Personal Correction on Leoncio Deriada’s Pigpen

I would like to make a statement on how I have been promoting, teaching, and talking about Leoncio Deriada’s short story ‘Pigpen.’

It is one of the stories I most often recommend, and when I was teaching literature it was always on the reading list (as expected it has always been well received by students, even those who would otherwise be apathetic to literature). I wrote a very juvenile review of it sometime ago on this blog.

Throughout those activities, and most especially in my teaching, I had often emphasized one interpretation of the story: that the main character Inocencia, who had sexual intercourse with her own father Purok, was a willing party to the act and was led to it by her longing for sexual activity in the rural isolation of their home. As one of my students in PWC so memorably put it, ‘kay kettle man.’ I emphasized the tension between subconscious carnal urges and the cultural norms that are upheld on the level of the ego.

I regret doing so.

While it is true that Inocencia had to deal with the latent urges brewing within her (‘she was beginning to desire a man,’ to quote the story, ‘any man.’), I was foolish to have failed to notice the dynamics of power between her and her father. Parents will always occupy a subconscious position of power over their children, even adult ones, a power dynamic deeply embedded in human psychology. This is why incest between parent and child is always rape. Purok took advantage of his influence as parent and of his daughter’s own frustrated urges to coerce her into something she would have, without the pressures, vehemently refused. This is evidenced by how distraught she is later at what she had allowed herself to do.

Purok raped Inocencia, and this story shows how complex a matter rape can be.

Inocencia was exploited  She never refused, but it is victim blaming to read silence as consent. She was silenced. She was put in a position not only in which she could not refuse.

But no means no, even when it is not said.

And then she was led to believe that she wanted it. Inocencia was reduced to her urges, her rational will was disregarded, and she was objectified. She is a victim.

I regret possibly having played a role in reinforcing a culture of misogyny and victim blaming. I sincerely hope that my former students, upon careful reflection, will realize too that what I had taught them was wrong.




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!


The Best of SAG’s Poems


The literary folios of the three sections

Part of my activities for the three poetry classes I am handling here in Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Institute in Taunggyi is a poetry writing contest. It’s an activity performed simultaneously with the class requirement of the literary folio: all poems in the folio are qualified for the contest, and because all the students are required to submit at least one poem, everybody is qualified. The author of the top poem will get a perfect grade, among other prizes.

This is the first time I did this activity for class, and it culminates a semester of the students’ exposure to diverse poetic forms, from Japanese Heian Waka to American Spoken Word.The kids are still beginning with writing, but the judges chose the poems whose author showed the most promise.

My judges were Filipino writers, so it also had the element of cultural exchange. One judge memorably observed that the kids ‘have very haiku voices’ in their poems, a result perhaps of my emphasis on image as a poetic element. The winner, though, won because most of the judges favoured the poem’s boldness to explore the surreal.

The judges were poet and Palanca awardee CD Borden, poet and Silliman/Iyas/Iligan National Writers Workshop fellow Roberto Klemente Timonera, and fictionist, Iligan National Writers Workshop fellow and Jimmy Balacuit awardee Nal Andrea Jalando-on.

The following are the winning pieces


First Place

A mirror for the blind
soft music for the deaf
singing for the dumb
a comb for a person without hair
Education for the mad
– Akhar Lay, 1st Year Faber


Second Place

When you drop a stone in the well
it sings
and the water shakes like a bull’s-eye.
Now the water calms again,
but the stone cannot emerge.
– Paulina, 2nd Year Ricci


Third Place

comes in from the windows
and goes out through the doors.
– Nan Do Dhar Sa (Noom), 1st Year Stanislaus


Fourth Place

I am a gardener
and I clean the grass sometimes,
but it always grows back again.
So I leave it for a month
and it becomes a wild thicket.
– Ngwe Judith, 1st Year Stanislaus




Notes on August in Myanmar



  • I started the month giving my poetry classes reflection questions. When I was a student in Ateneo I found answering reflection questions boring and useless, but now I realize how much they shaped me outside the classroom.


  • For all the dreadful experiences I’ve had teaching in the Philippines, the four years worth of quizzes, lessons, exams, and Powerpoint presentations I accumulated is proving to be very useful.

    Eindra Nwe’s translation of Alvin Pang’s Candles, in a mix of English and Hindi


    I’m the only teacher I know who does this

  • I celebrated Buwan ng Wika in Myanmar! Not just with Facebook statuses, I continued my lessons on language, encouraging the kids to translate from Singlish to their hybrid tongues, and making them report publication venues for texts in their languages. I also translated some Cebuano poems to English. I think I’m succeeding in the cultural exchange so far.

They also started writing their own poetry, and they’re turning out to be more introspective than Filipinos

  • The Burmese term for people of mixed ethnicity is ‘kabya.’ The word for poem is ‘gabya.’ I see so much possibility in the homonymy.


    I’ve owned this notebook since I was 10, and I learned to write Korean and Greek with it. Now I’m learning the Burmese script with it too.

  • And I’m starting to learn Burmese! The letters, like many variations of plums as the writer Aung Thinn describes them, are difficult because the letters look too similar with each other and the spelling is often very different from the pronunciation. But I’m learning, and now I can pronounce my students’ names better because they write down their names for me in Burmese script.


  • My first Burmese sentence: ‘nananbe matharbu,’ ‘don’t put any coriander.’


    Nananbe sometimes tastes like black bug!

  • The nearby noodle shop is getting used to me, and I’ve explored much of their menu. Even if we could hardly understand each other, I was able to order tofu nwey (chickpea pudding noodles), yi sein (vermicelli), shan khao swe (sticky rice noodles), hpet thoke (dumplings) and pauk si (vegetarian steamed buns), specify if I wanted the noodles a-yih (literally ‘watered,’ or with soup) or a-thoke (‘salad,’ or served without soup), and throw in a thankful ‘chezu be kamya.’

The place serves the best Yi sein thoke I’ve had around


  • I first found Burmese tea – on its own – grassy and wild. But teacher Yiyi San explained that tea in Myanmar is often home roasted, and often mixed with Lahpet Hmwe. I cannot find any resources on the internet, English or Burmese (because the best way to learn a language is to use it!), that explains what Lahpet Hmwe is, but it’s a dried leaf with a creamy, pandan-like fragrance. For teacher Yi, who is Intha, the tea is roasted with the Hmwe and some sesame seeds.

The mysterious lahpet hmwe, smelling distinctly like creamy pandan. If you have any idea what it’s called in English or Latin tell me.


Like the tea, the lahpet hmwe is also lightly roasted.


You know the tea is done roasting when the stalks turn slightly silvery white


The tea roasted with hmwe has a more reddish liqueur


And it makes  lovely milk tea


  • As a tea fanboy, I am thoroughly enjoying Myanmar
  • The legacies I can leave behind are starting to emerge. First among them is tortang talong. I cooked some of my family’s version (mixed with minced garlic and served with garlic and vinegar dip) for the students one weekend, and the resident cook, Daw Benedetta, loved it. She will probably cook it herself.
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    I carve my name in egged aubergine!

  • But there are more serious projects of course. I began work on a website for English translations of Myanmar literature (the output of literature students), and by the end of the month talk already began of a student publication for SAG.
  • I have never been under an administrator like Father Paul before. I throw him an idea I think is ambitious, he thinks about it for a bit, and when he gives it back to me it’s an even bigger possibility. It can be daunting, but this is a mountain I have to climb if I am to reach the heights I know I was meant to be in.

The blurriness of the shot foreshadows my impending loss of breath and failure

  • Goddamn mountain will not let itself be climbed easily. I joined the third years one day going up the many peaked mountain overlooking Taunggyi. I barely made it halfway. No matter the excuses (I had just woken up, I lacked sleep, I hadn’t had breakfast yet, I hadn’t worked out much since then), I failed, and nothing stings more than failure.


    Even the humiliating way down is picturesque, with the Buddha altar on the tree growing on the bend.

  • So I vowed to not only climb that mountain alone – when you have to prove yourself you won’t be satisfied fully until you prove yourself alone – I vowed to do it every weekend.


  • Nope, no climactic moments of Atonement with the Father or Apotheosis – I overcame that hurdle soon enough. Life’s issues do not get resolved dramatically as they do in fiction, you just learn from your mistakes, think of better ways to deal with the situation, and just climb that mountain.

But damn the resolution (not just the camera) is breathtaking (not just from the climbing)!

  • Though the first time I did I overdid it (typical Atenista). When you climb the flight of steps on the side of Taunggyi Mountain, you will reach Naga Kankyaung, or the Naga Pond Temple. There’s a pond fed by a spring in the shape of a naga snake, a few small shrines dedicated to Nat spirits, an intricately gilded pagoda, a large Buddha statue overlooking Taunggyi, a clingy cat and an oversized goat. Most hikes end here, but I went on and tried to go to another pagoda on an even higher level of this peak, one of this ridge’s many summits. But because I misunderstood a sign, I ended up making a wrong turn and reaching another peak, far away from the pagoda I intended to go to, farther than even many locals have reached, and practically on the other side of the mountain already. I was told when I got back that the Pagoda I did end up reaching, Shwe Hkyamtha Pagoda, could only be reached by car or motorbike. I walked to it and back alone.
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    Entrance to the Naga Kankyaung


    The eponymous pond


    The naga spouts that feed the pond


The clingy cat


The diva goat


The temple compound also has a pagoda. this is the gilded gate leading to it


The pagoda


The naga motif is all over the temple gounds


It’s even inside the pagoda


But perhaps Naga Kankyaung’s most prominent feature is this huge Buddha statue, visible from Taunggyi below


Panorama of Naga Kankyaung


See how high up the place is


About an hour’s walk ahead later, I found this sign. I misunderstood it and turned left when it obviously had a white arrow pointing forward.


Over an hour’s walk later, I came to this. the sign says ‘Shwe Hkyamtha Pagoda.’ Locals have rarely even gone here.


Serendipity could be so gorgeous. The Pagoda complex has three large pagodas, two standing on different peaks

  • While taking that long hike, I did not know where I was heading, what was up ahead, or if anything was even up ahead for me to discover. But I kept on going because I decided I’d go and I’d go to that direction. I feel like if I turned back I’d lose. And yet I was hounded by constant fear that the long, tiring hike – like most of the things I’ve worked hard on in my life – will all be for nothing.
  • But mountains are not life, and unlike life’s failures, dead ends and detours are just as much a part of the journey’s fun as reaching the destination. Just the wonder of discovering things, even if by accident, makes the journey worth it. Or maybe life can be like mountains after all.

Look at how beautiful that moss is!

  • Going down the mountain though somehow feels sad – ‘Numerous indeed are the heroes fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the un-aging Goddess of Immortal Being,’ as Joseph Campbell colourfully puts it. I think it prudent to know this early on: my adventure as volunteer in this wonderfully strange land will not last forever.
  • But I have a Penelope waiting for my Odyssey back to Davao, and while I’m here to make an impact in a foreign land, she’s back home, rising meteorically as a young literary star. She wrote a poem about our distance, which she often performs in the poetry readings she is invited to. Two months on and the exposure has already given her two suitors, but I hope they do not reach Penelope’s hundred and eight. I am put in a dilemma: I am jealous of the life she is living there, but I don’t want her to just wait for me and unravel the shroud she is weaving.

My Penelope, performing a poem about me


  • But to quote from her poem, ‘She is her. And she has her life. And I am me, and I have my own life. But when you know you’ve met the cliched “The One,” the slow merge begins, and out emerge the sacrifices, the waiting, the hoping. The pain, the momentary regrets, the blaming, the hour and a half.’
  • I am here trying to be a lotus in this fertile faraway mud that so needs to learn how to blossom, threading silk from possibilities, and she is there in Mindanao, weaving dreams in South Cotabato and Davao. And when I return what a colourful hybrid shroud we will be able to loom for the death of our distance.

Literary Folios for my classes


One of my best ideas as a teacher of Literature is to ask my students to make a literary folio for the whole class. Above are folios of my poetry students in SAG Taunggyi.

The project gives the students a chance to see their names in print – an indescribable pleasure, even at its most humble level.


Notes on July in Myanmar


Taunggyi, as seen from Ayethayar


  • My first experience of Taunggyi is vertigo. The capital of Myanmar’s Shan State literally sits on top of the mountain, so I was dizzy during my first few days in Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Institute of Higher Studies. The altitude perhaps, the thinness of the air, or the coldness (over ten degrees less than what I’m used to).


  • But perhaps it was also the sheer reality of the volunteer experience dawning on me. I always knew that I was not travelling to Myanmar to go on a vacation, but knowing is always different from understanding, from realizing.


  • En route to Myanmar we had stopped by Bangkok, where for three days we went to see gloriously gilded buildings in between good food and sleep in a slightly high-end hotel – luxury proved to be very bad prelude to volunteer work. While also comfortable and far from bad, our rooms in SAG could not help but look humble compared to Astera Sathorn. It was the vertigo of fall, really, expectations finally meeting – and hitting – reality.


  • But I had no intention of becoming a tragic character. I was here to be a volunteer, and I had to tell myself failure and disappointment will be the most familiar things in this wonderfully foreign land.

CkFMMw-UoAAjUCM.jpg large

  • Part of the way I coped with the disappointment was by telling myself Ateneo de Davao sent me here, all expenses paid, not only as a volunteer but as part of the pioneering deployment of the Cardoner Volunteer Program. This program was designed for the school’s alumni and faculty, so while its explicit aim is to contribute to the formation of its graduates and teachers, it also inevitably showcases the best Ateneo has to offer.



The kids and teachers during the welcoming ceremony

  • On our welcoming ceremony, I was the first of the volunteers to enter the media room, where all the Integrated Program students were waiting. The students gave a frenzied cheer. I thought it was such a warm welcome, until teacher Yiyi San, the school’s academic administrator, told me I resembled the vocalist of a famous Burmese rock band.



The second years, trying to make metaphors in the Media Room

  • Teaching is such a fulfilling thing. The look in students’ eyes when they look at an incomprehensible poem, then you help them understand it – you can see that sight regardless of your student’s nationality.


  • I had a horrible five year teaching career in the Philippines, and doing it here in Taunggyi only made it clearer that it’s not the teaching itself that was dreadful, but the putting up with fellow teachers. Fellow teachers in SAG have been lovely so far.


  • Burmese food has a wild and very diverse spectrum of tastes, with many ingredients I haven’t even heard of. Eating has been all about discoveries for the first few months.


  • Best Burmese food so far: Tohpu Nway (sticky Shan rice noodles in a thick pudding of chickpea flour, seasoned with sesame seeds and sweet syrup), Ohn no Khao Swe (noodles in thick coconut curry soup, garnished with bean fritters), and Mon Pya Lu (rice cake with jaggery, coated in toasted rice flour, somewhere between Filipino espasol and Turkish delight). The secret to growing to love a place is to seek the familiar, but also the endemic.



There’s a restaurant here named ‘No Name.’

  • The Burmese have a very potent – but underrated – sense of humour. The language barrier is not soundproof of laughter, even kids who struggle with English throw jokes at you.


  • The soil in Shan state is just so eye-catchingly red. Rich in minerals (Myanmar is one of the world’s most mineral-rich countries), fertile for agriculture, but also a faint reminder of how much bloodshed this country has only until recently seen.



And strawberries grow in SAG!

  • It became immediately clear to me that I had come to Myanmar at a very exciting and turbulent time – the very young and still quite delicate democracy has nevertheless already had profound, perhaps permanent, effects on society. The kids are very tech-savy and are always online, and they’re already grumbling about authoritarian relics of the past, even if this past was only just six years ago.


  • That irritation is justified though: Burma is booming, but it would have the momentum to rival developed countries if the remaining problems of military times were to be addressed. The kids complain, for example, that Taunggyi’s libraries could be better.


  • I cannot help but envy the Philippines I left behind – I also left my country at a very interesting time. One of my dreams, that a Mindanawon be elected President, finally happened, and it’s Rodrigo Duterte of all people! Federalism, the death penalty, streamlining of government processes – things I’ve only dreamed would happen are fast becoming realities. To hit home to what I missed, passport expirations will soon be for 10 years, just after I had mine renewed for five.


  • Taunggyi has a unique superstition: people are not advised to travel up and down the city in groups of nine. If they do, accidents might happen to them. This is attributed to the guardian spirits (Nats) of the city, who have a monopoly of the number nine. If a group must travel with nine people, the group must bring a rock, which will count as a tenth person. As a visitor, I ought to follow the laws of this land, even those of its unspeakable forces



A banyan, just a walk from SAG, with Nat spirit altars


A forest of Pagodas in Shwe Inn Thein, some dating back thousands of years


I bought a shawl of lotus silk – ridiculously expensive, but Inle is the only place in the world that makes silk out of lotus

  • Myanmar has so much unshared wonders: a temple with mysterious black fish in its lake that emerge from nowhere, a whole tribe – the Pa’O – which claims descent from a dragon, cloth woven from thread made of lotus sap in Inle, Every village in Inle not only floating in the middle of the lake but also having their own specialized craft, a forest of pagodas in Shwe Inn Thein dating back to the Ashoka Empire, households with Buddha statues that have been in the family for over two centuries, a vibrant array of intricate hand woven fabrics, each tribe with a different pattern, worn as longyi.



The kids translated Gratian Tidor’s ‘Brownout’ (which I translated to English) into their languages. This one in by Nang Khan Hom into Pa’O

  • Bamar, Kachin, Shan, Pa’O, In, Kayan, Kayin, Chin, Akhar, not to mention Chinese and Indian – I have never seen so many ethnicities in one classroom. And they’re all understanding – fascinated even – with each other’s culture. For all Myanmar’s decades of ethnic strife, the young people let one hope for a more harmonious future.


  • Like Davao, Taunggyi is very multilingual. And as the only person who has ever specialized in Davao Filipino (yang nagahalo-halo gud ang Tagalog at Bisaya), I’m trying to plant the seeds of language contact appreciation here. So far the kids are amused. All according to plan. And Buwan ng Wika is coming in the Philippines!


  • I am disoriented by how the Jesuits in Taunggyi live. Father Paul the school’s director washes the dishes and does his own laundry. Father Titus plays soccer with the Jesuit candidates and irons his own clothes. Forget Padre Damaso’s Ecclesiastic Dignity outraged over getting the chicken’s neck, the priests here would even let you eat ahead of you.


  • But then again, Father Joel Tabora was also like that before we left Davao, so maybe it’s a Jesuit thing.



The Shan Monastery just a walk away from SAG

  • Jesuit institutions are wonderfully fascinated with other faiths. While Ateneo de Davao is the only Catholic school in the world with an Islamic Studies Center, the school motto of SAG is ‘Śīla, Samādhi, Paññā,’ ‘Virtue, Mindfulness, and Wisdom,’ the three categories of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism.


  • The kids here have had to put up with very difficult education conditions. They are not used to asking questions (much less questioning their teachers), and learning is all about memorizing. Application is a strange and sometimes scary experience for them. But they’re enjoying it.


  • They’re hungry for extracurriculars! Ever since the 8888 Uprising student activity has been all but banned in Myanmar, so now that the most famous player of the Uprising is running the country, the kids are doing everything they couldn’t a few years back. The universities are slow to pick up on this, but SAG is actively allowing them to do it. This means the kids are learning to love SAG more than the universities they go to.


  • But they’re even hungrier for learning, palpably more than Filipinos. I give comments to essays in front of the whole class, and where Filipino students would be too shy or scared to be discussed, the students here jostle to be the one who gets to be critiqued next. They’re hungry even for criticism.


  • All the things I was good at but time in the Philippines made me feel were useless are now proving to be helpful, even appreciated here: literature, parliamentary procedure, constitution drafting – and to think just a year ago a program head in PWC dismissed ‘creative writing’ as just about writing business letters.


  • Sleep during my first month in Taunggyi has been marked by nightmares. A year’s worth of nightmares in just a month. Nothing supernatural, but dreams of rejections: Father Paul saying I’m useless; teacher Yiyi saying I’m useless, the old hags in PWC coming to Taunggyi to declare how useless I am, my Ateneo and Silliman professors telling Father Paul I’m useless. I have never been more appreciated than I have been here, and my subconscious cannot help but forewarn me about how inevitable rejection and being taken for granted can seem like. One goal I ought to set while I am here is to get used to being valued.



Daing na bangus – one of the first dishes I have ever cooked (but that’s for another post!


I was so surprised to find burong mustasa in Myanmar! Apparently it’s a Pa’O specialty

  • It is very easy to miss home, and one of the things one misses most is the food. Thank goodness I had been compiling my family recipes – to entertain the people here we cook Filipino dishes, and I have many old recipes to dabble with.


  • Another advantage of being sent out on a mission far from home: you get the freedom to try things your family would not let you, like cooking.



The two plants, replanted just after I miraculously recovered them

  • I smuggled three of my plants from the Philippines. They have struggled for the first month but are now beginning to thrive. Two of them, which look like weeds, the kids unwittingly uprooted when they were helping clean the lawns. I had to dig through heaps of uprooted weeds and rotten leaves, and against all odds I found them. Now they’ve just produced seedlings. The only sure way of losing something, I realized, is if you don’t try your hardest to recover it.


  • Having a long distance relationship is difficult, especially if it is for an extended period of time. The constant fear of her cheating is there, but what’s really scary is if both of you grow to learn to live lives without each other.


  • But I am not going to live a life here. SAG and Taunggyi feel very comfortable and welcoming, and it’s not difficult to feel at home. But early on I realized that I am here as a visitor, and this land may know the language of my footsteps (in the first month not yet even that!), but it shall never know the intimacy of my roots. I am here to contribute to the growth of the place and the people here, but my contribution is all the living I will be doing. I will never – and ought to never – be more than that.


  • Which is to say, there’s no reason for the pretty Ilongga I left in the Philippines to be worried



A shrine in the middle of Inle Lake – the lake was a great place in which to meditate

  • On the motorboat crossing Inle Lake I wonder why I am here in Myanmar. My hometown of Kidapawan, where for almost a hundred years my family has lived, is probably as much in need as this SAG (perhaps more), and yet I am here in a faraway land, where even the way the fishermen row their boats is foreign. And I thought of how my projects for Kidapawan – an anthology of essays, a history book, literary projects – are all stalled because the people in Kidapawan are not cooperating. I have tried to help my hometown, but it’s refusing to help itself. I go where I am needed, but also where I am wanted.


  • And then I remembered when I first went back to Kidapawan after five years of being away – the sheer devastation I felt when I realized the place I called home really was no longer home, the unutterable sadness at seeing all the familiar things now become strange and foreign, refusing to be familiar again exactly because they had been once familiar. That had been an unresolved issue, a fundamental question to which I could not find an answer: where do I belong now?


  • But at that moment, in the middle of Inle Lake surrounded by the Shan Hills, thousands of miles from Lake Venado and Mt Apo, I understood.


  • ‘The changes do not change the portrait of the past that never leaves,’ writes the Kidapawan poet Rita Gadi, ‘any more than how the map remains the sanctuary within my soul, indelibly charting every journey I have made, beyond, and back.’ I am not in Kidapawan, and perhaps I shall never be back in Kidapawan again, but right now, this boat is Kidapawan, and every bit of ground I will stand on is Kidapawan, because that is what it means to have a town in your blood and bones – that wherever you are, you will continue living its life. I never left Kidapawan, because I am


  • All these thoughts came with the noise of the motorboat’s gas engine. Matsuo Basho was right – noise is silence, and (when the gas engine stopped for a bit) silence can be as palpable as noise.



I borrowed some Burmese fiction books from teacher Yiyi: Ma Thanegi’s collection of Burmese short stories translated to English, and Maung Htin Aung’s compendium of Burmese folk tales

  • I clearly need to find more Burmese writers to quote. I’ve read seven so far but all of them are fictionists. I need to read more Burmese poetry.



My little corner in Taunggyi

  • It would be no exaggeration to say that my room has become Philippine territory. When I am inside it to sleep, work, or write, I often forget I’m in another country. It is full of things I brought from Davao, and it’s as if I unpacked home from my bags when I opened my large bag with the Duterte sticker. Some of the plants I brought even come from Kidapawan. But for the sometimes freezing cold unheard of in the Philippines (a welcome strangeness!) the room is my sanctuary of familiarity.



  • Outside the room’s door, I have a foot mat spelling out the word ‘Welcome.’ It faces the room exit-wise rather than entry-wise – a constant reminder that I am the one being welcomed into a foreign country every time I step out of my little pocket of home.


  • And it is a constant reminder that every time I step out, there could be a new insight waiting for me, if only I’m willing enough to brave the new, unfamiliar world outside.


The Cardoner Volunteer Program

(Published in Dumaguete MetroPost)

I will be leaving for Myanmar on Monday to take part in the first deployment of Ateneo de Davao’s Cardoner Volunteer Program.

Named after the river in Manresa, Spain on which Ignatius of Loyola ruminated, the Cardoner Program is AdDU’s attempt to give opportunities for social formation to its graduates. For one year, the school sends alumni and alumnae to deployment areas to teach, sharing their Ateneo education to the community there. The people in these areas are often very marginalized and underprivileged.

For the program’s pioneering year, there are three deployment areas: Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weaver’s Association (LASIWWAI) in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato; madaris schools in the Bangsamoro area, and Saint Alyosius Gonzaga Institute in Taunggyi, Myanmar.

The volunteers deployed in Bangsamoro are sent in coordination with the Madaris Volunteer Program, another volunteer program run by the Ateneo. This year has one Cardoner volunteer deployed in Madaris: Education major alumna Rowena Santos.

I am one of three volunteers to be deployed to Myanmar. I go with Precious Kyrie Undag, a BSED Education graduate, and Datu Abdullah Uka III, who like me is an AB English alumnus. Dats and Kyrie both graduated in 2015, making me the elder in the group.

In S.A.G. Taunggyi we will be teaching subjects under the school’s Diploma in Education. Myanmar has a peculiar education system: because the country has, only until recently, been under a military junta, only state owned schools can offer higher education. The Diploma is actually offered off shore by the Ateneo de Davao, with which S.A.G., a fellow Jesuit institution, is in consortium.

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From left: Fr Joel Tabora, SJ, AdDU President; me, my fellow Cardoners Kyrie Undag and Datu Uka, and Ms Yi Yi San of SAG Institute in Taunggyi

The three of us to be sent to Myanmar make a relatively balanced team: my specialization is literature, Dats is an experienced grammar and language teacher, and Kyrie is an education major. Dats’ grandfather Lugum Uka was a Sillimanian who served as editor of its literary journal, Sands & Coral, in 1950. Dats himself is also a writer, with a story published in an international literary journal. Kyrie on the other hand has experience in student journalism, but is most accomplished in student leadership. Most importantly she has a strong grounding in professional education courses, which means we will most likely rely on her to improve our teaching.Together we hope to contribute to SAG with more than just teaching.

Ateneo de Davao’s Arrupe office of Social Formation, which runs the Cardoner Program, is still looking for three volunteers to be deployed to Lake Sebu. Volunteers to be deployed there will teach elementary English, Science, and Math subjects to T’boli children. The project is open to graduates and current faculty of the Ateneo de Davao (for interested applicants contact Karl Ebol, the acting Director of the Program, through is planning to further expand the number of deployment areas. Possible places where future volunteers may be deployed include the Jesuit schools for IPs in Bukidnon, and Jesuit institutions in East Timor, Thailand and Cambodia.

Myanmar will be a fascinating new world for me: its fresh democracy is still tender from decades of isolation and military control, and has so many unseen wonders (I am particularly excited for the tea, the food, and the Buddhism). But most excitingly, the Burmese literary tradition, while rich and benefiting from a long history of translation, remains alien to the Filipino reader. I very much intend to facilitate an exchange of literatures.

Volunteerism has always been one of my frustrations: as a student I was never able to participate in the many social involvement activities that Ateneo de Davao organizes. I like helping but I hardly appeared like it (I was always vocally critical of empty charity), and even the best of people can be very prejudiced with first impressions. And yet as a student I was very much a literary activist, doing what I could to make the literary art as accessible to as many potential young writers as possible. Time in Dumaguete had killed that writer-idealist in me, but now the opportunity to volunteer in AdDU finally presents itself.  I am thus very thankful.

The Cardoner is so far one of the few steps I know that a Philippine university has taken to reach out to its alumni. More often than not an individual has almost nothing to do with his/her alma mater after graduation (save for the occasional email from the alumni office about the latest dead alumnus). I think our schools should begin reaching out to their graduates, not only for these graduates’ sake but for the schools’ as well. This is something universities might ponder on.