‘People on Claveria Street’: A Review

(Appeared on Davao Today, 3 September 2017)


People on Claveria Street, Leoncio Deriada’s second novel, is far from his best work of fiction. But it nevertheless demonstrates the value of this living literary legend to Davao and its people.

Set in Davao City just after the Second World War, the autobiographical novel chronicles Deriada’s first few months as a boy in the city where much of his fiction is set. His family has reunited after the War, having left their hometown of Dumangas, Iloilo to join his eldest brother Gener in Davao. Much of the novel features scenes from daily life in the house of the Pagunsans (distant relatives and family of Gener’s love interest Isang), where the Deriada children are made to live to study in the city. The house is located along Claveria Street, then a quiet bajo de campanilla neighbourhood with mangoes, mansanitas, and cheap theaters.

The novel is chronologically set shortly before Deriada’s first novel, People on Guerrero Street, and is intended as its prequel. But unlike his National Book Award winning debut novel, Claveria Street does not seem to have a coherent plot, and it could hardly be considered a novel. There are episodic story lines featuring young Leoncio’s student life in Ponciano elementary school, his supernatural encounter in San Pedro church, his involvement as go-between in the romance between Arnold Espejo and the opera singer Crescencia Pagunsan, his experience seeing elephants in Davao, and his missing his grade four final examination. But these experiences do not seem to be fully introspected on, their human implications not polished into revelation, and overall they do not form a coherent whole. The reader is left wondering what ultimately is the point of all these narrated experiences.

The avid reader of Deriada will find this novel falling short of expectations. There is none here of the cleverness in his stories like ‘The Hunt’ and ‘Phonepal at Padre Selga Street,’ the novelty in ‘Dam’ and ‘Pigpen,’ nor the subtle but profound gravitas of ‘The Road to Mawab’ and ‘Day of the Locusts.’

Which is not to say it is entirely without its merits, for there are many glimpses of Deriada at his best in this novel. The descriptions of his first encounter with the Durian, his impressions of Calinan, and his descriptions of the Ilonggo recipes are written with the signature simplicity with which Deriada portrays the wonders of his locale without exoticizing them. His subtle reaffirmation of the Catholic faith when he encounters reading materials from the Jehovah’s Witness shows how a skilled writer renders to concise but by no means diminished concreteness a complex and cerebral theme with imagery. Where the late novelist Antonio Enriquez would choose to violently romanticize ‘the Mindanao wasteland’ in the harrowing story of Bibang, Deriada instead chooses to show the human and domestic sympathy of his mother, reducing her incident to an isolated tragedy.

But at most points one gets the impression that much of the book is the linear but random reminiscing of an old man, Deriada merely recording his distant memories before he forgets them.

That is until one realizes the value of such reminiscing. For in spite of its shortcomings as a novel, People on Claveria Street offers a rare glimpse into Davao as it once was. To the Davao old blood, the novel is a nostalgic book that harks back to the smaller and more rural Davao of their or their parents’ past. To the more recent Dabawenyo, it defamiliarizes familiar corners of the city by showing us the sheer recentness of what we know of it (Mangoes growing in Claveria!).


Claveria in the 1920s (twenty years before Deriada lived in it). Photo courtesy of the Davao of the Past page

Ultimately, what Deriada has done is chronicle the bygone domestic history of this rapidly changing metropolis: the primate city of Mindanao is ruthlessly abandoning much of its colourful past. The episodic scenes of Claveria Street serve as historical vignettes, little reminders to Davao’s collective soul of the quaint and quiet frontier town it once was. In the novel’s preface Deriada calls himself ‘a relic of the last century,’ and with this novel he has given us a glimpse of that century from whence he comes.

Despite the surplus of wannabe Davao writers, there is in fact precious little literature about Davao. Claveria Street is only the fourth novel about the city, and of the four Deriada has written two (don’t worry about not knowing the other two, most of Davao’s writers don’t either).

And this is Deriada’s true value to the city of his childhood. No other writer has charted Davao’s literary map as he has. Most of this Palanca Hall of Famer’s large body of work deals with Davao at various points in its history and from diverse perspectives. If Davao had a diary, Deriada has written a substantial portion of it, and for all its shortcomings Claveria Street is another big part of that.

Published by Seguiban Press, the novel’s printing and layout is homely and far from sleek, almost DIY. Deriada played a very active role in its layout, with the cover illustration drawn on his instructions. Between People on Guerrero Street and the present novel, his former novel was more competently laid out, but I like this one better because it’s more colourful. It may seem clumsy and amateurish, but the book design has Deriada’s personality all over it.

Hardly anyone in Davao knew when the novel came out in 2015. As much as I try to keep myself updated with the news from Davao’s exclusive and prohibitive literary scene, even I did not hear about it. The local literary establishment did nothing to spread word about the book and make it more available (so much for promoting Davao literature). It did not help that the book was published in faraway Iloilo, and even there had a limited circulation. I only got my copy – probably the last copy available – earlier this year when my girlfriend came back with it from a workshop in Iloilo.

When I got the copy, the first thing I saw when I opened it was the preface, where Deriada, now nearing eighty, announces that he is planning to write thirteen more novels, at least five of which are about Davao. The last time I checked he was already done with another one, and it was now with the publishing house. So while I am not too impressed by this latest novel (I’ve seen him do better), it is still delightful to know that the Grand Old Man of Davao Literature is at it writing Davao’s sould own for posterity.


5 Tanka from the Hyakunin Isshu: Translations to Cebuano

(The following translations were made based both on the original Japanese and from translations to English by Clay MacCauley and Joshua Mostow)

Wala na tingali’y
Mulabaw sa kabugnaw
Sa kaadlawong buwan
nga mipabilin
pagbiya nimo
Mibu no Tadamine


Wala gayu’y makasuta
sa kahiladman sa kasingkasing.
Apan didto sa amo,
ingon ato gihapon ang kahumot
sa mga katsubong
Ki no Tsurayuki


Gisumpo ko na intawon
ning tangbo kong gugma
silong sa kawayanan,
Apan nganong bisag unsaon
Mugitlib gihapon?
Minamoto no Hitoshi


Sama sa mananagat
nga mitabok sa pakiputan
ug nabalian og gaod,
Natanggong ako sa kadagatan ning gugma,
Pa-diin ako mubugsay?
– Sone no Yoshitada


Sama sa hanging gahapak
og balod sa mabuakay’ng bato –
Ako ra pud ang maoy
gabalikbalik og hapak
sa iyang panumdoman
– Minamoto ni Shigeyuki


Survey: Kidapawan Settler Families Profiles

If you’re from Kidapawan, please help me by filling up this form!

Kidapawan’s Public Student Papers go online!

I am proud to say that Kidapawan’s many public elementary and high schools’ student publications now have online platforms!


I recently gave a 3-day training to the different publication advisers of the city’s public schools. It was under the auspices of the office of Mayor Joseph Evangelista, who hired me and my friend the journalist Armando Fenequito to give the training. The Mayor’s office covered almost all the expenses for the training, and this is the first time the training has been entirely free for the teachers.


While the local division of DepEd is clearly focused on winning more places in the competitive schools’ Press Conferences, I had other agenda: enjoining the advisers to explore student publication outside journalism. As a literary writer, I wanted them to nurture my hometown’s next generation of fictionists, poets, playwrights, and essayists.


This of course meant I introduced the teachers to Kidapawan’s two other writers, Rita Gadi and Paul Gumanao. It is not every town which can say it has writers, and Kidapawan should be proud that it has three.

I also required the advisers to make online platforms for their publications, whether it be a blog, a Facebook page, or a twitter account. This is unprecedented, as even private schools in very urban Davao don’t have online platforms. Now their publications are much more accessible to those outside of Kidapawan!


Here are the links to some of the schools’ online platforms:

The Pupils’ Journal of Marciano Mancera Integrated School, Singao

Ang Pagsibol of Onica Elementary School

The Flame of Katipunan Elementary School

Malinan Ngayon of Malinan Elementary School

The Horizon of San Isidro Elementary School

The Greenfield of Amazion Elementary School

Ang Kadsambi of Patadon Elementary School

The Bamboo Organ of Kalaisan Elementary School

The Shade of Sumbac Elementary School

The Genesis of Binoligan Integrated School

The Messenger of San Miguel Elementary School, Macebolig

The Striver of Sayaban Elementary School, Ilomavis

The Mulaan Newslette of Mua-an Integrated School

Ang Bagwis of Cayetano A Javier Memorial Elementary School, Ilomavis

The Meohao Scribblers of Meohao Elementary School

Kagoo of Ginatilan Elementary School

The Footprints of Balabag Elementary School

The Highlander of Sumayahon Elementary School, Perez

Ang Suu of Ray Buenaventura A. Sabulao Memorial Elementary School, Singao (with a wordpress blog)

Ang Sigaw of Singao Integrated School

The Vigor of Isidro Lonzaga Memorial Elementary School, Magsaysay

Su Suara of Bangsamoro Elementary School, Bangsamoro Village

The Urbanite of Upper Singao Elementary School

The Nuang Ilbimumba of Nuangan Integrated School

The Puasindanian of Puas Inda Elementary School, Amas

The Pilot Gazette of Kidapawan Pilot Elementary School

Ginintuang Buwig of Amas Central Elementary School

Od Sobbu no Linow of Lake Agco Integrated School, Ilomavis

The Mateo Journal of Mateo Elementary School

This list is not complete because the high school advisers did not give me the URLs of their publications’ sites, and many of the elementary teachers gave URLs that don’t work.

Here’s to hoping the advisers and their student staff maintain these sites!


Buwan ng (mga) Wika: Localization, Hybridization, and Popularization of Filipino

Buwan ng Wika is an odious thing.

Throughout the country, it is the month when elementary and high school students are  made to memorize drab speeches by Manuel Quezon, quote Jose Rizal in their essays ad nauseam, and weed the onions in their sections’ Makabayan gardens of sampinit while wearing barong and terno.

That last scene in particular I got from the 2013 Cebuano indie film Iskalawags, directed by Keith Deligero and based on a short story by Erik Tuban (a thoroughbred Bisdak). The film, set in the Bantayan islands of Cebu, offers many glimpses of the Buwan ng Wika experience for those outside the Tagalog world: in one scene, a character, a student, struggles to memorize and pronounce a Tagalog talumpati in spite of his hard Cebuano tongue, only to deliver it on a stage with nobody watching.

In the regions the celebration of Filipino is like this: it is arduous, it is tedious, and it is pointless.

Because you see, behind the festive facade of National language pedagogy, there is a longstanding debate, one that is currently at a stalemate: are Filipino and Tagalog the same thing?

What many inside the Tagalog world and the bubble of conventional education don’t understand is that eighty years since Manuel Quezon proclaimed Tagalog as the National Language, there is still strong resistance against it.

The fact is that the Philippines is a very  linguistically diverse country: the 170 odd tongues being spoken in the archipelago which teachers like to call ‘the vernacular dialect’ are, linguistically speaking, distinct and full fledged languages, and the majority of them have proud literary traditions. Giving Tagalog national status created a homogeneous myth, and worse ended up dismissing the value of these other languages – nothing short of cultural discrimination.

This imposition of Tagalog to non-Tagalogs is at the core of what we from the regions call Manila Imperialism. Speakers of other languages are systematically forced to learn Tagalog, while Tagalogs themselves are not compelled to learn other languages.

To distance the so-called National language from the Tagalog ethnicity, it was later called ‘Filipino,’ but when that cosmetic solution didn’t work the Marcos government redefined Filipino from a fixed language to a ‘language under construction,’ one whose dynamism is made a national concern rather than merely a strictly Tagalog one.

The mechanism, successive officials of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino have said, is to have the Tagalog language as basis, then influences from the other regional languages be allowed in.

The majority of intellectuals championing their regional languages called this attempt at nationalization a homogenization in disguise. With the ‘nationalization’ occurring almost entirely from Metro Manila (a Tagalog heartland), regional influences merely trickle down academically, usually obscure regional words  that nobody is bound to use.

‘There is no such thing as Wikang Filipino,’ many regionalists have concluded, and they continue to champion their regional languages.

But on the other hand, decades of institutional imposition and the dominance of a Manila-centered media have made Tagalog the de facto national lingua franca, and but for the continued ascendancy of English over Tagalog in official contexts, refusing to learn to speak Tagalog has more disadvantages than it has merits (a Cebuano may well find it awkward to speak English to a tricycle driver in Aklan).

Either the Regional speakers learn Tagalog and lose their regional identities, or they keep their regional identities, lose out on opportunities, and we remain divided as a country.

I belong to a small group of writers who see a third way: that of localization, of hybridization, and of popularization.

Because Tagalog has taken for itself the role of  National lingua franca, it has opened itself up for regional alteration  – ‘bastardization,’ as some Manila Imperialists would call it. As such, there ought to be no standard that should be considered more correct than others.

And speakers of the Regional languages ought to take advantage of this.

To use a very crude metaphor, Tagalog is the name of the woman, Filipino is her name as a whore. And it is incumbent upon the Regions to make bastards out of her.

Instead of shunning it, Regional language speakers must steal the agency of Filipino from Imperial Manila, to own this imposed Tagalog language (which has opened its legs up as Filipino), mangle it to suit their own linguistic realities, and produce for themselves their own version of Tagalog, one which is tailored to fit their regional identities. Nationalization will – and must – entail localization, suppressing that is tantamount to cultural imposition. This is the best way by which Regional language speakers can adapt to Tagalog’s dominance without losing their identity.

Practically this will mean lots of Regional language influences will come in, on a regular basis, until the interlanguage becomes naturalized: vocabulary, pronunciation peculiarities, and specially idioms. When the Tagalog corrects the Davaoeno for his Filipino, the Davaoeno will correct the Tagalog for not knowing Davao Filipino. ‘Pataka ka lang diyan uy.’

Idioms in particular need to be owned, as they are culturally idiosyncratic. In Davao when a friend  is too lazy to take a bath we tease him in Tagalog with an idiom transliterated from Cebuano, ‘kambingon ka na masyado!’ ‘You are so goat-like!’

To some extent this is already happening – but it needs to happen more, and it needs to happen in the classrooms and formal venues. Filipino teachers should actively encourage the localization of Filipino, calling out the oddity of speaking Manila Tagalog in Iloilo while encouraging the distinct lilt of Hiligaynon into the students’ Filipino utterances, or requiring Ilocano students to look up idioms in Iluko and translate it literally into Tagalog for everyday use. For linguistically diverse places like Mindanao, the hybridization must involve an even more diverse array of languages.

It sounds ridiculous now, until one realizes this is precisely what the classic French poet Pierre de Ronsard enjoins the Parisian poet to do with his French, to enrich it with the stuff of the other tongues in France. The French even have a term for transliterated idioms: calques, idioms that serve to expand the breath of French expression beyond the capital.

The absurdity of this idea in the Filipino context only shows how underprivileged the regional languages in the Philippines are.

Current moves to shift to a Federal form of government may make this localization easier: as cultural and education governance are devolved, concerns will invariably be more localized. It will not be surprising if the Federal system ends up shunning the National language policy while ultimately resulting in the creation of standard regional varieties of Tagalog distinct from Manila Tagalog.

Of course as we are talking about language contact here – Tagalog adjusting to Tausug or Manobo realities – what is produced is not merely a dialect of Tagalog, but a creolized dialect, almost a different language. Hybrid tongues. Tagalog as Filipino without being a hybrid is just Tagalog, with nothing truly National about it. Balagtas was merely a regional poet because his Tagalog did not have enough influences from other regions. Because the Philippines is a multilingual country, the true Filipino is a polyglot, and his language must necessarily reflect that.

What would this do to intelligibility though? Wouldn’t it only double the number of tongues to make us even more of a Babel?

As a matter of fact it leads us closer to understanding one another. We can already see signs of this thanks to President Duterte. Multilingual Davao and the many shades of the Cebuano-Tagalog hybrid widely spoken in it demonstrate best what I mean by the localization and hybridization of Tagalog, and while as a native Cebuano speaker he speaks the crudest form of the hybrid (the unstable codeswitched TagBis), the former Davao mayor nevertheless takes the hybridity of his tongue wherever he goes.

And that has included the national spotlight: thanks to his frequent (and often profane) use of them in his Tagalog, Duterte has made many Cebuano words and pronunciation peculiarities more popular among Tagalog speakers – ‘bahala’ with a glottal end, pisting yawa, buang, bayot, pataka.

He has done more in his one year of cursing in public to make Filipino more National than the KWF has in all its years of existence.

Ultimately this tells us that far from the classroom or those linguistic conferences in Manila that nobody really pays attention to, Filipino will be nationalized in the streets, by the Igorot speaking his Igorot Cebuano as he shares some tuba with his Manobo  neighbour in Mecebolig, Kidapawan, or the old Karay-a lady visiting relatives in Pasay asking the Tagalog traffic aid where the nearest baraka is, or the volunteer teacher from Naga teaching T’boli children in Lake Sebu how to sing a song in Bikol.

The creation of an authentic national lingua franca is popular, not institutional. It is the dynamic bartering of regional influences, naturally reflective of our ever increasing cohabitation with and appreciation of cultures not our own.

And when we master one another’s tongues we are made stronger as peoples, because as Jose Rizal himself put it (and this time I do not make those two now trite quotes about the youth and rancid fish), ‘Man is multiplied by the number of languages he possesses and speaks.’

In Cebuano there is a less lofty but more pragmatic way of putting it: dili na ka mabaligya, it will be harder to sell you off in the market. You’d be able to understand the transaction already.

I think it is when we recognize our rich diversity as peoples like this – when the stuff of our yearly celebrations every August is the many cultures of our archipelago rather than this mothballed homogeneous lie of a Filipino identity we require our students to celebrate – that we can truly say our love for the country is genuine. We are a country of many tongues – Bayan ng Mga Wika – and I think that is very much worth celebrating.