FRIENDLY FIRE

January 2, 2014

I was going to prove that you need not got to Manila to get to Iligan City. And so there I was, almost a month after I received a call from Cherly Adlawan of MSU-IIT that I made it as fellow for the 12th Iligan National Writers Workshop, waiting for the only Cagayan de Oro bound bus in the Naga City Central Terminal. It was ten in the evening of April 27 and I was not going to get a ride until four the next morning. Call it the preliminary rites to the bloodletting that was to happen in the writers’ workshop.

Why take a bus from Southern Luzon to Northern Mindanao? Of course aside from my mild regionalist sentiments, I wanted to see the countryside. I don’t get to travel this far, so why spoil it with a plane ride? Anyway our bus will be on board a barge twice, from Matnog, Sorsogon to Samar, and from Liluan, Leyte to Surigao del Norte. So it’s pretty much the same as taking a bus to Manila, a ferry to Cagayan de Oro and another bus to Iligan. Besides, this route is cheaper and faster.

I brought with me a map and everytime I would spread it out to pinpoint our location, my fellow passengers would peer. We would be traveling for a day and a half so why not try to win some friends along the way? They could also be useful in giving more specific directions when I get to CDO.

One thing you will notice (if by chance you are an alien) with Filipinos is that they are still much rooted to their regional past. During the trip, it was easy for the Mindanaoans to gel. Of course we began to smell the same due to the long trip, but their having their own language lost the need for cultural translations. And so they felt comfortable with each other, up to the point of even sharing their life stories. They also were partners in crime, abolishing the ‘single file’ rule whenever it was time to get our ferry tickets from those poorly manned Ro-Ro terminals. And we were quite happy about it too, with the chaotic queue, smell and all.

It was during the trip when somebody with the typical Maranao goatee told me to take caution when I get to Iligan. “They kidnap people there,” he says. And with my semi-samurai and (they say) Carlo of ‘Lovers in Paris’ look, I had enough reason to worry. But as they say, you never really know until you get there. A semester of Philosophy of Man and phenomenology of this and that turned me into a recycle bin of ‘natural attitudes’.

CDO Soiree with Michael Coroza’s Doppelganger

A cousin of mine works for the Philtranco and he said Naga-CDO trips usually take two days. I was expecting to arrive Saturday, but it was Friday morning when I got to the “City of Golden Friendships.”

“Yes, Cagayan de Oro is a big city!” says Raul Moldez in an SMS. I was asking him to pick me up at the terminal, and to be sure that he would be around when I get there, I announced my arrival as soon as I saw the ‘Welcome to CDO’ sign. He then told me to text him when I get to the terminal.

I had not really met the poet Raul Moldez before. But perhaps being like-minded writers, our paths crossed inside the cyberspace. The internet has caused quite a stir in the literary world that more and more writers are into it.

A man who looked very much like Michael Coroza approached me. Then I knew it was Raul Moldez, unaware of his striking resemblance to the poet from Taguig who writes in Filipino. He smiled, only to confirm the resemblance.

Cagayan de Oro is rich with factories. I learned that electricity there costs pretty much the same as it is in Bicol (where we have an abundant source of energy in Tiwi), but perhaps due to its distance from the center, which is Manila, it encouraged industry and self-sustenance. No wonder Raul refers to the country’s capital as ‘imperial Manila’, a place he says he has never been to and has no plans of visiting for he has no affection for it.

Bit I had the urge to tell or perhaps remind my friend that his city is beginning to look like Manila, and therefore, apparently has not escaped its ‘imperial claws’. With all the malls, taxicabs and the traffic, there is no mistaking it for Nick Joaquin’s city of affections.

That is why Raul says; the city government is trying to restore the glory of the city park right in the middle of Tirso Neri St. and R.N. Abejuela St., West-bound Hotel Ramon and East-bound Xavier University. There is the so-called Nite Café every Friday and Saturday and also a night market. Before the malls came, the people of CDO were park goers, using the place as a cultural melting pot, and even as venue for family outings and picnics.

It was there in the Nite Café where I met Mario Batausa. I was to partake with the genesis of a CDO-based writers group. Raul, editor of Verses, cannot help but feel like a voice in the wilderness in the city of his affections. Thus the need to form a network of writers in the community. I suggested that they meet regularly and do informal creative writing workshops. I also do the same with the help of some young poets in Bicol. But my network is quite large, and there is a need to always classify them as to language and geography. And that network is about to be widened even more with the 12th INWW.

To the Muslim Country

Just like the others, I almost got lost. The bus was supposed to pass by MSU-IIT but when I got to Iligan, I was told to go catch a jeepney. It was a good thing that a woman helped me around for it was a common observation among us that some Iligan folks are not your usual tour guide type.

And so for some nebulous turn of events my Luzon to Mindanao inter-island adventure came to an end with a simple “Hi Jason!” from co-fellow Jennibeth Loro who arrived in Elena Tower Inn a few minutes ahead of me. I was still in Iriga City when I looked up various eating-places and so I was looking forward for a taste of Sun Burst Chicken. So there I was, together with Jenni and Ma’am Merlie Alunan, enjoying lunch while discussing something heavy, like the politics of language or culture. I stressed that it is important for young writers to create with respect to their regional roots. Ma’am Merlie could only muse that things are hard in Tacloban, and she says it is perhaps because she scares young writers away, being one of the grand dames of Philippine literature.

LuzViMinda Well Represented

I was the only fellow for poetry in Filipino. With this, you can deduce two things: 1.) Congrats, you topped the poetry in Filipino division. 2.) They are not into it anyway, I mean, theirs is a Cebuano country right?

One glance at the folio confirmed everything else: it was a workshop heavy with regional literature. And being a Bikol writer myself, I found the situation very healthy. Philippine literature is more importantly the ones written in various other Philippine languages other than Tagalog/Filipino. So it follows that Philippine literature is not only Manila-literature. It is true that we miss a lot of things when we are in the Big City.

We can say that with all the national writers workshops, it is only in the INWW where Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao writers are well represented. They get five fellows from each region, and the opening ceremonies would remind you of a national beauty contest where the emcee would say: “And now, from Mindanao…!” And you stand in the middle of the stage pretending to look writerly—but oftentimes some of your co-fellows would really take the chance to look more like, of course, beauty queens.

Held on May 2-5, the workshop fellows for Luzon are Rosandrei M. Ladignon of Cubao, Quezon City (UP-Manila), Maria Abigael M. Malonzo of San Fernando, Pampanga (UP-Diliman), Jose Jason L. Chancoco of San Francisco, Iriga City (Ateneo de Naga University), Vladimeir B. Gonzales of Novaliches, Quezon City (UP-Diliman), and Virgilio A. Rivas of Brgy. Holy Spirit, Quezon City (Polytechnic University of the Philippines). Fellows for the Visayas are Roger B. Rueda of West Visayas State University, Bryan Mari Argos of Roxas City, Capiz (St. Anthony College of Roxas City), Marcel L. Milliam of Roxas city, Capiz, Jennibeth R. Loro of Green Heights, Merida, Leyte (UP-Visayas Tacloban College), Dennis M. Ravas of Tacloban City (Pontifical University of the Holy Cross). Fellows for Mindanao are Jamila Ruth A. Hojas of Suarez, Iligan City (Ateneo de Manila University), Charisse Mae T. Ampo of Tabon, Bislig City (UP-Mindanao), Jose Ma. Y. Tomacruz of Davao City (Ateneo de Davao), Telesforo Sungkit, Jr. of Sumilao, Bukidnon (UP-Los Baños) and Grace S. Uddin of Tagum City (UP-Mindanao).

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Panelists this year are Rosario Cruz Lucero, Erlinda Kintanar Alburo, Jaime An Lim, Leoncio P. Deriada, Merlie M. Alunan, German V. Gervacio, Tim R. Montes, Steven Patrick Fernandez and this year’s keynote speaker, the fictionist and Director of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center, Vicente G. Groyon. The workshop is sponsored by The Mindanao Creative Writers Group, Iligan Institute of Technology and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and is under the directorship of the venerable Christine Godinez-Ortega.

Much as I went slow in critiquing works in Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray, for we were dealing with translations; I also had to take the pains of being asked to explain my works right after critiquing. We can say that there was a language barrier, more so, an aesthetic and cultural barrier. My being a writer in Bikol did not help either. I can no longer clearly assume that our nearness to the capital is to our advantage. Perhaps it simply made things a bit more interesting for us—with Bikol poetics more closely affected by the hybridization of Philippine culture. Shall we say that it is to the Cebuano writers’ advantage that they are far from the center? I should say so, for they can easily create their own center—as they are bent on doing.

12th INWW Literary Folio

Now we need only to wait for the publication of the batch literary folio due next year. The folio will include all of the comments form panelists and fellows alike on the manuscripts. This, aside from the fact that our video cam armed co-fellow, Vlad Gonzales ‘threatened’ to come up with his version of the ‘12th INWW: The Real Score’, with our talk shows and documentaries of poetic outbursts.

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A Leoncio Deriada sponsored game also helped reveal the macho dancer instinct of the fellow with the “pinakamagandang itlog sa balat ng lupa.” This proves that there can be no legitimate writers workshop without nudity—as in the Silliman beach. The last time I heard of the fellow, he was still doing teacherly activities, checking papers and the like. Way to go.

Surely, a workshop cannot be legitimate without drinking sprees either. Alcohol enhanced conversations on the human genome, courtesy of this writer, did not at first sound like a topic that like-minded poets would indulge into, same with the medical and scientific truth on the aswang folklore, courtesy of Bryan and Marcel of Capiz. But believe me they were and it did not make me forget about my kris, the sword that I was supposed to buy in Iligan as souvenir. Next time around, I will get the longer one.

Might as well bring my katana too.

(I am posting this old article because soon it will be national writer’s workhop season in the Philippines. I wrote this in May 2005 after I attended the 12th Iligan National Writers Workshop)

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