat their wives when wives begin nagging about their husbands’ not working.

Arthur: And I’m guessing husbands always say as an excuse that working is difficult and pointless because you can never be rich with the menial sources of income available to you?

Raymond: Now how did you know that? Board Member Balasabas did say that.

Arthur: If you start livelihood seminars, that will help change their mind-sets about small-time businesses. And you can include seminars on sensible saving practices as well as counselling for unhappy marriages in that budget. (Seems happy with himself)

Raymond: (Sees the merit of the idea but is sceptical) Hmm . . . I’ll think about it.

Arthur: (Laughs, returns to his seat) What a typically politician response. By the way, Kuya, don’t you have classes? We have a saint’s feast day in the Ateneo de Davao, but aren’t you from a state university?

Raymond: Asus, I have much more important things to worry about. Well, education is still important of course, but my duties as an SK Chairman come first.

Arthur: Of the whole province, you never mentioned. When mama arranged it with the COMELEC to let you run for SK even though you were overaged, I thought that would be the end of it. But to reach the provincial level!

Raymond (with affected vanity): It helps, I guess, that I look youthful.

Arthur: And you say I’m vain. (Laughs) But in any case, you never mentioned this to me when I arrived.  Imagine how I felt when I was told that my kuya had become the chairman of the SK Federation for the whole province. (Theatrically) How poorly, I thought, do people regard their familial relations.

Raymond: Oh, don’t tell me nangluod ka. (Laughs) Well, I figured you’d know about it anyway.

Arthur: Still, when first meeting someone after a period of time, it is only proper courtesy to mention a fact that has not yet been established between the two of you, regardless of whether both of you are aware of it or not. You didn’t even mention it when I came home last night. (Feigns luod)

Raymond: Ah well, I’ll be leaving the courtesy to you, that would be your department. But point is, I have the SK and the board to think about now—though admittedly there’s nothing much to think about with the SK—so going to class wouldn’t be that important. And besides, what’s the use of having Tita Jane as our dean? If I’m right, she’s even ninang to our PolSci chairperson’s wedding. So heck. I’ll still have high grades.

Arthur: (Laughs resignedly) The youth is the future of the Fatherland!

Enter Gov. Manny Jr. and Ruth with another entourage of maids and with some henchmen. Manny Jr. is shorter than Arthur. His big stomach is bulging out from behind his barong tagalog. His wavy hair is in an army cut. In general he looks like a bulldog. Ruth is around the same height, and she looks like a ripe rambutan. Her curly hair, as brown as Arthur’s, is shoulder length. Her clothes and makeup look expensive and churchy. If Manny Junior is a bulldog, she looks like a chowchow.

Gov. Manny Jr. (obviously not hearing the preceding conversation): If you know that, why don’t you make something out of your own future, you buang! (Arthur makes obeisance. He kisses the boy on the forehead) You know that your kuya is now the provincial SK chairman?

Arthur: Opo, Pa. I’ve heard of it back in Davao.

Ruth: And what about you? You wouldn’t even try to be club president! Oh, you’re wasting your potential, dear! (The couple sits down.)

Gov. Manny Jr.: (To Ruth) Make me a cup of coffee.

Ruth: Raymond.

Raymond gestures to maids to make coffee. A maid obeys.

 Ruth: (To Arthur) What time did you leave Davao yesterday?

Arthur: Around six, Ma. I had something to do before that.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Flirting with someone again? Uwagon! (Laughs) I was not able to meet you last night, I had to attend an SK Federation meeting—pastilan, those kids were stupid. Their parents have done nothing to make them intelligent.

Arthur: They’re still the first generation, Pa. Give them a few more generations and they’ll learn the trade.

Gov. Manny Jr.: True. But you are not one to talk, you opted out of politics—you are wasting your privilege. (Theatrically) You, dong, happen to be the issue of five generations of politicians! (Gets one of the newspapers from the coffee table) Well, at least you are not causing trouble like those stupid aktibistas. (Glares at Arthur) Are you?

Arthur: Don’t worry, Pa. I have my convictions, but I’m not so in love with them as to throw stones at policemen for them.

Ruth: Now it’s a good thing you only look like an activist—oh, would you fix that hair of yours, dear!

Arthur: Oh no, Ma, activists don’t wear their hair long anymore, the hippies of the seventies realized conditioner is too bourgeois. One-inch to skinhead is the new hair range for activists these days, political detainee coiffure. In fact they don’t think much of me. I’m far too stylish to sympathize with the masses. Besides, I like this long hair, it’s allowed me to experience many things.

Ruth: What kind of things, if I may ask?

Arthur: The kind I wouldn’t tell my mother, of course. (Pecks her on the cheek as she giggles)

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Laughs) Well, it’s a relief too that you are not making noise like these pinisting journalists. (Opens the paper he is holding) Mga yawa. They don’t see anything good, all they see are the mistakes.

Arthur: Ah, that’s true, Pa. In the Philippines, all that those in position are saying is that they’ve been doing everything right, while the opposition and the media say that the administration is doing everything wrong. Nobody seems to want to listen.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Laughs) Exactly!

Ruth: Oh, would you reconsider for me, ’Nak? You’re far more articulate than many of the baga’g-nawongs that have the gall to run. Try running for some office for me, will you?

Arthur: I dare not do so, Ma. I might win.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Ay you are hopeless. (Laughs. Sips coffee but finds it too sweet) Leche. This is too sweet. (Slams it on the table, much coffee spills. To maid) Clean that, and make me another cup. (The maid obeys tremblingly. He reads the papers again) Putang ina, this Celestino Fernandez! All he knows is to attack LGUs. If he is not accusing them of making useless projects, he would be calling them useless themselves for not doing anything. What will you do to impress this yawa!? And what he said on the radio last night—oh, your lolo will be so angry!

Arthur (with some anxiety): What he said last night, Pa?

Gov. Manny Jr.: Ay, you tell him, dear. My blood pressure will go up again.

Ruth: Well he was implying something during the press con about this symposium of his here. When he was asked if he was not afraid of the family, he answered—now how did that go? “I am afraid of neither the bolo of the Old Reyes’ past, nor the tank of the younger Reyes’ present. I am even brave enough to uncover them.” I was at Epifania’s this morning for a meeting of the Couples for Christ wives, it’s the talk of the town.

Arthur is visibly aghast, but his family does not notice it.

Gov. Manny Jr.: The putang ina knows  about the tank, but he knows something else, I tell you.

Arthur (after a pause. with composure): I have to excuse myself, Pa, Ma. I have to meet someone. I’ll try to come home early.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Raises eyebrow) Going off to flirt again? (Laughs) At least you are spreading our genes. Go on, leave now. We have to talk to your lolo later. You’ll just be distracting him again.

Ruth: Do come home early tonight. I want to take you to Salud’s dinner party. Her daughter Terry has just returned from Manila with her Chinese boyfriend. You remember Terry dear, don’t you?

Arthur (in a rush): Well, not as much as I should, perhaps.

Ruth: You were always very warm with Terry, I thought you had something going on.

Arthur (with sentimental amicability, still in a rush): Well, we find new people to be warm with. (Motions to leave. With great anxiety) Now I really must excuse myself.

Ruth: Oh wait, have you unpacked?

Arthur: (Stops on his tracks) Not yet, Ma, but I’ll just do it later.

Ruth: Oh, let the achays do it. What’s the use of having achays.

Arthur (almost consternated): Oh no, Ma, I insist. I’ll be unpacking them myself.

Ruth (affectionately):  Are you ordering me!? (Giggles) Just go, already!

Arthur: (Kisses mother and father) Okay. Kuya.

Raymond: Yeah, take care.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Take one of the cars. (Gestures to one of the henchmen)

Arthur: Oh no, Pa, I prefer commuting. I haven’t commuted here in Santo Tomas for a while, I want to reminisce. (To the henchmen)You can stay here, Boy. (To the family) I’ll go ahead.

(Exeunt Arthur in a rush to the left)

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Follows Arthur with his eyes. Affectionately) Ay, that boy is hopeless. (Reading the paper) Putang ina this Fernandez. Kahilas! Listen to what he wrote on this column of his: “The underlying elitism that manifested itself in the Magdalo–Magdiwang rivalry crippled the Revolution and it still cripples us today, because the elitists (note that I do not use here ‘the elite’) never consider the capabilities of those whom they perceive are below them.” Funny, because he himself is an elitist! Inglisero! (Puts down the paper violently) I hope papa agrees to the plan!

Ruth: I’ve been nothing but tears and hurt feelings in front of the Couples wives and with the Gabriela people. Have you dealt with the Federation, Ray?

Raymond: Not without difficulty. Arthur’s the only actor among us, you know!

Ruth: (Laughs) What did you do, dear?

Raymond: When Fernandez was mentioned in the Federation meeting, I pretended to be unaffected. But in a few moments, I pretended to be bothered. When they fell silent, I explained to the idiots that “I was just hurt because all the family gets after five generations of service is criticism.” I also brought up the issue of extrajudicial killings, and I said if I had only known they’d suspect me and my family, I should never have taken the responsibility of chairman. Finally I apologized for digressing from the order of business of the federation. Basically, I just did what Tito Edward pulled off in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Laughs) And what do they think of Fernandez now?

Raymond: Hilas, an elitist who never understood their sufferings.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Good! Now we are no longer the sole suspects, the angle of a privately motivated directive could be seen. It is a good thing our appeal is populist while Fernandez is seen as being hilas. (Gestures to the maid to hand him another newspaper)

Ruth: Everything seems to be in order. I think we ought to call Papa. (Rises. To Raymond) Come, let’s get your lolo.

Raymond: Yes, Ma. (He and Ruth exit)

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Reads papers. After a short while, he gets his cellphone) Hello, John Paul. Come over . . . What, and where did Cocoy take the men? What happened? (Listens)

Re-enter Raymond and Ruth, with Cong. Manny Sr. The congressman is old, but he is just as plump as his son Manny Junior. His army cut hair is entirely white. His face is ruddy, making him look like a mastiff. His age, however, imposes a high amount of respect from all the other characters. They crowd around him like little children clambering up a scowling Buddha.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Stands up to greet father) Papa, have you had a good sleep?

Cong. Manny Sr.: Yes, but dios mio, I really cannot deny it anymore, I am old. Just walking is becoming tiring! (Laughs)

Raymond: Tito Cocoy took some of the men with him, Pa?

Gov. Manny Jr.: Yes. Apparently the idiot could not control his urges. He did the wife of a policeman in his city. Now the policeman found out!

Ruth (condescendingly): Oh, men!

Raymond: Now where did I hear that story before!?

Gov. Manny Jr.: Yes! It is familiar, isn’t it?

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Looks at the maids and henchmen and dismisses them to exit. They exit. Laughs suddenly) You young people have terrible memories! Have I not shared with you boys that the same thing happened to me when I was young? Ah, that Lucretia was one woman. (To Gov. Manny Jr.) Even your mother was no match for him, Jun! (Laughs)

Gov. Manny Jr.: Do refresh our memories, Pa.

Cong. Manny Sr. (with a glint of nostalgia in his eyes): I was right around your age, Raymond, and was just a capitan de barangay—yes, you have outdone me, I was not the provincial chair of the Federation! That Lucretia was the wife of a policeman, Collatino. When the tonto was out I did her. Well, she liked it (laughs) but she ratted to him anyway, the puta.

Ruth: (The feminist in her is aghast) Oh, Papa!

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Eyes her authoritatively, silencing the feminist in her. Continues as if she did not interrupt) The gago of a husband threatened to kill me, said it would be easy since I was just some kid. But the neighborhood was for me, exactly because I was young—they could not believe a young man like me from a buen familia could do something like that. And to protect me, this neighborhood thug named Dionisio—I forgot the family name—went so far as accusing the policeman of stealing his goat! And the neighborhood’s attention was diverted to the goat! (Laughs) One night, I drank with Dionisio and made him drunk. When the idiot was asleep, I took his bolo and went off to take care of the couple. It was his bolo, and he had a known grudge against the victims, so Dionisio was in prison until he died!

Gov. Manny Jr.: Ah yes, now I recall. It’s been some time since you’ve told that story! (He realizes. Suddenly, he looks aghast.)

Ruth: Manny?

Gov. Manny Jr.: Papa! We have to kill that Fernandez! (Almost to himself) It was just a countermeasure about the tank, but now we have to do this! We have to kill him!

Cong. Manny Sr.: Wait, wait. Calm down. (Takes a deep breath)  I knew we were coming to this. But let us talk about it properly before deciding. This is a big decision. Inhale, exhale (Gov. Manny Jr. obeys.) Okay, let us decide on this properly. (To Raymond) Ray, hijo, could you lead us a prayer so God can enlighten us?

Raymond: Opo. (Stands up) Let us all be reminded that we are in the presence of God. (Sign of the cross) Father God, thank you for giving us a new day. Please guide us as we make this very important decision. These we ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

All: Amen. (Sign of the cross)

Cong. Manny Sr.: Okay, now that the Espirito Santo has blessed us with prudence, speak.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Stands. Clears his throat) Papa, Celestino Fernandez will come to the province today. We have devised an operation to get rid of him and his entourage.

Cong. Manny Sr. is surprised but seems passive.

Cong. Manny Sr.: How will you pull it off? How will you hide it from the police?

Gov. Manny Jr.: That is easy. (Looks at window) Ah, John Paul’s timing is admirable.

John Paul enters with an entourage of henchmen. He is as tall as Raymond, with army-cut hair and a well-built body. He has a stiff expression on his face. His complexion is much darker than that of the other men. At a gesture from the old man the henchmen exit.

Gov. Manny Jr.: John Paul. Before all else, tell us, do you promise to be loyal to the family with respect to its plan I already mentioned to you?

John Paul (a bit surprised): Yes, sir.

Cong. Manny Sr.: So you have the provincial chief of police with you. Good. Okay, let us continue.

Gov. Manny Jr.: As you can see, Papa, the provincial chief of police is ours. In fact, it will be the provincial police who will be doing the deed.

Cong. Manny Sr.: But what about the national police? How will you avoid blame? You should pass the blame on others.

Gov. Manny Jr.: We have thought of that, Papa—yes, Edward, Celinia, and Boboy are in this as well. We have specifically chosen to do the deed in our NPA hotspots here in the province. Edward and Raymond here too have been talking in their respective assemblies to rally sympathy for us. We have also stirred a considerably high amount of public dislike for Fernandez that the angle of private action is more than likely.

Raymond: Yes, Lolo. Tito Edward’s been the one negotiating with the NPA, and things are going well. But Tita Cely says the people in Congress still think we have little control of them. The possibility of rash action from them to please us—and also because Fernandez has been criticizing the NPA too—will make them very convincing suspects!

Cong. Manny Sr.: I see. (After a pause that makes the other characters tense) But really, is his criticism all the reason why you want to get rid of him? What are you hiding from me?

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Hesitates) Well, Papa, when Fernandez was speaking on a radio station last night, he was asked if he was not afraid of the family. Well . . . he answered, “I am afraid of neither the bolo of the Old Reyes’ past, nor the tank of the younger Reyes’ present. I am even brave enough to uncover them.” (Cong. Manny Sr. starts up) I only remembered about it when you retold the story a while ago!

Cong. Manny Sr.: So you think he knows? How? What is he planning to do?

Gov. Manny Jr.: One of our assets speculates that Fernandez’s men might have already found your bolo. It was taken to the police for evidence, was it not? It would be very easy for an inquisitive man to look it up. He might be planning to meet with the henchmen who got it when he arrives—that is why he chose to start that tour of his here!

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Stands up) Kill that putang ina and everyone in his convoy! He dares dishonor me and this family? Get rid of him! (Raymond tries to calm him down and leads him back to his seat) How do you intend to do the deed?

Gov. Manny Jr. gestures to Ruth.

Ruth:  (Wipes sweat) This will be how things go po, Papa: Fernandez’s convoy will enter from Davao into the municipality of Bacudo. Daddy, Mayor Pablo Cipriano, gave us his policemen to act here.

Cong. Manny Sr.: So Cipring is in it too?

Ruth: Opo, Papa. SPO3 Tirona of Bacudo will meet the convoy and pretend to escort them to Buduan. Here, the policemen of Buduan and Bagong Quezon will pick them up. They will ask the convoy people to give their communication devices to secure the area. They will say there is an NPA-related conflict. After these communication devices are to be taken and destroyed, they will be brought to Santo Tomas, far from the town, and they will be disposed of there.

Cong. Manny Sr.: Disposed of? How?

Ruth: Shot po, before being chopped to make burying them convenient.

John Paul raises hand. Ruth looks at him and nods in consent.

John Paul: Let me just add, sirs, ma’am, that for the whole operation, SPO3 Ervic of Santo Tomas, my wife’s cousin, will be in charge. He’s a newbie, sir, but I trust his capability.

Cong. Manny Sr.: That bolo worries me. (To himself) How on earth did he find out? Are you sure if we kill Fernandez, we will get rid of that bolo?

Gov. Manny Jr.: We will make the convoy stop for a few hours in Bacudo before they are picked up to let Fernandez’s man come after them. That way whoever that tiktik of his is would be included in the shooting. Besides, Papa, we are still not sure if Fernandez really has found it, or even if he actually knows what happened.

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Breathes deeply) Yes, I should not worry too much. But it’s best to be certain. (Smiles) It is a well-made plan! Who thought of it?

Gov. Manny Jr.: It was Ruth, Papa.

Cong. Manny Sr. (smiling):   You are very clever, hija.

Ruth:  (Bashfully accepts his beso on the cheek) I learn from the best, Papa.

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Laughs. Notices Raymond’s pale face) What’s wrong, Ray?

Raymond: I don’t know, Lolo, but I have a bad feeling. We’re dealing with lives here, I realized.

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Laughs) You have weak guts, boy. This is how you kill issues and problems: you kill the people making them.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Even better, reverse it: think that you are not killing a person, you are killing the issue.

Cong. Manny Sr.: Is that how you do it, Jun? Yes, you can do that too. But to be sure. You ought to make this boy’s guts stronger. (To Raymond) Go to the site today after the whole thing is done, hijo. That will give you guts, a lot of it, I can imagine! (Laughs) Report to us if the plan was successful.

Raymond: (Loses his cool) But . . . but I might throw up!

Cong. Manny Sr.: Oh, it will be nothing! Just think they had slaughtered pigs.

Raymond: But . . . but, Lolo, Pa—Ma! I . . . I really don’t think this is right. These, these are lives we’re dealing with—

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Shuts him up with a gesture) Elders say, you obey. Okay? (Raymond nods with a mixture of continued reluctance and fear) Good. Jun, make me a cup of coffee.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Distracted chatting with John Paul) Oh, Ruth.

Ruth: Raymond.

Raymond (loudly): Beng!

Enter a maid. Raymond gestures to her to make coffee. The maid obeys.

A cellphone rings. It is John Paul’s. He answers it.

John Paul: Hello, Vic . . . Yes, yes—what, you’ve began moving? (The family is startled) It’s a good thing the congressman agreed! Wait . . . (To the family) They’ve started, sirs. The convoy arrived early.

Ruth: Where are they now?

John Paul: Heading towards Santo Tomas.

Cong. Manny Sr.: Did you make them wait in Bacudo?

John Paul: Let me ask, sir. (Phone) How long did you stay in Bacudo? (To Cong. Manny Sr.) just as was planned, sir: about two hours. They just started the plan early.

Gov. Manny Jr.: You mean to say even though the plan was out of schedule, they still went accordingly? This is a useful bata you found, this Ervic!

John Paul: I know, sir. He’s a clever man. Oh, he was asking about the women and children.

Ruth and Raymond: Women and children?

John Paul: Yes, sir, ma’am, there are women and children in the convoy.

Ruth: Violence against women!

Gov. Manny Jr.: Oh drop it, Ruth. Women should get equality in everything, even the things men have to suffer.

Cong. Manny Sr. laughs.

Raymond (unable to restrain himself): Lolo, the children, please, not the—

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Again shuts Raymond up with gesture) Get rid of them too to keep things clean. That’ll get rid of the NPA too. Imagine the public outcry! (Laughs)

John Paul: Okay, sir. (Phone) Include them. Call me if it’s done . . . Okay . . . (Puts phone down)

Cong. Manny Sr.: Brilliant! I was hesitant that a newbie is taking care of this, but now I am glad!

John Paul: We really don’t have too many old-timers now, sir. Many of them have retired by now. In fact most of the people in this operation are newbies. Sir Cocoy somehow took all the old-timers with him.

The family laughs except Raymond. Ruth observes his silence and tries to comfort him. He cheers up a bit.

Cong. Manny Sr.: At any rate, we do need to secure more bata.

John Paul: Yes, sir. I was going to suggest that.

Gov. Manny Jr.: John Paul. When you recruit more bata you should mention the tank we’re about to get. That’ll draw them in!

John Paul: A tank, sir?

Gov. Manny Jr.: Yes! I was able to bribe this general, he even gave us some ammunition to go with it. It was a real bargain.

John Paul: This is sure to attract more men, sir!

Cong. Manny Sr.: (To John Paul) Really, boy. I am glad I took you in. The family’s future depends on your able action.

John Paul: (Smiles humbly) I do my best to repay your kindness, sir—my son is graduating thanks to your support!

Raymond (with hesitation): By the way, Lolo, can . . . can I request something?

Cong. Manny Sr. (with pronounced gentleness this time): Yes, Ray?

Raymond (encouraged by the display of gentleness): You see po, barangays don’t have any budget to support domestic violence victims. Could you lead the legislation on this? (Ruth perks up at hearing this.)

Gov. Manny Jr.: Why? Is not the DSWD doing anything? Stupid national government.

Raymond: I don’t know, Pa. We always direct complaints to the DSWD, but they always answer that nobody is in the DSWD Office. And besides, right now the DSWD is just acting like a juvenile prison. (Gov. Manny Jr. shrugs his shoulder). Domestic violence is a big problem in barangays. But the women aren’t the only victims, men too are also indirectly affected. Poverty is the main cause of instances: usually when we ask, we are told that the battering begins when the wife complains too much to the husband—the image of the demure battered wife is far from true! For there really is no such thing as a demure housewife anymore. Really, poverty is a big problem: we had this family who resorted to catching mice and lizards to eat.

Ruth: Ugh, why didn’t they just ask from their neighbors!?

Raymond: The neighbors don’t want to help. The family would just rely on them, they say. This is usually what happens

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Shudders) What a relief we are in power.

Raymond: (Misinterprets what his grandfather said. Face brightens with hope) That’s why I believe if we give free vocational training, it will really help. And if we incorporate counselling on anger management and marriage counselling, it will solve two problems at once. It will be a long-term solution.

Cong. Manny Sr. (dismissive): Okay, okay, draft the articles and I will pass it when I go to Manila—I  have to go soon, anyway. I’ve been absent in the Camara for months already.

Ruth: Oy, my friend Bibeth is also asking about that House Resolution on allowing mining in Buduan, Papa. Her husband has foreign investors willing to fund operations already.

Cong. Manny Sr. (slightly annoyed): Yes, I’ll check that, too.

Ruth: Oh, and Luz wants your vote for this bill Gabriela is planning to pass next month. It’s about women’s health.

Cong. Manny Sr. (annoyed this time): Okay, okay, I’ll check that too. Where is that stupid secretary of mine when you need her.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Remember you gave her a leave?

Cong. Manny Sr.: And right before I’m to go to Manila. What a bad idea.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Mischievously, adding to the list) Oh, and Papa, we seriously need to increase Bajada’s IRA. We want to set up an intelligence fund

Cong. Manny Sr. (very annoyed): Why don’t you just tell Lotlot at the NSO to magic the province’s birth rate for the coming fiscal year! (The family laughs, and when Cong. Manny Sr. realizes the joke, he laughs too)

Ruth (remembering her tasks): Oh, I have to prepare for tonight’s party, and I have to read those papers Salud sent me! But I’ll go unpack Arthur’s bags first. (Gestures to maid, and maid waits by the door for her. To Manny Jr.) Update me if the plan was successful.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Okay.

Exit Ruth with maid.

Cong. Manny Sr.: I think that maid heard too much. (To John Paul) Take care of her after Ruth’s done with her. Go have fun while you’re at it.

John Paul: Yes, sir.

John Paul’s phone rings again, and he picks it up.

John Paul: (Phone) How did it go? Okay . . . (Puts down the phone. To the family) It’s done, sir.

Gov. Manny Jr.: It was fast! (To Raymond) Go, ’Nak, take a look and call us to confirm that Fernandez is dead.

Raymond (hesitantly): Okay, Papa. (Stands up)

Cong. Manny Sr.: Wait. (Takes some money from pocket and gives to Raymond) Here, treat the men to something!

Raymond: Opo, Lolo. (Exits to the left)

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Follows Raymond with eyes. To Gov. Manny Jr.) You have a hardworking son.

Gov. Manny Jr.: I’m proud of both of them—even if Arthur’s being a useless dandy, he has remarkable insight too.

Cong. Manny Sr.: Yes, very good with his words that boy, hopeless case that he is. But what worries me about your panganay is that he does not seem to have the sense of responsibility for his “duty of privilege.”

Gov. Manny Jr.: Duty of privilege, Papa?

Cong. Manny Sr.: I am certain you know what I mean. You feel it too of course. Though it is stronger with Cocoy and Edward. (Laughs) Not only is Raymond a public servant himself, he was born into a family of public servants—that makes him doubly superior to the ordinary people. And because he is better than them, it is his duty as it is ours to enjoy things in behalf of them. He must enjoy the privileges of power that are not given to everybody.  We as leaders are obliged to be happy in behalf of the suffering masses. As Arthur would put it, noblesse oblige.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Ah, I am still so young, Papa.

Cong. Manny Sr.: Of course. You have a lot more rice to eat, dong. (Laughs. Looks around) But dios mio, how on earth can we enjoy for the masses when our house is this small? (Sighs)  you know what, in our five generations of service we have gotten very little, compared to some upstart who happens to be in Manila. We are just LGUs in faraway Mindanao, unfortunately. You are planning on becoming congressman, right? Try to be as conspicuous as you can in the House so you can aim for Senator. The local politician’s resources are really not enough to support us. (Sighs) As for me I’m too old now. The reigns are yours, dong.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Ginoo, don’t pressure me, Papa. (Laughs)

Cong. Manny Sr.: (Laughs along) If I do not pressure you, what kind of a father would I be!

Gov. Manny Jr.: True! (Laughs. He shouts the name of a maid, and maid enters. Gestures to the papers on the desk. The maid hands it to him. He dismisses the maid after receiving the papers) Raymond has been bothering me to sign these ordinances for months now. (He begins signing the papers while Cong. Manny Sr. reads newspapers)

Cong. Manny Sr.: (After some minutes reading) Punyeta!

Gov. Manny Jr.: What is it, Pa?

Cong. Manny Sr.: Have you read this Zayd Suleiman? A new writer, it seems. Here, read this column of his on Davao Star (Hands the paper. Maid takes it and hands it to Gov. Manny Jr.)

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Reading) “The continued hegemony of the Reyeses in Bajada in spite of their decades of atrocities just goes to show that Mindanao politics is predominantly ‘makatao’ (personality based) rather than idea-based: There’s too much focus on personalities and not enough emphasis on ideas. But it must not be said that this problem is limited to Mindanao: This is a national problem. During People Power 1, for instance, the ‘fight’ was between then-president Marcos (a personality) and senator Ninoy Aquino (another personality). Was it not the case that the personality of the latter ‘party’ was transferred from Ninoy when he died to his widow Cory? It can even be said that this may very well be the reason why Mindanao Secession as a movement was unsuccessful: it was too focused on concepts. It took a P-Noy to sign the Bangsamoro deal, and a defeated villain in the person of Misuari to make it all the more a success.”

Cong. Manny Sr.: His tone infuriates me, as if he knows everything. Who is this m——, writing as if he is somebody! He shouldn’t be speaking, he’s just a moro. In my time, we killed Muslims before they started bombing things. And now they’re giving these cockroaches an autonomous state of their own!? Where is this country going—Ah, now I remember! Was not he that terorista who criticized the SK sometime ago?

Gov. Manny Jr.: Yes, I recall, it was him. What a headache that was.

Cong. Manny Sr.: Oh, I hope he’s part of Fernandez’s convoy!

A phone rings. Gov. Manny Jr. answers his own.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Phone) Hello, Ray? I’ll put you on loud speaker so your lolo can hear you (Presses something on the phone). Hello?

Raymond (voice): Hello, Papa. I’m here in the area now. I can see it all . . . scattered everywhere . . . chopped to bits . . . I feel like I’m going to throw up.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Giggles) Wait, wait: think those are toys, just props for some pelikula.

Raymond (phone): Opo . . . I feel better now

The sound of a car stopping is heard from the phone.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Laughs) Have you arrived?

Raymond (phone): Yes . . . Ah, I’m starting to get sick again. It’s so rancid.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Laughs) Then use a handkerchief, idiot!

Raymond (phone): Opo. (The sound of rustling cloth is heard. A bit less clear than before) Can you still hear me, Pa?

Gov. Manny Jr.: It’s is a bit muffled, but yes. Look for Fernandez’s body. You know what he looks like?

Raymond: Yes. Wait a moment . . . (Momentary silence) I’m in front of his head, Papa. I don’t know where the rest of him is—Ugh! They hit the back of the head with a bolo, and the brain’s oozing out!

Gov. Manny Jr.: Kaarte! (Laughs) Have Ervic wrap that up and bring it here—you do not have to touch it, have it placed at the back of the Fortuner! (Laughs)

Raymond (phone): Opo.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Oh, and was anyone bringing a bolo among there?

Raymond (phone): I’ll just ask . . . (To Ervic) Bossing, was there anybody here who was bringing a bolo? Okay. (Phone) They didn’t find anything, Papa. A few people followed, but they didn’t find anything. They’d have noticed it immediately, because they took all the journalists’ possessions.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Okay. Ah! The journalists and their families will be wearing formal attire, of course. Try to look for a body without of place attire there, Ray.

Raymond (phone): Opo . . . (Momentary silence) Where did I see this polo . . . No . . . (Breathing becomes rapid. The sound of running is heard) No! (The sound of the phone being thrown away is heard)

Gov. Manny Jr.: Hello, Ray? Ray, what happened?

The continued shouts of “no” from Raymond are heard. He suddenly falls silent, with someone asking a hesitant “sir” heard. “That’s the one who followed,” the other voice can be heard saying. Violent sounds are heard and a gunshot. Raymond shouts “A sack! Putang ina, give me a sack!” and the rustling of a sack is heard. The sound of running, then the loud sound of a vehicle starting up. Then the line is cut: the car has crushed the phone.

Gov. Manny Jr.: What happened to him? (Jokingly) Oh, someone he knew was included! Tsk. He’ll learn, that boy. But to be sure, could you meet him, John Paul.

John Paul: Yes, sir. (Exits to the left. In a short while, the sound of a vehicle leaving is heard)

Gov. Manny Jr.: What could have happened to that boy? Oh well. (Returns to signing papers)

Cong. Manny Sr.: (After a while, stands up) I think I will take another siesta. Tell me when Raymond has returned.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Opo, Papa. (Gestures to maids. Maids assist Cong. Manny Sr.)

Exeunt Cong. Manny Sr.

Ruth enters suddenly, holding some worn-looking sheets of paper in one hand and a black attaché case in the other.

Ruth: Punyeta! Manny!

Gov. Manny Jr.: What is it?

Ruth: That Arthur! Look at this!? (Hands the papers to Gov. Manny Jr.)

Gov. Manny Jr. reads, his face growing livid, while Ruth continues to curse.

Gov. Manny Jr.: (Furious) Draft articles—Arthur—Arthur is that Zayd Suleiman? Putang ina! (Tears the bits of paper to pieces, unable to speak out of anger) He was that warik-warik? He nearly cost his brother the SK post!

Ruth: (Controls Gov. Manny Jr.) Dear, your heart! (Leads him back to the seat)

Gov. Manny Jr.: That boy! We have allowed him to do what he wants, but he has gone beyond the limit, I say! What else is in that attaché case?

Ruth: I don’t know. Here. (Hands him the attaché case. He takes another piece of paper inside and reads it). My temper rose when I saw these papers, so I didn’t bother looking at the rest. (Notices the gesticulation on her husband’s face) Why? What’s in it?

Gov. Manny Jr.: It’s from that Celestino Fernandez! (Reads it silently) Putang ina, how close they are, it is almost indecent! (Reads quietly again) “ . . . follow the convoy on time . . .”

Ruth: “Follow the convoy on time”?

The sound of a vehicle is heard.

Gov. Manny Jr.: Ginoo, Ruth! So that means . . . (Insanely) Ginoo!

The violent slam of a door and the shattering of car window glass is heard. The couple looks to the left.

Raymond (voice): (In a lachrymose roar) Pa! Ma! Arthur!  It’s Arthur!

Curtain


Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Translation to Deriadian Filipino

(This took a long time and a lot of polishing before I got it right, probably my best and most ambitious translation yet)

Batiking Kariktan
translated by Karlo Antonio Galay David

Luwalhati sa Diyos ng kapuntikan –
Sa kámbang-bakang kulay ng kaulapan;
Sa nagmamapang hagod-bulok ng basakang haluan;
Bagang-uling na lamang pili; kuyos ng kuwago;
Lupang nilaraw, niluak – bungkal, daro, arado
At sa lahat ng kabihasaan: basbas, taga, at galho.

Lahat ng batok, bago, bihira, lain;
Ano mang balingbaling, batik-batik (inano kaya?)
ng kaabtik, kabagal; tamis, asim; sidlak, silim;
Kanyang Inama itong lahat, higit-ayos ang ganda:

Purihin Siya.

 

Pied Beauty
by Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise Him.

 

 

 

 


Notes on July in Myanmar

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Taunggyi, as seen from Ayethayar

 

  • My first experience of Taunggyi is vertigo. The capital of Myanmar’s Shan State literally sits on top of the mountain, so I was dizzy during my first few days in Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies. The altitude perhaps, the thinness of the air, or the coldness (over ten degrees less than what I’m used to).

 

  • But perhaps it was also the sheer reality of the volunteer experience dawning on me. I always knew that I was not travelling to Myanmar to go on a vacation, but knowing is always different from understanding, from realizing.

 

  • En route to Myanmar we had stopped by Bangkok, where for three days we went to see gloriously gilded buildings in between good food and sleep in a slightly high-end hotel – luxury proved to be very bad prelude to volunteer work. While also comfortable and far from bad, our rooms in SAG could not help but look humble compared to Astera Sathorn. It was the vertigo of fall, really, expectations finally meeting – and hitting – reality.

 

  • But I had no intention of becoming a tragic character. I was here to be a volunteer, and I had to tell myself failure and disappointment will be the most familiar things in this wonderfully foreign land.

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  • Part of the way I coped with the disappointment was by telling myself Ateneo de Davao sent me here, all expenses paid, not only as a volunteer but as part of the pioneering deployment of the Cardoner Volunteer Program. This program was designed for the school’s alumni and faculty, so while its explicit aim is to contribute to the formation of its graduates and teachers, it also inevitably showcases the best Ateneo has to offer.

 

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The kids and teachers during the welcoming ceremony

  • On our welcoming ceremony, I was the first of the volunteers to enter the media room, where all the Integrated Program students were waiting. The students gave a frenzied cheer. I thought it was such a warm welcome, until teacher Yiyi San, the school’s academic administrator, told me I resembled the vocalist of a famous Burmese rock band.

 

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The second years, trying to make metaphors in the Media Room

  • Teaching is such a fulfilling thing. The look in students’ eyes when they look at an incomprehensible poem, then you help them understand it – you can see that sight regardless of your student’s nationality.

 

  • I had a horrible five year teaching career in the Philippines, and doing it here in Taunggyi only made it clearer that it’s not the teaching itself that was dreadful, but the putting up with fellow teachers. Fellow teachers in SAG have been lovely so far.

 

  • Burmese food has a wild and very diverse spectrum of tastes, with many ingredients I haven’t even heard of. Eating has been all about discoveries for the first few months.

 

  • Best Burmese food so far: Tohpu Nway (sticky Shan rice noodles in a thick pudding of chickpea flour, seasoned with sesame seeds and sweet syrup), Ohn no Khao Swe (noodles in thick coconut curry soup, garnished with bean fritters), and Mon Pya Lu (rice cake with jaggery, coated in toasted rice flour, somewhere between Filipino espasol and Turkish delight). The secret to growing to love a place is to seek the familiar, but also the endemic.

 

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There’s a restaurant here named ‘No Name.’

  • The Burmese have a very potent – but underrated – sense of humour. The language barrier is not soundproof of laughter, even kids who struggle with English throw jokes at you.

 

  • The soil in Shan state is just so eye-catchingly red. Rich in minerals (Myanmar is one of the world’s most mineral-rich countries), fertile for agriculture, but also a faint reminder of how much bloodshed this country has only until recently seen.

 

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And strawberries grow in SAG!

  • It became immediately clear to me that I had come to Myanmar at a very exciting and turbulent time – the very young and still quite delicate democracy has nevertheless already had profound, perhaps permanent, effects on society. The kids are very tech-savy and are always online, and they’re already grumbling about authoritarian relics of the past, even if this past was only just six years ago.

 

  • That irritation is justified though: Burma is booming, but it would have the momentum to rival developed countries if the remaining problems of military times were to be addressed. The kids complain, for example, that Taunggyi’s libraries could be better.

 

  • I cannot help but envy the Philippines I left behind – I also left my country at a very interesting time. One of my dreams, that a Mindanawon be elected President, finally happened, and it’s Rodrigo Duterte of all people! Federalism, the death penalty, streamlining of government processes – things I’ve only dreamed would happen are fast becoming realities. To hit home to what I missed, passport expirations will soon be for 10 years, just after I had mine renewed for five.

 

  • Taunggyi has a unique superstition: people are not advised to travel up and down the city in groups of nine. If they do, accidents might happen to them. This is attributed to the guardian spirits (Nats) of the city, who have a monopoly of the number nine. If a group must travel with nine people, the group must bring a rock, which will count as a tenth person. As a visitor, I ought to follow the laws of this land, even those of its unspeakable forces

 

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A banyan, just a walk from SAG, with Nat spirit altars

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A forest of Pagodas in Shwe Inn Thein, some dating back thousands of years

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I bought a shawl of lotus silk – ridiculously expensive, but Inle is the only place in the world that makes silk out of lotus

  • Myanmar has so much unshared wonders: a temple with mysterious black fish in its lake that emerge from nowhere, a whole tribe – the Pa’O – which claims descent from a dragon, cloth woven from thread made of lotus sap in Inle, Every village in Inle not only floating in the middle of the lake but also having their own specialized craft, a forest of pagodas in Shwe Inn Thein dating back to the Ashoka Empire, households with Buddha statues that have been in the family for over two centuries, a vibrant array of intricate hand woven fabrics, each tribe with a different pattern, worn as longyi.

 

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The kids translated Gratian Tidor’s ‘Brownout’ (which I translated to English) into their languages. This one in by Nang Khan Hom into Pa’O

  • Bamar, Kachin, Shan, Pa’O, In, Kayan, Kayin, Chin, Akhar, not to mention Chinese and Indian – I have never seen so many ethnicities in one classroom. And they’re all understanding – fascinated even – with each other’s culture. For all Myanmar’s decades of ethnic strife, the young people let one hope for a more harmonious future.

 

  • Like Davao, Taunggyi is very multilingual. And as the only person who has ever specialized in Davao Filipino (yang nagahalo-halo gud ang Tagalog at Bisaya), I’m trying to plant the seeds of language contact appreciation here. So far the kids are amused. All according to plan. And Buwan ng Wika is coming in the Philippines!

 

  • I am disoriented by how the Jesuits in Taunggyi live. Father Paul the school’s director washes the dishes and does his own laundry. Father Titus plays soccer with the Jesuit candidates and irons his own clothes. Forget Padre Damaso’s Ecclesiastic Dignity outraged over getting the chicken’s neck, the priests here would even let you eat ahead of you.

 

  • But then again, Father Joel Tabora was also like that before we left Davao, so maybe it’s a Jesuit thing.

 

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The Shan Monastery just a walk away from SAG

  • Jesuit institutions are wonderfully fascinated with other faiths. While Ateneo de Davao is the only Catholic school in the world with an Islamic Studies Center, the school motto of SAG is ‘Śīla, Samādhi, Paññā,’ ‘Virtue, Mindfulness, and Wisdom,’ the three categories of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.

 

  • The kids here have had to put up with very difficult education conditions. They are not used to asking questions (much less questioning their teachers), and learning is all about memorizing. Application is a strange and sometimes scary experience for them. But they’re enjoying it.

 

  • They’re hungry for extracurriculars! Ever since the 8888 Uprising student activity has been all but banned in Myanmar, so now that the most famous player of the Uprising is running the country, the kids are doing everything they couldn’t a few years back. The universities are slow to pick up on this, but SAG is actively allowing them to do it. This means the kids are learning to love SAG more than the universities they go to.

 

  • But they’re even hungrier for learning, palpably more than Filipinos. I give comments to essays in front of the whole class, and where Filipino students would be too shy or scared to be discussed, the students here jostle to be the one who gets to be critiqued next. They’re hungry even for criticism.

 

  • All the things I was good at but time in the Philippines made me feel were useless are now proving to be helpful, even appreciated here: literature, parliamentary procedure, constitution drafting – and to think just a year ago a program head in PWC dismissed ‘creative writing’ as just about writing business letters.

 

  • Sleep during my first month in Taunggyi has been marked by nightmares. A year’s worth of nightmares in just a month. Nothing supernatural, but dreams of rejections: Father Paul saying I’m useless; teacher Yiyi saying I’m useless, the old hags in PWC coming to Taunggyi to declare how useless I am, my Ateneo and Silliman professors telling Father Paul I’m useless. I have never been more appreciated than I have been here, and my subconscious cannot help but forewarn me about how inevitable rejection and being taken for granted can seem like. One goal I ought to set while I am here is to get used to being valued.

 

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Daing na bangus – one of the first dishes I have ever cooked (but that’s for another post!

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I was so surprised to find burong mustasa in Myanmar! Apparently it’s a Pa’O specialty

  • It is very easy to miss home, and one of the things one misses most is the food. Thank goodness I had been compiling my family recipes – to entertain the people here we cook Filipino dishes, and I have many old recipes to dabble with.

 

  • Another advantage of being sent out on a mission far from home: you get the freedom to try things your family would not let you, like cooking.

 

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The two plants, replanted just after I miraculously recovered them

  • I smuggled three of my plants from the Philippines. They have struggled for the first month but are now beginning to thrive. Two of them, which look like weeds, the kids unwittingly uprooted when they were helping clean the lawns. I had to dig through heaps of uprooted weeds and rotten leaves, and against all odds I found them. Now they’ve just produced seedlings. The only sure way of losing something, I realized, is if you don’t try your hardest to recover it.

 

  • Having a long distance relationship is difficult, especially if it is for an extended period of time. The constant fear of her cheating is there, but what’s really scary is if both of you grow to learn to live lives without each other.

 

  • But I am not going to live a life here. SAG and Taunggyi feel very comfortable and welcoming, and it’s not difficult to feel at home. But early on I realized that I am here as a visitor, and this land may know the language of my footsteps (in the first month not yet even that!), but it shall never know the intimacy of my roots. I am here to contribute to the growth of the place and the people here, but my contribution is all the living I will be doing. I will never – and ought to never – be more than that.

 

  • Which is to say, there’s no reason for the pretty Ilongga I left in the Philippines to be worried

 

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A shrine in the middle of Inle Lake – the lake was a great place in which to meditate

  • On the motorboat crossing Inle Lake I wonder why I am here in Myanmar. My hometown of Kidapawan, where for almost a hundred years my family has lived, is probably as much in need as this SAG (perhaps more), and yet I am here in a faraway land, where even the way the fishermen row their boats is foreign. And I thought of how my projects for Kidapawan – an anthology of essays, a history book, literary projects – are all stalled because the people in Kidapawan are not cooperating. I have tried to help my hometown, but it’s refusing to help itself. I go where I am needed, but also where I am wanted.

 

  • And then I remembered when I first went back to Kidapawan after five years of being away – the sheer devastation I felt when I realized the place I called home really was no longer home, the unutterable sadness at seeing all the familiar things now become strange and foreign, refusing to be familiar again exactly because they had been once familiar. That had been an unresolved issue, a fundamental question to which I could not find an answer: where do I belong now?

 

  • But at that moment, in the middle of Inle Lake surrounded by the Shan Hills, thousands of miles from Lake Venado and Mt Apo, I understood.

 

  • ‘The changes do not change the portrait of the past that never leaves,’ writes the Kidapawan poet Rita Gadi, ‘any more than how the map remains the sanctuary within my soul, indelibly charting every journey I have made, beyond, and back.’ I am not in Kidapawan, and perhaps I shall never be back in Kidapawan again, but right now, this boat is Kidapawan, and every bit of ground I will stand on is Kidapawan, because that is what it means to have a town in your blood and bones – that wherever you are, you will continue living its life. I never left Kidapawan, because I am

 

  • All these thoughts came with the noise of the motorboat’s gas engine. Matsuo Basho was right – noise is silence, and (when the gas engine stopped for a bit) silence can be as palpable as noise.

 

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I borrowed some Burmese fiction books from teacher Yiyi: Ma Thanegi’s collection of Burmese short stories translated to English, and Maung Htin Aung’s compendium of Burmese folk tales

  • I clearly need to find more Burmese writers to quote. I’ve read seven so far but all of them are fictionists. I need to read more Burmese poetry.

 

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My little corner in Taunggyi

  • It would be no exaggeration to say that my room has become Philippine territory. When I am inside it to sleep, work, or write, I often forget I’m in another country. It is full of things I brought from Davao, and it’s as if I unpacked home from my bags when I opened my large bag with the Duterte sticker. Some of the plants I brought even come from Kidapawan. But for the sometimes freezing cold unheard of in the Philippines (a welcome strangeness!) the room is my sanctuary of familiarity.

 

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  • Outside the room’s door, I have a foot mat spelling out the word ‘Welcome.’ It faces the room exit-wise rather than entry-wise – a constant reminder that I am the one being welcomed into a foreign country every time I step out of my little pocket of home.

 

  • And it is a constant reminder that every time I step out, there could be a new insight waiting for me, if only I’m willing enough to brave the new, unfamiliar world outside.