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By Ronet Santos

they have never been able
to resist the innate predilection
for the sultry feel of aquatic gust
against their glittery scales.

this mass of estuarine creatures
dart like silver jets
towards the orgasmic rush
of high tide that squeezed
through the wooden planks
of a concrete sluice gate.

which makes it a lot easier
to trap and scoop them from
the catching pond.

whereupon in a few hours
after rigor mortis has set in
aided by crushed blocks of ice
from the plant in town
they will be offered
to the altar of commerce.

where they will end up
in the table of the consumer,
who is always right,
as pinirito, inihaw, kinilaw
or sinigang sa miso.





By Ronet Santos


they always fall

for the pungent pull

of prurient smells

emanating from

decaying viscera

that serve as bait hidden

within a miniature corral

made of bamboo slats.


they creep towards the trap

like predators of innocent souls

until the wooden bow snaps

indicating that the reptile

has been ensnared.


again one has succumbed

to temptation, the nylon nooze

tigthening around the animal's neck

as it struggles to break free.


another one will get skinned

and end up as pulutan

for according to

the island’s diehard gin drinkers

its flesh tastes better

than chicken meat.






By Ronet Santos


Another deft flick

Of the wrist, following by

The swing of the arm

And the baited hook

And weight made of lead

Tied to translucent nylon

Dropped on the blue vastness

Creating ripples

Before descending

On the underwater garden.


A few tugs and pulls

Prompted by the feel of a bite

Prodded his heart to jump

With anticipation.

But there was not

Even a small parangan

At the end of the line.

And he was dreaming of

Catching a mangagat


The scene was repeated

Several times

Until the tired sun

Decided to call it a day

And hid to sleep behind

The hills on the island of Ilin.


Tonight, the staple

Will have to be content

With rock salt

Or kapeng bigas

As partner

On the dinner table.






By Ronet Santos


A goat nibbles on a blade of grass

Inside a corral surrounded on three sides

By the ruins of pre-colonial slabs of granite.

A tree with gnarled branches serves as shade

That protects the animal from the heat of the sun.

What was once a majestic fort

That overlooked Mangarin Bay

Was reduced to a pen for livestock.


The fort once stood on the very edge

Of the bay and served as watchtower

From where a guard would alert

Villagers against pirate attacks.

The bay served as harbour

For sailing ships that propelled

Commerce among peoples in lands

That were part of Southeast Asian waters.


More than three hundred years of siltation

Along the Palanghiran River

Claimed several hectares of the bay

That was then invaded by mangroves

And later cleared for the construction of fishponds.

The fort therefore now looks

As if it were located inland.


I fixed my eyes directly on those of the goat’s,

Trying to discern how it feels to be living

In this historical place before it gets slaughtered.

It stared back and bleated a few "meh, meh, meh"

As if telling me "Like ice, memory melts,

Under the heat of the rush to survive

And suddenly we are left with nothing."


kahapon, bukas, kanina, noon 
at bukas makalawa
By Roger Calaranan

kahapon may sumigaw ng saklolo
bawat daing ramdam mo na may dumudugo
nakikiusap sa mga matang nakapikit sa paligid
tengang tila walang naririnig at isipang manhid
bukas muling uulit sa hinagpis na paulit-ulit
pustahan tayo pare muling uuwing yagit
lahat ng nakausap isa lang ang sinasambit
bumalik ka bukas baka sakaling 
may maaprub sa budget na sinabing maliit
sino ba nag may sakit? ano ba ang nakapinid?
sino ba ang ganid? magkano ang isinisilid?
ilan ang nabibigyan? sinu-sino ang nasasayaran?
sa dami ng naghahatian. ...sila-sila magkakalaban!

kanina may narinig sa ere 
paglipat sa kabila iba rin ang sinasabi
ano ba talaga nangyayari 
at ano ga ang sinasabi ng mga ire?
anak ng pating! kredebilidad naman pala 
ay nabibili...
noong nakaraang linggo humingi ng saklolo
humihiling na sana ay tulungan 
ni makadiyos at makatao
sapagkat dating kasama siya daw ay ginago
pagkalipas ng ilang buwan tumulong daw 
sa kanya ay trapo..tsk.. tsk..tsk. .
sementadong kalsada...
sana hindi sa kanya-kanyang radyo
ospital na maayos at hindi empleyadong 
dinaan sa braso
silid aralan na buo kapalit ng pangalan 
na sa bubong ng eskwelahan nakatatto o
imburnal na maayos sa bibig na amoy kanal
usaping pangkalusugan, gamot 
sa ambulansyang walang laman 
gamit pangmedikal
tamang sweldo sa empleyadong 
tatlong buwang pagal
pasilidad pangkabataan 
sigaw sa pro-kabataang konsehal...
patas na hustisya hindi halagang singkwenta..
bukas makalawa ikaw din ang bibigkas ng...puny#ta!



white on black

By Ronet Santos


white peebles bounce
the glare of the midday sun
right smack on our faces
forcing a collective squint.


beach sand whiter
than the pale skin
of its visitors
dominate the landscape
of this speck of land
in the middle of the ocean
between ilin
and pandurucan


a few hours later
the hue of the profile
of the mountains
on the main island
in the distance
starts transforming
slowly from green
to gray and finally


as the night
engulfs us
and everything around us
in darkness
to reveal
the secrets of
a pregnant moon.




By Ronet Santos


they frolicked
in neck-deep waters
along the beach of sinaoga,
flawless-skinned bakasyonistas
daughters of absentee landlords
wearing bathing suits that to us
showed a lot of skin.


we, sun-battered
adolescent heirs
of fishpond workers,
watched them
from a safe distance
like how fans of movie stars
ogle their idols.


they waved at us
to join them.


the idea of diving
into the water and showing them
how good we were at swimming
felt so seductive.


but we didn't budge
from under the shadow
of an old aroma tree.
we just sat there
and watched them,
nursing a gnawing anxiety
that to them
we could only be
disposable play buddies,
never real friends.





1 ride home

By Toby Camandang

480 minutes of pushing paper,
the `89 Civic still ready to ride.
Highway 101 must be crazy by now,
california's going home to their wives.

Forget the live prime time "IDOL"
Reruns are the story of our lives.
Gas pumps will soon own our souls,
We feed the arab pigs tonight,

The FM help but wash our brains,
With western tricks and pop-allures,
The neon signs they hypnotize,
2 hours of advertising pimps and whores,

I wonder what the next guy think?
As I took the 605 North.
A warm meal, maybe a bath, a drink?
Or just this drive then he drives some more.

I hope we drive to reach a goal
That we find our exits in the dark.
That our strengths recharge again,
At least for revenge's next flight.

I hope we drive to reach our home
A place to park our thrills and fears,
Where we don't need the brakes to stop.
Where we don't need our hearts to steer.



Ambulong in my mind

By Ronet Santos


Rays of the sun kissing
White sand, creating
A mirage of stardust
In midmorning.


Gentle waves lapping
On live rocks, reminding
Visitors of the fragility of this place.


Seaweeeds squeezing
Themselves in this productive
Ecosystem, providing
Sustenance to both marine
And terrestrial souls.


Three stripe damsels performing
A wiggly act for the snorkel-clad
Visitors from the mainland, making
Them smile from ear to ear.


Food fishes scampering
Away, perhaps thinking
The visitors are out to catch them.


Soft corals swaying
To the beat of the undercurrent, proclaiming
To the marine world
That they are satisfied
Where they are.


Clownfish scratching
It’s sides against the anemone’s
Soft bristles, assuring
The fish of protection
From predators.


Locals wondering
Why these visitors took pains in drinking
Their beers in isolated splendor
With too much finger food.


My lips cracking
A smile, appreciating
A beauty that has been taken for granted
For a long, long time.






Devil's Mountain

By Ronet Santos

i could almost smell corruption
waft out of crevices like
slithering snakes driven out
of interstices by pounding rain.

i could almost sense
the pungent odor of sin
sticking like indelible ink
in cavernous havens
where red-eyed bats
hang upside down at day time.

i could almost see
the dark brown color of death
engulf the full measure
of a serrated profile.

and at night during a full moon,
i could almost hear
all sorts of creepy noises
emanate from the bosom
of this malevolent lair.

i silently asked myself:
how many criminals
have taken refuge
in the safety of its weirdness
as they flee from the claws
of stability and order?

images of hell conjure
in my head instilling fear.

and then the tourist
standing beside me
who was also looking
at the sight with his binocs
had this mischievous grin
on his face and told me he finds
this place quite attractive.



   Devil's Mountain, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, Philippines




Exchange gifts

By Ronet Santos

It was Christmas time last year,
When she knocked on the iron gate
Of my parent's house
In this land of the dwarf buffalo;
Where the tribe to which this woman
Belongs claims to be
The first inhabitants.

She was asking for old clothes
Or any pamasko that we could
Give her.

I then gave this gritty woman,
With splayed feet and crooked hands
From too much walking
And tending the swiddens,
A few old T-shirts and short pants
Which she placed inside a backpack
Made of buri that hang
On her stiff head.

When she bid goodbye
With a curt "Salamat po,"
I joked that I hope she comes back
Next year and it will be her turn
To bring any pamasko for me
From the mountains where she lives.

Then I already forgot about her.
In the same way that we easily forget
Insignificant matters of the past.

And now there she is again
In front of the iron gate
Of my parent's humble abode
Carrying a bagful of gabi tubers -
Fresh from her very own posisyon,
She said, on the slope of the mountain
Near Bato Ili not far from the banks
Of the Busuanga River.

She said she brought these in exchange
For the old T-shirts and short pants
That I gave her for Christmas last year.






By Ronet Santos 

A rough ten peso coin is all she had

in the pocket of a tattered duster

that mirrored her miserable life,

as she weaved her way through

dilapidated shacks towards the sari-sari store

to buy anything affordable that can assuage

the pain felt by five young, hungry mouths

whose only dream in life are to eat

three times a day and watch action flicks

from a neighbor’s television set. 


What could she buy with this

remaining piece of silver from the loan

that she got from the family

she washes clothes for?


Before crossing the street

she wished the few tricycles that darted past

in front of her meet with a flat tire 

so that her husband who tends

a makeshift vulcanizing shop

by the roadside can fix these

and get another ten pesos

that could inflate their sagging resolve

to survive the day.


She also murmured a quick prayer

that the palay she helped plant

in San Carlos last June

when the rains started flooding the fields

ripen soon so that she can join in the harvest

and get her share of the produce

that could tide them over for a few months

until the next cropping season.


But at that moment, all she could do

was buy a ten-peso worth

of cheap sweet bread to arrest

the brewing revolution in their stomachs

and the boiling unrest in their heads.






On the Iglit Ranges, somewhere

By Ronet Santos


In the middle of this vast sanctuary,

I can sense a pair of dwarf buffaloes

Pacing furtively, somewhere

Between the thick bushes

And the verdant trees.


They are among the last remaining thread

That precariously connects their kind

To the ball of existence.


Shy like the gentle tribes people,

With whom they share

This immense haven of safety,

They have lost their attachment

To place, and have nowhere to go

As the shadow of civilization

Advances further upland.


They also share this refuge

With armed militants

Who cling to what some see

As a nearly extinct ideology.

The enemies of imperialism,

Feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism

Have somehow protected them

From marauding collectors

Of stuffed trophies.


The pair has hidden from us

All that’s left for us to see

Are its tracks and the mound

Of dried dung.

A reminder that the

Beasts of beauty

Are still there.





Susong Dalaga
by Ronet Santos

You were pure and untouched
When I first met you during a time
When carnal desires laid dormant
In a world that was and still is committed
To vows of obedience, poverty
And most of all, chastity.

Your twin peaks that stood erect
Dominated the panorama in my consciousness
As I started to unravel the mysteries
And discover the pleasures
Derived from the communion
With bushy forests and moist crevices
That broke the shell of my virgin soul.

When I first experienced the wet
Delight of diving into unknown depths
Virile hunters of dainty life forms
Have already sucked the spirit
Out of the tenderness of your mounds
That left a stain of blood red
In the white sheet of my dreams.

Which made me cry in anguish
And pray that someday
Your scars would heal
And I wished foolishly
That you will become fresh
And immaculate again.






First contact 

By Ronet Santos


A mother and child perched on the back of a carabao

That pulled a sled full of provisions, more than enough

To supply a village feast, brought us in contact with

A persistent culture that refuses to die.  

A society that has no concept of private property,

Nor war. A people that would rather flee to the uplands

Than contest its stake on a piece of land that has

Nurtured its children for several generations.  

Images of Tao-buhid children white-water rafting

Lying face down on peeled banana trunks

Were recorded in our digital cameras. A pair

Of binoculars etched in our memories a lawin in flight.   

They slept on stones by the river bank; with only

Twigs and leaves and the dying embers of the bonfire

To protect them from the cold and the pesky mosquitoes.

While we slept in our tents, smelling of Off lotion.  

We ate our food, taking individual servings.

While their elder

Apportioned food equally in banana stalks to ensure that

Every single member of their community will have a fill,

Which is the way of true-blue hunter-gatherers.  

We sang songs written by other people. While they chanted

Ambahans that came from the heart; in appreciation

For this unusual visit from damuongs who chose

To spend New Year’s eve with them.  

The garbage that we left, they turned into something useful.

Even torn plastic bags metamorphosed into a strong cord.

They were profuse in their gratitude. But we felt

We benefited more from the encounter.