Our bookIs 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.
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.“
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.
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?
With translation to the English language by novelist Gina Apostol
Kinaladkad nilang lahat ang pamilya Marcos palabas ng Palasyo sa Maynila. Kitang-kita ko lahat ng ginawa nila at buong-buo pa rin sa akin kahit tatlong dekada na ang nagdaan. Hinawakan sa buhok ang mga babaeng Marcos habang ginuguyod palabas ng pintuan. Ang matandang Marcos, nang masilayan nila na nagtatago sa likod ng dambuhalang pintuan na gawa sa nara, pinaulanan kaagad ng ilang suntok, sipa hanggang sa sumirit ang dugo sa gilid ng kanyang mga mata. Siguro ganito ang karahasan: wala nang salita. Dahil habang binubugbog nila ang matandang Marcos, walang nagsasalita sa kanila, ni nagmumura. Tahimik ang kanilang mga bibig habang nandadahas ang kanilang mga kamay. Labaha. Labaha ang ginamit nila para gilitan ang bawat kasapi ng angkan pati ang mga bata. Ang lupit, ang dahas. Nagkalat ang dugo sa mga marmol na sahig ng Palasyo dahil hindi na nila natiis ang galit na habang ginuguyod ang mga kasapi ng angkan ay pinagpapaslang na nila ito na parang mga manok. Makalipas ang isang oras, tumambad sa madla ang mga katawan ng buong pamilya Marcos, isinampay nila ang mga bangkay sa harap ng Palasyo, nakalambitin sa mga alulod. Sumisigaw ang lahat ng kalayaan habang nakatanaw sa mga bangkay. Nakita ako ni Berto at lumapit sa akin. Niyakap niya ako, mahigpit na mahigpit. Humahagulgol siya na parang bata at paulit-ulit niyang sinasabi na malaya na tayo, babalik na ako sa amin sa Tacloban. Lumapit ang Katolikong Kardinal sa mga bangkay pero hinarang siya isang lalaki. Kitang-kita ko ang lahat, ang lalaki at ang Kardinal. Itinaas ng lalaki ang kanang kamay niya sa mukha ng Katolikong Kardinal, napansin ko na nagliliwanag ang kanyang kamay. May hawak ang lalaki. Labaha. Lumapit ako sa dalawa. Pero hindi ganoon kalapit dahil nakakatakot ang lalaki, nangingnginig ang kanyang kamay sa galit, sa poot sa harap ng Kardinal. Nanlilisik ang mga mata niya sa galit at narinig ko ang kanyang mga salita, babala: “Putang ina mo, Kardinal, huwag kang magkakamali ng hakbang. Isinabit namin ang mga bangkay ng mga Marcos bilang babala sa lahat ng mga pamilya at apelyido na matagal nang nagpapatakbo ng aming mga buhay: na gagawin namin ito nang paulit-ulit, sa kahit na anong panahon bigyan lang kami ng pagkakataon. Matakot kayo sa aming mga galit.” At kitang-kita ko ang takot sa mga mata ng Kardinal habang nakatingin sa dulo ng duguang labaha. Nakakatakot ang rebolusyon na iyon, ang dilim, ang dahas, pinaslang nilang lahat ang angkan pati ang mga inosenteng bata. Sana ay hindi na iyon maulit at manatili na ang ganitong maayos na buhay ng mga mamamayan sa atin na may dignidad bilang mga tao. Nakakatakot.
They dragged the family Marcos out of the Palace in Manila. I saw everything they did and I see it all even now though three decades have passed. They held the Marcos women by the hair as they hauled their bodies through the door. When they saw the old Marcos hiding behind the giant door made of narra, they rained punches on him, kicked him until blood dripped through the slits of his eyes. Maybe this is violence: the lack of speech. Because no one spoke as they beat up the old Marcos, not a single curse. Their mouths were silent as their hands attacked. Razors. They used razors that slit each member of the clan including the children. So cruel, so fierce. Blood spread on the marble floors of the Palace because no longer able to bear their rage as they hauled them out they began to hack them as if they were chickens. After an hour all the bodies of the family Marcos were exposed for the crowd to see, they hung the corpses in front of the Palace, dangling from the drainpipes. The crowd screamed out freedom! as they looked at the corpses. Berto saw me and came up to me. He held me tight. He was sobbing like a child, he kept repeating we are free, we are free and I can go home now, to Tacloban. The Catholic Cardinal approached the bodies but a man stopped him. I saw it all, the man and the Cardinal. The man raised his right hand to the Cardinal’s face, I saw his hand was shining. The man held something. A razor. I approached them. But not too close because the man was scary, his hand was shaking from rage, his hate before the Cardinal. His eyes were glaring, and I heard his words, his warning: “Son of a whore, Cardinal, don’t make a wrong move. We hung the bodies of the family Marcos as a warning to all families and names that have run our lives: that we will do this again, just give us a chance, at any moment we’ll take it. You should fear our rage.” And I saw the Cardinal’s fear as he stared at the bloody razor’s edge. That revolution was so scary, so dark, so fierce, they slew them all including the innocent children. I hope it never happens again and that we remain citizens living in human dignity as we are now. So scary.
TODAY I RECEIVED a message from my publisher here in the UK about an email from someone back home accusing me of ‘anti-workerism’ and ‘misogyny’. The email also asked for my publisher to contact the sender ‘as soon as you can’.
Based on my experiences on this kind of harassment I am receiving since 2016, this is not the usual professional jealousy that you could encounter as a working class writer writing in a country where access to literary and theatrical opportunities are limited to the middle class (from middle class Left to the matapobre Right of the political spectrum in the Philippines) gatekeeping the literary and the theatre establishments. This kind of harassment is to extract more information on my activities from the people who are close and working with me. And this is dangerous for Filipino writers writing and publishing outside the literary establishments in this period in the country where the elite ruling class is correcting itself, transitioning.
As a writer and a playwright, I’ve been accused of so many things in the Philippines – from being a ‘iskwater‘ (someone who grew up from the ghettoes), ‘psychotic’, a bad influence to younger writers, communist terrorist, Muslim terrorist, anti-Filipino, ‘bougie fuckwit’, publicly mocked online from my gender, religious, class orientations to my physical appearance. I am subjected to online bullying since 2016 coming from writers from the Philipine literary establishments, paid trolls, from the State. All these were documented by writers and colleagues who were protecting me since 2016.
In 2017, in desperation probably from professional jealousy or clout from some centrist and right-wing liberal writers, my name was included in the list of writers that should be haunted, shamed, and banned from the literary establishment since I was allegedly supporting the Duterte regime. This happened at the same time while my name was also in the list of the fascist regime’s supporters of anti-Duterte writers and critics that they need to target online!
I welcomed them all.
This is nothing new to me. Last 25th of May, in an attempt to use me to whitewash the image of the country that there is ‘freedom of expression’ in Duterte Philippines, a bookshop owned by the known fascist writer, a National Artist of the Philippines for Literature, one of the most influential liberal, anti-communist partiarchs of the Philipine Literary Establishment wrote me an email if I would like to display my books in their shop. I made my response to the ‘invitation’ public to protect myself and my writing: that I refused as an exiled author to be used as a tool by this fascist regime for propaganda. The supporters of the regime and the coteries of the elitist liberal literary establishment were quick to spin this as my attack to the workers of the bookshop.
My apologies to people, institutions, my publisher, communities here in the UK if ever they received these kinds of harassment from the Philippines stemming from their association with me. My apologies, too, to my translator Kristine Ong Muslim who is being dragged to this mess, targeted because of her association with me.
In this episode of Migreatives I shared bits about my personal life and my writing: my childhood in the Philippines under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and the Martial Law regime, writing during post-EDSA 1986 People Power Revolution, and up to the return of fascism in the archipelago in 2016 when Duterte came to power and I was both writing in theatre, writing my novels, and my publishing essays online and in other media platforms.
This is the first time I’ve been into a podcast (the form is new to me) and the first time also for me to publicly speak about my experiences in the UK (I did not reveal all to protect some people who were with me and still living in the Philippines surviving the pandemic and the regime) writing under the fascist Duterte regime and my life here in the UK.
One thing that I learned in life as a Filipino playwright writing in Duterte Philippines is to not just to speak truth to power but to speak truth to power at the very moment when it is already necessary to confront a fascist evil regime.
You can listen to the podcast episode by clicking the image below. Trigger warning: there were parts of our conversation where we talked about the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines between 2016-2018 under the Duterte government and then the violence of the para-military group Ilaga (in tandem with the Philippine Army) that massacred Muslim Moros in Southern Philippines during the Marcos regime the 70’s.
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.
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 (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.
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.