Remembering Ama

by Gutierrez Mangansakan II
Nonfiction

(This piece is from Archipelago of Stars, the author’s book of essays published by Ateneo de Naga University Press this year.)

Dear Kirby,

I read the Facebook status which you posted during the New Year on how surprised you were to find out that your great-grandfather, Datu Udtog Matalam Sr., was born on January 1st 1901. I saw the photo above in your account (with your great grandfather seated at the left) which I took the liberty to post here. I hope you don’t mind. I could not ignore a comment from your cousin saying that it was her first time to see your great grandfather, at least even in a photograph.

I am sorry that you didn’t have the opportunity to be with him. You were only a baby when your great grandfather—my grandfather—died almost three decades ago. I was six years old then. I didn’t have any clue who he was, or what he was that time. I didn’t know he was a war hero. I had no idea that he was the governor of the undivided Cotabato Empire from 1946 to 1949, and from 1955 to 1968. Nor was I aware that he founded the Muslim Independence Movement which propelled the Bangsamoro people to fight for their right to determine their destiny. I guess by now you have read books that have cited his life and career by scholars like Thomas McKenna, Patricio Abinales, Alfred McCoy, Patricio Diaz, and others. Do not believe everything they have said. Keep your mind open because whatever truths that lie beneath their books barely reveal the real person.

For most people, your great grandfather was the Datu. For me, he was plain old ‘Ama.’

What I remember most was on Fridays I would always join him during prayer in the mosque. Clutching his hand, I would walk closely behind him to the front row. Sometimes your uncle Bimby and Pipo would be there too. Your uncle Pipo and I would look each other in the eye and giggle when the congregation chorused, “Ameen.” I don’t know why. After prayer there would be kanduli but it didn’t fascinate me as much as your uncle Bimby. That is why Ama fondly called him ‘pandita.’ The idle afternoons would be spent taking turns sitting on his lap.

Ama was loving as he was strict. He spoiled his children; my mother was his favorite. Among his last wishes was that she be buried beside him. How morbid! He had the tendency to be feudal, but never cruel. He ordered that your aunt Baicoco keep her hair long, which she does to this day. The women in the family cannot marry non-Muslims, an order only the stubborn few dared to violate. Back then he would not allow us to play with the servants’ children so it was always me and my siblings and my cousins. There were times though that we were able to play with the servants’ children, when he was not around, on condition that we would always win the game no matter what.

Then he suffered a stroke that paralyzed him. He was in the hospital in Davao for some time before the family decided to transfer him to his house in Matina, then months later, to the red house in Pagalungan. I was already studying in Philippine Women’s College – JASMS that time. We would regularly come home to Pagalungan to visit him.

During his last days, whenever he saw us, a tear would fall from his eyes. Perhaps it broke his heart to accept the fact that he would never see us grow and become what we are now. If he were alive today, I know he would be proud of what you have become. A lawyer. The first in the family.

In the end we owe something to him. More than the illustrious name that we inherited, we should be constantly reminded to love our people. To love one another. To be a good Muslim in the ways that we know. I know it is hard. Day by day our lives drift apart because of ambition and the selfish desire for power. But we should keep trying.

 

Best Regards,

Your Uncle Teng

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Nowhere Room

by Kristine Ong Muslim
Fiction

(This piece is from the out-of-print book, We Bury the Landscape: An Exhibition-Collection, published by Queen’s Ferry Press in 2012.) 

after Mike Worrall‘s The Never Ever Room (1998), oil on panel, 122 × 155 cm

Theophilus is wedged in the wooden floor of his temperature-regulated chamber called Childhood. Drawing moths during the summer, a 50-watt switch bulb dangles from the ceiling.

His mother says: ―You only fill one small room when you die so there’s no sense in occupying more while you are alive.

He nods, never talks back.

―A good parent can either teach you to forage or to be safe. I choose to keep you safe. Then she slams the door only to reappear at the end of the day with food.

Theophilus grows bigger, older. His limbs approximate those of a man’s. His senses of smell and hearing grow acute.

Outside, the schoolchildren taunt him, throw stones at the window, and leer at him—the pale-skinned boy anchored since birth to the floor of his room. Theophilus will not admit it, but he covets the schoolchildren‘s teeth, ruined by too much candy and soda. He admires their unruly hair, which smells of summertime. He loves to hear them call him ―ugly because it makes him feel unique and important.

Each day, the windows and doors shrink a little. In time, even his finger will not fit.

Picture

Sirena

by Mark Sherwin Castronuevo Bayanito
Fiction

Nilusob ni Ezra ang dagat ng Sarangani. Wala siyang pakialam kung hatinggabi na at wala siyang saplot, basta lamang makita niya ang kababalaghang naroroon. Kumalas naman ang bilog na buwan sa pagkakataklob ng mga ulap. Sa liwanag na hatid nito’y mayroon siyang nakita: ulong may mga matang nakatingin sa kanya.

Sinara ko muna ang aking laptop. Nakakapagod kayang mag-isip ng kuwento, lalo na kung ito’y eksperimental – kung ano man ‘yon. Wala pa akong naisip na pamagat, pati ng karugtong ng unang talata. Bakit ko kasi pinagdiskitahang isulat ang sabi-sabi dati na may sirena sa Sarangani Bay, sa may Barangay Bula banda. Pero magtanong ka sa isang taga-GenSan o taga-Barangay Bula, wala silang kaalam-alam tungkol dito. Hindi kasi nila binabasa ang libro ni Ramirez. E, kasaysayan pa naman ‘yon ng lungsod. Hay naku. Kahit na isang talata pa lang ang nagagawa ko ay gusto ko munang magpahinga.

“Uuwi ka ba sa summer?” tanong ni Ezra sa text.

“Hindi e.” text ko naman pabalik.

Wala siyang kaalam-alam na ginagamit ko siya para sa aking kuwento.

Nalalapit na ang pista ng Santo Niño sa Barangay Bula. Nalalapit na ang magarbong selebrasyon at ang paligsahan ng pagsagwan sa Sarangani Bay. Nalalapit na rin ang ika-18 na kaarawan ni Ezra, kasabay ng pista, sa ika-15 ng Enero.

Nalalapit na.

Nilapit ni Ezra ang kanyang mukha sa mukha ng kanyang kasama. Hinalikan siya nito. Nagpumiglas si Ezra, sa unang pagkakataon.

“O bakit?” tanong ni Karen.

“Wala,” sagot naman ni Ezra. “Huwag kang pumunta sa debut ko, ha.”

“Bakit naman? Ikinahihiya mo ako?” tanong ni Karen.

“Oo. Hanggang dito na lang tayo.” sabi ni Ezra, at dali-daling naglakad papalayo.

Sinara kong muli ang laptop. Sumasakit na ang aking mga mata sa ilang oras ng pagtutok sa screen nito. Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ang pag-uusap namin ni Ezra sa text. Nakakairita na siyang maka-text paminsan pero hinahayaan ko na lang. Baka sakaling may makuha akong magandang ideya mula sa kanya. Binuksan kong muli ang laptop. Microsoft Word.

Nanaginip si Ezra isang gabi. Nasa baybayin siya. Naaamoy niya ang lansa ng dagat, tulad ng mga pinapatuyong isda na ibinebenta sa palengke. Sinusubukan niyang tingnan ang malayong dako ng dagat. Wala siyang makita.

“Ma, anong ulam?” tanong ni Ezra sa kanyang ina.

“Tinanghali ka na naman ng gising! Hay naku, Ezra! Madami pa tayong gagawin! Magbukas ka na lang diyan ng lata ng sardinas!” sagot ng kanyang ina.

Araw na kasi bago ng pista. Madami nang kailangang paghandaan. Madaming kailangang gawin.

“Ezra, bantayan mo nga pala si Jun-jun. Baka pumunta sa laot, kukunin ng sirena.” sabi ng kanyang nanay.

“May sirena diyan?” tanong ni Ezra.

“Pista ngayon. Maraming lalaki na nawawala sa dagat. Kinukuha ng sirena.” tugon naman ng kanyang nanay.

“Ma, anong itsura no’n? Ng sirena?” tanong pa ni Ezra.

“Hay naku. Basta. Ulo ng babae tapos katawan agad ng isda. Wala nang leeg.”

“Pa’no ni’yo nalaman?”

“Tanong ka naman nang tanong! Tumigil ka nga!”

Abalang-abala ang lahat sa paghahanda. Abala si Ezra sa makailang beses na pagsukat ng gown na susuotin niya sa kanyang kaarawan. Lagi na lang ang kaarawan ni Ezra ang nagiging kulminasyon ng pista. Kung lalaki nga lang raw si Ezra ay siya na ang Santo Niño.

Tumigil ako sa pagsusulat para magsipilyo ng ngipin. Iniisip ko kung paano dadaloy ang kuwento. Dapat may lalaki rin sa buhay ni Ezra. Aba. Parang manliligaw lang a. Naku. Kung wala lang akong eksam sa Math, hindi ako maghihirap ng ganito sa paggawa ng kuwento.

Pumunta si Ezra sa labas, sa baybayin. Naroroon ang mga lalaking abala sa pagpipinta ng mga bangkang ipanlalaban sa pista.

May lumapit na lalaki kay Ezra, walang pantaas, at may dalang dalawang supot ng Coke. “Inom ka muna, miss,” sabi nito.

“Salamat. Ano’ng pangalan mo?”

“Raul. Ikaw?”

“Ezra.”

“A! Ikaw ‘yong taga-malaking bahay!”

“A, oo.”

[Makalipas ang mahaba-habang pag-uusap]

“Uy, punta ka naman sa birthday party ko bukas.” sabi ni Ezra.

“Pwede ba ako do’n? Wala akong susuotin.”

“Ay. Magkita na lang tayo sa labas ng bahay.”

“Pa’no?”

“Basta.”

Tatalikod na si Ezra nang nabigla siya sa nakita niya sa laot. Isang buntot ng sirena.

Nang lumingon naman si Raul ay wala naman itong nakita.

“Mauna na ako,” sabi na lang ni Ezra.

Kinagabihan, nanaginip muli si Ezra. Nakita niya si Karen, nakatayo sa harapan niya, sa baybayin ng dagat. Biglang dumating si Raul at nilunod si Karen sa dagat. Nakatayo lamang si Ezra, pinagmamasdan ang nangyayari. Maya-maya, nagpakita ang isang sirena. Inakit nito si Raul at sabay silang naglaho sa dagat. Naiwan si Ezrang nakatayo lang sa baybayin.

Kinatok ako ni Gilbert. Naistorbo na naman ako sa ginagawa ko. Pumapasok pa naman ang mga ideya sa isipan ko. Ayun. Nawawala na naman.

“Sherwin! Pa’no mo pinag-aralan ‘yong mga alkanes, alkenes, chuva?” tanong ni Gilbert.

“Ha? Bakit? May paraan ba talaga para pag-aralan ‘yun?” tanong ko naman, nalilito sa tanong niya.

“Hindi. Kasi ang gagawin ni sir, may malaking molecule tapos ‘yong iba’t ibang organic molecules,” sagot naman niya.

“E di i-drawing mo muna.”

“May drawing na doon.”

“I-drawing mo.”

“May drawing na nga.”

“I-drawing mo nga ulit para matuto ka. Umalis ka na nga. Madami akong ginagawa.”

Sumikat na ang araw. Marami ang mga dumayo sa Barangay Bula upang makikain, hindi talaga para ipagdiwang ang araw ng Santo Niño. Masyado nang matrapik sa mga daanan. Nagkasalubong ang landas nina Karen at Ezra.

“Ano bang problema mo?” tanong ni Karen kay Ezra, mahigpit na hinahawakan ang braso nito.

“Ano’ng problema mo rin?” sabi ni Ezra, pilit na nagpupumiglas.

“So ganito na lang tayo?”

“Wala nang tayo!”

Dumating si Raul at agad na inilayo si Ezra kay Karen.

“Umalis ka na!” sigaw ni Raul kay Ezra.

“Salamat, Raul,” sabi ni Ezra.

“Wala iyon. Bakit ka nandito? Di ba kaarawan mo ngayon?” tanong ni Raul kay Ezra.

“A, oo. Naghahanda pa lang sila.” sagot naman ni Ezra.

Maghapong nag-usap sina Ezra at Raul, at nang malapit nang gumabi, bumalik na si Ezra sa kanyang bahay.

“O, sa’n ka galing? Kanina pa kita pinapahanap kay Jun-jun! Gabi na, Ezra!” sermon ng nanay ni Ezra pagkarating niya ng bahay.

Hindi niya ito pinansin. Agad na niyang sinuot ang kanyang pulang gown at nagpa-make up.

Pumasok sa kuwarto ko si Kuya Jerome.

“Uy, labas tayo. May movie marathon sa TV area,” sabi ni Kuya Jerome.

“O talaga? Ano’ng palabas?” tanong ko naman.

“The Classic,” sagot niya.

“Korean?” tanong ko ulit.

“Oo,” sagot niya ulit.

“Napanood ko na ‘yon,” sabi ko naman.

Malalim na ang gabi. Matapos asikasuhin ni Ezra ang kanyang mga panauhin, tumakas siya at lumabas, may dala-dalang mga bote ng alak.

Naabutan niya sa labas si Raul.

“O, ba’t ka may dalang alak?” tanong ni Raul.

Binaba ni Ezra ang mga bote ng alak at hinagkan si Raul nang madiin.

Ayan. Malapit na akong matapos. Pero tinatamad na akong magpatuloy. Hay naku. Sandali, ano na ba ang gagawin ni Ezra at Raul sa bandang ito? Magtatanan? Magtatalik? Magtatagay? Ay ewan. Basta pupunta sila ng baybayin ng Sarangani Bay.

Nilusob ni Ezra ang dagat ng Sarangani. Wala siyang pakialam kung hatinggabi na at wala siyang saplot, basta lamang makita niya ang kababalaghang naroroon, ang misteryosong sirena. Kumalas ang bilog na buwan sa pagkakataklob ng mga ulap. Sa liwanag na hatid nito’y mayroon siyang nakita: ulong may mga matang nakatingin sa kanya. Ang mga matang nakatingin sa kanya ay napakapamilyar. Mukha niya ang nakikita niya. Ngunit hindi iyon repleksiyon lamang. Lumitaw ang karugtong ng katawan — makaliskis, maitim. Iyon na pala ang sirena, sirenang may ulong tao – ulo niya – at katawan ng isda. Tama nga ang nanay niya. Wala na itong leeg. Hindi maalindog. Hindi maganda.

Ayan! Patapos na talaga ako! Makakapag-aral na ako sa wakas ng Math. Hay naku. Huling talata na lang.

Natapos na ang piyesta kinabukasan. Laking gulat ng matatanda sa Barangay Bula na wala ni isang lalaking nawala sa dagat. Naging mapagbigay ngayon ang mahiwagang sirena. Nagluluksa naman ngayon ang pamilya ni Ezra sa bigla niyang pagkawala. Isang gown na lamang ang natagpuan sa baybayin.

The Crying Walls of San Lorenzo

by Erwin Cabucos
Fiction

(This piece first appeared in Veranda 32: Literary and Art Journal.)

Sleeping butterflies perch on the dancing frangipani leaves in the early morning as I begin my sacristan career. A slight breeze sweeps the bougainvillea petals on the Bermuda grass of the grounds of the San Lorenzo Church; this may be the last breath of the storm that lashed houses and rice farms along the coast the previous night. The clacking heels of street girls will soon join the revving and honking of jeepneys in the streets, and the drunken patrons, dizzy and slurring their speech have replaced the blasting sound systems of nightclubs. It’s not long now until sunrise will streak through the towering buildings of Manila. The regulars of the early weekday mass will start to fill the pews. I have a few things to organise before Father Augustine comes down from the presbytery to begin the celebration. I pace up towards the sacristy door before a rush of dislodged leaves and flowers hit me.

The door is unlocked. Considering Father Augustine had made sure it was secured last night, the thought that we were broken into frightens me. Being new to the job, having to confront an intruder is the last thing I want.

As soon as I ignite the candle’s wick and move around the sacristy to check every area, profiles of broken, crooked and unused statues dance on the wall like a scene from a horror movie. If someone were to hide behind this, it would be hard to tell. I stop moving and listen intently. If someone lurks beneath the cloak of the Lady of Dolours, I should be able to hear their breathing.

A male voice echoes from the pews, and saying that I have shivers up my spine sounds cliché, but it is happening. Are people are having sex in the church? Possibly. I suppose it is fulfilling God’s will, it’s procreating, and it reverberates through the acoustic design of this nineteenth-century church. But it doesn’t sound like it. It’s sounds like someone is in pain. The compilation of all these: the total black out, an unusual storm in the summer month of April, the sombre-looking butterflies unperturbed in the swaying leaves, the sacristy door left unlocked, dead eyes of lifeless statues staring at me, a moaning man in the pews—all too much for a seventeen year old’s first day as a sacristan.

Will I run to get Father Augustine’s help? He might just dismiss me and say, ‘Rex, you’re dreaming—get back out there!’ The painting of Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help above the candle stand seems to speak to me. I make the sign of the cross. Holding the thick white candle firmly, I walk towards the altar. I remember reading Shakespeare’s Macbeth in our English class—the day King Duncan was murdered, a series of unusual events took place: horses ate each other, birds went berserk and the earth shook. I also read from my father’s old Carlo J Caparas’ comic books that the church can be a repository of unhappy and troubled souls, stuck in the premises, unable to proceed, so they end up hassling the living to ask for prayers, to aid their entrance into heaven.

In front of the statue of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, a thin male teenager grips his bleeding arm. Crimson smears stain his white, body-fit, short-sleeved shirt and his legs, in tight denim, are stretched out near a knife. I don’t know what to do; I’m torn between running to the presbytery to tell Father Augustine and running to the teenager to offer help. I look around but no one else is in the church. His eyes lock on mine.

‘Are you okay? What happened?’

His drooping eyes seem unfazed with the dripping blood when he lifts his arm to reach for me. I step back, deterred by the crimson fluid. The concrete feels cold when I return to kneel by him.

‘What could be so bad? C’mon …’

‘Just help me die, just help me end all this.’ He breaks into sobs. ‘There’s no point in living.’

‘No! I’ll get someone to help you.’ As much as I want to get Father Augustine now, I am pushed towards helping the teenager. I point at his wound. ‘Can I bandage you?’

‘No,’ he persists. ‘Don’t bother.’ He reaches for the knife.

‘No!’ I kick the knife away from him. ‘I’ll get the priest.’

‘Don’t!’ he cries. His voice has a tone of vulnerability and misery. What could have happened to him?

‘What’s your name?’ I ask. He doesn’t respond.

‘What’s your name?’ I insist, resting my hand on his shoulder.

‘It’s Seb. Sebastian.’

‘Sebastian, I have to get you some help.’ Leaving the candle glued by its wax next to him, I sprint up the aisle and the footpath to the presbytery and up to Father Augustine’s door on the second floor. The absence of response from my vigorous pounding and the image of the weakened teenager left in the church have sent me into overdrive. I twist the doorknob, not caring about intruding on our parish priest’s privacy. ‘Father, where are you?’

Ruffled sheets lie on his bed. A framed photo of his twenty-something-year-old, half-naked, buffed body hangs below the crucifix on his wall. He hasn’t aged much compared to my father who works hard on the street, and they were born in the same year. Where is he? My heart continues to drum, like it’s booming from the walls of Intramuros to the streets of Luneta. ‘Where are you, Father?’

There isn’t time to waste looking. I rush down the stairs and return to the teen. His chest heaves as if he is short of breath. I’ll call the ambulance! I hurry to the phone in the sacristy. Shining red fingers land on my hand that is about to punch the dial. How did he get in here so quickly? The smell of blood fills my lungs and I turn my head to the side in shock. I remember mother cooking Dinuguan, a soup made of pig blood jelly mixed with vinegar and green chilli. I don’t think I will want to eat that dish again. ‘Why don’t you want me to call the ambulance? They will help you.’

He slumps on the floor like a flimsy rag doll. Blood smears on the concrete.

‘You don’t understand,’ he cries.

Seeing blood continue to ooze from his arm makes me feel like I am going to pass out, but I shouldn’t let his situation overcome my strength. If I keep talking to him, perhaps I can get him some help. ‘Tell me what happened.’

He sighs.

‘I don’t want you to die, Seb. What has made you so upset?’

He breathes hard, and I can see in his eyes an urge to speak. If he tells me something criminal or illegal, I shouldn’t really get involved. But I want to know. ‘Have you killed someone? Are the police after you? Have you been assaulted? What is it?’

He breathes hard. ‘I’m not a criminal, okay? I’m not in trouble with the police. I hate my fucking life. I’ve just started college and had all these plans for myself, but that’s all gone now. Now I am sick,’ his voice trembles. ‘I just had a test done at Midshift.’

‘The nightclub?’

He nods. ‘You know, with one of those outreach tests?’

‘The HIV testing?’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re positive?’

He nods.

‘Will you let me bandage your wound?’ I ask.

He nods.

The purificator, which is spread across the altar for the Eucharistic sacrament, makes a soft bandage for his arm. I pull the ends tightly to finish off the bandage.

He raises his voice. ‘This disease is going to kill me.’ Tears flow from his eyes.

‘The World Health has been doing a good job at supporting positive people in the Philippines and I know you’re not the only one with HIV. There’s lots of information and support, we’ll get you some help’

‘I know. The nurses told me the same thing earlier on. They gave me handouts. I threw them away.’

I sigh, sitting next to him. ‘You have to tell your friends or family, someone who will help you.’

‘Are you nuts? No way!’

‘They will support you.’

‘No. They don’t even know I’m gay.’

I don’t know what to say next.

‘They will disown me when they know I
have HIV.’

Silence goes past us like an angel and the quietness seems to have clothed us with fortitude. ‘I’m going to call the ambulance now,’ I tell him. I walk back to the sacristy and dial the number. He lurches towards the door, reducing himself to a pitiful figure at the foot of the frangipani tree, like a gnome waiting to be noticed amongst the plants in the garden. White petals settle on his limbs, one sits on his shoulder.

I watch as Father Augustine appears from nowhere, his Alb hem touches the edge of his sandals. I hang up the phone, when I know help is on the way, and walk outside as Father Augustine asks what has happened.

‘This is Sebastian, Father. He’s wounded. He needs help. I’ve rung the ambulance, they’re on their way.’

‘How? Are you okay, son?’ Father Augustine bends, his eyes fixed on the teenager.

He hugs Sebastian, places his hands under his neck and knees, and carries him to the presbytery. He looks back at me and says, ‘Rex, prepare the church for mass. I’ll be with you, soon.’

My one-day training from Father Augustine the other day turned out to be a highly efficient induction because I manage to prepare the vessels and the vestments in the sanctuary as I wait for the ambulance. I light up the candles and refill the hosts, wine and water. I bring out the pall, purificator, corporal, chalice and the ciborium to the altar server’s table. I mop the blood and spray some antiseptic liquid on the surfaces.

Almost on tip-toes, I walk up to the presbytery through the back door. I hide behind the door, keeping an eye out for the paramedics arrival.

‘You have HIV, you don’t have AIDS.’

The young man coughs.

‘God loves you for who you are, Sebastian.’

‘That’s not true, Father. The Bible says I will go to hell.’

‘There are many interpretations of the Bible.’

‘It doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense.’ Sebastian grabs a knife from the sink.

‘No!’ Father Augustine pulls Sebastian’s hand away. ‘Listen to me. If you only knew my story.’

‘What?’ The young man sits on the floor, looking down.

‘I’m positive, too.’

Sebastian is taken aback, just as I am.

‘The medications are very good these days; you can lead a normal life. There are people who will help you. I will help you.’

It is as if another angel has gone past in the moment of silence between the three of us, under the auspices of San Lorenzo Ruiz Presbytery.

‘Really?’ Sebastian’s voice carries a tone of realisation.

‘Yes. Excuse me for a minute, I just need to speak to Rex.’

I scuttle away from the kitchen door and walk away quietly.

‘Rex?’

‘Yes, Father.’ I look towards the presbytery door where he ducks his head out, and waves at the people who smile at him from behind me.

‘Put up a note that the mass is cancelled. I can’t leave this boy. Is the ambulance here yet?’

‘Sure, Father. Not yet.’

As I am sticking the notice on the bulletin board at the back of the church, a couple arrive with rosaries in their hands. After reading the notice, they turn toward me.

‘Are you sure, no Mass this morning?’

‘Yes,’ I nod.

‘Why?’ asks the lady.

‘Due to an urgent situation.’

They let out a sigh, groan and walk away. ‘How important can it be that he has to cancel the Mass?’ they chatter.

‘Sorry …’ I sigh to the wind, I know that some things don’t need to be elaborated. I just breathe the wind’s encompassing presence.

Everyone makes their way to the car park and to the gates of the church and catches tricycles to go home. I hear sirens approaching, and see lights in the distance.

I remove the notice but retain the posters next to it. One is of a Jesuit priest’s mission showing work amongst the poor and the marginalised of Manila. ‘If you are interested in volunteering, please contact our facilitator, Rev Father Augustine Faustino, San Lorenzo Parish Church on 0918 2467676 and do something meaningful in your life.’

As I step back, the paramedics rush through the gates and I direct them to Sebastian, who is sitting next to Father Augustine. They smile at him in greeting, and tend to his wounds.

Father Augustine and I walk back to the church. Butterflies flutter away from the frangipani tree. The sun sheds light to every dark corner of the church and the garden.

Editors and Contributors

EDITORS

M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac is a writer for children and reading advocate. He divides his time among General Santos City, Maitum (Sarangani), Lake Sebu (South Cotabato), and Quezon City.

Jude Ortega has been a fellow for fiction at the 2016 UP National Writers Workshop and in five other writers workshops. He divides his time between Senator Ninoy Aquino and Isulan, both in Sultan Kudarat Province.

CONTRIBUTORS

Jermaine Dela Cruz is an AB English graduate of Mindanao State University in General Santos City. She now works for a fashion magazine and as a content provider at Brigada Mass Media Corporation.

Patrick Jayson L. Ralla is a graduate of Mindanao State University- General Santos City with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. He is currently working as a private school teacher in Polomolok, South Cotabato, and is taking up a Master of Arts degree in Literature at the University of Southeastern Philippines, Davao City.

Michael John C. Otanes was born and raised in General Santos City, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English at Mindanao State University. He writes poetry and short fiction, some of which have been published in various online literary magazines.

Saquina Karla C. Guiam has been published in the Rising Phoenix ReviewScrittura MagazineSuffragette CityDulcet QuarterlyThe Fem Lit Mag, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and others. She graduated from Mindanao State University in General Santos City with a bachelor’s degree in English and is currently studying for her master’s degree in Ateneo de Davao University. She is the Roots nonfiction editor at Rambutan Literary, an online journal showcasing literature and art from Southeast Asians all over the world, and the social media manager of Umbel & Panicle, a new literary journal inspired by plants and all things botanical.

Lance Isidore G. Catedral is completing his residency training in Internal Medicine at the University of the Philippines–Philippine General Hospital. He also has a degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology from UP–Diliman. He was born and raised in Koronadal City. Since 2004, he has been blogging at bottledbrain.com. His interests include Christianity, literature, and medicine.

Gutierrez Mangansakan II, born in 1976, descended from the royal houses of Maguindanao, southern Philippines. He is best know as a filmmaker whose credits include Limbunan (The Bridal Quarter), Cartas de la Soledad (Letters of Solitude), Qiyamah, and The Obscured Histories and Silent Longings of Daguluan’s Children. An outsider in Philippine literary circles, he takes pride in the deconstruction of the asterisk as his way of rebelling against the formality of political and artistic establishments. He was a writer-in-residence of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2008 and a fellow of the 54th University of the Philippines National Writers Workshop in 2015. He lives in General Santos City with his eleven cats.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of eight books of fiction and poetry: Age of Blight, Butterfly Dream, Meditations of a Beast, Black Arcadia, Lifeboat, Grim Series, We Bury the Landscape, and A Roomful of Machines. Her short story collection, Age of Blight, was one of the best books of 2016 according to the Chicago Review of Books, while her poetry collection, Grim Series, was included in the preliminary ballot of the Horror Writers Association’s 2012 Bram Stoker Award for Poetry and was twice nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Elgin Award. Born in Kidapawan City, Cotabato Province, she grew up and continues to live in a rural town in Maguindanao.

Mark Sherwin Castronuevo Bayanito is a BA Political Science graduate from University of the Philippines–Diliman. He is Ilocano (albeit non-speaking) by blood, raised in General Santos City, and lives in Quezon City. He is primarily interested in the complexities of identity and urban life.

Erwin Cabucos, a teacher of English and religion in Brisbane, Australia, was born and raised in Carmen, Cotabato Province. His first collection of short stories, The Beach Spirit and Other Stories, was published by Ginninderra Press in Australia. His second, Green Blood and Other Stories, was published by Manila Prints in Australia and the Philippines. His newest book, Does it Matter What the Dead Think?, is now out on Amazon.com. He graduated in psychology from Notre Dame University in Cotabato City and communication from the University of Newcastle. He recently finished Master in English Education from the University of New England. He was also a fellow for fiction at the 2016 Iligan National Writers Workshop.

Introduction to Issue 14

Since midnight, the girl had been telling us that she had a third eye, and right at that moment, she said she could see something in the darkness, across the street and under a tree. I turned my head and, just as I expected, saw nothing but harmless shadows. I don’t believe in supernatural beings. I believe instead that science can explain everything, or at least it eventually will. I am not afraid of supernatural beings. But having panic disorder, I am afraid of so many other things.

For me, the girl should not be afraid of the things that she is afraid of, for they do not exist in the first place. In the same way, for her, and for most people, I shouldn’t be afraid of the things that I am afraid of, for even if they exist, they’re not as harmful as my mind perceives them. I get panic attacks whenever I get afraid of death and whenever I get afraid of getting insane, and I get panic attacks whenever I get afraid of having panic attacks. In other words, I’m afraid of being afraid.

Others may feel grateful for not having a third eye or panic disorder, but as the works in this issue show, fear comes in various forms and affects our lives more than we can see or we are willing to admit. The five stories and four poems help us examine our fears—as individuals, as Filipinos, and as human beings.

“Koronadal Horror Story” by Matt S. F. Jones of Banga, South Cotabato, is about a young man who suddenly experiences all sorts of horrifying things one night. The Hiligaynon story is an ongoing series in Jones’s Facebook timeline, and excerpted for this journal is the part where the young man sees something creepy in an eatery and encounters a maniacal old man in a street. Unabashedly genre, peppered with banters, and written in the eclectic language of young Ilonggos of Mindanao, the story is a fun kind of scare.

In Jones’s story, seeing an albularyo, or a folk healer, is hinted at as a possible solution to the narrator’s nightmares. In “Fireflies” by Adonis Hornoz of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, a child with an affliction is actually taken to an albularyo. The story shows that our fears are not always relieved or resolved. When we are bound to our cultural beliefs and limited by our economic capability, the solution that we seek for our nightmare may only give us a worse nightmare.

A nightmare may also be disguised as a blessing. In “Nowheresville,” a work-in-progress by Jonathan Susvilla of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat, a man finds himself gifted with an extraordinary ability one day. Instead of having a more meaningful life, or at least an easier one, he is faced with difficult choices. We are often afraid of making decisions, especially when we think of ourselves more than we think of others. And we are more afraid of what we can do than of what we can’t do.

Fear can be stronger than any other feeling. In the flash fiction “How I Remember Us” by Gian Carlo Licanda of Maasim, Sarangani Province, the narrator’s most poignant memory of a lover is not when they were happiest but when they were about to part ways. We are all afraid of being left by our loved ones. We are all afraid of being alone.

Some loved ones leave us, and some are taken away from us. It’s difficult to tell which is worse. In “Mithi,” an excerpt from a Filipino novel by Boon Kristoffer Lauw of General Santos City, readers witness the horror a family goes through in a time of martial law. The narrator’s mother is a subversive, and in search of her, military men barge into her home and forces her family to reveal her whereabouts. The scene shows what a totalitarian regime can do to innocent civilians.

Like Lauw’s story, the poems in this issue deal with our fear of those who are more powerful than us. No one specific is mentioned in “Hide and Seek” by John Dominic Arellano of Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, but the source of fear must be someone close to the narrator, someone who is part of both his past and his present. Some people in our lives are constant sources of fear, but due to our ties with them, to our lack of will to be free, to things that are beyond our control, or to their other, redeeming qualities, we sometimes have to go on living with them and bear the suffering that they are causing us.

In “War” and “Death by Fear,” both by David Jayson Oquendo of Polomolok, South Cotabato, the source of fear is obviously the government, but being held accountable are the people who support the government. The so-called war on drugs of the current administration has resulted to thousands of deaths, including those of innocent ones. No one is safe anymore. Anyone can be a victim of mistaken identity or of corrupt men in uniform.

“Karinderya,” a Filipino spoken word poem by Kiel Mark Guerrero of Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, is also about extrajudicial killings, but the blame is put directly on the country’s draconian ruler. Many Filipinos catapulted him to power due to their hatred and fear of criminality. As a result, however, instead of providing comfort and protection, he became a new source of fear, especially for the poor. The authorities have yet to provide a proof to the public that they have brought down a big-time syndicate, while every day, slippers-wearing pushers and runners are gunned down in alleys.

The literary works in this issue can help us understand our own fears. But more importantly perhaps, they can help us acknowledge and understand the fears of others. We all have fears, and we have different fears, and even if they’re the same, we have different ways of dealing with them.

The others, aside from me, also turned and looked at the tree across the street, where the girl said she could see something. The others, like me, must have also not seen anything, or were too inebriated to be spooked by anything. Most of us remained quiet, but I was breathing deeply, making myself calm. Unbeknown to my companions, I was having a panic attack right at that moment. I was seeing a different kind of ghost. It’s a part of me. It dwells in me.

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat