The Silliman Experience: Valencia, Sibulan, Dumaguete and Bacong on the First Week

Balay Jasmine, at the Writers Village

On the morning of the first day of the Workshop, we had breakfast at the Writers Village’s Main House. The first week’s panelists arrived, and we got our first glimpse of them. Ma’am Susan Lara, sir D.M. Reyes (whom I met the year previous in Iyas), sir Bobby Villasis and the director-in-residence herself, Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas. Later, other guests began arriving: Dr. Ben Ben Malayang, President of Silliman; Dr. Eve Mascuñana, Chairperson of the English Department; the morning’s master of ceremonies sir Ian Casocot; and several others.

Chairs at the session area of the Writers Village’s main house, before the opening ceremonies began.

The opening ceremonies took place at the session area just beneath the main house’s balcony, the area where we would be holding most of our sessions.

Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales

Just before the opening ceremonies, we were asked to pose for our ID photos in whichever location we liked. I chose to sit beneath what Arkay Timonera would later on dub the Spirit Pine Tree, wearing the SALEM polo shirt during my term as President.

Sir Ian Casocot served as the Master for the morning’s opening ceremonies. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

From left: Panelist ma’am Susan Lara; Silliman President Dr. Ben Malayang; Workshop director mom Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas; and panelist sir Bobby Villasis. Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

Fellows were asked to introduce themselves, and I did so by saying I was “currently enjoying the life of an unemployed person.” Mom Weena quipped “it has its delights!” Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

The Fellows and first week Panelists of the 51st Silliman Writers Workshop . Photo courtesy of sir Greg Morales.

After the morning ceremonies, we had a group photo in front of the main house and had lunch.

Workshop mode

Panelists ma’am Susan Lara, Mom Weena Torrevillas, and sir DM Reyes right before the workshop session.

Some of the fellows right before the first session.

In the afternoon, the workshop proper began, and I got my first taste of the country’s first writers workshop.

By this time I’ve been to two workshops already, and I’ve organized two others. And the workshop scalpels of the Panelists in Davao are very sharp. It thus came to me as a mild surprise that the oldest writers workshop in the country turned out to be the least “harsh” workshop I’ve been to.

there is no mistaking Mom Weena Tiempo-Torrevillas’ soft, motherly voice

Workshop sessions always began with the director-in-residence, mom Weena Tiempo-Torrevillas, giving an objective description of the work being discussed. With the description’s analytical tone and with Mom Weena’s soft voice, the sessions were started with a generally constructive mood. It was as if during sessions, texts are accepted with dignities of their own, with their strengths highlighted, and this made the criticism constructive. During sessions, every piece can be saved, and every problem can be dealt with.

Mich Tan came up with the novel idea of sitting on the grass with a blanket beneath the Spirit Pine Tree, to read or simply to see the afternoon creep away into night. Other fellows soon followed suit. Photo courtesy of Debbie Nieto.

From left: Bisaya boys Mike Gomez of Dauin and CD Borden of Cebu just outside Balay Magnolia, their usual haunt between sessions. I was lucky to hear them exchange Bisaya limericks, most memorably the one about Max Alvarado.

After sessions, we had a lot of free time, and we spend it chatting with one another. Chats could range from intellectual discussions to personal sharing.

from Left: TJ Dimacali, Nathan Aw, me

Nathan Aw, a fellow from Singapore, peppered my conversations with questions. If I wasn’t spending time with Mich Tan, I was talking with him. It was his first time in the Philippines, and he was naturally curious of the country he was in. We talked of Filipino food, folklore and customs. I have to admit it, answering his questions made me see a possible career in tourism! Our conversations also went beyond that: Nathan turned out to be a person curious about things in general. Before I knew it he made me realize how much I’ve come to learn in life!

Drinking was a nightly ritual. At Balay Jasmine we would always have Tanduay mixed with Pepsi in ceramic mugs.  Conversations were always very lively, and talk under the influence of the sugarcane spirit ranged from the Bosconian boys TJ and Mike’s tirades to my personal drama. In any case, nights were never boring.

at the Sidlakang Negros Village, where we had our Governor’s Dinner. Photo Courtesy of Vida Cruz.

On the night of the first day (so yes, the drinking happened later), we had the Governor’s Dinner at the Sidlakang Negros Village, a destination in Dumaguete dedicated to Negros Oriental Tourism.  Unfortunately, The Governor of Negros Oriental, being the diligent official, was busy and could not make it to the dinner. We had a great night anyway. I found out for the first time the possibility that my play might be staged by actors from Silliman. And the fellows were asked to do some readings, I reciting Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” and an English translation of my own poem “Pagtatapat” from memory.

Dr. Mascuñana introducing US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Robin Diallo and RELO Assistant Rina Dunglao.

On the Wednesday of the first week, we had visitors from the US Embassy to give a lecture on Creative Writing. US Embassy RELO Assistant Rina Dunglao gave several exercises and divided the fellows into groups.

From left: TJ, me, Mike and CD, the winning team during the somewhat competitive activities.

Group photo after the US Embassy lecture

I was teamed up with TJ, Mike and CD, and for all our lackadaisical temperaments, we emerged to be the best group!  Winners were Mike’s summary of a roman a clef  story involving Pepsi Paloma’s last words “this world is a crazy planets” and my simile “cold as rushed goodbyes.”

At Azalea Restaurant, in Sibulan, where we held our afternoon session on the first Friday

This photo, taken from the Silliman Bus, could not capture the majestic view of the shoreline road at Sibulan.

The view from Azalea is spectacular. “You see mountain and sea” as sir Ian puts it.

During the Azalea session

That Friday, we had our out-session at Azalea in Sibulan. The trip to the restaurant was itself an experience. We passed by the scenic Sibulan road, which faced the island of Cebu and was lined with classic-designed lampposts and Acacia trees. Azalea had a lovely view of the sea and a river that cut through mountains. The food at the restaurant was great: worth mentioning is their rum cake, which was reminiscent of butter slice.

I and ma’am Susan Lara (“aunt Sue”) at Azalea. Her autograph message either accidentally or deliberately alluded to my tendency to think erotically. “Keep pushing that pen!”

It was the last day of the week, and we had to bid farewell to two guest panelists, ma’am Susan and sir DM. Both have been very nice. Ma’am Susan had no qualms joining in our often bawdy jokes, and sir DM, when I asked for an autograph, promised to send me a book instead! Continued communication with them online has been brief but pleasant all throughout!

Me beside one of the pillars of the Silliman University Portal.

Messing around at Silliman’s Wildlife Breeding Area

The Negros Spotted Deer is endemic to Negros and is being bred extensively in Silliman.


The Luzon Bleeding Heart Pigeon really has a striking red mark on its chest


The bats at the Silliman breeding are proved to be very friendly to humans. I was able to touch this one (I forgot the species), and it showed genuine curiosity.


Sea Urchin roe, offered by some of the kind local women who were having a feast of them along the shores. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz.


We saw a vast collection of shells. We even got ones as souvenirs! Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz.

The Silliman Library owns a copy of the manuscript to Rizal’s Noli me Tangere. When we came there, it was opened to the beginning of the “unpublished” chapter “Elias and Salome.”



Planning for weekends during the workshop was given to the fellows, and for our first weekend we decided to stay in Dumaguete. On the afternoon of Saturday we came down to Dumaguete and toured Silliman. Kuya Mo, “the most powerful man in Dumaguete,” led us to the University’s wildlife breeding area to see the spotted deer, the bleeding heart pigeons and the wild boars endemic to Negros. Then we went to a resort owned by university alumni (where we had juice, some sea urchin, and a look at a vast shell collection). We had a tour around campus proper, and we went into the library.

Fried Ice Cream (this one vanilla flavoured) at Panda’s Ice Cream.

Ice Cream cake (this one, ube flavoured) from Panda’s Ice Cream

Us fellows being cute with our batch bracelets. Photo courtesy of TJ Dimacali.


After our Silliman tour, we also walked around Dumaguete itself. We passed by  Panda’s Ice Cream and tried Fried Ice Cream among others. We passed by a souvenir shop and bought matching bracelets.

The bell tower at night

The famous Sizzling Bulalo of Royal Suite Inn

At Gabby’s Bistro. Photo Courtesy of Vida Cruz.

At Hayahay with Mich Tan. Photo courtesy of Vida Cruz, who seems to be getting tipsy.

Mich tries balut for the first time at the Boulevard. Photo courtesy of the now very tipsy Vida Cruz.

At night we stopped by the Church and the Bell tower and walked around the park. Then we had dinner at Royal Suite Inn, were we tried the famous Sizzling Bulalo. We stopped by Gabby’s Bistro and Florentina Homes, a lovely compound with a hotel, a coffee shop and a restaurant. We then had a drink at Hayahay, a bar along the sea with tree houses. Then we walked from Hayahay to the Boulevard, where Mich had her first try of balut while we had tempura.

The Boulevard right before sunrise.

The Dumaguete Sunrise

Afterwards, we waited for the sunrise along the Boulevard before taking a morning nap at the hotel where we checked in. When we woke up, I had some Budbud at tsokolate at Bethel Guest House, a hotel and restaurant along the Boulevard.

The Bacong moonrise.

For Sunday we continued to walk around Dumaguete, having lunch at Sans Rival. Following kuya Mo’s advice, we decided to rent an “easy ride” (a multicab) to go to the nearby municipality of Bacong. We stopped by a stone crafts store, then we went to a beach called “La Tundra,” where we were fortunate enough to see the moon rise of the biggest full moon of the year.

We went back to Dumaguete to have dinner at Bethel Guest House, then went back up to the Writers Village to rest, exhausted from a weekend of Valencia, Sibulan, Dumaguete and Bacong.

With a quick whiff from the blossoming Magnolias before sleeping, I ended the first week of my Silliman experience.


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