The noirish faces of Manila

Manila Noir Jessica Hagedorn Manila Philippines short stories Philippine literature
The recent book I finished reading was Manila Noir, a collection of 14 noirish short stories that paint various black realities that happened (and likely still happening) in the City of Manila, the capital of my country, the Philippines. Edited by Filipino novelist Jessica Hagedorn, the collection displays a throbbing vein of bleak existence that densely populated cities like Manila cannot seem to shake off. 

Like in most cities, the rapid economic growth in Manila comes with a price; it leaves behind many poor people who believed in the city as a greener pasture. Yet they struggle to live, to survive, to catch up. Others turn to drugs, sex, and bribes to live through one more day. The 14 writers in Manila Noir succeed in portraying them as cynical characters who dream and scheme their way to greatness...or degradation. Mostly degradation.

This led me to the question: What is noir? The word only brought to my mind the American crime film Sin City. Noir, I’ve checked Merriam-Webster dictionary, refers to crime fiction that features “hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings.” Once I understood that, I appreciated Manila Noir with a different perspective, my memories of the days from when I was a news reporter resurfaced. 

Desalination may be able to help solve Cebu’s long-standing water scarcity

Photo by Baudolino on Pixabay
Water, to me, is very important. I don’t drink soda or tea or coffee or sweetened drinks, only water. There’s an occasional sikwate, but water, I drink liters of it each day. Somehow, there has always been a steady supply of it for me, which makes me happy. 

Then I learned a new fear. A couple of weeks ago, where I live with my husband, there was no supply of water for several days. It was fortunate that we were able to store drinking water good for a week. 

We do not buy from water refilling stations. We have our own filters to make the chlorine-smelling and slimy water we get from the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) a bit cleaner and safer for drinking. And we have rainwater for toilet use. 

It was a scary time. Around the neighborhood, when I would go out for a walk, I heard neighbors asking each other about their supply of water. Others were busy calling up water delivery services as far as Lapu-Lapu City. 

MCWD, which was placed in the hot seat and doubly pressured by the provincial government, did not initiate an intensive information campaign about the issue, much to our distress and anxiety. 

Another side of Agatha Christie

agatha christie harlequin tea set short stories short story collections
A long time ago, while scouring for new old books at a thrift shop, my eyes caught sight of a spine with the name Agatha Christie on it, in big gold capital letters. It is not a Hercule Poirot mystery, to my slight disappointment. It was a collection of her short stories, a matter I have never heard of before. 

But I thought, the book is written by English writer Agatha Christie whose literary works I admire for their clear writing and stupendous weave of events. The book is not about Poirot but nevertheless I bought it. Years later, this collection of short stories titled The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories (published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of the Penguin Group), gathered dust on my shelf, beckoning me to read it. I finally did, recently. 

And I was surprised and regretful after I finished--surprised to find a unique set of short stories that gave me a warped sense of incredulity, and regretful for not reading it sooner. The book consists of nine short stories, almost each of different varieties but shares a similar and all-too-familiar theme we know Christie is a master of: mystery. 

Green love: How I started a garden

gardening ideas gardening for beginners
desert rose
First of all, I don’t have a garden. Technically, that is. Not the kind you see in the Smithsonian Gardens or in the backyards of suburban homes. If you can call a congregation of 30 pots or so a garden, then I have one. More than half of these pots are not even mine. They belong to my mama and my mama-in-law. 

Gardening did not interest me until three years ago when I was feeling very sad after a miscarriage. At the time, I did not want to work. I had wanted only to stay cooped up in bed, eat, and watch Korean variety show Superman Returns videos on Youtube until I was strong again. So I directed my energies to the things I have always enjoyed doing: drawing, doing embroidery, crocheting, reading, and arranging my books. I did not write for seven months. 

One day within that bleak period, my mother challenged me to nurture one of my maternal grandmother’s pots of asparagus fern. A couple of pots were already in a pitiful state. I thought of Lola Vicenta whose slim back I had often seen as a rambunctious child when she bent down to tend her orchids, malunggay, and purple queen. Motivated not to lose (not again, I thought at the time), I agreed to my mother’s challenge and brought one pot home.

The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue

(Please do not read this review if you do not wish for spoilers.) 

My rating: 5/5 stars

As a daughter, what will you do when you find out that your mother is having an affair with your uncle two days before her death? As a wife, what will you do when you find out that your husband is having an affair with your best friend? As a mistress, what will you do when you find out that your daughter and best friend have long discovered your...sin, sin, sin? 

In his fictional novel, The Hunting Gun, Japanese writer Yasushi Inoue strives to answer these questions and present an illicit love affair’s psychological impact on women. It happened at a time immediately after WWII in a place that boasts of exclusivity and popularity among monied families who can afford to study abroad and maintain a couple of houses. 

The story is told from the viewpoints of three different women, who have connections to each other, through their letters addressed to the same man, the one who chose to be “wicked” and, in the process, left a deplorable effect on the lives of these women. 

Special Report: Communicating Water in Metro Cebu

How agencies tap digital to warn about water realities and campaign actions


Even before the El Niño’s heat was felt at the start of the year and its impact drained the Jaclupan and Buhisan Dams, parts of Cebu were already in an outcry over low to zero water supply. Last year, stories abound and complaints aplenty, manifesting how water scarcity is far from the norm in the people’s lives. 

A family of five living on a highland in Lahug, Cebu City in Cebu, Philippines waits for midnight to store water. For years, they have always been patient, understanding that because of their elevated location, water only arrives after neighboring businesses (a laundry shop, a water refilling station, a fast food restaurant, and several eateries) at the foot of the hill by the main road, close after dinnertime. 

In Liloan town, a household competes with neighbors for water when it comes around 7 a.m. In Cabancalan, Mandaue City, another household turns to bottled water to replace the lack of supply they get from the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD). For residents in Metro Cebu who heavily rely on MCWD for their source of water, who have no deep well pumps, these are all-too-familiar scenes.

This year, their issues with water supply is exacerbated by the phenomenon that affects rainfall and warms the central to eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The families from Lahug and Cabancalan consider themselves lucky to be able to use and store water for two hours, four days a week. Often, they turn to vended water to replenish what they need for drinking and cooking.

The heat has also aggravated public behavior, forcing MCWD to urge consumers to remain sober and patient after the agency received reports of some residents harassing and threatening volunteers manning water trucks or firetrucks dedicated to deliver water to to affected barangays for free (Bongcac, 2019). 

This has spurred the blame game, with one official, Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, pointing to MCWD and the Cebu City government for their failure to establish infrastructures to store rain that could have been used to address the city’s water shortage during dry spells (“MCWD, City Government,” 2019). 

Msgr. Ancajas reveals his hidden treasures

A woman sighs in helplessness, another slumps in guilt, and a high-pitched verbal exchange ensues. Someone enters the room, a small woman, and tries to tower over the volume of the cross-fire happening in the small space. Behind their turmoil are several plastic chairs and a table, but these things are unnecessary. The three women, with their distinct intonations, their tensed wild gestures, their calculated movements, their apt facial expressions, have brought life to the limited geography they are given. Their stage throbbed with reality.

In a packed gathering at Ayala Center Cebu, the three actors successfully performed the characters of Linda, Corina, and Leah in Lukas 10:41, a one-act play by Msgr. Agustin “Ting” V. Ancajas. This is just one of the many plays that he wrote in the course of 25 years of being engaged and committed to theater.

He made an impalpable impact in this field, which he considers as “a potent medium for the strengthening of the Catholic faith through deepened evangelization,” that the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (RAFI) through its Culture & Heritage unit decided to peruse his works and put 10 of them in one book.

Faith, Love, Time, and Dr. Lazaro by Gregorio C. Brillantes

Faith, Love, Time, and Dr. Lazaro by Gregorio C. Brillantes is the second short story I have read that is written by the author. Its elements indeed contain faith, love, and time, subjects that the main character, Dr. Lazaro, in his advanced age, always deal with in his quiet corners made for introspection. He is a small town doctor whom the villagers rely on to treat their physical miseries, including babies dying bluish with tetanus. The story is set in the old Philippines at a time when medicines and vaccines are difficult to acquire, especially in the rural areas.