It was around 10:30 in the evening, I had just arrived at my place from an evening drinking coffee, alone, at Shangri-la when I texted Ogie if he was still in Manila. He texted back yes, and before I could start reading the books I bought that night I was already preparing to meet him at Shangri-la. The mall is a short walk from where I stay, roughly. But I decided to take the train from Boni to Shaw. What should have been a 15-minute walk or a five-minute bus ride turned out to be a thirty-minute wait for the train. I already finished the short stories Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and Airplane: Or, How He Talked to Himself as If Reciting Poetry by Haruki Murakami while waiting on the platform with other passengers for the last train trip from Taft to North Avenue station when I saw the lazy train approaching like the first light of dawn breaking the horizon that was Guadalupe Bridge.
Rogelio Braga was in Manila to attend the awarding for this year’s Palanca. This is his first time to win the award. And although he is known for his plays, he copped the award for best short story written in Filipino.
I met him more than a month ago at the Cultural Center of the Philippines during the 5th Virgin Labfest. Two of his plays were being performed that time. I was doing reviews of the plays for this blog when I happened to watch his play Ang Bayot, Ang Meranao, at ang Habal-habal sa isang Nakababagot na Paghihintay sa Kanto ng Lanao del Norte. I did not like it in the same way that I like sipping melon shake on a humid and hot afternoon, but I understood what the play wanted to say about the place where I come from, the Mindanao I never bothered to understand. He made a lengthy response to my review of the play. The following night I met him after watching his play So Sangibo A Ranon Na Piyatay O Satiman A Tadman. The meeting was brief. I introduced myself; we shook hands; I left.
He arrived at Starbucks earlier than I did. He was coming from Tandang Sora in Quezon City, almost ten times the distance I traveled. I tried looking haggard and apologetic to rationalize my tardiness upon entering the coffee shop, but I did not see him inside. He initially escaped recognition because of his cropped hair. The last time he was sporting an Afro-like coiffure minus the really kinky hair. This time he seemed to have looked more mature. Only when he waved at me did I recognize that it was he.
I suggested transferring to the Starbucks beside EDSA Central because the one in Shangri-la closes at midnight. While walking our way we talked about our academic backgrounds. It surprised me to know that he finished his undergraduate majoring in Political Science in 2000 from the University of Santo Tomas, making him 29 years old based on my calculation. I thought we were batch mates. They say writing makes one look more mature than his real age. It has an opposite effect on Ogie.
He ordered chamomile tea. “Gusto kong makatulog.” It was interesting because as far as I was concerned that time, I intended to extend the talk until dawn. And talking to somebody who was sleepy might prove a challenge. I asked for any drink free from caffeine because I already had a big tumbler of cappuccino several hours ago. And the conversation continued.
As an artist and a writer, I expected him to have a high regard for truth. He did not fail to deliver. He is passionate, almost to a point of obsession, to tell about the truths he believes in. He hates almost as obsessively people who lie to themselves. He dropped names, names I know and read about, who according to him spread bull shit. He expressed his disappointment, his disillusionment.
Still his passion for his Art remains as true.
He corrected, “Di ako taga-Mindanao.”
“I thought you were. Andami mong alam about the place.”
He gave me a full-dentured smile. He worked for an NGO based in Iligan long enough to understand the place and its people. He left in 2007 to return to Manila after an experience that caused him to be bitter about the place. This same experience pushed him to later embrace the place and use this as an inspiration for his plays and fictions.
He believes in the Moros’ fight for a Bangsa Moro. It was something I was not ready to accept having come from a family of Visayan origin that was transplanted in Southern Mindanao. I cannot think of calling any other place home other than Mindanao.
This is the complexity of our idea of a nation. For Ogie, nationhood is a “Grand Manila Project” and the Philippine government’s non-recognition of the Bangsa Moro is a manifestation of this. He dismisses this concept of a nation as a mere hegemonic battle. I got his point. Clearly because he has been to the place and saw the daily struggles of the Muslims to live like second-class citizens in their homeland inhabited by the more politically powerful “Filipinos”. “Only when we give Mindanao back to the Moros will we be able to put an end to this war.”
Yes it makes sense, I said. But it’s impossible in this lifetime. I thought that the solution is more complex than that. Mindanao is a part of the modern puzzle. It cannot anymore live in it glorious past. The island is a dynamic multicultural place that can only exist if it incorporates diversity in all the facets of its development.
I envy him because he was able to make his opinion regarding the place, write about the people of Mindanao with sensitivity and sympathy. He is a reminder of what I am missing.
We talked about our work, writing, existentialism, French films, his being “French”, and life in general. He is currently based in Cebu and is working as a Human Resource manager in a BPO.
It was almost four o’clock in the morning when we left the coffee shop. “Sige I’ll treat you for breakfast. Sabi kasi nila you’ll be blessed daw if you share during Ramadan”.
I almost forgot that he’s Muslim. It was his last meal before the start of fasting.