At some point in your childhood (and perhaps even now), you pilfered some coins from your father’s pocket or your mother’s purse. More often than not your parents would notice that they’d lost some coins, and there would be an interrogation. Unless you had a sibling, or an akyat-bahay gang had just ransacked your house (but why would they undergo such trouble just for some goddamn coins?), you were the only suspect. “You did it,” your parents said, “didn’t you?” Of course you would deny it, fearing that they would punish you, despite the fact that―and this was often the case―they’d just caught you in the act.
The point of the situation above, even if it might seem to be a stretch, is that it takes courage to be honest. And let me go a little bit further: courage underlies all other virtues.
Love, for instance. It takes courage to admit that you love someone, and it requires a greater amount of courage to face either the challenge of keeping the love going once your loved one has accepted you or the inevitable heartbreak once your loved one has rejected you. Respect, on the other hand, also requires courage, and you can only say, “True, true, relate much,” when you have the shittiest boss ever and you still have to show him or her some respect. (While it may be true that giving your shitty boss some straight punch in the mouth when he or she is nagging you is not only courageous but also cathartic, I am not promoting it.) And you can very much apply this logic to any other virtue there is.
We celebrate our Independence Day every 12th day of June. And we all have learned from our history classes that our heroes who fought and died for our freedom arguably had the greatest amount of courage a Filipino, or a human being, could ever show.
In its June 2017 issue, therefore, Cotabato Literary Journal celebrates the virtue of courage—in all its varying degrees and diverse forms. The issue features two essays, two poems, and a short story.
Mayamen Hashmin’s essay “Courage in a Piece of Cloth” tells of the struggles the author has faced as a Muslim girl—and eventually a woman—particularly the discrimination she faces every time she wears the hijab. She writes: “[my friends] would encourage me to stop wearing my hijab, and as a mere 13-year-old at the time who desperately wanted to cease getting weird looks and to finally fit in, I yielded to them.” Nothing changed, however, even after she had stopped wearing it, and she realized that it was her being a Muslim that made her “different.” But through time she came to accept wearing the hijab and discovered its significance. The hijab, the veil people around her didn’t find importance in, turned out to be the thing that gave her the courage to step up and define her true identity in the end.
In his essay “What Cars Might Mean,” David Jayson Oquendo narrates how he one day, while looking for batteries in their cabinet, found an old photograph, which then reminded him of the times his family spent riding their old car. Such discovery almost appears to be his madeleine moment, for what follows is remembrance of things past, or a search of a lost time. The reminiscences might seem meandering at first glance, like cars without definite destinations, stopping there for a while, speeding there in the next second, but what these recreate is precisely the involuntariness of memory. Somewhere in those stops are Oquendo’s fears, one of which is his fear of driving. “I realized that when you drive,” he writes, “it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about you, the passengers, and the people you left behind.” And that is the fear he needs to have the courage to overcome. Overcoming it means that he will not only be able to drive a car, but he will also, and more importantly, finally come to terms with his complicated relationship with his family.
Alvin Pomperada’s spoken word piece “5-5-5” focuses on the exploitation of Filipino workers which includes, among others, contractualization, delayed salaries, and underpayment. But while the first four parts of his piece highlight the plight of workers, the last one shows a glimpse of hope: “Limang daliri ang kailangan upang mabuo ang isang kamao, / At isang kamao ang kailangang itaas upang malaman ng mundo / Na ika’y kaisa sa kilusang Mayo Uno.” And this can be done, of course, with courage and especially the resilience Filipinos are known for. Content aside, Pomperada’s piece exhibits the playfulness he has applied to the form and language, the title “5-5-5” (a brand of canned sardines) being the extended metaphor and the unusual, and hence fresh, conceit. It might have been more appropriate to include the piece in the journal’s May issue, but as we commemorate the lives of the people who fought for our independence more than a century ago, we should also celebrate the lives of Filipino workers, our modern heroes.
And we also have Louise Ouano’s poem “Tayhop,” which deals with courage in an existentialist perspective. For the persona of the poem, life is like a “way katapusang hagdan,” an endless flight of stairs, which is sometimes counteracted by a “tayhop sa kalipay,” or a fleeting blow of happiness. The persona offers another image to illustrate the point: “Samas ulo sa posporo / Sa usa ka kidlap dayon ma-abo.” Happiness (and by extension life) is fleeting, but in the end the persona tells us that that shouldn’t stop us from pursuing it. The whole poem echoes an existential philosophy that emphasizes our courage to seek a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness caused by the human condition. For some the effort might be endless and futile, but as the myth of Sisyphus reminds us, it is after all what gives our lives meaning. The persona ends the poem in an optimistic tone: “ang tayhop sa kalipay, / Bisag magkinaunsa padayong modagayday.”
But some people aren’t courageous enough, and that’s what Mariz Leona’s short story “The Girl under the Mango Tree” tells us. The story revolves around an unnamed narrator who sees a mysterious girl reading under a mango tree every day. What pushes the narrative is the conflict between the narrator’s desire to paint the mango tree and the girl’s constant presence: “I couldn’t paint my favorite tree if she was there,” the narrator says. “She was a distraction.” But the narrator doesn’t have the courage to confront the girl, even when the narrator starts to feel a connection between them, and this lack of courage remains until the end. There is silence, lyricism, and a folkloric feel in Leona’s story, which makes the mysterious girl all the more an almost-apparition, a “some sort of a fairy or, more aptly, a mango goddess” that teases and remains elusive to the narrator and even to the reader.
All in all, to go back to the main point, courage underlies all other virtues. It sounds didactic all right, but I think it won’t hurt if, while reading the featured works of the latest issue of this journal, you also stumble upon honesty, love, and the others.
Jade Mark B. Capiñanes
Former coin thief
General Santos City