What I am about to set down consists of three stories which I had originally wanted to write separately. How I came to think of weaving them together is not easy to answer. The first two were stories I had heard almost twenty years ago and could not get around to writing for such an unbelievable length of time. One day I understood that I’d never be able to write them and that perhaps this was the story I could write. I remember the occasion on which the idea occurred to me. I was talking to another literary person, in fact a gifted young girl from Manila well on her way to the writing vocation. I found myself telling her the two stories. I don’t remember having done it before, though I am fairly given to talking about stories I contemplated writing to friends. When I had finished I realized that what held my listener’s interest was not just the stories themselves but me telling them together. “Perhaps I should write them together,” I said with the enthusiasm of one who had faintly but unmistakably struck something. When days passed and the terror of the empty, white paper began to grow on me, when I began to suspect that this new story—the story of a writer and the two stories he could not get around to writing for twenty years—was headed for the same fate, the same limbo, I decided to hurl myself into the wilderness. In the confusion I involuntarily recovered two memories—one resplendent and the other shameful. I also tied in the third, which is the longest and of which I do not have to speak at this point.

Back in 1972, when I taught at Silliman for the first time, I formed a companionship with four other young men with whom I had nothing in common but an addiction: chess. The friendship was so close we were soon addicted not only to the game but to being together. For days on end, when there would be a string of holidays, we would eat, sleep, talk, play chess, gallivant, do evil things together. Chess is more often than not the passion of a lonely man. In our case, the loneliness became collective, if such a thing can be conceived—we were a pack of lone wolves. Martial law, imposed by Marcos late that year, abetted it, as did the success of the solipsistic Bobby Fischer.

I’ll heartlessly cut myself short on this part of my life to which belongs some of my fondest memories, since my business is only to relate where and how I got the two stories mentioned above. I heard them from two of my friends, on those nights when not even the fatigue of playing chess all day could relieve the torment of our own sap and we would spend the night talking about all sorts of things until dawn. The first came from Nestor Rimando and happened in Davao where he came from and where he is back. In the almost twenty years since our time in Dumaguete I have seen him again only twice— once in Manila and once when he visited Dumaguete in 1987. The second was told by Odelon Ontal, who lives until now in Dumaguete and who has forgotten his story. Both have married and have children; I have remained a bachelor, grown adept at gentle ways of coping with, in the phrase of Erwin Castillo, the terror of being unloved.

Rimando’s story can be sketched in a paragraph. In Davao in either the late sixties or early seventies (Rimando was not specific) a madwoman slept her nights at the market, where the tables in the meat section provided her with a bed. Let us assign her the age of twenty-eight and long, lice-infested hair. You have seen her, grimy, reposing on the pavement like an obscene bat, her eyes somehow never meeting yours. You never hear her voice either, even when she laughs and you wonder who knocked her teeth down. One day you see her with a swollen belly and although it comes as a shock you don’t find yourself wondering very long who the father is. Not even the coming baby mitigates her status as a nightmare, without substance. In Rimando’s story she gives birth to her child towards daybreak. The market vendors who had come early saw her deflated belly but were baffled that the child could not be found. Suddenly their minds froze, struck by lightning. They had not understood the blood on the table where she had slept and now they looked with horror at the dog sitting not far from where she was.

As in Rimando’s case, Ontal had not actually witnessed the story he told us and which, as I’ve said, he has forgotten. A very young couple—the husband about fifteen and the wife fourteen or thirteen—had come to Dumaguete for the husband who was sick to be confined and treated in a hospital. They came with ample money, but one somehow got the impression that it represented all their possession. They took a common room, which explains how their story came to be known.

On the first day of his confinement, a group of young girls, probably students from Silliman dropping in to visit another patient in the room, find themselves flocking around the boy-husband from the barrio. It is not hard to understand why they instantly take to him. They like his rustic ways; they are astonished, themselves not much older than he, to find one so young—just a little boy really—already married; they feel protective, motherly. Perhaps, too, the boy is dying. Let us call him Kip. It is five in the afternoon and Kip, waiting for his wife Moning to come back, has brightened up only too visibly. One or two of the girls are pretty. And Kip’s happiness, in turn, has set loose even in the shyer ones the floodgates of a hitherto unsuspected sweetness. It is in the midst of this that Moning comes back with a friend she has just acquired, a girl of eight, and the things they bought at the market. There is an awkwardness but Kip’s friends do not feel uncomfortable. They look at her with great interest and find her shyness just as poignant, except that of course she is not the patient and, moreover, they have to go. Moning goes out of the room soon after they do to see her little friend—who keeps throwing looks at Kip—to the gate. She does not return—neither in the evening as Kip keeps hoping she will, nor the next day, nor the day after the next until it is afternoon. Kip runs a whole spectrum of feelings—all shades of grey and black. First alarm, then anger, worry, fear, bewilderment, oppression, fury, pain. To assuage the torment, he imagines himself dead and the thought of Moning crazed with grief strangely revives his appetite to eat. It is an exaggeration to say that he ages in three days, but at certain moments we see a grown-up quality or manner that we failed to notice earlier, even when he’s not doing anything, propped up and stockstill, pensive in his bed. When Moning finally comes back, the joy he feels is outweighed, outwardly, by the need to express his outrage and maintain a touching dignity. He weeps at last and says, in a quiet voice, “Ako pay mamatay, ako pay ingnon mi!” (Roughly, “I’m the one who’s going to die and I’m the one who’s treated this way!”) Moning, eyes downcast, wants to hold and press his hand but his spare reproach totally wilts her.

These were the two stories. When I first pondered Rimando’s story, I conceived of the following idea: The story would be seen through a third-person point of view. This person is gradually revealed to be the father of the baby, and the revelation will be subtle, almost just hinted, but clear towards the end. I’m glad this didn’t materialize. It seems to promise bathos.

My present attitude indicates that I wish to preserve the story’s gruesome quality. Despite the ironclad objection: what for should one write a merely cruel story? There are hundreds of other such incidents, dizzying in their fiendishness, that have happened and can happen on this planet. Even in the realm of fact, the number of such cases may well approach the infinite. Thus the absurdity of a news item with such a subject in which the reporter pretends to be moved by the uncanny. And yet I remain infatuated with Rimando’s story as is—raw, uninvented, fact. Why?

Once in life I woke in the wee hours of the morning and heard from somewhere a baby’s cooing and laughter and knew it to be the most beautiful sound on earth or in heaven. Many years later I took to asking girls I liked what they thought was the loveliest sound they’d ever heard. A bird’s chirping was usually the answer. At other times, the sound of surf. Or early morning rain that made them linger in bed. There were others I’ve forgotten. Only one, if memory is not fooling, got it right—Emy.

How could a baby deserve either such a grisly end or such a loathsome origin as had the one in Rimando’s story? What possible virtue is there in telling of how it was so literally wiped out the moment it was born?

Ontal’s story, too, is disturbingly open-ended. Even if its tenderness tends to counterpoint, to allay the ferocity of the other. Ontal said no one seemed to know what happened afterwards when the young couple had gone back to the barrio where they came from. This open-endedness—Kip’s possible death—hovers over the story with the same menace that the woman’s madness, the unknown father’s lust, and the dog’s appetite in Rimando’s story hold for us. Here too my baby gurgles amid demons. Is this therefore why the two stories had been thrown into my hands—not by accident but because to me had been delivered the task of seeing them as connected? If Kip dies, the two tell the same story—Kip is the baby who is devoured by a dog—and I brood on the evil that unites them; Ontal didn’t have to tell his. If Kip lives, the two stories exclude—worse, annihilate—each other; Kip is the baby whose cooing, gurgling laughter work me up one magic, epiphanous night in my life—but Rimando, as well as Ontal, had to tell his. I must find a third.

Unlike Ontal’s and Rimando’s, it is a story I have seen. In fact, it is a story I alone have seen. For the two people in it—a man and a woman who casually crossed my path quite recently (only late last year) never met, neither one knew the other existed. Moreover, one is mad and the other dead. I believe their fates conjoined, and that it was I who brought this conjunction about—or rather my old, black jacket. It seems like a delirium and perhaps it is. Before getting round to it, I add a few necessary details about myself. I am forty-three, I teach part-time in Silliman. I live with a maid and my two parents. My mother has had a stroke and asthma has wrought on my father an almost equal devastation.

One afternoon I woke from a nap hearing some rock group on the cassette tape recorder and slowly making out the voices that drifted to my room. They were those of my father and a younger man, a man I didn’t know. The conversation was in Chabacano and my father was talking with more animation than usual. My parents have not lived in Dumaguete as long as I, and at their age do not get to meet too many people any more. Whenever someone happens along who comes from Zamboanga, their spirit is buoyed up, as though old times had returned. I tarried in bed for a while more, unable to help from eavesdropping. I gathered that the visitor had come in to fix the tape recorder, that his name was William, that he was an ex-soldier, that he (rather vaguely) was a CAFGU, that he worked as radio technician and operator at the military headquarters in Agan-an. I couldn’t avoid meeting his stare at once when I opened the door, they were sitting right-across from my room and he was facing my way. He was a slight man who looked as boyish as his voice, but the face, with its high cheekbones, had a menacing quality that impressed me greatly. He had the eyes of a man who lived with evil smells, or who was used to the sight of gore. But perhaps the cold, removed stare came from sheer hard times and I had overlooked it. I dwell on it at length because it was the only time I really looked at his face. He was to be seen in the house often after that, gladly fixing—after the tape recorder—the television set and the walkie-talkie which he had dug up while puttering around the storeroom. He always declined to join us whenever he happened to be around at mealtime, settling instead for a cup of coffee. Sometimes he’d doze off on the bench in the kitchen when, apparently exhausted from staying up late at some gambling place, he’d show up early in the morning. At other times, he’d spend the night at our place, sleeping on the bench which had become his bed. We soon realized, though we never asked him, that he was not living in any particular place—that there probably were other houses where he could sleep from time to time. But once a man who knew us asked me if it was true William was living with us. William had given our place as his address, care of my father who was a retired police major. And indeed he did his laundry at our place and kept some clothes in the storeroom. I do not know if those were all the clothes he had.

William told us he was a widower. He said his wife had died of tuberculosis. At the time he said this I thought it sounded like a good forecast of how he himself was going to die soon. He was very thin and always looked overwrought. He did die soon after, but not as I thought.

His wife left him no child. He said his wife’s parents were from Negros and lived in the nearby town of Valencia, and that his own mother, who was in Zamboanga, originally came from Dumaguete. We believed him. He spoke Chabacano and Cebuano very fluently—both with a rural accent, which astonished my father who is a Zamboangueño and my mother who is a Cebuana—oblivious that, though it’s true it was unusual, so did I, though neither with a rural accent. This will do for William. He is a dead man when I take him up again. Vastly different, we did not become friends. The only form of closeness we had was my lending him small sums which he was too shy to borrow from my parents. He never paid and I never expected him to. Just as we never paid him for fixing the television set and the tape recorder and the walkie-talkie and he never, I’m sure, expected us to.

For certain episodes in the past that we carry through life, memories is an inaccurate word; rather they constitute an ever lingering, bright present, separation or estrangement from which we are forced to admit only by the unappealable decline of our physical bodies. And then we feel as if perhaps we already have died. Others are matters of complete indifference. They could be as recent as a year ago but the faces that beam at us on a chance re-encounter are veritable abysses. As are the names.

“Ester Lim?”

“She says you were together in some writers conference in Manila.”

“Is she going to be in the program?”

“She’s just passing by. She’s on her way to Manila. She was looking for Marj.”

“If she didn’t know Marj is the Manila, she may have been just checking her out, too, from way back when.”

“Yes, that seems to be it. When I told her Marj is in Manila she appeared very excited and took her address. And then she sounded like she was going to Manila just to see her.”

“I’ll get back to the office. They might be there.”

“Lina was giving her directions to your house. She’s probably there now. That was almost two hours ago.”

“Oh. Okay, I’m going home then.”

“You can see that she’s odd, but she’s all right I think. Most people will get a more extreme impression after talking to her. She’s been through some terrible time. She’ll be telling you.”

“I’d have preferred to talk to her somewhere else though.”

“Lina told her to go back to her if it’s no go at your place. I would have taken her in but you know there’s literally no room for her here.”

“It’s going to be difficult. You don’t know my father. He’s a cop. But I know where we can take her to.”

By ten in the evening Ester Lim was out of my hands. I had ample opportunity, that evening, to know just how mad she was.

She was in her late twenties and I wondered why I absolutely couldn’t recall her from the writers seminar that we attended together. At the least, she must have been a pleasant kid to look at, and even now hell, which it was clear she was wobbling in, hadn’t taken away the sparkle from her eyes. She had a vague expression of physical pain on her face that became oddly pronounced when she smiled, which was often. After speaking, she would bend her forehead slightly forward—and somewhat askew—as if swallowing, her eyes not leaving yours and smiling with the queer pain. Perhaps reading my mind she explained that she had inflamed sinuses. I found out that she had stomach spasms besides. My hair almost stood at the way she consumed the entire loaf of sliced bread when I bought her a snack, ignoring the canned fish and the noodles which she ate after. At nine there are no more cheap eating houses open in Dumaguete and I didn’t have much money. Also, I was hoping Mrs. Tan, in whose house she would be staying, would feed her. (It amused me that she was Miss Lim and her hostess was Mrs. Tan. Mrs. Tan was head of some fundamentalist church organization on the campus.)

Ester Lim was going to Manila to seek help over a nephew whom she claimed her brother, the father, physically tortured. She said her nephew wanted her to take him but there was no way she could fight her brother. He had many connections in their place and was able to convince everybody that she was insane. I asked her what exactly it was she wanted done about her nephew. If she wanted custody, I said, she was certain to lose. She said of course that was the sure way to lose, and went into a detailed explanation of her plan which struck me for its legal shrewdness and clarity. I realized later that this lucidity, which must have impressed people she met for the first time, could be seen in a more sinister light. But at the moment I must have been visibly impressed, for her manner assumed a certain preening and soon she was telling me that her fight wouldn’t end with her nephew. She was going to start her crusade against child abuse.

I cleared my throat and told her surely there was some organization in Manila doing that sort of thing and it shouldn’t be too hard for her to find her bearings there after all. This seemed to please her further, but at the same time I couldn’t help feeling she was holding back some tremendously good thing that I was not even beginning to understand. I wasn’t wrong. And I was not kept waiting. She began to tell me about the evil in her place, La Carlota, and my mind involuntarily flitted back to the half-amused, half-bewildered face of my mother earlier in the house when I had gone home and found her with Ester Lim.

“As long as the Beast is loose, the children of the world will suffer.”

Mrs. Tan’s house was in the outskirts of the town and tricycles would go only up to a certain point. There was no moon (missing emblem of madness) but the light from the electric posts made the green grass in the vacant lots all around us visible. Ester Lim continued: “I can’t lose, it’s in the Scripture: And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars….”

She had turned her face to me and it bore the same expression, only more outrageous: it was as if she was looking at me and smiling though her tears. I heard my voice saying, “Don’t say a word of that to Mrs. Tan’s family. They’re very nice people; realize that they are taking you in, a stranger, out of kindness. You’re lucky, but if you tell them that, it could make things unpleasant.” “Why?” she asked. I saw that I was unnecessarily taking a further step in getting mixed up with a lunatic. “Do you really care for your nephew?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. “Then don’t say what you’ve just told me to anyone. Keep it to yourself or else, believe me, you are going to fail. You won’t even survive in Manila.”

“Why?” she asked again, and finally I said, “They’ll think you mad. That’s what happened back in your place. With that story you yourself, not your brother, convinced them you’re mad.” I uttered the word mad casually, to make it sound as if I was very far from believing it.

“I see,” she said thoughtfully, slowing down her steps somewhat. “It’s a real problem.” She seemed to brace herself before going on and then she asked me, “Do you believe what I just told you?”

Crazily polite (allow me some madness of my own), I groped. “I don’t know. Yes and no perhaps. You’re entitled to what you believe is your vocation. But you can’t be literal about these things. Anyway it’s out of my range. It’s a thing between you and God.”

This must have satisfied her for she changed the topic. “You’re right about Mrs. Tan and her family. I never knew such people existed. But that little child of hers—there’s something troubling her. Her eyes look disturbed.”

A horrible thought entered my mind, but I quelled it. “You really didn’t have to trouble yourself too much over me. I just wanted to find out how you are after all these years.” She was rambling, somewhat sprightly all of a sudden. But Ester Lim fired her last shot for the evening and I was not prepared for it.

“I feel cold,” she said. “Please hold me.”

Or perhaps I was. Without a moment’s hesitation, I took off my jacket and gave it to her.

All the repulsion that had been gathering inside me now slapped me like a wind. I knew even then that I wouldn’t be wearing the jacket any more. It was an old black jacket and it seemed to me as though its color, which sometimes made me uneasy, had finally fulfilled itself.

I took measures not to run into Ester Lim by any chance, kept in touch with Mrs. Tan like a fugitive, and helped put together enough money for Ester Lim to get a passage to Manila. Ester Lim did not cause a headache during her two days with Mrs. Tan. But Mrs. Tan’s little daughter wouldn’t go near her. “She’s stranger,” she said the first time she saw Ester Lim.

Not very long after this, our maid told me as I ate a late breakfast that William, who had not shown up for some time, had been in the house early and taken the black jacket which I had put away in the storeroom, leaving her word to tell me that he was borrowing it. My father, who dislikes familiarities of this sort, told me to remind William at once about the jacket if he forgot to bring it back the next time he came. I told him the maid had said he was returning it later in the evening. The old man said he doubted it. When after two weeks William had not returned, he said. “I told you. Now you’re the one without a jacket.” I had others. But he was wondering why I didn’t seem to care much.

“Perhaps he’s with his in-laws in Valencia,” my mother said.

The weeks went by and we forgot about William. One morning my father very casually told me, as I prepared to go out, to find out about William who had been stabbed to death, at the Eterna, the funeral parlor whose owner we knew. “When?” I asked, sounding just as subdued. “I don’t know—find out.”

I went to the funeral parlor in the afternoon. Chit, the owner’s wife whom I knew from way back in the early seventies, was there. I went to it at once: “Did you have a stabbing victim recently?” She turned on an expression that became more and more quizzical as I gave details. “The name is William Angeles. He was stabbed at the cockpit. He was from Zamboanga. A soldier….” At this she suddenly remembered. “That was last week!” And then we went into an incoherent exchange.


“Nothing. I happened to know him. Who stabbed him?”

“He may have left the hospital already.”

“What? You mean he’s alive?”

“Yes, his wound was not serious.”

“But I thought he was brought here?”

“No, I mean the man who stabbed your friend.”

William was able to pull out his gun and shoot back. I gathered from another person later—the man who once asked if William was living with us—that William was jumped by his assailant as he entered the cockpit and was reeling from several stabs when he pulled out his gun and fired.

He hadn’t seen the incident. Chit had seen the body when it was brought to the funeral parlor. I asked her, inevitably:

“Was he wearing a black jacket?”

She looked, I thought, startled. “Why, yes!”

William had been buried in Valencia. For us there remained the problem of what to do with his clothes. Mother had said, “They must be made to pay! The poor boy! He was with us!” Her outrage was sudden and brief but it moved me— though I remained indifferent to William’s death. As I burned the clothes I wondered why she spoke of William’s murderer in the plural.

Now I understand better the look in his eyes the first time I saw him. They were the eyes of a man who had seen his own gore.

It was he who had copulated with the madwoman in Rimando’s story. But his murder had made him the baby, made him Kip. William’s killer was as much an instrument as the knife with which William was slaughtered—and redeemed. The force came from Ester Lim who, with equal mystery, had without her knowing it fulfilled her hallucination—that she was the dazzling woman promised in Revelation, who shall crush the Beast by giving birth to her child. Of course, William is dead and Ester Lim repeats, God knows in what foul hole in Manila, the cycle of the madwoman. To me, who haven’t cared, is allotted the notion that the madwoman’s child had been engendered and obliterated so I could be forty-three, so I could use the word “resplendent,” so I could love Emy.

“I’m sorry about the jacket.”

I am almost unable to finish saying this, hearing William saying it too at the same time.

We meant differently. He was apologizing for not being able to return the jacket, or for having taken it without my knowledge, or because it now bore two or three holes. I was sorry I had not been able to warn him that it was fatal. I looked at his face in the dusk and felt relieved that he did not seem to bear the funeral parlor’s grooming and cosmetics. But I also felt his inconsolable sadness. “It was lovelessness. You were spared because you were less loveless than I.” I realized with a chill that William and I had certain resemblances. “Did it ever occur to you that your parents have felt the terror of your life? That you are Kip whose haplessness saddens them more than their infirmities? They’d have wished that you drifted less and fathered a child—a gift that could make them gentler with their slow annihilation. No matter. The memory of the baby’s laughter has served you well. Even Rimando’s story has served you well, for though you wanted to exploit its horrible aspect, you’ve been unable to write it. Love has served you well. It served you well when Emy could not love you. It served you well when you recoiled from Ester Lim, from me. It would not have abandoned you if you had gone and consummated your urge for the laundrywoman, old and ugly, with whom you found yourself alone one night when you were a much younger man, fighting the strange tide that drew you to her as the dog had been drawn to the messy, blood-covered thing in Rimando’s story—if you had been the baby’s father which, in a way, you are. Perhaps it’s not me but you. Or why should you let a dead man—moreover, an unlettered one—speak your final words?”

Cesar Ruiz Aquino was born in Zamboanga City, and has a Ph.D. in Literature from Silliman University. He writes both poetry and prose for which he has won virtually all the national awards in the Philippines and one international – the SEA Write Award from the royal family of Thailand in 2004. His books include the short story collection Chronicles of Suspicion, the poetry collections Word Without End, In Samarkand, Caesuras: 155 New Poems, Like a Shadow That Only Fits a Figure of Which It is Not the Shadow, and Fire If It Were Ice, Ice If It Were Fire, and the personal anthology Checkmeta: The Cesar Ruiz Aquino Reader. He lives in Dumaguete City.

Excerpt from In My Father’s House



Carlos Santamaria is about  65  years old with strong facial features and graying hair. A man of a few words, he exudes an air of quiet authority, and although he moves about with the help of a walking  stick, soundlessly dragging  a bad foot which  has been partially paralyzed by a stroke, he has retained an aura  of  strength about him. 

Amanda is about 60 years old.  She is one woman who has grown to maturity with grace and refinement. 

Miguel, the eldest son, is about 35 years old. A practising lawyer, he is reserved, quiet and thoughtful and speaks with deliberation. He gives the impression of a man  who would pursue an ideal even against all odds. 

Isabel, Miguel’s wife, is about 33 years old. She is gentle, affectionate and amiable, obviously convent-bred. As a  wife she  regards her husband as the head of the family,  the decision-maker,  and is quite content with her role as a dutiful wife and mother. 

Franco is about 33 years old and is more gregarious than his older brother. He is open  and  aggressive, frank  and pragmatic, and his manner suggests that he can be obstinate. As the politician in the family he recognizes the  need  to reach  practical  decisions in contrast to Miguel who is  an idealist. 

Cristy,  wife  of  Franco, is 27 years old. She  is  self-confident, knowledgeable, independent and outspoken, yet  she is   also  sensitive  and  intuitive. There is a sharp distinction between her personality and that of Isabel’s, for whereas Isabel is reticent and  submissive, Cristy has realized  herself as a woman well ahead of her times, having been brought up by American professors at the University. 

Benito, the family bookkeeper and Man Friday, is about  the same age as the two brothers. He is quiet and  unobtrusive, loyal and dependable.

The  scene shows a typical old house built along the lines of Spanish  architecture as modified in the Philippine setting. Upstage, at stage center is an arch revealing further back a foyer. At left of foyer is the main door. Opposite this door is a foyer table on top of which  are  found  several antique figures of saints in various stages of dismemberment. Above the table is a looking glass hanging on the wall.  The arch  leads  to the stage proper.  On the walls to  left  and right of the arch are square windows with capiz shell frames. At stage right is a sala set made of lightly carved  hardwood and  wicker  comprising of a settee, two single chairs,  a  coffee table and a rocking chair. A gaily trimmed Christmas tree stands at far right corner.  On the wings at stage right are two doors which lead  to the bedrooms. At stage left is an oval dining table for six. Against the wall and under the window  is a long narrow buffet table  on which are found  a table clock and a constabulary hat. On the wings  at  stage left  is a door which leads to the kitchen and service  area. A lamp hangs from the ceiling.
ACT 1 / SCENE 2 

Date:  June 16, 1942
Time:  8:00 P.M.
Place:  Santamaria Home

At rise, Benito  and Emilio  are  in  the living room, closing the shutters. It is raining outside, and the wind is howling. Benito sets a tray of coffee and coffee cups on the table.


Emilio, you better finish up.


I’ll be through in a minute.


Did you take out the plants in the master’s bedroom?


Yes, I did.  Benito, do you know that Ma’am Isabel was crying this afternoon?


Crying?  Why?


I’m not sure, but I think it’s because she’s afraid Sir Miguel might join the guerillas.


What makes you think that?


Oh, I should know.  I overheard them.


(In a reprimanding tone)  Emilio, I know that  Senorito Miguel  is almost like a father to you, taking  you  in and sending you to school when your own parents died  a a  year  ago.  But you should show  some  respect.  You shouldn’t eavesdrop on private conversations.


(Mischievously) Look who’s talking. Benito, I swear you eavesdrop on everyone in the family.  Why, I’m sure you know everything that goes on in this house.


(Slightly offended) The family trusts me—and that is because I know my place.  So, if you intend to remain a ward of this family, I advise you to know your place—and stop this business of listening in on everyone. It’s impolite, you know.


Oh,  I know my place alright.  And you know where  that is?   With Sir Miguel—when he joins  the guerillas. I’m  going to learn how to shoot and then I’ll kill so           many  Japs they’ll wish they never set foot here.


You  don’t even know how to load a gun, much  less  aim it.


That’s what you think.


You haven’t been fooling around with Senor’s gun,  have you?   If the Japanese know we have some  weapons  here we’ll all end up dead in the plaza.


You’re not talking to a small kid, you know.


Alright, young man.  Take those plants out.


(With a mock salute)  Yes, Sir.  Right away, Sir.

(Carlos enters. He surveys the room, then sits on his rocking chair. He draws his cardigan about him.  He is followed by Amanda, also wrapped in a heavy shawl)


It’s cold in here. Is coffee ready, Benito?


Yes, Senora.  Is there any thing else you need?


No, this is fine.  Go have your dinner now, Benito.


And bolt all the doors.

(Benito  nods, exits through the kitchen.   Miguel  and Isabel  enter  from the bedroom, joins  Amanda  at  the table.  Amada presides over coffee)


I  hope this  is still good—it’s  the  third  brew. (Isabel brings a cup to Carlos)


Thank you, Isa.  (Sipping)  It’s  still good, Amanda.


Oh, you’re just getting used to weak coffee.


It’s better than nothing.

(Franco enters, dragging his bad leg. He is followed by Cristy, who carries a medicine basket.  He sits on  one of  the  single chairs, stretching out his  leg,  while Cristy  sits  on  the floor beside  him,  dressing  his wound)


How is your leg, Franco?


Almost as good as new.


It’s healing well enough.


(To  Miguel)   Who were those men you were  talking  to this morning, Miguel?


(Trying to sound casual)  Oh, some people from my unit.


What did they want?


(Indifferently)  Oh, nothing important.


You better be careful with whom you are seen. You  have surrendered.  You  very  well know you  are  all  under surveillance,  Miguel.   Be careful you do  nothing  to arouse suspicion, or you’ll end up  in  Channon Hall.


They say many of those who have been taken there have not been seen alive again. Is that true? They say they are burying people behind Channon Hall at night. 


It’s hard to believe they would turn that building into a torture chamber. One of my closest friends used to live there, you know. You remember Sarah Thorndike, Isa?  She also teaches literature.


The blonde?  Yes.


(Nodding)  And the spectacles.


Lovely girl.


The  campus does not look the same.  That was the first thing   that  caught  my  eye  the  moment  we   docked the  other day. A troop of Jap soldiers marched out  of the portals to take us in.  It seemed bizarre.


Now  it’s crawling with those villains.  And  to  think that  just  last  March  the  campus  housed  President Quezon,  Vice  President  Osmena,  and  their  military escorts  for a few days.  Little did we know  that  the President  was then being evacuated from  the  country. When  news  of  the President’s  presence  reached  the American  professors,  they all came  down  from  their to see him and ask him about the  war. 


We even heard that General MacArthur himself was  here. You can just imagine our excitement.


We were told that aid was forthcoming.  We believed it.


We could hardly believe our eyes when a few weeks later, two Japanese transports anchored at the pier.


One  of  the  first  things they  did  was  to  declare Silliman University a property of the Japanese Imperial Government, and proceeded to set up their  headquarters at Guy Hall.


They made  the dormitories their barracks, and  Channon Hall the headquarters of the Kempetai.


I  happened to be here on a visit when they  came.   We were  terrified.  I couldn’t go back to Santa  Catalina because  they wouldn’t allow anyone to leave the  city. We all had to register ourselves at their headquarters.


You should  have seen them strut  around  like little conquerors.  They summoned the governor and  mayor  and urged  them to  continue in office. For many  days Governor Villaluna  reported  each  morning to the Japanese headquarters. Then one day he   just disappeared. Benito later heard that he and his family had fled to Guihulngan—he was probably afraid  for his three daughters.


They say the Japanese soldiers are raping women.


Then  they  called  on the other officials, recruiting them  to  form  their  government,  but  many  of  them declined, as I did when they called on me.


Nobody wants to have anything to  do with them.


They’ve  had  much  success  with  the  Manila  people. Vargas,  Roxas,  Laurel, Recto, Aquino—the  list is endless.


Well, I suppose some people have to hold the reigns  of government.


This is dreadful!  What is going to happen now?


We don’t have much  choice except to conduct  ourselves in  a  manner that would allow us to survive.   It’s  a waiting game now.


You mean there is absolutely nothing we can do?


Oh,  it’s just  a matter of time, Mother.   The  United States will liberate the Philippines.  I have no  doubt about that at all.


The city is crawling with Japanese patrols.  You can’t even  visit sick relatives without getting a pass  from the  High Command, if it is at all possible  to  secure one.  And those drills!  It’s driving everyone crazy!


The  best thing is to stay in and not get  in  anyone’s way.


Oh,  you say that so easily.  But how  is  it  possible when  everywhere  you turn you  see  Japanese  soldiers watching your every move?  Sometimes I look out of  the window  at  night and I see their shadows down  at  the corner, watching this house.


We are all under surveillance.


I can feel them watching us night and day.  I sometimes wake  up wondering  when they would  just arrest us for one reason or another and lock us  up like some of  the others.  It is terrible.  Mrs. Avena told me they  took her  son yesterday for interrogation.  No one has  seen him again!


Didn’t she inquire at the Japanese headquarters?


How could she?  She suspects they have killed him,  and she is scared to death.


Rafael?   Rafael Avena?  He  was in your  unit,  wasn’t he, Mig?


Yes, he was.


But he surrendered just like the rest of you.  Why  did they take him?


I don’t know. It could be for sundry reasons. Like violating curfew, for instance.


I tell you the Kempetai is killing people.   Everyone’s whispering  about it. 


And there’s nothing we can do, nothing at all.   (After a pause)  I wonder—I wonder how Carlito is—


Oh,  he’ll be released in due time.  Miguel and  Franco are back. Carlito will be home before we know it.


But why  hasn’t he been released yet?  It’s been  weeks since  we’ve  lost  the war.  You  are  back  but  your brother is still out there.


(Matter-of-factly) The Luzon Forces that  surrendered in  Bataan and Corregidor, were taken prisoners of  war and  detained at Camp O’Donnell.  We did not  catch  up with  them, otherwise  we would  have ended  up at Camp O’Donnell too. 


(Thinking aloud)  We were lucky we did not get to Luzon until March.


But you left here New Year’s Day!


Yes,  but  in Cebu we underwent a week’s  training.  We were  divided into several companies, each leaving  for Luzon  on  different days. We reached Batangas on  the second week of March. By then the situation in  Bataan had  turned critical.   When General Wainwright surrendered, we decided to just turn back. We  knew somehow it was coming.


(Worried) You did not get any word at all about Carlito?


Just unofficial news that they would be released in due time.


I don’t really know if I should believe that or  not. I’m  afraid  that if I believed it completely,  and  it doesn’t happen—


(With conviction)  But it will, Mother. Carlito will be home. What  would  the Japanese  do  with  all  those prisoners of war?  At the moment they are quite  intent upon  establishing  a  better  relationship  with   our people. Surely  they know that one way  to  gain  our sympathy would be to send our soldiers home. 


(With  deep anguish) But what if something happened  to him?  How would we know?


Remember  this, Amanda.  Our boy is alive, and he  will come home alive.


(Responding, as if waiting only for this assurance) You are such a good man, Carlos, to keep telling me  that. And I need you to tell me that all the time, each  time a  dark thought crosses my mind.  God knows there  have been many such thoughts gnawing at my sanity ever since Wainwright surrendered.


(Thinking  aloud) I did not seriously believe it  would come to that. 


Neither did I.


(Annoyed)  You think he shouldn’t have surrendered?


I don’t know.  Perhaps not. 


I  don’t think  the man had any choice.  It was  not  a matter of choice.


It was a matter of choice.


(Agitated)   If you were in his shoes, would  you  have acted differently?  Is that what you mean?




(Pressing) You  would have sat it out in  Bataan  and Corregidor despite the fact that you had a  starving, sick, demoralized and unequipped army?


(Irritated)  I do not know.


(Beginning  to  be  angry)   Then  look  at  it  as   a hypothetical question, Professor!  Assume for a  moment that  you were in Wainwright’s shoes.  What  would  you have  done?  Would you have ordered your men to sit  on their  haunches in those godforsaken foxholes and  wait for  the  bombs  to  blast  your  entire  army  out  of existence?   Or would you, like a wounded bull,  gather your  last breath for a final charge with  nothing  but your bare breasts and bravura?


(Raising  his voice, exasperated)  I do not  know  what you  are  quibbling about!  I only said  I  thought  we should not have given up so easily!


(Outraged)   Given up so easily?  What the hell do you mean, so easily?


(Interrupting)   Now you stop this, both of  you!   You haven’t  done anything but get on each  other’s  nerves since  you came back.  If you  cannot  talk about  this stupid   war   without  shouting  then  do   not   talk about it!


Now,  Amanda, let them talk.  How would they  know  how the other feels about this if they didn’t talk?


(Shouting)   They aren’t talking, they’re shouting!


Alright, boys, your mother doesn’t want any shouting.


Oh, forget it.


(Insistent, as though pursuing a quarry) No, I want  to talk  about it.  I want to talk this through  once  and for  all!  The trouble with you is you always sit  back in judgment like some kind of god!


What did I say to cause such a fit?


(Slowly  and carefully) It insults me when you  say  we gave up so easily.


All  I  meant was I felt  that  Wainwright  surrendered because at that moment it might have seemed  expedient, but  in the long run it might not have been  the  right thing to do.


(Caustic) You  insinuate  that  it would  have  been morally  right to go on fighting only to die, that  all those  men out there did only what was expedient? Oh, come  on, we were both there!  Was any of it easy?   We were  up  against  a  vastly  superior  enemy! Their artillery was backed up by dive bombers with  tons  of explosives  falling upon us while we scoured the  hills like  rats: hungry,  footsore, practically  unarmed! Line by line I saw our men just drop from  exhaustion. So  maybe  you had an easier time out there,  but  that doesn’t  mean you can go around thinking everyone  else had  it as easy as you did, that it was  therefore,  to your mind, sheer cowardice for anyone to surrender! 


(Stung) Just because you got wounded in the  leg  you think you had the worst of it.  (A keen, savage thrust) Shit,  you  wear  your wound like it were  a  medal  of honor!


(Getting  up, with sudden harshness)  As indeed it  is! Jesus,  there you are, thinking there wouldn’t  be  any Jap  for miles around, suddenly the skies spit out  its bowels,  all you see are blinding stars  falling,  then nothing.  Just darkness.  A cold, dull, empty darkness, then  piece  by  piece you begin to  see  it:   mangled bodies, human flesh, limbs dangling from trees and  you           know where everybody’s gone!  Jesus, it makes me sick!


(In a low, grieving voice she reaches out to him, holds him  as he slowly sinks back into his chair)  We  never knew!


(In a dead, dull voice)  It wasn’t easy.


(With sudden tenderness)  We never knew. You never told us.


(Shaking  his  head, repeating  tonelessly)  It  wasn’t easy.


(Slowly, with remorse)  I didn’t mean it that way.


(To  Miguel,  in a  despairing cry)   Please  stop  it. Please stop.


(Sadly  and  bitterly at first, then building  up  with savage  intensity)  They kept leading us on telling  us ammunitions  and  reinforcements were on the way as I imagine  they kept telling all those poor  bastards  in Bataan  that  Uncle Sam was on his way. Jesus, Uncle Sam! Well, the Japs were right there cutting our heads off and where was Uncle Sam? To America, this country is just an expendable pawn in its global strategy. A useful outpost  in  the  Pacific, but  by  no  means unexpendable. How  else could you  explain  America’s apparent indifference?  How would you explain the  fact that  even  before this war was  lost,  they  evacuated Quezon to Washington? Or that MacArthur  had  been recalled to Australia?


(Emphatically) MacArthur’s  withdrawal   from   this country  does not signify that we are being  abandoned. On  the contrary, he is there to reorganize the  allied forces  in  preparation  for  the  liberation  of  this country.


(In   a  mocking,  ironic  tone)   Would  you  consider liberating  a  country  that  was  not  yet,  at   that time, already given up as lost?


I   can  see  your point.  But to me it  is  just  like losing a skirmish to win the war.  I believe  MacArthur will return with a force strong enough to liberate  not only  the Philippines but the rest of the Pacific. As for  the evacuation of Quezon to Washington,  no  other move could have been as judicious as it was necessary.


How so?  It could only mean that even at that time  the Americans deemed the Philippine campaign already lost.


It is imperative that the President of the Commonwealth should not fall into enemy hands.  Even with the defeat of  the  military forces  the  Commonwealth  government remains free.


What  does that matter now? The Japs have  organized  a government, and this government, whether we like it  or not, rules.


But  don’t  you see? For as long  as  the  Commonwealth government  exists, albeit in exile, the occupation  of  this country does not have the same significance  under international  law  as if the government  had  actually been captured, or surrendered.  As long as this is  so, there  is  always the hope that this  country  will  be liberated.


(Exasperated) Jesus, how can you hold on to an  empty hope?   Despite  Roosevelt’s  public  declarations   of immediate  assistance,  there has been  no  attempt  to transport  aid to this country.  Our troops  languished in  Bataan  and  Corregidor,  but  did  America   care? America  is  perfectly safe and worlds  away  from  the battlegrounds. Besides,  saving  Europe   from   the clutches of Hitler seems infinitely more profitable, or  so  it would seem.  Obviously, we are left to  our  own resources.


(With conscious superiority)  I cannot imagine how  you can deem the circumstances entirely hopeless.  We  have suffered  a  major setback, but this is by no  means  a total victory for Japan.


(Tauntingly)   I  see  that  Major  Anselo’s  ideas  of organizing  an  underground  resistance  movement   has caught fire with you.  The idea is well-intentioned,  I am sure, but in my opinion, misconceived.  And what  do you intend to call yourselves?  The Bolo Brigade?


(Smarting) For as long as there are men who believe  in freedom,  there will be resistance and for as  long  as there is resistance, this war is not lost.


(Shortly) But the war is lost! You deceive yourself not to  believe  that to resist Japanese  rule  is  utterly impractical! It is futile to go on fighting a one-sided battle.  It is inhuman to forge the fight further  when doing  so  results only  in mass murder  and  senseless carnage.  This is one time when surrender is the better part  of valor, because there is no hope of  relief  in sight.


(With  fierce determination, almost quixotic)  Whatever  this resistance might ultimately cost us—the lives, the  suffering, cruel as they might  be—all   these would be infinitely less painful  than enslavement  and economic  oppression. Despite  Homma’s declarations of  noble intent, Japan will bleed us dry or starve  us yet to sustain itself. Look at Manchuria!  Japan pumps its  oil  wells dry, a sheer case  of  power  politics, economic exploitation, and self interest.


(Sarcastically)  While America saves the world?


Should that be necessary, yes!


(Savagely)  To hell with America!


(With superior dignity) Christ, this whole conversation is ridiculous!


(With a contemptuous sneer) Nothing is more  ridiculous than your infantile faith and your blind bravura!


(Unable to bear it any longer, furiously) Stop it, stop it,  both of you!  You carry on like little boys! The way you talk I would not believe you fought on the same side.


(Giving up)  This is absurd!  I’m going to bed. (He turns and leaves through stage right)


(Following  him, apologetic)  He’s—he’s very  tired. I hope you understand.  Excuse me.


Boys will be boys.


(Clearing the cups from the table, tired)  I don’t want any more talk about this.  This upsets me more than any of you can imagine.  (As she goes towards the  kitchen door  she stops, listens to the sound of boots  on  the staircase.  She turns to the others, alerting them)


It’s just the night patrol.


(In  a whisper, afraid)  They’re stopping. Dear God, I think they’re coming in!


Keep  calm.  (There is a knock at the door.)  I’ll  get it.  (He opens the door)  Captain?


(Taking  a step forward, slightly bowing his head. He is  in his mid-thirties, refined and obviously  highly educated)  Good evening.  May I come in?


(Apprehensive)  This way, please.


(To his men outside)  You will wait for me.  (Entering, he bows politely at the ladies)  Good evening.  I  hope I am not intruding?


(Without  emotion)  Not at all, Captain.  Do sit  down. (Haroda  takes  a seat)  To what do I owe  this  honor, Captain?


(With formal politeness)  No cause for  alarm, Sir.


I am glad to hear that.


(With  forced  cordiality) Coffee, Captain?


You  are very kind, but no, thank you.  (Amanda  exits, making  a  sign to Cristy to do the  same, but  Cristy ignores  it.  He takes some papers  from  his  pocket, glancing at some notes casually)  I came to invite your son here to be the governor of this province.


(Looking  at  Franco)  My son has not  been  active  in politics  these  past  couple of years.   If  you  mean Franco.


Yes,  Franco. Your  other  son  is  the  lawyer, the professor at the American university?




And one more son, a student of medicine?


A prisoner of war, Captain, at Camp O’Donnell.


I’m sorry to hear that.  (To Franco) You  were  the mayor of this city three years ago?


(Guardedly)  That’s right.


(Glancing  at  his  notes)  Yes,  right. You  were  a candidate for governor in the last elections?


(Sustaining a cordial tone with great effort) I lost my bid, as I am sure your dossier indicates.


(Ignoring the remark) The Japanese Imperial  Government has  no intention of ruling this country.  We are  here only   to   emancipate  your  country from American imperialism. We are therefore helping you establish a government  responsive to your Asian identity and  your Filipino  needs. We  need  men  of  your  status  and credentials to run this government.


I’m afraid I am not the man you need.


You   do  not  wish  to  participate  in  creating   an independent Philippines?  It is every patriot’s duty.


We  are  under the protection of the United  States  of America.   We are to be granted our independence  in  a few years’ time.  America is our ally.


America is your enemy.  Japan is your ally.


(Shortly)  That, Captain, is a matter of opinion.


Do you trust America?


(Despite himself)  Without question.


What protection has America given your country?


(In a tight voice)  The blood of America is  upon  our soil.


(With some wry humor, an effort to break the ice) Then God bless America.  You see, I have nothing  against America.  I was educated there.


(Curiously)  Oh?


Yes, at MIT.  I spent four years there. An  excellent institution.


(Inquisitive) I hope you will not be offended  by  my curiosity,  Captain. But do you really think Japan’s presence here is right?


It is Japan’s mission to liberate Asia.


But is it right that Japan should come to that decision unilaterally?


I am a soldier of the Japanese Imperial Forces. It is not my prerogative to  question my government’s political policies.


(Sensing an advantage) But you’ve lived in a democratic country for years.  Surely  you  understand the American position as regards the Philippines?


I have seen how it operates, yes.  But I am a soldier of the Japanese Imperial Government. (To Franco) As I was saying, Japan wishes to see a free government established in this country. When this  government becomes stable, Japan will grant it total autonomy.  We need men of your caliber to head it here.


There are others better suited for the job.


We believe you are the man for the job. Your father here was the  governor for  many  years,  before  his election to the National Assembly, which he served for many terms before, ah— (he scans his notes)


My stroke.


Yes, right.  (To Franco) And you followed in his footsteps.  Your family has a strong political base. You have followers, sympathizers, people who await only your word.  You are the man for the job.


I do not want the job, Captain.


(Leans back, eyes him keenly) I am sorry to hear that. But I ask you to think about it.  We will talk about this again.


I’m afraid you have wasted your time.


Not entirely.  I have come for another matter as well.


What is it?


The High Command, Major General Seshei has directed  me to requisition for this house.


(At the kitchen door) What?




The High Command has chosen this house to serve as his residence.


Why this particular house, Captain? There are many other fine residences closer to your headquarters.


(Rising, going to the window, looking out) This is the heart  of the city.  An ideal location. It faces the church, the townsquare, the public market and the terminal.  And it has a good view of the wharf.  This is a perfect place.


(With great effort) Very well. We shall vacate the house.


That will not be necessary.  This is a very  large house. You are free to occupy part of it.


(Flatly) That is most generous, but we are  ready to give it up for your exclusive use.


For the High Command, you understand.  You own  the drugstore below?


Yes.  My other daughter-in-law is a pharmacist.


Good. The High Command further instructed me to requisition for all the drugs and supplies you have. You are not to sell any more drugs to the public. Needless to say, the High Command shall write you a receipt for the house and the drugs, to be  redeemed by the Japanese Imperial Government.


As you wish.


Oh, one last thing.  The Cadillac below—


Take it.


You will get a receipt for it.


When will you need the house, Captain?


As soon as the High Command returns from Manila.  In a week’s time.


We will be out before then.


Please, that is not necessary.


I insist, Captain. I am sure the High Command would appreciate  having some—privacy—and freedom  of movement.


Very well, since you insist.  (Again, bowing slightly, acknowledging each one of them)  Now that everything is settled, I bid you good  evening.  (He goes to the door, then turns to Franco before leaving) You will please see me at headquarters at 9 o’clock  tomorrow morning.  You will not fail.


Good night, Captain.  (Haroda exits)


(Distraught)   Oh my God, what shall we do?   What  are they doing to us?  They can’t do this to us!


There is nothing we can do.  (To Franco)  You will  see him tomorrow?


Do I have any choice?


(Regarding  him  keenly)  About going to see  him,  no. (Slowly   and  carefully)  But  as to   his   proposal, others  have declined, as I have, and we are  none  the worse for it.


You need not tell me that, Father.


(To Amanda)  Come, Amanda.  I am very tired. (He holds out  an  arm, and they  leave  through  stage right)


(She looks at him, anguished)  Franco, you’re not going to do it.


(In deep thought, troubled)  Do what?




(Dully)  No.


(She eyes him keenly; he turns and they stare into each other’s  eyes, and he turns away)  Franco?  (A  slight pause)  Come to bed, it’s late.


Go head.  (He dismisses her with a curt wave of  his hand.  She turns and leaves, visibly hurt.  He remains standing for  a  while, then he sinks  into  a  chair, spreads  his legs out wearily, and puts his hands  over his face as lights dim and fade)


Elsa Victoria Martinez Coscolluela was born in Dumaguete City, where she earned her AB and MA for Creative Writing at Silliman University. (She was also Miss Silliman 1964.) Later, she was Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of St. La Salle, and retired in 2010 after thirty-two years of service. Upon retirement, she was conferred the rank of Professor Emeritus and was designated Special Assistant to the President for Special Projects, a post that she continues to hold. During her term as VPA, she founded the Negros Summer Workshops with film Director Peque Gallaga in 1990, and the IYAS Creative Writing Workshop in 2000, in collaboration with Dr. Cirilo Bautista, Dr. Marjorie Evasco and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of De La Salle University, Manila. She writes poetry, fiction, drama, and filmscripts in English. She has published a book of poetry, Katipunera and Other Poems. Several of her works have been anthologized. As a writer, she is best known for her full-length play about Dumaguete during World War II, In My Father’s House, which has been produced in Dumaguete, and in Japan, Singapore, San Francisco, and New York. She was inducted to the Palanca Hall of Fame in 1999 and is the recipient of several awards from the CCP, Philippines Free Press, and the Philippine Centennial Literary Competition. She continues to work at the University of St. La Salle where she manages several special projects and directs projects for the Eduardo Cojuangco Foundation.

Excerpt from Sweet Haven


Sweet Haven is set in the little city of Donostia, where bad news travels fast. So when 16-year-old Naia is found in an illicit pornography video, the tight-knit community is outraged. They want answers. The finger of blame soon points to Narita, Naia’s absentee mother, for putting career ahead of duty.  Now Narita is back from Manila and must face her past and the memories of a life she fled. In search of the answers to her daughter’s scandal, she follows a trail of evidence to reveal a web of family secrets, corruption, prejudice and the barriers of social class. Sweet Haven is a story of a family buffeted by an ailing and intransigent nation, of the simple and bitter ways by which a family falls apart, and the brave leaps they can take to put themselves back together.* 

The day that followed was designated for one of the ordeals of her life with Daniel: the Sunday service at the university church. Luth opened her eyes to gray dawn light. She turned over in the hope of getting more sleep and discovered her husband lying by her side. In discomfort she squirmed away. It was rare, nowadays, that they awakened in the same bed together. But last night he had crept in almost as soon as she had lain down. Perturbed from the meeting with the lawyer, she had immediately sought to lay a barrier between the two of them by means of a formal talk.

“How can you be serious?” she said in her normal voice now, picking up the conversation that had trailed off into nothingness the night before, when he had turned from her and lapsed into unconsciousness. “Why do you keep encouraging that man? Do you think I’m an imbecile, that I don’t know we’re being used?”

His eyes were wide open, too.

“You say you want to take her to the police station and then to court. Do you realize what that will do to all of us? The shame?”

She could not abide being next to him, the sweat-damp covers binding their limbs. Was he dead? she wondered suddenly. Had he had an attack of some sort, or was he asleep, like a frog, with eyes open? But she was afraid to drag herself up, lean over and verify, lest he, in this inappropriate moment, reach for her.

Her husband moved, stretched his than limbs. He seemed to have gained ten years in the night. Luth escaped to the kitchen. In the sink was a used plate. An empty can of tuna fish sat on the counter, besieged by ants. Naia had crept out of her room some hours before to eat, and left the clean-up to her.

Luth breakfasted furtively, chewing and swallowing long after the hunger had been sated. Daniel busied himself in the garage. He revved the car engine a couple of times, humming in an annoying, joyless way. Luth knew he was casting around for something to do so he wouldn’t have to talk to her. Why didn’t he just turn his computer on? In the last year or so he, a sixty-one-year-old PhD, had discovered video games. Atrocious military fantasies were his favorite.

The door to Naia’s room was closed, as always these days. Luth tried the knob anyway. The door opened without resistance this time. The girl was asleep, on her stomach, her breathing almost inaudible. The air-conditioner had shut down automatically hours before, but the atmosphere was chilly nonetheless. The drawn curtains kept out the harsh morning light.

She paused by the bed. Who was this creature? What was this horrible thing they had accused her of? When I was her age I was a good girl, thought Luth. Never went with boys, never read dirty books, never touched myself. There were bailes at the town plaza that the “ladies” could enter free of charge, but I never went to any of them. At fifteen I was a good girl—no, not a girl, a woman already. I had four siblings to take care of, and twice a month my father’s two bastards came to the back door to beg. We had no maid; I ran the house.

Naia had kicked the sheets to the foot of the bed; her legs were long and smooth, without the damaging insect bite scars that so many lesser creatures bore, those pale round flaws, edged in black, that in Luth’s childhood were called diet, after the ten-centavo coins. This perfect body, warm and breathing, submerged in the early morning light, had been host to God knows how many men, Luth grieved. The entire community had had her granddaughter. Lashed her and branded her with jets of hot seed. The Naia who lay there sleeping was irredeemably wealthy with experience.

Luth opened a drawer at random. It held the usual clutter a child cannot throw away: elementary school IDs, notebooks filled with messages from classmates, a grubby old Nokia phone. There was one photograph, of a baby. Luth squinted. Which one? It would have to be Naia, she thought; the photo was in color. The hand that supported the infant around the waist wore a white lace glove. Luth peered closer. It was not a glove. It was a bandage. The hand was Antonia’s, then. The old injury. She shook her head to dispel sad memories—the appalling violence, the damage in its wake. Where are you? she mouthed to her younger daughter, always her favorite. Why did you leave? Weren’t you happy here? Antonia had been gone two years. If she had stayed to guide the child, none of this would have happened.

A movement caught Luth’s eye. It was the computer, still running, a screensaver—a woman with wild red hair—silently flipping through the same four images. Impatient with such modernity, she pulled the plug on the machine, banishing the hungry, knowing face.

Naia rolled over on her back, exhaled. She was no longer beautiful, thought Luth. She was used. What a waste, those long eyelashes, that lovely, tragic mouth with the droopy upper lip. A waste, a waste.

The lashes fluttered: the girl was awake.


Her voice was thin, as though from disuse. She sat up, smoothing down her T-shirt to cover her navel, the simple movements pained. “Lola, what are you doing? Those are my things.” Her head snapped around, checking the room to see what else had been disturbed. “I was downloading music!”

“Waste of electricity,” Luth managed, her heart thudding in her chest. She could not meet the girl’s gaze. The dark brows, the crescent eyes that were no longer perfect, that were, damaged, diseased.

“Lola, this is my room!”

“You don’t own anything in this house. Get dressed. You should have talked to that man yesterday. He promised to save you from shame. But of course you’re the one who knows best. All the time. Now we go to church. This is a Sunday like any other.”

“Luth?” Daniel called from the next room. “Leave the child alone. Let her do as she wants.”

Now it was eight and the sky was cloudless, the heat unrelieved. Luth took a shower to cover her weeping. There was a great void within her. The warm water sluiced over the hull that was her flesh. Mercifully her husband left her alone as she dressed in the bedroom. Occasionally he liked to surprise her by easing himself through the door, watching her movements with the diffident smile she had once loved. She hated their mutual nakedness, hated the casualness with which, nowadays, she could shed her clothes and converse with him, impervious to the nut -brown shriveled organ nodding placidly at his groin. This was all it came to—the lust, the dreams, the dance.

The maid opened the gate for them, her gaze downcast, her movements self-conscious. Afraid of getting yelled at again. Daniel had washed the car. Wiped the windows with a squeegee, scraped off the layers of dirt flung up by the wheels. She knew he would be pleased with himself, and expect a few noises of approval from her. Luth could muster nothing. She got into the passenger’s seat. The backseat looked as always, a hodgepodge of books and student papers and, today, a crumpled supermarket bag. She gritted her teeth.

They chugged through the neighborhood, an enclave of fading wooden cottages sheltered by acacia trees. The Pastors had lived in a house rented from the university for nearly forty years, as did their neighbors, administrative staff and teachers like her and her husband. Luth had loved these unpaved lanes, their American names—Mercer, Dereham, Westbrook—the gardens bursting with bougainvillea and orchids and hibiscus, a riot of color all year round. Over time she had observed with chagrin the gradual decay of the houses. The university left maintenance to its tenants, but no one cared enough to spruce up their homes, not even with a fresh coat of paint now and then. It wasn’t part of the culture. But it was standard practice to gripe about how Sweethaven U worked its employees like slaves. On paper, their salaries had increased in proportion to their seniority, but those wages had failed to account for inflation or the devaluation of the peso that began in the 1980s.

Luth saw no one, but fancied eyes peering through the grimy screens at the windows of each cottage, the inhabitants gleefully tracking their progress. At last they reached Urbino Road, city territory, a route that connected their neighborhood of faculty homes to the university campus. Here they were just one vehicle among several traveling the two-lane stretch. The houses and store fronts had kept pace with the times—they passed a restaurant opened not two years before, a privately-run kindergarten in a residential bungalow, and a handful of Internet stations, their glass doors papered with video game posters. Money from a generation working overseas. Luth and Daniel entered the university through one of the side gates, the guard on duty peering at their faces beyond the access sticker on the windshield. Small brown discs of acacia leaves, shed for the summer, spun up from their wheels as they drove down the avenue to the church. Luth cast a helpless glance at the edifice as they parked. Its concrete walls gleamed with a fresh coat of white paint, as in those early years, when she was a newly minted Protestant matron. The chimes sounded about their ears, calling to all of Sweethaven. Pretending to be searching in the glove compartment of the car, they waited until most of the worshippers had come up the walk and through the portals and been seated. Students mostly, dormers by alumni from the neighboring islands: boys and girls in shockingly casual jeans and flimsy Made-in-China cotton dresses. The old guard of Sweethaven would have arrived long ago and found their usual pews.

“Showtime!” Daniel said in that cheery performance voice of his, and together they marched up the steps and through the iron-bound winglike wooden doors and found an empty space in the center of the nave, just as the recorded chimes, broadcast from a speaker on the roof, came to an echoing end.

Luth sweated in her size-forty-eight silk dress, a gift that Antonia had sent her from Europe. The fabric that sheathed her was all wrong for this climate. Electric fans that stood in the side aisles brought the smells of fresh-soaped skin and a hundred different perfumes to her nose, but did nothing to dispel the heat. Last year she had sworn to keep her pain to herself—the humiliations of her marriage, the shock of her husband’s betrayal—and show up at church by Daniel’s side. Staking her claim. That had been in August. She had kept her dignity, put on clothes too fine for the lives they led, styled her hair. Above all, she had kept her face frozen and turned to the front. No one would ever catch her scanning the crowd for some foolish young graduate student face. The worst period of her life, and it was not yet over.

The scripture reading ended, and the minister claimed the pulpit. Daniel grunted approvingly by her side. He was always attentive to what was going on, or managed to put up a passable show. Wretchedly she pumped her palm frond fan.

Today the sermon was about listening. The minister used the patronizing, engulfing “we.” Were we attuned to the voices of our children, could we discern God’s word in the jumble of our mundane concerns? One could be an intellectual giant and yet remain a spiritual pygmy. Reverend Manguerra gripped the Pulpit, glared at his congregation, looked directly at Luth and Daniel’s pew. Smug from a scholarship at—what was that American school now? Wesleyan. A scholarship to Wesleyan. What kind of school was that? Had he been there on a minority Program? In his day her husband had competed with the best of them, the best of those whites. In his day.

Now people were reaching for their wallets, and the soft strains of a guitar penetrated Luth’s thoughts. In the center aisle, a man stood before a microphone, one foot up on a stool to support the instrument. He smiled as he sang the offertory melody, inviting the congregation to share in a moment of folksy intimacy, and at the sight and sound of him, Luth’s heart thudded violently once more and she thought she might throw up right on her pointed leather shoe tips. It was Rinky Holland. In his mid-fifties but with a voice as sweet and seductive as a youth’s. He wore a sports shirt and khakis, as though to mock the perfumes and embroidered barongs of the old guard. Two girls in the pew in front of her plucked at each other in delight.

Then Reverend Manguerra was praying for wisdom and courage, that dads and moms and, yes, grandparents, too, might gently guide the beloved among them who had strayed. Only God could condemn, and only God could forgive. Heads swiveled in their direction: the dean of women and her chemistry teacher husband, the head nurse at the pediatric ward, the grade school principal. There they sat, poor things, Daniel Pastor and his wife, Luzviminda, such a comedown, but oh, how they deserved it. How wonderful the Lord’s justice was, in the end. Rejoice! How he managed after years of seeming indifference to I take the proud among them down.

A collective mumble and clatter and the peal of the organ in the choir loft marked the end of the service. Luth would have bolted, first out the door, but her husband was in the way. They stood trapped in the pew, while the congregation inched through the aisle before them, men beaming at one another, reaching out to clasp hands, women calling greetings to friends. Nobody addressed the Pastors, but their every breath was marked.

Rinky Holland made his way up the aisle, smiling to himself. His wife, Emily, followed. She was the high school principal; her signature was first on the letter that had informed them of Naia’s crime and punishment. They moved toward the rear of the church with a cat-clean confidence, the woman a beauty as she had been for as long as Luth had known her: pale, unlined skin; tiny, perfect figure; and dark, soulful Spanish-heiress eyes.

Emily stopped at their pew. “Dan, how are you? These must be terrible times.”

“How are you, Emily, and congratulations to Rinky. What a wonderful solo that was.”

Mrs. Holland frowned, took in his insane smile, then forged on.

“I know your present troubles are difficult to talk about. Our family has always been friends with yours. I would like to step in now and help you myself. Unfortunately it is not proper for a man to receive counseling from a woman. But your wife, Daniel, with all my heart I reach out to your wife.”

Luth’s eyes flickered warily from the upturned face. Emily had spoken as though she were not present. Her gaze fell on the young man who waited beyond his mother. His name was Brent; he was Naia’s age and was some kind of cadet officer at their high school. The almond eyes that met hers were unpleasant, watchful. Sweat trickled from Luth’s temples, down to her jawline and her throat. Her bosom heaved beneath the orchid-purple silk. She understood that he was laughing at her, laughing with his mouth in a perfect serious line, this dark, slender boy in trendy khaki trousers, fondling a late-model mobile phone, looking as if he came from a family of millionaire generals. Looking at her and laughing.

“Snake!” Luth spat.

The look of piety vanished from Emily’s face. “What did you say?”

“I said, ‘Snake.’ You’re vampires. Snakes. You feed off People’s misery.”

Emily’s eyes narrowed. “People are in misery, Mrs. Pastor, because they bring it on themselves, in their solitude and pride.”

Brent Holland nodded to a friend, smirked, and, pocketing his mobile, sauntered off toward a wing exit. Luth lunged after him, determined to grab him and shake the arrogance out of him as she might have done had he been a fourth-grader in her charge, but Daniel checked her, clamping a hand on her arm.

She surrendered to panic, turning this way and that to seek support from the other parishioners and seeing nothing but malicious glee in their faces. They could have been peasants gawking at a knife fight. Daniel was quietly leading her down the aisle. She tried to snap off the press of his fingers at her elbow.

Emily had quite recovered herself and pursued them a few token steps. “Luth, I know you are under duress,” she said. “I cannot even imagine what pain you must be going through. You really, really must open up now.”

“Tell that woman to shut up,” she panted.

Daniel steered her out onto the lawn and in the direction of the science complex parking lot. A woman behind them gasped, “What happened? Who was it?” Another declared, “Scandalosa.” She could still hear Emily Holland’s parting shot: “You are more than welcome to come to our home for a cup of tea.”

They walked rapidly away, heads down, two fugitives.

* The summary of the novel is slightly modified from the text in the Rocking Chair Books website.
Lakambini Sitoy is the author of two collections of short stories, Mens Rea and Jungle Planet. She received the David T.K. Wong fellowship from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom in 2003 and has an M.A. from Roskilde University, Denmark, in the fields of English Studies and Cultural Encounters, both under the Department of Culture and Identity. She has also received numerous prizes in the annual Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in the Philippines, was a recipient of the Philippines Graphic Literary Awards and Philippines Free Press Literary Awards, and was a columnist and editor at the Manila Times. She lives in Denmark. Sweet Haven is her first novel.

A Tragedy of Chickens


The day the small town of Dumaguet ran out of chicken, Pedro Murillo was feeling particularly cocky, like the cliché of a man walking on air. Those who saw him that morning—an old, bent woman who was almost blind from cataracts; a feline street boy smoking a thin cigarette while ogling the purse of a fat, heavily made-up woman whom he was certain to steal from; and a handsome policeman whose kittenish wife of six months had left him only the previous day for a professional sabongero—noted a lightness in the way the man strode towards the center of town.

The man, they also quickly noticed, was dressed not too immaculately in a red silken collar shirt and a black pair of pantaloons, the hems of which fluttered slightly in the soft but sudden breeze. He did not strike any of them as particularly commanding the way an army general or a film star would, and in truth they even found him a little disheveled, and scruffy-looking. But he walked with such presence, an uncomfortable gravity that pulled the nearest attention like a black collapsing star. For that, they were certainly sure he was walking on air. He seemed, in fact, to glide, but of course that was impossible, they quickly thought. For how could anyone glide through the air? They quietly admonished themselves, thinking that growing blindness, petty crime, and love lost certainly made illusions happen. The old woman, for instance, only yesterday mistook a chicken leg for her dead husband, and had refused to eat all day. And then that same night, she thought she saw the entire world with profound lightness that she could see everything. The delinquent, on the other hand, had often gone hungry that there were days he clucked like a mad man, and only the germ-laden fill of pagpag inasal could calm his aching belly—which would be perfectly all right if it were not for the taunting delusions he had of fat women suddenly feeding him, with ferocious love, a wealth of meat to his ready mouth. Lastly, the young policeman, hen-pecked to the very day his wife left him, had been daydreaming of wringing her unfaithful neck as if she were some soft spring chicken, and then making love to her in an abandon of forgiveness.

There were always visions of ghosts and murder. And now there was this specter of a gliding man in red silk shirt! The world, the three of them felt—a silent camaraderie now tying these strangers—the world was surely laughing at them.

The world crowed at their utter ridiculousness.

Yet they would also quickly forget him the moment Pedro fluttered past them. Each one, in a matter of seconds, would return to the vagaries of their own lives—there was a dimming vision to mourn for, there was a purse to steal, and there was a bleeding heart to tend—but when the same startling news came by day’s end, they would all somehow remember this man for no other reason except that he glided.

The bulletin came with the local news dressed up as a human interest story: apparently, there were no more chickens left to butcher and eat in Dumaguet town. Feathers and all, they had disappeared. Just like that. The television anchor only laughed at the bizarre story. “For how could any small town lose all its chickens at once?” he asked, and everybody who watched him laughed, too. People sometimes laugh before tragedies of chickens strike, the old woman, the street boy, and the policeman would think at roughly the same time, suddenly uncomfortable with the secret knowledge, and knowing somehow that the man in the red silk shirt had something to do with it.

In truth, the man in the red silk shirt had nothing to do with anything. His only crime, perhaps, was in falling in love so recklessly and perhaps in liking too much the taste of manok inato.

Nearing the center of town, the man who would be affected most of all by the coming turn of events continued to walk like a cock. There was good reason to the manly spring in Pedro Murillo’s steps: only a few minutes earlier, before he sauntered into the bright sunlight from an inconspicuous apartment shaded by the lone acacia tree along Avenida Sta. Catalina, he had finally—at the unforgivably virginal age of thirty-three—managed to make love to a woman.

And not just any woman. It was the beautiful girl who once waited on him in the city’s most popular chicken restaurant off Hibbard Avenue. She had waited on him for some months—six to be precise—before succumbing to the desire that burned too brightly in his eyes.

It was perhaps that startling sense of passion that made the surrender to the man perfectly understandable, for Pedro Murillo was not a handsome man. He was rather plain: an ordinary nose squatted on the center of his face, and underneath that slightly bulbous protrusion, there was a stretch of thick lips that rarely smiled. There were days when he could say in front of a mirror that he had the countenance of a blank wall, and sometimes the thought amused him. Often, it was only an irritable acknowledgment of his shortcomings, because this one rendered him strangely invisible. People sometimes could not see him. “But how could that be?” he once asked his mother, who died soon after from a freak outbreak of a deadly strain of chicken pox in Dumaguet, which disappeared as quickly as it manifested itself. (Sometimes Pedro thought it only appeared to take away his mother’s life, for which he was eternally grateful.) “How can anyone ever be invisible to the naked eye?” he asked.

But even his own mother did not say anything. She only looked past him, like he was not there, and then barked like a dog. Or crowed like a chicken? He wasn’t exactly sure.

Pedro Murillo could only claim to be extraordinarily tall, although his shoulders were also wide and strong, enough for him to be considered overtly masculine. And yet, despite the generosity of his frame, and perhaps because he had the tendency to blend into any background like a wall flower, he became painfully shy, and grew his hair just enough to be able to hide his face from the rest of the world.

What the rest of the world did not finally see of Pedro Murillo was that he had the slightest streak of blue in his dark eyes, something that came out only when the monsoons from the South would pour down on Dumaguet, around July or August after the summer sun had danced its fierce rampage. In the sheets of rain and the clash of thunder and lightning, Pedro’s eyes would burn blue into the night, to cease only when the last drop of rain would fall from the dark clouds.

But the blue had never sparkled so sharply as it did now. Six months ago, he had gone into Jo’s Manok Inato to get his fill of Dumaguet’s famous chicken dish—a grilled concoction of choice drumstick or chicken breast marinated overnight with a strange and secret combination of milk, sugar, and aromatic spices.

From the moment the woman who waited on him asked, “Paa o pecho?” Pedro Murillo looked up, and knew—like one had knowledge of an immediate need to pee—that he was in love.

It struck him like the quietest of surprise, and almost suffocated him.

It held his breath and clumped all air around the base of his throat so that, finally, he had to force his mouth open just to let in much-needed air. Only then could he look at the woman, and in his eyes—even without a single patter of rain outside—the streak of blue started to glow. For sure, it had never glowed like this. It glowed like moon shine. It glowed like cat’s pee under dark light. It glowed like ephemeral neon, pungent with urgency.

But he could only stare at her and stammer something incoherent, which Ana (for that was the woman’s name on her nametag) took as a preference for paa—or drumstick—quickly thinking that the manager had already warned her that too many customers were preferring pecho, or chicken breast, over the paa, and there could only be too many leftovers of drumsticks by the end of the day. Which was certainly bad for business, the girl quickly agreed, because could there be more breasts than legs to any one chicken? Certainly, everyday, by the time lunch or dinner came, and along with it the hordes of the city’s voracious chicken eaters, she had gotten used to spouting this mantra to her customers: “Wala na’y pecho. Paa na lang—There are no more breasts, just legs.” And to be sure, there were no pieces of breast meat on the outdoor grill. They were all in the back of the restaurant, Ana knew, soaking inside vats of the secret milky marinade.

Pedro did not particularly like paa because he found the cartilaginous part an affront to the succulence of barbecue chicken, but that didn’t seem to matter anymore as he graciously said “Thank you” once Ana presented the barbecued chicken leg, browned by the fiery grill and the caramelized sugar brushed on the tender meat. The chicken leg was set on a round cutting of a banana leaf placed on top of a server made of stylized straw. Beside the manok inato, which was skewered through its middle by a stout bamboo stick, there was a clump of achara or pickled papaya and a lump of white rice still retaining the shape of the cup it was measured from. “Thank you,” Pedro Murillo said once again, shyly smiling this time.

Ana never knew customers to be this polite, and so she replied softly, like the kindly country girl she recently was—“Wala’y sapayan—Don’t mention it,” and went away beaming a bit. Perhaps she was even thinking that she could have been kinder and should have swiped just one pecho from the vats in the back, without the manager ever knowing, and serving it to the man on Table 3.

When she glanced back, she saw him staring at his barbecued paa, a look of confusion in his eyes. And then, almost tentatively, he bit into his chicken, and that was that. In a few minutes, all that was left of the chicken were bones. This Pedro proceeded to suck with gusto, and gnaw at the bones and what little remained of the meat. By the time he downed the last morsel with a glass of Coca-Cola, he began to sport a satisfied face. It was, Ana quickly decided, almost as if the man was in love.

He certainly was. He had never met a woman as beautiful for him as Ana. It was not that she was perfection of alabaster skin and the face of a diwata. She was rather dark—her skin, although smooth, was the color of light chocolate. She was short, although she appeared tall because she took care never to stoop. She always walked with her back straight, and head held high—and for that, she was considered a pariah by most of her peers who thought she was arrogant “when she is just a common wench,” they’d say, “a waitress in a chicken restaurant!” That these words hurt did not actually matter to her because she had been through worse. She had been called various names: a gold-digger, and a “common whore,” even if she was still a virgin at 19. People also called her “manokon,” because her eyes, although perfectly almond-shaped, had one iris that slightly strayed off to the middle. It was not very obvious, and for many of her acquaintances, it took a few meetings for them to be more certain what it was about her that unsettled them. It was certainly not her soft voice, nor the way she walked around with her head held high. It was not her thin lips, nor her breasts that juggled like tiny melons. It was not that she wore no make-up on most days either, like the rest of the Jo’s Manok Inato girls. But when they would at last stare right into her eyes during rare moments when she would frankly regard them with the curiosity of a hen for a worm, there it was, all too suddenly: the left eye slightly askew, at once looking at them and not looking at them. It was always an uncomfortable discovery.

Ana would not wear make-up, like her sisters back home in Guihulngan town insisted they all should, and so her lips had none of the artificial thickness of rouge, and her cheeks none of the sheen of foundation. What made her distinctive from the rest of the brood was the long, black hair she kept untied; it fell around her shoulders like a cascade. That hair had always been the source of envy by her older sisters who also thought her catty and snobbish because Ana would not indulge in their games and gossip, nor join in their common obsession of the radio dramas that made them weep, or cry in terror. “Ang baktin nga ga-daster!—It’s the sow in a common house-dress! they’d shriek, and then laugh out loud in their company of small joys.

When she was growing up, Ana knew she had to escape their provincial smallness. Her parents were poor. Her father repaired shoes and umbrellas, and her mother had a small stall at the local tsiangge where she sold everything from cigarettes to candies to eggs to produce from her small garden: kalamunggay, kangkong, sili, and mangoes when the fruit was in season.

They lived in a small wooden house with thatched roof, which was fairly respectable for the most part—but it was poor, and the only entertainment the sisters had was the radio (which blared away from sunrise to sundown) and the flirty gossip about the town’s abundance of horny brown bucks. Gorio supposedly had the biggest dick in town, or so Criselda and Betchang claimed, giggling like blushing bitches in heat; Manuel had the smallest, and Alvin—that rogue of a charmer with the sweet, innocent smile—had deflowered most of Guihulngan’s girls behind the convento, where the old willow trees bundled together to create a hiding place of leaves, limbs, and tall grass. But Ana would have none of this type of gossip—although she knew the Alvin boy quite well, and had once felt a strange quickening in the triangle that spread from her nipples to the delta of her pubis when she had seen him smiling sweetly at her during church service one Sunday morning. It was not that she was moral and believed in the virginal tenets the nuns at school railroaded at them. She, in fact, hated the nuns and their cloistered lives. It was only that she did not want to become pregnant, like many of the girls she knew, and end up becoming bored housewives, trapped in a very small town, with only the radio to while away the rest of their days.

While she planned her escape, she took to her mother’s chickens as the best alternative to becoming bored. She had already read all the komiks in the tsiangge’s basahan, and she found herself at the edge of surrendering to the radio melodramas of her older sisters. That was when she decided she would feed the chickens one day. “I would like to take over Betchang’s chores, Ma,” she said, “I’d like to feed the chickens myself.”

“Are you sure about that? What about your sister?” her mother said.

“Oh, if she wants it, she can have it,” Betchang quickly agreed. Ana’s chores, after all, were simple: she wiped the tiny sala clean and washed the dishes after lunch and dinner. Betchang knew this was work that afforded her the best opportunity to follow her radio dramas more faithfully. Feeding chicken was “gawas” work after all, and she hated it—she’d always cursed the gods under her breath for work she deemed below menial. She hated it when all she could hear of the unfolding drama was a small echo quickly lost in the cackle of the chickens rushing about her legs. Often she had to run to the open window and ask her sisters what was happening next.

The exchange was made. Ana began feeding the chickens, and that day she welcomed the chance to be outside, where the expansive blue of the sky promised more than the sad radio dramas, bouncing off the thin walls of their tiny house ever could.

There were nine hens in all and three roosters who cackled at the slightest provocation, always managing to rupture the dead quiet of most afternoons with their piercing crows. Among the twelve chickens, there was also the fluttering of yellow and brown chicks, newly hatched and twittering about in their mad dash for Ana’s kernels of grain, which she spread about with precision and a touch of generosity. She loved the chickens and wanted to see them well-fed.

But there was one hen she was most interested in, perhaps because it was the proudest of the lot and always looked straight at her as if Ana were her equal. She called this white leghorn Burgita, because she was also fat and produced the most number of eggs. She would talk to Burgita as she never did to her older sisters.

“I want to get out of Guihulngan soon, you know,” she told the hen, who regarded Ana with some interest. Ana offered it grain in her cupped hands, and Burgita slowly pecked at the kernels with its tiny, pointed beak, and then studied her some more.

“Guihulngan is too small, don’t you think, Burgita?”

The hen clucked and stared at her. Ana squatted down and played with the dirt with her fingers. She made wriggles on the ground while the chickens dashed about her.

“I want something more, you know?” she said. “I want to feel what it’s like to be in a bigger place, bigger than Guihulngan—perhaps Dumaguet, perhaps Manila. But maybe not Manila. It’s much too big probably for a small town girl like me. And then, when I’m in Dumaguet, I’d find a man—a strong man—who’ll love me and marry me. And then we will have many children, the way you have your many chicks. What do you think, Burgita?”

But Burgita only stared back.

All of a sudden, without even a squawk of a warning, the hen dashed at her and started pecking at her face. Burgita aimed at Ana’s askew left eye. Only with quick thinking and reflexes did she manage to shield herself with her arms.

Burgita began to cackle as if she was in the clutch of sudden madness, and continued to peck violently at Ana. She pecked at Ana’s arms. She pecked at her legs. She pecked at her long hair.

Ana gave a brief, startled shout, and then kicked at the chicken, which went hurdling against a small kalamunggay tree. Burgita  recovered and started attacking her once more.

This time, Ana was ready.

When Burgita flapped her white wings and flew at her face, Ana grabbed the chicken from the air. With practiced flourish, she quickly twisted the chicken’s neck, and then let it drop.

Like all dead chickens, Burgita ran around the small garden in wild circles, dragging its head—lying limp on its side—on the dirt ground.

That night, the family had fried chicken for supper.

The next morning, Ana left town for Dumaguet, and quickly found work at Jo’s Manok Inato. She watched the roasting chicken browning in the light, and she thought, Perfect.

By late afternoon of the same day six months ago, when people in the small town were busy navigating the sudden Dumaguet traffic to get home to their early evening soap operas, or to go shopping before the shops closed for the night, Pedro Murillo was back in Jo’s Manok Inato in time for supper.

He sat in the same table, and breathlessly waited for Ana to come to him, with pad and pen in hand, ready to take his order. And still it was the same exchange: man and woman and the arbitrary need for chicken. “Paa or pecho?” Ana asked, smiling. And without fail, Pedro said, with a slight quiver in his voice, “Paa.” And she smiled even more brightly and went away to prepare his order.

The next day, for lunch and dinner, he came, ordering paa still, and Ana would nod, smile a bit, and prepare Pedro’s meal.

The day after that, Pedro came. Lunch and dinner. And also the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. “We may run out of paa soon if you make this a habit, manong,” Ana said one day. “Not that I am complaining. You’re very good for business, I must say.”

“You can call me Pedro, and what do you know … I just happen to love paa, that’s all,” he said, smiling broadly at first but ending with a gentle chuckle, a mirthful sound that usually comes only with the greatest of comfort—like a lazy day at the beach, like lying down on the grass to gaze at the stars, like reading a funny passage from a good book.

Day after day, Pedro Murillo showed up at the restaurant, and each time he seemed to grow bolder, more masculine, and people finally began to notice him. He seemed to grow even taller like a hulking angel, and his plain face seemed to crunch more energy and character. Some even grew afraid of him, as if this giant of a man with the strange dark blue eyes, would take them like frail barbecued pecho and eat them. Lunch and dinner, Pedro came. And also the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that.

“You seem to like chicken a lot, Pedro,” Ana said.

“But of course,” he said with a slight majesty to his tone, something which surprised even him. “I am, after all, a Dumagueteño. Born and bred.”

Which was true. In Dumaguet, people had a peculiar relationship with their manok inato. Or with any chicken dish for that matter—be it inasal, or tuyok manok, or chicken fried in butter, or chicken grilled with a variety of exotic herbs and spices, or just roasted to gravy perfection plain and simple. Off the small town’s main highway and into the various webs that made up its narrow streets, the place was dotted with restaurants and carinderias and eateries and cafés and makeshift small stands that sell chickens of varied cooking style and fancy seasoning. Dumagueteño were obsessed with chicken.

An estimated 3,800 chickens—perhaps even more than that—got the axe every single day in restaurants and carinderias all over poultry-hungry Dumaguet. And this figure did not include the chickens sold at the public market stalls or supermarkets. Three thousand eight hundred chickens and counting… pre-packaged, or straight from someone’s local backyard.

If one really thought about it, that was an awful lot of chicken.

And this man, Ana thought, the quivering in her delta suddenly growing in intensity as the months flew by like mad chickens, this man can gorge on them all.

When anyone ever came up with the idea of the essential Dumagueteño, chicken meat should be way up there—together with the observation of the local habit of people walking too slow, like leisurely turtles, as if promenading under an eternal full moon—in defining who Dumagueteños were.

Once, a few moons ago, Pedro Murillo met up with a friend from Manila who was in Dumaguet for a brief visit “to get away from the exasperating hustle and bustle of big city life,” or so the friend said. (In truth, the friend—a professional sabongero—was in town for a tryst with a policeman’s wife.) The friend perfunctorily asked him: “Now, where can we have a good lunch for today?” and then added, with a certain emphasis bordering on thoughts of over-saturation: “And I don’t mean another dish of chicken.”

Pedro pretended not to know what his sabongero friend was implying, but he knew what he was talking about. They went to Lab-as instead, to sample the seaside restaurant’s fare of bangus dishesbe it relleno, lumpia, kinilaw, or sugba. And yet, like a rebuke in their upsetting the grand scheme of things, they felt surrounded: in every corner of Dumaguet, there was some small shrine disguised as eating places dedicated to the art of chicken-meat mastication—and Jo’s Manok Inato was the biggest temple of them all. Its grilled chicken has become very much a part of Dumaguet tradition. The delectable white meat, sweetish to the taste, and smelling always of some grilled milky heaven, was part of the Dumaguet blood. It was, Pedro told the sabongero friend, the first thing most Dumagueteños missed of home, together with the cheeseburger from a small deli called Taster’s Delight. No one could sufficiently explain why this was always so. Pork or beef or fish were fine culinary considerations, of course—but chicken? Chicken defined the Dumagueteños very taste buds, so much so that by the end of this one day when Pedro Murillo began walking on air, the impossible happened, and the panic began.

It began with a fat heavily made-up woman walking into another restaurant—a placed called Chin Loong, because it fancied itself a Chinese restaurant—and was told by an apologizing waiter, with a flustered, unbelieving look on his face, that there were no chicken dishes available in the restaurant, and it seemed everywhere else as well.

“Not even fried chicken?” the woman asked.

“No ma’am,” the waiter said. He was a patient man who was already tired to the bones since he had to do all the available shifts for extra pay, to raise the money to finance his mother’s cataract operation.

The fat woman looked at him, quite contemptuously, as if he was lying.

“Even sweet and sour chicken?”

“No ma’am.”

“Is this a joke?” she shrieked, waving her huge purse at the poor waiter.

“No ma’am,” he said, sounding even more tired.

“Chicken with herbs? Hot and spicy chicken in Caribbean style? Enchilada?”

“No ma’am.”

“Moroccan chicken stew? Malaysian chicken? Chicken curry with potatoes?”

“No ma’am.”

“Not even something simple, like salted chicken deep-fried in butter?”

“The town has run out of chicken, ma’am,” he said.

“How can any place run out of chicken?” the woman asked, exasperated, because she was already dreaming of chicken dripping with the sweet and sour combination only Chin Loong could make. The waiter mumbled some more apologies, and recommended the sweet and sour squid instead.

The fat woman grumbled, and then stampeded out. In her hurry, she did not see the approaching scruffy boy who, like the swiftest cockroach, managed to snatch her purse and run fast from her fat threats and her screaming. Some distance off, the boy came to a dry ditch where, in the anticipation that followed, he began counting what money bills there were—Enough, the boy thought, tears streaming down his thin face, to last me more than a month of eating chicken.

But the grumbling in the small town grew darker and added an element of surprise to the wild speculations when, one by one, Dumaguet’s eating places—every last one of them—discovered there were no more chicken meat in their freezers. When they called their suppliers, there was even grimmer news: there were no cackling livestock on hold either, much to the surprise of everyone, and all the eggs had disappeared, too. There were just no chickens left in Dumaguet, nor in the neighboring towns of Sugbulan and Valenciahermoso and Bakikong.

But it seemed only natural for things to disappear in Dumaguet: it was a place of many disappearances, some mythological, some historical. The name of the place itself came from “daguit,” which meant “to kidnap away,” a mark of a time long gone when this tip of Negros Island was once the favorite spot for Moro marauders to attack and whisk away men, women, and children from small settlements around the Banica River, all herded off to the slave trade in Malacca in the South.

Dumaguet was a place of eternal capture, and of late something else had defined the way the small town “stole away” its visitors—there were hundreds of people from as far away as Palawan or Samar or Leyte or Luzon or Mindanao who’d come for a spell, and then refuse to leave. Or perhaps leave with such heartbreak, as if they knew the small place to be bred in their bones and blood.

Ultimately, all Dumagueteños, native or transplanted, came to love chicken meat like it was manna from heaven. Its disappearance, of course, would be met with such terror, and some of the religious ones—the hypocrites of Calvary Church or Living Bread Chapel, for instance—all talked of impending Dooms Day.

In Panda Haus, an ice cream shop over at Harold’s Mansion in the dry, dirty borough of Tubod, the announcement of its own shortage of chicken proved a panicky development to Pedro Murillo himself. For it was the place he was headed to, in his cocky approach, in the very center of town: it was his own private chicken paradise since he knew not too many people in Dumaguet realized that Panda Haus served more than just locally-made ice cream. One of Pedro Murillo’s favorites from the Panda Haus menu was its generous serving of Steamed Rice Chicken, which was not exactly the regular dimsum variety people knew. For Pedro, the plus side of this dish—aside from the fact that it was extremely addicting—was the fact that all of Panda Haus’s chickens were of the organic variety, which, he was told, made the whole lot quite healthy to eat. And most days, living the bachelor’s life always on the go, Pedro Murillo subsisted on the dish when he was not out consuming manok inato.

That fateful day, when the Panda Haus attendants told him they had run out of organic chicken, Pedro Murillo panicked.

“You must have some chicken hidden somewhere!”

The attendant only stared at him, and said, “But sir! We don’t grow organic chicken from trees and pluck them just like that!”

“Well, then,” Pedro Murillo said in a huff, “better hatch them fast.”

He knew then what he thought he must have always known. One could deprive a Dumagueteño of chocolate and cake and lechon and all other delicacies in the world. But just give him his damned chicken meat. For all that it was, chicken was the most definitive of meats. Wasn’t it any wonder that when people must describe some exotic meat dish—say snake, or kangaroo—they would always say, “Tastes just like chicken”?

Chicken was, Pedro Murillo knew, the universal paragon of the tastefully divine.

Thus, every Sunday after church, Pedro Murillo would go to City Burger instead of Jo’s Manok Inato, to pay devotion. City Burger was a strange misnomer of a place because, although it did offer burgers, it was more well-known for its peculiar blend of chicken barbecue, which was the complete opposite of Jo’s milky concoction. Pedro Murillo did not mind the strange angles of this restaurant along Real Street, an open-air space that resembled the ruins of a gutted house (it was, in fact, the ruins of a gutted building). He did not even mind the apparent misnaming of the place. He, like the hordes, all came to City Burger for one thing: its grilled chicken quite unlike its delicious cousin over at Jo’s with its extra-sweetish taste of the sauce the barbecue dripped with.

Pedro always felt guilty after eating in City Burger, but it was a guilt he could live with. It was the same guilt that possessed him whenever he crossed the street from his office to the stone’s throw distance of Nena’s Kamalig. Only in Dumaguet could there be distinctions about the grilling styles of chicken. There was supposed to be the Dumaguet-style, as in Jo’s and City Burger’s, and there was the Bacolod-style. It was called inasal, and although Nena’s Kamalig also served liempo and a host of other grilled meat with the distinctive taste that was a combination of burnt liver and catsup, it was the chicken—not surprisingly—that people took to liking more. The dish was delicious in itself but never complete without the final touch: that sauce on the table that looked like reddish moonshine. Chicken oil drippings. “That’s a heart attack waiting to happen,” Pedro’s sabongero friend once commented, before he dashed off to meet his kittenish paramour.

 “It’s a risk anyone’s willing to take,” Pedro said, believing in the romance of the risk, and readily ladling in a generous amount of chicken oil droppings for his sabongero friend to partake.

There were also the various lechon manok stalls all over the place, especially Manok ni San Pedro and Golden Roy’s—Dumaguet’s original lechon manok place, its generous chicken still amazingly spicy to the smell and to the taste. Eventually though, all Dumagueteños still flocked to Jo’s for its succulent chicken barbecue, rivaled by many but still retaining its distinction as the keeper of a place’s memory.

The restaurant was a swanky place now, an improvement from the old Jo’s of the previous decade, which was a crowded affair of amakan darkened with soot and the grime of years.

The night Pedro Murillo succeeded in wooing Ana into bed with him, she had taken his orders silently, and then finally told him that the only way to go about eating his manok inato was with bare hands, straight from dish to mouth.

“No spoons and forks,” Ana said, a catch in her throat as she felt Pedro Murillo’s blue stare taking hold of her. “Kinamot is the way to go about it.”

In the middle of the room with people eating with bare hands, how best to eat his barbecued paa didn’t really matter any more to Pedro Murillo. But his eyes said, Of course.

This was the only way to go about it, he thought, looking at Ana with his darkening blue eyes: chicken touching skin, going straight to mouth, tender meat grinding against the touch of tongue and teeth. The ritual became the mark of their—Pedro’s and Ana’s—familiar shared secret. This was, they knew, their bare, intimate homage to the growing passion—and the food—that defined them.

When, at last, Pedro Murillo finished with his last bite, wiping his mouth with the brusque flourish of hand by a man in heated want, Ana almost fell into a faint, and that night, Pedro Murillo took her to her home along Avenida Sta. Catalina. Under the blanket of darkness, she turned to him naked, and he entered her.

When they came, Ana could swear she heard the world explode in the bright cackles and crows of chickens far away, so loud the sound seemed to invade her soul.

For a brief moment, in the span of minutes it took Pedro Murillo to hurtle to the heavens with his conquest and subsequent surrender, an old woman blind with cataracts was able to see with a clarity that shone so brightly, she would remember seeing the world with so much preciseness she saw happiness and sadness dressed as angels. She was staring out her window gazing at her memory of the stars, when suddenly the stars focused themselves beyond her haze, and she could see clearly the outline of a rooster in a bright new constellation. How she crowed at the sight.

In another corner of Dumaguet, a young boy, brown with the dirt of the streets and tottering with the hunger pangs that ate at him, fell into a ditch, and in a burst of light fell into the generous bosoms of fat women, with their purses filled with all the riches of the world, and filling his craving with the sweetest of chicken meat.

And still in another corner of the small town, a handsome policeman reached out to his anguished, heartbroken dreams—and behold, when he leaned wearily out from the dreamstate, he held once again his beautiful kittenish wife in his arms, all of her flesh still pure and innocent for him, and then they made love under the rooster stars, as she breathed, with unforsaken truth, that she loved him, that she would never leave him, and that all sabongeros would soon die anyway from too much cholesterol in chicken oil drippings.

All around them, Dumaguet crowed with the sounds of a thousand chickens. And when Pedro Murillo finally lay down breathlessly at the side of his Ana, who was also out of breath, they could sense the growing calm. The sounds of crowing soon dissipated into a dreadful, beautiful quiet.

The very next day, there were no more chickens.

But we must end happily this tale: nine months later, an egg—which always comes before the chicken—fell from the sky.

Ian Rosales Casocot taught literature, creative writing, and film at Silliman University in Dumaguete City, where he was Founding Coordinator of the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center. He is the author of several books, including the fiction collections Don’t Tell Anyone, Bamboo Girls, Heartbreak & Magic, and Beautiful Accidents. In 2008, his novel Sugar Land was longlisted in the Man Asian Literary Prize. He was Writer-in-Residence for the International Writers Program of the University of Iowa in 2010.



There is a way to go about this place–how I let it
settle on my left pulse and leave it there, when
it’s never truly mine, but yours, irretrievably,
like a word you just said: maybe sleeve, or
sorrow, stranded in a slowness our arms
are trying to imitate. The boulevard hangs
here—not absolutely, but instinctively—
with its brief incidents: the breakwater, shop stalls,
trees. You know how this city works;
so that when you start to speak in your native
tongue, everything clicks into place, just
right, probably unpunished even.

Some nights I want to believe that any
stranger turns into a small country.
I see one in every bar or café—
Why Not, El Amigo, Memento—the kind
that lets himself be struck by a silence so dissonant,
foreign, that receives the soft light from every entrance
with too much mercy, too much love. Once you told me,
listening to Glenn Gould’s Bach, how you could almost
catch his heartbeat between fragments and phrases:
an animal making room. Yes, I am telling you
there is no other way to touch the instrument
but like this—a body that is fearless and difficult
takes a most beautiful ease to breathe.

In time, we might learn that any gesture
is a kind of displacement, that geography
is as near and small as our birthmarks. If you happen
to remember anything at all, that is because it is hard
to forgive the world’s loveliness—the quick shape
of movement, repetition, each fierce
return. When the body refuses to mark
the leave-taking, it becomes another quiet symbol,
another continent shifting in its sleep. Then we wait,
for nothing else will take on the same form
ever again, only the same name, and suffer
each likeness that constantly betrays us. Yes, I’d rather say
that the world’s duty is to remain still and boundless;
because we choose to stay longer, to touch means to forget.

Allan Justo Pastrana holds a Masters in Creative Writing [Poetry] from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. He finished his bachelors degree at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music [Music Literature and Piano Performance]. He is a two-time Thomasian Poet of the Year and a recipient of the Rector's Literary Award during his college days. He bagged the Grand Prize in the English Division of the Maningning Miclat Award for Poetry in 2005 and won for the Essay in the 2007 Palanca Awards. His first book of poems is Body Haul [UST PublishingHouse, 2011]. Pastrana teaches Literature at Miriam College. He was a fellow at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop.

How to Write About Dumaguete


1. Go there at an impressionable age—say, fifteen or sixteen. Go to college there and convince yourself you have come, not just for a degree, but also for a heightening of sensations. Enroll in Silliman University (the Vatican in Rome), in some benign program you can coast through without sacrificing the wave you want to surf: the living of a full life.

2. Say you hate it, the place and the people—give yourself six months to one year to wallow in your youthful angst. Hate the pedicabs and the tartanillas and the eternal sunshiny smile of the conformist inhabitants. The lazy, laid-back atmosphere of it—the smugness of people who have to go to church on Sundays, the brown Americans who have inherited the New Englandish traditions of the colonial missionaries. The Protestant predictability of it all.

3. But relish the Cebuano language you have to learn. If you feel frustrated or bored, bury yourself in books. Or watch every movie at Park and Ever theaters, the alternative secular cathedrals of a traditionally religious city. Gloat over the mediocrity of your teachers and classmates, tell yourself you are too good for the school and for the place. Glance sideways at the beautiful girls, practice the eyes of a short story writer to exercise “the art of the glimpse.”

4. After the last full show at Ever or Park, walk the streets. Note the desolate silence of the town after ten o’clock: only the tocino stands catering to drunkards remain open. Walk: it is the 1980s and there is no nightlife in the city to speak of.

5. Let a year of solitude pass by before breaking out of your shell. Then join plays at the Woodward Little Theater, audition at the Luce Auditorium. Run for the Student Government. Meet the geeks who will be your life-long friends and who will teach you to drink beer and experiment with marijuana as you talk of poetry and love and anything that makes you giddy with being alive. Hang out at Manang Siony’s tocinohan until the wee hours of the morning but drag yourself out of bed for your seven o’clock chemistry exam.

6. Top the exam. Push yourself to the limit, stretch those wings: read the most difficult books in the library, audition for the Men’s Glee Club, court the most beautiful girl on campus. Succeed. Fly.

Take note of the pink sky at sunset at Silliman Beach in March. That shade of color will come only once in your life, like the strange feeling you have as you hold her hands there at the end of the airport. Dumaguete sky pink when you’re in love at nineteen. Hold her tight. Violins.

7. Graduate with honors but maintain the arrogance of someone who knows he does not deserve it. Preserve a sentimental contempt for your diploma, tell yourself you got nothing from four years of studies there except memories of being drunk, of acting in plays, of singing in the glee club, of mustering the courage to page a name in the girl’s dorm. Never admit that you, in your self-deflating assessment, have fallen in love with the place. As the bus departs for your first job after graduation, as you leave the city behind, catch the lump in your throat. You are mourning for love, for a girl you’re leaving behind. The place has nothing to do with it.

8. Come back after six months for graduate studies.

“Hey, you’re back. Where did you go?”

“Couldn’t hack it in the real world, eh?”

As if Dumaguete is the Neverland for the Peter Pans of the Visayas.

Come back to school, be the perpetual student! Enroll in creative writing class, join the dreamers club! Spend the next ten years of your life in arrested development, reading fiction and poetry books while your contemporaries buy houses and cars, go abroad to get rich. Become a bicycle-riding college instructor in the school you used to hate.

9. Teach: it’s the best way to earn your bread while flattering your ego. Take midnight walks after hours of grappling with thick novels: disregard the string of nightspots emerging along Rizal Boulevard. You are still encased in the texture of the novel you haven’t finished reading.

10. Fall in love and break your heart again and again. Pedal to projects fringes the city, past Banica River, to the new grids of suburban housing projects where you may bring your girlfriends on long walks. On weekends climb up Camp Lookout in the mountains of Valencia for the satisfaction of looking down at the seaside city you have left behind: there, obscured by coconut crowns, the city of our dreams, your Paris, your New York. Climb down to the disenchanted.

11. Fail. Make crazy forays into law school in a bid become rich and famous, or respectable and useful to society. Fail but remain a believer. Write to your girlfriend: “But I believe in the power of words in the same way that I have faith in my love for you.” Aside from her, you have to convince yourself about this.

12. Wake up to realize you got your latest girlfriend pregnant. You’re thirty years old, you will need to feed a family—buy a house, get a car, join the rat race. Wake up, there’s life beyond college.

13. Leave the place a second time, this time without the urge to look back. You might turn into a pillar of salt.

14. Live in big, noisy ugly cities where, in the midst of the asphalt jungle, you can relish the memory of that city you left behind: the tang of sea air, the shade of acacia trees, waves breaking on the boulevard. The city of my youth! My Paris! My New York! Toil under the burden of this romantic hangover.

15. Let twenty years slide by. Bungle your marriage, bungle your writing. Adopt a cynic’s posturing. Disavow poetry, stop believing in love. That place, that time, was too good to be true. What’s real is the noise and traffic and grime of the big city where the self is crushed into ordinary dimensions. Dumaguete was a dream, a whiff of brine in the air, an echo from a passage of a Chopin nocturne. Don’t confront the fragments of your present life—the inane pop song blaring from a jeepney is the true test of taste and toleration. Don’t mind the beggar children tapping on the car window.

16. Meet the disillusioned writer friends who have gone through the same wringer: fell in love in Dumaguete, fell out when they left it. They wax poetic about something in the past: “Oh, yes, I was happiest when I was there…” and later they trail off into the vocabulary of the damned: “I don’t believe in love anymore…” Hogwash, opiate of the hopeless romantics. As if the place and the emotion attached to it have hardened into an embarrassing synesthesia. It had its place in our lives, but we have outgrown it.

Nod in drunken assent.

17. Revisit the place once in a while, nevertheless. Business, pleasure, whatever. An antireligious pilgrimage, you tell yourself. To brace yourself against the encrustations of romanticism. There is only one city and you have become a stranger to it. Think of it as the heart of the country, the hub of an airline map where all the colored strings converged. But you have settled for a tourist’s deal—a hotel room and hotel meals. The old school has shrunk in your vision and the dorms where you used to stay too seedy. Walk the same old streets in search of the old you. New sounds, new lights. There is now a twenty-four-hour heart beating in the place, thumping to the disco sounds of tourist hangouts along the boulevard. In the quiet bystreets, listen to the echo of your footsteps. Don’t be afraid of the shadow you drag along. Laugh when you remember the joke about a prostitute’s transaction. You have to leave as fast as you come.

18. Believe in miracles when you meet her again after two decades, she who made you feel giddy as a teenager while you held hands at Silliman Beach a long, long time ago. From the debris of both your marriages, walk past the gauntlet of cars at the Manila airport. Hold her hand, wait for the violins to swell again. Inside her car, stare at her and try to see what middle-age pain and suffering has cast on her beauty. It’s not the disjunction of what is remembered and what is perceived that bothers you. It’s the fact that you meet her again in another city, another time. You realize that all your life you have been in transit, and that city of your youth was not the hub of all your journeys but a mere stopover. And so you embrace her again after two decades, feeling like a child cheated out of his chance to say goodbye before the parents met a fatal accident. But it had to be in Paris, this reconciliation, if not in Dumaguete. You cry together as you tell each other’s stories, tracing the trajectory of your separate lives from some point of origin that is more time than place. Dumaguete was where you last saw each other almost two decades ago.

19. Go back, go back there with her. Try to reclaim what was lost. Walk the streets of the city again with her—two middle-aged lovers navigating the traffic of a modern city. The cell phone–toting youngsters don’t know it; the laptop-flaunting students in the old school overlook it. There, the simplicity of it, the clarity of it, the brightness of it. Yes, it’s there. But not in the slick Robinson’s Mall, not in Jollibee, for they were not there twenty years ago. Ask a security guard to do it for you, hoping he will catch it. Stand in the bright sunshine, a little bit to the right of the acacia shade. Smile. Post it later on Facebook.

It’s not a quotation you can post on your Facebook wall. You have to wait for an opportune moment to be able to say it. Maybe a cynical tipsy friend complaining about his wife has to ask a jokey question over bottles of beer and give you a chance at philosophical revisionism. “Love—does it exist?”

Let a second pass before saying it.

20. Write it down.

Yes. But only in Dumaguete, a place you carry in your heart.

Wherever you go.

Timothy R. Montes is from Borongan, Eastern Samar. He studied in the Creative Writing Program of Silliman University under the tutelage of Edilberto Tiempo and Edith Tiempo, and published his first story collection, The Black Men and Other Stories [Anvil] in 1994. He also co-edited, with Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Tribute: An Anthology of Contemporary Philippine Fiction, in memory of his mentor Edilberto K. Tiempo. He has been the recipient of various national awards, such as the Palanca, the Philippines Graphic Literary Prize, the Philippines Free Press Literary Prize, and the Writers Prize from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. He has taught at Silliman University, the University of the Philippines in Mindanao, and De La Salle University Taft.

Ritual for Leaving


(For Grace and Juaniyo)

Go now, and go at noon
When this city shall stand
Intense in the light,
Equal to your silent grief.

There are many ways of taking leave:
Even when we choose to be dumb
Our bodies, hands, feet, senses,
Motion their own speeches as we go numb
Gathering things to pack from room to room
Or weaving the streets and boulevard
After the usual beer at sundown.

It is easier to leave
In the middle of day —
The view from the port, postcard-pretty,
Accented by kitchen smoke
And blooming acacia trees—
An ordinary scene on an October day
Which will probably be the same
When you come back: a strange assurance
Of infinities or that something
We call indestructible.

Marjorie Evasco is a SEAWRITE 2010 awardee of the Philippines and an NCCA Ani ng Dangal 2011 awardee. Five of her books have won the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Awards: for poetry [Dreamweavers and Ochre Tones]; for oral history [Six Women Poets: Inter/Views, co-authored by Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz]; for biography [A Life Shaped by Music: Andrea O. Veneracion and the Philippine Madrigal Singers]; and for art [Ani: The Life and Times of Hermogena Borja Lungay: Boholano Painter]. Her poetry books in English and Spanish translations by Latin American poets are Skin of Water and Fishes of Light/ Peces de Luz [co-authored by Alex Fleites]. She contributed poetry in groundbreaking anthologies like Agam: Filipino Narratives of Uncertainty in Climate Change [2015], and Sustaining the Archipelago: Philippine Ecopoetry Anthology [2018]. She edited an anthology of memoirs, The Bohol We Love [2017], which was a finalist in the 2017 National Book Award for anthology in English. She also published the biography Valentina’s Valor: Stories of the Life and Times of Valentina Galido Plaza [2018]. An advocate of literary development in the Visayas and Mindanao, particularly in creative writing in Binisaya and English, she has served as director and panelist in various workshops. She also serves as resource person of Bohol’s literary heritage. She is Outstanding Sillimanian Awardee for Creative Writing in 2008, and is a Regular Panelist at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop.

Irog-Irog: Making Space for Contributions and Critique of the Tiempos and the Silliman Workshop


It has been a few years since the online publication of Conchitina Cruz’s “The (Mis)education of the Filipino Writer: The Tiempo Age and Institutionalized Creative Writing” in the Kritika Kultura Journal of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of English. I used to teach in the said department–and while I was already teaching in another unit when the essay came out, I felt its undeniable sting. It had to do with being both an Ateneo de Manila teacher and an alumnus of the Silliman National Writers Workshop, which the essay’s subjects, Edilberto and Edith Tiempo, cofounded in 1962.

The years offer some relief due to chronological distance, which also allowed for a critical assessment that, though still holding the writer and publisher accountable for what is I believe is an unbalanced portrayal of the Tiempos, I have been able to frame the critique in a different vision. The delineation where “The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer” fits is that of an anti-imperialist project, wherein it is the great structural forces that need to be focused on and rebalanced, even when the tone of the essay goes polemically overboard. Such a project has great value, especially at this crucial time when demagogues are trying to stay in power, our national sovereignty in the Philippines is under threat, and oppression based on class is rife.

The presentation that Cruz does is a multilayered one, and I hope to address these concerns, some of which hold water and will do well to be considered. The following four points, I believe, summarize the concerns that Cruz sought to address:

  1. The Silliman Workshop was modeled after the Iowa Workshop, which is linked to American Cultural Diplomacy.
  2. The Silliman Workshop’s focus on New Criticism prevents writers from seeing the political aspect of writing.
  3. The Silliman Workshop’s focus on English prevents writers from seeing the political formation and dynamics of language.
  4. The Silliman Workshop, having focused on works in English, also perpetuated a local elite in Philippine literature, which has enabled gatekeeping of those who might produce new literary works from within and outside the academe.

Although I am trying to take the most useful material from her presented concerns, I believe it important to present the problems that I have seen in her paper. The goal is not simply to put the Tiempos and the Silliman Workshop in a more appreciative light. It is to forward a possible fruitful approach to criticism in relation to national concerns, in which literature and creative writing play a part.

I would like to propose that “The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer” must be read with care because it is problematic in its assessment due to [1] the deployment of a framework that does not match its purposes, and [2] there are gaps in the presentation of the Tiempos, which can be alleviated by more research. I will develop this thesis by going through the following:

  1. An elucidation of Renato Constantino’s “The Miseducation of the Filipino,” and an assessment of how it does not complement the project of Cruz;
  2. An examination of ideas by Jose Maria Sison and Gelacio Guillermo that might provide a better framework for Cruz’s anti-imperialist project; and
  3. A filling-in, so to speak, of what I see as gaps in the research of Cruz, which should complicate the way we view the Tiempos, the Silliman  Workshop, and the anti-imperialist project that Cruz sought to launch.

I have elected to take a track different from critics such as Charlie Samuya Veric, who makes a formidable claim that Edith Tiempo, by being critic and poet, is able to place the two aspects of her life into a dialectic that synthesizes into work that breaks through the form-focused New Criticism that she was reared in (258-259). Critics such has Veric have focused more on addressing the claims echoed by Cruz in her work. My paper is an act of listening to her project and sorting out what has not been articulated properly in the process.

This paper, I believe, calls for a different approach as compared to the typical academic paper wherein one usually borrows an overarching frame from an established critic or theorist. Although I will refer to established theories and ideas, I choose to begin with a set of lyrics that Edith Tiempo had used as part of her essay entitled “When Music Sings in the Hearts of the People.”[1] In doing so, I hope to frame my project, which is to enable a potentially useful understanding between writers and critics.

Pahaloka Ko, Day

Boy:     Pahaloka ko, Day! (Let me kiss you, Miss!)

Girl:     Halok lang sa uban! (Just kiss others!)

Boy:     Ikaw may gusto ko! (But you’re the one I want!)

Girl:     Nganong ako nga anaa may uban? (Why me when there are others?)

Boy:     Sigi na lagi, Day! (Come on now, Miss!)

Girl:     Dili ako kay waa ako gusto! (I won’t because I don’t like to!)

Irog-irog! (Please move)

Boy:     Unsay irog? (What do you mean move?)

Both:   Irog-irog ngarig diyutay! (Move a little closer!) Irog-irog ngarig diyutay! (Move a little farther!)

Boy:     Kanindot unta sa gugma ta, (How wonderful our love could be!)

Kun pahalok pa ikaw kanako! (If only you would let me kiss you!)

Girl:     Iasa ko man kanang imong halok, (Why should I want your kiss,)

Nga dili man ko mahimuot? (When I could not be pleased?)

Both:   Ay! (Oh!) (Repeat first part)

The composed song[2], which has aspects of Filipino folk songs and what seems to be a broad appeal to the people from Visayas and Mindanao, is akin to the balitaw form. The topic of the song is courtship, and it may be taken that what is happening in the lyrics is a moment of flirtation. However, it might also be said that it is also about the negotiation of boundaries and the sharing of space. After all, these matters are not irrelevant to the complications of courtship and romantic relationship.

One aspect of the lyrics has to do with a call for appropriate space. Edith has two takes on this matter. One is that a violation of space might occur if one forces the self on the other (Tiempo, Bernad and Tiempo 270). The other one, in “When Music Sings in the Hearts of the People,” is about the pretense that people who are in love hold on to while they avoid closeness and intimacy (Edith Tiempo 24). Ultimately, what is necessary is a negotiation between the two parties involved in a courtship situation. Talking things through in a thorough way with another will ensure that everyone can share a space and enjoy it.

Talking things through, according to the lyrics of the song, might enable us to understand each other better. The instruction and request “irog-irog,” clearly, is something that can only be understood if one truly felt deeply for the other. One other way to get to the core of the statement is to ask for clarification. The lyrics of the song, in my opinion, do not portray this level of communication between the boy and the girl. Thus, one might say that one grants space to someone by giving this person an open ear.

I believe that the lyrics of “Pahaloka Ko, ‘Day” might be explained from the philosophical viewpoint by Albert Alejo, SJ, who had written about the concept of loob, a word that though with Tagalog origins is still shared conceptually by people from different regions. What he writes, however, already goes beyond the mere understanding between two persons. What is really important is the benefit that companionship bears—the ability to understand the self better when the other person sees through you and communicates this with you in openness:

Hindi ko kayang mamalayan ang lahat ng nagaganap maging sa aking sarili mismo. Hindi ko kayang madama ang lahat ng tuwa at lungkot ng aking kapwa. At sa aking sarili, kung minsan, ang akala ko’y napatawad ko na ay nakatanim pa pala sa kaloob-looban ng aking kawalang-malay kaya hindi ko pa rin hawak. At hindi lahat ng nakikita kong maganda at dapat ay abot ng aking kawalangmalay kaya hindi ko pa rin hawak. At hindi lahat ng nakikita kong maganda at dapat ay abot ng aking kakayahan. Totoo, ang aking kalayaan ay nakasalalay sa sariling galaw ng aking loob. Subalit posible lamang ito sa loob ng isang daigdig na mayroon akong kasama, sapagkat kung ako lang, hindi ko alam kung hanggang saan ang aking abot. Kailangan kong mamulat na hindi ako nag-iisa, na kahit anong mangyari, meron akong kapiling na kapanalig na kapwa ko na nagnanasang magpakatao at lumaya ring tulad ko. At sa gitna ng ugnayang ito, mayroon pa akong makakapitang lubos na kasama ko, narito sa pinakaloob ng loob ko at hindi ako iniiwan. Siya ang pinaka-nakikisangkot sa lahat ng galaw ng aking loob. (115)

What is notable in Alejo is that the belief pakikipagkalooban can be a channel of healing. Forgiveness is something that might not be given by a person only because one does not see the resentment that still festers within. On the other hand, the beauty aspired for is still not attained because this beauty is not yet seen–and can only be pointed out by a companion who is willing to share another’s inner space, the kalooban. It is important to note that what the kalooban affords is not just healing on the personal level:

Naroon ang loob sa isang namumulat at dahan-dahang nagpapalawak ng abot ng kamalayan. Naroon ang loob sa nakikiramay at unti-unting nagpapalalim ng pakikiisang-loob sa kapwa lalo na sa mga gipit na gipit at hindi makahinga nang maluwag. Naroon ang loob sa nagpapasiya at pasulong na nangangatawan sa kanyang paninindigan sa harap ng mga hangganan at kamaarian ng makataong kalagayan. Naroon ang loob sa isang taong tahimik na nananatiling tapat sa minamahal o sinumpaan. Naroon din ang loob sa pagliliwayway ng mga likhangsining mula sa kaibuturan ng ating pagiging isang lahi. Kaya’t kasama ng mga lathalaing akademiko, hayaang umambag sa literatura ng loob ang mga salaysay at kuwentong-buhay, ang mga dalit at daing ng sambayanan, ang mga tula na nagmumula sa mga piitan, at ang mga pansin at di-pansing “kadakilaan ng loob” na hindi naibabantayog sa ating kabihasnang kung bakit ba naman lagi nang natutukso sa “ningning ng mga panlabas.” (Alejo 117)

It is apparent that for Alejo, changes can be effected beyond the personal through getting in touch with the kalooban. What might be a problem on the structural level might even be changed through the efforts of people in touch with their inner power, who are able to relate with each other on this level. It is clear that work against any structural imbalance is always rooted in the human and moves towards what benefits individual persons–and this can be done through endeavors that are artistic and creative, all of which are in touch with the kalooban.

What I am doing through writing this paper is to address the anti-imperialist concerns of Cruz through making the attempt to understand her work better and fill in what it has not been able to do. This attempt, I believe, comes from the attempt at appreciation, and hopes to foster a pakikipagkalooban among Filipino critics at a time when structural forces dominate Philippine life. This kind of relating, I hope, will help derive what is best from the approaches of people, even those we may not agree with. This should contribute to a greater sense of community, and possibly more collaborative approaches to the work of liberation.

My Subject Position as Critic

Coming to terms with writing this essay was a challenge, given that I feel a certain closeness to Edith, whom I learned to call Mom Edith after she asked my batch of fellows to call her that during my workshop in 2003. Maybe, it was because I had newly graduated from college that I decided to take a risk and find a way to live in Dumaguete. I ended up staying in the city for two years, and had quite an adventure. I regularly met with two of the workshop’s resident panelists at that time, Bobby Flores Villasis and the late Ernesto Superal Yee, while there were days that I would just drop by CAP Building to see Mom Edith as she worked on student modules for what was then CAP College.

It was a sense of closeness to both Mom Edith and Ernie Yee, whom I fondly called my Mamah in Dumaguete, that eased me into the work of helping out with the establishment of the Dumaguete Literary Arts Service Group, Incorporated, which was more commonly known as DüLA, Inc. I worked as secretary of the organization, which helped source funds that would augment the already present resources of the workshop [3] while being a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Silliman University–both a student of the MA Literary Studies program and a teacher of a few basic writing and reading classes.

I was able to get 32 units from my studies at Silliman, but I did not finish my degree. Generally, my mind was directed towards attempts to write poetry, other creative endeavors, and a way of enjoying life that I thought was part and parcel of my being a writer. As a matter of focus and in order to avoid hurting the feelings of the people whose stories are intertwined with my adventure, I will be selective in presenting certain details from the two special years that I stayed in Dumaguete. The ultimate point of telling a few stories, after all, is to support the objectives of this paper as well as to complicate my location to a sufficient degree.

Some of the material I will be using will be comprised of creative and critical texts selected from the work of the Tiempos and some of the students that they have had over the years. Selected interviews, done online because of the current pandemic situation, will also be excerpted and used to clarify fine points. As mentioned earlier, I will be including my own personal anecdotes, tailored in such a way that they honor the other persons involved in the narration by doing it in a way that respects human agency. Hopefully, my subjectivity will be complemented or interrogated by citing ideas from other critical thinkers.

I hope that it is apparent that the cue for this kind of perspective, wherein I try not to simply debunk any side of an argument, comes from the image that is derived from a close look at the lyrics of “Pahaloka Ko, ‘Day.” Indeed, one might say that what is encouraged is a healthy kind of relationality, which can contribute to people having the space that they need.

In our contemporary times, I think that sound relationships between parties that do not agree are needed because, as mentioned earlier, the point of our debating is liberation—something quite urgent at this point in history.

Problematizing the Framework of “The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer”

The title of Cruz’s paper is a clear reference to Renato Constantino’s landmark essay “The Miseducation of the Filipino” from which the following excerpt comes:

The first and perhaps the master stroke in the plan is use education as an instrument of colonial policy was the decision to use English as the medium of instruction. English became the wedge that separated the Filipinos from their past and later was to separate educated Filipinos from the masses of their countrymen. English introduced Filipinos to a strange, new world. With American textbooks, Filipinos started learning not only a new language but also a new way of life, alien to their traditions and yet a caricature of their model. This was the beginning of their education. At the same time, it was the beginning of their miseducation, for they learned no longer as Filipinos but as colonials. They had to be disoriented from their nationalist goals because they had to become good colonials. The ideal colonial was the carbon copy of his conqueror, the conformist follower of the new dispensation. He had to forget his past and unlearn the nationalist virtues in order to live peacefully, if not comfortably, under the colonial order. (6)

It is clear from the above portion that Constantino sees language as an important factor in forwarding nationalist goals, all of which serve the interests of the nation. The essay contains proposals that move towards the strengthening of one’s national identity in order to be conscious enough to subvert neocolonial forces and forward national interests. The essay has a wide range, spanning issues on language, education, history, and economics. It is no wonder that even though it was written in the 1960s, it continues to be influential.

What I think must be considered first in the appropriation of this Constantino essay by Cruz is that her approach to human agents is different. Indeed, Constantino places a big focus on the matter of language in “The Miseducation of the Filipino.” However, there are other considerations and allowances that he makes which Cruz does not. This, to me, speaks of need for a more qualified appropriation because Constantino seems to advocate for reflexivity and a closer examination of matters pertinent to the choices that Filipinos need to make for the nation. This kind of approach is not clear from the Cruz essay, if not at all absent.

If I may say so, what is present in Constantino might be a kind of openness that borders on playfulness. He is able to put his foot down on matters that will exacerbate the Filipinos’ subservience to neocolonial forces. However, his essay also makes allowances that enable a tolerance of things that can be useful for the nation. For example, the learning of English for Constantino, though limited, is something that is useful and advantageous:

This does not mean, however, that nothing that was taught was of any value. We became literate in English to a certain extent. We were able to produce more men and women who could read and write. We became more conversant with the outside world, especially the American world. A more widespread education such as the Americans desired would have been a real blessing had their educational program not been the handmaiden of their colonial policy. (4)

Constantino was an advocate of critical thought, which would help us be objective about colonial forces that we interact with. For him, it is important that what has not been done in order for us to view our colonial masters with objectivity–“seeing their virtues as well as their faults”–should be rectified. As he said, “The function of education now is to correct this distortion” (19). Overall, one might see Constantino’s advocacy had a view of the Filipino as capable of conscious choice-making and utilizing what has been received from the colonizers and using these to advantage.

This kind of approach, unfortunately, is not the approach that is reflected in Cruz’s “The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer.” The essay in general takes on a firmly polemic tone that seems to have fixed or limited views on the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo, which seem not to extend the benefit of doubt as to their agency. Cruz’s words (with quotations from Isabel Pefianco Martin) on Edilberto, the half of the couple less examined in the paper, prove the point clearly:

English was the language of creative writing at the onset of its disciplinary codification, and it cemented the role of the educational institution as the primary habitat of Philippine literature in English. The first Filipino writers in English were campus writers trained under a curriculum that excluded literature in the local languages. This turned the Anglo-American Canon, tailored specifically for the colony through selections that explicitly valorized colonial rule, and promoted colonial values, into the sole resource of models not only of “good English” but also “great literature.” (Martin 92, 95) As a Filipino officer who served the United States during the war, a product of American colonial education in the Philippines, and an Iowa-trained pioneer in teaching creative writing to Filipinos, Edilberto Tiempo is a clear-cut embodiment of the colonial subject shaped by both militarization and education. (9)

The way that Edilberto is portrayed as the ideal colonial subject by way of education and militarization lacks nuance and contextualization. Hence, I am led to think that the portrayal goes against the invitation of Constantino towards remembering the past, using what has been received from the Americans to our advantage, and using a greater level of critical thinking and reflection.

One of the things that can be gleaned from the novels of Edilberto K Tiempo is the keen eye focused on thorny questions pertaining to human concerns. From this alone, one would begin to question the clear-cut assessment that was made by Cruz. The literary scholar, Robert D. Klein, partially quoting from an essay by Lim Thean Soo, has this to say about the novels of Edilberto:

Edilberto K. Tiempo’s early novels are set in wartime Central Philippines and capture the spirit of the times from an insider’s perspective. As head of the Historical Section of the 7th Military District, United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), he compiled documentation of Japanese abuses and torture of civilians, They Called Us Outlaws. 

Portions of this book were used in the war crimes prosecution trial of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita and incorporated into his novel The Standard-Bearer. (1985).

As the first Filipino student in the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1946, he submitted Watch in the Night as his M.F.A. Thesis, coming out in print in the Philippines in 1953. It was later published in England and America as Cry Slaughter (1957) and quickly translated into several languages.

All of Tiempo’s subsequent novels have a similar focus on the choices and dilemmas its main characters have with the forces of history. Lim has called Tiempo’s heroes “basically contemplative, driven to judgmental evaluation of incidents and people around them all the time...His choice of protagonists—e.g., minister, lawyer, politician–fittingly demonstrates the questioning frame of mind that, given the centrality of moral questions to Tiempo, his novels ultimately require.” (1993b, 119-120) (66)

The assessment brings a number of questions to mind. Would a novel that is written in English not serve the interests of Filipinos even if the subject matter is a first-hand account of the Filipino experience of suffering during World War II? When one looks at the ideas presented by Constantino, Edilberto’s act of remembering the point of view of Filipino victims of the war might serve the nation despite being written in the English language. Looking at Cruz’s view that Edilberto was exposed to an Anglo-American canon that “valorized colonial rule, and promoted colonial values,” and thus inclined to such values, his act of remembering is cast in a bad light, seen as serving the cause of American Imperialism.

A More Appropriate Framework in Sison and Guillermo

One way to view Cruz’s perspective is that it makes less allowances for ambiguities–and there are other political views aside from Constantino’s that might allow for such takes. In this regard, I propose that it will be useful to examine the structural model of national liberation as proposed by Jose Maria Sison, which is informed with more structured ideas about feudalism and imperialism and which sees education as one means of propagation.[4]

Although the model that Sison proposes does not fully correspond to the view of Cruz, it does provide a basic dichotomy which might undergird the latter’s reading better. There are a few people who hold the resources material and otherwise, and they keep most of it for themselves so that those of the lower class will always stay within a relationship of dependency.

What complicates this dependency is that it ties in with the emotive aspect. Feudalism, according to Sison, is fueled by familial relations.

In his case, it was through this set of relations that he almost got into such a way of life:

A great deal of the inculcation of feudal values was done through stories about my great-grandfather who was supposed to have accumulated wealth because of hard work, intelligence, and the sacred right to private ownership of land and other assets. From childhood onward, I was encouraged to study law and become a lawyer so as to be able to defend the family property, become a political leader and revive the fading feudal glory of the family. The family was already assailed by fears of continuing land fragmentation from one generation to another and by the vigorous postwar political rise of professionals coming from the rural bourgeoisie as represented by President Elpidio Quirino. I was not very much impressed by the stories about my great grandfather’s hard work and accumulation of land. That was because my classmates and playmates in the local public school were children of our tenants and the local middle class and they told me stories about the way their own grandparents and great-grandparents had been dispossessed of land of their land by my own great-grandfather. I enjoyed bringing home and using those stories to make fun of the self-serving stories at home. (3-4)

Sison states that it was through the home that he received stories about his great grandfather, and how these served as guides towards retaining the feudal system. It puts the focus on hardwork and earnestness as factors that lead to success, and put under wraps the factors that promote the subjugation of the lower class under the hand of a few. What is interesting is that Sison, through this exposure to his classmates, is able to see beyond the stories. The short anecdote gives us both a dire outlook as well as a potential solution, which begins in the immersion in the lives of others.

For Sison, the arrival of the American regime would reconfigure the feudal system to serve imperial concerns. The power would move towards government as well as rich investors who run corporations, and the application of the feudal relationship would happen through the business framework (Guerrero 90). The shift is something that is seen in a critical articulation of the framework by Gelacio Guillermo, who had written a review of Edilberto Tiempo’s novel, To Be Free. The title of Guillermo’s take is very telling: “How Not to Be Free.”

The novel, spanning three generations of characters, involves the Alcantara family of Nueva Vizcaya, and the travails of its members. The focus of the novel, in a way, is discursive. It problematizes, indeed, how to be free. The answer comes in narrative form, through the lives of characters from three generations: Lamberto Alcantara and his brother Hilarion, Lamberto’s daughter, Teodora, and Teodora’s daughter Louise, whose apperance is very much like Lamberto’s wife, Luisa. Each generation has a specific answer to the question, unexpected and based on individual agency.

It seems that the project of Edilberto is to present how each character manages his or her own subjectivity. This is not what Gelacio Guillermo focuses on in his argument. For him, the focus is on what, in a way, lies at the back of the character action and introspection. He focuses on the social structures and apparently disparity and–perhaps to our advantage and disadvantage–creates a reading both compelling and problematic. He begins his assessment with a clear articulation that might sound positive:

Ostensibly, the main argument of Edilberto K Tiempo’s novel, To Be Free, is that individuals, bound by the ceremonious rigidities of traditional custom or swept away by the freewheeling whims of personal conduct, prove their worth and dignity through a long process of testing, whether this concerns the lives, loves and politics of the landowning class or the faithfulness of the ruled class, the aripans. The novel seems to be a search for the so-called bedrock decency that abides in the midst of changes that have transpired in Philippine history and ways of life for more than fifty years, starting from the late Spanish colonial administration up to the postwar period. For the principal character, Lamberto Alcantara, this search involves, first, a progress in the quality of discernment–that in matters of moral rectitude, the substance may remain where the form no longer avails–and second, an optimism in civilized man’s capability to adapt himself in all circumstances at whatever time and place. (109)

However, the heart of the critique beats for a structural view that the literary work does not exactly abide with. For him, it is important to examine how bigger forces such as capital and imperialist power impinge on human relations, and it is a focus on this that matters more than looking at how each character can make a decision for himself or herself:

Moral values, as well as political ideas have a life in the matrix of a specific historical period, whether such values and ideas serve to prolong such a period or undermine its ascendancy. To regard morality as a matter of private integrity alone, and politics as a process of unfolding an all- time, all-place concept of freedom whatever social forces are involved is to take issues in such a vacuum. This is clearly anomalous in a novel that presumes to situate the moral and political worth of its characters in well-defined strands of Philippine history. (Guillermo 110)

What is important, in the long run, for Guillermo is to uncover the matrix and eventually act on it so much that it falls apart so that the feudal lords may lose control and the dominated be given an opportunity for a better life. Only when system is broken can it be possible to install a new system in which people might act in more just ways.

A look at the framework on which Cruz built her argument makes me think of the greater alignment of her perspective not with Constantino’s, but with the reading of Gelacio Guillermo. This reading also ties in with Eric Bennett’s Workshops of Empire, which Cruz utilizes to forward her reading of the Tiempos. In this book, Bennett examines the formation of workshops by two major figues, Paul Engle—of the Iowa Writers Workshop—and Wallace Stegner, renowned fictionist who was instrumental in the workshop scene in Stanford University. Edilberto and Edith Tiempo are both alums of Iowa, were both close to Paul Engle, and had used the Iowa Workshop model for the one in Silliman.

What makes the Iowa Workshop problematic, says Bennett, is its complicity with the US Department of State, which is known for having conducted activities that enabled the propagation of imperialist ties with other countries. This propagation might be called Cultural Diplomacy, and it was in the analysis of Bennett that the State Department’s funding of the International Writers Program of the Workshop (IWP) was presented (112-113). This kind of complicity complicates the invitation of international writers to the program, making it appear that it was a kind of neocolonial methodology.

The choice of Conchitina Cruz to frame her reading of the Silliman Workshop and the labors of the Tiempos within anti-imperialist ideations moves it towards a structural reading in broad strokes.

This kind of reading enables one to see the movement of power from those who hold it to those under their control. I would agree that in certain contexts–like the present day–this kind of reading is useful. Capital, in its various forms, moves people and institutions in certain ways, in which individuals have no say in the matter.

However, such a reading is not entirely compatible with an appropriation of Constantino’s “The Miseducation of the Filipino.” To say, from this view that the Tiempos and the Silliman workshop had miseducated students of creative writing by providing an education focused on English and a New Critical approach that led towards an apolitical literary production, is therefore very problematic. Such a claim can lead to a misappreciation that can prevent future readers of Philippine literature to see the usefulness of the Tiempos’ writing to the concern of the nation—a claim that is justifiable via Constantino.

Filling in the Gaps: A View of the Tiempos and the Silliman Workshop

What might account for the heavy criticism imposed by Cruz on the Tiempos can be found in an assessment that aligns her project more with the views of Sison and Guillermo. I propose that a review might clarify the view of the Tiempos, who had foundational ideas that are in tension with the more structural approach of Sison and Guillermo:

  1. The Tiempos have indicated in their critical work that they are deeply rooted in their Christian faith. This might have informed their liberal humanist approach to education and politics.
  2. The Tiempos utilized their Filipino heritage in their creative work, as seen in the exploration of other modes of expression such as music.
  3. The Tiempos built on the local focus on family, affecting their critical positioning and their approach to education and to the Silliman Workshop.

The Christian and Liberal Humanist Politics of the Tiempos

If there are persons who might have the most stories about Edilberto and Edith’s exercise of human agency in light of nationalist motives, it probably will be their children who must have been witness to much decisionmaking day in, day out. The following is an account from Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, the elder of the two Tiempo children, about what happened to the family’s plan to move to Tehran, Iran in 1972, the year martial law was declared. Edith spoke to the late Leticia Ramos-Shahani, then Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs:aa

Mrs. Shahani put her arm across Mom’s shoulders and quietly led her outside the office to stroll in the corridor, where they could speak more privately. She whispered, “Alam mo, Edith, ang inyong familya…writers kayo. And writers, Marcos does not trust.”

We should have known. Dad’s entire career was founded on the principle of resistance. In 1972, he should have won the National Heritage Award…but the title of his latest book was To Be Free. And that was the year martial law was declared.

Dad was also known for his outspoken, uncompromising voice. Throughout his long teaching career, his colleagues would look to him to speak up, whenever a thorny issue arose at the Deans’ Conference or other faculty meetings. In 1971, when the writ of habeas corpus was taken away from the populace, and student activist unrest was sweeping the nation, General Fidel Ramos (Letty Shahani’s brother) was sent to Silliman, where he spoke at a university convocation there. Dad good up, and in his forthright way spoke directly to the general: “You’re aware, aren’t you, that your president is about to turn our country into a dictatorship?”

Alarmed, the faculty sitting next to Dad reached out to tug at him to sit down, whispering, “Ed! Ed, be quiet!”

Of course, Dad could would not, and could not, remain silent. (Torrevillas)

The family was set to move to Iran two days after martial law was declared, the plans ironed out. Apparently, it was the stance of Edilberto, ready to speak out against oppressive forces both via speech and creative writing that might have been the reason for the Marcos administration to prevent their departure at that point in time.

And not only was Edilberto willing to put himself on the line in front of government people, apparently. He was willing to present the problems of the nation even on the international stage:

On returning from an ambassadorial mission such as her Iran trip, one important Malacañang Order of the Day was for all school children in Metro Manila to line up along the ten-kilometer route from the international airport to her palace on the Pasig, each child waving a flag or strewing flowers as she passed. The world has not known that the Queen of Thailand demanded that kind of homage. (Edilberto Tiempo, “That Oxymoron, Freedom” 63)

Edilberto received the SEAWrite Award from Thailand’s Queen Sirikit around a decade after their family was not allowed to travel–and he would use the opportunity to deliver critical remarks about the ostentation of the First Lady in the face of the nation’s more than economic woes. Not long after this, he would publish what I think is a clear jab at the Marcos administration, a portion that nonetheless fit well with the narrative that Edilberto was writing:

“I remember now,” said the driver, unfazed. He turned right at the first corner, obviously to backtrack. He pointed to a high wall to their left. “Inside, Mister, is the house of the first wife of the president.”

“What president?” Delfin was still smarting at the deception of the man, who, it was quite evident now, really knew the streets of Greenhills.

“You know, the Old Lipunan.”

“What Lipunan?” In spite of himself he felt like laughing. “You know, the New Society and the Old Society.”

“The president of what society?”

“Everybody around here knows it. I will not tell you. You have to find out yourself. If you are interested.” He was thoughtful for a moment. “You know, Mister, if I were president I could afford three wives. I would build a house for Loretta Gutierrez.” (Cracked Mirror 62)

The above excerpt is taken from the novel Cracked Mirror, which is about the journey of a young man named Delfin Olivar through different levels of self-awareness. The taxi ride scene takes place when he goes in search of a girl who looks exactly like a sister that he lost through unusual circumstances.

Edilberto makes good of the trip and makes it a short illustration of how deception happens in daily life, as exemplified by a driver who tries to lengthen the trip for higher fare. Edilberto takes a swipe at the Marcoses’ Bagong Lipunan, which is juxtaposed with mansions created for wives and mistresses. The mention of Loretta Gutierrez in the excerpt makes reference to a bold star that Delfin and the driver were speaking of earlier–I would like to think that this alludes to the Dovie Beams scandal that the former president faced before the declaration of martial law.

From the above quotations, and from other materials too, one will see that Edilberto had been an active agent in fighting against the Marcos regime. If we look at this administration as allied with the US during the time of the Cold War, providing spaces for bases that were strategic in case a war took place with the USSR and China, then would Edilberto not also show aspects of agency that defines with greater detail the possibility that he was not simply the colonial subject Cruz calls him?

A good way to begin reassessing the life work of the Tiempos is to revisit their graves in Dumaguete City. Visiting Edilberto’s grave was something that I used to do when I lived in Dumaguete City. Thus, I am familiar with the words inscribed on the piece of marble on his grave, a quote from the Epistle of Paul to the Romans: “We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” It was years later when I would see Edith’s epitaph, during a visit to Dumaguete in 2019. It was from the Book of Micah: “He will bring me forth into the light, I will behold his deliverance.”

Beginning a revisit through their respective epitaphs should help one branch out into the different connected aspects of their lives. Firstly, the Tiempos were church elders in Silliman Church, a Christian church which is Presbyterian in orientation. They were involved in the affairs of the church, and thus it might be safely assumed that they were concerned with its Christian teaching and way of life. From this alone, one might see the divergence of their position to Sison and Guillermo: the work of church, without eschewing the structural, always has a sense of the personal and relational [5].

It is, I think, complementary to this personal and relational aspect of Christian life, which I will call “relationality,” that the Tiempos espoused a liberal and humanist framework. This framework is what might be said to have been the beacon of the Silliman Workshop and the relationships that the Tiempos had with their students, which is widely known for its family aspect. I believe that it is reasonable to connect this orientation to the family to the Tiempo’s commitment to Filipino life and culture, which was something that, despite the criticism, had bearing on the Silliman Workshop.

A reconsideration of the epitaphs of the Tiempos will show that there is a relational and communal focus that can be found in the words. In the case of Edilberto’s, the verses that lead up to the exclamation that is the epitaph has to do with the commitment of a shepherd to his sheep. The idea is that the sheep will not be left to perish alone and that the shepherd will be given extraordinary strength to face the dangers that might beset the sheep [6].

On the other hand, the epitaph on Edith’s tombstone is one that comes from a text that speaks of how the savior will come and redeem those who have been treated unjustly [7]. In fact, this is the precise scene that is depicted in the epitaph of Edith—there is a trust that the one speaking will meet the one who will take her from the difficulties of her situation. In a way, both epitaphs speak of a community in a less than ideal situation, as well as a trust placed in someone who will come for them.

What is interesting is that this person who will be there for others is what differs in the two epitaphs. In the quotation for Edilberto, the regular person is enabled to be “more than conquerors” by grace, while in the quotation for Edith, the person awaits the coming of the one who will bring the transformation. I personally would like to interpret the quotations as both significations of faith and commitment: the human being is an agent, but also one that is dependent on grace, and one that is gifted such by the presence in community and relationship.

What enables one to fully engage in community and relationship, I think, is the capacity to be conscious. A person must have a certain hold on subjectivity and agency in order to interact with others in a way that is liberating for the community. It is in this regard that I surmise that this might be the reason why the Tiempos encouraged a liberal and humanist take on education–because of the possibility that one might see one’s independence and agency, and having these, enable people to relate well and justly with others.

This is what Edilberto tells us of what a liberal education should be:

The first business of the university is the promotion of the expansion of the mind, for there is no true culture without acquisitions; in other words, the first business of a college student is the striving for enlargement, for illumination. This means acquiring a great deal of knowledge on a good number subjects, and translated into the program for a bachelor of arts degree it means about 147 units, or the equivalent of more than forty different courses. All this means a great deal of reading, a wide range of information. Matthew Arnold says that the function of criticism is the search and propagation of the best that is known and thought in the world in order to create a current of true and fresh ideas. Such a function is indeed the primary function of a university. This necessitates, for the student, the possession of a curious, exploring mind; a mind that can be both shocked into recognition of a folly or error, and startled into a new discovery; and finally a mind that dares to be challenged. A student with such a mind and with a willingness to buckle down to work has his university career more than half accomplished. (“On Liberal Education” 183-184)

Without saying it, the orientation of a student of liberal education would be relationality and its prerequisite openness. One receives and one responds in the most appropriate way possible. It is only through this that the Arnoldian invitation might be met: to be able to offer criticism, and be part of the “current of true and fresh ideas.”

Edith, sharing Edilberto’s ideas on liberal education, would manifest these in her writing about the creation of poetry, which must have what “a bright coherence”:

Thus, when Robert Frost speaks up he does not say, “Love thy neighbor.” Rather, he says in whimsical indirection and understatement, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall and would want to tear it down. Like the Great Wall of Ancient China, the Bamboo Curtain of the China of today, the Iron Curtain of Russia. Our cryptic modern poet says, Speak, but not a pretty affirmation, not a formula like “Love thy neighbor.” But more different than arresting, more cognizant of inhering complexity, our modern poet would speak and say, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”

The ways of yesteryears, even the ways of writing and of saying things, are not for us today. We must make our own metaphors for thinking and living in our own age. Even the Bible has to have new translations to bring it closer to our modern experience and make it more meaningful to us.

Finally, in such a shaky atmosphere as ours today, the best poetry becomes a kind of crusading poetry that would preserve for man his finest and best self. Thus it is that all enduring poetry becomes tinged with the religious. We scrutinize the significant poems of all times and find them inevitably religious. Even our own tough-minded modern poetry is religious and spiritual, often in its peculiar terms. For spiritual communion is the unity that holds together the most heterogenous elements, whether in the diversified macrocosm of society or in the no less diversified microcosm of the inner person. (Edith Tiempo, “A Bright Coherence” 107)

From the lengthy quotation, we find Edith’s own application of liberal education in the discipline of poetry–the search for new poetic expressions and being aware of what had come before, the continuous need to make things contemporary and relatable. The call towards the religious can also be found here–hence the reference to Christianity and the psalms. One will also find here a discreet calling out of what Edith might have viewed as something that might go against the liberal vision of individual agency—references to the Iron Curtain and the Bamboo Curtain.

The metaphorical references to the Soviet Union and China in middle of the 20th century, I think, imply Edith’s possible preference for a politics other than the positioning of these countries, which would be Maoist and Leninist, involving the proletariat and the peasantry in the a cultural revolution that is supposed to eliminate determined feudal forces, all to promote a more communal way of life.

In this regard, I think it will be fair to reexamine whether the kind of writing advocated for by the Tiempo couple was truly apolitical or not. The fact that Edith speaks of contemporary realities in relation to writing, as well as Edilberto’s adherence to an idea of Matthew Arnold, who was certainly not an “art for art’s sake” figure [8], will lead us once again to reexamine the adherence of the couple to the New Criticism.

Writing about the charge that the Tiempos were “propagating a purportedly politically impotent movement of literary criticism,” Cruz presents the sides of the accusation:

On the one hand, the New Critical belief in the autonomy of literature tends to function as a convenient shorthand to justify the easy dismissal of the Tiempo school as indifferent to socio-historical realities in general, and the nationalist project in particular. On the other hand, the primacy of craft as the content of a creative writing education serves as a catchall explanation for the lack of emphasis on social consciousness in the Tiempo’s pedagogy. Both arguments rely on the deadlock that pits aesthetic against political investments and maintain that the Tiempos, for better or for worse, privileged the former over the latter. (6)

It has already been asserted by other critics that the Tiempos had made New Criticism their own. However, I think that a return to the words of Edilberto himself shows us how he really viewed writing:

The creative artist is not a chronicler; he synthesizes what has been recorded. He plows through the confused details and chooses only those that are relevant; he organizes them to achieve order and coherence and point up their meaning and significance as dramatized in terms of credible interrelationships among the personae, and to compel belief through the work’s integrity. The author of a novel which deals with a Filipino family through three generations, from the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War to the two world wars, received a high compliment when Ansuri Nawawi, an Indonesian visiting professor at Silliman University who holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Princeton, said, “I have learned more about the Philippines and its people from that novel than from any Philippine history book I have read.” (“People Power and the Creative Writer” 28)

From the above, it is clear that the writer takes material from the substance of real life. In the case of writing To Be Free, it probably would not have been possible to divorce oneself from tackling political issues, on which the anti-imperialist concerns of Cruz would be inextricably related.

For Tiempo, one writes because it is intended to serve a function in society. [9] How can this be apolitical? He writes in the same speech from which the above was lifted, “to understand the role of the artistic writer as a contributor to People Power, we should be able to see first his contribution as the writer’s responsibility in humanizing people’s perceptions, not only of other people, but also of events and, ultimately, history.” (29)

It certainly looks plausible that the Tiempos had a purpose for their writing, and it was to make one sensitive to the needs of others, with the intent of making good of that sensitivity in society. This is clearly not apolitical–and hence I must say clearly that to focus on this assertion is a regrettable error on the part of Cruz. The politics might have been focused on the relational, but certainly the Tiempos were not apolitical writers, nor was their teaching of writing apolitical.

If ever there was a focus on form, it was for the sake of the delivery of ideas that are humanized and relatable to readers. This alone, according to Edilberto, might have a profound and transformational effect on readers:

The ideas preserved in the best literature that the 3,000 years have produced do not conflict with the Christian ethics; on the contrary, the best literature and Christian ethics complement each other; and on points where they converge, they produce the transformation that comes with an encounter with greatness; they may produce a conversion through the illumination of the spirit. If the best literature may not “save a soul” in the theological sense, still it is enough that the best literature awakens a keener awareness of life and the world and of the sense of goodness and truth and beauty. Jesus was angry with those who had eyes but saw them not, with those who had ears but heard not. I think it is demanded of us, as students in a Christian university, to develop ears that hear, eyes that see, minds and quicken, hearts that can laugh and weep. And one excellent ground for this nurture is great literature. (“The Christian Faith and Literature” 242)

It should come as no surprise that Edilberto connects the Christian faith and literature as he sees that the function of literature is to make the heart sensitive and, hopefully, lead one to human transformation that will be of good to society.

The Tiempos, it may be said, had taken what they need from New Criticism–the ability to create an effective means of communication–as well as the strengths of a liberal education in order to be able to write humanizing pieces that are transformational. This, I would like to assert, is the liberal humanist theory behind the Silliman Workshop, and this is what Cruz, with her insistence on her particular lens, might not see.

The Combination of Modes of Expression

It is fair to ask–if such is a Tiempo theory of literature and creative writing, then what would be its praxis? It will be safe to say that it was the Silliman Workshop and their own creative practice. And a closer look at the workshop will not be close enough if one does not see that the notion of family is something associated with it. Before proceeding to this topic, it will be good to take a look at an aspect of the liberal humanist education that the Tiempos espoused, which put it in a suspicious feudal and imperialist mold–the role of English in the workshop.

English was known to be the language of the Silliman Workshop. Until recently, only works in this language were accepted for discussion. According to an email by Jaime An Lim, writer and former Silliman Workshop Director, it was in the year 2018 when the workshop accepted balak, poetry in Cebuano, for workshop applications. I believe that this shift is an important one; however, it needs to be considered in light of the reasons behind the use of English.

The primary reason behind Cruz’s focus on English as the language of the Silliman Workshop, as already stated in her assessment of Edilberto Tiempo, has anti-imperialist motives as impetus. Based on Cruz’s assessment, the formation of the Anglo-American Canon that was accessible to Filipinos early in the twentieth century was formative, and the formation had both language and values in view. Though her assessment of Edilberto might not be fair, it is valid that she problematizes the choice of language: because of the closeness of the formation of language use and the actuations of the person learning English, one might as well say that the use of language is reflective of character.

What Cruz would have wanted to happen was that the Tiempos unpack this relationship between language and life as an anti-imperialist stance—hence, subject English to variation from the Standard English that couple was teaching at the workshop. However, for Cruz, there is no openness to variation in the language, which does not conform with the notion of heteroglossia, reflective of a cacophony of voices within a particular social context. (23)

I propose that, though this idea is a good one to explore, perhaps Cruz was expecting the Tiempos to act the way her structural vision compels her to. This is because Cruz seems to be focused on the linguistic mode of expression in her vision of the theoretical concept of heteroglossia, whereas Edith was encouraging–as early as the 1960s–a combination of disciplines as a means of creating something new. One key to the Tiempos, I think, is to consider that they were more than focused on literary matters. Understanding their literary work involves being familiar with their other commitments and interests.

The dichotomy of divided writing that Cruz does well to point out in Edith’s essay “The Use of English in Philippine Creative Writing” can be supplemented well by a set of remarks given during a folk music conference once given at Silliman University:

One great danger from our times is the tendency to separate the form from the spirit in our thinking. As seen in the procedures of art, this deplorable tendency is displayed by some of our artists today in the dichotomy of form from substance, or technique from feeling. This dichotomy or separation is evident today in the strong emphasis upon form, often without the corresponding life and spirit in the artistic work. And ironically enough, it is this very life and spirit which can quicken the art and make it communicate itself and move people to respond.

Folk music does not have this trouble at all, of course. No one can accuse a folk song of being pure form and having little or no spirit. Quite the contrary.

Folk music is almost absolutely unguarded expression of a people’s spirit in every type of mood: The folk music in countries of the world over show this spontaneous outpouring....

Let us turn away from the great danger of our times, the danger of separation from feeling, of looking on unmoved at the crucial issues of our day; the danger of looking on at cruelty and imminent disaster, and at man’s inhumanity to man, as if these were mere ideas, mere items of knowledge that have no power to touch us, to move us to tears or to rage or to indignation. This is our danger.

This is the terrible dichotomy whose warnings are echoed today in the divided performance of many an artist and many a scientist, both. And the study and appreciation of our folk music is surely a step toward this return to sensibility. (Edith Tiempo, “When Music Sings in the Hearts of the People 21)

This lengthy but key portion in “When Music Sings in the Hearts of the People” speaks of a notion of spirit that animates a community, and which leads to the formation of a particular song, which is not the same as the one written according to the traditions we have received through Europe and the United States. By extension, Edith’s suggestion for the writer is to be immersed in this music from the folk and let it inform what must be the content and form.

If the language taken from what is known as the West is taken and broken into through an immersion not only in folk stories and images, but also folk melodies and rhythms, then would that not be a combination of modes of expression that will result in something hybrid? The colonized one, therefore, can use such hybrid material as performance against the colonizer, all in light of the linguistic turn which can considers the materials of music as comprising a kind of language.

Though there will be scholars who will insist on the music-ness of folk music (perhaps in a range of what can be called by musicologists as musics), it can be argued that it has a function of signification in the way language signifies. This will make it possible for me and others to read Edith’s poetic work as heteroglossic because it employs elements from a multimodal range which expresses various voices from her community.

I wish to illustrate this by expanding her own discussion of the poem “The Pestle,” (Edith Tiempo, “The Pestle”) which I personally claim to be a  poem that can be read to contain nationalist and anti-imperial significations. I quote this important poem in full–it is relatively short, and there are no stanza breaks:

The Pestle

... in the beginning the sky hung low over the earth...and the woman took off her beads and her crescent comb and hung them up on the sky, the more freely to work. As her pestle struck the blur arch again and again, it began to rise, rise...
~ “The Origin of the Moon and the Stars,” a Philippine myth

… the bamboo split and out stepped Malakas [Strong] and Maganda [Beautiful], the first man and woman.
~ “The Story of the Creation,” a Philippine myth 

On the bank the wash-stick is beating out time,
Time and wise words and riddles in a wooden rime;
Why should he listen, just to cross its dark message! If he,
A good smith beating his tempered muscles into plows,
And she (in prayers), folding her mildewed safety between bleached vows,
Once wrought for Beauty and Strength, if they be
Splinters from the cracked bamboo,
They shouldn’t listen to that crude tattoo!
To grapevine its heresies through some crumbling bole—
Why should they?—they, the divine stems? Yet strange, he stokes the fires,
Burns himself in a thousand spots. He is not done.
And she?—he sees her rinsed-out fears a whole
White line slacked, flopping through the mire.
Old woman, best leave the wash-stick in the sun;
(The pestle pushed the thigh-bone comb
And the beads of clay high, too high)
Our tough hands shake and our sweaty lips smirk and lie,
We had stored our treasures in a maggoty home.

Edith, without saying it, offers her own reading of this work in the key essay “Myth in Philippine Literature,” which tells us that the way to cross the divide created by language and culture is through accessing the universal images that connect us, presumably via the collective unconscious:

One common Philippine myth, the myth of creation, can give body to the idea of the impact of industrialism on the local sensibility, which is generally characterized as gentle and unsophisticated. Instead of an outright dramatization of this idea in a story or a poem (a procedure which would leave the outward terms of the situation strange and unreconciled to alien eyes, unless indeed made more detailed than artistic propriety would advise), the myth of Malakas and Maganda coming out of a split bamboo can be most happily used as a basis. Then one can rely on the universality of human behavior thus exposed in primitive terms; also one can take full advantage of the ironical connotations attached to the “bamboo underpinnings” evident in so many of our enterprises today, as contrasted with the steel rods and trappings of industrial efficiency. (265)

While Edith focuses on the content of the poem within the excerpt above, I would like to call attention to the internal rhythm that supports the whole poem. The rhythm is built only on strong-sounding consonants like d and b, but also soft-sounding ones such as m, as well as repeated vowel sounds.

Indeed, this might be the tattoo that Edith refers to in the middle of the poem.

I believe that her use of repetition, which is ambiguous in its signification of both cold industrial machines and repeated beating of the wash-stick by the river, is indicative of her efforts at multimodality, combining materials from music and language (Edith Tiempo, “When Music Sings in the Hearts of the People” 23-24). In any case, the structures of Standard English might be considered broken because of the repetitions of words and poetic torqueing that happens because Edith was following a distinct internal rhythm.

The quoted excerpt from “Myth in Philippine Literature” indicates that the reading of the poem might be framed in terms of the issues brought about by industrialization and class struggle in a primarily agricultural nation such as ours. However, I would consider it leaning towards a nationalist and anti-imperialist statement by virtue of the thigh-bone comb that is pushed away when the clouds go higher because of the up and down motion of the pestle used to separate chaff from the rice. The tines of the comb subtly indicate stripes, whereas the baked beads that hang with the comb–could those be stars?

The multimodal reading that I offered above will not suffice for an anti-imperialist reading premised on the pushing away of “stars and stripes,” so I choose to be frank and say that, in my conversations with Edith, she has told me of her determination to retain her Filipino culture–even in the way people address each other–not only when she was studying in the US, but also when she was studying with the American teachers at Silliman University.

Going beyond this and moving into her life context, husband Edilberto was also someone to problematize what it is to be Filipino. It is not well known these days that he had clearly presented his stakes about the national language in 1983, when he published the essay, “Tagalog: the Fourth Colonization,” in Panorama Magazine.

It is clear from the title that Edilberto refused to be dominated, indicating that the imposition of Tagalog as the basis, for the national language goes against the idea of freedom. He writes that “the allegation by the Tagalistas that English is the language of the elite is mindless and myopic; they seem to forget that propagating a Tagalog-based national language is creating their own brand of elitism” (“Tagalog: The Fourth Colonization” 214). It might be safe to say that the sting of colonization was still felt by the Tiempo couple, after all. [10]

It was Edith’s choice to retain manners Filipino and the concern for quashing the colonial and its extensions that Edilberto must have shared with her, that I take as handle for an anti-imperialist reading. Without a doubt, this also makes sense in light of that bigger act of moving back to the Philippines with Edilberto and her children even if options for her family to stay in the US had opened up.

Overall, the above details will place the use of English by the Tiempo couple and the Silliman Workshop under a different light–and it might add a dimension to Cruz’s take that it was an imperialist tool that the Tiempos were not able to address.

Reading the Family in the Silliman Workshop Context

Returning to the concern for a different political approach to the search for greater freedom, I am proposing that the Tiempos did not focus on creating a structure that would go against feudal and imperialist forces. However, the relationality that could be read from their Christian orientation, as well as their commitment to the return to local materials and interactions, must have led to what might be a logical return to the fundamental family structure, the basic unit of Philippine society.

The Silliman Workshop has long been known to be built on the family image. Edilberto was called Dad, and Edith Mom. I called them by these appellations even if I did not meet Edilberto in the flesh, not all workshop fellows did. I think that the family structure is easily relatable to the fact that Edith had miscarriages during the war, a fact of her life that would be reborn into poems such as “Lament for the Littlest Fellow.” However, to say this would be to immediately stop looking at other aspects of the Tiempos’ life that might enrich our understanding why the workshop was viewed as family.

Not all workshop fellows felt that they were part of a family structure, to be sure. To look at the Silliman Workshop and immediately associate it with the family might then be inappropriate although it would be on point to speak of it as a nurturing environment [11]. There are many stories that attest to the sense of nourishment one got from the Silliman Workshop. It was not just being fed in terms of knowledge, nor was it just about food. It was such a well-rounded experience that one might as well call family. The writer Merlie Alunan, in an email dated September 4, 2020, elaborates on how it was to be at the Tiempos’ old family home in Amigo Subdivision, Dumaguete:

Ed and Edith drew people into their circle, like moth to candle flame. It was probably out of mutual need. People attracted to literature rarely find good company anywhere they go in the world. In the environs of the Tiempo home, especially in the old Amigo house, literature breathed down upon one’s head from the santol and the mango trees that Ed had tended with so much love, the old furniture, the paintings, Mom Edith’s special way with her table, the little touches of refinement on china and sparkling fresh fruit drinks they loved to serve. One’s soul is fed, as well as the body. Conversation under the trees, under the moon, with the noontime serenade of the cicadas in the background scintillated. They lingered in the memory. Until now these memories are still with me. Where but in Amigo can you savor the refined air of poetry, not just in a book but as it is lived?

It was not only at the table that fellows feel like family. The dynamics of the relationship, if I might say so, had an inward and outward motion. It was as if one gave and one received both. Anthony Tan writes via Facebook Messenger, “Dad would go to the airport/wharf to welcome the arriving fellow. Cesar Aquino [12] was so impressed by this gesture of generosity and hospitality that he wrote a glowing tribute to Dad and called him ’a man whose heart was as large as Africa.’ No other workshops/heads of workshops that I know of, would do this. They usually send their staff/subalterns to pick up the writing fellows.”

There are many more former fellows of the workshop who can say more about the nurturing quality of the relationship with the Tiempos. However, perhaps the one who might be able to represent best what was the workshop family is the late Ernesto Superal Yee, who had written a short story illustrating the relationship. It is unabashedly titled “Valencia Drive: A Tribute to Dad.” A good part of the story illustrates similar memories as some details of the story, but Yee was able to direct the reader towards what the purpose of such nourishing was –the hopes of forming a more well-rounded writer and person:

Now it was time to write fiction. His first attempt (which was actually a mutant of that genre), was mildly criticized by Dad as lazy writing. After the session, Dad told him, Myles, if you can write a poem, then you shouldn’t find it hard to write fiction. Give the writing of stories the same amount of drive, energy and love as you do for your poems. If you can do that, show me your work. And while doing it, keep in mind the artisans at work. He who holds a blowtorch endures heat and glare while melding two edges of steel to form a design; and he who has conquered his fear of heights may measure space’s precise length and width from which his structure shall rise. Dad was right. The work he submitted was haphazardly done. After supper, Myles, bearing seriously Dad’s words, tackled the dizzying and crafty art of fiction. The revised work entitled “Anniversary,” altough there was a minor obscurity that Dad wanted cleared (nothing Freudian about it!), got Dad’s warmest smile and hug of congratulation. (Yee 52)

It might be said that the “amount of drive, energy and love” that Edilberto calls from Yee, who gave himself the name Myles (in reference to the Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” maybe?) is the same thing called for when Mom and Dad Tiempo ask him to drive up the mountain of Valencia town in Negros Oriental. The story, which happens internally, is really just about a car drive up challenging terrain. Yee’s character surmounts the challenge—and the writing challenges too—because of nurturing presence of the Silliman Workshop parents [13].

The closeness that is developed through nurturing makes the following words of Cruz particularly hurtful:

The filial logic that camouflages the colonialist enterprise embedded in the institutional history of the Silliman Workshop is replicated in the logic that deflects criticism of its institutional power over the literature produced, circulated, awarded, and studied in the Philippines. It is awkward, at the very least, to cast a critical eye on the legacy of a literary figure one has been taught to call “Mom” on the workings of a community one has been invited to regard as family. It is no wonder that the writings on the Tiempos by those they mentored tend toward hagiography. To regard the Silliman Workshop as family, while inspiring affection and harmony, also naturalizes a culture of deference and loyalty in an institutional setting. (15)

However, the call of criticality tells me that there is more. Firstly, it was not simply a camouflage, but a lived nurturing reality, which grew for some into a family relationship. To speak of a family relationship and say that what comes out of it in terms of writing is hagiographical is an unbalanced conjecture. The reason for this is that though affection might be seen, it does not mean that it always a condition towards deference. In fact, can the fullness of a family relationship not end up with individuals who exercise their own agency, utilize their independent judgment?

Anthony Tan, when asked about the expectations of the Tiempo couple on their writer students, gives the following response on the side of agency in his Facebook Message dated September 4, 2020:

Absolute autonomy. Write what you know best, in the language you are most capable of using. Choose your own genre which befits your abilities…. That’s what students learn in workshops. You can’t learn that from books. They didn’t stop me from writing my ”Sulu” stories. I don’t think they really ”love” the subject, especially Mom Edith, but they didn’t tell me: ”Hey, leave that subject alone.” They respected my choice.

Besides, I am sure they saw that that is the only subject close to me since I am from that place. They respected my choice… When ”The Cargo,” my story about Sulu massacre at sea was going to be anthologized, Dad Ed was asked by the editors Jaime An Lim and Christine Ortega to write the intro. Dad Ed thought—in that intro—that I had written a very good story in ”The Cargo.” The subject is a violent, gory one which could only be found in Sulu. So write what you know best, was a kind of unwritten law to them, and in a language that you know best, and in a genre which befits your talent.

This autonomy extended well beyond the writing life. As there is no separation between both, the students also had the freedom to exercise their own choices when it came to the visions that are the foundation of their endeavors.

It is notable that the Silliman Workshop, according to An Lim, gave birth to many workshops, stating that “it has spawned numerous local, regional, or national counterparts at UP Diliman, UP Mindanao, UP Tacloban, UP Iloilo, La Salle Manila, La Salle Bacolod, UST, Ateneo de Manila University, University of San Carlos, Far Eastern University, MSUIIT, not to mention the various workshops sponsored by such literary groups as LIRA or Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo. As a whole, these writers workshop have had arguably some impact on the development and direction of creative writing in the country.” (An Lim, “Keynote Address”)

What must not be consigned to forgetfulness is that the above workshops specialize in the encouragement of writing in the regional languages. This surely resonates with Tan’s assertion above that the Tiempo couple was not particular about the writing student’s language of choice, but one can immediately see that the couple did not exert control outwardly and otherwise. How can we therefore assume that the family relationship necessarily brings about deference [14]?

According to Edilberto as narrated by Yee, what enables the creation of a work of art is love. What is passed on through the nurturing and the family relationship within the Silliman Workshop community, in its different degrees and appellations, is love. It is this that allows for the students and writing children to be their own human agents, and it is this dynamic agency that has arguably enabled the rise of many workshops that put into question the idea that the Silliman Workshop propagates a feudal system and the American imperialist agenda.

Could the love fostered in the Silliman Workshop, being a parent-workshop, have contributed to decolonizing motions in the country via the nurturing of literature in the regional languages? This kind of idea is not an implausible one, if only through the lens of other people proposing similar theories. In fact, love as a decolonizing factor is a key concept in Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed, which views the wounds that love creates in a colonized context as Barthesian puncti from which decolonial movidas come about [15] (139-140).

What about the idea that the workshop has “gatekeepers?” I personally would think that any endeavor bound by various resources will always have limits, and the padrino system might always take place because of the vulnerability of human actors. Still, one needs to listen more. For example, my own recommendation to the workshop came from the writer Alfred “Krip” Yuson, whom Cruz criticized for his elaboration of the idea of the workshop family. I did not feel that padrino system she speaks of protect me when Ernie Yee, a member of the selection committee, told me that I was not top-ranked by the selection committee in 2003 [16].

Yuson, in a Facebook Messenger chat dated September 13, 2020, wrote me the following: “The matter of recommending? That came naturally. Former fellows and panelists would of course be an important source of dissemination about the workshop, and thus encourage friends and acquaintances to try getting in. Those who seemed impressive were recommended or required to come up with the note of support from workshop alumni or distinguished academics / lit profs / writers. Siempre it would turn into what was eventually condemned as ‘gatekeeping.’ But how else could info about the workshop spread out? But the evaluation for final fellowship selection was mainly based on manuscript quality. A factor was regional distribution.”

It was clear from the online chat that Yuson views “gatekeeping” and the padrino system was connected to the Silliman Workshop’s way of dissemination. To me, these are aligned with the idea that the Tiempos had prioritized relationality as part of a Christian-Liberal Humanist-Filipino approach—wherein love and the fascination for the literary work would have a place. As mentioned earlier, human actors are vulnerable. The fact that the Silliman Workshop had a safeguard in the screening committee must, however, be considered as a positive point.

I see the risk of the feudal possibilities that Cruz decries. This is also something that is clearly reflected in the thoughts of Sison, mentioned earlier, about how family becomes the means through which feudal relations are replicated. I think it prudent to return to the Tiempos’ philosophical perspective and give appropriate focus on individual agency when passing critical judgment on the matter while facing head-on the theorizing of structural power and dominance.

The individual actions taken by Edilberto in his own quest for freedom, I find it worth noting, could have come to fruit in the promotion of regional languages which he and Edith did not write with because of certain turns in their lived reality–including their having come from different provinces. It is entirely possible that coming to fruit happened through the family relationship that Cruz simply judged as “camouflage.” The family relation might have been the operationalization of the optic through which the Tiempos lived and taught, and which had its own vulnerabilities because of the focus on human actors.

Ending by Way of Story

There are three things that I wish to do as I conclude this critical analysis.

 The first of these is to make clear ideas that arose while trying to listen carefully to “The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer”:

  1. Firstly, it is not fair to frame the Silliman Workshop under the aegis of American Cultural Diplomacy without an attempt to formulate the approach of the Tiempos to creative writing. This, I theorize to be based on Christian, liberal humanist, and Filipino elements that still need to be accounted for better in the future.
  2. The second point is that for the Tiempos, writing is always integrated with one’s life experience, and politics is part of life. This idea, which resonates with Constantino, should be a clear indication that the Tiempos, though they utilized New Criticism, were not New Critics and not apolitical.
  3. Interpreting the choice for English in the Silliman Workshop should factor in the high-level debate about the choice for the national language, and a perceived inclination of the Tiempos towards interdisciplinarity. Upon looking closely at their work, it might be seen that they might have worked, consciously or not, towards a multimodal heteroglossia, which enables anti-imperialist gestures beyond language.
  4. The last point I wish to make is that the family quality of the Silliman Workshop, though not something shared by all workshop fellows, is something that needs a closer examination. From my viewpoint, because of the element of love, there is something that makes the Silliman Workshop both transformative and vulnerable on many levels. It so happens that there has been a transformation of the Philippine writing scene, thanks to students of the Tiempos institutionalizing workshops that nurture the regional languages. Though the possibility of the padrino system is a vulnerability rooted in the focus on relationality, there might be something anti-imperialist in the Silliman Workshop after all.

The second major point I wish to make is that there might be a view that it is impossible to find middle ground between the Christian-Liberal Humanist-Filipino approach that the Tiempos used, and strictly structural approaches to feudalism and imperialism. I would think that Cruz, for all the possible good that anti-imperialist criticism can bring, might have been caught in the dichotomy because she had clearly taken one side.

My only wish is that it creates a dwelling—a new space—within the difficulty. What best represents this for me is the framework I had chosen for this paper. We must always make space for one another, even in our criticism and theory, and focus on pakikipagloob. It may seem to have a harmonizing function, but that is not the end goal. What is important is to make space for one another in a world where people wrest power and resources from others. Perhaps the expression irog-irog might work as a gentle reminder. Perhaps criticism can be geared towards listening and making space in discourse, not  just the assault and wresting of power that seems associated with it.

The final point I wish to make is that that the answers we look for might be elsewhere. In the case of the Tiempos—how would it have been possible for me to see that their interdisciplinarity could have resulted in a multimodality, which might just be another way towards an anti-imperialist project?

Let me end with a story. Mom Edith Tiempo and Ernie Yee were once invited to judge a literary contest in Tagbilaran, Bohol. Ernie took me along perhaps so that he could have a companion when Mom Edith spent time with Ma’am Marj Evasco, who is a Bol-anon, and other friends in the city. After the judging was done, and while Mom Edith and Ernie were asleep in their respective rooms–or so I thought–I went down to the empty ballroom of our hotel to try the grand piano.

I was overeager back then to take lessons again, though Ernie, himself a pianist, wondered at how I could make time to practice. I had my MA studies and my involvement with workshop-related matters to attend to. I played Mozart’s Sonata K 545, movement 1. I remember how uneven the tempo was, how I infused the playing with a passion that I would most likely temper now. Lo and behold, Mom Edith entered the ballroom and approached me, watching closely until I finished the movement.

What I remember most are her words: ”You play like a college student!” My familiarity with her approach told me that she was both encouraging me and challenging me. After this, we would have conversations about music back in Dumaguete, which culminated with the advice that I should not let go of my music.

She taught me poetry at the workshop, Mom Edith, but her most direct piece of advice was to keep my music going. If I did not heed her advice, I would not be in a graduate program in musicology now. Without concepts from musicology, how could I even begin to have a fuller appreciation of the Tiempos’ lifework as an iteration of the dynamic connection between creative writing and nationalism?

If we don’t step away from perspectives that we are inclined to, how might we find new ways of understanding?


  1. The song “Pahaloka Ko, Day” is more commonly available as “Pasayawa Ko, Day” on YouTube.
  2. The folk song is composed by the community in a combination of conscious and unconscious ways. On the other hand, a composed song has a specific person who wrote it. “Pahaloka Ko, Day,” according to critic and professor Jose S. Buenconsejo (284), was written by Cebuano composer Ben Zubiri. It has a dialogue structure plus what seems to be a section that connects back to the beginning, making one think that there is a composer who put the music together. Still, it has elements of the folk—the differing titles indicate the influence of various communities on the song. I thank Dr. Jose Buenconsejo and Ms. Sol Trinidad of the UP College of Music, and Mr. Paolo Pardo, for allowing me to consult on the distinctions of the folk song and composed song.
  3. The Creative Writing Foundation (CWF) had been the group that helped the Silliman Workshop when the university had withdrawn its support in the mid-1990s. Alfred “Krip” Yuson sent me the following as part of a message on September 13, 2020: “Re CWF, among the donor-friends we managed to secure financial assistance from were: Tonyboy Cojuangco (in a big way), Sen. Edgardo Angara, Dr. Jaime Laya, Erlinda Panlilio, and several other private donors who addressed individual fellowships.”
  4. Writing as Amado Guerrero in Philippine Society and Revolution (85), Sison states that “feudalism still persists in the Philippines although US imperialism has introduced a certain degree of capitalist development. US monopoly capital has assimilated the seed of capitalism that is within the womb of domestic feudalism but at the same time it has prevented the full growth of this seed into a national capitalism. The persistence of feudalism and the growth of a limited degree of capitalism can be understood only by delving into history. Feudalism is a mode of production in which the principal forces of production are the peasants and the land which they till and the relations of production are basically characterized by landlord oppression and exploitation of the peasantry. The most immediate manifestation of feudalism is the possession of vast areas of cultivable land by a few landlords who themselves do not till the land and who compel a big number of tenants to do the tilling. Feudal relations between the parasitic landlord class and the productive peasantry essentially involve the extortion of exorbitant land rent in cash or kind from the latter by the former. Such basic relations leave the tenant-peasants impoverished as their share of the crop is just enough or even inadequate for their subsistence. They are further subjected to such feudal practices such as usury, compulsory menial service and various forms of tribute. The old landlord class which utilizes land rent essentially for its private pleasure and luxury is satisfied with the backward method of agriculture because it gets more than enough for its needs from the sheer exertion of physical labor with simple agricultural implements by a big mass of tenants. On the other hand, the tenant who has only his own assigned plot to till is further impoverished by the low level of technology.”
  5. Although well beyond the flow of argumentation of this paper, I am putting down ideas of the philosopher Slavoj Zizek in this footnote, as he had articulated a value that Christianity has in a reexamination of a Marxist viewpoint. Touching on Zizek here shows that there have been recent ideational developments that bridge Christian ideas, leftist frameworks, and ideas of liberation–the last one approached by the Tiempos differently through their Christian background. Zizek borrows from a psychoanalytic position when he writes that “In Lacanian terms, the difference here is the one between idealization and sublimation: false idealizing idealizes, it blinds itself to the other’s weaknesses—or, rather, it blinds itself to the other as such, using the beloved as a blank screen on to which it projects its own phantasmagorical constructions; while true love accepts the beloved the way she or he is, merely putting her/him into the place of the Thing, the unconditional Object. As every true Christian knows, love is the work of love—the hard and arduous work of repeated ‘uncoupling’ in which, again and again, we have to disengage ourselves from the inertia that constrains us to identify with the particular order we were born into. Through the Christian work of compassionate love, we discern in what was hitherto a disturbing foreign body, tolerated and even modestly supported by us so that we were not too bothered by it, a subject, with its crushed dreams and desires—it is this Christian heritage of uncoupling that is threatened by today’s ‘fundamentalisms,’ especially when they proclaim themselves Christian.” (128-129) This quotation intersects with my proposed view of the Tiempos upholding the personal because this is not a denial of other overarching forces that influence lives. Though there is a focus on the personal, it is marked by the detachment, the uncoupling that Sizek writes about, that allows for a dynamic movement from the broad to the intimate—the structural to the personal.
  6. Romans 8: 35-39, King James Version: (35) “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? / (36) As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. / (37) Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. / (38) For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, / (39) Nor height / nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The epitaph of Edilberto is to be found in verse 37.
  7. Micah 7: 9, King James Version: “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him, until he plead my cause, and execute judgment for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness.” Only the italicized section appears on Edith’s tombstone.
  8. National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera makes a distinction of the criticism of Arnold and the notion of “art for art’s sake:” Modernist standards, set by Western artists reacting against commercialism and the worship of technology in the industrialized economies of their society, were appropriated as norms for young Filipino writers seeking to keep abreast of the times. For instance, when the UP Writers Club was founded in the late 1920s, it borrowed its artistic credo, “Art for Art’s Sake,” from turn-of-the-century Western artists who wanted to break away from the hold of Matthew Arnold’s concept of literature as a “criticism of life.” (186)
  9. In an email dated September 3, 2020, writer, administrator and critic Jaime An Lim shares a memory that proves the above point. He writes, The Tiempos were not always formalist. For instance, at one time Dr. Ed Tiempo criticized a well-written but ”sexually racy” piece of work as a waste of the writer’s creative talent. He saw literature as a vehicle for a more useful end. This was clearly not formalist anymore but already verging on the ethical and moral considerations. Moreover, he knew a wide range of critical theories. I took his graduate course in Literary Criticism which covered some of the important critics and critical concepts from Plato and Aristotle and Longinus to Shelley and Sydney and Arnold and Marx and Eliot and Brooks, etc.” The range of Edilberto’s readings in criticism and theory from this email must be considered as well.
  10. What might be considered problematic in Edilberto’s notable argumentation is the idea that education is available to all of people elect to go to school. These days, poverty and other structural imbalances continue to make this difficult. However, what we must put our attention to is the likely intensity of the debate, so much so that it merited a non-mention from a well-known teacher from the University of the Philippines, SV Epistola, who proposed another way of going about the national language problem. “Instead of making a nation out of us, this only disunited us even further. Instead of breaking down the barriers that divide us, it has in effect made them even more implacable. Predictably someone in Dumaguete declared he would never submit to another colonialism, which sadly was how he perceived the propagation of a Tagalog-based national language.” (122) For Epistola, the solution was to have one national language and promote the reading of regional literature. Personally, I find the proposal problematic given that it does not address the signification of Tagalog being the basis of the national language. In any case, I present the stinging quote above in order to open up spaces to discuss the commitments of Edilberto on language as well the nation.
  11. Jaime An Lim, who would become one of the foundational persons behind the Iligan National Writers Workshop, presented me with possible explanations aside from making it clear that not all the fellows felt that the workshop had a family structure. The following comes from an email from An Lim dated September 1, 2020: “During my time as an MA student, I never called the Tiempos Dad and Mom. I saw them first and foremost as my professors not as my parents. There were those who worked closely with them, helping out with the running of the workshop, etc.) and they perhaps felt entitled to call them Dad and Mom. I don’t know. I was never encouraged to call them that. But they were always kind to me and helpful in any way they could (getting me a scholarship, writing a recommendation letter, etc.) Because Silliman U was a relatively small university, they did not have so many students (there were only less than 15 MA students during my time) and could afford to give personal attention to every student. In a much bigger university (UP, Ateneo, La Salle) this might not be possible. But the workshop itself was more collegial rather than familial. When they discussed anyone’s work, that person was treated as a writer rather than as a son or a daughter. Rowena, the daughter of the Tiempos, was also a student at Silliman. The Tiempos were of course Dad and Mom to Rowena, so the other students probably got the cue from her and started calling them also as Dad and Mom.
  12. Cesar Ruiz Aquino, one of the earliest fellows of the Silliman Workshop, was also said to have looked for potential students from his home of Zamboanga upon being instructed by the Tiempos. It is through this action that the late poet Francis “Butch” Macansantos had an opportunity to study under the Tiempos. This is how Macansantos’s daughter Monica, herself a writer, recalls her father’s story, which shared via Facebook Messenger on August 30, 2020.
  13. It needs mentioning that Susan Lara, during a piano recital and tribute to Ernie Yee that I delivered in Silliman University on May 9, 2019, gave her own tribute to him, which included these words: “He was generous with everything he had–time, energy, talent, yes, even money–in everything he did, as writer, as pianist, as panelist in the National Writers Workshop (and for several years, as Workshop coordinator), as lawyer, as RTC clerk of court, as friend. During those years when the Workshop had to operate on a shoestring budget, Ernie helped out by sponsoring a number of workshop fellows and hosting them in his home in Dumaguete.”
  14. The ideas of Judith Butler, though mostly based on theorizing that is distant from our lived reality, provides a useful parallel to the family relationship that was borne out of the Silliman workshop. For Butler, a subject begets a subject; and in the discussion above, a parent who is a subject will produce a child who will come to one’s own power and be a subject. According to Butler, “a critical analysis of subjection involves: (1) an account of the way regulatory power maintains subjects in subordination by producing and exploiting the demand for continuity, visibility, and place; (2) recognition that the subject produced as continuous, visible, and located is nevertheless haunted by an inassimilable remainder, a melancholia that marks the limits of subjectivation; (3) an account of the iterability of the subject that shows how agency may well consist in opposing and transforming the social terms by which it spawned.” (29)
  15. Chela Sandoval, considering the idea of punctum, makes this clear and moving statement: “It is love that can access and guide our theoretical and political “movidas”–revolutionary maneuvers towards decolonized being. Indeed, Barthes thinks that access to the spectrum from which consciousness-in-resistance emanates might best materialize in a moment of “hypnosis,” like that which occurs when one is first overwhelmed or engulfed by love.” The moment when one is “first overwhelmed or engulfed by love”–one can find the punctum there.
  16. I remember sitting in with Ernie Yee, Bobby Flores Villasis, and Cesar Ruiz Aquino during one screening committee deliberation—likely for the Silliman Workshop in 2004. I also remember seeing committee members sift through the recommendations, and even disagree with some of them. What I remember most was a conversation with Ernie Yee. He told me that the panel gave writers whose works were exemplar higher ranks, while selecting others whose works showed indications of benefitting from the workshop.


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Niccolo Rocamora Vitug is a Ph.D. candidate at the College of Music of the University of the Philippines and an instructor in the Department of Literature at University of Santo Tomas. He is an alumnus of the Silliman National Writers Workshop. He holds a BFA in Creative Writing and MA in Literary and Cultural Studies, from the Ateneo de Manila University. His poetry collection Enter Deeply, selected as a finalist for the 2020 Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize, is a forthcoming publication of the University of the Philippines Press.