Thoughts on Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education in the Philippines

Earlier this year the Department of Education released a Department order providing for the implementation of Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) on kindergarten and grades 1 to 3 in all public schools as part of the new Administration’s education reforms. The said order provides for the use of the students’ mother tongues both as a subject matter and as a medium of instruction.

The positive effect of using the first language as a medium of instruction has been consistently backed by linguistic studies, so there is little dispute with regards to this reform’s benefit. Using the first language will invariably make access to the body of knowledge in a particular science much easier for an individual. But it must be pointed out that the Philippines has a rather complicated linguistic situation. While the Tagalog language serves as backbone to a national language in the making (called Filipino), there is a multitude of languages being spoken as mother tongues in the Archipelago. There are areas with a dominant L1 (mainly homelands of the language, the Tagalog area for Tagalog, Cebu and Negros Oriental for Cebuano, Iloilo and Bacolod for Hiligaynon, etc.), but there are areas with a great degree of linguistic diversity (Davao, Iligan, etc.), and application of the program on the latter will prove to be difficult. While the Mode 2  of the DepEd order provides for the use of the Lingua Franca of the area (which is among eight major languages identified by the order),  the Mode is only in the event that the L1s being used do not have an orthography (or simply when the L1s used are not among the eight identified major languages). There will be a theoretical complication when the situation is to be applied on an area with such linguistic diversity that there are more than one of the eight major languages being used (i.e. in Davao, Cebuano only outnumbers Tagalog by a small margin; in M’lang, North Cotabato, Hiligaynon barely outnumbers Cebuano).

In practice of course, this doesn’t cause much of a problem. The emphasis on “multilingual education” will entail that the teacher will end up using a combination of the languages. In Davao for instance, the teacher will end up using both Tagalog and Cebuano. But this, however, opens up another complication. Though this is still in the early stages of education, we would be prudent to assume that the model will be applied to all levels of education in the future. As such, we must express concern over the development of the languages being used. Take note that in linguistically diverse areas, a combination of the languages will inevitably be used. And this, of course, is code switching. Code switching, any student of language knows, will end up diluting the languages, reducing them to only a fraction of their original form. In the worst case scenario, the students will be proficient in only the code switched form of the language, and they will be barely capable of uttering a sentence purely in one language.

the above scenario is a double edged sword, and we must do justice by pointing out the pros and cons thereto. Perhaps the best thing about the situation would be a contribution to the development of the National language in the making. If we are to conceive the Filipino language as a creole of the different languages in the country, then the MTB-MLE will add the colloquial arena of the development of the National Language to the academe. But conversely, the program will end up incorporating English, and any attempt to keep our would be National language pure of western influence impossible. Similarly, the same program will end up limiting the intellectual pool of each language, as ideas will still remain represented by specific words. To maximize the benefits of the program without suffering its drawbacks, it is suggested that efforts for the intellectualization of the local languages be continued. In line with the order’s mode 2, the same efforts for intellectual development of the languages should also be applied to other mother tongues, so that the small group of languages identified as linguae franca will be expanded. I will write a post on the possible development of a National Language later on.

There is also a big problem with the register of the language to be used. While it is easy to say that “using the mother tongue will make comprehension of the subject matter easier,” we must consider the fact that the mother tongue with which the student is comfortable is in its colloquial form, and the colloquial form will invariably be inadequate as an instructional medium. The terminological precision inherent in an academic form of language remains foreign even to the native speaker of the same language who only comprehends it in its colloquial form. That, of course, is the case in the Philippines, and we thus get jokes about the apparent difficulty of comprehending math lessons if they are to be taught in Tagalog. Even if we are successful in trying to intellectualize our local languages in order to exorcise the colonial demons that compel us to borrow lexically, we still end up forming a language difficult for the student to comprehend. This matter, of course, is not unsolvable, but the solution will be difficult. There must be, once and for all, an institutionalized mass effort to increase the competence of our people in academic register. To put it simply, we must begin undoing our natural aversion to smart talk. This will involve a great amount of effort on the mass media to make their language more terminologically precise, and on the meta-level, they must contribute to the positive portrayal of such terminologically precise language. If we can somehow bridge the gap between colloquial language and academic language, comprehension in class, no matter how difficult the subject is, will definitely be higher than otherwise.

The government is taking small steps to what could be a reform with tremendous impact, and to rush would merely be detrimental. It is nevertheless hoped that all implications, no matter how small they may seem will be taken into consideration. MTB-MLE in the Philippines could work wonders, or it could destroy our linguistic identities irreversibly.


Ming Ming by Steven Fernandez: A Review

“If I dream beautiful dreams, I wish I would never wake up.

Steven Fernandez stood out as a genuine intellectual when I met him back in 2011 during the Taboan Writers Festival. Slacking off from my duties as head usher (intellectual growth is always a good excuse to slack off), I sat in during one of the Festival’s breakaway sessions where he happened to be talking. It was a session about folklore, and when I asked about writing stories on folk characters that do not involve canonical plot lines, the playwright professor from MSU-IIT distinguished between the transcription and “trans-creation” of folklore. The answer struck me, and I knew I had to read something written by this man.

My search for his work wasn’t too difficult. He was a Palanca awardee, and the one act play that won him first place, entitled “Ming Ming” was readily available online. The Palanca Foundation has made it accessible here.

Dialogue almost always dominates the narrative in drama. But Ming Ming pushes this importance of dialogue to the limit, and I am amazed to find that this little discovery is proving to be one of the most technically accomplished pieces of literature I have ever read.

Ming Ming tells the story of three generations of a royal family in Muslim Mindanao: the eponymous 18 year old Ming Ming, her mother R, R’s mother I and R’s uncle P. The play already wins in choice of spectacle to highlight: there are several main dramatic events involving these four characters. I and P’s unfulfilled love, the tension between Muslim Mindanao and post-war Philippines and P’s consequent involvement in the Muslim insurgency, R’s involuntary arranged marriage to a homosexual, her affair with her Economics teacher and eventual pregnancy, the resulting scandal of her pregnancy, Ming Ming’s own love affair with the man tasked to watch over her in her confinement, and her eventual death. Each of these subplots are interesting enough to be developed as a play in their own, but together they form a colorful family saga set against a backdrop of the modern Filipino woman’s struggle against a predominantly patriarchal  Muslim society.

But that’s not yet revealing the true strength of the play. Ming Ming’s plot unfolds in a thematic rather than chronological manner, and it unfolds purely by the lines. I had earlier mentioned how it pushes the limits of the importance of dialogue, but “dialogue” would be an inappropriate term, for there is little interaction between the characters. The characters in the play, though all on the stage together, speak in their own realities, and the story emerges from their dialogue with themselves or with unseen characters. That is not to say of course that the lines are all random, for there is indeed a consistent flow. There is a mirroring of situations between generations – daughter is suffering what her mother has gone through, and all are facing the same difficulty – and the playwright takes advantage of this by ordering the sequence of dialogue to the expression of these problems. It needs to be noted how astounding the command of dialogue is, and the playwright is at least sharply aware of pragmatics if he does not have a thorough background in linguistics. Lines are taken out of their pragmatic context and arranged thematically, but in the process the lines end up “bringing” their pragmatic context along, and the reader is led to realize the events on his/her own. The playwright pushes the reader’s involvement so much that he has even given the reader the role of seeing the distinctness of each character, by simply giving them letters for names (most ominously the letters R.I.P, initials of that thanatological Latin epigram). To a great extent, the play is also successful in post-structuralist standards,  and it qualifies as what Barthes describes as “writerly text.”

But it does well of course to remember that this is a play, and as such the performative spectacle indicated in the text is also noteworthy. The playwright also proves to be an accomplished director, and “auteur” rather than playwright would be a better term for him. The stage instructions are conscious of stage atmosphere, and there are specific provisions for evocative elements. The use of white scrims  in particular will invariably lend the performance a dreamlike sfomato of sorts. The presence of Tonongs, the spirits hovering around the main characters (and a manifestation of the playwright’s own “trans-creation” of folklore!), not only contributes to the eerie, dreamlike atmosphere of the play, they also add to the story’s unfolding as they mime some key scenes . Most prominently, the play pays great attention to the cultural milieu in which it is set, and there is no mistaking from the music, the visuals projected on the scrims, even in some of the dialogue, that the play tells a Muslim Mindanao story. It is a great shame I have not seen the piece performed!

And ultimately Ming Ming contributes to Mindanao’s self reflection, as it reveals one of the struggles of its people. The three generations of women are faced with the hard life dictated by their culture’s norms. But that is not to say that the men have it easy: P’s own happiness with I was also taken away by the demands of the culture. Consequently, the play reveals that the underlying problem is not caused by certain people (indeed, no “villain” appears in Ming Ming) but by a conflict between the unfolding of the human desire for self fulfillment and outdated but fiercely maintained cultural norms that define people. Like all good literature, the play asks more questions than gives answers.

My discovery of Ming Ming is why I continue to explore literary works. If not for the rather random reason of reading something by someone I met, I would not be able to read what is no doubt a monumental advancement in Philippine Literature, the best play I have ever read.

Dogs unearthing springs: A recurring motif in Kidapawan origin legends

A tribal chieftain took his dog to a hunt. As he went deep into the woods, the dog suddenly stopped on a spot and began digging. Curious, the chieftain observed the creature and allowed it to continue. Soon, water began seeping from the spot where the dog was digging. Overjoyed, the chieftain moved his people’s settlement to the area, and the area would later on become a Baranggay.

In my sojourns among obscure bits of Kidapawan historiography, I have come upon this intriguing motif in the origin legends of several Baranggays.

It was always one of my past times during my days as a student to read up pieces of historiography about the localities I have called home, mostly in the Kidapawan area. This, I must say has a singular attraction to it. Reading about National or International history will definitely promise dramatic narratives, but they have a foreignness about them if you’re not a resident of the strategic places where these historical events unfolded. Reading about the past of your own place, however, makes the narratives strangely more familiar: it gives you the sense that you yourself are part of these stories. But at the same time it also gives you a new way of looking at the things you have come to know.

In some of these readings, I say, I came across the recurring motif of the dog discovering a spring. This has a pronounced curiosity about it, because it comes in spite of many difficulties. On the first degree, the historicity of the stories is doubtful, as they are largely oral in source. As such, they must be treated with a skeptical eye, one which is prepared to dismiss the tales as folklore. On the second degree, my sources  on these stories themselves are rather shady, consisting mostly of accounts of interviews with tribal elders sometimes made available online.  I can thus not ascertain even the folkloric authenticity of the stories. On the third degree, there is painfully very little academic background to these accounts, and no peer review can even ascertain if my sources are indeed the result of honest research, or if they are mere figments of the authors’ imaginations or political motivations. To see a recurring motif in the origin legends certainly strengthens the likelihood of  folklore, but it also strengthens the tribal authenticity of the stories.

Thus far, I have encountered three locales with this origin, and interestingly enough all three have a Manobo past. Two of them are in Kidapawan, and one (which was further split into two Baranggays) is in nearby Makilala.

The first account of this I encountered was on the Baranggay of Mua-an, just at the foot of Mount Apo. The account was by local journalist Psalmer Bernalte, uploaded in what seemed to be an LGU commissioned website that could no longer be located, and it unfortunately did not cite its sources (I would later on discover that his primary source was probably Ferdinand Bergonia’s 2004 history of Kidapawan, and that the version is in the Socioeconomic Profile of the city prepared by the City Planning and Development Office). The account described  the dog Mua-an, owned by Datu Lumayon of the local Manobo settlement. According to this version, Lumayon’s people were suffering from a severe drought, and Lumayon was out with Mua-an looking for a water source, when the dog starting digging a spring into existence. When the place was elevated to the status of Baranggay, the people decided to name it after the dog.

The second account I encountered has a much more reliable background, that of Baranggay Amas. It comes from the 1997 MA Thesis of Marilyn Jara, tucked among the many theses in the Ateneo de Davao’s College Library. In the thesis (which explored the myths and legends of the Manobos in Sitio Puas-Inda, Amas, Kidapawan), the origin of Baranggay Amas is associated with an Apo Mampolinog. Strangely enough, the story doesn’t seem to have a direct connection to the origin of the Baranggay itself: Apo Mampolinog is described as having four sons, Acas, Malang, Angcanan and Sugcawan. Mampolinog takes his dog to a hunt one day and the dog discovers a spring. Thereafter, the land of Apo Mampolinog was named Amas, from the initials of his sons’ names. I need to say that Bernalte’s own body of research included a history of Amas as well, and it had a different story: the place is named after a semi-heroic figure named Datu Amas.

The third account, which I encountered just recently, is that of the Bulatukan area in the Municipality of Makilala. The area is composed of two Baranggays, Old and New Bulatukan, and there are two versions of the legend with slight variations. The accounts (with one mentioning the alternate telling of the other) appear on each Baranggay’s website (here and here). In the Old Bulatukan version, the dog Bulatukan is said to be owned by two datus, Mamalo and Tagaliong. In the New Bulatukan version, ownership of the dog is attributed to a Datu Butuwan. In both cases, Bulatukan unearths a water source, which grows to be a river, and the locale is named after the dog.

Not exactly digging, but the origins of Makilala’s baranggay Kisante are also linked to a dog and the discovery of water. In this case, the dog was named Kisante, who belonged to a hunter named Langingling. Lagingling set out to look for water, and fell asleep under a tree. He was woken by Kisante, who was barking at the water streaming towards them. Thus Lagingling and his people found water, and the people named the area where he fell asleep after the dog (I am merely paraphrasing the story from the one told on the Makilala webiste here).

It isn’t difficult to imagine why these legends are recurring. The mere sight of a dog digging up a spring already inspires thoughts of a romantically accidental origin, more so if it came about at a time of drought. If not historically accurate (which isn’t altogether unlikely), the scenario must have at least been caused by the storyteller witnessing a similar event.

What is unfortunate however is that these fanciful origin legends, historical they may be or not, are barely known to the locals. The people of the area, I lament, are sadly without any hint of historical appreciation. It is a sad fact that there is no statue in Mua-an to commemorate the dog (something that would be an interesting tourist attraction, I must say), but it is even sadder that the locals probably don’t even know who Mua-an was.

And so, as I continue to hound for any bit of local history I could unearth, I cannot help but wish that the springs I uncover would be used by my hometown to quench the thirst for identity of its soul.

The Silliman Experience: Doves of Memory in Antulang, the Raven in Montemar and coming home from the Nest in the Mountain on the Third Week

The main house at the Writers Village behind the Spirit Pine Tree. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer.

On the last week of the Silliman Writers Workshop we were joined by two panelists, Dr. Gemino Abad and Alfred Yuson. Mom Weena and sir Sawi Aquino also return to the panel for this week.

With sir Jimmy Abad and his fly swatter. It’s hard not to love sir Jimmy!

I first met sir Jimmy Abad during the Taboan Writers Festival when it was held in Davao in 2011. The jovial poet and critic was invited to speak in the Ateneo de Davao as part of Taboan’s community extension with Carlo Flordeliza and Ida del Mundo, and his lively way of speaking is immediately recognizable. Later on during the Taboan, he would leave his coat behind, and I end up returning it to him. Meeting him again during the workshop, I mentioned the coat to him, and though he understandably does not recall me, he has nevertheless brought with him the same coat. Sir Jimmy was one of the most endearing panelists in the workshop. Fellows felt that their works really do have value when he gives his remarks – it needs be mentioned that his emotional response to Debbie’s poem on the first session of the week brought tears to both his and Debbie’s eyes. Sir Ian Casocot would later on describe his appeal to fellows: he was the “workshop crush,” consistently rated as the best panelist. I’m personally still not sure to whom I’d give that distinction: all the panelist proved to be very good, but sir Bobby’s bare honesty and sir DM’s surgical precision (something I had admired since Iyas) are also commendable.

Sir Krip with his own fly swatter. No, he isn’t licking his fingers. Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice.

My first personal exposure to Krip Yuson also occurred during the Taboan, although I wasn’t able to get as close to him as I had to sir Jimmy. Of course, sir Krip was something of a celebrity among readers: a Palanca Hall of Famer who writes a weekly column on the papers does have some glamour to someone who reads. My embarrassingly fanboyish  attempt to meet the man even saw print in the Dagmay! During the workshop, I got to know sides of him I never expected to know. He was thorough with his comments, as would be expected from a writer of accomplishment like him: it was he who introduced to us the concepts of centripetal and centrifugal poetry. But he was also remarkably good humoured, and the glimpse of playfulness I saw in Taboan turned out to be a natural joker’s personality. In one session, he and sir Jimmy brought fly swats in response to the large number of flies the day preceding. Sir Jimmy swatted the most flies, and sir Krip gave him the distinction of “Lord of the Flies,” styling him “lord Jim” thereafter. His random exclamations about basketball during sessions, and his pink phone were also other comic attractions that made this otherwise venerable man much more endearing.

On the second day of the week we had our out session at Antulang resort in Zamboanguita, a few hours by the Silliman Bus from the Writers Village. To digress a bit, I must say that my sense of time during our trips to different places seemed to have been distorted, partly because of the wonder at the unknown sights we passed by, and partly because of the excellent company which made time fly faster. Naming trees, listening to TM Revolution and Gotye, and reading the day’s tabled works all had the same effect on the trip to Antulang: before I knew it, we had passed by rivers, wild woodlands, coconut groves and seasides and arrived at our destination.

Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera

The great view that meets you when you arrive at Antulang. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

The cliff by Antulang. I felt like I was taken to some kingdom by the sea. (apparently, the owner’s name is Annabelle Lee!)

Antulang was lovely. The first thing to be mentioned about it is its spectacular view. The resort proper is on top of a limestone cliff overlooking the vast sea south of Negros. The resort showcased this great view by having a balcony and a restaurant just near the cliff edge.

The fellows group photo. I love my pose here. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

The hand painted sign above the restaurant where we had our session at Antulang. You can just feel the warmth of their accommodation!

View by the Restaurant at Antulang

View of the pool’s edge from the bridge. I didn’t have any good photos of the pool This photo was taken from

Mom Weena on the Golf car, with miss Alana beside. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

Sign board of the Edith Tiempo Reading Room. There is actually a beach resort with a reading room!

I was delighted at the warmth with which we were received: there were even hand painted signs that welcomed us. The resort had good facilities: there was an infinity pool near the restaurant, there were golf cars to go around the resort. Most uniquely, there was a room dedicated entirely to books, named in honour of the late Edith Tiempo. Many of the books inside, it is needless to say, were signed copies. I later on learned that the resort has always been part of the workshop.

At the beach by the cliff with Gio Chao and Mich Tan. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

We went to two beaches. The first one was right beneath the cliff: there was a flight of stairs carved into the rock right near the pool. The beach there was largely rocky, but there was good snorkeling fair. The second one was at a sandier beach a few minutes walk from the restaurant. Needless to say, I spent almost all my time in the beaches underwater snorkeling.We sandwiched the session in between sojourns to the sea.

The Antulang session, with a display of Mich’s thoroughness in the foreground. Their lemonade was superbly refreshing!

Decors of kitchen ingredients in pots gave the tables a homely feel.

I cannot recall everything on this platter! So far, there’s mango rice, pesto, camaron with dip, eggplant salad and a bowl of chicken hinalang at the side.

The Buko Pandan dessert. I’m guessing there was vanilla ice cream mixed in.

The Binignit, snack during the session.

We had that day’s session at the restaurant, and while having the session we had lunch. The food was good: special mention needs to be made about the lemonade (which had a delicate hint of cucumber), the mango rice, the pesto, the eggplant salad and the buko pandan dessert. Later during the session we also had Binignit for snacks.

Antulang session in action: Sir Jimmy giving comments during the session while the binignit is being served.

Workshop mode at Antulang

The works discussed at Antulang were particularly notable. The first to be discussed was Meghan’s essay “The Doves of Memory,” which chronicled her struggle with her father’s death. We read the piece the night previous, and it is enough to mention in passing how, after reading the piece I and Mich sought Meg and hugged her with tears in our eyes. The panelists commended it for its able execution of the braided essay. A bit more controversial was Vida’s story “The Thirteenth Fairy,” a different take on several European fairy tales. The piece had already incited some debate on cultural identity in literary works while we were on the bus to Antulang. On one side was the insistence that writers should write from their own culture’s mythological tradition, on the other a declaration that all a work needs is to be well written. A branch, I conjecture of the Villa-Lopez debate. In the end, sir Krip brought it to practicality in pointing out that works of a Western milieu written by non-westerners end up having to compete with more authentic sources, thus describing the little market for works of such nature.

He may not look like it, but GMA Online editor TJ is beginning to feel the end of the workshop here. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz.

The trip home was tinged with a bit of sadness: we were beginning to feel the end of the workshop. This sadness actually started on the second week, when TJ first felt it and shared it on the bus. We only had three days, and they couldn’t be shorter. I set the melancholy aside for a while though, there was time for that, and this wasn’t it.

View of the cairn from the Panelists Stairs.

On the morning of Wednesday my hands became restless and I ended up making a cairn. I had been planning to make a cairn for some time since the workshop began, but it was only then that I felt like starting it. I built it near the Panelists Stairs, so anyone arriving from there will have a view of it. On the advice of manang Bibi, I took some Pine Crab from the pine trees and wrapped it around, hoping it will grow on the stones and keep the cairn together.

On that day we once again welcomed guests from the US Embassy to talk this time about Visual Narration and Literature and Film. Richmond Jimenez discussed the differences in telling stories by visual presentation and by writing, and introduced some contemporary attempts at video storytelling. Alan Horst talked about the influence of literature and of film on one another. A great amount of movies, he said, are actually based on literary works, and the film industry owes its beginnings to literature.

Not exactly part of the Silliman Experience, but a great experience altogether: with Mich and Romeo Bonsocan at the Ruins during the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in 2011. Photo courtesy of Mich.

In the afternoon, we had a session on a poem by Debbie and a story by Thomas. Debbie’s poem discussed mono no aware on perceiving The Ruins at Talisay in Negros Occidental, a site I was familiar with after having visited it in Iyas the year previous. The panelists were not aware of it, and I had to mention it. Mich, with technology in her hands, passed her phone around to show pictures.

At Royal Suite Inn, again. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz.

That evening we craved for Sizzling Bulalo. So we decided to have dinner at Royal Suite Inn for the second time. Fortunately, Sirs Krip and Jimmy were generous enough to treat us! we had a delightful time having our second taste of this famous Dumaguete attraction.

Headstone of the National Artist’s grave

Headstone of Ed Tiempo’s grave

At the Dumaguete Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz’s camera.

On the afternoon of Thursday, we were set to have our session at Mom Weena’s home at Montemar, in Sibulan. On the way we stopped by Robinson’s (where I once again grabbed a piece of hot piyaya). Then we stopped by the cemetery, were we got our closest chance of meeting the late lola Edith and Doc Ed. I was rather surprised to see how simply they were buried. The State Funeral somehow also made me imagine a mausoleum.

Just outside Mom Weena’s Montemar Home. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz

They prepared chairs and tables for the afternoon session and the dinner. Sir Lem Torrevillas is in the photo, courtesy of Vida Cruz.

The lovely overlooking view from the balcony of the Tañon Straight at Montemar. My friend Alex Abando would not believe this is not a painting!

The road to Sibulan was by now familiar to us: the stunning view of nearby Cebu, the old lampposts and the Acacia trees dipping their leaves on the seawater. Montemar was a subdivision which we entered by going uphill left from the road. The house was beautiful, with a balcony overlooking a lovely view of the sea. Inside, there were pictures of the Tiempo family, and we got a glimpse of how pretty Mom Weena was in her youth. We also got to meet her husband, sir Lem Torrevillas, who flew all the way from Iowa to be panelist for my play!

Mom Weena, reciting her poetry. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

Let me then take the opportunity to talk about Mom Weena. I had already written earlier about how soft spoken she was. She had a motherly kindness and gentleness about her that gave the workshop sessions a nurturing feel, exactly what it needed considering how sensitive the workshop process is. There was, nevertheless, no mistaking her advanced intellect, and her comments reflected her years of immersion into the literary craft. She also had a sharp sense of humour, and no witty remark escapes her – she even quipped on the moment I introduced myself at the start of the workshop. So under her soft and gentle disposition it was easy to see an indomitable spirit hiding under. I distinctly recall it surfacing while she was giving her “creative critique” of Vida’s “Six Characters in an Accident” on the first week, as she read with the voice of an opinionated young reader. I knew she was not to be messed with! This, I must say, added more to her appeal as a motherly figure, and it was I with my hopeless audacity who asked in behalf of the batch if we could call her “mom” on the second week. She has become, no doubt, one of my dearest literary mentors.

Panelists during the Montemar session.

We held the workshop’s penultimate session in the house. It was on Mich’s “Housekeeping,” which I saw in an earlier form back in Iyas. This was when I saw one of the things that made this workshop unique. Suggestions for alterations outside the author’s intent came, from sir Sawi and sir Krip mainly. It was a delightful moment because it might not contribute much to the improvement of the work being discussed (the story by all opinions did not need to be improved anymore), but it was a rich source of material for a writer. It was clear fellows and panelists alike were benefiting from this workshop!

Workshop mode at Montemar. I would sadly lose the pen to the right, my Silliman Pen, after this session.

Montemar saw a pen tragedy of sorts for me. I left my Silliman Pen behind in the house, a pen I bought from Book Sale in Robinson’s on the first weekend, never to get it again. There was a foreshadowing of sorts before that: I left my pen case in the bus, and I had to upturn the seat’s upholstery to thankfully see that it had just fallen  inconspicuously inside. I would not be able to find the pen itself again later. The pen had been dear to me, and I was saddened when I lost it. Mich bought me a new pen on the last day as a consolation.

Poet Myrna Peña Reyes introducing herself after the Director’s Dinner. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

The dinner saw many esteemed guests. Present amidst Lechon and Caserole were previous workshop fellows, like kuya F. Jordan Carnice (whose blog I’ve been following without me knowing!), miss Tin Lao (who kuya Mo described as the “mother” of her own batch), and even the poet Myrna Peña Reyes, who once again dropped by. Others also present were kuya Mo, sir Ian, ma’ams Parts and Alana, SU President Dr. Ben Malayang and many others. Sir Greg Morales took photos all the while.

TJ playing the violin. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz

A photo of the dance will have to suffice. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

That night we had our Fellows Night after having dinner. I took on the role of Master of Ceremonies, and the program included awards for fellows, a violin performance from TJ, poetry readings from the Panelists, and a dance performance of Katty Perry’s “California Girls” from the fellows. There is a video of the dance performance, but I do not think the fellows wish me to share it here!

Performing The Raven during the Director’s Dinner. Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice

I also performed, as I usually do in workshops, a dramatic recitation of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe from memory. It was the first time I performed this poem – with all the memories I have of performing it – with my favorite shirt, which is of equal sentimental value. The poem was of considerable length of course, and sir Jimmy made a humourous indication of this when he said, before following me, that he would recite the Iliad from memory.

Debbie and TJ presented the Fellow Awards. The two have a connection of sorts, but I will not rob them of the opportunity to tell the story! Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales

Receiving the “Reader’s Digest Award” (for “being informative and having a lot of issues”) from Debbie, Vida and TJ. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales

The highlight of the program of course were the awards, courtesy of Debbie and TJ. The awards made reference to each of our peculiarities, something Debbie was very keen at observing. The awards had humourous names, like TJ’s “Colonel Sanders Award” for his Indignant Chicken pose, Mich’s “Unang Tikim Award” (First taste award) for thoroughly enjoying the workshop with many first times, and my very own “Reader’s Digest Award” for being knowledgeable and having “many issues.”

People watching the adaptation of my play. Sir Thomas doesn’t look happy! Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice

On the last day of the workshop, my play was discussed. Actor students from Silliman, among whom were auditor Arkay Timonera and auditor Gio Chao’s girlfriend Danna Didal, arrived in the morning on the bus to perform it. Other guests, including former fellows and teachers from the English Department, also came. Basically, my session would be the most viewed session!

Apparently, the other fellows were also eager to give payback, I mean feedback. I spent the entirety of the workshop critiquing works, and they said it was their turn to say something. But they said it so humourously I swallowed many a laugh out of nervousness.

Actors Arvin Dominic Tarroza, Bamboo Ranada and Arkay Timonera during the prayer scene of my play “Killing the Issue.” If there’s any part of my play that’s staying, it’s the prayer part! Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice.

With the actors after the session. I usually lie when I say I like the rendition of my work, but I genuinely love their performance! Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice.

Noticing the areas for improvement in the dialogue. Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice

When the session began, the play was first performed. The performance went better than I could have expected! The actors took their roles very seriously, and it consequently evoked genuine laughs from the audience. I was constantly changing my opinion on who the best actor was, and I ended up settling for Bamboo Ranada, who pulled off an Aristotelian portrayal of Manny Reyes Sr. ala Marlon Brando. Each time the audience laughed was a magical moment for me, and when they gave their final applause I was elated.

Sir Lem gives his comments to my play. His comments proved to be the most enlightening: I was unsure if the play was Brechtian or Aristotelian! Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice

Sir Jimmy giving his comments to the play. Thanks to Meg for taking the photo.

One of the rare moments when I’m not laughing as I give my response to the comments. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

It was probably because of that initial elation than any criticism that followed thereafter seemed only to be constructive to me. In fact, though they were indeed corrective, the intimate bond I formed not just with the fellows but with the panelists made the comment giving further occasion for laughter. I knew they saw genuine potential in the work, and the comments were the sincere wishes of fans who wanted to see something they enjoyed be brought to its fullest potential. All the fellows gave comments, and even the actors were given a chance to say something. I really could not help but feel special.

The shirt design by Vida Cruz. Can you find me?

While we were having lunch, our batch shirt arrived. CD went down to Dumaguete to have it printed, and he returned just in time for the closing ceremonies. The design was by Vida, and it featured drawings of us with objects we were known for.

Mom Weena giving her lecture in the afternoon.

That afternoon, Mom Weena gave a lecture focusing on e.e. cummings’ poem “In-just,” a discussion which capped the workshop with a display of her critical prowess.

With Mich Tan, right before the opening starts. We all wore our batch shirt, designed by Vida. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer

Sir Ian serving as master of ceremonies during the closing event. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer.

Sir Jimmy giving a message in behalf of the Panelists. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer

We were serenaded by the Quizo Family Quartet. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer

TJ giving a tear jerker of a speech in behalf of the fellows. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer.

Receiving my certificate from Mom Weena and Dr. Eve. Mom Weena looks so happy! Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer.

“it is your voice — more sure of itself.”
Mom Weena giving her last speech to us. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer.

Then, the closing ceremonies were held. Sir Ian served as Master of Ceremonies. After messages from Dr. Eve and sir Jimmy, TJ gave the batch valediction. When he began listing down our peculiarities, tears came to my eyes. Then, mom Weena gave her message (where I was mentioned as saying “Lacan and Derrida”). The certificates were then handed out. Performances from the Quizo Family Quartet also gave life to the program.

Our last dinner together. I found dill growing around and sprinkled some on my rice. I should have found them earlier. Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice

After having our last dinner together, we bid the panelists farewell, vowing to meet them again. As I write this, I can still feel the warmth of Mom Weena’s motherly hug. We bid farewell to sir Sawi, to sir Krip and to sir Jimmy.

At Cafe Antonio. Photo courtesy of Arkay TImonera

With Mich by the Silliman Bus just outside the Portal after walking around Dumaguete. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera

Drinking on the last night. I’m exasperated that I’m not yet drunk! Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice, the interesting person to the right.

That night we wanted to go down Dumaguete. Walking around the city, we got to Cafe Antonio, which was remarkable because there was almost a colony of birds nesting on the corners where wall and ceiling met. After that, we bought drinks and went back up the Writers Village again. Under the influence of three spirits (Rum, Vodka and Tequila), we engaged in literary gossip and some live action drama with kuya Jordan and sir Ian as we reveled on the grass with spread out blankets.

Just about to leave. I’m still indebted to kuya Mo for the excess luggage those red trolley bags caused. Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice

Next day was farewell day for most of us. Meg and Thomas were the first to leave. Barely any of us were awake when they left (they had to go down by 4 am). Then, at around 8  we went down Dumaguete en masse. We bid farewell to Manang Bibi and Manang Jo, who took care of us for the three weeks of the workshop. Manang Bibi was even kind enough to give me some Pine Crabs, some bulbs of the Negros Spider Lily and some branches of both Magnolia and Gardenia for me to plant at home.

Hiding sadness for the camera as we go down to Dumaguete. Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice

Our Silliman Hall photo, courtesy of Arkay Timonera

By the bust of Horace Silliman, courtesy of Arkay Timonera

Just had lunch at Robinson’s. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera

Saying goodbye to Debbie and Sooey at the Sibulan Airport. Photo courtesy of Debbie Nieto

Sooey and Debbie were the next to say goodbye, we left them at Sibulan airport before lunch. We had lunch at Robinson’s food court, where Mich was gentle enough to give me a postcard of encouragement. After that we went back to Sibulan Airport, where after painful goodbyes we left TJ, Vida and Mich. My goodbye with Mich wasn’t too sad, she was planning to visit Davao in August. (Now I’m pleased to know TJ too is coming!) But it had its tinge of sadness, and I did find myself teary eyed when we left her – much sadder, definitely than when we parted in Iyas.

I still had company of course. Like me, CD and Christian were to leave the next day too, so we took a room at Silliman’s Alumni Hall. Arkay, who has a place in Dumaguete, decided to stay over too. Alumni Hall, which was basically a hotel dedicated to visiting Silliman Alumni, had rooms for 2 and for 4, and it amused me to think how intimate Silliman is with its Alumni. I also somehow felt that I too was now indelibly marked by this charming place, that I too will end up being an alumnus.

At El Amigo with the remaining fellows, Arkay, kuya Jordan and Ayla Calumpang. Sir Ian would follow later. Photo courtesy of kuya Jordan.

My favorite drink at El Amigo. I’m uncertain as to its name: kuya Jordan calls it “Dumaguete Paradise,” while the waiter called it “Premium.” I have to return to Dumaguete to confirm! Photo by kuya Jordan

That night we had dinner at Captain Ribbers, just in front of Silliman Hall. The ribs were delicious, though I preferred the honey mustard flavour Arkay ordered. Christian shared “Answers” by Mark Strand, with which I fell in love instantly. We later met up with kuya Jordan and some of his friends, and had a drink at El Amigo, where their Dumaguete Paradise was worth mentioning. Sir Ian followed shortly after, and we went to Kiosko, a welcoming coffee shop, where I had hazelnut milk and adobo flakes with rice. After that, we went back to Alumni Hall to sleep.

I personally couldn’t sleep so I spent the night walking around Dumaguete. It was indeed possible to fall in love in three weeks. I had found myself passionately in love with this place.

I never really slept. I waited until 4 in the morning, when I woke ninong CD and took a tricycle to Sibulan. There I got on the plane and, with “Pantalea” playing from my mp3 player, I said good bye to Dumaguete.

But somehow I knew that all the farewells  I had said weren’t ends but beginnings. I knew I started something important during the workshop, a kind of spiritual nest, tucked at the foot of the mountain and in each of the friendly people’s comforting presences, where I could and was bound to return. It was as if my “goodbye” to Vida, to TJ, to Debbie, to everyone was saying “welcome to being part of my life.” And it was as if, like my good bye to Mich and to Meg, my good bye to the Boulevard, to the Bell Tower, to the cicadas of Valencia, to the Spirit Pine Tree, to the Gardenias, and to that imposing view of mount Talinis – my goodbyes to all of them really just meant “see you again.”

Because I will definitely see them again. I’m sure, I will definitely relive the Silliman Experience.

Pigpen by Leoncio Deriada: A Review


“Innocencia realized, not entirely without shame, that she was beginning to desire a man, any man.”


I had seen Leoncio Deriada’s short story “Pigpen” appear in at least 3 books, two of which (Deriada’s collection  of short stories “The Road to Mawab and Other Stories,” and the 1976 edition of Silliman’s Sands and Coral ) I have a copy. I am something of a Deriada fan: he graduated from my college with my own degree in English before going on to win enough Palancas to make him a Hall of Famer, so his career is a dream for me. I read every work of his I could get my hands on, and I ended up doing a stylistic analysis of two of his stories for my undergraduate thesis. While reading his works, some stories stood out, and I knew I just had to share them. While I was president of the Ateneo de Davao’s SALEM, we had a Fiction Exhibit, displaying illustrations of select Filipino short stories to passing students that their curiosity might be caught. In our selection of stories, there were three by Deriada: “Phonepal from Padre Selga Street,” “The Hunt” and “Pigpen.” With its provocative topic, “Pigpen” was one of the crowd favorites, and I would be glad to upload a soft copy online if I get the author’s leave.

“Pigpen” is about Innocencia, a young woman who lives in a house deep in the remote settlement of Bawani in Mawab, Compostella Valley with her father Purok, her brother Turo, and her deformed baby. The family first immigrated in the area from Capiz before Innocencia was born, but her mother Reynalda died when she was three. Thereafter, the three lived in routine peace, and Innocencia grew up to be a “full bodied woman… though short and plumpish.” Then, when she was 16, she met Boy Ponciano, a lumberjack at the nearby Valderrama logging camp, while she was gathering ferns by the banks of a creek. The two began a sexual relationship that went unnoticed until Innocencia got pregnant. Purok furiously sought in vain to make Boy Ponciano owe up to his deed: the lumberjack had been assigned to far away Monkayo, and add to that he had married. Purok took his pregnant daughter to his relatives in Agusan, where she gave birth. She returned to Bawani months later, leaving the baby behind, and their routine life resumed. The only addition was the pigpen: Purok had bought pigs, including a big boar. Thus, the feeding of the pigs was added to Innocencia’s daily routine. Then, one day, while Purok was having the boar mount a sow brought in by a neighbor, father and daughter had an encounter with one another. Innocencia was bathing with clothes on by the well when Purok, half naked, washed his hands. The two looked at one another and Innocencia’s emotions were stirred. When she went back to her room, Purok was standing outside the door. The father pushed the daughter on the bed, and the daughter merely stiffed a scream. After the deed, the father acted as if nothing happened. Turo, the brother, noticed nothing. It was Innocencia who noticed that her brother too, was looking at her in a peculiar way. And she found herself feeling excited, so when it was his turn to do the deed she did not struggle. The narrative returns from the flashback to the present: after feeding the pigs, she had gone back to the house and began cooking rice, and while she was reminiscing the smell of burnt rice and the cry of the hideous baby had pulled her out of her reverie. The recollection of it all makes her feel repulsed at the sight of her child, and she ends up killing it with a pillow. When the men arrive they see the dead baby. Turo cries at seeing his baby killed, but Innocencia says no, the child is not his but Purok’s. While the two men are dumbfounded, she runs out, takes a bolo and kills the large boar in the pigpen. The men try to lift her up, but she resists, accusing them of being pigs.

The story is commendable for the careful execution of craft. Deriada has an extensive vocabulary. For instance, “Purok proffered his hands” uses the word “proffered,” which not only has that particularity that distinguishes it from simply “washed,” but it also lends an albeit tiny bit of musicality to the prose as it consonates with “Purok”‘s /p/ and /r/ sounds. There is also a great degree of terminological precision, and at some points the statement captures the complexity of the reality it describes.  When Innocencia is described as having “realized, not entirely without shame, that she was beginning to desire a man, any man,” we are offered not only the fact that she desires a man and that she feels no shame in it, but inadvertently the fact she is supposed to feel shame. This command of language is utilized excellently, and the revelation of facts with it is effective in its functionality: when the demand arises, the prose is terminologically precise, but it is simple when language needs to be simple, as in “Purok himself had not learned to read and write,” where the simplicity of the words used contribute to the sense of uneducated-ness being described.The plot is also well woven: the story is told with flashbacks, and they are arranged in thematic development, with Innocencia reflecting on the flashback every time there is a return to the narrative present. There is also a need to emphasize Deriada’s tendency to be ironic. Just in the name of the character, Innocencia, do we get a taste of his irony.

But perhaps most noticeable in the prose is Deriada’s use of internally established metonymy. I found how he mastered this art in another story while doing my thesis, and the device seems to be his specialty. In the story, a situation occurs with a particular object in close proximity being mentioned. The young ferns strewn on moss, for instance, appeared in understandable verisimilitude during Innocencia’s encounter with Boy Ponciano. Later on in the story, while Innocencia is having sex with Purok, she is described as seeing a flash of these same objects as she closed her eyes, implying the sexual experience with Boy Ponciano.

In Joseph Galdon SJ’s review of several of Deriada’s works, Pigpen is passingly described as being ruined by the contrived symbolism. I am tempted to disagree with him, for I am of the opinion that the healthy contrivance of the story is what makes it an excellent showcase for art. I have no problems with obvious literary devices, they have a use particularly in trying to introduce artistic appreciation to beginning readers. While explaining the story to fascinated students during SALEM’s fiction exhibit, it was easy to point out the symbolism of the pigs and the metonymy of the ferns to them.

The story is, of course, most worth paying attention to because of its topic. I had, in my youth, long had the impression that all the lower classes worried about were Marxist concerns. Reading this story has entirely changed my mind. Just imagine the three of them never asking the awkward question of the baby’s paternity!

“Pigpen” defamiliarizes for us the idea of a morally prudish idyll in remote rural Philippines, showing us instead how proximity to the elements can make people behave, well, like animals. It also takes a more rural perspective into the crippling effects of domesticity in human life: being too preoccupied with daily chores, the characters’ sexual urges became repressed, and thus proved reckless to the point of incestuous when the ego could no longer restrain the id. we must note that this perspective is presented vis-a-vis the effect of nature’s proximity on our sexuality: it is the sight of pigs, we see, that arouses Innocencia. Of course, it is needless to say that the descriptions of the locales are also of historiographical significance: parts of the story are practically the history of the Mawab area.

The story raises several questions on the craft of writing for me. First off, I am ambivalent about the objective correlative in the story. At some points it is utilized admirably: the sight of the boar mounting its own daughter inevitably stirred in Innocencia not only sexual but particularly incestuous urges. I do not however see where she gets the motivation to kill the boar in the end. I also notice that nothing actually happens in the narrative present before she kills the deformed baby, though I am willing to believe the recollection (horrible as it is) is enough objective correlative to drive her to that state of mind. I am led to ask if the standard that “something has to be happening” in a story universally applies. In any case, I am ultimately led to ask if, say the author does see some points for improvement in a published work (what I think among which I had just pointed out), can he or she still edit the work. Here, I feel is one of those realms where that elusive function of the author still remains dominant in spite of Structuralism: it will still be the author who will be the basis for the authenticity of the work of art. But I am also tempted to say that the author is not the one who creates the piece, but merely the artistic shaman if you will of the greater, latent, indelible spirit of Art. That, however, is the subject of another post!

Masterful command of language, and well fleshed (if you pardon the pun) character interaction,  literary device conscious of itself, and most specially a fascinating subject matter, Leoncio Deriada’s “Pigpen” can please both casual reader and literary critic alike!

The Silliman Experience: A whole new world in Valencia, Dolphins in Bais, fishermen-stars in Siquijor

The Main House at the Writers Village. Photo courtesy of Brian Rimer

On the second week, we were joined by guest panelist Nguyen Phan Que Mai, a Vietnamese poet based in Manila, and Dumaguete’s very own Cesar “Sawi” Ruiz  Aquino. Mom Weena and sir Bobby Villasis also return to the panel for the week.

Me with the great Sawi Aquino

Sir Sawi’s poem “Go Flying,” a piece of ars poetica beneath the Main House stairs.

Sir Sawi’s poem “Go Flying” was painted beneath the stairs to the main house, and was thus visible at the session area. The lovely ars poetica piece made me curious about the poet (who was always described as Dumaguete’s pride). I was fortunate enough to not only meet him and hear him give comments to works, he was even kind enough to give me his own copy of  Thornton Wilder’s collection of plays!

“I eat tourism for breakfast.” Sir Bobby Villasis, accomplished writer, panelist during the workshop, and a good man. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales

It was unfortunately the last week we got to see sir Bobby. He could barely make it during the 3rd week because of business with the Tourism Office. I had been personally fond of sir Bobby, ever since he told me that he liked my play, that he it was who insisted that my play ought be selected, and it was with the conversation with him that the possibility of my playing being staged was started.

me with Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai, who paneled during the workshop. Ma’m Que Mai was very nice, “as if we all knew her once in a previous life,” to quote mom Weena

Ma’am Que Mai was no doubt the friendliest panelist we had throughout the workshop. It was primarily because she was the only panelist who actually chose to stay with us at the Writers Village for the duration of her stay. With a bamboo staff in hand, she explored the village.

The Spirit Pine Tree, which stands in the middle of the Writers Village.

The Silliman Spirit, a breed of Hibiscus bred exclusively for Silliman. Its red and white motif is patterned after the Silliman University’s seal. These flowers were in bloom at the Writers Village throughout the workshop.

What kuya Mo calls the Negros Spider Lily, which is endemic to Negros. I got some bulbs and they’re growing here in Davao!

Lilies like these grow around the Village, and Manang Bibi would pick them fresh to arrange for the tables.

I and Mich, with the help of Christian Tablazon, caught a toad. Photo courtesy of TJ Dimacali

I climbed up the Spirit Pine tree. I and Mich were probably the first fellows to climb it.

And she wasn’t the only one exploring. I did my own exploring, too. With the curious Mich Tan, I walked around Camp Lookout, spotting flowers and plants, venturing into the nearby house (a property of the ambassador to the US, I hear). I discovered an unfinished construction site nearby with a striking view of Mount Talinis. We even climbed up the Spirit Pine Tree and caught a toad (with Christian’s help).

And the place wasn’t the only thing I explored. The other fellows proved to be interesting people in themselves as their personalities unfolded.

Mich Tan, posing with an Elephant Ear leaf for Vida as the latter designed the batch shirt

I met Mich Tan a year ago during the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in Bacolod. Save for Cagayan de Oro Fictionist Jayson Parba (my room mate at that time), I was closest then with Mich. Our reunion during Silliman therefore proved to be a happy occasion, as I got to know her better. “A woman of her own,” is the best way to describe her, she found happiness in being alone, reading or listening to music beneath the Spirit Pine. She had strong opinions but she was quiet about them, though I am fortunate enough to be privy to some of them. But while she was quiet she was never pretentious, and it’s always a delight so her look at things with wonder. Having grown up in urbanized NCR, she had seen very little of the wilderness. So, with my kababayan Meghan, we taught her the names of plants and trees – we even climbed up a tree. She was also eager to grasp Cebuano, and though she said “lingaw kaayo ka kauban” (you’re fun to be with) time and again, it never grew old! I would be unjust, though, not to mention her talents: aside from  being a brilliant fictionist, she handled money well and alcohol even better.

Hazel Meghan Hamile, at Antulang. Photo courtesy of Meg.

It seems Mich isn’t the first fellow I met, though. I met Meghan Hamile during the 2011 Taboan Writers Festival held in Davao, where SALEM served as ushers. UP Mindanao’s Literary Society also served as secretariat, and that was where I made acquaintance with Meg. The next time we would meet again would be in front of Katipunan Hall. But the affinity of Davaoeños proved to be stronger than time, and we became close too. Meg had a very gentle personality (it takes a great degree of kindness to please Mich!), and she was incredibly friendly. But that didn’t make her boring: beneath that quiet personality was a sense of humour not even the formidable TJ-Mike tandem can outdo.

Timmy Jimmy Dimacali doing the Indignant Chicken pose at the sight of the Portugal Roosters at Azalea Restaurant. Photo courtesy of TJ.

TJ Dimacali was the first fellow I met during the workshop. I got the impression that this fictionist room mate of mine was intelligent, and sure enough I never lost that first impression. As the days passed, I also learned that he was proof of how adding intelligence to a playful personality will only produce toxic humour.Timmy Jimmy (a nickname coined by Debbie Nieto) proved to be incredibly witty, and he had a quip for every self deprecating situation. His running gags included the Indignant chicken pose, his vanity about being good looking, and deliberately racist jokes about Mich being Chinese (to which Mich responded with equal humour). For me, his best joke was “With all due respect Mich, f*ck you!” (said with the asterisked word pronounced with Maricel Soriano’s “pak”). I cannot fail to express my envy, of course, at the fact that he can play the violin.

Mike Gomez with three of his signatures: his fondness for Vida’s hat, his damoves on Vida (by, for instance, bringing her bag), and his own vanity (he has strategically placed himself beneath the word “maganda” (beautiful) to associate himself with it). Photo courtesy of Meghan Hamile.

TJ formed a comic duo of sorts with Mike Gomez. Mike was the first fellow from Silliman University in a long while, and he got significant attention for it. Which is strange because he never played with that fact in his gags: his most continuous gag is his own vanity, and he played it with TJ. Bosconians (they were both graduates of Don Bosco Schools) had a tendency to be good looking, they say. When he was ill for a few days, he quipped “I make sick look cool.” He aces TJ by the fact that he left an indelible mark of humour in the workshop, when, during one session, he described a “crippling pretentiousness” that brought us to laughter with its terminological precision. If Mike wasn’t with TJ, or with his two love team mates (Cebuano poet CD Borden and AdMU fictionist Vida Cruz), he was smoking alone, “making lung cancer look cool” perhaps. Mike, of course, cannot be described without mentioning how fond he is of Vida’s hat, which he wore for almost extraordinarily prolonged periods of time. He was almost as fond of it as he was of Haruki Murakami.

Vida Cruz at Antulang. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

Vida Cruz was the flower of the workshop. The fictionist president of AdMU’s WriterSkill was refined and neat with her thorough notes. It’s hard not to like Vida, she was mature and caring – rather severe sounding characteristics that fortunately did not dull her own sense of humour. I found her incredibly agreeable, and in her I found the first person who shared my taste in music. Why was she the flower of the workshop? Let’s just say she had the most bees (or, in Mike’s case, flies) hovering around her. If you have Yuki Kajiura playing from your earphones, what’s not to like about you! Vida, it needs to be mentioned, can draw exquisitely, and her accurate rendition of my good looks on the workshop batch shirt is enough proof of that.

CD Borden during the first day opening ceremony. He refused to have his ID photo taken facing the camera, so they had to use this photo. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

Frequently haunting Balay Magnolia was CD Borden. One of the few poets in this batch of the workshop, CD had that natural humour so inherent in the Sugbuanon race, and had he joked as much as TJ and Mike did he would have outdone either one. “What did Tarzan say when he saw an elephant skating down the mountain wearing shades?” he joked, “‘Wow pare, an elephant is skating down the mountain wearing shades.'” CD also hid an arsenal of extensive connections in the locality under his sleeves: he was able to procure for the more curious among us some sensitive bits of happiness. But CD was a Carolingian Philosophy major, and he thus hid a broad understanding of theories under his simple, binisaya get-up. I must say, that fact made his humour even more potent. Of course, CD was most memorable because he refused to have himself photographed unless he had his back turned from the camera.  For a private reason, I call him my Godfather.

Christian Tablazon. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

CD’s roommate was Christian Tablazon. This fictionist teacher at UP Los Baños is by far the most well versed in theory I’ve talked to in the workshop. Talking to him of Barthes will inevitably take you from Structuralist to Post-Structuralist thought (as opposed to normal conversation elsewhere, where you’d have to answer the question “who’s Barthes?”). As a film major he is also a huge film buff, and as Mich put it, “there is probably no movie I’ve seen that he hasn’t.” Christian, however, hides a rather interesting personality under the theories and films: he is adorably sadomasochistic, and it isn’t unusual to hear cute remarks from him like “I’d do Ash then have Pikachu electrocute us as we come.” On that note, Christian is incredibly good with animals, and Debbie gave him the nickname “goat whisperer” when he was able to pat a passing goat. He has an uncanny talent for attracting animals, and we could see that he makes good use of this talent with people as well!

Debbie Nieto during the US Embassy Lecture. Photo courtesy of Greg Morales.

Debbie Nieto was another member of the small poet’s caucus in this year’s workshop (she, CD, and Nathan were the only fellows for poetry). Debbie had an irresistibly fun way of talking: kuya Moses Atega said he thinks she had a lot of gay friends, and she got her way of talking from them. “Tsong” was her endearing address to people, and to use it as often as she does would be to talk like her. She was also incredibly good at giving nicknames – which was probably why she was made in charge of the fellow awards. In spite of this, though, Timmy Jimmy (whose nickname came from her) gave her a nickname of her own, Debbie Jebbie, for reasons that would scandalize the Victorian sensibilities of my intellectual readers.

Sooey Valencia, at Azalea Restaurant. Photo Courtesy of Vida Cruz.

Sooey Valencia had an undeniably sophisticated air about her. This baby of the batch (she was the youngest) spoke with a very upper class tone and emphasis, and her sweet voice can both make remarks sound intelligent and songs sound classy. She always smelled very lovely, and though she might find it debilitating, her deliberate way of walking gave a her certain dignity that was hard not to like.

Thomas Chavez introducing himself during the opening ceremony. Phot courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

The oldest fellow during the workshop was sir Thomas Chavez. The fictionist kept to himself most of the time, something we admired because we knew he was writing. The man wrote prolifically, and his years ahead of us was very evident: his comments during workshops were almost as thorough as the panelists, and they were peppered with indications of his being well read. The man had a powerful voice with a flawless neutralized accent that edged towards a received pronunciation. He can also play the piano and do palmistry.

Thomas Chavez (left) and Nathan Aw (right) during the Bais session.

I have, of course, written earlier about Nathan. Even up to his last week he never lost his curiosity. There was nothing like everything he saw during the workshop in Singapore. But I have to admit, when he left after the second week (his University only allowed him 2 weeks), I realized that there was no one  like Nathan in the Philippines.

Arkay Timonera performing as Manny Reyes Jr in my play “Killing the Issue” during the workshop. Photo courtesy of F. Jordan Carnice.

Gio Chao at Antulang. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz

Sheerah Tan Cole on the way to the Dolphin Watching area at Bais. Photo from her Facebook account.

With us during the workshop were three auditors: Gio Chao, Arkay Timonera and Sheerah Tan Cole.  Gio was with us the longest, was there from the first week, and the guy proved as interesting as the fellows. One thing I cannot fail to say about him is that he can play the guitar really well, and this is coming from someone who generally doesn’t like the guitar. Arkay, whom we met on the second week, was an accomplished young writer himself, having gone to the Iligan Writers Workshop already. On our first meeting at the Boulevard during the first weekend, we immediately talked about Leoncio Deriada, and like me he was familiar with the short story “For Death is Dead in December.” Like CD, I call him “ninong” (godfather) for private reasons. Sheerah, whom we also met on the first week, had been an auditor for the workshop for two years already, and she comes from the US every summer to observe.

My Official Pen on kuya Mo’s Egg timer, which he brought to help us keep the length of our comments in order.

Sessions for the first two days of the second week were spent in the Writers Village, where we delighted in each other’s companies. On the second day, we were hosted at the home of Dr. Doodie Garcia, which was a walking distance from the village. The home was lovely, with a garden full of interesting plants (I had an argument with kuya Mo about the Magnolia. It turns out what I’ve been calling the “magnolia” is actually the Gardenia.)  The discussions during this day’s session also proved interesting: most memorably, mom Weena shared how the late lola Edith asked Robert Frost the reason behind the repetition of “And miles to go before I sleep,” his most famous poem’s last line. “Easy does it,” responded Robert Frost, and that was the answer to her question! I found it to be a magical moment, when we young writers received the advice from mom Weena, who received it from lola Edith, who received it from Robert Frost. That was the highlight of the day, though the praiseworthy spiced cheese, homemade by Dr. Garcia herself, comes at a close second place!

On the Wednesday of that week we were taken to Bais to go on Dolphin Watching. Bais was some hours drive by the Silliman Bus from Valencia, and the trip was peppered with sugarcane fields, trees that Mich named, and our speculations on how pretty the women of Tanjay were (we were only able to see old women and little girls).

Bringing my breakfast as I came down the wharf at Bais from the Silliman bus. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera

Meeting the panelists at the wharf. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

One of the boats that took us to the Dolphin Watching area. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang

On the way to the Dolphin Watching session. That I and Mich are still smiling here, right after we had our argument on orthography, shows how patient she is. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

Watching the Dolphins. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera

The Dolphins, breaking the sense of dream, ended up bringing me back to a more delightful reality.

We arrived at the dock after a few hours, and we got on boats. The dolphins were in the middle of Tañon Straight, about an hour on boat from the dock. On the way, we read the afternoon session’s works, and I and Mich had an almost heated argument about the proper orthography of “all right” and “every day” (word processors, including the spell check of this blog agree with me, but I cheerfully  gave way because she was Magna cum laude from AdMU and she was right). When we arrived at the area, the dolphins were magical. it was like they were “people-watching,” as mom Weena put it, because they approached the boats we were on. It was  incredibly dreamlike, as if the whole ocean’s surface was some flat screen TV, and the dolphins were just images on it. The feeling of course was broken with the stillness of the surface when the dolphins would surface to breath.

The sense of awe found camp to grasp on for humourous expression, and I ended up singing the Disney song “A Whole New World.” Later on in the workshop, fellows would sing it under the influence of ennui or of the sugarcane spirit, and it would end up being the closest thing to a batch song.

The Sandbar

Fellows and Arkay the auditor at the Sand Bar in Bais. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

Mich holding the “Sea Silvanas.”

with the biggest starfish I had ever seen. Nope, no beer belly. But no abs either. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

The top of the starfish. Afterwards, I released it.

Close up of the Starfish, from the underside. It’ easy to imagine a pizza with these colours.

After dolphin-watching, we went to swim in a sand bar nearby. I had not swam in a long time, but thankfully my skills haven’t rusted yet. The sand bar didn’t have much animals in the sea bed, save for a few little starfish and some flat sea urchins (which I called sand silvanas). Snorkeling was thus uneventful until I found the biggest starfish I’d ever seen. After some photos with it, I released it: catch and release is fashionable, because environmental friendliness is the latest thing.

Lechon in the middle of the sea.

Grilled oysters, also during the Sand bar lunch. After we ate their tasty flesh the shells were given a Bin Laden funeral.

The kinilaw, you can’t have lunch in the sea without it!

If you had this surprisingly spicy Dinuguan in the middle of the sea in less fortunate circumstances, it’d be torture – you’d have nothing to drink. Thank goodness we had soft drinks.

We had lunch on the boat: Lechon with sea-salty fingers proves to be a great experience. Afterwards, we went back to the dock, then drove to Bais City Hall for the day’s session.

Fellows and Panelists group photo in front of the Bais City Hall. Photo Courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

The lampposts at Bais had a slightly different design from those in Dumaguete and Sibulan.

Workshop mode during the Bais session

I guess this is what I look like when I’m seriously reading. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

Fellows during the Bais session.

Panelists during the Bais Session. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

Bodbod at tsokolate with slices of mango, the snack during the Bais session. I still have cravings for the stuff!

Group photo after the session. Photo courtesy of Urich Calumpang.

That day’s session was very eventful. Not only did we have exquisite bodbod with tsokolate and mangoes for snack, the discussions themselves proved to be interesting. Commenting on a poem that turned out to be by CD, I quoted an interesting poem sent to me by my friend from Iyas Ioannes Arong. It was about a tree that bore heads for fruit, and the locals of the village would pick the fruits up when they fell and mounted these on their necks. the poem also turned out to be by CD!It was also the harshest moment of the workshop. In the discussion of a story, even the usually gentle Mom Weena ended up uttering a quotable rule in fiction writing: “As writers we are invited into the imagination of the reader. We must do well not to abuse that hospitality by overstaying.”

Dinner at the University House. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

After dinner, Mrs. Malayang formally welcomed us at the University House Living room. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

Ma’am Nguyen Phan Que Mai giving her lecture during the President’s Dinner. Photo Courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

We had the University President’s Dinner on the evening the next day. It was held at the University House, which was steeped in Silliman history. During the dinner there were Psychology teachers from the Ateneo de Davao who apparently heard of me before having met me! After eating, ma’am Que Mai gave a lecture on Vietnamese Literature about the Vietnam War, and we ended the night with sir Thomas playing the piano. The President’s wife, who hosted in behalf of the President, gave us  Silliman mugs as mementos, and we got free copies of ma’am Que Mai’s collection of poetry!

Lunch at Kabayuan. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz.

We knew from the start of the workshop that we had to go to Siquijor on one of the weekends. But since we wanted to explore Dumaguete on the first weekend, that plan was moved to the second weekend. So that Saturday the Silliman Bus took us down to Dumaguete, where we had lunch at Kabayuan (the humba was divine!). Then we proceeded to the Wharf, where kuya Mo bought our tickets for us in advance. Kuya Mo was our tour guide for the whole event.

We got on the ferry and went on a roughly 2 hour ride to Siquijor. It was my second time to ride a ferry, and I must say that taking the Hong Kong – Macau ferry as your first time raises your expectations to unreasonably high levels. The ferry was okay, but it wasn’t Hong Kong.

Just arrived at Siquijor Wharf. Yes, Oishi, I’m interested in endorsing Marty’s. Photo Courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

We arrived at the Siquijor port and the beach was lovely. It was then that I realized I forgot to bring my goggles!  I had to forget about snorkeling in Siquijor.While waiting for the tickets back to Dumaguete (we bought them in advance) at the wharf, we sat on one of the kiosks near the shore, and I saw what I thought was a black goat walking around. But upon closer examination of the creature, I realized that it was actually a Doberman with an uncut tail! This must be the magic of Siquijor!

The Church of St. Francis of Assisi, or the Siquijor Church, is walking distance from the wharf.

The Altar of the Siquijor Church

Facing the door of the Siquijor church from inside.

The Bell Tower of the Siquijor church.

Walking distance from the wharf was the church of St. Francis of Assisi, with its bell tower nearby. The church was lovely, with a rope curtain near the entrance and a wide cypress-lined courtyard between it and the bell tower. Bell tower and church alike (in fact almost all churches we would see) were made of coral stones.

From the church square we rode a multicab to Salagdoong, the resort where we would stay at. Most of us decided to be adventurous and sat on the vehicle’s roof, so we were able to see everything we passed by.

Being glad of our decision to sit on top of the multicab (and we aren’t even departing here yet!). Photo courtesy of Arkay TImonera.

It was a decision that we were glad we made! On the way we saw commanding views of the sea, old capiz-windowed houses that had “historical” painted all over them, even older churches that showed the power the Catholic church once had on the area(we passed by Maria church but weren’t able to explore it), quiet villages idyllic in their remoteness, and an overwhelming sense of wilderness that made you forget industrialization was actually a trend elsewhere.

The Balete tree by the stream. Let’s imagine the haziness of the camera is the ethereal force hovering above the area manifesting itself.

On our way we stopped by a large Balete tree growing on a spring. It must have inspired occult imaginations, and sure enough it had: kuya Mo said witches come to the spring every holy week to take the magical water from the spring and brew potions. Whether or not it really had supernatural effects, the sight of it alone was arresting enough to render me stunned for a while.

Entrance at Coco Grove. Photo Courtesy of Vida Cruz.

I had strawberry sundae at the Coco Grove.

The beach at Coco Grove was beautiful. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera

Kuya Moses Atega, the most powerful man in Dumaguete. His powers extend to Siquijor, as he was able to let us spend time at Siquijor’s most expensive resort. Photo courtesy of Arkay Timonera. Awesomeness courtesy of Kuya Mo himself.

“…Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth…”
Bonsai moment with the wrong shell at Coco Grove. Photo courtesy of Arkay TImonera.

We also stopped by Coco Grove, the most expensive resort in the island. It was lovely, with a pool and a beautiful shoreline. we had some snacks in the bar and walked on the white sand.

The way to Salagdoong during the day. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz.

The hotel at Salagdoong during the day. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz.

The immediate way to Salagdoong was lined with Fire trees, and though it was already dark when we arrived, we could still see the red flowers as we sat on the roof. We arrived at the Function Hall (we didn’t book rooms, we chose to book the function hall and asked for mattresses) and had dinner at the restaurant. The power went out for a while, and we looked forward to seeing the famous supernatural of Siquijor. Unfortunately or fortunately, we waited in vain.

After eating, we looked at the beautiful evening view of the sea and enjoyed one another’s companies. I wondered why some of the stars seemed too low down the sky, but when they moved I realized that those where fishermen from afar! Yet again, Transfiguration in Siquijor! Later that night some of us decided to go swim.The beach was great, but the showering area seriously needed improvement. After swimming (I wasn’t able to shower), I went to bed. Apparently they had a drink while I was asleep, but my dreams were sweet too, so I didn’t envy them much.

The Salagdoong monolith during the day. Photo courtesy of kuya Mo Atega.

The next day we got to see the beach in daylight, and it was beautiful. There was a large monolith just a stone’s throw away from the shore, and it proved to be a great diving spot. It was a good thing we decided not to go for a swim: I was yearning to go snorkeling, but I forgot to bring my goggles!

The Convent of San Isidro Labrador, or the Lazi Convent, is on one side of the San Isidro Labrador Parish Compound, a large area dedicated to the Catholic faith in Lazi.

A lovely view of the adjacent Parish area from a window of the Lazi Convent.

The San Isidro Labrador Church, or the Lazi Church, and its bell tower stand just in front of the Convent.

The altar of the Lazi Church

Upper level corridor at the Lazi Parish (my lexicon still fails me as to the exact term for this common feature in churches).

An interesting motif on the wall of the Lazi Church. I wonder what it is?

The Coco Balls, which mom Weena shared during the workshop with the other panelists. Photo courtesy of sir Krip Yuson, whose notes on Debbie Nieto’s poem are also on the photo.

Later that day we checked out from the hotel and toured Siquijor. We first stopped by Lazi, where we went into the convent and the church. The San Isidro Labrador Convent was imposing, and that was when I realized just how powerful the Catholic church was in this place. The great acacia Trees that lined the lane between the Convent and the church added to the majesty of it all. The church was made of  reddish coral stone, and it also had a courtyard with cypresses, only the courtyard here was wider.We tried the Coco balls, and we bought some for mom Weena, manong Alfredo the bus driver, manang Jo and manang Bibi.

One of the layers of Cambugahay Falls.

I’m still violently ambivalent about this photo, courtesy of Arkay Timonera.

From there we went to Cambugahay Falls, a set of low waterfalls which had pretty nice swimming areas. There was also a diving option: holding on to a  dangling rattan vine and swinging before letting go. I wasn’t able to try that, the children kept using it one after another.

The absence of food as presence at Jutz Cafe. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz

After that, we went back to the wharf – we were planning to go to a cafe, but time was unfortunately running short. Once again on the ferry, we went back to Dumaguete. We had an early dinner of pizza and mash potatoes at Jutz Cafe (which was delicious albeit slow on the serving) before we went back up to the Writers Village.

Thus ended the second week of my Silliman Experience.

Dumaguete Fireball


If you look carefully from the banks of the Mekong river at night on certain months, they say, you will see a fantastic display of tiny balls of fire shooting out rapidly from the water.

But I’d rather be in Dumaguete. Every morning from the Boulevard, one giant ball of fire rises from out of the ocean in glorious procession to the top of the sky.