In My Hometown

Poetry by | July 24, 2023

In my hometown,
alarm clocks were church bells
louder than my mother
at six in the morning,
ladies in long skirts
rushed to the choir’s call,
went home
with a bag of pandesal.

In my hometown,
clouds worshipped
a giant named
the calm waters
of the green and abundant
Panguil Bay.

In my hometown,
an old castle rusted.
A queen
dressed in pink,
crowned with stars,
had angels
patrolling the lighthouse.
For a visit, red candles
were offered.

In my hometown,
was a cursed hill.
Only towers existed,
only the religious
would climb
seeking for a treasure,
adults knew as penitence
during Good Friday.

In my hometown,
when the moon watched,
stories echoed as lullabies.
Bells cried in fright.
Malindang haunted the streets,
the Queen appeared on doors,
Hungry Bukagan walked and knocked,
I slept and slept,
I wouldn’t be eaten一 awake.

Caryl Trishia Escal Yapac graduated with the degree Bachelor of Secondary Education Major in English at Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan. She was born and raised in Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental. She was a fellow for poetry at the Saint Francis Xavier Writing Workshop (2022), Cagayan De Oro Young Writers’ Studio (2021), and Veritas Writing Workshop (2020).

Winners of the 6th Satur P. Apoyon Tigi sa Mubong Sugilanong Binisaya

Events | July 16, 2023

The Davao Writers Guild is pleased to announce the winners of the 6th Satur P. Apoyon Tigi sa Mubong Sugilanong Binisaya.

The panel of judges composed of Elizabeth Joy Serrano Quijano, Errol Merquita, and John Bengan chose three winning short stories from the total of eighteen entries submitted to this year’s contest.

The THIRD PRIZE WINNER for the 6th Satur P. Apoyon Tigi sa Mubong Sugilanong Binisaya is “Nagpahiping Maghahalad” by Eric Santiago B. Libre.


Eric S. Libre has published two books in Cebuano, Mga Inalisngaw sa Pulbora (2020) and Balasahon sa mga Agik-ik ug Talidhay (2021). Two of his short stories have won third place in previous Satur P. Apoyon Tigi, “Karaang Damang” (2013) and “Bespren” (2020).

“Nagpahiping Maghahalad” will appear in its complete version on the Dagmay website and will be serialized in Sun.Star Davao.

The SECOND PRIZE WINNER for the 6th Satur P. Apoyon Tigi sa Mubong Sugilanong Binisaya is “Habeas Corpus” by Jovanie B. Garay.

Jovanie Garay’s literary achievements include winning prizes in prestigious competitions such as Bathalad Mindanao (2019) held in Iligan City, LUDABI (2020) in Valencia City, and Sunday Club (2021) Tigi-sinulatay.

Jovanie was a fellow for Balak (Poetry) in the 59th Silliman University National Writers Workshop (SUNWW) in 2021 and the 21st Iyas National Writers’ Workshop in 2022 for his sugilanon (fiction). His recent writings have been featured in publications such as Sands and Coral of Silliman University, Pagsubang 2023, and Space and Time of the Kinaadman Journal, Volume 44, published by Xavier University Cagayan.

“Habeas Corpus” will appear in its complete version on the Dagmay website and will be serialized in Sun.Star Davao.

The FIRST PRIZE WINNER for the 6th Satur P. Apoyon Tigi sa Mubong Sugilanong Binisaya is “Alimpulo” by Hannah A. Leceña.

Hannah Leceña was a fellow in the Davao Writers Workshop 2018, Iligan National Writers Workshop, IYAS National Writing Workshop, Silliman University National Writers Workshop, 5th ALBWW, 16 Palihang Rogelio Sikat and the 11th Kritika Workshop at the De La Salle University.

Her fiction has received  the Jimmy Balacuit Literary Awards, Satur Apoyon Prize, the PNU sa Normal Awards, and the Nobelang Pangkabataan at Grand Prize Winner in the Lampara Prize, Middle Grade Category. Her writing has appeared in Diliman Review, Dx Machina Volume 5, Luntian Online Journal, Kawing Refeered Journal among others. He novel Jonas, published by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, is her first book. She is a members of the Sarangani Writers League and SUSI. She is also a recipient of Publication Grant 2022 from National Book Development Board.

“Alimpulo” will appear in its complete version on the Dagmay website and will be serialized in Sun.Star Davao.

The 6th Satur P. Apoyon Tigi sa Mbong Sugilanong Binisaya received entries from Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte, Davao de Oro, Davao Oriental, Davao Occidental, Lanao del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, South Cotabato, Cotabato, and Sarangani.
This year’s first prize winner receives P8,000.00, the second prize P6,00.00, and third prize P4,000.00.

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.



Seven, Three, Zero

Poetry by , , | May 15, 2023

Christian Sabado

When there is pain, here is the immediate thought: end it.

​No matter the degree of hurt, my body, in its frailty and sensitivity, always yearns for a stop. An end to an unease.​

A sudden but momentary jolt of pain is much preferred than a pain that is less in its affliction but endures longer. Do not prolong the agony.

​A scrape on the knee, a toothache, a broken heart. Betadine, Ibuprofen, sleep. The mind always seeks for a cure. No matter how brief the relief it gives.

When one is in pain, one must look at its causes. I often do not. The duration of looking and seeing only makes the hurt more felt. The act of looking away is a kindness to the self.

But writing demands seeing. I look for the wounds within; wounds which I had hidden; wounds I did not know even existed. I seek them out. Wring out the blood. Piece them together. Make something out of it.

Some ink. Some words. Sentences. Stories.


Angela Sucaldito

I was brought to the hospital once during home quarantine as I was feeling faint. The doctor asked how I felt, as the nurses checked my blood pressure. I really don’t know what to say; how to describe what I was feeling. Was I in pain? Not really, but I couldn’t breathe. But no, my lungs didn’t hurt. There was a dull pain in my chest but it was not painful. It was tolerable. I was dizzy, but no, my head didn’t hurt either.

​What if he thinks I am bluffing? Was I wasting the doctor’s precious time?

 “On the scale of ten, I think it was three.”

​Other people have much more pain compared to mine. Much, much more than mine that I wondered if I had the right to talk about pain. To write about?

​It was tolerable, the pain. I may have cried about it for weeks but I was still able to sleep—more or less.

“You’re okay, you’re just over-fatigued,” the doctor said.

So how can I pour myself out on these pages when I am an empty vessel?


Nixie Serna

The house is a powder keg. Any sound or any movement is a source of heat – a spark. If I make myself as quiet as possible, there is one less chance for an explosion. If I make myself as small as possible, I will get through unscathed until tomorrow.

Reduce myself. Take up less space. Nullify the need to want because there is only so much that we can afford with a paper bill in my parents’ pocket. I am a well-behaved girl. I neither drag my feet nor point a finger when we pass by the candies on the cashier’s counter.​

Rip pages from my journal. Delete photos and messages. Forgetting means there is nothing to relive. And when there is nothing to relive, there is nothing to feel. Numbness is not an absence of pain but a side effect of unfeeling.



Christian Sabado, Angela Sucaldito, and Nixie Serna are 4th year BA English (Creative Writing) students of UP Mindanao. These lyric fragments are responses to the essay “The Pain Scale” by Eula Biss.

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.


Fiction by | May 8, 2023

The vigorous lapping of the waves signaled the arrival of Omar first, even before his

brother heard the familiar sound of the outrigger boat. Perhaps it was the six-hour bumpy van ride from downtown pueblo, followed by the stomach-churning two-hour banca ride until the easternmost coast of the Moro Gulf, but Omar swore there was that persistent low-pitch vibration that filled his ears with a whimper. Omar held his nose shut, and then blew into it. The whirring sound was still there. He yawned a couple of times—POP! Pressure finally equalized in his Eustachian tube. It had been years since he last visited his hometown, but one did not simply forget the lessons of one’s youth.

His brother, Abdel, was waiting for him by the docking site at the edge of a makeshift hut on bamboo stilts. What he lost in weight, he gained in the length of beard that now reached up to his chest. With his plain white robe and black skull cap, Omar thought Abdel looked like an Imam and felt suddenly uncomfortable in his sweat-drenched shirt and jeans.

Abdel extended his arms to welcome his little brother. “As salaam alaikum,” he said, and proceeded to engulf Omar in a tight embrace.

Omar was caught off-guard, but managed a meek “Wa alaikum saalam” in response. The words rolled out strangely in his tongue. He glanced at his phone that he had been clutching and realized, much to his dismay, that there was no signal on this island.

“Can you believe it? After decades of hiding, Tigburacao finally decided to resurface.”

Abdel gestured to the island before them—their hut was the only establishment there, the sand pink-and-white and pristine, huge casts of crabs skittering about, and lush mangrove forests that seemed appealing and uninviting at once.

Omar looked around. The mainland coast was practically invisible here. Their hut, although glaringly basic, had solar panels rigged up on its roof. Inside, there were only a couple of mats rolled neatly and stacked against one side, a laptop on a table made from a century-old tree trunk, the tail of a ray fish hung by the window for protection. A smaller shack was set not too far from their hut, which Omar guessed was their outdoor toilet.

And then there was the sea itself, so vast and incredibly blue, that Omar thought it was Photoshopped. The sky was already a burst of pink and orange swirls when Omar arrived, as the great ball of fire made its descent. It was an overwhelming sight to behold.

“Do you hear that?” Omar asked Abdel, his attention suddenly drawn to the humming of a strange melody.

“It is the sama-sellang, they say,” Abdel replied. “They sing the ancient song of the seafolks as they return down to unknown depths. That way, the seafloor would grant them entrance to their homes.”

Omar shook his head at how his brother was always the first to believe such preposterous tales, until Abdel’s laughter finally broke through his deadpan countenance. “Boy, the look on your face! You hardly changed, Omar!”

As they entered their hut, Abdel began explaining about the camera set on a tripod outside and how they could monitor the view while inside their hut through the laptop. “But this is no rocket science, I’m sure you’re used to setups more elaborate than this,” Abdel added after his short lecture.

“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m no scientist.”

It had always been a misconception at home that Omar’s degree in Applied Mathematics meant he was dabbling in Science as well. In exasperation, Omar admitted before that the most advanced equipment he had ever owned were a whiteboard with slider and some markers.

“I didn’t mean to put it that way,” Abdel said, unable to look at his brother in the eyes. “I will never understand what it is you do, Omar. But I hope you would tell me more about how you’re doing, you know? Ina had to learn about it from Bai Karim. You remember Bai

Karim? The old professor?”

Omar remembered him alright, his father’s close friend and his first Math mentor, but the embarrassment that the news had reached Bai Karim rendered him speechless.

“And what did Bai Karim have to say?” Omar managed to ask.

“That it was only a matter of time before you find the correct solution to the Na…Na…”

“The Navier-Stokes equations,” Omar finished for his brother. “Unfortunately, Abdel, the media doesn’t look at it that way. All they care for are clickbait headlines: Filipino Mathematician’s Solution to Million-dollar Problem Proved Wrong! As if monetary prize is the best way to describe a problem as elegant as that.”

Abdel could only stare at his brother, unsure how to comfort him or if he ever did want comforting. Before he could come up with an empty response, Abdel’s phone alarm blasted.

“It’s time to pray. Go wash up and I’ll roll the mat.”

Abdel checked his rusty compass so that they were facing the angle towards Mecca.  The two brothers, two dots in the sapphire blanket right before them, raised their hands and fell to their knees. Omar managed a self-conscious reply, Allah Akbar, as his brother intoned the opening line. The roaring of the waves drowned their voices, but Abdel did not seem to mind. As Omar placed his head on the bamboo floor, he heard once more the strange melody that seemed to emanate from the deepest depths of the ocean.

Omar woke up to the unrelenting hissing of an impatient kettle. His brother was nowhere in sight, he realized, as he rubbed sleep from his eyes. It had been so long since his slumber was not invaded by snippets from that nightmare of a press conference—a room full of people, most of which had no clue what fluid flow was, let alone the Navier-Stokes equations that he had been working on; the incessant camera flashes; the follow up questions that had little to do with Math; and the hounding demand for when the correct solution would be finished.

“Omar! Quick, you have to see this!” A harried Abdel, dripping with sea water, called out to Omar from the shore.

Outside, the graying dawn still engulfed the whole of the island and the sky was speckled with dusts from the cold, distant stars. An umboh, a floating hut, made its slow way towards the shore as two other houseboats tailed behind it. A melancholic tune echoed throughout, and even the waves changed its sound to a gentle swoosh.

“Look at the intricate structure of the umboh,” Abdel pointed at the meticulous carving that adorned the piece of wood where a covered body was laid to rest. “That person must be a chief or something.”

The two maintained a respectful distance as the group of Badjao finally made it to the sandy shore and into the mangrove forest. Although not an uncommon sight in downtown pueblo, it was the first time that the two witnessed the Badjao practicing their age-old traditions. Back in downtown Zamboanga, they were regarded as street urchins who played music for some loose change.

The excitement of that morning’s sight did not change the two’s appetite for coffee. “Didn’t Tigburacao just resurface recently? How come those Badjaos seemed sure of entering the mangrove forest?” Omar asked after his first cup.

“My guess is that they weren’t really heading for Tigburacao. It just so happened that this was the first island they sighted, and they had to bury the dead the soonest possible.”

“I wonder where they came from before arriving here. Are there other islets beyond

Tigburacao still within the waters of Zamboanga?”

“That we know of? Only a couple, according to marine surveillance, but both get swallowed by the sea at, say, past 5 pm.”

It was a gusty day, with the wind whipping through the bamboo stilts and howling all around them, that Omar and Abdel both decided it was best to stay indoors. The hum of the wind bored into Omar’s head, but Abdel seemed unfazed by it all. He monitored the image of the sea through the laptop, peacefully soaking in the varying shades of blue that the screen projected.

“Omar, Bai Karim told me a little about what it is you’re working on, you know. In terms I can understand, of course.”

“Really? And what did he say about it, pray tell.”

“Well, from what I understood, it is an incredibly tricky problem that bothered Mathematicians for years. Has something to do with modelling ocean currents and weather patterns, if I remember correctly.”

Omar nodded, keeping his face expressionless despite the mild surprise that people from back home were actually aware of his work. “It is precisely that…tricky. Years ago, a professor from Kazakhstan thought he had the answer to it as well, only to be proved later on by Terry Tao, from Los Angeles, that such approach wouldn’t work. The ocean isn’t exactly well behaved, so the three-dimensional global regularity for the equations is very challenging.”

After a lengthy pause, Abdel said with absolute certainty, “If anyone understands the irregularities of the ocean, it is you.” He then stood up and motioned for the mats, “Prayer time, little brother.”

Wild waves banging on the shore, static from what seemed like a radio transistor, the whistling of brazen wind. Omar felt beads of sweat roll down his temples. His lips were dry, and it took a huge amount of effort for him to straighten his numb legs. He had fallen asleep in the hammock made out of fishnets which they set just outside their hut. He judged by the sun’s position high up that it was close to midday, and confirmed this guess by checking the time on his phone.

Abdel stood at the shoreline, staring at the farthest reach of the water, his hand shielding his eyes from the blinding light. He sensed that his brother had already woken up and made his way back to Omar. “You were sound asleep! There was that loud one-note whistle and the sea was moving, like something was coming from underneath and the—”

“W-wait, what? Of course the sea is moving—they’re called waves!” Omar’s buzzing head made him impatient with his brother’s ramblings.

“No—no, I would know if it were only waves. It was a strange motion. Like something really huge was coming out of the water! Oh, I knew I should’ve woken you up!”

Omar surveyed the peaceful waters and could not help but roll his eyes in exasperation. The sun caught a shimmer on the metallic casing of his phone, displaying a no network coverage icon still. “There is nothing here, Abdel.”

Abdel looked at Omar pityingly, “Nothing in the waters? In the olden days, large fleets of mighty Sultans and the humblest of houseboats have sailed the seas for months on end. Without their phones! Out there, it was just them and Allah, and the journey made them a thousand fold wiser than us all!”

“This is nonsense! I should have known better than returned home for this.”

Abdel clucked his tongue, “I know you did not buy my sorry of a reason—survey the waters for research? It sounds stupid even to me. But you wanted to come home. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that.”

The wind hissed between the two of them: Omar, red and seething with rage and denial, and Abdel, calm with a stubborn smile plastered on his face. Omar stood his ground glumly, allowing heat to further soak his already drenched shirt in more sweat. From above, the sky was almost cloudless, save for the finger-like wisps that drifted aimlessly.

A few tense moments, until Abdel broke the icy silence with his hearty laughter, “Look at us! So foolish and full of ourselves! The outhouse—I just remembered now.”

“What about it?” Omar asked tentatively.

“Stand under the awning of the outhouse so that you’re facing the back end of our hut. You’ll get that elusive one signal bar there if you’re lucky. I’m guessing a few more minutes with you not checking on your emails and I’m good as dead meat. Go. Go there now.”

By the time Omar finished checking his email and halfheartedly browsing his Facebook for news of the outside world, he went back inside their hut, only to be welcomed by the scent of dark chocolate drink from cacao tablea. A warm cup was set on the table near the laptop, and Omar slurped his drink with abandon.

“So Apu still makes this stuff, eh?”

“Look who’s in a jolly good mood now,” Abdel teased. “I’m guessing you were lucky with the signal? But to answer your question, yes, Apu still makes the best tablea. She doubled the portions in the last package she sent when she learned you would be coming, too.”

There was no response for a moment, so Abdel turned his attention to the unchanging image of the sea on the laptop screen.

“I should’ve at least visited home before heading here. I could’ve spared a few hours at


Abdel only gave a faint nod.

Omar turned to the window and added bitterly, “I’m sorry. I’m such a disappointment to you all.”

Abdel sighed. “You’re never that to us, Omar. We are mighty proud of you! Besides, between a college dropout and a—what are you again? A PhD holder?—who do you think is the main source of pride at home?”

Omar remained silent.

“You just need to reflect some more, little brother. Seek help in patience and prayers.”

“And then I just wait for the ideas to come in while meditating, I suppose?” Omar asked.

“Inshallah,” Abdel responded.

His family’s favorite conversation ender, especially when the topic begged for more inquiry. Omar sighed, yet he felt the tension ease from his shoulders. Without being prompted by his brother, he unrolled the prayer mats and rinsed himself with water. He checked Abdel’s rusty compass and made sure they were facing the right direction.

On the island of Tigburacao, days bled into each other, one fiery sunset after another. Omar had learned to predict the incoming weather just by the sound of the wind. Today, the calm was absolute and it cocooned him. He knew that it was to be a stormy night, and he braced himself for it.

Resting on the wooden plank, his hand toying with the rope that held their outrigger boat was Abdel. The past few days, Abdel took to staring into the sea in the afternoon heat, only to be followed by obsessively monitoring the laptop screen that displayed the same body of water in the wee hours when it was too cold to stay out. When Omar called out to him, his gaze lifted past the cobalt blue waters, where it turned into a blanket of blackness as it touched the horizon.

“Abdel, I’ll unroll the mats now. Get inside before it starts to rain.”

Omar fumbled for Abdel’s rusty compass, which had been in his possession for days now. On nights like this, when the thrumming of the sea sounded like helicopters hovering close, Omar knew better than to leave his brother alone in quiet contemplation, so he kept a watchful eye on Abdel as he swept the floor inside. Abdel always seemed detached in those moments, his thoughts sailing away to the vast deep sea.

Omar cleared up the desk where the laptop remained plugged. As he lifted the laptop, he noticed a strange motion on the screen—a shadow of a hill, gradually mounting up into a tower, only to fall into shallow holes, exposing what seemed like bodies of land. Swollen waves poised to reveal the secrets from below, yet ready to crash over anyone who came near.  There was that deafening sound of a one-note whistle, and then ferocious waves came out lashing from all directions.

“Abdel! Abdel! You’ve got to see this!”

Omar sprang up from his position, just in time to catch Abdel who was already boarding their boat. Without much thought, he joined his brother and the two set out on their tiny boat, threading their way among great waves.

The sea whipped at them and they were drenched through and through. Their lungs ached for hungry gulps of air, but the waves were unforgiving. Around them were shades of blue and black, and cascading water from a nightmare that seemed to only increase in intensity. Omar couldn’t help but wonder, that in the random lashing of the water, there could be patterns that his limited perception was too slow to realize. As his mind drifted off to fanciful ideas, the hysterical whistling grew louder in strength and volume, pulling his mind into utter blankness. So this is how I die, Omar thought, only to be unceremoniously dragged by his brother back to reality.

“Omar!” Abdel grabbed him by the shirt and hauled. Amidst spits of seawater, Abdel managed to cough out his brother’s name and pointed at the spot in the ocean where the stars burst out their collective radiance.

Where the starlight cut through the void, creatures that seemed like a cross between man and fish walked through the now calm water, their footsteps in the form of ripples. Their faces were fluid and ever changing, and instead of skin they had scales the color of bright emeralds. A melody unheard of enveloped their small group, and as they descended into the unknown depths of the ocean, they turned their gaze up to the crescent moon.

“They’re beautiful,” Abdel whispered.

Omar rose to a diving position, but his brother stilled him and whispered into his ears, “It’s time to head back.”

The thunderous engine of a motorboat could be heard for minutes, and not long after, a worried Bai Karim appeared in their hut.

“Abdel and Omar—good to see you have all your limbs in place!” The old professor engulfed the two in a bear hug. He grinned from ear to ear when he turned to Omar, and he clasped the young boy’s hand, salaam.

“We were worried sick. We tried to contact you, Abdel, but all the networks were jammed last night. And the coast guard refused to let any vessel leave the mainland so early in the afternoon.”

“Nothing to worry about, Professor,” Omar gave a hesitant glance toward his brother, but Abdel seemed intent on the tobacco cigarette that the Professor had brought with him. “It was a rather peaceful evening here.”

Abdel laughed from the doorway, “Too peaceful, I think Omar couldn’t wait and head back to the University.”

“Ahh…about that, are you still pursuing that research, Omar?” The Professor asked.

Omar nodded. “But maybe after some more careful meditation,” he added sheepishly.

“Ask guidance from Allah all you want, but let me warn you that excessive meditation on your part can turn you into this hermit here.” The Professor gave Abdel a pointed look, but all three burst out laughing.

“That’s not so bad, actually,” Omar replied. “But I’m afraid I don’t have the facial hair for it. My flight back to Manila won’t be until three days. I’d like to spend my last few days at home, with Ama, Ina and Apu. Will you come with me, Abdel?”

“For a day, but I have to come back here.”

The old professor nodded his understanding, “You two are bound to do amazing feats,


The two brothers exchanged looks. Outside, the rhythmic pulse of the sea softly doused the sandy shores. There was a humming that was almost hypnotic, and the whole island of Tigburacao seemed threaded with fine gold.

“Inshallah,” Omar and Abdel answered in unison.


Sigrid Marianne Gayangos teaches in the BA English Creative Writing program of UP Mindanao. Her book of stories, Laut, published by the University of the Philippines Press in 2022 is available on Lazada and Shopee.

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: