September 2019 (Issue 37)

Introduction

NONFICTION
Memories of Compound by Estrella Taño Golingay
Addressing Racism: Steadfast Wherever My Feet Lead Me by Midpantao Midrah G. Adil II
Fear Takes a Back Seat by Ma. Isabelle Alessandra M. Mirabueno

FICTION
Ang Pagkatuyo ng Lupa at Puso by Mubarak M. Tahir
Lanahan by Alvin Larida

POETRY
Maalikabok Ka Lang pero Kaganda Mo by Gerald Galindez
Kubo by Norsalim S. Haron
Sa Amoang Balay by Glenn M. Arimas

Editors and Contributors

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Introduction to September 2019 Issue

Three years ago today, Cotabato Literary Journal was launched, at a poetry reading in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. Since then, this online publication has featured nearly three hundred works from more than a hundred local writers. The journey, though, has never been easy. Each issue has been a product of community work and not just the usual editorial process. The editors could not rely on the journal’s inbox alone, and opportunities had to be created to encourage literary production, such as writing contests, poetry readings, zine fests, and seminars. So in this anniversary issue, we are paying tribute to where everything is happening and the wellspring of inspiration to many writers—the hometown.

In “Memories of Compound,” an essay by Estrella Taño Golingay, readers learn that the municipality of Surallah in the province of South Cotabato used to be a village called “Compound.” Nonfiction editor Jennie Arado says the piece is “beautifully written with references to the early ’60s landmarks juxtaposed with the current landmarks” and “rich in details which the people living [in the place then] would certainly share and generally look back to.” She also says that the piece “well embodies the ‘hometown’ we would always come back to—whether physically or in memory.”

The two other essays in this issue are products of Lagulad Prize, a regionwide writing competition organized by this journal with generous help from Blaise Francisco. Lagulad is a Hiligaynon word that means “to explore,” and the contest encourages writers “to focus on exploring an experience instead of imparting knowledge to, or imposing personal values on, the readers.” In the second edition of the contest, writers were asked how the conflict in Mindanao had affected them. Invariably, the entries speak as much about the hometown of the writers as about the writers themselves. The reviews that follow are those of nonfiction editor Hazel-Gin Aspera’s.

In “Addressing Racism: Steadfast Wherever My Feet Lead Me,” Midpantao Midrah G. Adil II reflects upon the double-edged sword of diversity and discrimination—that is, the beauty and richness of his Maguindanaoan heritage, but also the stigma he faced growing up as a Muslim in a Catholic school. In a stroke of fate, Adil gets the opportunity to travel across the Philippines to understand cultures different from his own. In truly experiencing diversity, he thus comes into terms with his differences and becomes conscious of the role he can play in promoting acceptance. This essay, the winner of the 2nd Lagulad Prize, subtly explores the link between personal experience and wider perspective of the conflict in Mindanao.

Isabelle Mirabueno’s “Fear Takes a Back Seat” explores her experiences of the conflict in Mindanao. In her case, however, the threat lies dormant, lurking in the periphery of her everyday life through the news, political fora, and, even closer to home, the experience of her own father. Mirabueno, however, takes a defiant stance on this threat, questioning the role of fear in making everyday decisions. This essay, a finalist to the 2nd Lagulad Prize, entreats us to be rational even in the face of conflict and, as the famous British World War II poster might say, to “keep calm and carry on.”

Sa “Ang Pagkatuyo ng Lupa at Puso,” isang maikling kuwento ni Mubarak M. Tahir, maagang namulat sa responsibilidad at hirap ng buhay ang isang batang lalaki dahil sa pagkamatay ng isang minamahal at sa pinsalang dulot ng kalikasan sa kabuhayan ng kaniyang pamilya. Ipinapakita sa kuwento ang payak na pamumuhay ng mga magsasakang Muslim sa isang pamayanan sa Maguindanao. Nababalot man ng kalungkutan ang kuwento, kaaya-aya itong basahin dahil sa maayos na pagkahabi ng mga tagpo at sa pagkabanayad ng wika, na nakasalaysay sa Filipino at pinanatili ang Maguindanon sa dayalogo.

Ang sugilanon nga “Lanahan” ni Alvin Larida nahanungod sa isa ka tao nga naguba ang panghunahuna isa ka adlaw kag ginlagas sang wasay ang iya asawa nga bitbit ang lapsag pa nila nga anak. Makangingidlis ang mga panghitabo sa istorya, kapin pa kay ang mga toloohan nga yara diri ginapatihan pa sa gihapon sa mga uma kag suok nga lugar. Ang mga misteryo sa istorya may mga sabat, apang ang mga sabat nagahatag lang sang mas madamo nga misteryo. Tama lang sa unod sang istorya ang amo ni nga istilo sang pag-istorya.

Nakasulat naman sa ginhalo na Tagalog at Hiligaynon ang tula ni Gerald Galindez na “Maalikabok Ka Lang pero Kaganda Mo,” isang pagpahayag ng pagmahal sa Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, ang ginlakihan kag ginatirhan ngayon ng makata. Tulad ng lenggwahe na gingamit sa tula, na lenggwahe din talaga na ginasalita sa lugar, halo-halo ang katangian ng Tacurong na ginapuri—mula sa giyakap mo lahat ng tribu hanggang sa mga pakpak na ginto, apoy sa dulo ng mga yantok, at mula sa kadaming nagaasa sa iyong paaralan hanggang sa mga sayaw na nagasabog. Isa itong kakaibang tula tungkol sa isang kakaibang bayan.

Sa tulang “Kubo” ni Norsalim S. Haron, nakakulong ang persona hindi lamang sa isang bahay kundi maging sa kaniyang katawan, at isa na lamang siyang tagamasid sa buhay ng iba: Ang katabing bintana ay nagsisilbi bilang sinehan—/ pinanonood ko ang mga batang nagtatagisan. Malalaman kinalaunan na paglipas ng panahon ang dahilan ng kaniyang kalagayan: Araw-gabi akong nakatanaw/ sa punyal, espada’t katanang naghahabulan/ sa kaloob-looban ng aming orasan. Gayunpaman, maaaring maging malaya ang nakakulong: tila mananatili na ako sa kubo/ nang may galak sa piling ng aking anino. Sinusubok ng tula ang pananaw ng mambabasa sa kalagayan at kaligayahan ng ibang tao.

Amgid ang tumong sa balak ni Glenn M. Arimas nga “Sa Amoang Balay.” Ginadulaan ang pasabot sa mga pulong ug ang pagtan-aw sa mambabasa sa posisyon ug espasyo: wala gagawas, pero naa pirmis gawas/ naa pirmis balay, naa sa sulod./ Wala ko nakakulong kay naa ra kos among balay. Dalaygon ang magbabalak sa iyahang pagsulay og suwat og sugpay nga duol sa iyahang kasingkasing gamit ang pinulongan sa iyahang komunidad.

Maraming salamat sa lahat ng naging bahagi ng Cotabato Literary Journal sa nakalipas na tatlong taon, bilang patnugot, kontributor, o mambabasa man. Nanatiling matatag ang proyektong ito dahil maraming handang mag-ambag, dahil maraming nagmamahal sa kanilang mga bayan, na pinapahalagahan ng journal sa simula pa man. Kakakitaan ng malakas na lokal na kulay ang marami sa mga gawang naitampok sa mga nakaraang isyu. Sa ating ikaapat na taon, patuloy nating ipagdiwang, galugarin, at ibahagi ang mga kuwento natin.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Memories of Compound

By Estrella Taño Golingay
Essay

Compound was a popular name given to Surallah by its residents in its early days. The place was probably called such because it was the location of the motor pool for a government agency that functioned as authority in land appropriation and mapping in these areas. I grew up with that name, until such time that it became Libertad, the official name for the Poblacion. In those times, Compound was just a part of Banga, by then already a thriving town where people gathered during fiesta and school activities or watched a movie and purchased family stuff in its market.

My memories of Compound consisted of a clutter of huge farm machinery and equipment scattered all over the vacant area where the gym, municipal hall, and barangay buildings for health center and other social services now stand. It was covered with tall tigbao weed, cogon, and plants that creeped up the canopies of the giant graders, backhoes, harvesters, glides for children, and other steel structures. In the afternoons, after school dismissal, some of us living along the highway in the Allah Valley area would drop our cellophane or buri bags and climb the tall slides and other structures left to the elements. Somehow, our frolic helped preserve the equipment, with our nimble hands and legs getting rid of the unwanted weeds and polishing off the dust. A large warehouse contained the more gigantic equipment at the back of the property of the Habaluyas family, a block away from the highway. Later, scrap business surfaced as businessmen grabbed the opportunity, and soon those scrawny structures were gone.

At the middle of that wide junkyard were footways made by elementary pupils from the adjacent Libertad Central School in their effort to make shortcuts so as not to be late or caught while cutting classes. I was one of them, having started my elementary education in the same school. It was a massive two-story wooden building in U shape, housing the six classrooms and offices. The most remembered part of my elementary was the feeding program—the convenience food or Nutribun, the porridge, and sometimes the non-fat dried milk that we loved to pour into a cone-shaped piece of paper from which we could sip the milk as we walked home.

A community clinic and hospital was said to have existed on our lot along the highway at the Allah Valley area in the ’50s. When we came, some debris of the old structure were still visible, and remnants of medical essentials like tubes and small bottles with white tablets were scattered all over the place, stretching several lots behind. The abandoned place gave out an uncanny ambiance, and as pioneers claimed, that spot had become a haven of creepy sounds and sights, and true, I became an unwilling witness to a few eerie experiences.

Our old house was located a block away from the Alah Valley school, the first high school put up in the early ’60s, which my elder siblings attended and where an elder sister later taught. The school activities became the town entertainment since there were nothing else aside from the annual town fiestas. Hordes of people would flock at the low fence even for the simplest Philippine Military Training drills in the afternoons. It later expanded to college department since the faculty were from the University of the Philippines and proven to be experts in the field. I remember them when walking by the main cobbled road. We would literally drop whatever we were doing to watch them walking closely by, trying to name them and what they taught. For us kids and adults, they looked like gods and goddesses from the sky, with their tall height, fair skin, pretty faces, smart getup, and beautiful shoes. They were everyone’s idea of celebrities, and they inspired the parents to send their children to school. Add to that their Tagalog tongue that we could only hear on radio drama. Later, with winds of progress, a sectarian school, Notre Dame, was founded by the Passionist congregation in 1967 led by Fr. Paschal Smith, CP, who was also the first parish priest. It has been managed by St. Paul Sisters of Chartres. Rooting for sectarian system and exposure, the clientele, including myself, flocked to its door.

The first municipal office was a building at the right side of the Catholic church just before the hardware store. It was a bungalow-type structure raised some four feet high up so that the ground floor served as store room of boxes and pieces of wood and logs. All the main offices were there, including the post office, where we went for the mails. Along that street, opposite the massive house of the Habaluyas family, where Holy Child school now stands, was the largest store in town owned by the Tan family before they transferred to their present location. It was a huge wooden building with four steps up and around, the source of all that the community seemed to need, including rice, dried fish, over-the-counter medicine, nails, needles, large bread, and even dresses. Our Store—managed by the late Mr. Tan himself, or Intsik, as we fondly called him—was our little market because it seemed to have everything that we needed.

The original parish church was a smaller one on the same lot provided by the government but was later extended when the adjacent lot was bought through the effort of Fr. Hilarion Walters. I remember Fr. Smith, the first parish priest, a saintly, chubby, and jolly old man. He was so close to us children that he’d lift us and sometimes hoist the boys on his shoulders while trying to speak to us in Hiligaynon. Wherever he went, he was followed by kids. But before the building of the Catholic church, we would troop to the first Baptist church located in front of the health center when we were kids to watch biblical films on weekends and savor some candies given out.

Before it became Maharlika Highway, the main road was actually just a rough road, and my older siblings and other students who went to high school in Notre Dame of Banga either hiked or rode a cart pulled by a carabao passing it. I remember that our area was a hilly terrain. That was all leveled to the ground when construction equipment came to build better roads as the place was getting developed. By then, the first mode of transportation was the remnant of the U.S. open weapon carrier types: the open gray-colored four-wheeled vehicles and the covered one that rumbled along the rough road. When riding them, you had to be tough too, for it could toss you around when it swayed sideways and forward for every bump on the gravel road. Later, big buses of the Cotabato Bus company plied the highway from Dadiangas (now General Santos City) to Cotabato City and on to Davao City, which took a day and a half to travel.

Since there was no electricity, there were no television sets and other gadgets, and the only form of entertainment available was soap operas on the radio. The most popular drama series was Duelo sa Sapang Bato aired by DZXL every 6:30 PM. Since only my uncle Teoy had a radio set in the family, their yard would be full of friends and relatives every night without fail. Occasionally, a free movie would be shown in the plaza, sponsored by the soft drinks and soap companies as a form of advertisement. The type of films shown in the plaza was usually the Western cowboy movies of old. On this much-awaited nocturnal gatherings, the whole population of Compound would be at the plaza, leaving their houses with no one behind, to gather for the English movie, after which the walk back home would be abuzz with retelling of highlights that sometimes led to arguments on some misinterpretations. The following day, the movie would still be the topic among groups of people and children in the school until another event came to replace it. Another entertainment was the annual circus that offered a variety of shows, including drama, apart from the gymnastics, Ferris wheel, and the main attraction, which was the flying trapeze. It didn’t take long for the players to be the celebrity idols of the residents. In addition, people read novels and short stories found in Liwayway and Hiligaynon magazines and in the comics, such as Aliwan, Hiwaga, Tagalog Klasiks, and Pilipino Komiks, featuring the best artists and authors like Mars Ravelo.

Marketing in the early ’60s was something to relish especially if you had a little left to spend from the annual harvest of rice. A kilogram of palay was pegged by traders at 10 centavos, but the exchange rate was 3 Philippine pesos per 1 U.S. dollar, which made our currency very strong then. Early on, my mother had a small store on the ground floor of our house, so I was able to remember prices of commodities, such as soft drinks for only 15 centavos per bottle, rice for 20 to 30 centavos per ganta, and candies for 1 centavo each. In the market, fish could be bought from 50 to 80 centavos per kilogram and a meter of cloth from 50 centavos to 1.50 pesos depending on the kind. The first market area was composed of makeshift stalls on the same current spot. Later, when the market was modernized, it was transferred to the area where Libertad National High School now stands. It was an old rice field tilled by residents but was acquired by the government. My mother owned a stall in that market selling grocery items, and it was there where I was exposed to business.

In the early ’60s, with the progressive leadership of the first mayor, Jose T. Sison, Surallah was opened to the outside world with the opening of the first and only airport in the province and nearby places. The airstrip is a stone’s throw away from the market and still operates for smaller aircrafts nowadays, and its operation and location have spawned controversies. Having that airport in its early operations was a different experience for us kids, as it enabled us to have glimpses of very important personalities and events that the airplanes brought. We became accidental part of the welcoming party to big people like Pres. Diosdado Macapagal or the movie stars Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa, Liberty Ilagan, and others as we breached security and scrambled to reach for their hands for a touch or a handshake, which they gladly obliged. We relished telling others how beautiful and fragrant they were as we sniffed the air for a whiff of perfume they were wearing. It was easier for our leaders to regale us, the residents, with visitors during the inaugural fiestas with faces we only saw on Liwayway and Hiligaynon. For us, they were all “artistas” and they were an excellent complement to our local beauty queens coming from the Camachos of early ’60s, the Sisons, the Galangs, and other early queens we saw only during the parade and the coronation night during the anniversary fiestas.

The culture of beauty pageant was through popularity contest, requiring the highest monetary values for the queen and lesser for members of the royal court. The fiesta would usually end with a bang with the parade of winners, followed by the coronation night wherein celebrity guests were invited and important political figures crowned the queen and her court. They would then deliver their long speeches, making us yawn to our hearts’ content. But before that, the VIP couples, composed of the mayor and the councilors and their spouses and guests, were given the chance to dance the night away, giving the townspeople the thrill of the evening. Those evening revelries opened for us the Pandora’s box of fun and excitement while watching the public ballroom dance as the couples whirled their evening gowns to the beat of tango, cha-cha, and waltz for the adult and twist, limbo rock, and more for the younger ones. Those were the nights the people never missed so they could assert who the best dancer was or who wore the best gown as they reminisced the experience in their dining tables or with neighbors and friends at the corner store and marketplace. For days, the townspeople had the coronation night as their staple food. Who would have thought that in this southern part of Mindanao lay a young town where people of different regional background co-existed peacefully and so cosmopolitan in their outlook in life, warding off the so-called internal threats of extremists that had plagued other parts of the island.

The early days of Compound resonated with the more popular family names in the recesses of my mind, such as Sison, Habaluyas, Eleazar, Molina, Haguisan, Bendita, Camacho, Galang; the teachers Eslaban, Sagra, Sustento, Sta. Maria, Dogoldogol, Aguil, Dolar, Bayoguing, Pangilinan, and Dr. Velasquez; and the foreign religious Fr. Paschal, Fr. Raymond Pulvino, and Fr. Hilarion, among many others.

Living in Compound then was like living in a paradise, deserving a tribute all its own.

Addressing Racism: Steadfast Wherever My Feet Lead Me

By Midpantao Midrah G. Adil II
Essay

In search of great treasure, one must first learn to defy the limits. This is the particular teaching that my parents left me before they went to the afterlife.

Having been left as an orphan at an early age, I never really had the wits to decipher what was their truest intent. The only thing they left me was a piece of vague philosophy that even a fifteen-year-old boy would never understand. So, it was then when I decided that it was about time to start my very own crusade—to look for life’s greatest treasure.

As a natural-born Maguindanaoan, I was raised to love my tribe’s culture. My father instilled many great things in my young naive mind, including the exquisite wonders of our family tradition. He was indeed a great fine man, and just like any father, he was my biggest support system.

I could still recall my ten-year-old self indulging in the euphony of authentic kulintang music while engaging my eyes in a colorful show of Muslim ritual dances and feasting over lavish food during certain occasions such as kalilang, or traditional wedding ceremony, within the family. Truly, everything was a remarkable experience. On the other hand, the abundance of elaborate tapestry draped all across the house was a sign that our kin had an affinity for big celebrations. It was part of our culture.

As a child, I was also a big dreamer. Taking myself to greater heights was something that ignited the fighter in me. My burning passion for self-expression taught me to become vocal about the things that concerned me one way or another.

I dreamed of becoming a writer. However, some of my aspirations were too much for me to handle; also, most turned out to be impractical in the eyes of my family. All I had was a heavy amount of disapproval from my kin. They wanted me to embrace the family tradition—to become a lawyer, not “a lousy journalist,” as they called it. But deep within my heart, I knew I needed not follow them. It was clear to me that my heart longed for something extraordinary.

At a very young age, I have always been committed to the urge of looking for life’s truest meaning. My feet have dragged me from various places throughout the island to find meaning in my existence.

Mindanao has been my home for the past twenty years. I was born and raised in the province of Sultan Kudarat. Although most of my ancestors were from Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, my father decided to settle in Tacurong to give me a good urban life. As a lawyer, a city was the best place for him to earn a living. In the city, I was enlightened about many things in life. And almost nothing was sugarcoated.

The struggle began when my parents sent me to a private Catholic school. Living in an island where Muslims are commonly stereotyped as terrorists, suicide bombers, and enemies of the state, it was very hard for a kid like me to fit in. There’s a stigma with being a Muslim. Many non-Muslims fear that my families might be affiliated with terrorist groups. In effect, I often became the target of bullies.

My heartbreaking experiences from my critics made me resilient. In fact, I never hated my bullies. If anything, I became quite grateful because, for what they did, I grew up as a strong man. It’s not that I tolerate these kinds of acts, and I know I must not. It’s just that, without them dragging me down, I would have never risen and become the person that I am now. For me, they made me who I am.

Way back in my childhood days, I was labeled with far too many harsh words: terorista, moros, damak na Muslim, and many more. I was considered inferior because I was a Muslim. The proud race that I had grown up in became my greatest downfall. Without noticing it, I became ashamed of my ethnicity and felt that I had to blend in. Many of my relatives may be outraged why I did this, but it’s human nature. I needed to be liked.

It is quite unfathomable how some people could develop a bad sense of racism against the culture I have. Suffice it to say that I cannot point my fingers directly at these people. This exact feeling makes me remember something that occurred two years ago.

In 2017, parts of Marawi City were bombed into rubble by the local ISIS terrorists, the Maute group. This marked the dawn of Mindanao’s desolate fate. I never personally witnessed the tragedy; however, as a student journalist, I remember my eyes being tightly glued to the late evening news. That was an imperative trait—a social responsibility, at the least—for a scribe.

The bullet-drilled infrastructure along with the ghosted streets of Marawi was a clear implication that everything was out of control. It felt real. The fear crippled me knowing that it might also happen in my town if not controlled by the authority.

The televised view of the cold frigid bodies of the casualties being pulled away from the bombarded buildings broke my heart. The tragedy made it to the headlines of all media networks that day. With peace becoming a scarce commodity in the market, hope was held hostage by fear.

I asked God that time that if he was watching, why was he letting those things happen? If life mattered to him, why was he allowing those poor innocent lives to be taken away? If it was wrong to kill, why was he letting the evils of mankind slaughter the entire city? I myself could not find the right words to answer my questions. I had too much doubt in my mind.

As an eighteen-year-old during that time, I already had some maturity to weigh the rationality of things. The Maute group was fighting for the empowerment of their clan. They might have sparked a wrong kind of fight, but it shook me to a realization. If there had been peace, harmony, and equality within the island, no one would have ever craved for destruction. No one would have plotted for supremacy. However, they did. That’s the saddest conclusion that I could arrive upon. Is this a war of races, and whoever is non-Muslim gets beheaded? This was the thought in my mind.

The Maute group was fighting for dominance of Islam in Marawi. It was a crusade—the evil form, to think of it. Race and religion were dividing the island into non-substantial factions. It was the embodiment of the bullying I had received when I was still in elementary school. But now, it was us who had become the bullies. I know people will counter-argue that the Maute group was not true Muslims because Islam is a religion of peace, but I am talking about the times when all they ever wanted was to eradicate the non-members of their faction. This is the brutal truth.

It was later this year when the Bangsamoro Organic Law was finally pitched in Congress. Because it was offering to be a substantial answer to the conflicts arising within the island, I became quite ecstatic to hear the news that the government was finally taking a stand on the empowerment of my people—not only the Moro but the tri-people in general. It painted a warm smile in my face after seeing how people of different races came together in the fight to address the problems of Mindanao.

For the past decades, Mindanao has been a place of bloodbath. With the uprisings and revolts that have taken place, one might begin to ask, Is God still here? I don’t know. Lives have been lost, and souls have been wasted. This isn’t the Mindanao I had in mind as a child. No one ever understood the severity of the situation. However, I’ve never lost hope.

I have been to various provinces within the island. I have been to Sultan Kudarat, Cotabato, South Cotabato, the Davao provinces, Bukidnon, Sarangani, Maguindanao, and more to learn the substantial differences between the peoples of Mindanao. Not every expedition was entirely fruitful, but I consider everything as a stepping-stone, to say the least.

Is Mindanao really at war? Everywhere I go, I hear stories of conflicts and despair. Deprivation of rights to land ownership as well as struggles to find adequate support from the government has awakened me to fight alongside with the victims. As a student journalist, these have been my inspiration for my craft.

With my fellow campus journalists in Cotabato, I ventured to Barangay Kisante in Makilala to conduct an extension activity in a young Lumad boarding school in 2018.  There, one thing caught my attention—a group of young people walking in the vicinity with schoolbags on. It was definitely a heartwarming sight.

It was pleasing to see that despite the poverty and lack of resources, the children were still sent by their parents to school for them to have access to education. This might be the kind of improvement that their ancestors might have dreamed from the beginning.

With boarding schools like the one we visited, the young Lumads of Cotabato are given education about their socio-economic, political, and cultural rights. They are able to gain empowerment and protect their ancestral domains and exercise their rights to self-determination.

The stories that I heard from the children broke my heart a thousand fold. Most of them lacked decent clothes to wear and notebooks to write on. The stories made me realize that my responsibilities crossed beyond the boundaries of conventional writing. I must help change the world one story at a time.

My family, being inhabitants of Maguindanao, took me around to witness the growing poverty in various Moro communities. I was exposed to the kind of life that many of our people have. Pagalungan, a small municipality at the heart of Maguindanao, is one of them. I am not from the place, but my father was. Despite the small amount of time I’ve been there, I was able to tell that most houses in the area lacked potable water sources and access to modern facilities. As how I witnessed politics in Muslim areas, there might also be bloodbaths. Unfortunately, that is how life is there.

In search of more stories to tell, I never stopped exploring. My curiosity brought me to a trip in Arakan, Cotabato. About 88 kilometers away from Kabacan, where I was staying at the time, is the hidden gem that is Bani Falls, also called Matigol Falls by local trekkers. Sitio Inamong, Barangay Datu Ladayon, where the waterfall is located, is a small village that is home to the indigenous peoples Manobo and Tahurog.

I was quite astonished how these people had managed to live atop the mountain and display vibrant smiles on their faces. Life there was decent and, well, peaceful. Because they were way too far to be reached by amenities and government services, they found ways to improvise things. They made me realize that happiness doesn’t always have to come with a price.

The people there are one of the most welcoming peoples I have met in my entire existence. They accompanied me and my friends throughout our trip. They shared with me the gifts of Mother Nature. Indeed, the memories we had in that journey have been truly worth remembering.

From the young Lumads in Makilala, Cotabato, to the Moro in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, and even the indigenous tribes in the rocky mountains of Arakan, Cotabato, my pen has painted stories that are truly close to my heart. Mindanao is my home, and the people here are my soul.

For the past five years, I have dedicated my life to the journey of finding the said treasure. I have been to various islands within the country looking for meaning and trying to defy whatever limits life has imposed on me.

From Pampanga to the highlands of Baguio City and the busy streets of Metro Manila, I have explored places in search of stories. Every time I travel, I meet new people, blending with their culture and eventually becoming one of them. Learning about people’s traditions and embracing their culture is my biggest contribution in addressing racism and breaking the stigma. If I have learned anything, it is that no race or ethnicity is above any other.

Despite the various places I have been, Mindanao is the only place for me that feels like home. There is truly a fine line that separates this great island from the entire Philippine archipelago. Mindanao is filled with gems and treasures. It offers a rarity that is beyond the imperial. The part of the culture that I left home still echoes back to my heart. Mindanao is the haven of the brightest treasures in the country. What are its treasures? Its diverse people.

In my search for the greatest treasure, I have learned to defy the limits. I learned to set aside my selfish desires and individuality. These stories made me into someone who is well aware of his identity. As I embraced far-flung cultures even though they aren’t close to mine, I became complete.

My parents have taught me that the beauty of life only reveals itself the very moment you allow yourself to discover its greatest secrets. The instant you break free from the stigma is when you learn to find meaning in your life. You see that the world is truly full of hidden treasures.

Being different is not a liability. It’s a gift. We should celebrate our uniqueness. Our diversity. Our roots. Our race. The sun will shine one day with the peace I’m fervently praying for already in our hands. If there is one thing that I have learned throughout my journey, it is that the Philippines has a lot to offer. And I can’t wait to board another plane to my next destination.

Fear Takes a Back Seat

By Ma. Isabelle Alessandra M. Mirabueno
Essay

How far do the lives of Mindanaoan civilians lie outside of over-exaggerated social stereotypes? Growing up in General Santos City, I would travel beyond the city perimeters and witness how, in reality, this really depends on where people lie on the broad spectrum of economic status and security. In my case, there’s a fortunate scarcity of bullet shells and bomb explosions. Of course, the life of a resident in Mindanao isn’t complete without getting used to the rumors of bomb threats going around every few months and the red alerts here and there. How we are able to live with these so-called norms—a sad observation—speaks that we all have our own stories to tell, some more tragic or peculiar than others.

I still remember it, clear as day. It was a normal school day in the year 2015, the year when the move to formally approve and implement the draft of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was under heavy political debate. I recall the confusion and curiosity when all of the ongoing classes were put on hold and the entire junior high school population was abruptly called for an assembly in the covered court. My schoolmates and I figured that it would be some kind of drill or important school announcement, but then the introductions commenced and we found out that we were all called out for an orientation and seminar of sorts to be conducted by several representatives of a pro-BBL organization.

I was an eighth grader, but I was already aware of how controversial and sensitive the issue was at the time. Due to this, I was impressed by the school administrators’ open-mindedness when they agreed to hold the event, especially since we were in a typical “conservative Catholic institution.” The speakers were really competent in what they were doing since they managed to sway and gain the approval of the majority of the students inside the court. They managed to explain and explore in simple terms the details of the then-proposal in a way that did not, by some miracle, drive us restless teenagers to boredom. It was a rare sight; the high school students were intently listening, and many were actually participating by asking questions, driven by their curiosity.

Wala naman akong nakikita na masamang madadala o resulta ng batas na ito. Bakit hindi pa ito ipinapatupad?” (I don’t see any disadvantages that may result from this law, so why is the government hesitating to approve and implement it?) was the innocent query of a tenth grader to the speaker. The speakers obviously failed to touch the area of possible disadvantages that the law would bring. I hid a smile because I knew it just wasn’t that simple. It would never be that simple. The entire beginning process would be far from the utopia that the speakers painted inside our heads. The speaker responded in a lengthy and passionate lecture that supported the student’s inquiry. It was all noteworthy, and the teachers were nodding in approval; however, I was taken aback by one line that stuck with me, one that until now would still occasionally reverberate inside my mind.

Kung hindi maipapatupad ang batas na ito, gusto ni’yo ba na magkagulo na rin dito sa Gensan? Lalo na ang BIFF, hindi yan sila papayag. Barilan, mga patayan. Isipin ni’yo na itong malaking covered court ninyo, maaaring mapuno ito ng mga biktima na nawalan ng bahay at pamilya galing sa pag-atake ng BIFF” (If the law is not approved, do you want Gensan to become a war zone? Especially the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, they will not respond well to rejection. Gunfights, bloodshed. Imagine this spacious covered court of yours being turned into a makeshift evacuation center for victims who lost their homes and families from BIFF attacks) was what the speaker said with finality. I remember the shift of my relaxed attention toward the spokesman into one of surprise and disbelief. Was that an indirect threat? I remember asking myself. Honestly, I might have been overreacting, but it definitely felt like one.

We walked back to our classrooms after the seminar, and I kept wondering how the speakers were able to get away with literally using fear and imageries of inevitable doom in their speech to further convince the students—students who were all minors and easily influenced no less. Not that it was anything new; we were all used to the possibilities of terrorist attacks that could happen any minute upon the slightest fluctuation on the quality of security. I took a look around my classmates, and I could see that I was not the only one who felt uneasy because of that statement. Even if you try looking at it in different angles, it just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t right.

The infamous generations-long conflict in Mindanao all affected us one way or another, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones. As I sat down back in my seat, I was left reflecting how, as a child several years before, every news story was like some sort of morbid fairy tale that happened outside of the safe, sheltered bubble that I lived in. Reality hit me at some point of course, and it was when a member of my family faced a risk due to his commitment to his occupation.

My father is a specialized surgeon, one of the few in his field in Mindanao. This is why while growing up, I was used to my father going out for emergency operations at even the most ungodly hours. However, one case stood out. It happened on an otherwise normal evening. My father drove us home earlier in the night than usual after a family gathering and, after a series of phone calls, proceeded to prepare to leave. I didn’t bother to ask at first because I thought it was just one of his late-night scheduled operations. It was almost midnight when my phone buzzed with a notification that lit up the screen. It was from a new text message. I got up groggily and wondered who in the world would send me a text that late in the night. I opened the text and found out that it was sent by an aunt. A few moments later my sleepy disposition slowly faded when the words slowly sank in: Please pray for the safety of your father. He was sent for an emergency operation in Cotabato City. He is accompanied by several armored vehicles with armed military escorts to ensure his safe journey.

It turned out that my father left in a hurry because a teenage child of a co-doctor who was residing in Cotabato took a bullet to the head. The situation was a matter of life and death; every minute and second wasted could possibly tip the scale, and the only doctor who specialized in that field was more than a hundred kilometers away. It did not help that during those years, it certainly wasn’t the most ideal time to travel by land all the way to Cotabato. The local news was abuzz with another wave of discord that was washing over Mindanao. It all seemed as though it belonged to a tragically intense scene in the movies or one of those dramatic medical documentaries. Only this time, it was not as exciting or thrilling as it would have been on the big screen.

What can I say? I was eleven, and my hyperactive imagination mixed in with my fear was already making up a thousand different scenarios a mile a minute, each one wilder and more outrageous than the previous. All of the years’ worth of news flashes and stories of bloody massacres that frequently occurred north of my city, unfortunate victims who were robbed and brutally dismembered, the terrorist groups who mercilessly unleashed gunfire that rained on and pierced the air—they were all running through my memory. What if his convoy gets ambushed? It’s the dead of night, it wouldn’t be difficult for them to erase all their traces and take cover. What if his escorts fail to protect him and he gets kidnapped? What if he gets caught in a crossfire in the middle of the procedure? What if terrorists suddenly attack the city? What if fate chooses this as the perfect moment for a bomb to go off the minute he sets foot in Cotabato?

Looking back, it all sounds like the ramblings of a person going through a severe case of paranoia, but it was at that brief period that reality finally sank in. Each story and news article was real; they all happened, and thousands of casualties, regardless of race or religion, had to suffer in all those decades, and it was very possible that my father could have been one of them if the circumstances aligned. I tried to push all those thoughts away along with my unease just so I could get all the few hours of sleep I had left before dawn, hoping that I’d wake up and welcome my father tired from his journey but otherwise safe and sound.

Until now I’m still grateful that he did. He was obviously exhausted and sleep-deprived, but he arrived safely back home around just a little after dawn. I remember laughing, partly due to relief. My father is never one to let fear take over situations; he actually enjoyed the whole affair, as could be seen in how he was radiating with the gleeful energy of a schoolboy who had defied his curfew and gone gallivanting around the city with his friends. As if he wasn’t a middle-aged man late in his forties who had just conducted an intricate operation across the island that took long enough to rob him of the slightest wink of sleep, he recounted the whole experience with enough excitement that he was able to muster. He described it as an “adventure.” He told me that he felt like he was in some action movie. I guess being surrounded by military escorts in the middle of an armed convoy en route to dangerous territory as if you’re in the middle of some top secret mission may have been as thrilling as it sounds.

Needless to say, the teenager survived. My father’s exposure to risk to his life and safety proved to be worth it in the end. This experience was one of the first few nicks that formed the major cracks on my naive perspective of a peaceful reality. That experience paved way for other small actions fueled by my defiance to terrorism-induced fears, a mind-set that I picked up from other residents of Gensan. Yes, from the outsider’s perspective, it might sound like the perfect reckless—not to mention stupid—way to get yourself killed in an “untimely” explosion or assault, but it’s either we let fear control us or we take risks to do what needs to be done.

Recently, after the events of the Marawi siege, Gensan received information that members of the same group who led the assault had managed to infiltrate the city, and news of an impending attack being planned behind the scenes was spread around in the form of text messages and formal announcements. The red alert meant that security would be rigid and would stay rigid for weeks on end, the military would roam around the city in their armed jeeps, and the city would be under a lockdown of sorts. Our classes were once again put to a stop in the middle of the afternoon, and we were all urged by the head of discipline to call our fetchers and head home immediately—no detours. We should all stay in our houses until the threat subsided.

We were told during the emergency announcement that we students were especially at risk if we continued to stay inside the school grounds since we were part of the large population under the well-known Catholic institution. This was also the same week when my research group stubbornly ventured to conduct our experiment in the laboratories at the main campus of the university, a location with higher chances of getting attacked. I can still recall the words of the college student who assisted us when I told her how I noticed that a lot of the students were risking their safety because they chose to stay to do their work in the university. She simply scoffed and told me, “Bahala sila diyan eh kung mag-atake sila. Wa mi labot. Tingnan natin” (We don’t care if they attack us. Let’s see how they’ll fare). It was a perfect example of dauntlessness that was simultaneously admirable and absurd and could have only been formed in an environment similar to that of Mindanao.

I did not encounter any tragic or heart-wrenching experience brought by the unceasing conflicts that would leave any reader emotional, but like I said, we were all affected in matters big or small, and through it all, I saw that more generations will continue to be affected if ever things fail to change. Maybe the stereotypes of an island plagued with violence and bloodshed aren’t completely exaggerated, or maybe they are for those who are privileged enough. I’m young, and I still lack adequate experience; I may talk brazenly in the face of danger, but eventually, I’ll realize that there are some things that are not worth risking my life for. This is my story, merely a novelette out of the countless who already have full-length volumes in their memories. However, after recounting my experiences, I realize that despite all the diversity, there is one thing you’d find common in most of us—fear does not and will not run our lives.

Ang Pagkatuyo ng Lupa at Puso

Ni Mubarak Tahir
Maikling Kuwento

Unti-unti kong pinagmasdan ang sakahan. Nalungkot ako sa aking nakita. Sa kabila no’n ay nagpatuloy ako sa pagtalunton ng pilapil ng sakahan ni A’mâ habang hila-hila ko ang tali ng aming kalabaw na si Masbod. Nang mapadaan ako sa isang batis, napansin kong unti-unti nang nabibiyak ang tuyong putik nito. Ang mga damo, kangkong, at iba pang pananim ay unti-unti na ring nalalanta. Napailing ako at napabuntonghininga. Nagpatuloy ako sa paglalakad hanggang narating ko ang isang malaking puno na unti-unti na ring nalalagas ang mga dahon. Sa lilim ng puno ay iniwan ko si Masbod na paikot-ikot na naghahanap ng mga damong makakain niya. Bahagya kong niluwangan at hinabaan ang tali niya nang marating niya ang ilang damo na papalanta na rin.

Iniwan ko si Masbod at tinungo ko ang sakahan ni A’mâ. Ang dating malaginto at luntiang palayan ay napalitan ng tuyong lupain. Wala na rin ang mga lawin sa sakahan upang manghuli ng mga dagambukid. Ang mga susô sa gilid ng pilapil ay pawang bahay na lamang ang makikita. Nang marating ko ang bakanteng sakahan, pinagmasdan ko ito. Napaupo ako sa tuyong pilapil. Napatingala ako at napaluha na lamang. Bumigat ang aking pakiramdam na hindi ko maipaliwanag. Naalala ko si A’ma.

* * *

Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar!

Isang malakas na boses ang gumising sa akin. Tinig iyon ni A’ma na hudyat para magsambayang sa umaga. Inaantok at mabigat man ang buong katawan, pinilit kong bumangon, kung hindi ay isang tábô ng malamig na tubig ang tatanggapin ko mula kay A’ma. Umupo muna ako.

Alhamdulillahi ahyana ba’da ma amatana wa ilayhin nushur, bulong ko sa sarili, isang pasasalamat sa Allah para sa panibagong umaga.

Dahan-dahan kong itinali sa beywang ko ang inaul na malong upang hindi mabasa sa pag-aabdas. Gamit ang lumang bao ng niyog, sinalok ko ang tubig na mula sa lumang banga. Nang ilublob ko ang kanang kamay ko sa bao ay naramdaman ko ang lamig ng tubig. Bigla akong nahimasmasan sa pagkakaantok. Pagkatapos kong hugasan ang dalawa kong kamay ay kumuha ako ulit ng tubig. Nilanghap ko ang amoy ng tubig. Amoy malinis at preskong tubig ng balon. Nagmumog ako nang tatlong beses. Panghuli kong hinugasan ang dalawa kong paa. Nang makabalik ako sa kama kong gawa sa kawayan ay agad kong hinanap ang sajadah upang magsambayang ng sub’h.

Mababanaag na ang sikat ng araw. Dumungaw ako sa bintana, at bumungad sa akin ang silahis ng araw. Napatingala ako habang nakapikit. Marahang huminga. Pumasok sa ilong ko patungong lalamunan ang malamig na simoy ng hangin kasama ng mabangong simoy ng gintong palay na nagmumula sa sakahan.

Wata mama, ikëta ka i kabaw a, paalala ni A’ma na noo’y naglilinis ng kaniyang mga kagamitan sa pagsasaka gaya ng araro.

Uway, sagot ko.

Pumanaog ako, at pagbaba ko ay napuno ng amoy ng sibuyas at bawang na ginigisa sa lanâ a tidtô ang buong bahay. Hinanap ko si I’nâ. Abala siya sa pagsi-sinakô ng malamig na kanin.

I’nâ, masu masarap ang niluluto mo, paglalambing ko.

Napangiti si I’nâ.

Pamagayas ka den san, Wata. Sundin mo na ang utos ni A’mâ mo, ani I’nâ. Makadtanay, pag-uwi mo handa na ang tilagaran natin, dugtong pa niya.

Nagmadali akong lumabas upang dalhin sa bakanteng sakahan si Masbod upang makapanginain ito sa mayayabong na damo. Sumakay ako kay Masbod na hawak-hawak ang kaniyang tali.

Hing! Hing! Pamagayas ka, sabi ko habang ikinikiskis ko ang mga paa sa tagiliran ni Masbod upang magmadali ito. Dali na, Masbod! Uuwi pa ako para mag-almusal.

Gustuhin ko mang latiguhin si Masbod dahil sa inis sa kaniya, mas pinili kong pabayaan ito habang sumasabsab ito ng masasaganang damo sa gilid ng daan.

Nang maitali ko na ang tali ni Masbod sa isang puno, kumaripas ako ng takbo pauwi. Ilang metro na lamang ay mararating ko na ang aming bahay. Mas lalo akong nagmadali nang maamoy ko ang pinipritong tamban ni I’nâ. Halos matisod ako sa pilapil.

N’ya ako den! nakangisi kong bungad kina I’nâ at A’mâ.

Hindi pa man ako nakakaupo ay bigla akong sinita ni A’mâ. Nginan, Wata? Hindi ka ba marunong magsalam kapag papasok sa walay?

Napalunok na lamang ako at tinabihan si A’mâ. A’mâ, gusto mo gawan kita ng kape a netib? paglalambing ko sa kaniya.

Napansin kong nakatingin sa akin si I’nâ at nakangiti. Alam na alam niya kung papaano ko hulihin ang kiliti ni A’mâ.

Uway, ’wag masyadong matamis a, sagot ni A’mâ. Mas masarap pa rin ang kape a netib na medyo mapait.

Sa isang tasa na yari sa lata ay ibinuhos ko ang mainit na tubig na nasa takure na nasa abuhan. Sa isang lumang garapon, kumuha ako ng isang kutsara ng netib na kape. Nilagyan ko rin ng kalahating kutsara ng pulang asukal at saka hinalo. Binalot ng bango ng kape ang buong banggerahan. Ganito ang tamang pagtitimpla ng kape ni A’mâ. Mangiti-ngiti kong inihatid at inilagay sa kaniyang harap ang umuusok na kape. Nakita kong ngumiti siya nang masamyo ang bango ng kape. Sa wakas, napasaya ko siya sa pinakasimpleng paraan.

Nang matapos mag-almusal, kinuha ni A’mâ ang kaniyang lumang salakot na nakasabit sa dingding ng bahay. Naghanda siya upang tingnan ang kaniyang sakahan. Nalalapit na rin ang anihan.

Wata, ihanda mo ang kubong at ’yong inihanda ni I’nâ mo na nilëpët na babaon natin, utos ni A’mâ habang nirorolyo niya ang kaniyang tabako.

Mabilis kong hinanap ang kubòng. Inilagay ko na rin sa lumang supot ang nilëpët na gawa ni I’nâ.

Dinaanan namin ni A’mâ si Masbod na nagtatampisaw sa batis. Sumakay kaming dalawa kay Masbod patungong sakahan.

Wata, kapët ka, sabi ni A’mâ nang may pag-aalala.

Mahigpit akong kumapit sa beywang ni A’mâ. Nakaramdam ako ng kapanatagan at kaligtasan. Napangiti ako. Minsan pa’y inilapat ko ang aking mukha sa likod niya. Naamoy ko ang katandaan niya. Hindi amoy ng pawis kundi amoy ng sakripisyo at pagsisikap. Pagsasaka na ang kinamulatang trabaho ni A’mâ. Ito rin ang ikinabubuhay namin. Parang gulong ang pagsasaka—minsan masagana at kung minsan naman ay hindi sinisuwerte. Gayon pa man, nagpapatuloy si A’mâ. Hindi siya nagpadaig sa hamon ng buhay ng magsasaka gaya ng mga sakuna dulot ng bagyo. Kaya ganoon na lamang ang hanga ko sa kaniya.

Narating namin ang sakahan. Nadatnan din namin si Bapa Dima na nagbubungkal ng pilapil upang dumaloy ang tubig patungo sa kabilang palayan na dahan-dahan nang nawawalan ng tubig.

Kanakan den pala ang wata mo Kagi Tasil, ani ni Bapa Dima kay A’mâ.

Benal ba nagbibinata na, kaya sinasanay ko na sa mga gawain dito sa sakahan. Mabilis ang panahon ngayon. Di natin alam kung kailan natin iiwan ’tong sinasaka natin, paliwanag ni A’mâ habang nakatanaw sa kaniyang malawak na sakahan.

Nang marinig ko ang mga sinabi niya ay nakaramdam ako ng pagkalungkot sa mga oras na iyon. Hindi ko maipaliwanag, ngunit biglang sumikip ang dibdib ko. Gusto kong hawakan nang mahigpit ang mga kamay ni A’mâ.

Damangiyas ka mambu, Kagi. Huwag ka nga magbiro ng ganiyan. Syempre matagal pa ’yon, sa lakas mong ’yan, nakangiting sabi ni Bapa Dima.

Sa mga sinabi ni Bapa Dima ay nagkaroon ako ng lakas ng loob kahit papaano. Sa kabila noon ay hindi ko maiwasang hindi itago sa isipan ko ang mga binitawang salita ni A’mâ.

Iniwan namin si Bapa Dima sa kaniyang gawain. Pinuntahan at inikot namin ni A’mâ ang kaniyang sinasakang palayan. Tila inilatag na ginto ang mga butil ng palay. Ilang araw na lamang marahil ay aanihin na ito. Hinahawakan at pinagmamasdan ni A’mâ ang mga butil na aming nadaraanan. Napapangiti siya dahil masagana ang kaniyang sinasaka, hindi tulad noong nagdaang taon na hindi umabot sa tatlong sako ng palay ang kaniyang naaani dahil sa matinding insekto na sumalanta sa palayan.

Nagulat ako nang bigla akong akbayan ni A’mâ. Wata, tadëmi ka. Kahit anong yaman mo sa mundo, kung hindi ka kusang magsisikap ay mawawalan ito ng saysay. Kaya ikaw, habang bata ka pa, magsimula ka nang abutin ang mga pangarap mo. Pahalagahan mo ang bawat oras dahil ang bawat segundo, kapag dumaan, hindi mo na ito maibabalik pa, malumanay na sabi ni A’mâ habang nakatanaw sa malayo. Maliban sa pagsasaka, gusto kong makapagtapos ka ng pag-aaral mo. Mas magiging masaya kami ni I’nâ mo kung may makikita kaming nakasabit na diploma at hindi lamang mga salakot sa dingding ng bahay natin, dugtong pa niya habang nakatingin sa akin nang nakangiti.

Hindi ko alam kung papaano ko sasagutin si A’mâ. Nawalan ng lakas ang aking dila upang sabihin kung ano ang nararamdaman ko habang binibitawan niya ang mga salitang ’yon. Napakabigat. Napaiwas ako ng tingin. Huminga nang malalim at pilit na itinago sa kaniya ang pagpatak ng aking mga luha. Ayaw kong makita niya kung gaano ako kahina. Gusto kong malaman niya na nagiging matatag at malakas lamang ako kapag nandiyan siya. Inalis niya ang pagkakalapat ng kaniyang kamay sa aking balikat. Agad ko itong sinalo at mahigpit na hinawakan. Ayaw kong bumitaw sa mga kamay niya. Ilang saglit pa ay bumitaw siya sa aking mga kamay at humakbang. Hindi ko alam, ngunit nakaramdam ako ng pangungulila sa kaniya habang pinagmamasdan siyang humahakbang palayo sa akin.

* * *

Pauwi na ako. Katatapos lamang ng aking klase. Bago pa man tuluyang magdapit-hapon ay sinisikap kong makadaan sa sakahan upang tingnan ang kalagayan ng palayan ni A’mâ. Maayos naman ang palayan, kaya agad din akong umalis. Sakay ng biniling bisikleta ni A’ma, mabilis akong pumadyak lalo’t natatanaw ko na ang aming bahay, na tanging liwanag lamang ng lampara ang bumubuhay.

Habang nasa harap ako ng hagdan, bigla akong napatingala. Nakarinig ako ng mahihinang pag-iyak. Napansin ko rin ang iilang tsinelas na nasa kinatatayuan ko. Umakyat ako. Bumungad sa akin ang isang puting tela na dahan-dahang ginugupit nina Babo Taya at Babo Samira. Nakaramdam ako ng kabang hindi maipaliwanag. Sa isang silid ay nakita ko sina Bapa Dima at ilan pang tao. Hindi malinaw sa akin kung bakit wala silang imik at nakatalikod silang lahat.

Assalamu alaykom! Babo, ano’ng nangyari? tanong ko.

Napalingon sina Babo Taya, at nagkatitigan sila ng kaniyang kasama. Hindi sila makakibo. Tanging malungkot na mga titig ang kanilang tugon sa akin. Pumasok ako sa silid. Nakita ko sa isang sulok si I’nâ, humahagulgol nang patago. Agad ko siyang nilapitan at hinawakan ang magkabilang balikat. Naramdaman ko ang bigat. I’nâ? Nginan? Ano’ng nangyari?

Isang mahigpit na yakap ang itinugon ni I’nâ sa akin habang humagulgol siya. Hindi ko maintindihan ang lahat ng nangyayari. Naguluhan ako.

Minunot dën sa limo no Allah si A’mâ nëngka, mahinang sabi ni I’nâ. Kaninang tanghali, pagkatapos niyang magsambayang ng dhuh’r, bigla siyang inatake ng hayblad habang nananabako, dagdag ni I’nâ na hirap na rin sa paghinga.

Hindi ako nakapagsalita. Nanghina ako sa narinig ko. Agad kong pinuntahan ang nahihimlay na bangkay ni A’mâ. Pinagmasdan ko ang kaniyang mukha. Ngayon ko lang nakita ang maaliwalas at masaya niyang mukha. Napahagulgol na lamang ako habang yakap-yakap siya. Gusto kong sumigaw upang mailabas ang sakit na nararamdaman ko, ngunit hindi ko magawa dahil isa itong kasalanan sa Allah, kaya nauunawaan ko kung bakit walang imik ang lahat sa loob ng bahay.

Nang mapaliguan si A’mâ, muli ko siyang hinagkan at niyakap sa huling pagkakataon. Nang balutin na siya ng puting tela ay wala akong nagawa kundi maupo sa tarangkahan at di namamalayan ang pagdaloy ng aking mga luha. Dumating na ang araw na kinatatakutan ko. Ganitong-ganito ang naramdaman ko nang bitawan ni A’mâ ang aking kamay habang humahakbang siya papalayo sa akin sa sakahan. Wala na si A’mâ na nagpapalakas sa akin.

* * *

Ilang araw na lamang ay anihan na sa aming lugar. Halos lahat ay naghahanda na ng kani-kanilang kagamitan sa pag-aani. Si Bapa Dima ay nagpakanduli pa para sa masaganang ani bilang pasasalamat isang araw bago ang anihan. Hindi namin magawa ni I’nâ na magsaya sa mga panahong yaon lalo’t hindi pa umaabot ang ikaapatnapu’t araw ng pagkamatay ni A’mâ. Ngunit sinikap ko pa rin paghandaan ang pagdating ng araw ng anihan.

Madilim pa man ay nakarinig na ako ng pagragasa ng mga karosa at yapak ng mga kalabaw. Maagang pumunta sa kani-kanilang sakahan ang mga magsasaka. Kaya bumangon na lang din ako upang makapagsambayang at makapaghanda. Nang papunta ako sa banggerahan upang mag-abdas, nakita ko si I’nâ na naghahanda ng tilagaran. Hindi na siya kasinsigla noong nabubuhay pa si A’mâ. Mula nang mawala si A’mâ ay wala nang lamang kape na netib ang garapon namin. Hindi na rin siya naghahanda ng linëpët. Maraming nagbago nang maiwan kami.

Kinuha ko ang salakot na dating si A’mâ ang gumagamit. Isinakay ko na rin kay Masbod ang kagamitan sa pag-aani. Nang paalis na ako sa bahay, napansin kong may paparating sa may di kalayuan. Tumatakbo. Nang malapit na ay bumungad si Bapa Dima sa akin na hinihingal. Kamar! Kamar! Nasayang lahat, sabi nito na halos mapaluhod.

Bapa? Ano’ng ibig ni’yong sabihin? tanong ko sa kaniya.

Inatake ng mga insekto ang palayan natin! Halos wala nang natira para anihin, sagot niya.

Mabilis kong nilatigo ng tali si Masbod, at kumaripas ito ng takbo. Hindi ako makapaniwala sa ibinalita sa akin ni Bapa Dima. Habang mabilis na tumatakbo si Masbod ay naisip ko si A’mâ.

Di mapakay! Hindi maaaring masira lamang ang huling pananim ni A’mâ, bulong ko sa sarili.

Narating ko ang palayan. Nababalot ng pagkadismaya at lungkot ang kapaligiran ng mga magsasaka. Amoy na amoy ko rin ang mga insektong nanalasa sa palayan. Pinuntahan ko ang palayan ni A’mâ. Ang mga gintong butil ng palay ay nabalot ng maiitim na insekto. Naninilaw na rin ang mga berdeng dahon ng mga palay. Napaluhod na lamang ako sa aking nakita.

Ampon, A’mâ ko! Hindi ko naisalba ang inyong palayan, tanging nasabi ko habang pinagmasdan ang buong palayan.

Bago pa man magtanghali ay nagsiuwiang dismayado ang halos lahat ng magsasaka maliban kay Bapa Dima na nakatulalang nakaharap sa kaniyang palayan na maluha-luha. Bumaba ako sa pagkakasakay kay Masbod.

Matagal-tagal na naman bago tayo makakabangon nito, malungkot niyang sabi. Hindi na ’to bago sa amin. Sabi nga ni Kagi Tasil, pagsubok lamang ito sa ating mga magsasaka. Ang susuko sa hamon ay laging talo. Ang kaibahan lamang ngayon ay wala na akong karamay sa mga ganitong panahon.

Nilapitan ko si Bapa Dima. Hinawakan ko ang kaniyang balikat.

Bapa, simula ngayon ako na ang makakaramay ninyo dito sa sakahan. Ipagpapatuloy ko ang nasimulan ni A’ma habang nag-aaral, malakas na loob kong sabi kay Bapa Dima.

* * *

Bumalik lamang ang ulirat ko nang makaramdam ako ng pagpatak ng tubig sa tuyo kong balat. Napatingala ako. Isa-isang pumapatak ang ulan.

Masbod! Masbod! Bagulan! Bagulan, Masbod! masaya kong sigaw habang tumatakbo patungo kay Masbod.

Labis-labis ang saya ko sa araw na iyon. Matagal na rin naming hinihintay ang pagbagsak ng malakas na ulan sa aming sakahan. Ang mga tuyong lupain at pananim ay muling makakatikim ng tubig. Magkakaroon na rin kaming mga magsasaka ng bagong pagkakataon upang magsimulang magtanim. Ang naghihingalong mga sakahan ay muling mabubuhay, tulad ng mga puso naming tuyo na dahan-dahang mababasa ng paghilom.

Lanahan

Ni Alvin Larida

(Ang una nga bersyon sang sugilanon nga ini nangin finalist sa isa ka short story contest nga ginhiwat sang writers’ organization sa South Cotabato sang 2019 T’nalak Festival.)

Gapalamalhas nga nagatiyabaw si Emilda bitbit ang duha ka bulan nga lapsag samtang ginalagas siya sang wasay sang iya bana, nga nagabaga ang mata sa kaakig. “Malooy ka, Lando,” hambal ni Emilda. “Indi pag-umida ang aton anak!”

Sang maabot siya sang iya bana, hinali siya sini gingan-it kag ginhan-usan sang wasay ang iya tuo nga kamot. Nagsulumpit ang dugo. Nagligid ang bata kag napaligoan sang dugo sang iya iloy. Nakahapa si Emilda sa kangotngot nga iya naagum. Diri nakatiempo si Lando sang han-us sang wasay sa likod sang asawa sini.

Wala na gid nakapalagyo si Emilda. Wala nag-untat sa pagbunal si Lando sa likod kag ulo sang asawa. Nagasagol ang dugo kag balhas ni Lando sa tion nga ibakol niya ang wasay sa mabaskog kag nagalagamak nga tul-an. Naumpawan lang siya sang maghibi ang lapsag. Sa kahadlok, nagdalagan siya palayo sa gintaboan sang krimen.

Sa indi madugay, nanawag si Pasing, iloy ni Lando, sa diutay nga puloy-an sang pamilya. Nagtalamos sang laway kag luha ang mal-am sang makita niya nga nagapaligo sa dugo kag may dalagko nga pilas ang iya umagad. “Emilda, sin-o ang nagbuhat sini sa imo?” matagsing nga tiyabaw sang mal-am, kag nagsungaw ang pagpanangis sa iya baba.

Ginkuha ni Pasing ang lapsag nga nagahibi kag nagalutik sa dugo sang iya iloy. May nabatian siya nga nagakumod sa puno sang paho sa bangi sang dalapugan. “Ano ayhan ato?” Nagsulod siya sa banggirahan kag nagsid-ing sa siklat sang dalapugan. Nakasiyagit siya sa iya nakita. “Lando!”

Nagakudog kag nagapaligo sa dugo si Lando samtang may bitbit nga wasay. “Nay, malooy ka,” hambal sini kay Pasing. “Indi ko hungod nga patyon ang akon asawa. Palangga ko si Emilda, Nay!”

Nagpalapit si Lando sa iloy. “Nay, batona ini.” Gindaho sini ang lanahan nga may nakapiod nga libreta. “Patya na lang ko, Nay. Indi na ko kasarang.”

Nagdalagan palayo si Pasing sang tuman ka paspas samtang bitbit ang lapsag. “Tabang! Tabang! Tabang!”

Nagkurog liwat si Lando kag nagbaga ang mata. Ginsunod niya si Pasing. Nagdalagan siya kag ginpungkoy ini sang wasay. Naigo sang pakol sang wasay ang likod sang mal-am, kag nadasma ini, parehas sang natabo kay Emilda kagaina, pero wala sini nabuy-an o naipit ang lapsag.

Ginpulot ni Lando ang wasay kag ginhan-us ini sa iloy, apan bag-o ini magtupa, naunahan ini sang sunod-sunod nga lupok sang pusil. Natumba si Lando.

“Ne Pasing, dalagan na!” singgit ni Mandoy, manghod ni Pasing.

Nagbangon si Pasing nga ginasipit gihapon ang lapsag kag nagdalagan nga wala balibalikid. Nanago siya sa idalom sang punoan sang saging. Nagwawaw ang lapsag, kag nakabati liwat si Pasing sang duwa ka lupok.

Sa ginahigdaan ni Lando, nagtulo ang luha sini kag naghambal, “Human na ang lanahan.”

Ginhunos ni Pasing ang lampin sang bata para ikudong sa iya ulo. Nakibot siya sang makapkapan niya ang lanahan kag libreta nga ginduhol sa iya ni Lando. “Ginoo ko, ano ining gindaho sa akon ni Lando?” Nagakudog nga naglakat siya pakadto sa iya puluy-an.

Pagligad sang pipila ka minutos, nagpalapit si Mandoy sa balay ni Pasing, bitbit ang wasay nga gingamit ni Lando. “Ne Pasing, si Mandoy ini,” tugda ni Mandoy nga nagahapohapo. “Palihog abrihi ang puertahan!” Gin-abrihan man dayon sang mal-am ang puertahan, kag namangkot ini kung kumusta na ang kahimtangan ni Lando kag ni Emilda. “Wala na sila, Ne!” nagamihamiha nga tugda ni Lando.

Nagtiyabaw si Pasing. Daw indi siya makakuha sang hangin sa iya pagwawaw. “Mandoy, buligi ako. Ngaa may lanahan kag libreta si Lando nga gindaho sa akon? Diin ini ginkuha sang imo hinablos?”

Diri nagluhod na si Mandoy sa atubang sang iya magulang. “Patawara ako, Ne. Ako ang nagkumbinsi kay Lando nga magtuon sang nasambit nga lanahan. Wala ako kabalo nga mali gali ang paggamit niya sa sagrado nga palangadion.”

“Kasan-o ini natabo? Ngaa?”

“Sang nagligad semana, nagpalapit si Lando sa akon. Luyag niya daw mahibaloan ang sekreto nga ginatago ni Emilda sa iya.”

“Ha? Sekreto? Galibog ang ulo ko, Mandoy.”

“Namuno sa akon ni Lando, Ne, nga pirmi kuno gab-i mag-uli si Emilda, kag may ginalikom ini sa iya. Gani, gintagaan ko siya sang lanahan—atong akon bulong sang una.”

“Ginoo ko, kabuot sang akon nga agot. Wala man gani ini kamuno sang problema niya sa akon. Ngaa gintago niya ang kasubo kag problema?”

Diri ginpalapitan ni Mandoy ang nagatangso nga magulang. Gin-uloulohan niya ini kag ginpainom sang tubig.

Sang maramasmasan, ginhambal ni Pasing, “Kinahanglan naton mahimos si Lando kag si Emilda, Mandoy.”

“Oo, Ne. Mahalin ako dayon para magtawag sang salakyan para madala sila sa morge.”

Nagtangdo na lamang si Pasing sa tuman ka kasubo. Naglakat dayon sang madasig si Mandoy.

Bitbit ang lapsag, ginbalikan ni Pasing ang patay nga lawas sang iya anak kag umagad. Ginbutang niya sa duyan ang lapsag. Ginpuno niya dayon sang tubig ang isa ka palanggana kag ginsawsaw diri ang isa ka tuwalya. Una niya ginpalapitan si Lando. Gintrapohan niya ang mga dugo nga nagmala na sa guya kag lawas sini.

Ginplastar niya si Lando malapit sa patay nga lawas ni Emilda. Ginlimpyohan niya man si Emilda. Gintrapohan niya ang ulo kag likod sini nga may nakaliswi pa nga mga tul-an. Padayon gihapon sa pagtulo ang iya luha. Naurongan siya sang makita niya nga sul-ob ni Emilda ang tsinelas ni Mandoy.

Natingala siya kung paano nakaabot ang bitas nga tsinelas sang iya manghod sa tiil sang iya umagad. Nasugpon niya sa iya hunahuna ang mga panghitabo. Nagsiyagit siya sang tuman kabaskog. “Mga sapat kamo!” Nagdungan sa iya tingog ang urangol sang mga ido.