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OUT NOW! Is There Rush Hour in a Third World Country?

Our book Is There Rush Hour in a Third World (translated by Kristine Ong Muslim with an introduction by Eric Abalajon) is now available in various bookshops across the UK and Europe. Always grateful to my publisher the 87Press for bringing this small book to English language readers. This translation is so special to me as this is my first book translated into the English language, outside the Philippines.

Call centre agents and migrant workers, soldiers and charity workers, fresh university graduates and street children — they all navigate the myriad of avenues in which their desires are entangled within the Philippines’ harsh and unforgiving conditions of migration and labour in Rogelio Braga’s collection of stories, Is There Rush Hour in A Third World Country? Now translated by Kristine Ong Muslim into English, the collection offers a glimpse of the lives of ordinary Filipinos, told amidst coup d’états, active conflict areas, late-night convenience store rendezvous, and bumper-to-bumper Manila traffic, given a considered dignity and nuance by one of the Philippines’ celebrated playwrights.

Is There Rush Hour in a Third World Country? was launched last December 2022 at the OTO Cafe near Dalston Junction in East London. You can watch me introduce the book and read an excerpt from the story Mga (translated by Kristine Ong Muslim as ‘Plural’) below:

I have a lot of things to say about this book of stories, and the context of the time when it was all written and published back in the Philippines. But for now, I’d like readers outside my country to enjoy this book, the world I recreated in these stories, and Manila from the eyes of someone who lived in that city all through their life.

Written on the Bodies: The Language of the Hostile Environment

Last November, the English PEN invited me to write an essay for their PEN Transmissions Magazine. This is English PEN’s online magazine for international literature, in which they publish interviews and short personal essays. Past contributors included Olga Tokarczuk, Zadie Smith, Ananda Devi, Maryse Condé, June Bellebono, Scholastique Mukasonga, Samar Yazbek, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Olivia Laing, Geovani Martins, Tice Cin, Jay Bernard, Priyamvada Gopal, Malorie Blackman, Anuradha Roy, Mia Couto, Selva Almada, Peter Stamm and Svetlana Alexievich.

I wrote about my experiences in the Philippines and as a migrant living in the UK. I consider this essay as an articulation of the trajectory of the direction of my writings (in theatre, my fiction, and in my academic endeavors), my creative processes, interests, and politics for the next decade or so.

Published last January, I consider this piece as my first literary work written and published entirely in the English language and outside of the Philippines.

Also, some of the ideas I introduced in this essay were lifted from my current research work for my practice-based PhD at Birkbeck and with my current engagement with the Royal Court Theatre, New Earth Theatre, and with the various Filipino migrant communities and activists back in the Philippines: the intersection between the fascist regime in the Philippines and the UK’s hostile environment policy, the language of the hostile environment and rigid nationalist identity formations, migrant bodies, migrant narratives, and the brown and black migrant bodies as a site of the border of violence.

I am grateful with the English PEN for providing this space.

It was from the dead body of my neighbour sometime in December 2016 that I was able to read that my country was undergoing a violent transition, paving the way for the return to power of the Marcoses. Blood was splattered on the same asphalt road that I used to tread every day, going to the market to buy my provisions, or walking to get my bus from the main road. The remains of what was once life were covered with blankets. His fingers were cold and stiff, like roots of ginger protruding oddly from the cover, as if trying to remind the neighbourhood of how to read his death: We are at war, I am the enemy. You could be collateral damage, anytime, soon. Take heed. It was at this moment that I realised that the popular, massive, nationwide project of creating and recreating a monolithic Filipino civic nationalist identity formation was moving closer and closer to my own body.

You can read the entire essay here.

Beauty Vlog: Queering St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Imperialism, Colonialism in Southeast Asia

Trans actors Aldrin Bula and Istifen Baklang Kanal of Baklang Kanal. UP Repertory Company’s Gio Potes directed the piece for Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral, c.1796-1916 

St. Paul Cathedral in London and the Department of Art History at York University commissioned me to write a piece as an ‘artist response’ to the monument of Granville Gower Loch for Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral, c.1796-1916. I was expected to write about 700 to 1000-word piece but I’ve decided to make it extra and wrote a dramatic monologue playing around with the popular social media form of beauty vlogging. Why Handsome Single Guys Die in Burma is my first attempt on stage to engage the British colonial history and empire.

When I submitted the script fabulous folks from York University decided to why not perform it with actors! And so I tagged along theatremaker friends from Manila to develop and perform the script.

You can read the script, watch the video, and read about the Loch and the project here.

This is the monument of the Scottish colonial soldier Granville Gowe Loch inside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Loch died in battle in Burma at the turn of the 20th century. St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Department of History of Art, York University invited 50 artists, writers, and academics across to ‘respond’ to monuments inside the Cathedral.

Okay, here’s more! Weeks after the release of Why Handsome Single Guys Die in Burma, influencer and popular vlogger Martin Rules reinterpreted the piece for her popular YouTube Channel Philippine True Crime Stories.

You can watch Martin here!

Anti-Migrant Censorship at the Royal Court Theatre’s ‘No Borders’

TONIGHT I ASKED the Royal Court Theatre to remove any references about me in their company due to their anti-migrant censorship in my piece that was supposed to be presented tomorrow at the ‘No Borders’ programme at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

I don’t want to be used by any institutions that are anti-migrant and for the love of God, would censor me again because I had enough of this from where I came from, and I am so exhausted from this I might just fucking kill myself.

I am so exhausted from this.

I was being asked to perform only for 1 minute and 46 seconds and the part of my piece critical to the hostile environment, the killings in the Philippines, and the monarchy was removed.

This has been going on for several weeks. I was being politely asked to change my piece because (1) it’s too long compared to other pieces to be presented to the public and (2) told that my theme does not align with the themes of other pieces and a lot of other reasons from the characters of my plays, to whose going to act, etc non-stop.

I signaled for help and alarm to the management on the 4th of June through an email asking to intervene because there was something wrong with how I was being treated within the program since the time I was asked to submit for the public presentation together with the other cohorts.

I was able to shorten my piece to 7 minutes and 43 seconds with the help of trans activist theatre colleagues from the Philippines. They recorded the monologue. Because I cannot act (I am not an actor, I told them previously). I was told that I cannot ask for help from my community here in London when told that my second piece had two trans characters and I am the only trans-identifying person in the cohort.

So I was left with the choice that it was either change my piece or not join the presentation. I removed the other character and made it into a monologue.

(I am exhausted I cannot put here other things that I was not allowed to do during the weeks I was asked to submit something for the presentation.)

This afternoon, while my piece was running during the rehearsal at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs – it was stopped in the middle. IN THE MIDDLE WHILE THE PIECE WAS RUNNING during the rehearsal. Yes, it was stopped politely in the middle. I was told politely that it will end there, in the middle. I was waiting for anybody in the room to react. None. So, I said yes, just for the sake of the show tomorrow. Honestly, was so exhausted from how I was being asked constantly politely ‘what to write’, politely ‘what not to write ‘ – or politely ‘not to participate at all’ – I just said ‘yes’ politely.

During the company call after the rehearsal this afternoon, I was asked politely if it was okay if only half of the 7 minutes and 43 seconds will be performed tomorrow. I was waiting for other people in the room to intervene, so I said ‘yes’ politely. BUT I explained politely the piece and its form because it was stopped in the middle and the other cohorts did not hear the entire super long and huge space 7 minutes and 43 seconds for a migrant with a vulnerable migration status in the group. And I explained politely (I was exhausted doing this tbh) that there is a hierarchy among migrants because the struggle of the brown migrant is not the same as white European migrant.

7 minutes and 43 seconds is too long for a brown, trans, refugee migrant inside the Royal Court Theatre.

If you are curious about my piece, here it is:

NOTE: Voice Performers are TojaMari Sadie and Stephen Artillero and the sound recordist and editor is Gio Potes (UP Repertory Company). Artillero is part of the ‘Tinang 97‘ – a group of farmers, peasant advocates, writers, and theatre-makers detained by the police in Tinang, Tarlac, a province in Northern Philippines on the 9th of June. The group was forcibly dragged from their peaceful protest called ‘bungkalan’ where they cultivate the land the farmers claimed awarded to them.  Artillero, together with Sadie, recorded this piece for ‘No Borders’ while on bail. Read the statement of the International PEN here on the incident

In the first part half of the piece, the character (a tiktik in London) devours the powerless, and, in the second half, the character devours the powerful. We are removing the part of 7 minutes and 43 seconds that the character devours the powerful. The piece is in four parts.

I had to leave early from the rehearsal because I had to work as a kitchen porter in Peckham. While at work, I received a message that tomorrow, they will only allow me 1 minute and 46 seconds. THAT’S 1 MINUTE AND 46 SECONDS. Napakabastos ng Royal Court Theatre! They will only allow the first part to be performed.

The Royal Court Theatre removed these three parts from the super long 7 minutes and 45-second piece:

(1) Critical references to the deaths of refugees crossing the English Channel and the hostile environment as experienced by undocumented migrants.

(2) Critical references to the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines under the Duterte regime.

(3) Critical references to the Monarchy and the British ruling class.

Napakabastos ng Royal Court Theatre. Should I be grateful for the 1 minute and 46 seconds space they provided to me after all those weeks of being asked politely how to be a brown, migrant, refugee playwright in this country?

Joining Theatre Témoin’s NHS Yarns Project as a Playwright This 2021

I will be one of the playwrights for Colchester-based company Theatre Témoin project with the Mercury Theatre this first quarter of 2021.

NHS Yarns is “a collaborative project bringing artists and frontline first responders together to create rich, nuanced, and revelatory pieces of storytelling in partnership with The Mercury Theatre.” When I read their job posting last October I hurriedly submitted my application as the project is closer to what I was currently working then with Kanlungan Filipino Consortium and with Migrants Rights Network and affiliated migrant organisation’s: research on the experience of Filipino and other migrant workers working for the NHS.

Ailin Connant, Theatre Témoin’s Artistic Director interviewed me last December and they released the results within two weeks.

Since December I was reading about Theatre Témoin’s previous works and their aesthetics as a theatre company. One thing that excites me though is Theatre Témoin’s themes (and the processes!) of their works in past were almost the same with my practice back in the Philippines.

I am looking forward for exciting theatre pieces that will come out from this engagement and to learn something new from Theatre Témoin.

Keep it coming, 2021!

Theatre Témoin’s Flood

Balangiga Press in Exile

2021 is the last year of Balangiga Press in the Philippines. No, we are not closing. We are just looking for a closure.

We are moving its operations elsewhere. Where exactly? I have no idea. Literature outlives even the most powerful fascist state. This year we will publish the remaining titles we originally scheduled to release since 2018 and close some accounts and ask bookshops to pay us back. Our operations were disrupted by whatever shit that is happening in the Philippines since 2016, the circumstances of some of our collaborators (and that includes me), and endless hearthbreaking reasons that I am really tired even to repeat to myself.

It took me the whole week to decide on what to do, how to proceed. I was talking to a friend and a long-time collaborator and asking for his advice. He is going to help us on how to make our books accessible to Filipinos in the UK and Europe through our website and on whatever cloud technology can offer us. He told me to just ‘let go’ of the Philippines and start something new in London. I vehemently opposed the idea as I was still thinking of the communities of readers and writers we have back home. Well, he said, it’s up to you. I was still ambivalent on my decision to keep the operations back home while I am living elsewhere and some of our collaborators are moving out from the Philippines.

But weird things happen sometime in this afternoon, it was like the ‘sign’ you were waiting for before coming up with that final decision. I just caught someone in social media shared a pdf of our book, the pdf that we send to the printing press to produce the physical copy of the book. As the publisher I was happy that someone was talking about our book in social media. But then I panicked from the idea of what if our author discovered the copy of her book outside the press. When I reached out to the person I was horrified when I was met with an arrogant response as if he was entitled to the pdf and even commanded me to check with our author on why he got the copy of the book. I called my collaborator friend and showed him my exchanges with the bloke sent from Heaven to make up my mind. We were laughing with our endless ‘I told you so’ while talking about writers in the country’s literary establishment and he mockingly asked me if I changed my mind. You are already there, he said, don’t look back. And he was right. He got my final answer.

We are not closing Balangiga Press. We are moving it elsewhere temporarily and we are in a transition. We still want to publish works by Filipino authors, find new readers, and expand the spaces for our writings elsewhere. I really don’t know what future awaits us but we will keep on walking.

The Leicester Secular Society annual Human Rights lecture series presents Rogelio Braga and Status Now for All

About this Event

The Leicester Secular Society (LSS) invites you to its annual Human Rights Lecture which, this year, will be given by Rogelio Braga, who is based in London and is an exiled human rights activist, playwright and novelist from the Philippines.

Titled “The Radicalization of a Woman Without a Paper: Status Now For All”, the lecture is free and open to all and is taking place as part of the 2020 Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.

Since the onset of the lockdown in the UK in 2020, Status Now 4 All, a network of almost 90 organizations, labour unions, and community organizations has been calling for the regularization of all undocumented migrants and those in the legal process living the country.

Using the study of Filipino women working as domestic workers in the UK which was conducted by Ella Parry-Davies, “A Chance to Feel Safe: Precarious Filipino Migrants amid the UK’s Coronavirus Outbreak”, as a springboard for narration and exposition, Braga’s lecture will emphasize the immediacy of regularization of all undocumented migrants and those in the legal process as a public health concern, reveal the narratives of those who are living in precarity under the Government-imposed lockdown, and explore the many voices calling for status now for all in the UK—the radicalization of a woman without a paper speaking to the void as a controlling metaphor.

About the Speaker

Rogelio Braga published two novels, a collection of short stories, and a book of plays before he left the Philippines archipelago in 2018. He was a fellow of the Asian Cultural Council for theatre in Southeast Asia in 2016. His first play on the human rights situation in Duterte Philippines, Miss Philippines, written entirely in English is currently under development commissioned by the New Earth Theatre in the London. He co-chairs Status Now 4 All, a network of rights and migration charities, labor unions, and community organizations across the UK campaigning for regularization of all undocumented migrants and asylums seekers living in the UK. He lives in London as a political asylum seeker.

About The Society

The Leicester Secular Society was founded in 1851 and is the world’s oldest Secular Society. Among other things, The Society defends rationalism and free speech, works for justice and fairness, and opposes unfair discrimination, bigotry and coercion based on factors such as beliefs, racial or ethnic origins, disability, sex, age, sexuality or lifestyle.

The Society holds regular speaker events which are also free and open to all. Past speakers have included George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Tony Benn and Annie Besant.

About The Festival

The Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival runs from 4 December through to 10 December every year.

The Festival aims to explore human rights issues through a series of events that are free and open to all and which include panel events, film, art, and music. The Festival aims to give people a platform through which to engage with human rights issues at home and abroad.

The Festival also aims to draw attention to International Human Rights Day which is celebrated annually, around the world, on December 10.

This year, The Festival will be highlighting:

i. Status Now 4 All, and

ii. Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World (CivicLeicester, 2020)

Register here

Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines

‘Fungi’ my short fiction in the Filipino language published in several literary journals in Manila in the early 2000’s is included in this groundbreaking collection of stories translated from seven languages in the Philippines.

Book cover of Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (USTA, Gaudy Boy, fortcoming March 2021) edited by Tilde Acuña, John Bengan, Daryll Delgado, Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III, and Kristine Ong Muslim

Gaudy Boy Press will release Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines this March with stories translated to English from several laguages in the Philipines. Fungi, my short story written almost two decades ago and appeared in literary journals in Manila since then is included in the collection.

Yes, the Philippines has several languages and the Filipino (some people mistankenly called ‘Tagalog’ which is one of the several major languages in the country and spoken mostly in the island of Luzon and in the capital Metro Manila) is the country’s lingua franca. English, of course, the language of our former colonial master is widely used across the archipelago.

The Philippines decided to have a lingua franca so we have a language we can shift to in a conversation that is not the English language.

Fungi is also included in my last book before I left the country in 2018, a collection of stories May Rush Hour Ba Sa Third World Country (the formidable poet and storyteller Kristine Ong Muslim is translating the entire book to English!)

As a Philippine Literature teacher back in the Philippines, Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines editors’ introduction For Consciousness to the collection is a breathtaking essay on the history of the short story form in the Philippines, the practice, the politics of anthologizing, and an invitation to readers outside the Philippines to go beyond the textual productions of Filipino writers writing in English for them to have a glimpse of Philippine literary imagination within across the archipelago.

Ulirát’ which translates to ‘consciousness’ in English is also an invitation to the complex imaginations in Filipino literary productions across the archipelago that are usually beyond and probably outside the Filipino literary production in English. As a Filipino writer writing from the lingua franca some of the stories in this collection are even inaccessible to me unless, of course, they get to be translated to English or Filipino.

Curious on what Fungi is all about? Here’s an excerpt from For Consciousness on the decision why the editors and the translators included my story.

Currently in exile in London, where he sought and received refuge from the harassment and death threats of the Duterte regime, Rogelio Braga wrote “Fungi” as part of his short-story collection Is There Rush Hour in a Third World Country. The story’s main characters—two kids who we are made to believe have found a “magical” object in a dumpsite where they scavenge for fabric scraps and other discarded items for a living—follow Joseph Campbell’s archetypal “hero’s journey” monomyth down to the finale. We chose “Fungi” for its empathy and its staunch refusal to go for cheap shots and poverty porn in its harrowing depiction of the lives of the Filipino urban poor. A “best of” short story anthology using the Philippines as a thematic pivot is not complete without a narrative that aims to capture and question Filipino consumerism, the absence of national industries, and the lives of people in the slums of Manila.

Fungi is my first work of fiction translated to the English language that will be released to the public. I can’t wait for March!

‘Miss Philippines’: Are you ready to meet the rest of the women of Calle Real?

Miss Philippines as a full-length play tells the story of a slum community in Manila struggling to mount a gay beauty pageant in the middle of Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’

Victoria Gigante (left) and Vivienne Mesias essayed the roles of Mimi and Madame Stella, respetively.

Yes, Miss Philippines is stil running!

For those who are asking, the short play running in the festival is the opening scene of longer play-in-progress. This is actually my newest full-lengt piece on stage since 2015 when I wrote Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan (Light Falls Heavier in Sorrow).

Just a teaser on what the full-length Miss Philippines looks like.

The play revolves around a story of a slum community in Manila in Duterte Philippines where only women are left to survive since their husbands, sons, lovers, and gay male friends are either killed through extra-judicial killing, fled, jailed, or missing (forced disappearance) in the bloody government campaign against illegal drugs since 2016.

In the full-lenght play, all the characters are women from different ages and backgrounds: a grandmother who survived the war in Mindanao during the Marcos Martial Law regime, a Filipina domestic helper who just returned from abroad, a nurse waiting for her flight to London, transgender women, a mother, a former Communist rebel turned street vendor, a lesbian journalism student, and a Muslim woman. All these women have three things in common: poverty, the absence of men in their lives because of state violence and persecution, and the various ways of coping with loss.

Mimi and Madame Stella are just the two in the ensemble of women struggling to mount a gay beauty pageant in the middle of the fascist Duterte regime’s ‘War on Drugs’ in the Philippines.

Miss Philippines is a play in three acts exploring the themes of loss, violence, beauty, and the power of collective resistance to a patriarchal fascist regime in the present Philippines. Under the Duterte government, extra-judicial killings of suspected drug pushers, users, human rights activists, indigenous peoples, progressive cultural workers, and members of the media are rampant and being normalized.

In a pageant-crazed Philippines, beauty contests are important cultural markers. Duterte‘s popularity is still unchallenged in the archipelago. His supporters call him Tatay Digong—‘tatay’ literally translates as ‘father’ in the Filipino language. The killings that he orders are seen as punishment of the ‘tatay’ to discipline his ‘children’. The violence and the culture of impunity in the Philippines is framed on a power structure that is definitely patriarchal.

Madame Stella to Mimi: tough love between two Filipino women who refuse to make the fascist Duterte regime successful even just for a night.

The opening scene of Miss Philippines is still running in New Earth Theatre’s New Stories Short Plays Festival, a festival of 17 short plays .

Miss Philippines is one of the four plays under development commissioned under New Earth’s Professional Writers Program. Are you excited to meet the rest of the women of Calle Real?

Miss Philippines this October at the Digital Short Plays Festival

Miss Philippines will be streamed from London this 30th of October, 1:00 PM BST as part of Yellow Earth’s New Stories: Digital Short Play Festival.

The public presentation of a scene from my play-in-progress currently under development from Yellow Earth Theatre Company will performed by London-based actors Victoria Gigante (Mimi) and Vivienne Robles Lacson (Madamme Stella). Andrea Ling will direct the play.

Miss Philippines is my first play written entirely in English and the first production of work for stage since 2018 when Ang Mga Maharlika (The Aristocrats) and Mas Mabigat ang Liwagan sa Kalungkutan (Lights Falls Heavier in Sorrow) were performed in September in Manila that year.

I am excited and hope to see you there!