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Poetry by | November 2, 2020

I dreamt that I came back
to find our living room
strangely empty, as if all life
one day went up and left
and not even a chair
or the carpet remained,
yet somehow I heard my sister
saying something about the TV
that no longer sits on the shelf
where it should.

Perhaps the reasons scuttled away
on eight limbs across cobwebs,
melting into damp, unlit corners
too quickly to catch, or perhaps
they were never wanted at all
within those pale, cracked walls
and doors that never locked.

In the kitchen, a cinnamon bun
sat on a counter whose trays
burst with plates no one used anymore
but there it was, a lone piece
of sweet bread sitting on a saucer
if someone got hungry. We are.


John Oliver Ladaga hails from Iligan City but is currently based in Davao, and hopes to teach writing classes for a living one day.


Poetry by | January 5, 2020

I saw a smokestack jutting out
from a tin roof behind high walls
topped with barbed wire, belching
ink-black clouds that swirled
across a grey sky weighed down
with the low rumble of rain.

Here was a middle finger
cast from iron, pointed skyward,
goading wind and water both
with endless waves of poison
to beat it down to rubble,
yet they never could.

Here was a slow burn
unto itself, made self-sustaining
by an unseen fuel that drives it
despite the growing signs of wear:
rust on the metal, creaking gates,
hairline cracks on the concrete
growing wider every year.

Here was a ruin
awaiting the work of other hands
to strip it clean, and hammerheads
to tear into its rebar, pipes, and tiles,
yet still it hides behind its distance,
its faded signs, its old facade,
away from outside eyes.

I saw myself one evening
standing in a rooftop bar – drink
in one hand, cigarette in another –
mouth unglued after silence,
and nonsense, like sickness
sealed in a box, escaped in puffs
with the sultry wind, drifting
out into cityscape.

John Oliver Ladaga hails from Iligan City but is currently based in Davao, and hopes to teach writing classes for a living one day.

Modern Meat

Poetry by | April 8, 2018

If the pig could talk, we’d be best friends.

Sadly here I am in the diner, partaking

of his broken flesh in solitude. Amidst

the frying rain and cooking oil

leaping from the pans in the kitchen

the afternoon chatter comes the way

it always has, the slow familiar haze

melting into noise I’d later find

once again in sleep. Hearing

has its downsides that no one says

are real or ever tells you, the least

of which that you must listen, use

what you have or let it fade away.

I might meet a word in my dreams

and ask if I could join the others,

or maybe melt their waxen wings

or even pluck them off their backs

to give to those who couldn’t fly,

by themselves or otherwise. Gladly

I’d give my own and sink to mud

if it meant that even pigs could see

that vast cerulean sky, or even my mind,

not that I’ve used it much these days,

that those sent to the slaughter could scream

before facing the blades,” Wait!”

And maybe lesser beings could rise,

could ask their biped overlords

to give them what was theirs by right.

Give them time. Give them life.

John Oliver Ladaga hailed from Iligan, but calls Davao his home, and UP Mindanao his alma mater. He memes in a desk.

Chicken Time!

Poetry by | May 14, 2017

One landed on the roof
with a dull thud that i thought
was a fleeting second of thunder
crumpling against the clear sky
just as the three-o’-clock prayer
was airing: “You died, and yet
your well of life sprung forth”
onto the afternoon gone quiet
save for the drunken laughter
gathering in the backyard
where twelve reddened fingers pointed
towards their newfound feathered friend
flailing and crowing thrice
before snapping its neck, after which
I was called out with one thought
in their minds: “Supper!”

John Oliver Ladaga is currently taking up BA English in UP Mindanao. He likes poetry and wallflowers, and doesn’t like being sad.


Poetry by | February 26, 2017

for Fernando Solijon

History remembers you now
not as the martyr
for an Abstract chained to purses and legalese
but sprawled mind-blown all over newsprint, arms
spread in a reverse hallelujah. Before sunlight
hits gridlock you once scalded with your tongue
the morning grind, and sailed through
headlines and commentary, but croaked
when you couldn’t find their roots.
It is said that anchors hit the unseen floor
to keep the ship upright
as the waves rock it.
Instead, some thought you would tip the ship over,
not knowing the point was to show the muck
that came beneath the current:
“Expensive houses and cars!” “Off-country vacations!”
“Fancy restaurant dinners!” “What happened
to the foreign aid?” “How much
of the budget are their Majesties juggling
from their air-conditioned thrones?”
And then, a phone call: “Capin is ready for you.”
The answers, always,
are another matter. Anyone can write them
or proclaim them on air but they break wills.
They leave bloodstains and broken bones
over brash words hitting air but sing praises
to paintjobs on broken stones,
even claiming to solve our woes and know
who we should vote
come next election.
It is said that Fate
missed you three times in your life—
two from murky waters, another
from the murky waters of politics. When She didn’t,
that evening She came by motorcycle, serving
canned death for dinner, the tins left by the door.
As you run aground, we are told, we must commit
to keep alive longing for truth. We hear static.
You see bloodstains on broken stones.

John Oliver Ladaga is currently a fourth-year student taking up BA English at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. He likes warm soup and is attracted to flowers growing through cracks in the wall. He is from Iligan City.


Poetry by | April 24, 2016

is catfish
in the rain
and giggling
and mud-faced
like toddlers
from small schools
off for home
while the rain
and then fills
dry creek beds.

John Oliver Ladaga is currently taking up BA English in UP Mindanao.

Iligan: The City of Failing Waters

Nonfiction by | January 17, 2016


I was born and raised all my life in a city that promised springs and waterfalls but which existed alongside blackouts and power outages. I remember growing up to candle-lit dinners and going to bed early in their warm, incandescent glow (the candles, I mean). Sometimes the power would go out in the middle of the day. Sometimes it would go out in the middle of class, when the teacher would end up having to open the blinds, the windows, and the door, with everyone in the room ending up drenched in sweat by the end of the day. They would happen suddenly, especially when we were off-guard and have not done our “researching” on Encarta early enough (we did not have Internet until I was in high school). In their wake, the expensive electricity bills would come trailing. The sound of Mama’s plaintive sighs would reverberate through the house.

Daytimes were akin to spending eight hours in an oven with windows. The creaking sound of the long metal handle of the neighbor’s poso going up and down became an inevitable drudgery on the weekends. My hands would end up smelling like rust – pale, distant, and cold. Hauling water in containers to meet wasteful bathing habits rinsed and repeated until they became insufferable. At home, the faucets only start working at four or five in the morning and end at around six. For the first thirty minutes, the water must be left running because it smells like sewage. It eventually came to the point when we dug our own deep well at home.

Ironically, the name of the city itself comes from the term ilig, which means “to flow”. Two main rivers run between the city: Mandulog River farther to the north and Tubod River just south of the city proper. The two main river systems come from uphill streams in mountainous places like Tipanoy and Puga-an, thus exposing the city to Iligan Bay in a gray delta of buildings and roads. The towering structures built along the shoreline stifle and mix the incoming sea breeze with smoke from exhausts.

The city proper of Iligan is nothing to gawk at or marvel about. Quaint, square, practical buildings line the streets and main highways left and right, a lot of them being commercial buildings renting out space for offices, shops, and stores. There is hardly any elegance of design or any semblances of beauty – except for a few, almost all of them had been built with practicality and pragmatism in mind. Most of the buildings are gray, with their five or so stories towering over pedestrians with an antiquated feel. (Others with glaringly bright colors resemble Greek statues – better off dull gray and plain than any color at all, if you ask me.) Gibiyaan sila sa panahon – the times have left them, but they almost never fail to give a certain air that takes one ten or twenty years back into their heyday.

Shopping centers – not really “malls” – take precedence in the row of commercial buildings on almost every other street. UniCity and UniTop are both top examples of bright-hued establishments that, once you step inside and greet the cold blast of the air-conditioning, smell like dry, packaged air and plastic.

Beside them are the glaring appearances of newer commercial buildings that look more “modern” and “minimalist” compared to their older counterparts. Most of them look whitewashed, with slanting walls instead of ordinary straight ones and wide window panels, such as the new Desmark building along the main highway near Saint Michael’s Cathedral, or the new building of Crown Paper and Stationery along Aguinaldo Street facing the refurbished Jollibee branch.

Sometimes old buildings have to go to make way for new ones, but these rarely happen. Iligan is a kind of place where at one given moment you are at the heart of the city’s hustle and bustle, but turn a corner and suddenly you find yourself where the past meets the present. Here, shiny new Hondas drive by dilapidated buildings and wooden doors with faces of politicians from elections past stapled onto them, fluttering in the wind.

Iligan may be the product of industrialization, but it is a quiet city, even during festivals, with an alienating coldness to it. Even though the streets and highways often seem packed with people and vehicles – especially during rush hour – they rarely seem lively.

Much of the coastline is dotted with the presence of companies whose storage and/or processing structures and pipelines stand out and cast shadows over passing vehicles, such as Holcim Cement, or even the gargantuan storage drums of Shell along the highway to Suarez, just beside the vine-overtaken refinery of Global Steel Corporation. Yet despite this, many Iliganons are jobless, or have to seek employment elsewhere. Small wonder, then, that everyone always looks like he/she is in a hurry. Their footsteps are quick-paced, ranging from brisk walking to almost sprinting.  They can be quite hot-tempered: the look on their eyes almost never fails to give away their insistence on being right when they are not. (Small wonder, then, that the roads congest every other week because of vehicular accidents.)

I never had the chance to give the city a first impression, mostly because I thought that everything I saw there was normal. If being a bit too quiet and quite unlively for a city of three hundred thousand people were normal, then I guess Iligan is so. The best microcosm for the whole city would be the refineries of Global Steel Corporation, which saw near-zero activity from 2005 onwards. The grove of trees seems to grow taller and taller. The gates are rusted shut. The pipelines and roofs sit there, unfazed as the heat gives way to rain and heat again. Vines have taken over the walls, and even the infirmary.

There are people still working there, even just for maintenance. Security guards sit in the shade of a dilapidated guard post. Janitors clean the worn-down hallways of a workspace that has not heard even the faintest of footsteps of any other employee. In the remaining office cubicles, the white-collar office workers still wait for someone to buy out the whole refinery, for the place to start again, to live and breathe again as it once did up to the late nineties. Iligan is a lot like this place: dormant, waiting for someone to take the reins, like a child growing older waiting for a father to come home.

When Global Steel no longer became profitable as an enterprise, many of its workers began looking for opportunities abroad. My father was one of them, having left for abroad for the first time when I was in high school. He came home for the third time last 2013, just as I was about to enter UP as an incoming freshman.

We are a normal family, if normal meant the distance between us family members has been steadily growing over the year; if normal meant the increasing number of times that we have been fighting and giving each other the cold shoulder. If normal meant that home is no longer home but an eerie juncture where the past meets the present. If normal meant that the past still mingles with the present, and we could still see it in little things, like the Internet router, or the various tools for home and car maintenance, or the cracks on the walls. We are normal.

So too is Iligan, if not for the past summers and Christmas breaks I had stayed there while I’ve been away for college, then perhaps it has been that way my whole life: a failing city.

John Oliver Ladaga is a 3rd year BA English-Creative Writing student of the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

A Piece of Old News

Poetry by | August 9, 2015

I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?
-Sunday Morning, Wallace Stevens

This is what it means to be broke in a time where your friends own smartphones
and post pictures of latte and waffles on Instagram: daytime light
no longer spears through the windows but barely makes them glow.

The knocking on the clear Plexiglas pane is another poor soul dressed
in olive skin and tattered clothes with his little five-year-old palm

stretched out to you, the other holding a somewhat rusty tin cup.

The guy cleaning tables at Jollibee sees the little beggar and draws the blinds

so that you wouldn’t feel bad. Where were their mothers? Some social workers
just so happened to be hungry and were eating burgers at a table opposite you.

They wore frowns, their eyes fixed on their food and drinks. The sound
of metal hitting a glass pane makes you turn towards the window.
“That same kid had run away from six foster homes,” you hear one of them say.

The window’s warm glow fades with the day as the shadows grow longer.
A boy helps a man wearing sunglasses walk past you, holding a cane.

John Oliver Ladaga is taking BA English (Creative Writing) at UP Mindanao.