Fearful Symmetries

(Published 26th October 2014 in the Dumaguete MetroPost. Coincidentally, sir Sawi Aquino also had a literary title on the same issue, ‘riverun.’ )


Fearful Symmetries

Buglasan just ended, and it was roaring. Of course, I mean Amlan’s tiger, in the municipality’s own booth at Freedom Park. The feline, along with the camels that also attracted attention during the parade, are just sneak previews of the next big project from one of the province’s models for good local governance: what will perhaps be one of the biggest zoos in the country. But more on that when I get enough details.

Last week, Dr. Ike Oracion of Silliman’s Research and Development Center wrote in these pages part of a summary of a study on NegOr constituents’ views on the One Negros Region proposal.

Just by discussing quality of life, the study proves to already by eye opening: 69 percent of the respondents are unemployed, and two percent have never been employed.

In terms of perception, only eight percent think they’re not poor (a huge 54 percent think they are), and while 51 percent think their situation has not changed, 25 percent think they’re now worse off. And on comparing the two Negroses, a worrying 46 percent of Oriental Negrenses think of their own province as poorer than Negros Occidental. This is a province that does not think much of itself, and for good reason. The actual results of this crucial opinion poll will be eagerly awaited.

(Although I reiterate my suspicion that the No camp will rely purely on constituents’ ignorance and conservative resistance to change to get the vote, and I hope to proven wrong.)

It is quite surprising, really, that in spite of that more than half of the province thinking it’s poor, and more than half thinking no change has come, that the activism scene is worryingly stagnant in the Negros Oriental.

I come from Davao, and I’ve seen firsthand how students protest against everything – from Justice for the slain student Beng Hernandez to the blocking of Facebook in the Ateneo de Davao’s wifi. Heck, a friend of mine even got jailed for throwing a stone at a policeman while protesting for the rights of the urban poor.

When I came to Dumaguete, I came expecting even more student involvement, what with Silliman’s Martial Law past. But students here turned out to be dangerously-meek, and even when there was a need to stand up for themselves they remained passive.

Why don’t I see Sillimanians, or students from whatever university or college, rallying in front of Freedom Park demanding resolution for the fact that NegOr is one of the poorest provinces in the country?

Are we not standing up to fight for our rights because we are voiceless and poor (subaltern, to use the Gramscian term)? Or are we voiceless and poor because we don’t stand up and fight for our rights – complacent, to use the honest term?

And that takes us to Mong Kok, on the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong. A great shopping district, well it was until the Hongkongers staged one of their demonstrations there. Protesters there demanding unscreened universal suffrage may well be in another planet from the famer in upland Guihulngan: typically affluent and stable Harry Kung is fighting for the right to vote without having his candidates screened by China; while manong Juan dela Cruz, who has the right to suffrage, nevertheless uses it to vote for the funniest candidate, and just laughs away the fact that his children have to make do with kamote, salt, and candlelight. All of a sudden Filipino optimism becomes sinister complacency.

And more evidence of collective Filipino stupidity: the case of Jennifer ‘Jerry’ Laude (observe the deliberate placing of names there – I respect self determination).

A veritable expert in gender studies in Silliman (I won’t quote her without permission) observed that Filipino social media sympathy to Jennifer was low, not because she was a transgender, but because she was killed while being unfaithful to her German boyfriend.

Impressive tolerance for the third gender, you may think, until you realize it’s just plain old chauvinism: we’re tolerant of men being unfaithful lovers, but for women (actual or otherwise), que horror!

But where we stop acting like civilized people and begin behaving like mobs out of a Medieval witchhunt is in how we treat the suspect, Pemberton. Poor guy’s already judged a murderer (homicide really, but what do we care?) by a whole country before the court’s verdict, and he has to deal with the fact that he was caught with a transgender woman – imagine the taunting in our homophobic and notoriously rat-friendly prisons!

And I daresay that the concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is hardly taught in Philippine schools, for Pinoys it’s ‘guilty until proven innocent.’ Suspek = Salarin in Filipino popular legal consciousness.

A wonder, really, that in spite of this lynching tendency that China would envy, our justice system is still in the gutter.

And back in Binay’s Paradise: a televised debate between the Vice President and Senator Antonio Trillianes IV is in the making.

This square off, organized by the KBP and slated within the next two weeks, will inevitably be about the allegations thrown against Binay (you don’t see people in the Philippines debating on fiscal policy, do you?).

Now for the real politik here: this is a risky move on both sides. His reputation already tarnishing, Jejomar may suffer even more with this one – Trillianes The Fort, after all, has that no-nonsense image of fighting against bad governance that we see in Ping Lacson and Miriam Santiago (minus Ping’s Kuratong and Miriam’s looney vibe, plus a whole lot more sexy), and he could prove to be a devastating silver bullet for The Dark Lord.

But on the side of Operation SN 2016, this is more publicity for Nognog, and bad publicity, as we say in spin doctor academy, is still publicity. It’s not difficult for our Venerable Pandak, small and postcolonially-complexioned as he is, to look like the victim in a televised debate against a former military man (‘huwag po, mamang sundalo!’). And he might really go full frontal here (eew, Binay’s own words).

I suspect the Liberals had not much say here, seeing as Trillanes is a Nacionalista, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have planned damage control already.

In any case, I wish Nognog all the luck with all this maneuvrings, may The Fort be with him.


Return Roundup

(Article published in the Dumaguete MetroPost 19th October 2014)


Return Roundup

Two months! Academic preoccupations, as well as an unexpected writing slump, have prevented me from contributing to this column for what has become an unacceptably long time.
But the world does not stop for one, and indeed the past two months have been very eventful. So, to make up for the long absence, and to keep ourselves updated, here’s a roundup of news from me, the city and province, and the country.
First off, I’m dropping the ‘Karlo’ on the written page and adopting my mother’s maiden name for a double-barrel surname. I don’t know why but ‘Antonio Galay-David’ sounds more dignified. But people can and probably will continue calling me ‘Karlo.’ Oh, writer’s idiosyncrasy.
Now that that’s off our plates, to more respectable writers: I would like to extend my belated congratulations to Dr Cesar Ruiz Aquino for winning Poet of the Year in this year’s Nick Joaquin Literary Awards. I always dislike it when people talk about themselves in congratulating others, but I’ll be hypocritical this time: sir Sawi is a mentor and teacher for me. I might have contributed to this win, as I goaded him to submit poetry to Philippines Graphic (from whence the entries for the NJLA are taken) to win the award. Of course other writers might have similarly encouraged him, but I like to think I’m important.
On the local front, it seems election fever is beginning to kick in. Dumaguete Mayor Chiquiting Sagarbarria and Provincial Board member Erwin Macias are among the first to express their intention to run for the same Congressional seat, that of the province’s second district. Current congressman George Arnaiz will be vacating the seat as he reaches his last term. Now I am no expert in Negrense politics, but the announcements are very revealing: Macias’ brother Vice Gov Mark is from the same party, the NPC, as Chiquiting, so this will prove rather complicated for the Vice governor. While Mark has already expressed support for his brother, there are deeper issues fermenting beneath the public displays. Since the board member has said he would run under the electoral slate of Governor Degamo, can this perhaps be Macias’ way of bargaining with Degamo to finally show support for Mark’s advocacy of the One Island Region? And there are more important questions that these announcements beg to be answered: who will Mayor Chiquiting endorse as his successor in Dumaguete? What of Congressman Arnaiz after his term ends? And, most intriguingly, who, if any, will run against Degamo? In any case, we must all update ourselves on these maneuverings, we don’t know if our interest may be affected by their turnouts. Let us be informed voters!
And speaking of our interests, the campaign for a One Negros Region seems to be gaining even more momentum. In my classes in Silliman I required my students to read up and take a stand on the question, and the issue still proves divisive. One main concern most students raise is the cost of building regional offices that this proposal, if adopted, will incur. But it seems the Movement has offered a response to that concern by taking up the NegOr Chamber of Commerce’s suggestion to use provincial infrastructure in the event of the formation of a region. Info dissemination on the Movement is also gaining pace, and I look forward to getting a copy of that leaflet in Bisaya. (For both sides, I would very much appreciate it if I would be emailed materials on the movement). But without being biased for either side (this is a decision for Negrenses to take, and I’m from North Cotabato!), I must say that the campaign is not looking good for the No camp: we have an active, mobilized team of advocates for the Region, with two assertive proponents in the persons of Macias and NegOc Governor Marañon, and just a status quo of stubborn reactionism in NegOr against it. Unless the No camp becomes more proactive and more positive in the debate Negrenses will either vote Yes if it’s put to a referendum or vote No for all the wrong reasons. A public debate should be livelier than this. And it does not help that our governor is neither for nor explicitly against the move, simply demanding for assurance that the proposal is beneficial is not being very proactive.
To University news, NORSU President Don Real has been suspended for 90 days following the alleged irregularities on the funds allocated for the speech lab in the Bayawan campus. In his absence Dr Peter Dayot, the university’s VP for Administration, is OIC. While I believe Dr Dayot can execute the duties of President with ability, I have made no secret of my fondness for Real in these pages. In his time as President he tried to start NORSU’s hitherto inexistent artistic scene. I cannot imagine him engaging in anomalies that will compromise the hard work he has begun. But truth knows no friends, and we should all await the results of the investigations. My thoughts are with Real’s family, who must be finding this unwanted publicity difficult. Not everybody has forgotten that one is innocent until proven guilty.
On the National scene, trouble in Binay’s paradise. The Vice President has been walking on a tight rope over his relationship with the President: one main factor why his ratings are anomalously high is because, along with his own core of support, the Aquino magic has rubbed on him, making him not an unattractive prospect for Aquino loyalists. With operation Stop Nognog 2016 (God that’s catchy) in full swing and Noynoy not doing anything about it, Nognog, I mean Binay, seems to have lost his patience for him. The recent attacks against Malacañang might have been a miscalculation – at a crucial time when his ratings are dipping he risked alienating that smudge of Aquino magic on him, and the least he’s sure of gaining thereby is to appeal to the still marginal cynicism against the current government. The visit to Malacañang may have been damage control, but we are yet to see if it will work. And Mar’s role in Operation SN2016? Bide his time, it seems. While Binay makes a fool of himself, Mar appears to be quietly doing his job. Binay may be looking attractive to the Cynical wing, but Mar invariably gets the moderate vote.
One thing is sure here though: the Liberals have shown a level of solidarity and efficient coordination that make the fragmented opposition, three of which leaders are in jail, look unreliable – Erap has hardly defended Nognog, I mean Binay. But for that (we need a strong team to run this country) I’m leaning Liberal.
Mar is still my default candidate. Unless Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte runs for President, that is. In any case, I’m voting a federalist.
Next week (unless something else of interest grabs my attention), I talk of Hong Kong, activism, and the Federalist cause.

Philippine Literary Etiquette

(I’ve been exposed to the quote-and-quote literary community of the Philippines long enough to know there are unwritten rules that govern intercourse within it. So, hoping that you, my much valued and well beloved reader with literary aspirations, will not commit a social faux pas in the presence of Pinoy writers, here are some tips in Philippine Literary Etiquette)

Never call yourself a writer. You will look vain. ‘Self-styled’ is not exactly very flattering. If you write poetry, don’t call yourself a poet, if you write fiction, don’t call yourself a fictionist etc. And never, unless talking in plural or out of indignation, call yourself an artist. When Edith Tiempo described herself as ‘a woman who likes to think she’s a writer,’ she showed the humility expected of those in the literary art. Poetess Marjorie Evasco also denied being called a ‘poetess,’ saying the last poetesses lived in Middle Ages. Let others describe you by your work, it means you’ve been recognized for it. Just say ‘you write (insert genre).’

Never talk about your work unless you are asked of it. You will look very vain. If you’re talking about a work in progress, you risk exposing your ‘brilliant’ ideas to ridicule (see Plato), rendering them vulnerable to literary theft (see T.S. Eliot), or both (see Tito Sotto).

Never say you’re writing a novel if you’re writing a novel. You will also look vain. The immediate response you should expect from the literati is ‘really, so you’re novel-writing caliber now?’

Never say you’ve written a novel. You will look even more vain. Specially if said novel is doomed to be stuck in your computer never to be published because it reads too much like Game of Thrones. If you must mention it, mention the date of publication. If it isn’t published, shut up.

Only say you’re writing a novel if you’re not. You will look deliberately, and humorously, grandiose. It’s a good way to keep up the appearance that you’re still active when you’re currently in a slump. Note: only do this when you have at least one national award, or are at least 40 years old.

Pray delete that Facebook page or website you made for yourself. some Palanca Hall of Famers don’t even have their own Facebook accounts, what right have you to broadcast yourself? Or so the literati will think. Besides, in the literary community, fame is all about obscurity. But more on that later.

Never announce that you’re joining a contest or workshop. You will again look vain. Tell a few close friends, but utang na loob don’t give us a blow-by-blow live coverage of your Palanca application or your Silliman Writers Workshop submission on your Twitter and Facebook. And because you look vain people will laugh at you behind your back when you don’t get accepted (‘Oh the hubris’ they will say). And if you do win/get in? People already found you vain, they won’t be as happy about it as you’d want them to be. Make it a pleasant surprise for them.

If you win an award, or get into a workshop as a fellow, follow the prescribed format of announcing it. If you’re doing it online, caption the link to the announcement with 1. An expression of being blessed (if you believe in God, if not, that you’re fortunate) 2. An expression of being humbled because you’re following a great tradition, 3. An expression of gratitude to all who have, or who you think will feel they have, contributed to this good fortune (‘I could not have done it without your support and guidance…’) and 4. An expression of having much to learn.

Memorize as many literary passages to quote as you can. While Voltaire did say that a witty remark proves nothing, Borges himself said life itself is a quotation. Just make sure you don’t sound like a thesis’ review of related literature.

Quote, and namedrop, as casually as you can. If you overdo it, again, you will look vain.

Observe the gradation of writers you should namedrop. The gradation, in decreasing order of acceptability, is roughly as follows: obscure writers, writer’s writers, classics, popular literature writers. Writers have been hipsters since the 16th century, so the general rule of thumb is the more obscure the writer you namedrop, the better. It will make you erudite. Of course, this has its repercussions: if you’re too obscure nobody can relate to you, so if you’re flirting with that hot Atenista CW major namedrop that obscure writer she has read (expected reaction: ‘oh my gosh you read Pu Song Ling too!? I don’t know anyone but me who has!’ followed by flirting). Classics are somewhere in the middle, because while many people have read them it takes serious dedication to do so, so most of those people are very legit. ‘A classic’ once quiped Twain, ‘is a work that everybody knows but nobody has read.’ And NEVER NAMEDROP POPULAR WRITERS, unless you’re doing it ironically or pronouncing a revolutionary new reading of it ex cathedra as an esteemed critic (ie: ‘I think Twilight is the greatest piece of performance art since the work of William McGonagall’). Racially, nowadays there’s also a preference for reading non-Western works, with a rough gradation (again in decreasing order) of emerging Asian-Oceanian literary scenes (Contemporary Polynesian, Cambodian, Indonesian, Tibetan), the obscure Chinese and Japanese writers, African, Indian, Latin American, then the western writers from European (usually from the obscure Scandinavian to the more prominent Anglo-French writers) to American (Canadian before American). Rule of thumb for this one is exotic = obscure = erudite. ‘What are you reading? ‘Twilight’ (go back to your province and plant camote) ‘What are you reading?’ ‘This collection of poems by Fiji poet Pio Manoa.’ (legit!). And because  Filipinos consider themselves exotic

Namedrop as much Filipino writers you’ve read as you can. You can’t get wrong with this one except with Bob Ong. Because most Filipino literati are guilty of being over-saturated with American (North or Latin) and, to a lesser extent European reading, chances are a Filipino writer will be obscure (yes, Caparas was wrong, Filipino writers don’t read Filipino writers either). Doing so will also serve to stroke the ego of the Filipino writer you are talking to – you are after all a potential reader.

Espouse your own ideology or expertise. Not required, but it will make it easier to find your market, and for people to remember you. be a Marxist, or a feminist, or a fighter for the rights of the Lumad or whatnot. Heck, you might even be invited to be a speaker or lecturer on SciFi because this literati heard you were in town and that you watched Star Trekk. But be careful and

Try to avoid being outwardly right wing. The huge bulk of the Philippine literati is generally center-left, with a sizeable proportion of them leaning towards communism. There’s also a quiet but large number of them who are atheists. Most of these people found solace in their youths for being ‘enlightened,’ and that encompasses their perceived liberation from (medieval) religious beliefs, openmindedness to modern behaviour (heck some might even sight classical libertine culture), and what they see as ‘genuine care for the masses.’ What you get is atheistic, egalitarian, utilitarian, Nietzscheian-relativistic liberalism bordering on Socialism if not communism. So if you find premarital sex disgusting, are anti-same sex marriage and anti contraception, are against divorce, or whatnot, try to keep your opinion to yourself.

Always bring a book, or more, around. Props, of course. Above rules apply for said book choice.

Memorize a poem or a short passage to recite in case there’s an impromptu poetry reading. Or at least bring a book of stuff you can read aloud. Again, rule of obscurity and exotica applies. I once went around workshops reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven from memory and thinking it was legit, only later realizing how much I looked like a hideously studious high school student from some terribly bureaucratic public school. I should have memorized Langston Hughes or Willy Sanchez. But avoid reciting a poem if the poet is present, you don’t want to look over-flattering.

Choose, as your Facebook profile picture, your obscure writer of choice. It should preferably be a writer’s writer.

Comment on your Filipino literati friend’s profile picture of an obscure writer and point out who it is. Add that you love said writer.

Status, Tweet, or send Group SMS messages of quotes from obscure writers. Only like, retweet, or reply to obscure writers when you receive from others, ignore that Stephanie Meyer quote (yes, the Atenista CW major is testing you, don’t like all her statuses dammit). Never forward an SMS message, and only reply with an even more obscure quote.

Never give advice on writing, or on anything literary, unless you are a Creative Writing professor, a Palanca Hall of Famer, a National Artist, are over 70 years old with a whole generation of writers in your debt/under your influence, or all of the above. This whole blogpost is a literary faux pas. Oh the vanity of this Karlo David!

An open letter to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte

I am a firm advocate of Federalism in the Philippines. I believe it will facilitate across the country the bottom up governance that have made LGUs like Davao so successful while the country as a whole only remains average at best. Internationally, Federalism per se has proven to be an ideal system: the age of the mayors, with their grassroots level management, is dawning; and it was thanks to its federalist system that Belgium remained stable in spite of months without a central government. Malaysia, which is similar to us in its being non-contingent, is the best example of how a diverse, archipelagic Malay nation will thrive best if all sociopolitical entities are sitting on the table of power as equals. Senate Majority Leader Cayetano himself denounced the anomalous overallocation of budget to the NCR and to Metro Manila in particular. Federalism is key to checking Imperial Manila.

And I could only welcome your public support for the system’s adoption to the Philippines. We could ask for no firmer, more credible, and more prominent voice for the movement. Your integrity, with your candidness to admit the skulduggery this system has forced you to condescend to engage in, is equally unparalleled in Philippine politics.

But it would not be surprising if Manila ignores you, you are after all from outside of Imperial Manila.

I am also a staunch environmentalist. It is a point of pride for me that my two hometowns of Davao and Kidapawan are natural breeding grounds for the Philippine Eagle, and Davao itself remains the greenest of the country’s three primate cities. Such success in sustainable management of natural resources can only be possible under a local government committed to protecting the environment.

And you, sir, are by far the toughest environmentalist in the country. Your objection to the coal fired powerplant is a luminary local government policy in Philippine environmentalism. In spite of Davao’s vast forests, illegal logging in the city remains insignificant because illegal loggers are afraid of you. Illegal miners are similarly too scared of you to scar our mountainsides. You even threatened to chop off someone’s head if they cut down the trees in Dacudao avenue. And yes sir, like you we don’t give a f*cking sh*t about anyone who would litter in Davao for the pathetic excuse of livelihood. A living can be made without pollution.

And that says nothing of your record in maintaining peace and order. While the national government has struggled for decades to contain the communist and Muslim insurgencies you use the NPA in Davao to monitor illegal logging and you make Davao the sanctuary for possible victims of clan wars in Muslim Mindanao. It is thanks to you that we don’t have a Lumad armed militia in the area like Cordillera.

But you can only do so much in terms of Federalism, Environmentalism, and Peace and Order as a local government official. Imperial Manila, self entitled and egotistic that it is, will continue to ignore your stands. The powers-that-be there will maintain the unitary system that is so imbalanced in their favour both politically and fiscally. When it is Manila interest to exploit the natural resources from other regions, a city mayor can do nothing about it. And they’ve been ignoring your repeated warnings about excluding Nur Misuari in the peace talks. They have not listened, they are not listening, and they definitely will not listen, to you, to us outside of Imperial Manila, and to anything that threatens their interest.

For you to make the Philippines a Federal country, sir, and for you to make it as environmentally sustainable and peaceful as Davao, you must be President of the Philippines. Your ideals sir are noble, but ideals without power are futile. You know that best. You must be in Manila to shake up this country that has long been clamouring to be shaken. You must be there to keep us a green nation as we enter an age of rapid economic growth. You must be there in this time of growing threat from Islamic militants from the Middle East – God and the universe are knocking on your door already, calling you to be the catalyst of a new sociopolitical revolution in the country, one whereby the local governs the national, the environment finally takes top priority, and peace and order is maintained with tough conviction.

You have to be President. We want you. We need you. And by God we deserve no one less than you.

(Or you could run as Vice President under Jejomar Binay then we’ll get rid of him early in his term. Mar Roxas could return to the Senate, be Senate President, then become V.P. once you assume the presidency. Make a deal with the Liberals, they’re good at these things. Good plan eh?)

Pinoy Racism 101

(In recent studies it has been shown that Filipinos are some of the least tolerant peoples when dealing with other races. But is there more to this than simply not wanting foreigners as neighbours?


Below are a set of questions with the answers you should expect from a typical Filipino. I don’t believe them myself, of course – I know that Macau is in Nevada, not Las Vegas. But this is an awkward facet of our identity that we need to make fun of. Castigat ridendo mores)

–  What do you call someone from Germany, or France, or  Australia, or  Canada, or Britain? Amerikano

– What do you call someone from Taiwan, or mainland China, or Japan, or Korea? Intsik

– What do you call someone from Africa, or an Ita? Negro, nognogito, or baluga.

– How do you say hi to a Frenchman, or an Australian, or a Canadian, or a Briton? Halo Joe

– How do you say hi to a German? Hitler!

– How do you say hi to a Taiwanese, or a mainland Chinese, or a Japanese, or a Korean? Ching chong chang ching

– What is the difference between an Arab and a Bombay? Arabs are muslims, Bombays smell bad.

– What is the National Anthem of Japan? Buchikee

– What is the National Anthem of Korea? Gangnam Style

– What is the National Anthem of India? Jai Ho

– Who is the President of China? Jackie Chan

–  What do you call a Filipina who gets married to an Amerikano? A Jackpot girl

– What do you call a Filipino family with an Amerikano father/son-in-law? A Jackpot family

– What do you call the Filipina wife of a Japanese man? Japayuki

– What do you call the Filipina wife of an Arab? fourth wife

– What do you do when you pass by a Bombay? Cover your nose

– What do you do when an Amerikano approaches? Ask for money

– If an Intsik approaches you, what does he need? He thinks you owe him money

– What is the most common flavour from China? Melamin

– How is monosodium glutamate made? The Japanese grind their old people into powder to make it

– What is the National fruit of India? Onion

– What do you call an Indonesian, or a Malaysian, or a Mexican, or a Cambodian? Filipino also

– How do you say hi to an Indonesian, or a Malaysian, or a Mexican, or a Cambodian? You don’t say hi to Filipinos

– Who is causing trouble in Iraq? Abu Sayyaf

– In what country can you find Macau? Las Vegas

– What do you call someone from Mindanao? Muslim, or terrorist, or muklo

– What is the difference between a muklo and a badjao? A muklo spits all over the place, a badjao will only spit at you if you don’t give money

– What is the Filipino word for housekeeper? Inday

– What is the price of a hectare of ancestral domain? a can of sardines, or a pair of slippers

– Did you know that Manny Pacquiao is from Mindanao? No he is not muslim

Kawayan sa Hangin

(This Davao Filipino short story is part of my MA thesis. Yes, it’s inspired by the murder of Cebu businessman Richard King. It is fascinating that someone implicated with the death of an IP in the Visayas gets killed in IP culture rich Davao. But I am not implying anybody is guilty or innocent of the crime here, nor am I implying that anybody deserves to be murdered. This is simply a study of character and possibilities.)

Kawayan sa Hangin

Makatakot ang pagdilat ng mga mata ni Lucy paghimas ko sa pisngi niya. Nakuyawan na nagulat. Paghawak niya sa kamay ko, kalamig ng palad niya, at kalalim ng hininga niya, halos ginahangak na. Ginapiga niya ang panatag sa kamay ko.
‘Nightmare,’ sabi niya paghiga niya sa dibdib ko.
Gisubukan ko magbiro. ‘Kalma lang. Pulis ang kasama mo.’
Tumawa siya at gihalikan ako. ‘Bitaw pala…’ Pero malamig pa rin ang mga kamay niya.
‘Ano pala napanaginipan mo?’
Pagbalik niya sa unan, gititigan niya ang kawalan ng ceiling sa kwarto ko.
‘Yung nangyari sa Boracay… Maybe it’s just because gipag-usapan natin si Lu.’
Sa kabilis ng mga nangyari sa amin nitong dalagang ito, kakonti pa lang ng alam ko sa kanya. Pero una ako nadala dito noong nagtanong siya sa akin tungkol sa kung anong security measures ang ginahanda ng kapulisan sa pagdating sa Davao ng Cebuanong negosyanteng si Reymond Lu.
Objective sana na tanong, pero kita sa mata niya nung interview na yun ang apoy na nagabaga sa loob niya. Ang galit niya ang una kong nakilala sa kanya.
Nakita din siguro niya na nadala niya ako, kaya giaya niya ako maghapunan tapos nun. Ilang buwan makalipas, andito na kami sa kama ko.
Lucy Catacutan. Graduate ng MassCom sa Ateneo, nakuha siya sa isang dyaryo sa Cebu bilang beat reporter.
Nitong taon lang, gipafence ni Reymond Lu ang ilang pirasong lupa sa Boracay na nabili daw niya para tayuan ng bagong branch ng hotel chain niya. Ancestral domain ng mga Ati yung lupa, pero kahit maglaban sila, armado yung mga tauhan ni Lu. Walong Ati ang patay nung magka-initan. Sabi ng kampo ni Lu self defence lang daw, pero alam ni Lucy na hindi totoo. Nandoon siya, naga-research para sa feature article na ginasulat niya tungkol sa issue, noong mangyari ang gulo.
‘Grabe chief, yung isang binata, they brought him sa village ng duguan… I was beside niya pa bago siya mamatay… Kalamig sa cheek ko nung kamay niya…’
Naghiga ulit siya sa dibdib ko. ‘May mga pulis pa talaga…’
‘Hindi lahat ng pulis ha, ganun…’ At ngumiti ulit siya.
‘Bitaw,’ dagdag ko. ‘Sulatan ko bukas ang Krame.’
‘Patay na na issue uy.’
‘Buhayin natin,’ at gituldukan niya ang sagot niyang tawa ng halik.
‘…How can you say things so easily sa mga bagay chief? Ako kahit naganood lang bilang journalist minsan grabe ko na kakaba….’
Napaisip din ako. ‘Ewan… siguro kasi wala din ako talaga pakialam sa mundo. Parang mali lagi yung pagkasabi ko – hindi ako involved sa mundo? Yan ganing pag may mabaril, o may maholdapan, hindi ako madala sa galit o awa o takot kay alam ko hindi man din ako kasali, wala man din mawala sa akin.’
So indifferent selflessness?’
‘Parang ganyan, pero iba ang indifferent sa apathetic ha.’
Nagtawa siya.
‘Kaganda pagkaphrase… Hay ka perfect mo, chief Serge!’
‘Matanda, lagom, kalahati netibo, police chief pa talaga. Ano na nangyari sa taste ng kabataan ngayon.’
‘Oy virgin ka pa baya bago ngayon ha.’
‘Sorry na gud.’
Kasarap ng tawa niya.
‘Pero bitaw. Hindi ka pa man matanda.’
‘Day, kung 22 ka, tapos 45 ako – sobra doble edad ko sa iyo.’
Tawa. ‘Ay basta, gusto kita…’
Kataw-anan. Matandang binatang pulis na kalahati Manobo galing sa bukid na syudad ng Kidapawan, gipatulan, giligawan – gidagit nitong bente anyos na tisay, singkitin at Atenistang journalist. Sa buong buhay ko padala lang ako sa hangin, pero ibang hangin din itong isang ito. Mahirap paniwalaan, pero parang tama lang din masyado.
‘Ipakilala kita sa lola ko sa bukid…’
‘Buhay pa pala?’
‘O uy. Ninety plus na. Babaylan baya yun.’
‘Bakit mo man din ako ipakilala?’
Force of nature ka man gud. Baka ma-amo ka niya’
Hinampas niya ako habang nagatawa.
‘Dalhin kita sa tribo namin sa Mua-an. Maganda doon, masarap ang hangin. Malapit sa may tribo namin may lasang ng kawayan… Kasarap din ng tunog ng mga dahon ng kawayan sa hangin. Doon parang walang problema… May hot springs din sa tribo, dalhin kita doon sa isang sapa na mainit.’
‘Pero magustuhan kaya ako nun? I’m not Manobo baya…’ May kaba sa tono niya.
‘Siya na lang gani natira sa buhay ko, awayin pa niya ang madagdag.’
Namula siya. ‘Oy ha, first time pa gani natin ‘to…’
Nahiya din ako. Oo bitaw. Apat na buwan pa lang kami magkakilala, at ngayon lang talaga kami nagkamabutihan. Masalita man din kasi siya, kaya kadami ko nang alam sa kanya. Parang katagal ko na siyang kasama.
Gihalikan niya ang kamay ko. Dun ako ulit nakakita ng pagkakataon.
‘Bitaw, seryoso ako sa iyo…’
Nagtawa siya, at nawala ang seryoso naming pakiramdam.
‘Ako man din. Pero let’s not rush lang siguro.’ At gihalikan niya ako.
Sige, dahan-dahanin namin.
‘Pero bitaw chief, asan na pala ang parents mo?’
‘Ay wala na. Bata pa ako nung mamatay nanay ko. Sakitin yun. Ang tatay ko mga ten years ago. Wala din ako mga kapatid at pinsan. Kataw-anan yan sila – naglayas ang tatay ko sa tribo nila para mag-aral. Kawawang nanay ko, ayaw tanggapin ng lola ko. Nung ako naman gidala sa tribo ng tatay ko, ako lang din gipansin ni lola, siya mismo ayaw ni lola kay nag-asawa ng Tagalog.’
‘Tapos marunong ka rin mag-Manobo?’
‘Alangan. May ilan din gituro si lola na gamot sa mga sakit-sakit.’
‘Hala kagaling! Teach me ha!’
‘Ng alin?’
Utos yun. Nagulat ako sa diin. Pero ewan din bakit, parang lahat ng utos ni Lucy, hindi ko kaya tanggihan. Utos siya na hindi kaya tanggihan.
‘Pero bitaw, will she like me kaya?’
‘Si lola? Wala lagi siyang choice.’
Nagtawa siya, pero may lungkot ang tawa.
‘Hindi ko din siya mablame. Kung may mga kagaya ni Lu…’
Tama pala, si Reymond Lu. May event siya sa isa niyang negosyo sa makalawa.
Pumikit si Lucy.
‘I wish pagtapak niya sa Mindanao lamunin siya ng lupa…’
Natahimik ako pagsabi niya nun. Para siyang nagasumpa, nagabulong ng banal na kasiraan.
‘Hala,’ gisubukan ko pagaanin ang loob niya. ‘Para kang si lola naga-orasyon. Solemn na makatakot.’
Tumawa siya at gihalikan niya ako. ‘Hindi ka diyan!’
Naramdaman ko na naman yung apoy na nakita ko nagabaga sa loob niya noong una niya ako nadagit, noong una niya ako gihalikan, noong una niya ako gidala dito sa kwarto ko.
Pumatong siya sa akin.
Nasa loob niya ako, pero parang siya ang nasa loob ko. Parang siya ang nasa kalagitnaan ng mundo ko, nasa kalagitnaan ng mundo nitong malinis at malamig kong kwarto. Si malamig kong kalinisan siya ang madumi, magulo, at magalaw na buhay.
Nagtilaok na ang manok sa kapitbahay – umaga na.
Sabado ng umaga. Sa loob ng halos sampung taon balik balik ang ginagawa ko pag umaga. Pag sabado, tapos mag-kape, papeles, linis ng bahay. Tapos duty sa hapon. Sa mga dalawang dekada ko pagkapulis, hanggang sa naging hepe na lang ako ng intelligence unit sa Davao, wala pa akong absent.
Sagabal itong si Lucy. Bihira ako uminom, pero ngayon imbes kape ang pangsalubong sa araw nagbukas ng binili niyang Gin. Habang nasa mesa ako nagapirma ng mga papeles, nakasakbit siya sa likod ko, hubot hubad. Mahirap intawon magpirma ng papeles pag may nakahubad na dalaga sa likod mo.
‘Kalinis gud talaga nitong bahay mo. Sure ka lalaki ka?’
‘Hindi ko pa ba napatunayan?’ Gihawakan ko ang pwet niya, at nagtawa siya sa kiliti.
‘Iba talaga pag matino na lalaki,’ sabi niya. ‘Kasarap dumihan!’
Gipulot niya ang baril ko sa coffee table, at umupo siya sa sofa. Gidahan-dahan niyang hagod ang busal sa binti niya pataas sa singit niya.
‘Hey, tingnan mo ako.’ Parang makulit na pusa ang boses niya.
‘Oy delikado yan…’ Hindi ako nakatingin sa kanya. Pero totoo lang kahirap niya tanggihan. Trabaho, trabaho…
‘Ay uy…’ Sumuko siya, at bumalik na lang siya sa likod ko.
‘Ano ito?’ sabi niya maya-maya. Gikuha niya ang isang papel na may listahan ng mga pangalan at cellphone number.
Natahimik ako.
You don’t have to answer kung ayaw mo.’ Pero may utos ang landi sa tono niya. At lahat lagi ng utos niya hindi matanggihan.
‘Ay ano,’ simula ko, ‘mga kilala lang naming hitman.’
‘Bakit kayo may listahan?’
‘Kung may malinis na pagkapatay alam namin saan simulan pag-imbestiga.’
Nag tango siya. Wala man ding pangalang buo sa listahan, wala siyang masulat.
Giyakap niya ako. ‘Oy ha, don’t worry. Tayo na gani, pagdudahan mo pa ako.’
Natawa lang ako.
‘Makabasa ka ng isip?’
‘Hindi, pero makakontrol ako ng katawan…’ At gihimas niya ang paa ko. ‘Tingnan mo, mapatigas kita kung gusto ko.’ At nagtawa siya.
One round ulit tayo be before ako alis…’
Pagkatapos nun, umalis na siya. May daanan pa daw siya sa SM (sa Ecoland lang ang condo ko). Dito daw siya maghapunan bukas.
Pag-alis niya tinapos ko ang papeles ko.
Tiningnan ko din ang email ko. May isa galing sa baranggay captain ng Mua-an sa Kidapawan, kung nasaan si lola at ang tribo namin.
Nangumusta lang daw si lola. Nagtanong kung kelan daw ako sunod makauwi sa Kidapawan. May dagdag na hindi ko maintindihan: hindi daw mapakali ang abyan niya, ilang buwan na. maingay daw sa mga bulong ang lupa, parang galit ang mga tagabawa. Mag-ingat daw ako.
Sa pagbukas ko ng laptop nakita ko rin ang mukha ni Reymond Lu sa website ng lokal na dyaryo.
Mataba, may bigote, singkitin, naka-polo shirt at may makintab na relo. Hindi ko mapigilan magkulo ang dugo ko. Hala. Hindi ko maalis sa isip ko yung sumpa ni Lucy na lamunin sana ng lupa si Lu pagtapak niya sa Davao. Makahawa ang galit niya. Hindi man sana ako apektado sa kaso nitong si Lu (kahit na sabihin pa Lumad din ako), pero ngayon hindi sobra kung sabihing baka mapatay ko siya kung bigyan ng pagkakataon.
Naglinis ako ng bahay pagkatapos. Parang bagyo ang pagdating ni Lucy, maiba ang pwesto ng mga bagay: ang mga tsinelas na nakapatong sa door mat sa pintuan nakalagay na sa may kaliwa; ang mga kutson sa sofa na nakatayo paghilera, gipahalang niya tapos niya mag-upo; ang asukal na nasa kaliwa noon ng asin sa pantry, ngayon gipagitnaan na sila ng asin ng paminta; ang coffee maker na nasa tabi ng oven toaster, nasa kabilang gilid na ng pasimano; ang halaman sa coffee table malapit sa bintana, gitapat niya sa araw.
Naalala ko tuloy yung nanay at tatay ko: palagi sila mag-away kay ginaiba ni papa lagi ang ayos ng mga gamit. Pero kung si mama na ang magbago ng mga papeles ni papa sa kanyang study, wala lang reklamo si papa. Kawayan, piko-piko lang sa hangin.
Nagwalis lang ako at naghugas ng mga baso. Pagkatapos, lahat ng halaman gilipat ko sa mga lugar malapit sa araw. Katagal din nila hindi naarawan.
Lasing, at pagod sa kagulo na dala ni Lucy, natulog ako. Ngayon lang ako hindi papasok…
Nakasakay ako sa jeep. Sa labas ng bintana nagahalo ang mga kakahuyan ng Mua-an sa mga gusali ng Davao. May nakita akong matandang Manobo naga-akyat sa Bajada overpass, may dalang tambo sa likod.
Asan ito papunta ang jeep? Basta sakay lang ako. Ang nagadrive, si SPO1 Ricardo Uyonan. Naga-unauna itong batang ito. Noong may isang shootout sa Claveria, gitanguan nito niya ang superior niya ng utos. Kay emergency man okay lang, pero mahirapan itong bata umakyat ng ranggo kung hindi siya matuto magpiko. Sa tabi niya sa front seat si Hilda, secretary ko. Ewan bakit pero nanghingi ako ng kape kay Hilda. Sagot niya busy daw siya. Nagalit ako, pero gibalewala ko lang.
Takot ako pero naisipan ko bumaba ng jeep. Nung nagawa ko, tumapak ako sa tubig.
Nagasayaw kami sa ilalim ng tubig ni Lucy. Parang mga ibon sa ulonan namin ang mga isda. Sa sayaw namin, siya ang naga-una, sunod lang ako. Nagalutang ang mga balas sa galaw ng paa niya, parang usok.
Paghawak ko sa pisngi niya, nagtulo ang luha niya, at ang tubig sa paligid naging gubat ng Boracay. Nakahiga ako sa madahong lupa, duguan ang kamay. Maingay ang paligid, may iyakan, may sigawan. Minsan pinakita sa akin ni Lucy yung mga picture ng mga Ati sa Facebook niya. Sila ang mga nagatakbuhan sa likod niya ngayon. ‘Lupa! Lupa!’ sigaw nila.

Habang nagalakas ang boses nila nagsimula kalat ang usok na amoy gisunog na halaman ni lola.
Nandun nga si lola, sa likod ni Lucy, nagabulong sa Manobo: ‘Magbabaya, huwag hayaan manaig ang mga hindi pinahintulutang magdasdas sa kadalisayan ng Iyong mga anak…’
Galing sa usok ng kanyang ginahawakang bagol may binatang lumabas. Hindi ko kilala na binata, pero pamilyar. Kamukha ko noong bata pa ako. Lumapit siya sa akin at lumuhod. May hawak siyang dahon ng sambong. Gibigay niya sa akin at gitanong ako magkano ito. Tresyento mil, sagot ko, ang alok na pera ni Reymond Lu sa mga Ati para sa lupa nila.
Wag mo gamitin ang baril mo, pulis ka, sabi ng binata. Gamitin mo ito.
Sige, sabi ni Lucy. Gawin mo na. Hayaan mong lamunin ng lupa si Reymond Lu.
Bumangon ako, ang usok sa madahong lupa naging kumot na bumalot sa akin, humilahod sa sahig. Makita ko ang mga tauhan ni Lu, may dalang mga armalayt. Nagpunta ako sa mesa ko at gidilat konti ang mga mata – sandali naging carpet ko ang lumot sa sahig ng gubat. Tinandaan ko ang numero tabi ng isang pangalan sa nakitang papel. Nagpunta ako pagkatapos sa mga tauhan ni Lu, at noong mapansin nila ako, gipulot ko ang telepono at gidial ang numero. ‘Si Sergio Tarug ni… Hipusa si Reymond Lu. Tresyento Mil.’ Pagbaba ko ng telepono, nag-lakad paabante ang mga lalaki, at nakita ko sa taas ng bundok si Reymond Lu. Gitutukan siya ng mga lalaki ng baril.
At giyakap ako ni Lucy, at sa yakap niya naramdaman ko na kasali na ako sa mundo. Para siyang mainit na tubig galing sa mga bukal sa Mua-an, makakulba sa una pero masarap pag masanay ka na. At gihalikan niya ako, at gisabi niyang kawayan ako sa hangin. Matamis na kawayan sa hangin. Gibulungan ko siya ng tunog ng nagadaloy na tubig, at nabigla, naghanga siya. Giyakap niya ako ulit, at naging kasing bata ko na siya.
Nagising ako. Ano yun na panaginip? Hindi ko maintindihan pero kalakas ng pakiramdam ko pagkagising ko. Pagtingin ko sa cellphone ko, linggo na ng umaga.
Mga gawain ko sa umaga: ligo, kape, papeles. Mga alas otso ng umaga, habang nagatype ako ng sagot sa email ng isang reporter (tungkol dun sa imbestigasyon sa nagtapon ng used syringe sa Talomo beach), nag-ring ang telepono.
‘Human na boss. Ugma hapon sa may Queensland. Tresyento mil ‘to ha.’
‘Hello kinsa ni?’
Sandaling natahimik ang kabilang linya. ‘Pagtarong diha boss, recorded tong imong tawag gabii.’ At gibaba niya ang telepono.
Tresyento Mil? Ang tawag ko kagabi? Anong ibig sabihin..?
Hala, hindi kaya..!?
Biglang may malakas na katok sa pinto. Binuksan ko, at nagdali-dali pasok si Lucy.
‘Chief, si Reymond Lu..!’
‘Anong nangyari!?’
He was shot ngayon lang!’
‘Sa loob ng opisina ng negosyo niya. Point blank.’
Gitignan ko siya, nagahingal, halatang nataranta, pero kasing tatag, kasing kuyaw ng gidala niyang balita. Ito ang magulong mundong kinabilangan ko, mundo ng gulo kung saan kasali na ako.
At napaluhod ako, nanginig sa takot sa kung ano ang nakaya ko gawin.