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Special Report: Communicating Water

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(This blog post won first place in the 2018 Mega Cebu Investigative Report Competition for Blog Category.)
CEBU, Philippines - A family of five living on a highland in Lahug, Cebu City in Cebu, Philippines waits for the late evening to come to store water. They understand that because of the elevated land, water flow is challenging and water only arrives when neighboring businesses (a laundry shop, a water refilling station, a fast food restaurant, and several eateries) below, by the busy main road, close after dinnertime. This family store water in three barrels, which could last them two days of drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing the dishes. The difficulty happens when there is no water available at all. In the past week, there was nothing to store for three nights in a row. At the time, in the absence of notice of water interruptions from public utility firmMetropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD), the mother, Nene, had decided to wait. If, on the fourth night, there would still …

#readPhilippines: Trip to Hesperides by T.D. Agcaoili

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Trip to Hesperides, a tragic short story by Filipino writer T.D. Agcaoili included in his first volume of collected stories, tells the story of a homeless man with a quick and almost senseless grudge against people. This grudge is borne from anger toward his dead father and deep-seated hunger in his stomach. Without food fueling his common sense, he treats a passing woman with disrespect, a Chinese merchant with arrogance, and a cop on duty with prejudice. Without food fueling his five senses and only anger at the world feeding them, he ultimately places his life in danger. The suspenseful short story reflects the nature of Agcaoili’s work, which often tackles social problems like poverty and consequently hunger. Little information can be found about Agcaoili online. What can be found shows how notable his works are such that he is among the remarkable literary figures recognized in the 1950s along with Nick Joaquin, Amador Daguio, Maximo Ramos, and Florentino Valeros. What is also inte…

#readPhilippines: Secret Scent by Erma M. Cuizon

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Secret Scent, a short story by Filipino writer Erma M. Cuizon, tells the bittersweet reunion of a heavily pregnant woman named Carissa with her mother during the latter’s 70th birthday and with her brother Jim who came home from the US. The occasion also meant meeting again her mother’s friends, the welcoming and talkative ones who recount some of Carissa’s adventures of her youth, way before she married and moved out of her parents’ house. This is, for me, an all too familiar scene. I have moved out of my own parents’ house when I got married several years ago, but each time I went back for a visit, home smells of home, of past life, of nostalgia, of days with less worries of the future. In the story, Carissa feels the same, although more painful because her father already died and, for her, there is one less person to share her stories with. In Filipino households, no matter how poor or how sick or old some members are, there is always the effort to cook traditional food, such as panc…

#readPhilippines: We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers by Alejandro R. Roces

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We Filipinos are Mild Drinkers, a short story by Alejandro R. Roces, blends well humor and seriousness like a good lambanog in a bamboo tube. In the story, the Filipino writer described lambanog as “a drink extract from the coconut tree with pulverized mangrove bark thrown in to prevent spontaneous combustion. It has many uses. We use it as a remedy for snakebites, as counteractive for malaria chills, as an insecticide and for tanning carabao hide.” You can just imagine how strong it is. The strength of lambanog is tested on an American soldier in the story and he passes out after the third drink, which is amusing because, before succumbing to the hospitality of the Filipino host who is a farmer, he boasts how he drinks anything and everything, from whiskey to shaving lotion. But the farmer, used to the drink, does not falter nor even blink at the fierce taste of it. He even sends the American soldier back to barracks on top of his carabao (water buffalo). I like this story very much fo…

#readPhilippines: The Mats by Francisco Arcellana

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The Mats, an old short story written by esteemed Filipino writer Francisco Arcellana, contains existing representations of the Filipino family today. It tells the story of a big and well-to-do family who, at first glance, appears happy and content, but behind this facade is a burden that the members seem to want to forget or to not think about at all. The father came home from a business trip one day, bringing with him intricately designed mats for his wife and for every child. There were three more mats that could not be given in person because those children died already, and this is the burden of the family. No reasons were given for their death, but I can surmise that they either died at childbirth or at war or during a serious illness in their childhood. The father appealed to his family not to forget them in their daily happy existence, and to accept that they died so they can truly move on. For me, the writer’s use of a mat to symbolize the personality of the character in the sto…

#readPhilippines: The Small Key by Paz Latorena

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The Small Key, a short story written by Filipino writer Paz Latorena, is a bittersweet story of a farmer’s second wife named Soledad tormented by uncertainties of her own making. Really, it is a simple short story, but in it throbs the heart of a farmer’s land and life.
Soledad observes her husband’s movements and comes up with jaundiced meanings for them, such as his act of carrying a small key that opens a trunk filled with the belongings of his first wife. She was not given that key but chanced upon it and, instead of letting the past stay where it should be, she opened the trunk. Like a Pandora’s box, the result does not bode well on the married couple’s supposedly happy relationship.
The Small Key is my first Latorena short story. For this particular work, she won the third prize in the Jose Garcia Villa’s Roll of Honor for the Best Stories of 1927. She was a teacher to many great Filipino writers we know today, including F. Sionil Jose, Juan Gatbonton, Nita Umali, Genoveva Edroza …