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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?


Monday, July 31, 2006

entry arrow1:10 AM | Salanga, NVM, Canvas, and Other Links for a Busy Monday


Daniel Radcliffe, everybody's Harry Potter, will go all nude for a stage version of Peter Shaffer's Equus. (I know people who saved loops of him getting into the bath tub scene from the last movie. Perverts. Oh, wait. He's 18 now, right? But still. Harry Potter?)


Penguin Books blogs!


Art class makes you more literate, according to a Guggenheim study.


The 2007 PBBY Salanga Writers Prize is now open. So is the NVM Awards. Here are the details:

The 7th NVM Gonzalez Awards for the Best Short Story and Best Essay in English the period September 2005 to September 2006 is now open. Entries should have been published over the period of September 2005 to September 2006 in reputable journals and magazines. Six (6) copies of the short story and/or essay under a pseudonym should be submitted to Cezhel C. Macatangay at 63 Gomburza St., Area 1 UP Diliman, Q.C. 1101, together with a sealed envelop containing a copy of the original work where it was published, and a short bio-data and recent photo of the author. The deadline for submission of entries is 15 October 2006. For inquiries email nvmink(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Go, and send in something now.


Go buy the new Free Press. Dean has a story in it.


Here's some good news from an online friend, Fernando Gonzales:

Canvas is pleased to announce that Fernando Gonzales has won the 2006 Romeo Forbes Children's Storywriting Competition for his story "Ang Batang Maraming Bawal."

The panel of judges was composed of Lito Zulueta (arts and culture editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer), children's book author and Palance Awardee Becky Bravo, and Gigo Alampay (executive director of Canvas).

The judges had a very difficult time choosing from a number of excellent entries. The other stories that were considered as finalists were: Charlene Dy's "Pico and the Magic Lunchbox," Gerald Tejada's "Doc Oying," Jonathan Siason's "Manuelito and the Red Balloon," Joanna Lim's "Juan Smith," Larisa Chavez' "Tatakas si Toto," Joseph Paul Villarosa's "The City in the Sky," and Dinah Ladia's "I, Reluctant Runaway."

The winning story, along with the stories that were shortlisted for the final deliberations, are posted in the Canvas website.

Congratulations, Don!

In another pleasant surprise, Dinah Ladia nee Baseleres (Ms. Nada for you Maxim readers) makes it among the finalists! Dinah -- Maria Kapra or Mitos Pitat for those of us who love her -- is one of my bestest college friends, a woman of such freaky genius she actually made rumors in school that she came from Mars. And people believed her. I miss this woman -- she is one of the best writers I know and I hate the fact that not a lot of people know that. But that should change soon. (Right, Dines?)

Read her short story here.


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Friday, July 28, 2006

entry arrow10:46 PM | Always Look On the Bright Side of Life...

This clip about the Fully Booked and Neil Gaiman Awards actually made the nervousness disappear that July 15 night at the Rockwell Tent.


[via notes from the peanut gallery]

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

entry arrow9:30 AM | The Martini*

[The last Tempest in a Coffee Mug article for MetroPost]

"Challenges, when met with superior response, advance and enlarge a people, so that what may have been a handicap or a doom becomes a heroic step forward."
-Nick Joaquin, "Footnotes to Yesterday"

In the end, because this may very well be the end, I shall give in to a minor rant because there is only a kind of sad wonder whether we deserve this name at all. University Town?

Consider the glaring lack. Without a functional city library? Or a bookstore that does not sell secondhand things? Or a grand and unceasing tempest of intellectual gusto untrammeled by censorship? Or now, with MetroPost folding, even a passable local newspaper that's not all about legal advertising, or political ragsheet equivalent to yellow journalism? My friend Dominique Cimafranca has already outlined at length his take on the moniker and the reality of things (here and here)-- to amusing, if hurting, results. I will not dare contribute to his exhaustive analysis, but I can only offer this thought: if the availability of books and a culture of reading are the hallmarks of a truly educated people, what can you say about Dumaguete City?

That we are not a University Town. A great, charming pretender, yes, but seemingly nothing more.

These are sad days for Dumaguete. We are increasingly becoming a town of small spirits, and bigger crimes. With a stodgy administration at City Hall (councilors included) who cannot tell from their mouth to their asses, and with a people becoming quite careless with its long academic heritage -- unhelped by a City who does not seem to know what to do with that heritage -- we may as well spell doom.

I am reminded of Nick Joaquin's famous essay "Footnotes to Yesterday." In that enlightening essay, he holds up a mirror to the Filipino's heritage of smallness which keeps it tied away from ambitions of greatness. In a thoughtful review of a sweeping exhibit of artifacts cradling our post-colonial and Spanish colonial past, he observes that "for Filipinos, the great peril is of challenges not met fully or not met at all... We always have reasons for rejecting them, for not responding. We are not prepared, or our betters don't set us a proper example, or it's not just the old con game anyway. We're interested only in what's popular and easy... Challenges are difficult; they don't elicit popular response... Our reluctance fills the air with the uneasiness of a destiny not being fulfilled adequately... Why are we as a people so disinclined to face up to challenges? ... From a swift look, three rather sweeping generalizations may be made.

"First: that the Filipino works best on a small scale -- tiny figurines, small pots, filigree work in gold and silver, decorative arabesque. The deduction here is that we feel adequate to the challenge of the small, but are cowed by the challenge of the big.

"Second: that the Filipino chooses to work in soft, easy materials -- clay, molten metal, tree bark and vine pulp, and the softer woods and stones... The deduction here is that we feel equal to materials that yield, but evade the challenge of materials that resist.

"Third: that having mastered a material, style, craft or product, we tend to rut in it and don't move on to a next phase, a larger development, based on what we have learned. In fact, we instantly lay down even what mastery we already possess when confronted by the challenge from outside of something more masterly, instead of being provoked to develop by the threat of competition. Faced by the challenge of Chinese porcelain, the native art of pottery simply declined, though porcelain should have been the next phase for our pottery makers."

Reading that, we suddenly realize where we come from, why we tend to stay small, why Dumaguete is small.

Don't get me wrong about this tirade. Everybody who reads this column knows I rhapsodize about Dumaguete like there's no tomorrow. For me, no other city in the Philippines is still quite like it -- and for all its faults, it is a city easy to love. But given the state of things today, let's give ourselves a challenge and take the view from the other side of the looking glass. Let's examine the various ways we have not faced up to the challenges of the times.

The only way to understand what hell might mean to a Dumagueteno is to stumble, by any late afternoon, across the gridlock known as the intersection between San Jose and Perdices Streets. This is when hordes of metal on wheels, belching acrid smoke, congregate to create the singular experience known as local traffic. Imagine the not-so-merry chaos. There are no longer any pedestrian lanes, only streaks of people on foot going by instinct to get from point A to B. Flesh and metal here skirmish to produce a one-of-a-kind congestion. There are no more two-way lanes either, only a snarling randomness as cars and two-bit tricycles fight for space or at least a place to maneuver.

Not too long ago I once wrote that the city's "only measure of orderliness for traffic was anarchy." I meant that by this irony: that the only way Dumaguete has somehow facilitated its stream of transportation is by means of sheer chaos. And that when they actually put traffic men on the beat, that is when traffic also becomes particularly hellish and unbearable. "Our own sense of getting by," a friend of mine agreed.

Which is cute, of course. But deep inside, I worry about the implications: are we a city capable only of functioning through chaos? Because that's how it seems things run. The determined status quo -- already a measure of our own sense of unoriginality and lost verve -- is also being driven the way a blind man would a car, that is blindly. No sense of direction. No vision. And with all of us hoping somehow that having no vision would constitute a kind of "vision" itself, a mutant paradigm of (mis)development.

Why are we still arguing about tricycles in the 21st century?

Tuesday afternoon, tired from the day's work, I hopped on a tricycle for what should have been a brief 3-minute ride from Scooby's Silliman to Tubod. It took, instead, a full fifteen minutes (most of which were spent standing still as traffic crawled) and a lung-full of diesel smoke -- for the privilege of which I paid P6. I have rediscovered a new love for walking.

And rediscovered new ways of inventing hate.

But first off, it's always easy to despise something one truly loves. The famous saying goes that "familiarity breeds contempt." Timothy Montes wrote about this cliché more beautifully: "Nothing happens [in Dumaguete]," hewrites. "The [newspapers] can't find enough dogs bitten by men, everybody knows everybody, and one resorts to gossip in the face of the uneventfulness of leaves falling to the ground. Still, when one says goodbye, one never really leaves the place. The mild sadness grows within you and when you ask yourself what makes you hang around this place transfixed in time, you realize the irony of leaves falling to the ground. I love [Dumaguete]; that's why I hate it. Like leaves falling to the ground, we are suspended in mid-air and never quite reach the ground until we learn to despise it."

I love Dumaguete. That's why I hate what it has not become, despite so much potential.

It amazes me still, for example, that even as we begin the 21st century, there is still a faint feeling that I live in a cave. A medieval cave, to be exact -- with trappings of small-town comforts, yes, but still invariably a cave. My Manila-based friends -- considering a visit to Dumaguete -- inevitably worry about accessing the finer things in life, the way Paris Hilton must have fretted when she had to live 'the simple life' on TV. The queries, thrown at me with complete disregard that I am a Dumaguete native (but then again, most people think I come from some place else, not here), range from the exasperating to the funny, the way it had been when, outside the country, I was made to answer to questions about Imelda Marcos's shoes or Smokey Mountain.

"Is there any cellular phone signal there?" one of my friends would text me. Or: "Do you have Internet connection?" or "Is there a laundry shop over there?" or "What if I run out of underwear?" Which paints a quaint picture of a place so out of touch with the rest of the world, that Dumaguete might as well be the boondocks. To the last question, another friend decided to cluck his tongue and replied, "Eh, kung ganun, bumili ka na lang ng underwear sa Lee Plaza."

The literal and figurative smallness of the place is what I remember most from one of the posts in a particular blog-mistress's online journal, which went this way: "Okay. So how freaking crazy is it that Dumaguete has a society column? This is a place so tiny that everyone knows everyone else, all the rich people (and I do mean all the rich people) are related in one way or another, and it's impossible to hide from anyone looking for you for more than a few hours.

"Case in point: the last time I was in Dumaguete, my second day there a saleslady approached me in Lee Plaza to confirm if I was in fact staying at Dona Trining's house (I was) and was I a Teves relation (I'm not). I mean, what the hell? Anywhere else and I would've called the police on her creepy stalker ass, but that's how things are in small towns."

I, too, hate the small-townness of the place. I don't hate its charm, or the gentle sweep of its select environs, but the "small-townness," akin to willful closemindedness, that makes it bakya in everything else. I could not readily define what this hate means or even simply is, so I texted a few friends -- many of them people of rank and consequence in Dumaguete -- and asked them what they hated most about the city. And this is what those who truly love it said:

"Life is too easy. There is a fading sense of security," Christy Ann Cong, student.

"BPI people are snotty. PNB charges atrociously. Also drivers who can't tell their right from their left. Crude landfill masquerading as park, leaking toxins to the Banica River and the water table. Drivers asking for fare increase, but refusing to take in passengers. Traffic aides who just stand in the corner, and watch bad traffic pass by. Unsolved crimes. People's sense of apathy. Extreme school loyalty," Dana Fortunato, formerly a bookstore owner.

"Tricycles. Narrow streets," Patrick Chua, dentist.

"Media people who can be bought," Eric Joven, former assistant to City Mayor Felipe Remollo.

"Lack of convenience stores nga tinuod. They all close at 2 or 3!" Karl Aoanan, recent college graduate.

"Theaters don't show art films. El Camino is pretentious," Jean Claire Dy, writer.

"Buses emit pollution in the Boulevard," Manolet Teves, society columnist.

"The influx of foreigners owning establishments. Undisciplined pedicab drivers. Impractical traffic aides," Dave Saceda, youth leader.

"Traffic, lack of parking spaces," Eugene Kho, contractor.

"Government officials not implementing projects," Melissa Batiquin, physical therapist.

"Brownouts! Noisy, air-polluting pedicabs," Rose Baseleres, college professor.

"Traffic, crazy drivers," Michele Joan Valbuena, college instructor.

"Silence, when there are no students. No real shopping centers. Too many chicken restaurants! Drooping electric wires. Too many electric wires. Pedicab drivers," Jennifer Solitana, college instructor.

"No skyscrapers," Gideon Caballes, doctor.

"General bad service," Bombee Dionaldo, businesswoman.

"Dilapidated or narrow roads. Double-parking on narrow roads. Traditional politicians who love making promises they can't keep, and rely on their money to buy votes to win the elections. Drug dependents who mercilessly resort to crimes. Conservative attitude, fear of change," Myrish Cadapan, city councilor.

"Lack of places to go on a Sunday," Warlito Caturay, college instructor.

"The streets of Lo-oc," Jacqueline Pinero-Torres, accountant.

"We don't have good restaurants, and some even close on Sundays," Kim Ang-Gobonseng, businesswoman.

"Naive, dumb sales people," Jee-Yeon Park, Korean graduate student.

"Motorists who don't give way to pedestrians when we cross the streets," Cecille Genove, college professor.

"No real boutiques," James Dalman, lawyer.

"Rosante. Wala jud nausab since," Rosewell Cataylo, bank teller.

"Inept security guards. Negros Chronicle journalism," Laurie Raymundo, marine biologist.

"On Sundays, we need to relax, and the restaurants are closed," Irma Pal, newspaper editor.

"One-way traffic," Priscilla Sarabia, nursing student.

"Food on menu is not always available," Guia Dominado, housewife.

"Pedicab traffic jams. Typical government offices. Loud politicians. Dropping of garbage. Mediocre historical monuments in Quezon Park. Judgmental moralists. Baranganic newscasters. Dirty Banica River. Gaya-gaya landscape," Moses Atega, liaison officer.

"The rooms at OK Pension. Why Not. Maniacal foreigners. PNB ATMs. Rosante... Great food, bad service. Staff galit sa mundo," Kakay Pamaran, student.

"Traffic," Rina Fernadez, college instructor.

"Waiting in line in PNB. A lot of sexpats!" Clark Erwin, former Peace Corp volunteer.

Maybe you can make your own list. Perhaps from the chaos of our complaints, we can get a semblance of a common ideal -- the Dumaguete of our dreams.

* "The martini" is film industry lingo for the last shot for the day

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

entry arrow10:20 AM | Where the Sun Shines

Rain? What rain?

It's all sunny down here. Often unbearably so. Sometimes it drizzles, but it's rain at its most gentle, it's almost like God's own afterthought.


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entry arrow8:46 AM | Between Deadlines

Pi to a million decimal places. You like to see what that looks like, don't you.

Luisa Igloria now blogs.

Test your trivia skills and answer me this: "Originally, the Celsius temperature scale was reversed, with water boiling at zero degree and freezing at 100." True or false? Get blufed, but be careful. It can be addictive.

South America's indigenous Aymara people has a backward concept of time. Now, that's a strange map of time.


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Monday, July 24, 2006

entry arrow9:56 AM | Snapshot From Last Tuesday

Here we are at the National Library...

... the Honorable Mention winners for the 2006 PBBY Salanga Writers Prize, during the National Children's Book Day ceremonies. That's me, old comrade J. Dennis Teodosio ("Tonyong Turo") and new friend Marielle Nadal ("Can You See [What Buboy Sees]?"). Read the news release here.

[photo swiped from a day in the life of a paperclip]

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

entry arrow8:37 PM | Thoughts About the Aftermath

The one thing that both frightens and amuses me about the aftermath of the Fully Booked contest is the level of passionate reviews and debates -- some bordering on the ridiculous and the offensive (Dean even managed to get a troll!) -- it has generated. People should have seen Michael Co and I after the awards were handed out: there was instant brotherhood there. I can truly say "The God Equation" was a great, great story, and I am honored to share the top prize with Mike. Scrawling the Net from one link to the next, I've been breathing in all the suggestions and criticism -- for example, to trim down "A Strange Map of Time" (advise which is right on track: I know "Map" can be a shorter story, but deadline for the contest was fast approaching, and I was already exhausted from excising ten pages from the whole thing -- can you imagine subplots involving mestizo serial killers and Japanese soldiers surrendering to the Americans in the hills of Dauin during World War II?), to edit the jumbled tenses in the latter parts of the story (sorry for that: finishing the story in time was the worst kind of rush), and to eliminate all the hokey elements (even I found "hoverjeepneys" hilarious).

It was a difficult story to write, with elements all jumbled together during the worst of the editing process, so what I find most amusing is the comment that it was too "perfectly laid out."

Most of the story was inspired by the narrative elements in Carl Sagan's Contact, Dean Alfar's "L'Aquilone du Estrellas," Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Caridad Aldecoa Rodriguez's Negros Oriental and the Philippine Revolution, and Rosario Cruz Lucero's "The Death of Fray Salvador Montano, Conquistador of Negros" and "Writing to the Music of Pestle-on-Mortar." I knew I wanted to write about Negrense history, and I knew there was going to be some time travel element involved. I knew that I was exhausted from writing futuristic scifi (yes, I write scifi), and I knew that the best way to write the story was in terms of Joaquinesque literary language (yes, I know how to write in a minimalist manner, too: read "Old Movies"). I knew I would not write it in any specific style -- it had to be slipstream. But the strangest comment I ever got about winning the Neil Gaiman contest was that I was not a "genre" writer.

And here I am thinking that it was unfair that the literary establishment tend to form suspect dichotomies, usually between "high literature" and "genre literature." And here I am thinking I've been fighting against such distinctions my whole life, even resorting to teaching speculative fiction and comics in my Philippine literature classes. Only to find out there's a kind of reverse snobbery out there pala. Just because I won the Palanca once upon a time does not make me a "literary" writer through-and-through. Just because I once won the Special Prize for the NVM Gonzalez Award does not make a fullfledged realist. You should read some of my weirder stories. About talking monkeys. And ghost nurses. And trees that gobble the wind.

But I'll take the bait and the challenge: I am going to write another short story (not more than 5,000 words) in full speculative mode, complete with new worlds, maybe even new languages. Give me six months. Let's see what we can do with this.


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Friday, July 21, 2006

entry arrow7:53 PM | An Avalanche of Books -- Kind Of

You would think that having a five-thousand peso gift certificate to splurge on books would be any bibliophile's dream of heaven. It was, in theory. In practice, it can be the very equivalent of hell. And if the gift certificate happens to come from National Bookstore, it can be doubly so. Because what books can you ever buy in the National?

"Go to Cubao," a friend advised. "To the Superstore. They have a secondhand book section to die for in the fourth floor."

Which was a good idea, if you want to maximize all that five thousand. Because how many books, really, can five thousand pesos buy? Just a tiny turn around Fully Booked or PowerBooks would consume all that with just five books in your shopping cart. Maybe eight.

So Mark and Eric and I went straight to Cubao last Sunday afternoon, but not before I warned them it was going to be a long afternoon. "I have my list of books to get," I told them, "but I doubt National Bookstore would have any of these. The thing to do, really, is to go through every shelf, and just hope for the best titles to come out to you." Like looking for needles in a haystack. The poor guys thought it was going to be a breeze. By the time the afternoon ended, both were exhausted beyond imagination -- one of them even sporting a tiny tantrum enough to cancel our plans to watch Superman Returns on IMAX that night.

At the end of the long afternoon with dust caking on our fingertips, this is what I finally got -- not exactly the ones on my list, but a good selection nonetheless, given the limited time, and the taxing collection we call the National Bookstore...

And the next day, over great lunch at Mannang's in Megamall and then coffee at the nearby Starbucks, Dean gave me this...

Back in Dumaguete, my bookshelves are overflowing, and the piles on my bedside table grow even taller, obscuring the sight of the television from the comfort of my bed. But I'm not complaining.


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Thursday, July 20, 2006

entry arrow10:59 AM | Bug

Something's wrong with the blog template. Will get to this when I have more time later today. In the meantime, please bear with the strangeness.


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entry arrow10:50 AM | Reeling

Reading the reviews online -- and there are a lot -- is quite scary. But that's part of the deal, no?


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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

entry arrow6:41 PM | Win

I really should be posting about the 1st Fully Booked/Neil Gaiman Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards...

... and how it felt like when Neil Gaiman, via video, announced my name and Michael Co as co-winners of the Grand Prize. But I can't right now. That I'm deliriously happy is beside the point. There's also the matter of having just arrived home from Manila to find an apartment smelling of poop. (That's what having pets can do to you.) In the meantime, head over to Dean's. He has everything covered. So while I rest and contemplate how to begin cleaning my pad, here's some thanks to Dean Alfar, to Nikki, to Andrew Drilon and Vin Simbulan, to Kate and Nino, to Eric and James, to Ginny Mata, Zarah Gagatiga, and Jeffrey Jeturian. You guys made the entire four-day trip memorable. (Thanks to Plux, too. Wherever and whoever you are.)


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Friday, July 14, 2006

entry arrow4:38 PM | Manila Bound

So that seals where I should be headed tomorrow: to Manila, or bust. I have just bought my plane ticket -- and Mark's -- and we're leaving Saturday afternoon, giving us the whole of Saturday morning to panic as we prepare for what to pack for five days in the Big City. We will be staying in Shalom, near Malate, which is great. (No more Quezon City for me.) Leaving for Manila always gets me nervous, and not just because I seem to be a harbinger for storms. Only once or twice have I ever experienced the capital without the threat of rain, or worse, a storm. Friends in Manila have already texted me their weather reports, and already there are talks of heavy rain and flood. But Eric says the weather seems to be getting better. "Only drizzles today," he says, which is not quite helpful for my nerves. And there are also the traveling expenses. What I usually spend in Manila for a day usually lasts me at least five days in Dumaguete. I tell myself to budget, and not to splurge. Besides, my book lust will already be taken cared of by my P5,000 gift certificate (which I won from the Philippine Star) from the National Bookstore. But I can't wait to meet up with friends -- Dean, Ginny, Lito, Naya, Eric here I come. And I can't wait for the Gaiman Night on the 15th. And I can't wait for the Salanga Writers Prize on the 18th. And I can't wait for the premiere of Kubrador in the Cinemalaya Film Festival where Mark and I are special guests of director Jeffrey Jeturian. Here's hoping there will be no rain. To all my Manila friends, I hope to see you soon.


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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

entry arrow1:50 AM | To All NVM Gonzalez Prize Winners

I received this message from fellow NVM winner Janet Villa: You are requested to email your bionotes to nvmink (at) yahoo (dot) com or to sanzjop67 (at) yahoo (dot) com as soon as possible. This is for a forthcoming anthology of NVM prize-winning stories.


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Sunday, July 09, 2006

entry arrow8:57 AM | Behind the Making of a King

From Visayan Daily Star

There are two worlds to every beauty pageant. There is the one the ordinary person sees as a spectacle parade. And there is the other one unseen by most, which is characterized by the usual camaraderie among participants forged by common experience (travel, photo shoots, fittings, endless and almost unforgiving rehearsals...), but also characterized by not-so-subtle maneuverings and deep psychological warfare waged behind stage curtains and in the darkness at the edges of the limelight, the music of which is most often gay laughter. In other words, the side of pageant sans cosmetics -- the real deal. This is, for the most part, a story of that other world, of how a pageant comes to be.

For the past few months -- three, to be exact -- I had gone undercover to understand the inner workings of one of the Philippines' favorite pastime. The Filipinos' fascination for pageants is well documented; I have, in fact, written at length about the history of that fascination in previous posts. Truth to tell, the pageant bug that bit my curiosity came when I was first invited last summer to judge the biggest female pageant in Negros Occidental, the Lin-ay sang Negros. Since then, perhaps dazzled by the costumes, the studied graces, and the stage lights of the whole spectacle from up close, I had been hounded by these questions: What for all these? What exactly do we find in pageants that arouse so much curiosity, and even debate? What makes events like this tick?

In Hari ng Negros, which is how the Ginoong Canlaon title has evolved to be called, I got an ample opportunity to do my journalistic snooping in the name of investigating popular culture, tagging along every weekend with a friend who had been officially selected as a candidate to the four-year old male pageant.

The target was a worthy one to study. There has always been a dearth of "respectable" male pageants in the country, given the more popular appeal of women in pageants vying to be queens, and the common perception that male versions were veritable cesspools of a wayward morality. Hari ng Negros proved to be the irresistible exception to the rule, or so the hype said.

In the past few years, however, the Hari ng Negros pageant -- which started in 2003 through the initiative of the tourism council of Canlaon City -- has quietly become the most prestigious male pageant of its kind in the Visayas, regularly fielding top bets from various towns and cities in both sides of Negros Island. From a small crop of contestant in the first year, it has grown this year to a bevy of 24 candidates all competing, with the determination of jaguars, for the Hari title, making the pageant one of the biggest in the region.

There is no doubt that the prestige of this particular pageant has been increasing year to year, and at the same time attracting more and more visitors into coming to Canlaon City -- that faraway city in the sky -- to watch it. This may be because previous winners of the title have gone on to successes in film, business, and modeling: past winners include local top model Paul Brett Orozco, businessman Emmanuel Labirua, and screen actor Reiven Bulado who parlayed his win to receive a plum role in Cesar Montano's award-winning film Panaghoy sa Suba. It has attracted luminaries as well. This year, the panel of judges comprised of famous names in film, tourism, and the international fashion field, such as fashion designer Patis Tesoro, high society don Ado Escudero of Villa Escudero, Brussels International Film Festival director Robert Malengreau, FashionTV Asia producer Rebecca Piket, international supermodel Laury Prudent, and DOT International Tourism Director Ting de los Reyes. On paper, and in press releases, Hari ng Negros sounds very much like a big deal. My mission was to dig to the depths, observe the entire process, and come up with conclusions as to why pageants hold sway over our baser interests.

The water is cold during the first photo shoot of the pageant season, this time in Canlaon's largely undiscovered Padudusan Falls.

Climbing the trunk of one of the country's oldest trees, in Canlaon.

The candidates learn how to do rappelling in preparation for their (cancelled) Mabinay cave trip.

Foreign Apo Island tourists judge the candidates for an impromptu Mr. Apo Island contest during the candidates' photoshoot in the island. Mr. Valladolid emerged the winner.

The candidates frolic in the swimming pool after their Dumaguete photo shoot...

... and make faces under water (sometimes more...).

The Hari ng Negros sword prepares for the next holder. It is a secret belief that candidates who touch the sword before the pageant fail to make it to the winners' list. Candidates who touch the sashes, however, gets that particular sash's placement. Jimalalud touches the Hari ng Negros winner sash, and Dumaguete the 1st runner-up sash...somehow sealing their wins.

Preparations backstage are hectic as the seconds count down...

Candidates from Pontevedra, Kabankalan, and La Carlota before the show. Rivalry between the two Negros provinces culminated in the pre-pageant "showdown" of sorts between La Carlota, Occidental's biggest bet, and Jimalalud.

Producer Michael Ocampo leads everybody in prayer before the start of the pageant.

The Canlaon City Cultural Complex dressed up for Hari ng Negros night. The venue becomes jampacked as the night progresses.

Marie Longa of Manjuyod and Mark Prestin of Tanjay in the spotlight during the Tribal Wear Competition.

Lining up for the Tribal Wear Competition.

Cebu's Jude Bacalso almost steals the show as the night's vivacious host. Comedienne Pokwang gave a hearty intermission, easily trumping Pinoy Big Brother's Cass Ponti who proved a terrible entertainer.

The candidates swing to a hip-hop beat in the Streetwear Competition and MTV Showdown.

Mark Xander Fabillar of Jimalalud shows how stylish moves should be in the Streetwear Competition, romping off with the special award later in the show.

Getting into the swimwear backstage can involve some pageant "tricks"... Tissue paper, anyone?

The candidates in their swimwear.

Leviger Laxina of Dumaguete City shows off his winning poses for the Swimwear Competition.

Mark Xander Fabillar gets made up by coach Erica Barraquias before the Formal Wear portion.

The Formal Wear Competition begins...

Board of Judges members Ado Escudero, Ting de los Reyes, and Patis Tesoro gets busy with their rankings...

... while fellow judges Rebecca Piket and Laury Prudent mug for the cameras.

The Top Ten, with candidates from Dumaguete, Jimalalud, Bayawan, Canlaon, Escalante, Tanjay, Bacolod City, La Carlota, Cadiz, and Sagay. Jimalalud is the only municipality in the top ten. All semifinalists had to answer questions from the members of the Board of Judges.

The Top Five with Jimalalud, Dumaguete, Bayawan, Canlaon, and Escalante. The finalists had to answer questions from their fellow finalists. Escalante asks Jimalalud how one can describe the color blue to a blind person, to which Mark Fabillar answers, "If I were to describe the color blue to a blind person, I would take his hand and make him feel ice because blue is a cool color, and this will give him an idea of what the color blue is." And the audience went wild.

The Top Three with Jimalalud, Dumaguete, and Bayawan. The Occidental candidates get locked out again, continuing a Hari ng Negros "tradition." A spectator later observes, "Some of the Occidental candidates mistook the pageant for a body-building contest." In the Interview portion, the more locquacious Oriental bets easily steal the show.

Hari ng Negros 2005 Paul Brett Orozco does his final walk. Paul and Jimalalud's Mark Fabillar, strangely, happen to be very good friends. Both are St. Paul University graduates, from a school known to frown on beauty pageants.

JM Contreras of Bayawan gives his answer to the Final Question, "What is a man's relevance in today's modern times?" He becomes Second Runner-up. His fumbling answer, taken too long, sealed his fate despite his good physique.

Leviger Laxina gives his answer to the Final Question, and becomes First Runner-up. He talked about "courage" being the essence of any man.

Mark Fabillar gives his answer to the Final Question, and becomes the new Hari ng Negros. His answer was: "A man's relevance is his substance... what he has to say and what he has between his ears. An intelligent man is a relevant man. More intelligent men means more progress for a country. This is the relevanc of a man."

The final moment before the ultimate announcement...

The new Hari ng Negros with his court.

Suffice it to say that pageants are so much a part of our national psyche that there are those among us who make a living out of it, something they do that can only be described in terms of the passionate, or maybe even madness. Pageants, in a sense, are the gathered stories of people who come together to produce a show about beauty, and ostensibly of intellect. And like all enterprises, there are tricks of the trade, and there are secrets, and there are shenanigans, and there are stories of hopes and stories of betrayal. Pageants are the ultimate dramatic stage show, with many easily observable actors playing their parts.

Take, for example, Hari producer Michael Ocampo who almost single-handedly handles the entire pageant organization, having taken it from its small origins to the present show which approximates a major production. When Mr. Ocampo first came to notice in Negros Oriental as a student in Silliman University far away from his Filipino-American roots, he proved immediately controversial, and decidedly took the 1996 Miss Silliman Pageant as its Organizational Chairman down the route of a Miss Universe-like renaissance, at once antagonizing many while drawing admiration from others. That controversial air -- but also that can-do spirit -- he has since translated to doing tourism functions as a member of the Negros Oriental Provincial Tourism Council, which is how he first landed the gig of handling Ginoong Canlaon. He reconceived the pageant born in 2003 into a showcase of tribal history, taking note of Negrense mythology, and proceeding to make it a promotional vehicle of Negrense tourism, mandating that each candidate be a representative of a Negros town or city and its homegrown festival. Hari ng Negros is his story.

Take, as well, pageant coach Erica Barraquias who, as your typical gay "manager," takes ubiquitous pageants like these as a chance to peddle her considerable talents in make-up and in conceptualizing the elements needed in the various competitions for the pageant, from formal wear to festival costume. Besides her encyclopedic knowledge of rouge, blush, lipstick, pencil, and gel, it is the job of coaches like her to find funding for her candidate, to act as yaya and mother and guidance counselor, to budget the miniscule allowance for fare and what-not, to be there when Superglue is needed to make tangkag ears look smaller, to spray aerosol against buttock skin so that her wards' swimwear do not crawl to knots, to paint the outlines of a six-pack with body make-up when a ward does not exactly sport a toned physique. Hari ng Negros, too, is her story.

And take Mark Xander Fabillar, the eventual winner of this year's pageant, who represented his father's hometown of Jimalalud and its Himbabalud Festival. He was first approached by various scouts to join the pageant in 2005, but turned the invitation down to finish his studies and to embark on his first job, which took him to Cebu. Having resigned after six months, the offer came again, and while he was still hesitant, he attended the second screening for potential candidates at the Canlaon City Pension House where, together with other hopefuls, he was grilled with questions ranging from issues of morality to anecdotes of local history. One hapless candidate to represent the town of Murcia mistakenly called joining Hari ng Negros the equivalent of joining a Bikini Open -- which led to a long tirade from Mr. Ocampo about the Negrense heritage at stake with winning the title, invoking Kalantiao and Kan-laon and a swirl of local mythology that had given backbone, and relevance, to the pageant. Soon, in the sprint for the ultimate selection night, Mr. Fabillar too would have his doubts, would have trouble dealing with some dark talk -- but ultimately persevering to become the fourth Oriental Negrense to hold the Sword of Negros as the new Hari, locking out the Occidental candidates for the fourth year in a row.

From all those days and nights carousing with coaches and candidates in Canlaon City, I have learned the value of appreciating the too quiet nights of the mountain city, with only the wail of bad singers singing eternal favorites in a karaoke bar not so far away from where we were billeted -- in a single room with beds strewn all over the floor, approximating a shipwreck. I have learned to take into control my complaints over sardines for meals, and painful truck rides to mountaintops in search of waterfalls to hold photo shoots. I have learned to accept the fact that when people referred to candidates, they would call out the place names they represented instead. There was no Mark Fabillar, for example, there was only "Jimalalud," and there was no Chris Chiong, only "Bacolod," and they answered to those names from day one to last.

I have also learned that in the long run, despite the backbreaking three months of shoots and rehearsals and complaints and what-not, what would ultimately matter is the final show itself. And for that, Hari ng Negros 2006 did not disappoint: it was an exercise of classy restraint, courtesy of the splendid choreography of Melloy, and an exercise of good pacing, even with the epic length of four hours. In the end, Hari ng Negros is really just a good show complete with fireworks.

But I have also learned that all pageants have a certain conceit to convince themselves most of all that everything is beyond skin deep. Some fashion themselves as benefactors for the environment, others as social charities. For Ginoong Canlaon, it is the chance to sell an island, its culture and history. Tourism, in other words -- and every year, every tourism officer in both sides of Negros Island fight it out to get the proud title of Hari ng Negros. Next year, it would pretty much be the same.

Congratulations to Mr. Jimalalud for winning the sword!


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