If there is anything about the pandemic I’ve come to “love”—if love is even the right word for it but perhaps in a silver lining kind of way, it probably is—it is the fact that this norm-busting present has made Dumaguete a veritable food hub.
I’m simply astonished by the rapid growth of the food scene here, with restaurants, cafes, patisseries, and pop-ups seemingly appearing out of the blue, most of them flourishing in what should be very challenging times.
Not that the food scene didn’t suffer. Some of our favorite restaurants—Café Alima among my favorites is foremost in my mind—eventually closed down after trying hard to make it through, even with Food Panda and Grab Food as alternatives. Even franchises, like Harbour City, eventually closed. Some, like Persia, opened during the pandemic, promised to sate our hankering for Middle Eastern fare, but closed down soon after. Some, like Halang-Halang Szechuan Restaurant and Kimstaurant, closed immediately in the heels of lockdown, and never opened again. In their places are something else altogether: the former has now become a buffet restaurant, and the latter is now an e-sabong center. Some venues feel like dices in an endless game of to-be-or-not-to-be: Nom, the beloved restaurant at The Flying Fish Hostel, closed—and then became Sinati in 2021, which closed and then became Bamboo’s Bar & Grill later that year, which also closed. Now it’s Palmitas.
I can only imagine what led the proprietors of these places to come to that difficult decision of closing up shop. My friend Iris Armogenia who owned and managed Café Alima actually seemed happier after the fact: “It was a weight off my shoulders,” she would later tell me. “Now I’m happier just doing my art and being a painter.”
In the middle of 2021, feeling the pinch of a pandemic that did not seem to end, a group of local chefs and restaurateurs, led by Adamo’s Edison Monte de Ramos Manuel, formed a collective called Dug-ab, which tried to foster culinary events hoping to jumpstart the food scene once again. The hope was to reassure Dumagueteños that great food could still be had. And that their continued patronage was essential.
In the meantime, our collective seclusion for quarantine purposes began to lead to other things. Perhaps we could not stay idle for much too long, and so many of us found ourselves becoming plantitos and plantitas, among other things. Many of us also started cooking and baking—and then selling what we had in the relative safety of our front yards and sidewalks. Fruit and vegetable stands began sprouting all over Dumaguete—and satellite markets even began to flourish.
This is my explanation for the almost paradoxical renaissance of culinary culture in Dumaguete. We turned to cooking and baking to pass the relentless march of idle time, and finding out that we can actually monetize this newly-found passion probably led to this boomlet of food places. Plus, this is a given: people will always be hungry, and people will always want to eat, even, and especially during, a pandemic.
The new restaurants and cafes and pop-ups that we have now do cater to a wide variety of tastes and culinary preferences—and most of them seem to have no lack for patrons. Every Sunday, for example, we’ve been attempting for the past two years to try out every new eating place that has opened, and as of writing we have not yet come to the end of our list. It feels almost like an impossibility, running out of new places to try. Not all of them have been good—I prefer not mentioning these places in articles like these—but many have become a pleasant surprise.
There are, of course, the high-end new restaurants like Beyond Plants, Sakura, Unknwn Kitchen, Arbour, the restaurants at The Henry Resort, and franchises like Pancake House, among others. But the food phenomenon I love is of the pop-up variety.
They’re mostly DIY operations, with humble kitchens and serving areas [some of them are food trucks!]—but what they lack in polish and brick-and-mortar presence they make up for in creative flair and incredible food that will leave you hungry for more.
You want chicken curry Indian-style? Go to The 3 Idiots [now serving you along Don Diego de la Viña Road in Daro].
You want sandwiches overladen with barbecued meat? Go to Pan-Q Dumaguete [now serving you along Hibbard Avenue in Tubod, plus a new branch along Escaño Drive].
You want meat and vegan smoked burgers? Go to Smokes [now serving you along Flores Avenue outside of Hayahay].
You want coffee after a morning run? Go to Joe’s Kapehan [serving you most mornings along Rizal Avenue].
There are so many, many more like them.
A few nights ago, we finally tried out Mang Kaloy Fried Rice and Tejeros Ice Cream House, both along Escaño Drive. They’re basically housed, side by side, in makeshift roadside bamboo-and-wood shacks, but I love the bohemian feel of both. Their down-to-earth looks are very much part of the appeal, and I was even scared that eventual success might lead the proprietors to seek sleeker venues—and loss that original charm. [This has happened many times before with a few Dumaguete restaurants and cafés. They upscaled, and subsequently lost their erstwhile loyal patrons. But let’s not mention names.]
We didn’t even plan to have dinner at Escaño. We were merely passing by for a brief OBT before heading home—but the shacks captured our attention, and we found ourselves parking by the seaside and joined the small throng that jostled for seats.
Mang Kaloy, which opened only last January 2022, which had initial success selling various kinds of homemade hot sauces—our favorite is the manggang kalabaw— parlayed all that into something else entirely: selling a whole gamut of fried rice specials on their menu.
Who doesn’t like fried rice and its immediate evocation of comfort?
What a concept, which intrigues all the more for its utmost simplicity. And as the core of a business, it’s a product that’s fast to do, can be offered on the cheap, and can readily be transformed to something else pricier with extra toppings and certain specials. Their basic offerings include plain fried rice, chicken fried rice, and pork fried rice. From that base, it’s easy to go crazy with toppings.
For our initial meal, we had the wok-fried rice of two varieties: pork and chicken—complete with two toppings: deep-fried pork belly and Taiwanese popcorn chicken. It was delicious, and takes me back to Saturdays in childhood when mother would take what was left of rice from preceding mealtimes and transform them into a concoction thinly sliced meat and aromatic spices.
What we had was the kind of filling that leaves one completely sated, and happy. It was comfort. It was escape from all the troubles in the world—a temporary one, of course, but I’m here for it. If food is an answer to our contentious times, wok-fried rice gets star billing.
For dessert, we went next door to Tejeros. They opened their stand only last September 2021, although they’ve been selling ice cream on an order-only basis for the past ten years. We had their regular fare of sugar cones generously laden with mango and vanilla-with-chocolate-chips ice cream. A perfect ender to our fried rice dinner.
I love culinary delights, and I love discovering them. I hope though that these places last, and that they don’t change. At least not by much. They’ve given us much joy during the pandemic, and I’d like to see them bustling still in the post-pandemic future.
3:25 PM |
How the Pandemic Made Me Seek Help for My Mental Health
I was inspired by Danielle Gaston who made a video a few days ago [for her YouTube channel] about her coming to terms with her mental health. And since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it's important to join the conversation because one big challenge is overcoming the stigma surrounding it. So here is me being candid about things, hoping to encourage those who need it to seek help.
It has been a few weeks since the last episode of Julia [the TV show about television chef and author Julia Child] aired. But this line, from her husband Paul, has stayed with me. It's from the last episode where we see Julia going through a great existential crisis triggered by an ungracious comment by Betty Friedan. I can’t get Paul's line out of my head, and I’ve even shared it with my s.o. since as my new battlecry.
Sometimes we get distracted from the valuable work that we do because of flippant remarks we get, especially from unlikely sources. Sometimes there is an urge to just give up, perhaps in a bid for self-preservation. But no longer. I feel a change in me that is angrier but also more resolute. And to all these new, fantastic opportunities I used to shy away from? I say yes to all that. It will be a life.
1:00 PM |
A Bibliography of Martial Law Literature in the Philippines [With Links]
GRAPHIC BY RAPPLER
I first compiled this list in 2016 to help counter the notion put forth by Duterte that “there were no books or films about the Martial Law.” Exactly six years later [sigh], I’ve decided to update this — complete with [legitimate] links to most of the books, films, and music listed. In doing this though, I’ve discovered this sad truth: most of the items here are  out of print,  hard to find [even the movies!], and  being sold at sometimes extravagant prices by third-party sellers, no wonder we’re not helping in countering the disinformation. Even the most avid researcher will find it hard to get their hands on these. There’s also not a lot that would be considered “pop literature,” pang-masa. This is a challenge for authors, publishers, and distributors.
All items arranged alphabetically according to authors’ surnames. All links lead to legitimate publishers’ and/or retailers’ sites. If I have missed out on a title, please email me at email@example.com.
Why Cage Pigeons?by Mila Aguilar
“Liham sa Kaarawan ni Pinang” by Tomas F. Agulto
“Doktrinang Anakpawis” by Rio Alma
“The Bells Count in Our Blood” by Merlie Alunan Hagkis ng Talahibby Lamberto Antonio
“Dead Weight: In Memoriam” by Cirilo Bautista
“For Emmanuel” by Luis Cabalquinto
“Young Rebels” by Luis Cabalquinto
“Etiopia Idiay Negros, Ngem Saan a Negros Iti Etiopia” by Peter La. Julian
“Pagdiriwang” by Emmanuel Lacaba
“The People’s Warrior” by Emmanuel Lacaba
“An Open Letter to Filipino Artists” by Emmanuel Lacaba
[Note: Emmanuel Lacaba’s poems are collected in Salvaged Poems]
“Prometheus Unbound” by Pete Lacaba [as Ruben Cuevas]
“Santong Paspasan” by Pete Lacaba
[Note: Pete Lacaba’s poems are collected in Mga Kagilagilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran]
“Paglilimi ng Isang Empleyado sa Gobyerno” by Loreta M. Medina Clearing: Poems of People’s Struggles in Northern Luzonby Jason Montana
“Brave Woman” by Grace R. Monte de Ramos
“Paghiwagas sa Bilangoan” by Don Pagusara
“Kuwarenta” by Benjamin Pimentel
“The Story I Would Have Wanted to Tell You Had I Met You Yesterday” by Lina Sagaral Reyes
“A Survivor Talks to Her Ghost-Husband” by Lina Sagaral Reyes
“Sister Home for the Weekend” by Patria Rivera Versus: Philippine Protest Poetry, 1983–1986edited by Alfrredo Navarro Salanga [Note: poems from this anthology are not listed here]
“Tumatayog, Lumalawak ang mga Bilding at Resort” by Romulo Sandoval
“Sa Ala-ala ni Sister Bernard Tahimik na Tagapaglingkod ng mga Detenidong Pulitikal” by Isagani R. Serrano
“List(ing) Poem: Towards the New Filipino Society” by Eileen Tabios
“My City of Baguio” by Eileen Tabios
“The Rebel’s Son” by Eileen Tabios
“What Can A Daughter Say?” by Eileen Tabios
“Daluyong sa llaya” by Efren Abueg
“The Red Wagon” by Estrella D. Alfon
“In the Country” by Mia Alvar
“A Tall Woman from Leyte” by Gina Apostol
“A Tale of Two Diaries” by Cesar Ruiz Aquino
“A Taste for the Fine Whiskey of the Bourgeoisie” by Gregorio Brillantes
“You Got It All” by Ian Rosales Casocot
“Mga Lamat sa Moog” by Danilo A. Consumido
“Amnesty” by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr.
“In the Garden” by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. Bukal ng Tubig at Apoyby Levy Balgos dela Cruz
“Paalam sa Buwan” by Levy Balgos dela Cruz
“A Theory of Relatives” by Daryll Jane Delgado
“Fallout” by Maria L.M. Fres-Felix
“Mading and Pepito” by Allen Gaborro
“Alamat ng Sapang Bato” by Fanny A. Garcia
“Red Roses for Rebo” by Amadís Ma. Guerrero
“Sino Man Sa Atin: Kwentong-Kambal ng Magkahilerang Kamalayan” by Chi Balmaceda Gutierrez
“Ang Pagdating ni Elias Plaridel” by Ave Perez Jacob
“Dugo sa Kanyang Pagsilang” by Domingo S. Landico
“Kabilang sa mga Nawawala” by Ricky Lee
“Si Tatang, Si Tandang Senyong, Si Freddie at Iba Pang Tauhan ng Aking Kuwento” by Ricky Lee
“Tipaklong, Tipaklong, Bakit Bulkang Sumabog ang Dibdib ni Quintin Balajadia?” by Alfonso S. Mendoza
“Sulat Mula sa Pritil” by Norma O. Miraflor
“A Sickness in the Towns” by Resil B. Mojares
“Isang Araw sa Buhay ni Juan Lazaro” by Jose Rey Munsayac
“Back of the March” by Denis Murphy
“The Execution” by Charlson Ong
“Syeyring” by Jun Cruz Reyes
“Utos ng Hari” by Jun Cruz Reyes
“Langit-Langitang Kumunoy” by Victor Antonio Reyes
“At The School Gate” by Sandra Nicole Roldan
“The Safe House” by Sandra Nicole Roldan Bitter Country and Other Storiesby Ninotchka Rosca
“Generations” by Ninotchka Rosca
“The Southern Seas” by Ninotchka Rosca
“Insurrecto” by Joel Pablo Salud
“Good Intentions 101: SY ‘72-‘73” by Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
“Negros” by Eileen R. Tabios
“Force Majeure” by Eileen Tabios
“The Man in a White Suit” by Eileen Tabios
“Pork” by Eileen Tabios
“Redeeming Memory” by Eileen Tabios
“The Bridge” by Yvette Tan
“Maria, Ang Iyong Anak” by Wilfredo Pa. Virtucio
“Ang Suhito” by Januar Yap
Bonsai by Reuel Molina Aguila
Ligalig by Reuel Molina Aguila
Maliw by Reuel Molina Aguila
Satirika by Reuel Molina Aguila
Esprit de Corps by Auraeus Solito
So Sanggibo A Ranon Na Piyatay O Satiman A Tadman by Rogelio Braga
Here Lies Love by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim
Pambansang Bayan by Bon Ilagan
Ang Panunuluyan ng Birheng Maria at San Jose Sa Cubao, Ayala, Plazamiranda Atbp., Sa Loob at Labas ng Metro Manila by Alan Glinoga, Al Santos, and Rody Vera
Anatomiya ng Korupsyon by Malou Leviste Jacob
Juan Tamban by Malou Leviste Jacob
Macli-ing by Malou Leviste Jacob
Isang Makabagong Pantomina Sa Tawi-Tawi, Cotabato At Iba Pang Pulo by Anton Juan Jr.
Ang Kagila-Gilalas Na Pakikipagsapalaran Ni Juan De La Cruz by Emmanuel Lacaba
Ang Panahon ni Cristy by Ed Maranan
Buwan at Baril in Eb Major by Chris Millado
Batang PRO by Bienvenido Noriega Jr.
Bongbong at Kris by Bienvenido Noriega Jr.
Sinalimba by Don Pagusara and Fe Remotigue
Bombita by Tony Perez
Isang Araw sa Karnabal by Nicolas Pichay
Alipato by Nonilon Queaño
Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko by Al Santos
Oratoryo Ng Bayan (People’s Oratorio) by Rody Vera and Allan Glinoga
Burles by Rene O. Villanueva
Kaaway sa Sulod by Rene O. Villanueva
May Isang Sundalo by Rene O. Villanueva
Sigwa by Rene O. Villanueva
Kaaway sa Sulod by Rene O. Villanueva and Rolando S. de la Cruz
Only now am I recognizing the value of rest. I make myself take Mondays and Tuesdays off; they’re my weekends now since I know my Saturdays and Sundays are filled to the brim with people and activities. This means devoting myself to seclusion, to being totally by myself, enough to sustain the easily bruised introvert within. Usually by Wednesday, I find myself with renewed energy, with plenty of ideas brewing. Given how I throw myself like a maniac on projects, I was recently and terribly burnt out by a decade of nonstop work — no sabbatical! — exacerbated by the wildness of the pandemic. I didn’t believe in rest, pre-pandemic. Now I know that the only way to be more productive, and to be more helpful to other people, is to find ways to help oneself first and foremost. [This also means learning to be blunt about expectations, but that’s another story.]
Many of us were complicit, perhaps without our knowing it, in the grand project of perfuming the reputation of the Marcoses after they were allowed to come back to the country. They played the long game, insinuating themselves into the public's consciousness, slowly crafting a story of redemption that would have eventual fruition years and years later. What a fantastic gameplan, and we were hoodwinked!
Case in point: this 23 April 2003 issue of Flip Magazine, a publication edited by novelist Jessica Zafra. This was 19 years ago, around the time [according to a report by The Washington Post] that the Marcoses laid the grand plan on how they could stage a comeback, which would involve winning the hearts and souls of Filipinos through media, and revising history in the process.
Adam David shared this photo on Instagram yesterday. In that same post, Jessica gave this response: “That was a mistake. We thought we could do profiles of people who by all rights should be tearing each other’s throats out, but were actually cordial [at least in public] and were all in Congress at the same time, sometimes on the same side of an issue. If you read Roby Alampay’s interview with Imee Marcos you will see that it is a real interview in which he asks her questions which society magazines do not touch. About the time her mother’s plane had left Rome airport and she had it turn around because she forgot to buy cheese. (She confirmed it). And her mother’s shopping sprees and enormous entourage. (So cool, she said.) Her human rights cases, the abuses of power. She answered everything. The piece is heavy on irony, and she knew it and participated anyway. The funny haha cover is a terrible mistake. As editor my mistake was in treating her like a regular human being. Lourd de Veyra did the interview with Satur Ocampo. I did the interview with my former publisher and mentor, who at the time was closer to me than my parents. I ended our friendship in 2016, in the last column I ever wrote. Flip Magazine died shortly afterwards, not that it’s any consolation.”
The soft onslaught continued over the years, with all kinds of magazines and TV shows featuring many “gilded age stories [of the] Marcoses,” as CNN Philippines’ Don Jaucian observed. We swooned over Borgy Manotoc as a heartthrob. We marveled at Imee’s Philippine Tatler cover. We giggled over Imelda’s cameo in the film Mariquina. We were subconsciously taught to “move on” when Kris Aquino interviewed Bongbong on TV in 1995 — because if Kris could move on, why couldn’t we? Most. Likely. All. Part. Of. The. Game. Plan. We allowed this for almost 20 years or even more, thinking it was all harmless. Now it has bitten us in the ass: we learn too late that soft power is tremendous power — and lifestyle sections of newspapers are never not political. Their ruthless effectiveness lies in the sheen of their being seemingly benign. The Marcoses already knew this at the height of their powers in the two decades of their rule — they used the arts to perfume their stench, and even until now we have apologists who use these totems of cultural patronage as signs of a “golden age.”
Jessica Zafra’s admission — that her mistake was in treating [a member of the Marcos family] “like a regular human being” — is telling. This, I think, was the heart of the gameplan. To turn their story around as the poster children of massive thievery [according to the Guinness Book of World Records] to that of being regular human beings, just like you and me, who also hurt, who also make mistakes, and who implore you to not treat them like the shadows of their ancestors. [Bongbong’s recent words.] But they are not regular human beings. They have billions [of our money] at their disposal to finance a long game to hoodwink us. The redemption story they want you to buy has been cleverly baked for you, with all of our help [knowingly or unknowingly] — and you ate it up.
Many of us are so ready to blame the masa for being “bobo” for voting the way they did this year. But, as Biboy S. Hernandez would like to remind us, the elites were the first to welcome them home, and the middle class fawned all over them. It’s so easy to be complicit pala, we realize too late.
If there is anything about the pandemic I've come to "love," it is the fact that it has made Dumaguete a veritable food hub. I'm simply astonished by the rapid growth of the food scene here, with restaurants, cafes, patisseries, and pop-ups suddenly appearing out of the blue, most of them flourishing in what should be very challenging times. They cater to a wide variety of taste and culinary preferences — and most of them seem to have no lack for patrons. Every Sunday, we've been attempting for the past two years to try every new eating place, and until now we have not yet come to the end of our list. There are, of course, the high-end new restaurants like Beyond Plants, Unknwn Kitchen, Arbour, and the restaurants in The Henry Resort, among others — but the food phenomenon I love here is of the pop-up variety. They're mostly DIY operations, with humble kitchens and serving areas [some of them are food trucks!] -- but what they lack in polish and brick-and-mortar presence they make up in creative flair and incredible food that will leave you hungry for more. You want chicken curry Indian-style? Go to The 3 Idiots. You want sandwiches overladen with barbecued meat? Go to Pan-Q Dumaguete. You want meat and vegan smoked burgers? Go to Smokes. You want coffee after a morning run? Go to Joe’s Kapehan. There are so many, many more like them.
Tonight, we tried out Mang Kaloy Fried Rice and Tejeros Ice Cream House, both along Escaño Drive. They're basically housed in roadside bamboo-and-wood shacks, but I love the bohemian feel of both. Their down-to-earth looks are part of the appeal. For dinner, we went to Mang Kaloy [which opened January 2022] where we had the wok-fried rice of two varieties: pork and chicken — with two toppings: deep-fried pork belly and Taiwanese popcorn chicken. It was delicious: the kind of filling that leaves you sated. For dessert, we went next door to Tejeros [which opened September 2021 — although they've been selling ice cream on an order-only basis for the past ten years] where we had their regular fare of sugar cones generously laden with mango and vanilla-with-chocolate-chips ice cream.
It has been a night of such culinary delight. I hope these places last, and don't change. They've given us much joy during the pandemic, and I'd like to see them bustling still in the post-pandemic future.
The wok-fried rice plus toppings at Mang Kaloy's Fried Rice.
Mang Kaloy at the wok.
Getting the ice cream ready at Tejeros Ice Cream House.
Dumaguete feels like a town wallowing in dread. Or if not that, a city with no one smiling. There is a heaviness in the air I cannot begin to describe. No proverbial dancing in the streets the way it had been in 2016 — even when my heart broke then, I knew many people were happy. Everywhere I go, I get stopped by friends and acquaintances who tell me they’re sad. I thought I was projecting, and paid no mind — but even my friend the visual artist Hersley-Ven Casero, who has been by choice apolitical, captured this feeling today. Hersley is the one person I know who has an intuitive connection to the air, to the spirits that engulf us. He is currently traveling, and at the Dumaguete airport, he posted something on his FB: “Mao ni first time namu mo-travel karon by plane since last time sa pre-pandemic… Naa gyud kausbanan. Mingaw og lahi kaayo ang feeling. Di pa nako masabtan ang akong gibati. Pero, basun moabot ra ang adlaw nga mahibal-an na nako unsaon pagdescribe sa feeling. Basta mura’g mingaw sya.”
It’s despair. It’s probably collective dread. It’s probably buyer’s remorse for those who suddenly realised what their vote has done.
“Maanad ra nya ko ani…,” Hersley finally added. I agree with him. We will get used to smelling the stillborn air, but I know I will resist till I and everyone else can smell the fresh air of good governance.
There are only temporary bandaids for the grief we feel.
But I made myself believe I’d be okay regardless of how the election turned out. What mattered most, I told myself in that lofty tone of taking the high road, was taking a stand and being in the right side of history.
I did not worry. I woke up early on Election Day, and by 5:30 AM, I was on my way to Amador Dagudag Elementary School to cast my vote, hoping to beat the crowd by coming early. True enough, the school was only beginning to stir. And when I found my precinct—after temporarily being befuddled by the new cluster system COMELEC apparently just enforced—I found myself being the fifth in line to vote. The classroom was small, the chair I was made to sit in even smaller. It was a discomfort I was more than willing to take in, all for the sacred right of doing my civic duty. With the marking pen in hand, I stared at my ballot with trepidation.
For the first time in all my years of voting, I actually prayed. This was how crucial I felt this election was about. It was a fight for the fate of a beloved nation. And at the back of my head, a shrill alarm sounded: I could not take six more years of the same. That will be a total of twelve years. I cannot have more than a decade of commiseration—I simply cannot do it again.
I had never shaded a ballot so carefully in my life. Every circle was like a fragile thing.
When the machine finally accepted my ballot, and when I finally checked my receipt—the moment felt like a triumph. Before exiting, I asked the teachers on duty: “You know about Amador Dagudag, the man your school is named after, right?”
I told them that Amador ‘Amading’ Delfin Dagudag was a public school teacher and hero. He was born in 1922 in Pontevedra, Capiz, but later moved to Dumaguete, graduated in 1949 from Silliman University, and eventually became a science teacher. He died at the age of 45, and is known for his heroic act in protecting the ballots during the 1967 Senate election, which claimed his life. Lo-oc Elementary School, established in 1927, which was later called East City Elementary School, was renamed the Amador Dagudag Memorial Elementary School in 1969 in his honor.
“In the name of Amador Dagudad, thank you for your service this election season,” I said.
I hoped that made them feel at least heroic.
But I was happy to be done with voting in less than 10 minutes.
Later on, as I exited the school, I felt the first instance of panic setting in: I surrendered my voting receipt to a cardboard receptacle. That seemed weird. Didn’t we always drop our ballot receipts into metallic boxes with padlocks? This felt like an anomaly. Later on, I was assured by friends that it was perfectly fine. [In hindsight, was it?]
After a post-voting breakfast that Monday morning, I made my way home to catch up on lost sleep—and woke up in the late afternoon to panic on social media. Slowly, the anxiety dug deep, and even if I purposefully logged out of social media to stem the incoming grief, the need to know was stronger. I kept logging on and logging off Twitter and Facebook. It felt like digging one's own grave.
What was it that made this election season extra painful?
The return of Sauron, most of all.
Also perhaps the knowledge that so many young people, most of them first time voters, have had their hearts so thoroughly broken yesterday. Will they still believe in democratic elections when the system is so corrupted and rigged, there was no contest at all right from the very start? Will they be so disheartened they will contribute to the brain drain—all these brilliant young people opting to leave the country instead? I don’t know.
I felt especially hopeless in my nth realization that what seems to matter most is not competence or brilliance or hard work. People will chose a Robin Padilla over a Chel Diokno. So what’s the use of all our efforts to be good, to be competent, to be educated when apparently these are no longer valued by the community at large?
And then there was the sense of personal failure. When I was a literature teacher, I taught Martial Law literature as my contribution to the rising historical revisionism I knew was going on even in college. I feel like I did not succeed in the long run, I feel inutile.
That Dumaguete turned red this time around felt especially galling: I felt like an alien in my own hometown. The disappointment ran deep. When bedtime came, I found myself unable to sleep. I kept tossing and turning for hours on end, until my body exhausted itself from the anxiety. It didn’t help that the last two things I saw on socmed were the following: a glib post by someone urging everyone to add each other as friends in Facebook again, and a tone-deaf post by a local artist who posted something to the tune of X’ing the faces of every Presidential bet and declaring them not to be the answers—that “only Jesus Christ was the answer.” It annoyed me so much, I wanted to say: “You’re not helping, girl. Let people grieve. This is not how you win people over to your faith.”
I made my decision: my resistance will be both subtle and creative. I’m going to accept novelist Charlson Ong’s challenge: “The best resistance is work. Write our books. Make our movies. Help all those we can in times ahead. Don’t lose heart. Don’t be bitter. Work our butts off. Get out of our comfort zones. Do the darn best work of our lives in the next years.”
I woke up late today.
I made my body decide when it was the appropriate time to get up and face a world that feels hostile. My S.O. decided to cheer me up by taking me to a late lunch at Qyosko; then dropping by to see two new exhibits at Shelter Gallery and at Cafe Memento Gallery; and ending the day with early dinner at Himawari, where we commiserated over gyoza, gyudon, yakitori, and mochi ice cream.
Art and food. These were my bandaids. What were yours?
Our biggest failure of the past three decades has been complacency. After we make the country pink tomorrow, let’s make sure we’re going to rectify the silence and the idleness we resorted to for years, simply because we thought no one could possibly forget the evils of the Marcos regime. All along, without our knowing, they laid the extensivee groundwork that has made people susceptible to historical revisionism.
Let’s take a closer look at our school curricula, our history books, our teachers. Let’s make good and interesting movies and TV shows about the Martial Law. [Eto dapat!] Let’s remake the TV newsroom and strip it of its entertainment “Marc Logan” mould, and make the news matter again. [All stations are required by law to have news anyway if they want to be granted a franchise. They don’t have to be patently commercial.] Let’s write more books and more comics. Let’s amp up our YouTube and TikTok creations. And let’s take the newest platform that will come and make sure they are not inundated by Marcos propaganda.
What is toxic privilege? It’s thinking that because nothing bad happened to you, nothing bad happened at all — and then refusing to listen or to believe people who tell you the otherwise. It’s robbing people of their own story by your flippant denial of it. [“That didn’t happen at all.” “Yes, but...”] That “but” is the gateway to small evils. It’s gaslighting, it's historical revisionism at its minimum level.
I was terrorised once by a former close friend in 2010, which sent me on a spiral of depression that actually made me go seek legal advise for the first time in my life. [Hi, Myrish! Remember this?] When I told a common friend of my plight, she dismissed what I was saying by telling me: “There are many sides to every story.” That hurt, to be honest. To be disbelieved is awful. UNTIL. Until she herself was terrorised by that former friend, to the point of her landing in really bad legal trouble.
Moral of the story: be careful what you dismiss; it might happen to you.
My family lost everything because of Marcos—our house, our car, our lives.
This was in the mid-1970s, right around the time I was born—and because I was a newborn at the time the New Society was being touted as the “saving grace” to a troubled country and because I only stumbled on this information in my adult years, I was never able to ask the proper probing questions, until now.
My father and mother in Hacienda Roca, Bayawan in 1971.
No one in my family ever talked about it either, except in broad strokes that told a simple story of lost fortune: that once we had an extensive sugar plantation in the rich farmlands of Bayawan with the opulent lifestyle [and a vast circle of friends] that went with it, and then we lost it all. No one mentioned Marcos, and I attributed the story to quirks of fate. Bad things happen to good people.
We did not talk about the origins of our reduced circumstances, perhaps out of shame. I, on the other hand, would have been the one person in the family to ask the terrible questions for the sake of writing—but I simply did not know.
What could not be denied, however, was the state my family was in those later years in the 1970s, and especially more so throughout the trying decade of the 1980s. I did not feel much the hardship because I was too young to notice anything beyond the regular hunger pangs I felt—but I know now that my older brothers, all five of them, must have. They bore the brunt of my family’s sudden poverty because they were aware firsthand of what they’d lost. When I’d go through old photos in family albums, I see them enjoying lavish birthday parties. My brothers in those photos had birthday cakes and birthday candles, always surrounded by an assortment of people I didn’t recognize hogging tables laden with abundant feasts. I never had a birthday party—but I honestly didn’t know what I was missing until my 30th birthday when friends surprised me with a birthday cake, and only then did I realize I had never blown a birthday candle my entire life.
My brother Dennis enjoying his second birthday in 1969.
We were very poor, we could barely eat three square meals a day. Things became so hard that when the family was finally forced to sell off our Bayawan house and our car [a yellow Sakbayan] to avoid the stigma of foreclosure, the only recourse was for the family to move to Dumaguete City in 1980. This was when the financial crunch was finally tightening around the illusion of Marcos’ New Society.
We lived like nomads in that decade, moving from one house to the next in search of cheap rent. This is what I remember most from my childhood—all the houses we stayed in, from a small compound at the Capitol Area to a wooden house with many rooms in Calle Sta. Rosa, from an upstairs apartment overlooking Holy Cross High School to a secluded one in an alley off Silliman Avenue, from various apartments in Bantayan to a virtual zaguan of a rickety old house in the bowels of Tubod.
My mother, who was once a society belle in her hometown of Bayawan in the flush years of the 1950s and 1960s, was reduced to a skeleton of a woman darkened by the sun as she went from house to house selling peanut butter she herself made—just to be able to feed us. She still kept in touch with many of her old friends, some of them still well-off, and most helped her out by buying her peanut butter. And when one of them would throw birthday parties, she’d take me along—her youngest child—just so I could have a proper meal. My mother still loves to tell this particular story from that time: that once, when I was 11 or 12, I was so hungry after not being able to eat the whole day that I woke her up in the middle of the night, urging her to pray with me, so that God would listen and give us food. A miracle came: the next day, an anonymous friend sent us a whole bag of groceries. Until now, that sautéed sardines my mother prepared remains the best meal in memory.
In the 1980s, my mother would take me around with her to attend friends’ birthday parties just so I could eat properly.
Our reprieve came with the usual story of many Filipino families. One of my brothers managed to work abroad just as the 1990s came along—and only then, with the remittances he sent the family, could we breathe properly again. I remember buying our first refrigerator. I remember buying our first TV. I remember buying our first Christmas tree. I remember our first car. I remember moving into our new house we didn’t have to rent anymore.
Where does Marcos come into the story?
* * *
“The personal is political,” so the old mantra goes. This truism is an honest accounting: our personal circumstances and experiences are rooted in, or invariably dictated by, the politics that surround us, especially in issues of inequality.
This was my prompt, and when I used this as the framework with which to see my family’s history, I stumbled into a rabbit’s hole. When I went deeper, I was confronted by facts that had not been readily told to me, not even by my family. The twist in my family’s personal history—our descent into indignity—came about because of the late dictator’s rape of Sugarlandia in the 1970s.
Here’s a bit of history.
Negros enjoyed decades of untold wealth because of one crop that grew abundantly on the island: sugarcane. All over the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, landed families controlled haciendas that produced sugar for export, particularly to the United States. You can still see remnants of this gilded age: the beautiful houses of Silay City and Bais City, even the famous “sugar houses” of Dumaguete, the small seaside mansions of Negrense landowners that line the Rizal Boulevard.
Families of more modest means—including mine—were also able to tap into this market with sizable landholdings devoted to the crop. Our plantation in Bayawan was named Hacienda Roca—after “Rosales Casocot”—and for many years, it sustained my family and catapulted it to the higher echelons of Bayawan society.
And then the United States ended its sugar quota in 1974, after which Ferdinand Marcos—only two years after declaring Martial Law in the country (and thus having the power of life and death over everyone, even rich hacenderos)—appointed cronies “to head a state-owned marketing and trading monopoly” of the sugar industry, writes Inday Espina-Varona for Licas News.
On paper, Marcos and his economic advisers argued that it was a necessary move, because “pervasive market failures were the root cause of the decline of the sugar industry”—this, according to a 2001 paper by Gerald Meier—and that in order to rescue the industry, “central coordination was crucial.” Marcos called for the government to replace the market “in order to stimulate the market development of the sugar industry.” He established the Philippine Sugar Commission or PHILSUCOM in 1976, as well as its trading subsidiary, the National Sugar Trading Corporation or NASUTRA, to do the job.
NASUTRA was given the sole power to buy and sell sugar, set prices paid to planters and millers, and purchase companies connected to the sugar industry. In May 1978, the Republic Planters Bank was established “to provide adequate and timely financing to the sugar industry.”
Except that this was all illusion, good only on paper: Marcos and his cronies never paid back the planters—including my family—for the sugar NASUTRA got from them. All the money went to the pockets of Marcos and his cronies.
Inday Espina-Varona further writes: “[Marcos and his cronies] robbed sugar planters, taking advantage of fluctuating global prices and drowning landowners in debt. That, coupled with centuries of irresponsible lifestyles and a feudal system that reserved land only for the rich, led to the collapse of the island’s economy.”
And then that financial disaster blew up into an even bigger one:
“On Negros’ vast plains, man—not nature—ushered in famine,” Inday Espina-Varona writes. “Almost 200,000 workers lost their jobs. Hacienda owners, facing bankruptcy, fled to the safety of cities, abandoning families that had served them for generations. Unemployed workers on paper enjoyed some social amelioration. Those who actually received this were the exception. Corrupt officials had siphoned off funds to personal coffers or to bankroll the extravagant habits of the dictator’s family. Farm labor flooded the cities to scrabble for work but there was little to be had.
“In trickles, and then streams of misery, children began arriving in hospitals with swollen bellies, stick limbs, and eyes that drooped or stared sightless from pain. Some were too weak to talk; many could not walk.”
Negros suddenly became known worldwide for its starving children. Some of you might still recall the 1980s campaign that screamed: “Feed the Hungry Children of Negros.” In the public grade school I attended in Dumaguete in the early 1980s—during the last years of the Marcos regime—I remember well what that entailed: being fed pospas every day during recess. I hated pospas.
The most infamous of these “hungry children of Negros” was a boy named Joel Abong whose skin-and-bone visage appeared “on the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazine,” writes Inday Espina-Varona, who covered the ill-fated child’s last days.
A photo taken on 4 May 1985 by Kim Komenich of young malnutrition victim Joel Abong, which has become iconic of the situation in Negros during the 1980s.
She notes: “Joel had pneumonia and tuberculosis. He was brought in with bones so brittle doctors had to wrap padding around his limbs. Joel’s body was the size of a baby. Stringy hair the yellow-brown of severe malnutrition lay limp on a head that seemed grotesquely big. A rattling sound accompanied every breath. His father was one of those who had fled the cane fields. On an island where people joked about shoveling money from the ground, Joel’s family had literally starved. My mother headed that hospital’s pediatric department. She came home every night in a silent rage. Some nights she could hardly eat; food was a reminder of her patients. Doctors couldn’t save Joel. He was not alone.”
By 1985, ten percent of Negros’ children were suffering third-degree malnutrition, according to Dr. Violeta Gonzaga of La Salle College in Bacolod.
* * *
So, is this the “golden age” people talk about when they crow about the Marcos years? Years of starving children? Years of financial mismanagement? Years of lining the coffers of cronies while whole industries suffered?
But the bigger question has got to be this: how come we don’t know many of these things?
How come I had to dig deeper to understand where my family’s misfortune came from?
How come these things are not taught in our history classes—so much so that historical revisionism threatens to overwhelm us all?
And lastly: how come people have come to ignore how Marcos virtually raped our localities, our provinces, our regions—and believe instead YouTube and TikTok videos about “the glory years” of the dictator’s grip on power?
That last one came to me when I was chatting with Frank Cimatu, a writer/friend and journalist based in Baguio. We were talking over Messenger about the person who heckled Jillian Robredo as she went about a Baguio market on a campaign for her mother’s presidential run.
“Hirap kasi sa Benguet,” Frank told me. “Anlakas ng [he who must not be named].”
That took me aback.
“Even with the Chico Dam controversy and the murder of Macli-ing Dulag?” I asked.
[Historical aside: In 1973, a year after Martial Law was declared, the Marcos regime proposed the Chico River Dam Project, a hydroelectric power generation project involving the Chico river system that encompassed the regions of Cordillera and Cagayan Valley—without consulting the lumads in the area. Locals, notably the Kalinga people, resisted fiercely because of the project’s threat to their residences, livelihood, and culture—and the project was soon after shelved in the 1980s after public outrage in the wake of the murder of opposition leader Macli-ing Dulag. It is now considered a landmark case study concerning ancestral domain issues in the Philippines.]
“Clueless,” Frank said. “Even Sagada is hati.”
I thought back to what Marcos did to Negros in the 1970s—and I blinked from the sheer exhaustion I felt after realizing that even people from a land that has been raped [or threatened with it, as was the case of the Cordilleras] could still be so enamored by the son of that rapist, someone who insists to this day that no rape ever happened.
* * *
I doubt my mother—who is now 89 years old—still chases fanciful dreams of a return to the old splendor she enjoyed in Bayawan in the gilded age. I know she has come to a place of peace, having come to a reckoning with that past and the immediate catastrophe that followed it that saw her destitute and that saw her struggle so hard to feed her family [although she still managed to put through six sons studying at the very expensive Silliman University]. The hardship ultimately strengthened her, and for that she is grateful.
 An unexpected turning point in a beloved's life.
 Lowkey anxiety to start the day with.
 A book signing event for a local memoirist who wrote about life during the Martial Law -- and I found myself voicing out at length and with unexpected passion about Marcos, politics, and historical revisionism. This was the first time I've ever done this, off the cuff.
 A letter from an old classmate who has been going through a lot lately. She was diagnosed with being bipolar years ago, and is now the caregiver for an ailing parent. She asked me to write her a eulogy, while she was still alive and can read what others can say about her. She recently got out of a terrible depression, and she just wanted to know how she has mattered in the lives of others. She knew I have ADHD, and she thought I'd be one who could best understand where she was coming from. I read her request to my s.o. after dinner, and I unexpectedly burst into tears. Mental health struggles are an invisible wound, and I realize that sometimes we just want to be seen.