I Get To

Nonfiction by | August 7, 2023

I am afraid of the baby waking up. I am afraid that the baby won’t wake up. I have been afraid of a lot of things since I gave birth to my son.

I spend the whole day with my baby and my second child, D, alone. Day after day, I spend it dreaming of having some help around the house. I wish someone would spend the day with me, not to do the household chores, but to take care of my children, so that I can focus on my work. The mere thought of it makes me feel guilty. Am I a bad mother for secretly wishing I could spend a little less time with my kids?

I want to call my mother and ask her to come to our house. I want to tell her that I need her help, but I know I can’t. My 64-year-old mother has a limp and moving around with the baby is just impossible. I need my mother, but I don’t want a smoker around my kids. That’s the real reason why I don’t call her for help.

Maybe today wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe it wouldn’t feel so arduous having to take care of two kids while working a full-time job and doing household chores in between. At least, I get to it. I get through it and tomorrow is a different story.

I was in the middle of speaking to a client when I heard my daughter shouting. She was calling for me saying that the baby was awake and was crying because he wanted some milk. I had to apologize to my client for I needed to cut the call. I told him I’d call again as soon as I calm the baby down.

I get to the baby and lay down beside it for a good thirty minutes or so. Then we both got out of bed and walked to the playroom where we would spend the rest of our day playing, cuddling, working, and all of it all at once.

“What’s for lunch today, Mama?” D asked kindly.

“I don’t know,” I quietly replied. I have always been honest with D. Since she was young, I have always been open to her about a lot of things, something I taught myself to do. I wasn’t like that with my first child. This is me trying to unlearn things to be a better mother.

I honestly didn’t know what to feed my kids for lunch. My morning was spent juggling work and motherhood.

“What about breakfast for lunch?” D suggested.

“That sounds like a good plan,” I said with motherhood guilt slowly kicking in. I quietly walked away and prepared hotdogs to cook. I should be feeding D healthier food, but it’s the only thing I could think of at that time. I get to feed D with food and that’s enough for today.

Nighttime came and my eldest daughter L and my husband were home. I was excited to welcome them, thinking I can finally get my hands free from the baby, but they both looked exhausted. I don’t want to add to their burden. A part of me wants to say that I was burdened by the fact that I have to take care of the kids and earn a living. But I am the mother. Everyone expects me to take it all in.

And so, I get to the crying baby. I comforted him like the good mother that I am. Today, I chose my baby over the urge to let him cry until he gets tired. I am tired, so I cried while my baby was sleeping soundly in my arms.

We took the kids out last weekend. I bumped into an old classmate of mine and we exchanged smiles. She asked me where I was connected and I told her I was working from home. She told me she was still working with the same bank. She wished she could stay at home with her kids like I do. I just smiled.

It was the only thing acceptable at that time. I didn’t have the courage to tell her that I thought she was lucky to be away from home for a few of hours every day. I wouldn’t dare tell her how tiring it was to be with my kids the whole day everyday 24/7. So I smiled. Anyway, she didn’t ask me how I was doing. Nobody does.

I clean our floors more than three times a day. As my son crawls and D plays on the floor, I feel like I need to clean our floors as often as I could. The hair on the floor didn’t bother me before, but now, I can’t go on three hours without giving in to the compulsion to clean the floors.

A friend I haven’t spoken to in months asked me about my routine. She sent me a message telling me how incredibly amazing I was for being such a hands-on Mom. I told her how I get to things everyday. That started it all. I told her how frustrating it can be to teach D a simple math problem and she still ends up getting the wrong answer when asked to do it alone. I told her how angry I was that my husband can get to hang out with his friends while I am at home with the kids.

I went on telling her how no one in the house can get things done in ways that I consider right. And that no matter how seemingly important my concerns are, there is this baby whose needs will always be my priority. It is oppressive.

I realized I must have said too much because our chat fell quiet. She didn’t send any reply to anything that I said. It must have overwhelmed her.

I wished she has something, anything. I wanted to tell her about my good days as a stay-at-home mom too. I wanted to tell her how proud I was when L came home with a perfect score in her Elective Math quiz. When I congratulated her, she simply replied, “Thank you Mama for helping me.”

One of my proudest moments as a mom was when D was picked for the special dance. She was one of the few students in her ballet class that was in the Director’s List this year. Her teacher said she is showing a lot of promise. I came home smiling.

I was already 37 when I gave birth to my son, so I took special interest in his development. I read books about baby milestones and became nearly obsessed about whether my son was hitting it or not.

Imagine my happiness when he rolled to his tummy for the first time. Oh, I couldn’t stop talking about it that I actually annoyed the people around me. But I didn’t care. That was one of my proud mama moments.

I feel like I am capable of doing so little, but I am asked to do so much. Yet again, I have to remind myself of the mantra that has got me going all this time. I get to the crying baby, teach D how to read CVCs, assist L as she learns how to balance equations in Chemistry, and give my husband a massage after a day’s work.

I get to witness my children grow up and get to be there when they need me. I get to teach my daughters with what I think they need to know to survive the world while I teach myself how to survive my days. I get to mother this baby boy and show him how it is to love and be loved.

The next day, I do it all over again, only it’s not like I’m at war. It’s not as awful. It entails a lot of work, but days are no longer impossible. I get to experience all of motherhood and its quirks.

Little by little, I get to live.

Lysette lives in Davao City with her husband and 3 children. She is passionate about homeschooling.

In the Solitude of Wisteria Trees (Part 2)

Nonfiction by | July 31, 2023

In that moment, I just listened.

I stopped in front of one of the trees, taking in all the details. Its imposing trunk stood far behind a low fence. Lines and grooves ran across the dark brown bark and revealed its age. The healthy branches stretched towards different directions, leading to the smaller vines and finally the blossoms.

It was a much bigger tree. But the fascination felt familiar.

As a child, I have always been fond of flowers and gardens. I spent many hours playing and picking apart the flowers in my grandmother’s yard in Davao.

I marveled at the fruits that grew from the trunk of her cacao tree. I admired the papaya tree fronds which reminded me of the tree star leaves in the 90s movie Land Before Time.

I would climb up the sprawling gumamela shrub that seemed like a tree to the tiny five-year-old me.  I nimbly made my way through the branches to pick blossoms.

I also plucked flowers from the santan bush next to it, and linked them to make garlands and bracelets to wear for the day. One of my cousins taught me how draw out nectar from them too.

I was a flower maiden in my own right. The garden was my playground. There were no toys in our ancestral home. There weren’t any children my age, well except for my sister. Though an aunt and my then-teenage cousins lived on the second floor, my usual babysitters did have their own lives and romps to attend to. If I was left there for the weekend afternoon, the garden was the escape.

I made the gumamela my toys, pretending they were flower folk with the petals as skirts and the stems as bodies. I imagined them to be like whimsical characters from the cartoons I watched. I built dialogues. I narrated. Perhaps the grownups never understood the narrative they overheard. Perhaps they never will. But it never really bothered me.

Exploring the garden was a pastime I enjoyed in solitude. It was a pastime buried under the other pastimes I discovered over the next years of my childhood, only to be unearthed when I moved to Japan. I would head out to gardens, get lost in thought, then snap away with my camera phone.  I followed the plum blossoms and camellias of early March, the cherry blossoms and baby blue eyes of April, and even the irises and hydrangeas of June. I didn’t mind the alone time. I guess my only problem was if there was a very scenic backdrop and I wished I could get a full-body picture with it.

Sumimasen! (Excuse me)” called a woman from behind, her voice laced with a Vietnamese accent. “Sasshin, torimashouka? (Shall I take your picture?)”

I came out of my meditation. I turned to see a group of travelers, some of whom were dressed to the nines. The offer came from the woman with a smile on her face and a camera on hand. “Hai, onegaishimasu (Yes, please),” I stuttered in surprise and handed my phone.  She toggled with it a little, took some photos, and gave it back. I took it as my sign to move on.

The clouds were slowly clearing up to reveal the rich indigo shade of twilight. I explored more of the wisteria groves the park boasted of. I discovered the double-flowered wisteria tree with puffy blossoms and filled the air with a delicate, floral scent. I saw the trellis of pink wisterias that trailed down like rain, its vines growing to nearly two meters long. Then I ended up in a slightly smaller but solitary trellis that was bathed in an ethereal purple light and invited another moment to contemplate.

The wisterias were all aglow as dusk slowly crept in. I walked to the park exit with a gallery full of whimsical trees. And a few pictures of me and hundred-year-old wisteria trees.


“In the pale moonlight
The scent of the wisteria
Comes from far away”
-Yosa Buson, In the Moonlight


Stephanie Puyod is an alumna of the BA Communication Arts program of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.

In the Solitude of Wisteria Trees (Part 1)

Nonfiction by | July 24, 2023

“Come join me in the regrets for the passing spring
And wisteria aglow in the evening light”
-Murasaki Shikibu, Tales of Genji


The sky was overcast from the afternoon rain. Gray but thankfully not too dreary. All that was left was a slight drizzle. Some of these raindrops have settled on my glasses, but I didn’t bother to brush them away.  I maneuvered my phone through the clusters of wisteria before me. My goal was to achieve a “peering through the vines” self-portrait.

Little by little I found my groove and my angle. I was pleased.

I was doing yet another hitori tabi—or solo traveling in Japanese—this time in Tochigi, a prefecture north of Tokyo. Since I moved to the Land of the anime and kawaii things in October 2017, I’ve slowly cultivated a tradition of chasing and documenting perennials. It began on my first spring here, when I chanced upon cherry blossom sightseeing maps at the train station. I sought to check out the accessible spots, and from there I was hooked. The following month, I was in the company of friends and roses. The next year I added hydrangeas and irises to this list. Yes, I travel for flowers.

Over the next years, I made it a goal to visit a wisteria garden—the ones that lead you through winding pink tunnels or expansive trellises. I finally ticked it off in April 2022.

Tochigi’s Ashikaga Flower Park is home to some of the largest and oldest wisteria trees in Japan. I came there in search of the famed hundred-year-old wisteria trees that were said to inspire the Tree of Life in James Cameron’s Avatar. To be honest, I’ve forgotten how it looked like, but I do remember being amazed by the gigantic tree with pink cascading vines and a soft glow about it.

The one before me wasn’t as majestic. Neither were the other ones in the grove I was in. These looked young but approachable. They allowed me to study the flowers up close.

The purple blossoms dribbled down the vines like droplets of water. They could easily fall off with one wrong move. Wisteria is known as fuji in Japan. (Similar but not to be mistaken for the mountain. Their kanji characters are different.) I find it amusing that the flower’s kanji is a combination of the symbols for grass and water rising. It put me in a glass-half-empty-half-full kind of quandary.

After all, the wisteria is also admired for its form, with its arched trunks and its blossoms facing downwards. It was as if the whole plant was deep in prayer. Fittingly, the flower is used in the crest of a branch of Buddhism in Japan, using it as a symbol of humility and reflection.

I pulled away from this grove and navigated my way to the center of the park. The afternoon light was waning. The night illuminations would begin soon. I stopped to take photos of yellow and orange poppies. Even the azaleas. A tall pergola of baby pink wisterias snaked around the courtyard. The cherry blossoms were long gone, but spring was still in full swing.

While cherry blossoms or the sakura is the first flower that come to mind whenever one speaks of Japan, wisteria have earned a place in the country’s history and art.

We can see these viny blossoms as a common motif in kimonos and ceramics. Fuji Musume or Wisteria Maiden has been a favorite theme in paintings. Much like the goddess Venus, this woman has been reinterpreted many times. It has also inspired a traditional dance which tells the sad tale of Fuji Musume that came to life, longing for man who viewed her painting. She walked around with a stalk of wisteria as she waited a reply to her love letters.

True enough, wisteria has a character that evokes longing and nostalgia. Perhaps it’s in the tranquil purples and blues mixed with whites and pinks. Perhaps it’s in the manner the flowers dangle and seemingly float midair. Or perhaps it’s in the melancholic way the vines droop, as if longing for a past that may either be happy or sad. In this light, wisteria has frequently been tied to nostalgia in Japanese literature.

The 11th century masterpiece Tale of Genji describes fuji as a companion to the sadness that comes in the passing of springtime. Author Murasaki Shikibu compares it to the snowlike sakura which, while beautiful, is fleeting in nature. The wisteria comes out at an opportune time, much later in April, sitting with observers to lament time gone by.

Taking my sweet time around the park, I followed another path of young wisteria shrubs. A mix of excitement and longing bubbled up in my chest. Then through a clearing, I finally saw it: a trellis more than a thousand meters wide.

Over it hung a curtain of lilac and purple flowers with the specks of royal and sky blue.  Bumblebees buzzed through the vines as if they too were on holiday. Underneath, people milled around with their eyes fixed on the blossoms overhead.

On opposite sides stood two grand wisteria trees. There was a sense of wisdom and strength told in the way they stooped down with the breadth and abundance they carried. They commanded attention the way soft-spoken mentors draw your interest. You listen to every word they say.

Stephanie Puyod is an alumna of the BA Communication Arts program of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao.

Under the Covers (excerpt)

Nonfiction by | June 5, 2023

It starts this way: 

You stare into their eyes. They flash like all the stars are out. They look at you seriously, their eyes at a low burn and their hands no matter what starting off shy and with such a gentle touch that the only thing you can do is take that tenderness and let yourself be swept away. When, with one attentive finger they tuck the hair behind your ear, you— 

You do everything they want. 

Then comes after. After when they don’t look at you. They scratch their balls, stare at the ceiling. Or if they do turn, their gaze is altogether changed. They are surprised. They turn casually to look at you, distracted, and get a mild distracted surprise. You’re gone. Their blank look tells you that the girl they were fucking is not there anymore. You seem to have disappeared. 

-from “Lust,” by Susan Minot


My high school life isn’t something I would like to recall.  I can’t help but feel a sense of shame and regret. I was reckless, driven by the allure of love under the cover of darkness, only to find myself exposed and vulnerable in the harsh light of day. That time, I had to leave everything behind just to keep my sanity. To save myself.

In my pursuit of a fresh start, I disconnected from my friends without any notice or goodbyes. I disappeared completely from their lives; the pull to start anew was too strong to ignore. I knew that I had to break free from my past and start fresh, even if it meant leaving my loved ones behind. I envisioned a new place with new experiences and new people, where I could start fresh and avoid making the same mistakes. It was a tempting proposition, one that promised a respite from the weight of my shame and confusion.

My mother’s offer to move with her to Davao was like a ray of light shining through the dark clouds of my life. It was a chance to start over, to leave behind the pain and turmoil that had been consuming me for so long. And even if we had to leave our grandparents with my abusive uncle, I seized the opportunity with closed eyes.

The decision to leave was not an easy one, but I knew it was the right one. Once again, I was pulling the cover over myself, to shield me from my past. I was finally able to escape the shadows that had been haunting me. The new environment was a breath of fresh air, a clean slate where I could start anew. Like being wrapped in a comforting blanket, I didn’t have to worry about being judged. No one knew me unless I told them about myself. I felt like I was under a protective cover.

As I entered my new school in a public institution, I felt like I was entering a world of possibilities. Here, I had the chance to be whoever I wanted to be, without the weight of my past pulling me down. I was determined to leave the past behind. As I interacted with my new peers, I was careful to guard my secrets and maintain my cover. I didn’t want anyone to know about my past mistakes, to judge me for the person I once was. In this new environment, I felt like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, ready to spread its wings and soar.

It was liberating to know that I had a blank slate to work with, that I could mold myself into the person I wanted to be. No one knew about the girl who used to make out in alleys, and that was a relief. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had a chance to truly be myself, under the cover of a new identity.

 I used to believe that my worth as a woman was defined by my virginity, thanks to society’s constructed belief that “Virginity is a gift.” Despite knowing the foolishness of this belief, I still give myself credit for not giving away everything to someone I would regret.

Then something happened in September 2018, five years after I left my life in Butuan. I realized the power of death, and how it can both be a relief and a tragedy. I was relieved when Death took my abusive uncle away from us, exactly one year after my grandfather passed away. It was a burden lifted from our shoulders, except for my cousin, his son, who couldn’t even eat for days. He was traumatized by his father’s death, which he witnessed. My cousin didn’t even inform my grandmother, who was sleeping in the next room. She only woke up to the sound of faint sobbing and witnessed my cousin holding his father’s head gently. Despite the countless lashings and scars inflicted upon him, my cousin loved his father dearly.

When my siblings and I returned home to attend my uncle’s funeral, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of detachment towards the situation.  It was a strange feeling, to be attending the funeral of someone who had caused me so much pain, and not feel an ounce of sadness. Finally, we were all free from his grasp. I felt nothing but a sense of peace knowing that he could no longer harm anyone. it allowed me to let go of the anger that had been consuming me for so long.

As we gathered around his casket, my siblings and I exchanged quiet glances, understanding each other’s unspoken thoughts. We had all suffered under his abuse, but now, we could find solace in the fact that he could no longer hurt us.

During a long road trip with my boyfriend, my gaze fixated on the seemingly endless road ahead. The monotonous hum of the car’s engine and the rhythmic passing of scenery outside did little to quell the thoughts racing through my mind. Memories of my past mistakes flooded my thoughts, the shame and disgust feeling just as palpable as they did back then.

Before my boyfriend and I started dating, I knew that if we were meant to do life together, I needed to come clean. I wanted to be honest with him so that I could finally be honest with myself. After school, he offered to drive me home, which was an almost twenty-kilometer ride. During the ride, I asked him to pull over near the fields of calamansi. The moonlight illuminated our surroundings, and I could see his face clearly. We sat in silence for a while, but it felt comforting.

“Would you still like me if I told you that I had kissed a lot of guys before?” I asked, my gaze fixed on the fireflies fluttering around the lemon tree. From the corner of my eye, I saw him turn his head and look at me. He held my hand to get my attention.

I finally mustered the courage to tell him about my past school, the bullying, the rumors about me being the girl who made out in a dark alley, and how I had to leave and hide from the shame. Throughout my confession, he held my hand tightly.

“I’m sorry that you had to go through that, and I’m sorry that you feel like you have to explain it,” he said. “Please know that you are more than your past. It doesn’t matter to me, or to us now. I want you today and in the days that will follow,” he reassured me before pulling me closer to him for a hug. It was the first time in a very long time that I cried about it, but this time, I no longer felt ashamed about it.

When I entered UP and met my first circle of friends, Jo and Chan, I finally found people whom I could be real with. It was a normal Tuesday, during our PE gymnastics class, we were lying down facing each other, casually talking about our high school memories instead of practicing our routines. I don’t know what came over me, but I finally opened up about my “secret” high school experience. It was the second time I had shared it with anyone. To my surprise, Jo had gone through a similar experience. She also transferred to another school after a rumor spread about her having sex with her ex-boyfriend.

Those moments, I felt like I had finally found my place and my circle of friends. I felt like I belonged, knowing that I wouldn’t be judged for the mistakes I had made in the past. It was a relief to know that I had friends who understood me and accepted me for who I was. It was a liberating feeling to finally be able to share my secret with someone who could relate to me. It strengthened our bond, and it gave me the courage to be easy and more honest with myself.

Moreover, I began to realize that I had been denying myself the peace and forgiveness that I truly deserved. For so long, I had believed that it was all my fault for being too naive, trusting, and perhaps too horny, and that I deserved the pain and shame that followed. I have seen that I was only keeping myself trapped under a cover of guilt and self-blame. It’s like I’ve been hiding under a thick, suffocating cover for so long that I forgot what it felt like to breathe fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I am finally pulling back that cover and allowing the light to shine on my past mistakes, letting the air in to start the healing process.

Just as I felt myself spiraling, my boyfriend’s touch jolted me out of my reverie. He reached out for my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.

We have been together for almost five years now.


Rasmia Ruiz is a 4th year BA English (Creative Writing) student of the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

A Walk of Faith: Nine Weeks of Redemption (excerpt)

Nonfiction by | May 22, 2023

Weeks 6 and 7: Discover the Secret That Will Transform Your Life

“Like newborn babies, crave spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.”

(1 Peter 2:2)

I was still in the pre-encounter weeks of Life Class in this Christian church when I discovered I was bisexual. And when it happened, it wasn’t a surprise to me. Some of the things that happened in the past suddenly made a lot more sense when I realized that I was also attracted to girls.

In 8th grade, I had a friend named Jen. She wore black rectangular glasses, had mid-length hair that went a little below her shoulder, morena or tanned, and she had a mole on the left side of the bridge of her nose. She looks chinita when she’s not wearing her glasses, but when she does, they make her eyes look a little bigger, and she looks really cool and smart.

I was fond of her and wanted to get close to her. I felt happy when she invited me to come to her house. I watched the anime that she likes, begged my mom to buy me eyeglasses because she also wore them, and I even tried to get close to her barkada or her friend group. I wanted to make a good impression on her friends, something I never really felt the need to do with other people I wanted to be friends with. There were also times that I felt an unreasonable annoyance that I couldn’t explain or understand whenever I saw her going home or hanging out with other girls. I think I might have had a crush on her then because I remember asking myself if I liked her, but I can also recall telling myself, “There’s no way I’m a lesbian” because I was still attracted to men. So, I convinced myself that what I felt was simple and pure fondness. I didn’t know anything about bisexuality back then.

I knew that I was not going to tell this to my spiritual mother, and Rica agreed with me. Again, cell groups ideally work like a family, so it is encouraged for a disciple to introduce the person that they are dating to their spiritual leader. Rica didn’t have any problem with sexual preferences; she was actually supportive. Our visits to church also became more frequent as she had a lot of problems at home and in her love life, and I was also too busy with school and extracurricular activities.

Despite the disappointing homily I experienced with the pastor that Rica had told me about, I still wanted to go to church, and I still wanted to give it a try. And so, I attended the Sunday morning mass.

            “We have three testimonies, three people transformed through Christ, amen!” the pastor said, and the crowd replied with a cheer, “Amen!”

            When the third clip rolled, the screen showed a person wearing a black t-shirt sitting with the back facing the camera. I watched as the camera moved toward the front of a person showing a girl about my age.

            Everyone in the room was silent, and all our focus was on the clip. The person introduced her name, and at the end of her introduction, she said, “And I was transformed through Christ.”

            The next parts were interviews with her. She was talking about how she had a relationship with a girl. I remember her using the phrase, “niabot ko sa point,” like it was a negative thing. She called her old self a lesbian, saying, “Tomboy ko sa una.” And then she proceeded to say that because of the bible, and when she started coming to church, she realized that what she was doing was wrong. At the end of the video, she opened the church doors wearing a white dress.

They made her wear a white dress.

“Wow! Isa na pod ka tao ang nabago ni Kristo! Amen!” the speaker happily announced that another person had been changed through Christ, and the audience replied with an amen.

“Naa ba siya diri?” the speaker asked if the person in the video was present.

I searched around the room, and in the right corner of the church, just a few rows in front of me, people started to point their fingers.

A girl wearing a simple white shirt and denim pants stood. The people around her started tapping her back and her shoulders as if saying that she had done a good job. Everyone cheered and kept on saying, “Amen,” like the pastor. She still had her boy-cut hair, and from my point of view, I could see that she was smiling but slightly bending down like she was embarrassed by all the attention and slightly nodding at all the people that were looking, smiling, and cheering for her.

She was young like me. With how the church works in expanding its numbers through invites, I just had the feeling that she was a newcomer. Also, the people beside her were teenagers like us, probably her friends. So it must be that she was an invitee and not someone like Rica, whose whole family goes to the church.

And then the pastor talked again, saying praises to the girl and to how great the Lord is. But one word that struck me the most was that the girl had been “cured by Christ.”

I was stuck in my seat. I didn’t know what to feel about everything I saw and heard from the screen and the people around us. I didn’t want to make assumptions that the girl was not being herself and was merely manipulated by the church. But I knew it wasn’t okay. I, someone who was also romantically and sexually attracted to girls, just watched a video about a lesbian being converted into a straight girl in a room where everyone was cheering about it. I just listened to everyone glorifying how she had been cured.

But there was nothing to cure about her. She was totally fine. I am fine.

That’s when I made up my mind that I would never be welcomed there. I will never be able to be my true self, and if I am not, I will not be able to express my faith and love in God freely.

And that was the last time I went to Buhangin Community Church.

Weeks 8 and 9: A New Beginning

And Ruth says to Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

(Ruth 1: 16-17)

When I was in 1st year college, I met Yel. We were close when we were in senior high, and she was also the first person I told when I realized I liked girls. Yel is also bisexual, and she came out around the same time as I did. It has been almost a year since I last saw her.

            As we sat down and waited for our order, she immediately perked up as if she had just remembered something important.

            “I told my mom about you, but I didn’t say your name. I just said that I have a female friend who’s also dating a girl.”


“Girl, she wasn’t pleased and told me, ‘I hope you’re not doing that.’”

I kind of understood her mother’s reaction because when she came out, her mother told her that she might have been just confused.

“I told her that she knew I’m gay, and she told me that it’s okay to be gay as long as I’m not acting out on it like dating the same sex,” she continued, her face and tone showing her annoyance.

I chuckled because that answer wasn’t surprising.

“Kaya nga gay, di ba, because we like the same sex. Ambot ni mama, oy,” she said, looking defeated.

 It made me think about the lesbian who made a testimony. I wondered if she was still going to that church. And I wondered if she really did change. I hope she’s in a better and safer place now, wherever that may be.

            As for me, I don’t think I ever will go back to church hopping or even enter church except for weddings, burials, baptisms, or when my whole family forces me to.

I have stopped church-hopping and trying to find a ministry where I’ll be able to fit in because I have learned that I don’t have to, and most of the churches I tried to get into made it very clear to me that they see homosexuality as a sin.

            I thought that if I stopped attending, the only times I would hear or see people’s homophobia would be from my extended family, the news, or social media–but that was me being too much of an optimist. Because just this year, as I and my girlfriend Lally were walking along Roxas Avenue, we saw a woman with a megaphone yelling bible verses and preaching on the street, saying, “Panghinulsol namo sa inyong mga sala,” repent for your sins. She was the same woman that I and a college classmate once saw on our way to a bar.

I remember her telling me that the woman was homophobic.

And so, as I and my girlfriend went past her at the corner along the pedestrian lane just in front of Ateneo de Davao University, I told my girlfriend what I heard from my classmate.

            “Should we lock our hands and kiss to see if it’s true?” she asked as she laughed. I knew she meant it as a joke, but I did take her hand and held it as we crossed the street. We giggled as we walked, and we were almost at the entrance of the City Triangle, a distance from the woman, when she kissed my hand out of habit. We could still hear the woman preaching, but we had forgotten about the whole kiss thing because we started talking about something else. And then suddenly, we heard the woman’s voice getting louder behind us.

 “Ang mga tomboy, bayot, pangundang namo ug panghinulsol! Kamo mga hugaw sa kalibutan!” she yelled at her megaphone, obviously making her voice even louder, maybe for us to hear. She must have seen what my girlfriend did, or maybe she saw another queer couple on the street that made her say that we are the filth of the world and must repent.

I turned my head towards my girlfriend, and she did the same, and we burst out laughing.



Heat Index

Nonfiction by | May 15, 2023

At thirty-two degrees temperature, an adolescent boy strips and plunges into the Sarangani Bay sans diving equipment as his partner reels in the day’s tuna catch—the fish’s yellow fins and iridescent scales glistening off of his eyes. At eighteen degrees ambient air temperature, office workers with faces as white as the porcelain tiles aimlessly encode paper ream-thick data as they gossip about the incompetent freshly recruited accountant. Their boss would shush them and everyone would go quiet except for the distant buzzing of someone’s printer and when he’s gone, the noise returns. At thirty-four degrees temperature, the Sama-bajau children patintero their way across the road to ask anyone for loose change. At the red light, drivers would slowly roll up their windows as the malong-clad children sneak up behind them.

Over the years, the world has seen a drastic change in climate, from frequent typhoons to rising sea levels. The environmentalists’ mascot is always the melting icebergs in the North Pole. In General Santos, it is the heat. The temperature of the outdoors. The mirage on the road. And the clear blue sky. When TV Patrol GenSan reports the weather forecast for the day, the heat is always in Celsius. Centigrade, as it was once called, is a unit of measure for temperature based on the freezing point of water (0 °C) and its boiling point (100 °C). But when we step outside with our skin-thin, single-layered, loose garments, the heat is inside our brains. A switch clicks and heat takes over. When road rage and car accidents happen, it is because of heat. When bottled water’s price spikes, it is because of heat. And when you start desiring an air-conditioned office job, that’s heat talking.

It was 2008 when we moved to Barangay Apopong in General Santos City. Our house was still unfurnished. Wood planks scattered around the area, hollow blocks stacked on top of each other in one corner of the yard, and sacks full of cement rested against the wall. Our mango plant was still a sapling back then and so the only shade we had was our equally unfinished porch. One morning, I woke up early in our one and only room. We didn’t have a proper kitchen yet, so we made do with four propped-up stones. Mama lit up the plastic and charcoal. Fire consumed the charcoal as I watched it dance against the cool breeze. The heat that day was gentle: it was like Mama’s touch as she pulled me away from the makeshift stove. From afar, I promise you could see the fire alive in my eyes. Perhaps, during that time, it was. And perhaps it still is. But I know something has changed. Fire learned to bite back. Seven in the morning and you’re already sweating from every pore of your body as you’re chasing the 7:30 a.m. check-in time of your office or your factory or, perhaps, your fast-food chain restaurant work, whichever you’re qualified to work for.

It was not only the heat that changed. The people and the whole of GenSan, too. The hustle and bustle of the crowd grew as new malls were constructed and businesses opened; the number of tricycles boomed, congesting the road even more. However, among the most noticeable changes was the increase of the Sama-bajau population. Most of them reside by the shore of Queen Tuna Park, which was once called Lion Beach, and some in other residential areas. The city once tried to rehabilitate the beach to attract more tourists, so they relocated the Sama-bajau somewhere else. But not long after, the Sama-bajau came back. As for the land the government gave to them, I didn’t know what happened, but Papa said they must have sold it.

I’ll tell you a secret: no one in GenSan really cared about the Sama-bajau people. No one really cared about the dark-skinned woman carrying a baby across the street or the children selling rugs and oranges by the drive-through of fast-food restaurants. If you’re new to GenSan, you’ll notice these kids in every corner of every crowded establishment: pharmacies, restaurants, 24/7 grocery stores, gas stations, and even churches. At first, you may sympathize with them for their worn-out clothes and doe-eyed faces and perhaps, a sob story, too, so you decide to give them loose change. You know, just so they would have something to eat that night. But not soon after, you’ll realize that they’re relentless. Now that they know you can provide an opportunity for them, an opportunity to be profited from, they will hog your attention and suddenly, you’ll notice how everyone turns their heads the other way as soon as these children come over, oftentimes while quickly handing them coins just so they could get away from them. Perhaps, if the fire is still dancing in your eyes, you will think to yourself, this is not right. The city government should fix this. Well, I’ll tell you. They can’t—or rather, they won’t. They couldn’t even bother to fix the potholes and the unfinished roads constructed in Barangay Malakas that’s been there for months. What makes you think they could provide solutions for the Sama-bajau, who have been in GenSan for years?

Once, when we were on Pioneer Avenue with my friends to eat pastil, a Sama-bajau kid approached me. I knew he was a Sama-bajau because not far from him was his mother, sitting by the steps of an ukay-ukay store with a baby cradled on her breast. This is one trait you learn after living here for so long: figuring out which one is a Sama-bajau and which one is not. I didn’t give him any change, so he ran to another person and begged for money. But when one of my friends gave a bill to one of them, I suddenly felt guilty. Should I have given them money? Perhaps, food can compensate for that, right? And then I remember all the times I’ve turned a blind eye to their solicitations. I surmise I couldn’t stay consistent, so changing now would only be performative and self-gratifying. So I pretended they never existed at all.

Perhaps this is our punishment: our apparent indifference and continuing inwardness invoke the wrath of some fire deity, and the only way to appease him is for the community to unify and develop a sense of belongingness. That won’t happen, though. I know. Because we don’t care about the Sama-bajau people. We treat them as a nuisance. It only takes one careless Sama-bajau kid crossing the street for the heat to take control of the driver’s brain—a loud and stretched out honk!—and he’ll start cursing the kid and his mother, then his father, then his ancestors, and lastly the whole ethnolinguistic group for simply existing and living in their own land.

The mango plant in our house is no longer a sapling; it has become a fruit-bearing tree that provides shade for us. However, I can’t help but think about all the people walking under the sun right now like a zombie whose life has evaporated out of their heads, enduring the pain of the searing heat, sweating profusely and cursing under their breath, “‘Tang-ina, inita ba!” Just like the Sama-bajau do.


Elio Balan is a 4th year BA English (Creative Writing) student of UP Mindanao. This essay won 1st prize in the Life UPdates literary contest organized by the Likhaan UP Institute of Creative Writing in April 2022. He likes to cosplay.

On Writing Mindanao Fictions

Nonfiction by , , | April 10, 2023

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano:

Born, raised, and educated in Mindanao, I do not think of Mindanao as stationary. In my stories, I see Mindanao as a concept, I write the stories of the people of Mindanao from my associations, dialogues, interviews, and life with them. Mindanao is so diverse; Davao del Sur cannot claim Mindanao or represent the whole of Mindanao, nor any city represent the totality of Mindanao. I write only a portion of Mindanao, which is why I am very conscious when I represent my cultural community, the Blaan. I specify that I am a Blaan from Davao del Sur to respect the diversity among the Blaans in other provinces such as South Cotabato, Sarangani, Davao Occidental, and General Santos City. Mindanao is multifaceted, dynamic, and very mobile—like a melting pot of the many cultures, including settlers. My mother’s parents were Ibalois from La Trinidad, Benguet who migrated to Davao del Sur in the 1950s. Thus, growing up with my diverse roots, I am aware of the picture of Mindanao in my mind. We (the indigenous people) share Mindanao with our Muslim brothers and sisters, as well as settlers from Luzon and Visayas.

According to the founders of the research center Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue, a Mindanawon consciousness “asserts and celebrates diverse identities and the integrity of creation,” and thus, is a partner of the indigenous peoples in creating a real picture of Mindanao. They are advocates who share the same passion in promoting and protecting our right to self-determination. Data from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in 2012 show that sixty per cent of the Filipino IPs live in Mindanao, a Mindanawon represents what other Filipinos should also stand for, that is, to protect the rights of Mindanaoans, the people who live in Mindanao. Since Mindanao has been portrayed negatively in the media, a Mindanawon knows better. More than an advocate or ally of Mindanaoans, Mindanawons are also fellow Filipinos who believe in the many potentials of Mindanao–culture, arts, tourism, history, people, etc.

On the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) required by the NCIP, some of my fellow indigenous researchers and cultural workers believe that IPs going through the process of securing FPIC is plain irrational. The indigenous writers and researchers must not be treated like outsiders who need to go through the pains and filters of the backbreaking process of the NCIP for researchers and writers. As there are few IP researchers and writers, it would not hurt the Commission to give privileges to IP researchers especially in researching or writing for their own cultural communities. If the FPIC is a safeguard of the indigenous cultural communities, do we need to safeguard our ICCs from ourselves? Perhaps the solution to that is consultation and evaluation/review of the FPIC as a process. Funny that the Commission has given so much attention in red tagging the term “lumad” without even acting on the more pressing issues, including the FPIC, abuses and loopholes in the ownership of ancestral domains, killings of IP leaders, IP education, and promotion of the use of mother tongue. To add, Mother Tongue – Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) is problematic because the IP learners do not have materials written in their mother tongue. In Matanao, Davao del Sur, the materials provided by the Department of Education are all in Sinugbuanong Binisaya. These issues are only few of the real concerns that we call on the NCIP and our Mindanawon allies to act and stand for what is best for Mindanao and its people.

There are promising stories of indigenous people that must be written and read. As a Blaan writer, I am humbled and overwhelmed by the support that I received when I started writing. Today, I give back to my cultural community by helping and empowering the IP youth through conducting workshops and sharing what I have. They say that writing is a privilege and a challenge, especially if you’re a woman and a mother, especially an indigenous woman. I use my little privileges to encourage my fellow indigenous people to stand firm and fight for our rights during this time of misrepresentation and disinformation. We need to represent Mindanao and its stories and faces.

Jade Mark Capiñanes:

Do I consider myself Mindanawon?

The short answer: yes, of course. I’ve lived in Mindanao all my life.

But it’s not that straightforward, is it? So, I also have a long answer.

Take my flash fiction collection How to Grieve. One may say the work isn’t Mindanawon because they don’t heavily feature people and events and things one often associates with Mindanao. Instead of, say, the life of the Lumad or life in Davao under Duterte—which Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano and John Bengan, respectively, deftly depict and deconstruct in their works—my stories revolve around, among others, riding a taxi and counting hotdogs in your Jolly Spaghetti. There’s even only one mention of any geographical marker in the book—Davao City—and it’s in the final story at that. How is that Mindanawon?

There’s no doubt that Serrano-Quijano’s and Bengan’s work are admirable and important, but I’ve always felt there’s something restrictive, even oppressive, in the idea that as a Mindanawon writer I must only write about people and events and things one—usually one not living here—often associates with Mindanao. But I can’t write like Serrano-Quijano and Bengan. Why? Simply because I’m not them. What I’m trying to say is that living as a Blaan or living in constant fear of the Davao Death Squad are Mindanawon, but Mindanawons can also have emotional breakdowns in the taxi or in front of their spaghetti.

I’d also like to think that my being Mindanawon reveals itself not in the content but in the form of my writings. Isn’t the way a writer structures their stories a direct result or manifestation of the kind of language or reality they’re living in?

My mother has Mandaya and Kagan blood. My father’s Ilonggo. I can’t speak my mother’s language, and I learned my father’s only when I was a teenager. As a Catholic child raised in a Tausug community in Davao City, I expressed myself in Binisaya and Tausug. Today I still speak all the languages I mentioned, but I write and think mostly in English or Filipino or a peculiar mixture of both. And if you live in Mindanao, you’ll know this linguistic and cultural diversity and hybridity aren’t uncommon.

Thus, instead of thinking of Mindanawon identity as something pure or singular, I think of mine as something provisional and improvisational. When I was at a family reunion on my father’s side a few years ago, for example, my brain automatically went Hiligaynon mode. On the other hand, when I’m talking to my students, who are Gen Z and Davao “conyos,” I also catch myself speaking their language, which I can only describe as like honey flowing on sandpaper.

Similarly, when I wrote the stories in How to Grieve, my primary consideration was the form each story must take on: in what “language” can I best express the story? That’s why, if you read my book—please do—you’ll find a few traditionally constructed narratives, but you’ll also come across a how-to article, a list, a letter, a questionnaire, an advice column, a koan, a lyric, or an academic passage or a combination of both, etc.

This kind of fluidity—this sort of constant transformation or translation—is what defines my identity and what’s at the heart of my work. And this is what makes me Mindanawon.

John Bengan:

The stories in Armor are based on my own experiences of living in Davao City from the mid ’90s to the 2000s. I am also queer, and so many of the characters in the stories are queer, trying to navigate a specifically local queer experience or being a “bayot” in a place like Davao. A small-time drug dealer wants to compete in another Miss Gay pageant, even if he might get assassinated. A high school boy discovers mIRC and commits what these days is called “catfishing.” A young man in the university begins a relationship with someone he meets at the men’s dorm; meanwhile his father, who has been missing for years, may have been executed. While they have personal troubles, they also live in a strange environment: they find themselves in a supposedly peaceful place where violence occurs every day. I’m referring to the summary killings that happened in those two decades.

While writing, I was quite aware of the fact that I was setting the stories in Davao. The place in the stories is not exactly Davao City, of course, because it is fictive, imagined. But at the same time, the stories are informed by an insight into a real place. I was not born here; my family moved to Davao when I was very young.  In the first three stories in Armor—“Higher Orders,” “At the River,” “Slaughter Story”—I was trying to reconcile how I’m adapting to a new home with how I’m seeing the place from this position of having just arrived, the shock of encounter between a landscape and myself.

It took me seventeen years to write this book, and so when I was writing the rest of the stories, I already had an understanding of what it means to write about Mindanao. The histories of Mindanao, its growth, its continuing struggles, I would see, influence our literature. I’d become aware that these conflicts don’t happen in isolation; they are connected. History doesn’t really pass. It’s not really in the past. I had this in mind when I worked on the stories. For instance, I wrote a story about kids rapping about the killings as a solution to crime. This is actually true. I met these kids a few years ago while eating kebab somewhere downtown. I tried to consider what kind of behavior a character would have, what decisions they would make in particular scenarios if they were exposed to this reality.

Later, I was able to read stories by authors from Davao and other places in Mindanao. At the beginning, I didn’t really see a link with other writers. It was only later, when I got to read their work, that I recognized the resemblance; they turned their attention to how political volatility clashes with quotidian lives. I’m thinking of Macario D. Tiu’s young guerrillas in his book Sky Rose, Aida Rivera-Ford’s stories about settler girls and women, or stories like Anthony Tan’s “The Cargo,” which is about a man who sees that the cost of survival in their village is revenge. I’d like to imagine that my fiction responds to these works. I would agree if someone said that what I write is “Mindanao fiction.” The stories do reference a part of Davao’s history.

The time Armor covers was some time ago, but I feel that little has changed. Maybe there are signs of change, or “progress,” in the form of new buildings here, road constructions there—Davao was less dusty then, definitely less congested—but the killings never stopped. What happened in the last six years grabbed the nation’s attention and put Davao in everyone’s frequency for a different reason. What I saw then was that people here had been inured to the violence. We’ve now seen an entire country getting desensitized. There is outrage, but there’s plenty of condoning.

However, if there is a fiction about Mindanao that I want to write against, it’s the one about people here being blind followers. This book is my way of bearing witness to the things that have confounded, horrified, or saddened me about living here, but also the moments that made me cautiously hopeful, because when you read the stories, you’ll see that the characters have a lot of drive and attitude, even when they are facing great danger.



Under the auspices of the independent publisher Everything’s Fine, the Davao Writers Guild participated in the Mindanao Book Fair held in Abreeza Mall on March 17-19, 2023. On March 19, we held a panel entitled “Mindanao Fictions” featuring John Bengan (Armor, 2022, Ateneo de Manila University Press), Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano (Dili Pwede Mogawas ug ubang mga Sugilanon, 2022, Ateneo de Davao University), and Jade Mark Capiñanes (How to Grieve, 2022, Everything’s Fine). Moderated by DWG President Jhoanna Lynn Cruz, the authors discussed how they engage with Mindanao as the site of their creativity and vision. Watch the video archive here: https://youtu.be/GGKRbg9tGeY

The Flight Attendant

Nonfiction by | January 30, 2023

There was only the dim ambient lighting from the standing lamp as I was staring at my reflection on the wall mirror. I adjusted the wet towel that clung to my lower body, and I felt droplets of water descending through my legs and to the floor. The sound of muffled torrential downpour escaping from behind the bathroom door was the only thing I could hear while Michiel was taking a shower.

Staring at myself, I didn’t realize how much my body had drastically changed. Gone were my spindly limbs, replaced with a bulk that showed strength. My chest had filled in, my stomach had some faint ridges, and most of all my buttocks seemed fuller. I remembered my older sister telling me when we were shopping at a mall that she would buy me denim jeans as my college graduation gift. But since, as she had said, I had a flat behind, any jeans I would wear would appear awkward. But now that years of exercise had chiseled my body, perhaps my sister would no longer have any difficulty finding me new clothing. And also, since I was working in a foreign country, perhaps I could afford to buy clothes that would suit me better.

Truthfully, it was a bit strange, thinking why I was here. I had only met Michiel in person four hours ago, after some conversation on Grindr. But then again, as my friends had told me before, gay men were more physical, more visual, more primal, than their straight counterparts. It was not uncommon for two gay men to have some physical pleasure on the first date.

The bathroom door opened. Michiel came out, a towel around his waist, another towel he used to dry his blond hair. “What are you staring at?”

“Just myself,” I replied.

He sauntered behind me, appearing on the mirror, then hugged me from behind. His arms were like flaps of an envelope, completely covering me. He had to lean lower to put his chin on the nook of my neck. On the mirror, it appeared like Goliath had captured David, his tall and lithe Dutch frame awkward on my shorter Filipino figure.

“You’re gorgeous,” Michiel whispered.

I blinked, taken aback. No one had said that to me before. And no less from an “afam,” as my Filipino friends would surely call him.

Before Singapore, I had gone out on dates with Filipino guys, but they had all been a disaster. A recurring pattern was my date would ask for money after the first date. One said he wanted to buy a gift for his sister, another one said he needed to buy underwear, and the last one had to borrow money to pay some of his college tuition. After realizing I was only a walking ATM for these men, I came to the conclusion that dating wasn’t for me. But moving to Singapore and realizing I wasn’t getting any younger, I decided to give it another try. While Michiel wasn’t the first afam I met, he certainly didn’t ask for money from me. Instead, we went Dutch when we paid our restaurant bill—fitting, because of Michiel’s nationality.

“Thank you,” I replied after a brief pause.

I could see Michiel noticing my reaction, that I wasn’t totally convinced with what he had said. His response was just to hug me tighter.

Growing up in the Philippines, I had always been the invisible guy, lost in the background, like I was hiding behind the curtains in the classroom. When I was in high school, my classmates were worried about their puppy romances or saving enough baon to buy gifts for their teenage lovers. Meanwhile, I was worried about my acne. It was a source of constant grief for me, and a money drain for my mom. She would spend thousands for my dermatology visits and for my medicinal facial creams. And when my acne subsided after I graduated from college and found work, I went to the gym. But still, I wasn’t handsome enough.

“You’re a hipon!” a female work colleague had told me one time as she was a bit tipsy during a Friday night party.

“Hipon, why?” I replied.

“Nice body, ugly face,” she said, laughing.

That stung. That label turned into a scar I especially noticed whenever I glanced at my face on any reflective surface, like I was sizing another person in a duel.

I slowly loosened myself from Michiel’s grasp. “I should get going. It’s already past midnight.”

He nodded as he told me he would get me a glass of water. Putting on my clothes, I was looking at Michiel. He was a good-looking man, although when I told him that he was handsome during our date, he had seemed surprised. Aside from his noticeable height, he had a kindness to his baby-blue eyes that would match his smile. He also smelled like fresh sunflowers whenever I caught a whiff of him. He told me he didn’t wear any perfume, but it could be his aftershave. Later he mentioned that he was in his mid-forties, while I was only in my late twenties, so I could easily find a younger replacement for him.  I shook my head in disagreement. He also asked why I had decided to meet him that night, and I only replied: “Because you felt right.” Besides from the personable photos he sent me, our conversation was so much different from the dates I had had in my hometown. He was the quintessential older gentleman. It felt like I was treated as a person, an equal—so unlike the police interrogations I had experienced with the guys in Davao, where my date would ask about my height, weight, age, employment, my crushes and exes, and even the size of my manhood.

“It’s too bad you’re flying tomorrow. Where is your next flight?” I asked while drinking the glass of water.

Michiel replied he was going to Bangkok, then would stay there for a few days, then fly to South Korea, then back to Singapore, then fly back to Amsterdam. As a flight attendant for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, he was everywhere. I, on the other hand, was grounded with my desk job in Singapore.

“You must have met a lot of guys through your job.”

He pondered for a bit, his eyes squinting, then faintly shook his head. “Not really.”

Fully dressed, I walked to the front door and put on my shoes. He followed me, towering over me like my office building when I arrived at work. “Will I see you when I get back to Singapore?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, smiling. I had to tiptoe to plant a kiss on his lips. “I’ll be right here.”

He opened the door as he smiled back. He gave me one more hug and kiss before I headed to the elevators then exited the hotel. I took one more glance behind me, then started to walk to the subway metro, passing by the flickering neon lights in Geylang. It was surprisingly chilly. I could hear the bustle of tourists. I took out my phone and briefly read my text conversation with Michiel.

Have a safe trip to Bangkok, I texted him.

After a few minutes, my phone vibrated. Michiel had replied to me: I will see you again. I’ll be staying in the same hotel when I arrive back.

A small smile was on my face. I really wasn’t in my hometown anymore, I thought, as I kept at my pace.



Glyd Jun Arañes works as professional linguist for a language technology company in Helsinki, Finland. He briefly worked at a big tech company in Singapore before migrating to Europe. He was a fellow at the 2010 ADDU Writers Workshop and the 2011 Davao Writers Workshop.