Introduction to September 2019 Issue

Three years ago today, Cotabato Literary Journal was launched, at a poetry reading in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. Since then, this online publication has featured nearly three hundred works from more than a hundred local writers. The journey, though, has never been easy. Each issue has been a product of community work and not just the usual editorial process. The editors could not rely on the journal’s inbox alone, and opportunities had to be created to encourage literary production, such as writing contests, poetry readings, zine fests, and seminars. So in this anniversary issue, we are paying tribute to where everything is happening and the wellspring of inspiration to many writers—the hometown.

In “Memories of Compound,” an essay by Estrella Taño Golingay, readers learn that the municipality of Surallah in the province of South Cotabato used to be a village called “Compound.” Nonfiction editor Jennie Arado says the piece is “beautifully written with references to the early ’60s landmarks juxtaposed with the current landmarks” and “rich in details which the people living [in the place then] would certainly share and generally look back to.” She also says that the piece “well embodies the ‘hometown’ we would always come back to—whether physically or in memory.”

The two other essays in this issue are products of Lagulad Prize, a regionwide writing competition organized by this journal with generous help from Blaise Francisco. Lagulad is a Hiligaynon word that means “to explore,” and the contest encourages writers “to focus on exploring an experience instead of imparting knowledge to, or imposing personal values on, the readers.” In the second edition of the contest, writers were asked how the conflict in Mindanao had affected them. Invariably, the entries speak as much about the hometown of the writers as about the writers themselves. The reviews that follow are those of nonfiction editor Hazel-Gin Aspera’s.

In “Addressing Racism: Steadfast Wherever My Feet Lead Me,” Midpantao Midrah G. Adil II reflects upon the double-edged sword of diversity and discrimination—that is, the beauty and richness of his Maguindanaoan heritage, but also the stigma he faced growing up as a Muslim in a Catholic school. In a stroke of fate, Adil gets the opportunity to travel across the Philippines to understand cultures different from his own. In truly experiencing diversity, he thus comes into terms with his differences and becomes conscious of the role he can play in promoting acceptance. This essay, the winner of the 2nd Lagulad Prize, subtly explores the link between personal experience and wider perspective of the conflict in Mindanao.

Isabelle Mirabueno’s “Fear Takes a Back Seat” explores her experiences of the conflict in Mindanao. In her case, however, the threat lies dormant, lurking in the periphery of her everyday life through the news, political fora, and, even closer to home, the experience of her own father. Mirabueno, however, takes a defiant stance on this threat, questioning the role of fear in making everyday decisions. This essay, a finalist to the 2nd Lagulad Prize, entreats us to be rational even in the face of conflict and, as the famous British World War II poster might say, to “keep calm and carry on.”

Sa “Ang Pagkatuyo ng Lupa at Puso,” isang maikling kuwento ni Mubarak M. Tahir, maagang namulat sa responsibilidad at hirap ng buhay ang isang batang lalaki dahil sa pagkamatay ng isang minamahal at sa pinsalang dulot ng kalikasan sa kabuhayan ng kaniyang pamilya. Ipinapakita sa kuwento ang payak na pamumuhay ng mga magsasakang Muslim sa isang pamayanan sa Maguindanao. Nababalot man ng kalungkutan ang kuwento, kaaya-aya itong basahin dahil sa maayos na pagkahabi ng mga tagpo at sa pagkabanayad ng wika, na nakasalaysay sa Filipino at pinanatili ang Maguindanon sa dayalogo.

Ang sugilanon nga “Lanahan” ni Alvin Larida nahanungod sa isa ka tao nga naguba ang panghunahuna isa ka adlaw kag ginlagas sang wasay ang iya asawa nga bitbit ang lapsag pa nila nga anak. Makangingidlis ang mga panghitabo sa istorya, kapin pa kay ang mga toloohan nga yara diri ginapatihan pa sa gihapon sa mga uma kag suok nga lugar. Ang mga misteryo sa istorya may mga sabat, apang ang mga sabat nagahatag lang sang mas madamo nga misteryo. Tama lang sa unod sang istorya ang amo ni nga istilo sang pag-istorya.

Nakasulat naman sa ginhalo na Tagalog at Hiligaynon ang tula ni Gerald Galindez na “Maalikabok Ka Lang pero Kaganda Mo,” isang pagpahayag ng pagmahal sa Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, ang ginlakihan kag ginatirhan ngayon ng makata. Tulad ng lenggwahe na gingamit sa tula, na lenggwahe din talaga na ginasalita sa lugar, halo-halo ang katangian ng Tacurong na ginapuri—mula sa giyakap mo lahat ng tribu hanggang sa mga pakpak na ginto, apoy sa dulo ng mga yantok, at mula sa kadaming nagaasa sa iyong paaralan hanggang sa mga sayaw na nagasabog. Isa itong kakaibang tula tungkol sa isang kakaibang bayan.

Sa tulang “Kubo” ni Norsalim S. Haron, nakakulong ang persona hindi lamang sa isang bahay kundi maging sa kaniyang katawan, at isa na lamang siyang tagamasid sa buhay ng iba: Ang katabing bintana ay nagsisilbi bilang sinehan—/ pinanonood ko ang mga batang nagtatagisan. Malalaman kinalaunan na paglipas ng panahon ang dahilan ng kaniyang kalagayan: Araw-gabi akong nakatanaw/ sa punyal, espada’t katanang naghahabulan/ sa kaloob-looban ng aming orasan. Gayunpaman, maaaring maging malaya ang nakakulong: tila mananatili na ako sa kubo/ nang may galak sa piling ng aking anino. Sinusubok ng tula ang pananaw ng mambabasa sa kalagayan at kaligayahan ng ibang tao.

Amgid ang tumong sa balak ni Glenn M. Arimas nga “Sa Amoang Balay.” Ginadulaan ang pasabot sa mga pulong ug ang pagtan-aw sa mambabasa sa posisyon ug espasyo: wala gagawas, pero naa pirmis gawas/ naa pirmis balay, naa sa sulod./ Wala ko nakakulong kay naa ra kos among balay. Dalaygon ang magbabalak sa iyahang pagsulay og suwat og sugpay nga duol sa iyahang kasingkasing gamit ang pinulongan sa iyahang komunidad.

Maraming salamat sa lahat ng naging bahagi ng Cotabato Literary Journal sa nakalipas na tatlong taon, bilang patnugot, kontributor, o mambabasa man. Nanatiling matatag ang proyektong ito dahil maraming handang mag-ambag, dahil maraming nagmamahal sa kanilang mga bayan, na pinapahalagahan ng journal sa simula pa man. Kakakitaan ng malakas na lokal na kulay ang marami sa mga gawang naitampok sa mga nakaraang isyu. Sa ating ikaapat na taon, patuloy nating ipagdiwang, galugarin, at ibahagi ang mga kuwento natin.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat


Introduction to April 2019 Issue

April is National Literature Month, and our modest contribution to the celebration is the usual lineup of well-written works from writers in the region. For this issue, we have eight works in four languages—or five, if a hybrid of Tagalog and Hiligaynon is counted as a separate language.

“Amay, Anak, kag Tiyay Magda,” a Hiligaynon flash fiction by Alvin Larida, is about a member of a cult chosen to serve the leader. In less than seven hundred words, the writer packs the story with taboos—sacrilegious rituals, sex with someone so much older, and sex between someone in power and a follower—all told in an earnest and naive voice, resulting in an enthralling narrative.

“Kung Di Mo Na Kaya,” a Filipino flash fiction by Rustom M. Gaton, is about a suicide victim who finds herself in a bizarre situation. The story rises above the usual horror fare by making the reader think about giving up and going on.

For the fifth time, we are featuring a work from Allan Ace Dignadice, one of the most promising writers in the region. His homoerotic one-act play “Hawla,” written in Filipino, challenges the reader’s notion of desire, consent, and memory.

“Undang-Piti,” a Cebuano poem by Hannah Adtoon Leceña, portrays men’s playfulness: “Dili na jud ka?”/ Nagpahiyom lang ko./ Niana ka,/ “Lahi na sab atoang dulaon.” The naughtiness gives the reader kilig, but the poem is ultimately heartbreaking, as the first lines caution: Tingalig gilaay na pud ka/ Maong nanghagad ka/ Nga magpitikanay tang duha.

Heartbreaking from start to finish is Gerald Galindez’s “Meri Krismas, Langit,” a poem on loss. Indeed, the smallest coffins are the heaviest: Kami pala ang magbigay ng regalo ngayon/ Ibalot namin sa  karton, silopin/ Kahirap buhatin. The use of dialect Filipino gives the poem specificity, adding even more weight to the tragedy.

Also in this issue are works of three female writers who will be joining our editorial team soon. One is “Outgrown” by Andrea D. Lim. Slow, sensual, and searching, the poem traces the progress of a relationship, revealing cracks every now and then: My eyes shift direction to our reflections,/ the disheveled bed hair, skin-deep reaches and plunges, two bodies taking a place/ through giving in to its chance for the temporal haul/ of an endless whole. The lovers wind up in a less-than-ideal situation, as perhaps most people are fated to.

In the essay “The Old Office on the Side of the Road,” Jennie P. Arado recalls a part of her childhood. In our early years, we experience everything for the first time, so even mundane moments with people we barely know can be etched in our memory and have lasting effects in our lives. The piece is suffused with nostalgia for the more innocent self and for simpler times.

In “We Are Not in Paradise,” Hazel-Gin Lorenzo Aspera meditates just as much on how to tell the experience as on the experience itself, making the essay experimental in form and almost spiritual in content. Adding to the charm of the piece are lucid descriptions of nature.

With these works, mostly steeped in our region’s culture, we hope to help advance a little the country’s literature. By writing about our lives in ways that matter to the people around us, we enrich our own space and hopefully offer something new to the audience beyond. Let us read and write more local works this National Literature Month.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Panimula sa Marso 2019 Isyu


Sa politika at komersiyo, hindi na bago ang konsepto ng “sister cities” o “twin towns.” Nitong mga nagdaang araw, napapaisip ako kung may kagaya nito sa panitikan. Para kasing ito ang tinatahak na daan ng General Santos City at ng San Jose City sa Nueva Ecija.

Kagagaling ko lang sa ikatlong Nueva Ecija Personal Essay Writing Workshop, na binuo ng tubo roon at premyadong manunulat na si Wilfredo Pascual. Kasama ko ang katulad kong panelist na si Jade Mark Capiñanes at isa sa mga fellow na si Kurt Joshua Comendador, na parehong mula sa General Santos.

Nagsimula ang ugnayan ng dalawang lungsod noong Pebrero 2017, nang bumisita si Sir Willi sa General Santos sa imbitasyon ng doktor sa kanser at premyadong mananaysay na si Noel Pingoy. Nagbigay ng panayam sa isang mall si Sir Willi, at nagpasa ng isang resolusyon ang Sangguniang Panlungsod na nagdedeklara sa kaniya bilang adopted son ng lugar.

Noong nakaraang taon, binuo ng Cotabato Literary Journal—kasama si Blaise Francisco, isang manunulat na tubong General Santos at nakabase ngayon sa Europa—ang Lagulad Prize, isang patimpalak ng mga personal na sanaysay para sa rehiyon ng SOCCSKSARGEN. Kinuha namin bilang hurado si Sir Willi, at nagpasya siyang igawad ang premyo sa akda ng labinsiyam na taong gulang na si Kurt. Nagpasya rin siyang gawaran si Kurt ng fellowship sa workshop na inoorganisa niya sa kaniyang kinalakhang bayan. Inimbitahan niya rin kami ni Jade na pumunta upang magbigay ng mga komento sa mga natanggap na gawa.

Kagaya ng mga lungsod na itinambal ng mga opisyal ng gobyerno, halos walang kaugnayan o pagkakatulad ang General Santos at San Jose. Iba ang wikang ginagamit ng mga tao roon. Iba rin ang itsura ng mga jeep. Kita sa kultura ng lugar na umunlad ito dahil sa lapit nito sa Maynila, na kabaligtaran ng General Santos at iba pang lungsod sa Mindanao—umunlad kahit malayo sa Maynila.

Maging sa panitikan, mas hayag ang pagkakaiba kaysa pagkakatulad ng San Jose at General Santos. May kaniya-kaniyang uniberso ang mga kuwento sa Central Luzon at ang mga kuwento sa SOCCSKSARGEN. Kung meron mang nag-uugnay sa dalawang lungsod, umuusbong pa lamang, at ito ay ang adhikain ng mga manunulat na yumabong ang personal na sanaysay sa panitikan ng Pilipinas.

* * *

Kadalasang inilalabas namin ang isyu ng Cotabato Literary Journal sa unang araw ng buwan. Para ngayong Marso 2019, nagpasya kaming hintaying matapos ang Nueva Ecija workshop, na ginanap mula Pebrero 28 hanggang Marso 2. Hinintay naming marebisa ni Kurt ang kaniyang sanaysay dahil nais naming maitampok ang workshop habang sariwa pa ang mga balita tungkol dito. Kasama ang sanaysay ni Kurt, ang dalawang maikling kuwento at tatlong tula sa isyung ito ay nagpapakita na mulat ang mga batang manunulat ng SOCCSKSARGEN. Kilala nila ang mga sarili, alam nila ang mga nangyayari sa paligid, at handa silang mag-eksperimento upang mahasa pa ang kakayahan sa pagsusulat.

Pawang tungkol sa mga bata ang mga kuwentong “Diin na si Simó?” ni Allan Ace Dignadice at “Muwang” ni Doren John Bernasol. Sa panahong nauudyok ang ating mga mambabatas na ibaba ang edad ng criminal liability, isang paalala ang mga kuwento kung paano maging bata. Mga tao rin ang mga bata. Mga tao silang may sariling pananaw sa mundo at may sariling kagustuhan, ngunit dahil wala silang kapangyarihan sa ating lipunan, madalas silang nakakaligtaan at madaling mapagsamantalahan.

Relasyon din ng nasa ilalim ng kapangyarihan at ng may hawak ng kapangyarihan ang nilalaman ng tulang “Patawad, Ama” ni Norsalim S. Haron. Ramdam sa tula ang hirap ng kalagayan ng nagsasalita. Hanggang saan nga ba natin susundin ang ating mga magulang, at kailan natin igigiit ang sariling pagkakakilanlan?

Mula naman sa zine na Bioluminescence ang mga tulang “Ode to the World’s Oldest Lullaby” ni Marc Jeff Lañada at “Cautionary Tale” ni Jermaine Dela Cruz. Mga gawang tungkol sa dagat ang nilalaman ng zine, at binuo ito ng mga batang manunulat sa General Santos para sa SOX Zine Fest, na ginanap noong Nobyembre 2018. Parehong kongkreto ang anyo at unibersal ang tema ng dalawang tula.

May kinalaman din sa tubig ang “To Pull a Hook.” Sa sanaysay, binalikan ni Kurt ang mga karanasan niya sa pamimingwit nang minsang mamalagi siya sa isang lugar na malapit sa ilog. Makikita sa talas ng detalye at maayos na istruktura ng akda ang epekto ng mga palihang pinagdaanan nito.

Upang malinang ang panitikan ng ating rehiyon, nakaugat dapat ang ating mga akda sa ating sariling kasaysayan, pamumuhay, at maging heograpiya, ngunit mahalaga ring nakikipagpalitan tayo ng kaalaman sa ibang lugar at manunulat. Patuloy na makikipag-ugnayan ang Cotabato Literary Journal sa Nueva Ecija Personal Essay Writing Workshop. Hangad naming tumibay pa ang nasimulang samahan ng General Santos at San Jose.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Introduction to February 2019 Issue

For this issue, we have another strong line-up of works from both veteran and budding writers in the region. We’re presenting first the bleakest in the bunch and then the lighter ones as we move along. Make no mistake, however. Their tones may be different, but each work is finely crafted and helps us examine the human condition.

Angelo Serrano’s “It Comes at Night” is a short story about a kid and the “monsters” that enter his family’s home whenever his father goes away and leaves him and his mother alone. In a simple and clear language, Serrano captures the innocence of a child to reveal the cruelty of adults.

In the flash fiction “A Tale of Two Candles,” Jed Reston uses a fleeting moment to juxtapose the lives of two women. He also toys with time to further show what the moment means. The story tells us how uncertain life is and how prayer gives us a (false) sense of certainty.

Gwyneth Joy Prado’s “Bagyo,” another flash fiction, is about a girl’s reaction to a coming typhoon. She frantically prepares, while other people her age look forward to the suspension of classes, a shallow benefit. We eventually learn the reason for her actions, and we are left to question the way we view disasters. More often than not, we only care when we’re bound to lose—or we’ve lost—something or someone.

Alvin Pomperada’s “Lababo” deals with family and loneliness and is a remarkable example of how wordplay can add a deeper layer to a poem. Instead of making light of the narrator’s situation, the humor makes it even more poignant.

In his two succinct essays, Apolinario B. Villalobos shows us how travel can give us fresh insights on people and places. “The Petrified Woman of Capiz,” despite the macabre subject, is a heartwarming look at Filipinos’ strange religiosity, and “Spelunking, Anyone?” tells us that each place has its own story and travelers have their own stories to make in each place.

This is the journal’s thirtieth issue. We thank the benefactors, editors, contributors, and readers who have been with us for the past thirty months. So far, more than two hundred well-written pieces from local writers have appeared here. There will be more.

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat


To welcome the new year, we are featuring new voices. Some of these names are not entirely new to writing, but it is their first time to be published in Cotabato Literary Journal. The works also came not from our inbox but from zines, a Facebook page, and a writing competition. We go out of our way to discover new talents, and we are rewarded every time.

On November 25, 2018, the second SOX Zine Fest was held in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and one of the best works from the event is Zaira Mae Calub’s “The Days and Nights of Claire,” a short story in a collection of works by a group of college students. Calub writes with the deftness of a seasoned fictionist. The characters are compelling, and the plot is clean, and with an eye for detail, she turns a stale psychological thriller into an intimate tale of love and loss, as could be glimpsed from this sentence: I walked down the suburban road out of that house he called home, or at least based on the Home Sweet Home doormat that must have never been washed since it was laid down on the front doorstep.

Other remarkable outputs from the zine fest are Renaizza Sheen D. Fuentebella’s “White Sikad” and Jeffriel Buan’s “Ang Thesis ni Jeneva.” The former is a heartwarming tale about an encounter with a strange old woman, and the latter is a comical take on the struggles of a college student. Buan’s work, written in highfalutin Cebuano interspersed with English clichés and pop culture references, belongs to a type of writing that has become a regular fare in student publications in General Santos City, first popularized about twenty years ago by John Vianney Trocio of Mindanao State University. These writings often border on shallow entertainment, but they can also veer towards satire, as exemplified in “Ang Thesis.”

Nilyn Gamuza Pacariem’s “Abyan” is a binalaybay, or Hiligaynon poem, that likens a friend to a tasty dish: maisog ang timplada/ nagapanalupsup sa kaundan/ ang tagsa ka tinaga/ nga ginasimbug. Many writers tend to anthropomorphize everything, and here, Pacariem does the opposite; she ascribes the qualities of something inanimate to a human being. As a result, she successfully shows us how deep our longing could be for one another and makes us see in another light the nonliving things around us.

Luis B. Bahay Jr. wrote “Mababasa Rin ang Lupang Tuyo” in remembrance of “the Kidapawan massacre,” as the media calls it. On April 2, 2016, at least three protesters died and more than a hundred were injured in a dispersal of a rally in Kidapawan City, Cotabato Province. Complex and conflicting narratives about the event have been unraveled since then. One side accuses the authorities of oppression and heavy-handedness. The other side accuses leftist groups of manipulating the poor, especially the indigenous people, to rise up against the government. Bahay’s poem reminds readers of the crux of the matter—a drought had caused hunger among farmers, and instead of being given rice, bullets rained on them.

Roi Marc P. Labasan’s “Fairy Tale” is a humorous and stinging response to some teenagers’ naive view of love and life, formed or reinforced by traditional Disney animated movies: A kiss will never ever wake you from an eternal coma. If you’re dying, go get a doctor, not a creepy prince. He first delivered the piece at a spoken word poetry event in Kabacan, Cotabato Province. Even if the piece is a bit too cynical, it was refreshing to hear amidst the monotonous lamentations about unrequited feelings and unfaithful partners. Like the two other poems in this issue, Labasan’s poem was previously posted on Sulat SOX, a popular Facebook page that features non-refereed works from writers in SOCCSKSARGEN Region.

The only essay in this issue, Niccah T. Carillo’s “Treasures for a Lifetime,” was one of the two finalists at the inaugural edition of the regionwide Lagulad Prize. A teenager who has to work her way to school, Carillo finds a free time one day to sit in the city plaza and look back on her life so far. Award-winning essayist Wilfredo Pascual, the final judge of the contest, stated that he “appreciated” Carillo’s “endearing and precious reflections” in her essay and reading it reminded him of the phase in his youth when his journal was “riddled with mottos.”

We hope that by putting the spotlight on new voices on this special part of the year, we can encourage more people to write, not only for Cotabato Literary Journal but in all venues that are available to them. The previous twenty-eight issues of the journal have proven that the region is a wellspring of literary talents. All they need is an opportunity to be heard and appreciated and some nurturing. May we all have a productive year ahead!

Jude Ortega
Sen. Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat


In observance of National Indigenous Peoples Month, we are featuring in this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal contemporary creative works that are written by the lumad or about the lumad in the region. The works do not represent or reflect all the local indigenous literatures; our limited resources prevent us from undertaking such a project. The works deal only with a few tribes and a few themes. But each of them provides an insight into the shared aspects of the plights and cultures of indigenous peoples.

The original lyrics of the Blaan song “Kastifun” has appeared in the National Arts Month (February 2018) issue of this journal, and for the song to reach a wider audience, we are publishing its Filipino and English translations in the current issue. “Kastifun,” which literally means “gathering,” is the most popular song of Silek Musical Ensemble, the five members of which play both modern and indigenous musical instruments. At the core of the song is the persona’s deep concern with violence. Bakit tayo nag-aaway sa sariling bayan? is the most repeated line. As translated by Henry G. Dalon, the persona further states: Kailan matatapos ang pagdanak ng dugong Blaan sa bawat tinutunguhang bayan?/ Maraming matatapang,/ Maraming masasamang salita. The song seems to confirm the Blaan people’s reputation for being one of the fiercest tribes in the Philippines. But in the latter part, the persona expresses a longing and plea for peace, obviously the ultimate message of the composition: Magtulungan tayo sa ikauunlad ng bayan./ Itigil na natin ang pag-aaway.

“Si Sambiling owoy sa Senang,” written in the Dulangan Manobo language, is difficult for us to categorize. The story contains fantastical details that the writer, Mark Banday Lu, considers true. In modern literary practice, such details would not be included—or would be presented as mere beliefs and not actual occurrences—in nonfiction pieces, or the whole work would be classified as fiction. We decided not to evaluate the work using mainstream standards and regarded it the way the writer does—a real story of a member of his family. Sambiling Banday, who died in February this year, was a tribal healer and Lu’s grandfather. Through oral storytelling, his experiences were passed on to his children and grandchildren, and the account in this journal is the very first written version. (We would like to thank Monica Aquino Kamal for helping us with the orthography.) The story is rich and quite interesting. While living in the middle of the jungle and guided by a magical beam of light, Sambiling encounters humanlike pigs, one of which became his second wife, a family of talking monkeys, and irascible deities, among others.

“Bulawan,” a one-act play by Anna Liz V. Cabrido, is about a Blaan couple caught in a complicated conflict between a mining company and government forces on one side and communist rebels on the other side. Although melodramatic and clearly written from an outsider’s point of view, the play succeeds in showing the readers the difficult choices that many indigenous people have to make in the face of systemic oppression.

“Panibagong Digma,” a poem by John Carlo S. Gloria, deals with a similar subject matter. In December last year, two government soldiers and eight men belonging to the Tboli and Dulangan Manobo tribes were killed in the boundary of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat. The military called the incident a legitimate operation against communist rebels. Progressive groups called it a massacre of civilians fighting for their ancestral domain against a private plantation. In harrowing images, Gloria echoes the latter: Hindi paggapas sa bukid ang aalingawngaw/ sa tamlay ng araw/ kundi mga kalabit sa gatilyo ng punglo/ na sasaluhin ng inyong katawan at bungo. However anyone sees what happened, everyone will agree that the poem is right about one thing—violence will beget violence: Kaya’t dito, sa inyong minsang pinagyaman at pinatabang lupa,/ tutubo’t yayabong ang isang panibagong digma.

In the spoken word poem “Tintang Dugo,” Kenneth Michael L. Dalimbang makes a confession: he has gotten a girl pregnant. Still in his teens, he is not ready yet for the responsibility that lies ahead and the commitment that he will have to make. The lines are heavy with regret: Dugo ang tinta, at walang hanggan ko nang isusulat/ Ang hinagpis na dulot ng pagkakamaling/ Sa iba’y hindi maisusumbat. Religion further complicates his predicament. He is a Christian, and the girl is a Muslim. That Dalimbang has been raised as a Christian and holds traditional Christian values might come as a surprise to many Christian settlers. Even to this day, many members of non-lumad tribes still stereotype the lumad as animists or polytheists, among other things. The poem does not only make us feel the poet’s personal agony; it also gives us a glimpse of his tribe’s changing—or changed—way of life.

“Barefoot Bulayan,” the text of a picture book by Mary Ann Ordinario, is based on a true story of a Bagobo boy. Bulayan does not like wearing shoes, which causes his classmates, who presumably belong to settler families, to taunt him. His teacher and some other concerned individuals give him shoes, but Bulayan remains indifferent to both the bullying and the generosity. Eventually, the teacher and the school principal learn why when they go to Bulayan’s community, and the story ends with understanding and acceptance. Without being didactic, Ordinario teaches readers, settlers especially, how we should deal with the lumad. We need not change them to accept them. We need to change ourselves instead.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat


It’s National Arts Month, and in this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, we aim to show you how literature is made richer by other forms of art, specifically film, music, visual arts, and theater. This issue contains two kinds of literary works. One is literary works that are entwined with other forms of art. These works, such as screenplay, lyrics, and play (written), are meant to be performed; they are mixed with other elements and then presented to an audience. The other kind is literary works that are meant to be read only, such as poem, essay, and short story, and inspired by works from other forms of art, such as film, musical composition, painting, photograph, and play (staged). It’s a headache to classify the works—the forms of art have such a complex interrelationship—but we tried, and here’s the delectably psychedelic results:

We were able to gather two film-related works—the screenplay Jamir by Genory Vanz Alfasain (Alabel, Sarangani Province) and the poem “Kuala’s Song” by Gerald Galindez (Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat). Alfasain wrote, directed, and edited Jamir, a short film, which tells the story of a Moro boy facing a dilemma that even adults would not know how to deal with. The screenplay is deftly written; the dialogue is cut down to the minimum, and each scene is essential to the story. Galindez wrote “Kuala’s Song” after seeing Tinimbang Ka ngunit Kulang, a classic film by the late National Artist Lino Brocka. Kuala, a main character in the film, is mentally ill. In his heartbreaking melodic poem, Galindez retells how the woman is treated in her town and what has made her lose her mind.

Under music, we have lyrics from Silek (Tampakan, South Cotabato), lyrics from Kim Nathaniel Tan (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), and a hybrid work from Kurt Joshua Comendador (General Santos City). Silek, composed of six Blaans who play indigenous and modern musical instruments, shared with us the lyrics of their most popular song, “Kastifun,” which literally means “gathering.” The song calls on Blaans to end conflicts among themselves and unite. Tan, a young singer, songwriter, and guitarist, often performs in local poetry readings, where his Filipino love songs elicit bittersweet sighs and generous applause. He shared with us the lyrics of his songs that deal with social issues. “Philippines, My Homeland” is about love for country, and “The Jam Man” is about armed conflict and religious tolerance. Comendador, a pianist since he was a kid, shared with us the piece entitled “Frédéric.” It’s an essay about the writer’s experience of listening to Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-flat Major, op. 22, by Frederic Chopin, and interspersed in the essay are scenes from the life of the Austrian pianist and composer.

Under visual arts, we have Susi, a painting-and-poem by Aldrick Lawrence Velasco (Tantangan, South Cotabato), and Minsan sa may Bagsakan, a set of photographs by Hajar Kabalu (Cotabato City). Velasco, a self-taught artist, often creates paintings that have accompanying poems, mostly about nature and faith in God. Susi is a typical example. Kabalu’s photographs were taken in the public market of his home city. They form what may be called wordless poetry or photo poetry. The word bagsakan literally means “where goods are unloaded,” but there are no goods in the photos. Instead of showing us the usual hustle and bustle of a marketplace, Kabalu directs us to its humdrum and bleak edges, giving us a wider and deeper view of things, as what a good poem does. To illustrate further how photography and literature may intersect, we asked a few writers to create ekphrastic poems on the photographs. Paolo Concepcion (Koronadal City, South Cotabato) chose the photo of a man leaving a store, and in “One More Customer,” he tells us the life of the vendor. But he doesn’t stop there. He gives us a grimmer—and truer—version. Jermaine Dela Cruz (General Santos City) chose the photo of a cat walking on a pavement, and in “If Curiosity Kills,” she makes us reimagine the captured moment by examining the details.

Our theater-related works include a full-length play by Jim Raborar (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), a poem by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera (Koronadal City, South Cotabato), and a poem by John Dominic Arellano (Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat). Raborar’s Hapagkainan is a rambunctious story about a family and their friends as they prepare for a wedding. Rivera’s “Hikbi ng Batang Matadero” is based on Eljay Castro Deldoc’s one-act play Si Maria Isabella at ang Guryon ng mga Tala, which in turn was based on Dean Francis Alfar’s short story “The Kite of Stars.” In a local production of the play, Rivera himself played the butcher boy, one of the two main characters. The story and his experience inspired him to write the poem, which many would find more poignant than either the adapted play or the original short story, for the butcher boy’s heartache is greater than Maria Isabella’s. Arellano’s “Ang Bida” is about a stage actress, her fantastic role in a play, and her staid role in real life. He wrote it after seeing some plays that were staged late last year by Apat sa Taglamig, a Koronadal-based theater group.

We classified the works according to “disciplines” enumerated in Presidential Proclamation No. 683, series of 1991, which designated February as National Arts Month. Also in the list are dance and architecture, but alas, we were not able to find works that may fall under the two. Spoken word is not in the list, for it’s not as established as the others, but we deem it worthy to be added here. We have two spoken word poems—“Pangatlong Mata” by Hannah Adtoon Leceña (Kiamba, Sarangani Province) and “Ako si Dan” by Dan Joseph Zapanta Rivera. Leceña’s poem is about unrequited love, like most works by young spoken word performers, but by using folklore, she creates something new and interesting out of the worn-out theme. Rivera’s poem is addressed to Filipinos, especially his fellow youth, who seem enslaved by social media and have misguided views on political issues.

This may be the most beautiful issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, and this became possible because we now have a good number of regular submissions and the region has many emerging writers to solicit works from—a step forward from months ago, when we could barely find works to fill an issue, and a far cry from a few years ago, when we seemed to have an arid literary landscape. It is evident in the fifteen works from thirteen artists that the arts and letters of Cotabato Region is starting to have its own identity. The works follow outside trends and traditions but speak to the local audience. The themes are universal, but the setting and characters are specific. The concerns are national, but the sensibility is regional. This National Arts Month, we are glad to participate in the countrywide celebration, and we are glad that we can do it not by blending with the rest but by highlighting our own.

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat