Introduction to Issue 41

After releasing forty consecutive monthly issues, Cotabato Literary Journal ceased operation this year, but it has nothing to do with the pandemic, which has been the main reason for the restrictions, cancellations, dissolutions, and sudden deaths of a myriad of things. Maintaining an unfunded online publication, or any literary endeavor for that matter, is simply full of challenges even in the best of times. We are momentarily back for this special issue—a collection of essays on natural phenomena and the supernatural, gathered with the help of cultural worker and multi-awarded essayist Wilfredo Pascual, who comes from outside the region but was declared adopted son of General Santos City a couple of years ago.

In “Nalulunod Din ang Mga Isda,” Rexcel Samulde narrates how a massive fish kill, specifically the repulsive smell that it emits, ruined a supposedly idyllic getaway to Lake Sebu, arguably the most famous tourism destination in the region. The essayist explores various explanations for the calamity, including barbers’ tales, scientific theories, and T’boli myths. He also shares a family tragedy and some personal experiences related to the lake and the smell of death. By using olfactory sensations and associations to make sense of a phenomenon, Samulde gives readers something unique and scintillating.

Another work about nature’s wrath is “Ang Ikawalong Salot,” Arville Villaflor Setanos’s musings on locusts, abominable pests for farmers and delicacy for many people in the region. Eating fried locusts reminds the essayist of his childhood, particularly the summer vacations that he used to spend in his grandparents’ village, where he became friends with some boys in the neighborhood. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, the essay shows that a locust infestation is devastating but the human spirit is not easily broken.

Lino Gayanilo Jr.’s “Sa Ikalawang Yugto ng Yanggaw” is about the harrowing experience of an Ilonggo family when one of their members exhibited bizarre and eventually violent behavior, prompting them to believe that he was turning into an aswang. Skeptics and medical professionals would argue that the man had psychotic episodes, but the essay is more concerned with how people in farming communities typically deal with such a matter. Although the story is secondhand information, Gayanilo deftly presents it as an intimate portrait of a family trapped in uncertainty, helplessness, and mounting terror, culminating in a scene where the mother asks a neighbor to prepare his gun and shoot her son in case he finally grows wings and flies into the night, fully transformed into a diabolical creature.

In “Leping ni Ama,” DM Gasparillo Adil II shares an open secret of his family—his departed father has a spirit-twin that guards their home and that they in turn take care of in ways that many people would find strange and even creepy, such as keeping a dollhouse for it and assigning it a seat at the dining table. Although proud of Maguindanao culture, the essayist has been uneasy with his family’s beliefs and practices because these beliefs sometimes defy logic, the family is living in a predominantly Christian city, and a ritual that was once performed on him was meant to suppress his sexuality, invalidating his identity. The essay navigates between tradition and modernity, filial piety and self-assertion, nostalgia and objectivity—a wonderful read altogether.

In “Sanib,” Hannah Adtoon Leceña recounts the series of demonic possessions, which was perhaps a case of mass hysteria, in the school where she teaches. One of the victims is even said to have died and been resurrected, later becoming a faith healer with hundreds of patients flocking to her house. The essayist looks back at the experience with skepticism and awe. She seeks for practical answers, but the inexplicable scenes she witnessed and became part of—and the predisposition of the people around her to believe in the supernatural—were overwhelming. With her knack for storytelling, Leceña reveals how a strange experience can leave its marks on a commmunity and transform a member of it.

Another piece about small-town life is “Ang Sigbin, Si Natoy, at ang mga Kambing” by Jeffriel Cabca Buan. The essayist’s village, which has a history of violence, was blanketed in another kind of fear when domestic goats started to turn up dead in their owners’ backyards. The animals were eviscerated and sucked dry of blood, leading the villagers to believe that a vicious mythical creature was on the prowl. The creature was even rumored to have appeared to a deaf man. By turns satirical and self-deprecating, the essay shows that stepping out of an environment alters perspectives.

Portrayed in a more positive light is the community in Roland Dalisay Maran’s “Si Smaleng.” The indigenous cultural community at the top of the mountain had to work together one day when a toddler went missing. As believed by the members of the community and deduced by a healer next town, the toddler was a victim of an evil creature that could imitate the appearance of any person and takes away children. It’s interesting to note that the people in the village did not ask for help from the authorities, an indication of self-reliance, lack of access to government services, or both. Simple and fluid, the essay gives us a glimpse of Blaan beliefs and of communal relationship.

Another essay that touches on indigenous culture is “Lipak” by John Dave B. Pacheco. Tagakaolos believe that making fun of animals has an instant, serious punishment—a lightning would strike the offender. When he was nine, the essayist played with a crab and, as a result, experienced inadvertent ostracism. The community wanted to help him, but most of them didn’t have the knowledge or means to avert the lightning and were afraid of being struck by it along with him. Even if readers don’t believe that jokes and meteorological phenomena are connected, it’s difficult not to empathize with a child who believes that he is going to die any moment. There is also so much more to this essay than what is discussed. In light of the world’s current situation, we must change our ways by changing our views, and we can learn a thing or two from indigenous peoples, especially on their relationship with nature.

In “Tayhup,” Luis B. Bahay Jr. shares the memories that he had with his departed father, a healer who specialized in animal bites and used simple rituals and homemade oil. Every so often, the essayist served as his father’s assistant, and he witnessed many a patient get healed. In his eyes, his father was a good man, the ability to heal a gift from God, but for religious people, it’s the opposite. Not only once did he hear them say that faith healing was the devil’s work, and in response, all he could do was retreat in quiet indignation. The essay is a reminder that truth for one may not be for another and truth for many is rarely for all.

Martsu Ressan Ladia, who was born blind in the left eye and with severely limited vision in the right, shares his journey in life in “Ang Paghahanap sa Nawawalang Liwanag.” Doctors diagnosed Ladia with retinopathy of prematurity, but a Kalagan healer said that his condition was caused by something that his mother had seen or was not supposed to see. His mother corroborated the healer’s explanation—she had watched an eclipse while pregnant. When an eclipse occurred recently, it made Ladia recall that far more than the literal darkness, blind people struggle with the metaphorical darkness created by the ignorance, prejudice, and lack of empathy by those who have normal eyesight.

All these essays were longlisted at the third edition of Lagulad Prize, a competition that Cotabato Literary Journal conceived with Blaise Francisco, a writer from General Santos City that is now based abroad. In this year’s competition, organized with Wilfredo Pascual, the shortlisted entries were revised under the supervision of Pascual and other distinguished writers from outside the region, namely, Romulo P. Baquiran Jr., Franklin Cimatu, Allan N. Derain, Eugene Y. Evasco, and Danilo Francisco M. Reyes. These essays show what the region has and is capable of—rich cultures, perceptive storytellers, distinct literature. May we be able to write more in these trying times. Stay at home and read.

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat

Naming Our Wounds: An Introduction to December 2019 Issue

While writing down orders beside the vibrant glow of a Christmas tree, I received a query from Jude Ortega, an editor of Cotabato Literary Journal, about our friend Gilbert Tan. In a flash, the message crushed the placating anticipation of a rather difficult working day that was about to end. I had just discussed the likelihood of end-of-life care with the husband of a patient with stage 4 colon cancer when Jude forwarded a screenshot of a post about Sir Gilbert’s unexpected passing. I scarcely had ample breathing spell to recover from the thought that two kids might be orphaned within the next few hours, then this sudden jolt to the gut. It left me nauseous and dazed.

Realizing that I was at Sir Gilbert’s favorite hospital, I immediately proceeded to the Emergency Room. I had traversed the expanse from the third floor to the ground a thousand times during the customary rounds, but inexplicably my pace was unsteady and the steps were heavy. The resident-on-duty, a keen young “moonlighter” with a thoughtful demeanor, confirmed with heartbreaking certainty that our dear old friend had just been declared DOA—dead on arrival—despite over thirty minutes of steadfast cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

For many of us who have been following the literary scene in this part of the country, the late Gilbert Tan was not only a mentor, guide, and taskmaster but a torchbearer for the advancement of the written word in General Santos City and neighboring towns. He was the first in the region to have been accepted to the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete way back in 1989, and he was among the earliest to be recognized in a national writing competition when his short story “Crimson Crescents”—an unforgettable and tragic tale of love, faith, and acceptance involving a Christian nurse and a Moro insurgent during the tumultuous Black Shirt–Ilaga conflict in Mindanao in the early seventies—won the grand prize in the 1988 Mr. & Ms. magazine contest.

For many years, even after his retirement from teaching at Mindanao State University, he had been a lecturer and a judge in many a division, regional, and national schools press conference. Many student journalists in SOCCSKSARGEN had learned about the craft from him in extents that count writing—and by extension, reading—as a commitment, a passion, and an abundant cradle of joy. He paved the path for many younger writers to seriously pursue a kindhearted, almost altruistic, love affair with the written word, one that is bereft of personal gains or regional cliques.

When the editors of Cotabato Literary Journal first thought about coming up with a special “Illness” issue, they decided to have it in the last quarter of the year in solidarity with promotion of health awareness among its readers. Aside from the usual time constraints, the last month of the year was deemed appropriate as December 12 is celebrated as Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Day. The date marks the anniversary of the first unanimous United Nations resolution calling for all countries to provide their citizens affordable quality health care. The commemoration aims to raise awareness of the need for strong and resilient health systems and universal health coverage with multistakeholder partners and for UHC advocates to raise their voices to share their stories of the millions of people still waiting for health. In the Philippines, the Universal Health Care Bill has been signed into law (Republic Act No. 11223), thus giving every Filipino access to the full continuum of health services he needs while protecting him from enduring financial distress in the process.

Based on the talk I gave last year at Notre Dame of Marbel University (NDMU) in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, on behalf of the writers’ organizations in the region, this special issue would be called “Naming Our Wounds: The Illness Narratives,” a reflection on the power of medicine to mitigate human suffering, the inevitability of compassionate methodology to diagnose and treat the ill, the inequity of the medical institution in the upkeep of the physician, and, in a larger and more collective scope, the responsibility of society in cultivating the physical, spiritual, and intellectual welfare of doctors and patients alike. But the editors did not imagine the subject would hit home the hardest.

Way back in 2014, both Sir Gilbert and I had an intimate brush with death when we had cerebrovascular accidents (more commonly known as the stroke). I had mine in March, while he had his admission to the Intensive Care Unit in June. That we both survived this ordeal was a testament to the body’s tenacity to endure and to rewire the brain in what experts would call neuroplasticity, as well as the astute and well-timed interference by a multidisciplinary team of specialists that scrutinized, decrypted, and remedied the myriad pathologies that constituted this life-threatening illness. Neuroplasticity or brain plasticity is the ability of the brain to modify its connections to enable the brain to recover from brain injury like a stroke. The brain is unique in its capacity to recruit its many neural connections in correcting a transient deficit of function by rerouting signals along an entirely different pathway.

Over the next years, Sir Gilbert would regularly write about his struggle with post-stroke recovery and the occasional anxieties with abnormal laboratory results or unanticipated symptoms. He was known to share many things on social media about the world around him—and even within himself—especially the books he had recently read or acquired. He would often write about his stroke as if it were a metaphorical wound that needed incessant tending. Two years ago, he quoted the first lines from Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tide: “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” That would define, to my mind, his daily battles and little victories in the years preceding his untimely death.

In another post, he also mentioned Nelson Mandela’s “wounds that can’t be seen are more painful than those that can be seen and cured by a doctor.”

The Chiron myth, as discussed in the NDMU lecture, is a reminder of the multidimensional exile that wounded people inhabit during and after a serious illness. According to Greek mythology, Chiron was unlike the other centaurs that were known to have wild and barbarous tendencies and insatiable sexual appetites. He was the product of an unwilling union between the nymph Philira and the god Chronos. Disgusted and appalled by his appearance, Philira rejected and abandoned her child. Fortunately, the sun god Apollo adopted Chiron and taught all that he knew: prophecy, poetry, and healing.

Chiron formed a strong friendship with Heracles, among the mightiest in the Greek pantheon of heroes. They fought in battles together, side by side, on many an occasion. But Heracles accidentally wounded Chiron when he shot an arrow that struck the centaur’s knee. The wound was incurable because the arrow had been dipped at the gall of Hydra and was extremely lethal.

But Chiron, being immortal, could not die. The animal part of him had to suffer, while the divine part maintained his connection to life. For this reason, he became a renowned healer. He studied herb lore and therapeutic methods and became a medicine man in search of cure. He would never find one, but he found something better, something more consequential—a door to transcend his misery and become truly whole.

Without Chiron, many contend, there would not be the art of healing. Asclepius, the son of Apollo, learned medicine from the benevolent centaur. The descendants of Asclepius continued the practice of medicine and healing. Undoubtedly its most famous member was Hippocrates, immortalized as the father of modern medicine, who was credited by historians with moving the discipline of medicine away from supernatural and religious conviction toward a modern approach of observation, classification, causes, and effects.

Carl Jung, inspired by the myth of Chiron, defined the archetypal wounded healer as thus: “The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. Only the wounded physician heals. But when the doctor wears his personality like a coat of armor, he has not effect.” Chiron may have been physically wounded, but by surmounting the pain of his own wounds, he became a compassionate teacher of healing. Many contemporary psychotherapists see themselves as “wounded healers” in their respective societies, whereby they use the pain of their own life experiences to advance the health and healing of others.

In The Wounded Storyteller, professor of sociology at the University of Calgary Arthur W. Frank describes sick people as wounded storytellers. These are people who turn illness into stories that transform fate into experience. The disease that sets the body apart from others becomes, in the story, the common bond of suffering that joins individuals in their shared vulnerability.

A serious illness like cancer, stroke, AIDS, dementia, systemic lupus erythematosus, even chronic kidney disease, is a loss of the axiomatic “destination and map” that previously guided the ill person’s life. People with illness have to learn to think differently. By listening to themselves tell their respective stories, they learn by absorbing the reactions of others and by experiencing their stories being shared.

It has been said that all of literature can be divided into two themes. First, a person goes on a journey. Second, a stranger comes to town. While this might be terribly naive, there is gist of truth in it. And it is also true that narratives of medicine merge both these themes. A person goes on a journey: the person is the patient, and accompanying him on the voyage is the doctor. A stranger  comes to town: the stranger is the illness, the uninvited guest who disrupts the equilibrium of quotidian life, where the journey leads, how the two voyagers change over the course of the story, and whether the stranger is ultimately expelled or in some way subdued give each narrative its unique drama.

In this issue, we follow in An-Nurhaiyden Mangelen’s heartbreaking “An Ama Reverie” a grandson’s struggle with his family’s journey from a village in Maguindanao to Cotabato City and finally to Davao City, where a beloved patriarch, brain-dead from a stroke, had to be unplugged from life support. It is too shattering to read about “all the injections, the bedsore he had gotten from not being able to move around, or even the sensation of not being able to function and be the master of his body the way he wanted to.” Despite the author’s world-weariness, the restorative power of stories cannot be ignored when he noted: “In the seven-day grieving period, hundreds of people came to his house in Dalican to pay their respects; the stories I heard about him that day, like the one on my parents’ wedding as well as tales of his unselfishness, made me see him in a better light.”

General Santos City’s adopted son Wilfredo Pascual (formerly of Nueva Ecija and now based in San Francisco) writes about nocturnal enuresis, commonly known as bedwetting, as both a natural manifestation and a metaphysical depiction of his struggle with mental illness. Unarguably the most accomplished writer to contribute to this issue, his “River of Shame” is a master class of astute craftsmanship and frightening candor that every student of literature should read and learn from. When he describes his “family across the river. They looked so happy. It was so beautiful it hurt,” one commiserates with a young man’s tender yearning for his rightful place in a world that excludes, discriminates, even punishes the ones that need help.

In “The Long Wait to Cure,” Koronadal’s Dr. Lance Catedral’s account of Faith, who has mesenchymal chondrosarcoma, is for me a familiar occurrence, having trained at the Philippine General Hospital many years back. “These people came from all over the Philippines,” he notices. “They brought with them tumors of different sizes and shapes, of varying degrees of aggression, in various parts of their anatomy.” This is a typical, often depressing, refrain in a country where more than half of the patients are seen in the advanced stages and “people pay for their treatment out of their pockets.”

It is heartening to know that Dr. Catedral belongs to an emergent population of Filipino physicians who appreciate the role of narrative in medicine in improving clinical practice and in understanding the subjective experience of illness as a platform through which a sick person can express his shifting awareness of self and identity in measures that are not merely expressive but transformative and therapeutic as well. Among the Filipino doctor-writers (or writer-doctors) I admire for a profundity that obscures the once-inalienable line between technical writing and scholarly/creative  prose and for refined bravura on the printed page are the obstetrician-gynecologist Alice Sun-Cua, medical anthropologist Gideon Lasco, neurosurgeon Ronnie Baticulon (whose first book Some Days You Can’t Save Them All is now on its second printing), Palanca Hall of Famer and pediatrician Luis P. Gatmaitan, internist Joey Tabula (the second edition of his anthology Through The Eyes of a Healer is much anticipated), surgeon Jose Tiongco, infectious disease specialist Louie Mar Gangcuangco, geriatric medicine specialist Eva Socorro Aranas Angel, and the brothers Yu, theater reviewer and multihyphenated Vincen Gregory and endocrinologist Mark Gregory.

The art of telling stories and of listening to stories used to be central to the doctor–patient relationship. Patients have stories that need to be heard, not just symptoms that require knee-jerk stipulation for CT scan or prescription of medications. When patients complain of pain, it could be something that is psychosocial as much as somatic. When the concept of well-being is threatened, something that challenges an individual’s concept of being around for family and for meaningful relationship with peers, emotions, thoughts, and stories impact how an individual understands pain, disability, and death.

The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” The word arises from the Latin poena or the Greek poene, meaning “price paid,” “penalty,” “punishment.” This association, malignant as it may seem, has roots hidden within the illness-experience. It is a common belief among Filipinos that a serious illness like cancer or AIDS is a punishment for something a person has done. When a person is gravely ill or is in severe pain, he is evicted from the quotidian sequence of characters upon which so much of his traditional individuality is based. A man ceases to be a husband, father, breadwinner, and best friend all at once when serious illness rears its ugly head.

Out of the appreciation that restoring meaning to the subjective experience of illness and suffering that was mislaid in the predominantly objective perspective  in which clinicians are trained, narrative medicine emerged in the late nineties. Internist Rita Charon coined the term narrative medicine and started a movement that was aimed at improving the communication and collaboration of health care professionals and their patients and at bridging the gap between humanities and the sciences. Arthur Kleinmann, Robert Coles, Arthur Frank, Brian Hurwitz, Trisha Greenhalgh, and many others became leading advocates for greater recognition to patient narratives.

Over two thousand years ago, Hippocrates stated that “it is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” Arthur Kleinman, a medical anthropologist and psychiatrist, clearly distinguishes “disease” from “illness” in which the former refers to the biological problem that science addresses and the latter characterizes the human experience of the disease. Complete medical care tends to both disease and illness. He wrote, “Each patient brings to the practitioner a story. That story enmeshes the disease in a web of meanings that make sense only in the context of a particular life.”

In the past, there was meager attention on language, both the spoken messages and the nonverbal communication doctors provide their patients and impart among themselves. The words of a doctor have immeasurable clout, received by the sick and their loved ones with enduring resonance. Despondently sometimes doctors hurriedly discard ordinary speech and take on formulaic phrases of the wards:

“Excision of adenocarcinoma is optimally done according to standard protocols.”

“Cardiac arrhythmia led to disordered circulation that disrupted cerebral perfusion.”

“Remission rates can be as high as fifty percent with neoadjuvant chemotherapy.”

Espousing abstracted language was part of enlisting into the medical guild and served its goal of shorthand transmission of knowledge among professionals. Such communication was once regarded as absolute and all-encompassing and was conveyed with noble intentions. But all too often it was ambiguous to a layperson and carried out to abbreviate or even cease more discussion. It also worked to curtail a doctor’s scrutiny of the values and beliefs of people before him—the patient and family members—individuals seeking an explanation that made sense to them as people, not merely cases. Doctors needed to explain what this technical information meant not only for their hearts and lungs or kidneys and liver but also for their soul. The diagnosis and treatment were just doorways to a discourse about the emotional and social impact of a particular condition and what the doctor was purporting to do about it.

When doctors write about their experiences and those of their patients, it compels them to revisit a more ordinary language, one that, while still clinically precise, is truer to feelings, perceptions, and sensibilities. Such writing enables doctors step down from the podium of the professional and plumb their internal and external persona from more human perspectives.

In her seminal work on personal account of illness, Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography, Anne Hunsaker Hawkins added at the end:

Another voice we need to hear is that of the physician. This may seem a paradoxical statement at the end of a book that so insists on returning to the patient to the medical enterprise and so often contrasts the patient’s voice to that of medicine. But the “physician’s voice” I am referring to . . . (is) the voice of the individual who is inevitably lost in that impersonal professional voice. We need to hear from them . . .

We need more writing that conveys the inner reality of what it is to be a physician in today’s technological medical system. Only when we hear both the doctor’s and the patient’s voice will we have a medicine that is truly human.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a teacher of wizardry asks Hermione Granger whether she wishes to study the Magical Laws to pursue a career in magic. “No,” she says. She wishes to learn the laws so that she can do some good in the world. For Granger, magical laws do not exist to propagate magic. They are tools to illuminate the world.

Similarly, a physician studies literature and, if given the opportunity, writes about these stories to give meaning to the pain and suffering, the struggles and redemptions, of living in the world of disease and decay, death and dying, dread and deliverance.

This 40th issue also included three outstanding works of fiction that explore the multifaceted dimensions of healing. Literature abounds with fictive ills, works that have disease or wound as its nucleus. Sophocles’ Philoctetes is a valuable source for imagining the phenomenology of illness, one that, like its protagonist, is exiled to the uninhabited island of Lemnos, away from the customary world, because of a foul-smelling wound on his foot. He happens to stray into Chryse’s coppice and is bitten by an asp whose venom creates a putrescent wound that never kills and never heals. The wound that is the cause of his exile for nine long years becomes his identity, echoing Sir Gilbert’s favorite opening line from the Pat Conroy novel. Other literary works that illustrate these fictive ills are Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Anton Chekhov’s Ward Number Six, Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove, and my favorite, Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych. The short story by Chekhov, himself a medical doctor, depicts a philosophical conflict between Andrey Ragin, the director of a provincial mental asylum, Ivan Gromov, one of the institution’s patients. Tolstoy’s novella follows the main character’s journey from a “most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible” bureaucrat with an incurable illness to a perceptive human being who ultimately and serenely comes to terms with the constancy of death in life.

In this issue, the fiction pieces are similarly arresting and enlightening. Koronadal’s Dianne May Torres (“Jellyfish”) portrays a girl’s menarche as portent of something graver when she gets older; John Efrael Igot from Magpet (“Epidemya ng Lipunan”) depicts a parallel theme between an insidious skin disorder and the scourge of dubious government policy; and Lebak resident Jean Martinez Fullo (“Wag Tularan”) submitted a cautionary tale which co-editor Jude imagines as having an “ultimate intention” of “[asking] us how we, as a society yearning for order, have lost empathy and regard for the rights of others.”

In these stories, and even in the lone poem in this issue by Banga’s Adrian Pete Medina Pregonir (“Kanser”), we are confronted with the face of suffering. The writer-persona laments the loss of the very source of nourishment as a child to breast cancer (Hindi na bango ng daisy, santan, yellow bell/ang pragransyang nanunuot sa aking mga baga/kundi ang bulok na suha at saging/anastrozole at dekstros sa ICU.) Recognizing these wounds reminds us of the multifaceted banishment of the ill from the land of the living: the perception of sickness as corporal, cognitive, and cosmic punishment; the loss of faith in the providence of the divine and in the benevolence of society; the foreignness of one’s body and the estrangement of the person to the meaning of self; the obliteration of human roles especially at home and work; the disarticulation of language; the uncertainty of time and relationships; and the loss of geography as an anchorage or port-of-call to which all voyages begin and end.

I had the good fortune of sitting beside Sir Gilbert at a local coffee shop three nights before his fatal heart attack. He greeted me with his customary warmth in between giving sagacious advice to, I assumed, his former students. I remarked that he particularly looked serene and content. He just smiled back. I will always carry that memory with me like a wound that cannot be healed. It has become, in my appreciation of—and gratitude for—his life and death, a personal geography.

Noel P. Pingoy
Koronadal, South Cotabato

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Narratives of Illness: An Introduction to December 2019 Issue

Gilbert Tan and Noel Pingoy, two of my fellow writers in the region, both had a stroke this decade, and they talked about the ordeal that they had gone through while we were having lunch one time. With prompt medical attention, their lives and bodies didn’t change much after the stroke—they just no longer had dreams anymore, which many people would find positive instead of negative—but the conversation was wedged in my subconscious.

Two years or so later, while on a work assignment in Zamboanga City, I felt that I was having a stroke myself. I googled my symptoms, and they all matched the symptoms of the disease that I was so dreadful of. I called Noel, a hematologist and oncologist, and told him what was happening to me. He instructed me to go to the hospital. So I wound up in a bed at an emergency room that night, hooked to an oxygen tank, convinced that I was going to die, trying to grasp why my life was ending in such a manner—without reaching the climax, without any resolution, unlike the stories that I had toiled on.

I was able to go back to my hotel that same night, with all my vital signs at normal range, as though nothing had happened, only to be rushed back to the hospital in the morning. This time, the treatment involved an hour of conversation with a doctor about recent and past events in my life. I left Zamboanga City heavily sedated, not remembering anything about the flight to Davao City and barely remembering falling into my mother’s arms in my cousin’s car on our way home. I had been diagnosed with panic disorder, which meant that I had frequent panic attacks. When I thought I was having a stroke, I was actually having a panic attack. The two illnesses have the same symptoms, but one is physical and the other is mental.

* * *

In the essay “River of Shame,” Wilfredo Pascual recalls how nocturnal enuresis, or bed-wetting, was a constant source of embarrassment for him in his childhood. He had the condition even until he was thirteen, which prompted his family’s doctor to advise his mother to take him to a psychiatrist, but his father refused. As Pascual further talks about his father, the reader learns that the man was not only a hindrance to his son’s recovery—he was obviously a main cause of the child’s afflictions. At once heartbreaking and luminous, the short piece makes the reader yearn for more from the writer, both on this personal tale of suffering and survival and on other subjects.

In “The Long Wait to Cure,” practicing medical oncologist Lance Isidore Catedral shares an encounter with a patient at the Philippine General Hospital, making us see in the process the bigger malaise of corruption and poverty that plagues our country. Her body being ravaged by cancer, her family scrambling to pay for her medical bills, the patient remains determined to get better. The story is both harrowing and heartwarming. In a prose that has the precision of a modern medical instrument, Catedral shows us that in the worst state of our health, hope and kindness can give us the strength that we need to hold on to life.

As indicated in the title, “An Ama Reverie” is An-Nurhaiyden Mangelen’s recollection of his grandfather, who had to be unplugged from the life-support system after showing no signs of regaining consciousness from a massive stroke. The writer also recalls how the old man suffered from memory loss after an earlier stroke, becoming an entirely different person from the doting grandfather, supportive father, and strong husband that he had been. Entwined with Maguindanao culture, the essay is a touching tale of grief and guilt, and more importantly, of love for family.

* * *

The Filipino poem “Kanser” is about a child longing for his mother. The writer, Adrian Pete Medina Pregonir, uses flowers and gardening as metaphors for the events in the life of the two characters. The mother suckles the child in infancy (habang nakapatong/ ang iyong paa sa nangingiliting bermuda/ grass ay hinehele mo ako). He leaves her in adulthood (pati/ ang platong kinakainan na may guhit ng/ mga bulaklak ay naging mapusyaw). He comes back to her as she is treated for breast cancer (Hindi na bango ng daisy, santan, yellow bell/ ang pragransiyang nanunuot sa aking mga baga/ kundi ang bulok na suha at saging,/ anastrozole at dekstros ng ICU). With a tragic conclusion, the poem reminds the reader of the cruelty of diseases, the evanescence of life, and the endurance of love in spite of it all.

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In the short story “Jellyfish” by Diane May Torres, a girl experiences something unusual on her first period and has to face something so much more serious in her late twenties, still involving her reproductive organs. Clear-eyed in both form and content, the story is an engaging read. Without being didactic, it makes the reader see the significance of having a choice, especially for women.

In “Epidemya ng Lipunan,” a Filipino flash fiction by John Efrael Igot, a father infected with an incurable skin disease has to set aside his own well-being to support his family. When he applies for a job at a construction site, things take a turn for the worse. The writer uses the disease as a springboard to warn us about a sociopolitical epidemic—the influx of possibly illegal workers from China and the gradual loss of our sovereignty, sadly, due to the questionable foreign policy of our own government.

“’Wag Tularan” by Jean Martinez Fullo is a story about a young woman who, being the eldest child, has to take care of her siblings when they are orphaned. As she struggles to make ends meet, her brother adds to the burden by turning to vices. The family drama shows us how emotional pain can lead to self-destruction, but its ultimate intention is to ask us how we, as a society yearning for order, have lost empathy and regard for the rights of others.

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When I was diagnosed with panic disorder in January 2017, I decided to leave my post as an editor of Cotabato Literary Journal. I came back in September 2017, on the first anniversary issue. Although I was still on antidepressants, I had stopped taking sedatives, so I was no longer lethargic and was highly functional. Overall, of the first forty issues of the journal, I’ve been part of thirty-four—a proof, I believe, that a diagnosis of a mental illness is not tantamount to a life sentence, as many people in our communities assume.

My health is in a much better state now. I haven’t had panic attacks for months. The dosage of my antidepressant is lower. I have adjusted to the almost daily stress in my full-time online job, which I’ve had for more than a year. I am kinder, if not to people, at least to my dog. I am happier. Ironically, this progress has made me decide to take a hiatus from the journal again. I am doing the same thing for the opposite reason.

I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunity to help develop local literature. My experiences with the contributors and my co-editors have made me grow as an editor, writer, and person. Like the theme and the making of this issue, the operation of the journal has been rife with challenges, but it survived, thrived even, month after month because it is a community. An arrival heightens the passion and expands the pool of skills, and a departure opens up space for others.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Panimula sa November 2019 Isyu

Iisa ang katotohanan, at kailangang halukayin ang mga kasinungalingan upang ito ay matagpuan. Ito ang karaniwang paniniwala. Ngunit sa ating kasalukuyan, ang katotohanan sa isang tao ay maaaring kasinungalingan sa iba. Maraming anyo ang katotohanan sa bawat pagkakataon, o nagbabago ang anyo nito sa pag-usad ng panahon. Maaaring ang lahat ng sangkot ay tama o walang tama. Maaaring ang katotohanan ay hindi batay sa katunayan kundi sa paniniwala. Tinatalakay, tinitimbang, at tinatanong ang katotohanan ng anim na akdang tampok sa isyung ito.

Nanalo ngayong taon sa 69th Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature ang akdang “Noon Akto-o Hén Fa Gali Em (May Katotohanan Pa Pala)” ni Adrian Pete Medina Pregonir. Ikatlong gantimpala ang nakamit ng akda sa kategoryang Kabataan Sanaysay, na bukas sa mga labinwalong taong gulang pababa at umiikot dapat sa temang “Sa panahon na laganap ang pagkalat ng maling impormasyon, paano mo matutulungan ang mga tao, lalo na ang kabataan, na hanapin ang katotohanan?” Sa sanaysay, ipinahayag ni Pregonir ang kaniyang panlulumo sa hayagang panloloko ng mga politiko at kanilang mga tagapagtanggol sa mga karaniwang tao, lalo na sa mga katutubo. Sa tema ng patimpalak at sa akda, ipinapalagay at isinusulong na hawak ng mga naaapi ang katotohanan at sinisikil ito ng mga kasinungalingang ikinakalat ng mga nasa kapangyarihan.

Sa “Nag-agi ang Agi,” isang sanaysay sa wikang Kinaray-a, isinalaysay ni Jerico L. Marcelino ang pangugutyang kaniyang naranasan sa kaniyang paaralan, pamayanan, at maging sariling pamilya dahil sa paningin ng ibang tao sa kaniyang kasarian. Iginigiit niya na mas kilala niya ang sarili at mas alam niya ang katotohanan. Isang magandang palaisipan ang kaniyang sinabi tungkol sa kung paano natin sinusukat ang pagkatao ng ating kapwa: “ang mga tao talaga isa lang ang masasabi sa ’yo—at ’yan ay kung ano lang ang nakikita nila sa ’yo.”

Sa “Buayahon,” isang sanaysay sa wikang Cebuano, ibinahagi ni Hannah Adtoon Leceña kung paano nakaapekto sa kaniyang tingin sa sarili ang paniniwala ng kaniyang mga kaanak at kakilala na may kaakibat siyang sumpa. Malabuwaya umano si Leceña ayon sa guhit ng kaniyang palad, at siya ang dahilan kung bakit namatay ang tatlo niyang nakababatang kapatid at laging nakukunan ang kaniyang ina. Hindi siya lubusang naniniwala na totoo ang sumpa, kaya hindi rin siya lubusang naniniwala sa mga ritwal na ginagawa sa kaniya upang maputol ang sumpa, at ito raw ang dahilan kung bakit hindi pa siya tuluyang nakakawala rito. Kapag parehong malakas ang hatak sa isang tao ng makabagong kaalaman at makalumang kaugalian, mahirap matukoy kung ano ang dapat paniwalaan.

Katotohanan tungkol sa sariling nararamdaman naman ang tinutuklas sa tulang “Antigong Salamin” ni PG Murillo. Hindi natatangi ang dalamhati ng isang tao, ngunit sa huli, sarili at sarili lang din ang tanging karamay: maaliwalas pa rin at hindi makikita/ na milyong lungkot na/ ang sa kaniya’y nakadungaw. Sino man ang dahilan ng o kasama sa pinagdadaanan, marahil sa pagharap sa sariling repleksiyon lang makakamit ang hinahangad, masasagot ang mga katanungan, o matatanggap ang kinasadlakan.

Sa maikling kuwentong “Isang Puta” ni Prince Vincent M. Tolorio, ipinapakitang muli ang dalawang mukha ng katotohanan—mula sa pananaw ng humuhusga at mula sa pananaw ng hinuhusgahan. Halos likas sa atin na ikahon sa ating isipan ang ibang tao ayon sa ating nakikita o kinalakihang pananaw, ngunit minsan, kaunting pagkahabag o pag-unawa lang ang ating kailangan upang makita natin ang kanilang kagandahan o kabutihan.

Sa maikling kuwentong “Manang Arsilinda,” muling ibinunyag ni Adrian Pete Pregonir ang mga panlolokong nangyayari sa ating lipunan at paano nagdudusa ang mga mahihirap, na siyang kadalasang biktima. Batay ang kuwento sa malawakang investment schemes na luminlang sa libo-libong tao sa rehiyon kumakailan. Nang ipinasara ng gobyerno ang mga kompanya, tinatayang mahigit dalawang bilyong piso ang nakulimbat sa General Santos City pa lang. Maraming buhay ang tumigil, at maraming pangarap ang nawasak. Isang siksik na bersyon ng nangyaring kaguluhan ang kuwento. Hanggang ngayon, marami pa ring naniniwala na totoo ang malalangit na pangako ng Kapa at mga kahalintulad na kompanya, at umaasang maibabalik ang mga puhunan nila.

Laging mananatiling palaisipan ang katotohanan, at batay sa nangyayari sa ating bansa ngayon, madalas pinagbabalat-kayong katotohanan ang mga kasinungalingan, at nilalamon naman nang buong-buo ang mga ito ng maraming Pilipino. Sa mga diskusyon, lalo na sa social media, walang kakulangan sa mga pag-uutos at pagpapaalala na maging mapanuri sa mga nababasa, ngunit halos walang nagbibigay daan sa mga naggigiriang pangkat at hindi natitibag ang pader sa  kanilang pagitan. Dito marahil maaaring pumasok ang panitikan. Hayaan nating ipaalala sa atin ng mga kuwento, sanaysay, tula, at iba pa na halos wala tayong pinagkaiba sa isa’t isa. Hindi man natin makita, mahawakan, o mapanghawakan ang katotohanan, maaari natin itong madama.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Introduction to October 2019 Issue

Featured in this issue are six literary works—two poems, one micro essay, and three short stories. Four of them deal with love, a subject that is relevant regardless of what time of year it is. Most of them are distinctly set in the region, an indication of the growing consciousness among local writers to write local stories for local readers. All of them are well-written, whatever language they are in.

“Oh, My Mandarangan” by Vincent Carlo Duran Cuzon looks back on a love that failed, and “Handum” by Adrian Pete Medina Pregonir yearns for a love to be fulfilled. Poetry editor Paul Randy Gumanao selected and reviewed the two poems:

Cuzon’s poem is a creative interlacing of folklore and the persona’s narrative. Here, the Kidapawanon poet features as the central setting of the poem a local landmark of Kidapawan City—the Mandarangan Trail of Mt. Apo. In Bagobo folklore, Mandarangan is a powerful spirit who dwells with his wife, Darago, in a great fissure in Mt. Apo. In the poem, Mandarangan is addressed as someone to whom the persona was lured and with whom had a serendipitous affair, which eventually did not prosper causing the persona to earn the ire of Mandarangan’s wife.

The poem ushers the readers through the thickets, warm vents, and foggy atmosphere of the Mandarangan Trail on the way to the peak of Mt. Apo, as it reveals a story of a fleeting and unfortunate romance with someone who is already committed to another. The poem is a must-read especially this month when the Mandarangan Trail is again open for tourists and trekkers for the annual Mt. Apo October Trek.

Ang binalaybay ni Pregonir nagalarawan sa madalum nga handum kag paglaum sang persona nga makaupod ang ginahulat nga pinalangga nga nagpasalig sa iya nga dal-on siya sa lawud nga [ila]/ ginadahum kag indi magauntat tubtub/ indi [siya] madala sa/ pantalan sang [ila] ginhawa. Matahum ang paghulagway sang iya nga kahidlaw. May sagol nga kabalaka ang iya nga handum kag ini mabatyagan sa mga imahe sang nagalupad/ nga mga ipot-ipot sa kahanginan, sang nagauyog [nga] kapunoan, kag sang wala untat/ [nga] pagtayhop sang amihan.

Kung san-o ang katumanan sang iya nga handum, wala pa sing kasiguruhan. Ugaling, tungod sa gugma, nagapadayon siya nga malaumon pinaagi sa pagpanday/ sang balay sang tinaga/ agud mangin isa/ ka binalaybay.

* * *

Sa maikling sanayay na “Liko’t Lubak,” inilahad ni Allan Ace Dignadice ang kaniyang mga karanasan at pagmumuni-muni upang lalong makilala ang sarili at humantong sa isang desisyon. Payak man ang paksa, nakakaaliw basahin ang gawa dahil malinis at may indayog ang wika at matapat ang paglalahad. Ipinapahayag din sa sanaysay na ang mga paglalakbay ay laging para sa sarili at bumabalik sa pinanggalingan.

Mahitungod ang sugilanon nga “Ginadili” ni Hannah Adtoon Leceña sa usa ka Kristiyano nga babaye nga naay uyab nga Muslim, ug tutol ang iyahang amahan sa ilahang paghigugmaay. Nipadulong ang suliran sa bayolente nga pagpakigharong, ug dinhi nigawas ang matuod nga  kinaiyahan sa mga tawo. Pinaagi sa matud-anong dayalogo, nahimong buhi ang mga eksena sa hunahuna sa magbabasa.

Tungkol naman sa sapilitang pagpapakasal ang kuwentong “Bihag” ni Norsalim S. Haron. Sa isang kulturang malaki ang pagpapahalaga sa dangal, hindi bihira ang pangyayaring ito. Sa pag-usad ng kuwento, matutuklasang hindi lamang pisikal ang pagkakabihag sa pangunahing tauhan. Ipinapasilip sa akda ang mga kaugalian at paniniwala ng mga Maguindanon.

“Scars under Her Feet” by Angelo Serrano is a long short story about a girl and her adventure in a magical land. The quest she accepts, however, is far from simple or ideal. As she comes face to face with the villain, her perception of good and evil, of truth and lies, is challenged. Of the local writers his age, Serrano arguably has the best command of the English language.

These six writers are still in their teens or twenties, as most of the contributors of this journal are. If they persevere and continue to produce works that are of the same quality as or better than the ones here, the region’s literature will thrive even further. This journal has so much to be grateful for and look forward to.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

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.

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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

Introduction to January 2019 Issue

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