Saturday, December 29


Talks of progress hereabouts, as usual. Attempts at assessment, evaluation. It is the year's most precious, pristine break, and so there is something to be said about days spent and not lost to sleep; which is to say, spent. Today finished reading a fat novel (while taking copious notes for a paper), which of late I had alternated with adding to currently woeful word count. Yes: progress, although routine had more or less wrecked body clock, although it made me realize I now write at a pace that approximates the melting of polar ice caps, although it is something that I had come to treasure deeply. In a beloved series I have recently revisited, the slogan of a candidate for councilman is this: Change only brings problems. Character is surely a douche (Tope: and so not Japanese), but really am hard-pressed to say that pronouncement is completely devoid of wisdom. There had been, do I dare say, a beautiful kind of peace that accompanies my days. I now guard it fiercely, with the same vigor and attentiveness that I should've before I misplaced it and some other delightful thing took over. Here I am tempted to say that peace is the assertion of the self, the assertion that it is complete. Will think more about this. Now in this succinct demonstration, a clip from the aforementioned series, Celia (the blonde) is me and Nancy (the brunette) is peace. I'm kidding. Obviously.


Sunday, December 23


There it is: my death on print, immortalized. The arrangement of the letters is so familiar that I recognize it instantly, even if I had been surveying the various robberies and homicides with a cursory glance and the typeface couldn't have been more than a quarter inch. Nevertheless, I see it, all nine letters, and I swallow a nameless dread alongside half-chewed pan de sal. I fold the broadsheet in half and flatten it on the table, so I can read the rightmost column on Page 6.

Police are blaming the dense fog on the intersection of Ayala and Senator Gil Puyat Avenues early Sunday morning for the death of a 29-year-old bank teller who was hit by a bus as he was crossing the street.

Philip Lee, a resident of #7 Albany Street, Cubao, Quezon City, sustained head injuries and was rushed to nearby Ospital ng Makati where he was declared dead on arrival.

According to witness accounts, Lee was last seen walking from the post office to the direction of EDSA before bystanders heard a loud screech from a Newman Goldliner bus (TXJ-710) bound for Leveriza.

Sure, accidents happen, but a namesake’s death sticks in your throat on a chilly Monday morning, with its bag of hot pan de sal and illusion of newness. When I was 12, I opened the phonebook to "L" and there were, I found, 17 Philip Lee’s in Metro Manila alone. Even then, on an intuitive level, I knew that I shared something with these people, something more than writing the same letters on documents and answering to the same name. Some form of solidarity. An affinity. Thinking about this gives me a nice feeling, and God knows I need all the happy thoughts in the world.

Tuesday, December 18


Muscle Memory

All wounds begin with coldness, moments before lacerated skin simmers—affinity with pavement,

rock and mud, soil littered with discarded cutlery, unused electronics, all manner of foreign sharpness. When the chill disappears, the mind considers pain

finally. Instructions for the body part to feel—intense heat, some prickling, a childhood in a silent playground. Chains. You pushed until my feet framed

a sluggish cloud’s tail-end. A dusty kick. Flight was a moment. In the fridge, a pair of wedding souvenirs lay entombed beside a jar of tomato jam, a can of beer.

The days return quickly, as soon as you say

The roast beef is rich and creamy, or The bride’s dress resembles a lavender seashell. Inside the boxes, bright-colored candies—peach, yellow, a strange shade

of blue. When the chill disappears, the feet remember: right food forward, then left. Neither is left behind. Endless walking. Naked footsteps. In a walled city

I trace an ancient lover’s frantic escape. She walked here, too,

barefoot. She may have thought of the same things—a childhood, a nuptial, her days returning vigorously. Muscle memory: the body knowing

ahead and more. Desiring to tire. When habits replace thankless consciousness. When what we know surrenders to any frail thing, even wounds

that begin with coldness. Closer to earth, the heat here assembles.

Sunday, December 16


Last night I dreamt that a doctor spoke of worms somehow finding their way into your brain, and you were not yourself anymore, and as you lay on the hospital bed, you asked for me. I heard it: you said my name.

Thursday, December 6


To an eternal ally, my deep admiration.

Offering the reader an experience both numinous and unsettling, fled, their faces turned subtitles fragments edited from miscellaneous family photos (mostly taken in the 80s and 90s) with lines violently extricated from their context to create a glossary of dissonant if not poignant gestures and spaces that explore what is left and what is left out, the fleeting and the in-between, the nameless and the invisible, always caught in the very act of meaning and becoming, of being named and being known, never fully arriving, and teetering at the brink of insight and form.

"Ang mga puwang sa isipan ang pinupukaw ng unang aklat ni Christian Tablazon. Hinahayaan niya tayong manahan, nang hindi napapalagay, lagi sa pagi-pagitan: pagitan ng imahen at wika, pagitan ng mga basag na pahayag, pagitan ng mga salita, pagitan ng paghinto at pag-usad, pagitan ng pagkakabuo at pagkabasag, pagitan ng mga kategorya. Sa ganitong paraan at pagpaparaan, napaparanas niya ang pagiging nasa bingit ng hindi ganap na maalala ngunit tila pamilyar, laging nasa bingit ng pag-unawa. Mabisa niyang kinakasangkapan ang katahimikan at patlang para maipahiwatig ang kakanyahan at kabuuan ng bawat tipak, may sapat na pwersa ang bawat isa na nagtutulak pasulong upang makahulagpos sa pigil ng pagsasaaklat." —Allan Popa

Christian Tablazon was born in Manila and raised in Tarlac. He is an instructor at the Department of Humanities of the University of the Philippines Los Banos and a graduate student at the UP Film Institute.

Sunday, November 25


Mga Huling Araw sa Nagsarang Koreo*

May kakaibang himbing ang papel at bato
sa papasarang koreo. Sa mga huling araw

papanipis nang papanipis ang mga liham
na dapat timbangin, sipatin sa ilaw,

isalansan. Kumikintab ang malamig na sahig
at pabagal nang pabagal ang mga yabag.

Dapithapon nang may matandang babae
na naghulog ng sulat, isa sa mga pinakahuli.

Puti ang sobreng pahaba, walang bahid
ng lukot, tila dumaan sa papalamig na plantsa.

(Ang mga selyo’y dibuho ng makukulay na isda.)
Ibinulong sa kanya, Paalala, mananatiling bukas

ang mailbox sa labas. Maaari pa ring maghulog
ng anumang kakasya sa maliit na siwang—

mga liham na bitbit ang mga mumunting pakay,
nakabinbin hanggang sa dumating, marahang pilasin,

basahin. Tanging tingin ang tugon ng babae,
papasibol ang ngiti habang binabawi ang liham.

Naglakad ito palabas at dinig sa loob ng tanggapan
ang marahang pagbukas sa bibig ng mailbox, simula

ng napipintong wakas. Malamlam ang dapithapon
sa paglayo ng babae, papahaba ang mga anino.

Ang mga selyo’y dibuho ng makukulay na isda,
mahimbing ngunit dilat sa dekahong dagat.

*Batid na ang postal system ang pakahulugan ng 'koreo' at hindi ang mismong edipisyo o tanggapan ('ipadala ang lahok sa pamamagitan ng koreo'). Payo ni C, i-invoke ang poetic license at metonomiya.

Tuesday, November 20


I am going to India next year. Melane, who took this photo as we were traipsing along the walls of Intramuros recently, noted how high-pitched her voice had become after hearing the news, and would like to know why my face is still in its typical, pinched scowl. I have to admit. Typing it here - I am going to India - made it sink in a bit more, although I would be hardpressed to say that it has me tearing up my hair and beating my chest a la Trojan women, except in joy.

Which is to say I ought to be more excited. I am going in November, so the year-long wait may have something to do with the lack of figurative (and maybe literal) confetti (far from the agonizing way one couldn't sleep the night before a school field trip to Nayong Pilipino). Mostly, I look forward to the distance. Melane, who herself went on an Eat-Pray-Love tour of Indonesia, said she loved most the newness of things. At about the same time, I was in Sagada, and we both readily took back what we said about ourselves and our inability to escape them. Maybe you can't, but perspectives change, and that's almost the same thing.

When I read some accounts of past residents, I couldn't help but think of Silliman and the other workshops I have gone to: how it gave me a glimpse of the life I want to live, a world without, essentially, the need to think about sustenance, which is to say, money. Yes, I will invoke my distaste for capitalism here to rationalize my laziness (the refusal, for one, to take on a full time job for almost two years now). I know that I may very well be just postponing my entry to the "real world." I'll be 27 in a few months, and 28 when this residency ends, so I can say, at the least, that I gave it a good fight.

PS. Now re-reading Midnight's Children for a paper. I tell myself I am hitting two birds with one stone. Learning about India and trying to take that INC off my records. Sure.

Tuesday, November 13


Bumalik sa batis kamakailan, kung saan nawala isang gabi at kinailangang hanapin at sunduin ng unipormadong Los Banos police bitbit ang kanilang naglalakihang flash light. Madaling baybayin ang lumipas na panahon sa pamamagitan ng mga balikong linya, putol-putol, minsa'y makapal at minsa'y 'di halos makita, mga sala-salabit na kasaysayang pilit na itinatali hanggang kaya. Maraming nagbago. Maraming nasira. Sa pagmamasid ngayon sa rumaragasang tubig, napansing may mga bahagi ang batis na payapa. Mahirap isipin: na pahihintulutan ng bara-barang pagkakaayos ng mga malalaking bato ang ganitong espasyo, na ligtas, na sagrado, habang sa paligid ay puno ng galit, nagmamadali, ang tubig. Maraming katahimikan sa muling pagbisita, mga siwang na pinupuno ng mga 'di na dapat sabihin, at malaon nang naipaliwanag, naisaisip. Kahapon, waring isang linggo ang lumipas sa loob ng walong oras. Marahas-masaya ang mga pangyayari, mga bagong karanasan, mga bagong pinagsaluhan, at sa gitna: isang oasis, isang dakong luntian at buhay sa ilang. Sa tapat ng ospital, may nasumpungang tahimik na kapihan. Uminom ng gatas. Nanahimik. Walang maliw na kapayapaan.

Friday, November 2


Phone call

Above the static, you were telling me
you found a book on a roadside stand.
Will I read it? I nod, forgetting
you can’t see my head, ascending
and descending in promise.
‘Least that’s what I heard; there is rumble
from a truck or else the miles asserting
the distance of places.
On my end, it is quiet.
The air is a whirl
of freshly brewed coffee. Soft jazz music
wafts from piped in speakers. I was saying
something unimportant
interrupted by interference,
some thunder, and Billy Holiday’s voice
purring a lyric about a hopeless
assignment, tenderly about you,

how you crossed latitudes, your shadow
lengthening over
rainforests and skyscrapers, and all
I have to do is look outside
for your pending darkness.

Wednesday, October 31

Pagsakay sa bus.

May dumapong bigat kanina sa akin habang nakasakay sa isang bus na puno at siksikan. Nakadungaw ako sa bintana, habang nakadantay sa braso ang kamay ng katabing babae. Mayroon siyang ikinu-kwento sa kasamang lalaki, na bigla na lamang inilingkis ang kamay sa balikat ng babae sa kalagitnaan ng byahe. Malamig ang kamay ng lalaki. Sa pagbaba, pinili kong maglakad pansamantala sa halip na sumakay sa jeep. May nadaanan akong isang lalaking lasing sa ilalim ng tulay; nakahiga sa semento at waring ninanakawan ng dalawa pang lalaki. Walang nagawa ang paglingon ng mga dumaraan. May kantang nagpabuka sa aking bibig. Mabilis ang byahe kung tutuusin.

Tuesday, October 23


Everything, a metaphor

you don’t believe. When I tell you the days
are sun-baked hills until you came along, you refuse
to drop again, precipitation-wise. When I say
I am a desolate gasoline station in the middle
of nowhere, you inquire about the true-to-life possibility
of cab drivers sipping coffee in a roadside eatery,
downing bowls of hot arroz caldo, comparing stories
about the time when rain didn’t stop for weeks
and floodwater was a putrid blanket
that covered the cold city from head to leanest side street.
It is raining now.
We are in an abandoned gas station.
Do you feel the tug between symbols and the vanishing
pavement? The fence swathed in vine and the surrender. This body
      and the endless shivering.

Tuesday, October 16


Today, an unexpected wonder. From a hotel in Malate, a scenic route to Quiapo Church. Old buildings, marketplaces, the sea. Melane was there to get a camera for a three-week sojourn to Indonesia. I asked her not to inconvenience any monks along the way. I am going somewhere not as far, to endlessly walk, look at eroding terraces, and sweat. Philline says she will be waiting at the bus station.  What are we doing? Mel and I asked each other. Andy quoted from Gina Apostol's Gun Dealer's Daughter: "Is forgetting all you need if rest is all you want?" This is Mel: "Pwede lamang tayo paguhuin ng mga bagay na sila ring nagtayo sa atin, tinuntungan natin. Hala." Last time was in Quiapo Church, was with Alaysa, from China Town, and we crossed the overpass of the dildo sellers. I have forgotten this.

Wednesday, October 10


Leaving for Cagayan de Oro in a few hours. Have long detested stress of early morning flights, but disaster of missing a late night one months ago (due to, among others, grave naivete re: military time) had rendered whole thing utterly scary: unpredictable traffic, scary-antiseptic airport environs, thought of documents jumping off bag to stay in bed, etc. So will be in CDO for a grand total of 22 hours, owing to (most likely) sadistic assistant who made travel arrangements and deemed it too much for lowly writer (moi) to have at least a few hours to, I don't know, sleep at the hotel? Funny when you recall that also flew to Cagayan in October last year, a lovely sojourn that included, among others, staying in Philline's durian-smelling solar-powered house and driving to Bukidnon to live with Lina Sagaral-Reyes for a few days. Think there shall be no solar energy or poetry in this trip; only cooperatives and credit bureaus (don't ask). Now, germane (and criminally emo) conversation with Andy, spread over a few days since we're so subhumanly busy:

A (Mon AM): Let's leave, G. I want to live somewhere else. I want a new life.
G (Mon PM): Hi, A. I want to disappear. Now.
A (Wed AM): Why the choice of the word 'disappear'? Why not 'go away'? Or is that my mind on overdrive.
G (Wed PM): Because I've been feeling that I'm ready to implode at any moment. Location can't change that. Hence, disappear.
A (Wed PM): Yes, because we bring ourselves wherever we go.

I think, I think, you never know when it's that bad until, well, it's that bad. What I'm doing now (in school, and career, and relationship, and life) is essentially trying to avoid all manner of regret once things are over, prevent any Revolutionary Road- or Incendies-type breakdowns later when one realizes things are lost and irreparable and like a 6 AM flight to the south: stressful, seemingly important but really just something that deprived you of sleep.

Monday, October 1


I welcome October with arms aching because they're so outstretched. With the yearning of an upside down umbrella. The smile of an open manhole. The one-two punch of August and September now hopefully over, and so today: errands (drop off letter at Chancellor's office, look for lost library book), acads (start with Gemino paper, revise Charlson story, think of topic for Tope paper), love life (re-watch/blog about Hable Con Ella, download prescribed films, think about him), work (say yes to a raket in Cagayan de Oro next week, transcribe two interviews, write one press release), writing (send Charlson story, plus one more, to bunch of magazines), and self (think about point of everything, text random people about how writing and literature no longer, at this point, bring happiness).

Lately have questioned soundness of long-running thesis re: Awful Months (arbitrary, illogical, convenient), but how do you knock it when the first day of October brought such astounding bounty, in producitivity and prospects alike. (Of course, can be self-fulfilling prophecy, and Mobius strip-type tautology is useless argument). That said, kind of relish the celebratory mood October brings, if only to pick self up from proverbial rubble in the aftermath of August and September. Someday might find real reason for the invisible weight, i.e, other than retrogrades and ghost months. And if it really is bogus, what of it? We all tell ourselves such lies to survive. In this light, have obviously lost ability to be straightforward. Yey.

Thursday, September 13

Dark place.

  • Years ago, Kuya ID at the registrar's office (then located in that huge evacuation center near Math Building) asked me if I was a freshman. I was 22. Suppose I did look young(er); 7-Eleven cashiers would ask for age before handing Marlboros.* That was before. Earlier, went to get my ID again, first time in grad school. No such question. But my head, I found out, tilted slightly to the right. Explained a lot of things: lopsided glasses, lack of balance, right shoe never fitting, etc.
  • MA, once enthusiastic outlet of Things, now in ruin.** (Though possibly temporary or MA just surrogate of / scapegoat for Other Things in Disarray.)
  • To cheer self up, have been meeting up with people. Last night, dinner with Alan then beer and movie with Om. Earlier, dinner with Melane. Three more this weekend. Preoccupation. Production. Also, bought books from UP Press (though one purchase, by long-admired author, proving to be mighty disappointment in predictable same-tricks-over-and-over variety). Food of the world, watch out.
  • Creeping realization of late: mediocrity.*** And obsolescence of borrower's card in library transactions.
  • Haven't written anything in weeks. August and September delivering a one-two punch, as they always do. Comfort to attribute discord to misaligned stars and planets or similar, and expect cloud to move / break apart once October sets in. Hope so. But as arrived at in poetry lecture to college kids in St. Scho few days ago, thing with waiting, with passing time, they change people. They are never the same again.****
  • On that note, have started this blog!
* Could be load of bull.
** OK, slight exaggeration, but all vigor now lost in light of advice from former professor. Buoyed, too, by frustration in paperwork/bureacratic snakes-and-ladders due to long-ago oversight.
*** Of being tiny trout, meaningless.
**** Highlight of week. Was invited by CEGP. Vaguely remembered why checked Secondary Education in UPCAT form, culprit, in the first place, in all these, i.e., Kung Paano Tayo Umabot sa Ganito.

Saturday, September 1


This morning, memories of high school, when, after a quiz or exam, teacher would call the roll and class would need to shout grade one by one. How stupid: imagining the 14-, 15-year-old's holding their breaths for Diaz, top of class and typically highest, when they were obviously not, not remotely. A legend in own mind. A veritable clown, more like. A clown with a big bag of jokes that ricochet as quickly as they emerge, into nowhere else, into no one else's backyard, back.

Sunday, August 5


To you,

After typing then revising then backspacing through entire sentences and paragraphs -- needless curlicues, you'd chastise -- I will go straight to the point: it pains me so much that I cannot share in this anxiety, that it is not a load we can divide, that it is at once a fear and anger that I can only understand through you. I hope you know that in this tiny way I share it, if only in the ardent desire to partake in it, to rid your life of anything that can power those restless feet toward a direction I would rather not imagine. For sure this is impossible, but even as I picture you, walking, alone, to a distance beyond what I can see, there is nothing more I would like to do than take those quivering fingers, give them a little squeeze, then lace them with mine, like a homecoming.


Monday, July 16


I have a feeling I still lack platelets. The heaviness that had long accompanied my movements is nothing new, but dengue, which made me lose some weight, feels like it instead inserted a seven-pound bowling ball into my core. It is something that is hard to explain except in literal terms, mainly because the appetite has been back and, save for a new fear of drizzles and mosquitoes, I would like to think I am (relatively) healthy again. Belatedly, I am just happy to not be connected to an IV bag and feeling like a pin cushion every morning because of all the blood tests. Hospitals are grim places when you're alone, which you have to be at some point, in order to appreciate the gravity of, well, life, and teetering solitarily on its edge. I have no groundbreaking epiphanies about being sick except the usual variety that being bedridden (with a lovely, lovely view of the hospital parking lot) brings. That is, I am actually afraid to die, art is unable to console, and really, I need to get fucking health insurance soon.

Sunday, June 10


Balay Champaca, Lazi Convent (Siquijor), Dumaguete-bound Fastcraft
 Grand Regal Hotel (Davao), Philline's (Cagayan de Oro),La Gracia (Bukidnon)
 Kule office, Ormoc-bound bus, Dumaguete-bound bus
 Los Baños, Manila-bound Super Ferry, Hotel Henrico (Baguio)

Tuesday, June 5


The parking lot is now paved, I told him. It was raining in Sison. We were in Baguio over the weekend, and the Pangasinan town was the first stop on the trip back to Manila. He nodded. The last time we were there, the summer of 2009, we were on our way to Pagudpud. There are things that have obviously changed over the years.

Sison will always be special to me. You see a story of mine has a scene set in that exact roadside restaurant. Romantic exaggerations aside, I had long imagined returning to the place to find Carolina and Reynaldo still there, sipping instant noodles and getting to know each other. I have reread and revised that story a thousand times. To me, it is reality.

There is something happy-sad about rest stops. In another recent trip, after the bus had slowed down in a small roadside lot in Gumaca, Quezon, I joked to the same person, wouldn't it be nice to do your thesis in a place like Gumaca? There had been three more stops in that trip, but 30 hours on a bus is not good for the brain; my mind, after the first 12 hours, had shut off protectively, and I no longer remember the rest.

I have been on the road (or water or air) for around three-quarters of May. In a restaurant near Burnham Park, a lady took our orders then asked the counter, "Naa pang bibingka?" Uttered in Ilocano country, the shouted Visayan sentence absolutely dazzled me. And so apart from a realization about the deplorable state of transportation infrastructure in the country, I also learned, maybe even embraced, for possible dalliance in the future, a thing or two about beautiful transience.

Friday, May 25


     In Iligan, an empty bus terminal at 9 in the evening. There is rain, but indecisive. It is pitch dark. I consider knocking on random doors nearby, to mutter a half-hearted Visayan phrase asking for directions to MSU (or maybe a spare room for the night). I consider sighing and walking in the rain. I consider sitting on the wet pavement and waiting (this fortnight's grandest lesson). My bags are heavy with clothes and books, all useless to ward off the croaking of frogs, or to rally the night, its sluggish completeness.

     In Allen, a playlist featuring songs from The Carpenters commences in the bus. Top of the World. We've Only Just Begun. A Song For You. Rainy Days and Mondays. The view, lit amber by 8 o'clock sun, alternates between mountains and the sea. The road sometimes zigzags. The trip nearing the one-day mark, some body parts are grumbling for respite; my stomach, my butt, my back. Uprooted from Luzon, I sit back and take a lungful of air. I had needed this distance. Wide awake, I think of opening a book to read.

     In Ormoc, we think of these plains being covered in water and mud once. We joke about the word "landslide" being taboo here. We sit by the seawall, buy too many packets of peanuts from kids idling away the last rays of sunlight. In the distance, possibly Cebu, possibly some uninhabited island. The port is gray under the clouds. From the plaza, from speakers as big as a credenza, a tune from a life that now seems so distant. "I heard / that you're settled down, and you've / found a man and you're married now --"

     In Bacolod, I sit on the foot of the bed and watch him sleep. I consider planting a kiss on his right cheek as my way of saying good morning and welcome to this day, to this beginning. Welcome, and I hope you will enjoy your stay. In Silay, we walk the empty streets an hour after finding out we had missed our flight. He calms me down, and we sip coffee and watch the late night news. Protests against an upcoming concert, an oil price rollback, a truckload of bananas abandoned on the side of a road.

     Somewhere in the Sibuyan Sea, he jokes about this trajectory - of so many joys, so many little joys - having rom-com potential. At the end of the ship's duty, when Manila's leaden panorama - derricks, clouds - slowly sweeps into view, we hold hands and watch the scenery unfold from one of the ship's rectangular windows. Under our feet, the floor continues to grumble, almost imperceptibly. There is talk of books to read, movies to see, places to go, eventually; can I wish instead for a moment's infinity?

     In Dumaguete, "We asked so little of the world. We understood / the offense of advice, of holding forth. We checked ourselves: / we were correct, we were silent. / But we could not cure ourselves of desire, not completely. / Our hands, folded, reeked of it." (Louise Glück, Arboretum)

Thursday, May 10


The all-encompassing lesson in this trip so far has been delayed gratification. Not completely inadvertent, I suppose, because Om, who did the itinerary, agreed that it had been a rollercoaster ride between harshness and comfort (an ongoing harsh!-bet!-harsh!-bet! cycle). Why else would we endure grueling transportation options then search out the town's most luxurious accommodation? Arriving in Ormoc, for instance, after a religion-testing 30-hour bus ride through several provinces and a thankfully peaceful strait, we checked in at the Hotel Don Felipe, a seven-story anomaly in the modest city, whose Spanish-style facade juts out of the tin roofs of the marketplace. And two days ago, after another half a day in transit - this time, six hours in a ferry from Ormoc to Cebu, then three hours in a bus from Cebu City to Toledo, then another two hours in a ferry from Toledo to San Carlos - we chose the town's most expensive restaurant which, incidentally, has six or seven double rooms for rent. During our first lunch, we ate until our bellies (mine without contest prouder) swelled from under the table (although, really, this sort of unbelievable gluttony, of ordering a feast for a small community when there's just two of you eating, is just as normal in Manila; I'm looking at you, Alan). Alas, the Days of Uncomfortable Travel ends this afternoon. Three to four hours in a bus to Dumaguete now seems like heaven-sent commute. In Dumaguete, will spend another two nights (originally booked for five; have completely forgotten about Iligan!) before taking another ferry to Cagayan de Oro en route to MSU. After the workshop, will take a ferry either back to Dumaguete or straight to Bacolod, for flight back to Manila on Monday. Who was it who said that suffering purifies? Not sure about the doctrinal accuracy of the pronouncement, but between that and the bliss of watching Poetry on Om's laptop while munching on chocolate-covered polvoron, I will be hard-pressed to choose the former.

Monday, May 7


Om and I had been eating home-made chorizo for breakfast in a Bacolod pension house last year when Angelo Reyes shot himself in front of his mother's grave one sunny Wednesday. As pathetic Manileños are wont to do, we learned of the news because we next brought our laptops to the dining area so we could go online and check things. We were probably on the 20th to the 25th hour of the bus ride to Ormoc yesterday when, in his window seat and verdant mountainside alternating with wide blue seas in the background, he started giggling. "What does 'offloaded' mean?" he asked, and I told him, "Ha?" after which he giggled some more. Funny that there was giggling at all in the trip, when half the time, I was imagining the hotel bedsheets and longing to sleep, for a change, in a horizontal position. Thirty hours, count 'em, and, of course we questioned the soundness of the plan. When I woke up somewhere in Catbalogan, he said I just missed the San Juanico Bridge. "Tulog ka kasi ng tulog e." I looked at him long enough and fervently enough, then I grabbed his phone and saw the tiny blinking dot on the map that was still a centimeter or two away from the country's longest bridge. Longest, which is to say this route. We half-joked about the silly ways we could turn this into a story. The Longest Route to Ormoc, I said, and I imagined the scenes inside the ferry, with all the (assertive) commerce, including but not limited to the many magtatahos and manicurists onboard. The characters presented themselves in the motley crew of our fellow passengers, such as Ate Assertive, Ate Assertive 2, Ate Mag-Isa, Bibong Konduktor, and La Familia, who, the bus hardly gaining speed in SLEX, took out a bucket of fried chicken and started eating, turning the bus air greasy and our erstwhile suspicions of this being a long trip from literal to also quite figurative. What was the real news in the trip so far? That I can withstand grueling 30-hour bus rides with fewer complaints than my tummy. That Filipinos are a beautiful people. These, and that Om can always have the window seat.

Sunday, April 29


Apologize for whirlwind of late. Things had, I think, calmed down after the initial crescendo. Maybe plateaued? Stabilized? Definitions of an evening out. Hope not entirely accurate. Stuff:
  • Was planning to make a trip to nearby Booksale this afternoon and, really, just told self would lie down for calming few minutes when next thing, was being called for dinner. Swear; this heat not doing anything for lethargic spirit/body.
  • But Coincidence is whimsical fellow; while dozing off - mouth open, no doubt, unglamorous - books from Book Depository arrived. In mint, though monstrously late, condition. One book - Lore Segal's Shakespeare's Kitchen - like Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, a set of nterconnected stories (or 'an exquisite tapestry' if bookfront annotation were to be trusted). V. excited to see bigger, well, tapestry in which The Reverse Bug (in my opinion, one of the most brilliantly conceptualized stories ever) is situated. Hope rest not letdown.
  • Finally finalized (huh?) itinerary of getaway with Om. Will start with Manila to Ormoc - a monstrous 28-hour bus ride (passing lovely San Juanico bridge), then ferry to Cebu City, then bus to Toledo, then ferry to San Carlos, then boat to Sipaway (staying a night or two to say hello again to Om's old yaya), then bus to Bacolod (staying a night or two to, I don't really know; we're sick and tired of Bacolod to be honest), then bus to Dumaguete to see Christian during second weekend of workshop, then ferry to Cagayan de Oro then bus to Iligan, and he, to Dapitan (actually, Om's supposed to head to Davao for Ateneo workshop but that had since been cruelly relocated to far-flung Katipunan Avenue - a trike away from where he lives), then from Iligan, ferry back to Bacolod to meet Christian for flight back to Manila.
  • That was a mouthful. Hope patience - not to mention money - will not run out.
  • Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
  • Last few weeks had been spent doing rakets and the occasional jinuman. Slightly sad that summer is about halfway done and have not written a single story in preparation for supposed thesis sem/year.  Have been stuck in this one story, and life, absurdly, actually took self to same point, as if leaving breadcrumbs to follow, but now finding it impossible / unfair to cannibalize material and lay it on paper. Hate sounding like am trying to be writerly or artsy (and also hate quoting Annie Dillard) - but it's true: the surest thing to lose a memory is to write it. For when you do, it is no longer yours, despite your most ardent claims to the contrary. And so will take a deep breath and keep it in, and will look Elsewhere.

Friday, April 27


19 out of 106 applicants qualified in this year's 19th Iligan National Writers Workshop (INWW) to be held on May 14-18, 2012 at the MSU-IIT and at the Elena Tower Inn, Iligan City.

Hosted by the MSU-IIT Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research & Extension,
this workshop is funded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the MSU-IIT Office of the Chancellor.

The 15 writing fellows are funded by the NCCA while four of the writing fellows are funded by sponsors: Boy Abunda, and Ricardo Jorge S. Caluen, and Foundations: the Manuel E. Buenafe Writing Fellowship and the Bai Zaima Mamalinding Mother & Child Foundation, Inc..

The Jimmy Y. Balacuit, Sr. Literary Awards are likewise given to the most promising works by the writing fellows at the close of the workshop.

The writing fellows are:

Tomas Agulto (Poetry, Filipino)
Marvin Einstein Sarmiento Mejaro (Fiction, Filipino)
Pia Montalvan (Fiction, Filipino)
Glenn L. Diaz (Fiction, English)
Phillip Y. Kimpo, Jr. (Fiction, English)

Norman T. Darap (Fiction, Kiniray-a)
Jesus Catigan Insilada (Fiction, Kiniray-a)
Jessrel Escaran Gilbuena (Poetry, Cebuano)
Jenelyn Villegas Garcia (Poetry, Waray)
Francis Senolos (Poetry, Waray)
Aurea Lynne Geronimo (Play, Filipino)

Teomie Langamin Nale, Jr. (Poetry, Cebuano)
Jermafe Kae Angelo Prias (Poetry, English)
Sittie Urdoja G. Madale (Poetry, Maranao)
Anne Solon Senajon (Play, Cebuano)
Karlo Antonio Galay David (Play, Filipino)
Cheryl Love P. Sumagat (Play, Filipino)
Diandra-Ditma Aguam Macarambon (Fiction, English)
Iryne Ole Kaamino (Fiction, Cebuano)

The Evaluators:
Merlie M. Alunan, Nelia G. Balgoa, SPC Fernandez, Roger Garcia, Man Gervacio, Christine Godinez-Ortega, Tonton Daposala, Zola Gonzalez Macarambon, Phil Harold Mercurio, Raul Moldez, Maimona W. Magayoong and John Iremil Teodoro.

Panelists this year:
Merlie M. Alunan, Antonio R. Enriquez, Leoncio P. Deriada, SPC Fernandez, German V. Gervacio, J. Neil C. Garcia, John Iremil Teodoro, Macario D. Tiu, C Godinez-Ortega, and the keynote speaker, Victorio N. Sugbo.

Sunday, April 22


Sapagkat magnanakaw ng danas ang mga salita. Sapagkat hindi kailanman sasapat. Hindi maisusulat ang gabing iyon. Upang manatiling akin, at iyo, at atin. Tanging atin.

Sunday, April 15


Ang Ibig Sabihin ng Lungkot

Tanda ko ang mabilis-mabagal na pag-ulan ng bulak sa Abril 
kasabay ng iyong tagubilin: “Ang susi ay nasa ilalim lamang 
ng marungis na paso sa ikatlong baitang.” Sa nais tuntunin 
ng mga ligaw na bulak sa hangin, animo’y walang bigat 
ang katawan, walang grabidad ang nahamugang lupain. 
Ano ang kakatwang kahulugan ng paglipad ng bulak 
kung hindi ang kawalan nito ng pakpak? Kung hindi 
ang sandaling kalayaan mula sa napipintong paglapag. 
Sa ngayon, kung kailan nakapinid ang mga daan 
at paraan tungo sa iyo, ang mga pasilyo’t siwang 
na dati’y daluyan ng mga hiwatig na ngayo'y iwinaglit 
sa hangin, tulad mo, tulad natin, mahal, saan ang daan 
tungo sa nakaraan? Ano ang silbi ng malalamyang kumpas
ng bulak sa malaon nang ikinandadong pintuan?

Monday, April 9


Heard from Charles that this came out in Graphic this week (Jesus on the cover. #afreyd).

Everything is about mothers and chickens

When she agreed to a photo shoot, she had wanted to show off her eight-month baby bump, to immortalize her figure in its maternal aplomb. Eternally optimistic, she imagined looking at the picture as a frail 80-year-old beaming at her good fortune in having bore this child, who by then would have been in his 50s and, like her, happy. So when two weeks hence she woke up with the sheets – 300 thread count and silken ivory – beneath her crisscrossed with blood, a startled scream set off a blur of events that culminated in this quiet morning ten short days later. The sheets had since been handwashed and were immaculate again, and in the living room, the package containing the picture sat atop the mahogany center table, still unwrapped, the golden-brown twine still neatly holding the wrapping in place, terminating in a careful ribbon.
Her tummy was flat now, and as they lay in bed, her husband’s hands noticeably avoided grazing it, choosing instead to part the curtain of her hair, to cup the still concave of her chin. I’m going to do a quick run to the grocery, so I can make Hainanese chicken. That’s your favorite, remember? Then he turned to her, to put forth his earnestness. I need you to stay here and wait until I come back, OK?
She hasn’t been eating right since coming home from the hospital, he noted glumly upon waking up, upon seeing that she, too, was awake, maybe had been awake for hours. For a few minutes, they both noiselessly stared at the ceiling of their bedroom, tinged yellow by the bedside lamp. Her hands sat atop her deflated tummy, a calm outline that under the soft, steady glow registered within him an unrest he couldn’t quite identify. He, too, loved the child, surely, the possibility of it growing up into a boy, then a young man, and so on. But as yet he could not mourn adequately, his mind, in idle moments, still drifting back to that 6 o’clock scream, the blood-stained sheets, his wife’s face ashen with terror. He remembered honking his horn, fruitless against the callous morning traffic that had refused to part.
The car door slammed now and the engine roared to life.
In his mind, his wife was morose, understandably, but not at risk. He had no way of knowing, slowing down now for the final hump before the wooden beam that ascended at his car’s approach, that she rose from the bed and used her feet to look for her fluffy slippers. He honked hello to the saluting security guard just as she walked toward the living room, her fatigued eyes newly lucid, her step now devoid of their erstwhile weight. Daintily, she sat on the couch, reached for the package on the table. She ripped the surprisingly thick brown paper that revealed, in slow but broad strokes, a white box. He had just arrived at the grocery store’s parking lot, was reversing into a freshly-vacated slot, when she saw a small card on the box’s top-right corner. Her fingers gently flicked it open. She smiled at the photographer’s nice little gesture. Congratulations! May it be the first of many! it said, in elegant woman’s calligraphy that may have been his wife’s or eldest daughter’s.
After tossing the zipped bag of chicken thighs and breasts to his basket, he smiled at the nice lady behind the counter. He paid for everything then hauled the two bagfuls to the backseat of his car.
In 15 minutes, he was backing in their driveway, bracing himself. An unduly long stop at an intersection had earlier shoved in his mind dreary scenarios, and he recalled reading about an American woman who, after giving birth to a healthy boy, leaped from her 16th-story apartment in Wisconsin. A quick comparison with his wife’s case made him eagerly bear down on the gas pedal then, and he now rushed to the door, expecting something along the lines of upturned furniture, broken plates, maybe even a body lifelessly hanging from an extension cord, tied to a stolid ceiling fan blade.
When he pushed the door open, the sight that welcomed him was his wife’s pearly whites, arranged in a broad smile that reminded him of his own mom’s inordinately big teeth. You like it, honey? It took a while before he figured out her meaning. In the living room’s most prominent wall, between the two Amorsolo nude’s from his mother-in-law’s collection, hanged his wife’s latest portrait: a black and white photo of her limned profile; her face slightly bowed, her lips on the verge of a smile, her right hand atop the swell in her belly, where much of the sparse light bounced.


She knew, from that hunch she always trusted, that there was something wrong with this man. She could tell something was amiss, despite his ready smile and the more than perfunctory Thank you as she handed him his order. Perhaps it was the sunken shoulders, or the rapid blinking, or the jumpiness so rare on Sunday morning.
But she should stop. This mad fascination to gawk at the lives of other people, to speculate on their happiness, or sadness, is something God did not approve of, she recalled her mother-in-law as saying.
In just over two hours, more than 30 kilos of chicken had passed under her able hands. The pile of drumsticks, always in demand, had to be restacked. She called the attention of the man in charge of that heap, and he nodded. It was 11 in the morning, and the influx of families was calming, as usual.
At 5 p.m., she smiled at the intern who would take her place at the station until the grocery closed at 9. It was an uneventful day: fat, rowdy kids who played with the thongs and old geezers who thought half a kilo of gizzard meant they could order her around. She had long gotten used to it, and she now stretched the rim of her bag for the security guard to check. There’s a piece of chicken neck there somewhere, she joked.
She hailed a jeepney, got on, and sat on the right side, near the driver.
Her 19-year-old daughter was five months pregnant, she was to find out only that night. She had her suspicions (from that hunch she always trusted), but that girl had always slept like a log for days and wore oversized shirts that hid her stomach. When she got home, her shirt smelling of raw meat and animal blood, she found their tiny living room flooded with supplications: daisies, a fruit basket, and – from an oily teenager barely taller than her – a purportedly ardent desire to marry her only daughter. She called her husband, noting that it was just about lunchtime in Muscat. Calmer, she was about to hang up when she realized she was crying and laughing at the same time.
Her mother-in-law had been very generous with her guttural I told you so's and had refused to join them in the living room. In between the niceties and the inquiries as to the whereabouts of this errant boy’s parents, she shot her daughter a look that she hoped communicated her simultaneous rage and despair. The night was too much, just too much.
But she had just stepped out of the gate for some fresh air when she saw a woman walking toward her from across the narrow street. A white towel was draped around her shoulders, advertising a stalled plan to bathe. She knew this woman, and the sheepish glint she got in her eyes at the prospect of titillating gossip. She now nudged her and asked who that boy was; he who came with her daughter that afternoon and unloaded stuff from the tiny sedan now parked by a nearby sari-sari store. She saw how lowly this form of entertainment was, but her husband, after listening to her while he chewed on stale sardines-dipped bread, had told her to call back after a few hours, and she felt she needed an outlet.
And so she told this rabid gossiper the story, linking it with her own tale of having her firstborn at 21. Maybe it ran in the family? There was, from both women, the requisite outburst about this generation’s rashness and lack of faith, and she was just saying good night when her mother-in-law pushed the gate open and joined them. After an hour of stale parenting advice, alongside a quick but thorough enumeration of the loose women in their street, she excused herself. I think I’ll talk to my daughter now. As a parting anecdote, she was told that the young pharmacist who lived three houses down had a strange way of making her six-month old go to sleep. On particularly stressful nights, when she wished to sleep and the boy did not, she would gently pinch a supple thigh – just half an inch of nubile skin – to intentionally make him cry. It worked all the time.
When she got to the living room, the boy was holding the still quivering hands of her daughter, whose figure, now that she had time to scrutinize, was indeed plumper than usual. He rose when she entered, letting go of the hands in an instant. He would go now, he said, and come back next Sunday, with his parents. She nodded, and a flash of terror erupted in her daughter’s eyes. The now empty fists tightly curled.
As they heard the gate creaked close, mother sat beside daughter, their loaded breathing strangely in unison. In this quiet aftermath – the daisies a degree or so closer to the ground, the fruits untouched under the shiny yellow plastic wrap – she asked her, Have you eaten? Her daughter shook her head, and she thought of chicken: its many parts, the many ways to cook it, and how she is tired from being around them all day long.


When she was six, she lived in a remote seaside barrio two hours away from the provincial capital (which itself is seven hours away by land from Manila). The women watched over the kids, and the men fished. That year, a coal power plant was built in the middle of the sea, and she saw, framed by the forest-like legs of the adults, the legions of trucks and boats that hauled steel and cement day in and day out. Once erected, the facility gave a soft whirring sound, endless like the crashing of waves, and a single yellow light, perched atop the smokestack, became a familiar sight in what used to be total darkness. His brother, who was studying then at a state college in the city and came home during the weekends, would often take her by the shore. Together they’d watch this light briefly illuminate the sea or, if it was low tide, the many bent bodies collecting snails and crabs from the waterlogged plain.
Years later, fair-skinned, foreign-looking men in suits knocked on their door and told his father, who was barangay chairman, of their plans to restore the town’s decimated mangrove forest. Could he get some men to help them? And so the boats and nets were briefly abandoned for propagules – mangrove seedlings – that had to be bought all the way from a province five hours away. The task, from acquisition to the actual planting, made his father scarce around the house, but her mother for some reason had never been happier. Fried chicken, once an opulence that only appeared on birthdays and Christmas, was served one Saturday night, and the three of them – she, her mother, and her brother – had just finished eating when a curious craving for ice cream struck her mother. She fished a bill from her pocket and sent her off.
She closed the door gently upon going out.
The town’s only ice cream parlor was near the plaza. It was a 30-minute walk away, and she was already halfway there (having just passed the church with the towering green-ivory spires) when she realized she had forgotten to ask which flavor her mother wanted. Afraid to make a wrong choice, she hesitantly turned around and retraced her steps. A ringing silence welcomed her home, the television and all the lights switched off except in the bedroom where everyone slept. She was already 13 then; she understood things – once, a boy from school touched her there and a split-second jolt ran down her gut – and so she could ascertain what her mother must be feeling. Her mother, whose legs were spread bare and whose lips quivered ajar. It was, she noiselessly assumed, her brother’s doing; why else would his hand be where it was?
This scene flashed in her mind now, three decades later, as she tried to look anywhere but her son’s face, fidgeting as it was under the white light of her office. Are you and Pa free on Sunday? Without thinking, she reached for her phone, clicked on the calendar, and went to Sunday. There’s brunch with a good friend at 10am, but other than that (and the usual plans to catch up on sleep), the day was all clear. And so she nodded.
She may have even smiled, although in truth the grin meant to shrug off a rogue question, namely, What happened, son? this unsaid inquiry that in hindsight may have brought on the impure reminiscence in the first place.
At least this piece of news – and the accompanying memory – offered a fringe benefit: as her son’s footsteps now fade toward the elevator landing, she put her interlaced hands atop the wide table. She thought about progress. How she had forced her legs to sprint from the rustling house that fateful night, how she took her time on her way back, and how her mother and brother complained but still gamely ate the watery chocolate ice cream. She made a silent vow to herself that night before sleeping. After graduating from college, she traveled two hours away to the provincial capital and another seven, in a rickety bus, to Manila. When she applied at the head office of the Japanese firm that owned the power plant, her many precious anecdotes about her childhood barrio charmed the bosses and landed her the job, and over the next 20 years, she negotiated the corporate ladder with a hunger that her city-bred counterparts lacked.
This was progress: the proud ability of respite-taking. She now walked down the carpeted hallway of her department, wordlessly, past her secretary’s table, past the cubicles where heads randomly bobbed, past the reception desk. She pressed Down, to get to the basement parking lot. She was not in the mood for fried chicken.

Saturday, March 31


To you,

I know that you think I write for ego's sake. I don't. But even if I do, I will say that it is as valid a reason to write as anything. Like you, I used to take it against people for writing selfishly, i.e., not for the country. However, I learned that if it makes him a better person, the writing would have done its part, and more, and would not have been in vain. The written word, after all, is a mere tool, and if someone is utterly convinced that his reason is nobler / "better" than others, it says more about him than those whom he judges.

You also know, that if there's something in this world that I constantly aspire for, it is to occupy as small a space as I could, to inconvenience as few lives as possible, and to matter as little as I could. However, in spite of myself, the writing inflates my ego unnecessarily, and I sometimes forget that it is not for the self that I write. And so if I quit writing in the future, this will be the only reason: that I no longer like what it is doing to me, and my perception of myself in relation to the world, and so I must stop.

Wednesday, March 21


The Image of the Filipino in Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado

The stance of the anarchist is much luminous, yet for one trapped in the belly of the beast, that heretical strain will do.
- Edel Garcellano

There is sustained and intentional anarchy in Miguel Syjuco's much-celebrated debut effort Ilustrado. The form he used to weave the already convoluted narrative -- metafictional hybridity, aggressive fragmentation, and a relentless pastiche of excerpts, blog entries, emails, interviews, and multi-persona storytelling -- is, in so many ways, apt, considering its representative project. Just like its great-grandmother, Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters, the disjointed nature of Ilustrado reflects the age-old identity crisis of Filipinos, perhaps inadvertently adhering to the formalist hermeneutics of what you say is how you say it.

But outside Syjuco's labirynthine prose, the attempt to encapsulate the Filipino identity is clear, even as his alter-ego Crispin Salvador had, supposedly, "unceasingly tried to shudder off the yoke of representation" (Syjuco, 6). For one, the novel's rigorous undertaking of the country's history, complete with at times caricaturish characters verging on archetypal tokenisms and all-too-convenient cataloging of representative news bites, prompts the accusation. But the final nail in the coffin is the last sentence in Salvador's (and Syjuco's) long and obviously true-to-life commentary on Philippine writing: "Don't make things new, make them whole" (209).

Whether or not the novel succeeds in making things "whole," the observations it makes about the Filipino identity all show constant preoccupation with one thing: class. "The term class," writes Garcellano, "is still the bogeyman in literary and media discourses -- almost as though Manila is in a time warp" (15). Indeed, as Ilustrado navigates through one period, place or millieu to another, everything seems to revolve around class, to reinforce it, to subvert it, or to merely articulate its whims. And why not? The level of inequality in Philippine society is one of the highest in the world, its stubborn roots surviving occupations and revolutions.

Its title alone, a reference to the upper-class intelligentsia during the Spanish period, is an exhortation to see Salvador/Syjuco in that light: educated, reform-minded, but most importantly, upper-class. And so when the novel traverses more than a century of history -- from the turbulent countryside during the 1896 Philippine Revolution to the coke-smelling bathroom of fictional Club Coup d'Etat today -- class and its many faces hover above the proceedings, the tense political ferment perpetually brewing in the background (everyone in this novel, from the druggies to the unnamed couple in some random elevator, talks about current events).

Right off the bat, we realize that we are dealing with a very class-concious narrator/persona with the "protagonist" Miguel Syjuco (a rendering, of course, that will be completely subverted by the novel's explosive ending). In detailing the supposedly dehumanizing conditions of riding coach, Syjuco, the scion of a political and landed clan, notes that "anyone who is still a Marxist has never had an economy-class middle seat on a packed long-haul flight like this one" (22).

During the same flight back to Manila, he encounters what would be the first of this novel's many archetypal characters. His seatmate, after using and keeping Syjuco's bottle of hand sanitizer, strikes up a conversation with him, complete with visual aid, a thick wad of dollar bills that he fishes from his belt bag. In broken English, the returning OFW tells his story, which, of course, mirrors a million others:

My neighbor finally asks me, in English, "You visiting?" I nod. "Me," he says, smiling, "I come home. For good ... In past times, I work very hard. I remit money for a long time. I will now change everything." I nod. The money in the middle slips out of the stack and bills shower into our laps ... The bills smell like sweaty hands and baking bread. "I work so far away. Now, for the future of my children, I come home" (41).

Some 9 million Filipinos, or roughly 1 in every 10, work abroad -- from the deserts of Algeria to the seas off the coast of Zaire -- their remittances fueling the economy to the detriment of relationships. The social cost of the OFW phenomenon is largely unstudied, but to be sure, growing up without one or both parents is less than ideal. This dependence on foreign capital, mainly due to the absence of national industries, is tangentially responsible for the lack of employment opportunities in our own shores.

This preoccupation with class is at times evident, such as the aforementioned connection. At other times, it needs to be fleshed out. For instace, the novel has explicitly championed education as an enabler (Ilustrado literally means "the enlightened one"). But the Ateneo- and Columbia-educated Syjuco finds himself reprimanded by his rich, influential grandfather for "wasting [his] life" in a magazine, working as an editorial assistant when he is supposed to be editor-in-chief (38). "I sent you to an Ivy League school," he insists, even taunting him later, "Are you the janitor?"

Another thematic mine for Ilustrado, the Filipino family is shown in the novel as extremely didactic to a point of suffocation. Both Salvador and Syjuco tried to escape their prescribed paths. Salvador published a memoir that supposedly shamed the family and attacked the Catholic church, while Syjuco refused to enter politics and write about "nice things." The resulting estrangement practically banished them from Manila, to live exilic lives of solitude and alienation.

Both functioning as instruments to maintain their economic class, such value on family exacts Filipinos to, in turn, put a high premium on formal education. The common Filipino home is adorned with framed diplomas, giant graduation pictures, and medals dating back to kindergarten. This hunger for intellectual capital is largely class-driven: poor families break their backs to send that one intelligent child to college, middle-class families move heaven and earth to pay for tuition, and rich families give their kids the best education that money can buy.

This fetish for schools and degrees is revisited when Syjuco dines with Sadie's upper middle-class family, the Gonzalez's. Her father, upon finding out that Syjuco went to an Ivy League school, shares, "I went to Harvard for my master's, then to Princeton for my PhD" (193). The two even get into a mild tussle regarding the the composition of the Founding Four, after the elder Gonzalez calls Columbia a Little Ivy.

Marxist theory posits the primacy of commodity in the market economy, a coopting that affects all facets of life, including education. This commodification gives things value that is not inherent in them. To illustrate in this case, the value of an Ivy League education is perceived to be commensurate to how much it costs in the market and the consequent entitlements it brings, be it prestige or a high-paying job.

Even the novel's running joke about the Atenean, Lasallian, and the AMA student is rooted on class. When they see a "particularly skanky girl" wearing high-heeled shoes "popular with dancers of the exotic discipline," the three's reactions venture beyond the realm of harmless school jokes:

The Atenista says: "My God! A veritable whore of Babylon!"
The Lasallista says: "Nyeh! What a puta!"
Erning Isip ... exclaims: "Uy! My classmate from Intro to HTML!" (50).

The humor of the remarks relies heavily on the fact that they are class articulations, loaded with meanings that shed light on things beyond themselves. This is akin to the acrimonious but all-too-normal taunting of the "Tuition ninyo, allowance lang namin" variety.

Ilustrado doesn't pull punches with its jokes, the distinct Pinoy brand of humor palpable in something as silly as odd names (Boy, Baby, Keana Reeves) and long-winded acronyms (the DCSMNLLR Prize) or as grand as the protracted saga of Wigberto Lakandula, something that verges on magic realism. Vowing revenge on a couple who killed his girlfriend, the goodlooking Lakandula decapitates the family's Chihuahua's then takes them hostage. A testament to the quirky Pinoy variants of "celebrity," a crowd, led by the shrill screams of collegialas, gathers outside the house to sho support. The couple, coincidentally but not really, belong to the Changco clan, the archetype for corrupt big business and entrenched oligarchy.

Reminiscent of formulaic Pinoy teleserye, the episode brings to fore the issue of class. But while teleseryes portray class as malleable and prone to divine whimsy instead of structural and fiercely defended, the Lakandula story depicts class antagonisms playing out on a very public venue. This fascination, some would argue, is rooted on a collective imagining of class distinctions being eradicated altogether, although material conditions preclude that possibility as of yet.

However, as the novel on one hand illustrates class antagonisms and therefore the possibility of subverting the hierarchy, it offers a stern warning to those who will actually do it:

Pity not the elite, but do not condemn them all ... Vilification, by its definition, creates an antagonistic struggle, an us-versus-them mentality, that throws us all into a senseless battle-royale. The slaves of today will become the tyrants of tomorrow -- the proletariat overthrows the hegemon to become the hegemon itself (70).

Couched in an essay by Salvador called Socrates Dissatisfied, this pronouncement is unfortunately silent on alternative modes of engagement (a tell-all book is a hardly realistic solution in the face of a non-reading public). It speaks of what we shouldn't do without mentioning what we should. Inadvertently, Salvador, a mouthpiece through which the novel speaks, reveals the preoccupation of the entrenched elite, true in Ilustrado and true in society: the preservation of the status quo. What, then, of armed struggle? How does the novel portray the communist insurgency in the country, the longest-running in the world?

After finishing school in Europe, Salvador went on to become an award-winning journalist in the Philippines. He was soon conscienticized and, prompted by the gruesome murder of a woman he admired, he decided to take up arms in the late 1960s. In the hinterlands of Mt. Banahaw, he learned the following: firing a Kalashnikov, spotting edible plants, navigating by the stars, and puncturing an enemy's lung with a knife.

Trained in guerilla warfare but suspiciously with nary a lesson on the theoretical framework of Maoist-Leninist armed struggle, he described his experience as the "schooling in the best and the worst of humanity" (261). His portrayal -- and the novel's -- of the communist movement is temporal, a phase that a people will outgrow. "Call communism my youthful reaction to the garish conservatism of an entrenched elite" (127). Needless to say, Marxist critics bristled at the clear repudiation. He explains further:

I felt at the time that communism was the way because it was the only viable means to real progres in my country. I no longer believe it can work. We're simply not that noble. I still believe revolutionary change is the only remedy, but it will be through something far more primitive (127).

Syjuco even situates this point of view in the context of the world at large, a cosmopolitan treatment with which the novel positions Filipino identity. In between plans to build houses for Habitat for Humanity and volunteer for the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Syjuco and his old girlfriend Madison decide to boycot China in light of the accusations of human rights violation in the conduct of the 2008 Beijing Games. Tangentially, they note how American broadcast giant CNN stopped calling it Communist China, except during negative news stories (84).

The cosmopolitan strain goes beyond the conduit of education- and family-led diaspora. From the ski slopes of Matterhorn to the Ajaccio countryside, Salvador jetsets around Europe with indefatigable haste and ease, something that a vast majority of Filipinos cannot imagine, much less do themselves. Ironically, he seems the least home in Manila, the proverbial cutting off of the umbilical cord that he justifies as necessary in creating genuine art.

What's in Manila anyway? A hodgepodge of influences has made Manila inherently schizophrenic, in fact "most impermeable" of cities, says Salvador. "If one writes about its tropical logic, its bitter aftertaste of Spanish colonialism, readers wonder: Is this a Magical Realist? So one writes of the gilded oligarchs and the reporters with open hands and the underpaid officers in military fatigues, the authority of money and press badges and rifles distinguishing them as neither good nor bad, only satiated and dangerous. And readers wonder: Is this Africa" (60)?

The magic realist bent complements the novel's willful and successful blurring of the fiction-nonfiction divide. Manila, after all, is no stranger to strangeness. To cite, the bus that was bombed in EDSA killing four people was driven by a guy named Maximo Peligro. Recently, the disgraced former armed forces chief of staff committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart in front of his mother's grave.

And so, in Ilustrado, when a disgruntled lover held his girlfriend's killer hostage, the strangeness escaped the general population. Instead, they trooped to the house, held placards declaring their support, and sent a text message to everyone in their phonebook to "take to the streets for Lakandula" (268).

However, the oddity of the Filipino psyche is loudest with the novel's political import. With representative characters like President Fernando V. Estregan, Senator Nuredin Bansamoro and Reverend Martin, the events in the novel, though different in particulars, mimic real-life events. The circus-like turn of events, complete with sex video scandals, allegations of bribery and massive levels of corruption, is all too familiar for the jaded Filipinos. This perhaps explains the nonchalant stride in which most took the daily barrage of negative news.

But unlike in real life, the events in Ilustrado somehow culminate in a slightly reconfigured EDSA 5 (the protests took place in Manila, in the vicinity of Malacanang Palace). On one hand, this hopeful fictionalizing counters a general feeling of fatigue among Filipinos. However, the fruits of the revolution are purposely made unclear, with differing accounts on who was arrested and who was vindicated.

The final version of events -- "a blank page [rising] up to receive black letters, fingers pushing and resting in the warm curls of the keys of an old Underwood" -- is touted to supposedly "make most sense" (296). This message, no matter how sentimental and potentially hollow, nevertheless leaves room for interpretation. As Filipinos negotiate the murky terrain of their quotidian histories, the future remains to be told.

But can the future really be shaped by art in general and literature in particular? The journalistic project of the novel is lucidly undertaken, but on the question of engagement, Ilustrado seems painfully undecided. On one hand, its stand is clearly a call to action:

And yet, "No lyric has ever stopped a tank," so said seamus Heaney. Auden said that "poetry makes nothing happen." Bullshit! I reject all that wholeheartedly! What do they know about the mechanics of tanks? How can anyone estimate the ballistic qualities of words? Invisible things happen inside in intangible moments. What should keep us writing is precisely that possibility of explosions. If not, what then? (205).

But the call is a hollow cry. Pandering on the populist "The pen is mightier than the sword," the solution it offers is naively simplistic, ignoring the systemic roots of corruption that it is, in fact, on the verge of discovering. Its extensive commentary on the many contradictions that Filipino writers have to negotiate may seem like a reprimand, but who is to say that it is not guilty of the same things? So while Ilustrado can be lauded for the mostly faithful portrayal of the Filipino in its celebrated pages, it will be hardpressed to claim that it does more.