Category Archives: Personal Blogs

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!

Poster of my last play before I left the country

Poster of the 2018 production of Ang Mga Maharlika. Designed by Manila-based artist Rombutan, the poster depicting Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos and his American mistress Dovie Beams. Performed by the UP Repertory Company and directed by Manuel Mesina III

This is the poster of the last production of my play before I left the country in 2019. UP Repertory Company performed Ang Mga Maharlika (The Aristocrats) in September that year ; it premiered on the same year at the Fringe Manila.

The poster was designed by Manila-based artist Rombutan. It was revised several times after it was released to the public to promote the performances. It was banned on Facebook, the actors and the production (including me) received countless death threats and intimidation from the supporters and loyalists of the Marcoses and of course, Duterte. Ang Mga Maharlika was supposed to be toured in several venues that year but the production decided to cancel the shows.

Ang Mga Maharlika retells the story of the scandal of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his mistress, the American actress Dovie Beams.

I wrote and finished the play in 2010 in a quaint cafe in Cebu City called Kukuk’s Nest owned by actress and writer Maria Victoria Beltran. The play was based on Beams’s biography written by exiled journalist Hermie Rotea; the book was banned by Imelda Marcos in the Philippines. I found and eventually bought the hardcover copy of the book used as a display in Kukuk’s Nest along with other trade books. It was stolen from my table inside the faculty room of the School of Languages, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the Mapua University where I used to teach. Beltran, last April, was taken by the regime’s police authorities without warrant for her criticisms to government’s inaction to the pandemic.

I am posting this here for posterity. Freedom of expression and the freedom to dissent are long dead in the Philippines. Duterte and his fascist regime’s Anti-Terror Bill is awaiting for his signature to formalize and ‘legalize’ the death of freedom of expression in the country.

I am Playwright and Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill Affects Me, Too

Perhaps out of frustrations with the passing of Anti-Terror Bill the other day at the Congress my former student, now a painter based in Manila, sent me these photos. She took these photos from the 2017 production of my play Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan (Light Falls Heavier in Sorrow) in Marikina City, the last production of my work as a playwright before I left the archipelago in 2018.

At first, I wasn’t really sure what’s on her mind that she suddenly sent me these photos years after she took it while the performance was on going. This morning I realized that probably she thought of this play, it’s story, and its future in the country’s theater halls once Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill becomes a law. Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan was about the children in conflict in Mindanao: the story of war in Southern Philippines from the points-of-view of young Moro freedom fighters, of child soldiers.

The story line was a product of a half-a-year research talking with leaders of Moro freedom fighters in Cotabato and Maguindanao, of former child soldiers, and in conversations with communities in Central Mindanao that suffered in militarization Moro communities in Southern Philippines. It was expected that Moro lawmakers in the Congress were the first to reject Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill because obviously they know this game, they know that their communities will suffer in a Filipino Philippines as a police state.

Written in 2015, this play failed to make it to its premiere; five days before the opening, I was asked to revised the play, to change its story line. Of course, I refused as a playwright. Since then, none will dare produce this play except the autonomous government of the Bangsamoro and the radical and progressive university-based group inside the University of the Philippines, the UP Repertory Company.

And then I realized, fuck it, it’s not just Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan that theater organizations back home will face the problems of mounting it once Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill it becomes a law. Almost half a dozen of my plays (still being performed for the last five years and one even appears in several textbooks of senior high school students) endlessly talk of collective resistance, the independence for the Bangsamoro people from the Philippine government, and stories of freedom fighters and the violence of state forces to vulnerable communities. I even have a young adult novel that teaches kids the importance of overthrowing a fascist regime.

More than the impact of this another draconian law to the right to dissent, to activism, and the freedom of expression in the country — my rejection to the Anti-Terrorism Bill is also personal to me. All writers, artists, cultural workers, and theater maker should reject this law. This fascist and murderous regime is always afraid of Filipino writers writing from the tradition of socially engaged literary production in the country. Let’s continue to scare them.

PS. Ownership of the photos belongs to my former student. Her name was omitted in the attribution for her protection.

#JunkTerrorBill #JunkTerrorBillNow #OustDuterte

Participating in Yellow Earth Theatre’s Professional Writers’ Programme 2020

This is my first theatre-related activity in the United Kingdom and probably my first since the last production of my play Ang Mga Maharlika in 2017 when I was still in Manila. It was already a hiatus for someone like me who keep a scorecards of new plays written and produced in a year.

Before I left for London in 2018 I was supposed to write an adaption of Gogol’s The Government Inspector for a Manila-based theatre company, but for some reasons the project did not push through and there came the problems back home and I have to stay here in the country. I really missed the theatre – both writing a new play or being in the production as a playwright. Getting accepted in this program is a real rebound.

Writing plays always inspire me to be creative and productive in my other creative endeavors such as writing a novel or a short story.

Last February, I submitted my application to the second iteration of Yellow Earth’s Professional Writers’ Program. Luckily, my project proposal for a new play (in English, full-length) got accepted. I’d like to finish my new play while I am in this program – or, at least the scene treatments and pitch while attending the first phase of project until June.

What makes me more excited is I am part of cohort of professional theatre and film artists based in the United Kingdom. I will definitely get a lot of new perspective on their practices that could help me navigate the industry and continue writing plays while I am here living in this country indefinitely.

Yellow Earth Theatre Company is a London-based theatre company that provides workshops, conducts researches, and full production and promotion of works by British East Asians in the United Kingdom.

It’s May, Still in Lockdown and I Decided to Survive

And so I decided to create an online diary to record my daily activities while being locked down inside the house – and now this hell runs for several weeks already and it seems with the increasing deaths here in the UK counted on a daily basis, this situation will go on for months until they discovered the vaccine and then eventually welcome the recession. But I will keep this online diary so I have something to look back if ever I survived this nightmare.

It’s the first day of May. I decided to take good care of myself – my physical, mental, and emotional health should come first before anything else especially that I am living alone here in this country. What this lock down has taught me is this: it is not the virus that will eventually kill me but it’s this environment that does not acknowledge my own right for survival and self-preservation – and constantly telling me that I do not deserve it.

Governments that protects the interests of the few, selfish idiots that value their privileges and conveniences more than other people’s lives, people who refuse to see that the world has changed and we need to adjust, those who refuse to acknowledge that you have to survive, too, and you need to preserve youself.

What this pandemic has revealed to me so far is a glaring truth: that the world is cruel and people are selfish. Since the last week of March I started to struggle with sickness – recurring flu, body malaise, loss of senses of taste and smell, occasional gasping for my breath early morning that waked me up even before sunrise. I survived by self-medication for the next three to four weeks. Somewhere in between a death in the family back home.

After the sickness I was baffled by the inability of my body to be productive, to focus on a specific task, to return to my activities, my writing projects. I realized then that it was no longer physical, it was the uninvited friend who visited me again – this was something that wasn’t new to me. It happened to me in the Philippines in 2018 between February until I left for London in September: I can’t sleep at night, I was immobile the whole day, my body was numbed by thinking of these circular endless pointless thoughts, I was just there – inside my room, with my closed doors and windows, lying at my sofa the whole day while pretending to be okay in social media. The killings in the country being reported almost everyday, the deaths in my neighborhood in Quezon City due to extra-judicial killings, the uncertainty of my future because the country has become so dangerous for everyone. The killings were so popular to people. Friends and comrades who celebrated the killings. The hallow populist nationalism of Duterte that was present everywhere – from the bodies you love to the dust the enters your lungs. It was chaos.

And now it is happening again, here in London. And these deaths everyday, neighbors being picked up by ambulances, politicians and government protecting the interests of the few, liars, and like in the Philippines before I left the country: poor people were suffering everywhere and then there’s a steady supply of selfish people who refuse to acknowledge that you have vulnerabilities, too. That you need to survive, too. And they ask so much from you without thinking that you needed help, too.

No. I refuse to be in that situation again before I left that shithole of a country of murderers and matapobres. Today, I decided to preserve myself because I am alone here and nobody will protect me. Nobody will protect me. I need to survive.

This virus has taught me so much about human nature.

Philippine Literary Mafia

I.

Nagsisimula ito sa ‘kulto ng mentorship’. May mga matatandang manunulat o ang tawag nila sa kanilang mga sarili ay ‘established writer’ ang magmamando o magtatayo ng isang literary organization para, usually, sa mga baguhan at batang manunulat. Sa loob ng ‘literary organization’ na ito sila ang magtatakda ng organizational dynamics o kung paano patatakbuhin ang ‘literary organization’ bilang isang konkretong samahan na may iisang cultural organization. At dahil ang mga ‘established writer’ ang mentor, may kapangyarihan sila, lalo na sa kanilang impluwensiya, na itakda sa literary organization ang kanilang mga pamantayan kung paano maging isang ‘established writer’ tulad nila: ang makasali sa mga pambansang palihan o workshop, manalo sa mga pakontes, at mailathala sa mga publikasyon–at sa panahon ngayon ng internet, ang maging popular sa social media o maging ‘rock star’ ng kontemporanyong Panitikang Pilipino.

Kaya sa loob ng ‘literary organization’ na ito makikita mo ang paglaganap ng dalawang kultura: ang ‘cult following’ at ‘careerist writing’. Ang mga bago at batang manunulat ay magiging ‘cult followers’ ng kanilang mga mentors; fandoms o ‘groupie’ ng rock star . Nangyayari ito dahil nga sa impluwensiya na itinakda rin mismo ng mga‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ sa loob ng ‘literary organization’. Ang problema rito palagi ay nasa lebel ng estetika: mapapansin mo habang lumalaki ang organisasyon, pare-pareho na ang kanilang pagsusulat, ang boses, tema, at ang mga problema na tinatalakay ng kanilang mga akda, ang kanilang pulitika. Mahalaga ang kalakaran na ito sa mga ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ dahil sa ganitong paraan lamang nila mapananatili ang kanilang impluwensiya at katuturan bilang manunulat–at minsan, kahit hindi na sila magsulat at maglabas ng mga bagong akda. Ito rin kasi ang magbibigay proteksiyon sa kanila para mapanatili ang kanilang mga posisyon: una, sa ‘pormal’ man tulad ng sa loob ng akademya o directorship o panel sa mga palihan o guro ng malikhaing pagsulat sa isang unibersidad na may permanent employment status at ikalawa, ‘informal’. ‘Informal’ tulad ng kanilang katanyagan sa mga mambabasa o impluwensiya sa mga bago at kabataang manunulat at ang mga kasamang benepisyo nito. Ang mga ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ ay palagi mong maririnig na magkukuwento ng tungkol sa kanilang mga pinagdaanan bilang mga batang manunulat hanggang sa kung paano nila naabot ang kanilang pagiging ‘established’, ang kanilang mga natanggap na karangalan, mga nadaluhang workshop, mga kilala pang mga manunulat na tila barkada lang nila at kaututang-dila sa mga inuman.

Kalingkis ng ‘cult following’ ang ‘careerist writing’. Sa mga huntahan sa loob ng mga ‘literary organization’ na ito maririnig mo palagi ang mga pakontes, national awards at workshops, at ang mga pangalan ng publishing company. Ang mga ito kasi ang itinindig na istandard ng mga ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’: magiging ‘established’ writer ka kung mananalo ka sa mga pakontes, Palanca halimbawa, makapasok sa mga national writers workshops at magkaroon ng mga kilala at kainumang ‘established’ writers din para magwagi ka sa mga pakontes o makapasok sa mga national writers workshop. Social capital, networking. At ang uso ngayon dahil napasok na rin ng sistemang mafiosi ang publikasyon, mailathala ka sa ilang mga publishing house dahil sa tulong, padulas, paandar ng isang ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’. At palagi mong maririnig ang paboritong linya ng isang ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ sa kanilang mga transaksiyon: “Para ‘yan sa mga kabataang manunulat at sa kanilang development bilang manunulat” na ang pokus talaga ay hindi sa paglikha, kundi para sa manlilikha–esensiyal na pundasyon ng ‘cult following’ at ‘careerist writing’.

Kaya huwag kang magtataka na sa loob at labas ‘literary organization’ na ito may ‘pulitika’ o power struggle, nag-aaway-away ang mga kasapi. Huwag kang magtataka kung ang ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ ay magiging ‘gate-keeper’ na rin o magtatalaga sila ng kanilang mga alter-ego sa loob ng ‘literary organization’. Minsan ang pag-aaway ay nagbabalat-kayong ideolohikal o pulitikal kuno, pero ang totoo: nag-aaway-away lamang ang kasapi para sa mas malapit na posisyon at lokasyon sa pagiging ‘established writer’ ng mga ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ at ng kanilang sistema .

Ang ‘cult following’ at ‘careerist writing’ ay pundasyon ng isang sakit, kanser, ng literary community sa Pilipinas: ang padrino system. Hindi ito talaga tungkol sa pagsusulat, sa paglikha, sa pagwasak ng mga nakasanayan. Tungkol palagi ito sa kapangyarihan at kung sino ang kilala mo o kung kanino ka nakakapit.

At ang sistema ay magpapatuloy hanggang sa ang kultura at imprastraktura ng ganitong kalakaran ay dadalhin na ng mga naging produkto ng ‘literary organization’, ng kanilang mga frankenstein at zombie— hanggang sa sila na ang magiging ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ na rin, ang magtatayo o magiging kasapakat ng establishment: uupong judge sa mga pakontes, panel sa workshop, ‘middleman’ ng mga publishing house, o adviser ng mga ‘literary organization’. At ang siklo ng ganitong saliwang proseso ng pampanitikan at kultural na produksiyon ay ipapasa sa mga bago at kabataang manunulat at magpapatuloy hanggang sa maging bahagi na ang pambansang panitikan na ang mithi talaga ay hindi pagsusulat, paglikha, pagwasak kundi kanonisasyon at pagpapanatili ng status quo.

II.

Siguro magtatanong ka at tatapunan ako ng paghusga bilang manunulat na sa sobrang dami ng problema ng Pilipinas, nagkaroon ka ng oras at lakas na pag-usapan ang pagsusulat at literary mafiosi sa Pilipinas. Siguro iisipin mo na ganito talaga ako kababaw. Tatanggapin ko ang lahat ng paghusga dahil itinuturing ko na rin itong pagtatapos ng isang usapin na may kinalaman sa akin nitong nagdaang mga araw.

Nitong nakaraang linggo, sa aking pananahimik, nagsimula na naman akong makatanggap ng atake mula sa isang manunulat na mula na kasapi ng isang ‘literary organization’. Matagal ko nang hindi pinapatulan ang mga atake dahil noon pa man alam ko na wala naman itong kinalaman sa aking mga sinusulat, naunawaan ko na bahagi lamang ito (ang rabid na pag-atake) ng isang sistema, ng kultura ng literary mafiosi-style sa Pilipinas. Pinatulan ko na lamang ito ngayon dahil may kinalaman na sa aking paniniwala at pagkatao ang atake at nasa orbit na ng pulitika ng aking mga sinusulat.

Nagsimula ang pag-atake na ito noong Mayo nang mailantad sa social media ng isang kilalang direktor at manunulat ang kalakaran ng manunulat na ito bilang ‘careerist writer’ ng ‘literary organization’. Inilantad na ang modus ng manunulat na ito ay ang makadalo sa mga national writers workshop, marahil natuklasan niya na sa ganitong paraan siya makakakuha ng akses sa mga ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ ng mga establishment. Natuklasan ko kasi sa pagtatanong-tanong sa dati kong unibersidad na sa ganitong paraan pala siya nagsimula: nang ginamit niya ang unang workshop na nadaluhan sa UST bilang lunsaran ng kanyang ‘literary career’. Kaya ang galit niya sa akin ay hindi pampanitikan at hanggang impiyerno pa yata. May hinuha ako na ang galit na ito ay nang mailantad sa publiko ang gawain at kalakaran ng kanyang literary mafia, ng kanyang ‘literary organization’. Palagi, dapat kasi, ang mga galawang mafiosi ay patago, pailalim, malayo sa kritikal na diskurso.

At alam kong bilang na ang araw ko bilang manunulat dahil sa pagsusulat ng sanaysay na ito. Isa kasi itong paglalantad ng gawain at kalakaran ng literary mafia na na-obserbahan ko sa maikling taon sa loob ng akademya. Inaasahan ko na kukuyugin muli ako ng mga kasapi ng ‘literary organization’ na ito tulad ng ginawa nila sa akin noong Mayo nang unang mabunyag ang kanilang kalakaran para ipagtanggol ang produkto ng kanilang sistema, at ang kanilang frankenstein, ang kultura nila ng ‘cult following’. Hindi lang pala sila mga ‘rock star’ groupie, sila ay mga little monster ng mga ‘pop star diva’ rin.

At totoo ngang makapangyarihan ang mga nasa loob ng literary mafia na ito kung impluwensiya at soft power lang ang pag-uusapan. Nailathala muli ng manunulat na ito ang kanyang aklat na unang nailathala noong 2012. Sa aklat pa lamang bilang komoditi makikita mo na kaagad ang bahid o basbas ng sistema ng ‘established-writer-cum-mentor’ mula introduksiyon, blurbs, estetika, at lokasyon ng pulitika ng teksto na sumusuporta sa pambasang pulitika ng pamahalaan na pinatatakbo ng oligarkiya (at sa aklat na ito, ang lantarang promosyon ng labor export policy gamit ang aliwan sa fantasy production ng LGBT narratives) hanggang sa pamagat ng aklat na sumasapul sa saktong target market. At tunay ngang makapangyarihan ang impluwensiya dahil ang aklat na unang nailathala noong 2012 ay finalist ngayon sa 2016 National Book Awards. Hinihintay ko nga itong manalo nang mapatotohanan ko kahit na papaano ang claim sa nasaysay na ito.

Pero siyempre, ang tunay na panlaban palagi sa mafiosi ay ang ilantad sila sa publiko at hilahin sa mga kritikal na diskurso.

III.

Hindi kailangan ng isang manunulat ang maging ‘established’. Dahil sa paglikha, wala naman talagang ‘established’ sapagkat isa itong proseso rin ng pagwasak. Hindi kailangan ng manunulat ang isang ‘literary organization’, dahil ang pagsusulat lalo na sa sitwasyon ng postkolonyal na Pilipinas na pinatatakbo ng iilang pamilya ay mas may katuturan kung ito ay ang pagwasak ng institusyon, ng mga kung anumang ‘establish’ para lumikha ng bago at wasakin din pagkatapos. Hindi naman kailangan ng isang manunulat ang mentor; lahat tayo manunulat mas nauna nga lamang ipinanganak ang iba. At ang manunulat, habang lumalakad ang panahon, tumataas dapat ang antas ng pangarap ng kanyang pagsusulat at hindi nahihimpil para maging establishment, mga gusali at monumentong matatayog at matatag na nakatindig na parang hindi mapababagsak ng panahon at lindol. Ngunit ang mga monumento at gusali at may katuturan lamang sa isang panahon ng estetika na itinatakda ng kung sino ang nasa kapangyarihan: wala pa rin itong kinalaman sa paglikha, sa pagsusulat. Hindi kailangan ng manunulat ang ‘squad’ na magtatanggol sa kanya sa mga pag-atake ng mga nasa kabilang literary mafia. Mas makabubuti siguro sa manunulat ang mag-isang masaktan, mag-isang mabigo nang matutunan niyang mabigo nang may dangal at respeto sa sarili bilang manlilika. Hindi kailangan ng manunulat ang mga institusyon para makapagsulat, lumikha. Dahil ang pagsusulat mismo at ang manunulat, sa paliwanag nga ni Sartre, ay isa nang institusyon.

Ang tanging kailangan ng isang manunulat, kung ako ang tatanungin mo pero hindi naman ito nakataga sa bato, ay ang lahat ng hindi naisama sa ‘hindi kailangan’ na mga nabanggit sa itaas.