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A SOJOURNER’S VIEW | Writing ‘Pinangga,’ love stories as historical fiction

By Karl M. Gaspar CSsR

CEBU CITY (MindaNews)—In 2013, a group who used to work in the various offices of Susana Building—located along J. P. Laurel St. in Davao City—came together for a write-shop in the hope that they could collectively publish a book of their actual experiences during the Marcos martial rule.

The book was titled “O Susana! The Untold Stories of Martial Law in Davao.” It was launched at Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) on February 19, 2016. Edited by Marilen Abesamis, Jeanette Birondo-Goddard, Agnes Miclat, and Macario Tiu as over-all editor, it featured stories written by 35 members of this network of human rights advocates.

Why did they decide to publish this book? “We need to tell our stories to the next generations especially the youth who have no idea what our generation went through during the Marcos dictatorship,” were the words of Jeanette Birondo-Goddard. This group of friends and former co-workers realized that their nephews and nieces and many youth had little or no idea what their parents, uncles and aunts suffered during the brutal dictatorial regime. There was also a dearth of publications that she could find to pass on to her younger relatives that they could read.

There were a few books published but mainly narrating stories on a nation-wide scope or what took place in Metro Manila written by foreigners and Manila-based authors. But there was hardly anything available that narrated how martial rule unfolded in Mindanao. And yet it was Mindanao that suffered the brunt of heavy militarization and human rights abuses, including the tragic incidents impacting on Moro and Lumad communities.

Fast forward to when the troll farms became active during both the election period when Rodrigo Duterte and, six years later, the son of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (Bongbong or BBM), ran for the Presidency. With social media becoming the platform for fake news and disinformation—fueled by the well-funded troll farms—truth regarding what happened during Martial Law got buried.

Across the country the voters—especially the millennials and Gen-Z generations—were fed lies, e.g., the Marcos martial law years were the golden years of our contemporary history, the massive human rights violations committed by the military and police did not take place, Marcos was the best president we ever had and, if allowed to continue as president, our country today would be like Singapore, it was but proper for government to kill subversives as they were going to establish a Communist state, and so on.

Lies triumphed over truth and today there remains a conspiracy within government to continue its disinformation campaign undertaken by the combined efforts of a number of government agencies, including the Department of Education. Embracing the thrust of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), a task force organized by the government to respond and raise awareness to the ongoing communist rebellion in the Philippines, these agencies are continuing to sow disinformation. There have been reports that in a few schools, the methods of brainwashing the students include red-tagging to directing how history is to be taught in schools.

What can be done to counter historical revisionism, especially in the school setting, which is where our youth are supposed to be provided a good grounding of their country’s history? What can be done if teachers are under strict orders to toe the government line to sanitize the Marcos and Duterte regimes? Where can civil society organizations—including its artists, cultural workers, writers, journalists, etc.—locate themselves so the country’s youth are not made ignorant of the historical truth that encourages them to serve their country?

Journalists and writers must be in a quandary how their talents, tools and efforts could be mobilized in the service of truth. We are a nation that is ensconced in an oral tradition; consequently we are not a people who love to read books, even journals or magazines. What percentage of our population actually would purchase a book and read regularly, subscribe to journals and magazines and not be addicted to the TikToks of their gadgets?

Is part of the problem because most books are still written in English? Or that books are too expensive so that our teachers and other low-paid employees can hardly afford a book costing more than P500? Or publishers have not found a way to do more promotion to find a market for their publications? Or because it is far more interesting to watch short video clips in our cell phones rather than spending hours to finish reading a book? Or all of the above?

But for authors committed to wage an uphill fight to encourage young people to read and possibly not only for them to know the truth but to learn life lessons, hope springs eternal! We cannot give up; we must find ways to promote reading among the youth! Schools, publishing houses and cultural organizations must find ways to collectively reach out beyond the miniscule crowd of loyal patrons of Filipino books and publications!

So here are a few of us still willing to go against the tide and to sail forward even with the minimum psychic reward. I’ve done my share and I guess—for as long as there are a few out there interested to still find and read my books—I will not be discouraged to follow this lonely path! Comes now my latest fiction, titled “Pinangga, Mga Sugilanon sa Gugma sa Panahon sa Kagoliyang (Beloved, Love Stories in a Time of Ferment),” published by the Davao-based Aletheia Publications. These are five stories (which are novellas) related to the different kinds of loves: for lovers, families, communities, the nation and our habitat (specifically watersheds and forests).

These sugilanons are historical fiction or fictionalized stories based on historical events that took place in various parts of Mindanao from 1983 to 2015. First story is set in Davao City about two college students of the Ateneo de Davao University who feel in love during the tail-end of the Marcos dictatorship. Between1983 to 1986 they had to deal with the radical changes taking place as the martial law worsened after the killing of Ninoy Aquino until EDSA unfolded and changes took place after EDSA. Both have to deal with their changing ideological options and the consequences regarding their life decisions.

Second story is set in Iligan City, when a father who teaches at MSU-IIT had to face the consequences of his son being abducted by the military during the total war policy declared by Mrs. Cory Aquino. This was the time when there were bombings in nearby Josefina, Zamboanga del Sur following the State’s total war policy. In the wake of a series of coup d’état, a reformist government turned to the right and became beholden again to the military’s anti-insurgency campaign.

Third story is set in Bukidnon where the parish priest did his best to support the peasants’ action to stop the logging operations. And in the process, the young priest falls in love with a highly-committed journalist who came to cover the story of the picket. Both had to deal with their attraction to each other with the backdrop of the people barricading the streets and the Aquino government doing its best to respond to this tense situation.

The fourth story is about the love of a Manobo chieftain for his indigenous community. Hard decisions had to be made by their community if they would participate in the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act given the pressure from the underground movement that they should boycott such a participation. The missionaries assigned to this locality expressed their solidarity for the Manobos, and supported their struggle for self-determination.

Last story is about the love of a mother whose son became an EJK (extra judicial killing) victim during the last term of Mayor Duterte in Davao City when he was poised to run for the presidency. And it is how families coped with the tragedies of their son’s killings and how the church people assisted them in documentation of the killings and filing cases in court in the desperate hope to seek justice for the victims.

To make sure young readers are enticed to hold the book in their hands and read, the stories are written in the hybrid Bistaglish Mindanao Cebuano. Let’s face it, given Mindanao’s multi-language reality, the everyday language of most Mindanawons (especially in Surigao, Agusan, Davao, Bukidnon, parts of Cotabato, Lanao and Zamboanga) is a Cebuano-Bisaya that has borrowed words from Tagalog, English and indigenous languages.

Readers who encounter the lawom nga Bisaya (with Cebuano words spoken only in the rural areas among those whose mother tongue is Sugbuhanon) are tempted to give up reading as they get frustrated having to understand the text. However, critics and even authors who insist on the fluent Cebuano may already be losing the fight to insist that literature written in Cebuano should be “purists” to protect the integrity of the language. But if Mindanao (and even Visayan) authors insist on reaching out to young readers, there is no more debate as to what kind of Cebuano to use as medium for their texts.

Even the National Book Development Board in their choice of finalists for the Literary Awards for the Best Novel in Cebuano has embraced the validity of Bistaglish. My 2022 novel—Ang Dagayday sa Panahong Nanglabay—has just been named a finalist for the 2023 National Book Award (Literary Category).

May I invite the reader if you are near Cebu City and Davao City to join me for the launching of this book on November 18 (3 to 5 p.m. at the Holy Redeemer Provincial Center of the Redemptorists along R. Aboitiz St.) and November 25, same time at the BauHaus along Donya Vicenta Road, Davao City, the road across Victoria Plaza.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Mindanao’s most prolific book author. Gaspar is also a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents. He is presently based in Cebu City.)


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