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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

Interested in What I Create?


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

entry arrow11:12 PM | Public Confessions Are Better Said in Your Own Tongue

Wala ko'y gibuhat karong adlawa. As in. Wala jud. Nimata ko sayo, mga alas singko dagway sa buntag, ganahan unta ko mag-jogging, pero unsaon man, I got dressed up in running shorts ug sneakers pero nibalik ra pud ko ug katulog. The next thing I knew, mga alas otso na sa buntag. Wala man pud ko klase karong adlawa kay ga-research ang akong mga baktin, so ni-decide na lang ko nga magpadayon ug tulog. Pero nakadawat ko ug text gikan ni Mark, so nagdali-dali ko ug gawas -- muta and all -- para makapalit ko ug load kay nahutdan man ko gabi-i. Ay naku, ingon ani dagway jud ang kinabuhi kung ang imong uyab layo kaayo. Nakapalit ko ug load, ug nakapalit ko ug breakfast, ug pagkahuman nibalik na pud ko ug katulog. Baboy lagi ang epek nako for the whole day. Makaguol jud. Da sana, pagmata nako ubay-ubay, gikapoy lagi. Kanang kapoy ba sa sobrang tulog, nakasulay na pud mo ana? Paminaw nako mura ko'g luya kaayo nga mura'g gihilantan pud. Pero, I have to do something about this uy. Ang akong kinabuhi dili healthy. Ay naku, o sige, ugma na jud.

(Ugma na lang sige, asus.)


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entry arrow11:04 PM | Do You Want Privacy With That?

Scary stuff. This is what it's like to order pizza in the near future. And it doesn't sound farfetched.

[via goluboy, who has some interesting stuff]

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

entry arrow8:41 PM | Balak sa Gabii Nga Mahimong Adlaw

Gikapoy na baya ang gabii
Maghulat sa adlaw nga mura'g dili pud moabot.
Naminghoy na ang bulan, ang mga
Bituon nagka-anam-anam na ug pauli
Sa ilang mga kweba sa layong panganod.
Niagi na man gani ang mga hangin,
Nibanhaw na ang mga patay,
Pero bisag anino na lamang sa sidlakan,
Walay makit-an. Sa imong mga mata
Nakaptan nako ang tinuod: bisag
Pila pa ka gabii ko mohulat,
Sa pagkagapos ra gihapon sa imong
Pagkatulog ang atong paingnan.
Dili na dagway ko maghandom nga
Ikaw maka-mata pa. Sa imong katulog,
Sa imong wala'y undang nga pagkalibog
Ra man dagway ka malipay. Unsa'y
Kalipayon ba sa ana? Kanunay
Na lang gabii ang makit-an sa imong kinabuhi?
Sa kamingaw sa imong kalibutan,
Ang kangitngit ra ang madungog.
Didto sa kangitngit, wala akong ngalan.
Gikapoy na ang gabii
Maghulat sa pag-abot sa adlaw.


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entry arrow1:56 PM | Existence

As if invisibility isn't enough...

Stephen Jay Greenblatt, vanguard of New Historicism, once famously declared: "There is no such thing as Filipino literature."


[via barbara jane's new blog]

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Friday, September 23, 2005

entry arrow11:10 PM | A Reader of Novels Writes to Filipino Authors: Stop Posturing!

Dear Dean, Ichi, Vince, Paolo, Carol, and everybody else... Remember that interesting exchange we had about the Filipino novel in English? (To review the thread, here's Dean's initial take. Then here's my take. And Alvin Dacanay's take. And Resty Odon's take, with great comments from Manuel L. Quezon III, etc. And even Paolo Manalo's kind-of take. And these are the critical essays we all quoted from, from Rofel Brion, Jing Hidalgo, R. Kwan Laurel, and Elmer Ordonez.) Well, turns out the whole discourse is not over yet. I just got a very interesting email from Dominique Cimafranca, a blog-friend and fellow columnist in my hometown paper, MetroPost. I had published my essay on the Filipino novel in the said newspaper last week, and he read it. This is his reply.

Dear Ian,

Thank you for your two-part survey on the shape and state of the Filipino novel. As an amateur writer and confirmed bibliophile, I look forward to sampling some of the works that you mentioned in your article. I do, however, have my own theories as to why things are the way they are. Permit me, if you will, to share them with you and with the world at large.

While Rizal's influence is considerable, I think you overstate his role in the shaping of the Filipino novel. The Noli and the Fili are colorful windows into the past and an essential part of our culture and history. But as novels they often feel like pale imitations of Alexander Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo: the narrative is weak and unwieldy (at least in the translations I've read) and the characters, with some exceptions, are mere caricatures. I like to think that we've outgrown the form if not the content of those novels.

To briefly butt in, I'd like to note, however, that the critic Benedict Anderson, in his New Left Review article "In The World Shadow of Bismarck and Nobel," argued that "Rizal learnt much from European novelists, yet transformed what he found there to explosive new anticolonial effect." This article is Part II in a series of essays Anderson wrote on his explorations of the late 19th-century world setting of Rizal's "explosive anti-colonial novels." The first part, "Nitroglycerine in the Pomegranate," can be accessed here, and the last part, "Jupiter Hill," can be accessed here. (Thanks to Ari Ngaseo for hacking the journal!) But to continue with Dominique's email:
Yes, there is a problem with the excessive bent of our literature towards social realism, but even that is only a symptom and not the cause. Social realism, if written in the right way and for the right audience, does not need to be tedious, as the works of Pearl S. Buck have shown.

I think that the heart of the problem of the Filipino novel lies in the attitudes of the authors writing them. Filipino novelists, at least the ones I've sampled, miss their mark by a wide margin. Why? Because they do not write to entertain, they write to win an award or the praise of critics.

It's an oft-repeated excuse that Filipinos are not a reading culture. But I think that is simply not true. If it were, specialty stores like Powerbooks, Fully Booked, A Different Bookstore, and Ink and Stone would have no business at all. And neither would bargain bookstores like Book Sale and Books for Less, nor hybrid shops like National Bookstore. There is a reading audience out there. They're simply not reading Filipino literature because authors and publishers have not made it interesting for them.

Filipino authors can get so caught up in their art that they forget that they have to write for an audience, and in fact, that they effectively have to sell to an audience. If you look at the bookshelves which line the Filipiniana section, you'll realize that there's very little concept of packaging let alone marketing. Perhaps they expect the strength of critics' praise to sell the books? I don't think so.

I think that Summit Publications is one of the few local publishers that understands this concept, and that is why their line of chick lit books are selling briskly. They've identified a target audience, they've put together the product, and they've packaged accordingly. Unless other authors and publishers understand this, we will always have a paltry output of Filipino literature.

It's in this spirit that we need to review the admonition "Primum est vivere" and turn it on its head. Filipino authors, if they expect to earn a living from their writing, cannot simply expect to do so as a privilege of their talent. It is something that must be earned. One does not need to be a full-time writer to write a bestseller or a masterpiece: John Grisham wrote his first novels while working as an attorney; Stephen King made a living as a security guard while churning out his short stories; even J.K. Rowling had to squeeze in Harry Potter in between her duties as an unemployed single mom. The luxury of writing full-time comes at the end of one's journey as a writer.

(And I might add, there is another meaning to "Primum est vivere." If one is to write, one must first live in terms of life experiences. Literature taken from life experiences, I think, will usually be far richer than literature conjured in a garret.)

So, do I look forward to reading Filipino novels? Not particularly. I won't pick up the novel simply because it's Filipino. I'll pick it up because it's compelling, because it's amusing, because it's exciting, because it's startling, because it's fresh, and because it has the picture of a bug-eyed monster slobiverating over a scantily clad nubile. In short, because it's entertaining.

And if it pains Filipino writers that they have to pander to my plebeian tastes instead of the connoiseurship of an established critic, well, tough. Because, unlike the established critic, I vote with my wallet. So do the hundreds of other reading Filipinos like me.

Here we are now. Entertain us.


Okay, people. Haloscan's now open for your comments. Let's hear out another round of this debate, eh?

*By the way, thanks for the magazine, Dom!

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

entry arrow5:18 PM | Barbara Jane Rocks!

Eileen Tabios's prediction might finally be coming true: this century will bring about the long-delayed recognition of Filipino and Filipino-American poetry in the West. The latest evidence: Barbara Jane Reyes.

From the Academy of American Poets...

Barbara Jane Reyes has been selected as the recipient of the 2005 James Laughlin Award for her second collection of poems, Poeta en San Francisco (Tinfish Press). The James Laughlin Award is given to commend and support a poet's second book of poetry. The award was established by a gift to the Academy from the Drue Heinz Trust in honor of the poet and publisher James Laughlin (1914-1997). Ms. Reyes will receive a cash prize of $5,000, and the Academy will purchase copies of Poeta en San Francisco for distribution to its members. This year's judges were James Longenbach, Mary Jo Bang, and Elizabeth Alexander.

Ms. Reyes was born in Manila, Philippines, and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her undergraduate education at the University of California Berkeley and her MFA in Creative Writing (poetry) at San Francisco State University. Her work was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and appears or is forthcoming in Asian Pacific American Journal, Chain, Interlope, Nocturnes (Re)view, North American Review, Tinfish, Versal, in the anthologies Babaylan (Aunt Lute, 2000), Eros Pinoy (Anvil, 2001), Going Home to a Landscape (Calyx, 2003), Not Home But Here (Anvil, 2003), Pinoy Poetics (Meritage, 2004), and forthcoming in Red Light: Superheroes, Saints and Sluts (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 2005), and Graphic Poetry (Hong Kong: Victionary, 2005). Her first book, Gravities of Center, was published by Arkipelago Books (San Francisco) in 2003.

From the judges' citation for the James Laughlin Award, James Longenbach writes: "If William Blake were alive and well and sitting on a eucalyptus branch in the hills above the bay, this is the poetry he would aspire to write."

You can also read Eileen Tabios's interview with Barbara and Paolo Javier, on everything from "translation, the use of footnotes, colonialism and marginalization, the 'Dufusly-Disembodied-Poet from the Suny Buffalo List', the Philippine influence on American poetry, the limits as well as responsibilities of representation, and various other subversions...."

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entry arrow12:13 PM | The Odds Around You

I just found out that Zadie Smith...

... author of the acclaimed first novel White Teeth, and now Man Booker Prize finalist for On Beauty, was born 1975, and is thirty -- just like me. Grrrr. Back to work then, back to work...


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entry arrow12:11 PM | The Opposite of Nostalgia

By Eric Gamalinda

You are running away from everyone
who loves you,
from your family,
from old lovers, from friends.

They run after you with accumulations
of a former life, copper earrings,
plates of noodles, banners
of many lost revolutions.

You love to say the trees are naked now
because it never happens
in your country. This is a mystery
from which you will never

recover. And yes, the trees are naked now,
everything that still breathes in them
lies silent and stark
and waiting. You love October most

of all, how there is no word
for so much splendor.
This, too, is a source
of consolation. Between you and memory

everything is water. Names of the dead,
or saints, or history.
There is a realm in which
--no, forget it,

it's still too early to make anyone understand.
A man drives a stake
through his own heart
and afterwards the opposite of nostalgia

begins to make sense: he stops raking the leaves
and the leaves take over
and again he has learned
to let go.

[swiped from the cheshire cat's blog]

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

entry arrow12:01 AM | Future Non-Fiction

Manuel L. Quezon III writes of the Philippines in 2015 and its monstrous Marcosian legacy in the newest issue of i-Report, which is increasingly becoming my favorite magazine:

And so it was, that in the year 2015, the Philippines -- as Metternich had once contemptuously said of Italy -- had become "merely a geographic expression." It was, at best, a virtual nation, but more aptly a gigantic nursery for those who would consider the world their home. Home was not native land, a nation, in the sense understood by previous generations. It was still a place, but this time just a staging ground. It might be where property could be obtained; it would always be where a never-ending line of poor suckers not as clever (or far too lazy) compared to you were stuck waiting for your monthly remittance.

Country was an issuing authority: for passports and permits; a place where nothing worked as well as where you were working, but which you fondly remembered as the place that allowed you muddle through. Your parents and grandparents talked politics; you provided them appliances for karaoke when the politics got them depressed. Your parents and grandparents talked of school and church; you could email and text your classmates the world over and were likely to belong to a different church than them. You were different from those who came before because, unlike them, you felt you were truly free.

Country was the place where your foreign exchange could build a house, brand new, beside the decaying homes of the local gentry. Country was where your siblings waited their turn to go to another land. Country was where you went for funerals and weddings; it was where you could come back, without that "proper" accent, and without the "right" manners, and be able to afford to hobnob with the sons and daughters of those who had employed your parents. Home was land, increasingly urban, or at the very least, as urbanized as your remittances could afford to make it. Home was about handouts: for thieving officials, for relatives to indulge. But as for the rest, home was where you might be, comforted by the songs from home, played on your mp3 player; entertained by movies you could see on DVD; illuminated by the gossip on shows you could watch on cable; driven by the jokes sent by email and text by your compatriots inhabiting the four corners of the world.

You read with barely concealed horror, because you know you can't help but agree.

(There are also fearless forecasts by Queena N. Lee-Chua on education, David Celdran on TV and technology, Paulo Alcazaren on Manila, Maruja Asis on the family, Jonathan A. Flavier on health care, Teresita Ang See on crime, Uro Q. de la Cruz on cinema, and Howie Severino on our collective guilt as a generation for not making things better. I guess the issue should be in the newsstands now.)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

entry arrow11:12 PM | The Intricate Bloodlines Between All Things in the Universe

Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know -- even man himself -- would never have existed. Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he had sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. Today we know that the appearance of the flowers contained also the equally mystifying emergence of man.

--Loren Eiseley, from "How Flowers Changed the World"

You can also read his wonderful "The Starfish Story" here.

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entry arrow9:46 PM | I've Been Splogged

I never thought I'd see the day when "spamming" and "blogging" would collide to form a new threat, this time to blogosphere: splogging. The term alone, coined by Mark Cuban, sounds retchingly nauseous. Palanca winner and tech-writer Joey Alarilla quotes Cuban as defining a splog as "any blog whose creator doesn't add any written value." Here's an example, which I got from my referrer list.

Unfortunately, I've been splogged. (Ikaw rin?) You've probably seen these dastardly things: they are those curious congratulary comments in Haloscan or Tagboard or your Blogger commenting system that tell you "what a wonderful blog" you have, and then direct you to links for ... cat-themed furniture. Cat-themed furniture! Even Viagra! In my secret poetry blog, I got this one from someone named "Beth", who is also named "Sarah" by the end of her missive:

Hi there,

I just ran across your site and enjoyed reading through everything.

I'm trying to get a blog going on my site too. But I dont think i have the patience to do it!


And then she gives the link to her "liquid nutritional supplements" site. Bitch.

The worst kind, however, is when you lose whole websites or blogs to spammers/hackers who have, without your knowing, transformed them to totally alien sites. I've lost three old blogs to these spammers; one of these is now selling German credit cards. This last one was the old Philippine Literature News blog, and thankfully The Pig Pond immediately alerted me of this curious case of "blog-theft."

Ay, naku. Some people are just shameless.

[via the babel machine]

[update: talk about irony. joey alarilla's blogpost about comment spam got a comment spam.]

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entry arrow6:00 PM | Journey

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.
--From Janice Pono's email


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Monday, September 19, 2005

entry arrow7:35 PM | A Game of Anonymous Names

I wrote this more than a year ago, May 2004, at the end of another beautiful summer. Perhaps you might even know these people. Ten bucks for every correct answer...


She, in her old age, now counts her "I love you's" out like a miser's spare change, and you wonder somehow how love can be like that, always under a scowl, afraid to bloom to trembling truth.


He was the one who kept heads spinning in his ambiguities. Even after he has explained himself, there it still was -- mystery wrapped up as a beautiful boy. Of course you fell for his quiet smiles, the way the light turns soft brown in his eyes, and the way his words roll out, when he speaks, with such sweet, precise enunciation. Maybe you even love the way his hair, kept trim (and always under a cap), shies up, close to forehead, to a curl. You keep your ground, though, with practice. You know this can't lead anywhere.


She tells you she has never seen heaven like this, in intoxication, and away from home. She is beautiful and sixteen. "You are an angel," you tell her. When she smiles, you find yourself longing for a sister.


He is inconstant, but is always bliss and pure joy. His body is home. Of course you hate him for your falling deep into his eyes, and knowing that while you pretend you are strong, you can easily get lost without the comfort of his becoming familiar, like life.


She, in her sweet abundance of beautiful flesh, stumps you with sudden intimate moments. She knows, doesn't she? is your eternal question, a refrain that soon gets lost in both your bubbles of laughter and sad joys. You hold her hand, and silently you wish her well, and then you wish her love as well.


He has become a stranger, a spiteful man without context for his sudden black moods. You wonder how that can be, how a beautiful summer can suddenly turn upside-down for somebody you once knew as friend and ally. You realize, seeing the blankness in his cigarette eyes, that nobody really knows anybody.

You write somewhere, on a piece of blue paper: "Every man is an island. There are waters of separation between us, our lapping waves the only means with which we touch each other -- inconstant, and frequently breeding sadness. We are all connected by our disconnections."

Paradox is a kind of life.


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Sunday, September 18, 2005

entry arrow7:58 PM | The Bunny Horror Picture Show

Oh, my God!

I totally miss this! I used to download all the Bunny Reenactment Movies in 30 Seconds -- from Jaws to Scream to The Shining to The Big Chill to The Exorcist (which is still my favorite) -- and now, they have The Rocky Horror Picture Show! I hereby require everybody to get to the site right now.


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Friday, September 16, 2005

entry arrow1:31 AM | Ithaca

By Constantine P. Cavafy

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

entry arrow9:36 PM | And the Winner Is...

CANVAS is pleased to announce that Victoria Estrella C. Bravo is the winner of CANVAS' first annual children's storywriting competition, for her story "The Rocking Horse."

The panel of judges was composed of Gigo Alampay (Executive Director of CANVAS), and multi-awarded children's story writers Carla Pacis and Augie Rivera.

In the end, Ms. Bravo won in a close contest with three other writers: Raissa Claire U. Rivera ("Treasures I Have Known"), Andrea Lazaro ("Si Ninjang Kabayo at ang Violinistang Kalbo"), and Anna Christina Llanera ("Sol"). CANVAS intends to post all four top stories on its website soon.


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entry arrow1:02 AM | Notes on a Forthcoming Story (or Footnotes to Gruesome Tales of Murders)

Do not let Dumaguete's Southern Gothic charm fool you. It is easy enough to be reeled in by all the genteelity, the tropical calmness made palpable by lazy promenades along its famous seaside Boulevard, the everywhereness of acacia trees, and the vast quiet that pervades even the very pores of our skin, punctured only by the sounds of tricycles merrily wheezing by.

Everywhere you look, there is some trace of history and of the familiar, like finding in every nook a semblance of home. Overlooking Tanon Strait, for example, on the corner of Rizal Boulevard and Silliman Avenue, Silliman Hall -- which is one of the oldest American colonial architecture in the country -- stands in a kind of majesty, the keeper of many memories, including that one time when Rizal himself walked the old shores and remarked, "This is a place of gentle people." The name stuck, and became Dumaguete's corny moniker.

Straight on from Silliman Hall, you will find mansions lining the Boulevard, old structures we call "the sugar houses" because they are remnants of Negros's hacendero legacy, which exists today only as wisps, pale ghosts of ancient history when Spanish mestizo debutantes from our side of Negros Island did not make their social coming out anywhere else but in St. James Court, right in the Royal heart of Great Britain. Like all of Negros, our sugar past makes us the original of all Pinoy bourgeoisie. And yet, the place still remains small and inert, like a treasure box.

It is easy to see only all of that.

But there is an underbelly of intrigue and mystery to the place, and truth be told, it borders on the murderous. It is also true that this is probably one of the safest places in the entire universe. We have a saying here, one that I love telling every new crop of writing fellows that come knocking at our door every summer: "Don't worry about walking around Dumaguete at two o'clock in the morning. Nothing bad will ever happen to you. If something bad does happen, you'll love it." Wink, wink.

Which is all correct. Most small towns are essentially like that. And Dumaguete, despite its sweet pretensions, is really a small town.

But note this: two years ago, a famous local designer, a prominent gay man of good family, well-known among the well-heeled circles of the small city, was found dead in the rubbles of his Bantayan home. He was tied with the tightest of wires to a chair, his mouth gagged. His killers had set him on fire. The police investigation that followed revealed his stomach still full of his last dinner. The man, they deduced, had actually invited his killers in, had dinner with them. Something happened between dinner and dawn that had led to this tragedy. I remember that morning when the fire sirens came. My house is only a stone's throw away from his. Nothing remained of his house, only old wood scarred black and licked by flames.

To date, nobody knows who the killers are.

I am mentioning this incident to begin this portrait of my almost schizophrenic city: It has an abundance of Southern charm, a surprisingly exquisite blend of both our Spanish and American pasts. But it also has a beautiful, noxious Gothic air.

In the late 1970s, several young women, some of them coeds in Silliman University, disappeared without a trace. This must have apparently gone on for years, but nobody reported anything, only that some people had gone missing. Nothing dramatic about that. People disappered all the time.

But one of the last of these women went by the name of Mary Ann who came to Silliman to study Psychology. In the first year of her stay, she met a man famous around the city for his wealth, for his Spanish good looks, for his charm and beautiful face. I remember one of my college teachers recalling this man. "A------ S----- was the epitome of a perfect gentleman," she said. "I remembered him opening doors for me. He was very charming." He was the son of prominent hacenderos, of good breeding and of good repute -- the scion of one of Dumaguete's prominent clans. He was also a well-known Don Juan, who chased women with gusto -- and people then would just shrug and say, "There goes A------ S----- again, with his women."

But men of privilege, as usual, were expected to misbehave. People turned a blind eye. Because what can happen in a small town?

The night Mary Ann disappeared, she had slunk away from Carson Hall, her campus dorm, and was taken by two of her closest friends to a spot near Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church, to meet her secret paramour. (Our Don Juan, of course.) She was pregnant, that was her news. Soon, her friends left her and Mary Ann and her Don Juan drove away to the man's hacenda. That was the last time her friends -- or anyone else -- saw her alive.

She did not come back home the next day, and the day after next. Her teachers and friends noted her prolonged absence, and soon talk fueled more talk, and Dumaguete being the small town that it was (and always will be), finally brought all speculation down to the Don Juan in our tale. There had been small rumors before, you see, and people finally wondered, Could it be true? Not our Don Juan! But an investigation was dispatched, and digging commenced both in his hacenda and in his house in Amigo Subdivision, right at the heart of the city's residential section. (Today, the house remains removed from prying eyes in the streets: it has high walls resembling an army barracks, and what we can see over the top of that fence is a dark house lying squat in the center, shadowed by ominous old trees. The grounds, we presume, are extensive.)

They soon unearthed several bodies in both hacenda and house, all of them women, and one of them was Mary Ann curled up like a fetus, hogtied. Her grave was shallow, and it appeared that she was buried alive.

Imagine that: a serial murderer in a small town. A handsome, charming Spanish mestizo serial murderer in a small town!

And here is where my facts get confused, because most of what follows are basically elements of gossip carried on year to year in secret, furtive conversations nobody really acknowledges in the open. It is as if the whole episode was willingly buried by a polite town scandalized that one of their own could be a monster. It's been more than thirty years since the first killing. And yet, now and then, the whole sordid tale emerges, bloody still and perpetually exciting, resurrected always by secret wagging tongues (and writers like me who are haunted by the whole thing) that refuse to let the story die.

The case, I have learned from my queries, was finally taken to court in the 1980s. The families of three of the girls led the prosecution, and for a while, it seemed that they would get justice. The bodies were compelling evidences enough. A prominent dentist (now dead) had identified Mary Ann's remains through her teeth. Her friends took note of the corpse's familiar clothes. And then Don Juan's driver (some say it was his gardener) confessed. Apparently, he had helped Don Juan bury his girlfriends, and he said that his conscience was finally burdened when he was left to bury the last of the victims alive. You can only imagine how the national press descended on Dumaguete, with headlines screaming the story in the front pages of those early 80's national dailies.

But Don Juan's family hired a very good lawyer from Cebu, someone with influence. People said that eventually the Marcoses stepped in, and that was how and why the man was allowed to go to Spain "to rest" while the case was being tried. But one by one, the families of the other victims. many of them poor folk who could not afford a lengthy legal battle, fell silent -- save for the last three families who were vocal in their search for justice. People said the other families were paid off handsomely for their silence. Eventually, the driver, too, recanted. Was he paid to become the fall guy? Speculations grew thick.

The case for the prosecution fell apart, and the presiding judge finally decided to dismiss the whole thing. Our murderous Don Juan was released.

But the people of Dumaguete was finally becoming tired of the whole murderous fiasco. There was a need to move on, my mother remembered. An American photographer-friend told me that once he remarked to a close Spanish mestizo friend during party. "Isn't that A------ S-----? Why are we partying with a serial killer?" he asked. The friend replied with the most cono of shrugs, "Who cares? He's not murdering me."

That, my dear palanggas, is Dumaguete high society.

And yet it seemed that the gods had their own brand of justice. Some say that the Don Juan's own sister went mad. His well-respected doctor-older brother also perished at sea in an airplane which crashed during an emergency mission off the coast of Cebu. The body of his fellow passenger (and fellow doctor), a scion of a rich Dumaguete Indian family, was eventually found in the shark-infested waters. But the body of Don Juan's older brother was never recovered. I still remember this tragedy. I was in grade school then, and I remember going with my family to Cangmating Beach to witness the Filipino-Indian doctor's body burned in ritual cremation atop a pyre of wood and gasoline. I remember the ashes falling like rain from the otherwise blue sky.

The tragedy even went as far as my own time when Don Juan's daughter -- a beautiful high school lass who carried the feminine version of his name -- was found dead in the beach adjacent to Cangmating. Apparently she had drowned. But the friends who were with her earlier said that couldn't possibly be, because she was just walking in the shallows, eating a bag of Chippy. And her father was with her. The autopsy report allegedly showed she was pregnant at 14. But who could have impregnanted her? Again, people talked. People noted that his other daughter -- an acquaintance of mine who eventually became Miss Silliman -- was taken away from her father's care when she was growing up, to live with her grandparents. For protection, people's tongues wagged.

In the early 1990's, bloody justice finally came. Our Don Juan, now middle-aged, was riding his car (or was it a Jeep?), and in the intersection of Rovira Road and Real Street, on the corner of St. Paul's College, he was ambushed by what many people later claimed to be the Alex Boncayo Brigade of the NPA. The gunmen riddled him with bullets, and then gunned away with their getaway car.

That was how our monster died.

And until now, much of Dumaguete still talk about everything in a hush-hush. Truth be told, the story has occupied my thoughts for years, because this was something I grew up with, and the entire bloody saga actually grew with me. I think it goes beyond morbid fascination. For me, this is very well something historical of my city; it is part of its heritage -- like all tales of the underbelly are; they may be swept under proverbial rugs, but they will never go away. We might as well own them, because these stories have become a part of us, whether we like it or not.

I am beginning my story's rough draft this way...

Pedazo de Verguenza*
By Ian Rosales Casocot

Based on a true story

We can begin with the unceasing silence. It has grown moldy like the years -- the way nobody in this small Negrense city would talk about it in the open, but only in furtive and anonymous conversations, sensational gossip verging on urban legend soaked with blood.

We will begin, instead, with the body, the way the bullets riddled him, cutting him down to a bloody pulp. That day in September 1992, the man staggered from his Jeep which had rammed into a lightpost at the corner of St. Paul College, and crawled to the corner where a bakery tottered into the intersection: there, in the filth of melting asphalt, spit, and roadside dirt, he succumbed to the death people would say he deserved a long time ago.

A----- S----- past middle age was always a handsome man, more beautiful and charming than the common lot of his Spanish mestizo peers, and perhaps even forebears. And yet, by the time the smell of gunpowder dissipated into the thick heat of Dumaguete's air, there was no trace of that face or beauty. There was tattered flesh instead of charm, and in the fading sunlight, his brownish hair shone with the dark matting of blood. The gunmen had emptied their shells of the last of their bullets, and then -- with the careful confidence of righteous assassins -- they boarded their getaway car, almost leisurely. The car gunned twice before racing to the north, and disappeared.

In the corner, A----- S----'s body lay sprawling, his blood gushing into the asphalt quickly mixing with the dirt, and drying in the late afternoon sun. By then a crowd had gathered, a palpable electricity in the air. He lay untouched for a very long time, even as people gathered, pointing fingers at the dead man, the din growing in hysteria before the police arrived, thirty minutes late. By then, everybody knew who it was. A----- S----, they all whispered. In small places, news travel faster than the fastest calesa, and by the time night came to claim the small city into its familiar embrace of darkness, people everywhere knew that A----- S---- was dead.

And they all agreed that he deserved the most painful of deaths -- the only just wages for ordinary monsters.

But the city always has a habit of killing anyone who called it home. Perhaps it is the descending humidity of summer mixing with the baking heat of asphalt roads, sand, and surf. It is most likely that, on any given day, the place stands very still, like a beautiful corpse....

Hopefully, I will be able to dig deeper into all these, perhaps someday transforming the whole tale into a novel, something in the vein of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In the meantime, this is where I will be, making a short story, performing autopsy into the dark recesses of my city's psyche.

What dark tales does your own city tell? And if you are a Dumagueteno, and you know something more about the serial killings, please do share. The comment board awaits your two-cents' worth.

* pedazo de verguenza is the Spanish term relating to the familiar custom of leaving one last morsel on one's plate, not to be consumed.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

entry arrow11:58 PM | The Last of the Good Ones

The country has lost one of its most trustworthy, incorruptible souls. What is there left in government? Trapos and jueteng lords and grieving widows and cheats and basketball players and movie stars. A motley of garbage. September is such a sad month.

Haydee Yorac, Superwoman.

You will be mourned, madame. Thank you for sticking to your fearless principles, for always saying it so.

[via manuel l. quezon III]


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entry arrow12:36 PM | Two Years...

Happy anniversary, bubu. I still remember the first time you said, "Hi," two years ago. That was the loveliest hello.


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entry arrow12:18 PM | Tell Me About the Other Sides of Life

There are many things in life one does not blog about. Which begs the question: For whom do we blog? For ourselves? Or for the rest of the online world? This is supposed to be my journal, a very important part of myself because blogging allows me to weigh the ideas I have, or the stories I need to tell, complete with that welcome mechanism of instant feedback from my audience of two (or three) -- but the public nature of blogging, I know, basically censors my tendencies to complain, to be snide about things, to be graphic about adventures nobody talks about in polite society. And yet, despite that, I still pursue this very public of exercises. And often for the strangest reasons, too. Moments, Merely once said that conventional blogging has become an embarassing and blah ritual of personal angst openly displayed. Which is true: I barely blog about my happy moments; I barely even blog about my adventures, about my "exciting" (hahaha) offline life. I find that I blog only when I am alone, when I am deep in thought, when I am troubled. But also when I have something exciting to share. (Which is why you should read Dean's take on blogging over at Our Own Voice.) I guess this whole thing has become my proxy for formal therapy, with the entire world as my psychiatrist. Sometimes, I think, I do this from some primal urge to live in a glass house. Maybe I like being the object of voyeurism. Maybe I am just full of myself. Maybe...

Should I stop blogging?

Nah, I've tried that before, and always I find myself coming back like moth to flame. Like Cheshire Cat's dilemma (whose new link I can't share -- she made me promise!), blogging has become its own fascinating addiction.

So welcome to my world. Just don't mind me if I go around this space like a cocky peacock, preening myself. It's my space, after all.


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Monday, September 12, 2005

entry arrow8:45 PM | Confession

Like Cheshire Cat, my heart's not in it anymore.


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Sunday, September 11, 2005

entry arrow2:38 PM | The Staggering Hope for Finiteness in an Ocean and Age of Ambivalence

Why do I insist on maintaing the Survey of Philippine Literature website, and the sister websites it has spawned? Why do I edit Literatura Magazine? Why do I have book projects? Why do I keep three blogs? And all of these in the middle of keeping a 9 to 5 job, and battling a masteral thesis? The New York Times Magazine gives me the reason why.


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Friday, September 09, 2005

entry arrow3:23 PM | The Lovely Denial

I can tell myself tomorrow will not come, that all we will have in the lovely loop that will last lifetimes is the now. The word defines your presence, skin and smell I can touch, something I can take into the folds of my arms and call it the very reason for embracing. It defines, too, the constancy with which I find myself looking into your eyes every now and then and find in their deep brown soulfullness all memories we have since I first met you. All memories, yes, straight on to this, our last night. We can laugh how funny it is, to punctuate two years of you and me with a Friday. A Friday with a period, I say. You suggest a comma. We end up blowing away our fears with exclamations of laughter. Of course, we know there will be another week after this, a Monday to follow this weekend: but that will be a different country. I will be here, and you will be there, a sea between us. You tell me you will miss me, and I will say nothing, because I will not let go still. In the end, I know we will face the final punctuation, as we've said. I will insist on no periods, because there are beautiful promises in ellipses. Beyond that, I am very sure, there is you.

I'll see you soon, bubu.


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Thursday, September 08, 2005

entry arrow7:04 PM | Fiction as History

My silence? I'm cutting my teeth on historical fiction, two stories at the same time -- and my Lord, it's hard. Exhausting, in fact. There's research in the middle of the writing act, and I have to read many books -- including Mariel Francisco and Fe Maria Arriola's History of the Burgis, Caridad Aldecoa Rodriguez's four-volume History of Negros Oriental, and Bobby Flores Villasis and Merlie Alunan's Kabilin. Hovering around me while I write are the phantom influences of Chari Lucero, Dean Alfar, Nick Joaquin, Linda Ty-Casper, and Kit Kwe, and arrgh! always I am humbled by what came before me, before this attempt to fictionalize the life and death of one Diego de la Vina, the Spanish-Chinese mestizo liberator of Dumaguete from the Spanish, as well as the 1980's (real life) serial murders of beautiful coeds in Dumaguete by a young, handsome, charming, and very rich hacendero. Yup, it's Smaller and Smaller Circles all over again -- only that this one's all true in every gruesome, fascinating detail. Right now, I'm still using real names. I don't think I can publish with that, though: many of the personalities are still alive (except the serial killer -- who was killed in an ambush assassination -- and his victims, of course), and I don't want to stir any hornet's nest. Sigue, back to writing...

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Sunday, September 04, 2005

entry arrow12:06 AM | Literatura Out

After more than a year in the doldrums*, Literatura's finally back!

For this issue, it's a focus on this year's Palanca Award winners. You can find the award-winning pieces by Dean Francis Alfar, Exie Abola, Naya Valdellon, Joel Toledo, Nikki Alfar, Mookie Katigbak, Maryanne Moll, Pearlsha Abubakar, Pia Roxas, Aurelio Agcaoili, Rosmon Tuazon, Ed Maranan, Clarissa Estuar, Allan B. Lopez, with the other winning pieces still to be posted (as soon as they arrive in my mailbox).

Sir Krip Yuson also provided a great Introduction, complete with pictures of what seemed to be a very merry Palanca Night at the Manila Pen's Rigodon Ballroom.

The issue is still in the process of last-minute tweakings, so please don't mind the bugs and the kinks. Also, I hope nobody minds the fact that the past issues of Literatura are still not online. (They're online, though, in the old site, which I can't wait to demolish.) I'm still resurrecting them from the dead, but I had to finish this latest issue first in time for Palanca night. Have fun reading these worthy masters of contemporary Philippine literature, guys...

*otherwise known as love

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

entry arrow3:39 PM | Ruin

Funny how Texan cowboys with guns can go abroad with such airy pronouncements of spreading the American ideal to the rest of the world whether we like it or not -- and then, overnight, be proven a fraud. The ideals have failed in their own backyard, in the ruins of what was once the beautiful Gulf Coast. The New York Times quotes Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, of Colombo, Sri Lanka: "I am absolutely disgusted. After the tsunami, our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering. Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S., we can easily see where the civilized part of the world's population is." But did he see Super Size Me? Yankees, go home.


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Thursday, September 01, 2005

entry arrow9:24 AM | Tonight's the Night

It's September 1, and for the Philippine literary world, that means only one thing: everybody meets tonight at the Manila Peninsula to toast the winners of this year's Palanca prize. Alvin Dacanay, a winner himself tonight, writes of Palanca night 2003 in Philippine Graphic, and quotes me:

Dumaguete-based Ian Rosales Casocot, whose "Old Movies" clinched second prize in the Short Story in English last year, certainly knows how [Yvette Tan, who won two awards] feels. "I think the first one is always the best one," he replies when questioned how he would compare last year's win from his latest. "I was jumping up and down when I heard that I won," he relates how he reacted last year. "This time, it was actually nice to win again, but I always loved winning the first time."

Which is certainly true. You never ever forget your first time. To continue...

It turned out that his winning entry, "The Hero of the Snore Tango," which won in the same category and position as "Old Movies," started out as an essay. "I write a column for a local newspaper, and my editor told me if I could write an essay about All Souls Day. So I wrote about my father, who died a few years ago," he narrates. "I looked at the essay. I liked it very much I decided to turn it into a short story. I expanded it and I sent it out to some of my friends for comments. And they said that it was powerful enough for a Palanca entry."

"I felt less pressure," Casocot admits when asked if he felt any pressure brought about by his consecutive wins. "But the thing is, if you've won one, you want to win again and again. So I don't know if you would call it pressure...but I think you can call it addiction..."

I said that?

In any case, congratulations to my friends who won this year, especially the first-timers like Nikki, Mookie, Peach, and Maryanne. Enjoy the night, guys. Enjoy the generous buffet and the free drinks. Enjoy the company of kindred spirits....

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