The overwhelming force that is globalization has long since made its presence felt in the southern shores of the Philippines. Bringing with it a contract of modernity, globalization was quickly embraced and celebrated by the peoples of our region. We continue to witness the transformations of rural landscapes into commercial and residential complexes, the exportation of laborers and materials overseas, and the imposition of a consumerist attitude onto people from various layers of the social strata. Because we usually consider everything advanced and sophisticated to be progressive and beneficial, we nurture an obsession with development. We willingly submit ourselves to cultural globalization. The internet, in particular, changes lifestyles, allows for the vast consumption of cultural products, and promotes interconnectedness of people from diverse backgrounds.
However, globalization’s promise of progress is a homogenizing force that dissolves familiar structures and relations. Like a weight dropped into still waters, the ripples of this unprecedented phenomenon spread outwards and continue to swallow everything in their path. We have started to become assimilated into a unitary global culture.
In this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, literary productions from the region become the means of recovering what has been devoured and drowned. I borrow the imagery from Saquina Karla C. Guiam’s poem “Moon Eater” to suggest literature as an emetic for the mythical bakunawa’s voracious appetite. The threatened dissolution of the diversity that has come to characterize our region can be recuperated through creativity: a poeisis of worlds via literary expression—similar to the collective “aria” created as a form of resistance to the celestial eater. Through writing, poets, essayists, and fictionists are able to participate in a project that allows for the exercise of agency and assertion of identities.
April is also National Literature Month in the Philippines, and for this issue of the journal, we recognize literature both as a force of creation and resistance. This month’s harvest features fourteen writers in active mediation of their present conditions and whose eventual recourse is to bring forth worlds and realities through writing. I suggest that this literary reclamation is the manner by which resistance can be expressed against the unifying and violent potency of planetary globalization.
“The Border Express” and “Riding a Tricycle” are essays that grapple with lifestyle changes accompanying the narrowing class divide. The former is by Mikhael M. Labrador and the latter is by Noel Pingoy. As seen in their experiences, the upsurge in the traffic of people and commodities is initially disorienting, but the same increase in the mobility of people and the gradual obliteration of familiar borders rather hint at the equalizing yet insidious forces caused by the frenetic spilling-over of human connections. People’s swift initiation to other cultures encourages exploration and identification, so it would seem that everything and everyone is destined to settle, as Pingoy calls it, “in the safe comfortable middle.”
While that state of stillness is yet to come, delirious investments to infrastructure and transportation are made. The massive transit of bodies persists. Lines of travel and access continue to be established with the continued industrialization of the region. Two poems pay tribute to these: Marc Jeff Lañada’s “An Open Letter to J. Catolico Street” and Joan Victoria Cañete’s “Superficial Swim.” In their imageries, the roads and waterways that facilitate fluid movement are targets of interruptions and are thus bound to settle in serene disharmony. Lañada describes this oxymoronic nature of roads by describing a known thoroughfare in General Santos City as “assembling into a state of discord.” Reading into these “lines of flight” allows for the hope that diversity can thrive in a seemingly ordered state of flux.
Objects of Trade and Fractured Identities
Alongside the changes in the environment is the transformation of people into objects of trade. Since the Philippine government’s institutionalization of overseas employment in the ’70s, Filipinos have been unceasingly dispersed to the world as providers of cheap labor. A work of fiction that is sure to resonate with many people is “Lights of Different Colors” by Erwin Cabucos. The story suggests various shades of alienation in the exportation of Filipinas—our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters as domestic helpers and caregivers in other countries. Touted as an act of heroism, the government’s move to increase earnings by encouraging its citizens to secure overseas employment is in fact a capitalistic venture that aligns with imperatives to integrate into the global economy. Etched in Filipino’s minds now is the idea that a better life can be had by working and, possibly, immigrating abroad. Patrick Jayson Ralla’s poem “The Ascension” captures this yearning for escape by transforming the tools of manual labor—one’s limbs—into wings capable of flying into the sun, and “abandoning/ a vessel below the ground.”
While most Filipinos are complicit in the practice of overseas employment, they renounce another form of human exploitation: the grim business of war. Inherent in capitalism, conflict fuels good business. Claire Monreal, Paul Randy P. Gumanao, and Mubarak M. Tahir lament the destructive warfare that divides and exploits people and their lands. In “Survived a Bullet,” Monreal references the profiteering in arms manufacture and distribution: “guns being sold to enemies.” In “Ping-it nga Pagdapit,” Gumanao shares his pride for the bounty of his hometown and his disdain for the violence that causes the rain of bullets and blood: “unta wala sabwagi/ Og bala ug wala bisbisi og dugo ang kayutaan.” In “Su mga Ngiyawa kanu Inged,” Tahir fears the effacement of his people—“Bangsa nami a malagan den madadag kanu mapa” (Liping malapit nang maglaho sa mapa)—because of the armed conflict in Maguindanao. The violence that denies them of their basic rights is compounded by the dominant culture’s erasure of their history.
To combat exploitations and erasures caused by endless production and the cycle of grand narratives, we look to works containing subjects having the most potential for emancipation: In this collection, two offer a take on retrieving one’s agency. First, there is “Black and White” by Mariz Leona. In her story, fractured identities arise out of the failed pursuit of dreams and succumbs to schizophrenia—a state of self-reality fueled by desire. Then, there is the erasure poetry “Internal Change” by Lance Isidore Catedral. Sculpted from Tinsley Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, the redaction asserts a body’s autonomy. A body takes its cue from interior adjustments as a response to, or as an initiative of “change.” Leona’s fiction offers a compelling model for liberation but may prove to be too extreme. It is Catedral’s choice of form and self-assured proclamation that offers a sensible opportunity for subversion during these times of bodily commodification.
The Phenomenon of Consumerism
Aligned with industrialization are the tendencies to accumulate and consume. The encroachment of globalization has normalized the consumption of goods and services—it has been thoroughly integrated in our consciousness that we have become our own voracious bakunawas, swallowing whole worlds with our unbridled cravings. “Something Sad” by Boon Kristoffer Lauw tests the borders of desire and loyalty. A revelation towards the end of his fiction makes the reader examine where perversion lies—is it in the unconventional relationship of the characters, or is it the betrayal resulting from people’s insatiable appetites? Also operating within the act of consuming, “adobo is my favorite dish” by Benj Marlowe Cordero is an erotic expression of desire told through the preparation of the popular dish that has numerous variations in our multicultural society.
Globalization makes us think that we are given agency because of the freedom to make choices in terms of materials and services to consume, but since identities have been packaged and served to us, then the freedom we experience is only artificial. There is no agency if it is forced. Shouldn’t we break away from this confinement?
The common thread that runs through the works featured this month is the violence that comes with change—a violence of unification. The poems, stories, and essays show the diversity of the literary harvest in the region—hopefully, in time, they would remain resiliently that way, too. I would like to think of the region’s writers as people who are constantly mediating the polarities of the past and the present while examining the impasses of the globalized world in their creative outputs.
While it is paradoxical to offer a totalizing framework for reading literary productions in the regions, it seems only logical that we deploy literature and its multicultural nature to resist the threat of erasure brought about by the violence of globalizing uniformity.
I must also include a disclaimer that the works featured in this issue go beyond the project being furthered. The selection is not preconstituted, as I only offer a reading inspired by essays in globalization.
Also, I have always been for literary productions celebrating the diversity of mother tongues. Pushing for literary production in one language is another form of dominance, not far from colonization and globalization. I look forward to more submissions in the journal. I am hopeful and excited for more people to be involved in the production, dissemination, and consideration of literature—the recovery project is protracted. The recognition of loss and the decision to look for it begin with self-examination and recollection, as what Narcissus and Tala in Guiam’s poems convey. It is in literary poeisis that we are able to exercise a reflexive interrogation of our lives, and in the process, invites our collective minds to question ideas of stasis, liminality, and progress.
Eric Gerard H. Nebran