Oakland, early Sunday evening. A sense of calm is rare while driving on the Bay Bridge, but it was there as I made my way from San Francisco to the other side. Comrades from the Philippines were giving a report back on their recent trip to the motherland and I thought about the ever present thread of home between two places: Oakland, Philippines.

On a table in the space were goods for sale from home — woven wallets, tote bags, shirts and a pile of books. I came upon the books and recognized her face instantly. Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay. A flood of thoughts, a rush to the heart. I’ve seen this face countless times, as she continues to speak out against the injustices the Lumád people have been experiencing.

Lumád is a collective term for non-Islamized indigenous groups in Mindanao. It hails from a term meaning “native” or “indigenous” and was accepted by about 15 Mindanao ethnic groups to differentiate themselves from Moros, Christians and other Mindanao settlers.

I came home with copies of BAYI: Stories of Lumád Women that night. For the next few days, I learned about the stories of fierce Lumád women and their struggle to fight for their land, liberation and people.

Here are the stories and struggles of three Lumád women:

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At 92 years old, Bai Bibiyaon Likayan Bigkay‘s strength and courage has been a constant source of inspiration for many. She is a bibiyaon, a female Lumád tribal chieftain in a culture that is traditionally patriarchal. In the 90’s, she joined a tribal war to fight the logging company Alcantara & Sons (ALSONS).

The Pantaron Mountain Range, a mountain range that runs across several provinces in Mindanao, is home to tribal communities and has been sought after by transnational companies for its resources-rich landscape.

Instead of defending the Lumád, the government has been aggressive in pushing tribal communities out to give way to profit-seeking entities. With aggressive military and paramilitary operations, Likayan and her community have been forced to evacuate and seek encampment in other areas.

Still, her resilience and commitment to justice remains strong.

If we continue to struggle just as we are doing now, tomorrow is ours. The struggle must be continued by the future generations. What we are doing now, even if we die, we will die contented if our children, our grandchildren and the future generations will continue what we are doing. We know we can do and achieve many things. The unity that we have achieved now, can also be accomplished by future generations, even more.

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Lumád Women You Need to Know

Book Reviews, Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

My parents got back from the Philippines last week, after spending two blissful weeks in the homeland. Every time they go for a visit, they always come back electric and full of life. Along with that renewed zest is also a tinge of melancholy, written in their faces as they slowly readjust to life back in the States. I hug both of them and smell the sweet scents of home.

But because homesickness also has a physical element, it wouldn’t be a homecoming for Filipinos without balikbayan boxes. My parents had four of those boxes which contained gifts and goods from the country: dried mangoes, polvoron (plain and chocolate ones), specialty dried herring in mason jars, “French” corned beef, candies from sari-sari stores we used to buy as kids (Mik Mik, Haw Haw, Hi-Ho), lengua de gato (butter oats), 3-in-1 coffee mixes, garlic peanuts, special tamarind candy, delicacies from Baguio (chocolate marshmallows, chocolate flakes) and more.

I think my sisters, our relatives, family friends and I have enough goodies to tide us over until the next wave of homesickness hits. We can always eat our feelings.

While munching on one of the Pan de San Nicolas my dad absolutely adores, my mom handed me another package wrapped in plastic. I think they secretly waited until I ate some of the “heritage cookie” specially made in our province (Pampanga), which bears an embossed image of the St. Nicholas on the biscuit itself. My parents are unhappily aware of my Buddhist beliefs, gravely disappointed by my spiritual choices after having gone to a Catholic school for 14 years. Word has it that it has a “curative effect,” to be eaten while saying a prayer. I felt bad after literally biting the head off one.

I opened the package and in it were three glorious things:

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Habang Wala Pa Sila (Mga Tula ng Pag-ibig) by Juan Miguel Severo

Stupid is Forever by Miriam Defensor Santiago

The Duterte Manifesto

The first two books were from my dear cousin back home, Ate Tet, and the last book was something that caught my dad’s eye. I mentioned that I wanted these two books unavailable in the U.S. and sure enough, my family came through with my request.

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tag-ulan

minahal kita
walang payong na dinala.

– Juan Miguel Severo

I first heard about the poet after watching a spoken word piece that went viral. I’ve always loved spoken word artists — Kai Davis, Aja Monet, Saul Williams; and I’ve always admired Filipino poets — Bienvenido Lumbera, Joi Barrios, Jose Garcia Villa. It was a breathtaking experience to see both Tagalog and spoken word combined, to witness Severo’s work. The depth of his poems and the conviction of his delivery tugs at the heart. It was like being granted permission to access those parts of us we didn’t even know existed. And to top it all off — I’m an undoubtedly big fan of a Filipino teleserye called “On The Wings of Love” which featured the poet and his work consistently.

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Law school is quite easy. It’s like a stroll in the park. Pero Jurassic Park.

– Miriam Defensor Santiago

The next book Stupid is Forever by this renowned politician in the country is “a collection of jokes, one-liners, pick-up lines, comebacks and speeches delivered and/or curated by the beloved Senator.” I’ve always looked up to MDS even as a kid, as I watched her on TV deliver impassioned speeches in Congress, in awe of her intellect and outspokenness. She ran for president during the most recent election season in the Philippines and lost, the frailty of her health a huge concern.

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I don’t care if I burn in hell as long as the people I serve will live in paradise.

– Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte

Last but not the least (and also unexpected) was a copy of The Duterte Manifesto from my dad. My dad likes (or loves) to challenge my political beliefs, specially when it comes to politics in the Philippines. He knew I would find this book interesting, notwithstanding its title very similar to another very popular manifesto out there. Duterte is an interesting figure, rife with contradictions but I’m watching and learning. If anything, this book promises to be an intimate rendering of the president. In the introduction, it was signed (translated from Tagalog):

“From my humble hacienda larger than the terrain/estate of (bleep),”

– Senyora Santibañez (the main antagonist of an old Mexican
telenovela aired in the Philippines)

I can only surmise that Senyora is alluding to Hacienda Luisita, owned by the former President Aquino’s family, a site of decade-long struggle and resistance of the farmers against their landlords.

These three books in no means capture the state of Philippine society as a whole, but they draw a picture of popular culture that is reflective of different parts of Filipino society. I’ve always trusted books more than television, finding poets and writers more credible (even while they’re making jokes!).

I’ll be spending the next few weeks immersed in these three literary pieces of which I will duly be reporting back and writing about in this blog. Now that’s what you call healing.

Pasalu-book: Gifts from the Motherland

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight: Filipino Literature

Fil/Lit, Sunday Spotlight

The month of April is National Literature Month in the Philippines or #BuwanNgPanitikan and in its honor, I thought of doing this Sunday’s feature on the literary work of Filipinos.

I grew up with mostly American literature and found it incredibly difficult to engage with Filipino lit. Although my first language is Tagalog, it was much easier for me to read and write in English. José Rizal, the journalist/poet/writer and national hero of the Philippines, would’ve surely scoffed at this.

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One cannot omit Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, two important pieces of literature that awakened the country’s consciousness during the Spanish colonization. Both of these were required reading when I was still in school. I have some faint recollection of the texts, mostly remembering the female characters of María Clara and Sisa. The former is the mestiza heroine of Noli Me Tangere, embodying the Filipino “feminine ideals” while the latter embodies the kind of hardships mothers go through for their children.

I was introduced to Jessica Zafra when I was younger, although I can’t remember any of her work. I might have read a book of hers (maybe Twisted?) but I think my mind was stubbornly glued to American lit, finding it more interesting at that time.

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I also vaguely remember reading Andres Cristobal Cruz’s Ang Tundo Man May Langit Din (Even in Tondo There is a Heaven), a Tagalog novel about poverty and violence in one of Manila’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Again, my experience was the same — I found it hard to engage with the text, much less comprehend the essence of the book.

The single piece of literature that spoke to me at that time was a book called Tibok: Heartbeat of the Filipino Lesbian, an anthology written by queer Filipino women writers. I was immediately smitten. The stories, essays and poems spoke to me on a personal level. That copy belonged to my English high school teacher and a decade later, I finally got my own.

I am fortunate that in the Bay Area, there are resources that people can turn to for Filipino literature. There’s the Filipino American Center at the San Francisco Public Library with its trove of fiction and nonfiction materials. In the recently established Filipino Cultural Heritage District in the South of Market of San Francisco is also an indie bookstore called Arkipelago. It is a community-based specialty bookshop that I could get lost in for hours. And there’s PAWA, Inc. (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.), a space that encourages Filipino American art and literature.

It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. that I became more interested in Filipino lit. The San Francisco Public Library and Arkipelago aided and nurtured that interest. My politics also influenced the kinds of literature I sought; I stayed with Amado Guerrero’s Philippine Society and Revolution, I was smitten with Bienvenido Lumbrera’s Poetika/politika.

To contribute to the conversation around #BuwanNgPanitikan, here are my own “Pira-pirasong Panitikan” (literary pieces) from Filipino lit I’ve acquired over the years, à la Rappler style (as seen above).

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As this month and the celebration of Filipino lit nears its end, the resolution to keep reading and engaging with it remains. It is a continuous process of deepening one’s self, and a life-long journey that grows one’s roots even further. There are numerous literary greats that are not mentioned here, of which I’ve yet to discover. As Manuel Briones, another Filipino writer states:

The end of the Filipino writer, although he employs foreign materials, should always be to harness and unite these in the native manner so that the resultant piece becomes a perfect work of our own literature; developed in the treasury of the national soul.

Do you have Filipino literature recommendations? Leave them in the comments below!