Why people in Mindanao don’t mind Martial Law

As always there is war in my country.

But as always, two different wars are waging in Manila and in Mindanao.

In Mindanao the Maute group – sympathizers of International terrorist group Daesh – are assaulting the Islamic city of Marawi in Lanao. Duterte has declared Martial Law over all of Mindanao. In response the Communist insurgents – another group of terrorists – added to the fire by bombing my city of Kidapawan, injuring 2 policemen.

In Manila, the war is between those who are supportive of the Durian President, and those who are condemning him for being Marcos 2.0. Fears of human rights violations (already there because of Digong’s bloody war on drugs) are being aired, and rallies have been and continue to be organized by university students and others to oppose the declaration of Martial Law.

But this time, there is a war between these two wars.

Anti-Martial Law activists are under fire for intervening with Mindanao’s business, Pro-Martial Law Mindanawons are being accused of Regional closemindedness.

I do not begrudge the activists in Manila for rallying, that is their constitutional right and I celebrate their freedom to do so. I do not agree that they have no say in the debate of Martial Law’s appropriateness.

But I am still accusing them of Manila Imperialism.

Here in Mindanao the paramount concern is the threat of terrorism (which was the motivation behind the declaration of Martial Law in the first place). Texts messages and chats are being circulated from city to city of bombings being plotted in Malls and other city centers, images circulate on Facebook of the chaos and violence in Marawi and the ongoing acceptance of refugees in Iligan. Amidst the Budots and the Basketball tournaments, a faint climate of worry hangs in the air over Davao.

And once again, Manila has hijacked National attention by insisting its own experience with Martial Law is more important than fears of terrorism.

Sure, remind us of Manili and the killing of Favali and of Ilaga and of all the horrors of the last Martial Law in Mindanao,  I’ll be the first to preach the importance of remembering historical injustices (Favali was buried just ten minutes from my ancestral home in Kidapawan). It is almost arrogant to assume the Mindanawon does not know his/her history, and even if he/she doesn’t, there is nothing but the top-down education system – centered in Imperial Manila – to blame for not teaching local history.

All the injustices and fears of history repeating itself are second priority when public safety is at immediate risk. There are three peoples in Mindanao, each of them with their own harrowing experience of the Marcos years, but the attitude of Mindanawons to Martial Law is far more complex and far more nuanced that just fear of a heavy-handed government. All this talk of rights possibly being violated because of abuses under Martial Law only reveals Manilenos’ imposition of their own experience of military rule on Mindanao.

And we here in Mindanao don’t need Martial Law to have our rights abused, rights have been abused here for centuries. Bud Dajo, the Manhunt for Mangulayon, Malisbong, Manili, the Estrada offensive – Mindanao earth is no stranger to blood being spilled. Remember that military rule was declared in Maguindanao after the Maguindanao Massacre.

Marcos’ Martial Law was a horrible thing for Mindanao, but it was not the first, and it certainly wasn’t the last horror we have seen. Military rule itself did not leave a bad taste in our mouths.

If anything, a Mindanawon President leading Martial Law in Mindanao for many means order, security, and a firm command of the crisis. Whatever abuses may be committed by government forces, they are a preferable evil compared to the much worse threat of a Taliban State or a Khmer Rouge being established here.

Right now we don’t need history lessons, we need solutions. Martial Law is the only solution being presented to us, and instead of giving alternatives those critical of the move are simply indulging in the thrill of being outraged.

We here in Mindanao try our best to understand. It would be best if those in Manila try to understand us too.

Meeting Miguel Syjuco


I finally got to meet the most successful Filipino writer in the world.

Miguel Syjuco was disarmingly friendly, as he had always been online. Perhaps it was the death threats.

The Man Asia prize winner came to Davao at a very politically charged time: a consistent critic of the Duterte administration, he has been very vocal with his concerns about the many victims of alleged Extrajudicial killings in Metro Manila and other urban areas.

When he confided on social media that friends were warning him about his safety as he entered the baluarte of a politician he publicly criticized, Syjuco received a barrage of death threats, which only seemed to confirm his friends’ concerns. I had assured him there was nothing to fear, and he went to Davao anyway.

I met and hosted him as a Duterte supporter, as one who has been so since I was young (I had urged our then mayor in this blog to run when he was not even making national news yet), and whose family is passionately pro-Duterte.

But above all that, I met him as a genuine fan: I had read Ilustrado some years ago, when the Cebuano writer Januar Yap gave me his copy, and was floored by the skill of its writing. I still believe it is the closest anyone has come to a Great Filipino Novel, and ought to be taught in all schools instead of Rizal.

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My now missing copy of Ilustrado. I lent it to someone and I forgot to whom. I had a shaky hand with this photo!

Miguel came over for four main reasons: to see Davao for himself (he had not been here since the 90s); to lay the groundwork for a possible project with Ateneo de Davao; to give a workshop to my old club in Ateneo, SALEM; and to chat with my ninong, DCPO director Alexander Tagum.


Miguel with SALEM

In between excursions we would chat about politics, the Philippine literary scene, and some humorously bad jokes. He’d share personal struggles, his family’s not always successful foray into politics, and having to overcome the mob of pro-Duterte netizens who gang up on him.

In the lobby of the Marco Polo while he, I, and Nal had a drink on his first night, I joked that I hope he stayed safe, who else would win the Nobel for the Filipino people. He laughed it off with a National Artist’s name, though I was dead serious about him getting it. The only flaw Miguel Syjuco has as a writer is that he hasn’t written enough yet.

He has been saying he enjoyed Davao, though I feel he didn’t see as much as he should have. I’m hoping he finds time to return and see the Philippine Eagles.

Did we disagree while he was here? Surprisingly not much. What we learned early on online was that nobody is ever really entirely pro or anti anything. He wasn’t entirely critical of everything Duterte, as I was not entirely supportive of everything the President does.

We both agreed that the current climate of polarization, of painting everything black and white, is not productive for both sides and is unleashing a mob of hateful fanatics. Where the Duterte administration can improve with feedback, it turns a blind eye because all negative feedback is viewed with violent suspicion. Where it does good, the critics refuse to see because they only see the EJKs and a man who speaks nothing but murder.

And we both saw that while we stood on opposite sides of a political divide, we are linked together by a renewed passion for our country and its people.

On his last night while we lounged in the Marco’s lobby, a gunshot pierced the busy Davao evening. It turned out a guest who was surrendering his pistol to the guard accidentally fired a blank.

I asked, jokingly, if he thinks RJ Nieto had meant that as a warning.

SALEM 2017 Writers Workshop Fellows

(My old club in Ateneo de Davao is doing well!)

15 Fellows to the 23rd Iligan National Writers Workshop

Fifteen writing fellows have been selected for this year’s 23rd Iligan National Writers Workshop to be held at the MSU-IIT on May 30 to June 3, 2016. They are:

Poetry (English): Thomas David Fillarca Chavez, UP Diliman; (Filipino): Rogene Apellido Gonzales, UP Diliman; Fiction (English): Dominic Paul Chow Sy, UP Diliman; Erwin Escarola Cabucos, (Filipino): Arbeen Regalado Acuna, UP Diliman; Drama (Tagalog): Josephine Villena Roque, De La Salle University.

Fiction (English): Charles Dominic Pelaez Sanchez, University of San Carlos; Poetry (Kinaray-a): Elsed Silfavan Togonon, University of San Agustin; Drama (Waray): Amado Arjay Babida Babon, Leyte Normal University (Boy Abunda Writing fellow).

Mindanao: Poetry (English): Saquina Karla Cagoco Guiam (Manuel E. Buenafe writing fellow), Mindanao State University-General Santos; (Sebuano): Krishna Mie Ceniza Zabate, Ateneo de Davao University; Al Bangcolongan Gra-as (Ricardo Jorge Caluen writing fellow), Lyceum of Iligan Foundation; Fiction (Filipino): Eric John Betita Villena, Xavier University; (Filipino): Jack Aguid Alvarez; (Hiligaynon): Nal Andrea Cabao-an Jalando-on, Koronadal National Comprehensive High School.

The panelists this year are: Pranesh Prasad, John Iremil Teodoro, Victor N. Sugbo, Erlinda K. Alburo, Shirley O. Lua, Steven P.C. Fernandez, German V. Gervacio, the Project Director Christine Godinez Ortega and the Keynote speaker, Isidoro M. Cruz.

Highlights of the Iligan workshop are the Jimmy Balacuit Literary Awards and the launching of the Proceedings of the 22nd Iligan National Writers Workshop (2015) entitled The Mythopoetic and Creative Writing published by the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology-Office of Publication & Information (MSU-IIT OPI). The workshop is funded by the MSU-IIT and the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA).

Call for Submissions to the 17th Ateneo de Davao Writers Workshop

(This is where I started writing in Davao. I can’t believe it’s been six years since I was a fellow!)


Call for Submissions to the 16th Iyas Creative Writing Workshop

The University of St. La Salle-Bacolod (USLS) is inviting young writers to submit their application for the 16th IYAS National Writers’ Workshop which will be held on April 24 – 30, 2016 at Balay Kalinungan, USLS-Bacolod.

Applicants should submit original work: either 6 poems, 2 short stories, or 2 one-act plays using a pseudonym, in two (2) computer-encoded hard copies of entry, font size 12 pts., double-spaced, and soft copies in a CD (MSWord). Short stories must be numbered, by paragraph, on the left margin.

These are to be accompanied by a sealed size 10 business envelope, inside of which should be the author’s real name and chosen pseudonym, a 2×2 ID photo, and short resume. Everything must be mailed on or before February 19, 2016.

Entries in English, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Tagalog or Filipino may be submitted. Fellowships are awarded by genre and by language.

Fifteen applicants will be chosen for the workshop fellowships, which will include partial transportation subsidy and free board and lodging.

This year’s panelists include Grace Monte de Ramos, RayBoy Pandan, D.M. Reyes, Dinah Roma, John Iremil Teodoro and Marjorie Evasco as Workshop Director.

Please submit your application to: Dr. Marissa Quezon, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, University of St. La Salle, La Salle Avenue, Bacolod City. For inquiries, please email iyasliterary@yahoo.com.

IYAS is held in collaboration with the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of De La Salle University-Manila and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Keep Inday Santiago and Dinky Munda in PWC!

I feel it incumbent to express both my sheer fury and my utter disappointment at the Philippine Women’s College of Davao’s decision to terminate Ms Irene Santiago and Mr Dinky Munda from the position of Supervising Trustees.

Irene Santiago, who has acted as Senior Supervising Trustee of the school since August of this year, has brought in unprecedented change to PWC in the short time she has served the school. Most significant among these accomplishments is the school’s partnership with Rappler as its Mindanao arm for citizen journalism. Before her termination there were even plans to set up a campus TV network.

With her brief time in the helm she has connected this isolated, backward school to the outside world. Now PWC is one of the most social media savvy schools in Davao.

Dinky Munda has also brought in a sharp business sense to the school’s management, with his most visible legacy being the landscaping of the area between PWC’s Maguindanao and Mansaka Halls to make an open air reception venue for added revenue to the school. His strategy of using social media to invite enrollees has already reversed the school’s downward rate of enrollment. He has also worked to stir the school back to its artistic roots.

Outside of the school the two have impressive CVs. Ma’am Inday, a Datu Bago Awardee, was the convenor of the Beijing Women’s Forum, and has thought for decades in the US. An internationally acclaimed women’s activist and NGO organizer, she is regularly invited around the world to give talks on women’s issues.

Sir Dinky is a noted local visual artist, and he comes back to Davao for retirement after a successful career in Silicon Valley. The son of Rosa Santos Munda (once PWC president), sir Dinky has a very personal stake on PWC.

I know the impact of their work in PWC personally. As moderator of the PhilWomenian Equivox, the school’s student paper, I tried to change the rather sterile paper (which hitherto behaved like a high school publication) into a vibrant and vocal space for students to speak. That endeavour would have been killed by the dreadfully backward and repressive tertiary administration, but ma’am Inday came to the rescue. Now Equivox has become more vocal than it ever was.

On a personal level I am very grateful for the work of sir Dinky a lot – it pains me to reveal this, but a staging of my Palanca-winning play ‘Killing the Issue’ has been in the works for the past few months, thanks to sir Dinky’s initiative. It was meant to start the  revival of PWC’s once vibrant theatrical scene. But with him leaving, that seems like a dream now.

Conrado Benitez, PWC’s president in absentia, made the termination from Manila, apparently because of the influence of people in the Tertiary department.

To this I say that Mr Benitez has listened to the wrong people. Ma’am Inday and sir Dinky are bringing about needed change, and many vested interests in the school that have benefited from the unhealthy system are naturally threatened. The two, my Equivox staff have uncovered, have been conducting investigations on institutional corruption, indecent behaviour by teachers, and other issues the school has hushed up over the years.

Mr Benitez will do well to reverse his decision as soon as possible.

The great irony that Philippine Women’s College of Davao has remained a college in front of a street called ‘University’ avenue for over sixty years needs to be addressed, and the two supervising trustees have brought in a breath of hope of that happening. My staffers would tell me that they would rather come to the Equivox office than go to class because they learn more.

Now the Equivox Editorial Board is threatening to resign en masse if their termination is not reversed as soon as possible. Many of them are threatening to leave the school altogether.

And I too will resign with them.

I will be the second writer to walk out of PWC, after Macario Tiu, if this decision is not reversed. I had so many great hopes for PWC, and I cannot bear to stay in it once those hopes are dashed.

We are proud of PWC’s past, but we’re not that sure anymore about its future.