My photo
ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Click on image to zoom in on text clipping


However high it goes, it will come down --–
Wrinkled on a branch, its message undelivered.
Harsh spring winds will blow it out of town
Before its whimsy, nay, its prayer is discovered.
Why play crapshoot among the clouds, my boy?
Could God be there, or does he hide elsewhere
Among the stars, or in some bramble being coy
Lest he expose himself as burning bush in fanfare?
Let your balloon fly shorn of its couriered burden
Of finding him sheltered in some unlikely heaven
Where heaven is not — for he never left your side
As you let it go to look for where his miracles abide.
Mississauga, May 31, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009


A Short Story


From eyewitness reports, the Governor cowered behind the outhouse. He did not bother to plead for his life, nor remind the young man that they were fighting for the same thing. He remained ominously silent on his knees as his executor emptied the home-made pistol into his head.

He had stepped out of his boathouse office for some air; his weeping wife told the military commander who arrived at the scene an hour after. Preciosa and her six-year old birthday girl curled up on their rattan papasan chair. She said the Governor suggested they celebrate their daughter’s birthday simply – just the immediate family and abuelo and abuela – at his office. The river was calm and police security was available.

There was no sense flaunting his in-laws’ wealth by celebrating at their Negros mansion out of town. Times were hard. Unverified security problems bothered the Governor who had just pronounced fiercely in the papers that the assassination of the President’s avowed rival at the Manila International Airport was dastardly, cowardly, and as sure as the damned military can make certain, the martial law dictator had him killed.

Pain in anybody’s ass, this local, Jesuit-schooled, politician – a governor by the grace of his in-law’s blood money squeezed out of the brown backs of the measly-paid hired hands and farmers in their hacienda – was the Governor’s capsule resume among the province’s officialdom. He was a lone-wolf, a maverick. Not even his father-in-law could get him to pipe down about criticizing the martial-law strongman.


Who shot Vel? The commander asked the police chief who was nowhere near the scene of the shooting.

Our initial investigation, sir, points to a kid maybe in his twenties. Could be NPA. No ID.

Who shot him?

My men, sir. Police sergeant Kalima, sir. He was patrolling near the office of the Gob when people started running and yelling that the Gob was killed.

Keep these from the press. By the way, we are taking over the investigation on orders from National Defence.

Yes, sir.


Evelio Falco had just passed the Bar when he ran against the ten-term governor of the province. He was popular with the university students and generally the restless youth who practically abandoned their classrooms in favour of the streets. They wanted the martial law government to give way to honest and clean elections. Poverty and injustice must be eradicated. Corruption in the government and in all levels of society must never be a way of life.

Avenge the murder of Ninoy! Throw the military rulers out! Down with dictatorship! Kill the bastards!

Falco took to the streets, marched with them, stoked their anger, and organized cadres among the young men and women who trooped to his office to volunteer their services and battering sticks disguised as placards..

He was their champion, their hero. He beat the incumbent governor to his father’s chagrin because the old and doddering politico was also his own uncle, his father’s eldest brother.

Disinherited, he found an unlikely supporter in his father-in-law who could not bear to see a pregnant Preciosa bring home a loser for a husband.

They met at the university, and she was curious about how a rich man’s son could also rant and rave about the rights of the poor and the exploited labourers in the wealthy encomiendas, the enclaves of the idle rich. Born to one of the oldest families in their region, wealthy landowners who raked in money from their vast rice and sugar cane plantations, he was himself an ilustrado.

Come to think of it, she would muse, the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish colonizers were hatched by the Filipino ilustrados, the students who won scholarships to study in Spain and in the Spanish-run Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas, a Dominican bastion of intellectual and religious colonialism built by the Papacy in Manila.


He was about to smoke one of those American cigarettes he resolved to give up, when this gaunt, shaggy-haired, swarthy and unwashed young man pointed a gun at him.

Traidor! You betrayed us! We believed in your land reform. We got you elected. Putang inamo, Mamatay ka! (Die, you son-of-a-whore!)

Falco yelled for his bodyguards, but only Preciosa came running from the boathouse. He bolted and ran through some houses across the town’s main street. The young man, in relentless pursuit, saw him hide behind a well-built outhouse with one of those cemented vertical culverts serving as its main pipe – a two-storey wonder of an outhouse – and cornered his fugitive then kneeling for cover behind the massive concrete pipe.

After pumping all the bullets into the Governor, he ran from the outhouse like someone about to suffocate from the stench of the septic tank.

Earlier, he had taken the ferry from the other end of the island province, dropped by the Jesuit-run University for some last-minute arrangements, filled his knapsack with canned goods, and took time to scribble some notes. He got to Falco’s office by noontime and saw him struggling to light a cigarette; gusty wind from the bay made him cup his palm over his face. Caught unawares, he got startled by the shriek of the young man with the pistol.

The police could not find any contacts, they reported to the military commander. Sergeant Kalima was passing by when he heard the confrontation. He saw the Gob run through the fences and the houses, lost sight of him, and finally heard the rapid cracks of gunfire.

Almost running into the assailant, the portly constable shouted for the young man to stop; he would not. Kalima shot him, and was surprised he got him.

Searching for an ID while rummaging through the youth’s knapsack, Kalima found some dried fish and canned sardines. He also surrendered a notebook to the military commander who leafed through it, and fall eerily silent, when he came across what was later described as lyrics to a song.


Dawn is red on this ruddy face
Sun dogging his craggy trail,
The song deep in his throat:

“The last best fight, my brother;
Our blood on the tip of steel!”

Brother to the pulsing spring,
To the bushes and rocks, the wrath
Of days, of quietness descending.

“The last good fight, my brother;
Our blood on the open trail.”

A song arrested in his throat,
The steel tensile in grace,
His still point is a point of steel.

--- by Ka Ric Fernandez, University of San Agustin

He was a student, the military man whispered. Must be one of the cadres in town. But why Evelio?


News of Falco’s killing spread like wildfire throughout the province. Students from the capital city’s schools poured out of their classrooms, burned tires in the streets, and accused the martial law government of having their hero assassinated. Domestic fury was, indeed, in use.

Falco’s office television, turned on it seemed throughout the days and nights (as was the Governor’s standing instruction), blared with harried, continuous coverage:

Evelio Falco was gunned down today by elements of the military according to student activists now marching around the capital city of Silay because of his opposition to the martial law regime.

At the boathouse, the Governor’s widow wiped his riddled face as she absently wailed: Why? Why? You were right again, Vel. We are ourselves our war!

* * *

(Photo by Ian Casocot)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Bubbles burst when you catch them,
Much like your wildest dreams:
The blowing is good while it lasts;
Soon the suds run dry, the bubbles fly
From your grasp; elusive illusions
Remain like tombstones. You were
Here once, but just that once
Until bubbles fill the rooms again,
Fly, and burst while catching them,
Much like your fondest dreams.
Catching bubbles, bursting bubbles,
Popping bubbles while you can;
It is a game grown old in our hands,
We tire of it and let the suds run dry.
-- A. B. Casuga, 2009

These thoughts frighten us while we play with them, our little loved ones -- we should have, would have spelled them out for Diana and Daniel before they became teenagers. Will Matthew, Taylor, and Megan understand growing past their tenth? Sydney and Michael Albert will see through grandpa's aversion to the game. But will Chloe and Louis, crazy about bubbles still, believe the old man on the rocking chair that "bubbles fly with the good fairies, we should never burst them"?

This business of raising grandfathers must be tricky business. They will learn that soon. That will burst my bubble.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


A Short Story

Are you ready for your morning stroll, Mr. T? In a minute, he bristled unable to get his arm into his heavy cardigan.

It’s not that cold, you know, the Filipina caregiver reminded the harrumphing octogenarian.

He was in the process of making a 180-degree turn, trying to fix the pictures atop his credenza while he struggled with his sweater.

Did anybody move these pictures around, Luisa? Er, Maria, is it?

Dolly, Mr. T, she introduced herself as she does every morning now, her conches-like eyes widening in a bit of apprehension; he did not particularly like these pictures rearranged. That would ruin his day. He would have to be re-oriented to the east-west-north-south co-ordinates of his room. He was a “topgun” fighter pilot in WWII in the Pacific war, in Corregeedoor. You know, in your country. He never tires of reminding her or any of her Filipina compatriots who work at Erin Mills Lodge for Seniors.

I particularly like the picture of my late wife on this spot, Luisa, uh, Maria, or whatever you called yourself --- sorry --- It points me to where I get my underwear. You know -- undies? He tried to smile the scowl from his face away.

She’s just taken over. The nurse from Trinidad just upped and went complaining loudly that she’s sick and tired of being groped by demented perverts who should stop hoping they could still do it.

Dolly, Mr. T. And by the way, your walking partner, Mr. Alex, called while you were in the washroom. Said he will wait for you at the lobby. He said the sooner you get out today, the more sunshine you both would get. You’d have to get back quickly for a late breakfast.

Thanks for letting me know, Luisa. He must have something going for that name Luisa, she figured. But always a gentleman, he would say thanks for anything helpful coming his way. After a fashion, though. This is a community of civilized old farts, he would say.

Alex is always late anyway. His cane trips him up when I tell him to walk a bit faster. Between us we’ve got six feet, you know. Four crumbling ones and two wooden ones. Get it?

She laughed, relieved that he had been distracted away from the misplaced picture. She’s pretty, she remarked, by way of thanking him for not exploding. My son says, I use it to scare the mice away, he giggled.

At the lobby, that morning, his buddy and next door neighbour, and fellow three-legger, waited with a pained look on his face.

Got boils on your derriere while waiting, Alex? What’s with the face?

Don’t even go there, Teague, the bent, scowling man sprawled on the lobby steps snapped.

It can’t be that bad, old chap.

My son did not pop up again. He’s got this wife problem, my daughter says. It’s been two months now. He’s still in the Philippines, you know. Teaching at that protestant university in the southern Philippines. Dumaguete.

He could pronounce Philippine words better than his buddy – he’s been there, too, in Corregidor, in Bataan, the last stand of General MacArthur. They were GI soldiers from Michigan. Both immigrated to Canada after WWWII so their sons (if they’d have any) would not be recruited to fight in any more war. Korea, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Iraq. And all that s---.

Yeah? I have a son there, too. Teaching fine arts, painting, you know.

Of course, he got my son in there, too. Reverse brain drain. Canadians teaching the little brown people. Remember? Oh, no, you don’t. It figures.

Let’s walk. Oh, wait. Here’s the slow mailman. Doesn’t he look like Robert De Niro?

The ambling postie greeted the gentlemen with canes, and said he’s got only one letter for youse, gents. For you, Mr. Teague, sir. Urgent . Express Post. From the Philippines. The last syllable pronounced like “pines”. Paayns.

Teague knew it must have come from his son, the painter in the Silliman University school of fine arts. He cracked it open. He fell silent.

I’m going upstairs, he said.

What about our walk?

I’m going to my room.

Wait up, Teague. What’s wrong?

Dolly was still there when he got back. Please leave me alone, Luisa.

What’s wrong, Mr. T?

He sobbed into his pillow as his panting partner ambled into his room.

Did we have to take separate elevators, Teague?

He showed the half-crumpled letter.

God, no! Alex grimaced and fell silent. I’m going back to my room, Teague. You don’t need me here now.


Both men stayed up that night. They did not answer calls.

The following day, at the breakfast table, they exchanged envelopes.

Read it before your nap, they almost simultaneously prescribed.

When Alex opened his envelope, he read:

Mr. Teague of Siquijor

Teague’s sandbox at Lo-oc beach spills
over to the slopes of Siquijor –
a kind of walking out on infancy
or bright courage, the carcass marching
nude to humour a carrion God
astride Siquijor’s dark mountain loins.
“O, when will the lad get out of his sandbox
to walk towards the mountain slopes?”
By the way, Teague’s body was fished out
of Lo-oc the other day, near Siquijor.

It is a poem from my son. Teague signed his single-sentence note.

In his room, Teague used a magnifying glass to read Alex’s note. A former CanLit professor, his partner wrote:

The Habit of Mountains: A Dirge

It was his grief pursued the habit of mountains:
It moved the world with quietness. Quietness moved them.
No dearer madness there is than which he died for:
A will to perish in time and manner he chose.
It could not have been any kinder than this falling,
A manner of bargaining one’s way
Into a choice between a kind of dying and feeling dead –
No option for us who learn, too early perhaps,
That death prorogues a dream of fancy
Or a prayer of willing our pain stay
The ramrod poised to rend out days descending
Foglike upon us decreeing silence for our bed.

Earlier that day, Alex received a call from his son in the Philippines, a colleague of Teague’s son at the Silliman University. Dad, Teague Junior committed suicide the other day.

Why? Asked his buddy that evening. There was just the two of them like crumpled shadows beneath the dining room light.

He could not abide his being different. He went away, as far away as he could from me. He was gay, Alex. He promised he was going to see me here before accepting that teaching job in Mexico. He said he will exhibit his paintings here at the Lodge.


He fell in love with one of his male students. There was a case filed against him. Corruption of a minor.

They don’t have same sex marriages in the Philippines, do they?



Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Ah, to be old and a mariner come upon that restful cove,
to be old, cher ami, is a gallant slouching on that chair –
where the final weapon is the chair not love,
some porch of the heart grown insensitive to care.

This must be the reverie of a changing season;
We never knew quite well how far we had travelled
before we ceased to chant our rising songs:

O we have blanched at the rustle of dried leaves
O we have quaked at the fullness of a street’s silence
O we have hushed at the coyness of echoing eves
O we have known the crag flower’s quintessence!

It is no longer Nara beyond this echo-call.
Where am I? Where are we?
If the morning never becomes an afternoon,
will it always be a waking into a moment
of disfigured song, a dawn of perpetual clocking?

(From Houses are Better Off Without Porches Here
Albert B. Casuga, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Click on pictures to zoom on texts.
Click on picture to zoom on texts.

Click on picture
to zoom in on text

How these books got buried in some dusty, musty, cobwebbed corner of the shelves now helter-skelter in my study is a testimonial to a Spring Cleaning to end all cleanings. Is this a prelude to a garage sale? Dios mio, no! Over my burnt body! But could it be one of those frenzied search-and-discover efforts to find which books have been borrowed and not returned?

I have been thinking of donating them to that seminary in the northern Philippines, but the shipping costs (via Filipino door-to-door carriers) are ridiculously horrendous. One just can’t be spendthrift and altruistically generous at the same time.

Prospective donees will just have to wait for my demise (while the books are hopefully still contemporary -– but I trust that these ones will be rare collections as I grow any older. Investment savvy says these books will be manna from a philanthropic heaven to an impoverished reader who can no longer abide the larcenous prices and taxes on books. The lifetime of “taste and erudition” invested in selecting these books are the value-added ad valorem.)

But here it is: the book I could not find. 100 Essential Modern Poems (selected and introduced by former Poetry Magazine editor Joseph Parisi) -- a perfect companion to the Great Books of the Western World and The Story of Civilization by Hutchins and Durant respectively. A poetry match for Bounty Books’ 501 Must-Read Books (since it was not brave enough to include must-read poetry books!)

Parisi envisioned this selection to be a “starting point…a concise detailed introduction to modern poetry for out-of-school adults, a comprehensible collection of modern classics that would offer, to use a fine old word, a vade mecum: a go-with guide to the territory and continuing companion, a book to take along on the initial outings and to keep handy afterward.”

These “essential” modern poems “that emerged as the most valuable fulfill certain basic criteria – the three Ms, if you will – superbly well. First, of course, they are modern, in the broadest sense. Second, they are meaningful, they have significant things to say—provocative and profound ideas, wise and frequently witty observations—about the human condition. Finally, they are memorable: what the poets say is expressed in extraordinarily well-chosen words, in striking images and arresting metaphors, turns of the phrase that stick—language one not keeps in mind but takes to heart, and might want to learn (as the idiom has it) by heart.”

Why “essential”? Parisi argued: “…these one hundred poems may be justly called essential in that they deal with the most fundamental issues everyone eventually faces. They express in unforgettable ways the deepest experiences that make us human: love, friendship, family bonds (and frictions), longing and loss, dreams and disappointments, anxiety, suffering, joy, faith, the search for meaning, and our relation to nature.”

While all the poets included here display excellent craftsmanship, these poems were not primarily selected for their exemplary techniques, or their emphasis on methodology, but on their meaning. Ultimately, that is what the reader hankers for; otherwise, if they remain “difficult and impenetrable”, why waste precious life time on them?

These then are the poets and the 100 essential poems that any reader should read to fulfill this distinction of “having read poetry” for pleasure and comfort:

(See scanned figures above. Click on figure and zoom in to check on poets and their poems).


7 x 10 World Poetry Choices by Seven Filipino Poets (edited by Alfred A. Yuson) lists down the poems that have “influenced” the craft, voices, and poetic vision of these poets. It would be an interesting study to compare the list of Parisi and those of these Southeast Asian poets who have been decidedly “mentored” by the classic poets listed in 100 Essential Poems.

Gemino H. Abad, Cirilo F. Bautista, Marjorie Evasco, Luisa Igloria, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, Ricardo M. De Ungria, and Alfred A. Yuson are some of the most competent practising poets in that island Republic. By their own admission, they were “influenced” by quite a number of those poets considered “modern and essential” by Joseph Parisi, former editor of the prestigious Poetry Magazine, considered by poets all over the world as the magazine to be published in before one considers himself finally “arrived.”

Gemino H. Abad and Cirilo F. Bautista have been reported as these year’s top nominees for the Philippines National artist Award.

(See scanned pages above. Click on figure and zoom in to check on poets and the poems that have “influenced them.”)

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Thank God for Spring Cleaning. Or one will never realize how many relevant and irrelevant things one has accumulated through years of being the world’s greatest pack rat.

The relevant ones? Books, books, more books.

Do I have my favourites? Books I would first run out with if the house catches on fire? I got into trouble with the missus early in our married life. She asked: “If you were to choose between your books and your children, who would you save first?” I should have realized that she placed a rather earnest stress on “who”; as an English teacher, would I have taken the hint, before I would commit the “most idiotic blunder ever committed on earth since Adam bit of the apple proffered by a liberated Eve?”

The irrelevant things? Dusty book, musty books, more books, dusty shelves that I am too lazy to clean annually. The housekeeper also known as the homemaker helped me with this decision. I cannot, for the life of me, ever consider anything “irrelevant or useless” once I have acquired them. Not clothes, bric-a-bracs, travel mementoes, rose petals between book pages….Or I would not lay claim on the title of the universe’s most shameless pack rat.

Have I ever lived down that “books-first-the-children-can-always-run” polemics in a house conflagration scenario? During my children’s and grandchildren’s birthday parties these days, my wife almost always starts the Great Conversations with “Did you know, children, that your Dad once said that he would save his books first before he would round you up in the event of a house fire?” To keep peace, I would be the nicest person to everyone from then on throughout the social gathering of lynchers. How can one justify this cretinous, moronic, imbecilic faux pas? (Italics, a description from one of the literarily-inclined grandchildren.)

In the most gentle and penitent tone, I would always recall what a high school lesson taught me about Books. Was it not Francis Bacon who said that books are one’s best friend --- not dogs, nor cats, nor wives --- they will never abandon you. Because I will never part with any of these material possessions – the only things I admit I am materially-attached to. The children would, on cue, pipe in with a chorus: “Sure, Dad.” When the littlest grandchild chimes in: “Sure, Dad!” I know I have to be able to justify my vinculum, my bonding, my attachment, my troth to my books.

When my spring cleaning (annual dusting) starts, I always start with my collection of the Great Books of the Western World. The almost fetishist caress I shower on these 54-volume work, edited by Robert Maynard Hutchins and published with the editorial advice of the faculties of the University of Chicago, is required by their having been purchased in the mid-60’s. Not fragile, because of my almost “paternal” attention, and they were my prized possession when I started teaching the Humanities in a Benedictine school for men. They also are my permanent link, next to my now-faded baccalaureate diploma, to a Liberal Education that has must have saved the world hundreds of times over because world leaders who sought to supplant war with lasting world peace share this education for civility with me.

These Great Books and Great Ideas have become part of a Great Conversation with a world that expects rational men and women. It has become the bases for communication in a humanized, civilized, and peaceful world. The liberal education includes the volumes written by the team of Hutchins in Volumes 1-3 (The Great Conversations, The Great Ideas I, The Great Ideas II), Greek literature written Homer (Vol. 4), Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes (Vol. 5); History by Herodotus, and Thucydides (Vol. 6); Philosophy by Plato (7); Aristotle I (8); Aristotle II (9); Hippocrates, Galen (Science, Medicine, 10); Euclid, Archimedes, Appolonius, Nicomachus (11); Lucretius, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius (12); Virgil (13); Plutarch (14); Tacitus (15); Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler (16); Plotinus (17); Augustine (18); Thomas Aquinas I (19); Thomas Aquinas II (20).

Dante (21); Chaucer (22); Machiavelli and Hobbes (23); Rabelais (24); Montaigne (25); Shakespeare I (26); Shakespeare II (27); Gilbert, Galileo, and Harvey (28); Cervantes (29); Francis Bacon (30); Descartes and Spinoza (31); Milton (32); Pascal (33); Newton and Huygens (34); Locke, Berkeley, and Hume (35); Swift and Sterne (36); Fielding (37); Montesquieu and Rousseau (38) Adam Smith (39); Gibbon I (40); Gibbon II (41); Kant (42); American State Papers, the Federalist, and John Stuart Mill (43); Boswell (44); Lavoisier, Fourier, and Faraday (45).

Hegel (46); Goethe (47); Melville (48); Darwin (49); Marx and Engels (50); Tolstoy (51); Dostoevsky (52); William James (53); Sigmund Freud (54); The Great Ideas Volumes 2 and 3 (from Angel to World).

Thus, art and literature, science, philosophy, cosmology, history, epistemology, phenomenology, theology, and politics, and all the known fields of human knowledge have been covered. My continuing education continues. Up to my dottage, you ask? It’s here already, and I have matriculated.

Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization has made me a willing and happy, globe-trotting cosmopolitan. Reading through the 11 volumes of Durant is running through the civilization of humanity. The volumes start with I. Our Oriental Heritage; II. The Life of Greece; III. Caesar and Christ; IV. The Age of Faith; V. The Renaissance; VI. The Reformation; VII. The Age of Reason Begins; VIII. The Age of Louis XIV; IX. The Age of Voltaire; X. Rousseau and Revolution; XI. The Age of Napoleon and The Lessons of History. Why, these have been my best guides for what pictures to take during our retirement trips!

Recently, with the gift cards the family has given me on my 66th birthday, I included a volume entitled “501 Must-Read Books” published by Great Britain’s Bounty Books in 2006. The volume includes what the team of editors and writers consider the best books of Children’s Fiction, Classic Fiction, History, Memoirs (Biography), Modern Fiction, Science Fiction, Thrillers, and Travel. While I have read quite a number of the Classic and Modern Fiction, I look forward to reading (and buying) some work from Europe and Asia included in this tome. Regrettably, it did not include Poetry. (It is a good project to get into: The Must-read Poetry Books, although it might never sell well, except to libraries of the world. We will look into it.)

Before 501 gathers dust in my annually-cleaned shelves, I resolve to list down for this blog the must-read Modern Fiction books in subsequent entries.

On my weekly visits to the homes of my children and my grandchildren, I have noticed that books seem to be the most ubiquitous items in all their rooms, including the grandchildren’s. (And unreturned books they have borrowed from my library.) They outnumber those China-made plastic toys, cabinets of china and such. I realize, of course, that this being the Information Age, the sources of information, knowledge, and hopefully wisdom must be the most essential items in the house. Books, despite the infernal presence of the idiot box? (TVs in all the rooms! Mon Dieu! I did not even have a radio when I was growing up in the boondocks of the Philippines!)

I am biding my time before I ask them the question: In the event of a fire in your house, and Daddy and abuelo, (grandpere, grandpa, ‘lolo), happens to be around and too old and senile to run, who would you save first?

I pray they will answer that query in my favour. Or books be damned!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009


Carousing was a ritual of passage in the city. Every night was a good night to fill our lives with what we thought we would miss soon enough. We would finish school – or not, drop out and become working stiffs – or just bum around hoping anxious parents would not throw us out of the coop because we wasted time acting like Kerouacs consumed by angst and emptiness. Beatniks were the 60s’ sacrifice in the altars of art and culture. Besides, living in the dingy, university-area dormitories in the vicinity of Aleng Mameng’s Carinderia inured us to a life of penury, humdrum, and terminal boredom. We were beatniks-manqué.

We were going to be Hemingways. Or Truman Capotes. Or Jack “On the Road” Kerouacs. Great poetry and fiction will stream out of our consciousness or un-consciousness (from liquor-guzzling stupor or dementia).

From the previous night’s burlesque salons, we would wake up with “immortal” verse like:


But in her agile belly dance I see you,
logic of my thirst, weed-like large
upon the dew, forever alive and handsome,
forever dying with the city as its jewel ransom.

Still prances the gilded female as feline,
And it is Monday’s dawn upon the froth of wine.

--- ( Albert B. Casuga --From In a Sparrow’s Time, 1990)

Then, we grew up. Or not.

It would take some time to be a Hemingway at a United Press International copy desk job. Will teaching high school brats help hone our sensibilities to be able to write fiction like Other Voices, Other Rooms? Maybe freshman English and Lit-classes would do it in the Benedictine-run college? Or the Christian Brothers’ De La Salle? McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Splendour in the Grass by Inge. Williams’ The Night of the Iguana. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Eliot’s The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock. These were gospel for us in the university.

But a writer was not a writer until he literally suffered anguish from the depths of despair that nothing will come out of this posture. Poseurs. Were we striving after wind?

That ligne donee, “striving after wind,” shaped a villanelle that one would regale an audience of wannabe writers, lads and lasses from the downtown universities, with one night at a place called Grey November. Poseurs who have taken over from one’s generation, they listlessly listened to my "dramatic" reading between their Tom Collins and furtive cuppings under table covers. Of course, one thought they would be impressed by “learning” that one drew inspiration from a villanelle-master called Dylan Thomas. John Thomas? One lad asked. No, that’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover – the coop keeper. Giggles. Verily, one was “striving after wind.”


--- All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it.

Malaise stamped on evenings like this ripens romance:
Wisdom becomes our sad bohemia, and we are clowns.
We laugh at what night disgorges --- the gilded askance ---

But night defines shadows twixt dancer and the dance;
We are cynics grown old, now satyrs of the lounge
Malaise-stamped on evenings like this. Ripens romance

When we, Simon-like, doubt wine and whore’s relevance?
They, too, have time who walk the streets, liven towns
We laugh at. What night disgorges (the gilded askance)

Hounds us, we them, arguing the grip of night and trance
Makes of us involuntary heroes but our bravura drowns,
Malaise-stamped, into evenings like this. Ripens romance.

Romance is talk of God and lady’s drink, a dash of Launce-
Lot, which, too, has time as we have time for cups and daunce
We laugh at. What night disgorges (the gilded askance)

This painful laughter? This wastefulness of remembrance?
We have become martyrs of meaning yet must be clowns
Malaise-stamped on evenings like this. Ripens romance.
We laugh at what night disgorges: the gilded askance.


Then, we grew old. Dull heads among windy spaces. That, indeed, was no city for old men. Eliot and Yeats still people our minds. Our hearts have become “lonely hunters.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009


One of the critical linguistic requirements of multilingual literature, theory, and criticism was succinctly spelled out by Albert Sbragia in his “The Modern Macaronic”; i.e., “Language tilts from its centripetal pole to the extremes of centrifugality.” (As quoted by Isagani R. Cruz in his Literature in Other Languages blog, 5/12,09)

A tall order for any language, it is a mode of communication that does not simply move inward to a community of users as a tool for cultural and social development, but must also expand in vast eddies of significance to include not only the core users of the language but also the ancillary or even peripheral “borrowers” of the language.

That language could properly become a “national language” which integrates the rest of the dialects and languages that are primary instruments of social interaction. This is an ideal situation. The language that presents a preponderance of communicative energies normally becomes the core language. Users build around it by accretion where the most functional additions from other dialects become part of the community’s “lingua franca”.

A period of social, cultural, economic, and political activity enables the strongest language to emerge as a de facto national language, at which time institutes of language development come in to codify the medium of communication before transmitting it to the “consumers” as the language of their culture which must be exemplified in their various literatures and literary products. Like gross domestic products as indicators of a vibrant economy, these literary products are indeed indicators of the acceptance and currency of a language.

Dr. Isagani R. Cruz provides a scenario for this process: “In the Philippines, until about a decade ago, Tagalog purists wanted to retain Tagalog as the national language and to reject the constitutionally-mandated Filipino, leading to legal and academic battles with writers in Cebuano and Ilocano. The conflict has been partially resolved by the country’s leading university, the University of the Philippines, which came out with a dictionary of Filipino (rather than Tagalog)…

“Unfortunately, the dictionary has not led to a growth in the number of writers writing in Filipino, but it highlights the multilinguality of Philippine literature, where writers can make very fine distinctions between closely related languages.”

Certainly, unless the government of the day assumes ownership of this dictionary so that it becomes the official codification of a “national language” and “handmaiden of its literature/s”, it would remain like “pearls strewn before swine.”

Under the present Philippine Government, however, Filipino seemed to have beaten a retreat when its leadership decreed English as the medium of instruction once again. The experiment on the development of a national medium of communication is not a new undertaking. It has always been attempted from the inception of the Republic. Because of the widespread rejection of Tagalog as the basis of the national language by the competing regional languages like Cebuano, Ilocano, Kapangpangan, and the Arabic-based dialects of Southern Philippines (Muslim populations), up to this date, the best achievement of the “nationalized language” is the use of “urbanized Filipino” or Manila’s lingua franca.

Frivolity occasioned the introduction of Tagalog-based dictionaries that included words like “salumpuwit” (for chair, literally “a derriere catcher”, vulgarly, a “bum catcher”). It became saucier when barbershop philologists would ask how this Pilipino language would call underwear like “brassiere”. Would that be “salun-suso”? When more than half of the population ridicule this national vocabulary for the simplest words, there cannot be a great promise for its adoption by the “nation” as users of the language.

In his advocacy of multilingual literary criticism, nevertheless, Dr. Cruz recognizes that: “One of the most difficult challenges facing a multilingual literary critic is that s/he has to be knowledgeable not only about languages, but about entire cultures or literary traditions.”

“Similarly, a reader of Philippine literature in English that does not know Philippine literary traditions in Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, and other vernacular languages runs the great risk of completely misreading a work.”

Because of the unsettled linguistic milieu of Philippine literature, critics like Leonard Casper, Fr. Miguel Bernad, and this writer have asked time and time again: Is Philippine literature perpetually inchoate? (See my entry on “Questions Begging for Answers: Is Philippine Literature Perpetually Inchoate?”)

The clash of languages and cultural nuances in Philippine Literature appear at this point to be the highest hurdle to an authentic expression of the Filipino soul in his “language of the blood.” Spanish, English and Filipino-English have had active stand-in or understudy roles in Philippine Literature for some time now. When will the Filipino writer walk away from his sandbox?

Or is Philippine political leadership in the right track when it prescribes English as the primary medium of instruction because call-centres need English-speaking telephone operators?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Last March, Chip Tsiao, a Hong Kong columnist of the HK Magazine called the Philippines “a nation of servants”, and cited that there are about 130,000 Filipinos working as maids or domestic helpers in Hong Kong. In the event that the Philippines goes to war with China on its claim to the Spratlys Islands, would these hired help and “toilet cleaners” side with the Philippines despite their monthly $3,500 HK wage as servants?

He told his Filipina maid, he wrote, that if she expected to get a wage increase, or if she did not want to be dismissed forthright, she had better tell her friends at the Statue Square in Hong Kong where the “domestics” congregate on their day off, to lay off Spratlys because the Chinese would not take this insult from this “nation of servants.” They will not shrink away from a “Falkland Island war” (recalling the UK/Argentina imbroglio).

The effrontery reverberated throughout the island republic, exciting all types of remonstrations from politicians and media people. The Department of Foreign Affairs counselled nevertheless that this matter should be ignored for what it is: the opinion of only one benighted Chinese “columnist”.

What would the Philippine Government make of this most recent case of a Canadian Member of Parliament employing Filipina caregivers who now claim they have been “mistreated, mentally tortured, and physically stressed” while in the alleged employ of MP Ruby Dhalla, a chiropractic doctor and an erstwhile Bollywood actor, and current MP for Brampton-Springdale, Ontario?

Magdalene Gordo, 31, and Richelyn Tongson, 37, testified before a Parliamentary Committee on Immigration on May 12, and repeated their allegations that their work with Dhalla’s family as reported by Dale Brazao and Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star “involved days that started between 7 and 8 a.m. and often ended after 11 p.m. They allege they were made to do non-caregiver work such as washing cars in the freezing cold and shining a multitude of shoes for the family.”

“One said she had to do outdoor gardening work in the final days of winter in 2008. Both women were hired by the Dhalla family to care for Tavinder Dhalla, mother of Ruby and her brother, Neil. The nannies also say they had to clean chiropractic clinics owned by the Dhalla family and the house of a cousin. For this, they said, they were paid just $250 a week under the table,” the Star report said.

According to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, anyone who hires a foreign worker without the proper federal approval could be liable for penalties of $50,000 and two years in jail.

The Star report said it has “confirmed through a senior source in the immigration department that none of the three Filipino women had the federal work permits required to work in a home….Gordo and Tongson said they were concerned about the consequences of testifying after admitting they did not have the required federal approval….Both women, who came to Canada to work as nannies under the Federal Live-In Caregiver Program, said they have been facing considerable pressure from family members and friends who fear they will be deported after they testify.”

A third foreign worker, Lyle Alvarez, 32, who says she worked at the Dhalla home for only nine days in 2008, is now working in a restaurant in Western Canada. She was employed as a housekeeper, but was overworked and not paid the overtime she rendered. She was made to scrub the floor with her bare hands, and clean carpets daily, as well as wash clothes with her hands.

MP Dhalla has “remained silent on the caregivers’ allegations since they were made public in the Star…She held a news conference at her constituency office denying the allegations and said anyone who has ever worked at her family home has been treated with loved, care, and respect.”

At the Commons immigration committee, she testified that the caregivers lived comfortably in a basement apartment at the Dhalla home in Mississauga. “It is a beautiful basement apartment, 1,500 square feet, that was furnished with a 60-inch flat-screen TV, mahogany furniture, beautiful carpets, state-of-the-art technology, a kitchen, all for caregivers to live in, by themselves.”

Dhalla contended at the hearing that the caregivers were not working “illegally” when they were with her family. She hinted that the allegations are “politically motivated” by unnamed conspirators who wish to ruin her political career.

“The truth will prevail, and we told the truth,” Gordo told the Star after testifying before the Parliamentary committee. Parliamentary observers said it appears to be a “She-said-She-said” matter until allegations are substantiated.


Meantime, media in Canada have tagged this a “Nannygate”.

The Star’s deputy editorial page editor Martin Regg Cohn wrote May 12 that: “Lost in the media circus over Ruby Dhalla’s political missteps and Bollywood dance steps is the unglamorous tale of the nannies who toil, unseen and unheard, in the homes of upper-class Canadians, middle-class Canadians, and, unfortunately, some Canadians with no class at all.

“Nannygate is not just a story about a high-profile MP, but a cautionary tale about the fate of other caregivers in a program that approved 36,000 new hires last year.

“The reports of abuse shine a spotlight on the women we call nannies—but who are more often than not trained bookkeepers, midwives, kindergarten teachers, pharmacists, and nurses back in the Philippines, whence the majority come….

“In affluent Hong Kong, tens of thousands of Filipinas crowd onto downtown sidewalks and parking lots every Sunday, sitting on old cardboard boxes to give each other haircuts and share meals. The newspapers regularly report cases of abused nannies who are locked up or branded with hot irons.

“During the last Lebanon war, while Canada was evacuating its dual nationals, the Philippines was repatriating thousands of nannies who told horror stories to Manila’s newspapers – not about Israeli war crimes but rampant abuse by their Lebanese employers.

“Here in Canada, permanent residency is a big payoff. But the nannies, and the Philippines, pay a heavy price.

“Canada’s gain is the Philippines' brain drain. For it is not only overtrained nannies but underemployed professionals who flock to overseas jobs – about 9 million people, or about 10 per cent of the country’s population. They are the Philippines’ most lucrative export – a testament to their talents, but an indictment of the economy.

“They send home more than $20 billion a year, accounting for 12 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Six per cent of that cash flow comes from Canada. Those foreign remittances prop up the Philippine economy, and typically pay for child’s education, but leave everyone with a heavy heart during the years apart.”


In the 70s when I worked with the Public Information Department in Malacanang, I would encounter even certified teachers who would seek help to get passports and permits to work as “domestics, maski na domestic helper, lang.” Why, I asked them.

Once they have had two years of work abroad, they would qualify for permanent residency. That would allow them to sponsor their immediate family, and they could look forward to a “better life” rather than the abject poverty that stare them in the face day-in-day-out.

In the midst of poverty, there is no starvation in the Philippines, unlike Ethiopia, Sudan, Calcutta, Ruwanda, etcetera. “I would rather take my chances as a domestic help abroad, and send home dollars to my family. That’s more money than the peso. Aieee….”

But, there is nothing to be ashamed of applying for these types of jobs. The Philippines has a healthy tradition of household help in its history. Anyone who lives under a roof is expected to help with chores. Such is the domestic helper’s work ethic. Employers of Filipino domestic helpers, caregivers, or personal companions cite the natural civility and humility of these workers. They are quick-learners, and they are resourceful. They speak better English than other foreign help. They repay loyalty and love for the employer’s love and loyalty. May utang-na-loob (they recognize good deeds done for them and are endlessly grateful). No shrinking mimosas, they are resilient. They adapt to disparate cultures quickly. Little wonder that prospective employers ask for “Philipinos.”

Household help in the Philippines tend to stay on for generations, as long as they remain healthy and happy. I remember my grandfather’s mayordomo staying on well past even the patriarch’s death. When he left, Jose (“Siparotoy”, we called him), saw to it that someone took over his functions. He retired in the farms he inherited from my grandfather, and up to his own dying days, he would send us all types of ripened fruit from his orchard. Even his relatives would stop by our old house and gifted us with produce that grandmother would cook to everyone’s delight.

The last time I saw him was when he brought a roasted pig on a pole at the municipal cemetery where grandfather’s grave was. He did not say a word. I saw him shed a tear as he chewed on his ubiquitous guava leaves. My father marvelled at how far he must have carried that delicacy – all the way from his farm in Nara. He did not come again the years thereafter. He died without any children or heirs. I never knew his surname, but when we visited Nara again when I was in high school, an uncle pointed out to Siparotoy’s grave, and it was marked “Casuga”. Jose Siparatoy Casuga, fallecio Abril 1950, a year after grandfather’s demise.

We have had household help all throughout our professional lives in the Philippines: Lourdes, Vicky, Chining, Fely, Neneng. Our children claim them for their own personal “yayas”, their own surrogate mothers while my wife and I pursued our ambitions and professional dreams. When I was a tot myself, we had Siyanang who would cook fried rice together with the ants that had invaded the pot. One of my children, now a Bell Manager, still sends her “yaya” Christmas and birthday cards, for her Yaya Fely and her own children who have themselves grown up to work in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, and other foreign destinations.

Thank God, we did not have any maids in Canada. Here, I learned to cook and wash dishes. Both two different kinds of art. Cuisine and “how-not-to-break-dishes.”

One of my grandchildren remarked while we jogged around the deck in one of those never-ending Disney cruises and their destinations: “Are those not Filipinos, abuelo? They are always painting the rails of the ship, and they are always cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Do they ever stop?”

Another one chimed in: “And Mario, the waiter. I like him because he brings me ice cream even if I don’t ask for it. He got Mickey and Minnie to our table and I got their autographs and pictures, too!”

My wife likes spending long vacations in the Philippines now because the hired help spoil her rotten and she does not even have to wrack her head for things to eat, or where to shop. They know it all. They are not called “domestic help” for nothing. But they, too, are now hard to find back home. (In Canada or in the Philippines.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Town Cockfight *

What is reality?

Wind from the ashen bay wafts hillward
The raucous flavour of the cockfight’s frenzy.
Suddenly, one jumps out of a hard
Earned cogitation: “On Saturdays, you see,
Angono is agog about the cockpit’s orgy…
Oh, folks like us, we live it up…
Cocks have a manner of disembowelling guts, see?”

The streetcleaners will walk into the pit at dusk.
The mayor has ordered the cockpit’s cleaning.
After the gore has been washed at last,
And cockheads, cockguts, and cockeyes
Removed, folks will leave the pit scheming
To throw another when the parish priest arrives.
The wind from the bloodied pit blows hillward:
Gomorrah is a cockcrow from the empty churchyard.

(* Written after a retreat at the Jesuit House. Eons ago, when life was simpler.)
This poem was rejected for online publication. It used a word -- a vulgar slang -- that did not necessarily refer to the combatting fowl in the town's pintakasi (cockfight).
Surprise. Surprise. While the Internet parlays salacious and downright pornographic material into luridly lucrative business, would not accept this four-letter word. Cock. St. Peter's crowing gaoler. Chaucer's chanticleer. The weather vane logo. Red-flag this one, one cautions. Its editors (if any) cannot be serious. Or real.
Somewhere, the niceties of language still exist. In a rather unlikely place, an online poetry publisher. Of course, it would not take long for even the amateurs to recognize that exists mainly to cater to the vanity of the unpublished scribblers. It will publish your poem in a collection of "excellent poetry". There are artist's proofs to precede this publication, but the long and short of it, is for one to order a copy while "they last." Absent that order, it will offer that one's poem be etched in a "framed bronze plaque of your poem," at a certain price naturally. One's poem could also be an "Editor's Choice" for an anthology or even a CD of poetry recited by professional actors (whose names are never mentioned). They also offer a trophy for a few hundred dollars.
One learns quickly and ignores their promos, thereafter, that they "admire your poetry as distinctive artistic achievement, and you deserve a pin made of gold signifying you have joined the exclusive group of distinguished poets...please attend the annual convention to accept this pin, and be among your fellow poets. The annual convention fee is ... and it includes your hotel fees which you must reserve soon before rooms in these hotels ... get sold out."

At least they send elaborately printed letters that include promises of publishing your poetry soon. Better than call-centres, you say? Trust capitalist societies to make poetry just another merchandise. The anthology, alack, alas, could not be found in any city library, except where they get shipped from. Vanity presses still abound. Hapless innocents still people this earth.
This poem's epigraph then is apt: What is reality? One of the oldest questions, this, but we scarcely ask it. Nor answer it. Reality as reality is perhaps the vanity of vanities. What you are told, sold, see, or taught may not be what they seem. One must earn one's reality.
The pious may be tomorrow's molester Bishop; the righteous may be today's terrorist. Today's political messiah may be the next day's plunderer.
"After the gore has been washed at last,/And cockheads, cockguts, and cockeyes/Removed, folks will leave the pit scheming/To throw another when the parish priest arrives..../Gomorrah is a cockcrow from the empty churchyard." The gemini of the existence/essence syndrome is , after all, lights and shadows, life and death, good and evil, ergo, everything being nothing.
Man's distinction as a homo sapiens is perhaps best illustrated by his effort to "earn his own reality." It is never far from home --- he regales or scares himself with his own paradise or his own "desert places". His realities are what he shapes in his full being, while he can. His past, present, and future are what he knows, names, and treasures to build his remembrances, aspirations, and dreams with. While he can.
Everything is nothing here. Nothing is everything here. What then is reality?

Monday, May 11, 2009


4. Still Points: Silliman, Dumaguete City

Still points are there where you want them still –
not in earth, water, fire, nor air.

Lust as death to Rev. Fernández dictum,
tonsure as navel is worm or form, as God is.

“Cramp on my navel defies the argument
of tonsure combed away, talced lock and crucifix
counterpointing – tonsure to navel turning,
garment-soutane for the night’s purpose
nuded to caprice.”

Páscua-Sánchez, a prancing bull, believes:

“Not good nor evil the flower sprung,
but vile the tongue of wave that laps
the crack of soil dampened into limbs of sand.
So, soil is sand, is laving wave, is Sea cupping
the bowels of the blue blue hills, and you blended
gutlike as earthfire with the sad acid sun.”

Movement of movement moves
to trace the face of a dying clock.
Still point is point of steel,
a pause between hickory & dickorydock.

(Still Points, Manila)

About this time, the Dumaguete Writers Workshop at the Silliman University in the southern Philippines, would be hosting young writers from all over country. The fellows would be carefully chosen by the Workshop Director/s (the formidable team of artists in residence Edilberto and Edith Tiempo, internationally acclaimed writers. Edith Tiempo has since been appointed a National Artist by the Philippine Government.)

These young published and unpublished writers would invariably populate the brief roster of the country's best poets and fictionists. Some would continue writing as journalists, freelance writers, or academicians in the various universities that dot the archipelago.

Two of these fellows stood out in a 1970s workshop I attended: Rev. Mike Fernandez and Wilfrido Pascua Sanchez.
Fernandez belonged to the Order of Preachers and Sanchez was a University of the Philippines prodigy who had broken through the austere literary standards of the Philippines Free Press and considered at that time Philippine poetry's enfant terrible whose long poetic lines represented the long-awaited departure from the lyricism of Philippine-American expatriate Jose Garcia Villa.

Fernandez, clean and serious, and Sanchez, grizzled and flirtatious satyr on-the-loose, nevertheless come from the same pool of angst and sensuality.

Peas from the same pod? In one mischievous recollection, I remember them as the opposite sides of an arresting oxymoron -- one side gentle, priestly, and furtive; the other side clownish, irreverent, and lusty. They were both, however, at a still point in their lives.

I included the poem on this recollection in a group of poems Still Points in my 2009 A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems (UST Publishing House, Manila)
Fernandez would not be heard from again in Philippine literary circles, and Pascua Sanchez left for the United States, worked for the Post Office and drove a cab to support himself. Primum est vivere (Life comes first), so what art lost, life gained. Better deal.

Pause between hickory & dickorydock.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Authentic National Literature an Illusion?

Is the marginalization of languages a necessary effect of creating a national language at the expense of the less-spoken dialects/languages?

Is the creation of a national language as a tool for education and commerce stifling the regional languages at the expense of its literary output?

If the political purpose of a linguistic hegemony is achieved to the detriment of ancillary languages that have developed literature, should not a Government Commission be responsible for preserving disparate ethnic culture and languages?

How vibrant would a country's culture be with the withering of subservient cultures that find their expression in their peculiar literatures?

In the Philippines, this function of preserving all facets of culture should not only be assumed by the National Commission of Culture and the Arts, but should also be the responsibility of the entire Government which is sworn to protect all the people and their political, social, and cultural aspirations.

Certainly, the writer is the primary guardian of culture and language development. Without this orientation, the writer simply cries in the wilderness.

Could this be the reason why Philippine Literature is "perpetually inchoate"?

If English (Filipino English included) is not the "language of the blood" of Filipino writers, could there truly be authentic Philippine Literature in English?

The plurilingual fact of culture in this archipelago appears to prevent the full bloom of a "national language" let alone a "national literature" that distinguishes the disparate literary expressions of the regions that up to this day are still finding it difficult to settle on a stable political and cultural unity.

Is this linguistic complexity necessarily inimical to Philippine culture? Is it counter-productive in the effort of amalgamating the indigenous dialects/languages under a legislated "lingua franca" based on the Tagalog dialect?

Is the Manila-centered Pilipino (Filipino) language the true literary language of Philippine literature? Has English not done a better job of crystallizing the literary vision of the island republic?

There appears to be a tug-of-war between preserving regional literatures and a "national literature" in Filipino (Pilipino) or Filipino English.

Will the economic and geo-political demands on the Philippines determine its uni-lingual aspirations to the detriment of its erstwhile vibrant regional literatures?

Where is the literary criticism that will re-direct the energies of writers to the one, true expression of the Philippine literary soul?

I thought this was an issue long settled before the declaration of Philippine Independence in 1898 and 1946. Judging from the number of questions that still demand answers, there must be a revisiting of the issue of literary inchoateness. It must be resolved once and for all.

Philippine literature or any world literature for that matter cannot depend on translations to speak for its people.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


In his First Things First blog, Philippine writer Francisco S. Tatad has announced last February 12, 2009, his completion of his maiden novel, The Hidden Life of Amargo Raz.

A Filipino thinker and writer known for his writings, commentaries and international lectures on politics, ethics and public policy, Mr. Tatad is a former Cabinet minister of the Philippine Government, a senator, publisher, editor, and newspaper columnist.

In this post-New Age world, where the culture of death appears to have won, Filipino Catholic writer Francisco Tatad sets The Hidden Life of Amargo Raz, his first international socio-political novel on the fight between good and evil. A synopsis of his novel could be found in his blog, First Things First at

As a fictionist, Mr. Tatad has had his work published widely in Philippine magazines and international publications.

This novel was first introduced in his blog under the working title, Sinners of the Earth. Arrangements for the publication of the novel are underway, and updates will be posted on his blog as appropriate.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


When Philippine poet and seminary rector Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano wrote me back in one of those emails that seem to glide with the Holy Spirit (they reach me at times when wracked by melancholia and inability to write or even think straight), I was flattered to find him come out with his version of “A Theory of Echoes.” The poetic exchange is happily grander than the commerce in the Stock Exchange. The profits are all mine, though.

My own “Theory of Echoes” limned the axiom of death (violent or de rigueur) as life’s extension; his described the principle of life and the celebration of joy, of the Fall and Deliverance, of the Divine Word echoed in the words of man, of all reality recalling the beginning before Beginning, of an unending eddy of echoes from man to God and back. The deepest echo itself, of course, is man made in His own Image.

The melding of this eschatological view of life, love, and joie de vivre with the mundane journey that human life is makes Fr. Albano’s Another Theory of Echoes the gentler, more sublime vision of man’s voice as that reverberating echo of God’s voice, if only men listened ardently.

His is the better Echo.

A Theory of Echoes

1. Axiom

Echoes shape corridors lean
Leaving them a cipher’s silence
Not unlike the axiom of a day:

All things go up to fall the way
Fractured birdwings fall, violence
Met in the loins of wind.
Lean corridors shape echoes,
Silence ciphering them, leaving
A day axiomed as not what is unlike

The way the fall of things strike:
Violence on the fractured bird wing,
Winds loyned with zodiaqual zeroes.

2. Echo



Indeed, recalling Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”


By Francisco R. Albano

In the beginning
Before beginnings
God said
Let there be light
And his voice traveled
And returned
As light
Again he said
Let there be
Let there be
And his echoes
Sky and earth
And waters in-between
Flora and fauna
Sun moon stars
And God was delighted
He shouted eternity
And time burst
Birthing sound
The form and content
Of Man and Woman
God named all
Then Man and Woman
Looked around
And into themselves
And saw it all
And were delighted
They said
Let there be Poetry
Of us
And everything
Around us
And they heard
Become echoes
Heard them returning
To eternity through time
Through silence
Of themselves
And heard not themselves
But the Voice
Of the One
Who uttered them
Then they sinned
And were forgiven
Sinned again
And were forgiven
They saw Paradise
Become Chaos
Around them
In them
And they said
Let there be Poetry
And Chaos gathered
In pain and sorrow
In comfort and joy
Became Paradise
Of Man and Woman
Who again heard
The echoes
Heard them travelling
Painfully slowly
Through their time
Of Man and Woman
Let there be Poetry
They said
Said it like a prayer
And the echoes
Of Chaos
Shimmering Chaos
Rose and rose
And merged with
The Voice
Who worded all
In the beginning
Before beginnings
And All were

How so like Padre Paco to set me right when I fall prey to the confusion of what shapes life and how it “works.” In earlier entries, I alluded to a literary bond with him that goes back to our teaching at San Beda College in Manila where he, as Publications Director and Chairman of the English Department, was mainly my literary patron and principal “goader”. He continues to nurture this vinculum by gracing our otherwise sporadic cyber-communication with an exchange of poetry and prayer.

When my Apollo Poems (Man on the Moon) suggested that the poetic celebration of the moon will come to an end with man’s landing on the moon and finding the satellite a huge Rock, he countered with his Apollo by Moonlight which counselled to “Swear still by the moon.”

I cherish our poetic brotherhood; I treasure his poetry.

Monday, May 4, 2009


In an earlier entry on the Apollo Poems celebrating man’s landing on the moon, I asked what in hindsight appeared as a cynical question: Now that the moon has been described as a rock, full of rocks, moonrocks, moondusts, and the like, would anyone still write poems about the moon?

In 1980, a Philippine children’s book writer, Roberto Alonzo, wrote Si Daginding (And Unang Daga sa Buwan)*, one of the books my grandchild, Chloe, is asking abuela and abuelo to read to her over and over again. The book, written in Filipino verse, has got the better of her curiosity. Her never ending questions as she listens are: What’s that? What does it mean in English? Why do the friends of Daginding-mouse still think the moon is made of cheese not rocks? [*Daginding (The First Mouse on the Moon]

Alonzo, of course, is one of those poets who still write about the moon and the romance that goes with it. His Daginding describes the effort of a mouse who, through herculean effort, built a “rocketship” to get to the moon, and prove once and for all to mousedom that the Moon was a Great Ball of Cheese. And would that not mean a huge supply of food for the voracious mice on earth?

His use of poetic personification creates a metaphor for human yearning to get to the moon, the quintessence of love and romance. Man/Mouse dreams are unified in Alonzo’s mission of telling a children’s story where he succeeds in celebrating man’s/mouse’s scientific venture of building a vehicle to get to the moon.

Obliquely, of course, this teaches the young reader (from 3-10, the author recommends) that science’s effort will make wonderful things happen on Earth and in the heavens. It also alludes to character education values like ambition, perseverance, allegiance to excellence, and the like.

When he gets to the moon, nevertheless, just as the U.S. astronauts found out, Daginding disappointedly discovers that the moon is a vast expanse of rocks and not a morsel of cheese around! The Moon is not made of Cheese. He immediately turns around, boards his ship, and goes back to mousedom with the sad, bad news that the supply of cheese could not materialize.

Nobody would believe him that the Moon is a Rock! And Alonzo ends the story with the lines that bring us back to the romance that still lingers around the Moon.

At sabihin man niyang and buwan ay bato,
Ang tingin pa rin ng lahat, ito’y masarap na keso!**

[**And even if he tells them the moon is a rock,
All of them still look at it as delicious cheese!]

And astronauts may come and astronauts may go, but the Moon will still be their Great Ball of Cheese.

In more recent times, Rev. Fr. Francisco R. Albano, Philippine poet and seminary rector, wrote his Apollo by Moonlight (a group of poems celebrating the Man on the Moon saga). He, too, comes back to earth with Alonzo’s/Daginding’s message:

Poem 5.

Swear still by the moon.
No footprints will ever make it constant,
cease becoming like the flow of love.
The seas say so looking up like howling
dogs unknowing of the meaning of night.
As it was in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be, undiscovered,
the moon is a virgin of metaphor,
plays on the mind with light and shadow.
Swear still by the moon,
Romance is when we differ in our seeing.

“Is the Moon a Great Ball of Cheese, abuelo?”, is a question I dread to answer with the ex cathedra authority of a grandfather. Let brave souls like children’s book writer, Alonzo and illustrator Renato E. Gamos, preserve the romance of the moon. Science will overtake these little souls soon enough.

“The moon is a virgin of metaphor,” Fr. Albano assures us.

Swear still by moon. And I will tell Chloe there is huge face of a man in the moon. On a bright moonlit night, during the full moon, that face will smile. That smile is for all the curious Chloe’s who ask questions like: If the moon is made up of rocks, why does it look like a pizza? Why does it get sliced smaller, until it is gone? Why? Why?

If her abuela can’t answer her, I will not even venture an obiter dictum. Nor will I hazard a little white lie that her science-teacher mother will condemn as unscientific! (No, Dad. We do not encourage the myth of Santa Claus!) I will go quietly out to the yard and pretend to rake the leaves. If she pursues me, I will ask her to look at the sky, and search for the moon with me, while I earnestly pray:

Heavenly Host, Father, and Grandfather/Grandmother of all children who ask WHY before they have even turned 4, 7, 10, or 15, please help me explain: Into every human life, some magic must fall.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Philippine playwright and literary critic DR. ISAGANI R. CRUZ has been advocating for a multilingual literary criticism based on a multilingual literary theory in his Literature in Other Languages (LOL) blog.

He envisions a multilingual literature which will eventually create a borderless global culture and hopefully breed a cosmopolitan citizen of the world who may be able to read and write a number of languages enough to understand world literatures without succumbing to the confusion of cacophonic linguistic nuances.

In brief, he would advocate the recreation of a renaissance man. Not in our generation, perhaps, but in our grandchildren’s.

In a comment to my comment on Dr. Cruz’s entry on “Self Translation” (April 30), my youngest daughter, Adele Frances Casuga-Lalonde, a science teacher at a Catholic school in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, said: while she could not keep the different languages (she was exposed to from birth) straight in her mind, nor could she shake off the migraine she suffered from reading my Ilocano poem, she hopes that her children, Chloe Dominique (3) and Louis Martin (2) would be our “experiments” for a multilingual family in the generation after hers.

They are on their way, judging from how they now speak their paternal French, their maternal English, a conversational banter with their grandfather’s Spanish and Ilocano, and their grandmother’s Filipino (Tagalog, Bisaya, a cacophony of children’s colloquy and sing-a-long ditties).

Adele has earnestly reinforced her own Filipino tutelage, and if the Lola Basyang stories she brought home from the Central Library would help her and her children, they have, indeed, entered into this venture of multilingualism, a.k.a. cosmopolitan citizen-of-the-world-ism.

My comment to Adele’s Comment:

They will be multilingual, Alf. Aside from their French and English, and Spanish, you are now working in earnest to get them to learn Filipino. Mommy has taught them "Opo, Lola!" "Mahal kita!" she has even taught an Ilocano word or two to Chloe!

She asked me the other day, "Lolo, what is Ilocano?"

"That's me, hija. Lolo is Ilocano! I speak Ilocano."

"I speak French, Spanish, and Tagalog. and English, too! Lola reads the French dictionary and some of the French books on Caillou, and Dora, and Passé Partou!" My 3-year-old Chloe said while doing a pirouette in her pink tutu (“pretend ballerina, lolo.)

So, there.

I went through the Filipino children's books you borrowed from the Central library, and I am delighted to find out that you are exposing them at this point to the stories of Lola Basyang and even an Apollo Landing booklet entitled "Dagingding" (Ang Unang Daga Sa Buwan) -- don't be surprised if you find me writing about some of these in the blogs.

But Chloe and Louis will be our borderless, cosmopolitan citizens of the world. The world is bright for them. My only prayer is that instead of some Babel in the world, they will encounter an Earth which is easy to understand.