Last October 13, some members of the Davao Writers Guild (DWG) participated in Ilhanay 2016, the first literary festival of North Davao Colleges, Panabo City, through the initiative of faculty member Mohammed Nassefh Macla. Through Macla’s vision, the school’s former “English Week” turned into a celebration of contemporary Mindanawon writing, an unequivocal act of defiance toward the hegemony of English as a language of intellectual and literary pursuits in the Philippines. That day, it was clear that Binisaya is the language that speaks to and of the heart of the Mindanawon.
Panabo is a city in its own right, nestled between the larger cities of Tagum and Davao. Our trip there is part of the outreach activities of the Guild in order to ensure that aspiring writers from outside Davao also have the opportunity to meet and learn from more established writers. In the past, DWG as a group has gone to Samal Island, Digos City, Kapalong, Davao del Norte, and Bukidnon, and each time, participating writers came home inspired by the enthusiasm of the audience. In Panabo, I joined Noi Narciso, Darylle Rubino, Errol Merquita, and Macla in the usual forum and reading. What we didn’t know was that the students had actually prepared a treat for us.
Ilhanay is a Binisaya term meaning “getting to know,” which was the main objective of the event, dubbed “Knowing Mindanawon Literature.” To prepare for the forum, English majors were tasked to create an exhibit of some Mindanawon writers and their works, so that the audience ideally would have read us before they met us. It was a thoughtful and effective strategy that made our interaction (and selfies) more meaningful. During the forum, Noi Narciso gave a talk-cum-performance, which showed how his writing is inspired by his surroundings, and the importance of a good ear for music in a poet. He also invited audience participation in a renga-like activity (linked verse). In a similar vein, Darylle Rubino shared his insights about the popularity of spoken word poetry and how anyone with experience to draw from, or “hugot,” can participate in the trend. He explained that it is a form of poetry that depends heavily on sound techniques and repetition, but lamented that so far, he has not seen a particularly Mindanawon element in the spoken word events he has participated in. On the other hand, Macla again emphasized that he uses the form of spoken word poetry to assert the struggles of the Moro people to wage peace.
Echoing my own stand on the importance of asserting a Mindanawon identity in our writing, Errol Merquita, a Palanca award-winning fiction writer and poet in Binisaya, maintained that if we don’t write our own stories, others will. The danger in that is misrepresentation, despite good intentions, or worse, stereotypical and discriminatory depictions of our Mindanao experience. He shared that being a social scientist, he had spent many years on the field, immersing himself in the Lumad communities that he writes about. Even though he is not a Lumad himself, his stories are based on deep research done in the context of community development.
The surprise of the day, though, was the second half of the program, in which the NDC students presented short plays published in Dagmay by young Davao writers: Alfredo Montecillo’s hugot-style meta-play “Teatro ng Pag-ibig,;” David Lao’s sketch about the mendicancy of Philippine society, “Limos;” Hazel Meghan Hamile and Melona Mascarinas’s monologue about the travails of a Davao housewife, “Ang Akong Manicure;” and Darylle Rubino’s one-act tragedy “Lanay.” What a pleasure to see the plays come alive on stage! It was clear that the plays in Binisaya reached the audience in a deeper place because it is their first language. In particular, Rubino’s play about violence in the Davao drug world, which he wrote in 2009, took on new life and significance in our present national milieu of daily drug-related killings.
How grateful we were to North Davao Colleges, particularly to Dean Meriam Solilapsi for supporting Macla and his faculty co-organizer, Sandra Magadan, through the Student Council, to transform English Week into a true festival of Mindanawon writing. We hope they will continue and even extend the activity to other schools in the city. Even more, we hope our visit lit the fire of creative writing in some of the students, the way it fanned ours. As Merquita put it at the end of the program, “Ang saya pala sa Davao Writers Guild!” The joy of writing does not have to be limited to our individual efforts on the page; it all makes more sense when we see it in the context of community.
Jhoanna Lynn Cruz maintains a weekly column in Mindanao Times entitled “Lugar Lang” where this essay was originally published last October 25, 2016.