Noblefranca Street in the midnight light feels short—although to be honest, it has always been a short street, a stretch that covers a mere two blocks of mostly unpromising structures you could begrudgingly call city buildings.
It forms a tributary that begins, in the east, at the Rizal Boulevard, and then all the way to a terminal point touching Perdices Street that feels like a premature end: reaching either ends feels always like a surprise for the pedestrian, as if Noblefranca promises a longer adventure, only to be shaded on each side by utter nondescriptness that contributes to its shortness, and to be eventually swallowed by the wider avenue of downtown.
Where it disappears into Perdices Street, you can see that it is blocked to the west by the imposing building called Ever, which has the garishness to call itself a mall. This building used to be a cinema of second-run movies, also called Ever, and which itself sprang from the ashes of an even older cinema called Main Theatre, which—the old folks love to recall this anecdote because it has the romance and tragedy of premonition—burned down in the late 1970s on the last night they were screening "The Towering Inferno."
Not many people actually know Noblefranca Street by name, which is telling. For the commuter, hailing a tricycle for a drop off along its stretch would entail naming one of its landmarks, which shift in the constant flow of changes we call Dumaguete: there is a bank and a European bistro called Casablanca at its eastern point, facing the sea that borders the city. Further on, and then around the part where Noblefranca crosses Calle Sta. Catalina de Alejandria—named after the patron saint of Dumaguete—it bears two or four restaurants and eateries of varying degrees of sophistication—Negrense Food Lab and Microbrewery, a Korean coffee shop that pains itself to be trendy, a Mediterranean food stand of no particular distinction, and a flashy carinderia called Food.Net that amply demonstrates a very democratic idea of popular culinary tastes.
Then there is a high school that caters to the richer Chinese families in the city called Holy Cross, which commands a campus that takes up a quarter of the block it sits on, distinctive for its bold choice of painting its building a blue that is the staple hue of countless nurseries.
Beyond that, there is a hodgepodge of sad-looking buildings and empty but fenced-off lots no one in Dumaguete really sees, except that occasionally—from the doldrums of the area's banality—certain generations of Dumaguetnons would see a ghost or two. Those who grew up in the 1970s would remember a cafe called Maricar's which sold the best cakes and pastries in town—gone now, although the building still remains, its handsomeness covered up by neglect and sheets of galvanized iron. Those who grew up in the 1990s would remember Taster's Delight, which sold the best cheeseburgers in town—also gone now, although the building also still remains, but boarded up like a jilted bride gone to seed because of heartbreak.
Noblefranca ends with a sprawling complex housing a McDonald's Cafe on one side—sleek and modern with all its glass and concrete surfaces—and then a towering but very old wooden building on the other side, one of such vintage that its wood are browned darkly with too much testament. The ground floor of this old building has been parceled into a cellphone shop, a store that ostensibly sells brass knick knacks from Mindanao, and a stand that sells fruits. Side by side, these two buildings are the very story of Dumaguete itself: the shine of modernity skirmishing with the insistent holding on to the past. Nothing wins, and out of this impasse is shaped the very heart of Dumaguete.
I think of these things as I traversed Noblefrance Street, taking in bits and pieces of it as the night deepens and my feet take me to a familiar spot down the road and forking left on Perdices to that corner between the 24-hour downtown lights of Chowking and Jollibee, where I knew I could easily catch a tricycle ride home this late in the midnight hours.
Everything about Noblefranca felt familiar, but also obscure like an abandoned memory.
I lived here once, in this neighbourhood, with my family. I must have been five or six. This was in the mid-1980s, a few years after we exiled ourselves from our haciendero days in Bayawan, into a stark poverty living hand to mouth in Dumaguete, an existence that must have proved shocking to my family, which had until then enjoyed the wealth of being landed. [I didn't know any better, which is the inured bliss of very young children.] All I knew was that we had become rent nomads, finding whatever cheap enough digs my mother could find, and that previous to Noblefranca we had once lived in an old area of Dumaguete past the tianggue, traversed by Calle Sta. Rosa, where I had fallen in love with an older girl named Kate, and where I once saw Dumaguete leveled by a gigantic conflagration, with fiery embers falling down from the night skies like a hellish version of rain. [The entire Dumaguete public market burned down in 1982. We lived in a wooden house two small blocks away from it.] When my family decamped from this wooden house of Tia Tansing along Sta. Rosa, to this new house nestled right in the heart of a block along Noblefranca, I cried, because I could not bear the thought of not seeing once more my darling Kate, who lived with her father in one of the apartments in Tia Tansing's house, which was next door to ours, and who, when I was six and she was ten, gave me the privilege of a brilliant first kiss. I had no words for whatever I felt then except that it was such a lovely torment. It would take me years to recognize this as the blossoming of first love.
This new apartment we were renting was accessible only by the narrowest of passages between two buildings along Noblefranca, which snaked here and there deep into the block until it led to the house of _______, a kindly old lady who was renting to us the upper floor of her house, which had its own entrance of a side staircase, which had three rooms good enough to house all of us, which had a sizeable dining room and kitchen that could fit the old family table we had dragged all the way from our old life in Bayawan, and which had—this was the best part —a balcony that overlooked the campus of Holy Cross High School.
Television was a rarity in Dumaguete in those days in the 1980s, and only the richest families could afford having a set installed in their houses, which meant a six-year-old kid like me, whose family could barely afford rent, had to be creative in the formulation of my own entertainment. In the ground floor of the apartment, the landlady had installed a small pond, which was teeming with all kinds of golden-looking fish. Their watery existence entertained me enough for most afternoons, and I delighted in bearing a stick and stirring the waters of the pond just so to make the fish in it scramble to and fro, their skin flickering in the sun. I imagined stories of shipwrecks and whale chases.
When I finally became native enough to the neighbourhood that I began to acquire friends of children my age, I managed to assemble a troop gleaned from the various houses that teemed inside that city block along Noblefranca, and we satisfied ourselves with playing the assorted outdoor games expected of us then—tago-tago, tayukok, siatong, Chinese garter, marbles—until one day we dared enough to launch a war game involving tirador. Slingshots of our own devising, assembled from a strong enough Y-shaped wood and scraps of rubber.
I must have been a good shot at six, because I had taken my slingshot, and managed to shoot with a stone one of my little friends, right smack on her forehead, like David to Goliath. This was a short-haired girl whose name I can't remember [let's call her Rita], but I do remember that she was always a quarrelsome sort given to a generosity of snots; so my targeting her—and succeeding so well—must have sprang from some inchoate and childish sense of bloody murder. When my stone found its mark on her forehead, I found her wailing so frightening that I immediately ran home, and hid under my bed, sure of my impending doom.
True enough, by nightfall, the girl and her mother had come up to our apartment. The mother was furious, and was demanding that my parents pay for whatever medicine was required to heal the deep wound on her girl's forehead. My mother has a way of placating vicious people, and when some civility was finally restored, I was ordered to face the tribunal gathered in the dining room. The girl was in her last heavings of crying, her mother was glowering at me, and my parents and brothers looked at me with such disappointment on their faces that it felt very much like the end of the world.
"Ian," my mother began. "Whatever occurred to you to shoot a stone straight at Rita's forehead!"
I began crying dramatically. "But we were just playing!" I protested between tears.
"But don't you know it's bad to throw stones at other people?"
"Rita was making fun of me! And she was sling-shooting stones at me, too!"
"And that's why you chose to shoot a stone at her?"
"But you're a Christian boy, Ian! Don't you know what the Bible says about this?"
My mother was a religious sort, but I didn't know what the Bible said at all about any of this, so I shook my head.
"The Bible says," my mother continued, "that if someone throws a stone at you, you have to throw back at them a piece of bread!"
That bewildered me. "But I didn't have any bread with me!" I cried.
Which made my mother laugh so hard, and I knew I was instantly forgiven.
Those days of my childhood along Noblefranca Street probably lasted a year until we had to find another apartment again, but the days rolled by so slowly. My friends and I made use of all that time chasing fishies, and chasing each other with newfangled play. But I was soon to realize that my biggest source of entertainment was easy enough to have: it was the scene from below my balcony, the very courtyard of Holy Cross High School, which teemed with uniformed kids I secretly aspired to become. They teemed during recess, they teemed during P.E. classes, they teemed during special events and shows, the school stage perfectly positioned for me from the vantage point of my balcony. I spied on all these, I made up stories about the school kids I saw, and I was entertained exceedingly, even by my lonesome.
One day, during a school recess, I spied a familiar-looking girl walking from one of the classrooms straight to the school canteen that was situated right below my balcony. It was Kate, my beloved!
"Kate! Kate! Kate!" I shouted with so much excitement from up above her. I hadn't seen her in months and months, and my heart swelled. She looked beautiful in her uniform of white collared top with blue trimmings and a blue skirt.
She heard her name called out, and when she looked up to find its source, she saw my face.
"Kate!" I shouted again.
I saw her do a double-take, I saw her frown, and then, clearly embarrassed, she hurried back to her classroom with her other friends.
My six-year-old heart stilled, Kate's name frozen on my lips—and for a brief moment that stretched like eternity, I felt like there was a rain of fire coming for me, I felt like gold-skinned fish being chased furiously with a stick, I felt like there were thousands of stones sling-shooting right through me, blistering me awake to the suddenly cruel, cruel world.
Things that went through my head while watching Frozen 2, with appropriate SPOILER warnings attached:
 Elsa is the new Avatar, and a water bender.
 She's also Leeloo's cousin.
 Kristoff is a bisexual furry who's also into BDSM and Queen music videos.
 Anna is into leather.
 Superman's Fortress of Solitude has nothing on Ahtohallan.
 Thanos's snap extends as far as Arendelle.
 The invention of photography apparently dates further back.
 Carrots in Arendelle have long shelf-lives.
 Charmander is a Disney character.
 You cannot deny the sexual tension between Elsa and Honeymaren, and Kristoff and Ryder.
 Turtles can breathe through their butts.
 Robert Lopez is obviously Pinoy the way Frozen songs are all about the birit.
This is the first time I've actually finished all of The Crown in one go. [I don't remember going for Season 2 at all, not because it wasn't good -- I gather it was -- but I was much too busy.] But skipping right to Season 3, I'm finding that I'm loving it, if only for the subterfuges of emotion that goes on in Olivia Colman's face as the Queen -- subtle shifts that signal everything from pathos to viciousness. And some of the individual episodes strike a cord with their themes: showing empathy amidst horrific disaster in "Aberfan," recognizing what is important in "Bubbikins," finding your roots and fighting for it in "Tywysog Cymru," dealing with feelings of insignificance in "Moondust," and dealing with heartbreak in "Imbroglio." My favorite relationships in this series are often the ones where total opposites find themselves in common ground: the Queen with her Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and Prince Charles and his nationalist Welsh tutor Edward Millward, and Princess Alice of Battenberg and her unlikely [and fictional] interviewer John Armstrong. I have no idea what this says about me.
Grace comes from the most unexpected places. I've been trying to climb out of a dark hole all week, and knew it was not enough to get up and face myself in the mirror and say, "Enough." There are no magic words for this sort of thing. So I went out for dinner today, to face just a bit the world I had not seen in days, wanting to read a little while I sated the hunger that had festered for hours. And while in the middle of reading an Emily Dickinson poem ["I measure every Grief I meet / With narrow, probing, eyes – / I wonder if It weighs like Mine – / Or has an Easier size"] over chicken wings [honey-glazed], a couple of guitar-bearing minstrels came inside the cafe I was in to sing songs for coin. They sang Spiral Starecase's "More Today Than Yesterday" first, and then The Carpenters's "I Won't Last a Day Without You" next, their voices a surprise, a blend of something almost marvelous. And I found myself tearing up a bit to recognise the elusive and familiar light, the elusive and familiar ease of breathing, and the elusive and familiar spark deep inside my brain. There is no formula for these things. The shadows come fast and go away slow, but when they go, I find that it is almost always at the instance of accidentally stumbled upon beauty, a kind of foundling grace.
Oh, I finally saw Joker  last Saturday night in Manila. It was so meh to me, I even forgot I watched it. Such a forgettable movie. Hated its defanging of Joker's villainy -- a far cry from Heath Ledger's "I have no motivation, I just want the world to burn" fright fest. Its "society made me a psychopath" arc feels like the cares of a failed fictionist, and its Marxist stance feels like a garbled missive by a failed fighter for the proletariat. Loved its cinematography. Hated its unironic unoriginality, its cribbing from better movies. Loved Joaquin Phoenix's committed acting. Hated its depiction of mental health. Hated its smug violence. Hated its M. Night Shyamalan-type twist. I went straight to Malate after, where in Remedios Circle, a woman of a certain age was dancing without care to the sound of a nearby band playing covers. That was more entertaining to watch than Todd Phillips' exercise of cinematic vapidity.
6:17 PM |
Call for Manuscripts to the 59th Silliman University National Writers Workshop
The Silliman University National Writers Workshop is now accepting applications for the 59th Silliman University National Writers Workshop to be held from 27 April to 8 May 2020 at the Silliman University Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village and the Silliman University campus.
This Writers Workshop is offering ten fellowships to promising writers in the Philippines who want to have a chance to hone their craft and refine their style. Fellows will be provided housing, a modest stipend, and a subsidy to partially defray costs of their transportation.
To be considered, applicants should submit manuscripts on or before 6 December 2019. (Extension to the deadline will not be made.) All manuscripts should comply with the instructions stated below. (Failure to do so will automatically eliminate their entries).
Applicants for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction fellowships should submit three to four (3-4) entries. Applicants for Poetry fellowships should submit a suite of seven to ten (7-10) poems. Applicants for Drama fellowships should submit at least one (1) One-Act Play. Each fiction, creative nonfiction, or drama manuscript should not be more than 20 pages, double-spaced. We encourage you to stay well below the 20 pages. Aside from manuscripts in Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and Drama that should be written in English, the Workshop will also be accepting manuscripts for Balak (poetry in Binisaya) and Sugilanon [short story in Binisaya]. Applicants should submit a suite of seven to ten (7-10) balak entries with their English translations, or three to four (3-4) sugilanon entries with their English translations.
Manuscripts should be submitted in five (5) hard copies. They should be computerized in MS Word, double-spaced, on 8.5 x 11 inches bond paper, with approximately one-inch margin on all sides. Please indicate the category (FICTION, CREATIVE NONFICTION, POETRY, ONE-ACT DRAMA, BALAK, or SUGILANON) immediately under the title. The page number must be typed consecutively (e.g., 1 of 30, 2 of 30, and so on) at the center of the bottom margin of each page. The font should be Book Antiqua or Palatino, and the font size should be 12.
The applicant’s real name and address must appear only in the official application form and the certification of originality of works, and must not appear on the manuscripts. Manuscripts should be accompanied by the official application form, a notarized certification of originality of works, and at least one letter of recommendation from a literature professor or an established writer. All requirements must be complete at the time of submission.
Send all applications or requests for information to the Department of English and Literature, attention Dr. Warlito Caturay Jr., Workshop Coordinator, 1/F Katipunan Hall, Silliman University, 6200 Dumaguete City. For inquiries, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 035-422-6002 loc. 350.
I took it easy today, because I wanted to feel the world as it went by. Having just one class to meet made it feasible, of course. After completing two more work meetings, I decided to go to the Ariniego Art Gallery just to soak in the quiet of the cavernous building, and to admire the paintings of Federico Alcuaz, all by my lonesome. There was no one else there when I made my way in, and I must have stayed for an hour, looking at the paintings a little bit deeper than usual. Then I followed my feet, which took me to drop by the office of Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez, where we listened to someone play the piano, and while Ma’am Sue painted flowers we talked about the vagaries of love. Then I got a haircut. And now I’m having coffee in a cafe by the boulevard, convinced that Tuesdays were made for easing up on the restlessness of our days. My friend Donna Sanchez tells me that the Japanese have a word this: they call it kibun tenkan, literally “change feeling,” which means “clear one’s head,” or “for a change,” which you apparently accomplish by doing exactly what I did—see some art, for example, or listen to music, or to get a haircut. “For all the stresses the Japanese experience day in and day out,” Donna tells me, “they need a specific phrase to remind them to take a breather and refresh themselves.” I feel I must have been Japanese in my past life.
I cannot bring myself to admire the beautifully reddish sun at sunrise or sundown over Dumaguete. It’s the haze, I know; that tantalizing shifts from purple to orange crowning the sun are mere smokescreen, literally. Often when nature flashes danger, it does so in the most flashy colors—like a poisonous frog or snake given to resplendence, or like that lake in Basay that’s a striking cobalt blue because of the corrosive metal that lurks in its waters. I ask myself this sometimes: how can the beautiful be unexpected bane? Like how I’ve fallen in love sometimes, the rapture of it also its greatest pain.
I saw someone sing his heart out tonight. It was a classical crossover concert at the Luce, and one of the singers confessed how fantastic it was to be there on stage when only earlier this year, he had been diagnosed with cancer. But tonight, he was singing like his life depended on it. It was beautiful watching someone do something he loved with so much clarity, and with the verve to go with it. He sang long, he sang high — and he transported all of us on music that was clearly ripped from his soul. He was having the time of his life. Watching that, I thought: I want that clarity. I want to do the thing I love best, with all the beauty I can muster, because life is just too goddamn short.
Sometimes I feel this conviction that all the troubles we’ve been having right now may really be the product of a conservative, even patriarchal, backlash because people of this ilk are becoming increasingly irrelevant in a world that has irrevocably changed for them. Brazil’s Bolsonaro, for example, dragging his heels on the Amazon fire because he does not believe in climate change. Or macho “Christians” who cannot see a world beyond their old-fashioned ideas of gender. But history is a chronicle of change, including the flailings of those who refuse these changes — and perish in irrelevance. We must remember one of the greatest insights about history from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Let’s fight on and make their irrelevance permanent.
The stars aligned, the heavens responded. I was hoping for the simplest of satisfaction: to be truly happy during my birthday this year. I still remember the terrors of last year, when I could not bring myself to celebrate because I was dealing with a terrifying problem I needed to face -- although outwardly, I had to put on a happy face, and even threw a dinner for visiting friends. This year, I harboured only wishes. But the midnight salubong was intimate and real, the s.o. taking me out for a walk along the Rizal Boulevard under the light of a full moon, which reminded me of the often overlooked [among the locals at least] beauty of my city. Then he told me while we crossed the street: "Remember, people love you. I love you. Your family loves you, your friends love you." And how he said that, so matter-of-factly, touched something deep in me and peeled away all sorts of bottled up fear and recriminations and self-loathing. To be loved, that is a gift. Then we treated ourselves to a huge ice cream parfait. By Saturday morning, I woke up earlier than usual, early enough for me to receive a text from my brother Dennis. He was inviting me for a family lunch, to celebrate the joint birthdays of my mother and me [yes, we share the same birthday]. It turned out to be a huge family affair at Negrense Food Lab: beside my immediate family, a good number of my cousins, my nephews, my nieces, my grandchildren (!!!) were all there: people I have not seen in months, and so there was delight in beholding familiar faces. And it felt just right, starting the day off with kin, the people of my blood. Our lunch was long, our talk carefree and easy-going, it felt like a gift. Then for the rest of the day, I wanted to do something creative. I had already finished putting in the final touches on two new short stories and had sent them out for publication that morning, and so for my birthday afternoon, I felt like doing something more of that sort: I wrote a historical essay about the Sands & Coral, finishing it over late afternoon coffee at Poppy's when the s.o. finally arrived to take me to our birthday celebration: a dinner for two at Adamo, like we always do. It was a sumptuous meal, and Chef Edison dropped by our table for a spirited conversation that must have lasted an hour. Then off to late-night drinks and midnight dinner with more friends, first at Allegre and then Chicco's. I was offline all day, and that made a great difference, I think. The gift I gave myself yesterday was spending time with people I love, and listening to the cravings of my creative side. Thank you to everyone who shared that day with me. Here's to 44.
Rarely do you find a film that mines fantastically the nuances of childhood. Carla Simón's Estiu 1993 [Summer 1993] (2017) does it with naturalistic flair: it follows an orphan in Barcelona whose parents have died of AIDS as she moves to her uncle's family in the Catalan countrysides. There, she negotiates, in her inchoate ways, many things that can easily break us adults: grief, displacement, subtle prejudices, jealousy, alienation -- all in the nebulous language of one who has no clear conception of the world and its cruelties. A huge part of the film's strengths is its characters: the story is peopled with gentle characters -- especially the adoptive family who embodies grace and love. The film presents tension now and then, but always with the knowledge that we are following good people. The film takes its time and follows almost religiously the day-to-day rituals of childhood, and it is not for those without patience -- but when one chooses to be fully in Frida's world, the rewards are infinite. It will break and make your heart full in equal measure.
I finally finished writing the short story I've been trying to finish for the past 20 years. When it came together today, I couldn't help but shed a tear or two. I never thought I'd get to conclude it; I've tried abandoning it before, but somehow I still kept going back to it, at least once a year, each revision a key to a tiny piece of revelation I did not quite get yet. All I knew was that I had to follow a medical intern during a night of duty at the local hospital, and then into the ER comes this boy who has been stabbed by an ice pick. I started writing it 20 years ago when a friend of mine -- Dennis Mainit -- was stabbed in Barefoot [now Cafe Racer] with an ice pick, and the events of the past few days somehow brought back all the memories. But I think I had to be the age I am now to understand what I was trying to do with this story, and now it's finished.
The You Do Note girl reminds me of how we were in grade school in the late 1980s when my classmates and I would put on as classroom drama an ENTIRE FILM starring Sharon Cuneta we had just seen. We would rehearse every scene we could remember, trying to be faithful to every line reading. The slapping scenes were always highlights. I did the character played by Christopher de Leon [I think?], and my classmate Diedre, whom I had a crush on [yes], was of course Sharon. [I read that as a "sign," to be honest.] I think this was Lino Brocka's Babangon Ako't Dudurugin Kita (1989), because the timeline is just right. We would have been in third grade.
I don't recall what class it was we did this for. Filipino? And why did the teacher allow us to do it? For her own amusement? Whoever it was, I belatedly appreciate her tolerance for our childhood fancy at acting out an entire movie: it must have been hilariously abridged and chaotic, but it was a foundational experience for me later on loving film, theatre, and writing.
I haven't seen Eddie Garcia's P.S. I Love You since I was a wee kid in 1981 when it opened and established Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion as major teen stars. It has not aged well, no? It's like the ultimate privileged kids in a my-parents-don't-understand-me movie. And all these trappings of riches—Mercedes Benzes! private planes! haciendas! horses!—seem to be too much in the context of the realities of 1981, and seem to contradict Garcia's general sense of subduedness, underlined with Sharon's very inchoate, very whispery performance. ["Papaaah..." "Mamaaah..." It's too cute, to be honest.] I think this needed the pizazz and the irony of a Danny Zialcita.
Still, I think this is an important film, and really should be restored. It's a time capsule.
I stopped romanticizing the rain ten years ago when Ondoy hit a significant portion of the country and wrought devastation. In Dumaguete, the rain that fateful 2009 day was gentle and the sky was overcast in this silvery sheen, and we were all waxing poetic on Facebook about the cold and the patter of rain -- not knowing that people were already drowning elsewhere. Soon there were frantic and angry admonitions from friends to please clear the timeline so that emergency messages could be posted on social media and be widely disseminated without obstruction.
[This was in an innocent time when social media was being used for the good, not yet weaponized by dictators and trolls.]
It has got to be said though: Dumaguete was gentle today. They had suspended all classes because of the monsoon, but it turned out to be a bright day, full of sun, but it was cool and windy enough to make walking around the city such a pleasure. And because there were no classes, the streets were mostly devoid of traffic, and it felt like the city was in a reprieve of sorts, in a sudden vacation from all the cares of what would have been a normal working day. The breeze danced with my hair, kissed my skin -- and I took it all in.
But all the while I also felt a secret guilt, and I was quietly hoping that all these unexpected enjoyment did not come at the expense of some people's lives somewhere else.
My story “The Boys from Rizal Street” is part of this fantastic anthology of queer fiction, SANCTUARY: SHORT FICTION FROM QUEER ASIA, edited by Libay Linsangan Cantor and Ng Yi-Sheng for Signal 8 Press in Hong Kong. Other contributors include Lakan Umali, Danton Remoto, Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz, Nero Oleta Fulgar, and Early Sol Gadong from the Philippines, Fatema Bhaiji from Pakistan, Dino Mahoney and Arthur Lewis Thompson from Hong Kong, Andris Wisatha from Indonesia, Miodrag Kojadinović from Macau, Ovidia Yu, Ash Lim, Lydia Kwa, and Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé from Singapore, Gemma Dass from Malaysia, Abeer Y. Hoque from Bangladesh, Hsu Yu-Chen from Taiwan, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew from Thailand.
From the book description: “Gathered in this book are nineteen tales of queer lives in Asia: stories of humour and heartbreak; magic and murder; love, lust and living happily ever after. Meet an altar boy in Davao City, a madrasah schoolgirl in Karachi, a former child soldier in Siem Reap, a mermaid in post-apocalyptic Hong Kong. Discover their passions in the saunas of Singapore, the hotel rooms of Taipei, the university dorms of Manila. Sanctuary: Short Fiction from Queer Asia is a celebration of the creativity and diversity of the continent’s LGBT writing, drawn from both established and emerging authors in ten different countries and territories in the region. It bears witness to oppression, but also dares to imagine strange new worlds and happy endings.”
The problems in heritage and cultural work can be myriad. Each one is complex. Each one demands to be understood in very specific terms. Each one is very much a challenge, some of them not for the faint-hearted.
One such problem is myopia—the inability to see things properly because of sheer nearsightedness, hence the inability to see a totality of vision. This is an understandable problem if we talk about the regular Juan, because not every one of us has enough information about everything else to make justifiable stands on most things.
But when myopia comes from a politician, it becomes something else. It becomes a warning.
In the March 24 issue of the Dumaguete MetroPost, where this column will soon land, I read with astonished incredulity the following words from William Ablong, who penned an article titled “Dumaguete’s Presidencia, A Legacy?” in his column Eye Opener, where he wrote: “I am just wondering why the city is into this ‘museum thing’ and spending millions when in fact, they know that there are so many Dumaguetnons right now who are hungry, who are jobless, and who are homeless. There are roads that until this time have not been rebuilt or fixed. Will this museum provide the solutions we need?”
He continued: “Can this museum bring food to our table? Can the homeless stay inside that building to have a roof over their heads? So that when it rains, they can take cover? Can the out-of-school children get inside there to obtain a semblance of education? Can our street children have a family they can finally call their own? Can our jobless be finally employed? Can it lower our unemployment rate? Can it improve the skills and knowledge of our underemployed so that they can finally secure better, higher-paying jobs?”
Still more: “Just to be very clear—I am not against working for something that will bring us pride as a people. And I am not against having museums here in the city. I believe, to become a city of refinement, a museum or anything that represents the arts is very much a necessity. BUT, we need to have proper timing. Who can appreciate a museum if more than half of the population do not have food on their tables or are struggling to make both ends meet? For sure, only the rich and the noble can give value to what this museum stands for.”
Usually, in this space, I steer clear of politics, it is not my cup of tea—but since this one touches on a topic closest to things I fight for in Dumaguete City, let me offer a rebuttal.
Ablong happens to be running for mayor of Dumaguete—and this article is clearly a pot shot. But it made me think: IF THIS IS THE TYPE OF PERSON ASPIRING TO BE A LEADER OF THE CITY, WHO NEEDS BARBARIANS AT THE GATE?
Because a city leader who cannot see heritage and culture as part of the very soul of the city he wants to lead clearly does not have that city’s best interests at heart. Ablong calls it a mere “museum thing,” denigrating this worthwhile project to something that sounds like whimsy. He decries the “millions” being spent on the project, when he should know that the City is not spending a single centavo on this. The funds for the restoration of the Presidencia comes from the coffers of the National Museum, which had allocated a budget for preserving an important architectural heritage designed by the great Filipino architect Juan Arellano. [Truth to tell, we almost lost this budget because the City was a little slow in accepting the invitation of the National Museum. Good thing then that things started changing in 2017, especially with the creation of the City Heritage Council, which is how we are finally getting this much-needed restoration, a fitting project that respects the history of Dumaguete City.]
That restoration budget was allocated precisely for that very purpose, and it would be foolhardy to think that Ablong can ask the National Museum to spend it instead on the problems he highlighted—joblessness, homelessness, education, etc., when those things are not the mandate of the National Museum.
What are the mandates of the National Museum for the country? One of these is to identify heritage buildings, and to set aside money for their preservation, because they are part of our cultural patrimony, and the Constitution provides for that very purpose. In fact, the National Museum is now proposing another round of national funding for a planned restoration of the bell tower or the campanario, which is now slowly deteriorating because of various causes, including plants taking root in its structure.
What Ablong wants is akin to asking the one government department to set aside part of its budget for another department’s projects. Didn’t he know the intricacies of government project management when he was City Administrator?
It is like scolding the fish for not running the marathon.
It is like begrudging the sun for not rising in the west.
It is like asking a trapo to be truthful during campaign season.
It is a foolish proposition—and only fools will believe this.
His second paragraph is composed of nothing more than a spewing off of motherhood statements all politicians love to trumpet when they are seeking public office. They are designed to make people shake their heads in commiseration, because they sound beguiling in their portrait of political neglect. Ablong was City Vice Mayor for six years (2001-2007), City Agriculture Officer for ten years (2008-2018), and City Administrator for six years (2010-2016). Not including the Agriculture job, that’s twelve years. Those are positions of such high power in City Hall, and such roles of great responsibility. He had inroads to power that could have helped solve many of the problems he is now complaining about. He couldn’t even install proper street signs, for twelve years. What did he do about the homeless and the street children in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator? What did he do about the garbage problem in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator? What did he do about education in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator? What did he do about culture and heritage in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator?
He talks big about “proper timing.” To quote the popular version of the rabbinic sage Hillel the Elder’s famous aphorism, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” There is no such thing as proper timing when the proper timing is now and is congruent with proper vision. What is proper timing for him? In 20 years, when the Presidencia’s original designs would have been totally erased because of ignorance and neglect?
Last January 18, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law that mandated the conservation of the Gabaldon school buildings found nationwide, which sought to preserve “the architectural, historical and social significance” of these heritage school houses. The Gabaldon buildings were built around the Philippines from 1907 to 1946. In Dumaguete, the most famous example is the main building of the Negros Oriental High School, which was established in Dumaguete in 1902 [in the spot where the City Hall and the East City Central School buildings are now], but was later transferred to its current location along Kagawasan Avenue at the Capitol Area, where its Gabaldon building stands proud as beacon for local education.
These school buildings were designed by the American architect William Parsons, and are so named because their funding was made possible through Act. No. 1801, authored by Isauro Gabaldon. Including the one in Dumaguete, there are about 1,446 Gabaldon buildings all over the country—and under the new law, they are recognized as “built heritage,” and thus are included as part of cultural properties determined by the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
The new law requires local government units that have Gabaldon school buildings under their jurisdiction to “adopt measures for the protection and conservation of these structures,” with the aid of several government institutions, including the Department of Education and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. From the ABS-CBN news report on the passage of the law, Sen. Loren Legarda, the bill’s author, is quoted as saying that “these structures symbolize the first foundation of the Philippine public school system during the American period, in which each Filipino child, even from the most remote areas of the country, had access to formal education.”
It is that symbolic nature of these buildings that make them important—although most people do not readily see that about architectural structures, which leads to an ironic point: they are often the most visible kind of heritage in any town or city, and yet their importance as “heritage” are often unseen by people in the locality. They are often just perceived as “old buildings,” often dilapidated, and often fall victim to razing or demolition, always in the name of “progress.” Just a few weeks ago, the beautiful—although sadly neglected—Luis Rotea heritage house in Bais, which occupied a prime location in the city, is now gone, apparently to make way for a McDonald’s.
Built heritage, needless to say, is a most important cultural asset because it embodies the historical layers of our built environs made of materials such as cement, brick, wood, stone, and metal, even plaster—which make up the physical evidence of our cultural development. Built heritage thus includes houses and hotels, museums and markets, cathedrals and cemeteries, factories and fences, as well as plazas and streetscapes. It includes a wide range of historical and familiar landmarks that are vital in forming—and sustaining—a robust sense of belonging and affection to our community.
So quickly now, what are some of the other built heritage we can find around Dumaguete City besides the campanario and the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria?
The Locsin heritage house at the corner of Locsin Street and Sta. Catalina Street is one of the most important heritage houses in Dumaguete City. Legend has it that Jose Rizal once visited the house. But its true historical importance is that this was the venue for the election of officers for the Provisional Revolutionary Government on 25 November 1898. It had belonged to the Teniente Cornelia Yapsutco, and later became the property of the Locsin family in Dumaguete. It still stands intact.
The ancestral house of Ramon Teves Pastor at the crossing of Real Street [now named after him] and Dr. V. Locsin Street, popular known as the White House, is a testament to one of the most important figures in Dumaguete life and politics. Ramon Teves Pastor was mayor of Dumaguete from October 1912 until October 1916, and under his watch, M.L. Quezon Park was inaugurated a hundred years ago, on 20 September 1916, which paved the way for free nightly shows at the new Dumaguete landmark. The plot was donated by the Pastor family and the Patero family. The construction of the Rizal Boulevard breakwater was also done during his term, which makes him one of the major shapers of the Dumaguete environs we know and love today. The house still stands intact.
The row of beautiful, sometimes ornately designed, houses along the Paseo de Rizal or the Boulevard—stretching from the fringes of Tinago down to the corner of Silliman Avenue—are called by locals as the Sugar Houses, so named because these were the city residences of sugar plantation owners whose haciendas were mostly concentrated in Bais, Tanjay, and Manjuyod towns. For most of the life of the boulevard, these houses became the beautiful windows to the genteel air of Dumaguete, each one competing with each other with their disparate architectural details, and their singular grandness. Most of these houses over the years have been transformed into the various hotels and bars and restaurants that now dot the stretch. The grandest among them that still remain largely untouched is the magnificent, formerly green-tinged Serafin Lajato Teves Mansion at the corner of Rizal Boulevard and Burgos Street.
Of the school buildings aside from the Gabaldon structure of NOHS, we have Silliman Hall, named after Horace Brinsmade Silliman, the philanthropist who gave the initial donation to start the school that would become the university that it is now, is located right at the bend that leads to the sea-side Rizal Boulevard. Its sight is quite distinctive in the Dumaguete landscape, and it is perhaps the structure most iconic of the City besides the campanario. The three-story structure—held together by wooden arches stemming from cast-iron columns, its design complete with gables and intricate carpentry—is the first and the oldest building in campus. Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, the school founder, was responsible for sketching out how Silliman Hall was supposed to look: his design represented American architecture of the stick-style, which dominated colonial buildings in the early days of the 20th century. The blocks used to build Silliman Hall were made from corals, and the components of the iron ceiling were shipped all the way from New York, from an old theater. Silliman Hall has served as classroom, dormitory (the future Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia stayed there when he was a student at Sillliman), library, faculty hall, and function hall—and in the early days of Silliman, it served as venue for recitals, plays, and convocations. Much of the building fell into disrepair and its first floor was converted to office spaces—until the late 1990s when Architect Manuel Almagro spearheaded efforts funded by USAid that restored the building to its original glory. The structure stands restored and intact.
Guy Hall in Silliman campus was built as a dormitory for boys. Construction began in 1918, with donations from Mr. William E. Guy of St. Louis, dedicated and named after his wife Kathryn Lemoine-Guy. Mr. Guy had met Silliman Institute benefactor Dr. Horace Silliman and pledged $15,000 to make two dormitories for boys. Instead of having two separate buildings, plans were made to change it to one with two wings—a more economical approach. Construction continued until 1927. It was made the general headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Forces during the duration of the war in Dumaguete. It still stands intact, and recently restored.
Among the government buildings, the City Hall—now referred to as the Presidencia—has the happy turn of being restored to its old glory. The Presidencia was built in 1937, and was designed by the great Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano who also designed some of the greatest pre-war buildings in the Philippines, including the Manila Post Office and the old Senate building, which currently houses the National Museum of the Philippines.
The Negros Oriental Provincial Capitol, located along Kagawasan Avenue around the city’s Freedom Park, was built in 1924 from designs made by architect and urban designer Daniel Hudson Burnham, which was based on the U.S. Capitol. (Burnham also designed the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C.) The design for the Negros Oriental Capitol, borrowing heavily from Greek architecture, symbolizes courage and strength, and the white paint symbolizes purity. It still stands intact—but needs restoration.
Public art and utilities, too, are part of the built heritage. The sculpture and fountain in M.L. Quezon Park was designed by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, who made it right around the time architect Juan M. Arellano was building the Presidencia in 1937. Monti stayed in the Philippines from 1930 until his death in 1958. During his stay, he worked with local architects and sculptors on major projects commissioned by the government and private individuals. Several of Monti’s sculptures are part of Metro Manila’s landmarks. His statues can be seen in front of public buildings or plazas, while his relief work decorate many exterior and interior walls in heritage buildings. It stands intact.
Built heritage is not just about beautiful or significant historic buildings. It also includes small and modest buildings of the commercial sort, including ones that reflect the social conditions of working families and local business titans. Of the heritage commercial buildings around downtown Dumaguete, my favorites are the few remaining Art Deco buildings mostly around Perdices Street, as well as Surban Street. Most of them are in various state of disrepair or use—and these include Park Building and the Uymatiao Building, as well as the Uypitching Building along Colon that blends Art Deco with Chinese motifs. Art Deco, also called style moderne, was a movement in the decorative arts and architecture that originated in the 1920s and developed into a major style in western Europe and the United States during the 1930s—formed with the “intention to create a sleek and anti-traditional elegance that symbolized wealth and sophistication,” according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, its “distinguishing features [being] simple, clean shapes, often with a ‘streamlined’ look, ornament that is geometric or stylized from representational forms; and unusually varied, often expensive materials.” Most of these buildings remain intact, but their style have been “diminished” by outer structures, or bad paint jobs.
Cathedrals and churches are some of the most beautiful—and preserved—examples of built heritage, but so are cemeteries. The Dumaguete Memorial Park is the most recently conceived, and utilized—but the smaller ones are more of interest to me. The Bogo public cemetery is within the embrace of the Memorial Park, and provides an interesting study of contrast. I used to love the Bagacay public cemetery for its chaos—but it has since undergone a facelift of sorts. The Daro Chinese cemetery is interesting for how it commands a lonely stretch of road within that barangay—but a small and separate cemetery within it is of utmost significance. The American Cemetery is one of the least well-known spots in Dumaguete, owing perhaps to the kind of grim reminder it brings about mortality, but also perhaps because of its secluded location inside the Chinese cemetery. It no longer has internment space, but the place still “charms” the occasional visitor with its wrought-iron gate beautifully covered by pink cadena de amor, and grounds shaded by full-grown mahogany trees and indian trees. Among the Americans buried here include a host of missionary teachers from Silliman University, such as Henry and Margaret Mack, T. S. Dodd, W. M. Baugh, Ila Smith-Munn, Cal Reed Cole Sr., Elena A. Cole, Cal Reed Cole Jr., Charlie Bell Cole Sr., Rev. Lapsley Armstrong McAfee, Robert Sherry Matheson, and Elliot Thomas Bell.
Are there any built heritage within Dumaguete City that gives us a reminder of World War II and the Japanese occupation of the town between 1942 and 1945? Nothing much remains in Dumaguete indicative of the occupation during that war, except one. The “pill box,” or defensive position, in Tugas is a remarkable piece of that historical time—easily seen by pedestrians as this strange “pyramid” while traversing Hibbard Avenue. It mostly puzzles people though. How many times have I gotten this question: “What is that?” And admittedly, for the longest time, I did not have a clear answer to give. The pill box is located about four blocks in-land from Lo-oc, near the North City Elementary School in Piapi, on the right hand side of Hibbard Avenue going north. It is located on private property, and it is not a preserved historical site.
Built heritage is a key to the understanding of our shared history in the community. It defines our origins. It enlightens us about who we are today. It gives us a sense of place, which in turn helps establish identity for the community—because they contribute to a sense of our connectedness to each other, which inspires community pride and a confidence of Dumaguete as “unique.” Most of all, when our local built heritage is properly preserved and promoted, it can stimulate interest about Dumaguete’s past, which can enrich the daily lives of Dumaguetnons.