Why We Must Kill ‘Filipino’

(Published in Philippine Panorama, 29 September, 2019)



When the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) acted last year to move Filipino as a subject from college to the reformed basic education curriculum, the Tanggol Tagalog—rabid advocates of Tagalog as the national language—saw the move as an attack on their national language, took it to the courts, and denounced it as unconstitutional.

The lawsuit is the latest move in what has been a movement by Tagalog advocates of agitating people into a paranoid and xenophobic nationalism, portraying all forms of change to Tagalog’s privileged position as “threats to national identity.”

The SC’s consistent response to the case, however, has been to point out the obvious: CHED is merely moving the teaching of the language down the academic ladder, in order to free up more space in higher education. Pursuant to Article XIV Sec. 6 and 7 of the Constitution, Tagalog, masquerading as “Filipino,” remains the national language and, by virtue of that, it is still the only Philippine language being taught in schools across the archipelago.

Read the rest on the Manila Bulletin Website!


Why we should stop bashing English speakers in the Philippines

(Published in Business Mirror 9 September, 2019)


FILIPINOS have a complicated relationship with the English language.

On the one hand, our education system and print are both predominantly in English, establishing it as the country’s language of power and prestige.

But on the other hand, we have what can be rightly described as a culture of chagrin and contempt for this language the Americans taught us. It may range from pedestrian, tongue-in-cheek ridicule of English speakers, to more serious, ideological objections to its use in public life.

The tenor of the ideological objections to English is overwhelmingly nationalistic (which we hear a lot of during Buwan ng Wika). English, the argument goes, is a “foreign language,” and one should instead be using a native language, like Tagalog (nationalists don’t seem to care that we have more than one native language). “Ako’y hindi sanay sa wikang banyaga,” that classic propaganda song proclaims proudly, “ako’y Pinoy na mayroong sariling wika.”

But is English still really a ‘wikang banyaga’?

Read the rest on Business Mirror!


(Repost from my Facebook page, The Shaman of Kidapawan, because FB deleted it ‘for violating its community standards’ and doesn’t think there’s an internet outside its bubble)


A graduate student from faraway Ilocos contacted Cruz, Bilat goddess and odious mother to a spawn of angry bilat warriors, to get access to ARMM literature (most likely because she appointed herself ‘literary goddess’ and parades her being Mindanawon with her ‘malong dance’).

I sympathize with this graduate student: I’ve lived in Mindanao all my life, less than an hour from Bangsamoro, but even I struggle to get hold of texts from the region.

But how did the erstwhile president of the Davao Writers Guild and Associate Professor 4 of UP Mindanao respond to a well-meaning request for help? She bitched about it online, shaming the graduate student’s entire discipline in the process.

It would be hypocritical of me to criticize her for the latter (she’s partly right: our education majors tend to fall short on effort in research, but that’s not entirely their fault either because the education curriculum has been hemorrhaged with professional courses so their time and attention are always too stretched).

But did she really need to do this? She could have just ignored the request. What does she gain from publicly mocking someone who contacted her with admiration and respect (albeit with unintended impertinence)? Naghinilas lang intawon ito siya.

And more seriously, is this really the attitude we need from someone who has positioned herself as one of Mindanao’s literary gatekeepers? To deny an interested reader – a teacher at that! – access to (or at least her own knowledge on) texts from Mindanao, just because the bitch found the request lazy? Shouldn’t a Mindanawon writer be excited that someone is interested in Mindanao literature, even if it’s in neighbouring Bangsamoro?

Sure siya Mindanawon siya?

How difficult is it to suggest the works of some of her protegees from Bangsamoro? Or even her students in UP?

While her ex Ricky de Ungria (under whose shadow she remains) recently co-edited the latest issue of Mindanao Harvest, here she is being a bitch. Lovely.

And let’s not even ask if this response to a request from a member of the public is becoming of a professor in a state university – practically a public servant salaried by taxes.

This is literary gatekeeping at its worst, most arrogant, and most harmful.

Because it is a fact that Mindanao literature remains largely inaccessible – much of it is still oral or unpublished, the little which has been published is in very limited circulation, literary criticism continues to be deplorably scarce, and almost none of it is online.

It is a shame and an anomaly – sayang masyado! – because Mindanao is a vast reservoir of human experience and expression, historically and culturally rich home to some of the most talented artists in the world.

It is an untapped well of creativity. This Bilat Goddess is a giant toad spoiling its waters.

So long as Mindanao literature’s accessibility and appreciation remains top-down, Manila-centric, and elitist – so long, in other words, as it remains ‘Filipino’ and dominated by representantives of Imperial Manila like Cruz – it will continue to be unread (and therefore rendered irrelevant).

We need our writers, specially those in positions of establishment, to exert extra effort into make Mindanao Literature more accessible – to Mindanao, to the Philippines, and to the world. We need to encourage and welcome interest, make easier to get hold of texts, and engage our readers and communities.

The last thing we need is some irrelevant outsider like this entitled bitch hijacking Mindanao and turning people off from our literary bounty with her batasan.


2019 ASEAN Short Story Anthology: Flash Talk Speech


(A short story I wrote, ‘Lahadda,’ was selected to represent the Philippines in an Anthology of ASEAN short stories compiled by the Writers’ Association of Thailand in partnership with the Thai Ministry of Culture.

The story is in memory of the Galaw Family, and of all the other innocent civilian Moros who have suffered in silence in Kidapawan for decades.

The book was launched on 24 August, 2019 in Rathadamnoen Contemporary Arts Center in Bangkok, in the presence of the Minister of Culture and of a crowd of more than 200. During the launch, I gave a short speech, both discussing the story and its relation to the anthology’s theme of love, ‘ I was born to be yours.’ My speech appears below, with a link to the video of me delivering it.)

From the Philippines, to all of us here in Bangkok,  Sawatdi-khrap, Good Afternoon, ug Maayong Hapon Kanatong Tanan.
On the midnight of 10 July, 1971, the Galaws, a family of a Muslims, were massacred in their remote home in my hometown of Kidapawan in the southern island of Mindanao. The perpetrators were armed men given guns by the government of President Ferdinand Marcos, in theory to fight Muslim separatist rebels. The victims, 9 dead including a 12 year old boy, unarmed and killed simply for being Muslim.
This is only one of many such atrocities committed in my hometown , atrocities that the city itself has long forgotten. If you ask anyone in the Philippines if they know this incident, chance are they don’t.
My hometown, Kidapawan, which you or most Filipinos have also probably never heard of, is a landlocked city in the southern island of Mindanao, home to at least nine ethnolinguistic groups, divided roughly between the Lumad – or the tribal peoples indigenous to the place, the Moro, who belong to the dozen or so Islamized cultures, and the largely Christian Settlers, brought to Mindanao from the other island groups of Luzon and Visayas throughout the country’s long history of Spanish, American, and Manila-centric colonial rule.
It is a town rich in history and culture, but is far from the capital, so like the rest of the Philippines is ignored in the national imagination.
This has meant that even the historical atrocities like what happened to the Galaw family in 1971 have long been untold and are in danger of being forgotten.
And that, I think, is the role of us writers  not only in the Philippine but also  in Southeast Asia: to call to attention what has long been ignored; to give appreciation to what has long been taken for granted; and to remember what has long been forgotten.
That is the intention of the story from the Philippines which appears in this collection
‘Lahadda’ is both a chronicle of forgotten Moro atrocities like that of the Galaw family, and a celebration of the rich cultural diversity of Kidapawan and of the island of Mindanao, a diversity that is often taken for granted.
This story will offer a perspective that is new both for all of you from outside of the Philippines, and even for Filipinos themselves.
It is a showcase of language, cuisine, culture, and history from the very margins of Philippines.
This is only the first story about Kidapawan to be published outside of the Philippines, it is both my attempt to promote awareness about my hometown, and also to help the people of my hometown understand  and love themselves.
For is that not the vocation of those who make literature? To deal with our peoples collective wounds, to process even the most painful experiences and distill from them insight – to make sense of hate, and teach our people to love.
We write to speak of what is not spoken of, all to ultimately attempt to utter into being that great thing that ever refuses to be articulated: love.

Traditional Food to be sold in Kidapawan this Timpupo!

Traditional Moro and Obo Monuvu Cuisine will be sold to the public as part of Kidapawan City’s 2019 Foundation Anniversary and Kasadya sa Timpupo!

Catch them at their own special booth at the Timpupo Agri Trade, Food, and Fruits exhibit from August 14 to 18, 2019 at Kidapawan’s City Pavillion.

This is the first time both of Kidapawan’s cultural communities will be showcasing their cuisine as part of the town’s August festivities.


The Moros will be selling a combination of Maguindanaon, Meranaw, and Tausug delicacies:

  • Pastil (rice with shredded chicken in banana leaf) with egg,
  • Tinagtag (rice flour with coconut deep fried into sweet crispy noodles)
  • Panyalam (pancake made with rice flour and coconut)
  • Piyaring (chicken cooked with coconut shavings ang turmeric)
  • Dudul (a slightly chewy pudding made with glutinous rice and palm sugar)
  • Kumukunsi (bread made of rice flour deep fried into coils)
  • Daral (crepes of rice flour and coconut milk filled with sweet coconut shavings)
  • Pitis (suman-like snack made with purple glutinous rice filled with sweetened coconut shavings)
  • Pasung (a white pudding made with flour and coconut milk steamed into cones made of banana leaf)
  • Baolo (small, muffin-like snacks)
  • Palitao, Maguindanaon version (most likely Betengan, glutinous rice balls stuffed with muscovado sugar and coated in coconut shavings)
  • Tapay (fermented rice).

The Obo Monuvu on the other hand will be cooking dishes unique to Kidapawan, many of which will be sold to the public for the first time ever:

  •  Linutlut no Kosili (Freshwater eel cooked in bamboo with coconut and native spices, including Koringag or wild cinnamon, Sangig or Lemon basil, and Lahadda or Monuvu scallion)
  • Linutlut no Bakbak (River frogs cooked in bamboo, also with coconut and native spices)
  • Tinadtad no Koyupat (minced freshwater crabs with young coconut meat cooked in Bamboo)
  • Bunguhan no Poyyot (freshwater fish cooked in banana leaf)
  • Tuvod nid Gotan (Taro runners cooked in coconut milk)
  • Oppusow nid Gotan (Oppusow shoots cooked in coconut milk)
  • Ininit (Chicken soup with young corn and native spices)
  • Tinapoy (fermented corn grits)

Dinugdug (puddings of cassava, Banana, and Taro mashed with young coconut meat).
The communities may end up not selling some of them, or they may end up selling more!

Visit Kidapawan this August and get a taste of Mindanao’s rich culinary heritage!

Mati City’s Centennial Park


Mati City, capital of Davao Oriental, has one of the most beautiful City Halls I know.


What makes it particularly charming is the small park beside it, a park which publicly celebrates the town’s history.



The Mati Centennial Park, inaugurated in 2003, celebrates the town’s 100 years since it was founded.


Aside from the clock tower, the park’s most distinguishing feature is the Pathway of Leaders, rows of busts of the town’s former mayors.



The park is dominated by a clock tower gate, flanked on both sides by two of Mati’s purported founders




Captain Prudencio Garcia was, according to online sources, Mati’s founder and ‘politico-military head’ and was made so in 1861. He is said to have founded the town with Juan Nazareno in 1903, though online sources do not elaborate on this.


Juan Nazareno is simply described as ‘a gentleman’ and ‘Captain Prudencio Garcia’s companion.’

Like most towns in Mindanao, Mati’s history remains largely unwritten (I am hesitant to trust online sources). It would be lovely to pick up a book and read the lives of these statues and busts


The marker on the clock tower indicates this was a purely local government effort. The local government of the time should forever be credited for this project.


The park has an old Weeping Fig at its center. The tree with its many roots adds an air of ancientness to the park.


Just across the street from the park is an old round ball. there are also old houses nearby.


The city hall is walking distance from Mati’s famous Baywalk  (now more beautiful since I last saw it), which overlooks the gorgeous Pujada Bay.

Kidapawan should have something like this!

Kidapawan Stories Worth Making Into Film


I was invited to the first Mindanao History & Literatures to Film Summit at
Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro City this May 9 and 10, but budgetary and time constraints prevent me from coming.

The two-day summit is hosted by the Mindanao Creative Writers Group, ably led by Dr Christine Godinez Ortega of Iligan, and Capitol University. The summit’s aim is to bridge the gap between local historians and writers and local filmmakers, allowing the latter to explore Mindanao’s rich but untapped reservoir of narratives in its history and traditional lore.

I was invited to share some great stories from the Greater Kidapawan Area for filmmakers to consider. I couldn’t come and share them personally, but I realized I could still do it by writing something.

Because my work as historian (and my recent hobby reading up on traditional culture on the side) has shown me that the Greater Kidapawan Area is full of stories you would want to see on the screen. From fascinating legends to dramatic historical incidents, the region between Mt Apo and the Pulangi has been the stage of sagas since time immemorial.

Here are just some of them.

  1. The Legend of Tambunawan and Mamalu: This legend is told in many versions by different tribes throughout the Cotabato Region. The versions in Kidapawan are unique.

    In Pre-Islamic times two brothers rule over a tribe. When Islam came from Malaysia, one had to leave with half their people, becoming the progenitors of the Lumad, while the other stayed to convert to Islam, becoming the ancestors of the Moros.

    In Kidapawan’s sole recorded version (that documented by Gabriela Eleosida from the Obo Monuvu in 1961), the brothers are Mamalu and Tambunawan, and they both moved from ‘Kabakan’ to  Kidapawan when muslim religious leaders called Panditas came and enforced Islamic laws. Tambunawan subsequently became ancestor to the datus of the plains of Kidapawan.

    Another version I heard from the elder Monuvu Abad Ladday in 2018 (and which I record here) has Tambunawan staying and converting to Islam while Mamalu leaves, becoming the ancestor of the Monuvu. Before they parted ways, Tambunawan gives Mamalu a piece of paper, a directive which tells Mamalu to stay away henceforth from the realms of the Moros. Mamalu takes it with him, but one day, he puts it down on a tree stump while he urinated. While Mamalu was preoccupied, a bird came down and  swallowed the piece of paper. That bird became the first Limokon, whose cry the Monuvu still consider an omen.

    One of the attending historians during the summit, Dr Rudy Rodil, wrote the most comprehensive compedium of versions of the legend. I am hoping these Kidapawan versions will be added.

    The legend is full of potential, specially because its many versions have historically been used to assert indigenous legitimacy and foster Lumad-Moro ties. Filmmakers would do well to explore the political power of this story/

  2. Molingling: The fascinating legend of incest, which is one of the most famous folk tales passed down among the Obo Monuvu,  has appeared on this blog before. I will only add that the legend is full of psychological complexities – from Molingling’s anti-hero mentality to Kobodboranon’s own sexual awakening.
  3. The Dog Unearthing Springs: I’ve also written here about the fascinating recurring motif of dogs saving a community by discovering sources of waters before. This would make a great short film, specially one geared at promoting more responsible and human treatment of dogs.
  4. The Loyal dog of M’lang: The M’lang local government records a legend concerning a dog owned by a datu. Despite being so small, the dog followed its master across a strong flowing river, and it was swept downstream. Thankfully, it was caught among bamboo stalks and managed to scamper its way to the banks. In gratitude for his dog’s survival, the datu named the river ‘Tamlang’ (Maguindanaon for ‘bamboo’),  which would later mutate to ‘M’lang’ and be the namesake of the town. The Greater Kidapawan Area clearly loves dogs (I love them too, I’ve written about this and the previous legend before)
  5. The Life of Datu Ogwon: One of the most colourful characters in Kidapawan history is Datu Ogwon, son of Apao and founder of the settlements of Sayaban and Sudsuhayan. Ogwon was an Onituwon, meaning he had the strange gift of being able to talk to spirits. But he was also a Tahavawi (a medicine man able to use wild plants to heal) and a blacksmith. One day he suddenly told the people over whom he was datu that the spirits told him to seclude himself, so he left his family and people behind and went deep into the forests to be one with the spirits. He reminds me of Brandon Stark from Game of Thrones after he became the Three Eyed Raven.
  6. Kod-Ahaw: Literally ‘to seize,’ this is usually used in Monuvu to refer to the kidnapping of wives, a common cause of tribal wars called ‘Pangayaw’ in precolonial Kidapawan. In many cases, the kidnapping is actually done with the blessing of tribal leaders, in order to save a wife from an unhealthy marriage. Bo’i Era Espana’s book Poovian woy Gontangan is full of records of individual cases (and also of dramatic cases of children being kidnapped as well).
  7. Kollut and The Resistance of the Monuvu Against the Japanese: The most clever act of resistance against the Japanese in the Greater Kidapawan Area perhaps came from the Monuvu. Datu Lamberto Delfin describes an incident in Maliri and Kamasi in what is today Antipas, in which the natives took advantage of Japanese barbarity. The Japanese soldiers – whom Datu Lamberto describes as being under the command of an Otaka Makuti – had the habit of stealing all the root crops that the Monuvu would carry as they travelled. Seeing this, the natives decided to one day bring Kollut instead of sweet potatoes. Kollut, or Dioscorea hispida, is a poisonous yam that can only be eaten after being subjected to several tedious processes, among which are soaking it for three days in running water or burying it in ash for an equally long duration. The proper preparation of Kollut was unknown to the Japanese soldiers, who as usual took the root crops from the passing Monuvu. As the soldiers collapsed and stopped moving, the natives took the opportunity to hack them to death. Native version of Inglorious Basterds?
  8. The Murder of Eliseo Dayao Sr: I’ve also written before about Judge Dayao’s murder here. His death reminds me of the death of such nationally prominent figures as Jose Abad Santos and General Paulino Santos.
  9. The Escape of Lorenzo Saniel: This incident I heard from the late Mayor of Kidapawan’s 90 plus year old daughter. Lorenzo, a sitting councilor of the Municipal District of Kidapawan, was summoned by the Japanese officer stationed in the town. He was asked to serve as a spy against the guerrillas in Sikitan. When Lorenzo delayed committing, the Japanese officer grew impatient. The officer  slapped Lorenzo across the face before ordering seven of his men to take Lorenzo to ‘go look for chickens’ (which seemed to have been  a subtle way of implying an execution). Saniel was taken to where the Gaisano Grand Mall is now, but he was able to persuade the Japanese soldiers to go to Paco, where the present location of the DPWH is.The group came across a stream, bridged only by several bamboo posts. Saniel was made to cross it first, then one by one the seven soldiers crossed after him. When the last soldier was crossing the makeshift bridge, Saniel saw that the attention of the other six was focused on the crossing soldier, and he instantly saw a chance to escape. Saniel ran for his life into the brambles, and after much walking, reached his family in Balindog. Hurriedly the family fled into the wilderness, wandering into many of the remote barrios but going into the general direction of Davao, where Saniel intended to hide his family. There are many such riveting tales of survival during the War still waiting to be told in Kidapawan
  10. The Torture of Patadon Tungao: Datu Patadon Tungao, a Maguindanaon of royal blood, was a 3rd Lieutenant under the Bolo Batallion during the Second World War, serving as an undercover agent for the Resistance. He was caught by the Japanese, and was incarcerated, first in Cotabato then in Manila.Under Japanese custody, Patadon was violently tortured – his beard was burned, dirty water was forced down his throat, and his private parts were painfully mutilated. The torture was to make him reveal Resistance plans and names, but he never gave in any information. He was waiting to be executed in Manila when the Americans liberated the capital on 5 February, 1945. By July of that year he was back in Cotabato. After the War Patadon would settle with his family in Kidapawan, where he would live the rest of his life contributing to the town’s growth. Patadon did not have much formal education outside of Arabic School, but he was fluent in English and was a well read man. He was known to have read Lord Byron. He is a hero waiting to be celebrated.
  11. The Love Story of Hayao Nakamura: The memory of Hayao Nakamura is now almost lost, but I was able to record it from the last known living person to have met him, Bonifacio Madrid. Nakamura was one of the Japanese officers given command of the Imperial Japanese army detachment in Kidapawan. His taking over saw more humane treatment of Filipinos in Kidapawan, and he even oversaw construction of bridges and roads that Kidapawan would use well after the War. He was in such a good relationship with the locals that he fell in love with one, Rosalina Madrid, and they married and had a daughter. But the war called him, and in spite of the Madrids’ plea for him to hide, he led his men to Davao, where he was never heard of again.
  12. Sultan Omar Kiram, the Lost Sultan: I have written before about Sultan Omar Kiram. His story is perhaps one of the most dramatic you will ever hear in Kidapawan.
  13. The Moro Massacres of Sitio Palera, Sitio Pagagao, and Manobuan: One of the films attending the summit, Teng Mangansakan, is renowned for documenting the Malisbong Massacre in Palimbang during the Marcos era. In Kidapawan, there are similar incidents – Moro civilians as young as twelve and as old as 80 murdered en masse simpy for being Muslim. But the incidents in Kidapawan remain largely unrecorded and are waiting for keen filmmakers to explore the intense human struggles that went behind them.
  14. The Katindu Saga: One of the early success stories of the Lumad struggle, the Katindu saga was the decades long struggle of the descendants of Datu Ansabu in Arakan against the landgrabbing of Kidapawan mayor Augusto Gana, a struggle that has seen both legal action and actual violence. Fr Romeo Villanueva documents the incident in vivid detail.
  15. The Murder of Tulio Favali: One of the most macabre episodes in North Cotabato history, the murder of Fr Tulio Favali by the Manero brothers caused international outrage and spawned legends of brain-eating (Read my article on Tingug to learn more) . Filmmakers would do well to explore these legends as well as the actual facts of the crime.
  16. The Life of Connie J. Brizuela: A character of more recent history, Connie J. Brizuela was a journalist and human rights lawyer who was among the those killed in the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre. Her life – along with other great but untold lives of people in the Greater Kidapawan Area – deserve to be told in film.

I have said before that Kidapawan is a rich reservoir of human experience just waiting to be tapped and harnessed into stories. That is not an exaggeration, because as a fictionist I have been mining this reservoir and have barely even scratched its surface. I enjoin Mindanao’s filmmakers to do the same.

Give us films about Kidapawan!