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The Myth of Apo Lakay

Whatever my hometown patronized, I saw harmless. It was not until years later that I understood everything.



Artwork by Patricia Jardin/TomasinoWeb

Adu met lang ti nagsiyaatan na idi tiempo na, uray komporme ti ibagbaga da,” (“No matter what they say, he did a lot of good during his time.”) my grandpa would always say, while I was sitting on his lap, listening to him retell stories from years past, eating balikutsa—a candy made out of sugarcane, one of my favorite Ilocano delicacies.

I remember not knowing much then, as one would expect from a six-year old with barely any conceived awareness. I was too trusting of the stories I was told as a little girl, owing to my naïveté. Whatever my elders said, I always assumed were correct. Whatever my hometown patronized, I saw harmless. It was not until years later that I understood everything.

They said it was the Golden Age, the years dating back from 1972 to 1986. There was discipline and barely any crime, and the value of 1 peso was equivalent to that of 1 US dollar—it was almost like a folklore back in the province, shared by the collective memories of fellow Ilocanos. They called him Apo Lakay and built statues in his memory. In the North the people pride themselves for speaking in the same language that a late dictator once spoke. To them it was a language that held a significant amount of heft. A significant amount of power. One that could take over a country and leave it with nightmares decades after.

Nasimsimple pay ketdi ti biag idi,” (“Life was a lot simpler back then.”) they would often say. Everything I knew about Martial law was an inherited memory from my hometown, weathered down by the works of historical revisionism and misplaced loyalties. There was nothing true about what I was told. There was nothing to celebrate about Martial law.

At some point I wanted to unlearn the dialect largely because of shame, I wanted to outrun the identity of being an Ilocano. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t going to be the defining feature of my being one—this urban legend of a fascist who was responsible for the deaths of many and the shared trauma of Filipinos that persist until this day.

And so in place of those ill-conceived tales, I try to reconstruct them through stories that I learned were more historically correct. I start with my little cousins, so they don’t grow up brainwashed with toxic regionalism like I was as a little girl. They will grow up to learn the words ‘fascist’, ‘kleptocrat’, and ‘democracy’. Through this I take on my grandpa’s place in telling stories by telling mine, this time more accurately, this time in favor of the ones who greatly suffered in that so-called Golden Age. There should be no place in Ilocos for immortalizing a dictator.

I could hear the crickets nearby. I could sense grandpa was nearing the end of his stories. I could tell his legs were numb from sitting me on his lap for hours on end. I barely understood his stories, I was only six years old. The last balikutsa melts in my mouth. He says, “Dagijay nga taw-en ti kamayatan para dagiti Pilipino idi.” (“Those were the best years of the Filipinos.”) No, grandpa, those were the lost years of the Filipinos. I wish I could reach into years past and tell him he was wrong.



What the cards failed to consider

When Leah asked Aileen if Jacob would ask her out for Valentine’s Day, she drew the nine of swords.



(Artwork by Meghan Castillo/TomasinoWeb)

When Leah asked Aileen if Jacob would ask her out for Valentine’s Day, she drew the nine of swords.

Leah didn’t know what the card meant. Aileen was the go-to reader in her block, who read palms and cards under the table, so that was her job. When she glanced at the design below her desk, it was the print of a man, sitting upright on his bed, with swords struck horizontally against him, one pierced through his chest. Aileen didn’t need to say anything. Leah already knew.

Aileen scooted over to peek. Her face fell. “Oh. Oh no.”

Expecting the worst, Leah nodded. “It’s bad, isn’t it?”

“The design isn’t very subtle, huh. Maybe it’s just a warmup. Want to draw again?”

“Isn’t that unprofessional?”

“Who cares? Maybe you’ll get the lovers card this time. I thought you wanted to date him.”

Leah did—er, sort of. Jacob was a marketing student she met in Antonio, where she went to in the afternoon to smoke. He just happened to be there and also just happened to carry a lighter. Leah pulled out a stick of Marlboro, and Jacob was ready to light it for her.

He wasn’t a conversationalist. Jacob used his mouth to puff out smoke more than he did words, but Leah could look past that. She just had to look at him. At his broad shoulders, at the way his yellow sleeves curled between his biceps, at his neck. His face looked good, sharp-nosed and thick browed and full-lipped. The car key hanging on his belt helped a lot, too. They hit it off pretty well. 

They exchanged numbers and went out irregularly to get some food and to smoke, but it stopped there. They didn’t sleep with each other, or kissed, they didn’t even hug. Leah didn’t know what they were. She just liked to look at him. Jacob liked being seen. In the presence of the tarot card, that looked glum between her fingers, she felt nothing. Maybe a little relieved.

She sighed. “Lunch?”

Aileen took the card from her hands and sheathed it into her deck, shuffled it, wrapped it with a cloth, and tossed it into her bag. “God, I’m starving. Carpark?”

They hopped out of Saint Raymund’s and walked through the school grounds. Aileen was the block’s tarot reader but she was also Leah’s confidant and best friend. 

In the student-filled aisle that trailed from the parking lot to the fast-food chains, Aileen stopped in her tracks and shoved an elbow against Leah’s ribs. Aileen pointed. Leah looked.

Jacob had wrapped his arm around someone else. A girl. She was smiling, a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a string of pink balloons in the other.

Oh. Leah thought. So that’s what the man in the tarot card felt when the sword struck through his chest. Oh.

Aileen grabbed her hand and, in a split-second, they dashed through the crowds of students, their feet kicking off the asphalt as they went. Leah was too dazed, her head clouded with Jacob and the girl––at the way he was grinning, midway through a joke, and at how the skin of his arm was touching the girl’s nape. At how they looked at each other. Leah didn’t know he met someone else. 

Aileen led Leah next to the trees where she could sit. “I’ll be back,” she said and disappeared. When she returned, paper bags in hand, she smiled at her.

“Hey, hey, listen, I bought you food.”

Leah blinked, collecting herself. “What?”

“Forget Jacob! Forget him, hey,” she pulled out a cup of iced coffee, placed it next to Leah, and brought out a pair of sandwiches. “He’s such a loser.”

Leah felt a tear trickle in one eye. “He is…and boring and smells like Axe perfume, and honestly, really dumb.” 

Aileen laughed. Leah wiped her eyes and pierced the coffee cup with a straw. She took a sip—it was her go-to order: Caramel macchiato with the whip stirred. She was just about to ask something when Aileen replied, “Soy milk, with two additional shots of espresso. I know.”

Leah peeled the wrappings off of her sandwich—it was a BLT with no cucumber and no onions like she usually ordered. 

Jacob didn’t know her favorite drink or her favorite meal. Jacob didn’t even know Leah’s favorite color. He didn’t know anything—but Aileen did. She knew everything.

Leah looked up at her best friend now, her chest wrung out of anger, filling up with warmth. In the sunlight, Aileen biting out of her sandwich, she started to glow. What the cards got right—Leah wasn’t going to spend Valentine’s with Jacob. She was never going to see him again. What the cards failed to consider was that there were other people. Better people. 

What the cards failed to consider was Aileen. 


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Happy anniversary!

Little did I know at the time that March 9 would be the last day I would be able to see the University and my friends in person.



(Photo by Vince Imperio/TomasinoWeb)

March 9, 2020. 

I still remember how that day was going. Amidst the safety protocols at the time in the form of face masks, alcohol, and temperature checks, it was really no different from the typical Mondays I’ve gotten used to. You wake up after a short weekend, prepare, and make your way to the University. 

In my case, it was the usual two to three hour commute I’ve been doing for over a year. Pretty simple right? 

How was it typical you might ask? Well, despite being aware of the situation at the time, I won’t deny it anyway that I did not take the situation seriously. This is not to say that I did not observe and cooperate with safety protocols, but I admit, I was still lighthearted enough about things that I would joke around about it with my friends. 

COVID welcome party. Didn’t age well, but I guess it’ll be a reminder of the days leading up to this. 


Simply put, March 9 was just the beginning of another cycle. A cycle of going to class, listening, or not listening to your professors, mingling with the people you’ve been with for the past year or so, and finally going home late because you still hung out with your friends well after class. 

Or so I thought it was. I had just survived another session of Economics class by the time the news broke out of Mayor Isko declaring a week-long suspension of classes. COVID-19 cases had been increasing at the time which led to the supposed one-week break. 

At the time, a week-long suspension sounded appealing. It was already the second half of the academic year which meant that any form of a break would be nice. I had an ongoing burnout as well at the time so that supposed one-week break was much needed.

But the thing is, it wasn’t just one week. Little did I know at the time that March 9 would be the last day I would be able to see the University and my friends in person. Little did I know that one typical Monday would be a reminder of my last day in Manila. 

That one week turned into a month then that one month turned into a year. Before I knew it, all my plans for the previous year had gone down the drain. Without any warning, the life I knew was gone––forced into an indefinite and abrupt end by an unseen force. 

It’s been a year since March 9. This time around last year, I was still in the outside world. Due to the suspension and campus closure, the streets had been hauntingly silent, akin to what you would see if you were still out at around 1 or 2 AM. Heck, even the trip home at the time felt weird even if I’ve ridden the same bus and sat on the same seats countless times over the past two academic years already. 

But now, I’m just here, writing this piece in my room, the same one I’ve been trapped in since I got home at around 11 p.m. on this day last year. Now I’m just some lost child who’s lost pretty much all sense of fulfillment in what he does. 

One year later, I am just a shell of my former self. 

From someone who was primed to fulfill the potential he and other people saw in him, I’ve been reduced to an underwhelming, burned out deadweight who’s probably causing the same people who believe in me to regret their decision. 

I don’t know anymore, really. At this point I’m just letting the days go by, barely putting in the bare minimum in just about everything I’m involved in. Nothing I’ve done to regain some sense of fulfillment has worked so far, and I don’t know if there’ll even be anything that’ll give me that anymore. 

Everything has felt like a burden frankly speaking. From being the second-highest officer in the organization, to having a position in a school project, all these were supposed to give off a unique sense of fulfillment for me. 

But unfortunately, all these have felt like obligations, which I am forced to fulfill because it would be unethical if I put myself first before the job. 

In retrospect, this time last year and the days that followed seemed like the best year because of how this anniversary has been. Being stuck at home and only seeing Manila for a total of four times since the one-week suspension has made last year’s events look like the best thing to happen, if we’re keeping it real here. 

And no, this isn’t some sympathy piece, nor some privileged rant. 

This is just a mere commemoration of the day normal ceased to exist. 

But hey, maybe things would get better one day, right? We may never go back to normal, but this world would be less of a living hell. Maybe one day I won’t be telling the people I love that I miss them and I am tired of seeing them through my laptop screen anymore. Maybe one day, I won’t be spending countless hours playing Genshin Impact during my free time while ignoring just about everyone in the real world. 

Or maybe not. We’ll never know until we get there anyways.


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Wall of Roses

To remember the storms and grim atrocities,
One must never let the memories of the tragedies falter.



EDSA Commemoration held last February 25, 2020. (Vince Imperio/TomasinoWeb)

Weary eyes glare across empty asphalt,
Toward the men clad in armor, prepared for assault,
Deathly stares pointed like spears across the avenues.
Shouldered rifles, their aim steady and true.

The streets choke with the tide of people,
The radio waves harken to the faithful,
A veritable sea of bodies fill the city.
Marching the streets with devout alacrity.

His armored columns batter down the avenue,
Their blitzkrieg halted, a frozen retinue
Fearsome marines, armed to the teeth
Unmoving against a wall of hands with roses and wreaths.

Gunships circling like vultures, guns bared,
A bone-chilling sounds forth, a horrid drone,
The masses do not stir, no longer scared,
Forward they press, to his riverine throne.

His mind is unsure, his seat uneasy,
Whether to rain down his mortars and bombs.
His generals plead to loose a volley,
No orders released, his rage kept mum.

The people shout, and beat, and cry,
For him to relinquish his seat, to give up the fight.
His situation has turned sour, awfully awry.
Nowhere to go, his family takes flight.

Never forget how his men storm the night,
How daughters were taken, sons left slain.
Bearing truncheons, expressing his might,
Never again shall that darkness reign.

To remember the storms and grim atrocities,
One must never let the memories of the tragedies falter.
A bloodless war waged in the fields in cities,
Justice regained upon the shoulders of the martyrs. 


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