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

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Saturday, December 31, 2022

entry arrow7:49 AM | Rizal Day Speaker

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Friday, December 30, 2022

entry arrow7:42 AM | Unmoored

I have been at a loss the past few days, not just with the weight of holiday stress but also the specter of another year that remains unclear, unmoored. Then there's also the sad reality of a family member being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer — and suddenly our world is off-kilter, disjointed. It’s giving me so much anxiety. I cannot deal.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 115.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Saturday, December 17, 2022

entry arrow4:38 PM | Rebuilding

I've been spending the last few days copying old files to the new laptop, as well as to my backup hard drive. This also means properly organizing things, and all these have taken a while. I'm not even done yet; copying files takes time, and can be tedious. [And yesterday, I went back to the service center because some files I needed were not properly saved. They still have my old laptop on hold, at least for week, just so I can do this transition properly.] Still, it's a problem I'd rather have than not having my old files at all. But what I always forget about migrating to new gadgets is the slow rebuilding you have to do, which includes seeking out the old and reliable apps you've been using all these years to be able to do the old work routines. But I'll get there. Slowly, but surely.

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entry arrow4:23 PM | Technology Paralysis

The trip was one for the books for me. It was going to be my first extensive trip out of Dumaguete since the pandemic started, and immediately it felt ambitious: there was a first leg consisting of a Cebu stay, and there was a second leg consisting of a Manila sojourn. At the start of 2020, while news of the pandemic was still mostly scattered whisperings and cautious headlines about goings-on in China we knew almost nothing about, we were in Manila for a friend’s wedding in January and stayed for a few days to visit friends and to go around taking in the capital before 2020 rolled along. I had no idea it would be my last significant trip before finding myself homebound for three years straight.

And then to suddenly end 2022—three years later—with a Cebu/Manila trip?

The idea felt surreal even while I was purchasing my boat and plane tickets and making accommodation arrangements—things I no longer quite knew how to do. The anxiety was real. And only because of that mental state did I choose to push through with the trip, because I knew it was a mental obstacle I had to confront sooner or later. I needed to see for myself that travel was finally okay, that I was all right, that I could deal with these things once more, like relearning how to ride a bike.

It was a necessary trip to take, and something that was in my alley in my work as a creative writer. The Cebu trip was for attendance at the latest iteration of the Cebu Literary Festival, its first live edition after a long pandemic absence, and where I was supposed to panel a talk on literary publishing. The Manila trip was to be present at the Palanca Awards, where I had won a prize, with that awards body’s major comeback, also after a long pandemic absence. Both felt necessary—and I knew I had to leave the relative comforts of Dumaguete to be in both.

But this essay is not about those trips. The preceding section is mere backdrop for the little drama I found myself in the day I arrived in Cebu. I had taken the midnight ferry trip from Dumaguete, which I preferred over the land trip or plane options. [I like going to sleep rocked by the sea, to wake up to Cebu City in the full morning light.] My friend Hendri Go, founder of Cebu LitFest, fetched me at the pier, and took me for breakfast at home before taking me to my hotel, and then to Ayala where the festival was being held. I left Dumaguete mindful of things I had yet to scratch off my to-do list. I had a column to prepare, and three articles to write to round off my ongoing series on Dumaguete art. I had to do my weekly social media posts for City Tourism, and prepare for an upcoming book launch. I had to write a script for a Christmas program. And most importantly, I had to finish and send an important application [with all its attendant requirements] to a grant-giving body. In my mind, I saw myself doing all these things on my free time while I was in Cebu. I saw myself sitting in my usual spot at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Ayala, doing all of these things.

True enough, while waiting for my panel at the literary fest to happen, I found my spot in the coffee shop and got ready for the work ahead. I opened my MacBook Air, circa 2017 [a Christmas gift from my brother Rey]…

And it wouldn’t turn on.

Maybe I ran out of battery from the long boat trip, I thought.

I hurriedly plugged it in. And the red indicator light of my charger wouldn’t appear.

I pressed the power button for a long time, hoping for a miracle reboot.

Nothing happened.

I did not panic, but I felt an immense sadness come over me.

True, my laptop, which I named Ava [as in Ava Gardner], was already five years old. This was the average lifespan of most MacBooks when they start showing their age for real. This is especially true for laptops of heavy users like me. I knew there was no satisfying alterative for me: ever since I was introduced to the Mac, I’d been trapped in iOS, knowing full well that I could never go back to Windows ever again. Ava was my third MacBook, after my first, which I named Marilyn [as in Marilyn Monroe], and my second, Bette [as in Bette Davis].

My laptop is essentially a full extension of my existence. Because I write constantly, I am never far away from my laptop. Because I love movies and peak television like a completist freak, I am always on my laptop to catch up with being a cineaste. I go to sleep with YouTube on [it’s my necessary nocturnal sound to guarantee I sleep]. And when I wake up, it gives me my waking music via Spotify. People find me in my usual spots around Dumaguete always in front of my laptop, doing one thing or other.

These things are also true: in early 2018, I accidentally poured coffee on Ava, which was barely two months old. It survived that ordeal and worked just fine—except that I could no longer use my jacked-in headphones with it. [I turned to Bluetooth-powered headphones instead.] And then, around the beginning of 2022, Ava’s keys started dying one by one. First, the E. Then the S. Then the A. Then the Q and the Z, and so on and so forth. When the spacebar would not work, I started worrying for real—and bought myself a Bluetooth-powered keyboard to get around the inconvenience. I consulted a reputable third-party laptop repair shop, and the guy promised thorough repair for six thousand pesos.

“How long will the laptop be in the shop?” I asked.

He answered: “Give or take a week.”

It was the idea of not having a laptop for seven days that made me balk. I never went for the repair, opting to endure the inconveniences as much as I could. So when the return key no longer worked, I knew my laptop was on its last legs. My biggest apprehension was waking up one day to find the power key no longer working. Around this time, the battery was also dying. A full charge lasted no more than 30 minutes, and I found myself plugging on the computer continually while I worked.

It was also during this time when I somehow slowed down in my writing. It just was no longer joyful trying to write on a computer that was not cooperating fully. In retrospect, it did affect my writing process considerably—a sad, belated realization. I simply stopped writing.

So, when I opened Ava in that Cebu coffee shop at the beginning of my trip and she wouldn’t turn on, I sighed. This was it, I thought. And it wasn’t like I had the funds to just go to the nearest iStore in Ayala and buy myself a new unit. I spied a customer coming into the coffee shop with a white iStore shopping bag—and I felt suddenly envious.

I did not panic, but I worried: I fretted about the work that I couldn’t do. And most of all, I fretted about the files I could lose. Here’s a confession: even when Ava was tottering on her last functional legs, I somehow did not backup my files, even though I had an external hard drive just for that purpose at my disposal, plus the options of syncing important files into my Box account, or even iCloud. Don’t ask me why. I myself have no idea.

What could I possibly lose? All my work files, and above all, all my un-backed-up current writings. A COVID memoir I was finishing for a major university publisher. A short story collection I’d been working on for more than ten years—or at least the two newest stories I was hoping to add to it. A literary history of Negros Oriental. An autobiography using cinema as a lens.

I spent the rest of my Cebu trip sans a working laptop. And then the urgency hit: I had to send in an application for a grant, and the deadline was approaching fast! The application consisted of a compilation that required extensive use of a word processor and a PDF editor—things I could easily do with a laptop. But when there’s a will, there’s a way. I went back to my hotel early on my second night in Cebu—and endeavored to finish that application using the powers of my iPhone. What would have taken me two hours to finish ended up taking seven hours! But at least I was able to do it, somehow. I slept at 5 AM in my hotel room—tired but feeling proud that I was able to send the application in against all odds, using whatever apps I could find online through my iPhone.

In my Manila hotel, I’d try to turn on Ava once in a while, hoping for a miracle—to no avail. I came home to Dumaguete a full week later without a working computer, behind on my work and obligations, but happy that my iPhone proved to be a savior. At least it had my plane tickets on it! And I had access to my Gmail! And I navigated my trip mostly with the apps I suddenly found myself relying on! This is a huge deal for me, a long-time cellphone agnostic. I had never found use for my old cellphone for years and years, to the point that people knew never to call or text me. I finally lost that ancient phone during a documentary shoot early this year, and it took me a few months to be convinced to get myself a new iPhone. I reluctantly did so—but in retrospect, I was glad I did that! I would not have survived my latest ordeal without that new phone.

I bought a new MacBook Air soon after—and no regrets. I knew I had to make this purchase even though I could barely afford this. I told myself this was not a luxury buy, but a necessity buy. Mahaaaaal kaayo, but the obverse is not being able to function and fulfill my obligations. Gi-credit card na lang nako, because obligations and opportunities simply don’t wait. So now I am writing this essay on the new laptop—and I must admit, I love the ease of churning out words on this unproblematic keyboard.

The whole ordeal of course made me realize how deeply connected my life was [and is] to laptop-technology, which is not ideal. But most of us are prisoners to our tools.

And now, I’m going to take this fact of having a new laptop, which I have named Constance [as in Constance Bennett], as incentive to restart with a clean slate. To paraphrase my dear friend, the Dumaguete artist Kristoffer Ardeña, when he had to restart his life in Bacolod a few years ago after an unworthy exile from Dumaguete: “I’m going to work my ass off with my art,” and with this new device.

So there. Hello, Constance.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Thursday, December 08, 2022

entry arrow7:35 PM | "Publish"

This is the last shot of Maria Schrader’s She Said [2022], the new film detailing the New York Times’ efforts to write the story of Harvey Weinstein’s years-long sexual misconduct towards a variety of women — a groundbreaking journalistic effort that ignited a social movement, and led to many reforms in the workplace. This last shot gave me goosebumps: a simple close-up of a cursor hovering over a computer monitor and about to press the “publish” button. It’s powerful, and its towering significance is in its symbolism, which has resonance: that simple act of pushing the button is the grand finality of all that takes place before in this film [and in the real-life reporting of journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor]. Trying to get all the facts right. Trying to convince all the women to put their accounts on record despite fears of a massive backlash from a very powerful figure. Trying to navigate the messy background investigation of someone who has all the powers [legal, financial, etc.] at his disposal to discredit everything that is reported. But dogged determination by two investigative reporters somehow made what seemed impossible possible.

I love this film. And I find the muted response to this by both critics and audiences alike to be ... well, cowardly. So I boo everyone who gives this film less than 4 stars — that centrist tendency [not wanting to appear over-enthusiastic over a polemical film with clear leftist/humanist agenda] is one of the things that this film wants to fight. [Carey Mulligans Megan Twohey says something like, “I’m afraid we won’t be believed,” or something to that effect. And she’s right! Mulligan is perfect, by the way. ] It’s a solid film, comparable to All the President’s Men, Spotlight, and The Post, but does its brand of cinematic journalism its own way. That it actually features some of the real actresses [Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow] behind the story is also a plus.

I wish we had this kind of bravery in local journalism. But we are too afraid to confront power, especially when it’s deep and murderous. I too am complicit in that.

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entry arrow2:44 PM | What Makes ‘Hugkat’

When Hugkat Journal was conceived sometime in 2017 as one of the flagship projects of the newly formed Dumaguete City Heritage Council, with Dr. Earl Jude Cleope as the founding director, it had always impressed me as being almost a sacred duty. Let me try to explain it this way. Every city (or town for that matter) that people consider to be truly memorable springs from an ideal: the place is culturally grounded and aware of its history, so much so that it is able to create an entire creative industry around that sense of history and culture, and at the same time able to give its population a prideful sense of place. This is the same for almost every city of note all over the world. Thus, if a tourist comes over to your place, and asks you what are the significant spots to visit in your locality—and if you answer by pointing to a mall, you’re hopeless.

But this is the thing: heritage and history are considered to be very important, but they are also flighty things that are easily forgotten by people. And they are easily forgotten because there is almost no effort to concretize them in the public consciousness. No histories, no publications, no constant attempt at remembering. Almost none, anyway.

When I was growing up, I became more enamored of my city and my province because I was somehow able to read up on histories put out by Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez and T. Valentino Sitoy.

Dr. Sitoy’s history of Negros Oriental, for example, published in 1993 in Kabilin, was a truly riveting piece of historiography—and I learned so much about my province from that. Prof. Rodriguez’s portrait of Don Diego de la Viña, the liberator of Negros Oriental from the Spanish in the last throes of the Revolution, also allowed me to go beyond the usual Tagalog-bound stories of the KKK taught by my history books in school, and enabled me to see the specific peculiarities of my province in that revolt against Spain.

But who remembers Don Diego de la Viña today? There is a marker for him at the M.L. Quezon Park, and that’s it. Even the road named after him in Dumaguete is not on the road he literally marched on when he entered the capital all the way from Vallehermoso.

The more I studied local history and heritage, the more I felt that more needs to be done—or else we fall into the trap of being a city that counts progress only by the presence of malls and what-not. Let me ask you a few trivia questions…

Where is the nearest archaeological dig that gives us a clear picture of a rich Iron Age culture in pre-Spanish Dumaguete? [Answer: Magsuhot, Bacong.]

When was Dumaguete officially founded as a pueblo? [Answer: 1620, which makes the city about 402 years old.]

What is the name of the Dumaguete parish priest responsible for fortifying the settlement starting in 1754, which allowed the locality to escape for good the constant pillages by southern pirates? [Answer: Fr. Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien.]

Who built the campanario on the ruins of one of the towers built by Fr. Septien starting in 1867? [Answer: Fray Juan Felix de la Encarnacion.]

Who filed the bill that led to the charter of Dumaguete as a city in 1948? [Answer: Sen. Lorenzo Teves.]

The last one actually leads me to a musing: we barely know the biographies of all the statesmen of the province, and all the presidente and mayors that have served Dumaguete since the American Colonial Period. We have forgotten what each administration has accomplished to shape the city the way it is now. This is sad. For a city that loves to call itself a University Town, this conspicuous lack is very, very sad.

All of these spurred me and Dr. Cleope into forming and framing Hugkat Journal, which first saw print in 2018. We aimed it to be a repository of the best historiographies we could find that could track the story of Dumaguete and Negros Oriental in terms of history, culture, and heritage. On December 7, we were finally able to produce a box-set of three volumes containing a veritable treasure of local historiography.

From Volume 1, we have “Padre Mariano Bernad in Dumaguete: Its History in Retrospect, 1620-1895” by Fr. Roman C. Sagun Jr. This is a compelling narrative and annotation on the work of local history by the last Spanish colonial parish priest of Dumaguete, Fr. Mariano Bernad, who was beloved by locals, and who served Dumaguete for many, many years.

We also have “Early Protestant Endeavors in Negros Oriental: The Malahay Brothers and Angel Sotto” by Prof. Carlos M. Magtolis Jr. This is a great history of the pioneers of Protestant evangelization in the province, a story we rarely hear about.

We also have “Dumaguete During World War II” by the late Prof. Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez. Here, the eminent local historian provides the stories and the statistics of the war that ravaged Dumaguete and the world—three years without God, so they say.

We also have a matrix titled “List of Presidentes, Municipal and City Mayors of Dumaguete (1901~2001)” by Dr. Earl Jude Paul L. Cleope, which gives us a handy overview of city development under specific administrations.

And finally, we have “The Political Career of Mayor Jose Pro Teves, 1948-1978” by the late Prof. Victor Emmanuel H. Enario, one of the pioneering works of political biographies that we have here in the city. Did you know, for example, the Jo Pro Teves was the one who popularized breakfast of puto maya and tsokolate at the painitan? Just to be clear: he did not invent it, he popularized it. He was seen in it very regularly that locals came to patronize the painitan as a breakfast hub, leading to its intangible heritage status as being uniquely Dumaguetnon.

In Volume 2, “Dumaguete in Historical Perspective” by Dr. T. Valentino S. Sitoy Jr. This is a comprehensive but short history of Dumaguete from the pre-colonial period to the contemporary period. This is the essay that famously debunks the notion that the name of Dumaguete does not come from our oft-told story of “daguit,” the kidnappings of locals by southern marauders.

We also have “The Streets of Dumaguete” by Prof. Lorna Peña-Reyes Makil, who mixes history and personal narrative about the naming of various city streets. A bit of trivia: What is the old name of the Rizal Boulevars? Calle Marina. What is the old name of Silliman Avenue? Calle Santa Cecilia. What is the old name of Perdices Street? Calle Alfonso Trese. But who is he?

We also have “The Political Career of Mariano F.B. Perdices: Post-War Years (1945-1959)” by Dr. Justin Jose A. Bulado. Another fantastic local effort in political biography.

We also have “Fire and the Changing Cityscape of Dumaguete” by Dr. Earl Jude Paul L. Cleope, who lists down all the significant fires in Dumaguete starting in the 1950s, and how fire as a phenomenon has actually helped change the city’s landscape, often for the better.

And finally for this volume, we have “The Formative Period of Contemporary Literature in Negros Oriental (1901-1945),” by yours truly, where I map out the development of local literary arts in the first half of the 20th century, a period of great tumult and trying that led to a firmer literary groundswell later on.

Volume 3 is most interesting. It publishes for the first time the Historical Data Papers mandated by President Elpidio Quirino in 1951. The purpose of his order was to update the historical data papers deposited at the National Library, which were destroyed during World War II. The result, archived in 1953, are collections of compilations of historical data regarding barrios, towns, cities, and provinces in the Philippines. It contains fascinating documentations that include the customs and traditions of each locality, even literary outputs!

But we could not publish all of the documents relating to Negros Oriental, because it would require at least five more volumes.

A note on Volume 3. We presented the texts from the Historical Data Papers on Negros Oriental and the Sub-Province of Siquijor largely unedited, to preserve as much as possible the flavor and texture of the original materials. This means that we have not touched, for example, most of the peculiarities in grammar, punctuation, and syntax that the original writers of the texts wrote them in. The only editorial changes we made were done for format uniformity. In one instance, we made the choice to move some texts around to ensure a better flow of the material. This particularly concerns “The History of the Sub-Province of Siquijor,” which, in the original, is found at the end of its particular compilation. We moved it to its present location in this volume, before the sections on the various Siquijodnon towns. The original compilation obtained from the archives of the National Library of the Philippines consisted of several sets of materials that include the following: [1] The History of Negros Oriental, [2] Municipal Cultural History of Negros Oriental, and various histories of Oriental Negrense municipalities and the capital city, including [3] Dumaguete, [4] Amlan, [5] Ayungon, [6] Bacong, [7] Bais, [8] Bayawan, [9] Canlaon, [10] Dauin, [11] Guihulngan, [12] Jimalalud, [13] La Libertad, [14] Manjuyod, [15] Pamplona, [16] Payabon, which is now Bindoy, [17] Santa Catalina, [18] Siaton, [19] Sibulan, [20] Tanjay, [21] Tayasan, [22] Valencia, [23] Vallehermoso, and [24] Zamboanguita. It also includes materials on [25] Siquijor, as well as its towns: [26] Enrique Villanueva, [27] Larena, [28] Lazi, [29] Maria, and [30] San Juan. Each set runs to the hundreds in terms of pages, thus, for the purposes of the current publication and its limitations, only the first three sets have been reprinted in Hugkat Volume 3. It is hoped that future issues of Hugkat Journal will be able to accommodate the compilations not included in this particular issue.

I think of the Wednesday launch of this collective effort with gratefulness. Grateful to Jacqueline Veloso Antonio for making culture and heritage very much a huge part of her tenure as Dumaguete City Tourism Officer. Grateful to Earl Jude Cleope for pointing me to the materials and providing most of them, and for the patient guidance. Grateful to Mayor Ipe Remollo for not hesitating to fund anything connected to local history and heritage. Grateful to the whole Dumaguete City Tourism Office for making sure the whole launch went well. Grateful to the contributors for allowing us to share their historiographic works, some of whom came to celebrate with us, like Carlos Magtolis Jr., Justin Jose Austria Bulado, Fr. Roman Sagun, and T. Valentino S Sitoy Jr. I’m also grateful to Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez and Angelo Sayson for providing the cultural intermissions. Grateful to Glynda T. Descuatan for being the best emcee, and for being the best interpreter of scripts I write for events like these. I’m grateful to all the family, friends, and acquaintances who came to support the launch of this journal project, such as Silliman University President Betty Cernol-McCann, Golda Benjamin, Gideon J. Caballes, Angeline Dy, Angelo A. Villanueva, Evgeniya Spiridonova, Karen Villanueva, Bernice Anne Elmaco, Sharon Rose Dadang Rafols, and so many others. [I just wanted to see friends before the year ended, to be honest.] I’m grateful to all the school librarians who came to secure their copies! And grateful to Renz Torres for keeping me sane throughout the work process, and for ably leading the tour of the National Museum after the event.

I do hope that this journal project continues because there are so much more to cover in local historiography.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2022

entry arrow7:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 114.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

entry arrow8:52 PM | 6 Hands Dinner!

There’s this dining event that happened tonight. It’s a pilot event called 6 HANDS DINING, a collaboration between the chefs of three of the finest restaurants in Dumaguete — Unknwn Kitchn [Matt Villamil], Adamo [Edison Monte de Ramos Manuel], and the soon-to-open Apas [Keith Fresnido] — coming together “to promote sustainable dining using locally sourced produce.” They aim to celebrate the homegrown food scene, and local farmers, fishermen, and craftsmen with “creative minds, hearts, and tastebuds.”

Dinner commences! First up is Adamo’s Edison Manuel with his marinared marlin with sushi rice.

Second course is Unknwn Kitchn’s Matt Villamil with his roast pork on pumpkin purée with mushrooms and garlic confit, and salmon with caviar on pea purée.

Third course is Apas’ Keith Fresnido with his earthy dish of pastrami and steak, with fermented onions and shimeji mushrooms.

And finally for dessert, we have Ghremy Buenavista with her walnut brownie with a layer of mocha cream and topped with espresso and mascarpone ganache.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich