Introduction by Jude Ortega
The War inside My Head by Virgilio R. Nabua III
Introduction by Jude Ortega
The War inside My Head by Virgilio R. Nabua III
Of the six writers in this issue, four are published for the first time. Cotabato Literary Journal continues to be home to emerging voices in the region, and despite being new to the scene, so to speak, these writers are not afraid to tackle heavy themes. Along with the two more experienced writers, they explore the deep and often dark recesses of our country, our community, and, ultimately, ourselves.
In “Mga Sitsit ug Panaghoy,” a Cebuano flash fiction by John Efrael Igot, a young man tries to escape the eerie calls and cries that he hears and finds a throng of sufferers. His dread and confusion disappear, only to be replaced by something much worse. In similar stories, sanity is often questioned. In this story, insanity is questioned. By turns psychological, mystical, and allegorical, the story is short yet packed, as what flash fictions should aspire to be.
“Wakwak,” written by Martsu Ressan Manibog Ladia, is another flash fiction in Cebuano. The first part is written in the form of diary entries and tells of a man exacting vengeance on the monsters that killed his loved ones and the people in his neighborhood. The second part is in the form of a news report and puts the first part in an entirely different light, making us question our perception of evil. The violence in the story is graphic, a surprising fact considering that the writer is blind and has been so since birth.
In “Matam-is nga Handurawan,” a Hiligaynon flash fiction by Nilyn Gamuza Pacariem, a woman reminisces about her lover who had to leave her behind and work abroad, as the rain falls and she folds her clothes. The writer deftly handles the sensual scene; she knows when to let go and when to hold back, when to be profuse in descriptions and when to leave the details to the reader’s imagination.
Nonfiction editor Hazel-Gin Lorenzo Aspera selected for publication the essay “The War Inside My Head” by Virgilio R. Nabua III. She describes it thus: “Nabua expresses his concern over the proximity of the Marawi siege to his own home. At the same time, his frustration at how forgetful people are of violent conflict through the years is palpable through his search for answers in both Facebook and history books.” She adds that the piece “is a personal awakening to the history of violent conflict in Mindanao and its effect on Filipinos in the era of social media.”
Estrella Taño Golingay’s “Jose Comes Home,” in the words of poetry editor Paul Randy Gumanao, “shares a story of the final battle of a soldier one tumultuous night, when his heart was as troubled as the stormy skies.” Gumanao adds that “the poem successfully shows how a soldier’s battle transforms from a purely personal to a collective struggle bravely fought by one yet felt by many” and commends it for its being “loaded with vivid imagery, especially of the setting, allowing for the effective settling of the emotions associated with the consummation of the main character’s selfless commitment.”
As to Elyzah A. Parcon’s “Waters,” Gumanao says it “invites attention to the internal struggles of a persona who seems to be drowning in an ocean of uncertainties despite all the knowledge and the attempts at surviving.” He further notes: “The poem’s magical use of transforming imagery evokes sensory responses to the creative depiction of melancholy, from the visual images of crimson waters, to the tactile images of desperate flailing, to the smell of iron, and to the sight and sound of blood rushing out of the vein. But more than the aesthetics, the poem beckons the reader’s sensitivity toward muted calls for help, and to dip into the stained waters of the persona, who could be our significant other, a family member, or a dear friend.”
Igot’s story is the winner and Ladia’s story is a finalist in the short story writing contest organized by the writers association of South Cotabato for the province’s T’nalak Festival last month. Pacariem’s story won first in the 2016 Peter’s Prize, organized by and named after multi-awarded writer Peter Solis Nery of Iloilo. Nabua’s essay is a finalist for the 2nd Lagulad Prize, organized by this journal and some benefactors. On behalf of my co-editors, I’d like to thank everyone who provided inspiration, support, and reward so that the works in this issue would be written. As with the previous issues, this one is a shared undertaking.
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat
Ni John Efrael Igot
(Kini nga sugilanon ang nidaog sa short story writing contest nga giorganisar sa grupo sa mga magsusulat sa South Cotabato atol sa 2019 T’nalak Festival.)
Nangimbawt ang akoang mga balahibo tungod sa mga sitsit ug panaghoy nga akong nadungog sa nagkadaiyang parte sa palibot. Sitsit sa mga tawng wala ginapaminaw, panaghoy sa mga tawng nag-antos sa kasakit, kalisod—nag-antos sa mapait nga kahimtang sa kinabuhi.
“Dong, naunsa ka?” pangutana sa akoang amahan sa dihang iyahang namatikdan nga nagtabon ko sa akoang mga dalunggan. “Nganong gitabunan man nimu imuhang dalunggan?”
“Banha kaayo sila, Pa,” tubag nako sa iyaha. Nitindog ako ug nagalingilingi sa palibot, nagapanghinaot nga makakita akog malinawon nga dapit. “Molakaw hiuna ko, Pa.”
“Ug asa man ka moadto?” pangutana pa niya bag-o siya mitando. “Pag-amping. Daghan bayag mga daotang binuhat karung mga taknaa.”
“Diha ra ko sa unahan, mangitag kahilom.” Gikuha ko ang kalo nga nakasab-it sa pultahan ug gisuot kini. “Mobalik ra ko unya, kung dili na nako sila madunggan.”
Sa akoang paglakaw, mas nikusog man hinuon ang mga sitsit ug panaghoy nga nagabagting sa akong mga dalunggan. Dili kini maayo. Gipaspasan nako ang akoang paglakaw hangtod sa midagan na gayod ako ug wala na ko nakahibaw kung asa ko gidala sa akong mga tiil. Sa kahanawan, nakita ko ang mga tawo—mga tawng nagahilak, nagasinggit og panabang, pero wala gayoy mitabang ug miduol kanila.
Nagaduko ako nga milakaw padulong sa ilahang ginabarogan samtang naghinayhinay sa pag-agas ang akoang mga luha. Sila diay to. Sila diay kadtong nagasitsit ug nagapanaghoy nga pirmi nakong madungog. Dugay nga panahon na ang nilabay pero nagpatuyang kog panabon sa akong mga dalunggan. Nagpabungolbungol ko.
Wala ko nagdahom tungod kay abi man gud nakog naa koy sakit sa pangutok nga ginabatyag. Sayop ko kini. Wala gayod akoy tul-id nga mga lakang nga gihimo kaniadtong una kong nadungog ang ilang mga sitsit ug panaghoy. Gipasagdan ko lamang kini.
“N-n-naunsa mo?” pangutana nako sa ilaha sa nabuak nga tingog tungod kay dili ko na gayod mapugngan ang akong paghilak. “Unsa’y nahitabo sa inyoha?”
“Mali ang imohang pangutana, dong!” Nitindog ang usa ka babaye ug miduol siya kanako. “Dili kana ang angay nimong ipangutana.”
“Ha?” Gitan-aw nako ang mga mata sa babaye. “Unsa ang buot nimong ipasabot?”
“Unsa ang nahitabo kanato?” Gitan-aw pud ko niya sa maguol nga hulagway. “Mao kana ang angay nimong ipangutana.”
Himanhiman, nahayagan pagkalit ang akoang panghunahuna. Tama sila.
Unsa ang nahitabo kanamo?
Kanus-a mahilom ang mga sitsit sa katilingban—ang mga kasakit ug kaguol sa matag usa kanamo?
Kanus-a madungog ang mga panaghoy sa kinabuhi niining kalibotana?
Ni Martsu Ressan M. Ladia
(Kini nga sugilanon nahimong finalist sa short story writing contest nga giorganisar sa grupo sa mga magsusulat sa South Cotabato atol sa 2019 T’nalak Festival.)
3:00 AM, May 10, 2019
Gibuhat ko na ang tanan, ang tanang pagpangandam aron malupigan ang mga pagpangwakwak sa among siyudad—alang sa akoang mga silingan, mga amigo, ug hilabi na sa akong pamilya nga nabiktima sa wakwak. Buot kong makabalos aron mahatagan og hustisya ang ilang mga dungog, pero ania ako, gahigda karon nianing salog nga puno sa abog, ug ang wakwak anaa gapaibabaw kanako, gipunggan pag-ayo ako, ug gihigtan pag-ayo ang akong mga kamot, ug sa akong pagpahuway, buot kong mangayo og pasaylo sa akong mga kasilinganan, mga amigo, ug labaw sa tanan, sa akong pinalanggang asawa ug anak.
7:00 PM, May 9, 2019
Nahibalo ako nga sa pagkatinood, ako na lang ang nag-inusarang gapabiling wala pa nabiktima sa wakwak dinhi sa among siyudad. Dili nako mahikalimtan ang gibuhat sa wakwak ngadto sa akong mga minahal sa kinabuhi. Ang akong asawa, gitak-ang sa wakwak ang iyahang mga tinai ug atay sa abohan. Ang akong anak, gitadtad niyag tinagodtagod sa akoang atubangan. Ang akoang mga silingan ug amigo, gipangsupsop niya ang dugo. Andam na ako, karon nga kagabhion, mobalos sa wakwak.
Giprepara ko na ang mga toneladang asin, ang pipila ka hait nga kutsilyo, ang akong pusil ug mga bala niini. Andam na tanan. Naabot na ang wakwak, nagdala kini ug mga kaubanan.
2:45 AM, May 10, 2019
Balig pito ka wakwak ang ning-atake sa akoang panimalay. Kada usa nila ako nang napanimaslan. Ang usa, gihan-ok nako sa asin ug gitil-obtil-ob ang nawong niini sa kaasinan usa gigulgol ang liog. Aduna sad koy baleg upat nga gipamusil sa dughan. Ang kinaulahiang duha, pirting pagpangsukol. Nabawi nila sa akoa ang akong pusil ug kutsilyo maong ako na lang silang gibalian og liog, pero wala nahimong sayon ang tanan. Samdan pud ako ug wala nay saktong kusog. Abi ko human na ang tanan ug sadihang paglabay sa pipila ka minuto, ning-abot ang uban pang kaubanan sa wakwak. Dili maihap nga kaubanan. Gipalibutan nila ako, ug dinhi na natapos ang akong kinabuhi.
5:00 AM, May 10, 2019
Nananawkanaw na ang tingog sa klase-klaseng reporter sa karadyohan. Aduna poy mga journalist. Nagpanggikan man sa nagkalain-laing istasyon, usa ra ka balita ang ginabutyag sa kanianhing puntoha.
Patay ang usa ka serial killer nga drug addict kaganihang alas-tres sa kadlawon sa engkwentro batok sa kapulisan!
Patay si Carlos Corvera, alyas “Zenzen,” sa engkwentro batok sa kapulisan kaganihang alas-tres sa kadlawon. Giila si alyas Zenzen nga maong suspek sa mga pipila ka pagpatay dinhi sa dakbayan hilabi na sa mga pagpatay diin gisuyop niini ang dugo sa mga biktima.
Matud sa kapulisan, gipatay pod ni alyas Zenzen ang iyahang pamilya, lakip niini ang iyahang asawa ug anak pinaagi sa karumaldumal nga pagpatay.
Gibutyag sa pulis nga ang naingong suspek usa ka drug addict, ug nasikop usab sa panimalay niini ang pipila ka gramo sa shabu. Sa engkwentro, pito sa kabahin sa kapulisan ang naangin.
Kini si Mars Ladia, ang inyong tigbalita!
Ni Nilyn Gamuza Pacariem
(Ang sugilanon nga ini nakadaog sang una nga puwesto sa 2016 Peter’s Prize.)
“Nagagal-um na naman, maulan siguro,” nagaisahanon nga mitlang ni Ellen sa iya kaugalingon. Dali-dali siya nga nanghimos sang iya mga hinalay.
Samtang nagapulupungko sa kawayan nga bangko sa idalum sang langka, iya ginpangtipig ang mga panapton.
“Boommmm!” ang hinali nga pagpanaguob dungan ang pagbusbos sang makusog nga ulan.
Dayon halin ni Ellen sa sulod sang ila balay, apang naabutan gid siya sang ulan, butang nga nagpabatyag sa iya sang katugnaw.
Sa pag-isahanon, nagahampang sa iya hunahuna ang mga matam-is nga handurawan sang ila pag-updanay ni Dennis sang wala pa ini naglakat sa Dubai. Ginakalangkagan niya ang pagbusbos sang ulan nga kon ano kalamig, amo man ang pag-indakal sini sang iya dugo kag nagapadabdab sang iya balatyagon.
Ang mga pagsapding-sapding sang kamot ni Dennis sa nagaumbok nga bahin sang iya dughan daw kuryente nga nagalatay sa bug-os nga kaugatan kag nagapauy-uy sang iya kalawasan. Butang nga indi niya mapunggan ang boltahe nga amat-amat nagakamang sa iya mga kaundan kag dayon nagadala sang iya panghunahuna sa mataas nga duog sang kalipay.
Ang mga paglambudanay sang ila mga dila nakapasilabo sang ila pareho nga mga balatyagon. Tubtob nga nagpadapat sang ila mga likod sa malum-uk nga hiligdaan. Kag nagdungan sa paghabyog-habyog ang mga walay panapton nga kalawasan. Nagpaugayong kag nagpasinggit sang ginahuptan nga balatyagon.
Kag dungan sa pagbusbos sang ulan ang pagtagas sang dugos sang kalipay.
Sa madason nga bulan, Marso. Si Dennis magaabot liwat halin sa Dubai. Kag si Ellen liwat nga gintangla ang kalangitan. May kapawa, kag paglaum. Liwat nga nagyuhum sa mga matam-is nila nga handurawan ni Dennis.
By Virgilio R. Nabua III
(This essay is a finalist for the 2nd Lagulad Prize.)
We forget most of the memories from our toddlerhood. It’s up to people who were there with us to share little pieces of our lives when we still sought our mother’s breast for us to sleep. Growing up, I heard a lot of stories from my relatives and neighbors about how mischievous I was—how I always cried when my mother wouldn’t let me eat fresh bananas, how one time I slipped on the floor and almost cracked my head open, and how I spent almost a week in the hospital, making my parents worry about the bill.
Of all the stories people told about me, the most significant one yet was this: when I was one year old and we were living in Kiamba, my mother, our old babysitter, and I hid in the basement of our old house because of the gunshots heard around our barangay. Later, I learned that our area was actually a route for rebels to move to some other camp.
I was eavesdropping on my mother and my old babysitter when they reminisced this shared haunting experience. Even after I heard about it, I never really spent exhaustive thoughts on it. But now, with the recent conflicts here in Mindanao, I remember the retelling of that specific but vague excerpt from my childhood, and I think about it a lot.
It was on the 23rd of May, summer of ’17, after my family had moved to Glan, when I woke up to my mom and our neighbors’ muffled gossip. As I adjusted to the noise, I heard them talk about the Marawi citizens and their encounter with terrorists.
Even though our house is on an elevated area, we still have no access to the internet. I still have to walk down to the foot of the hill to at least get a glimpse of what is truly happening outside Glan. Because I live in a generation where everyone is right and Facebook likes are the measurement of self-worth and value, every article I saw was blurry or straight up false statements, each article different from the others. Confused and disappointed, I went home still anxious. I waited for the daily evening news, and as expected, the headlines were almost about the war in Marawi.
I found out that the government forces clashed with the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf. With growing fear crawling through my veins, I tried to imagine the worst. But I couldn’t even begin to imagine the possibility of me being held captive. I couldn’t help to be scared, probably because I was still processing the fact that an actual war was happening in a nearby place, on the same land I was standing on.
The next morning, I received bad news: First, SarBay was canceled, and second, martial law was declared. Due to the recent encounter in Marawi, the Sarangani Bay Festival organizing committee decided that it was unsafe for people to travel to my hometown. Furthermore, adding to a list of negative consequences due to the war in Marawi, Duterte declared martial law all over Mindanao, which caused a lot of commotion in social media.
People brought back the Marcos regime and how it affected the country afterward. I made it my obligation to educate myself by searching archives and articles about Martial Law, back when Marcos was still the president. I remembered reading an article once about a human rights worker who was arrested in Davao and was sexually abused and now suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome and paranoia from her ordeal. With these threats possibly coming back to Mindanao, a lot of activists and human rights advocates were enraged by the decision of the present president.
Days after the war in Marawi started, things quickly shifted back to normal. People went back to their usual routines—elders buying vegetables in the market, teenagers posing at the beach thinking of how many likes they would get, old men gambling. It looked as though they had forgotten that there were people being killed in Marawi and there were people who were probably going to be killed and tortured because of the declaration of martial law.
With this environment, I started being less scared, and I told myself that I would survive this. It didn’t really take long to persuade myself, because if I based what would happen the next day on how people behaved in Glan, it was going to be another normal day.
I was right. Even after martial law was imposed in Mindanao, it still felt like a normal day. We were back to school, and everything felt fine. There was a curfew for those who were below eighteen only, as if terrorists passed by older people and were only interested in children, or the government just wanted to offer the terrorists the decaying souls of middle-aged men drinking beer at night at neighborhood stores.
The curfew only lasted for two weeks, though. The cops in charge probably became tired of driving around town on the same empty streets: The baywalk, which was filled with singing, which almost sounded like shrieks for help, from a karaoke bar nearby. The town plaza, which has a monument of José Rizal, one hand on his chest, another on his side, holding a rolled piece of paper. The town market, abandoned at night with the exception of a homeless person who slept in the public market. The Christian church in front of our high school, its walls covered in moss due. Those were the places where the cops usually went, not finding any minors. Young people in Glan were smart. They drank beer in the cemetery to avoid being caught and sleeping in a cell.
There were also checkpoints. Sometimes, whenever the police officers felt good, they would check the cars passing by their posts. But sometimes they were lazy, and I would feel thankful to them because I would not be late in class and I would not miss dinner at home.
The nonchalance with the war in Marawi and the martial law was appalling. It seemed as though most of the people in Glan had forgotten that the conflict still existed and, because of that conflict, many people had ceased to exist. While we were living in peace, killings were happening outside Glan.
Many activists continued fighting for human rights and calling for Duterte to step down from his post. The topic of the war in Marawi eventually shifted to the issue of Duterte’s competence as a leader. The actual victims of the siege were being talked about less and less. People talked more and more about the war between the Duterte and Aquino administrations. Activists in Luzon went to rallies and waged a war against the people who supported the president, some of them saying, “I live in Mindanao, and even with martial law enforced, we still live peacefully.” It wasn’t just a war in Marawi anymore. It had become a war within the Philippines.
History has shown that Martial Law was ineffective and inhumane. Marcos claimed that its main purpose was to quell the rising wave of violence caused by rebellions, but thousands of Filipinos were murdered, tortured, and disappeared in the fourteen years that it was imposed. But just because it happened before doesn’t mean that it will happen now. I think martial law isn’t the answer, but I’m grateful that so far, there have been so much less tortures, murders, or sexual assaults recorded since Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao. The only thing that makes me melancholic is that even after the Marawi siege was over, people still engage in bitter arguments about what went wrong.
Even though I was not physically affected by the war, a different war started to shape inside my head: Should I feel grateful that I’m still alive? Should I feel sad that I am still alive while others are dying? Should I feel angry with the actions of the people around me, or should I mope because I know deep down inside me that I am one of those people? The war in my head was slowly reaching its reckoning, and when I was able to find the answers I was looking for, it enlightened me.
Looking back, the war in Marawi affected me in a lot of ways. Firstly, it affected and changed how I see other people, how they work when their lives are in danger. They repent, of course, but they still go back to the way they were when the danger subsides. It also changed how I see the world. Something sparked within me that made me want to scream out of frustration, out of anger, towards how people act without thinking critically.
The war in Marawi divided the country. The division made the war more tragic because it was a time to be united but politicians and their followers took advantage of the situation and make it about themselves.
The conflict has affected my own personal improvement and growth. It made me realize that I am not a bad person. I am empathetic, and I am human. It made me realize how fortunate I am to be alive and to be safe with my parents. At the same time, it made me realize that terrorism is real and it’s not just something people do at their leisure—it also shapes the values and the future of a country.
The conflict made me realize that I shouldn’t take my life for granted because anyone can be a victim of terrorism any day. It makes me sad because we are still not safe from terrorism and the government does nothing to prevent wars. It only limits the casualties. It made me think—to be informed and to cure my ignorance. It made a huge difference in my political beliefs, which I believe I can use when my voice is heard by a lot more people. Now my voice is much clearer.
By Estrella Taño Golingay
Tonight, he prays for the blessings
of the gods. As he clutches his M16
rifle, he gazes at the sky and searches
for a miracle. He sees no stray
meteor shooting by. No star.
Only a blinding light quickly searing
the night sky, at times, a deaf drum
falling into pieces and sharp knocks
loud enough to reiterate stories told.
He bounces back in full gear.
Wish! His heart racing under
his shirt. There is no one
to witness the last fray except
the classic fall of his only star
and the volley of lead.
There were more he remembers
As he’d dodge them hurtling by.
Run! his comrades urged him
and his falling into a deep sleep.
His family gathers for him
tonight, gnashing their teeth
on questions floating over
the draping of the flag.