Nature-nature? Na!

(A poem in Davao Tagalog co-written with my daughter-figure Karen Dicdican. This will also be read during the Earth Hour. I will try to make a translation of it with annotations in the future. )

Nature-nature ang gusto mo na date?

Na! wala man tayo mapala niyan, babe!


Sige, maghanap tayo ng mga shape sa clouds

pero intawon,

usok na lang baya ng mga factory

ang clouds ngayon!

Okay lang sa iyo

may pagka- brown ang cotton na makita mo?


Pag-sure diyan sa “halimuyak ng katsubong,” babe uy!

sige daw, subukan mo huminga

kay halo ng lechon manok,



at sigarilyo lang maamoy mo.


Swerte na kung walang ihi o imburnal


love man kita babe ba

pero alangan naman

pinturahan ko ng glow in the dark

ang mga lamok

para lang may fireflies tayo…!?


Bitaw, pwede gud tayo mag-Shrine Hills

pero kay wala na man tayong

mahanap na stars,

ilaw na lang

ng mga poste ng Davao titigan natin

para mag-horoscope..!


babe, hindi yan mountain spring, ha

nasira lang yan na tubo ng water district.

…Kalayo man ng Marilog uy!

kung gusto mo ng breeze

sa Abreeza na lang tayo magpalamig…


Bitaw, babe

sa Abreeza na lang gud tayo, uy

may garden-garden bitaw dun.


We have made a whore of the Earth

(Something I will be reading in Davao’s Earth Hour celebration)

We have squeezed

The breasts of the Earth


Of its streams and springs

To quench the thirst

Of our Industries


We have opened her up

And thrust the fists of our backhoes

Deep into her womb

To grasp and grab out

The wealth hidden within her


We have cut up

Her arms of trees,

Which stretched out to the heavens

To offer boons of fruit and flower

To the gods –

Hear her chainsaw screams!


We have made a whore of the Earth


And yet we are left with nothing

But collapsing cliff-faces,

arid days,

nights restless

with urban itch fueled

by the oil we squeezed from her,



emptiness –

the venereal dregs of our unrestrained ravaging.

Dust to Dust

 (Something I wrote in 2nd year College. This was the beginning of my disillusionment with Ateneo)


A Condemnation of Narrow-mindedness, Stupidity and Mediocrity

There is no sin except stupidity.”

Oscar Wilde

 “Nagpaabog lang sila.” (they just gathered dust)

This was how Mr. Buduan, our NSTP coordinator described us, group 3 of NSTP class MC 2B/AB English 2009-2010.

By the end of our NSTP 2, we were able to develop “Linis Batis: A Long Term project,” a project that involves not only the said group but the succeeding groups to be assigned to Purok 2 of Brgy. New Carmen, Tugbok District as well. This legacy of a project, which aims to provide an alternative source of water for the residents of the area by making the nearby stream suitable for domestic use, was developed after a semester of careful deliberation among the group. In its development, we took into consideration not only the needs of the area but the maxim that we learned from NSTP 1 as well: “The group must not only provide for the area, it must facilitate the area’s growth.” We chose it because it was sensible, achievable, timely and, if executed correctly, quite fulfilling.

It was thus not without a bit of resentment that we reflected on how Mr. Buduan described us. Being intellectual students, we put aside, albeit with difficulty our biases and began deconstructing the context in which our considerate coordinator uttered the compliments.

If one observes, he mentioned that the group has “gathered dust,” a euphemism for immobility and, thus, of inactivity. It is most important to note the meaning of this idiom, for with it we shall realize that Mr. Buduan used it to describe lack of action. Because he utilized the idiom derogatorily, it can thus be surmised that he ridicules lack of action itself. Because he used it against us, we can assume that he also ridicules everything that lacks action. To put it in statement, Mr. Buduan, in utilizing an idiom about lack of action derogatorily, thus ridiculing lack of action in general, ridicules everything lacking action.

But lack of action, as we can attest, does not always imply doing nothing. We may have not been acting, but we were doing something: thinking.

We can conclude thus: Mr. Buduan ridiculed us while we were thinking, seeing that we lacked action. In short: Mr. Buduan ridiculed thinking.

At this point, we left the realm of the specific and delved into the general.

This, the group abjectly concluded, was what made Philippine society so rotten: Filipinos hate thinking. We, as a nation obsessed with emotions, hate anything that needs our minds to understand. We want to feel everything: we want action and we want it now. We don’t like imagining or contemplating, we like seeing.

We criticize people who are “puro sat-sat, wala namang kilos” (all talk, no action) without considering the value of that sat-sat. With such atrociously kitsch terms as “sunggocious” and “geek” we alienate ourselves as a society from intellectual discussion.

Oh, and as Mr. Buduan has so kindly demonstrated, we think that if you’re thinking, nagpa-abog ka lang.

It is sad to think that a teacher ridicules thinking. This, our group suggests, is why our nation continues to rot into mediocrity: our very concept of excellence is naught more than decorated mediocrity. Our teachers, instead of seeing to it that students learn, are busy making grades. Our students, instead of sincerely trying to learn from their lessons, only “study” to get high grades…

And our NSTP coordinator and our SICO, instead of supporting students in their aim to give long term solutions to the problems of their area, merely demand physical evidence of action so they can give grades.


If money is the root of all evil, the concept of grades is the root of all Philippine mediocrity.

We, the group 3 of the NSTP class under Mr. Buduan of school year 2009-2010, condemn our coordinator’s promotion of stupidity disguised as “excellence.” We condemn his (and the SICO’s) prioritizing of immediate relief over long term solutions. We condemn his prejudice against thinking without action. Along with his substandard English morphology and syntax, we condemn his (and all other Philippine teachers’) way of teaching, one that is merely focused on grades. We condemn his mediocrity.

We condemn the Ateneo for bragging about 60 years of excellence while allowing such “prophets” of mediocrity as Mr. Buduan to continue teaching uncorrected in the Campus. We condemn its continuing acceptance of prestige despite growing decay in its standards. We condemn its deviance from the Ignatian ideal of excellence by becoming nothing more than a Philippine school. We condemn its mediocrity.

We condemn the Filipino people’s pervading aversion to intellectualism and rational thinking. We condemn it for letting its studying get in the way of its education. We condemn its worship of the immediate while neglecting (and even ridiculing) the ultimate. We condemn it for producing such ridiculous maxims as “Hindi lang sa isip, kundi sa puso.” We condemn its institutionalized and glorified mediocrity.

If the SICO, the Ateneo in general and our nation as a whole do not do something to address this pervading rottenness of intellect in our country, then it is inevitable that our society will continue to rot into mediocrity until it has decayed into nothing more than a barbaric state of un-civilization and stupidity, in other words: dust.

But we don’t expect anything done, though. Oh, no. For to describe the SICO, the Ateneo and the Philippines in terms of addressing this issue, we quote from Mr. Buduan:

Nagpaabog lang sila.



A year before she became a mistress

I see you had the pine tree cut.

I must say, these Dancing Ladies

that your wife tied around its stump –



but surely you haven’t forgotten

How that tree’s needles

once brushed the sunlight onto your face

through your wide windows

tickling you with warmth –perhaps even

lullabying you with their rustling –

that you get another half an hour sleep?


You couldn’t have forgotten

That beneath that tree,

on that gone High School afternoon

I told you

I wanted to caress your face every morning

with the warmth of my breath

And to lull you to sleep with my lips, which will not hum

But will press themselves on your eyelids…


No, you must have forgotten.

It is your wife’s warm breath, or her snoring

That now lulls you to slumber.


I have a house in Davao,

With a wide lawn,

and the room on the second floor

Has open windows.


But no, I won’t let you

plant a pine tree there.


Kasasagi no: A Waka across the ages



Kasasagi no

wataseru hashi ni

oku shimo no

shiroki o mireba

Yo zo fuke ni keru

“When I see the snow fall

on the bridge formed

by connected magpies

I know that the night has deepened”

– Otomo no Yakamochi

This is my favorite waka from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. Anthologized by Fujiwara no Teika during the Heian period of Japan, the Hyakunin Isshu (“100 people, 1 poem”) is a collection of 100 waka (Japanese poems in 5 lines) by different poets across the ages of Japanese history leading to the Heian. The author of this particular waka, Otomo no Yakamochi, was also a statesman in the Heian court, and compiler of the Manyoshu, the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry.

This poem is one of my first favorites in the Hyakunin Isshu, and that’s because it is easily appreciable with my formal lenses. For me it paints an image of magpies which, while flying together, form the image of a bridge in the night sky.  The concluding line ties it all up by personifying the night and making it “go on” by crossing that bridge, also hinting how the magpies’ flight indicates that dawn is approaching.

But formal reading is a purely Western concept, and this poem is not a Western poem. In fact, Japanese poetry is noted for its high degree of intertextuality and historical context: a poem often involves the personal experience of the poet, and as such it is common for a poem to be accompanied by a prosaic entry explaining the context in which it was written. The poems also allude heavily to earlier texts.

Interpretation of “Kasasagi no” is apparently a point of divisive debate for generations of critics. One camp argues that the “Magpie bridge” is simply a reference to bridges in the Imperial Palace using the utamakura (epithet) “magpie” to make the word fancier, and that the poem is a simple observation of a cold winter night in the Imperial Palace. Another, much later camp weaves in the ancient legend of Tanabata, which tells of the legend of the celestial lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are divided by the Heavenly River but who meet each other once a year by crossing a bridge made by sympathetic magpies. In the latter case, the poem takes a sad tone, for the annual meeting will bode another year of waiting.

In any case, the poem has captured the Japanese imagination for centuries. And I am amused to see that it is still a subject of creative imagination today!

In episode 23 of the anime Chihayafuru, the main character Chihaya makes a call for the first time to her close friend Arata, with whom she had been parted for years and who lives on the other side of Japan. While listening to his voice on the phone, she recalls the Tanabata interpretation of the poem as told by her waka-afficionado friend Kanade. Then, she tells Arata that their phones are like the bridge of magpies which linked Orihime and Hikoboshi in spite of their distance. The allusion not only works perfectly, considering the scene had snow falling, but it also hinted a romantic dimension in the characters’ relationships.

Kasasagi no” is proof that it’s possible to “bridge” the distance between high and popular art, traditional and contemporary art!

Foregrounding in Fiction: A Stylistic Reading of Selected Works of Fiction by Leoncio P. Deriada (Abstract)

(The abstract to my undergraduate thesis)

The reading of texts in the Philippines has been largely content based, using approaches that focus on a particular sociopolitical bias. It is in this situation that Regional writers are marginalized in Philippine literary criticism: standards and priorities in Luzon are sought from all texts, thus giving ascendancy to texts from Luzon in the arena of National Literature. To demonstrate the point, Leoncio P. Deriada, arguably the leading Regional writer, is poorly studied and anthologized in spite of his being one of the most decorated writers in the country. This study therefore aimed both to give voice to this marginalized giant and to bring in a new, socio-politically unbiased wind into literary criticism in the Philippines. It aimed to use stylistics, an approach which emphasized on the language of literature in evaluating the text’s merits, on two of his short stories, namely “For Death is Dead in December” and “Lunacy.” The study particularly sought instances of foregrounding – the parts of the text that stylistically stand out, and observe how they affect the meaning of the texts. The study revealed three tendencies in both stories: the non-use of quotation marks in dialogue to lend the texts a stream of consciousness quality; the repetition of phonemes to lend the text a vocal quality and to produce sound to the images being described; and semantic deviation in the form of metaphor, to facilitate metonymy and to create the image of madness. Deriada’s texts are ripe with foregrounding, and his text can be described as being stylistically rich. The stories studied would be good material for the teaching of literary form.

Acknowledgements to my thesis

(My Undergraduate thesis, entitled  “Foregrounding in Fiction: A Stylistic Reading of Select Works of Fiction by Leoncio P. Deriada,” passed with very little revisions. The following are the acknowledgements in the thesis)

The researcher is thankful firstly for his own inner fastness, with which he persevered with the making of this study in the face of the exhausting tedium the approach invariably entails, and in the face of other equally taxing obligations.
The researcher would also like to express the deepest gratitude to his adviser, Dr. Rhodora Ranalan, for giving not only crucial but also very creative advice, without which the researcher would not have survived the making of this thesis, or at the very least he would not have enjoyed it as much as he has.
The researcher would also like to acknowledge the indispensable financial and moral support provided by his mother. This thesis owes its existence to her financial generosity, and both the meals she cooked for the researcher and her unparalleled wit no doubt gave him the metabolic and psychological nourishment needed to continue writing this thesis.

The researcher would like to thank one of his oldest friends, Christian Cabagnot, for lending him a laptop to use during the defenses this thesis has seen. He would also like to thank Christian for being a friend in times when that inner fastness found itself loosened from time to time.
The researcher would also like to thank the members of the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM), the literature club, of which he served as President. Far from being an added burden, it has given him a drive to achieve which he has not felt in a long while. He would particularly like to thank his successor and beloved daughter-figure Karen Dicdican for also being there as a friend in times of wavering. The hope she has given him has made everything in his college life, including this thesis, worth working for. Gratitude goes as well to his predecessor as president and personal mentor, Glyd Arañes, whose advice on this thesis has also been crucial.
Karen and Christian deserve a second thank you along with Madel Catre, SALEM Secretary, for helping the researcher during the final defense of this thesis.
The researcher would also like to thank his thesis instructor, Dr. Judith Dalagan, whose patience in collecting requirements has decreased the pressure in the making of this thesis and made it a more pleasurable endeavor.
The researcher would like to thank Dr. Marjorie Evasco for giving some needed information for this thesis as well as moral support.
He would like to thank the Rizal Library of the Ateneo de Manila University for providing the abstracts of some studies needed in the making of this thesis.
He would also like to thank GEC Printing for providing excellent printing services and generous discounts.