My country’s take on magic realism

I started reading works by Latin American writers when I entered college. They appealed to me because they quenched my thirst for Literature both fantastic and profoundly real. South America served as a nutrient-rich petri dish for this kind of writing because of the political experience of the region. Chile, Bolivia, Columbia, Paraguay, Uruguay have their comical, albeit not in a funny way, dictators who inspired writers to write stories that, in turn, never stopped inspiring and entertaining the world. They related their unique national experience in novels and stories that define what superb narration about angel, saints, whore, and men of adventure is.

Which makes me wonder why Filipino writers have not produced a body of work that could rival if not equal those written by Latin American authors. The travails of this country on its way to nationhood are more than sufficient an inspiration for a book that can be as great as Ciento Años Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude).

On a closer look, however, this country is not found wanting with magic realism, the Filipinized version, that is, although ours is darker and more malevolent in nature. In this country magic realism does not exist in books neither is it told by a village elder while the rest of the village is seated around a bonfire. Filipinos live in it every day; we are so accustomed to it that we need not consciously brand it as such. For us nothing is fantastic with being stopped in the middle of the road, being forced to get off, being shot at point blank. In this part of the world, in this plane of existence, nothing is magical, everything is real. Chillingly real.

In the Philippines, there are minor gods who sometimes act like God. They are centerpiece angels whom the people worship until they are replaced by their kins. They build bridges and roads, provide employment, and if the situation demands, decide who will live or perish from the face of the world. They are the powers-that-be. And will remain so. No one has enough guts to question and challenge these gods; some who were foolish enough attempted to overturn the table but ended up being sent to hell and were never seen since.

This country is a stuff of fiction, a fiction of a sloppily imitated über-verisimilitude. The people on this island country fixate themselves with the tube where they see themselves being mirrored. They are mirroring the image they see which in fact is a mirror image of themselves. This is repeated to point infinity. No one thinks this is absurd for absurdity is a fact of life. What is rational is an anomaly. What is anomalous is rational.

And so the island people find themselves feeling nothing before an atrocity in front of them. They feel desensitized before a massacre of magnitude never thought possible. Everything is a show. None is fantastic because everything is fantastic.


I am consumed by this rage I feel inside. I want to banter endlessly until I go hoarse and exhausted.

As of press time, the forensics are doing a numbing exercise of counting the bodies dug from the mass graveyard in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The last count was 57. Fifty-seven mutilated, decapitated, and absolutely dead bodies buried, as if to mock, by an enormous backhoe owned by the province of Maguindanao. As if the entire act of burying massacred people is an activity similar to those done by giant trucks plying the national highways bearing the declarative “Government Project, Do Not Delay.” Yes, the massacre was a government project only this time bigger in scale, more efficiently and masterfully done, and the worst thing one can actually do just to keep hold of power.

“My wife’s private parts were slashed four times, after which they fired a bullet into it,” said Vice Mayor Mangudadatu.

“They speared both of her eyes, shot both her breasts, cut off her feet, fired into her mouth. I could not begin to describe the manner by which they treated her,” he added.

And all the Malacanang could say is “We don’t have full control of the situation on the ground, mortals as we are. Because we are only human, we cannot stop these things from happening, but we will just do whatever is legally possible within human limits to be able to stop [them] and improve on our performance as a government and as a country,” said Eduardo Ermita, the Executive Secretary.


This administration will do nothing, as this is like all other controversies it has faced before. Let the issue sit and settle and wait for the public to forget. But this one is something that is beyond us. It is a crime against humanity. And all the president could say is “…because we are only human, we cannot stop these things from happening.”


I’ve never seen a government as rotten as ours. How can we ever feel secure in a country where the government is inutile? I feel that I am in the climax of my pessimism. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is evil.

We see a local power clinging with all its claws to the power his family has held for more than a decade. Now think what a national leader will do just to have that power in her hands forever?

The image is grim.

It is beyond reason how somebody could do, or even contemplate of doing, such horror and atrocity. And it is beyond my 23-year-old mind to understand how this government I’ve innocently trusted could just brush this event like a regular-day-in-the-office or as one of those unfounded-issues-hurled-at-us-by-good-for-nothing-critics.

Now I feel nothing but pure rage. I feel like resigning from my teaching post at the university, go to the mountains, and wage war against this rubbish government.

For Umberto Eco

This feeling I am secretly keeping is somehow similar to that of a school girl’s infatuation for her cute classmate sitting next to her. Only that in my case, I definitely am no school girl and the object of my desire, call it lust, is far from being somebody who happens to occupy the seat beside me. Still I lust for the writer.

I was surprised to find a copy of The Island of the Day Before at my sister’s apartment. I could not remember the day I bought the book or that it’s actually mine. In the inside cover I saw my name written in my barely readable handwriting. Yes, the book is mine, and based on the annotation, I was halfway through when I stopped reading it. The last date registered is April 13, 2008. I cannot remember my reason for not finishing the book, which is odd, because this has never occurred before.

When bloggers meet to save the world

When bloggers meet and discuss about plans to save the world from the Apocalypse or the Armageddon (depending on which testament of the Bible one is keen on reading), one will inevitably question whether this group of passionate people is indeed capable of doing such daunting task.

Obviously, none of them is.

These bloggers, sensing the obvious incredulity of this objective observer (in my person, definitely) ‘embedded’ among them, will then decide to alter the agenda of the meeting a little. So instead of salvaging the world from its demise they’ll all try to have a consensus on sponsoring a Saturday party that will be attended by a famous celebrity from Manila.

When I started blogging, the first thing I had to hurdle was differentiating myself from the rest of the crowded blogosphere. As in all fields, it is important to set what makes me unique; what I can offer that others can not; what I know that others do not know; and in some rare cases, how I can say things that only I can say with conviction, humor, authority, or voice. But eventually I found out that the web is just too big, almost infinitely vast, that while it encourages diversity and differences, it inadvertently spurs uniformity. And paradoxically, the more I try my best to be distinct, the more I unknowingly fall into the pit of trite pastiches of blogging.

Seeing other bloggers in the act of mirroring each other, they mirroring me, I mirroring them (no matter how hard I deny, dislike, and hate the exercise) is a humbling experience.

They gather around a round table like King Arthur’s Knights of, the last time I heard, Round Table but which now is not limited to this shape as a rectangle, square or oval will perfectly do. They will then proceed with the review of the minutes from the last meeting which unfortunately is lost by somebody they appointed as secretary. Unable to proceed which will never be the case, they will proceed with the discussion of pertinent issues anyway.

First, somebody holding a piece of email printout waving it to the crowd as if to say, “Hey somebody emailed me that there will be an activity (the email was sent to my address, am I that popular) on Sunday”, presumably this person is the president, will ask if any of the bloggers present in the meeting will be available to cover an event sponsored by a company, say a cake company.

If the task is simply about tasting to-be-introduced confection, as a rule, none will volunteer as most bloggers are not the assertive kind. On the date of cake tasting, however, the cake company will have to brace its personnel for the arrival, en mass, of self proclaimed cake tasters made up of all the bloggers present during the meeting in question.

Definitely, they will do honest, comprehensive, and exhaustive write-ups about everything they saw, heard, felt, smelled, and, of course, tasted during that day. They will take note of everything down to the most inconspicuous details such as the bow ties of the waiters being improperly placed, what was said by a certain expert on social deviance about the cakes being indicators of people’s decadence, or a provincial police inspector’s statement about cakes being a positive reinforcement in maintaining peace and order; and no one, as a tradition, will miss making comments about the weather that day in his blog. Some of the most overeager kind will take photos of the sky that day and relate it to the success of the cake tasting endeavor.

Speaking of photos, since it is a meeting, food and beverages should be served. Not wanting to miss a blogging opportunity on his lap, somebody will pull his 5.1 megapixels Nikon digital camera to take photos of the ‘outrageously delicious cinnamon rolls’, ‘the out-of-this-world cappuccino’, and the truly Ilonggo friendliness of the waiters in the coffee shop where the meeting is being held.

Not wanting to be outdone, somebody, the self-proclaimed photoblogger most of the time, will remove his state-of-the art DSLR camera from its leather case for the people in the entire room to behold. Without any regard for decency, he’ll take macro shots of those rolls, mugs of coffee, and the waiters, with flashes of his camera at their brightest, temporarily rendering some innocent members of the quorum who are unfortunately seated near him blind.

And so the meeting continues and the discussion about how to save the world forgotten or shelved until such time that the ‘embedded’ blogger decides that he has enough of the baloney and leaves the place, giving the rest peace of mind and leaving with them with the security of thoughts that their unique position in the grand scheme of the blogging universe is preserved until their next post where in they will lambast that ‘embedded blogger’ until nothing is left of him but a negligible dark pixel in the constellation of the great Ilonggo bloggers.

Advertisement and shameless plug

These are blogs of my students enrolled in my Opinion Writing Class. I shall be posting screenshots pretty soon. In the mean time, you may click these links to direct you to their sites. Enjoy reading, and please leave your comments.  And it wouldn’t hurt a bit if you add them to you blog roll.

The Small Voice

Rencee’s Blog

Shiela Rose

Kate Aubrey

superior analysis

coffee concepts

The View from the Fence

Rubyjeanvencer’s Blog

On a Roll

I Write the Views

There are some stories

“I could not decide whether to pull over or to go on. I politely told the driver of a Jaro-CPU jeepney that I was getting off, and ran after that familiar face. Only to learn that he was not alone; he was not unhappy like I thought; and that in his universe that early evening, I was a mere accident. And accident I was.”

There are some stories that are not meant to be told, that are better off if they remain hidden in the repository of the dead.

Modernist writing focuses on the individual and the conflict between him and the social constructs where he is a member of. In modernist fiction the struggle for personal autonomy can be continued only through opposition to existing social institutions and conventions. This struggle necessarily involves individual alienation and often ends with mental dissolution (Waugh, 1984:10). But as is always the case, the power structures of contemporary society are more mystifying and complex than what is apparent leaving modernist thoughts at a lost for explanation. This leaves me with no other option but to tread the dangerous and unpredictable waters of postmodernism and metafiction. Here I find a solution by looking inwards to my medium of expression—language.

The story started with the writer just arriving from a convention with the deities of Anini-y. He was riding a Jaro-CPU jeepney on his way to the gym last night, when he saw a familiar face sullenly walking, he conjectured to be, alone on Iznart Street. During the few seconds between seeing that familiar face and the decision to politely tell the driver that he was getting off, a torrent of past events flooded him, though he’s all too aware that he has become an insignificant quantum in the memory of that familiar face, like how the owner of the face is in the writer’s life. But he felt, for reasons he couldn’t explain, that the ties that used to strongly attach him with the familiar face has been dissolved by the acrid feelings each has caused the other. The writer causing the most pain but ended up being the more bitter.

And there are some stories such as this one that escape understanding 1) because they are tasteless, 2) because they are boring, 3) because they are about a banality of an individual; stories that do not seem to contribute anything substantial and profound to mankind’s brief history.

One afternoon we drank Redhorse beer from plastic bags using plastic straws

After almost two years, I met him again three afternoons ago. I just finished with my writing class when I saw him waiting for something or somebody outside the library. He seemed not to have changed a bit. He was wearing the same black plastic rimmed eye glasses I remember he has been wearing six years ago when I first met him at UP.

He was then a senior BS Bio student; I was at that time a confused BS Bio freshman who was about to quit college because of another Math 17 (Algebra and Trigonometry) exam of which I failed, twice in a row. Instead of studying and doing practice tests, I was at the library that time reading the Diary of Franz Kafka edited by Max Brod. He approached me and asked about the multi-colored tubao I was wearing around my neck. He pointed out, in our first meeting, how I was so desperate in differentiating myself from the rest of the crowd by donning that dreadful piece of fabric like a noose. His nerve intimidated me. However, it did not occur to me to question why he was wearing a hat made from nipa grass which also looked funny on him. I saw him around the campus indifferently walking as if it was but natural to wear that strange-looking hat. And there he was, commenting on my tubao which I must admit, imbued on me a character of a jokester.

For me then, he was the most radical, the weirdest, and the most original student at UP. He set the highest bar on how far one can get in order to separate oneself from the brain-deadening crowd. He introduced me to the philosophies of Marx without him being a Marxist; to the value of a revolution that will change the entire Filipino mindset, but mind you, this revolution is mired with ironies as, according to him, the only necessary participant in this revolution is himself.

He is three years my senior but finished his bachelor’s degree in 2009 after changing his thesis several times, from the behavior of drones during mating, to some experiments on mud crab, and finally settling with something which he dubbed as groundbreaking—salinity tolerance of the larval stage of two species of crabs.

And three afternoons, after not having seen each other for almost two years, instead of the perfunctory questions about what adventures each has gone through during those years, we opted to forgo this part and decided to dive head on and tackle issues of import. We had a very long unplanned, almost meandering conversation about my angst and but mostly about his compulsion, no obsession, in transforming this world into a place for intellectuals. It has always been how he wanted it to become.

He’s considering the ‘public clamor’ for him to run for the highest office in the land; after all he is qualified, he said. He was so fiery while delivering his speeches. I felt like an insignificant mortal walking beside the next president of the country. Only to realize rather late that he’s only 27.

He ran for Barangay Captain in his hometown of Bugasong, Antique. Not counting the votes he got from himself (of course), his parent, and two siblings, he got two additional votes, which gave him seven votes, out of the 470 total population of his barangay. He did not view this defeat a failure. In fact he was happy because had he won in that election, he wouldn’t have finished university. Aside from being the most radical, the weirdest, and the most original, he’s also the most disposed to take the most favorable view of things. A true-blue optimist.

We walked under the intense afternoon sun to my favorite place famous for its batchoy and coconut water, where my best friend and I used to frequent during college. Unfortunately, it closed a year ago and in its place now stands a furniture shop. So in lieu, I invited him to drink softdrinks at OMPs, a local bar that faces the university entrance. But a bottle of cold Redhorse beer was more tempting than anything. He only gave me a smile when I asked the woman at the counter to pour the contents into plastic bags and asked for plastic straws.

Nothing beats a carefree afternoon spent conversing with an old friend, walking our way to an undetermined direction, and drinking cold beer from plastic bags and sipped the alcoholic content using plastic straws. This while the sun is radiating heat in full glory overhead.

Rodelo’s one of those few people I’ve met who has remained faithful to his identity, who has held on to what he has believed when he was younger, who has truly gone against the current of general hysteria and calming boredom.

Making me so envious, because I can never be like him.