Maligayang #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy. Also, #EndRapeCulture.

It’s supposed to be an engaging and fun #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy

The month of August marks the #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy or Month of Filipino Works, an online campaign spearheaded by the award-winning novelist and poet Edgar Calabia Samar. It’s my time to snoop around his Twitter account and the hashtag to discover promising literature and celebrate the virtue of creation in spite of the unspeakable clownery of Philippine politics. It’s also when I dismantle my already dismantled reading list to accommodate Filipino writers.

But if there’s one thing that has shuddered the writing community at the opening of the month and at the end of mercury retrograde, it’s the shameful rape incident involving a fellow from Iligan National Writers Workshop and a panelist; the accommodation of a sexual predator on a film production; and the lewd sexual harassment perpetrated by a poet/former instructor from Davao City.

I found out about the cases last night as I was en route to General Santos City. Davao writer Angely Chi took to Twitter her disgust on these cases that apparently were swept under the rug, except for University of the Philippines – Mindanao’s Office of Gender and Anti-Sexual Harassment which had moved to address the issue.

Upon reading the thread of tweets, I honestly set it aside, because I had no way of knowing who these people are. I am not a major writer who knows everybody, especially those in the workshop community.

Then one Twitter user sent me a direct message to ask me if I know these men Ms. Chi was referring to. His curiosity/concern prompted me to call bullshit. This is rape. This is sexual harassment that will change one writer/student’s life forever. It’s the community where I myself, a young writer, am directly or indirectly thriving in.

It has come to my attention that the attachment I have to the incident is getting thinner as the plot thickens. It breaks my heart that: 1. the fellow raped is friend of a friend; 2. the Iligan key speaker and panelist referred to is a Facebook friend; 3. he writes science news that my friend reads; 4. the former instructor/poet was my panelist whom I felt was fond of my essay deliberated in one workshop in 2016; 5. I saw him once passing by the terminal while I waited, and being a former fanboy, I waved at him although his eyes spoke like a Jhumpa Lahiri short story. These unfortunate events speak of macho-feudal setup we must never gloss over, and what we writers can never do is stay silent.

Are rape and consent too difficult to understand that writing institutions fall deaf to the reality?

I’m worried for the younger, impressionable writers who believe that writers workshop is the key to hone their writing passion. Creative writing would be amiss without talking about writers workshops, and the badge they have fashioned has attracted most writers. I bet you have read this type of bionote: “So-and-so is a poet and a fellow of a so-and-so writers workshop.” I’m one of them.

Many literary critics have dared to write institutional critiques over workshops for gatekeeping and perpetuating exclusionary mechanisms. Conchitina Cruz, in The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer, examined Silliman Workshop. According to her, “The lack of institutional self-critique authorized by this conflation results in the propagation by the Silliman Workshop of colonialist and classist ideas about language and literary production, which are camouflaged, if not naturalized, as principles and mechanisms integral to the craft of writing.”

Activist and playwright Rogelio Braga called out the Philippine literary ‘mafia’ as purveyors of the cultish mentorship that creates stratification between the established and the unknown, the Manila writers and the periphery, and so on. Literary establishments such as workshops and award-giving bodies are guilty of all of this.

Lakan Umali, instructor of UP-Mindanao, uploaded on Twitter some of the insults from the National Artist Jose Garcia Villa as compiled by Conchitina Cruz. For sure, these abrasive catchphrases are still carried in creative writing classes and workshops: indeed the CHEAPEST thing imaginable; impossible to read with a straight face; non-artists; lines that go Pffft; the Olympus of the Dumb; these little artists; this slaughter of English; the dry orgasm of the Philippines; the foreskin of Philippine literature; and so on. Choose one that goes for the jugular, stare at yourself at the mirror, and say the insult thirteen times with a candle. Gordon Ramsay has got nothing on him, because at least Ramsay’s shit-talk was staged.

The myth of literary rite of passage and literary cliques through workshops is not for the faint of heart. Sexual harassments and rape in writers workshops: nobody deserves it.

Perhaps the tweets and private messages can never piece a sufficient narrative for me to judge this. I am not also a popular writer, but being a small-time writer makes me more susceptible to the effects of this macho-feudal writing community.

Of course, I am not generalizing all workshops. With the two workshops I attended, it never occurred to our batch these problems. Maybe I am speaking with privilege in my bag, as I entered the workshops with experiences of being evaluated by critical but nurturing writers (in other words, I’m thick-skinned). As to any sexual advances, my batch has a strong bond that I thought we were guarding each other from the hurt and perils. Then again, not all workshops are the same.

There are many writers here in our region who aspire to belong in this pre-selected apprenticeship. How am I going to encourage him or her to join one if I’m afraid of what will happen during the sessions and during drunken nights?

More questions to provoke you:

Are rape and consent too difficult to understand that writing institutions fall deaf to the reality?

How can we manage to celebrate #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy, considering that the abominable can of worms is (finally) open?

When do we start creating safe spaces for young writers to develop their craft without worrying about their sanity?

How do we make the writing community healthier, where we can actually write back and criticize without fear of retribution?

How do we become relevant in nation-building if we maintain patriarchy, fascism, and feudalism?

Is there a way we can have a compromise to retain good traditions on workshops and advocate for inclusion, especially for those writing at the margins?

Well, perhaps #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy and the rape culture occurring in the writing communities are separate entities. Maybe it’s much of a stretch, with the positivist aura the hashtag is bringing in compared to the mafia and predatory nature of some workshops. But here’s what I am thinking: our revered artists took a deal of excavating the uncomfortable to give us art we rave. We also owe to this country a literary space conducive for everyone, and responsive to the country’s situation.

Writers, let’s do our job to both promote Philippine literature and end rape culture.

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