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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, June 30, 2009

entry arrow4:28 AM | In the Wee Hours

We heard the first rooster crow in the signs of the coming dawn, and so we finally decided to succumb to sleep, after hours of listening together to songs we both love. But I can't sleep now though. There are too many things in my mind. Life, for the most part. And beautiful music. And you. You fill everything in my head. A while ago, I told you I can't exactly remember the date I finally met you last summer. Was that three months ago? More or less? But I can't bring myself to really care. Calendars have no meaning now in my world, and -- to quote Borges -- the only thing that matters is that "being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time." I do remember though that fateful day when you gave me that sweet double-take when I passed by you on that corridor -- a gesture that has led us to where we are right now. Sometimes, I think about how time flies, and how it also crawls, gently, like the passage of truest happiness. How utterly magnificent these days have been. So, thank you, Dev. And see you when Tuesday evening comes.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

entry arrow2:55 PM | At the Cultural Season Launch

Arlene and I mugging for the camera during the reception of the Cultural Affairs Committee launch of the 47th cultural season in Dumaguete, after the magnificent piano and flute concert by Christine and Caitlin Coyiuto. I swear, Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio is my new favorite classical/jazz fusion fix.

With Gabby del Prado, Eliora Bernedo, and Jai Dollente at the Luce Auditorium lobby right after the show.

More pictures in my Facebook.

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entry arrow12:01 AM | LitCritters Dumaguete Edition 3 No. 2

This week

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
Time Share by Neil LaBute
Rice Wine by Wilfrido Nolledo
The Varieties of Romantic Experience: Graduate Work in Desire by Robert Cohen

Last week

A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner
A Perfect Day for Bananafish by J.D. Salinger
New England Primer by Donald Hall
We Won't Cry Over This by Socorro Villanueva

The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila (moderated by Dean Francis Alfar) and Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature.

The Dumaguete Group meets every Sunday at 1 p.m. in Gabby's Bistro.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

entry arrow11:37 AM | This Weekend in Culture and the Arts in Dumaguete : The Coyiutos in Concert

Acclaimed pianist Christine Coyiuto comes back to the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium stage, this time with her flutist daughter Caitlin Alisa, for a concert that is the also the inaugural show of the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee's 47th season.

The duo has wowed Manila audiences previously with a critically lauded concert at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The Philippine Star's Rosalindo L. Orosa has written of that event: “Pianist Coyiuto was the epitome of elegance, refinement, sensitivity, and restraint, infusing it with the subtlest nuances. Flutist Caitlin, young though she is, brilliantly rendered, her tones full, firm, assured. Her vibrant performance was an eloquent augury of the brightest future.”

The Coyiutos will be performing Franz Joseph Haydn's Capriccio in G Major, Hob. VII:I, Felix Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, Cecile Chaminade's Concertino for Flute and Piano, Op. 107, and Claude Bolling's Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio (with Joi R. Magadia on bass and Jorge F. San Jose on drums). The event is slated on Sunday, 28 June 2009. The show opens with a launch of the cultural season's slate at 6 p.m. at the auditorium foyer. The concert will start promptly at 8 p.m.


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Friday, June 26, 2009

entry arrow6:53 AM | Michael Jackson, 50

The King of Pop has gone to walk on the moon. Long live the music.

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entry arrow12:58 AM | Farrah Fawcett, 62

An angel is dead. Love live the hair.

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entry arrow12:30 AM | Ed McMahon, 86

The announcer has signed himself out. Long live second bananas.

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entry arrow12:15 AM | A Darkening of Days

By Anthony L. Kintanar

I really would have liked
To be jaded, old fellow that I am.
Callous, to the point of no return.
To this love that can't be torn from politics.

For I have struggled and floundered.
Spoken and been ostracized,
Protested and truncheoned,
Seen too many slain.

But though tired and sick of it all,
I still can find no blissful apathy,
Even when frustrations over seemingly lost
Causes are now a mountain of refuse.

I still find myself raging
When I see the same old clans
And classes seeking to build their houses
Out of the flesh and bones of the people.

I am still unable to keep to the textbook
And the strictures of academic politeness
When speaking of the poverty of many
Alongside the normalized greed of the few.

I still fear what kind of world my child,
And those of friends, would live in
When we're gone. Whether they would still
See forests, or have a country of their own.

Thus, unable to invoke the wisdom
Of ignorance and the comfort of apathy,
I shall accept that I shall live the damned life
Of one who cannot let the unjust be.

And I shall be the same old me,
An unnamed beast in the oppressors'
Path, seeking to grow in numbers
Till we are a multitude

Haunting their nights,
Darkening their days.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

entry arrow11:41 PM | The Thing About Indie Films

By Vincent de Jesus

"An independent film, or indie film, is a film that is produced outside of the big and commercial studio system. The term "independent film" may also be used interchangeably with the term Art film." From Wikipedia

Baptism of Fire

The very first “indie” film I ever got to score was Ellen Ongkeko’s Angels back in 2001. It was a small movie about two blind masseurs played by Gina Alajar and Nonie Buencamino. And though it didn’t get it's much deserved movie theater run and went straight to video I was happy to have been part of the film production. It was, in my honest opinion, well-written, well-directed, well-acted -- decently made.

I’ve known Ellen Ongkeko since the mid-80s through PETA and as a friend I agreed to score the movie even with limited budget. (Limited budget means you have quite a comfortable budget to work with. Minimal budget means having very little to work with. No budget means humanda kang mag-abono.) Yes, Angels' recording budget was limited but Ellen as our director still found ways of coughing up the the extra amount when music revisions were needed, mostly coming from her own pocket. As a friend I would’ve willingly absorbed part of the recording expenses as a sign of my support but she insisted she pay even when she was obviously running out of resources. I admire her for validating the importance of a good musical score by not telling me “Puwede bang libre na lang ang music?” No, she never said that.

Since then I have had the pleasure of doing the musical score of indie movies like Aureus Solito’s multi-awarded Pisay, Cinemalaya's and Dennis Marasigan’s Tukso, Tony Gloria’s and Gawad Kalinga's Paraiso and Cinemalaya's and Jay Abello’s Namets. Aside from being, in my opinion, well-crafted indie movies, the directors and producers of these films are also friends of mine. And how can you say "no" to friends, di ba? Siyempre tutulong ka. There was very minimal budget to make the score but at least there was a budget to work with. Thankfully, these people were aware that they should include MUSICAL SCORING in the production budget at hindi ganoon kalaki ang inabonohan ko. At the end of the day, again just like Ellen Ongkeko's Angels, I was happy to be part of these indie films because they are films I can be proud of. The money and talent I invested was well worth it. Such is the reality of indie film-making: You don't become a millionaire but it leaves you with a sense of achievement you can carry to your grave.

But sadly not all indie films, or any other form of art for that matter, are of good quality. A famous actor-friend once told me "Okay lang kung walang budget basta maipagmamalaki ko ang produkto. May redeeming value man lang sana. Pero kung T.Y. na nga, abonado pa ako tapos ang chaka pa ang film parang gusto kong magtago sa Angola." Let's just hope there's a thriving movie industry in Angola. (Of course, debatable kung ano ang "chaka" sa "hindi chaka." That topic deserves another blog.)

Anyone Can Do It

The thing about independent films is anyone can do it. All you need is a camera (heck, a handicam will do), an editing software (pirated version from Greenhills), a desktop (kung pa-sosi ka preferably a Mac?) and voila! You have a movie! Nagkakatalunan na lang talaga kung sino ang merong magaling na “movie craftsmanship.” And just like any other form of art, merong matitino diyan, merong hindi, merong good intentions, merong hanggang good intentions na lang, may balahura, may soft porn pretending to be an art film, merong walang good intentions bukod sa kumita ng pera, merong nagkakamali, merong sumasabay lang sa uso, merong passable, merong puwede na, merong tsumatsamba, at marami namang consistently of good quality. And that's good! People are now experimenting with different forms and styles. Some succeed, some fail, but I guess that's the whole idea: to see what works and what doesn't work. People are doing edgy films which you rarely see in big, studio-produced formula movies.

Some have said "Huy, indie movie. Panoorin natin! I'm sure maganda yan." Uhrm... hindi rin. Like I said, depende yan sa gumagawa at sa dahilan ng paggawa. Dahil nga maliit ang budget, one would hope babawi na lang sa aesthetics. Pero minsan, unfortunately, sumasablay din. Some indie movies have big budgets pero unfortunately hindi nadaan sa dami ng pera ang pelikula at ayun... sumabit din. Meron namang film na dumaan sa napakaraming problema at hindi mo akalain magiging maganda pala ang kalalabasan. At siyempre meron diyang napakaganda ng pelikula pero galit naman lahat ng production staff at mga artista nila dahil binarubal sila ng mga mayayabang at nagpapaka-"holier-than-thou" nilang producer o director.

I guess, at the end of the day, the important thing here is people are consciously trying to make better films -- better stories, different styles, etc. Yun nga lang, some people are artistically well-equipped while some... urhm... grope in the dark with only their softwares to compensate for whatever they lack in... ahem... talent. Ouch.

Starving the Starving Artists

Indie movies, because it's not backed up by big studios and advertisers, have very little budget. Some have none at all. And quite a lot of new “indie movie makers” have very little or no experience at all in running a movie production team. Maganda man ang intensiyon, ang main focus nila ay gumawa ng pelikula at medyo deadma na sa business side of the production. This is well and good when everyone concerned with the movie have willingly “donated” their services -- meaning working for free. But the reality is, artists like cinematographers, writers, actors, scorers, and production designers need money to survive to be able to do their “art” well. They cannot live on a movie’s good intentions alone. We keep hearing horrors stories about actors getting stuck in endless shooting days in the middle of nowhere with beginning directors (with a lot of attitude) without pay. Kahit pumayag silang umarte ng libre, umaabot din sa pagkakataon na napapagod na ang mga artista -- at mas madaling mapagod kapag wala kang bayad, hindi ba? I'm not suggesting you shower these actors with million peso paychecks. At least give them spending money to get by, feed them well, konting gasoline money or transpo allowance, or pick them up and bring them home. These actors are not rich. They need to survive. They need food to help nourish themselves and internalize their roles.

(In fairness, marami namang matitinong indie filmmakers. Marami pa rin namang producers diyan na alam pa rin ang tama sa mali, nadadamay lang sila sa ilang pasaway na abusado.)

Some actors have told me na sana sabihin na lang ng producers from the very beginning kung walang budget o walang sulweldo para alam nila kung ano ang pinapasok nila. “Tatanggapin ko naman kung sa tingin ko maganda ang intentions ng film. Pero sabihin nila lahat ang dapat sabihin para wala nang gulatan at habulan.” Some do tell you right there and then na wala silang ibabayad sa iyo, but when you turn down the project bakit parang ang dating sa kanila ay dahil mukha kang pera? Huwag naman sanang ganoon. Most artists find it difficult to or don't have the capacity to negotiate for fees because basically artists are better in creating and not in negotiating. Kaya nga may mga talent managers at agents ang iba. Siguro kung beterano ka na sa kalakaran kaya mo nang makipag-negotiate. Pero in reality mas marami ang nahihiya at hindi kayang makipag-haggle for fees. That's the reason why a lot of talented people end up working for free most of their lives because they don't realize how much their talent is worth. At inaabuso ito ng iba! At eto na nga... dinadaan na lang sila sa libre porke't "indie" lang daw. Which is, I think, very unfair. Huy, mahiya naman kayo sa mga artista.

Director's/Producer's Responsibility

Lately, I’ve noticed, that there are more and more producers/directors who DON’T EVEN TRY to look for money to finance their indie movies--- which I think is wrong, irresponsible and totally unacceptable. What are we making here? A high school project? Some producers and/or directors would call you, pa-feeling close, and make ligaw for you to get involved in their "dream" movie but then during the last day of shoot, you’ll find out wala palang kahit katiting na compensation at kailangan mong maglakad pauwi kasi ni singkong-duling wala kang sinahod. As if parang itinago talaga nila ang usaping pera? Tsk tsk tsk. At kung meron mang naipangakong kapiranggot na honorarium DAW... kadalasan hindi pa maibibigay sa iyo. One actor said, “Kaya nga indie film. Indi nagbabayad. Indi kumikita.” Ayan tuloy. Nagkakaroon ng pangit ng reputation ang indie filmmakers in general. Kasi some producers wouldn’t even answer your calls when it’s collection or reimbursement time, and if they do take your calls, they'd say the movie didn’t make money and they can't pay you. Ni hindi man lang mag-thank you.

(Paano nga pala kikita ang film hindi naman sila marunong maglako ng pelikula kasi nga walang alam sa business side ng movie-making. What happens to the film? It sits in the attic collecting dust just like the diary of Anne Frank.)

In my case, since I do the musical score during post-production and I don’t have my own studio -- which means I rent a music studio per hour -- kadalasan abonado ako. When I did Pisay, Namets,Tukso, and Paraiso it was clear to me that there was minimal budget to produce the musical score but I accepted it anyway because I believed in these films. Malinaw sa akin kung ano ang pinasok ko. Malaking tulong din na matino naman ang kinalabasan ng mga films na ito kaya okay na okay lang. Namets even made me a co-producer so I’ll eventually recoup (hopefully) the money I invested if ever it gets a successful commercial run. I wish all indie producers can be this honest because, after all, wala na ngang pera sa indie films you can at least be generous with honesty. Be transparent.

Producing an indie film is no joke. Hindi mo yan madadaan sa chika. Indie movie-making is not some poetry reading event that you can just organize overnight and serve tuna sandwiches and iced tea. Even if you have many friends to support you, darating ang panahon na siguradong mapapagod din ang mga friends mo at kailangan nilang kumita ng totoong pera para mabuhay.

You Can't Live on Good Intentions Alone

As movie-makers, indie or mainstream, you have a responsibility to your cast and artistic staff. Hindi na dapat isama pa sa pagdurusa ang mga artists na kinuha ninyo sa dahilang kayo bilang producers ay hindi handa financially and artistically, walang production management at business skills. Real artists will grab a good role any time, and will do their jobs for very little, but my God, please let’s not take advantage of them. Bad yan. BAD.

If you feel you have a good story and you feel you can direct and make a movie out of it, the first thing you have to do is GO AND LOOK FOR THE MONEY TO PRODUCE IT. Don’t start shooting with only your kiddie savings account in hand. Look for real funding. If you’re so passionate about your "dream" movie, go sell your house or pawn your jewelry collection. If you’re not ready to part with your worldly possessions, then save up until you’re financially ready. At please lang... kung may pera kang pagbayad ng cameras, ilaw, at sound equipment, dapat kaya mo ring magbayad sa mga artista, artistic at production team mo. One new “director/producer” told me once “Puwede bang libre na lang ang music? Wala na kasi akong budget to pay for actors and musical score, kasi naubos na sa camera rental at sa baranggay tanod.” Pucha naman oh. Nakakaloka. I told him, "Gumawa ka na lang ng SLIDE SHOW."

Don’t take your people for granted dahil kung wala kang mga taong gumagalaw sa harap at likod ng iyong camera -- wala kang pelikula.

The industry has to police itself and make sure people aren't taking advantage of the "spirit of indie film-making." The industry has to professionalize its working process by issuing contracts to talents and artistic staff to assure them that they will be taken cared of. Siguro kahit sa mga magkakaibigan na involved sa isang production maganda ring magakaroon ng "written agreement," kasi minsan kahit friendship nanganganib kapag nagkaroon ng mga problemang hindi inaasahan. If the production has limited resources--- I suggest join festivals, and apply for grants. Huwag niyong pasanin lahat ng gastusin. I would even go as far as making key persons in your production as co-producers. Or create an artists-producers cooperative. So when the movie makes money, with crossed fingers, everybody makes money. That way, everyone has a stake in the film, it makes your people feel they're more than just underpaid artists -- if they were paid at all. Don't get me wrong. This is not just about MONEY. It's about protecting and respecting the rights of everyone involved.

When you make a film you hope to recover your investments, right? But if you're making a film just so you can pat yourself on the back and say, "Man, I'm a good filmmaker," and have something to watch during the Lenten Season break with your friends while drinking wine -- you better rethink your filmmaking dreams. Nagtatapon ka lang ng pera at sinayang mo ang oras ng mga taong naniwala sa iyo na hindi mo naman binayaran. Films should be watched by other people, not just by those who created it.

It’s this simple: if you can’t afford to make an indie film, do not make an indie film. There are other forms of art that require less money but give you the same artistic fulfillment.

Here’s to the good, honest, capable and talented indie directors, producers, actors, artistic and production teams that have made the Philippine movie industry its much needed boost. I pray the time comes when you are allowed to practice your craft in a more inviting, creative space and ultimately a healthier artistic environment to nurture your artistic souls. God bless you all for your tireless efforts.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

entry arrow1:19 AM | Reading and Poverty

By Roberto S. Salva

I began to read prodigiously when I was around 17 years old. I was trying to make it on my own in the big city and found myself diving into abject poverty. If one of the priest-speechwriters of Jaime Cardinal Sin had not hired me as his research assistant, I would have been a janitor.

I applied as a janitor. I already had a plan. I would mop floors and clean rooms, and at the end of the day, I would come home, turn my lamp on and read. I could not have wished for a more comfortable arrangement.

I did research, instead, and read for work until late in the evening. But I still found time to come home and read for myself.

I had not probed into the reasons why I read and why reading seemed to iron out all the wrinkles at the end of my everyday life then. It is only now that I am able to ponder on reading after seeing the results of the Reading Surveys done by the Social Weather Stations in early 2003 and late 2007.

According to the surveys, around 91 percent of Filipinos in 2003 and 85 percent in 2007 read non-school books to gain knowledge and more information. As a statistician, I feel that something is amiss in the crafting of that category. Or, many of the readers may not have captured perfectly the reason why they read. (The next consistent reason given is “enjoyment.”)

It is hard to nail down the one reason why we read, much like falling in love. If we do give reasons, they do not give justice at all to the act. Yet, we continue to read, just as we continue to love.

The reasons given also seem inconsistent with the books read by most. The list is topped by the Bible (67 percent in 2007), followed by romance or love novels (33 percent), cookbooks (28 percent), comic books (26 percent), and religious or inspirational books (20 percent).

Except for cookbooks, the books on the list are not the best books to read if we want to gain knowledge or more information. We do attain certain knowledge and get information from these books but if we are reading toward these ends, we are being inefficient. Enjoyment as the primary objective for reading would have made more sense, given that list.

But it would have been awkward for the survey respondents to give more emphasis on “enjoyment” rather than the more ideal reason of gaining knowledge as the reason for reading. We are a predominantly Catholic country after all, and we abhor any trace of pleasure in our bones.

Given also our education and our country’s poverty, reading for pleasure seems to be an impractical reason. And this is not the time to be impractical.

Perhaps reading is really not practical, especially if we are living in poverty. When I was 17 and poor, I did not read for some pragmatic results that reading would have in my life. But with my every reading, I was able to struggle with the imagination, rationality and ideas of Dickens, Chesterton, Camus, Kafka, Buber, Augustine, Marcel, Levinas, Chaim Potok, Fr. Roque J. Ferriols—some of the authors on my reading list then. (And yes, I am bragging a little.)

I found compassion and camaraderie in these authors. My own imagination and my own ideas surfaced and they were strengthened by being rubbed against their works. I had no illusions whatsoever that I was in their league. (But that is another one good thing about reading books: we rub elbows with the authors, even the big ones.)

Reading made me acknowledge the existence of my own imagination, my own ideas, and my own visions. My own mind. These were strengthened with every reading.

If you are poor and marginalized, you need to have your own mind for important discourses are taking place with every step you take toward development—every single step.

Being poor and marginalized—as I have observed in myself, in the urban poor I worked with before and among the people I am working with now—is like being stuck as a teenager. You do not seem to have control over your life. You don’t have your own money. Nobody seems to understand you. You hear a lot of voices telling you that you do not belong, how you should be, how you should live your life, how far you can go and what your limits are. The loudest voices come from within.

It is easy to be defeated by these voices when you do not have your own mind. It is easy to accept that you are poor because you are supposed to be lazy. You are a criminal because you live in the squatters’ area. You deserve to be ridiculed and treated badly because you are deaf or poor. You do not have to go to college because higher education is only for those who are “normal.” You do not have a future because you were born to a hopeless situation. You do not read because reading is only for the educated and the well-placed.

Most of the development initiatives do not touch upon the discourses going on in the mind of the poor and the sidelined. There may be livelihood projects, but do you know that many urban poor are paralyzed when they are asked to fill up a bio-data form or to take a personality test? Gawad Kalinga may build you a house, the microfinance institute may give you access to credit, and your community organization may give you a voice, but what happens when you have your house, money or voice?


[From the Philippine Daily Inquirer]

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

entry arrow11:55 AM | This is Not a Rubber Ducky

This is my god-daughter Inara Levis, a beautiful dew drop in Sydney, Australia -- and the spawn of Kristyn. Her mother makes her do crazy things. Stop her.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

entry arrow11:00 PM | Bata, Bata Paano Ka Ginalaw?

Ang bawat bata ay naghahanap ng pagmamahal. Kung hindi magmumula sa magulang, baka sa iba niya ito matagpuan...

Dose is the much whispered-about film that provocatively tackles a theme that should be loudly talked about -- among families, in public, or even the Senate. The subject of pedophilia is controversial, and yet do we really know why such despicable acts happen? The answer is simple, and at the same time complicated. Love -- or the lack of it. Senedy Que's Dose dares to probe this premise in a disturbing story of Edy, an unloved 12 year-old boy (Golden Screen nominee for Breakthrough Performance of the Year Fritz Arvhie Chavez) who meets a lonely gardener (the multi-awarded actor Yul Servo). Their friendship blossoms into an affair that breaks moral bounds. Told from the point of view of the child, Dose is a film within a film that blurs the line that separates reality and fiction. As such, it also blurs our traditionally upheld ideas of what is right or wrong. Completing the competent cast are Emilio Garcia, Irma Adlawan, Ray-An Dulay, Arlene Tolibas, and Alessandra de Rossi in a special role. An official entry to the 4th Cinema One Originals, Dose will have a one-week limited engagement at the Robinson’s Galleria IndieSine on July 1 to 7. Dose was exhibited at the 2009 Barcelona Asian Film Festival and has also been invited to the Q! Film Festival in Jakarta and Bali, Indonesia and the Hongkong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, among others.

Some of the reviews...

“…Well-served by the cast. [Fritz Chavez] is a revelation…”
– Mario Bautista, People’s Journal

“… La comparación de Almodovar es inevitable: colores disparados, diálogos excéntricos, emoción camp… (… The comparison to Almodovar is inevitable: colorful images, eccentric dialogues, and campy emotions…)"
– 2009 Barcelona Asian Film Festival

“The film investigates profoundly the thin line between love and lust, friendship and passion…”
– Bibsy Carballo, People’s Tonight

“Touching … A bold film!”
– Gary Mak, International Programmer of Hongkong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival

“A provocative tale of ambiguous friendship…”
– Ethel Ramos, Malaya

“… Funny, sad, and exhilarating… Deeper, braver, edgier than Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros or Ang Lihim Ni Antonio…”
The Bakla Review

“More than just a sex film … may kurot sa puso.”
– Archie de Calma, Pinoyparazzi

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entry arrow12:50 PM | Who's Going to Teach?

I was sporadically watching an episode of Boston Legal today. In one of the featured cases, Helen Choi, a special education teacher, is being sued for the wrongful death of a student in her class who had died from an allergic reaction to peanuts.

Her lawyer Shirley Schmidt, played brilliantly by Candice Bergen, gives this closing argument which made my hair stand on their ends, because I just felt it sooo much:

Lawsuits are about allocating burden. For example, we want our cars to be safer, so we hit the manufacturers with a judgment that makes it more cost-effective to install the airbag. The problem here, as Ms. Bixby correctly states, is we have more and more special needs kids going into our public schools, combined with an unprecedented escalation in auto-immune diseases, autism -- the peanut allergy alone has doubled in recent years.

So, who do we heap this responsibility on? Who else? The teachers. The average annual starting salary for a teacher is $32,000. For that, we ask them to teach, police, provide emotional and social guidance -- at some schools, they actually have to clean the toilets. Now, let's throw in healthcare.

This teacher -- she works 65-hour weeks. In addition to her actual classroom duties, she teaches sex education to the older kids, she teaches a standardized test the school mandates in order to qualify for funding under the No Child Left Behind Act. She spends another ten hours a month meeting with parents. She supervises extra-curricular activities, goes on overnight class trips, cleans and disinfects toys, coaches. She teaches fire drill safety procedures, healthy eating habits, she's certified in CPR, first aid, and food sanitation.

She's so overextended that when her own father had to undergo a life-threatening medical procedure, she couldn't be at the hospital. So she called on her cell phone to see if he had lived. Which he hadn't. She then turned away from her students, so as not to traumatize them with her grief, which as a teacher she was expected to internalize.

She has no savings ... no house. And today she's being sued because, without her knowledge, one of her students snuck a bite-sized candy bar containing traces of peanut into her classroom. Now she's being publicly blamed for the death of a child whose parents had the means to implement a multitude of safeguards. They implemented none of them except -- a teacher.

Is it any wonder half our teachers are quitting the profession outright within five years? Never mind who's going to handle the epi pen. Who's going to teach?

In the show, the jury finds in favor of the defendant.

I, too, feel the pressure of teacherly efforts, the way we go beyond our duties and our resources just to teach a class well. (Heck, I spend my own money just to get many activities going, because I just get told "There's no budget for that.") I, too, feel the pressure of not being appreciated enough, especially by terrorizing parents who complain about the grades of their underachieving children who remain unmotivated despite one effort after another. (What do you do to somebody who would rather not study?) And actually, if I get even half Helen Choi's monthly salary, I'd be so comfortably rolling in dough, which is sooo sad. Sometimes I think I just want to quit. But I don't. Sometimes, I think I'm just being masochist. But like what Shirley said, "Who's going to teach?"

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entry arrow12:14 PM | Retrieving the Past

I finally imported all my old blogs -- the ones I haven't deleted anyway -- into this blog. As far as Blogger is concerned, I have been blogging since 2003 (although I have actually already blogged before that). And as far as Blogger is concerned again, I have published 2,329 posts. That's a lot of posts. That's almost ten years of this life already.

Going through the archives, it's amazing to see how much I've been through, it's a little scary.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

entry arrow12:01 AM | A Father’s Day Imagining

By Rica Bolipata Santos

She said: Once again, he has not had breakfast with his children. And once again, he did not see them before they went to bed. He must see the children an average of what, 14 full waking hours a week? Doesn’t he know how much his children miss him and need him in their lives?

He wakes up so early and begins to prowl the house. I can hear his large footsteps echo through the walls and floors. I don’t know what I wish for more: for him to be quiet so that they won’t wake up too early; or that he be noisy enough to wake them so that they may see him today.

Once in a while, the prowling wakens someone. It is delicious to watch the child discover her daddy by the foot of the bed. The first few seconds of discovery are most precious. Here lies this moment filled with possibility. But the possibility is always short-lived because the phone at some point will ring.

I watch this from faraway and I realize that it doesn’t matter to our child that the phone rings. (In my mind I’ve already scolded him for the intrusion of the office into this precious moment.) Her father’s arm is around her waist and he keeps her close even as he accommodates the call. She watches his mouth in amazement and I realize he has to do so little to have an impact. Just this solid presence is enough. Maybe this is something I will never understand. I work hard at having my children respect my presence. All he has to do is show up – just like a movie star.

I look at him and wonder what he truly thinks of me. He does not know how much I miss just being the two of us. I clip the thought out right away and censor these thoughts I am told I am not allowed to have. Yes, I am still in love with my husband. Other marriages around me have fallen and sputtered and died out but ours remains burning by the grace of…who knows by what or whose grace? Maybe by the children’s grace for surely I cannot help but be reminded of our love every time I look into their precious eyes. But I am afraid sometimes. Does he still see me apart from the children? Without the children, who would we be? Most of our waking years are spent as parents not as husbands or wives. Maybe that’s why we celebrate Father’s Day or Mother’s Day and not Husband’s Day or Wife’s Day.

Who was it that designed human life this way? We spend the best years of our lives at work and completely miss the childhoods of our children. When we are finally free of the demands of life and it is time to retire, our children have all grown and we can barely recognize them; nor they recognize us. How many children wish they knew their father more? Perhaps life should be built some other way. It makes no sense I know but let me think it anyway.

He said: I wake up at five in the morning and wait for the sun to rise. I try to be quiet and be still so as not to wake the rest of the household but waking up early is a habit I cannot seem to break. No one knows how much I love this hour. I flit from room to room and accomplish a variety of things. I am able to inspect which light bulbs need to be changed. I discover that the fire alarm needs a new battery. I tighten the faucet in the children’s bathroom. I test all the doorknobs to make sure all things are safe. I feel useful this way. If mothers are all about kisses and hugs; fatherhood is all about nuts and bolts. You need both elements to make a family work.

The sun is finally out in full force but the children refuse to wake up. I sit at the edge of their beds and wait for them patiently. I am not sure what is more delicious-observing them in sleep, smooth cheeks on pillow, a bit of dried up drool present; or the slow opening of the eyes to the world and the smile that descends upon seeing me on their beds.

More often than not, it is the former that actually happens. I sit and wait and watch but they rarely get up. I imagine their bodies recharging like batteries. Their mother will have to contend with all that renewed energy. My phone suddenly rings. It is only a little past six and already the outside world has made its presence felt.

I answer the phone automatically and I know that my wife’s eyebrow is raised from wherever she is. There are some differences between us that can never be bridged and I am past trying to build bridges between lands that cannot meet. I will always answer the phone if the office calls. She thinks this is a matter of choice. I think otherwise.

In my mind’s eye, I look at my wife and wonder what she truly thinks of me. She doesn’t know how hurtful she can sometimes be with her quick judgments and harsh words. She tells me I am not present enough as a father. I look around our home and the lovely things that lie here and wish to tell her that this is my presence – the capacity to make this possible. If I were physically present all the time, we would be living in a hut. Women do not know how we men balance our choices as well.

I am still in love with my wife. It is a precious thing that keeps itself alive in spite the number of things that could kill it so easily. She does not know how grateful I am for the children. I wish I could tell her everyday how glad I am that she is present for the children. I wish she knew how terrible it would be if I was the one who stayed at home! With her they read books, do art projects, sing and dance. I don’t tell her though that there are times when I imagine just being alone with them. I would teach my boy how to fly a kite. I would teach my girl how to climb a tree. These things make her nervous so I only dream about them.

I sometimes wonder who designed human life this way. Who decided that fathers must work far away while mothers kept hearth and home? And so the little lives of my children are lost on me. I do not know my daughter’s best friend’s name; nor do I know my little boy’s bedtime story.

Let me say it for the all fathers in the world. The lack of this knowledge is not a sign of a lack of love or interest. It is the limitation of the mind and body and not the heart. More than anything, it is contrast that makes life worth living. This constant defining of “mother” and “father” allows love to flourish more in some mysterious, wonderful way. It is good that no one person can be everything to any one. It allows us fathers and mothers to fill the different spaces in our children’s lives.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

entry arrow1:18 PM | An Alternative History of the Philippines

Banging your head thinking up of a possible storyline to develop? Interested in speculative fiction, especially in the subgenre of alternative history? Paolo Chikiamco, over at Anitero, has compiled a list of ideas for stories. Many are quite intriguing. Examples to whet your appetite: What if Pope John Paul II had been assassinated during the 1995 World Youth Day? What if Noli Me Tangere had been written in Tagalog? What if MacArthur had repulsed the Japanese attack against Clark? What if the British had conquered the Philippines?

Here's the complete list.

[photo courtesy of the sillimaniana archive]

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Friday, June 19, 2009

entry arrow2:48 PM | Little Boy Big Boy

Digital Viva's Little Boy, Big Boy is the new film by director Joselito Altarejos, from a script by Lex Bonife -- the creative team that brought us what could easily be described as seminal films in Philippine queer cinema, a roster that includes Ang Lalaki sa Parola, Ang Lihim ni Antonio, and Kambyo.

The new film is a departure from those three films: after the heavy drama of Parola and Antonio and the road trip of Kambyo, what we get in Boy a light drama, with touches of comedy, that tells the story of a young, commitment-phobic gay yuppie (played by Paolo Rivero) suddenly saddled by taking care of a young nephew (played by Renz Valerio) while juggling a new relationship with a younger man (played by Douglas Robinson) whom he meets in an orgy. (That should whet the appetite of many...) But given its sexual situations (requisite, perhaps, for the Digital Viva label) the film is actually sweet and endearing, and features most prominently the strange but amiable dynamics of the relationship between uncle and nephew who -- together with the uncle's new boyfriend -- essentially presents us an idealized and very romantic idea of the possibilities of a new kind of family. This is essentially My Two Dads, Pinoy-style. And in many ways, I am glad for this film, if only because it breaks ground from the cliches of local gay cinema always involving macho dancers, prostitutes, and the like. Rivero's Raymond Fabillar is a non-swishy, unconflicted, self-possessing gay yuppie looking just like the rest of us -- and that's a refreshing face indeed for the queer character in local cinema.

While most have flocked to Altarejos' films for their sheer and brazen depictions of sexuality, I have always admired each of these films for bringing us unflinching but certain examinations of certain aspects of local gay life -- queer camaraderie and friendship, coming out, coming to terms with one's sexual identity, incest, the divide or specificity of gay lives between the metro and the countryside, AIDS, the lure of big city living, and so on and so forth -- and in such varied styles, too.

In many ways, although not unflawed (I still find the histrionic and bloody ending of the otherwise beautiful Antonio as jarring and unnecessary), they are a significant step-up in the level of maturation of local queer cinema, following the haphazard lead of Danny Zialcita (T-Bird at Ako and the cringe-inducing Si Malakas, Si Maganda, at si Mahinhin), Ishmael Bernal (parts of Manila By Night), Lino Brocka (Ang Tatay Kong Nanay and Macho Dancer), Carlitos Siguion-Reyna (Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya and Tatlo Magkasalo), Mel Chionglo (Sibak and Twilight Dancers), Maryo J. de los Reyes (Sa Paraiso ni Efren), Joel Lamangan (Pusong Mamon), and Gil Portes (Miguel/Michelle).

Now, of course, now we have a deluge of gay films. Some are very good (such as Senedy Que's Dose, Aureaus Solito's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and Boy, Adolfo Alix Jr.'s Daybreak and parts of Imoral, Francis X. Pasion's Jay, Brillante Mendoza's Masahista and parts of that strange erotic anthology Pantasya, and Charliebebs Gohetia's The Thank You Girls -- and can we include Olaf de Fleur Johannesson's The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela in this list?)...

Some are middling but noteworthy (the whole Pablo Crisanto ouevre)...

And some are really, really, really bad they are not worth mentioning at all (did I say Lamangan's Walang Kawala? No comment). And sometimes, because of this deluge, one needs to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I could actually write more about this in a future post (has anyone ever done a history and evaluation of Philippine gay cinema a la Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet?) -- but in the meantime, read magnificent reviews of local gay films over at The Bakla Review blog.

Watch Little Boy Big Boy. It opens in theaters soon, but the premiere night is in the last week of July at the UP Film Institute. [Check Mark's blog for details...]

[photo from beyondthebox]

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

entry arrow12:33 PM | Unexpectations

Life has taught me that the rule for enjoying the most out of life in all its unpredictability is simple, yet also most paradoxical: the least of expectations bear the maximum of joy. It’s like going about your way to buy a lowly ice candy—and end up with a gallon of Hazelnut Brownie ice cream, given free.

Of course, I also believe that this is not always true. As what I frequently tell my friend Moe, who is the foremost advocate of this philosophy, “Without expectations, where is hope?”

He tells me, “Hope and expectation are not the same.”

And I say, “But I can’t not always have expectations. I’m obsessive compulsive. It’s in my nature to want things done in a specific way.”

“And that’s why you’re always going crazy.”


Point well taken.

Most days, I believe him. There is an absolute—shall I say ecstatic?—feeling of freedom in letting go, in just flinging caution to the wind, and in following where that wind leads you. This is difficult to do when one has a penchant for things constant and certain. But I have learned, somehow, to follow where my feet lead me, to say yes to the slightest invitation or provocation, to do magic with things almost at the breaking end of chaos. I have gone on trips that way—and I find that sometimes getting lost and finding your way around unexpected things become the destination itself.

But this has not always been the case for the life I’ve led: there had been years—especially the most recent ones—when existence was quite routine. (There’s a reason why they call it “settling down.”) Work, home. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snack. Feed the pets, watch television, buy a DVD, date with the significant other. Sometimes, there is a show or two to watch, and sometimes there is dinner with friends. Mondays are the same as Thursdays, or any of the other days. Sometimes only Saturdays are different, but only sometimes. I tell you—routine. (This is not a complaint, just honest observation.)

And then life changed in the most unexpected ways. The locus of your life is suddenly out of the picture—and you are left, scrambling just so, to fill the suddenly gaping void. Yet I have been lucky to have all manner of fulfillment that has exceeded whatever I could have hoped for. And now each day begins and ends with surprises, mostly good ones. Sometimes there are days when I would tell a friend: “I don’t really know how each of my days turn out. They’re all so different, all the time.”

That friend would say, “Maybe you’re overcompensating for those years.”

“Maybe I am. But this is nice, isn’t it?”

“As long as you’re happy. Are you happy?”

“I am. Or else why am I smiling this way.”

“You look like a cat that just ate a bird.”


We need the madness of no expectations. It may be the truest way to live—because it is what keeps you on your toes, and, paradoxically, what drives you to do and dream of bigger things without the searing danger of disappointment.


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entry arrow6:12 AM | Rio Alma at ang Huling Hudhud ng Sanlibong Pagbabalik at Paglimot Para sa Filipinas Kong Mahal

National Artist for Literature, Virgilio S. Almario (a.k.a. Rio Alma) will be holding a two-hour seminar titled “Mga Epiko at Katutubong Tula ng Filipinas” on June 19, 2 p.m. at the newly opened C&E Information and Resource Center at 1616 Quezon Avenue, South Triangle, Quezon City. Alma will also be launching his latest book, Huling Hudhud ng Sanlibong Pagbabalik at Paglimot Para sa Filipinas Kong Mahal, a modern epic about his various travels in the country from 2006 to 2007. The book is the culmination of his longtime research about Philippine legends, history and current events shaping the country today. The book, designed by Fidel Rillo, is presented in the coffee-table format, rich with photographs taken by various lensmen. (The bulol on the cover is from the art collection by National Artist for the Visual Arts BenCab.)

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entry arrow12:04 AM | "Writer Ka Lang Pala"


By Conrado de Quiros

I remember an experience I once had with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This was way back during Cory’s time when I was still paying my taxes. I am not paying my taxes now—not since 2005, when the “Hello, Garci” tape came to light. I was paying my taxes then, but for one reason or another failed to do so one particular year. Being a dutiful citizen, and having no problems recognizing Cory as a perfectly legitimate president, I resolved to rectify it.

I went to the BIR, waited a couple of hours for my turn, and finally got to talk with an appraiser, or whatever they call the people there that deal with these things. He took the documents I handed over to him solemnly, flexing his hands like a doctor about to perform a delicate operation. His solemnity vanished in an instant as he scanned my documents, and dismay overran his face like the hordes of Atilla. He suppressed an expletive and groaned, “Writer ka lang pala!” (You’re just a writer!)

I took it those words were a reaction to the couple of hundred pesos I owed government. I took it moreover that those words were a reaction to my entry in the box “occupation,” which was “journalist.” Whatever plans he might have had about negotiating a deal with me were dashed to pieces by that proclamation, or admission. His deflation was a thing to behold. “Writer ka lang pala,” he repeated.

He stamped my papers and dismissed me with a wave of his hand. He probably wondered what he had done to make God punish him that day by sending him someone who wasted his precious time.

That is the one phrase that has stayed with me all these years, one I wear proudly like a medal, and humbly like a reminder: “Writer ka lang pala.”

I remembered this in connection with something I’ve encountered over the years while writing a column for the Inquirer. It’s what detractors tell me when they cannot find a way to refute or get around, my argument. Which is: What you say is all very fine. But those are just words, they are not actions. When will you stop writing and act?

Sometimes, friends, and not just detractors, say this as well. Particularly those who have wondered why I do not entertain going into politics. “Why don’t you run for this or that?” they ask. “With the exposure you have in the country’s number one newspaper, you have an advantage which you can turn into votes. If you win, you can be in a position to do something for this country.”

My answer to this is not that I see no way of winning, although that’s probably true too, since the vote-friendly medium is TV. My answer to that is: “I’m already a writer, as ascertained by the BIR. Why should I want to demote myself and become a politician?”

I am not being entirely facetious when I say this. My point is simply, if a bit airily, that I cannot think of a better way to do something for the country than by writing.

Doctors will never be accused of merely saying and not doing. I do not know of another profession more resolutely associated with acting. You either cure or you do not. The patient either lives or dies. No action could be more fraught with meaning, no action could be more laden with consequence.

It is writers who routinely get to be charged with saying and not doing, of talking and not acting. It is writers who routinely get to be told: That’s all very fine, but when will you act?

It is the most astonishing thing because writing is acting. That is why we call it “the act of writing,” because it is an act. And like physically ministering to the sick, it is a vital act. It is spiritually ministering to the sick, an act that is fraught with meaning, an act that is laden with consequence. When you write, you either cure or you do not. When you write, the world either lives or dies.

What the writer does specifically, an act of awesome reverberations, is to articulate. It is to put reality into words. It is to make reality real.

We’ve all heard Socrates’ famous aphorism, “A life unexamined is a life unlived.” It is a profound insight into life. It is the difference between merely existing and living. Just drawing out the length of your days without looking at where you’ve come from and where you are going, without looking at whether you have been of service to others or only to yourself, without wondering what all this means or what all this amounts to, is not living, it is just existing. You may as well not have been there at all.

It is writers most of all that make that examination, of themselves and the reality around them. It is writers most of all who make that interrogation, of themselves and of the reality around them. It is writers most of all who articulate themselves and the reality around them.

Without that articulation, the world and ourselves are just as unreal as ghostly apparitions. Without that action, the world and ourselves are just a jumble of sense impressions.

We often speak of “grasping” things when we are able to understand them. The word “grasp” is only too apt. The action, like seizing something with the hand, is seizing something with the mind, turning it around, feeling its shape, marveling at its texture, realizing (there goes that word “real” again) that it is there.

You put things into words, you make things real.

It’s not true at all that sticks and stones may break your bones but words can’t. The opposite is true: More than sticks and stones, or indeed more than Manny Pacquiao’s fists, words crush bones. At the very least, you see that in the many knife fights that break out during drinking sprees in dingy neighborhoods because someone called another names.

At the very most you see that in what writers have done. In what a writer of no mean talent named Jose Rizal has done.

Rizal was first and foremost, a writer –- a fact that many people have interpreted in various ways, some disparagingly.

I recall that many activists of my time submitted that Andres Bonifacio was the greater hero because he had done something marvelous. He had almost impossibly, given his personal circumstances (he was a plebeian) and his social circumstances (the indios were abject and acquiescent), founded the first truly revolutionary organization of his time. Rizal had merely written essays and novels, which however grand and brilliant did not quite equal in importance the creation of the Katipunan.

Their equation was: Where Rizal had just written, Bonifacio had done. Where Rizal had just expostulated, Bonifacio had acted.

It was no small irony, they went on, that Rizal was tried and executed for subversion. Which we could only attribute to the stupidity of the Spaniards; they had bad intelligence in more ways than one. Rizal was never a member of the Katipunan, however the organization tried to recruit him, or offered the leadership of it to him. In fact he had openly discouraged, if not opposed, it, saying the country was not prepared for a revolution. All Rizal had done, they said, was to become a martyr, which even more ironically only helped to fuel the very thing he tried to hold back.

Looking back, you see how wrong that judgment was. Looking back, you see how the Spanish authorities knew something the activists of my time did not. Namely, that by writing his essays and his novels, Rizal had become more subversive than Bonifacio or any of the Katipuneros. By writing his essays and novels –- and doing so better than Marcelo del Pilar and the other propagandists in Spain –- he had done more than those who took up arms.

The Spaniards were not wrong in jailing him for subversion, even if they did it for the wrong reasons, even if they did it on the wrong evidence. Rizal was the most subversive Filipino of his time. He did so by putting the plight of the Filipino under Spanish rule into words. He did so by putting the anger, the restiveness and the growing awareness of the indios they were a separate people into words. He did so by putting the reality of his time and place into words.

By doing so, he made that reality real.

It is no surprise that the Spaniards would make this recognition. Given that they had a Miguel Cervantes who had blown up the conventions of his own time and place. Indeed, given that they themselves had deprived the indios of Spanish out of the belief that giving them a unified and unifying language would make them ungovernable.

Spanish rule had lasted more than 300 years not just because the Spanish rulers had divided and conquered, it had done so also because the Spanish rulers had kept the indios mute, silent, voiceless. But then toward the end of that rule, which hastened the end of that rule, the same indios found a voice in Jose Rizal.

By satirizing the friars in his essays, by depicting them as bumbling fools quite apart from womanizing hypocrites, Rizal turned them not just into ordinary mortals but into objects of ridicule. By indicting the Spanish authorities in “Noli” and “Fili,” by railing against their corruption and their backwardness, Rizal turned them into obstacles in the path to progress of the indios that needed to be, and could be, removed. By the ferocity of his mind and the breadth of his talents, Rizal showed his fellow Filipinos how limitless their possibilities were, if only they could be free.

You cannot have anything more subversive than that.

These days, when some people tell me, “That’s all very fine, but when are you going to act?” I just smile and remember this.

I do not mean to compare myself to Rizal. He was one of a kind, a man of resplendent abilities and character, the likes of which we may not see again in a long time, if ever. But it can’t hurt to aspire to become like him in one or two of his many facets. I myself aspire only to catch a glint of his spirit in writing.

Certainly our time lends itself to that aspiration. For the simple reason that our time is not unlike Rizal’s time. In fact, it is almost a mirror image of Rizal’s time – talk of those who do not read history being condemned to repeat it.

It is a time when the rulers are as alien as a colonizing power, pillaging the land with a ruthlessness and ferocity to make the pirates of Tortuga blush. It is a time when the people tasked to safeguard the morals of the indios are as besotted and venal and hypocritical as the friars and oidores, making right wrong and wrong right, and proclaiming God to have ordained this order of things. It is a time when the masa are prostrate and broken and abject, unable to lift the yoke off their backs, reposing their deliverance in false prophets and clowns and sellers of snake oil.

It is a time when you realize that there is no action without articulation, there is no flesh without word, and look for ways to capture the agony of oppression and the ecstasy of liberation. It is a time when you realize that there is no direction without interrogation, there is no life without examination, and look for ways to release the power of a subjected race and the glory of a people longing to be free. It is a time when you realize that to do all this, you have to grope and grasp and clasp with your mind the truth of your plight, to impale with words the thoughts and feelings that flit around you, the fears and aspirations that well up within you, to make reality real so that you can face it, so that you can confront it, so that you can live it.

It is a time when you can tell yourself proudly: Writer ka pala. It is a time when you can remind yourself humbly: Writer ka lang pala.

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

entry arrow12:53 AM | Filipinas and Asian Chick Lit

I miss Summit Books. Those pastel-colored, brilliantly written escapist fare otherwise known as Chick Lit, which were authored by some of our best young women writers which included Tweet Sering, Abi Aquino, Claire Betita, Mabi David, and Melissa Salva. I miss the old books anyway. It was never the same when Tara FT Sering, who used to be the series editor, left Summit Publishing to pursue other publishing interests. (She's now the managing editor of Contemporary Arts Philippines Magazine.) But now, three of the Summit writers have come back to bookstore shelves, this time through a Singapore-based publisher, and they are slowly changing the way we look at this genre of pop literature.

Newsweek recently did a piece on so-called Asian chick lit -- mostly books by the publisher Marshall Cavendish which is based in Singapore -- and the article focuses on several authors, three of whom happen to be Filipinos: the always unbelievable Tara, Maya O. Calica, and Noelle Chua.

From the article by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop:

We've always seen a demand for quality fictional writing with a local slant in the region," says Chris Newson, general manager of Marshall Cavendish. "Chick lit has been one of the most successful global publishing genres over the last 15 years, and it's been very successful commercially in the region, so why not produce a local variety?"

The trick is to make even local varieties hew closely to the standard formula. "You have a heroine who is cosmopolitan and independent-—someone who other women want to be," says Noelle Chua, author of Mrs. MisMarriage, whose heroine's glamorous life loses its luster as soon as her new boyfriend proposes. "But she's not perfect, like the heroines of old Barbara Cartland romance novels. From the beginning, like in Bridget Jones, you see her flaws, and the heroine can laugh at herself."

While love's travails and professional success are universal chick-lit themes, Asian chick lit also reflects some cultural differences. "In Western chick lit, the heroine's support system consists almost entirely of friends, but in Asian societies, family is also very much involved," says Lum Kit Wye, the winner of the Marshall Cavendish writing competition. Her novel, In Ten Easy Steps, about a homebody legal secretary who relies on her family to help her change her life after her boyfriend dumps her, will be published in Singapore this fall. Sex, fairly pervasive though never very graphic in most Anglo-Saxon chick lit, is more understated in Asian chick-lit novels. "The heroines are urbane, modern Asians, but they're probably less forward than their Western counterparts, especially in terms of their relationships with men," says Chua. "I think Asian women by and large are still less aggressive and outspoken than Western ones."

Read the rest here.

[In the same issue, Jessica Zafra writes about Brillante Mendoza's Cannes-winning film Kinatay, and dares us to look away.]

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entry arrow12:01 AM | A Rebirth of Bikol Literature

By Juan Escandor Jr.

Bicol’S literary world is entering a “renaissance” period as new books and other works emerge due to growing writers’ interest and access to publishing houses.

“Contrary to the popular notion that Bikol lit is dead, our literary world has been breathing all throughout,” said Jason Chancoco, author and recipient of national and local literary citations.

The revival is a flashback to the “golden age” of Bikol literature before World War II when Naga City’s printing press published periodicals with literary pieces in Bicol and the community theater staged the “comedia” in town plazas, according to Vic Nierva, a 2007 National Book awardee. That era was documented in “Bikols of the Philippines,” a Bicol literary history book written by Lilia Realubit, another National Book awardee, Gawad Balagtas conferee, and retired literature professor of the University of the Philippines.

Today, Chancoco said that in Naga alone, 16 publications, periodicals and websites are carrying Bicol writings and literary pieces. These include the Bikol Reporter, Bicol Mail, Bangraw, Burak, Ani, Hingowa, The Pillars, Pegasus, T-Bloc, Dalityapi Unpoemed, A critical Survey of Philippine Literature, Muse and Apprentice. Similar works are found in the sections of e-Manila, panitikan.com.ph and oragon.republic.net.

Preliminary Efforts

Essayist Adrian Remodo, 2008 first prize winner of the Salita ng Taon of the Filipinas Institute of Translation, suggested that the Bikol renaissance actually began in the 1980s, when preliminary efforts were made to retrieve and compile written works and oral folklore. Remodo credited Realubit’s anthology of early Bikol literature and the new contemporary voices for the resurgence of interest among young writers, who have found a channel for their works in fiction, poetry, drama and essay.

For the past six years, the Premio Tomas Arejola para sa Literaturang Bikolnon has served writers in Bikol. It pays homage to Arejola, a less-known Bicolano propagandist from Naga and contemporary of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal and Juan Luna in the Propaganda Movement in Spain. It was put up by descendants of the local hero through the Arejola Foundation for Social Progress.

Last year, the Surian ng Wika launched and held a literary writing contest in Bicol. Young writers from five of the six provinces in the region joined.

Making Names

Since 2001, Naga-based writers have published literary books every year. New names have come out, mostly young writers like Carlo Arejola, Jaime Jesus Borlagdan, Jason Chancoco, Kristian Cordero, Alvin Yapan, Estelito Jacob and Adrian Remodo. This year, seven Bicol books will be launched.

Kristian Cordero, poet and fictionist, said a growing number of Bicol writers, in English or in Filipino, had been making names for themselves in the national and international literary circles for the past five years.

Among the luminaries he cited was Abdon Balde, a fiction writer from Oas town in Albay who uses Bicol as backdrop and setting. Balde received the National Book Award several times and the Jaime Laya Best Book for fiction for his collection of short stories (“Cavalry Road” and “Mayong”) and novels in Filipino. Most of the novels find roots, characters and sensibility from the region. His latest novel is “Awit ni Kadunung,” the first of a trilogy.

Cordero also cited poet Luis Cabalquinto, who hails from Magarao town in Camarines Sur and whose poem “Hometown” appears in US college literature and textbooks. Cabalquinto is based in New York and was a finalist in last year’s National Book Award.

Multidisciplinary artist Merlinda Bobis from Albay is among the poets, fictionists and performers who carry the feminine voice in interpreting Bicol through her books, Cordero said. Her latest work is the “Banana Heart Summer” (Anvil: Philippine Edition), published in Australia and th e United States. Like Balde’s, Bobis’ novel digs into the rich material of her region.

Interestingly, Chancoco’s book probes into the poetics of the region for the first time.

Bicol, Bikol

In literary and academic circles in the region, writers and historians are wont to use two spellings—“Bicol” and “Bikol”—to differentiate the regional language and culture from geographic and demographic reference. Most agree that “Bicol” refers to the place and people, and “Bikol,” to the language and culture. The “k” is from the precolonial Malayo-Polynesian language roots, while the “c” reflects the Spanish colonial period’s lingua franca.

In the absence of local efforts to seek official approval of the two spellings and their representations from the National Historical Institute, the writers unmindfully continue to use both in their works, publications and newspapers.

In the academe, the use of Bicol in formal language is being pushed aggressively. For example, Ateneo de Naga University’s Department of Philosophy has created a subject which employs Bicol language in philosophical discourses, according to its dean, Fr. Wilmer Tria.

The Ragay National Fisheries School in Ragay town in Camarines Sur is attempting to counter the vanishing Bicol language in the towns of Del Gallego and Lupi by declaring Bicol Language Day once a week. Only the local language is spoken inside campus that day.

Eilyn L. Nidea, who teaches literature at the school, noted that Tagalog is spoken by 80 percent of the people in Ragay, Del Gallego and Lupi—which are in the boundary of Camarines Sur and Quezon.

From BicolMail

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

entry arrow12:01 AM | Virgin Labfest 5

Twelve days. Twenty-two plays. More than a hundred theater artists...

The Cultural Center of the Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino, Inc, The Writer's Bloc, Inc. and Japan Foundation present Virgin Labfest 5 on June 23 to July 5. Download the festival guide and the calendar at the official website. This edition features new plays by Job Pagsibigan, Tim Dacanay, Oggie Arcenas, J. Dennis Teodosio, Clarissa Estuar, Rogelio Braga, Kiyokazu Yamamoto, Layeta Bucoy, George de Jesus III, Sheilfa Alojamiento, Reuel Molina Aguila, George Vail Kabristante, Nicolas B. Pichay, Liza Magtoto, David Finnigan, and Floy Quintos.

The Virgin Labfest Anthology, featuring 15 plays from the first four of the Virgin Labfest, will also be launched on the opening day, June 23.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

entry arrow9:44 PM | Sagada Stills in a Floating World

By Marjorie Evasco

If with images If with words

I You

could catch

on photographic film on silk paper

a likeness

of You of me

in Sagada

I would have You would have

to sit a thousand years
with master of austere

Light Measure

Masferré Shikibu

To learn the process

of rendering of staining

Silence Sound

This remains one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets. I love the way the poem haunts me with its beautiful spaces, its echoes. [And yes, encoding all that html code for the spaces in between the texts was all so worth it...]

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entry arrow5:53 PM | A-Side|B-Side / And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth Book Launch Today

The launching of Vlad Gonzales's A-Side/B-Side and Carljoe Javier's And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth, both published by Milflores, will be part of the 55th Installment of Happy Mondays at Mag:net Cafe along Katipunan, Quezon City. The launch starts at 7:30 pm. Lots of readers, bands, drinking, and fun. Playing will be Nerdita, Los Chupacabraz, T.E.A.T.S., Goliath, and Ivan Theory. A notice from Butch Dalisay in the Philippine STAR: "Both Carljoe and Vlad were fellows at this year’s Baguio workshop, and both acquitted themselves handsomely with some very sharp prose — Carljoe in English and Vlad in Filipino — that also highlighted many of their generation’s preoccupations: chiefly among them, what Carljoe might call 'geek civilization,' that predominantly youthful mindset of those raised on computers, the Internet, Neil Gaiman, the X-Men, and the Eraserheads."

More about Vlad Gonzales's A-Side/B-Side here and Carljoe Javier's And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth here.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

entry arrow7:55 AM | The Cinnamon Peeler

By Michael Ondaatje

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbor to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
-- your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

            this is how you touch other women
the grasscutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume.

                        and knew

            what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in an act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler's wife. Smell me.

[Photo from the Lanka Library ]


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