Karla Quimsing


Self-translated from Hiligaynon

I salute them high-nosed mestizas
who preach “Breastfeeding is best for babies.”

There’s this laundry woman I know 
Nanay Riza, she breastfed all her children.
She’s this tiny lady but hey, she’s so loud and funny.
When she starts hanging her husband’s briefs
she’d let out a guffaw showing her shiny empty gums.
You see, all her good teeth had fallen out
from feeding her calcium to eight malnourished tots.
Always she’d ask for a cash advance
because her equally toothless kids are unhealthy and sickly.

I have this second cousin named Diday
who left for Italy as soon as she turned 19.
She’s this quiet yet courageous kind of girl
who left home despite her family’s disapproval.
Imagine how shocked we were 
when suddenly she came back with a bulging belly. 
Well, everyone assumed she had just gotten so fat.
Three weeks after she gave birth to a blondie
she abandoned the child and flew back to Italy.
Because she needed to pay for her father’s new tricycle
also the supplies in her mother’s sari-sari store are running low
and her younger sister’s graduating from a private school.
You see, if she stayed and breastfed the little blondie
what would become of her and her family?

There was this disturbing news on TV 
about a fourteen-year-old girl
who stabbed her two-year-old son 
14 times with a pair of scissors.
You see, her parents disowned her
then she was expelled from her convent school
so she moved in with her junkie boyfriend
and after giving birth, his Pops and Uncle
came down on her as well.
One afternoon, while breastfeeding her son
the little rascal bit her nipple.
She said everything went dark.
She said she couldn’t remember,
She couldn’t see one flash of memory.

So yes, I salute them high-nosed mestizas
who make breastfeeding fashionable
smiling and sitting on a comfortable rocking chair
with a clean burp cloth on the shoulder.
You see, this is just an illusion for some mothers.



Self-translated from Hiligaynon

After nine months
of nourishing and carrying
a life in my belly (while I was working)
the Philippine Government
will give me compensation
(meaning time and money)
to stay at home and care
for myself and my newborn baby. 

If I have a normal delivery,
I will be compensated
for two months or sixty days.
A normal delivery means I go through
birthing labor for hours or even days
and wait until my cervix opens into a diameter
that will allow a small head to slide through.
In the process the doctor will have to 
cut a few inches of my vagina.
It will be stitched back.
Normally, no anesthetic is given. 

If I have a caesarean section,
I will be compensated for 
three months or 78 days.
A c-section means that I would need 
a surgical operation to cut me open 
so the infant comes out of the womb alive.
Surely, there would be anesthetic drugs. 
I am expected to be bedridden for a week. 
The wound of the six-inch abdominal incision 
will take about (more or less) a month to heal.

If we calculate the tax deductions 
from my salary in the past years that I’ve been
working as “single with no dependents”
this benefit looks like peanuts.

During these two or three months 
my stitched vagina or belly
will be throbbing in pain.
But that will not stop me from dancing
and cradling my baby in my arms.
My breasts will swell and grow heavy.
My hair will fall and thin out.
It would hurt to sit.
It would also hurt to stand.
The baby will always get hungry
will cry every hour
and will suck on my breasts
even if my milk is not enough.
Both my nipples will be sore.
But the baby will keep crying for more milk
even if it’s past midnight,
even if I’m dead tired and sleepy,
even if I need to take a piss,
even if I’m not done with my lunch yet,
even if I badly need some rest
because my body is exhausted.

Two or three months
is just the decent time I need
to learn and understand pain
and how much of it I can tolerate.
By then, I would be in good shape
to get back to work
and leave my baby.



Self-translated from Hiligaynon

Tonight, like last night,
while you sleep
I searched for the scent of milk
on your neck and armpits,
at the back of your ear
between your fat fingers
and your curled little toes.
It is still there.
That warmth, too
when you crawled
out of my womb 
then up to my chest
both of us were crying
until you locked your lips
on my breast and you
fell asleep.



Self-translated from Hiligaynon

The time will come
when I, who birthed
and breastfed you,
stayed wide awake on midnights
to sing and rock you gently to sleep
and pointed that your heart 
is a fist in your chest
will morph into a villain
before your eyes.
Then, you and I 
will always argue about
curfew,  school grades,
and your kind of music,
among other things.
But I won’t worry about that now
on your second May
while this world is still mine
to show to you and the wind
still sings the language I know.
You and I will run
and welcome this pouring rain
with our screams,
jumps, dance, and

These poems originally appeared on Karla Quimsing’s website.


Karla Quimsing is from Iloilo City, Philippines. She has three books: Pansit Poetry (a multilingual poetry book); Tingog Nanay (an anthology of motherhood stories that she edited); and ISLA (a poetry chapbook written in Hiligaynon, her mother tongue). Quimsing writes in English, Hiligaynon, Filipino, and Binisaya. She currently lives in Paris with her family.




Ma. Milagros Geremia-Lachica translates Genevieve L. Asenjo


Translated from Kinaray-a

They meet on a path into the mountain’s cave.
Their footsteps are without tongue, like fruits that should not fall 
from the branch in the stir, the noise is a bunch of bats. 

The stillness brings them to the awareness of grasses, trees, 
flowers, vines. The garden and the forest grow in their mind. 
Here they exchange stories, before light finds the cave. 

Kabog, the woman prompts. The man imitates. His repetition 
witnesses the wings that fly and scatter seeds in the mountains. 
At the seashore, a bakawan waits; the fish take shelter. 

One to two offspring each year, the woman continued. They can also 
be found in Cebu, Negros, Sibuyan, down to Sulawesi. They reach the cave.
They see the trees but not the forest, and the garden is near the shore. 

Left on the sand are the man’s footprints. Like the waves that carried him 
and his elders to reach this island. The woman stops her narration,
even if she knows the bats sense and avoid humans. 

A flight in the dark follows. In groping the wall of rock,
in the crack of wings above their heads, the man finds in the eyes
of the bats the sadness of this island, his own too, and that of the woman. 

For the first time, he stares at the woman. In her shadow, his voice is muted.
Danger is not in the cave. It is out there on the shore where the sand’s whiteness
prohibits this woman and her people from coming. The man is deafened by the breaking waves. 

He grabs hold of a branch at the mouth of the cave. The bats fly out past him.
He points them out to the woman and hears his own voice aping: kabog, kabog,
until they fly beyond the mountains, now with the names of hotel, resort, & spa. 



Translated from Kinaray-a

The cat came to mind when I searched for you online. 
I did find you: cat is your username’s tail
that is your name. Your photo is like a cry
at the door that I need to pick up and feed. 
No warning of scratches or fleas: you become another friend. 

Our footprints continued on the sand in the island—your tale 
about the death of your beloved cat, along with the change in color 
of your long-lasting love. You moved to another country.
But in truth, you were waiting to be brought back,
upon the return of your loved one. This rest is to amuse 

the self. In the chatroom, I told you that the native Ati and Bisaya 
of the island believe that when a cat – female or male –
starts to scratch its nose and mouth, someone is coming to visit, 
like when a woman laughs a lot, she is looking for a husband, 
and when the cat takes a bath, it will rain, even in dry season. 

When it stretches in the morning, it signals bad weather. The weather 
could become a tropical storm and cancel office: will take shelter in the internet. 
And because the cat can see what we cannot see, most especially a wicked person, 
it can command lightning and thunder. It is said that the lightning’s soul is shaped 
like a huge black cat. Nonsense, you replied, and laughed like thunder coupled with lightning. 

It strikes me and makes my body tremble. It feels like the lightning’s soul
falling on a huge tree, and on the leaves are marks of huge elephant’s tusks.
I wave my hands as if to ward off something. I panic and start looking
for ginger and garlic. Shoo, get away from me, you cat! l’m not looking for love!
I don’t know yet of any drug that can be bought as an antidote to that which the self desires. 

“Getting to Know the Bat” and “Getting to Know the Cat” are excerpted from the bilingual edition Sa Gihapon, Palangga, ang Uran/Always, Beloved, the Rain (Ateneo de Naga University Press, 2014),  Genevieve L. Asenjo’s  Kinaray-a-language poetry collection that has translations by Ma. Milagros Geremia-Lachica.


Genevieve L. Asenjo, professor of literature and creative writing at De La Salle University in Manila, is included in the  2018 Cultural Center of the Philippines Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (Literature) for her multi-genre works in Philippine languages: Kinaray-a, Hiligaynon, and Filipino. Her new books are Ang Itim na Orkidyas ng Isla Boracay: Mga Kuwento (University of the Philippines Press, 2021), and Indi Natun Kinahanglan kang Duro nga Tinaga sa Atun Tunga/Hindi Natin Kailangan ng Maraming Salita sa Ating Pagitan: Mga Tula sa Kinaray-a & Filipino (University of the Philippines Press, 2021), selected as part of the Philippine Writers Series by LIKHAAN: UP Institute of Creative Writing. 

Ma. Milagros G. Lachica was born and raised in Panay island in the Philippines. She worked as a research associate in folklore and culture studies at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas where she finished her BA in Comparative Literature. She moved with her family to the U.S. and currently works as a clinical research coordinator.  She writes in Kinaray-a and English.




Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III translates Ansherina May D. Jazul


Translated from Filipino

How do we establish distance
If the houses here cling onto each other
when cable wires are clustered,
corrugated roofs pile onto each other,
and electric posts stand as if in tight queue. 

When entering our home,
the dining table quickly meets the eye,
beside the wooden chair,
the corners give way to the sink and the toilet
there is no breathing room
between our belongings.

We are crowded inside
Mom, Dad, my Kuya, my Ate
we have to contort our bodies
in order to fit on the mat and the kulambo.

When going out
what meets the footsteps is the door
of the adjacent house.

They too are crowded inside,
that’s why we retreat outside
to do our laundry, to wash dishes,
to play, and to get some fresh air.

How do we establish distance
if we have the face of another?



Translated from Filipino

We scoured the entire city
in search for a hospital that would admit us. 
There seems to be a procession at the entrance,
queuing with you are children and the elderly who,
like you, are also catching their breaths.
Their kin praying in concert,
their prayers fighting over a piece of space
who no one knows when will be in the offing.
A few already broke off from the line
and chose to head to their respective homes.
Just like you.

And at last, after days of waiting,
a bed is already waiting for you
Waiting for you are the newly changed
pillows and blankets,
your room already spotless.

But how can sound sleep
on a vacant bed 
come for a lifeless body?


Ansherina May D. Jazul has a BA in Filipinology and a Certificate in Literature and Creative Writing in Filipino from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She was a fellow of Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika at Anyo (LIRA) 2014, Cavite Young Writers Association (CYWA) 2018, 2nd Polytechnic University of the Philippines National Multi-Genre Workshop 2019, University of the Philippines Writers Club 2019, Virgin Labfest Writing Program 2020, and University of Santo Tomas National Writers Workshop 2020. Some of her works are published in Liwayway Magazine, a Gantala Press anthology, and Ani 40, Literary Journal of Cultural Center of the Philippines. She is one of the moderators of Lapis ArtCom. A member of the Cavite Young Writers Association, Jazul teaches Filipino and works as a scriptwriter, proofreader, and textbook author.

Amado Anthony G. Mendoza III is the author of  the novel, Aklat ng mga Naiwan [Book of the Damned] (Balangiga Press, 2018), co-editor and co-translator of Wiji Thukul’s Balada ng Bala [The Ballad of a Bullet], and translator of Mga Himutok sa Palikuran (Ateneo de Naga University Press, 2021), the Filipino-language edition of Eka Kurniawan’s collection of stories. He teaches courses on Southeast Asian literature and creative writing at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature in the University of the Philippines Diliman. Mendoza is also a co-editor of Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy, 2021) and several other upcoming anthologies.




Tilde Acuña translates J. G. Dimaranan


Translated from Filipino

This cold stone weighing like a dog
howls in our hearts
in a number of life cycles.
Walked throughout the afternoon
and through a million years,
bound tight on a leash,
brought in every journey.

But just like a dog, this weight
can also be a friend—
walking and soothing it
until the muttering stops
and the mad woofing lulls,
turning into simple tenderness.

By mastering the weight, this stone warms up,
something integral to internal healing.
Just like how heated stones are used
by the Chinese, the Indians, and the Egyptians
in their respective Healing Ceremonies
to melt cold-hardened muscles.

This is also how we heal the self:
From the cold stone that weighs like a dog
to a heart that is warm and light.

Only in trusting the process
of returning to the Origin
and accepting the Truth,
can the choleric dog break free 
in boundlessness.



Translated from Filipino

At the end of this trip
the roads will connect,
all paths will meet,
traversed by natives,
workers, and farmers
of this land.

The gravel paved into concrete 
by capitalists will melt
in the intensity of the people’s march
sounding like rain.
The cement will liquefy
to tears, but of no-tears,
until it reverts back
to being earth again.


J. G. Dimaranan finished her B.A. in Language and Literature at the University of the Philippines Baguio in 2015 and graduated from Philippine High School for the Arts in 2009. She is the co-editor of the anthology Danas: Mga Pag-aakda ng Babae Ngayon (2017) and the author of the poetry collection IO (2020), both from Gantala Press. She recently released the children’s books Sayaw ng Pantaron (2021) and Ang Makapangyarihang Tungkod ni Lolo Jose (2022) with Southern Voices Printing Press. She lives at the foot of Mt. Banahaw with her partner and three kids.

Tilde Acuña (Arbeen Acuña), author of Oroboro at Iba Pang Abiso [Oroboro and other Notices] (University of the Philippines [UP] Press, 2020), teaches at the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature – UP. His works of translation appeared in Pingkian: Journal for Emancipatory and Anti-Imperialist Education, and books published by Gaudy Boy, UP Press, Ateneo De Manila University Press, and Sentro ng Wikang Filipino. He co-edited Destination: SEA 2050 A.D. (Penguin Random House SEA, forthcoming 2022) and translated its komiks entries.




Kristine Ong Muslim translates Vanessa Anne Joice T. Haro


Translated from Filipino

the sea is unperturbed when you got there. No waves are stroking the stinging nettles that line that space. there’s only rustling in the mangroves, mingling with the gasping air. you are in my room. watch the branches float on water. the gradual closing of the door of my mouth. watch as you get kissed by a valley on the other island. the floor of my palm that lightly touches the navel of the night. the window that brings back your previous day. are you ready to shed light on the name you wrote on the sand? savor the brine using your sense of sight. restraint swims in your eyes as you dissolve the sand where the water gets murky. tell me this is not my room. this is our room. we are in our room. and this is all it takes to create waves everywhere.                                                             



Translated from Filipino

One night at the beach
You tried to pick up the stone you had cast and allowed
Your hands to lick the sand.
You parted the grains like you would the curtains every morning.
You parted them without knowing why.
But even then you proceeded to part them anyway

Both the sticking around and going away.
You were half in, half out with your indecision.

When your callused hand failed to navigate by touch,
You resisted the urge to swallow whatever’s blocking your throat.

It was just me now,
At the beach.

The stone calmly let itself be carried away
Along with your breath.


Vanessa Anne Joice T. Haro, aside from writing poetry, specializes in implementing and leading gender-inclusive and trauma-informed projects and programs in state universities and private companies for years now.  Some of her poems were published in Lagda, UBOD, and Loch Raven Review. She was a fellow for poetry in the following national workshops: Palihang Rogelio Sicat (University of the Philippines, 2015); University of Santo Tomas National Writers Workshop (University of Santo Tomas, 2019); and Iligan National Writers Workshop (Mindanao State University, 2018). Haro is also a member of Gabriela Women’s Party, a collective working towards emancipating injustices.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, including The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017), Meditations of a Beast (Cornerstone Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), and Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015). She co-edited the British Fantasy Award-winning anthology People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! (2016), Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy, 2021), and several forthcoming anthologies. She is also the translator of numerous books by Filipino authors Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, Marlon Hacla, and Rogelio Braga. Widely anthologized, Muslim’s short stories were published in Conjunctions, Literary Hub, and World Literature Today, and translated into six languages. She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines. 




Michael Carlo C. Villas translates Sunray Balasbas


Translated from Waray

The drought has come
and clouds drift
like cotton.

Where are they heading

and why do cicadas suddenly
whirr like Iday’s cry?

Where are you going?

is in a hurry.

Skies grew dark
and, languidly
pelting on the roof,
heavy drops
of rain,
drip from the ceiling,
and in pans, rain
no one could have forestalled.

When the rain stopped,
we mopped the floor
hung the curtains back
and locked
the door.

is in a hurry,

Church bells toll
oratio imperata.

Sign of the cross.

Relief came delayed.
Ants came before
we even tasted the sardines.
The 3-in-1 coffee kapitan gave
has now cooled, awaiting
the rooster’s crow.

In your hurry,
your longing
your face,

your hair brushed back
overly made,
dressed in your trousers,
and your favorite Ambel
shirt embroidered
with comely flowers.

Everything is ready,
we’re about to leave.

We rushed
to the street.
You are unknown here
except by rumors
and the snide gaze.

I could see Rawis from afar
as its shore
brims in your lips.
We wash ourselves and heal
upon returning,
holding your tear-streaked
baris* of clothes.

* A woven trunk made of rattan used for storing clothes



Translated from Waray

I map out your features
as if running my fingers through a smooth blanket.

Never have I beheld the shape of your face
save the warmth coursing
through my palm
telling me of your beauty.

Nor have I seen the red
of your lips,
feeling them as though it were cotton.

Nor the flow and silk
of your hair
slippery as a scrubbed floor.

I trace in the air shape
of your face, hoping
to remember each angle,
my heart leaps

sensing your pulse
and my heartbeat.
We had no words
except the sound of our breathing
we closely listen to

at every touch, skin
of my palms
slowly burn,

my hands, that of the recluse
and prisoner of the dark.

I would have wanted to keep you
and stop time
from running,
unfinishing the rare
meetings of moon and sun,

afraid that love
would not find its way
in its path towards you.

I may climb a wall
and cry for help,
but none will hear me
save these hands—
true knowers.

bound my hands
to free you
find the origins
of fire:

remains of memory,
light of dark things.


Sunray Balasbas is an artist from Calbayog City, Samar. He paints and writes siday (poetry) in both traditional and contemporary forms. He currently teaches at the Calbayog City National High School, where he also serves as visual arts specialist. He is proud to be a scholar of Lamiraw, an organization of writers based in Calbayog.

Michael Carlo C. Villas teaches language and literature at the Department of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences, Visayas State University. He has published in journals and anthologies notably, Our Memory of Water: Words After Haiyan (Ateneo de Naga University Press, 2016), Sustaining the Archipelago: Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2017), and Reading the Regions: Teaching Philippine Literature from Multi-Perspectives (National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2019). He co-edited the forthcoming anthology, Garab: Hinugpong hin mga Susumaton ha Waray (Garab: Anthology of Short Stories in Waray, Balangiga Press).




Kristine Ong Muslim translates Rogelio Braga


Translated from Filipino

She was that solitary old woman, the first person you would see on the sidewalk along the turn that opened out to Luzon Avenue. She would be seated before her bilao that displayed the candies, cigarettes, and junk food items she was selling. Before Muslim vendors took over various parts of Luzon Avenue, she was already there selling her wares. Any Luzon Avenue stops—those made by a Quiapo- or Baclaran-bound bus that took the Commonwealth Avenue route—would find her as the center of attention, what with her elbow-length milky white hair. Her name was Aling Lilay, our neighbor in Purok Kuwatro, Barangay Culiat in Luzon Avenue.    

We were neighbors for almost twenty years, but I could count with my fingers the number of hours I spent talking to Aling Lilay. No one in Purok Kuwatro dared to make small talk with her, and she was feared by the neighbors. None of them had the nerve to confront her—except for one, my grandmother, who made the mistake of crossing her. There were some people, too, who tried to befriend Aling Lilay, people like Aling Mariam and Manong Abdul, the Muslim couple who rented Japayuki’s small room in front of Aling Lilay’s house. It was an otherwise fatal mistake: Aling Mariam lost her entire family. So, if you were a Luzon Avenue resident, you would have the sense not to risk crossing the street to get to the other side as soon as you see Aling Lilay ahead of you. You would do this to avoid being greeted by her and having to make eye contact. And, at Aling Lilay’s Luzon Avenue streetside corner shop, no one from Purok Kuwatro would buy the candies or cigarettes she was hawking—except for Abner, that UP student activist who rented the room at the side of our house. Abner was a heavy smoker, and it was widely believed that his routine before riding a Philcoa jeepney involved buying Stork Menthol Candy and cigarettes from Aling Lilay. Abner was also known to trade jokes with her.

“Macoy is the smartest president of the Philippines,” Aling Lilay would be overheard telling Abner again and again about the then-president Ferdinand Marcos. “You will never oust him.”

Street vendors said that the last time they saw Abner talking to Aling Lilay while he was buying cigarettes from her, his head was still attached to his neck. They said they had heard how Abner’s playful banter got Aling Lilay all riled up. “If you people want to help the country, go to Mindanao and get your heads cut off!”

One Monday, according to my mother who I referred to as Nanay, everyone in the neighborhood was shocked when they saw Abner, who had his backpack on as he headed for UP, to the nearby campus of the University of the Philippines. He appeared to have been decapitated. Women screamed in a mixture of grief and fright, while men tried to grab Abner’s attention—the headless body that was walking—but it seemed as if Abner could not see or hear the panicking people around him. Abner’s headless body walked until it reached Aling Lilay’s spot, bought candy and cigarettes like before. That morning was filled by the buzz of people nervously saying “Jesus Christ” as they made the sign of the cross. At some point in the afternoon, Abner returned home from the university. His head was where it should be, and a lit cigarette was seen puffing a cloud of smoke between his lips.    

“Abner, you must burn all the clothes that you are wearing right now and then put salt on them,” my grandmother told him.

When Abner asked why, my grandmother recounted the furor he had caused earlier when he was seen walking without his head on. Abner just laughed it off, said to my grandmother in a jest, “When Macoy became president, Lola, all of us had already lost our heads.” 

He was said to still be in good spirits when he entered his room. “You, Abner, we keep warning you to avoid Lilay at the corner!”

Abner paid them no heed. No clothes were burned. No clothes were sprinkled with salt. He continued to buy Aling Lilay’s candies and cigarette sticks.

Abner’s body was found a few weeks later somewhere in the expanse of a grass-overgrown field by the side of the street connecting Luzon Avenue to Philcoa. Nobody around here, though, was sure if the body was truly Abner’s; the PC found him headless. They identified Abner through his ID and bag, which were found with the body. The police as well as Abner’s parents, even his professors and fellow students from UP, later figured out the location of the room he was renting right next to our house in Purok Kuwatro, and this was how we learned about what had been done to Abner. His parents later dropped by to collect his belongings from his room.  

When I was in elementary school, Nanay warned me sternly against approaching the hag whom she said had attacked her multiple times while she was pregnant with me. Tatay was away that time, working in Saudi Arabia. Even as a war went on in Iraq, Tatay braved Saudi Arabia so he could save up enough money to marry Nanay. That was also an especially sensitive time. They had to keep their relationship a secret because Nanay was only fifteen years old. As for Aling Lilay, she did not care whether or not it was a neighbor she was targeting. She preyed on pregnant women whenever her midnight hunger became unbearable.  


This was how it happened, according to my grandmother’s recollections. It started on a night when, alone in the house, Nanay heard scratching sounds from the roof. Lola was not home yet that time. Working as a Metro Aide, my grandmother would often end up spending the night at the house of her friend in Blumentritt whenever curfew struck and she still had not finished cleaning the streets. At first, Nanay blamed the racket on stray cats. She ended up staying awake the whole night. The succeeding nights were no different, and Nanay was unable to get any rest. She said that the noise of sharp claws raking the metal roof made her teeth grate. At some point, she figured the source of the sound was not stray cats chasing each other but that of a giant bird, because she could hear the flapping wings and the screechy squawking like that of egrets. In the morning, Nanay would attest to an awful feeling of heaviness, of malaise where her muscles and joints ached, as well as dizziness. She assumed it was all due to lack of sleep from the infernal ruckus on the roof. This went on until the night Lola was at last able to get home early because she finished her work before the curfew. What was initially thought of as a giant bird came by again. It was as if it had made its nest on our roof. Lola was jolted awake, seeing Nanay staring up, expression blank and eyes glazed, at the ceiling.

“Mariana, wake up!” Lola said while shaking Nanay awake. “Putang ina, Lilay is eating you!” Even as Lola shook Nanay awake, the rooftop noise intensified. Lola came out of the house, holding an itak, a huge jungle knife. She took a moment to grab a medium-sized rock and hurled it towards Aling Lilay on the roof. It was Nanay who described to me what Lola saw on the roof: Aling Lilay’s elbow-length milky white hair glowed in the dark. Her exposed breasts were saggy on her severed torso. The lower half of her body from her navel to her legs was nowhere to be found. Airborne, Aling Lilay had wings that resembled that of a giant bat. Lola hit Aling Lilay, that aswang form of her consisting of a severed upper half, squarely on the forehead and managed to drive her away.

By sunrise, Lola took to the barangay captain’s office this issue of Aling Lilay’s monstrosity. To settle disputes among neighbors, there was really nowhere to go except the office of Barangay Culiat’s captain. The residents of Purok Kuwatro woke up to the news of last night’s aswang-related crisis being taken up by Lola to the barangay captain’s office. That same morning, people rushed in droves to the Barangay Hall of Culiat, which had jurisdiction over our area in that part of Luzon Avenue. And although all the people in the neighborhood were on Lola’s side, none of them made their support obvious. They were scared of being at the receiving end of Aling Lilay’s wrath.

“Kapitan, this aswang Lilay victimized us last night,” Lola said. 

“Wait, Iska, are you sure of what you are accusing here?” Kapitan was not from Purok Kuwatro. He lived in the Don Antonio Subdivision.         

“I’m sure, Kapitan. When I had to go out of the house around one in the morning to check what was causing the noise that kept us up all night, I saw Lilay up in our roof. There was no mistaking that white hair of hers that glowed in the dark.”

The ensuing long conversation at the Barangay Hall only elicited Aling Lilay’s curt yes’s and no’s at every question and accusation thrown her way. She almost never voiced out objections and just silently listened at the litany of complaints regarding her reign of terror as an aswang last night. 

“There’s another aswang in your neighborhood, right, Iska? Sendang, that Cebuana from Naga. She was right there living in Balara, correct?” Kapitan’s reputation as a serial nitpicker of claims and a good arbiter was spot on. It was touted that this was how he handled complaints by residents in the Luzon Avenue neighborhood. And he was right about that other aswang, that Sendang of Balara. Only Luzon Avenue’s length of concrete pavement separated our barangay from Barangay Balara.  

“And one more thing, Iska, if it was really Lilay who was the aswang on your roof and not Sendang—why on earth would she victimize you?”

“What do you mean, Kapitan?” An aswang is always an aswang.”

The barangay captain was silent for a moment and then grinned. He took in the sight of people crowding his office, each rubbernecker tantalized by the thought of a satisfying resolution being made between Lola and Aling Lilay. As if rearing before revealing something juicy and explosive, the barangay captain said, “Wait, Iska, Lilay would terrorize you as an aswang night after night only if you were pregnant.” He paused and smiled suggestively. “Are you pregnant?”

The people in Kapitan’s office snorted their restrained laughter. But the snickering did not last long because they quickly saw through the scandalous implication—and their  gaze shifted to Mariana who was seated in a corner. That was the moment everyone realized, as well as my grandmother who was furious over having the truth aired out in the open this way and in front of her fellow Purok Kuwatro neighbors, that her unmarried teenage daughter was pregnant. That was the moment everyone knew that in nine months, I was going to show up in this world.

“As far as I know, Kapitan, it was Lilay who was the aswang last night. And you, Lilay, if you do it again, I will give you another blow to the head.” 

Lilay could only meet my grandmother’s threat with a knowing smile. She was caressing the huge swollen area in the middle of her forehead.

People were disappointed with how Kapitan decided to settle the fight between Aling Lilay and my grandmother. They were told to just go home and were lectured about how infighting was supposedly out of character for Purok Kuwatro neighbors. The neighborhood rumor mill—the aggregation of all the gossipy tidbits that swirled around the municipal artesian well and the area where street vendors peddled assorted items and in front of the Iglesia ni Cristo church where people gathered after hearing the mass—was enough to describe how Kapitan simply told off Aling Lilay to not victimize her own neighbors because, in Kapitan’s words in Cebuano: ‘kamu ra naman diha’—“it’s just you people living among yourselves”—and so, any further complaints would inevitably end up in his office and those complaints would be added, as always, to his mountain of responsibilities. “Be an aswang but do it in Balara!” Kapitan was said to have instructed Lilay. Which made sense: because Balara was not in his jurisdiction. Everyone was disappointed because they expected a more serious punishment for the aswang. But then again, according to the neighborhood rumor mill—the aggregation of all the gossipy tidbits that swirled among some of the neighbors who had an opinion on pretty much everything as well as all the happenings in the barangay, among the gossip mavens around the municipal artesian well and the area where street vendors peddled assorted items, and among the loiterers in front of the stores of Canlas Iglesia and Ate Cely—the barangay captain sided with Aling Lilay because they were from the same hometown. Both were Bisaya and from Mindanao. Lola, on the other hand, was Waray from the island of Leyte. And so, in the next barangay election, all the Waray in Purok Kuwatro did not vote for Kapitan. Either way, Kapitan still won the election because aside from his membership in Macoy’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, he had on his side Aling Lilay’s dark magic for persuading voters. On barangay election day, the hag was seen in front of the Culiat Elementary School gate. Aling Lilay was said to have laid out her bilao and sold cold drinks, banana cue, pilipit, and biko for the voting crowd at Culiat Elementary School. Purok Kuwatro gossipers spoke of how Aling Lilay talked people into voting for her fellow Bisaya from Mindanao who was running for barangay captain. Lola and Nanay told me that was how people discovered that Aling Lilay was not only an aswang whose upper torso could be severed from the rest of her body in nighttimes when the moon was visible, she was also a powerful sorceress. 

Indeed, Aling Lilay was a sorceress. Three months later, Nanay and the Purok Kuwatro neighbors woke up to Lola’s loud, terrified shrieking before the mirror inside our bedroom. As Nanay approached Lola, she saw Lola holding thick hair patches and a comb. Lola’s hair was coming off from her scalp even with the daintiest of comb strokes. By the time I was born in the year after that, Lola was totally bald. I grew up to the sight of her always wearing a hat. Each time she removed her hat in my presence, I always saw her bare scalp. I could never forget feeling the mirror-like smoothness of Lola’s scalp. And from that time on, according to my mother, Lola completely avoided and had never once talked again to Aling Lilay. Their neighbors in Luzon Avenue and the residents of inner Purok Kuwatro all did the same thing.

I was six years old when Lola died. I remembered the month, February, and Nanay, Tatay, even our relatives and neighbors in inner Purok Kuwatro, were all acting ill at ease and fidgety. There was chaos in the streets, and people’s minds were consumed by worries. I remembered how it was during Lola’s wake when there were too many visitors, all dressed in yellow, coming in and out of our house. Even though they were seated before Lola’s casket, their eyes and mouths betrayed their restlessness with each chatter of ‘Revolution,’ of ‘EDSA,’ of ‘Crame.’ Some visitors arrived in the ungodly early morning hours before daybreak, and I noticed their deep exhaustion, their tired eyes. It was as if they had come from a long walk down the street or into the heart of a jungle that had no means of escape back to civilization. These people would sit in front of Lola’s casket, talk in low voices, drink cups of coffee, and nibble watermelon seeds and Marie biscuits. They would talk of how joyous it was in EDSA and that Macoy was close to being ousted. They would talk of their future plans to attack Malacañang Palace. There in the Palace, they would say, that is where this revolution is supposed to end. Nanay and Tatay took turns dealing with funeral arrangements and mingling with guests who came by to pay their last respects. Both were also dressed in yellow, and sometimes they went to EDSA to join the protests.        

While everyone milled uneasily throughout Lola’s wake and while Filipinos protested along EDSA, a massive rally that our Luzon Avenue neighbors also attended, to drive away the president from Malacañang—Aling Lilay saw this opportunity to avenge herself. This was my first glimpse into the squalid depths of Aling Lilay’s evil. How I remembered it. It was on the last day of the wake. While everyone was focused on the unfolding events in EDSA, Aling Lilay dropped by. That was when the Cardinal spoke through a radio broadcast, when he persuaded people to go to EDSA. Nobody noticed Aling Lilay taking her seat in front of the casket, picked up a cup of coffee, took pieces of Marie biscuits which she dunked into her coffee cup. The visitors at the wake, including Nanay and Tatay, were listening intently to the transistor radio inside the house.     

“The report says they were already close to Malacañang.”

“All of them? What if Macoy refused to step down? This is crazy.”

“It would be a blood bath. Macoy won’t step down.”

“Let’s go. Let’s just wait for them at Malacañang. We can wait for them there. You’ll never know. We might see Macoy in person. We have never seen the president of the Philippines in the flesh before.” 

Because I could not understand then what the grown-ups were talking about in front of the transistor radio and whatever it was that was happening in the streets of Manila and Malacañang, I left them and headed back to Lola’s casket outside the house. As I stepped out of the front door, right where the two high-wattage bulbs illuminated the casket, I saw Aling Lilay. Since I was already scared of her, and piled on top of that fear was the memory of Nanay describing to me how Aling Lilay tried to eat me as an unborn child, I was frozen in place and could only watch her from afar. 

Right then and there, I witnessed Aling Lilay’s dark powers, a terrifying sight to behold.

In a blink of an eye. That was how quickly Aling Lilay accomplished her plans for Lola’s corpse. For what seemed like a long time, Aling Lilay stood like a dead tree next to the casket. And in her hand, she dragged a huge sack filled with something that looked heavy. We remained where we stood. I stared at Aling Lilay. She, on the other hand, continued her silent scrutiny of Lola’s casket. Aling Lilay must have ‘felt’ my presence, that I was watching her. She looked back, looked straight at me. And behind her milky white hair was her face: her eyes blazed like the eyes of cats, cats that had eaten your food so you decided to hurt them with a broom and now they were out for revenge, the vengeance you could see in their eyes. Aling Lilay looked at me for a long time. She smiled and turned towards Lola’s casket again.

Until now, it was still clear in my mind how Aling Lilay stole Lola’s corpse and how she replaced my grandmother’s body with a banana stalk. In the blink of an eye. Aling Lilay moved that fast. Blink once, and I saw the open casket. Another blink, and Aling Lilay already finished slipping the banana stalk inside the casket and Lola’s body inside the sack that once contained the banana stalk. Another blink, and I opened my eyes to see my own face right in front of me. Everything was upside down, even the objects behind me. The air was thick, syrupy. I could not hear anything. It was as if my ears had been plugged up. The hair at the back of my neck stood up and there was a hammering, a strange heaviness in my chest. I paid attention to my face that appeared in front of me. It really was my face, it was me. Where was Aling Lilay? Where was I? I blinked again, and that was when I felt Aling Lilay’s hot breath on my face and surrounding me—my inverted face materializing before me, the loss of my hearing, the creeping terror—all these were the reflection of the world as seen through Aling Lilay’s eyes. When I opened my eyes again, Aling Lilay’s face was right in front of me. In her hand, she clutched one end of the sack that contained my grandmother’s dead body. Our eyes met, and I saw once again how my world appeared through her line of sight.

“Don’t be afraid of your own fears, Boyet,” she said as I felt her face right next to mine. “Macoy will never ever go away.” She smiled at her own joke. 

I screamed, and when I closed my eyes again, I could not remember anything that had happened from that moment to the time I regained consciousness. I woke up to the smell of incense. Next to my mother was Aling Monita who was using tawas to bring me back. For seven days, I was unconscious. Lola had already been buried. Driven out of Malacañang, Macoy and his family fled to another country. The people had reclaimed the Palace. Lots of things had happened and came to pass in the entire week that I was passed out and burning hot with fever. I had no chance to tell them that what they buried in Bagbag was no longer Lola’s body but a banana stalk.        


Purok Kuwatro, at last, caught a glimpse of Aling Lilay’s past. Neighbors huddled around the artesian well had to deal one day with the case of an old man asking for the whereabouts of Aling Lilay. It was as if the neighbors had been zapped from their long languid fantasizing that they missed the obvious: yes, how come nobody ever asked whether or not Aling Lilay had relatives. The old man looked about the same age as Aling Lilay. I could still remember how he arrived at our Purok and asked my mother where to find the old aswang. He wore a white T-shirt, and he lugged in his right hand an oversized black bag that probably contained his clothes. In his other hand, he carried a box that held a fighting cock. 

Mang Berto. This was the man’s name. Everyone assumed he was Aling Lilay’s husband. Some suggested they could be siblings, but that was yet to be verified. The people of Purok tried to learn exactly how Mang Berto and Aling Lilay were related, but like the hag, the old man made himself hard to find. During his first few days in Luzon Avenue, he was usually up and about outside the house and was seen mingling with the residents. Many people, of course, tried to chat him up and get him to open up about the neighborhood aswang’s past. Mang Berto’s arrival in Luzon Avenue was the trigger for the neighbors to want to learn more about Aling Lilay aside from her being an aswang and a sorceress. 

The old man represented a mystifying puzzle piece for the folks of Purok Kuwatro. It was said that when Aling Lilay first saw the old man, on that same noontime when Mang Berto arrived in Luzon Avenue, the aswang was sweeping her front yard. Aling Lilay was said to not have shown any excitement. She just smiled at him and gestured for him to come inside her house. They did not talk at all. Aling Lilay then quickly returned to sweeping her front yard. 

Like the farmers in the provinces, the old man was dark skinned and had a thin, painfully emaciated build. In those days, the image of farmers was at once recognizable to many people. News video clips of them being gunned down in the streets of Mendiola by the men of Cory, the new president in Malacañang, were repeatedly shown on TV. The farmers looked just like Mang Berto, with veins standing out against the skin of the hands and feet. I had numerous interactions with Mang Berto since he bought supplies from Nanay’s store multiple times. It was also through Mang Berto that I was able to piece together Aling Lilay’s past life, although he took pains to make such information scarce. “Don’t approach and talk to that old man, okay?” Nanay said to me. “Just imagine the kind of person who could stomach living with an aswang under the same roof.” She was right, of course. But Mang Berto was something else; he had a tenderness about him, which I noticed when he spent time in front of our store to talk to the neighbors and join them in tagay, where the same glass is passed around for use in drinking shots of alcoholic beverages. I sometimes overheard their conversation. That was how I learned they were not kin. What they had in common was Upi, their original hometown which used to be a municipality of Cotabato in southern Philippines. Mang Berto was a farmer. He was a Teduray, an indigenous group of people that mostly lived in the highlands of Upi. A Purok Kuwatro drunkard asked if Aling Lilay was also a Teduray, and Mang Berto’s only reply was to reveal that Aling Lilay was a Bisaya leader of an ‘organization’ in their town. She was a ‘kumander,’ Mang Berto stressed. Predictably, that bit about Aling Lilay, in her youth, being a commander of a certain organization in Mindanao spread like wildfire in Luzon Avenue. 

“So Aling Lilay was NPA?” 

“I have no idea. But that woman most certainly looks the part. A warrior.”

“Maybe a kumander of an aswang brigade in Mindanao!”

Since then, Aling Lilay’s past as a commander of an aswang group in Mindanao became the butt of jokes. Nobody knew the whole story behind it until the Muslim couple, Aling Mariam and Mang Abdul, arrived in Purok Kuwatro. 

The Muslim couple lived in the room directly opposite our house. Japayuki rented out the room to them. When they came to Luzon Avenue, Aling Mariam and Mang Abdul had no kids and they were already in their sixties or seventies. Japayuki, in turn, almost became a pariah in Purok Kuwatro when she agreed to lease the room to Muslims. It did not help that Japayuki used to be a prostitute in Japan and was currently a mistress of a Litex cop who made nightly visits to her place. We hated Muslims, especially our neighbors who were members of the religious group Iglesia ni Cristo. We hated Muslims because they were unruly savages who stole the land from the Iglesia ni Cristo group, the land along the side of the New Era Elementary School—this was the implacable logic, the narrative of hate that had been fed to us as children attending either Culiat Elementary School or New Era Elementary School, both of which were built next to each other. Almost all the kids in Luzon Avenue attended these schools. The kids of Iglesia ni Cristo devotees went to New Era Elementary School, while the rest of us, including myself, went to Culiat Elementary School. 

“Putang ina all of you, all tsismosas blabbing about other people’s lives! My livelihood is none of your business. You are not the ones putting food on my table!” Japayuki shouted at the crowd in front of our house, when word about Purok Kuwatro people’s displeasure with her decision to rent out a room to Muslims finally reached her. Japayuki making a scene was enough to stop the rumormongering. Nobody wanted Purok Kuwatro’s notoriously foulmouthed whore barking at her heels. 

Unrest was what described that period. There were Muslims who occupied as informal settlers, known colloquially as squatters, the vacant lot beside the New Era Elementary School, which was a property of the Iglesia ni Cristo. When the police came to displace the Muslims from their newfound home, they armed themselves and fought wildly. Our teachers in Culiat rationalized the chain of events this way: Iglesia ni Cristo members failed to drive away the Muslim settlers from the land they now occupied, and we should continue to hate Muslims because they claimed even Mindanao as their own and had the nerve to fight the government when we should all get along as Filipinos. I did witness the violent clash at New Era. As soon as the shooting between Muslims and the police began, all of us at the nearby Culiat Elementary School would get down flat on the floor—something we welcomed because it meant classes would be suspended for the rest of the day. How come those Muslims would rather stay here to take lands instead of returning to Mindanao, neighbors usually said this in anger as they fetched us home from school in those days when classes were suspended due to the shooting.

“Back home, that behavior of Muslims won’t fly,” Mang Berto said when he once agreed to join the tagay session in front of our store.

“So which part of Mindanao are you from?”  

“In Upi. Those Muslims are scared of us. They are especially scared of Aling Lilay.”

“How come they fear you? In New Era, they were all out doing shootouts against the police.”  

Because Muslims fear the aswang? I thought. I mean, I did not know anyone in Luzon Avenue who did not fear Aling Lilay, for example. 

I was not spared any of the details since I manned our little store all throughout the day. Drunkards were all there in front of the store, drinking and talking all day. Mang Berto bragged about his and Aling Lilay’s life in Mindanao. He also talked about the dark magic powers he had come to possess each time he killed Muslims.

“Did you kill a lot of Muslims, Mang Berto?” one of the drunks asked.

“A whole lot of them.”

Around the table of gin and Tanduay, the drunkards laughed. Who would have believed that this reedy-thin man, who was bent by age, could singlehandedly take on Muslims. Mang Berto, realizing he was made the butt of jokes for what everyone thought were far-out claims, stood up and collected something from the house he shared with Aling Lilay. When he returned to the table where the tagay round was still ongoing, he was holding a small bag, a packet fashioned out from muslin cloth. Inside the bag was a tiny jar. Mang Berto placed the bag in the middle of the table. The jar, he left inside the bag.

“Those were all the Muslims I killed,” he boasted. He invited them to take a peek at the contents of the bag. They lost their composure when they realized what was inside the jar. A few of them vomited when Mang Berto explained how their group in Upi ate up the very thing that was in the jar. The then-young Aling Lilay was actually their leader. “That’s my talisman,” Mang Berto added. “Muslim bullets won’t hurt me.” And that was the last time Mang Berto joined a drinking session with the Purok locals. He was shunned since then, viewed with revulsion as an aswang and a sorcerer with dark powers obtained from killing Muslims in Mindanao. 

Because our store was the only one in Purok Kuwatro, all the locals sourced their daily supplies from us. From retail-sized packs of sugar, shampoo, soap, mosquito coil to canned sardines and alcoholic drinks—Purok Kuwatro people bought all of these from us. Aling Mariam came by one day to buy a liter of kerosene for her stove. To say the least, I was uncomfortable in the company of Muslims because of the New Era skirmish that I experienced firsthand and because of the stereotypes inculcated in us by Culiat teachers and Luzon Avenue locals. Aling Mariam smiled as she handed me her payment. She also chatted me up while I measured out kerosene from a container into her bottle.

“How old are you, teng?”

“Seven, ma’am. My name is Boyet.”

“You are almost my son’s age—and he had a twin, a girl. Same as you: industrious, diligent, an early riser to help his father in the farm.”

I did not know Muslims could farm. I assumed they lived in forests where they had guns, or danced the singkil, or in seas where they sailed vintas, the likeness of which I saw in a picture in my HEKASI textbook.

“Oh, so where are your kids now?” I asked as I held out a liter of kerosene and some coins as change.

“God took them,” she said with a smile. “Giant mountain rats took them—rats the size of humans—took them from right inside the masjid in Manili.”


“Yes, from inside our church.”

“Are the giant rats aswang?”

She responded with a laugh. So Muslims could laugh; all this time I believed they were grumpy and were always scowling like the Muslim parents who waited by the gate of Culiat Elementary School. “Yes, they were aswang. They cut off and eat the ears of children they dislike—or they collected the ears in jars. You’re right, all of them are aswang.”

“The aswang are not scared of entering your church?” I could not help but ask this follow-up question to Aling Mariam.

“The aswang back home were fearless—it was only us, Muslims, who fear our God, Allah.”

Then it came to me. I remembered Mang Berto, his audacity, the small bag made of muslin cloth, the tiny jar where he stored what he called his talisman. Mang Berto would likely turn into a giant rat at the stroke of midnight, and just like Aling Lilay, he would be a source of fear for us here in Luzon Avenue. I wondered how Mang Berto ate the ears of children he killed. 

That interaction with Aling Mariam taught me that Muslims were not the unkind people that I had been made to believe. But still, since they were Muslims, Purok Kuwatro residents and the rest of the people in Luzon Avenue alienated them. Nobody cared enough to even mention to them in passing that one of their neighbors was an aswang. In fact, people at the wet market used to whisper about how Mang Abdul was consistently being friendly with Aling Lilay and that he kept buying his Marlboro from the old aswang. I felt sorry for the Muslim couple. They had no way of knowing what Aling Lilay was, because the people in Purok Kuwatro treated them as outsiders.

In those days, I walked all the way to Culiat Elementary School and then back home again when the class ended. There were times when I bumped into the Muslim couple, who appeared to have shopped at Glo-ri their canned goods and house supplies. I remembered seeing Aling Mariam lugging groceries in plastic bags stamped with Glo-ri, a supermarket in Tandang Sora. The Muslim couple were headed home to Luzon Avenue when I saw them that day. Aling Mariam hollered, gestured for me to come closer. I was still scared of old Muslim men like Mang Abdul, because they seemed to be always angry at the world. Also: there was that attention-getting black line, the length of my little finger, across Mang Abdul’s forehead; it might be a scar. Aling Mariam introduced me to her husband. She even bought me boiled peanuts from a vendor in the corner. Inside, I was debating whether or not to tell them about Aling Lilay. For one, I was hesitant because I thought Mang Abdul was the type to go berserk right away. He might gun down Aling Lilay and Mang Berto, and that would be a mess. It would cause a stir in our Purok and the whole of Luzon Avenue. Then I would be blamed for it, because I told Mang Abdul. Nanay, for sure, would spank me, and I would be hauled up to face Kapitan in his barangay office. I decided in the end not to tell them about Aling Lilay. And as the three of us walked home, we passed by Aling Lilay’s spot in Luzon Avenue. Mang Abdul cheerfully greeted Aling Lilay, who was looking at me in the eye. 

“So, you are Mariana’s son?” Aling Lilay said as she offered me a piece of Stork Menthol Candy, which I refused. I sought the safety of Aling Mariam’s backside. “How’s the tumor in your mother’s breast, Boyet?” The question sounded like Aling Lilay’s attempt to save face in front of the Muslim couple who saw my refusal to take the offered candy.                     

Speculations regarding the imperiled Mang Abdul, who repeatedly made casual contact with Aling Lilay, were well founded. Mang Abdul handed over loose change to pay for Marlboro sticks. The aswang smiled as she gave the old man the cigarettes. He should have known not to accept anything from an aswang or to give an aswang anything from his body or home—something that was common knowledge for Luzon Avenue folks. To do so was to give the aswang leverage. It gave the aswang control over you, which meant she could do things to you anytime. I really wanted to save Mang Abdul, so I could not help but shout, “No!” Aling Lilay turned to me, her eyes burning with rage. Her gaze reminded me of that time during my Lola’s wake. I trembled with fear at the memory, ran all the way home, left Aling Mariam and Mang Abdul in the gruesome company of the aswang. Aling Lilay’s vast bilao of goods resembled to me from a distance a gaping mouth that was poised to swallow the old Muslim couple. 

Mang Abdul died three days later. Nanay said there were rumors about how both of his lungs had melted. Melted or removed? That was the question for many people. Aling Lilay could just as easily have taken his lungs. That same day, Muslims came to our Purok and carried away his body. There was no funeral, no long wake. Aling Mariam spent the whole day after her husband died alone in her house, though there were a few Muslims that came by to see her. This was partly my fault. If only I was brave enough to warn them about Aling Lilay. If only I was brave enough to stop Mang Abdul from taking that cigarette stick from the aswang’s bilao.

Since then, Aling Mariam stayed in Luzon Avenue for at least a year. She rarely left the house, and sometimes it seemed as if she was not home for weeks at a time. Neighbors said that she stayed with her relatives in Taguig, although I knew fully well that she had no relatives there and had simply sequestered herself in silence inside the house. 

My final encounter with Aling Mariam, I remember, was on a day when classes were suspended because Gringo and his military buddies were fighting the Manila government. They wanted to drive Cory away from Malacañang. There was a military coup then, and it was much safer to just stay at home. We kept our store open, even as the Luzon Avenue people, all glued to their television, waited with bated breath for the possibility of another Philippine president being dragged out of Malacañang. Aling Mariam had set out to leave for good, carrying her luggage. I exited the store and approached her. The poor old woman, nobody came to fetch her. I carried her bag until we reached the tricycle station. I gathered whatever courage that was left in me, fessed up and told her everything about Aling Lilay and the truth about her husband’s death. I also told her about how Mang Berto was, without doubt, a giant rat, and that Mang Berto had a jar where he kept his talisman.     

Aling Mariam’s response surprised me. “I know, Boyet. Abdul and I knew for a long time.”

“But how—”

“A rat is a rat—and you cannot change it.”

“Are you going back to your homeland?”

“No. Abdul’s farm was long gone. The crops and farm land were overtaken by giant rats. This is really how our life is. All right, there’s the tricycle. I have to go now.”

She rode the tricycle, without saying goodbye. She did not even look back. If she did, she would have seen me crying.   


Aling Lilay’s rampage as an aswang stopped by the time I was working in an Ortigas office and she was already too feeble to keep selling things at her usual spot in the corner of Luzon Avenue. Her spot had long been replaced by a line of tricycles that traveled routes all the way to Timbang, Garcia, and North Susana—places spanning the innermost peripheries of Luzon Avenue. Mang Berto had long left Aling Lilay’s place, too. The story was: Mang Berto went home to Cotabato. “There’s already peace and order back home because Ramos already beat out Misuari,” Mang Berto was said to have uttered as he left Luzon Avenue. Aling Lilay, alone once again, was reduced to sitting all day in front of her house and watching the kids playing before her. A few times, I saw Aling Lilay walk from Tandang Sora. She had with her an oversized plastic bag, picking discarded bottles and cans, the sort of items that scrap dealers buy. Teenagers mostly ignored her, snorting and smoking shabu, a local version of crystal meth, in the wee hours of the morning when Aling Lilay had to go out to gather garbage that she could resell. 

Purok Kuwatro people woke up one morning to an astonishing sight of an SM canter truck parked in front of Aling Lilay’s house. The truck was making a delivery. I rushed outside the house and watched the men haul out a large box. They carried the box inside Aling Lilay’s house. The neighbors huddled close, open mouthed in awe at the sight of the massive color TV that Aling Lilay had bought for herself.

“I never had a TV in my whole life, and it took me a long time to save up for this,” Aling Lilay explained while the men struggled to carry the boxed-up appliance inside the house. “Now I will be able to watch Erap’s impeachment trial. I know he will be acquitted, and poor people like us will win,” she told the kids who were curiously peeking through her window and door. The parents of those kids probably never heard from their parents about Aling Lilay’s viciousness and reign of terror as Luzon Avenue’s aswang and sorceress.

Day in and day out, Aling Lilay watched television. She left her windows and door wide open, the volume dialed to full blast, and we could hear whatever it was that she was watching. As far as we could tell, there were only two shows she watched consistently: Erap Estrada’s impeachment trial and the nightly news that summarized the proceedings of the day-long impeachment trial. 

I remember the one week before Aling Lilay’s death. She wore, for seven days, a T-shirt showing Erap Estrada’s face. The T-shirt was one of those election campaign giveaways from the former movie actor turned president, the one splashed with “Erap para sa Mahirap”—Erap-for-the-poor slogan at the back. Aling Lilay wore that T-shirt for seven days straight. It endeared her to the neighbors. She also opened her house to anyone interested in watching the impeachment trial through her giant color TV. And every single day, people were inside Aling Lilay’s house to watch TV, cheering for the Philippine president they perceived to have been unfairly beleaguered, the president they believed was on the side of the poor and the masses. The Senate was already hearing the case involving the president’s large-scale corruption. 

One time, I walked past Aling Lilay. I was headed for work while she was sweeping the part of the road in front of her yard.

“Boyet,” she called out as if we were on friendly terms and had nothing in our past to justify our estrangement. Our last encounter before this was during the terrifying moment that spelled death for Mang Abdul. “Do you also want Erap to be removed?”

“Yes. Because he is a thief.” I avoided eye contact with her. But now, I felt strangely unafraid. I felt stronger. It was a wonder what time’s passing and experience could do.

“That’s what you are, all you educated, rich people. You hate us poor uneducated people. Just like in the time of Marcos, just like in EDSA.”

I almost blurted, what about that time you stole Lola’s body and switched it up with a banana stalk. But she already turned her back on me. I think she knew I was about to lash out.

Cheers erupted from Aling Lilay and the neighbors watching the impeachment trial with her as soon as the senators, who voted not to open the envelope containing the damning evidence on the President, won. That was the last day of Aling Lilay’s life. By the time neighbors came in to watch the nightly news round-up, she was already splayed on the floor, eyes wide open and dead.  

What happened during Aling Lilay’s wake and the days that followed it were all still vivid in my mind. There were always too many people, day or night. Her distant relatives from Upi and Cotabato came by. Mang Berto, however, did not show up. Luzon Avenue people were looking forward to seeing him again. Mang Berto did not show up because the second EDSA revolution was ongoing to oust the president of the Philippines that the Senate body was powerless to remove, the president who promised to eradicate poverty and give the masses a better life—a reenactment of his quintessential storied role in movies. While the second EDSA revolution was being fought in the streets, the people of Luzon Avenue held a vigil day and night for Aling Lilay’s wake. No one switched on the radio, no one watched TV. The media, for these people, was unreasonably cruel to the president, demonizing Erap in every manner of reportage. The media was owned by the rich and educated, the neighbors would say. They wanted a president who was one of them, who came from the ranks of the rich and educated. And from the ranks of intelligent people, the likes of UP students like Abner who scoffed at people’s observations of himself—a headless figure walking the stretch of Luzon Avenue. A whip-smart president fluent in English when speaking before the camera. And so by the time the EDSA protesters decided for the second time in history to enter Malacañang and forcibly remove the president of the Philippines, the residents of Luzon Avenue was somewhere else—lining up behind a funeral hearse carrying Aling Lilay’s remains, a funeral hearse headed for Bagbag, a path that led away from EDSA and Malacañang. The grieving residents of Luzon Avenue were marching behind the remains of the great aswang and sorceress. 

But this was not the end of the hag’s story.

When the casket bearing her remains was rolled out from the carriage to the tomb, it was said to have been uncharacteristically light for the weight of a human body. So, before they inserted the casket in the complex of tombs piled on top of each other, the mourners just had to check on the cause of the strange loss of weight. They had no choice but to open the casket. And when they did, all they found was a banana stalk. The older folks, who had known Aling Lilay for a long time, mouthed off profanities in their anger at somehow being duped by an aswang who chose to leave this way without saying goodbye. Sly woman, they would say. I was not there when she was buried. All of these I just pieced together from the stories that were shared to me. I was also not in EDSA. I was working that day, in the office in Ortigas. For who would, in this modern age, believe that an aswang could die and would allow herself to be laid to rest.     

“Aling Lilay of Luzon Avenue” by Rogelio Braga (trans. Kristine Ong Muslim) will appear in Lagunlón: Anthology of 21st Century Filipino Crime and Mystery Fiction (forthcoming from Running Wild Press).


Rogelio Braga is an exiled playwright, novelist, essayist, publisher, and human rights activist from the Philippines. They had published two novels, a collection of short stories, and a book of plays before leaving the Philippine archipelago in 2018. Braga was a fellow of the Asian Cultural Council in New York for theatre in South East Asia in 2016. Their story collection, Is There Rush Hour in a Third World Country? (translated by Kristine Ong Muslim), will be released in December by the South London radical press, the 87Press. Miss Philippines (New Earth Theatre), their first play written in English, was recently awarded by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain under the New Play Commission Scheme. Braga currently lives and writes in London as a refugee under the Convention. 

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, including The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017), Meditations of a Beast (Cornerstone Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), and Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015). She co-edited the British Fantasy Award-winning anthology People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! (2016), Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy, 2021), and several forthcoming anthologies. She is also the translator of numerous books by Filipino authors Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, Marlon Hacla, and Rogelio Braga. Widely anthologized, Muslim’s short stories were published in Conjunctions, Literary Hub, and World Literature Today, and translated into six languages. She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines. 




Michael Carlo C. Villas translates Reynel Ignacio


Translated from Waray

With your knowledge, you will part the lands
your parents and ancestors left you.
Here is where you will drive into the ground
the fence of your principles—your side, their side.

For everything to fit squarely,
every obstruction shall be felled
including the mango tree
where you once carved your names.

Each of you will build a palace
in its place. But secure your foundation
or canopies of trees will encroach
on land not yours. For land titles
will be spread out like a mat.
And laws will cover your eyes
until you are blind to each other’s faces
so that even the mind will fear
remembrance of things past—
times when you were carefree,
running freely on open grounds.

Tracts of land are why you made it up
in life. So that even in your last breath,
you held onto your titles, having forgotten
that the earth you so treasured
is the same earth that is your grave.

Meanwhile, as your blood thins,
you wait for who will be buried
next under the earth
that none of you will ever claim.



Translated from Waray

I still watch the dusk like we used to.
For us both, light of sundown is a blessing,
glimmering on the seas. At ebb tide,
I would write with my finger
your name on the sand. And at spring tide,
waves murmur the name it washes away,
name I traced with my finger, hoping
you would video-call, call, or message.
But waves have the habit of crashing, thrashing
to rocks this longing only to be grown
over with moss. Forgotten.

Now, my eyes grow heavy from salt
in the wind. Against the glare,
my eyes long for the cool shade of your face.
Perhaps this is why I allow the night to keep me
company—the cold, dark embrace
of sea and moon: No one knows when
the two will meet again, but their vows remain,
be it low or high water. True, we measure
our waiting with full moons.
And though the sun will never rise,
                               I will write your name on the sand
                                             over and over
                                                              the foam
                                               its reach
to erase
                   made obsolete.

*Acronym for long-distance relationship


Reynel M. Ignacio is a member of Katig Writers Network, Inc. He was a writing fellow for poetry at the Lamiraw Creative Writing Workshop (2008), UP VisWrite Workshop (2012), and Iligan National Writers Workshop (2017). For his poetry, he received the Jimmy Y. Balacuit Award, Chito Roño Literary Award, and Gawad Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino.

Michael Carlo C. Villas teaches language and literature at the Department of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences, Visayas State University. He has published in journals and anthologies, notably Our Memory of Water: Words After Haiyan (Ateneo de Naga University Press, 2016), Sustaining the Archipelago: Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2017), and Reading the Regions: Teaching Philippine Literature from Multi-Perspectives (National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2019). He co-edited the forthcoming anthology, Garab: Hinugpong hin mga Susumaton ha Waray (Garab: Anthology of Short Stories in Waray, Balangiga Press).




John Bengan translates R. Joseph Dazo


Translated from Cebuano

I hold firmly the books I’ve bought from Booksale while riding a jeep on the way back to the apartment where my mother and I are staying. The vehicles along the length of Mango Avenue move in a sluggish pace. The passengers quietly listen to the sound of heavy rain and the jeep’s rumbling engine. Most of them have dozed off to its lullaby. I peer outside and see the road wrapped as if in a cape of anguish. The rain shows no sign of letting up, and it has put the world to sleep. 

The passing moments are spent watching the closing and opening of the passengers’ eyes. I ask myself how many dreams have died at the waking of their eyes, and how many came to life each time they shut them again.  

Is closing one’s eyes also a form of opening? 

A young man, perhaps my age, is the only other passenger left awake inside the jeep. He’s in front of me. His eyes are on me. I’m not so sure. Maybe he’s looking at the older man distinguished by his tattoos. Perhaps, he’s staring at the woman carrying her white cat. As the jeep we’re on drive off, our eyes meet. Five or six times maybe. I’m not able to count. 

When he holds out his fare, his fingers are like fireflies taking shelter in my palm. “Salamat,” he adds and the fireflies flit away from my hand. This, my palm, he could very well live in it. “Lugar lang,” he says then clinks a peso coin on the metal railing. He wakes those who are sleeping, along with the feeling I want to put to rest for eternity.     

Our eyes meet, for the last time, and he allows himself to be swallowed by the rain. 

Dawn. What I always see in my room: three cups of coffee—two emptied and one half full, until it grew cold—on the table. “You’re not going to sleep yet?” Nanay says when she sees me still awake at dawn. “You have class later.” For seven months, I’ve tried not to sleep. I read novels, check if I have messages on my phone, drink coffee, write a poem then crumpling it after, do homework, meditate and jerk off (or meditate while jerking off).

I look out at the world outside. It’s still raining. The first of the year. At the trickling of rainwater on the closed windows, the young man inside the jeep still hasn’t left my mind. I should have looked at his ID so I would have known his name and added him on Facebook.  

I get up and watch the shadows of people tramping in the rain and embraced by the despondent glow of streetlamps, and coldness. But the lights from the tall buildings rage as if at the darkness of the world. My eyes also want to surrender to sleep. However, isn’t sleep another way of wasting life?    

How could we allow ourselves in this vast universe to sleep without being loved? 


R. Joseph Dazo is the author of Ubang Gabii sa Mango Avenue (Kasingkasing Press, 2019), and co-editor of an anthology of queer literature in Binisaya, Libulan Binisayang Antolohiya sa Katitikang Queer (Cratos, 2018). He has won the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for his short fiction. His short fiction has been published in Bisaya, Words Without Borders, New Reader Magazine, and the forthcoming Lamyos New LGBTQ Fiction from the Philippines (University of the Philippines Press). He is the founding editor of Katitikan: Literary Journal of the Philippine South. His second collection of short fiction is forthcoming.

John Bengan teaches writing and literature at the University of the Philippines in Mindanao. His stories have appeared in Likhaan, Kritika Kultura, Asian Cha, and BooksActually’s Gold Standard, an anthology of Asian fiction from Math Paper Press. His translations of Elizabeth Joy Serrano-Quijano’s fiction have appeared in Words Without Borders, LIT, ANMLY, World Literature Today, and Shenandoah. He co-edited the anthology Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy, 2021).




Kristine Ong Muslim translates Mai Santillan


Translated from Cebuano

I walked along Cogon
(where god forbid up until now
had no proper pedestrian lane)
and someone hissed at me.

I did not mind them
but it hit a nerve when he said

“Hey, fatso, how come you’re sexy?”

I was wearing—a bodyfit dress.
I knew my figure was on the heavy side.
I’m just tired of sucking it in.

But I had nothing to say.
I was caught off-guard. 


In his eyes,
my hips were too broad.
In his eyes,
my arms were flabby and graceless.
In his eyes,
my breasts were up for grabs.
In his eyes, I’m a meal.
Nevermind being greasy. 

I am so tired of watching myself
through other people’s eyes.

So what if I am fat?

Isn’t there more of me to love?



Translated from Cebuano

Look at the wall.
The drawings you made
as a child that had long ago been erased
snatched away in a flash by the storm
without any of us knowing.

Our shoes and slippers,
vinyl records and cassettes,
aluminum pots and the stove,
all swept away into god knows where.

We now need
to wrap the drinking glasses in newspaper
and fold the remaining clothes
before placing them in cardboard boxes.

Let go of the memories
that shake up our evacuation plans.
This is only temporary. Just stick this out
since, in any case, whenever we grow restless,
there will still be home for you with me.


Mai Santillan is a spoken word artist, poet, and playwright born and raised in Cagayan de Oro City. She was a fellow at the Sterelogues Playwriting Workshop in 2012, the Sulat-Dula Mindanao Playwriting Workshop in 2013, and the Davao Writers Workshop in 2014. Her writings have appeared in the Dagmay Literary Journal, the Kabisdak Cebuano Literary Lighthouse, the Manila Bulletin’s Bisaya Magasin, and the Carayan Journal. In 2018, Bulawan Books published her chapbook, Gikan sa Babayeng Bilbilon: Mga Balak. Tinubdan: New Voices from Northern Mindanao also includes a selection of her works.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of nine books of fiction and poetry, including The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017), Black Arcadia (University of the Philippines Press, 2017), Meditations of a Beast (Cornerstone Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), and Lifeboat (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015). She co-edited the British Fantasy Award-winning anthology People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! (2016), Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines (Gaudy Boy, 2021), and several forthcoming anthologies. She is also the translator of numerous books by Filipino authors Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, Marlon Hacla, and Rogelio Braga. Widely anthologized, Muslim’s short stories were published in Conjunctions, Literary Hub, and World Literature Today, and translated into six languages. She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.