Coming Home: A Study in Disaster

Nonfiction by | December 28, 2020



Every love has its landscape.

~Rebecca Solnit


In December 2014, almost eight years since leaving Baguio, I took my children back there for a quick vacation. It wasn’t my idea. As a matter of principle and practice, I do not travel during the Christmas season because all the airports and bus terminals and piers spill over with overseas Filipinos coming home to spend the holidays with their families. In fact, December is officially recognized as the Month of Overseas Filipinos. That year, 487,654 tourist arrivals were recorded. The Dalilings in the US were no exception. The parents of my ex-husband and the whole Filipino- Korean-American family of his sister Joy were coming home from Arizona so a grand reunion was scheduled.

My ex, Jeremy, wasn’t going to be there because he was still out at sea, where he worked as an assistant cook in a cruise ship, as an overseas Filipino worker. I didn’t want the Dalilings to think that I was keeping my children from them, so I agreed to go despite all my reasons not to. Jeremy sent money for the airfare of the kids.

One week before their flight, I was informed that his parents were not going to be there after all because Papa was still waiting for his immigration interview to be scheduled. It would have been a greater loss if he had left and it pushed through during his absence. He would have had to go back to the end of the line. So the reunion was reduced in scale. I almost decided not to go anymore, but I didnt want to waste our tickets, which cost twice as much because of peak-season demand. It hinted at a disaster waiting to happen.

“Disaster [is] a processual phenomenon rather than an event that is isolated and temporally demarcated in exact time frames,” Anthony Oliver-Smith writes. Before reading this I didn’t think “processual” was a word. But there it is.

Taken out of the context of natural disasters, it suggests that our trip back to Baguio wasn’t a disaster per se. Each of the events in that trip was part of a process that actually goes back in time, to my marriage and how it failed.

A few days after we had left Baguio to move to Davao in 2007, my mother-in-law sent me a text message saying, “We are still recuperating from our lost to you.” I still believe that she meant “from losing you,” but maybe that was really at the heart of the problem. Aside from the miscommunication wrought by translation, my marriage to their son was a battle with them from the beginning and now that I was gone, they had lost it. But didn’t they actually win it? I threw in the towel after one dead dog, two hybrid children, four transient houses, and seven years of struggling to make it work. It wasn’t how I wanted it to go. I still remembered all our good intentions when I decided to merge my Manila girl with their handsome Igorot boy.

She also wrote, “How I wish I have done more . . . you must know that your Papa and I suffered most.” Even in the suffering, they had to win. I assured her that they were not to blame for what happened. We really should never have lived with them in their house when we returned to Baguio to try to save our marriage. Or maybe we shouldn’t have married at all. They had disapproved of it in the first place. They were right about the “curse” on the second marriage in the family within the same year. But it wasn’t about their family; I just wanted to stop trying. I lost.

I was not the one who suffered most.

Oliver-Smith says, “The question of time is crucial if vulnerability is to be considered essential to the definition of disaster.” Returning to Baguio with my children for a few days gave me a clearer understanding of the battle. No matter how much I wanted to make light of it, we remained vulnerable to aggravating factors during that trip. If Jeremy had been there, it would have made more sense. I would not have had to come. Have I mentioned I didn’t want to go?

I had actually gone back to Baguio on a side trip two years before, for nine hours. I didn’t tell any of them. Even though the bus trip was longer than my visit (normally six hours each way), I just wanted to spend some time with my dear friends, eat strawberries, and buy coffee beans. I didn’t have time for pleasantries that I had already rejected. But the December trip promised to be all about pleasantries.

Their family, like many Filipino families, had always been about ignoring the elephant in the room. They liked to act as if the elephant can be part of the home décor. That was why I never fit in. I was the one who kept shouting, “Look at that monstrosity! Do something!” Or else I was, in fact, the elephant. I should have been grateful for the tolerance. But I didn’t want to disappear into Gilman’s “yellow wallpaper.” It was only a matter of time.

Eight years after the disaster of our leaving, we were in postrehabilitation. I felt strong enough to go back to the old house and mingle. I had once written a poem, “To Get to Our House,” about the road home, the home in which I felt most alienated. I searched for the old markers:

find the house of

Muling Ligaya,

pass the Calvary

Tabernacle Church,

the Assembly of God,

the Bible Believing Baptist Mission, rising from the ashes

of a long-abandoned structure.

Finally, our Lady of Fatima,

at the jeepney turning point.


They were all still there, and standing more impressive, perhaps testament to the tenacious faith of the community. And the winding Mangga Road down was still planted to jackfruit trees, but the narra tree marking the junction between Upper and Lower Mangga was much taller than it used to be. I stopped there to take photos of the view of the mountains, but also to take a breath before I entered the old neighborhood. I had sent the kids ahead so they could spend time with their cousins while I stayed in the transient room I had rented for the week.

The neighborhood had changed quite a bit, with the neighbors building concrete fences. Good fences make good neighbors, I thought. I really couldn’t remember how to get to the house. Hoping they didn’t have ferocious dogs, I entered one of the houses with an open gate to ask where the Daliling house was. When I finally found it, I was surprised by the home renovation: a new porch, a new kitchen, and a new bathroom with a separate toilet. By then, only one family lived there, where there used to be two plus one bachelor brother, and which doubled during the Christmas holidays. Maybe this was the new “house of Muling Ligaya”—happy again after all these years.

As it turned out, the relatives from the US were leaving early on December 31 so the New Year’s Eve celebration had to be done earlier. But I had scheduled our trip back to Manila on January 3 expecting to welcome New Year’s Eve with them and to avoid the rush of travelers going back to work. I was not prepared to serve a media noche feast in a house where I wasn’t even allowed to cook. But no one in the Daliling family invited us to stay. I supposed that was fair enough. Why should any of them have bothered with entertaining us? They didn’t owe us anything. They had already hosted the reunion requested by the American contingent, which had left. They were eager to get some rest.

And frankly, I didn’t want to have to sing “Happy New Year to You” to the tune of the birthday song again. Besides, there was a better view of city fireworks from our transient room in the area called Military Cut-off. So I served a simple scaled-down feast of a fruit salad, bread, wine, and more strawberries than we had eaten in the past eight years. I apologized profusely to my children, who really did not care about the food, as long as I served Coke.

But I admit I felt sore about it. After all the trouble of making the trip, my children and I ended up spending New Year’s Eve in a stranger’s house instead of spending it for the first time in our new house in Davao, with my new partner. It felt like an evil plan, sabotaging our own “house of Muling Ligaya.”

What’s worse was that afternoon, when we had gone to the market to buy strawberries and gifts to bring home, Sachi’s new smartphone was snatched. It was her own fault because she had placed it in her jacket pocket and it took only two seconds for the pickpocket to take it. The guy was probably following her and just waiting for his chance, which she obliged. I dragged the kids to the police station to report the crime, but the police officer on duty only reprimanded Sachi for her stupidity. It was hopeless. Later, my friends said that it was no secret to residents that Baguio police were in on the profits from fencing.

Fencing can refer to several things, the most common of which is the barrier erected between two areas to mark a boundary and to prevent entrance. It also means the Olympic sport escrime that uses special swords in a martial arts dance mimicking combat. In statistics, it is “a value beyond which an observation is considered an outlier,” something that may indicate an error in measurement.

None of these senses connect directly to the crime, which involves the sale of stolen goods through a fence, the intermediary between thief and buyer. While the law has been revised to impose higher penalties on the fence, who is now considered an active player and not simply an accessory to the crime, it requires that the stolen item be retrieved.

For many, retrieval of the item may be enough to solve the crime. In fact only in exceptional cases are the police able to find the stolen item, especially when they do not try. I insisted on filing the report in case anyone in the police station was actually concerned about the number of cases of thievery in the market, where huge signs warn, “BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS” and “KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR BELONGINGS.”

Signs that put the blame on the victim.

Feeling defeated, we decided to have an early dinner at a Chinese restaurant I used to frequent when we lived there. We all deserved a plate of lechon rice. After we had ordered, I took Raz to the barbershop down the road. I reminded Sachi to watch our bag of gifts from the market because they might be taken.

I really should have just brought the bag with me.

If I had any doubts that lightning could strike the same place twice, that evening I was certain. I just hoped that the thief might feel a little guilt when he opened the bag and saw the hand-carved driftwood crucifix I had bought for my mother. She had asked for that specifically to drive away the evil curses that she believed a neighbor had been casting on her. I knew we had to go back to get her another one.

My mother had never been religious when I was growing up. She never forced me to go to church on Sundays nor pray the rosary every day. I liked that she was not a hypocrite like that. She knew she was living in sin, being a mistress, and it was no use pretending she wasn’t by going to church.

When I was thirteen, I decided I had to try doubly hard if I didn’t want to go to hell. I joined the parish choir and served in the 6 p.m. Mass every day, sometimes as offertory collector and as lector. As if that weren’t enough, I also attended the Friday prayer meetings after Mass, where we sang and lifted up our hands in praise, and cried to show remorse and joy at the same time. I joined a Life in the Spirit seminar where I pretended I had received the gift of tongues by speaking in gibberish. It was there that I got my first menstrual period. That was the true gift of the Spirit but I didn’t recognize it at the time—it was not listed in the Bible. I read the Bible from cover to cover, using a special colored pencil to mark verses like: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” and “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

My friends and I played Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” record backward on the player and heard the masked Satanic reversed message, “Dog si natas” (Satan is god), over and over so we burned the record, along with “Hotel California” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” We listened only to Amy Grant from then on.

I hoped my fervent devotion would save me from my mother’s sinfulness.

I learned later that it was my own “sinfulness” I should have worried about. By the time I was sixteen, I had lost Jesus. Or Jesus had lost me. Depending on who was looking.

My children and I ate our New Year’s Eve dinner sullenly. I cursed my decision to come to Baguio. I declared it our worst New Year’s Eve ever, one like Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” which “hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light” and no pasalubong for my mother. I declined an invitation from an old friend to spend New Year’s Eve with his family because I was afraid that our bad luck might come in three. I didn’t want to risk taking a taxi to a far-flung neighborhood near the Philippine Military Academy and getting mugged. I know I would have felt better spending media noche with them and not having to worry about preparing a traditional feast, but I was too afraid to take any chances.

So we made do with a meager table in a dimly lit room on the fourth floor, which had a terrace from which to view the New Year fireworks every household had. A fruit salad with fresh Shoga strawberries available only in Baguio wasn’t so bad. It never made sense to me to have a heavy meal at midnight anyway just because of a tradition. And the cheap wine I got from the old Tiong San supermarket somehow tasted better while watching the fireworks, even though the display was incoherent. Living in Davao, where fireworks are illegal, has made us an audience easy to please.

We went to bed feeling grateful to be together, just the three of us, not having to be nice to anyone just because they’re relatives. So much of the Philippines is propped up by empty family traditions; it’s like the traditional Christmas lantern, the parol, and its hollow bamboo stick base. And yet it does serve to illuminate the dark; it may just be a matter of seeing.

I promised myself I would prepare a proper table on the (real) Lunar New Year in our new house, where instead of fireworks, we would bang our stainless steel washbasins to drive away the bad luck of the past.

Bad luck did come in three that day. At around 4 a.m., I was roused by Sachi’s whimpering. I thought she was crying belatedly over the loss of her phone. When I checked on her, she said her left ear was painful, like it was being poked with a barbecue stick. I gave her a painkiller so we could all get some more sleep before going to the hospital.

We spent New Year’s Day in the emergency room of Baguio General Hospital, along with some victims of firecracker accidents. Sachi’s complaint seemed trivial alongside patients with bleeding hands, but I was grateful the doctor who attended to her didn’t rush through the examination, for which we did not have to pay a peso. It turned out to be a simple ear infection, which I hoped would easily clear with otic drops.

Even when she was a baby, Sachi had been prone to ear infections caused by hardened cerumen or the common cold. I’ve had to bring her to the pediatrician to irrigate her ears a few times. I wondered if it wasn’t because there were some things she didn’t want to hear. I admit I yell a lot at home.

I yell because I do not want to hit my children. But I know yelling also hurts. Every year I make a New Year’s resolution to yell less, but the older my children get, the harder it becomes to keep it. Yelling makes me feel like I have control. What it really does is make my kids afraid of me, like Raz, or defiant, like Sachi. The louder I yell, the higher the fence it erects between us.

The trip wasn’t entirely a waste of time and resources, even though it felt like it at that time. I was able to reconnect with my old friends, who were my true family in Baguio: teacher-friends, former-student-friends, writer-friends, lesbian-and-gay-friends, almost-exes-friends-if-only. Even though I’m not very good at keeping in touch across the distance, I never throw away any friends. I take every opportunity to reconnect and to feel at home somehow because of a shared joy or pain in the past.

Even more, we ate at every favorite restaurant and ordered all our favorite dishes because food is memory. I was sorry we missed Rito’s of the Baguio beef shank bulalo soup because we couldn’t find its new location. I really wanted Sachi to taste it because it was the dish I had craved for during the first trimester when I was pregnant with her. I ate it every day for two weeks and then I moved on to native green mangoes from Pangasinan. ‘Lihi’ is one of those Filipino mysteries no one can explain: why do pregnant women crave the strangest things? Some say the body craves food with the nutrients it needs to have a healthy pregnancy; others say it’s only meant to get the attention of our partners. Whatever it is, I did have the excessive food cravings for both my pregnancies. But I didn’t demand any extra attention from anyone else to satisfy them. Always the DIY kind of woman that I am, hormones notwithstanding.

On our last day in Baguio City, we had to go to the market again to replace some of the stolen goods. Got the second crucifix for cheaper with my sad story, but the carving on the first one was really finer. Part of me wished I had more time to visit the secondhand clothes shops, but I remembered that I was through with buying discarded clothes.

No, it wasn’t quite the disaster it had threatened to be. Every disaster is, after all, a matter of vulnerability. But after eight years, surely I had prepared myself for the onslaught of memories and the actual friction caused by our inherent differences. I was an outlier in that family and nothing was going to change that. All I wanted to focus on at that point was finally moving forward.

Going back there somehow showed me how. What my children and I lost in Baguio City was only the sunk cost someone had to pay.

And like I had learned before in Baguio, when we left the transient house, I called out to our karkarma spirits, “Umay kan, Jhoanna, Sachi, Raz! Agawiden! Awan mabat-bati!” Time to go home; no one gets left behind.


Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz teaches creative writing in UP Mindanao. This essay appears in her memoir, Abi Nako, Or So I Thought, published recently by the UP Press. The book, revolving around the first ten years of rebuilding her life in Davao City after the end of her marriage, is available in Shopee and Lazada.




Nonfiction by | November 16, 2020

I gazed at the keyboard at the center of the room. It was almost three o’clock in the afternoon.  Our mentor told us to study the timbre of the instrument, according to our assigned range. I have always secretly wondered about what musicians, physicists and other academicians alike have postulated through the centuries—the miracle of the octave —or the sole existence of seven notes in a given scale beginning from C-D-E-F-G-A-B and back to C, where C would both become the lowest note of the former group, and the highest sound of the succeeding register that should have followed the prescribed melody thereof.



Weekends meant a series of songs across the radio, cassette records sprawled on the floor, and the unending kinesthetic trills for exhaling a rhythm of sighs, a curious attempt at words.

I began singing when I was two years old. I would stand on a chair, grab the microphone from Papa and follow the melody of the song. I would gaze at the letters shaded in shifting hues. Instinctively, I somehow understood that the changing of the colors and letters from white to blue meant that the said phrase should be sung right away, soon, soon enough before the advent of the forward replay, the compulsory slideshow of geographic graces in the punctus of words.

Perhaps I inherited this love of music from my parents. Papa had been working as an educator yet he also had an established reputation for singing. Since his childhood years, he had joined a lot of singing contests in Surigao del Sur. I remembered seeing Papa’s collection of records from Philippine male singers like Ariel Rivera and Martin Nievera. For almost a decade, Mama had been the conductor of a flute orchestra group in an elementary school in Calinan. She was a music teacher. She would also be the voice mentor whenever the school had to send participants for the solo voice competitions.

“Yabag man no,” a relative said about the way I would project the song with my own conventions of so-fa syllables. I was only a child but I somehow understood that yabag meant one who could not follow with the realm of performers in the established music world, the world of 97 million and counting songs.

“Ma, gusto nako mag voice lessons,” I told Mama years ago.

“ Ayaw lang kay basin madaot ang…” Mama ended her reply with a facial expression that would translate to a “no.”

I understood my mother had her fears, although I could not see and comprehend those fears in full. I contemplated on her reply. I could not help but feel disappointed. I surmised that the purpose of learning vocal techniques was to execute proper voice projection and modulation while singing. Training, I thought, would help me use my voice at the proper vocal placement, at the right time.


Da capo

I joined a band without the knowledge of my parents. It was not like they would disapprove of it. I just wanted to keep this one from them first. Olga, my kababata, the bassist, welcomed me to the QWERTY PAD Band.

In January 2013, the school celebrated the annual Spanish month. There were several competitions for the Spanish month celebration—one of which was the Battle of the Bands. Our band had agreed to join. We began to meet for our primary consideration: the song choice. For the Battle of the Bands, each group must perform a three to four-minute song presentation in Spanish. We had the option to research songs from Spain or in Latin-American countries, or to find songs from the American pop genre with an equivalent Spanish version. We decided to go with the latter.

Since our band had been practicing with pop songs, we figured out that we had to limit our choices on that specific genre. One of us suggested the song, “We Are Young” by Fun. The song happened to be one of the most popular songs in International charts at that time. The original performer of the song was a male singer. Consequently, the structure of the song by default would go for the male voice—which could be too low for us to sing, in terms of the key. Lan, one of our guitarists, initiated the job of arranging the song. The instrumentalists adjusted their pitch accordingly.

As vocalists, we had the work of mastering the lyrics. It was difficult for us to practice the song because it was in Spanish. We had our Spanish classes but performing a song in the said language was completely an indescribably different experience. The Spanish sound had its distinct tone, nuances, and effect. We scoured the worldwide web, showing different vocal artists across the globe. We spent weeks, filling up the practice studios with quel, el, sols like some form an obligatory overnight stint of recitation for the upcoming examinations.

Vi played the keyboard.  Shane hit the drums.

During the performance, my co-vocalist and I took our turns in singing the verses of “Somos Jovenes.” I looked at Tine, my co-vocalist. I noticed that one of us had forgotten the correct lyrics. On the flip side, the syllables sounded the same. The good thing was, all these lyrics dilemma happened at the last two lines of the song. One of us covered up for it by singing the part in an improvised tune—by singing some parts a bit higher than the other so that the voices would clash and blend accordingly, producing a contrast, an edge to the timbre of the collective voice.

I seemed to have forgotten we were in a competition. I looked at the crowd. The panel of judges nodded. Everyone gave us a round of applause.

We won second place. All our hard-work paid off.



I joined the pageant, Mutya ng Calinan 2017, on 3 August 2017. One of the segments I had to prepare for was the Talent Portion. I thought of giving a song performance right away. Weeks before the pageant, my cousins had asked me about the material I would choose for the show. As much as possible, I wanted the performance to be an exclusive space between the audience and me. I only wanted to create a brief presentation, to tell a story.

I have the option of singing ballad songs, since that was the genre I have always been comfortable with. I limited my choices to Original Filipino Music because I desired to perform a song that the majority of the audience could relate to. To me, there would always be a sense of magic in listening to Filipino love songs. The language itself had romantic nuances.

There were hundreds of love songs in Filipino music. The choices were overwhelming. One may think that a favorite song or the fight song should be the option. Song choices should not be as difficult as their execution. However, I thought and I felt that a song choice should not be too close or too far from the performer. Otherwise, the execution would be put at stake. If a performer would be too close with the song, these possible situations might happen: the performer might steal the limelight from the song, and tamper with the execution, or break down in tears in the middle of the performance, only a few sighs before the dimming of the lights on the stage.

If a performer would be too estranged from the song, the performance might sound like a formulaic, robotic utterance.  There would be no sense of dramaturgy, no genuine hold for the song.

One advice I would hear the esteemed musicians say to the contestants of televised singing competitions would be the lesson on song choices. Songs should always sound genuine. The sincerity of the performance was one factor that would give the whole performance a distinct texture. The sincerity of the performance, one of the panel of judges had said, could only be achieved when the performer truly comprehends all that is in a song.

One never had to experience the scenario inscribed in the lyrics to understand it, I have always believed. Reading books would prove to be one of the best avenues where a person could sharpen their understanding of life. Here, the reader, would somehow feel the tangibility of the world she had been trying to discern. The power of literature had the inexplicable thrust of creating the illusion where the readers, in a peculiar way, would find themselves juxtaposed with that of the narrative, seeing what the character sees, hearing what the characters hear, and experiencing all the sensation present in the piece, somewhere in their private domain.

I have read literature about love stories inside and outside classes. Love, in the context of our classroom discussions, was a complex term to have a single, universal definition. Alice Munro’s “Carried Away”, for example, had shown the complexities of love, and of human relationships. The novella had depicted Louisa’s passing, fleeting life. Louisa had brief, romantic relationship with a soldier whom she had never met in person. They would keep on writing letters to each other. That was literally love in a time in a war. Months later, Louisa would soon find out that Jack had married another woman. The years came in a flash. Jack died because of an accident. Louisa married Arthur, a businessman, the owner of a piano factory. They had children; they had a good life.  Louisa was in her old age when she witnessed a procession of soldiers in the streets. She mistook one person with Jack. That was one of the highest turning points in the story.  All these years, Jack may have left her hanging on hopes. Jack may have married. She may have married. But what they once had would never be forgotten.  Jack never lost his private sphere in her life, even after all those years.

Lost love. How could a person leave just like that? How could one thing that began in the most unexpected of ways end so soon? How could one feel something and be unable to fight for it? How could one fail to choose the one who have given them a sense of life, of death, at the same time? How could one move forward and leave the other, hanging on a loose tread, standing on the fine line? How could one remember all that there is, all that there was, all that there could be in a person, after all those years of scourge?

I could choose a song, a popularized song, with a similar theme—with the themes of the complexities of loving we had studied and thoroughly discussed in class.

I chose Jona’s version of “Pusong Ligaw.” This was not to say that the song would be my automatic “theme-song-on-mind” for the literary pieces I had read in class. I chose the song for its popularity, and for the theme, which I thought I had clearly understood.  Even the song itself was quite poetic. The lines, “Ikaw at ako/isinulat sa mga bituin/at ang langit sa /gabi ang sumasalamin/” caught me. The lovers themselves were likened to the stars, lost in the conventions of their private realm, their secret universe.


I almost literally froze in front of the audience. I missed the first three seconds of the song. That was not the first song performance in a competition I had, but it seemed to me that even a little experience could barely counter the advent of the frenzy of nervousness taunting me.  Still I knew I had to continue. The song had played. The panel of judges, and the audience had surrendered their gazes on stage.

“Di kita malimutan/ Sa mga gabing nagdaan/Ikaw ang pangarap/nais kong makamtan/ sa buhay ko ay/ ikaw ang kahulugan…”


The lights dimmed after the last note. The lights lit up the stage once more. The succession of these lights had scheduled the beginning of the performances. The lights marked the end of the show.


Third runner-up. My first major pageant experience ended well, after all.



Ayaw na pag join, lisod gud,” one of the auditionees said to me in a worried tone after her turn. I was surprised to hear her words. She left right away. I had the slight idea that it would be difficult. All auditions were meant to test the aspirant’s skill, to the limit or close.

I gazed at the application form. There were blank spaces to be filled out. Some of these spaces were allotted for personal information. I wrote pertinent details accordingly. On the lower center corner of the paper, I saw the criteria for judging: voice quality, intonation, and diction.  Ratings, I supposed, would be done from one to five—one would be the lowest score, five would be the highest. At the bottom part of the form, I saw the marks: S1, S2, A1, A2, T1, T2, B1, and B2. I went on and asked the registration officer about these codes.

“Those are voice classifications. You will know your voice classification after the pitch test,” she said.

I did not think of participating in the auditions in my first year in College. I was too pre-occupied with trying to deal with the new world I was engrossed in. I was still a struggling Architecture student then. Years passed by and I still found myself too busy in academics. At the last minute, I honestly second-guessed the chorale auditions. I could not help but think I could be too late for one.

A representative of the choir called me inside. After the introduction, the conductor told me to start singing whenever I would be ready. Once again, I froze in front of the choir members. One of the section leaders said that I could sing, facing the wall instead. I was about to turn my back when a sudden thought occurred my mind—I wanted to see the reaction on their faces so I would have a slight idea about the quality of my performance for the night.

I performed Mandy Moore’s “Only Hope” and Morisette Amon’s “Akin ka na lang.” I chose those songs because I have been singing them for quite a long time. After which, the conductor told me to repeat the notes he would play on the keyboard. That was the pitch test, I heard the choir members said. I tried to follow the melody I heard in the room.

Some of the choir members nodded as I sang.

“We will just notify you via text if you are qualified to join the University Choir,” one of the resident singers said.


Out of the 21 qualified applicants, only seven of us remained for the initiation rites of the UP Mindanao Koro Kantahanay Overture Concert. There were two new performers each for the Soprano, Tenor, and Bass groups, and one for the Alto group. I did not know what had happened to the other applicants. I just heard that some of them had jobs to attend to, academic tasks to attend to, and so on and so forth. The remaining applicants underwent note-reading, quartet-singing, and individual singing exams.

I sung “Minsan lang kitang Iibigin” composed by Aaron Paul Del Rosario, for the solo exams.

“You’re in,” the resident singers told me.

For more than 15 years, the UP Mindanao Koro Kantahanay had been showing the annual Overture. Choral baptism, as what the resident singers, called would feature the debut of the qualified applicants.

All overtures had their theme. Kapayapaan (Peace) and Pangandoy (Dreams) were some of the former themes, and consequently, the titles for the past concerts. During our rehearsals, the choir president used our break session to start a meeting about the coming overture.

The repertoire of songs could be categorized into three: Religious songs, the love songs, and the indigenous folk music. All of the songs, to me, had one dominating, all-encompassing theme. That was desire—desire in all its forms: the desire to find God, the desire for love, the desire for peace.

I gave my suggestions for the title of the show. “Tinguha,” is the Cebuano word for desire. Jacques Lacan, whom we had encountered in our Critical Literature classes, posited that desire, through the times, has fueled people from creating indices of pursuits to fill in the void that exists within.  The text was premised on the notion that people have been in constant search to fill up the ‘lack’ or “gap” in their beings amidst the calm, the chaos, and the contrasts of the world—rejoicings, political unrests, wars, unity, persecutions, inclusivity, onslaught of diseases, healings.

“Te, pwede ka maghimo og spoken word para sa overture? Magtugtog ko og violin te samtang naga perform ka,”the conductor said, requesting me to present a spoken word performance for the introduction stint of the overture.  He told me that he would play the violin for the accompaniment of the piece.

I titled my work, “Kandila” (candle) which was my metaphor for desire. I recited the lines, complementing the music from the violin.

Mental block came.

I took a brief pause.

I heard some people in the audience said, “hala, nakalimot siya,” in a worried tone. I did face acting and created lines in front of the stage. Fortunately, I did not forget my last stanza:

“Ang hangin /sa imo milubong/apan dili niini mapalong/ang imong mga hunghong.

I gazed at the conductor to signal him that it was the end of my spoken word performance for the night.



“The song should sound fragile,” one of the choir members said, upon the distribution of the music sheets.

The choir president and I shifted positions. I transferred to the last row of Soprano singers, beside the singers from the Alto group. Before my chorale stint, I thought that the performers could just stand anywhere they wanted to. I understood that in certain songs, they had to sing beside their section mates. I never thought that in every section, each performer must be carefully arranged.

I am (technically) a Mezzo Soprano but during choral gigs, I would be frequently assigned as either Soprano 1 or Soprano 2, with two other (one lyric and one dramatic) Sopranos respectively. Almost in every presentation, I would be positioned at the leftmost or the rightmost corner of our section, depending on the required dominant tone color. The arrangement of performers, I surmised, could be likened to the arrangement of scenes in a literary work.

I remembered Leo Tolstoy’s words, “Art is thinking in images.” The primary concern of the artist, in the context of writing Poetry, would be the arrangement of these images. The arrangement of these images would demand for a specific language for its execution; the arrangement of these images could affect the musicality of the poem, and consequently dictate the structure of meaning as well.

This was Musikahan 2018 contest piece: “She Dwelt Upon the Untrodden Ways” by William Wordsworth (Music by Ralph Hoffman, 2008).

William Wordsworth, the key figure of the Romanticism, opined that “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquility.”  Poetry then, became an avenue for the lyricists to vent out all their passions, their grief, their dread, and their ecstasy in the boulders of verse.

The persona began with a description of a “She” said to live upon the untrodden ways. The phrase, “lived upon the untrodden ways” could be taken both literally and figuratively. The untrodden ways meant a place in the country, a place barely mapped, a place almost unknown, a place, close to being non-existent. The untrodden ways were neither bright nor spectacular. The untrodden ways could mean an unlikely, unfamiliar, homely way of life. No one would desire such place at first sight.  In the second verse, the persona likened the woman to a violet by a mossy stone. To the voice, she was the grace amidst the cull of the dull. The last verse confirmed my suspicion that the poem was a lover’s deep recollection of all that was, of all that could be in their love. At this point, Lucy had left.  To the public, her death was as mundane as the thousands of deaths that had reminded all the passport to the end of human existence. But to the voice, the circumstance was among all of Lucy’s dusks and twilights which he had the unending thrust to witness with utmost fidelity to every movement, every silence, all the music present in the scene, from afar.

We sang the song, from dusk till almost dawn.

Repeat. Repeat this line.

Mistakes would always be an inevitable enemy during practices. No one should forget the lyrics. No face should look robotic. No section should sound louder than it should. No one should feel “lost” in the middle of the rising of sounds.

Harmony, not competition must prevail.

“Again,” the conductor said.

Instead of giving our collective sighs, we went on singing our assigned parts in the music sheet.



“Entry number 1,” the Masters of the Ceremonies announced. Guests, performers, and chorale competitors across the region have come, filling up the four corners of the music hall. I tried to control my tears as our group slowly made our trek to the battle stage. I prayed to God. I invoked the intercession of Saint Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Musicians, hours before the show.

The conductor played the first note on the keyboard.

I gazed some distance past the stage, lifted my inaudible sigh, and imagined the untrodden ways that had become the lovers’ secret constellation, until death bid them the cyclophonic goodbye.

She dwelt upon the untrodden ways/ Beside the springs of Dove…

Seven choirs had given the rendition of the contest piece. Before the announcement of winners, the Maters of the Ceremonies requested all of the chorale groups to occupy the stage. The conductor from the second entry went toward the center, raised his arms in the air, and gestured a signal for the momentum of the orbit of sounds. I saw Ralph Hoffman’s face lit up from the moment all of the Tenor performers exhaled the introductory notes, to the juncture of the harmony of tones at the singing of “the difference… to me.”

“The winners are…”

Group 1 from UP Mindanao ata madaug pud,” I heard one singer from a different chorale group remarked after the collective singing of the contest piece.

After moments of drum rolls, three schools were announced as Champion, First Placer, and Second Placer, respectively. The chorale groups, who have competed and won in international chorale competitions received this year’s top three spots.

To me, the goal was not to win, to emerge as the champion. Giving dignified representation to our University Chorale and rendering a performance with great passion in our hearts was more than enough.

“At this juncture, the choirs will be requested to occupy specific seating areas. The panel of judges shall walk around the hall, visit one group at a time, and give their respective impressions of the performances,” the Master of the Ceremonies said.

The drill reminded me of Creative Writing workshops, where all of the Literature majors would be compelled to hear comments from the mentors and co-students after the submission of their manuscripts. Except that this time, there were no white type-written sheets stained in red ink or green. The hues for marking would always be dependent upon the teacher’s prerogative.


Sir Ralph Hoffman, the composer of the contest piece, and a member of the panel of judges for the competition, held our rating sheet on his hands. Almost all of my choir-mates occupied the front row. I had no choice but to stay at the back of them. Hoffman spoke. I could barely hear his voice. The hall was filled with all kinds of post-competition utterances: the discussions of the winning choirs, the microphone reminders for the series of programs outside the hall, the murmurings of hosts, the audience giving out their critical remarks of the seven acts, and the full-force modulation of mood setter music on the stereo, setting the background score of the day’s episode.

I heard some points about our group tempo. The rest were a blur. I tried to move closer but to no avail. What I merited from the gesture was the view of our contest score. It was above average. From the zero mark, we reached the above average cut-off. To me, the score could already be considered a gift. Although we did not win a spot in the competition, I could not help but feel at peace with the results. I was contented about the quality of our performance. In fact, some of the former conductors of Koro had given the remark that this year’s batch had a distinct, highly textured timbre—the timbre, which could be our pathwalk to defined doors of ten-fold more music ruminations.

“There is no other way around but up,” Sir Arwin Tan, one of the judges, said to us, in his closing statement.



The year 2020 arrived. History would remember the year 2020 as the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. News of daily deaths had marked calendars and grids worldwide. Community quarantines were a common sight. The economic pitfalls, hunger, political, and socio-civic unrests had added to the taxonomy of pre-existing and perpetual social sorrows the world has known.


Where do music stand in these times?

Musicians and music enthusiasts alike have spent their hours inside their homes writing songs, recording their band sessions, composing music, and creating and managing online communities with fellow musicians.  Online concerts and Zoom recitals were a common sight. Music, to some, has been a source of living.  To the others, music has always been the way to make sense of present realities. Music has somehow provided a sense of “healing” for the soul, a sense of hope and refuge in the unfortunate times we live in.


Day job and evening classes helped me not to lose track of my days. I haven’t been doing anything related to music, except for listening to a study music whenever I would face office computers or read my codals, books, commentaries, and cases for law school. I haven’t been joining in the music ministry services of the Vox Optivus Chorale, our church choir in the Immaculate Concepcion Parish because my parents deemed it safer for me to participate in online Masses than go to the Church physically. I was not sure whether our university choir had (online) musical stints this year as well.


Since I could not join our choir, I have resolved to writing lyrics instead. I desired to try to add new lines to the scribbles I wrote on my old music notebook from my elementary years. The unfortunate thing was, I could not locate the old notebook where I have written them. The least I could do was to reconstruct the songs from memory. But I felt rewriting the songs would turn them into new ones, instead of trying to preserve the old codes I had on hand.


I gazed at the keyboard in the center of the room. I knew I needed a break.  I could start somewhere; an image could trigger a memory. Perhaps when I would go for a coffee at dawn, or face both paved and unpaved lanes home, all of nature will have sung their inevitable chorus, somehow, in the absence of words.


In faith, I spent the rest of the sunset, gazing across the skylines for a new wave of inspirations.


Joanna Paula M. Cagape is a law student from the University of Southeastern Philippines School of Law. She is an advocate for women and children’s rights.

Timyas ng Dapithapon

Interview, Nonfiction by | October 19, 2020

May kakaibang hatak ang dapithapon sa aking kalooban. Para itong pagbabadya ng katapusan ng isang buong araw ng pakikibaka at pakikisalamuha. Panahon na para ipahinga ang pagal na isipan at katawan at harapin ang panibagong bukang-liwayway na may buo at bagong sigla.

Ang pagsabog ng samu’t saring kulay sa alapaap – pula, dilaw, lila, abo, luntian, asul, kahel, atbp. ay tila paghahabi ng Dakilang Lumikha ng kanyang obra maestra sa buong kapaligiran. Habang minamasid ang pag-iiba ng kulay ay magkahalong pagkamangha at pagpapatiwasay ng kalooban ang nadarama habang unti-unting binabalot ang araw ng gabi. Mamaya lamang at magsisilabasan na ang mga kumukutikutitap na mga tala at ang maliwanag na buwan.

Ang marahang hampas ng hanging-amihan habang nakatuon sa dapithapon ay dampi sa puso. Dahan-dahang lumalamig ang panahon. Oras na para magmuni-muni. Mag-iisip ng kung anu-anong bagay – ang mga nagawa, ang mga gagawin, mga tagumpay at kabiguan sa buhay, mga mahal sa buhay, at isang libu’t isang isipan ang namumutawi habang minamasdan ang paglubog ng araw. Kakaiba ito sa pagsalubong sa bukang-liwayway na tila nagsisilakbo sa init at may nakaatang na mabigat na gawain sa mga susunod na oras.

Ang hampas ng alon sa dalampasigan habang nakatingala sa langit ay tila oyayi na musika sa pandinig. Magkahalong lumbay, kapanatagan sa kalooban at pagpapasalamat sa Diyos sa kagandahan ng kalikasang nakaharap sa iyong paningin. Ang alon ay parang isang mapanghalina na gayumang humahatak sa iyo na samahan siya sa pag-indayog at paglutang sa karagatan bago tuluyang balutan ng kadiliman ang buong kapaligiran.

Habang tinitingnan ang dapithapon, patuloy akong namamangha sa kalawakan ng sansinukob at katiwasayan sa kalooban na dulot nito. Higit sa lahat, sa kadakilaan at kakayahan ng Diyos na makalikha ng kagandahan na tanging sa Kanyang makapangyarihang mga Kamay lamang maisasakatuparan.


Melchor is School Director of Davao Chong Hua High School.  He finished his Master of Education from UP Diliman and is working towards his PhD in Education (Major in Educational Administration) at the same university.  He has visited the whole Philippines from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi, and only recently moved to Davao.

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.

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.


Sunday Lessons at the Marketplace

Nonfiction by | February 16, 2020

It was on most Sundays when, as a child, I learned many of the basic lessons in life. And I learned them not in the classrooms but in the ladlaran, the flea market in Kidapawan that opened only during Sundays and, at that time, occupied the streets of J. Abad Santos, Perez, Labastida and Dayao.

I would always enjoy accompanying my mother in the market despite having to bear long walks and to help carry the basket because I relished my honorary task as “taste tester” of fruits and freshly-baked kakanin. Being one of the very few kids tucked by parents in the marketplace was an honor. I had always believed that it was a dignified duty for a child to have his opinion solicited, to be consulted on very crucial matters such as whether to buy palitaw or not.

During those Sundays, the streets occupied by the vendors were inaccessible to vehicles, hence the market-goers had to stroll along the ladlaran. And so it was never practical to bring a child along. But I was insistent every time. This prompted my mother to set some rules for me to observe.

Rule #1: Have extra patience and endurance.

My mother used to have the habit of going around the market, comparing prices before finally deciding to buy. For example, if she wanted to buy tomatoes, she’d survey all the stalls that sell tomatoes before she’d make a choice. That was what exhausted me the most. Oftentimes, I would want to complain but mom was always quick to interrupt to remind me that it was my choice to come along.

From then, I learned that in a marketplace, not all tomatoes are priced the same. Mother would tell me that the tomatoes could have come from a single supplier. However, those in the prime spots of the market could have the unwritten privilege of selling the tomatoes at a higher price, while those retailers in the remote spots would have to struggle for their commodities to be noticed and sold, hence they would normally sell at a cheaper price. And mom would prefer the cheaper yet equally fresh ones so we would have to hunt them in the peripheries of the ladlaran.

I had a hard time rationalizing why tomatoes with similar quality, with practically the same “use value”, would have different “exchange values”. Only later did I realize that on those occasions, I was implicitly learning Marxist political economy. And what better place is there that can offer me these realities but the market!

Rule #2: Learn to bargain.

In a farmer’s market, you can bargain for a cheaper price or for more freebies. And this works well if you buy from a suki. There is surely nothing like this in a supermarket where everything is fixed up to the last centavo. There is more human interaction and more humanity in the ladlaran.

One time lately, I came across a post in Facebook urging people not to bargain with small vendors because they need the money more. But my experience in the ladlaran taught me that these small vendors value friendship and loyalty more than the money. They would give extra even if you do not ask for it. They would offer it to you with a smile or a gentle tap on your arm, and would even win your heart with the words “balik-balik ha!”.

There were also times when I would use the skill of bargaining when I think I could no longer hold on to Rule #1. When I got too tired of walking around, I would present to my mom what for me was a win-win deal. Almost always, I would have her agree to leave me with our basket in a small space beside a kakanin stall along Labastida Street. In that way, she could move around faster because she would not have to carry with her the basket. I would convince her that a pack of bingka and bitsobitso would be enough for me to munch while waiting. With that, I knew I have helped solve our respective problems. I learned that for you to be given something, you have to bravely ask for it.

There are, however, various arts of bargaining. Such a situation showed how a careful mastery of Rule #2 could bend Rule #1. There are always exceptions especially to the rules made by a mother for her child.

Rule #3: Be streetwise.

In the ladlaran, like in most public places, you get to meet all sorts of people. It was there where I had my first encounter with several of the public figures in the city, most of them politicians. I would know because mom would tell me about them. But I was more inspired with awe meeting radio broadcasters in the ladlaran. There were times when I would peek at their baskets. And to my astonishment, the radio personalities I so dearly admire also eat tinangkong!

On the same streets strolled by the city’s political leaders and media personalities, there were also children selling plastic bags, repacked condiments and other small stuffs. There were porters “selling” only their service, their sheer force. There were beggars who have nothing to sell. And there was also this iconic young man with a cleft palate who, perhaps, was the only person recognized by every vendor for his role as the market tax collector. Whoever chose him for that task certainly knew how to play with human emotions because before the vendors could finish whining about the community taxes, they would feel sympathetic for the man’s predicament.

Because of this diversity in the market, mom would always remind me to be vigilant, to be mindful of our belongings. Just as you could find a number of saintly personalities, there would as well be a great risk of meeting fallen angels. The problem however is that you would not know who’s who until you’ve fallen prey. So, in whatever transactions in the market, it always pays to think twice of the consequences.

I got used to this Sunday routine even until high school. In the later years, my sister Dyan would occasionally join us in the ladlaran. At home, waiting for us would be my father who’s a very good cook. He would always be assigned to prepare the dish out of the fresh produce we just bought. He would have the hot beverages ready upon our return from the market and we would eat the kakanin. I don’t know, but the bingka and bitsobitso are sweeter the second time around, at home!

Sundays had always been very warm for the heart until I left home for college. When I came home in 2012, I learned that there was much tension between the Local Government Unit (LGU) and the ladlaran vendors. The LGU wanted to relocate them somewhere else. The year after, they were relocated along Baluyot and Lapulapu Streets. And this was a great favor because we live in Baluyot Street! The ladlaran, which I held so dear in my heart, was now just a few yards away from home. But it did not last long. Although the LGU allocated a piece of lot in Barangay Magsaysay, the vendors reportedly argued that the place is not easily accessible to marketgoers. Such a circumstance caused the vendors to disperse.

Today, the ladlaran no longer exists. It is sad that it had to succumb to the condescension of “progress”, of urbanization. But my memories of it, how it taught me important life skills and lessons, and how it established a niche in the culture of Kidapawenos, will forever be cherished.


Paul Randy Gumanao hails from Kidapawan City and teaches Chemistry at Philippine Science High School-SoCCSKSARGEN Campus. He was a fellow for poetry at the 2009 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2010 Iyas National Creative Writing Workshop.