June 15, 2010

The doctrine of posse comitatus appeals to our sense of roots and home. Almost no one is exempt as it is equated to labor of love—love of country that is. Although forced servitude is frowned upon by law as in the case of Delos Reyes v. Alojado, being called upon to fight for one’s motherland is a great sacrifice sanctioned by the 1987 Constitution (Art. 2 Sec. 4). The fundamental law provides that the Government: “may call upon the people to defend the State and, in the fulfillment thereof all citizens may be required, under conditions provided by law, to render personal military of civil service.”

Being a reserve officer, I can expect that I would be called out also to defend the country. I can just imagine how it would feel like, standing in line being given an old M-16 rifle with a half-full magazine due to limited ammunition. And then singing the national anthem just before being sent to the front to face war machines. Perhaps at that moment I would think of the following: my loves, the government bureaucrats who would benefit with the outcome of the conflict, and my native Iriga, particularly Tarusan street—the place of my boyhood, my roots. They say that you will not really think of the entire Philippine territory as defined under Article 1 of the 1987 Constitution. Instead you will think of your home, the place you grew up in. It will inspire you to face the tanks and the nukes.

These things came to my mind during a visit by poet Marie Bismonte on May 29. Perhaps addressing her homing instinct she put a rest to her itinerant nature and settled for the meantime here in the Philippines. She revived her writers’ group and reconnected with local friends. She started to look at Bikol culture and literary tradition in search of her poetic voice and her roots. During her visit I also invited Bikol literary scholar Dr. Cyril Conde and Sumaro Bikolnon President Mr. Ramon Olaño to spice up our discussions. It was a forum of sorts, a dialogue. Marie gave us her standpoint as a Bikolana who left for the US when she was only ten. It is a peculiar fact that she maintained proficiency both in the Bikol-Legaspi and American-English. She could enounce nuances and idioms of the Bikol-Legaspi language like your typical Albay gal while she could also discuss Philippine politics in perfect English with your usual American twang. But then, here’s the rub, she almost can’t speak Tagalog. When asked why she answered: “Dai man pa’no yan pigtuturo duman.” It made sense. She could not speak much of Tagalog because it was not part of the curriculum, and she and her family use Bikol at home, even when in the US.

She is a living proof to the argument that English may not be our second language as usually placed in TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language). Within our framework, English may very well be our third language, Bikol being the first and Tagalog/Filipino being the second. Bikol is truly a language and not a mere dialect of Tagalog. As in the case of Marie, there is no apparent inter-intelligibility between the two languages. In the absence of proper instruction and exposure, there is no chance that a Bikolnon would be able to acquire Tagalog as a language.

Language can be an issue for writers, especially under a post-colonial setting. We advised her to relearn the language for it is common even for Bikolnons to be more at ease with English and Filipino as literary language. We told her that it is the usual route for all of us. We also gave her other sources and authors. Dr. Conde and I even gave her complimentary copy of our books, knowing that she is a poet of the first water and an excellent reader.

Roaming around the city was the next logical thing to do. After walking around Ateneo de Naga, we went to Museo de Caceres, Basilica, Plaza Quince Martires, Kakanon Bikolnon and Kulturang Bikolnon. We temporarily parted ways at SM City Naga and curiously enough, we talked about labor standards and how it is violated by multinationals. In the same vein, we shared sad stories of copyright issues being suffered by local writers. So much to talk about so little time, but there is always next time.


I have been attending national writers’ workshops and really enjoy them. Trying to be a writer in a republic of non-readers can get quite alienating sometimes. These workshops (more of writers’ retreats really) help alleviate the loneliness of writerly existence.

Tomorrow, along with other writers based in Bicol (Kabulig-Bikol), I will be attending a conference for teaching and writing Bikol literature. This will surely be another avenue for Bikol writers to convene and share ideas—together with teachers of literature. It is hoped that the existing Bikol literature agenda will be updated and be given extensive attention by the government, the academe and society in general.

I will be sharing some insights about Bikol Drama and our regional dramatic tradition. I will focus more on how we could utilize the art form as pedagogy of literature. Its very nature would reveal its potent power as a servant art, one that could wrap-up all the other Bikol literary art forms into one package that could fit well within literature modules.

The conference, dubbed as Pagtukdo, Pagsurat Bikolnon 2008 is sponsored by the Kabulig-Bikol, Naga College Foundation, National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Naga City LGU.


October 19, 2007


It was such a delight when a group of graduating nursing students led by Kate Amaranto invited me for a chat about the writing life. It turned out that it was for their Philippine Literature class at Naga College Foundation where their teacher, Mr. Joward Diocos required them to interview Bikol writers. Now this is something great because I refuse to believe that getting into the so-called Nursing Syndrome necessitates a cessation of cerebral synaptic sparks for anything artistic or regionalist. After-all, one can still be a nurse and still have interest in the literary arts, making sure to visit bookstores, museums and libraries after taking hold of that much-coveted UK or US Visa. And should I say that it is cool that NCF is really into the literary and dramatic arts, even caring to have their future nurses interview Bikol-based writers before they jet set to unknown lands and subject their cultural identity to various contortions and hybridities.

As they say, from womb to tomb—there is the nurse. That is why I emphasized to them the need to immerse into literature and know the core of the human soul. The written word leaves an architectural imprint to history and human existence as it struggles to co-write the universe, approximating the interplay between matter and spirit. Reading a poem for instance, is like breathing the air right from the nostrils of generations after generations of humanity—past to future. As poetry is simply recycled breathing space.

Literature as they say will make you more human as hospitals would tend to dehumanize. And considering that it is almost the gateway to and from life, this speaks of humanity’s need for rational detachment when witnessing such a personal and emotional experience like death. But then literature will make life and the tragedy of it (like the recent Glorietta bombing) bearable. Great fiction for instance, is not meant to obscure reason and scientific thinking but augment it. Getting into the bottom of a narrative will not make a nurse panic at the sight of a bleeding body but will make him or her play the part of the healthcare front liner in some grand plot that is life.

We conducted the interview at Beanbag and for my part, I shared how it is to be a young writer (who used to be a pre-med geek) in this part of the planet. As requested, I gave them copies of my works, all the while considering their background. So apart from letting them have my podcasts via USB, I showed them some of my clinical stuffs, sort of convincing them that it could be done. Yes, nurses can write too and create their niche.

So I heard their report was well-appreciated, exempting them from the final exams. Now they can focus more on their hospital rounds. Keeping my fingers crossed that they really will read literature when they are free (and no fundamentalist would see it wise to blow up another mall and fill the ER), for the meantime, I will enjoy the Parker pen that they gave me. Another one for my collection.