Saturday, November 18, 2017

Seeking the Igorot

THE “TOURORISTS” are back.

A social media rant by a resident popped out in an online report about the gridlock that recently locked down Baguio City.

The portmanteau combines “tourists” and “terrorists” to aptly capture the exasperation of Baguio residents after a three-day holiday declared to decongest the streets in Metro Manila during the ASEAN Summit resulted in an exodus to the so-called summer capital.

I was guilty of adding to that congestion. The Baguio hallmarks were still in evidence: pine tree silhouettes, bracing upland air, and the fog, which, according to Carl Sandburg’s immortal line, “comes on little cat feet”.

But of traffic, too, there was more than anyone—resident or “tourorist”—desired. One queued to go inside the city’s only mall, to park a car, to use the toilet, to get a taxi, even to enter the “wagwagan (used clothes)” night market.

I waited for nearly an hour to take out siopao from this popular eatery, which has four floors and is open 24 hours. In the gridlock of that long weekend, snaking lines of people waiting to get in during dining “rush hour” meant rising at dawn to get the siopao that left my husband sleepless.

Is tourism a boon? According to city planners, Baguio’s woes are caused by the influx of visitors (and their vehicles) that bloats the population of more than 350,000 residents in a city designed to hold only 25,000.

I prefer to walk around to know a city better. During this visit to Baguio, though, walking seemed more of a duty, an attempt not to add to the toxicity hovering above irate motorists, jeepney commuters suffering behind long lines, and the frustrated waiting fruitlessly for an empty cab.

Yet, walking has its limitations. History is often found on the outskirts, rarely at the center. Baguio is the capital of the Cordillera region, the largest community of indigenous peoples in the country.

According to Nestor T. Castro’s brief but excellent “A Peek into Cordilleran History, Culture, and Society” (UP Press, 2015), the region derives its name from the Gran Cordillera Central, the mountain ranges serving as the “backbone” of the central part of northern Luzon.

This backbone is not just geographical. The Cordilleras is the bastion of ethnicity, “historically differentiated” from the rest of the country for successfully resisting the “inroads of colonization,” according to Republic Act No. 8371, also known as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Acts of 1997.

During this visit, the closest I got to Igorot culture was admiring the weaving patterns of a red-and-black loincloth called “binolda-an” in Sagada. To know why the “Igorot” is a contested being will have to be for another visit.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 19, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Sunday, November 12, 2017


I STARTED and finished the book while waiting for class.

Yet, in the space of that hour or so, “Macli-ing Dulag” (UP Press, 2015) brought me to so many places: our family’s reading of Sunday newspapers in bed, martial law under President Ferdinand Marcos, and my high school discovery of journalism in the pages of a Sunday newspaper supplement.

Deceptively slim, “Macli-ing Dulag” combines two books: Ma. Ceres P. Doyo’s expanded article, and “A Peek into Cordilleran History, Culture and Society” by Nestor P. Castro.

I was in high school when Doyo’s article on Macli-ing Dulag was featured in “Panorama,” a magazine that came with “Bulletin Today”. My father did not think highly of the newspaper. Of the three national dailies, though, he thought the Bulletin had the thickest main section devoted to news.

While my sister and I flipped through the supplements, my father read the news section from front page to back. He often pronounced the news was the “usual propaganda.” As we had several mutts that resisted housebreaking, propaganda served a purpose.

On June 29, 1980, my father asked me if I read this “Panorama” article. Edited then by the legendary Leticia Jimenez Magsanoc, the magazine offered little to interest a teenager.

In Doyo’s account, I read Macli-ing Dulag’s response to a government official belittling his people’s lack of land titles that could have “legitimized” their opposition to the Chico River Dam Project: “How can you own that which will outlive you? Only the race owns the land because the race lives forever.”

Only in college would the sacrifice that saved the Kalinga way of life sink in. Only during the recent reading of Doyo’s book did I realize that we have no lack of heroes: the tribal leader who gave up his life to defend his people’s culture, which Marcos would have traded for 1,010 megawatts of electricity; the untried journalists (Doyo and Rene O. Villanueva) who went through arduous travel and a military interrogation to write the reports that led to the first face-of between the media and the state since martial law was imposed eight years before.

The Filipinos’ heroism does not belong to the past; it manifests in the struggles to assert self-determination being waged by the indigenous peoples, non-government workers, students, and other citizens.

Asked during the military hearing why she only carried “one side” of the story, Doyo explained that the government had unlimited access to the media. “My article is a challenge to the government to print the truth.”

My father pointed me to my earliest memory of journalism’s oblation. As custodians of our shared memory, have we discharged our duty?

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 12, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Writing again

THANKS to social media, former students keep in touch. One of the subjects frequently raised is writing.

Although their careers have taken off, the writing they once carried out regularly—oppressively, too, as I once handled 7:30 a.m. classes and am inflexible with deadlines and rewriting—catches hold of them again.

Some wonder if they can go back to writing again.

The “again” punctuates their thoughts like a lead sinker. The qualifier embraces many possibilities but this one seems to apply to my former students: can I write again even after not writing for many years?

As my semester as a student draws to a close, I realize a deeper anxiety can yawn under someone who writes for a living: can I write what I have always wanted to write?

Yes is the answer to both questions.

Commenting on “Letters Home,” which published nearly 400 of Sylvia Plath’s letters, written from her years as a college freshman up to the final days leading to her death by suicide, the poet Adrienne Rich wrote: “What comes across in these letters is a survivor who knew that to be a writer means discipline, indefatigable commitment, and passion for hard work.”

Of writers writing about writing, Eudora Welty’s “One Writer’s Beginnings” lingers.

The slim volume collects three lectures the fictionist delivered at Harvard University in 1983. The book is organized into “Listening,” “Learning to See,” and “Finding a Voice”.

Immediately, on the first paragraph of the first section, Welty answers obliquely the self-doubts that plague writers by opening with, “In our house on North Congress Street in Jackson, Mississippi, where I was born, the oldest of three children, in 1909, we grew up to the striking of clocks.”

The power of reminiscence to guide the writer is clinched at the close of this perfect paragraph: “It was one of a good many things I learned almost without knowing it; it would be there when I needed it.”

“Writing by not writing” is a technique used by writers to hoard material, sharpen skills, or refresh inner resources.

As my professor, the poet J. Neil Garcia, said at the start of poetry workshops: you cannot write if you have not read. Rich, Plath, and Welty grew up in “bookish homes”.

Reading is a pleasure to be enjoyed for its own sake. Yet, caught up in it, one comes into the presence of the unspeakable.

The desire longing ache to shake loose from what also bound the limbs of Lazarus before Jesus summoned him to come forth from the grave can only end when one writes.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s November 5, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”