The Hunt for ‘IH’ — An Excerpt from “The Battle of Marawi”

Nonfiction by | October 12, 2020

To order a copy of The Battle of Marawi, please go to and follow the pinned instructions for payment and delivery. For the ebook version, please visit and follow the payment instructions. Readers in Mindanao may also visit to purchase copies in Cagayan de Oro City and Davao City.

It was almost midnight of May 22, a Wednesday, when Com1 held them up. May niluluto pa. Something is being cooked up. Apparently, new ‘intel’ was on its way. The subject of the meeting was about a target.

In Marawi, it seemed like just another ordinary day, as the people began preparing for the start of Ramadan four days hence.

Azalea thought that, in the spire of events running though his mind in the past days, it might be more about the Maute brothers. Their latest assignment had been a step-up from a series of military operations and other incidents taking place in the province since 2014. When he was put on hold again, Army intelligence officers were planning to raid a politician’s safe house where Abdullah Maute was supposed to be hiding, in the vicinity of the campus of Mindanao State University. Something was really going on but they could not pin it down. That it was Com1, no other, calling for the meeting brought Azalea to the conclusion that it was a bigger target than he thought. A plan was to be executed and a final briefing was to be held early the following day, Thursday of May 23.

Continue reading The Hunt for ‘IH’ — An Excerpt from “The Battle of Marawi”

When a Frog Escapes

Nonfiction, Poetry by | September 28, 2020

The sack was too heavy to carry. Lola told me not to drag it because it might shred off the ground and that the frogs inside it might escape. But the thought didn’t bother me. Besides, I was just a few meters away from Bukagan near Bankerohan Public Market, a stall where differently-sized baskets were created and sold. It was also where lola had stayed over the course of three decades to sell frog skeletons for medical college students.

I kept dragging the sack with my thin arms along the pebbly street as if I was carrying a corpse. It was knotted, which made me wonder if the frogs were still breathing. They were all croaking but the larger ones seemed uneasy. They were jumping as high as they could to escape. I stumbled and my hands accidentally unclasped the sack. But I stood up, clutching the sack again. The frogs didn’t defeat me. I reached our house but there was no one home. I went to the corner where lola used to slaughter the frogs and dumped the sack there.


As a child, I was never bothered that animals like frogs also had lives and needed to survive. The act never mattered to lola because she once told me that if being merciless is the only way to survive a day, she would kill frogs forever. It was for our own good, she said. I had long understood that we were poor—no each single kind of request would be granted instantly. But I also that if it was really for our good, then why would my ates and kuyas leave the house every day, only to return by past midnight? They said they wanted to be happy. I somehow agreed. Who could even stay in our house with all its unpainted brick walls? There were only two windows, both had no curtains. There were empty containers wedged at the corner so that if it rained, we would placed them where drops of water raced to fall. The wires of television entangled around a brittle wooden pole that supported our roof.


There was no good memory of me and ates and kuyas eating on the same table together when we were young. But if there was something that made us close to each other as friends, it was the large pre-loved bed where we slept next to each other.

A neighbor who’d migrated to Japan gave that bed to lola. The old covering was scraped off. It made my skin itchy when we slept on it, so lola fixed it all by herself. She brushed and washed the used sacks where the frogs had been once kept. She cut each sack on both sides and hand them on our clotheline. For days, she stitched the sacks together and laid it on the old bed as it cover.  I could no longer identify the color of each sack, but I remember that it looked like a single side of an unsolved rubik’s cube. When lola finished mending the furniture, my ates and kuyas found their places on the bed. We would sleep together like we were inside a can of tinapa and would wake up each morning to share the dreams or  nightmares we had the night before.  But where would ate Jelly sleep? There was no space on the for her. None of us were willing to sleep to sleep on the ground with patches of brown cardboards.

But one day ate Jelly didn’t come home. A few days we learned that she eloped with a man ten years older than her. It angered mama. She scolded lola for being neglectful.

At those times, I couldn’t sleep. I would look up the open window beyond the passing trycicles and hoped that ate would come back home and would sleep beside us. I had always wanted to talk to ate, to know why she had run away. Maybe I should have asked what she was thinking. The thoughts she had while she was sitting by our window, combing her hair with her fingers. She was sweetly humming a song I had no idea what it was. She said it was from a dream she had sung. She told me I couldn’t understand yet because I was too young to talk about love, family or forgiveness.


After a few weeks, mama and I finally knew where ate Jelly was staying with the man. I was nervous when we started walking down the rocky paths going to an unfamiliar neighborhood. We both ducked as if we were hunchbacks because our heads almost hit the floors of the stilted houses made of plywood and Amakan walls. We passed through trails of barricading stilts and clothelines where panties and briefs were hanging. We were in the darkest slums of Bankerohan. We reached the shack were ate Jelly and the man lived. A palm crucifix was nailed at the center of the wooden door. We knocked on the door for a couple of times, but we realized that no one was really inside. We were told by the man’s neighbor that he’d left with a young lady. By the time mama realized that ate Jelly was hiding in a different place, she decided not to bring me anymore. She told me to stay with lola and I was back carrying sacks of frogs again, still deeply thinking where my sister was really hiding.


This time, I dumped the sack without talking to lola as she began to talk about ate Jelly while rubbing her long knife against a whetstone. “Imong magulang wa na gyud kaantos diris balay. She never returned,” she said bitterly.

She prepared boiling water inside the large tin can. She placed the long knife beside her small chair with a folded cloth so her back wouldn’t hurt. She would be sitting for an entire day again. But before anything, she would count and check how many frogs were still alive. She untied the sack I had just brought. All the frogs were jumping as high as they could.

Guniti og tarong ang pikas sako, ayawg buhi. Don’t let go no matter what.”

Lola would get them one by one. Each frog would stretch its limbs, helpless as it would be transferred to another sack after counting. But I clumsily dropped the sack as one frog had accidentally touched my hand. I couldn’t help it. All the frogs were jumping anywhere.

Lola cursed at me and pinched my waist. I cried aloud almost to the point of wailing. Lola bent and tried to catch the other escaping frogs.

Dakpa ang isa, dakpa!” She screamed at me. “Catch them before they leave!”

She was looking at the frog that was on its way toward the hole of a ditch. But I really couldn’t stop that frog from leaving this house.  Lola beat me with a broom. It bruised my legs and arms. I stared  at the window exactly where ate Jelly was sitting and thought of the world outside where all the frogs return to.



Neil Teves has been a fellow for Creative Nonfiction to the Ateneo de Davao Summers Writers Workshop, the Cagayan de Oro Young Writers Studio, and the Davao Writers Workshop, all during 2018.

Tender Like A Bruise

Poetry by | September 21, 2020

He tells me to stop crying.

He had the most beautiful,

most cruel mouth: gums pink

as Mother’s expensive lipstick, tongue

soft and sharp.

His lips are tight like a vice

around the end of a withering cigarette—

Marlboro Red, no longer

than my thumb.

We lie in the quiet aftermath

of us fading. We do



not one body of memories.


He reminded me of my father,

smelling of smoke in the early evening, sitting

on the curb in front of the house

in Laguna.

It had been years since I last saw him.


I dress in haste, body scarred

by his constant

effortless nonchalance.

He says goodbye like an afterthought:

a stray bullet shot with eyes turned

the other way.


Weeks later, he calls.

I’ve missed your body.

His words are now tender,

like a bruise

pressed by young, curious fingers, wondering:

Would the skin open up to let the purple

            and yellow spill out like paint?

He is there and not there

at once.


When we are done, I leave,

stomach full

of melancholy.

Lamp posts line the streets; raining down

pools of orange light.

Tears dripping, I walk through them.

I bathe,

I bathe,

I bathe.





Nina Alvarez is a writer and illustrator based in Davao City. A graduate of Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines Mindanao, Nina Alvarez believes that the best way to show gratitude for experiencing good stories is creating more for others to experience as well.


Pakigbugno sa Kagahapon

Fiction by | September 21, 2020

Way pu-as ang pagkalansing sa mga kutsarag baso sa kusina ug ang pagkulamos ni Dodoy sa uban pang hugasonon. Puwerteng tagninga sa panagpingki sa mga basiyo nga bag-ohay lang gigamit sa ilang panag-ambitay sa panihapon ni Lolo Temio.


“Doy! Puwerte man nimog pakigbugno sa mga plato. Labaw pa man nimo ang sundalong nakigkombate sa mga gerilya sa Mindanao,” siyagit sa tigulang ngadto sa iyang apohan nga bisan pa og naa na kini sa sala ug gaatubang sa TV, gibanhaan gihapon sa kabug-at sa kamot sa apong nanghugas. Way tubag nga mibalik sa tigulang. “Oy! Paghinay diha kay dili ko kadungog aning akong gitan-aw!”


“Da! Mora sad kag kasabot anang gitan-aw nimo, Lo, oy,” tubag ni Dodoy nga mibalik sa dunggan ni Lolo Temio daw sama sa usa ka lanog nga gakahanap.


“Nakaminos gyod ka aning akong pagka-tiguwang ha,” nawala na ang pagkalagsik ug panagpingki niya, nga gisundan sa bug-at nga mga tunob. Mora sad kag nakigkombate sa mga Intsik da.”


“Naa na sad ka anang istorya nimo sa mga Instik. Ikapila pa man na nimo balik-balikon, Lo?” pangutana sa apo nga mihalok sa bugnaw ug gipaningot nga ulo sa lolong sapoton.


“Wa pa gyod ka nakasinati ning akong sugilanon ba. Ayaw patakag sambat diha. Nakaminos gyod kag ayo nako, ha. Kanang edara nimo, dako na kaayo ang akong kapuslanan dihang unang mitampi sa dunggoanan sa nasod ang mga warship sa Intsik. Unya ikaw, unsa may gibuhat nimo ron? Gasige ra man gani kag padako ana imong mga itlog, unya makaminos ka nako kon makasabot kos ginayawyaw sa TV. Wa ka kuyapi?”


“Aysos. Dili man god, lo, dili man god ana…” Wala pa gipahuman sa tigulang ang pagpaklaro ni Dodoy.


“Saba diha. Kon wala ka nasayod, kining akong mga palad miagi na og gubat …”


“Lo, kinsa naman sad ang nangaway nimo, oy,” sambit ni Dodoy nga morag nagpakalma og gamayng bata. “Sige natag balik-balik anang storya nimos gubat…” Gikuha ni Dodoy ang remote ug gipakusgan ang tingog sa TV, bag-o gilabay ang kaugalingong kabug-aton sa kutson abay sa walang bahin sa gilingkoran sa iyang Lolo.


“Awa na, o. Awa na,” gihit ni Lolo Temio ang iyang lawas sa direksyon sa TV ug gitudlo-tudlo ang liboan ka mga sundalong Instik ug gatosan ka mga tangke de gira nga nagbahis-bahis sa lawak diin mapamahitas-on nga nagbarog si Jose Rizal nga karon gipakambayotan sa pulang tela nga morag usa ka sash sa beauty pageant.


Mipadayon kini: “Ka bagag nawong gyod aning pikot og mga mata nga motunob sa yutang natawhan sa mga tawong ngilngig og kasaysayan. Wa guro ni sila kaila nilang Dagohoy ug ni Sultan Kudarat. Nagaparada naman nuon sa tiilan ni Rizal.”


“Pirme naman ni sila, Lo ug dugay na…”


“Unsay dugay na? Dugay na na namo silang gipildi tuig 2022 pa, dihang gisulong na sila sa halos tanang dakong dunggoanan sa nasod. Insigida, isip usa ka Mindanaoan diin gagikan sad ang Presidente kaniadto, nga maoy labing unang taga-Mindanao nga naglingkod sa Malacañang. Nagboluntaryo kong nagpaatubang aning bagag nawong nga mga Ching-chong. Kanang ilang mga warship ug mga tangke, matay pa, amo ra nang ginapatimbang sa Santiago sa Iligan. Pamati nilang makaya nila ang Pilipinas pero wala sila kasagang sa kinangilngigang armas sa nasod kaniadto nga nagpaulbo gyod sa ilang mga kaspa: ang mga military grade, Mambabarang ug mga Doktor kwak-kwak didtos Siquijor. Kon makakita pa lang ka sa mga pikot dihang mayamyaman na silag urimos, maglumbaanay lage na silag panagan samtang gipangtublan og gabas nga gaandar o diba kahag gasikmag Durian.

Makatawa na lang god mig tan-aw ana nila nga mag-isig-isa sa ilang mga Good morning towel. Pero wala ra gihapon, kay ang tanang muserender, ang dangat, mahimo ra sang subak sa Chao Fan.”


Napuno og hagikhik ang kwarto sa tigulang dihang naghanduraw siya sa kalibotan nga siya ray nakasakop, nga siya ray na sayod. Pero si Dodoy nga nagtan-aw ug gipatuyangan lang ang iyang Lolo, wala napugngan nga maigo sa sentimentalidad nga dili niya masuta kon diin parte sa iyang pagkatawo ang natandog. Pero wa ray minuto kalit napulihan sa pagpanghangos ang mga hagikhik hangtod ang iyang kasadya ug kaalegre ganina anam-anam nga nalumos sa iyang pagpangbakho nga giubanan sa pag-ikyas sa mga luha nga ganina pang nagpugong.


Padayon nga madungog ang hinagawhaw nga tingog sa TV nga morag nagpasamot lang sa gibati sa tigulang.


“Tara, Lo,” giagda ni Dodoy ang iyang Lolo nga magpahuway na. Kamulo kinig pikpik sa iyang likod. “Okay na, Lo. Wa nay makapasakit nimo diri, ta na.”


Gi-alalayan ni Dodoy si Lolo Temio nga inanay makatikang ngadto sa iyang lawak-katulganan. Usa pa man sila makasulod milukop sa ilang balay ang tingog sa Pilipinong news anchor:


“…Ito ang unang pagkakataon sa kasaysayan ng China na isinagawa ang selebrasyon ng ‘Guóqìng jié’ sa Pilipinas at dinaluhan ng lahat ng nasa sentral komite ng CPC…Balik sa inyo sa studio.”


Insigidang mihunong si Lolo Temio diha sa ganghaan sa iyang kwarto. Nakabatig kabalaka si Dodoy sa kalit nga paghunong sa tigulang. “Lo?”


“Kinsa ka? Unsa gani to imong ngalan?”


Si Angelito (Gil) Nambatac Jr usa ka lumulupyo sa Dakbayan sa Iligan ug kasamtangang naghuman sa kursong Masters in Culture and Arts Studies (MCAS) sa MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology. Sakop sa sumusunod nga hugpong sa mga magsusulat: BATHALAD-Mindanao ug Tigsugilon. Link for bio:

Rewriting on the Walls

Nonfiction by | August 29, 2020

It was the same routine every day since the community quarantine started: I would wake up to an empty house since my brother and mother had left for their 12-hour-shift jobs; I would open our remaining ayuda of canned sardines for my brunch; and I would pass by the picture of my father in our living room, a lit candle beside the picture frame, and mutter “I miss you.”


My father used to be the breadwinner of our family. During the day, he was a vendor of noodles, cigarettes, candies and chips along the sidewalks of Tapa King in front of Davao Doctors’ Hospital. His usual customers are DDC students or DDH nurses and tricycle drivers who worked the night shift. He usually sells these goods until 3:00 in the morning but can go as further as 6:00 AM. He would tell me that he doesn’t go home until he is sure that his earnings are enough to pay his loans, provide for our basic needs and for my allowance in school.  During the lockdown, I wanted to apply for a job to help my mother and brother in our daily expenses. But instead, I was forced to be stuck here inside our house, merely lying down on my bed each day and staring at walls.


Our house was not actually a house for me. It was a small flat just along Malvar Street, one of the busiest streets in the city since was along one of the busiest hospitals in the city.  My groupmates in my grade 12 research always tried to persuade me to do our research in my house since it was the nearest from our school. I always refused. “Dili man to balay. It’s not a home, just walls and a roof.”

The walls in our house were dirty. It was filled with vandals I made when I was a child. Growing up, I would call them my own version of graffiti, even when my squiggles looked different from the graffiti on the facade of the abandoned Durian Hotel, on the steel walls of several construction sites, and along the streets of V. Mapa. While those works were full of color and style, mine was written using black or blue markers, and some were written with crayons only. And while most of the graffiti writers compress each letter to another, making little to no space between them, mine was written with gaps in between letters which looked like they wobbled on the walls.

Most of the vandals I had written was the word Nakaraan which meant past. I had written that same word in different colors of crayons and in different fonts on the wall. I remember writing this word since it was flashed every beginning of a TV episode. Apart from Nakaraan, I noticed the word “The End” was also written in some parts of the walls.

My father said he never repainted it because it served as a remembrance of my work when I was a child. A few months before he died last November of 2019, my mother and I wanted to repaint them.

Hugaw-hugaw lang man ni sa atong balay. And these writings serve no purpose. Why keep them?” My mother grunted at my father as she traced the squiggly lines of my writings, my graffiti.

But since my father really admired my weird writings, I never got ashamed of it. When my relatives came to visit Davao for vacation and started to ask about the writings, I told them that I really loved writing and I hoped to write a script for film someday. I was deeply in love with TV series and films while I was growing up because I only had our small TV to keep me company while my parents and brother were out for work. They never stopped working after all. Mahirap maging mahirap, my parents would always say.


I was excited the first time I went to a cinema together with my family to watch Spiderman. My mother did not talk that much then. I believed it was my father who forced her to use a portion of his earnings from selling chips and candies just so he could let me watch a movie. I could not help myself from getting excited when I stepped on the soft carpeted floors of the movie theatre.  My mouth hung open at the blue lights bordering the steps of the staircase until finally, the big white wall, where the film would be projected, left me stunned. I never though this big wall is where movies are created. Who knew walls could tell stories? At that moment, when I was seven years old, I wanted to become a filmmaker.

And my father gave me all the support I needed: he bought me DVD copies of the award-winning films, assembled stereo speakers to give more cinematic mood, and adjusted the colour of our television just to give me the best experience. I could never forget my excitement every time a new episode of “Honesto”, “May Bukas Pa” and “100 Days to Heaven” was released every night after dinner; my joy whenever my father bought me CDs of cartoons and Disney films along the sidewalks of Ilustre; the satisfying smell of a cheap felt-tip pen and the creaking sound that the marker creates every time I wrote words on our walls as if they were show credits of a film I had created.


When I was in 12th grade, I learned that a degree in film or art is only offered by private universities and colleges here in Davao City. Universities that I knew we could not afford.  My father gave me the best support I could ever ask from him—the opportunity to take the qualifying exam for a prestigious university that offered film studies, hoping that I would pass for a full scholarship. He even paid for the exam fee after a week of him going home at six in the morning.

My father was eager to let me study at the university where he once worked together with my mama. Both of my parents were cooks at the ADDU canteen, which is now commonly called as “Caf.” Right after I took the test, I heard him call his friend to borrow some money to prepare for my enrolment because he knew for sure that he would be paying again for the Medical Exams. Even though the results are not yet released, he was so sure I could ace the test.


Paningkamotan nalang namo, nak. Buhataon namo tanan namong makaya,” he had said to me on the day I asked him to sign the parents’ consent for me to become a participant for a research congress.

He always said he would do his best to support me and that is why he never stopped working. And so I became busy with my academic works. I spent a whole week conducting the In-depth Interviews and Focus Group Discussion together with my groupmates, fully unaware that it would be the last week when I could still see my father.


On the day he died, I was on my way to a computer shop, hoping I could finish my school projects despite my drained brain. Before I left our house, my father called out to me.

“Nak! Asa ka? Naa pa ka’y kwarta? Naa’y 100 oh!”

I pursed my lips before I could reply. How could I ask money from him when he had not sold in his mini-store for three days now? I looked at him while he was sitting on our wooden bench. His back was hunched over his wallet as if he were digging for treasure.

“Naa pa man. No need, pa!” I replied before I hurriedly left. Perhaps that was his last money. I saw his wide smile, as if in relief, after I responded. How I hated my last words to him. If only I knew that hours later, our family group chat would notify me a dozen times. Each bell sound from the messenger sounded like church bells. I froze at the sound.

Si Tatay Roger gidala sa ospital, di daw kahinga!


I hurried to the Davao Doctors’ Hospital ER when I found out my father had a hard time breathing. He was given streptokinase and was advised to get treated at the ICU. The rest of the hours felt like a montage: my father gasping for air like he was drowning in the hospital bed; nurses, looking like ghosts, rushing in and  out of the room to give him more shots of epinephrine, my mother holding on to me for dear life as if she would fall flat to the floor if I let her go. You have never stopped working, pa. I thought and I cried. He really had not stopped working. For me.

My father did not respond after the 10th epinephrine and was declared dead at 5:00 PM due to Sudden Cardiac Death secondary to ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction High Lateral Wall Type 1. Why I memorized this, I did not know. I repeat these words in my mind as if it were a script I had memorized just so I have words to give whenever people asked why he died. I did not have words to explain that too. And whenever I went home to our house without my father anymore, the words Nakaraan and The End on my walls seemed to throb.


I still managed to write and sequence the clips and narrations during  “Lantaw,” a documentary film-making activity in our Creative Nonfiction class. It was the only way I could keep my mind off my father. Since he died, I cancelled my plan of buying a DSLR Camera, a decent laptop that would have Adobe or Sony Vegas applications that I was supposed to use in making videos for my college years.  I knew for sure my mother could not afford to send me to a prestigious university despite her working overtime as a in a fast-food chain  across Davao Doctors’ Hospital, and despite my brother who receives quite a good pay from an automotive shop.

It was not only my father who died, my dream of becoming a filmmaker died with him. My high hopes of achieving my childhood goal became blurry, like a defected camera that could not focus. I remember my mother asking if I had already submitted my requirements for the state university I would be attending instead. I checked my e-mail to view the requirements. One mail thread caught my attention—an e-mail from Film Editing Pro which I subscribed last 2018. They offered me a great deal for a limited time offer inclusive of cinematic video clips, audio effects, visual effects, templates, tutorial lessons, software, and the most amazing thing was a webinar together with some of the film editors of  Universal Studios.

My hands suddenly became wet and I had the urge to tell my mother about this opportunity for film, but as I looked at her, I also saw the wall with Nakaraan and The End behind her. I felt trapped. I did not have the materials to install the software not money for the registration fee. I flashed one last look at the writings on the wall and the glint of joy I had when I was writing them. The thing about vandals is they would always remind you of how free you were to express yourself while you were writing them. Now, they were just a reminder of that self that dared to express. The self that dared to dream.


Another day with the same routine. But this time, after I passed by my father’s portrait, I traced my hand over the writings on our wall—the wall that my father never repainted so I could continue to dream of the films I would create and the stories I would write. The death of my father was not the death of my dreams. Because if I could still feel my father, no matter how far he is, I am sure that the child who wrote these writings on the wall, never left. My father was a big part of my nakaraan but I know he would forever be with me until the end.

I stared at the four walls around me and noticed a blank part. I found a cheap marker pen in my desk, took it, and wrote “Coming Soon.”


Gary Barela is a graduate of Humanities and Social Sciences (Batch Amihan) from Davao City National High School

A Matriarch Who Hates People Like Gloria

Nonfiction by , | August 29, 2020

Her smiles are prominent in the community; she is as tough as the nails that persevered for decades attaching the dying cells of bamboo poles and scraps of wood to make up a foundation to their humble abode planted above the mixed waters from the running Davao River towards the ocean, that has been moving away as the number of both the residents and houses engulfed the space that can never be called their own; while Ate Mar is laughing in front of her laundry, she is also fearful of her children’s future.

Cirilina Dagasdas, the name that Ate Mar is not known for, told me about some tales that made Dapsa a fortress to its people. She told me that Dapsa cannot exist without its people; they are the true owners of it, not the Villa Abrille, a family name that kept on hunting most of the slum dwellers in Davao. Though, they never fear the Villa Abrilles for its power to steal their lands. What they are more afraid of is their power to steal the future of their children. The residents, according to Ate Mar, do not want Dapsa to be the same thriving place of their children’s dreams. Dapsa, she added, is too small for grandiose dreams.

From a personal vantage point, residents seem to have forgotten the centimeters of space that separate them. Every day, they are conscious of the possibility that their transient houses will suffer from crashing monstrous machines accompanied by the rage of the demolishing team and police officers until they become satiated by scenes of helpless residents trying to save what’s left. Sadly, most of the time, nothing is left for them.

It is almost lunch time, Ate Mar calls her children Balong and Ikay with a familiar whistle that reaches every inch of the community. After three blows, she returned her attention to the pile of used clothes and smiled: “Ana gyud diri, sir.”

When her children arrived, I glanced at the two of them. They are both thin, deprived of the nutrients the only the rich can afford, but are filled with profound energy. I admired how they give courtesy to a stranger like me. Then, they sprinted towards their only table in the house. “Tinapa napud ang sud-an ma?” Balong asked Ate Mar with an innocent tone driven by his hunger for a new meal, and the food on the table.


“Sige lang gud nak. Wala pa man tay kwarta,” Ate Mar replied. It was interesting how Ate Mar never reprimanded Balong for pointing out their repetitive meal. She never raised her voice. She never complained. It seemed predictable to her what her children would say about their condition.


“Basig ugma, lahi na pud atong sud-an, nak,” she continued pacifying Balong’s hunger and told me to join her children on the table.

Inside, you can never distinguish the boundaries of their kitchen, bedroom, comfort room, living room and washing area. All the sets of furniture blend with the other as if there is no dent between them – just like how the people have fitted into the patches of land distributed carefully.

Ate Mar feared about the conspiracies of burning Dapsa along with its people, as the government’s quickest way to get rid of them. She added that it is easier to burn them than demolish their houses; the media can always turn against the residents and paint it like a circumstance rather than a foul play. She added that the government is never for its people; it only serves the people who benefit those who are corrupt; the people are only the government’s pawn or scapegoat, especially the poor.


“Wala gyu’y gobyernong tarong, sir,” she exclaimed.

Ate Mar is one of Dapsa’s political critics. She hated former President Gloria Arroyo and her cronies, former President Erap Estrada, current President Rodrigo Duterte and other politicians whose self-interests are strategically masked, for dragging the country towards political jeopardy expressed through an exponentially increasing social woe of the masses as corruption becomes more of a culture than a sickness. She views Gloria as a wise woman whose intelligence has become her immunity from the criticisms of the Filipinos despite her involvement in scams enough for incarceration; Erap as a monster who wrapped himself in a idle blanket of a promising but clearly impossible stint, “Erap para sa mahirap”; and Duterte who gambled much of the Philippines’ territorial domains to foreign countries in exchange for staggering debts, and started the nationwide hunt for the Holy grail of culpability of the unending human rights abuses which had turned morgues as the end points of thousands of lives.

I never noticed how just sitting on the only functional plastic chair Ate Mar has lets me forget the change of time. The extremely squeezed houses made it impossible for the sun rays to hit us or for the natural air to intersect between the crevasses on the walls. I noticed that the hands of their clock are unique, they have the same lengths which make it really difficult to determine time. Pinched on the hardest part of the walls, a rusty nail carries the weight of the clock which is miraculously operational: it’s almost three o’clock in the afternoon. I excused myself from our conversation to get something from my backpack. It has become a part of my visiting tradition to share any food I bought from proximate stores near the terminal. Inside the rustling thin cellophane that creates tension with my right hand, is a whole chiffon cake from a local bakeshop at the mouth of Barangay Bucana. I humbly asked Ate Mar for a plate and knife; I can smell the aroma from the cheap cake which I bought for only 100 pesos, that swindles my olfactory even without tasting it. I initiated to cut the first slice, and gave it to Ate Mar. Unexpectedly, a tap on Ate Mar’s experiential registry happened as she recalled her best memories with the chiffon cake. She admitted that any chiffon cake is the best pastry; not only because of its unsophisticated taste, but also because his husband always brings the cake during special occasions may it be their marital anniversary, birthdays or holidays. It gave me a realization that the chiffon cake is the poor man’s symbol of true joy and satisfaction – values that we disregard when we almost have everything in life. Oftentimes, we forget the things on our table; we constantly look at the other and judge ourselves for what we lacked.


Jupiter is a college instructor and a thriving storyteller from Davao.


Thoughts of a Manila Boy (excerpt)

Fiction by | August 24, 2020

When I was younger, my parents told stories of Manila as if they were horror stories to scare children away. “Ah basta, wa’y ayo sa Manila. Nothing good happens there,” my father would always tell me.

So when my older cousin Thea came back to Davao and stayed in our house for a week, I tried not to think about my mother and father who talked about how ate Thea made a big mistake when she chose to go to college and eventually found work as a BPO agent in Manila.


Ate Thea brought her boyfriend with her. A tall and thin man, who I thought look sickly (probably from the Manila air, I thought), who she met at her workplace and has a typical Tagalog accent—the one I hear from Filipino movies.  Thea was welcomed by a big hug from my auntie Tessa, who also lives with us, and big smiles followed by “Kumain ka na?” by my parents. But my parents did not seem to notice the man beside ate Thea, as if he were part of ate Thea’s luggage.

“What’s your name again, dong?” my aunt asked ate Thea’s boyfriend.

“Leo,” the man replied. There it is again, the Tagalog accent. Even the sound of his vowels were foreign to my ears, soft and prolonged.

Ate Thea and I went to the kitchen to serve them snacks. She looked different from the last time I saw her. She wore a loose blouse over a black tube and paired it with maong shorts. Before she bent down to get some bowls from below the sink, she tied her hair in a bun, revealing a tattoo of a mandala. I grabbed the chocolate ice cream from the refrigerator when she started to talk to me.

“How old are you now again, Kelly?”

“I’m 17. I am in senior high school already,” I answered. “I’m taking STEM right now. I’m planning to be a doctor.”

“Doctor, huh?” she muttered as we started walking towards the living room together with the ice cream and bowls. “Back when you were in grade school, you always blabbered about directing films. Do you remember that?”

“It is hard to pursue film or art here,” I replied with a small laugh and shook my head.

“I still hope you give Manila a chance,” said ate Thea. “I think our family never forgave me for choosing to study there despite what happened to our old coffee business there.”

After placing the ice cream on the table, I realized the ambiance of the room seemed off.
Thea coughed and started talking.


“Ma, what time are we leaving for dinner later?” She asked Auntie Tessa.

“We should be there by 6 pm or else we won’t be able to take seats.”

“Great,” Thea exclaimed with her face lit up. She sat beside Leo, grabbed his hands, and squeezed it hard out of excitement. She told him how excited she was to let him try “the best grilled fish in the country”.

“But didn’t you eat grilled fish a lot when we were in Manila?” Leo grinned.

I looked at my father’s direction and saw how he rolled his eyes with what Leo had said. “She just told you it’s different. What we eat here is different,” my father grumbled to which Leo bowed his head.

Then I heard my father murmur. “Hilas.


We had arrived at Polito’s, home of the best grilled fish in the Philippines. On its walls were photos of different celebrities who visited the place. My parents, aunt, and Thea started conversing in Bisaya. Their conversation went well when suddenly Leo leaned to whisper on Thea’s ears. Thea laughed at what he whispered.

Dong, it’s rude to whisper in the middle of a conversation,” Auntie Tessa complained.


Leo immediately apologized and explained that he was simply telling Thea that her family reminded him of his own.

“How can we be like your family? We’re not like you,” my father hissed. As much as I wanted to stop my father at that time, his spur of words could not be stopped.

“I don’t understand why Thea chose someone like you when she could have simply chosen one of the people that courted her here. What an ignorant guy. Hilas.


Leo’s phone suddenly rang and asked permission to go outside and take the call. I also asked permission to go to the bathroom, which is just my way of escaping a mess that I know was about to happen at the table.

After I used the bathroom, I checked on our table and observed that Leo wasn’t still there. I was on our way to our table when I overheard my father spat “Those Tagalogs are all the same! We could have had more branches of our Mt. Apo coffeeshop in Manila.”


I decided to check outside and discovered that Leo was not even talking to someone on the phone. He was sitting outside alone. I approached him and sat beside him. Leo cleared his throat and started speaking.

“I’m from Lemery.”



I was still confused. “What?”

“I’m not from Manila.”

“And what does that mean?”

“That means that I am not a Manila boy like what you guys think.” He smiled and laughed.

“Isn’t Batangas the same as Manila?”


Leo sighed. “We speak the same language, but our way of living is different. I’m still considered as someone from the province when I went to Manila.”

He paused for a while and stared at the floor while I was waiting for him to speak. “My parents didn’t want me to move to Manila before. They told me that even if I am not so different from them, people there would treat me horribly. They even told me stories about how Manila was a living hell, but I chose to pursue my dream.”

“But soon, everything turned out to be okay. And I also met Thea, who supported me no matter what I did. Then, I said to myself that Manila isn’t that bad at all, I was just welcomed by the wrong people.”


When ate Thea went back to Manila, I found out that she and Leo broke up not long after their visit in Davao. It was because Leo thought that Thea was being ashamed of him the moment she forced him to sleep in a hotel during their visit here.

Mga hilas!” my father banged his fist on the table while listening to ate Thea on the phone.


I left our sala and went up to our room. Weeks from now, I will be an incoming freshman about to take up a degree in nursing in a prestigious university in Davao. I thought of Leo’s words again and my parents’ horror stories about Manila. Maybe someday I’ll learn to give Manila a chance. I’ll learn to give myself a chance.



Alona, who currently lives in Davao City, is a Grade 12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) student from Stella Maris Academy of Davao.


Mosquito City

Fiction by | August 17, 2020

The heat of the city is a sweet fever that burns through rooftops and souls. This bizarre warmth has turned the city into a breeding ground for mosquitoes—bloodsucking pests that have terrorized homes. With growing rates of dengue fever coupled with a sudden increase in missing persons cases, the city is in a humid frenzy of mass hysteria and paranoia. Once a week, the city is covered by thick smoke from the fumigation efforts of the local government.

Today, the smoke finds its way through an open window on the third floor of an old apartment, into the room of Joseph who tries his best to keep his eyes open amidst the fumes. His unfinished essay on climate change issues lies next to two empty cans of Red Bull.

The 14-year old starts to feel the pleasure of drowsiness once again, only to be cut short by a sharp pain from his left cheek. He recognizes this familiar sensation and slaps himself—crushing the insect. He wipes his cheek with his finger. Upon seeing the smudge of blood, Joseph is filled with a sudden surge of joy—as if he had finished all his schoolwork. Maybe it was the bite that helped him feel alive in the morning, or maybe it was the smoke that was the cause of this change, but it doesn’t really matter to him as he then proceeds to storm out the room and glides across the kitchen floor.

The kitchen table is empty, not a single soul in sight, not even of his mother who would always wake up exactly an hour before now; at five in the morning. It was very strange indeed and Joseph had never experienced this before, so he checks on his mother to see if she was still asleep. But she was nowhere to be found.

The confused Joseph returns to the kitchen and is greeted by his sister, Marie, her head planted into the wooden table and obviously still sleepy. She was only a year younger than Joseph yet she was always the mature one between the two of them.

“Have you seen mama? She’s not here and it’s creeping me out,” Joseph shivers.

“I just woke up like five minutes ago, how would I know?” she replies in a snarky tone.

“Well I guess you’ll have to settle with some basic eggs for breakfast,” he says as he turns on the gas stove.


Joseph then showcases his meager cooking prowess as he prepares a pair of sunny-side ups while Marie prepares her favorite white coffee. The two were not reliant on their mother when it came to housework and basic survival skills, she was a single parent to the two since their father died when they were still very young. Joseph still grows worried over his mom’s whereabouts with the current situation and the city, not to mention her mother’s on-and-off fevers at night.

A lot of Joseph’s classmates are absent while some of their teachers seemed to have vanished into thin air. Joseph only finds out that they all had fevers a night before they disappeared. After school, the siblings head to the Police Station to report the sudden disappearance of their mother and they are greeted by a long line of people who seemed to have also lost a loved one.

“What is that?” Marie asks as she points to an enormous board of pictures and blurry text.

“It’s the total number of people that have went missing since yesterday.” an officer replies.


One, two, three, four, five, no ten! Ten rows of faces gathered in at least ten columns, over a hundred people were reported missing within a single day. The people in line were in bewilderment, shock bordering into insanity as no one can seem to comprehend how this came to be. The police announce that they will be investigating this phenomenon and sent everyone home with a heavy heart of worry and disbelief.

Joseph and Marie are silent as they arrived home.  Marie offers to cook their dinner and her hands shake as she slices garlic for their fried rice. Joseph knows his sister like he knows his own mind: she was scared and so was he. After dinner, Joseph peeks into his mother’s room, still silent and empty. He finds himself lying in her bed, wondering where she could have gone.

Then, he feels a sharp pain from his chest. Like a mosquito’s sting that was piercing his heart, the pain of loss and anxiety leaves him in tears. He closes his eyes until he falls asleep. A sharp pain, a needle-like organ pierces through his body as he lies sweating heavily in his sleep. A fever burns through Joseph as he feels a bizarre warmth run through his veins. With every pulse, he shakes and shakes until he stops moving.

Long pins of black scales begin to emerge from his sides, piercing through his flesh. Two long wounds appear on his back, oozing over a glossy material that resembled a spider’s web. The goo quickly hardens and forms into sharp-edged wings that began to flap on their own steady rhythm. Joseph feels no pain, no bodily reaction to this foreign sensation, his mind falling deeper and deeper into the empty vastness of sleep.

The scent of the morning smoke finds its way through an open window on the third floor of an old apartment, into the room of Marie. Marie has not slept a wink when a mosquito kisses her on the cheek.



Angelo B. Allito, 19, is from Valencia City, Bukidnon. He is taking a BA in English (Creative Writing) in UP Mindanao.