Alamon: The personal and political

IN A strange but nevertheless happy turn of events, not one, but two books that represent the product of my intellectual labor for the past couple of years came out of the press this month. This week, they are launched together in both Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. It is a harvest that was awaited eagerly but took a long time coming.

The first book, whose manuscript was submitted to the University of the Philippines Press three years ago, merits its own narrative. I was clueless on the amount of rigorous screening at various stages a submission goes through before it gets the green light and gets published. But now I recognize that integrated into the whole process is a long vetting procedure.

I still cringe at that idea that anonymous eyes scrutinized my works and weighed them according to standards that I know are contestable. But I also recognize that the impulse to scoff at potential critics without even letting them do their critiquing in the first place is being cowardly masking these as belligerence. When the printed manuscript is returned to you with frickin’ line marked as grammatically wrong or unclear, the humbling process occurs to such a degree that you would like to hide under the nearest rock for your bad writing habits.

When one writes, there is a part of you that wishes that the ideas, feelings, and thoughts, which all come together to complete the piece stay with you. Because in the process of chiseling them into a coherent set of words, they have become familiar and become like friends who you wish stayed. I actually derive comfort from the anonymity of a mass audience who, as of yet, may not have the linguistic ability to consume my kind of writing.

That is why getting published in a mainstream university press evoke mixed feelings. Does it mean that these ideas according to various academic editors have an audience or merits one? What does that even mean? That what I thought to be cutting edge ideas may not have been that subversive or crazy after all? You know writers are crazy but yes they are bonkers and much more.

This is the character of the first book – at times very personal, and yet at every turn also crazy hysterical, righteous and angry. The essays bear this range of extreme feelings and they represent the thoughts of a grown man nearing his 40s who had muttered stuff to himself for far too long.

When he was finally given the platform to vent through a newspaper column, all these pent up ideas and emotions came gushing out like diarrhea. The evidences for these are now splattered in a 311-paged tome that is very heavy, inside, are the 200 essays printed with a diminutive font, perhaps to save on production costs. The book cover designer, esteemed artist Karl Castro, captures the anarchic character of the essays with his rendition of what appears to be an exploding map of Mindanao as a blackened heart.

The second volume is the exact opposite. It is deliberate and cool with an attempt to trace a clear historical and theoretical program. It is the output of a commissioned research work but undertaken without any kind of professional fee, just driven by the voluntary spirit to come to the defense of Lumad rights.

If there is an impulse with the first book to keep the thoughts and feelings from the prying eyes of a cruel critic, the second book has the opposite compulsion. It is overtly political and thus, seeks an audience all the time wishing to herd readers towards the side of the exploited and oppressed Lumads of Mindanao.

The psychosis of the first book is all my own. But the deliberate work of messaging for the second book is shared with book designer Karl Castro who sourced and chose all the photos. The marriage of text and photos was his idea and it has resulted in amplifying the powerful message of the book.

It is a unique book in this sense - a collector’s item, I believe, and a historical document of this period, when indigenous peoples have come this far in defense of their ancestral ways and territories.

In the first days of their “birth”, out from the presses, I could not make up my mind about which of the two I liked better. I resolved the dilemma by looking at both as album releases. The first one can be likened to a raw but promising debut album while the second one was a deliberate and methodical sophomore release. They represent the personal and political sides of the same coin – which is me, a writer in Mindanao.

Join us at the Panalipod sa Lumad ug sa Katawhan/In Defense of the Lumad and People: A Book Launching where the two books “Nation in Our Hearts” and “Wars of Extinction” will be launched at the XU Little Theatre, Cagayan de Oro.