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

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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 August 2019 Issue

Of the six writers in this issue, four are published for the first time. Cotabato Literary Journal continues to be home to emerging voices in the region, and despite being new to the scene, so to speak, these writers are not afraid to tackle heavy themes. Along with the two more experienced writers, they explore the deep and often dark recesses of our country, our community, and, ultimately, ourselves.

In “Mga Sitsit ug Panaghoy,” a Cebuano flash fiction by John Efrael Igot, a young man tries to escape the eerie calls and cries that he hears and finds a throng of sufferers. His dread and confusion disappear, only to be replaced by something much worse. In similar stories, sanity is often questioned. In this story, insanity is questioned. By turns psychological, mystical, and allegorical, the story is short yet packed, as what flash fictions should aspire to be.

“Wakwak,” written by Martsu Ressan Manibog Ladia, is another flash fiction in Cebuano. The first part is written in the form of diary entries and tells of a man exacting vengeance on the monsters that killed his loved ones and the people in his neighborhood. The second part is in the form of a news report and puts the first part in an entirely different light, making us question our perception of evil. The violence in the story is graphic, a surprising fact considering that the writer is blind and has been so since birth.

In “Matam-is nga Handurawan,” a Hiligaynon flash fiction by Nilyn Gamuza Pacariem, a woman reminisces about her lover who had to leave her behind and work abroad, as the rain falls and she folds her clothes. The writer deftly handles the sensual scene; she knows when to let go and when to hold back, when to be profuse in descriptions and when to leave the details to the reader’s imagination.

Nonfiction editor Hazel-Gin Lorenzo Aspera selected for publication the essay “The War Inside My Head” by Virgilio R. Nabua III. She describes it thus: “Nabua expresses his concern over the proximity of the Marawi siege to his own home. At the same time, his frustration at how forgetful people are of violent conflict through the years is palpable through his search for answers in both Facebook and history books.” She adds that the piece “is a personal awakening to the history of violent conflict in Mindanao and its effect on Filipinos in the era of social media.”

Estrella Taño Golingay’s “Jose Comes Home,” in the words of poetry editor Paul Randy Gumanao, “shares a story of the final battle of a soldier one tumultuous night, when his heart was as troubled as the stormy skies.” Gumanao adds that “the poem successfully shows how a soldier’s battle transforms from a purely personal to a collective struggle bravely fought by one yet felt by many” and commends it for its being “loaded with vivid imagery, especially of the setting, allowing for the effective settling of the emotions associated with the consummation of the main character’s selfless commitment.”

As to Elyzah A. Parcon’s “Waters,” Gumanao says it “invites attention to the internal struggles of a persona who seems to be drowning in an ocean of uncertainties despite all the knowledge and the attempts at surviving.” He further notes: “The poem’s magical use of transforming imagery evokes sensory responses to the creative depiction of melancholy, from the visual images of crimson waters, to the tactile images of desperate flailing, to the smell of iron, and to the sight and sound of blood rushing out of the vein. But more than the aesthetics, the poem beckons the reader’s sensitivity toward muted calls for help, and to dip into the stained waters of the persona, who could be our significant other, a family member, or a dear friend.”

Igot’s story is the winner and Ladia’s story is a finalist in the short story writing contest organized by the writers association of South Cotabato for the province’s T’nalak Festival last month. Pacariem’s story won first in the 2016 Peter’s Prize, organized by and named after multi-awarded writer Peter Solis Nery of Iloilo. Nabua’s essay is a finalist for the 2nd Lagulad Prize, organized by this journal and some benefactors. On behalf of my co-editors, I’d like to thank everyone who provided inspiration, support, and reward so that the works in this issue would be written. As with the previous issues, this one is a shared undertaking.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Introduction to July 2019 Issue

Nagtapos ng malikhaing pagsulat na kurso si Innah Johanee Alaman. Masasabi namang sa sariling pagsisikap natutong magsulat sina Allana Joy V. Boncavil, Rossel Audencial, at Doren John Bernasol; mas hinubog sila ng mga akdang nabasa nila kaysa sa turo ng ibang manunulat. Magkaiba ang naging paglalakbay nila bilang manunulat, ngunit dito sa Cotabato Literary Journal, ang akda naman at hindi ang may-akda ang sinusuri ng mga patnugot, kaya napiling maitampok sa isyung ito ang mga gawa nilang apat.

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Editor for poetry Andrea D. Lim chose two submissions from Alaman, each one a gem. In “Daybreak,” someone wakes up to the sight of a beautiful sunrise. Or so it seems. With the poet’s deft use of irony, an inner turmoil is illuminated. In “Web,” Alaman shows how the internet has become a tool to prey on the vulnerable and how everyone is complicit. The poet further shows aspiring local poets how something short can contain and reveal something wide and complex.

Of the three short stories that editor for fiction David Jayson Oquendo selected, one is from Alaman—“Happy Hours Are for Happy Endings.” The story is about an ageing madam whose rundown nightclub is about to be demolished to make way for a building of foreign investors. Her clout in the city government, however, is strong and deeply personal, and she’s determined to use it to save her nightclub and the souls that it has become a haven to. Both uproarious and heartbreaking, the story depicts the plight not only of a woman or a city but of the whole country.

In “Barbie,” fourteen-year-old Boncavil weaves scenes from the life of a boy with extracts from police interrogations, in the process showing the reader how events in someone’s childhood can leave indelible marks in his psyche. Skilled with language and the use of restraint to heighten the drama, Boncavil is a name to watch out for.

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Mahitungod ang sugilanon nga “Bugas” ni Audencial sa usa ka bata sa usa ka pobre nga pamilya. Makita sa sugilanon unsa ang epekto sa hunahuna sa mga anak kung nagapasagad ang mga ginikanan sa ilahang katungdanan. Ginapakita pud sa “Bugas” ang kasagaran nga dagan sa relasyon sa mga Pilipino sa ilahang kabanayan. Matawag nga Cebuano ang pinulongan nga gigamit sa sugilanon, apan klaro nga ang nagsulat niiini gikan sa usa ka Ilonggo nga pamilya sa usa ka Cebuano nga komunidad, o nidako nga Hiligaynon ang sinultian ug nakatuon og Cebuano kinaulahian. Komon sa rehiyon ang mga sagol nga pinulongan sama niini, ug isip pagsaulog sa atoang kaugalingong kultura, gipreserba sa mga editor ang Hiligaynon-Cebuano sa magsusulat.

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Naitanghal na ng Apat sa Taglamig, isang grupo ng mga mandudula sa South Cotabato, ang dulang Haram ni Bernasol. Tungkol ito sa isang nagmamahal na kailangang itago ang nararamdaman dahil sa mga paghihigpit ng kaniyang relihiyon. Pinili ng patnugot na si Norman Ralph Isla ang gawa dahil, sa mga lokal na dula, “isa [ito] sa mga pinakamapangahas sa temang gustong ibulatlat” at “napapanahon” pagdating sa “isyu ng moralidad.” Isang “eksperimentasyon” din umano ang Haram dahil sa paggamit ni Bernasol ng “mga estetika ng spoken word poetry at dramatic monologue.”

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Introduction to June 2019 Issue

Reading the works that the genre editors selected for this issue, I sensed that something had changed, or something had finally happened. At first I didn’t know what it was. All I could clearly see was that the works were suffused with immediacy. The contributors were writing about things that were happening, and whether personal or sociopolitical, each was handled with gravitas.

Eventually it dawned on me: Our writers were now writing for local readers. Characters and settings were no longer exoticized. Terms and actions were no longer explained. It was assumed that readers could understand, or they were required to understand. These are signs of progress definitely. For the region’s literature to have its own identity, it must develop from within, grounded on our own reality.

Written in Cebuano, Hannah Adtoon Leceña’s “Santelmo” is a short story about a boy ordered to buy tuba at dusk. The boy is scared of the St. Elmo’s fire that is said to be prowling at a densely vegetated part of the road, but he has no choice but to obey his father. As the darkness sets in and he walks farther, he is entangled in a predicament that is far more sinister than he had feared at first. A tour de force, the story disquiets the mind until long after reading.

Paul Randy Gumanao, editor for poetry, selected two works for this issue—“Just as Silvery” by Marc Jeff Lañada and “Ulang Kumbektibo” by PG Murillo. Although not evocative of a specific locality, the poems speak straight to local readers, making us think how we view ourselves and how we relate with others.

“Just as Silvery,” Gumanao says, “lends profundity to the mundane experience of looking at oneself in the mirror” and “resonates with different levels of introspection, from the physical to the mental and to the emotional states of well-being.” The poem also “demonstrates how being lost in contemplation can actually lead one to find the way to the inner self” and, as it ends, “subtly reminds us that there is always a narrative behind each one’s façade, that like nostalgia . . . begs to be visited.”

Gumanao likes “Ulang Kumbektibo” for its juxtaposition of “the fleeting nature of love” and “convective rainfall, a type of rain which is generally more intense and of shorter duration.” He further explains: “The poem starts by foreboding a misfortune and unfolds with a sudden shift in the weather, demonstrating how fitful love is. As the poem progresses, the intensity of the emotions also heightens just as the downpour gets heavier. But in the end, the poem evokes a feeling of relief, a glimmer of hope, which is what keeps us going when we love and when we fall out of love.”

Jennie Arado, editor for nonfiction, selected “The Ride Home” by Xaña Angel Eve M. Apolinar.  Arado says the essay “treats nostalgia in a special subtle way just exactly how subtle memorable moments come to us.” She wants readers to note as well “how even the random commute back home with friends can actually be something worth remembering sometime after,” and she appreciates that “within a short essay, Apolinar is able to show the readers the distinct personalities of each one which made the ride back home more fun and worth remembering.”

In these works, local color appear organically and not inserted artificially. This happens when writers attempt to connect with an audience that they share values and experiences with, instead of catering to the taste of outsiders with established influence. May all our works be written this way from this time forward. May we keep on writing our own stories for our own readers, until they reach the brim and overflow, assured and distinct.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat

Introduction to May 2019 Issue

In this issue, we welcome several new editors into the fold. They will handle the different genres, and we expect their presence to invigorate further the journal and the production of local literary works. Most of them have started working with our contributors and edited the works featured here.

David Jayson Oquendo, the editor for fiction, selected two works—“Hamyang” by Alvin Larida and “Dust and Drizzle” by Gian Carlo Licanda. He describes the first story as “a visitation to the provincial life without the usual and unnecessary exoticization.” Written in Hiligaynon, it “depicts a rich portrait of a wake” held in a remote community, “textured with the subtleties of Filipino sentimentality birthed from complex filial and familial ties.”

He says of the second story: “It is about an all too familiar narrative of a guy falling for his best friend after being left behind by his female lover (which in this story took the form of a wife). But it is in this often bastardized narrative where the writer shows the parts often hidden away, the pains of goodbyes, of acceptance, and of closures and endings.” He also says the homoerotic story is “lyrical and faintly reminiscent of Andre Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name.”

Andrea D. Lim and Paul Randy Gumanao, who have both served as general editors of the journal in the past, are back as editors for poetry. They selected two works—“Might of the Kind” by Joebert Palma Jr. and “Paglisan” by Adrian Pete Medina Pregonir. The first poem pays tribute to revolutionaries, who are time and again slain by oppressive regimes but, through their “children,” remain as alive and persistent as the darkness that they are fighting against. The second poem shows that the personal can also be political. It seems to be dealing at first with love between a couple mired in poverty, but as the poem ends, the reader is made to see that the fate of ordinary people are often corollary to the decisions of the powers that be.

Hazel-Gin Aspera and Jennie Arado are the editors for nonfiction. Aspera worked with John Dexter Canda on “Dr. Daydream or: How I Learned to Stop Living and Start Surviving,” an essay on being a medical student. With humor, tenderness, and keen attention to details, the writer moves back and forth between his hectic schedule at the present and his experiences with his family in the past.

“Pastil at Iba Pang Pagninilay” by Allan Ace Dignadice is an essay submitted to the ongoing SOX Summer Writing Camp, an event that will surely have an important contribution to SOCCSKSARGEN Region’s literary scene, judging by the participants’ outputs so far. The essay deals with a timely matter—elections. The writer looks back on his family’s not-so-positive experiences with past elections and shares his frustrations with the coming one—that it does not seem to offer any real hope or meaning.

Norman Ralph Isla serves as editor for drama, and in the next issues, he will share with us works from local playwrights, both produced and unproduced. The coming months and years will be exciting. The journal will be bigger and bolder. With more editors, we hope to discover, hone, and feature more contributors—both old and new, both seasoned and aspiring, all brilliant, all our own.

Jude Ortega
General Santos City

Editors and Contributors


John Dexter Canda is from General Santos City and a first year medical student at Ateneo de Zamboanga University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from the same university and served as the editor in chief of the official student publication. His essays have appeared in the Youngblood column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Allan Ace Dignadice is from Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and a BS Electronics Engineering student at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He is a former editor in chief of the official school publication of Koronadal Comprehensive National High School.

Alvin Q. Larida teaches physics and chemistry at the senior high school department of Dole Philippines School in Polomolok, South Cotabato. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and he is currently finishing his master’s degree at Mindanao State University in General Santos City.

Gian Carlo Licanda teaches English and journalism at Colon National High School in Maasim, Sarangani Province. He is currently taking up MAEd English at Holy Trinity College of General Santos City. He was a fellow at the 18th Ateneo de Davao University Summer Writers Workshop, in 2017.

Joebert Palma Jr. earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Notre Dame of Dadiangas University in General Santos City in 2016. He is currently teaching high school biology and chemistry in the same city.

Adrian Pete Medina Pregonir is a senior high school student in Banga, South Cotabato. He has been published in Liwayway magazine, and he was a fellow at the 2018 Davao Writers Workshop.


Jude Ortega (Editor in Chief) is the author of the short story collection Seekers of Spirits (University of the Philippines Press, 2018), the chapbook Katakot (Balangay Books, 2018) and the zines Mga Kuwentong Peysbuk and Faded Jeans and Old Shoes. He divides his time between Senator Ninoy Aquino and Isulan, both in Sultan Kudarat.

Eric Gerard H. Nebran (Managing Editor) is an educator and illustrator from General Santos City. He is currently a PhD Comparative Literature student at the University of the Philippines–Diliman. His research interests include orality, history, and literary productions of his hometown.

David Jayson Oquendo (Editor for Fiction) is from Polomolok, South Cotabato, and works as an electrical engineer in Davao City. He was a fellow for fiction at the 2018 Davao Writers Workshop and is a former editor in chief of the official student publication of Mindanao State University in General Santos City.

Andrea D. Lim (Editor for Poetry) is working as an editor for a publishing company in Cebu City while taking her master’s degree in literature at the University of San Carlos. She was a fellow at the 24th Iligan National Writers Workshop (2017) and is a former editor in chief of the official student publication of Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental. Her family lives in General Santos City.

Paul Randy P. Gumanao (Editor for Poetry) hails from Kidapawan City, Cotabato Province, and teaches chemistry at Philippine Science High School–SOCCSKSARGEN Region Campus in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. He was a fellow for poetry at the 2009 Davao Writers Workshop and the 2010 IYAS National Writers Workshop. He is a former editor in chief of the official student publication of Ateneo de Davao University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and is finishing his master’s degree in chemistry.

Hazel-Gin Lorenzo Aspera (Editor for Nonfiction) is a registered nurse, artist, and writer. She spent her childhood in Cotabato City and is now based in Cagayan de Oro City. A fellow for literary essay at the 1st Cagayan de Oro Writers Workshop, some of her feature stories appear in the book Peace Journeys: A Collection of Peacebuilding Stories in Mindanao. Currently, she is Associate Director for Communications and Junior Fellow for Literary Essay of Nagkahiusang Magsusulat sa Cagayan de Oro (NAGMAC).

Jennie P. Arado (Editor for Nonfiction) is from Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and currently works for a newspaper in Davao City as editor of the lifestyle section. She earned her BA in English (major in creative writing) from the University of the Philippines–Mindanao. Her story “Ang Dako nga Yahong sang Batchoy” won the South Cotabato Children’s Story Writing Contest in 2018.

Norman Ralph Isla (Editor for Drama) is from Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, and teaches at Mindanao State University in General Santos City. He was a fellow for drama at the 2015 Davao Writers Workshop. Several of his plays have been staged in General Santos City and South Cotabato.