‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

By L.S. Mendizabal

(Trigger warning: Murders, mutilation of corpses)

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

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Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

Kung said na ang luha mo Bagong Bayani

Ni Ibarra Banaag

(Inspirasyon mula sa tula ni Ka Amado V. Hernandez)

Lumuha ka bagong bayani, buong lungkot mong iluha
Ang kawawang kalagayan ng lupain mong iniwanan:
Kung bandilang kinagisnan, saklot ng dayong bandila,
Pati wikang minana mo’y sa Mandarin itinatwa.
Ganito ring araw ngayon ng magsangla ka ng lupa,
Tulad ni Flor Comtemplacion ng lisanin ang Maynila.
Lumuha ka habang sila ay bagabag ng `yong layon, 
Ang paslit sa bisig mo’y iniwan mong tumataghoy: 
Katulad mo ay si Huli, naaliping bayad utang, 
Katulad mo‘y si Sisa, binaliw sa bayan ng dayuhan; 
Walang lakas na magtangol, walang tapang na lumaban, 
Pumapalahaw nang gahasain; tumatangis sa tampalasan!
Iluha mo ang sambuntong kasawiang nagtalakop 
Na sa iyo’y pampahirap, sa Gobyerno’y pampalusog: 
Ang lahat ng kayamana’y kamal-kamal na naubos, 
Ang lahat mong kalayaa’y sa Terror Bill ay natapos; 
Masdan mo ang iyong luha, sa Philhealth ay pantubos, 
Masdan mo ang yong sahod, sa sobrang buwis itinustos.
Lumuha ka kung sa puso ay nagmaliw na ang ipon,
Kung ang pundar na bukid, ginawa ng subdibisyon,
Kung ang dagat sa bayan mo, Tsino’t Kano nakadaong,
Kung bundok at ang parang, pinatag ng mandarambong,
Kung ang katawan mo’y inuwi para lamang paglamayan,
Lumuha ka ng lumuha, pangarap mo’y nakaburol.
May araw ding ang luha mo’y masasaid, matutuyo.
May araw ding di na luha sa mata mong namumugto
Ang dadaloy, kundi apoy at adhikain na pupugto,
Rumaragasang galit at kamaong nag-aalimpuyo,
Sisigaw ka ng buong giting tanikala ay malagot,
At ang pangangayupapa, dudurugin sa pagbangon.

Hunyo 8, 2020


By Karlos Ysagani Zarate

The fascists, four of them, did not respect
the cool morning breeze of Arevalo;
Nay, they’re even afraid to show their face
to the morning light that breaks through
the expanse of Iloilo strait!
That morning, they have decided
to be your accusers, the prosecutors,
the jury and your executioners!
Your crimes: serving and feeding the poor
during this reign of a crowned virus!

As the grating voice of the venomous god
echoes in their ears, promising faux redemption,
it muted the symphony of the chasing, splashing
waves and the humming cool summer wind,
they have prayed and decided over your fate:
You who is relentless, diligent, firm,
hardworking, principled and exemplary!
They cannot just injure, wound, maim,
Or, torture your kind Jory!
They’ll wipe out for good your infectious smile!

“Murder”, that was a strong indictment,
the palace jester said on a talking box;
But how, indeed, you call a traitorous act
of ending the life of a peaceful, defenseless man
by four armed masked men who pumped
eight bullets to his fragile being, one bullet
nearly blown the head off, as if to insure his death?
Yes, it was murder most foul by coward sicarius
Of a false god that spews virus and microbes of death!
It was, in fact, murder ex cathedra!

Yet, they were mistaken, gravely so, as it was then!
The bullets that pierced Jory’s being did not kill him,
nor, shatter his dreams that there is that day
certain to come when the mamumugon will reap
the just shares of their labors; when the mangunguma
will become masters of the land they till
and feed well the masa, the true jury of history;
And, in his beachside coffeehouse flows free
the brew that will continuously invigorate the banwa,
in defending the gains of the revolution – Jory’s real joys!

caritaz. 14 May 2020

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The poet is Deputy Minority Leader and third-term member of the House of Representatives, representing Bayan Muna Party.

Jory Porquia was Bayan Muna coordinator in Iloilo City. He was assassinated by four gunmen, believed to be state agents, in his home in Aravelo, Iloilo City last April 30. He has been a repeated victim of red-tagging by the military, the latest was connected to his urban-poor feeding program under the coronavirus lockdown imposed by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

ANG ‘HULING EL BIMBO, THE MUSICAL’ REVIEW: When is nostalgia too much that it hurts?

By L.S. Mendizabal

Spoiler alert! Trigger warning: rape

The recent free streaming of Ang Huling El Bimbo The Musical on ABS-CBN’s Facebook page and YouTube channel was trending over the weekend and has since bred long, heated discussions among netizens on its content over form. Directed and choreographed by Dexter Santos, it delivered his signature masterful storytelling which I had had the privilege to be spellbound with in his earlier productions in Dulaang UP back in college. All the songs by the Eraserheads, about 30 in total, which provided the show’s repertoire, are hauntingly familiar to 90s kids and babies alike. As for the writing, I could not find fault in Dingdong Novenario when it came down to the accuracy of the times, human characterization, the right balance between humor and tragedy and the most difficult task of building a distinctly unforgettable story around already very iconic songs. “I hope I do the band justice,” Novenario once said in an interview. Frankly, this was where the problem lays. Now, before you come for me, let me just say that I enjoyed the musical thoroughly—it’s really hard not to love anything from Santos, anyway—except for a single scene which I personally found a bit too jarring and which I shall go over later as we try to examine both form and content.

Act One began in medias res with a police officer looking down at a dead body. This served as the catalyst for all the turmoil that would disturb the otherwise comfortable lives of three successful middle-aged men: Emman, a government employee, Anthony, a wealthy businessman and Hector, an established director. These men had history, being college roommates and best friends in the 90s. Their nostalgia kicked off with flashbacks to some of the oldest Eraserheads songs juxtaposed with their freshman life in a state university that looked and sounded a lot like the University of the Philippines. I especially loved the numerous song mashups, while the ROTC drill number was quite the spectacle and was easily one of my favorite parts of the musical, granted that watching this live must have been leaps and bounds better. The three boys would then meet Joy, a perky out-of-school merienda peddler about the same age as they were. She became an instant fascination for the boys because of the special attention given to her by their ROTC commandant, Banlaoi, played to evil caricature perfection by Jamie Wilson. Meanwhile, Joy was given life and dimension by Gab Pangilinan with her morena complexion, convincing tambay speak and powerful vocals. Her character in Act One was the epitome of “pure innocence with a dash of daring.” Like the three boys, she was always smiling and hoping, a persistent believer of true love and chaser of dreams. In contrast to the boys, however, she could not afford to hope and dream as big as they did. But they found common ground in youthful idealism and built an effectively portrayed, uncontrived friendship. This would soon be challenged by one night that changed their lives forever, Joy’s moreso, when they went on a road trip to Antipolo (“Overlooking!”) while, of course, singing “Overdrive” and “Alapaap.” These upbeat songs were followed by the slow acoustic, “Fill Her’, which menacingly ushered in the closing of the act with drunk male strangers raping Joy while the three boys were trapped in the car, held at gunpoint.

From happy nostalgia, Act Two opened just a day after that ill-fated night in an entirely different tone. Joy’s hair, which was previously in a half-crown braid now hung limply in a half-ponytail, her eyes empty, her smile not quite the same. She was about to attend the boys’ university graduation as one of the guests, but they forgot her. Together with the other graduates, the boys sang, “Lift your head, baby, don’t be scared / Of the things that could go wrong along the way / You’ll get by with a smile….” Oddly, this particular scene evoked the same “optimistic” mood in the Philippine Department of Tourism’s tribute video for our frontliners where shots of an empty metropolis alternated between images of doctors, nurses, the armed forces, etc. with a female rendition of “With a Smile” playing in the background. While the national president threatens to “shoot people dead,” we will survive this pandemic with a smile. While a girl was gang-raped, everything was going to be alright as long as we stayed positive. In the midst of trials and tribulations, there is always hope. Unfortunately, not for Joy. After the graduation rites, each of the boys acknowledged her presence, but not a word about the night before was uttered. This was to be the last time they would see her alive.

Poster from philippineconcerts.com

From the boys’ college experiences, the focus shifted from hereon to Joy’s struggle in the streets. Her Tiya Dely’s (who’d never be played better than by Sheila Francisco. Man, those pipes!) canteen was constantly being extorted by Banlaoi who happened to be their patron and “protector.” Unless they came up with a new gimmick, the eatery would go bankrupt and face imminent closure. Santos utilized the effect of the revolving stage here so that it wasn’t for the sole purpose of transitioning in and out of scenes but more importantly, for setting the mood and tone of every moment that defined Joy’s downward spiral. “Toyang’s Canteen” slowly turned into “Toyang’s KTV” where female waitresses, sex workers, male customers and drug pushers and users abound. From wearing a lot of yellow that accurately reflected her sunny disposition in Act One, Joy now wore different colors in cooler tones, her hair now loose and disheveled, her smile replaced with a fixed grim expression. Joy, as also symbolized by their eatery, had now completely lost her innocence.

Older Joy was played by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo whom, in my humble opinion, I have seen in more note-worthy performances. It was easy to suspend disbelief on how physically different Yulo and Pangilinan looked, what with the former’s striking mestiza features, but her American enunciation of certain lines in Taglish and Filipino personally distracted me, considering that she was supposed to be from the urban poor. Nevertheless, it was apparent that the Joy we now saw was no longer the same person literally and figuratively. Naturally, an Eraserheads musical depicting rape would not be complete without singing “Spoliarium.” It was sung in staccato in the confrontation dialogues among the three boys as well as their grown selves (anyone else reminded of Tito, Vic and Joey?)—arguably the most powerful scene in the play. The perfect climax from a slow build of pent-up emotions of male guilt, fear and self-loathing because of what they failed to do for Joy then and how they now all deliberately avoided her when she needed them most. While they did lose their boyhood innocence along the way, it was not quite as tragic as in Joy’s case since her innocence was forcibly, violently taken away from her. Male middle-class nostalgia gave way to an intense clash of principles, justifications and differing, possibly repressed, memories in the heads of the lost boys. “Ewan mo at ewan natin / Sino’ng may pakana / At bakit ba tumilapon ang / Gintong alak diyan sa paligid mo?” Novenario’s writing shone brightest here.

The last 30 minutes, to me, was a pain to watch not because of Joy’s hit-and-run death—we already knew right from the beginning that this was not a tale with a happy ending—but because of the overwhelming romantic sentimentality surrounding it. The three men’s guilt came full circle when they met Joy’s daughter, Ligaya (played by The Voice Kids Philippines 2019 semi-finalist Alexa Salcedo), who casually recounted how her mother described each of them: the “bespren,” the “kuya,” the “pinakaminahal sa lahat.” How a scene could be both tear-jerking and cringe-inducing was certainly baffling to me. You know that these three men were full of bullshit, and yet you feel sympathy for them and pity for Ligaya and Tiya Dely. “Lahat tayo’y mabubuhay ng tahimik at buong ligaya.” Beautiful. Unsettling. Painful to watch. And somehow, I wish it ended right there.

Alas! There had to be a decent funeral for Joy, obviously, paid for by her more successful and fortunate friends. There had to be touching elegies and parting words from Ligaya and the three men preceding a big ol’ group hug to the lyrics of “Ang Huling El Bimbo.” “Magkahawak ang ating kamay / At walang kamalay-malay / Na tinuruan mo ang puso ko / Na umibig nang tunay.” Suddenly, a girl’s rape turned into three boys’ coming-of-age story that came to a closure just now as they were brought together again by her death. Joy who was not only raped, mind you, but was a victim of forced prostitution and drug trafficking, notwithstanding all her misfortunes which are innate to the social class she was born into, was able to teach these poor, miserable middle-aged men what love truly meant. Awwww. If nostalgia was a drug, this part would be the pinnacle of the high where intoxication breeds euphoria. And as in a hallucinatory sequence, the three college boys and a once more young Joy appeared onstage, climbing over the hood of the car atop a hill in Antipolo, while a ghost-like Ligaya joined them until they froze, all their arms raised towards the night sky as if to touch tomorrow. Was Ligaya the silver lining behind all the dark clouds that had crept into and cloaked over Joy’s life? For some reason, I was not quite sold on that metaphorical tableau. It was pretty to look at, sure, but it was too unnervingly romantic. If anything, Ligaya would only be another Joy once these men decided to backslide into their comfortable lives in social oblivion again, just as they did when they abandoned Joy many times over.

I would not go as far as calling Joy a “disposable woman” trope because her character was not flat like that, or the men’s arc as “redemptive,” although they tend to give those impressions on the surface level. The way I see it, the story was not about the three boys. It was always about Joy and how the system broke her through the men’s points of view. Because of this strong male perspective, Joy was narrowed into nothing more than a plot device that helped advance the men’s overall narrative and character development. There was an interesting symbolic analysis that I read on Twitter that said Joy represents the exploited poor, while Banlaoi embodies the exploiting, oppressive state. The government (Emman), the rich private sector (Anthony) and the media (Hector) can only do so much to alleviate the dire conditions of the poor because at the end of the day, they are still all instruments of the state. Ang Huling El Bimbo the Musical only intended to portray the harsh reality of being a Filipino, let alone being an impoverished Filipino woman. While legitimate, I still had problems with this appraisal based on the play’s form and content. To be honest, I found the musical to be leaning towards Idealism more than Realism because of the heavily romanticized rendering of forgiveness and absolution for the three men in the last few scenes. It was obviously teetering between some kind of resolution and resilience porn. “But that’s what rape victims are inclined to do in the end: they forgive,” some might argue, and carelessly and unfairly so. You’d be surprised to find out how many Joy’s you might actually know in real life and how many Emman’s, Anthony’s and Hector’s who allowed rape to happen and continue to tolerate it by keeping quiet. After all, isn’t rape the only crime in which it is the victim who must prove her innocence? Not all victims are able to forgive their rapists, and for this reason alone, my heart bleeds for all the Joy’s I know.

Photo from The Life Chaser.com

“But it’s not supposed to be revolutionary or progressive in the least,” some have said. Look, I know. Eraserheads are no The Jerks or Yano. Even the slightest indication of student activism in Emman’s line about being frustrated with the masses because they couldn’t understand the language of student activists (hence the need for “education among the masses” instead of the other way around) was a dead giveaway that this was no socially progressive play. The main protagonists, not excluding the adorable probinsyano, Emman, did not hail from the grassroots. And yet, in order for art to actually mean something, it has to mirror the times and in mirroring the times, social critique is inevitable. Otherwise, we would consider Brillante Mendoza’s poverty porn “supreme art” rather than what they simply are. This watered down social angling, to me, was the musical’s weakness. By choosing to be more romantic and idealistic in tone towards the end, perhaps to please the upper middle class audience for which it was originally produced and staged, the social commentary got lost, drowned by waves and waves of nostalgia. And you know what happens when historical nostalgia is delivered in high doses? It revises history itself. That is why by the end of the show, the men would earn the audience’s sympathy more than ire.

By making this theatrical production watchable for the larger part of the middle classes on the internet, it has opened a new, active discourse on theatre as a political venue in espousing progressive beliefs that should benefit the masses, not alienate them. It has also successfully given new life to appreciating theatre as an art form, the importance of its accessibility to the masses and the justness of fair and equal pay for all genders in theatre (did you know that female actors are sometimes paid less than their male counterparts?) for their hard work. And we live for these kinds of discourses. And yet, is it right to point some weaknesses out in the musical’s narrative and artistic expressions used? I believe so. Is it only right to challenge our artists and writers to come up with a musical, a story, that Filipino women, especially rape victims, deserve? Absolutely.

Not wanting to be an infinite wellspring of negativity, I watched the musical all the way through the credits. I was waiting for some sort of condemnation of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. None. But, hey, let’s look at the bright side: thunderous applause filled the whole of Newport Performing Arts Theater at Resorts World Manila when they called Eraserheads frontman, Ely Buendia, to join the cast of actors and production crew onstage. Indeed, Ang Huling El Bimbo the Musical was able to achieve its goal, which was simply to do the most iconic Filipino band in the 90s justice. #

The Emancipation of Fiona Apple and Me

By L.S. Mendizabal

If I could sum up college in one word, it would be “liberating.” I savored every single new sensation that came with those years, the better ones being the taste of independence from living miles away from family for the first time; the drunken abandon of sprint racing in the wee hours in the streets of Krus na Ligas after ten bottles of beer or so; the touch and tang of another person’s skin in dark, cramped boarding rooms with only an electric fan to cool our bodies down; the sun’s prickling heat on the back of my neck as I marched countless steps, always catching my breath, in between classes and protest rallies. The slow but sure loss of innocence. As in any coming-of-age story, my college years were far from perfect. I had more than my fair share of bullies (although not as bad as in elementary or high school), terror professors, embarrassment that rendered me useless for days, angst, passion, heartache and a rage against the establishment that refuses to die to this day.

You know when you listen to a song and it triggers all sorts of feelings because you’ve somehow subconsciously attached certain memories to it? Well, I have a whole soundtrack of songs in my head, each associated with a secret. If college was a playlist, personally, it mostly consisted of tracks by singer-songwriter and pianist, Fiona Apple, from her 1996 alternative pop/rock debut album to the bluesy bizarreness that was The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (she likes poems for album titles) in 2012. Apple was, to me, kind of like an imaginary friend to a five-year-old and she’d let me read her diaries through her records. I was cutting myself since 14 so naturally, knowing that Apple also suffered from sexual trauma, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety since childhood comforted me in my own private acts of self-hatred. She was indeed my “patron saint of mental illness,” as she herself would describe the image that the unforgiving male-dominated press often portrayed her to be. As my source of solace and emotional catharsis, Apple made me feel that I was not alone, that I was not as weird.

Eight years later, listening to her fifth album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters (released on April 17) is like catching up with an old friend, leaving me in complete awe of her evolution from once being a “Sullen Girl” (“And he took my pearl / And he left an empty shell of me / And there’s too much going on / But it’s calm under the waves / In the blue of my oblivion”) to becoming this full-grown, less self-deprecating woman because she’s now more cognizant of other women’s struggles. An artist who is still very much fragile, yes, but no longer afraid of being unapologetically angry. And it’s funny how writing this has also forced me to remember the girl I cannot believe I was at one point in my life. I haven’t harmed myself for a decade now. I mean, who was she? Why did she hurt so much? I almost forgot. How odd.

Apple’s latest 13-track baby which was four years in the making and recorded exclusively in her Venice Beach home is, pure and simple, a collection of protest songs anthemic of the #MeToo era. An assembling of women—fellow used and abused women or the women we used to be—and other casualties of late capitalist patriarchy to condemn our bullies and oppressors for the damages they’ve caused us, supposedly to empower us enough to move forward, conquering the victims within. The record’s title was derived from a scene in the BBC crime drama, The Fall, in which Gillian Anderson’s character said “fetch the bolt cutters” to the police in order to release a girl who was tortured.

Remarkably, Apple and her collaborators were able to produce this furious masterpiece without falling into the trap of sounding like your typical angry girl band, not that that’s bad, of course, but it has been done, not to mention that it isn’t as revolutionary for a comeback from a 90’s icon. Fetch’s overall avant-garde sound is distinctively percussion-heavy, which is a clear departure from her earlier more piano-driven albums. Bells, drums, walls, floors, metal squares, wooden blocks, oil cans filled with dirt, barking dogs and even a box housing the bones of Apple’s dead American Pit Bull Terrier were said to be utilized without any digital filters to create the organic, chaotic yet cohesive sound peculiar to the record. A most delicious cacophony! Apple has never been one to shy away from experimenting with her music and Fetch is arguably her wildest and most unorthodox yet.

Iterative lyrics abound, almost like chants akin to that of “Tiny Hands” (“We don’t want your tiny hands / Anywhere near our underpants”), the song she wrote for the 2017 Women’s March as commentary on the audio recording of Donald Trump bragging about “grabbing women by the pussy.” Personally, I’ve always found Apple’s songs a tad bit difficult to sing because of her expert pitch and tone manipulation, characteristic of jazz vocalists, and these tracks are no different. They compel me to first listen closely to Apple’s unending poetic wit and candor so that at the end of the day, I find myself unable to stop singing, “Evil is a relay sport when the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch” or “Shameika said I had potential” over and over again as in the songs themselves. Every line packs a punch, both in poetry and musicality, further solidifying her place amongst rare lyrical geniuses—a place she’s secured for herself since she was 17 in my humble opinion—in these times when millennials are drawn to easier hugot lines or swearing (Apple does both in Fetch, albeit artfully and intelligently). The DIY harmonies and unconventional song arrangements which lean more towards spoken word, chanting and rapping than solely crooning verses only accentuate Apple’s haunting dark vocals which can effortlessly vacillate from being soft and tender at one moment to raspy, harsh and frantic the next. Think Rachel Yamagata on crack or a more sober Yoko Ono circa Plastic Ono Band days.

Fiona Apple

The album’s title track, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is largely in spoken word and seems to be Apple’s rumination on how critics have ostracized her since her speech upon accepting the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist in 1997 in which she said that “the world is bullshit,” encouraging fans to be true to themselves and to not model their lives after what their idols considered cool and fashionable. Her equally infamous onstage meltdown due to sound and technical problems in 2000 pretty much cemented her reputation in the media as this “crazy lady” whose private life almost always took the spotlight over her art. “And you’ve got them all convinced / That you’re the means and the end / All the VIPs and PYTs and wannabes / Afraid of not being your friend… They stole my fun,” goes her Dylanesque drawl before breaking into a chorus with a meowing Cara Delevingne. It’s a pretty simple song about finding one’s bearings and breaking free from your past or other people’s misguided perceptions of you. It ends with dogs barking to a self-empowered lyric and an homage to Kate Bush (“I need to run up that hill / I will, I will, I will”), one of Apple’s biggest and most evident musical influences, I believe. Along the same narrative of being bullied and facing one’s insecurities is the preceding track, “Shameika,” which Apple says was inspired by a significant moment in middle school. She wanted to fit in with the cool girls but her OCD didn’t help and made her feel more like an outcast (“I used to march down the windy, windy sidewalks / Slapping my leg with a riding crop / Thinking it made me come off so tough / I didn’t smile, because a smile always seemed rehearsed / I wasn’t afraid of the bullies, and that just made the bullies worse”). One day, a tough, presumably black girl in school approached her and told her to stop trying to fit in because she, in fact, “had potential.” The song has a quirky, catchy rhythm that complements this anecdote from adolescence perfectly. As much as “Shameika” relates Apple’s life-long struggle with self-esteem, more importantly, it embarks on exploring inter-female relationships, which is a recurring theme in the album.

Three other songs, in particular, touch upon said relationships in varying tones of seriousness and feeling set against very different and yet interconnected contexts. “Newspaper” is the epitome of empathy between women, specifically of one towards the woman her ex is currently involved with. The lines, “I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me / To make sure that we’ll never be friends / And it’s a shame because you and I didn’t get a witness… We were cursed the moment that he kissed us / From then on, it was his big show” hint at the man’s egoism and possible abuse of the women in such a relatable way that it inspires as well as aspires to change the tired virgin-whore dichotomy in mainstream music (Taylor Swift’s “You Belong with Me,” Paramour’s “Misery Business,” Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know,” to name a few), cinema, television and other cultural media. Although lighter and funnier, similar vibes run through “Ladies” (“There’s a dress in the closet / Don’t get rid of it, you’d look good in it / I didn’t fit in it, it was never mine / It belonged to the ex-wife of another ex of mine”). The third track about female connections, though, is anything but light despite its childlike melody accompanied by a chorus of women singing along with Apple. Aptly titled “For Her,” she says that this was written for a woman who was raped by a big shot in the film industry. The bridge of the song in which Apple shrieks, “Good mornin’! Good mornin’ / You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in” is easily one of the most powerful lyrics I have ever had to privilege to come across.

Apple’s undeniable sense of humor also shines in “Rack of His” (most likely punning a woman’s rack, i.e. breasts), a track that sounds a lot like her 2005 record, Extraordinary Machine, if I may add. Here, she grumbles about men objectifying and taking advantage of women in love with them for their own gratification, about internalized misogyny when a woman feels like she needs a man’s approval and how she arrives at an epiphany by turning her scars into art (“And I’ve been used so many times / I’ve learned to use myself in kind / I try to drum, I try to write… ‘Cause I know how to spend my time”). She radiates the same energy in “Drumset,” which is essentially a song about rejection.

My personal favorites, however, are the angriest, those that flash the most defiant middle finger to the ruling class and their apologists. “Under the Table” begins with an R&B tune (“I would beg to disagree / But begging disagrees with me”), reminiscent of Tidal’s, before Apple goes on a confrontational dialogue with somebody who stifles her from calling out another person “when they say something that starts to make her simmer.” The song manages to balance angst, contempt and sarcasm (“Kick me under the table all you want / I won’t shut up…I’d like to buy you a pair of pillow-soled hiking boots / To help you with your climb / Or rather, to help the bodies that you step over along your route / So they won’t hurt like mine”) that could only have been mastered by a child from Generation X. The next track, “Relay,” is inspired by the 2018 Kavanaugh hearings as well as Apple’s personal journey towards forgiveness and justice since being raped by a stranger when she was 12. She reflects on the cycle of elitist bigotry and violence (“And I see that you keep trying to bait me / And I’d love to get up in your face / But I know if I hate you for hating me / I will have entered the endless race”) and how it should end by exposing the guilty and holding them accountable. Its martial verses, “I resent you for being raised right / I resent you for being tall / I resent you for never getting any opposition at all / I resent you for having each other / I resent you for being so sure / I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure” are proof of Apple’s lyrical brilliance at its most playful and progressive.

Overall, the fiery spirit of the album is offset by Apple’s familiar emotional vulnerability in “Cosmonauts” and “Heavy Balloon.” The former weighs in on the jadedness of an idealistic long-term monogamous relationship while the latter, I feel, is what depression and anxiety would sound like if it were a song, especially around the part where Apple sings huskily, “I spread like strawberries / I climb like peas and beans / I’ve been sucking it in so long / That I’m busting at the seams.” It’s the kind of narrative on mental health that’s as haunting as it is comforting and empowering in its collective bid for understanding—an unspoken cry for help, if you will. What makes the record even more special is the contextual chronology that frames the tracks. It begins with “I Want You to Love Me,” whose title practically sums up its intention, seducing listeners with Apple’s recognizable fingers on the piano. “I’ve waited many years / Every print I left upon the track / Has led me here… And while I’m in this body / I want somebody to want” then escalates into a frenzy with her crooning hoarsely and tediously over the piano’s tumultuous racket, conveying both ecstasy and pain as if sharing a synchronized orgasm with the instrument. The song summons a dreamy state as if running through the woods in one of David Hamilton’s photographs before it strikes you in the head with the sounds of discord and rage in the 12 songs thereafter. What a strong first track! The final one, “On I Go,” on the other hand, has been called “weak” by some critics—male ones, not surprisingly—but I don’t find it to be the case. Who says that a finale needs fireworks? Who says that songs should follow strict pop structures? The fact that Apple ends with a track in which she chuckles while messing up the lyrics, and not fixing it, reinforces the album’s message of fury and nonchalant thoughtfulness. Apple recites, “On I go, not toward or away / Up until now it was day, next day / Up until now in a rush to prove / But now I only move to move” almost like a mantra as her voice calms and disappears. She clearly does not give a fuck.

The entire discourse in Fetch makes it undeniably one of the most authentic and impactful masterpieces to ever reach a global listenership in a long time. There are a few throwback moments evocative of Apple’s past records, but Fetch possesses a sound entirely its own. It communicates raw, honest emotions that are not dressed in idealism or romance if only to please mainstream sensibilities. There’s anger, there’s madness, there’s joy even. And buried underneath is also a sense of contentment—the acceptance that the world is, indeed, pure bullshit, but that you just have to “go with yourself,” echoing the exact same piece of advice that she once gave at 17, stammering, holding an MTV Moonman trophy, her voice shaking, her eyes wider than they are now. She was right all along.

In a pandemic-afflicted world where fascism and misogyny still reign supreme, markedly so in the Philippines and other Third World countries, this record’s release was well-timed. In our isolation, without the hubbub of road traffic, the noise of noontime shows before live audiences and the commotion of everyday life in general, there is a heightening of the senses. We are forced to see what were often overlooked, to hear the sounds and voices that matter, to discern that the “normal” we were so accustomed to was everything that was wrong in the first place. Through Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Apple only gives us a bite of her unfiltered consciousness. As if heeding my prayers, she has blessed me with another cathartic playlist that corresponds to my current mood: this renewed restlessness, this insatiable, rebellious craving to be free. “Fetch the bolt cutters. We’ve been in here too long,” indeed. #

= = =


Fiona Apple’s Art of Radical Sensitivity, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/23/fiona-apples-art-of-radical-sensitivity

The Story Behind Every Track on Fetch the Bolt Cutters, https://www.vulture.com/2020/04/fiona-apple-fetch-the-bolt-cutters-songs.html

Ang Debate ng mga Pilosopo at si Pedro

Ni Ed M. Villegas

Sabi ni pilosopong Plato ang mundo ay di totoo
Balik naman ng kanyang estudyante na si Aristoteles ito ay mali
Dahil ang halaman ay tunay na halaman at ang bato ay bato
Oo nga, wika ni Epicurus, na kay Aristoteles kumampi
At diin pa nito walang ibang realidad kundi materyal na bagay
Pasok naman ni Descartes, ang batayan ng totoo ay kamalayan ko
At ang Diyos at materyal na bagay ay mapapatunayan nito
Hoy, hoy, teka, teka, singit ni Spinoza,ako at Diyos ay iisa
At dagdag pa ni Leibniz ang lahat na nangyayari ay perpekto
Biglang nagsalita si Bertrand Russell, kayong lahat ay sira ang ulo
Walang diyos, walang perpekto, at ang lahat ay nararanasan lamang ng sensa ng tao
Mali, sabi ni Wittgenstein, dating estudyante at alagad ni Bertrand,
Dahil ang diyos at pagiging perpekto ay may sariling kahulugahan sa mga karaniwang mamamayan
At huwag basta na lang babaliwalain ang kanilang mga katuwiran
Kaya, pasok ni Derida, walang makakaalam kung mayroon bang katotohanan.

Ano ba ito, sabi ni Pedro, na nakikinig sa mga pilosopo
Lalo pa ako sa kanilang sinasabi ay nalilito
Makauwi na nga sa aking pamilya at makapagpahinga
Dahil bukas dadalo pa ako sa isang malaking welga.

Pang-aagaw sa Gunita: Ilang tala hinggil sa 34th Escalante Massacre Commemoration

ni Rogene A. Gonzales

Salamat sa Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA), Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), at Defend Negros #StopTheKillings Network, nagkaroon ako ng pagkakataong makibahagi sa 34th Escalante Massacre Commemoration (EscaM) sa Negros Occidental noong Setyembre 18-21. Matinding militarisasyon ang kinakaharap ng isla matapos tinatayang labing-isang batalyon ng Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) ang ipinakat doon ng Malacañang sa pinabangong kampanya na Executive Order 72 o “Whole of Nation Approach.” Bago ito, inilabas din ang mga direktibang Synchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations (SEMPO) 1 at SEMPO 2, at ang Memorandum Order (MO) 32 o Oplan Sauron na itinuturong dahilan sa pag-akyat ng bilang ng sibilyang pinaslang sa lugar sa katwirang “War on Drugs.”

Karamihan sa 87 na pinatay tokhang-style ng estado ay mga aktibista at miyembro ng mga progresibong grupo. Kabilang na sa mga naging biktima sina Benjamin Ramos, human rights lawyer na aktibong tumutulong sa mga land dispute case, at Bernardino “Toto” Patigas, city councilor ng Escalante at miyembro ng Bayan Muna at  North Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA). Sunod-sunod ang masaker ng mga magbubukid sa Negros gaya ng Sagay 9 at Negros 14, pawang mga koordinadong death squads ang itinuturong salarin ng mga nakasaksi. Pinakamasaklap na sa mga balita ang pagkakapatay sa isang taong gulang na sanggol dahil sa indiscriminate firing ng mga pulis at militar noong July 25, 2019 sa bayan ng Sta. Catalina.

Bandang 3:30 p.m. ng Setyembre 18 sinalubong kami ng balita na tinamnan ng mga armas ang jeep ng Mobile Propaganda Team ng Teatro Obrero at NFSW na abala sa pag-iimbita sa mga bayan-bayan para sa 34th EscaM.


Tatlong oras ang inabot ng biyahe patungong Escalante mula Bacolod lulan ng ordinary bus. Ang pag-aakala kong saglit na bakasyon ay napalitan agad ng takot at pangamba pagkarating doon. Ilang minuto bago makatapak sa tutuluyang opisina ng National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) ay iligal na inaresto at ikinulong ang walong indibidwal na aktibo sa paghahanda para sa 34th EscaM. Sa pangunguna ng 79th Infantry Batallion ng Philippine Army at Philippine National Police, tinaniman ng gawa-gawang kasong illegal possession of firearms and explosives ang tinaguriang Escalante 8—apat dito ay kabataang miyembro ng Teatro Obrero na sina Kenneth Serondo, Carlo Apurado, Rolly Hernando, at Reynaldo Saura; tatlong miyembro ng NFSW na sina Leon Charita, Joel Guillero, at Benvenido Ducay; kasama si Aiza Orbesa ng KADAMAY-Negros.

Noong Setyembre 20, 1985 naganap ang Escalante Massacre na nag-ambag sa nalikhang pampublikong disgusto sa diktadura ni Ferdinand Marcos hanggang sa kanyang ganap na ouster noong Pebrero 1986. Ang tatlong araw na welgang bayan sa Northern Negros na nilahukan ng libo-libo laban sa Batas Militar at lumalalang pyudal na pagsasamantala sa isla ay sinagot ng estado ng pagpapaulan ng mga bala gamit ang grupong para-militar na kumitil sa 21 sibilyan, karamihan ay mga magbubukid, kabilang ang mga kabataang-magbubukid at kabataan-estudyante. Mula noon, ginugunita ng mga mamamayan ng Escalante ang anibersaryo ng malagim na trahedyang sumapit sa kanilang mga kababayan: taon-taon naglulunsad ng martsa at programa sa plaza na kinaroroonan ng isang rebulto ng tatlong nakakuyom na mga kamao at nagsisilbing palatandaan ng massacre site. Taon-taon ding itinatanghal ng Teatro Obrero ang reenactment ng masaker upang ipaalala ang tunay na diwa ng pagsingil ng hustisya at ang pagkakaugat ng dugo sa nagpapatuloy na laban para sa lupa.

Isang insulto kung gayon ang fabricated charges na isinampa ng AFP sa Escalante 8 na higit isang buwan nang nakakulong sa Escalante Police Station. Bago nangyari ang iligal na pag-aresto, napabalitang nagbahay-bahay ang mga sundalo at lantarang nire-red tag ang Teatro Obrero na supporter umano ng New People’s Army (NPA) at upang mag-imbita sa isasagawa nilang “Northern Negros Peace Summit” katuwang ang lokal na sangay ng Department of Education sa kaparehong petsa ng 34th EscaM: Setyembre 17–20. Sa loob ng kanilang programa ay inimbitahan ang mga batikang artista at musikero, ang ilan ay progresibo pa nga ang postura. Namataan din ang kilalang aktres na asawa ng kongresista sa Negros Occidental, nakikilahok sa aktibidad. Kinopya ng summit ang mga bahagi ng EscaM na naglalayong ipaalala ang karahasan at pananagutan ng estado gaya ng reenactment ng nangyari sa trahedya subalit nilalayon ng aktibidad ay pawang historical revisionism. Sa dulo ng summit ay nakatakda pang maglabas ng mga “Statement of Apology” mula sa Local Government Unit (LGU), AFP, PNP at “rebel returnee.” Ayon sa mga grupong nag-oorganisa ng tunay na EscaM, natatangi ang commemoration ngayong taon dahil sa kawalan ng suporta ng LGU, kasabay ang pagtindi ng klima ng pampulitikang panunupil dulot ng MO 32.

Ang Northern Negros Peace Summit ang ipinantapat ng LGU sa 34th EscaM, kapansin-pansin na ginawa itong piyestang pang-deodorize sa reputasyon ng AFP-PNP.


Matapos ang ibinigay naming workshop para sa pagsusulat at pagpipinta para sa mga kabataan, nakatanggap ang halos lahat ng nasa opisina ng text blast mula sa isang ‘di kilalang numero ngunit nakapangalan bilang “MalacaNang.” Mahaba ang mensahe na nagpapaliwanag hinggil sa kawalang-saysay umano ng pakikibaka ng mga magbubukid. Sinasabi nito na sa halip na manindigan para sa libreng pamamahagi ng lupa ay magbayad na lamang upang makuha nila ang Certificate of Land Ownership o CLOA. Ang pinaka-mapanganib sa mga detalyeng ipinapakalat: binabansagan ang Teatro Obrero bilang tumutulong sa mga NPA. “May pag-asa pa, kung gusto ninyo na magbago sa inyong buhay, mabibigyan kayo ng pagkakataon sa mga programa ng gobyerno. Itext lang ang number na ito…” pagtatapos ng mensahe. Pinayuhan kaming huwag nang lumabas ng opisina noong hapong iyon dahil namataan ang maraming sundalo na nakapuwesto sa mga kanto.

Sa press release ng 3rd Infantry Division at 303rd Infantry Brigade, 2,510 na mga dating rebelde ang sumuko umano sa peace summit. Pinabulaanan ito ng mga taong-simbahan sa pangunguna nina Carmelite priest Fr. Gilbert Billena at Religious Brothers Tagoy Jakosalem at Simon Peter Jardinico sa pagsasabing “distortion of historical truths” ang ginagawa ng mga pulis at militar sa Escalante. Anila, peke ang iprinesenta sa media na mga surrenderee, at ang katotohanan, sila ay mga “law-abiding citizens or hacienda workers; pressured to claim as NPA members or supporters. And for publicity purposes in favor of the government.” Ipinapanawagan din ng mga pari ang kagyat na pagre-resume ng peace talks upang mabunot ang ugat ng armadong tunggalian sa bansa, at matigil ang militarisasyong nagpapalikas sa mga rural na residente at pumapatay sa mga lider at miyembro ng people’s organizations.

Ramdam ang tensiyon sa opisina ng NFSW, lalo na sa mga nanay na sumusuporta sa pagtatanghal ng kanilang anak sa EscaM. Si Nanay Ester, ina ni Carlo Apurado na isa sa Escalante 8, ilang beses na ring nagpapabalik-balik para maki-update. Malungkot at tulala siya palagi dahil sa nangyari. “Hindi nila alam ang pakiramdam ng isang ina,” sabi niya minsan, habang nangingilid ang luha sa kanyang pisngi. Matinding bagabag ang nararanasan ng mga komunidad mula noong nagkaroon ng malawakang militarisasyon sa Negros. Tila lalong dumidilim ang gabi dahil sa mga nakaumang na baril.

Paghahasik ng malisya sa 34th EscaM ang pakay ng textblast mula sa isang “MalacaNang” hinggil sa layunin ng Teatro Obrero at ilang paglilinaw umano sa pakikibaka para sa lupa. Binanggit din ang “MKLRP” sa mensahe.

Dahil sa panganib na nilikha ng insidente ng pagtanim-armas, napagpasyahang iatras ang torch parade na ilulunsad dapat sa massacre site sa bisperas ng EscaM. Sa kabila nito, itinuloy ang cultural night sa harap ng opisina. Naging abala ang lahat sa paghahanda. Ang garahe ng tricycle ay nilatagan ng tarpaulin at mural na nagsilbing pansamantalang entablado. Ang mga kabataan ng Teatro Obrero at Teatro Bungkal ay nagsuot na ng kanilang costume at nag-praktis ng kanilang itatanghal. Ang iba naman ay nakatutok sa pagtatapos ng ipinipintang mural. May nakatoka na rin sa soundsystem at sa pagsabit ng mga streamers at flags. Sa kabila ng panganib at intimidasyon ng militar ay di nagpagapi sa takot ang lahat.

Naging marubdob ang pagtatanghal ng mga miyembro ng Teatro Obrero at Teatro Bungkal. Sa kanilang mga dulang-iglap sa saliw ng mga makabayang tugtugin, isinalaysay nila ang naranasang pang-aapi ng mga magbubukid ng Negros kabilang na ang iba pang masaker na naganap. Sayang lamang at di ito nasaksihan ng kalakhang mamamayan ng Escalante dahil sa panggigipit ng estado. Lumabas kami ng gate ng opisina at humanay, nagsindi ng mga kandila at naglunsad ng maikling martsa, inalayan ng awit at dasal ang mga naging biktima ng Escalante massacre at ang marami pang pinatay dahil sa pasistang paghahari ng rehimeng Duterte.

Di nagpatinag sa banta ng harassment mula sa pagdagsa ng mga militar sa Escalante, itinuloy ang cultural night sa pangunguna ng NFSW at Teatro Obrero.

Nakadalawang sigarilyo na ngunit di pa rin naaapula ang kaba ko sa maaaring kahinatnan ng araw. Di ako nakatulog nang maayos dahil sa pag-aalala sa sitwasyon. Bandang hatinggabi, naririnig ko ang tawag sa telepono para sa patuloy na paghahanap ng abogado para sa Escalante 8. Hatinggabi sila dinala sa Bacolod para sa preliminary inquest, nagtataka ako kung bakit tila walang office hours at agaran ang pagdinig kapag gawa-gawa ang kaso. Kinaumagahan, kailangang interbiyuhin ang Escalante 8 upang makatulong sa paggawa ng counter affidavit. May posibilidad na hindi na kami makabalik ng opisina kung sakaling mapag-tripan ng mga puwersa nga estado at sampahan din ng mga gawa-gawang kaso. Nagkaroon ng briefing sa dapat gawin pero di ako mapakali sa takot.

Pagdating sa police station ay sinalubong kami ng isang sundalong may bitbit na M-16. Pinasulat kami sa logbook ng isang pulis na nakaupo sa lobby. Nang banggitin namin ang pakay namin na mag-interview ay pinapunta kami sa isang kuwarto sa tabi ng detention cell. Dito, muling isinulat ang aming mga pangalan sa isang bond paper at hiningan ng ID. Pagkabigay namin nito, matapos kilatisin ay piniktyuran ng isang officer ang aming mga ID. Napansin ko sa isang sulok ang isang kabinet na may label na “INTEL.”

Umiiyak na inilahad ni Aiza Orbesa na inosente silang lahat. Ikinuwento niya ang pagharang ng dalawang nakamotor at naka-bonnet na kalalakihan na namuwersa sa kanila na bumaba ng sasakyan. Kausap pa umano ng mga di-kilalang kalalakihan ang mga pulis at militar na naroon. Noong una ay permit lamang ang kanilang hinahanap hinggil sa kanilang aktibidad kaya bumalik sa opisina si Aiza para kunin ito. Ngunit nang makuha niya ito at ipinakita sa mga nangharang sa kanila ay iba na ang naging takbo ng kuwento: tinaniman sila ng isang sako ng mga armas (isang 9mm at kalibre .38), at mga bote ng Tanduay na umano ay molotov cocktails. Nang makarating ang pahayag at litrato ng AFP sa ilang mainstream websites ay nadagdagan pa ang mga armas (kahit na wala man lang kaming nakitang reporter na tumungo sa lugar para i-verify ang impormasyon.) Ngunit ang tanging dala lamang ng Escalante 8 noon ay soundsystem, tubig, pagkain, at flag. At sa pagkakaalam nila, walang iligal sa pag-iimbita sa isang pagtitipon na 34 taon nang ginagawa sa Escalante.

Matapos marinig ang kanilang mga salaysay at bago lisanin ang police station ay sabay-sabay kaming sumigaw, isang tinig na umugong palabas ng karsel: “BILANGGONG PULITIKAL! PALAYAIN!”

Matapos ang interbyu sa Escalante 8, nalibot namin ang plaza na punumpuno ng mga tao. Karamihan ay mga estudyante, guro, at mga residente. Maraming mga sundalo ang may bitbit na baril. Marami ring mga pulis na nakapaligid at ang iba ay nakasandal sa kanilang riot shield. Parang magkakaroon ng giyera sa lugar ngunit di ko alam kung sino ang kanilang kaaway. Sumunod na dumating ang isang marching band ng mga unipormadong sundalo, at kasunod nito ay mga truck na may tarpaulin na nagsasaaad na maglulunsad sila ng medical at dental mission.

Tinitigan ko ang mga mukha ng mga nanonood sa plaza, di ko maipinta kung natutuwa ba sila sa nasasaksihan nila o alam nilang isa itong pekeng komemorasyon? Isang pagtitipon na deka-dekada nilang inilulunsad upang buhayin ang alaala ng mga kababayang martir pero ngayong taon ay inagaw sa kanila maging ang paggunita?

Nakapormasyon at nagroronda ang maraming sundalo sa plaza ng Escalante City. Marami sa kanila ang may bitbit ng mga matataas na kalibre ng armas.

Sa misang bayan na inilunsad sa Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, naging symbolic offering sa patuloy na paghahangad ng hustisya ang sulo, tubo, sagwan, at mga uhay ng palay. Bandang komunyon ay tinugtog ang Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa.

Matapos mananghalian ay humanay na ang lahat upang ilunsad ang martsa-protesta patungong palengke at nagsisilbing sentro ng lungsod. Sunod-sunod ang mga panawagang isinisigaw:

“Hustisya para sa Escalante Massacre!”

“Gutom na, pinapatay pa!”

“Bigas, hindi armas!”

“Ang tao, ang bayan, ngayon ang lumalaban! Natutong lumaban dahil sa kahirapan!”

“Tunay na reporma sa lupa, ipaglaban!”

Ang Teatro Obrero at Teatro Bungkal, di alintana ang nagbabagang init ng araw sa harap ng Escalante public market.

Dapithapon na nang magpaalam kami para bumiyahe sa Bacolod para sa aming flight kinabukasan, umalis na mabigat ang loob dahil di tiyak kung ano ang maaaring mangyari dahil sa patuloy na militarisasyon ng isla. Sumakay kami ng ordinary bus at nang makalayo sa sentro ay natanaw ko ang lawak ng mga hacienda sa Escalante, maging sa mga kasunod na siyudad at bayan.

Habang palubog ang araw at ang mga sinag nito’y nakalatag sa buong lupain, dumaan ang isang truck na puno ng tubo, nakalimutan ko na kung pang-ilang truck ng tubo iyon na nakita ko sa buong araw. Matamis man ang iniluluwas nilang produkto, mapait ang kalagayan ng mga mamamayan dito. Naalala ko ang Escalante 8 at ang maliit na bilangguan na naglilimita sa kanilang pagkilos. Ilang paglubog at pagsikat ng araw ba ang titiisin bago sila makalaya sa isang krimeng itinanim lamang dahil ang ipinaglalaban nila ay lupa at hustisya? # 

Utos ng Hari

ni R.B. Abiva

Halos sa pagtitinda ng tinapa binuhay ni Aling Ason ang kanyang mga anak. Sa kanyang pagkakatanda’y kulang apat na dekada na niya itong hanapbuhay. At dahil nga sa katatagan niyang hinarap ang lumuluray-puno ng pagpapasakit  na ganti ng hirap at dusa, napagtapos niya lahat ang kanyang mga anak sa hasykul. Subalit hindi na sila kailanman nakatuntong sa kolehiyo sa kadahilanang inatake sa puso ang kapilas ng kanyang buhay, at sa kasamaang palad ay namatay ito na hindi man lamang nabigyan ng marangal na libing. Lahat ng kanilang impok ay nagamit sa pagpapagamot. Ang masama pa’y nagkandautang-utang sila nang may mataas na interes.

Mula nga noo’y nagkawatak-watak na ang pamilya ni Aling Ason. Namasukan bilang bodegero ng bigas at mais ang tatlo niyang mga anak na lalaki sa Siyudad ng San Jose, Nueva Ecija habang ang dalawa niyang anak na babae ay naging mga muchacha sa San Miguel, Bulakan na paglao’y napilitang mamasukan din bilang mga GRO sa isang kabaret na tambayan ng mga pahinante ng trak na nagluluwas ng kung anu-anong kalakal paloob-palabas ng Maynila. Puro panganay ang mga naging anak at nang malaman ito ng kanilang Ina, wala itong ibang naitugon kundi mabigat-makapal na hagulgol at pagkuyom sa dibdib na puno-mayaman sa pasakit. At mula nga noo’y sinisi na ni Aling Ason ang Diyos at ang kapalaran.

Hulyo 29 ng taong kasalukuyan, isang umagang tirik na tirik ang araw na sinasasabayan pa ng alingasaw ng sanga-sangang imburnal at alingasngas ng mga mamimili, ay umalingawngaw ang megaphone na hawak-hawak ng empleyado ng munisipyo. May kasama itong abugado, mga pulis, traffic aid, at eskirol. Inanunsiyo nitong lahat ng mga may puwesto sa gilid ng Pamilihang Bayan ng Tarlak ay papalayasin na at nakatakdang gibain ang kanilang mga puwesto kinabukasan. Ito raw ang utos ng Hari na nakatala sa Memorandum Circular 2019-121. Marami ang naalarma sa pabatid publiko. Marami ang nabahala kung saan na sila lulugar. Marami ang nag-isip kung paano na ang kanilang pamilya na sa mumong ganansiya lamang sa pagtitinda umaasa. Maraming katawan ang ngayo’y aligaga at hindi mapagsalubong ang katwiran ng utak at kalam ng tiyan!

Bago magtapos nga ang nasabing buwa’y naganap ang inaasahan. Maagang dumating sa Pamilihang Bayan ang empleyado ng munisipyo, ang abugado at ang bando ng mga armadong pulis na may kasamang kalalakihan na nasasandatahan ng maso, bareta, martilyo, at kabra. Totoo ngang babaklasin na nila ang mga istruktura na ayon sa kanilang Hari’y iligal ang pagkakatayo. Nang mga panahong yao’y nasa palengke na nga si Aling Ason kasama ng kanyang mga panindang tinapa.

Sa malas nga nama’y siya pa ang unang sinita. Sinigawan siyang umalis na sa kanyang kinapupuwestuhan kung ayaw niyang masamsam ang kaniyang mga paninda. Sa gulat ay hindi nakagalaw ang matanda at wala itong ibang naiganti kundi isang mukha na puno ng bagabag at pagmamaka-awa  at tigalgal. Subalit bakal ang puso ng kanyang kaharap, linapitan lamang siya nito at hinablot nang malakas-pilit ang hawak nitong basket, na yari sa uway na puno ng tinapa. At dahil hamak na mas malakas ito sa matanda, bumagsak si Aling Ason kasama ng kanyang mga tinapa.

Dahil mahina-hina na ang tuhod ay unang lumagapak ang mukha sa marumi-basang sahig ng palengke, at nang i-angat ng matanda ang kanyang sarili’y tumambad sa madla ang duguan nitong ilong at bunganga. Nanginginig ang mga laylay na kalamnan nito habang lumuluha ang malabo na niyang mata. Usal niya sa may kapangyariha’y “ Parang awa niyo na, huwag niyong kunin itong aking paninda,” subalit ang tugon ng kaharap ay “ Katanda-tanda mo na’y hindi ka marunong sumunod sa batas! Mangmang! Hindi niyo na ba kami kinatatakutan?!” Akmang lalapit ang matanda subalit isang sampal-tulak ang kanyang natikman.

At ang mga sumunod na pangyayari’y naging laman nga ng balita. Nang umaga ngang yao’y nangagsisayaw ang mga anino, nag-iskrimahan ang mga braso-kamaong may hawak na kutsilyo-itak-tubo-kahoy, at umalimbukay sa mga kanal na tinangay naman ng hangin ang sanghaya ng dumanak na dugo ng mga anak ng araw. 

At bago nga lumubog ang araw at ganap na isilang ang takipsilim sa langit na siyang saksi, pinulot ang mga tadtad-warak-tumimbuwang na katawan ng mga mahihirap ng kani-kanilang mga kaanak. Ang isang katawang nakasubsob-basag ang bungo-butas ang leeg sa gilid ng latang basuraha’y ang naka-barong, naka-slaks, at naka-sapatos nang makintab na abugado. Walang pumapansin sa kanya maliban sa pulutong ng bangaw at langaw na sa kaniya’y nagpipiging. #

Oktubre 19, 2019, Lungsod Quezon, Maynila


ni. R.B. Abiva

Anim na araw nang inaapoy ng lagnat si Bitot. Anim na araw na rin siyang hindi nakakalabas ng kanilang barung-barong na nakatirik sa pasigan ng Estero Dolorosa. Anim na araw na ring aligaga ang kanyang amang si Kulas na kantero sa itinatayong SM gayundin ng ina niyang si Marta na tindera ng sampagita sa Parokya ni San Nikolas ng Tolentino, ang pintakasi ng mga kaluluwa sa purgatoryo. At sa pang-anim ngang araw ng kanyang pagkakasakit, siya’y pinukol ng walang katulad na deliryo.

Napauwi nang wala sa oras si Kulas mula sa konstruksyong pinapasukan gayundin si Marta. Inabutan nilang umiikot-tumitirik ang bola ng mata ni Bitot. Nanginginig at walang ibang usal ang yayat na katawang may tuyong bibig kundi ang ngalan ng kanyang ama at ina.

Kumaripas ng takbo si Kulas palabas ng kanilang tahanan at dagli nitong tinahak ang madilim-masikip-mabahong kalyehon papunta sa bahay ni Kapitan Tiyago. Uutang siya ng kwartang ipampapagamot sa nag-aagaw buhay niyang anak. Noong mga sandaling yao’y abala sa paglalaro ng madyong ang kanyang pakay. Nilapitan niya ito subalit isang malaking pagtanggi ang kanyang natanggap. Lumuhod siya. Nagmakaawa. Subalit uyam at irap pa ang kanyang tinamo. Ano at saan naman daw huhugot ng ipambabayad ng utang ang gaya ni Kulas na isang kahig, isang tuka? Ni Kulas na wala man lang magandang asawa?

Nang mahimasmasang walang mapapala’y nagpasya si Kulas na umuwi na lamang. Pagkarating niya sa bukana ng kanilang barung-barong ay sinalubong siya agad ng mabigat at matalim na alulong at palahaw. Boses iyon ni Marta na isinisigaw ang ngalan ni Bitot. Malakas. Malakas na malakas!

Ano pa’y kinutuban na ng masama si Kulas at pagkabukas niya ng kanilang pintuang yari sa yero, animo’y sinakmal ang kanyang puso’t sumungalngal ito sa kanyang lalamunan. Nanginig ang kanyang laman at animo’y ibinudbod ang kanyang puso sa isang palanggana ng bubog. Laylay-matigas na ang katawan ni Bitoy sa pawisan-luhaang dibdib ng kanyang ina habang tirik-nawalan na ng pusikit ang kamay nitong mahilig kumaway sa tuwing aalis si Kulas.

Balisang nilisan ni Kulas ang gigiray-giray nilang tahanan. Umalis siya sa araw ding yaong napabalitang ipinakain kay Kapitan Tiyago ang mga bola ng madyong. At sa araw ding yao’y natagpuan si Kulas na nakasubsob ang ulo sa kulay lupang mascuvado, may apat na butas sa katawan at dalawa sa ulo.

Oktubre 9, 2019

Lungsod Quezon, Maynila

Tala: Atang- Iloko ng alay.


ni R.B.Abiva

Matagal-tagal ka nilang hinintay

kasama ng uhaw na pilapil at pinitak,

hapong kalabaw, baka, kambing, at tagak

at mga kuhol at palakang bihira nang humalakhak;

sa paanan ng mga hubad na suhay

ng magaspang-magaang butil ng palay

na walang ibang mai-aalay

kundi payak-malusog sanang buhay;

paglipas ng oras ay bakit nag-iba ang kaway

may halong bulong at alingasngas ng agaw- buhay

ang dibdib ng lupang hungkag-bitak-lusak

naging libingan ng gaya ni Tanong Itak;kaydaling nagpasya’t biniyak ang paghihintay

kaydaling nagpasya’t biniyak ang paghihintay

ng mga paang alipungai’t inakap ang pakay

na hugutin ang puso, atay, at malay

ng  diyus-diyosang  mahalay-mamamatay

na lango sa katas ng talampunay;

gamit ang mala-karit at palang nilang kamay

at sing-init ng araw nilang matang nakatunghay,

sa bigwas ng hanging handog ay tagulaylay

tinuldukan ng mga katawang mala-tangkay

ang ugat ng paghihirap na gumugutay;

nang magtagumpay,

sama-sama nilang hinukay

ang paglilibingan sa mga mabuway

gayundin ang baul at aklat ng bulag na palagay.

Setyembre 18, 2019

Lungsod Quezon, Maynila 

Palang- Isang uri ng itak na ginagamit sa paggapas ng tubo.

Tagulaylay- Martsa o awit pandigma.

Inilathala ng UP Writers Club noong Setyembre 20, 2019.