April 14, 2019
ESTEEMED essayist Conrado de Quiros once described the Philippines as a “magic-realist” country, where the fantastical and supernatural — or any logic-defying occurrence — are often treated as real and natural.
No other place probably proves this more than Bicol, where de Quiros grew up. Outsiders may know of Bicol as home to Mount Mayon and Our Lady of Peñafrancia, but this enthralling region in the southern part of Luzon is more than what it presents. It is rich in stories that are both ordinary and extraordinary, in their content and in their telling.
Two writers from that region, anthropologist and film critic Tito Genova Valiente and former Manila Times literary editor Elmer A. Ordoñez, tell some of these little-known stories in handsome books that were launched at National Artist for Literature F. Sionil José’s famed Solidaridad bookshop in Ermita, Manila, on March 30.
Valiente said his latest book, The Last Sacristan Mayor and the Most Expensive Mass for the Dead: Tales from Ticao, began “as an attempt to do an ethnography of Ticao island” in his native Masbate province, partly in response to criticisms about his publisher mostly producing books of poetry.
The work, according to him, soon evolved into a collection of the stories he had heard as a boy, ultimately disregarding the classifications he used — “this is real, this is fantastic, this is natural, this is supernatural” — while writing them.
On the title story, Valiente said it was “actually about my real great-grandfather, who was a sakristan mayor (head sacristan) and who served the church. [When] he died, my lola (grandmother) said they thought the priest or the church would give him a special ceremony because he [had] served the simbahan (church).”
But “the priest charged a fee for the funeral Mass,” he added. “So, in a sense, that was the most expensive Mass for the dead in the world, because it was a Mass that smacked of hypocrisy at kakulangan ng utang ng loob (lack of debt of gratitude).”
For his part, Ordoñez said his newest book, The Saga of the Fugitive Indio Priest: A Novella, is “a fictionalized rendering of an authentic story of Don Lino Alindogan, who studied for the priesthood in Nueva Caceres Seminary in Naga, Camarines Sur, and served as a coadjutor in a parish church in Masbate until he was accused wrongly by the head priest, an Augustinian friar, of theft of church funds.”
“Lino’s escape from the clutches of the guardia civil, settling down and becoming a member of the landed gentry in the town of Juban is the main thread of this story,” he added.
The author noted that “there are at least two Alindogan clans: one in San Fernando, Ticao, where the patriarch, Pablo Alindogan of Arevalo, Iloilo, settled in San Fernando after escaping arrest for his participation in the Dagohoy revolt in the Visayas; and the other in Juban, Sorsogon, started later by a fugitive indio priest.”
That revolt, which began after a Jesuit refused to give a Christian burial to Boholano village chief Francisco Dagohoy’s brother Sagarino in 1744, was the longest staged against Spanish colonial rule in Philippine history. It lasted for at least eight decades.
Both Tales from Ticao and Fugitive Indio Priest are published by the Ateneo de Naga University (AdNU) Press, the leading publisher of regional literature in the country. Established in 2005, AdNU Press aims to be the premier resource of Bikol studies in the world.
A number of its titles have won awards, the latest of which are the poetry collections Mga Sugat na Naligaw sa Gubat by Emmanuel Q. Velasco and Running with Ghosts by Merlie M. Alunan at the 37th National Book Awards in November.
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