Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Monument of Grief

January 14, 2013, the 40th day after the onslaught of the killer typhoon Pablo, a wall was unveiled in the old barangay site of Andap, New Bataan, bearing the name of those who died and those who went missing and were never found. Rampaging waters from the mountains reached a volume so high that it created a new river course, shortly after it passed the intersection of the Mayo and Mamada rivers, descending upon the whole barangay of Andap, washing away everything along the way.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Glossy M

At last, a lifestyle article! That's just how I feel when I write that story, "Coming Home: Teddy Casino's Davao." But I haven't got a copy of the magazine, yet; so, I haven't seen yet how the article came out.

Friday, January 11, 2013

River Crossing in Barangay Baugo

Sometime in December 2012, I arrived in this part of barangay Baugo (pronounced by people there as Baw-go), Baganga town's boundary barangay adjacent to Caraga.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Bittersweet Stories

Soon the Task Force Mapalad book "Bittersweet Stories of Farm Workers in the Philippines, a project with Vera Files with Luz Rimban, Kira Paredes, Mylah Roque, and yours very truly, will soon be launched; and I personally dedicate my part to the farmworkers in the Philippines; especially those whose stories have not yet been told.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Nana Olang, Portrait of Old Sawata

How could I forget this old woman in the town of San Isidro, squatting in the doorway of an empty bodega whose wooden walls were darkening with age? I was on assignment for Newsbreak magazine sometime in 2007 when I realized I arrived in the village of Sawata-turned-San-Isidro-town too early for an interview. The town mayor just called me on the phone he would not be arriving in his office until past noontime that day, because he was still in some far flung fringes of the town doing something, a piece of news that practically sent me in a fit of panic and frustration. I was in a rush to get to the next towns of Asuncion and Kapalong to finish my assignments that day! Totally at a loss of what to do, I strayed towards an old bedraggled store, a few paces away from the townhall and noticed in a doorway of an empty bodega beside the store, an old woman squatting, as if lost to the world. For some reasons, I thought, the old woman could no longer talk to me. There was something about her that told me she was no longer there in that doorway; so, I befriended a middle-aged woman cooking bibingka by the roadside, eventually asking her the name of—and the permission to photograph—the old woman in the doorway. She said the name of the old woman was Nana Olang; and she can talk to answer my questions. I asked Nana Olang how it was when the village was still known as Sawata, how different or the same things were after the village was made into town? I never knew that a woman like Nana Olang, who was then 72 at that time, could supply me with interesting nuggets of information I couldn’t get anywhere else (even if I happened to interview some venerable town officials that day). She described Sawata in the 1970s as "muddy" and "full of horse and carabao dung," where people from the surrounding mountain barangays came down to trade. She said it was already a far cry from how it was at the time when we met, because then, people from the city were already coming up the mountain barangays to buy farm goods at bargain prices. Nana Olang said she was glad that Sawata was turned into a town. When I took Nana Olang’s portrait, I never intended to submit it for publication. Yet, seized by a moment’s madness, I decided to send it to the magazine at the last moment as a portrait of life in San Isidro. Just a few paces from where Nana Olang was, Nating Paras, 50, the middle-aged woman I first talked to, was cooking "bibingkang pinalutaw" (steamed rice cakes) right in front of a billiard hall near the roadside. She told me before she introduced me to Nana Olang she can't afford to buy a real bibingka-making "pugon" (oven), which cost at least P1,500.
I still remember these small town assignments I did for Newsbreak with a certain degree of fondness. First, they took me away from the daily round of press conferences that was becoming a regular fare for news reporters every day; to travel off the beaten track to the lives of ordinary people. Most of these people never knew, or even read, Newsbreak itself; and it was often so vexing and exasperating to talk to officials of those small towns and tell them I was writing a story for Newsbreak, almost spelling N-E-W-S-B-R-E-A-K in bold, capital letters, to make them recognize what it was, a magazine priding itself as a must-read for the country’s top policy makers, in Congress and in the Senate in those days—and yet, the people I interviewed never had an inkling of what it was. That day, when I strayed towards the bedraggled store, I did not have such pressures. I merely had the natural human feeling to talk to Nana Olang. I photographed her simply to remember her by. It never struck me at that time that such moments people normally regard as trivial could weigh so heavily, and with such meaning and significance, in the passage of time.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Being Woman

I know she was not the one who posted all those things on her website because when I asked her for comment about something which was already posted there, her words were different. Well, she also meant the same thing, but the way she said it was different. No, I am not imagining things. I pointed it out to her just to let her know I still existed. I thought she overlooked my name when she sent those messages to everyone except me but the truth, I found out only now, was that she did not send anything to anybody. It was another person who sent them. The other person simply left me out; why can’t I get used to it? They’ve been used to doing things like this for centuries. The other person did not want to have anything to do with me, maybe, she hated me. Thinking about this, I feel depressed. I missed my laid back life in the state university when I was 17, and we used to gather together in groups to study Calculus. I can still see Alice, her longish face tilted, her doleful eyes drooping as she stops below the eaves of the Methodist Church’s Dormitory, turning to me, pausing dramatically just before the stairway to tell me, I had to be there at exactly six o’clock after prayer time because Rey or LaPaz will be there to help solve our problems.
As if Calculus, or Physics, or Chemistry, or even Spherical Trigonometry was even my problem. I was already uneasy then. But still, it took years for me to figure out what was the matter: that what was bogging me was not Calculus, nor Physics nor Chemistry nor Spherical Trigonometry, nor Engineering Mechanics. Not at all. I remember staying inside the room of my dormitory, listening to the pitter-patter of rain outside the jalousie windows, watching the dewdrops on the leaves of grass, turning the pages of my book, and still, I failed to figure things out, failed to directly lay my finger on what really was bogging me. It took me half a century to figure out the problem. I never knew it then. The problem was being a woman.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Aunt's Fantastic Tale

EXCERPT FROM A JOURNAL. November 7, 2007. Auntie Cora—Corazon Ignacio Lunas—arrived in this part of Mindanao I call B’la from Piddig (pronounced hard as Piddig), Ilocos Norte; a place about as far from Laoag city in Luzon as Bansalan is from Davao city here in Mindanao. (My Aunt wavered in her estimates here, quickly adding, as if to correct herself, “Maybe not Bansalan and Davao city, Day, but Bansalan and Santa Cruz town of Davao del Sur,” she said.) She was still five years old when she arrived in B’la after the war. Everything was still a forest. She went to school in Grade One, in the first public school set up in B’la among the settlers. The neighbors were just a kilometre away, she recalled. Her classmates were already big, she said, “They were already bayongbayong,” she smiled, referring to boys approaching manhood, “and ulitawo (young men).” When she reached Grade Three, she returned to Ilocos Norte and came back here at 22, to teach elementary school. Sometime in between, her father opened a kaingin in what is now known as Tagum city in Davao del Norte, the first settler to do so. Unfortunately, he was killed by a fallen tree, so, he was deprived of the fruits of his labor, my Aunt said. The images she painted to me about B’la at that time bordered on the fantastic: Vegetables like squash, ampalaya and alugbati, just growing by the roadsides, with nobody planting them. “They just grew wild abundantly in the forest,” my Aunt said. Everywhere in this part was still a forest, she said. Her Uncle Onor would set up a trap for deers and baboy ramo and when they heard an animal scream, they knew they had caught something. “What if they caught a man?” I asked, alarmed. My Aunt is an Ilocana. She and Ma, who came from Argao, Cebu, are not in any way related except that they spent their whole lives teaching children in B’la (the mythical place where I grew up) and married the cousins from Mambusao, Capiz (my father and my uncle). My Aunt never had the chance to go back to Ilocos Norte since she married and had children (that’s how a place like B’la could tie someone down), so, when my Aunt had a chance for a brief visit up north in 2000, she was already having trouble with the language. She told me she felt she had lost her Ilocano tongue. Almost. “I had to think first and construct my sentences before speaking,” my Aunt said. “The words no longer come out automatically to me like they used to.” She said that because there are different variations of Ilocanos spoken in the north, there are already some words she could no longer understand.