Hermit Hearts

Poetry by | April 29, 2024

The heart is like a conch shell,
or is it the other way around?
It hums, they say, the song of the sea,
or just echoes the sounds surrounding it:
of the waves, of our breathing, of the vacuum
we often mistake for sand, water, air.

We owned one before. It rested
on our living room table, steady and still,
like a figurine you had to handle with care.
Its spire had been severed, leaving a hole
you would whisper secrets and wishes into:
I love you. And I love you. But I love you.
Then you would wait for its reply,
but its aperture would merely murmur
things you never understood.

But I do now. When our house was demolished,
we simply had to move to another, leaving
everything behind, like hermit crabs.

Jade Mark Capiñanes is the author of the flash fiction collection How to Grieve. He’s currently taking his MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University in Manila.

On Writing Mindanao Fictions

Nonfiction by , , | April 10, 2023

Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano:

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

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

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

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

Jade Mark Capiñanes:

Do I consider myself Mindanawon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Bengan:

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

A Portrait of a Young Man as a Banak

Nonfiction by | September 10, 2017

(This Essay was first published in Cotabato Literary Journal)

From time to time, almost to the point of rarity, a school of peculiar banak visited Panacan, the place where I grew up. They were a spectacle: if they had visited more often, the place would have been a tourist spot. Unlike the common one-footers that could be caught using lanit, they were roughly two feet long and swam in a group of around twenty to thirty. Nobody knew when they would visit, and when they did the place would immediately come to life: the children, barely catching a glimpse of them, would run over the wooden bridges that connected, like a web, our little coastal community; the fishermen would hastily equip themselves with harpoons, although nobody, as far as I can remember, would catch a single one of those elusive banak. Nobody was ever prepared for their swift, unannounced appearance.

Our community was a small purok in Panacan, a barangay in Davao City, but to this day I still wonder whether the purok was named Jasa or Jacona. When somebody asked me where I lived, I found it difficult to answer. Perhaps it is one of the usual difficulties you encounter when you live in an informal settlement, in which you develop a rather unusual sense of home. “Sa Trese,” or at Trese, was the most convenient reply, but it was not that specific. So most of the time I would say, “Atbang lang sa Macondray,” or just in front of Macondray.

Over the phone Mama told me she would meet me at 7-Eleven, in front of the flyover at Agdao, Davao City. I had just arrived after a three-hour ride from General Santos City. Standing in front of Ecoland terminal, I told her I did not exactly know where our meeting place was.
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Eh di Howl! (after Ginsberg)

Poetry by | January 1, 2017

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Internet memes, historical revisionist Youtube clips, dragging themselves through the darkest, amnesiac streets of remembering, Marcos apologist hipsters and bloggers burning to ashes the miserable memories of Martial Law,

who bared their image-driven brains to froth for the good-looking grandson who was London-educated but undeniably unknowledgeable about undervoting,

who Facebook-floated across virtual Wi-Fi waters and stayed on top Twitter trends, contemplating the alleged cheating in the vice-presidential race in order to pave and force the way of the unapologetic son to Malacañang,

who unwittingly sent their souls to Hell for promoting the banality of evil and saw Mephistophelian angels promising the hero’s burial and ascension of the wax-and-plastic-and-formaldehyde-long-rotten patriarch, but didn’t see the irony,

who passed through illumined universities yet spent more time in status-symbol coffee shops, discussing fashion styles and sheers, crop tops and jogger pants, ending up inadequately informed or misinformed or uninformed about the naked and obscene terrors of the autocratic rule and the detritus thereof,
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Poetry by | August 7, 2016

You often ask me what I believe in.
Both the Bible and Pablo Neruda talk
About biting into an apple:
And I choose to believe in Neruda.
So forgive me if sometimes I bite your apple-like lips.
Because, to quote the poet, I want to fill my mouth with your name.

So here we are in the throes of Passion.
As our fingers intertwine, I hear the clank of nails.
My love, you twist together a crown of thorns and set
It on my head while, cloth by cloth, I undress myself.
Using the veil of Veronica, you trace the stars
And the scars on my face, and your hug covers
My body with the Shroud of Turin.

Like hammer against nail, your lips touch
My lips. Your tongue is a rattlesnake
Whose tail shakes and dances inside my mouth,
And all the time I dance with it, following
Its steps, movement, and rhythm, setting
Aside that it carries with it some poison.

Is it just me, or you can turn your saliva into wine?
Or better yet, your kiss tastes like a whole vineyard.
Even your breasts smell of freshly-baked bread,
And it is where my tongue always end up to.
I remember carrying the cross to Calvary
As I crawl and find my way around
And across your neck, towards those hills,
On top of which you nail and crucify me.

Forgive me if sometimes you think
I do not know what I do. But perhaps I do.
Truly, I say to you, today you will
Be with me in Paradise.
But even then, there, I shall thirst,
And it shall never be finished.
My love, it is into your lips that I commend my spirit.

All this is a giant leap of faith.
I believe in the scriptures that I taste from your holy lips.
I believe in the gospels written by your divine tongue.
I believe in the pulpit which I find,
And always find, at the church inside your mouth.
I believe that your whole body is the Eucharist turned into flesh.
I believe that every breath you take is a glimpse
Of my salvation and redemption.
And even if I die every time you inhale,
And you bury me in the crypt between your lips,
I know, and I’m sure of this, after you exhale
I shall rise again.

Now, even if you see no holes in my palms,
No wound in my side,
Reach out your hand and have faith in me.

Jade Mark B. Capiñanes, an AB English student at Mindanao State University – General Santos City. This is the piece he performed in “#HugotGensan: Ang Unang Tikim,” a spoken word event organized by Pangandungan, a newly-formed writers group in GenSan.

Of Books and Dreams

Fiction by | March 20, 2016

I always find the time to read a book before going to bed. Sometimes I dream about that book, especially when I fall asleep while reading it. Last night I had read some chapters of a book on Italian grammar, and before I knew it I was already dreaming of running for my life, being chased by some possessive Italian pronouns.

Luckily I outran them, and I eventually came across a bar called Second Conjugation. Indeed, inside, some irregular Italian verbs were having a good time.

“Hey, you’re new here,” one of them said. “What are you?”

Since I was in an Italian grammar book, I needed to blend in. For a few seconds I thought of a plausible reply, and I came up with this: “I’m a singular, masculine Italian noun.”

“You don’t look like it, but well, you’re in the right place,” he said. “This is a singles bar. See those pretty nouns out there? There are a lot of them here. But here’s the catch: it’s hard to tell whether they are masculine or feminine.”

“It’s not that hard, is it?” I said. “We just need to know their final letters, right? -o for the guys, -a for the ladies.”

“Obviously, you haven’t met ‘colera’ and ‘mano,’ il mio amico.” He laughed.

“‘Mano’ is feminine?” I asked.

He said yes and pointed out why “mano,” or “hand” in English, is always feminine: “You know, when you are all alone, your hand is your girlfriend. If you know what I mean.”

I made a nervous laugh. To regain my composure, I said: “Yeah, Italian is a crazy language. We have female poems but male sonnets.”

He didn’t laugh. I was now more nervous. What am I doing here, I thought, talking to a group of irregular Italian verbs? What if they found out I’m not really an Italian noun? I slowly motioned to go out, but the two of them, “sedere” and “simanere,” asked me to sit and remain.

“It’s my pleasure. But as a singular, masculine Italian noun,” I said, in an attempt to be confident and witty, “I have some declension and possession to do. You know, I would like to spend time with you, but, you know, for now, I should decline—to possess that singular, feminine Italian noun out there.” I grinned and, with a wink, added: “If you know what I mean.”

They all turned their faces towards me as if I said something wrong. Their faces turned red. Some of them stood up, clenching their fists. Obviously, the Italian irregular verbs had a change in mood. It was also tense. To get my way out of this impending trouble, I immediately ran outside—but only to be chased again by the possessive Italian pronouns, which were still in pursuit of me.

I cannot remember what exactly happened afterwards, except that I awoke to the sound of the alarm clock, the book on Italian grammar in hand. On page 16, on the possessive case of nouns, the book says: “Italian nouns are not declined. Possession is denoted by the preposition ‘di.’”

Jade Mark B. Capiñanes is an AB English student of Mindanao State University-General Santos City. He is fascinated with books, dreams, and their connection with reality.



Fiction by | February 8, 2015

“Playing Scrabble is really fun when I have a tough opponent like you.”

“It’s a pleasure to play with you, too.”

“I didn’t expect you were saving letters for ‘melancholy’!”

“My favorite word, actually.”

“The word sounds sad, don’t you think?”

“The word is poetic, I think. It resounds and feels like being alone, without umbrella or any shade whatsoever, under a heavy rain; feeling the rain—crawling upon and into your skin, reaching your very soul, drenching it with gray clouds, thunder, lightning, and raindrops—as if you were naked; wondering where the raindrops come from, what they are made of, but having knowledge about the water cycle still fails you; and asking, ‘Will this rain ever end?’”

“Wow. So, it is not just sad. It is beautifully sad.”

“Well, you can say that.”

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