By Tiburcio Bagiuo
(Condensed from Magsusulat Journal)
BARELY over a year after EDSA Revolution,Cebuano short stories published in the Bisaya magazine, the only major outlet for Cebuano fiction, were already reflecting the popular sentiment characterized by the sense of despair that things would ever get better under the new dispensation.
This sense of hopelessness and despair among the underprivileged in particular is delineated in the short stories of Benjamin M. Montejo, Alberto A. Alforque, Sane M. Batomalaque and Mario C. Batausa.
Most of their stories during the post-EDSA period portrayed the frustration and indignation felt by the common folk over the unfulfilled promises for social and political reforms. These stories gave voice to the disillusion and disenchantment of the masses with a government that failed to relieve their misery and suffering. The characters in these stories had lost hope of ever attaining a better life for themselves and their children. They could only lament over the continuing social inequalities, injustice and exploitation of the poor.
Of all the fiction in Cebuano that came after EDSA, that of Sane M. Batomalaque is the most representative. In his story, "Ngadto Ipon Sa Mga Unggoy" (Into The Company of Monkeys), Batomalaque portrayed all too vividly the frustration and desperation experienced by impoverished folk over the government’s inability to curb graft and corruption in high places, the greed for power and pelf of government officials and inequalities under the prevailing social conditions.
The story, published in the April 8, 1987 issue of Bisaya magazine, tells about the plight of Felipe, a barrio farmer who lost everything after he had sold his carabao and mortgaged his farm to pay a fake recruiter for a job abroad. Without a farm to till and with a wife sick with consumption, Felipe was obliged to seek whatever job he could find but his efforts went unrewarded.
Felipe had caused to despair all the more when he learned from his wife, Luzviminda, that their son Innocencio had been forced to leave his farm in Davao due to frequent encounters between the military and the insurgents and was now working as a dockhand in that city’s waterfront.
Another piece of news he received from his wife was that their daughter who was working as a nanny in Manila was being enticed by a recruiter to work as a hostess in Olongapo. The wife expressed the fear that their daughter might eventually succumb to the lure of making easy money by selling their body. Felipe could not help feeling bitter by the tought that his son and daughter might not have been in the kind of life they were in had they been able to continue their schooling. They could have made something of themselves as they had the mental capacity for learning. But then education was something that was for sale, he thougt bitterly, and only those who could afford to buy it had the advantage. He raged all the more in reflecting over this inequality in the present system.
Compounding his feeling of des-peration and frustration was the realization of the failing health of his wife, the sight of whose emaciated body always brought him pain. She would not be that way if only they had the money to buy the medicines she needed. As it was, they barely had enough money for food.
As counterpoint, the Batomalaque story also tells about Felipe’s encounters with his kompadre Albing who was a man of learning and a keen observer of social and political conditions. Some passages in the story offer revealing conversations between Felipe and his kompadre whose remarks impressed him deeply. On a trip together to the city aboard a bus, his kompadre had pointed out that if there would be no end to the exploitation by aliens of Filipino workers and if the greed of capitalists continued unabated while officials of the government failed to find a quick solution to the economic crisis, there could be a revolution.
On another occasion his kompadre told him:
"When the dictator was ousted by people power, I thought that we would now have peace because our woman president had declared that there would now be real democracy. But what happened? While our president strove to rehabilitate our ravaged economy, the old politicians sought instead to destabilize the government. They criticized every-thing that president did. But did they ever offer any suggestion on how we could attain progress? Never. They were concerned only with their own selfish interest. They never cared about the plight of small people like us and how we can extricate ourselves from our present misery. Also, our radio stations are constantly harping about what happened to this... what happened to that... why is that... But why don’t they instead talk over the radio about what our nationalist ideology really is? So that everyone can understand? So that we can see what we really are? So that we will know if aliens had not made monkeys out of us?"
Commenting on the reports of the attempted coup d’etat, his kompadre had also said: "That’s the result of the greed of the politicians who are playing too much politics. Their excessive hunger for power is the cause of the wretched condition our country is in."
The recollection of the remarks of his kompadre Albing made Felipe realize the hopelessness of his own situation.
Towards the end of the story, as Felipe was pacing dejectedly in the yard of his house, he saw signs of the coming of a long drought. His father had taught him that when such signs appeared in the sky, a long drought was in the offing. And it struck him that his own life, too, was in for a long drought— his own poverty and misery.
In exasperation, he told his wife to bring him his bolo. When she ask why, he told her he was going into the forest in the hills to find medicine for her illness. When his wife retorted that the forest was infested with rebels, Felipe was brought back to his senses.
In the climax of the story, he is seen giving vent to his anger and frustration by striking blows at an unseen and unknown enemy.
Undoubtedly, Batomalaque’s story depicting the anguish of the downtrodden is not going to be the last of its kind to be written. Social criticism is by no means a stranger to Cebuano fiction as evinced by the works of such greater writers as Florentino D. Tecson, Marcel M. Navarra and Natalio B. Bacalso, to name a few. In a sense, Batomalaque’s story is only carrying on the tradition of social protest in Cebuano fiction. As with Tecson and the other significant writers, Batomalaque displays a mastery of language and craftmanship in his writing. His story is certainly a valuable addition to the body of significant works in Cebuano literature.—
*Paper presented at the PEN Conference on Regional Literature, June 19, 1989 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.