Pinoy Otaku Literature




Anime can be very reaffirming


The Filipino youth of this past two decades has an imagination highly influenced, if not dominated, by Japanese animation. Fanfiction, Wattpad stories illustrated anime-style, even the music and fashion sense – the symptoms are everywhere. This younger generation is an otaku generation.

I have been particularly exposed to this fact. During my time in the Ateneo de Davao, many members of the literary org, SALEM, were practically more into anime than literature, and were in the club with writing fanfiction as their main writing background. Many of my friends there were consequently anime fans. In Dumaguete I might very well be the first and so far only graduate student of Silliman University to have been made a member of its humble otaku club, SU MAGE, and several of my students in NORSU are no strangers to anime either. Indeed, I think I can say with some authority that anime has, after decades of mass exposure to it,  thoroughly become an element of contemporary Filipino culture.

And, as the case of members of SALEM reflect, anime’s influence to our imagination has had profound influences in our creative output, particularly in our literature. Far more than published text, our youth’s exposure to narrative has been through anime, either on TV dubbed by our local stations, or streamed or downloaded online fansubbed, and this consequently influences their narrative: beginning Filipino writers inevitably write about Japanese scenarios, and in the rare event that they do write in Filipino contexts, Japanese cultural nuances will be found entering both the situation and the storytelling.

And I feel that to the beginning writers trying to enter the literary craft with only a background of writing fanfic or anime-inspired stories, the Filipino literary establishment has not always been kind.


Filipino Literary Objections to Anime

I have seen enough beginners’ writers workshops to hear of the many objections more established writers have on the way anime has influenced beginning writers’ imaginations.

Perhaps the most common objection I hear is that anime-inspired writing by Filipinos is being contextually inauthentic, pretentious even. What, writers ask, is a writer from Bangkal, Davao City, doing writing about Heian-era playboys or Tokugawa-era profligates? Filipinos should write about Filipinos, and true to that Deriada maxim, “you should write what you know,” and writing about Bangkal, Davao City is far more practical than imagining the interior of Himeji castle. More profoundly, writers opposed to this way of imagining (and yes, the objection really is in the way the youth imagine) will argue that the young people into anime are becoming removed from the Filipino consciousness, imagining that they are Japanese and consequently writing as if they were Japanese to a Japanese audience. Otaku imagination is a threat to Filipino identity.

"Anime is muck!"


The other most common objection to anime-inspired writing is that it has bad effects on the craft. Dominique Cimafranca, writing about “the curse of fanfic,” listed seven reasons why fanfic makes bad literature. The first six talk about craft, and I quote:

1. Fanfic bespeaks of laziness and lack of imagination on the part of the writer. Instead of creating their own characters and settings, they merely appropriate what others have built.

2. Because they use characters and settings which are, within their sphere of readership, already well established, fanfic writers do not take care to fully flesh out these elements. Readers unfamiliar with the source material are left high and dry.

3. Moreover, characters from TV and cartoons do not translate well into the page. On the screen, the frenetic action may hide their flatness and one-dimensionality; when put into prose, which demands greater introspection on the part of the reader, these faults come to the fore.

4. Likewise, character development is almost nonexistent in fanfic stories. Because they do not own the property, because they may be careful not to offend other fans, or simply because they love the characters too much, fanfic authors do not push the boundaries of their protagonists.

5. Characters in fanfic stories do not have flaws. In the minds of their writers, the characters are perfect; in fact, too perfect to properly describe in words. In the prose medium, which relies on
words, this is a fatal flaw.

6. Worse still, some fanfic writers may actually be infatuated with the characters they write about. This is so common that it even has a name within the fanfic community: the Mary Sue syndrome. Not only does this make for unbearable reading, it is downright creepy.

Additionally, some workshop panelists argue that because the influence material is popular culture, and as many works of popular culture are often formulaic, this renders the works themselves formulaic.


Anime as Part of Pinoy Identity

Anime version of the Maguindanao Massacre

Maniwa Chouchou is a journalist, Nanami is Palparan

While I have no intention of contradicting sir Dom’s six points (or even the seventh, that fanfic can’t be published because of copyrights), there is something to be said about anime being cultural inauthentic to Filipinos and being formulaic.

While there is some weight to saying that exposure to anime detaches the youth from Filipino realities, it would be an exaggeration to say that it threatens to damage Filipino identity. For one thing, these young people may think Japan, but they most certainly do not live in Japan: they have to eat Filipino food, go to Filipino schools, meet Filipino friends, fall in Filipino love, perhaps even engage in Filipino sex. Inasmuch as culture is the way people live, they cannot possibly live like Japanese people in a Filipino reality, no matter how much affluence gives them the luxury of removedness from other Filipinos.

And then we have to argue that, contrary to what established writers argue, exposure to anime has instead become an indelible part of Filipino identity. Jessica Zafra once humorously wrote that the main catalyst behind EDSA 1 was the Marcos Administration’s suspension of Voltes V from TVs. By now two generations of Filipino have grown up exposed to anime, from the children of the late eighties and early nineties growing up with GMA’s dub of Dragon Ball or much later ABS-CBN’s dub of Naruto, to the children of the second millennium who grew up watching Code Geass and Gurren Laggan online. I must say here that to deny anime’s influence on Filipino culture is being removed from reality, being stuck perhaps in the nostalgic past (as many nationalists are, particularly the precolonial past) or being too highbrow as to be idiosyncratic.

Betrays his leader  –  Enrile, is that you?

And there we touch on two things: that arguments against anime-influenced imaginations on nationalistic grounds are founded on arbitrary preconceptions of a fixed Filipino identity; and that such a dismissal of anime is counterproductive.

When an established writer decries young people “not being Filipino enough” because of being too influenced by anime, there seems to be an underlying assumption that there is a definite, fixed Filipino identity, and anything from other cultures is “impurity.” But by this logic we can argue that electricity, which certainly is no Filipino invention, is an impurity in Filipino culture, and therefore we should not use electricity.  The idea of a fixed Filipino identity is a delusion: cultural identity is not and never will be fixed. There are constants of course, but a culture that does not change is a stagnant culture. And is the role of art (and in this case literature) not simply to reflect culture but to create it? We can argue that not only is Filipino otaku literature being authentic to contemporary Filipino realities, it even does something which hitherto entirely local literature has not done yet: take Japanese ideas to add to Filipino self reflection. Luis Katigbak’s “Subterrania,” a poignant story about Pinoy hikkikomori, demonstrates this best. And on that note we must also say that resistance to Japanese influence in Filipino culture is not only being hypocritical on the New Criticism-influenced (and therefore Americanized) Filipino writers’ parts, it is downright impossible: cultural influence is inevitable, any resistance to it is futile.

Iya da wa, hayaku tsuritsubusanai to

I must here say that this dismissal of young writers’ anime-influenced attempts at writing is becoming counterproductive. It is turning off many young people who want to try writing. In the long run, this will risk alienating a whole sector of our collective imagination from our literary output, rendering our already elitist literature even more removed from its people. Hito o norowaba ana futatsu, as the saying goes, and all this cursing is not doing anyone good.


Ippen, anime o miru

Futatsu no Bunka Baransu: Pinoy Otaku enters literature

And writers who dismiss anime as formulaic obviously do not know much about anime. The anime-manga industry is one of the most competitive industries in the world, one that rewards originality above all else. Just watching the anime (or reading the original manga) Bakuman. by the wonder duo of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata gives a glimpse into the importance of being able to breathe in fresh ideas into the scene.

And more informed anime fans will be quick to point out  that anime is perhaps the most intertextual and even the most literary form of pop culture. Literary-wise, I once wrote about how anime is no stranger to literary adaptation. Additionally, I’ve also written before how many anime titles were made with such deep understanding of literary principles that they could readily be considered literature themselves: the powerful subtlety of Clannad, the megalomaniacal plot intricacy of Code Geass, the compelling rootedness of Fullmetal Alchemist, just to name some popular choices. But if anyone is in doubt as to the literary nature of anime, I would like to introduce them to the works of Nishio Ishin, or perhaps of Kunihiko Ikuhara.

Sanetoshi thinks Superfrog is shibireru!

And anime, or at least Japanese pop culture, is the battleground of Takashi Murakami’s Superflat, the deliberate confluence – intersection, even – of pop and high art. Perhaps Filipino writers, who have been philistinically but dare I say accurately accused by Carlo Caparas of sitting on an ivory tower, have something to learn from anime’s at once mass and intellectual appeal.

So we have argued enough that anime, far from being detrimental to literary and artistic growth, is in fact the most conducive to it. How then does the Pinoy otaku go about starting literature?

Baby steps!

Baby steps!

For starters, the otaku must expand his fandom. More often than not the Pinoy otaku is into moe, a bit of shounen and shoujo here and there, and the odd niche fanservice (yaoi, RPG-based fantasy, or just straight plain ecchi). Anime for the Pinoy otaku is not a serious thing, it’s a source of immediate gratification. If the Pinoy otaku wants to go about writing, he must take anime more seriously. I could namedrop a lot of anime and manga titles here for your reference, but it’s best to describe it: find anime and manga that is difficult, and damn it try to understand whatever you choose to deal with. Kara no Kyoukai, Bakemonogatari, Eva, heck, even Five Cm per Second (there, namedropping).

Araragi Koyomi, protagonist of the series

Literary is sexy

And then, the established writers were somewhat right in saying that anime fandom limits the young, but only insofar as the young choose to limit themselves to their fandom. With the same willingness to try new titles, the anime fan who wants to write must begin exploring literature, particularly Filipino literature. Those six points on fanfic, after all, still stand, and while anime can offer a diverse worldview, it still does not present Filipino realities (something I have never denied – Filipino exposure to anime is the Filipino reality. Anime per se as an art form of course does not portray Filipino realities). And exposure to more literary anime will make literature easier, specially with Japanese literature (a bone I have to pick: an otaku with literary pretensions CANNOT be ignorant to Japanese literature – from the Kojiki to Murakami!)


"Teika, supportest thou me, for I feint at the pity of it! These youths know not even the Naniwa Bay poem! Oh there are no more blossoms on the tree!"

“The knowledge of these young people is not shallow, and of you Teika, my thoughts are not shallow either”

Additionally, the Pinoy otaku should begin exploring his or her own nature as a Filipino. Xenophilia is not the necessary antagonist of local pride. If the Japanese teach us anything, it’s the opposite: foreign influence not only gives us fresh perspectives of our own culture, it even lets us enrich what we already have. The Pinoy otaku should begin reflecting on the Filipino realities around him or her, and with his or her exposure to anime he or she will have a perspective to it that older writers don’t. Additionally, his or her general worldview can be more expanded: a Pinoy otaku can always relate with the plight of the dispossessed Manobo, but the older writer who refuses to expose himself to contemporary realities can never fully understand being a hikkikomori.

“diese welt ist grausam”

When going about writing, the Pinoy otaku must consider that stigma by the literary establishment against Xenophilia and used it against them. You want to write a Welcome to the NHK-ish story but you’re from Arakan? Set that story in Arakan! Experiment. Write about a tsundere or a fujoshi in Tagum, or make a B’laan get lost in your sci-fi metropolitan Takamagahara where he meets and falls in love with Inari the goddess. Write what is true to you, and if such a reality is true to you, all you have to do is give it the trappings of reality to convince the readers that you are articulating a real experience. Just make sure your fandom doesn’t affect your craft. Yattermirou!


Waga My Way

Illustration by Rainiko Ho, from my NORSU students' folio. Gosh I love how I look like here.

Illustration by Roniko Ho, from my NORSU students’ folio. Gosh I love how I look here.

This matter hits close to home because, as may be evident by now, I’m an otaku  – literally, I stay at home (if you know the etymology of “otaku”) to expose myself to anime, and have suffered social repercussions for my fandom. I’ve been exposed to anime since I watched Akazukin Chacha as a five year old on Cartoon Network, and I’ve been a conscious anime fan since I was fourteen. I am listening to “Wave” by the Nico-Nico utaite Kradness as I write this, waiting for the latest episode of Nagi no Asakura to finish downloading. Heck, I have a friend, Kim Calub, who happens to be a dubber.

And anime has had a profound influence in my imagination. My earliest short stories, written in High School, had Japanese characters and had Japanese settings. I even wrote a story entitled “We Were Once Angels” (from Hironobu Kageyama’s “Bokutachi wa Tenshi Datta“). When I was in college I dabbled with anime in poetry (one poem was published in Ateneo de Davao’s folio because, I suspect, the obscure allusions were lost to the editors  – Kurapika from HxH was alluded to with “the chain tears of red moon”), and while that didn’t succeed (yet) I had great fun. The eponymous character in one of my earliest published stories, “Kei by the Stream,” was inspired by Haku from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (my vanity refuses to call that work fanfic, but I can call it an environmentalist, Freudian take on Chihiro’s relations to Haku perhaps?). In my first story to win an award, “In the Manner Accustomed,” the main character calls his weeding trowel “Kusanagi.” In a recently written story the main character is listening to Akiko Shikata and Yuki Kajiura on the van from Mati to Kidapawan – the list is endless. Perhaps my first attempt at explicit anime-related writing is the short story “Cause-Play,” about a cosplayer in Davao and her misadventures. I have yet to find a venue for that piece of scandal.

Sexual awakening?

The flowers in the background could only be Freudian symbols

Anime played a crucial role in my deep sense of romanticism, a flame that stems most likely from the fact that I’m Filipino. Because of exposure to titles by Key like Kanon and Clannad, Kidapawan mornings and afternoons seemed more emotionally intense. Love stories like Cardcaptor Sakura and Myself; Yourself made the people around me seem much more interesting (although arguably also much more daunting). To this day I still imagine my better looking characters with anime character designs.

Another illustration of me, this one dating from my college days, by Harry Dubouzet. I love how buff I am here!

Another illustration of me, this one from my college days, by Harry Dubouzet. I love how buff I am here.

If I had not been exposed to literature as well as anime (in high school I was reading Francois Copee while watching xxxHolic) I feel that I would no longer be writing today. The fact is the Philippine literary scene has become so alienating that unless you know your stuff you can’t enter it. While myself not much into fanfic, I feel I have to speak out for the fanfic writer with so much potential who gets turned off by some elitist CW majors brandishing Hemingway and Atwood. And yet I have to admonish the same fanfic writer for sticking to what he or she is comfortable with. How can you reach Bankai if you don’t go beyond relying on your Zanpakutou? You need to explore the rest of the world. Go, walk around Bangkal.

Nel, walking around Bangkal

There has come to be a distinction between art as human profundity and art as entertainment and pleasure, and I am now in that part of my creative journey where I wish to blend them, to once again stay true to the Horatian maxim of “dulce et utile.” At the opposite sides of the spectrum are the writers – highbrow “experts” who take literature too seriously, pharisaically rendering it dry and daunting – and the otaku – the socially awkward serious fans who nevertheless don’t take the art they love seriously enough, inadvertently contributing to the low opinion on it as they stick to K-ON and the .hack franchise. Perhaps my being a bit of both (I’ve had my share of people accusing me of being too highbrow huhu) will make the dulce et utile project easier.

Or perhaps – and this may also prove true for the many beginning writers with only anime as background – this was inevitable, that my anime fandom invariably made literature easier and more pleasurable, and literature has made anime something more worthwhile than just entertainment.

Yes, kono yo ni guuzen wa nai, aru wa hitsuzen dake.


For an otaku writer, the muse smokes from a kiseru



Mga Asoy sa Tinta: Message

(One of the possible requirements I offer to my students in NORSU is to come up with a folio of literary works by the students themselves. It gives them hands on experience not only with coming up with a folio but with the feeling of getting published as well. Section C, the only section that decided to go for the folio, will release their final output tomorrow. It will be entitled Mga Asoy sa Tinta, “the speeches of the ink,” and is being edited by Liza Ragusta, Roniko Ho, Philbert Villarin, Aileen Salvoro, Joanna Marie Reyes, and Karen Pastolero. 

Below is my message in Cebuano, which appears in the beginning of the folio, with a translation. I will share a pdf version of the whole folio here when I get a copy of it.)

Ang katitikan daw mahika.

Sa pamaagi sa metapora ang butang mahimong usbon, ang mga bidlisiw kuntahay nga mulapos sa kadahonan mahimong panganod sa kalangitang kalandong. Sa pamaagi sa sugilanon, ang mga katinuoran sa mga gimugna lamang nga higayon mahimong mas matinud-anon pa sa tinuod, ang mga kahimtang sa gimugnang tawo-tawo mahimong kahimtang sa tanang katawhan. Mahimong pahilumon, pamaagi sa pagsaysay, ang mga nanagsilangas nga yawa nga namugad sa kabubut-on: kasakit sa kaagi, kagidlay sa kasamtangang kahimtang, kahadlok sa walay kasiguroang umaabot. Ug unsang lamat ang mabuhat sa entablado pamaagi sa mga dula!

Kining koleksyon sa mga balak, sugilanon, gumalaysay, ug dula sa nagkandalain-laing pinulongan panginahanglanon lamang sa mga estudyanteng manunulat sa ilang klase sa Katitikang Pilipino (Philippine Literature) sa NORSU. Apan kani lang dagway ang panginahanglanon kon diin kinahanglan nilang mu-salamangka, mamalbal, mugayuma, mamarang. Kinahanglan nilang ipadayag ilang gugma, kasadya, kalagot, kabuang. Ug kini kinahanglan nilang ihalad kaninyong mga mambabasa nga may alampat.

Bitaw, gamay ra nga panimayod, apan ang gagmayng butang, kon dili angay pangandakan, angay palamboon. Bisag gamay, naay ikadungag kining koleksyon sa musuguray pa lamang nga katitikan sa NORSU, ug sa halos hawan nga katitikang Negrense sa Binisaya.

Pangagdahon ko kamo nga mubasa ug muapil sa mga estudyanteng manunulat sa kahumanan sa ilang pagpanaw sa malamatnong, masulagmaong dalan nga mao ang katitikang Pilipino. Apil sa ila og katawa, og hilak, og saulog, samtang ilang paasoyon ang tinta sa ilang mga matag-usang handurawan.

Literature is like magic.

With metaphors, things can be transformed: sunlight, for instance, that streams through canopies become clouds in the sky of shade. Through tales the truths in imagined situations become more real than actual events, the conceived predicaments of fictitious characters become the predicaments of all mankind. Demons spawning in the depths of one’s being can be silenced by finally putting them to word: painful pasts, precocious presents, uncertain futures.  And what sorcery can be conjured on stage with plays!

This collection of poems, stories, essays, and plays in different languages is just a requirement of the student writers in their Philippine Literature class in NORSU. And yet this may well be the only requirement they will make whereon they will be required to do magic, to enchant, to bewitch, to curse. They must display their love, their joy, their hatred, their madness, and they must all display this creatively. 

Yes, it’s a small endeavor, but while small things ought not be over-glorified they ought to be encouraged. Even if it be marginal, this folio has something to add both to the still emerging literary scene of NORSU and to the almost barren literature of Negros in Cebuano. 

I invite you to read and join the student writers in the culmination of their journey down the enchanting, bewitching road that is Philippine Literature.  Join them in their laughter, tears, and reflection as they make the inks of their own imaginations talk before you. 

The Historicity of Houseflies

(Appeared in the Dumaguete MetroPost 16th March 2014)

The Historicity of Houseflies

Last February the marker declaring Negros Oriental State University as a National Historical Landmark was unveiled. University officials, along with guests from the National Historical Commission, presented to the public the conspicuously located marker, which commemorated NORSU’s more than a century of growth, in its various incarnations from the woodworking school it started as in 1907 to the province-wide system of campuses it now is. It’s a rewriting of the 86-year long historiography of the university.

A joyous occasion, of course. I was even surprised to find myself quietly proud of the recognition (I’m teaching in a National Historical Landmark!) But somewhat comically the pride was deflated by a mundane but essential question: okay, where are the historical buildings?

There aren’t any left of course, most of NORSU’s buildings today are hardly decades old. The drive for modernization, ubiquitous in this developing country and certainly not absent from NORSU, has meant that old, historical buildings are invariably demolished in order to construct new ones. And this will inevitably mean historical knowledge is also eschewed for more contemporary awareness – heck, NORSU even lost its roots to that woodworking school of its embryonic days.

We need to modernize, we say, and we don’t have time for such useless nonsense as history. The price for being “forward thinking” is that we leave things behind.

We as a people it seems do not have a sense of historicity.

I grew up seeing this facet of Philippine culture up close. At home anything before Martial Law was ancient history, anything before the war the stuff of archeology. In school Philippine history was boring and served as a chance to sleep. It was about some faraway land called Luzon in long gone times, where bitter slaves struggled against the people they welcomed at first. Boring. The only time it was close to exciting was when the teacher approached it draconically, and one had to pay attention fearfully lest one fail or be embarrassed in class. If it wasn’t boring it was unpleasant.

It was another Filipino trait, xenophilia, which sparked my interest in history. I was thrilled at the political scandals that characterized Imperial Chinese history: the tactics of Zhuge Liang, the rise and fall of Yang Guifei, the megalomania of Zhu Di. It intrigued me how a government policy, or even a love affair or a family squabble, from thousands of years ago could influence customs, idioms and even administrative practices today.

When I moved to Davao and read about the conflict between don Jose Oyanguren and Datu Bago, the fascination hit closer to home. It was then that I realized I knew almost nothing about my hometown of Kidapawan.

I devoured every bit of information about my city’s history I could find. But to my consternation Kidapawan’s historiography is as rare as limokon’s teeth, and I was literally depressed to find that the ordinary Kidapawanon neither knew much either, nor cared.

I had once written that legacies must themselves prove the test of time, that for a legacy to be a legacy it must aid progress. But we aren’t exactly a progressive nation are we? Kidapawan certainly isn’t the model for a progressive city. Couldn’t this be because we don’t get in touch with the legacies bequeathed unto us? My father had the habit of always starting a hobby – dog raising, badminton, swimming – but hardly developing himself in it further, and so he is a master of nothing. Could ours be a culture thus trapped in the drawing board, never going beyond “the need to change”? Progress involves going beyond a starting point, and are we perhaps mistaking our perpetual vortex of unproductive initiation (to borrow the British prime minister Robert Peel’s phrasing) with genuine progress?

The Kidapawanon complains of having nothing to be proud about Kidapawan, and yet it is the same city in which the romantic character Omar Kiram chose to raise his family as he relinquished his sultanate, the same city for which the war martyr Eliseo Dayao chose to face the wrath of the Japanese during the War. The Kidapawanon has nothing because he looks for nothing.

I will admit, other than the romance of Sultan Omar and the martyrdom of judge Dayao, there isn’t much to learn in Kidapawan’s young history. But that in itself should make it easier to learn – why is the Kidapawanon still largely ignorant? Are we, as Nick Joaquin put it in that powerful essay, simply suffering from a heritage of smallness, with our history?

And Joaquin did chide the Filipino sense of historicity in that essay: history for us is a vague expression, “noong peacetime,” or in Macario Tiu’s convenient phrase, “ngadtong Nineteen-kalawang.”

Far more than our excuse then of “focusing on the future,” are we instead simply stuck in the present, ignoring our past because it is, like everything for us, just too beyond our meager capabilities? Are we simply too simple-minded to comprehend lifetimes before our own?

Ironically it is the presence of old buildings that betrays this. More often than not the reason why historical structures are kept is because it is convenient to keep them – we are too lazy or do not have enough resources to demolish them and construct new buildings. Damned be they who deny that this is often the case in the lovely buildings in Silliman. The demolition of cottages were Silliman’s CBA now stands, a tragedy still fresh to many memories, should indicate that if made to choose, and if we have enough resources and will, we’d rather get rid of old things for newer ones.

And Negros Oriental itself, blessed as it is with many historical sites, is full of signs of our apathy for heritage. I doubt that the buildings around the provincial capitol are kept old because of heritage – good luck even trying to determine their histories! I recall the local history buff Ron Calumpang rightly complaining about NegOr’s lack of a historical museum of its own (the only museum with anything to do with history, Silliman’s Anthropology Museum, only features archeological finds, and much of it is from outside of the province!)

That NegOr has a rich and colourful history makes the Negrense apathy for it all the more glaring. The Silliman Library’s brilliant Sillimaniana section is almost always empty of students. But perhaps the most vivid sign of this is that very pride of Dumaguete, the Boulevard. Once lined with stately Spanish Mansions, now the opulent sugar-people neighborhood only exists in Bobby Villasis’ fiction, and in its place, a bank, KTV bars and a lugawan. We keep the mansion in Sans Rival because it is charming, not because it is historical.

And this invariably shows that even the little efforts we make to explicitly keep heritage intact are rarely made for love of heritage. In Japan, that model of historical preservation, they recreate and restore old buildings by staying loyal to the construction process, down to the traditional crafts and the sources of materials. Why go through all the trouble? The Japanese would simply answer “it’s what’s right.” In Dumaguete, the two COPVA buildings in Silliman are supposed to be cottages, like the pre-war wooden ones nearby, but because they’re made of concrete, steel and no capiz shell windows it’s a leap of the imagination to see even the semblance. Why even bother? Tourism of course! But using wood is labour extensive.

Ultimately it is the very absence of continuity in our collective consciousness that betrays our housefly historicity. In Britain they still call policemen “Bobbies” after Robert Peel, who formed the police when he was prime minister. Here, the ordinary Negrense wouldn’t even know who Leon Kilat or E.J. Blanco were (good luck asking the Kidapawanon about Eliseo Dayao!). Make it more recent and the Negrense is even beginning to forget the enigma of the case of Armando Sierra.

Nationally, as they forgot the burning of the Reichstag that might have inspired it, people are today beginning to forget the Plaza Miranda bombing. And in a few years, people will probably have forgotten the Maguindanao Massacre too.

And here we see the dangers of our being prisoners of our present: our short collective memory has not only prevented us from learning from the mistakes of the past, it will mean that we will never learn from our mistakes for the future, the complete antagonist to progress and development. Our inability to recognize legacy means we cannot make legacy. There is after all a thing called the golden rule: do for others what we want others to do for us. We give our pasts the attention of houseflies, our futures will give us the importance of houseflies. This is no country for old things, because houseflies never grow old. This is a country were nothing will last because we allow nothing to last.

It is a far bigger problem after all than the NORSU security guard’s difficulty in explaining to the tourist that the university has no old buildings.

Dominique Cimafranca’s “Facester” now available online!

My teacher, friend, and mentor, Dominique Cimafranca recently made his short story “Facester” available in his blog.

You can read the story here.

“Facester” is the first in sir Dom’s collection of short stories, An Unusual Treatment (my free signed copy is one of my most treasured books), and it makes one hell of an opening. Reading the story changed my opinion of the writer from “teacher I respect” to “OH-MY-GOD-I’M-A-FAN!” That the man was the first editor to publish my fiction is a point of personal pride.

(And I am blessed with another instance of this: Bobby Villasis, whose stories and plays blew my head off when I read them, was behind my acceptance as fellow to the Silliman workshop in 2012. Few can say the artists they admire gave them opportunities, I can be proud of two instances)

“Facester” represents what I love about literature most: a tightly written and eventful plot leading to an unexpected but inevitable and satisfying ending. The story has been described as a guilty pleasure (I forgot who said that), and behind that pleasure is the fact that it follows a long tradition – the tale of revenge. But sir Dom was not contented with the revenge cake, he puts a cherry of romance on top of it for maximum fanservice. The story was written to be enjoyed, and enjoy it I did!

Applause, applause!


(This one I wrote some time ago. A sell-out poem if there ever was one)

Mind colonized by heart,
I make myself see cute freckles in
your pimples

Fellows to the 53rd Silliman Writers Workshop

From the workshop FB page:

The 53rd edition of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop is slated to start on 5 May 2014 at the Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village in Camp Look-out, Valencia, Negros Oriental. Twelve writers from all over the Philippines have been accepted as workshop fellows. They are Jose Jason Chancoco (Ateneo de Naga), Daniel Hao Chua Olivan Jr. (Ateneo de Manila), Maria Camille Rivera (UP Diliman), and Roberto Klemente Timonera (Silliman University) for poetry; Jovy Almero (UP Diliman), Prescilla Dorado (UP Mindanao), Jose Renato Evangelista (DLSU Manila), Rolly Jude Ortega (Silliman University), and Erlinda Mae Young (UP Diliman) for fiction; and Johanna Michelle Barot Lim (University of San Carlos), Jan Kevin Rivera (UP Diliman),and Gracielle Deanne Tubera (Ateneo de Davao) for creative nonfiction.


The panel of writers/critics for this year includes Director-in-ResidenceSusan S. Lara; Dumaguete-based writer César Ruìz Aquino; and guest panelists Gémino H. Abad, Dean Francis Alfar, Merlie Alunan, Ricardo de Ungria, Marjorie Evasco, Grace Monte de Ramos, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, DM Reyes, John Jack Wigley, Alfred Yuson. They will be joined by two foreign panelists whose names will be announced later.

Three of the accepted fellows are friends: Greysh Tubera, Arkay Timonera, and Jude Ortega. If my count is right, it’s Greysh’s first National writers workshop, Jude’s second, and Arkay’s third.

While this year sees two fellows from Silliman itself, there seems to remain an absence of native Negrenses getting into the workshop: Jude is from Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, while Arkay is an Iliganon.

But the greatest cause for celebration is Greysh’s fellowship. After Leoncio Deriada, Macario Tiu, and myself (vanity!), she is the fourth Ateneo de Davao product to become a fellow to the oldest writers workshop in Asia (not counting Aida Rivera-Ford, Alfredo Salanga, and Dominique Cimafranca, who became part of AdDU after they were fellows). And as a registered nurse (this seems to be her year) she is the first non-English Major. A product of AdDU’s SALEM (she is one of the first non-majors to be part of the course club turned literary society), Greysh and her fellowship herald the beginning of the end for Ateneo de Davao’s decades of literary winter.

Now is the winter of our discontent. Or rather, “now the winter yields its place to the springtime” –  flowers on the trees in bloom at Ateneo de Davao!