March is the National Women’s Month Celebration for the Philippines, a country that has been annually taking an active part in the worldwide recognition of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievement in various forms. Moreover, the eighth day of the month is Women’s Rights and International Peace Day—a special date of further acknowledging and appreciating the role of women in world history.

Many studies, reports, and figures have already revealed that women today are still facing various forms of violence in most environments, hence the already given significance of being in solidarity with them all over the world who are still fighting for gender equality. Even in the world of literature, the literary history and present culture of many countries, including the Philippines, show that sexism is prevalent. US-based feminist organization VIDA: Women in Literary Arts has published an annual count that presents how little female writers’ works are featured and reviewed in anthologies and journals compared to their male counterparts, a fact that is similar to scholars’ findings in the early development of Philippine literature. According to writer and critic Erlinda Kintanar-Alburo in her paper, “Towards a Feminist Perspective: A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Philippine Literature by Women,” the women’s literature in the country “does not fall consciously within the feminist agenda” except for the last decade. Early female writers have written from the margins, either submitting to it or subverting the dominant patriarchal order.

Nonetheless, the interest in women’s issues in the country is continually growing and empowered female writers strive as they aim for gender sensitivity, challenging the male-dominated literary canon that has been established through the years through workshops and conferences where panelists critique with a feminist perspective as well as the production of more literary writings and critical essays written by women themselves. Female writers currently write not solely on being a woman in general, but also about women facing contemporary concerns regarding identity, sex, human rights, nationalistic awakening, among others in a postcolonial setting. For this month’s issue, Cotabato Literary Journal joins in the celebration by featuring the literary works written by women and female-identifying individuals in the region. Most of the writings are from writers who are published in the journal for the first time. The editors have also selected some works that are published on zines featured during the SOX Zine Fest last November 2017 to be included.

Two fiction pieces written by Rossel Audencial and Hope Daryl Talib narrate surreal encounters with strangers. Audencial’s “The Road” is a short horror story about a young woman’s encounter with a strange co-passenger and their shared sentiment regarding their respective mothers in a late-night tricycle ride home that takes longer than the usual. The driver’s escape route from men who are assigned in one of the checkpoints at GenSan is unfamiliar for her, hence the escalating anxiety and confusion—all due to an expired license. The empty back seat upon reaching home adds to her peculiar experience. “Dead Lazy” by Hope Daryl Talib is a flash fiction piece that shows how a life that must be lived can present itself as a catastrophe if it must awaken one who is merely existing. The main character, Mitch Cabrera, is a college dropout who inherits enough money to survive after her parents died and chooses to not live beyond her bed, favorite movies, cheese puffs with cold mayonnaise, and the comforts of her house. As “life happens” in the form of a stranger who provides a tragic event for her to make the choice between saving herself and falling for her demise, she answers for herself if she is already a lost cause.

It is difficult not to succumb to bitterness when “the taste of tears and sweat are the same.” “Amalia,” Jerome Cenina’s heart-wrenching yet hopeful poem, presents a mother who remembers her childhood dream of exploring what is beyond her parents’ restrictions and the opportunity to experience freedom that she has grabbed. With the harsh realities of the present and the narrow path she sees as she carries her child, all she can do is embrace her choices and its seemingly irreversible outcomes. To face life head on may be its poignant, positive answer. In Maguindanaoan writer Merhana Macabangin’s poem “Timpo Saguna,” the persona challenges the claims of Filipinos in general that violence is absent and peace is enjoyed in the country. The first lines are written as sugarcoated lies that will make readers think twice about how people—either blind from the truth or refuse to see it—talk about the current times. After every human right defender and peace advocate whose lives are sacrificed for the country’s betterment, the ongoing wars prove that nothing has changed.

The woman as a lover who looks at the concept of desire as a two-way, give-and-take construct is also explored in the poems of Marie-Luise Coroza Calvero and Joana Galila. In Calvero’s romantic poem in Spanish titled “Quiero estar” (I want to be), the persona desires to claim its beloved’s heart as home: a place for growth where deep love is nurtured and a place where it is impossible to fully be away from. On the other hand, Galila’s balak “Inig Kita Kanimo” is a lament for the one that got away despite the persona’s attempt to save the person she truly loves from setbacks; even the healthy relationship, as presented in the poem, does not turn out as an assurance that an individual will be saved from a difficulty that consumes it. The lover can only do so much when love is not enough, and one step is to not get lost in the process of coping with heartbreak.

This month’s featured essays present the young women’s perspective in the environments they live in and their profound observations in life. Ira Shayne Salvaleon’s “Twenty-Two-Hectare Treasure” is about a senior high school student who reminisces the beautiful farm his family owns in a village in Carmen, Cotabato Province. As she thinks about the place that she has always loved and has not outgrown and how life’s challenges should be traversed through, she wishes to be a child whose happiness she considers as the most innocent kind of joy. Full of local color, the personal essay connects true love and the wonders of nature through the eyes of a young person. “Ice Candy” by Jhessa Gales is about a young girl’s love for eating ice candy at another store that may taste different than her mother’s own ice candy sold in their sari-sari store, but still “gives the same feeling.” Together with her friends after school, she would walk to the village instead of obeying her mother and riding the tricycle on her way home just to buy one. After encountering an accident, the young survivor contemplates in the middle of eating the hard-earned treat whether she should have listened to her mother, the closest source of her favorite food. The essay subtly delves into the mother-child relationship, resonating with readers who have vivid memories of their hardworking mothers.

Nobel Prize Winner in Literature and feminist short story writer Alice Munro writes in her book The Progress of Love that “the girl herself will have to say more if anything is to be done.” Mariz Leona indeed says more in her essay, “First Aid,” as she recounts her bleeding toenail and a personal encounter with a vehicular accident that makes her ponder about how prepared Filipinos are in helping those who get into an accident. Her work also serves as more than a social commentary on the importance of learning how to give first aid; it questions humanity’s willingness to help others even if it means active involvement.

These writers have written about the human condition with a combination of feminist, local, and postcolonial perspective. It is remarkable to see that female writers in the region are active in contributing to the rich and diverse literature of Region 12. Aside from these featured works, the promising entries submitted in BalakBayi poetry contest (The deadline is on March 15, 2018!) that I spearhead—in partnership with the journal and Aklat Alamid—are proof that women’s literature in SOX is thriving. It is my hope that the local women and women-identifying writers will produce more works to further cultivate a gender-sensitized readership.

Andrea D. Lim
General Santos City