Reading and Such

‘Ka-womenan’ in the time of COVID

It was said that the journalists who had balls then were the women ‘invited’ by the military. This new anthology celebrates women’s writing

The women of WOMEN at their first anniversary party held in the '80s at the old Heritage Art Center. Among those in photo are: Julie Lluch, Sol Juvida, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, Lilia Quindoza Santiago, Lily Lim, Paulynn Sicam, Daisy Catherine Mandap, Lorna Kalaw Tirol, Arlene Babst, Marra Lanot, Mila Astorga Garcia, Emily Marcelo, Marites Danguilan Vitug, Sheila Coronel, Faye Bautista, Cynthia Nograles Lumbera, Fanny Garcia, Wilma Vitug Lacaba, Rochit Tañedo. Source: Facebook of Sol Juvida


‘Book Haul’ by Cecil Robin Singalaoa, watercolor on cotton rag paper, 2020, 4×6 inches

She says: The latest anthology from the feminist press Gantala, Inc., COVID-19 Journals: Women Writing Women, throws us back to the 1980s when the “F” word was just starting to be used in the country. Maybe we were a decade or so late after the feminist movement that swept the world and were spared the bra-burning histrionics, but we were on board when it came to confronting the patriarchy which took the formidable form of the Marcos dictatorship.

It was said that the journalists who had balls then were the women who were “invited” by the military for some maximum grilling. One of them was then Panorama Magazine contributor and now Inquirer columnist Ceres P. Doyo, who stated unequivocally that it was an experience that she wished she wouldn’t have to go through again.

I recall that particular Universal Human Rights Day in December when members of the Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN) and their sympathizers, including men like F. Sionil Jose and gallery owner Odette Alcantara, stood outside the gate of Camp Aguinaldo in a flash picket to protest the “invitation” of our colleagues for questioning inside.

Among the “invitees” were Domini Torrevillas Suarez, Eugenia Apostol, Lorna Kalaw Tirol, Doris Nuyda, Arlene Babst, Doyo, Jo-ann Maglipon. We waved hand-scrawled-with-Pentel pen placards at the buses unloading and loading passengers at the Aguinaldo bus stop. I remembered to put on my dark glasses just in case military spies were taking pictures—as though those would protect me! The lightning rally landed us on some newspapers that were sympathetic to the cause, like Tempo under editor Recah Trinidad.

Soon, Odette bade us farewell—she was due for her German language class at the Goethe Institut, then located on nearby Aurora Blvd. Journalist Sol Juvida couldn’t help quipping, “Odette, we just demonstrated for human rights, and you’re off to learn Achtung!” The laughter that followed eased the tension.

Since the ground-breaking launch by New Day Publishers of the WOMEN anthologies Filipina 1 and Filipina 2, edited by Marra Lanot, Mila Astorga Garcia, and Lilia Quindoza Santiago (which, by the way, are rare and can only be found in Amazon or e-Bay), many similar anthologies have seen print or gone online, the latest among them COVID-19 Journals and the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ In Certain Seasons (click here to read a PDF copy:

The editors of both books (Ma. Diosa Labiste, Pinky C. Serafica, Diana G. Mendoza, and Chi Laigo Vallido for the former, and Jenny Ortuoste and Che Sarigumba for the latter) were spot on in seeing that the ones hardest hit by the pandemic were the women. That goes for any catastrophe, natural or man-made.

Women were deluded into believing that the pandemic and lockdowns would give them time and space to pursue writing

Serafica observed how women were at first deluded into believing that the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and quarantines would give them the time and space to pursue, among other much-postponed pursuits, writing. But women’s work is never done, like laundry and dishes.

She wrote, “We wrote just as the hot season crept in and we felt it not just on our undeodorized armpits that this might just be for the long haul. We wrote in our lipstick and dressy blouses that everyone saw during the Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams meetings with the unframed lower half of our bodies in pajamas. We wrote to honor family and friends whose time and space were stolen by a virus so small and deadly.”

Labiste pointed out the anthology’s significance in introducing “to readers women’s narrative as a journalism genre.” She defined it as “a story based on a sequence of events that had taken place but written in a way that helps us understand more the gender issues at stake. The journalism form provides information but, at the same time, emotionally connects readers to the story.”

In this space, the following are given a voice “that challenges the stereotypical, sexist, and degrading representations of women”: Maria Olivia H. Tripon, Sky Luna Eda Serafica, Ayla Maria E. Dimzon, Marivir Montebon, Corinna Pettyjohn, Bugan Ni-Rosipan, Shalow Tillah Allian, Geela Garcia, Dana Batnag, Jofelle P. Tesorio, Yllang Montenegro, Mons Sta. Cruz, and Agnes Españo-Dimzon. But Filipinas being Filipinas, they are not grim and determined in their narratives and advocacies. Nor are they marshmallow-hearted pushovers.

Olive Tripon getting her first jab

The chapters are divided into: Mothers on Lockdown but Not Locked Out; QuaranTeens: Growing Up and Growing In; Grieving and Holding Space; Getting Around, Getting By; Communities as Lifelines; Surviving Beyond Borders; and Self-care and Compassion. Written mostly in the last year, the final essay by Tripon ends with her getting her first vaccine jab and how/what it was like.

The editors must also be commended for focusing on specialized groups within the women’s movement like teenagers, peasants, the Muslims, particularly the bakwit or evacuees, and small entrepreneurs.

Inquiries about the download or purchase of the book may be coursed through or email [email protected].

The 14th of February is, by the way, also celebrated as International Day of Giving Books

Elizabeth and Rolando, lovers of a different sort:

The 14th of February is, by the way, also celebrated as International Day of Giving Books.

Bookstores are etched sharp in our early memories. They seemed like magical emporiums in our youthful imagination.

Babeth’s (Elizabeth) father, himself a reader, brought her to the old Philippine Education Company (PECO) in the heart of Manila, particularly on Arroceros. Coming from a large family, she was under strict instructions to choose just one book to be paid by him at the cashier’s. So she moved in a daze from shelf to shelf until she found an illustrated, full-color version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.

She read the book ragged from fourth to seventh grade, particularly enamored with The Emperor’s New Clothes and Little Match Girl. She feels that the naked emperor was her initiation to political writing and the matchstick girl to her sense of the tragic and redemption in the next life.

Rolando, meanwhile, learned in his early teens to exchange his free public school textbooks for more serious Penguin, Pelican, New American Library pocketbooks. These he found in the second-hand bookstores lining the former Azcarraga Ave., now Claro M. Recto, Manila.

Both were clearly hungry to build their own libraries in those years, so when they started going steady, it wasn’t unusual to rendezvous not just in museums but also at Alemar’s, PECO (by then it had moved to Quezon Ave. near Banawe, Quezon City), and National Bookstore.

They combined their libraries when they married, but such was their individualism that they had their respective bookplates. In his case, he had a special stamp pad, made in Hanoi, of a tiger to show that a book belongs to him. (Born in the Chinese zodiac Year of the Tiger, that’s why.)

Corinna Pettyjohn and daughter on the mom’s bike

Without formally discussing how best to raise their daughters, they invested first in a set Childcraft books, a young people’s encyclopedia set. They don’t recall buying too many toys, even educational ones, for the girls—their doting aunts, uncles, and godparents took care of that. But there were always trips to the then Bookmark on Session Road, Baguio, until it closed down by holding a sale. To his eternal glee, the prices of even hardbound Filipino coffee-table books were slashed drastically.

The girls have left the nest and are raising daughters of their own. Among the first things their eldest Kimi and her Kai did once settled in Boise, Idaho, was to get public library memberships. This also includes borrowing tapes of movies and joining arts and craft games encouraged by the librarian.

The second and youngest daughter Ida named her firstborn child after a book character she loved in childhood. The Eloise in the baby’s complete name of Poppy Eloise is named after the creation of Kay Thompson. Drawn by Hillary Knight, adventurous Eloise lives at the top of the New York Plaza and is almost like a female Dennis the Menace or the Cat in the Hat, all of whom were part of the past of Rolly and Babeth’s children’s.

Old Penquin titles in Rolly Fernandez’s collection

This day may be for lovers, but he and she are lovers of a different sort. They would rather exchange books. When faced with a child waiting for a hand-out on Christmas and other special occasions, it’s either a book or cash to go purchase a book of his/her own. That gesture is also a kind of love.

How it all started

It was actually a man, the poet-fictionist Alfred “Krip” Yuson, who put together a collection of poems by women in the literary folio called Caracoa, another collector’s item and a pioneering gesture.

Marra Lanot

But according to feminist writer Marra Lanot, it wasn’t until Gloria Rodriguez of New Day Publishers, who made possible not one but two collections of poems, short stories and essays (mostly journalism) by women writers. And so we came to the fore. Lanot was one of the editors and WOMEN co-founding member.

She said, “As far as I know, there had been single collections (of written works) by individual women but no anthology. At the time of Filipina 1 and 2, several among the creative writers were already aware of women’s or feminist issues. In fact, some of them later left WOMEN and joined the Concerned Artists of the Philippines-Women’s Desk, a feminist group from its inception.”

I remember WOMEN’s stomping grounds then in the ’80s—Odette Alcantara’s Heritage Art Center on Lantana and New York streets, Cubao, Quezon City. Almost every Saturday afternoon, WOMEN would host talks or workshops on the craft of writing. Letty Jimenez Magsanoc drew quite a crowd when she spoke not of the bold coverage of her Panoroma but on something harmless like how to get published in a magazine.

As Lanot put it, “WOMEN wasn’t interested in feminism, at least some who were newbies in journalism. They wanted to hone their craft and invited personalities who could give them tips.”

I  recall another such workshop when Aida F. Santos (formerly Maranan) and I were requested to submit samples of our poems, even problematic ones, for critique by a panel of all-male experts. At that time, our consciousness wasn’t entirely raised that we didn’t question the composition of the panel. If memory serves, they included Cirilo F. Bautista, Yuson and Edgardo Maranan. I don’t think today’s women poets would easily submit their manuscripts to that kind of scrutiny.

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