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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat


Editors and Contributors


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

M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac is a writer for children and reading advocate.


Al-faidz Omar grew up in the Municipality of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat. Currently a student at Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City, he writes to contemplate his own feeling and discover the mysteries within.

Krizza Nadine A. Calmerin loves writing poetry and fiction and experimenting with the literary forms. She is currently a Bachelor of Secondary Education (major in English) student at Mindanao State University-General Santos.

Jonamari Kristin Ordinario-Floresta is from Kidapawan City but is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in Educational Administration at the University of Sydney in Australia. She writes stories for children, teaches at Kumon Sydney, and speaks in several international conferences.

Kurt Joshua O. Comendador of General Santos is an AB English student; trainee at Bagwis, MSU-GenSan’s school publication; and the president of the book reading club, Valoræx.

Jerome Cenina was born in Brgy. Spring, Alabel, Sarangani Province. He is currently studying at Notre Dame of Dadiangas University as a Humanities and Social Sciences Grade 12 student. He has always dreamed of becoming a lawyer and writer.

PG Murillo is an Information Technology student at STI College-GenSan and a member of the rap artist group Katagang Pinoy ng Malayang 083. He served as the battle emcee of Digmaan GenSan Rap Battle League, placed first at the Rap Battle of GenSan Summer Youth Fest 2017, and was recognized as a Spoken Word Poetry Artist by his school.

Ryan Christian Dulay Tuan is a senior high school student (Humanities and Social Sciences specialization track) at Lake Sebu National High School. He is an active member of the Lake Sebu Youth Network.

Sharmin Tanael is a Bachelor of Elementary Education student at Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. She is from Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Merhana Macabangin is a writer, illustrator, and Education student from Polomolok, South Cotabato. Her works are usually about Muslims and the Maguindanaon.


As the year ends, we reaffirm our commitment to be a venue of the best literary works in the region. The works that we have in this issue—one essay, two short stories, three poems, and one play—are finely crafted and satisfying in both substance and form. Some of them are from writers who have carved out a name for themselves, and the rest are from new voices discovered in local literary undertakings. No particular theme holds the works together, but each of them gives you a glimpse of, and even immerses you fully in, the complexities of life in this part of the country.

In the Filipino essay “Aden Bon Besen Uyag-Uyag” (May Buhay Pa Pala), Mubarak Tahir looks back on his childhood in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, and how the fighting between insurgents and government troops affected his community and shaped the way he views the world. Tahir is a much-needed voice in our literature. Our narrative on the armed conflict in Mindanao have been dominated by voices from one side. Here is an opportunity to hear “the other side,” and then perhaps see that there are no sides to the story, that we all have the same story. The essay won the third prize at the 2017 Palanca Awards, and it is an honor for Cotabato Literary Journal to be its first venue of publication.

“Heneral” by Estrella Taño Golingay is a coming-of-age story set in Surallah, South Cotabato, the writer’s hometown. It tells of a boy who eagerly takes care of the family’s hog so that once it is sold, his parents might be persuaded to buy him a basketball and a secondhand cellphone—sources of great joy for an ordinary lad like him. Golingay, an award-winning poet, rarely writes fiction, so we are delighted to bring you something new from her.

“Tagu-taguan,” a Filipino flash fiction by Blesselle Fiel, is the winner of the 2017 South Cotabato Fiction Contest. The young writer has created a simple and well-structured story to remind us of the dark times that we are living in. The bodies on the streets are piling up, and the voices against the carnage are getting stronger by the day, but most Filipinos choose not to see and listen. Stories like Fiel’s must be told over and again. Always, people must ask, Who is the criminal, and who is the victim?

“San Gerardo and the Exocoetidae” by Gerald Galindez is the winner of the 2017 Cotabato Province Poetry Contest. An ode to the flying fish, the poem is the breather that we need from the barrage of saccharine rhymes that our young writers seem so fond of today. Similar somewhat to Saint Francis of Assissi, the speaker exalts animals for the inspiration that they can give human beings: “You hid your pains inside your scales so I could live / You let me swim, you let me breathe.” We hope to gather more pieces like this, for local and even Philippine literature have a dearth of works about the sea, even if our region has a shoreline that stretches for hundreds of kilometers and our country is made up of more than seven thousand islands.

Both “Cotabato” by Allen Samsuya and “Sometimes on the Road to Kidapawan” by Paul Randy Gumanao have appeared before in Dagmay: The Literary Journal of the Davao Writers Guild. We are republishing the poems here because they were born of deep longing for Cotabato Region. They were written when Samsuya and Gumanao were studying in Davao City and home was something they would only go back to occasionally. In Samsuya’s poem, the speaker seems dismissive at first of Cotabato City, describing it as a place where “we have nothing better to do,” but we learn eventually that the humdrum of the city may be a redeeming quality. The poem won the first place at the Jimmy Y. Balacuit Literary Awards given to the fellows of the 2011 Iligan National Writers Workshop. In Gumanao’s poem, the speaker yearns for home and for someone to go home to. In lean, fluid language, the young master shows us yet again how love poetry should be.

In “Pagda-dwaya,” a Filipino one-act play by Norman Ralph Isla, a Muslim woman finds herself in a frustrating situation—her husband, the man who promised her that she would be the only woman in his life, is taking a second wife. The first wife feels that she has so much to lose in the arrangement and nothing to gain, and naturally we commiserate with her. But as the story unfolds, as we learn more about the Islamic practice, and as we know the characters better, our view gradually changes.

With these seven literary works, we bid 2017 goodbye. It has been an abundant year for the region’s literature; nearly a hundred poems, stories, essays, and plays appeared in this journal. In those works, through imagination and re-imagination, our local writers have shown readers how the people here view our own region and the rest of the world. We thank all the supporters, readers, contributors, and former editors. With the harvest that we’ve had this year, we feel confident that 2018 will be another great year.


Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat


Introduction to Issue 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat



A Year of a Hundred Little Steps

Kiel Mark Guerrero, a nineteen-year-old college student, leans close to the microphone and tells the audience, “The title of my poem is ‘Carinderia.’” It must be about promiscuity, I think right away. It must be about someone who entertains suitors and lovers the way a cheap eatery caters to everyone who wants to eat. Guerrero, after all, a regular in local spoken word events, is known for pieces that are by turns dramatic, amusing, and suggestive.

The poem starts with a mother, not a lover: Nakahilera / Ang mga putaheng luto ni ina / Para sa pananghalian / Sa harap ng aming munting tindahan. In the next lines, the mother remains the focus of the poem: Si inay / Binubugaw / Ang mga langaw. I wait for the transition to, or appearance of, the narrator’s lover, and Guerrero continues: Si inay / Binubugaw ang mga batang hamog / Na pinipilit makisalo / At paulit-ulit nanghihingi ng dalawang limang piso. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Guerrero is talking about street children begging for food and money. He’s not talking about love and promiscuity. The poem, apparently, is a poem about social issues and not the typical hugot—sentimental spoken word pieces about unrequited love or failed relationships—that I expected from the young poet.

The whole evening, and not just Guerrero’s performance, was a surprise to me. When the three-hour Hugot sa Kalye ended, I noted that seven of the fifteen performers, or nearly half, had non-hugot poems. Gabrielle Corine Torato opened the event with a poem about suicide and depression. Aldrick Lawrence Velasco followed her with a poem about nature and salvation. Dan Zapanta Rivera, like Guerrero, dared the audience to take a stand on political issues. And John Efrael Igot, Justice Jelojos, and Iris Saqueño spoke about language and nationalism. This is a far cry from one year ago, in Hugot Marbel, the first spoken word event in the city. In that event, all of the nearly twenty open mic performers, including Guerrero, talked about their crushes who ignored them, their boyfriends or girlfriends who did not value them, and their exes who had hurt them.

There is nothing wrong, of course, with writing about love—ah, love is a wondrous thing to feel and share about with others—but definitely, it is not healthy if all young writers, spoken word poets or otherwise, write about the same thing and in the same way. While my co-organizers and I label most of our poetry events “Hugot” to attract as much audience as the venue can accommodate, we always share our own non-hugot writings, and we have been hoping for (not imposing on) the open mic performers to explore themes other than the usual. Now many of them do, by their own decision or influenced by the literary writings they’ve been exposed to. Their definition of love has expanded from romantic to patriotic. The purpose of their poems is evolving from self-expression to social action.

Helping some spoken word artists become woke, as evident in Hugot sa Kalye, is one of the many things that we are proud to have accomplished and to be celebrating this month, the first anniversary of Cotabato Literary Journal. This online publication was launched in Hugot Marbel, and as I stated in the introduction to the maiden issue, the publication and the poetry event are “intertwined.” Both are part of “a literary wave . . . surging across the region.” Allow me now to recall what has transpired between Hugot Marbel and Hugot sa Kalye.

In its first twelve issues, Cotabato Literary Journal featured seventy-seven works from forty writers in the region, plus a profile of essayist Noel Pingoy by Kloyde Caday and a profile of Tboli storyteller Témê Damon by M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac. Some of the literary works, especially the award-winning ones from established writers, had been published before. We included them in this journal because they deserve to be accessed more easily by readers in the region. We also published award-winning works that had not appeared in other publications—the play “Killing the Issue” by Karlo Antonio David, the Filipino poem “Pananaginip kay Tud Bulul” by M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac, the story “Day of Mourning” by Jude Ortega, and the Hiligaynon story “Paborito ni Daddy” by Nal Andrea Jalando-on. Except for the first two issues, most of the works that appeared in this journal were published for the first time. One of them, “A Portrait of a Young Man as a Banak” by Jade Mark Capiñanes, which appeared in the January 2017 issue, eventually won the third prize in the Essay category of the 2017 Don Carlos Palanca Annual Memorial Awards.

This journal has so far lived up to its mission to be “a repository of the best works that writers from Cotabato Region have produced and a showcase as well of their best new works.” We are careful with our decisions, however. We do not want to be purveyors of elitism that seems to pervade the Philippine literary community. We welcomed writers who had not been published, most notably, Alvin Pomperada, Doren John Bernasol, Mariz Leona, Michael John Otanes, Hannah Adtoon Leceña, and John Gied Calpotura. We published each of them more than once. They are students or were still students when their bylines first appeared in this journal. And to further democratize literature, we created last month the Facebook page Sulat SOX, which aims to be a supplement to Cotabato Literary Journal. The page features shorter works.

Several editors worked for free to keep Cotabato Literary Journal running: Saquina Karla Guiam (September 2016–August 2017), M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac (October 2016–May 2017), Jude Ortega (September 2016–February 2017), Paul Randy Gumanao (March 2017–August 2017), Andrea Lim (June 2017–August 2017), and Jade Mark Capiñanes (June 2017–August 2017). Blaise Francisco of General Santos City, now based somewhere in Europe, takes care of the expenses for the domain name and hosting of this journal’s website.

To discover more voices, we organized province-wide writing contests, and although no winner and finalists were declared for the South Cotabato Poetry Contest, the results were encouraging in the two others. John Gied Calpotura, a high school student in Tacurong City, won the Sultan Kudarat Flash Fiction Contest. The three flash fictions that were selected as finalists turned out to be all his, and the prize was given to “Shoebox,” which appeared in the July 2017 issue of this journal. Spencer Pahang, a senior high school student in Kidapawan City, won the Cotabato Province Essay Contest, and his piece, “Better this Way,” was published in the August 2017 issue of this journal. Mayamen Hashmin, a college student, and Ira Shayne Salvaleon, a senior high school student, were the other finalists.

To help aspiring writers hone their skills and to help students become more familiar with local literature, we conducted workshops and seminars. With Generoso Opulencia, an award-winning and multilingual local poet, we organized the South Cotabato Poetry Workshop in Refuge Café in Koronadal City. The workshop ran for three hours every Saturday from October to November 2016. Opulencia mentored the ten participants for free. With Erwin Cabucos, an award-winning short story writer who grew up in Kabacan and is now living in Australia, we organized the Cotabato Province Creative Writing Seminar on April 10, 2017. Cabucos, along with four local writers, gave free lectures to more than a hundred students of the University of Southern Mindanao. With the help of Michael Angelo Yambok, a coordinator of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, we organized Smulat: Short Story Writing Workshop for Teens on June 2–3, 2017, in SLT Homestay in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Seven local writers mentored the twelve participants. Sharmin Tanael’s “Kukum,” one of the best output of the workshop, appears in the current issue of this journal.

Four award-winning writers from outside the region granted our invitations to share their knowledge with us. Jose Victor Peñaranda, a poet who has worked in many countries, visited General Santos City on December 16, 2016, and gave a private lecture to several local writers in Hotel San Marco. Wilfredo Pascual, an essayist who lives in the United States, gave a talk at the SM Activity Center in General Santos City on February 20, 2017. Manuel Avenido Jr., a fictionist who writes in Cebuano, met with local writers in Namnam Restobar in General Santos City on May 14, 2017, for an interview and a poetry reading. Edgar Calabia Samar, a poet and novelist who writes in Filipino, gave a lecture at Mindanao State University in General Santos City on August 24, 2017, and at St. Alexius College in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, on August 26, 2017.

Spurred by an invitation to the 3rd Iloilo Zine Fest on August 26–27, 2017, we created several zines. David Jayson Oquendo edited Pioneer, which contains works by ten young writers from General Santos City, and Alvin Pomperada and Hannah Adtoon Leceña edited Alaala ng Paglimot, which contains spoken word poems from twelve writers in the region. Individual zines include M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac’s Kailangan, Paul Randy Gumanao’s Hiwalayan, Andrea D. Lim’s So Far, Princess Alilaya Plang’s Ikaw, Ako, at Pag-ibig, and Jude Ortega’s Mga Kuwentong Peysbuk.

We’ve been using different approaches and platforms to help promote and develop local literature, but we are known most for our Hugot spoken word events, and other writers have been throwing shade on us for catering to popular taste. We are unapologetic about it. We do not want to shape local literature according to the standards and whims of the literati. We are not looking for talents who can make it to national writers workshops, win literary awards, or be published by mainstream and university presses. (Although if that happens, we will be glad.) What we want is for the people in our region to read our own writers and for our writers to write about our region. If Manila and other regions like Cotabato writing, it should be because Cotabato writing is distinct, not because it suits their taste. And if the best way to achieve this goal is by using the popularity of hugot, then use the popularity of hugot we will. We have to start somewhere.

On September 2, 2016, we conducted Hugot Marbel at 99 Brewery in Koronadal City, South Cotabato. On the 30th of the same month, we conducted Hugot Tacurong at Woodland Restobar in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat, and on the 20th of the following month, we conducted Hugot Kidapawan at Porticus Restobar in Kidapawan City, Cotabato Province. We organized two more spoken word events in Sultan Kudarat—Hugot Isulan in the capital town on December 2, 2016, and Hugot Kulaman in Senator Ninoy Aquino on February 14, 2017, during the municipality’s foundation anniversary celebration. The two events, sponsored by the local governments and held in front of the municipal halls, were staged as contests. Gerlie Cariño, Bryant Lee Morales, and Hanna Mae Bautista won the first, second, and third prizes, respectively, in Hugot Isulan. Jeraicca Keith Facturanan, Chem Aubrey Tanquerido, and Jonary Dejongoy won the first, second, and third prizes, respectively, in Hugot Kulaman.

On July 9, 2017, in partnership with the Provincial Tourism Council of South Cotabato and in celebration of the province’s foundation anniversary, we conducted Hugot Tnalak at the parking area of South Cotabato Sports Complex, along Alunan Avenue, in Koronadal City. So many performers registered that we had to organize a second part of the event on July 16, 2017, this time in partnership with 99 Brewery. The council again invited us in its celebration of Tourism Month, so we conducted Hugot sa Kalye on September 10, 2017, in the same venue as the first Hugot Tnalak. Whenever the Hugot event was held in a restobar, the venue would always be filled to overflowing, and the size of the crowd never failed to amaze us even if we had seen it time and again.

We had traditional, intimate poetry readings, of course. When the South Cotabato Poetry Workshop ended, on November 19, 2016, we conducted Poetry Jam at Refuge Café. For Bonifacio Day on November 30, 2016, we conducted Para kay Boni at 99 Brewery in General Santos City on the eve of the celebration and then Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa at Refuge Café and iRock Café in Koronadal City on the day of the celebration itself. On April 30, 2017, the eve of Labor Day, we conducted Night Shift in Namnam Restobar in General Santos City.

For us to manage well our activities, we selected interim officers for areas that our network has reached. In Cotabato Province, Kloyde Caday served as chairperson and Ericka Jan Gadat as secretary. In Sultan Kudarat, Adonis Hornoz served as chairperson, Jude Ortega as vice chairperson, and Trexie Gina Salmeo Sy as secretary. In South Cotabato, Ruben Castañares III served as chairperson, Louie Pacardo as vice chairperson, and Rose Vannelou Ramos as secretary. In General Santos City, Saquina Karla Guiam served as chairperson and Jade Mark Capiñanes as secretary. We did some reshuffling recently to keep the local associations dynamic. Also with us in our activities were David Jayson Oquendo, Rossel Audencial, Jesse Angelo Altez, Ken Rix Baldoza, Genory Vanz Alfasain, Alvin Pomperada, Michael Suplaag, Jim Raborar, and M.J. Cagumbay Tumamac. Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the elder writers who had been patient with and supportive of us—Noel Pingoy, Gilbert Tan, Generoso Opulencia, Rita Gadi, Estrella Taño Golingay, and Rufa Cagoco Guiam.

Even if the activities were held in specific areas, the writers of the other areas almost always helped out. We moved as a region. We took the steps together, so even if they were little steps, they accumulated and amounted to a leap.

Kiel Mark Guerrero’s “Carinderia” gets overtly political as it further unfolds. An unusual customer arrives. His clothes are formal and immaculate (Nakasuot ng puting barong / Walang bahid ng mantsa ng kasinungalingan / Puro papuri’t kalinisan). The reference for me is clear. The man is a politician from Mindanao who shookt imperial Manila with his overwhelming victory in the national elections, due largely to his reputation for being incorruptible and his promise of true change. Soon, for the narrator of the poem, as it has been for the country, the impressive man does something sinister (Inani pati ang aking respeto / Hanggang siya’y nagturo).

The man points at several dishes on display, and the poem gets grimmer and grimmer, until the man points at the literally bloody dish that no doubt fits his appetite most: At itinuro mo ang dinuguan / Ano’ng nangyari sa Perlas ng Silangan? . . . Nagdanak sa bawat sulok ang dugo / Itinapon ang mga katawan sa lahat ng dako. The man, though, is far from finished. He points at the father of the house ultimately, accusing him of possessing prohibited drugs: Si itay / Nakuhaan daw siya ng bato. And the narrator cries against the selective justice: Doon ka magturo sa mamahaling kainan / Doon naman nababagay ang iyong kasuotan. The poem ends with a hackneyed saying that now becomes layered given the context: Pakakatandaan mo, sa bawat pagturo ng iyong hintuturo, mas maraming daliri ang bumabalik sa ’yo.

The poem is dark, and made darker by the fact that it is a reflection of our current reality. We are ruled by a mad man, and we are living in a divided land. Our bodies are fired up, but our souls are lost. It’s ironic, though. While the poem reminds me that the pall of gloom on our streets gets thicker by the day, it gives me hope. It’s a ray of light.


Jude Ortega
Koronadal City, South Cotabato


Issue 5 Introduction

It is widely acknowledged that Filipinos are family-oriented, and this trait can’t be more evident than this time of year. For most of us, Christmas Eve is best spent with our parents, in our childhood home, New Year’s Day should be spent with our immediate family in our current residence, and the vacation time between the two major celebrations is the best date to hold family reunions. Thus, for this issue of Cotabato Literary Journal, we deemed it fitting to feature works that deal with home and family; however, most of the works that we were able to gather go beyond, and even against, the portrait of family as usually depicted in greeting cards and noche buena advertisements.

Jade Mark Capiñanes’s essay, “The Portrait of a Young Man as a Banak,” is about the places that he has lived in—Davao City, Polomolok in South Cotabato, and General Santos City—and the struggles that his family have gone through, the same struggles that caused him to live in those different places. Capiñanes observes that the banak, the peculiar fish that would sometimes appear in the community where he grew up, have become mere visitors to the place that was named after them. The fish have, in a manner of speaking, become strangers to their own home, and Capiñanes’s jouney in life so far parallels the banak’s unusual migratory behavior. In a lucid and engaging language, the young writer deftly weaves the different locations, the past and the present, the exposition and the rumination. He may still be in search of an actual home, but talentwise, he seems to have found it in writing.

Noel Pingoy, an oncologist in General Santos City, is known for his poignant essays related to his profession, but for this issue, we decided to feature his writings that show other sides of him. In “Other Disclosures,” a suite of short essays, he writes about—and for—his family, his friends, and Koronadal City, his hometown. Permeating the pieces are universal values that Pingoy holds dear and readers would do well to embrace or at least ponder upon, especially in this age where, through social media, anyone can express an opinion and any opinion can become a mantra of millions. Pingoy’s pieces here are more straightforward than his lengthier essays about his life as a doctor, but the trademark warmth and eloquence are ever present.

Mariz Leona’s “Uma,” the only fiction we have for this issue, is set in Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat, the young writer’s hometown. The story is about a rural family facing the effects of technological advancement. The change is rather simple—a mobile harvesting machine is procured and rented out by someone of better means in the neighborhood—but for a family whose main source of income is the father’s daily wage as a farm laborer, the effects are devastating. The story could easily degenerate into a melodrama and overt excoriation of technology and small-scale capitalism, but with a sensibility that seems advanced for her age, Leona handles the plot and characters with subtlety and makes the story more about resilience. She also has quite an ear for dialogue, capturing with precision the kind of Hiligaynon that is spoken here in Cotabato Region.

In “Early Morning in Surallah,” Estrella Taño Golingay shows once more why she is one of the foremost female poets in the region. At the start, the poem appears to be about a humdrum routine or a touching moment with a loved one, but it turns out to be about memories in the past that creep their way to the present. The setting may be a specific town in South Cotabato, but readers from anywhere else in the region would feel the same unease, for our own hometowns cast similar shadows in our lives.

Andrea Lim’s “Homesickness” encapsulates the longing for our family all of us must have felt—if not right now, in the past; if not frequently, at least once. The terse language of the poem is only apt, for indeed, homesickness doesn’t always have to be cured, or it may not be cured at all. The young poet surely knows the subject, for she has known and left several homes, having been a resident of several cities, including General Santos.

Whether you are yearning to be home or you are yearning for a home, the works in this issue will speak with you like a family member who understands. Literature, after all, is meant to help us make sense of life, and Cotabato Literary Journal is meant to address the more specific concerns of the people in our region. This is our fifth issue, and for the past five months, this online publication has become home to excellent pieces from local writers, and maybe to the writers themselves and the readers as well. For the new year, we hope to make the family bigger. Fate chooses our homes for us or takes away our homes from us. Let’s have one of our own choosing, and let’s keep the hearth burning.

Jude Ortega
Senator Ninoy Aquino, Sultan Kudarat


Issue 3 Introduction

We believe we’re on the right track. We have been making good on our promises, as laid out in the introduction to the maiden issue of this online literary journal.

After the public poetry reading in General Santos on July 29, similar events have been conducted in Koronadal (September 2), Tacurong (September 30), and Kidapawan (October 20), and preparations are being made for Cotabato. Soon we will have brought poetry closer to all the five cities of the region.

In the areas where poetry readings have been conducted, we have also selected interim officers to take care of recruitment and other literature-related undertakings. The officers have facilitated some activities, the most notable of which is the ongoing South Cotabato Poetry Workshop, an eight-session course for ten aspiring poets, taught by award-winning multilingual poet Generoso Opulencia.

And this literary journal, of course, continues to be a reliable venue for the best new works of local writers. This issue features six poems, two each from veteran writers Estrella Taño Golingay and Generoso Opulencia and one each from young poets Florence Jay Salcedo and Adonis Hornoz. Golingay’s “Trail” and Hornoz’s “Little Statue” are distinctly Mindanawon, while the other works have universal themes. Also included in this issue is a story from Jude Ortega. “Day of Mourning” was one of the top five winners in a 2015 nationwide short story competition that received 176 entries.

This issue, the third, is leaner than the first two because we have gathered before most of the winning works of Cotabato writers and we are focusing on discovering new voices, but we are well within our goal, which is to feature works from at least five writers every month. Expect the coming issues to contain a similar number of poems and stories.

We are grateful to our contributors for their trust in us. We are likewise thankful to the more or less five hundred individuals who have attended our poetry readings, especially the nearly one hundred open mike performers. They surprise us each time. Lastly, we thank the managements of our venues—DG’s Restobar in General Santos, 99 Brewery in Koronadal, Woodland Restobar in Tacurong, and Porticus Restobar in Kidapawan for the poetry readings and Refuge Cafe in Koronadal for the poetry workshop.

Months ago, most of us have been strangers. Now we are no doubt a community—brought together by literature, contributing whatever each one can to literature. We must really be on the right track.

Jude Ortega
Isulan, Sultan Kudarat