The maiden issue of this online literary journal will be live on September 2, 2016. On the same date, the people behind this journal, along with other local writers, are going to conduct a poetry reading in Koronadal City, South Cotabato Province. There is nothing special about the date. It just happens to fall on a Friday and a couple of days after a payday—a good day to entice students of legal age, young professionals, and everyone close to that demographic to while away the evening in a bar, where the poetry reading will be.
The poetry reading in Koronadal is already the second of its kind. We have conducted the first one last month, on July 29, in General Santos City. As with September 2, there was nothing special with July 29 save for its being a Friday. But it served its purpose. The event was well received. The small bar that we had secured teemed with attendees, and the open mike portion ran longer than we had anticipated. For the event in Koronadal, we expect the same and even greater turnout, and we are excited to take the event in the coming months to the other cities of Cotabato Region, namely, Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat Province, Kidapawan City in Cotabato Province, and Cotabato City.
I have to mention the poetry readings and give details about them because they are intertwined with this online publication. Cotabato Literary Journal is not coming to life on its own. It is but a part of a literary wave that is currently surging across the region. As we are soliciting submissions for the first issues of the journal, we discuss in Facebook chat groups the logistics of the poetry readings. As we identify readers and performers for the poetry readings, we scout for aspiring and established writers who can be members and advisers of the local literary circles that we are forming. The ultimate goal is to gather all of the region’s poets, playwrights, essayists, and fictionists in one writers’ guild. An ambitious goal it is, and most of us who are spearheading the initiative are relatively young, mostly in their twenties, but we are making headway so far. Our enthusiasm and camaraderie more than make up for our inexperience.
I can’t remember when exactly Karlo Antonio Galay David and I thought of putting up a literary journal for Cotabato Region. Perhaps it was two years ago, when we were both graduate teaching fellows at Silliman University in Negros Oriental Province, lamenting the fact that our home region remained to have no literary scene to speak of despite the abundance of individual talents. So a few months ago, when we both found ourselves back in our hometowns—he in the booming city of Kidapawan and I in the laid-back mountains of Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat—we decided to put the idea into action. From the very start, we wanted the journal to be regionwide because we knew that a wide pool of contributors is necessary to sustain it. Even with the people at the helm, we wanted inclusivity and balanced geographical representation, so we looked southward for another young writer who could be an editor. When we heard of the poet Saquina Karla Guiam of General Santos City, we asked her to join us, and she accepted the invitation.
It so happened that around the same time, Guiam was also in the process of forming a group for writers in General Santos, together with a few other alumni of Mindanao State University. They invited me to one of their meetings, and I opened the idea to them of making the group regionwide as well. They didn’t need to be convinced. We could all see that if the group were to be exclusive for the writers in General Santos, the city would become the de facto literary capital of Cotabato Region, and this could have undesirable consequences. When a certain place is designated or acts as a center, the periphery is often neglected and alienated. We have seen this happen in many regions, where literary activities are hogged by the biggest city, and we have seen this happen in the Philippines as a whole, with Manila demanding like a brat to be the center of literature and of everything else.
If local writers do not tread the path carefully, Cotabato Region—also known as Region 12, SOCCSKSARGEN, and South Central Mindanao—might wind up with a self-assigned literary center and an alienated periphery. But worse than that, the region can wind up with several small, underperforming centers that advance their individual ends instead of working together, because all the cities in the region is capable of asserting itself as a center. General Santos in the south has been the biggest economy for the past decades. Koronadal, less than an hour away, is currently the official regional center and growing at an impressive rate. Tacurong is in the geographical center and thus serves as an important link between the other cities of the region and to the nearby regions. Kidapawan in the east has been growing steadily in all aspects and is also a major gateway to the other regions. And of course, Cotabato City in the north remains to be a force to reckon with, being the center of the region for most of the previous century and being the current seat of government of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao.
Given the dynamics of the localities in the region, and the scant financial support literature gets from the government, writers here must strive to create a literary community that is truly regional and centerless, or if circumstances call for a center to be chosen, it should be done with the knowledge and consent of all the areas. Furthermore, we must ensure unity within certain provinces. In Sultan Kudarat, Tacurong City lies right beside Isulan, the provincial capital; creating separate literary communities for the component city and for the rest of the province will be crippling to either area. In Cotabato Province, Kidapawan City must maintain an egalitarian relationship with Kabacan and Midsayap. Kidapawan is the provincial capital but lies a little too far in the east. Kabacan is the geographical convergent point and arguably the intellectual capital, being home to the University of Southern Mindanao. Midsayap in the west is an old settlement and currently an economic power on its own. In a way, Cotabato Province is a smaller version of Cotabato Region, and the same prudent approach must be used on the two. Perhaps in the future, we can let the localities in different levels engage in a healthy competition. For now, however, while we are still in the process of organizing ourselves, while we are still forging our identity as Cotabato writers, we have to direct our resources and efforts first towards building a literary super region.
With the goal in place, the next challenge is gathering the writers of the region in one table. It cannot be done of course with a simple mass email or a shareable post on Facebook. Sending an online invitation is one thing and making a writer actually attend a meeting is another. Cotabato Region is a large area—larger than Brunei and Singapore combined—and traveling from one provincial capital to another takes from a little less than an hour to more than four hours. The viable alternative, therefore, is to form smaller groups first—one for General Santos, a highly urbanized city; one for Cotabato City, an independent component city; and one each for the provinces of Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato. This is where the poetry readings come in. We are using the series of events as a means not only to bring literature closer to the people but also to bring writers together. So far, the core groups for General Santos and South Cotabato have been formed, and while the core groups for the other areas are still being formed, Cotabato Literary Journal, along with a Facebook group for “all those in the region who like to read and write,” is serving as a unifier, an equalizer, and a reminder of what we should all try to accomplish.
Fortunately, for the editors of this journal, gathering the pieces to be published here is a much simpler task. The works in this issue, as well as in the next few issues, are all solicited. In selecting the people to contact, we only had one thing in mind: the best. The mission of this journal is twofold: to be a repository of the best works that Cotabato writers have produced and to be a venue for their best new works. We have samples of both in this issue.
Rita Gadi of Kidapawan, perhaps the first Cotabato writer to be known out there, so to speak, allowed us to reprint her poem that gave her, her second Palanca Award, in 1977. Generoso Opulencia of Koronadal won in the Home Life magazine poetry contest in 1999 and 2000 for his English poems, but we opted instead to ask for Kinaray-a poems from him because we want the works in this journal to be linguistically diverse. M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac of General Santos, known for his award-winning books for children, gave us three Filipino poems, one of which received a prize from the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino in 2015. The essay and the play that we are honored to have are Palanca winners as well. Noel Pingoy of Koronadal won in 2002, and Karlo Antonio Galay David of Kidapawan won in 2014. More details about the prizes can be found in the editors’ note prefacing each work.
Gilbert Tan of General Santos City allowed us to reprint his story that won in a contest of Mr. & Ms. magazine in 1988. Nal Andrea Jalando-on of Koronadal gave us a Hiligaynon story that received a prize at the Iligan National Writers Workshop just this year. Karlo Antonio Galay David submitted a story that defies conventions, or at least in the language used. The story is written in a kind of Filipino that is spoken in many parts of Mindanao but purists are frowning upon. We are publishing it to signify our commitment to give space to the daring and the inventive, and perhaps even to the popular, even as we keep in their rightful place in local literary history the traditional and the critically regarded.
Saquina Karla Guiam and I are delighted that the response to the creation of this journal has been positive, enthusiastic even. We have many people to thank. First, of course, are the contributors. Gadi, Opulencia, Pingoy, and Tan are veteran writers, so we are overwhelmed with their generosity to entrust their works to novice editors like us. Tumamac and Jalando-on are our peers, and we are likewise grateful for their trust and respect. David played an important role in the creation of this journal, as mentioned earlier. We thank him for helping us connect with Gadi and Pingoy and for sharing in this issue two of his works. We regret that he cannot work closely with us right now because of his commitments in Myanmar, where he moved recently to work for a volunteer program. For giving this journal a home in the World Wide Web, we have Blaise Francisco of General Santos and someone from Tacurong to thank. Francisco, now based somewhere in Europe, procured for us the domain name and the hosting for the website. The volunteer who prefers not to be named, now based in Makati, set up the website for us. Both of them are writers as well and believe in the potentials of Cotabato literature. We are counting on them and people like them to be with us as Cotabato Literary Journal fulfills its current mission and possibly takes on greater responsibilities in the future.
In the poetry reading on September 2, most members of the audience will be hearing about local literature for the first time. They are probably expecting the program to be composed entirely of hugot—a type of spoken word poetry popularized by Philippine television and social media, characterized by heavy-breathing delivery and rambling rhymes about unrequited love and failed relationships. Sadly, many of the prospective attendees believe that hugot is the best that literature can offer. We have so much more in store for them, of course. We will present different types of poetry and different genres of literature, and in different languages, to boot. Some of the local writers themselves will even be there to read samples from their oeuvres. Many in the crowd will be surprised to find out that there have long been writers in their midst—living in the same town, walking in the same streets, working in local schools and offices—and these writers are as good as the ones that are read in textbooks. We know because we have seen this reaction in the July 29 event in General Santos.
There is nothing special with July 29, 2016, and September 2, 2016, except for the fact that they fall on a Friday and close to a payday. These dates for now have no significance in local history, but they will have. In the future, people in the region will look back on these dates and mark them for what they will have ushered—a writers’ group that is truly regional, truly inclusive, perhaps the first of its kind in the country.
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat