‘Boyhood’: A review

Richard Linklater’s recent film ‘Boyhood’ reveals the fundamental aesthetic problem that every filmmaker must face: balancing the creative cinematographic concept with the essential narrative nature of the medium. The film does not do that balancing too well.

The film’s entire creative merit – what the critics have all be raving about – is on the former, that novel idea of filming the cast in real time, as they all actually live the twelve years in which the movie is set. It’s ingenious of course, but it’s not strictly novel – many documentaries have covered subjects in much longer spans of time. Looking at it from that perceptive somehow diminishes ‘Boyhood’ from that ‘landmark film’ status to just ‘hey, it’s a fictionalized documentary!’

(documentary voice): Observe how this specimen of Ethan Hawke does not seem to show signs of aging…

But whether or not that novelty is indeed a ‘landmark concept,’ its creative impact does nothing to remedy its biggest shortcoming: it has invested too much creatively on that concept, neglecting the development of its plot. Halfway into the almost three hour film, you can’t help but wonder where it’s all going. And sure enough, the ‘twelve year epic’ (not my epithet mind you) ends in the most un-epic manner: Mason Jr and this random girl he just meets blurt out the film’s theme. ‘I don’t think you seize the moment, I think the moment seizes you.’ ‘Yeah, I feel like… it’s always now.’ Wow, insight.

‘We waited twelve years to say these lines…’

That ending is such a let downer because the one true narrative strength of this film is the subtlety it achieves at some of the characters’ high dramatic points. The seething hatred a young Mason Jr has over his first stepfather as his hair is being cut against his will, the insecurity Olivia’s second husband suffers as he sees how little control he has over his wife’s family, that quiet vindication Mason Sr. gets to show over Olivia during their son’s graduation party. These human climactic moments are far more powerful than any of the hysterics Olivia engages in to spell out a theme.

‘You know what’s next!? Meryl Streep winning a f*cking Oscar over me!’

Which is not to say Olivia was a failure as a character. Far from it, she was the most developed, being the  most developed she just had too much going on. Yes, yes ‘a generation’s hopes and struggles, presented by an actress with a fullness of emotion, and yet with utter matter-of-factness.’ No need for a review to spell that out, the film makes it obvious enough. Where she just cuts through human reality deepest is when she shows the defeat of someone who had thought she was looking at a bright future ahead of her. That moment when her children’s father, whom she left because she thought him too unstable for a family, just tries to give her money, and when he leaves she casts her look down in utter dejection – dramatic gold.

But the most eye opening moment of the whole film, and the one that struck me most, was when that Latino man approached her in the restaurant, thanking her for telling him many years ago to study and make more out of his life. A heartwarming moment you might think, but the spent Olivia, who has exhausted her life and found nothing at the bottom, could only pity herself at the contrast between her sad, defeated denouement and this man’s dramatic rise. Ouch.

Narratives are best when they highlight high points like these in the lives of its characters. High drama presents intensity along with a plethora of insights, compelling the viewer to think, not just offering them something to think about. This is why I’m not very fond of these modernist-realist stuff: they’re boring, and their excuses of ‘subtlety’ and ‘profundity’ don’t work once you realize they’re not saying much at all. The most accomplished subtlety is when it is hiding intensity, and the most profound of insights emerge from the most critical, the most dramatic, of moments. When a high dramatist (pardon the coinage) is guilty of too much hysterics at least he won’t be found wanting in emotional gravitas of material, the modernist-realist will be at once guilty of being boring and of making much out of the trivial.

Hair is blown by the wind, forming natural emo bangs – profound

Observe that, save for Mason Jr’s haircut moment, I only mention the adults. The lives of the young ones (the boys-to-men moments with those cool guys breaking planks, and all the partying and love-sexing) just make my eyes roll. I’d rather watch David Attenborough talk about the reproductive cycle of flowers.  All I can say is that girlfriend of Mason’s, Sheena, she’s pretty and she’s a good actress, and I hope to see more of her.

Are you listening Game of Thrones/Downton Abbey people?

Of course it isn’t the film’s creative concern anymore, but I also fear this will further add to the increasingly insular worldview America is cultivating, and the increasing America-centrism that causes to the rest of the world. Of course, as this painstakingly vivid and accurate portrayal of American realities it makes for an outstanding piece of historiography (Dan Chiasson puts it better than me). But if only that is how all of us will see it – as an accurate depiction of specifically American realities. When Joyce Carol Oates, referring to ‘Boyhood,’ tweeted how:

‘it is rare that a film so mimics the rhythms and texture of actual life as Boyhood. Such seeming spontaneity is a very high art,’

she betrays that tendency to think that American realities are universal realities. Sure, some may be real human struggles anybody from any culture can relate to, but how trivial it must be for the displaced Badjao in Zamboanga to hear Olivia complaining about the high cost of her house. And how perfectly at leisure these characters seem to let ‘the moment seize them’ for the innocent civilians in war-torn Syria, who may be literally seized by the moment, never to be returned.

The world is full of horrible, wonderful, unbelievable – amazing – stuff, and we’re calling a movie about an American boy growing up in middle America ‘high art.’

Film this kid as he rises from this, to a rebel leader, to a national hero, to becoming the President of Syria before winning the Nobel. In Economics. Now that would be a twelve year epic.

Yes, it’s a great film that says (albeit too obviously) a profound reality to many of us, but let’s not lionize it too much.


In which the author, with archaic language, most graciously thanks the reader for the tireless support to this blog, which this year celebrates three years of existence

To my much valued and well beloved Readers, Followers, Stalkers, Haters, and all such pleasant or unpleasant personages that now do read this here blog, Greetings.

Graciously and with good cheer do I extend my sincerest expressions of gratitude to one and all for the consistent support shown hitherto to this here blog. Today it would be being most fruitfully present on the internet for well over three years, serving as an online venue for my literary, critical, political, and personal output.

You good Haters, Stalkers, Followers, and Readers in readership hereto united have in the three years past varied most plenteously: from students and afficionados reading my hopefully helpful and entertaining analyses of literary works and anime (among which I must make special mention of readers from Africa, who consistently top my readers ratings for my review of Wole Soyinka’s Trials of Brother Jero, and of those looking for my analysis of Alejandro Abadilla’s ‘Ako ang daigdig’), to my most devoted haters seeking to fulfill their lives by underlining every grammatical error in this here blog (I can imagine how fulfilled your lives must be – specially with this blog!), to my most obsessed stalkers taking the opportunity to obtain the few pictures I have online, and to my most avid and most decent readers, who read the literary works I upload hereto for general accessibility. This here blog is a machine that runs with ego, and you make most generous contribution in fuel with every like, comment, and follow you make and write hereto. Pray continue the applause.

In celebration of its three years of existence, I have for the month preceding made this here blog temporarily inaccessible to effect most desirable changes to it. I uploaded new posts, made corrective alterations to previous ones, and most visibly made use of a new background picture for the blog itself.

I now do proudly present to you again, my most beloved Readers, Followers, Stalkers, Haters, and all such pleasant or unpleasant personages in readership hereto united, the blog of Kidapawan’s Left handed snake!

In witness whereof do I cause this here post to be thus published, and for this here blog to be again made available to all. Let this here post be deemed good!


(Part of my MA Thesis. Published in Fortes, independent zine of the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM), 2015. Fortes is for sale at 30 pesos per copy!)

Dulang may isang Yugto

Mga Tauhan

William Monterama: mga 19 anyos, estudyante sa Ateneo de Davao (naka-uniporme), anak ng konsehal sa lungsod ng Kidapawan. May itsura.

Janice Malaumon: mga 19 anyos, estudyante sa San Pedro College (naka-uniporme), kalahating Manobo, taga Arakan Valley. May itsura.

Ang Barkada: Kinabibilangan nina
Luke: taga-AdDU
Sophia: taga-SPC
Cholo: Taga-AdDU

Tagpo: Sa ikalawang palapag ng McDo Sta Ana, lungsod ng Davao, tanghali hanggang hapon, kasalukuyang panahon at kamalayan

Magaganap ang dula sa loob ng isang araw

Pagbukas ng telon, nakaupo si Cholo sa nasa gitnang long table, nakalekwatro, nagtetext. Walang tao sa second floor.
Papasok si Luke

Cholo: Akala ko kasama kayo ni papa William?

Luke: (uupo sa tabi) Papunta na daw, gipauna niya ako. Sila Janice? Di ba nandiyan lang sila naga-dorm banda sa SPC?

Cholo: Ay ito, nagapatanong muna kung andyan na ba daw si papa Will. (magtetext) Ewan ko sa babaeng ito.

Luke: Para ano kaya ito ‘no? Grabe kakulba ni Will, malamang maglabas ng kaguol yun sa akin kaya ako gipaaga. Kawawa na lagi masyado siya Chol. Hindi baya siya talaga ganito, tikalon baya ito na tao since elementary pa, pero ngayon!

Cholo: Lagi uy, naga-shaky na lagi talaga sila ni Janice. Nitong huli daw nagaguol si Sophia kay parang may ginatago siya, pero wala man ding ginasabi sa amin itong gaga. Kasayang din ng 3 years uy! At katanga lang din ni Janice kung pakawalan pa niya si papa Will – saan ka makakita ng love story ng Manobo scholar na nakauyab ng anak ng city councilor!

Papasok si William, namumutla.

William: Cholo! Anong ginagawa mo dito?

Cholo: Papunta din si Sophia, gipapunta kami ni Janice.

William: (uupo) Ay anong ibig sabihin nito!

Luke: Ano ba kasi nangyayari sa inyo bay?

William: Ay bay ewan, hindi ko na talaga alam. Isang linggo na kami wala usap-usap, tawag man, text, o chat sa FB. Tapos ito, bigla na lang ako gichat na magkita daw kami dito ngayon para pag-usapan ang lahat.

Cholo: Hala ka uy, hindi mo gisubukan tanong anong problema?

William: Nito na lang, ayaw ko sana na lagi na lang problemahin ang relationship namin – yan baya ang dahilan nung una kami nag-away.

Luke: Hala so nag-away na pala kayo noon?

William: Ay oo, mga a month ago. Nagsimula na ka-cold ang relationship namin kay nabusy kami pareho sa studies – nag-SAMAHAN din baya ako, tapos siya kahirap daw ng subjects sa MedTech. Pero nagkaproblema lang kami kay gi-OA ko, nainis siya. Maliit na bagay lang bitaw sana, gipalaki ko pa. Ayon, para pambawi, giaya ko siya date kami sa Viking’s – gibigyan lang din ako ng cash ni dad. Pero biglang ganito na tapos nun…

Cholo: Hala naano na man ito uy.

William: Wala siyang ginasabi sa iyo, Chol?

Cholo: Wala gud talaga babe. Kahit kay Sophia. Pag tanungin namin, mag-shrug lang siya ng shoulders niya.

William: (tatakpan ang mukha ng kamay) Ano na man nangyari sa amin uy. Kasaya na sana namin. Nag-selfie pa gani kami nung nasa Viking’s kami, tapos gisend niya daw sa pinsan niya, na gipakita ang picture sa lola at mga pinsan niya sa kanila sa Arakan. Hindi baya yun mahilig mag-selfie, at lalo nang hindi yun mahilig magsabi ng tungkol sa amin sa pamilya niya, kaya kasaya ko talaga nun. Tapos ngayon, ganito na, hindi ko man lang gani alam anong problema.

Luke: Baka wala palang problema bay, ginaisip mo lang yan.

William: Lagi bay, sana nga…

Cholo: (nakatingin sa phone) nasa baba na sila.

Mapapatayo ang lahat. Papasok sina Janice at Sophia. Papansinin ni Janice ang lahat maliban kay William. Bibigat ang hangin.

Uupo si Janice.

Janice: Guys, iwan niyo siguro muna kami sandali.

Tahimik na tatango ang barkada at lalabas.

Maingat na uupo si William.

William: ‘Nice…

Janice: (may kukunin sa handbag: coin purse na wangis ng panda, ibabagsak sa mesa) Ibalik nako nimo.

William: (mabibigla) Ito yung galing Hong Kong, bakit-?

Janice: (ibabagsak naman sa mesa ang isang green na notebook bago matapos si William) Ug kani sad.

William: Yung galing Singapore na –

Janice: (ibabagsak ang isang pen purse sa mesa) Ug kani pud

William: Yung galing Boracay –

Janice: (ibabagsak ang isang libro) Ug kani.

William: last month ko lang to –

Janice: (ibabagsak ang nakatiklop na blouse) Ug kani.

William: Gibigay ‘to sa iyo ni mom, a – sandali gud, ano bang problema!

Janice: Ibalik na nako na tanan nimo. Dili nako na kinahanglan.

William: Anong – (makakaisip ng maling dahilan sa desperasyon, matatawa) bakit, ha, galit ka na hindi kita kasama nung nasa Hong Kong, Singapore at Boracay kami nila mom? Ay sus, ‘Nice, kung gusto mo dalhin kita sa Macau ngayong birthday

Janice: (puputulin ang salita niya sa marahas na tingin. Kumukulo sa galit) Kay ngano, tan-aw nimo kay pobre lang ko ug datu ka igo ra nimo ko paliton anang imong kwarta? Pag-adto og Macau ikaw ra usa…

William: (Magkahalong pagkabigla, indignasyon, at di maunawaang pagsisisi) A-ano bang problema…?

Manglilisik ang mga mata ni Janice, ngunit hindi ito mapupuna ni William. Hihinga si Janice ng malalim.

Janice: Undangon na nato ni. Dili na ko.

Parang nabuhusan ng malamig na tubig si William

William: (maluha-luha) Anong… anong ibig mong sabihin..?

Janice: Dili na ko.

William: ‘Nice, bakit? Anong problema? ‘Nice..? (magagalit, ngunit matatantong wala itong magagawa sa sariling galit. Mawawalan ng pag-asa. nagsisimula na ng iyak)

Janice: Dili ikaw ang lalaki para sa ako. Dili sad ako ang para nimo. Gikapoy na ko nimo. Undangon na nato ni.

William: ‘Nice bakit ito..? Anong gud ito uy..? (walang sagot) ‘Nice, wag mo ako Bisayain be. Ano man ito uy… (humahagulgol na)

Janice: (mukhang mag-aalinlangan sa tangkang gagawin, ngunit maiisipang hindi magpatuloy) Dili na lagi ko. Ayaw na ni palisda. Undangon na nato ni be, gikapoy na ko. (bukod sa kaninang tabis ay kailan ma’y di niya titignan si William)

William: (susubukang magsalita sa likod ng hagulgol) So… so talagang tapos na tayo

Janice: O, human na ta.

William: (hirap pa rin magsalita) Si… sige. Thank you for everything, ‘Nice. Salamat sa three years. Kadami kung nakita sa buhay dahil sa iyo… (mapait nga ngiti) Yung mga kwento mong Manobo lalo, hindi ko talaga makalimutan, kaganda… sana nakapunta ako sa inyo sa Arakan. May farm man pala daw kami dun sabi ni dad. (magdidilim ang mukha ni Janice) Thanks for everything ‘Nice. I love you. You gave me the best years of my life. I don’t know what I did, but I’m so sorry for everything. Ako man talaga ang lagi mali sa atin, ba… I – I don’t know kelan ko mapatawad ang sarili ko sa anong nagawa ko… I love you ‘Nice, I hope makalimutan mo ako… I love you. (tatayo, pupulutin ang mga nasa mesa ng parang pinupulot ang mga bildo ng nabasag na sarili) Good bye. (lalabas)

Hindi mapipigilan ni Janice, at tahimik na tutulo ang luha sa mga mata niya. Tutuyuin niya ito.

Maingat na papasok ang barkada.

Cholo: (uupo) ‘Nice, anong nangyari? (uupo din sina Sophia at Luke)

Janice: (matapos tuyuin ang luha) Wala. Wala na kami.

Sophia: Ha! Ano ba kasi nangyari?

Janice: Nakipaghiwalay ako.

Cholo: What!?

Luke: Sus, kaya pala grabe ang iyak nun. Hindi man gani kami gipansin paglabas niya.

Janice: Asan na siya?

Luke: Nagsakay ng taxi

Sophia: Ano ba kasing problema, ‘Nice! Magsalita ka na nga.

Janice: (hihinga ng malalim) May malaking farm ang mga Monterama sa amin sa Arakan.

Cholo: O, tapos?

Janice: Amin yung lupa, ancestral domain namin. Gikamkam noon ng lolo niya.

Sophia: Ano!?

Janice: Landgrabber pala noon yung lolo niya, si Agaton Monterama. Giuto pala niya ang lolo ko sa tuhod, ilang ektarya ng lupa para sa isang lata ng sardinas.

Cholo: My God..!

Janice: (tahimik na suklam) Nakita ko pano naghirap ang nanay-tatay ko buhay sa amin magkakapatid. Ngayon arang-arang na kami, pero gikailangan ko pa rin maging scholar ng Lumad People’s Federation para makapag-college. Hindi pa din alam nila papa asan magkuha ng pang-college ng mga kapatid ko. At hanggang ngayon wala pa rin kaming sarili naming lupa.

Luke: Grabe pala…

Janice: Pero ang pinaka-masakit yung hiya ni lola kay papa at mama na wala siyang natulong sa kanila. Okay lang gud kila papa, pero kawawa masyado si lola, kita masyado sa mga mata niya ang pagsisi sa hindi naman sana niya kasalanan. Anuhin din kaya niya pagbuhay sa pamilya niya na igo lang gipalit ng lata ng sardinas yung lupa ng tatay niya…

Sophia: Hala grabe ito… Pero ‘Nice, nakaraan na yun. Ganun pa rin ba kabigat ang nakaraan sa iyo na makipaghiwalay ka talaga kay Will?

Janice: (biglang may sigla) Oo, Soph’. Ito mismo ang dahilan bakit ako nagasikap maging doktor ngayon, para gamitin itong kolonyal na kultura para tulungan ang mga giapi kong kalahi. Alam niyo ano yang pangayaw?

Sophia: Oo, narinig ko na yan, yan yung blood war na ginagawa mga lumad pag naabuso sila

Janice: (halos sa sarili) Pero hindi lang sa dahas ang pangayaw. Itong ginagawa ko pangayaw din ito, ang paggamit nitong pagka-kolonyal ninyo para tahimik na maglaban sa pang-api ng mga kalahi ko. Pero talo ako kung mahila ako nito. Talo ako kung kahiligan ko ito. Talo ako kung hindi ko na ayawan ang tukso nitong pagka-kolonyal ninyo. At pinakatalo ako kung makuha ako ng anak ng landgrabber…

Cholo: Pero hindi man siguro ganun si Will…

Janice: (manghihina sandali sa katatagan, ngunit manunumbalik) Bitaw, saka pangayaw ko lang din ito. Pero may mas mabigat na pangayaw ang pamilya ko sa kanya. May mas malaking galit ang pamilya ko sa pamilya niya.

Luke: Mas malaking galit?

Janice: Gigahasa ni Agaton Monterama ang lola ko.

Sophia: Ano!?

Janice: Pagkatapos bilhin ni Monterama yung lupa namin ng isang latang sardinas, gigawa niyang tapper ang lolo ko sa tuhod sa gigawa nilang gomahan sa lupa namin. Yung lola ko may asawa at anak na noon, pero gikuha ni Monterama na katulong sa bahay nila. Doon, gihalay niya ang lola ko. Nagtakas daw si lola – halos hubo’t hubad – pabalik sa Arakan. Gisugod ng tatay at bana niya ang mga Monterama, pero nabaril si lolo, patay. Byuda ang lola ko ng 19. Gitakas na lang ng lolo ko sa tuhod ang lola at ang sanggol ko pa na tatay patago. Hanggang sa namatay na lang si Agaton Monterama hindi pa namin nakuha ang lupa namin.

Cholo: Hala ka uy. Pano mo ito nalaman lahat girl!?

Janice: (mapait na ngiti) Nag-selfie kami ni Will, gipadala ko sa pinsan ko para ipakita kay lola. Giatake si lola pagkakita sa kanya – kamukha daw pala sila masyado ng lolo niya. Mabuti na lang hindi naano si lola. Matagal na alam nila papa ang tungkol sa amin, pero hindi nila natanong ang apelyado niya. Ngayon lang din nila nasabi sa akin ang pangalan nung nagkamkam ng lupa namin at yung naggalaw kay lola.

Sophia: … Hindi kita ma-blame sa desisyon mo, ‘Nice. Wala tayo lahat magawa sa mga ganitong bagay. Pero parang kawawa naman si Will, wala siyang kaalam-alam.

Janice: (mapapaisip sandali) Oo, dapat niya nga malaman. Itext ko sa kanya.

Mukhang mag-aalinlangan si Sophia sa pagsuporta dito

Cholo: Asan kaya yun nagpunta? Hala kawawa man pa din si papa Will uy.

Luke: Kanina ko pa ginatawagan, ayaw magsagot.

Sophia: Luke di ba maka-track yan ng GPS ang phone mo?

Luke: Ay o tama, pero may wifi kaya siya kung asan man siya?

Sophia: Subukan mo lang.

Luke: Sige
Janice: Ayan, sent.

Sophia: Anong gisabi mo?

Janice: Na yun lang, gikamkam ng pamilya niya ang ancestral domain namin, tapos gigahasa ng lolo niya ang lola ko at gipapatay ang sarili kong lolo.

Cholo: Hala kasakit siguro niyan sa kanya.

Janice: (halos sa sarili) Sakit..?

Luke: May signal! Nasa condo na niya siya sa may Magallanes.

Sophia: I’m sure dagdag itong depression sa kanya pag nalaman niya…

Janice: (mahahabag) Dagdag depression..!

Cholo: Oo uy, grabe baya masyado ang sense of justice nun.

Sophia: Since elementary pa kami, siya talaga yan palagi ang makipag-away para sa mga kaklase naming ginabully, kaya gani sila nagkaibigan nito ni Cholo.

Cholo: Ay oo, I can never forget that!

Luke: At hanggang ngayon ganun pa rin yun. Ngayon na nasa SG siya ng Ateneo o, staunch supporter pa rin nung memo against sa bullying sa Engineering namin.

Cholo: Tapos di ba concerned din yan siya masyado sa mga lumad?

Luke: Ay oo, nagapush siya ng SAMAHAN scholarship para sa mga lumad students.

Janice: Hala kelan lang ‘to..?

Luke: Hindi na baya kayo masyado nagausap nito lang di ba? Ayaw niya din siguro abalahin ka sa kwento…

Janice: Hala, Will… (mag-aalinlangan na) Hala, anong ginawa ko… Hala…

Sophia: (mauunawaan ang pag-alinlangan ni Janice) Luke, puntahan mo si Will, bilis. Sino kasama niya sa bahay ngayon?

Luke: Wala, next week pa daw pa-Davao nanay niya.

Sophia: Dali, Luke. Magtaxi ka.

Luke: (mauunawaan at tatayo) Sige, hala wag naman sana -! (lalabas)

Cholo: (mauunawaan din) Hala ka uy wag naman sana! (tatawag) Hala ka, gipatay na niya ang phone niya!

Sophia: Sino ba ang kilala natin na nakatira doon malapit?

Cholo: Wala baya, ang pinakamalapit alam ko si John na nagadorm dito sa may Claveria.

Sophia: Tawagan mo, sabihin mo emergency.

Cholo: Okay. (tatawag) Cannot be reached, i-text ko lang.

Sophia: Sige. (mapupuna si Janice) ‘Nice, okay ka lang?

Janice: Hala Soph’ anong gawin ko kung may mangyari sa kanya..?

Cholo: Nagsagot na si John, papunta na daw siya.

Sophia: Good. Kalma ka lang, ‘Nice. Chol, pwede mo bilhan si Janice ng mainom sa baba?

Cholo: Sige, ako na muna tapal.

Sophia: Thanks.

Lalabas si Cholo

Janice: Hala, sana walang mangyari sa kanya, Soph’… (mauunawaan na ang nagawa) Soph’ bakit ko siya gisaktan ng ganun? Hindi man niya kasalanan, Soph’… Hala, kabait baya nun sa akin, he loved me so much...

Sophia: Oo, mahal na mahal ka nun. Mula nung gipakilala ka siguro namin sa kanya hindi ka na nawala sa isip nun. Ikaw baya ang first girlfriend nun.

Janice: Hala ano man ginawa ko uy. Soph’, katanga ko, baka ano pa lang mangyari!

Sophia: Kalma, ‘Nice!

Janice: (maiiyak na) Ay katanga ko talaga, Soph’! Gipatuloy ko lang ang sakit na gisimulan ng lolo niya. Sus kung anong magawa nun dahil sa gigawa ko!

Sophia: Kalma lang lagi, wala laging –

Biglang papasok si Cholo

Cholo: Nagtawag si Luke! My God nagbigti daw si Will sa kanila!

Janice: My God! Anong ginawa ko!

Sophia: Asan na sila ngayon!?

Cholo: Nagtawag si John ng ospital, ginasugod na nila sa Davao Doc. (tutunog ang telepono niya) Hello Luke… hala, oh my God..! (mapapaiyak) Namatay na daw si Will sa ambulance…

Janice: (hahagulgol) Will, Will, Will! Anong ginawa ko!

habang tahimik na iiyak si Cholo at Janice, tatabi sa isang kanto si Sophia, tatawag sa telepono. Maya-maya ay babalik siya sa dalawa

Sophia: Gitawagan ko na sina tita Maricel, (kay Janice) nagtawag pa daw si Will kay tito Ric para inconfirm yung gitext mo. (aktong bababa) Tara, puntahan na natin…

Janice: Soph’, kasalanan ko! Kasalanan ko!

Sophia: (hihinga ng malalim) Oo, pero dahil dito tapos na ang pangayaw niyo. Nakaganti na rin kayo. Only son si Will, dahil dito ubos na ang lahi ng mga Monterama. I hope masaya ka na.

Mapapatayo si Janice, mapapalakad sa gitna ng entablado,at mapapahagulgol sa pait ng natamong tagumpay bago bumaba ang


Davao Filipino and its Literary Possibilities (Abstract)

(The abstract to my thesis, presented to the Graduate Faculty of Silliman University’s English Department, in fulfillment of the requirements to an MA in English with concentration on Creative Writing.)

The present thesis aimed to explore the possibilities of using Davao Filipino, the variety of Filipino spoken in the Mindanao areas of Kidapawan and Davao, as a literary medium, and of the implications to using it in this manner. Specifically, it aimed to determine: how DF could be linguistically described; how DF can be used as a literary language; and in what communicative contexts, as replicated in fiction and plays, DF can be used. The discussion of existing literature relating to the subject medium, the production of literary works, and the discussion of these same works provide answers to these questions.

It was determined that Davao Filipino is the result of the linguistic diversity in Mindanao and serves as a potent tool for the de-Tagalization of Filipino. Furthermore, it was defined as the Tagalog based inadvertent language contact spoken on a first language basis in Davao and Kidapawan, and features borrowings that are predictable. It was further determined that writing in DF presents both difficulties and advantages: the fact that it is a primarily spoken medium means there is a need to grow more accustomed to using it in writing, but the variety’s nature as language contact provided for elegant variation and terminological precision, allowed for preservation of idiom and figure of speech authentic to the locale, and its colloquial origins allow for free indirect speech in third person narration. The expressive limitations of DF’s colloquial origins could also be taken advantage of in first person narration, stream of consciousness, and in dialogue. Its social implications, vis-à-vis the other languages—and other forms of language contact—spoken in its locale can also be used to authentically represent social backgrounds. Translating in DF—particularly for third person limited narration—made the narration more intimate because of DF’s predominant usage in speech. Moreover, DF could be used in a wide array of communicative contexts, ranging from casual conversations, to expressions of fear, love, and hatred. Its usage as a third person omniscient narration medium or as medium for stage instructions was not impossible, although this study pointed out the novelty in such usages. But its usage in formal public speaking contexts was observed to be problematic owing to the conventions of that field, which favoured the standard Tagalog. Five short stories and seven plays written by the researcher are included in the study.

Going home to Kidapawan

Some time ago I wrote that ultimate fulfillment for me is if I learned that Kidapawan was proud of me for managing to get a Palanca last year.

Well, ultimate fulfillment fulfilled!

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I went to Kidapawan earlier this month to receive this commendation from the city government. It’s not much, but it is very touching.

It was given during the monthly convocation of the Kidapawan City Government, held on the morning of February 12 at the city gym.

Photo courtesy of kuya Sonny Doctor

Photo courtesy of kuya Sonny Doctor

To my surprise it began with the awarding of recognitions, and I was first to be awarded. I went up to the stage and shook hands with the mayor, vice mayor Rudolfo Gantuangco, and city councilors Jivy Bombeo, Francis Palmones, and Mario Flores. On stage Councilor Palmones, who has an ubiquitous hairline, asked jokingly if he could take some of my hair from himself. I answered he can feel free to take as much as he likes.

The event was an amusing one, because it was really a way for the Municipio employees to entertain themselves. And because this convocation was sponsored by the mayor’s office, the production was particularly lavish. It featured song, dance, and magic show performances from the employees of the mayor’s office and the City Information Office.

The Mayor of Kidapawan, manong Joseph, giving the opening remarks

The Mayor of Kidapawan, manong Joseph, giving the opening remarks

The best performance? When the mayor, manong Joseph Evangelista himself, sang while playing the electric organ. Though I have to say, City Information Office head Psalmer Bernalte, who sang manong Joseph, was a remarkably powerful singer.

With my two grandmothers, and the first lady manang Marlyn

With my two grandmothers, and the first lady manang Marlyn

I went to the event, and went up the stage, with my two grandmothers. Also present in the event were my yaya kuya Sonny Doctor (now an employee in the Municipio), and the city first lady, manang Marlyn.

The event would not have been possible without two people: my friend Vincent Cuzon, who made it known to Kidapawan that I won in spite of my best efforts to hide it; and my elder brother kuya Dexter (an employee in the City Information Office), who informed the mayor’s office about it.

But probably more significant than the ceremony was the fact that I was able to return to Kidapawan for the first time in five years.

When I was in college and my family used to live in Kidapawan, coming home (in its truest sense) was always painful, as I saw the city I grew up in become more and more a different place. When we moved to Davao four years ago, I barely had the chance to return.

Needless to say, the otherness I encountered in what used to be my hometown was bothering. The streets I had come to know have changed almost beyond recognition, there are buildings where there used to be none, and the shades of trees are gone as they are felled one by one to make room for even more buildings. Kidapawan is becoming prosperous, but at the expense of the Kidapawan I knew.

Our house in the family ancestral compound in crossing Lanao, a dilapidated two story building a tenant built decades ago,  was renovated by my uncle into a guest house, and by all means it now looks a lot better. But it was no longer my home, and that bothered me a lot.

But what was perhaps most discomforting was when I visited my old alma mater, Notre Dame of Kidapawan. Having studied there since kindergarten, and having seen life there from early childhood to my teenage years, Boys (as the school is still known colloquially, harking back to its exclusive boys’ school days) was my capital of memories in Kidapawan, my emotional Mecca, where I slipped dreams into the old walls’ crevices and etched yearnings on the trees. Now most of those walls have been whitewashed, and most of those trees have been felled. It was almost as if I was looking for the bits of my youth I hid here and there but could not find them. The teachers in the high school department even look as if they were just my age.

Kidapawan in my imagination has ceased to be the Kidapawan of my imagination. I am in a crisis of rootedness.

‘Kidapawan in my heart’ by Rita B. Gadi: An Analysis

Rita B. Gadi’s ‘Kidapawan in my heart’ first saw print on the Sunday Inquirer Magazine in 2002, and is part of her 2010 collection of poems published by the UST Press. A few days ago I made a translation of it into Davao Filipino on this blog.

The poem is divided into two parts, the first of which is enclosed in a parenthetical. This beginning tells of a collective identity that has a native and indigenous constancy: the persona’s tribe, though like all peoples prone to movement, are always bound to return home to the mountains. ‘tribe,’ ‘mountain,’ and ‘eagle’ are words that immediately evoke Mt Apo, its Philippine eagles and mountain-bound lumad tribes to the informed reader. Kidapawan, at the foothill of the mountain, has been home to many such tribes for millennia. The connotation of the lumad is reinforced by the succeeding images of silence (‘our eyes keep the secrets of our lips’ and nature-bound celebration (‘birds fill with celebration the beginnings of our songs.’). Indeed, in contrast to the invasive settlers and the resisting Islamized tribes, the dominant characteristic of the lumad voice in the Mindanao discourse has been silence, and the lumad are also known to be secretive with the folk wisdom they have acquired over the ages. This wisdom is heavily informed by their close experience with nature, and in their arts – particularly their rich oral traditions – appreciation and mimicry of natural imagery and sound are very evident. If anything, this portion of the poem reveals the poet’s keen understanding of the lumad character. She thus projects this as the inherent nature of her communal belongingness.

It is the collective nature of the preceding stanza’s topic  which gives us the idea that the succeeding stanza is in fact addressed to a hometown.

But this succeeding stanza, in shifting in communicative function from statement to apostrophe, also takes a different tone. If the idea that this portion is addressed to a home is taken, then the persona has called it many names, she has ‘shaped many figures’ to ‘design its face’: the constancy of the preceding stanza is gone, the persona is expressing difficulty in recognizing her hometown. This difficulty is addressed by the creation of identity, and so she imagines, instead of remembers and recognizes,  what her hometown was and is  (‘memories that never arrive because they are not past’). This is later further developed when the home is described as ‘almost invisible,’ ‘chanced upon,’ and ‘vanishing.’

What succeeds is an ingenious use of line cutting: she mentions the attempt to recognize ‘what would please/you.’ It implies the identity creation of the persona for the home is a question of what the home wants to be rather than what it actually is. At the same time the enjambment at ‘please’ ends up implying that in in spite of this conscious collective identity creation, the impulse fundamentally underlying it is the identity-creator’s – the persona’s – own sense of pleasure and reassurance: ‘this is what the hometown ought to be,’ and at the same time ‘thinking my hometown to be like this is better, much more reassuring.’

This creation of the home’s identity explains why the preceding stanza is enclosed in parentheses. The statement of fixed rootedness is itself another created identity for the home. The images of tribes, mountains, eagles, and folk songs are all trappings the persona adorns her ideation of her hometown. Perhaps she has never experienced these images at all.

And this envisaging of a fixed rootedness is complicated by the succeeding details, as the persona implies distance from the home. She talks of searching for ‘reflections’ of it in windows, as well as writing to it, thereby implying she is not there. It is this distance that ultimately seems to have led to this difficulty to recognize the home – with space and time in the way, she has ended up romanticizing her town. This is now evident as we look back at the earlier creative processes of name calling, ‘face-designing,’ and on a more personal level, recollecting.  The difference between what the home is and what she has imagined it to be complicate her recognition of it, and it ends up being ‘the same and not the same.’

The poem ends with an expression of her lingering love for the home. This is nevertheless still insightful: the situating of the recollection of the home in the evening leads to the interpretation that such recollections often occur irregularly in sleep. The poem’s personification of the home is taken to a new height with the act of ‘walking’ the persona’s ‘landscape.’ The act of walking is perhaps a light echo of the movement of tribes in the first stanza, thereby making the personification another form of romanticism: the home and thoughts of it are always bound to return to one. The succeeding lyricism then ingeniously plays around with the nature of the subject as home: on a simply expressive level ‘only you can take the stars and give me the moon’ is another lyrical statement of exclusive love, but if the addressee is indeed the home, then the individual details gain a more experientially specific character – the night sky in one’s hometown is the truest of night skies. She returns to her created ideation when she consciously ‘assembles’ the reasons why she loves the hometown. This ultimately reveals that the poem is not about the home per se (as it seemed to have been with the first stanza) but about the persona’s dealing with the home. The poem tapers to an interesting stylistic stop, with finality because of its brevity, but indicating continuation: it is an insistence that in spite of all the alterations to the home, and the discrepancies between what is actual and imagined, she will continue to struggle with its thought.

I cannot say much about the authorial level (information on Gadi anywhere, even in Kidapawan, is scarce), but the Gadis seem to be among the settler families in Kidapawan (it will suffice to say that her parents were both municipal Mayors), and they didn’t seem to be of lumad origin, although I may stand corrected there.

If so, then it all the more reaffirms the interpretation of identity creation for rootedness. This is a dominant characteristic in Kidapawan settler identity: many a Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilonggo, or Ilocano who was born and who grew up in Kidapawan has to struggle with the liminal nature of his domicile, as he is neither ethnically a native of his hometown nor does he belong to his ethnicity’s homeland. To fill in the resulting void in his identity, he carves out belongingness for himself in the land, creating, even at the expense of destroying what is already there. Either he imposes his ethnicity’s culture on the area (so we get places like ‘New Bohol’) or, less frequently, he appropriates the culture of the indigenous peoples as his own. Kidapawan identity is the perpetual struggle with this permanent crisis of identity. This fundamental turbulence is why the Kidapawanon always aspires to be elsewhere – nearby Davao, Manila or Cebu, or even abroad, anywhere but Kidapawan – and why he can so easily give up his roots in Kidapawan when he moves to another place.

Gadi’s poem shows another instance of this drive to create to fill in the void: what happens for the introspective after such an exodus. On arriving elsewhere and renouncing his roots, the Kidapawanon realizes that he does not belong in the new place too, and so he comes to the envisioning of home that this poem deals with. But he has never lived consciously in Kidapawan, he was too busy hating the insincerity of his transplanted nativeness there. Now he has to fill in the gaping void of memories, and he may do it by romanticizing the little encounters he has had there, or adorning it with lumad mystique, or with natural wonder, or whatever it is about his hometown he ends up reading but has never experienced.

Of course the poem might not be actually saying all this, but these layers of meaning are possible to the reader who has experienced having Kidapawan, nay, the lingering idea of Kidapawan, weigh heavily in his heart.

‘Kidapawan in my heart’ is so far one of only two published poems dealing with Kidapawan and its people’s identity. Another, more recent publication is Paul Gumanao’s ‘Sometimes on the Road to Kidapawan.’ But I will discuss that in another post!

On the SAF 44, and worse Massacres in Mindanao

The blood spilled by the 44 SAF officers in Mamasapano. Maguindanao earlier this year will not be in familiar company. Mindanao has seen massacres over the past centuries, but most of that blood is Muslim and lumad civilian blood.

Let me get this clear: their deaths were tragic (no death per se is happy), but the SAF 44 were uniformed men on covert duty. Their fall should have been viewed as the glorious fulfillment of their duty, instead they are being portrayed as victims. If I were a uniformed man I wouldn’t consider being portrayed as a victim too flattering. The grief of the officers’ families are justified (if not exactly foresighted – duh, they’re uniformed men), but our nation’s collective grief is rather rich, and our public anger at the Moro camp of the (otherwise successful) conflict is downright ridiculous.

If there are any victims in the centuries of unrest in my home island, they are the innocent, mostly defenseless locals caught up in conflicts they had no part in.

Many of the 58 people killed during the Maguindanao Massacre in 2009 were from Mindanao, and almost all of them were unarmed civilians. You can say it was Mindanawons killing one another, but that horrific crime could only have happened in the feudal padrino system of governance that was imposed on Mindanao and which is centered in Manila (if Ampatuan is indeed the mastermind behind it, remember that he was Gloria’s creature).

But at least the Maguindanao Massacre is still remembered, for the most horrible massacres in the history of Mindanao are sadly not even widely remembered in Mindanao.

The 1974 massacre in the remote baranggay of Manili, Carmen, North Cotabato (barely an hour away from my hometown of Kidapawan) saw 79 civilians, mostly the elderly, women, and children, slaughtered en masse. According to this compelling interview with a survivor by writer Rogelio Braga, Forces of the Philippine Constabulary, cooperating with the (allegedly cannibalistic) paramilitary group Ilaga, gathered the muslim community in the local masjid and demanded that they  surrender a local insurgent, as well as allegedly hidden firearms. The people tried to reason that they had neither, but the armed men open fired. When the people tried to hide inside the masjid, the men shelled the trapped civilians with grenades – almost none of the bodies were intact. The armed men have had to build a concrete block around the floors to keep the ankle-deep blood from flowing away. To this day nobody has been prosecuted for the crime, and no case is pending.

Then there was the Bud Dajo Massacre in the Bud Dajo crater in Sulu in 1906. American soldiers then quelling the remaining resistance against American conquest in Mindanao slaughtered over 600 Tausugs, who were cornered down the crater, from a height. Most of the victims were civilians, including women holding their babies. Mark Twain wrote a provocatively ironic reaction on the ‘act of valour.’

The worst figure I found online so far has been 1,776: the Tacbil Mosque Massacre in Malisbong, Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat in 1974. Again, by the Philippine armed forces. Again, civilians, including women and children. Again, you probably haven’t heard of it.

(One can argue that the casualties in the Siege of Manila during the Second World War is the highest figure in Philippine history, with 100,000 estimated civilian casualties. But that’s war, deaths during war, while no less atrocious, are expected. Deaths in peacetime kill more than lives).

Perhaps the highest figure though might be the total death count in the Massacre of Davao in 1906 (by far the worst year in Philippine history). After the local tribal chieftain Mangulayon assassinated the newly installed military governor of Davao, Lt Edward Bolton, the American forces engaged in a manhunt for the escaped assassin. By ‘manhunt,’ I mean an indiscriminate killing of all moving life in sight until Mangulayon was found – a Huwes de Kutsilyo. Davao historian Macario Tiu researched extensively on the event and wrote a detailed account of his work. To quote a native elder he interviewed:

‘In the mountains of Santa Maria (Davao Occidental), they (the Americans) killed all the natives. They spared no one, whether it was a Tagacaolo, a Blaan, a Manobo, a cat, or a dog. If they see you, they kill you, all to avenge Bolton.’

The killing spree lasted for three months, stretching according to some accounts from Digos to Malita (that’s almost half the western Davao gulf). The exact number of deaths? No figure could ever be ascertained, records on the massacre are almost nonexistent. And not even in Davao is this killing spree known.

“We shall never forget you SAF 44”? Ha, we’ll see.

But all of this has nothing to do with the Mamasapano incident you say! What I’m saying, you stupid Manilenyo, is that we here in Mindanao are sick to death (literally) of bloodshed. When we say give peace a chance that’s not a request, that’s a goddamn plea. You’re calling for the possibility of killing even more innocent lives just because Noli de Castro is teary eyed on TV Patrol. If you want to wage a war against the MILF, please wage it in the streets Manila.

It might even help you fix your MRT problems (by decreasing the commuters that is).