A Concept of what it means to be a Filipino…
For my great Southeast Asian novel, I choose the Philippines as my designated country. I want to write about my own country through the lenses of the Filipinos who are struggling with poverty, crime, and injustice. I hope to exhibit these problems in a way that is profound yet ambivalent at the same time. I will immerse the characters of my novel into dealing with the realization that it is only within themselves that they can start changing. I also want to show the behaviors of Filipinos that currently affect the country in a positive and a negative way.
The title of my novel is “Sa aking panalangin” It is translated as “In my prayers” in English. I selected this religious phrase given that religion is a huge aspect for most Filipinos. The title becomes an argument throughout the story given that the characters would choose to pray for their own problems to go away instead of finding a solution for themselves. The problem was always directed toward an external cause.
The main protagonist is Mahal, a young woman of nineteen who deals with poverty, discontentment, and unachievable dreams. She aims to change her nationality. She hates that she is a Filipino for she believes that it hinders her success. “Kung sana lang ako ay pinanganak sa Amerika o kahit sa Japan. Mas maganda sana ang aking kinabukasan. Kahit saan mas mabuti na, basta hindi dito.” The novel tells the life story of the protagonist and yet it is mainly congruent to the state of the Philippines as it reflects on its inability to change and improve for the better.
The first chapter talks about the protagonist Mahal. She was named Mahal or ‘expensive’ by her parents because she was born in a hospital, a costly unavoidable situation given that she was born prematurely. She grew up usually hearing her parents complain, “Puros gastos ka na lang simula nung pinanganak ka….” Growing up, she recounts the depressing situation of living in Lanao del Sur. Food was not a problem but education and proper employment were scarce. At the age of sixteen, she ran away with her paramour, Ian to Manila. They aspired to work and save enough money so they can work abroad. As Ian passionately said, “Alam mo naman di ka magiging masaya dito. Puro gulo at away na walang solusyon ang nagaganap dito. Walang pag-unlad, pati ikaw mahihila pababa!”
However, hating your own country becomes a reflection of your identity. This hate indicates the inability of accepting oneself. Mahal was able to experience this dilemma upon talking to a white girl from Sweden during her work as a cashier. She said, “Pagtingin ko sa salamin, nakita ko ang katotohanan: ang aking pagkatao ay walang sinabi sa kanyang kagandahan.” She started to excessively use beauty products. She aims to change her appearance to match the desired Western or European beauty. In my novel, this also becomes a metaphor for the present state of the Philippines as we depend on external support from other countries.
The plot of the story starts when Mahal catches Ian selling drugs in Tondo. He argues that this will help them earn enough money to migrate. Things got worse when Ian was caught and shot during a drug raid. Arrested and taken in as a prisoner, Ian was given a chance to redeem himself from fewer years in jail if he can name his comrades. In an act of pure betrayal, Ian names Mahal as part of his illegal drug trafficking operation.
Spending time in jails is a terrible experience—but the impact is emphasized in the Philippines. I have been inside Muntinlupa Bilibid Prison before. This experience changed me as I realized how hopeless everything seems from the inside. Some men were even shackled with neck braces, while their limbs were chained as well. Their eyes were cast downwards while staring into empty spaces. This inspired me to write something about the situation of most Filipinos, the disregarded tales that no one bothers to look into.
Mahal’s ability to change her perspective towards hating her country becomes a challenging possibility for me. Unfortunate countless events seem to follow her in her own country. However, she seems to remember her identity as a Filipino during her stay in prison. As she reflected on her childhood, “Marinig ko lang ang tunog ng motorsiklo, masaya na ako. Naiisip ko pauwi na ako sa aking tahanan, si Papa humihilik at si Mama nagluluto.” The familial loving trait of Filipinos is widely portrayed in this scene, as she reminisces and appreciates the memory of her parents back home.
The core of my novel is the essence of acceptance, of seeing the ceaseless beauty amidst the despairing reality of the Philippines. Her name, Mahal, morphs into ‘Love’ over its supposed ‘Expensive’ connotation. As Mahal celebrates after her three year release from jail, “Kung alam ko lang dati, na lahat naman ng bagay ay may ganda at gulo.” She decides to go back to her homeland as she positively brings change to her community. This novel is a story of nationalism, family, and redemption. It also tackles issues of politics, religion, and relationships. The character Mahal becomes a metaphorical symbol of the Philippines. In the end, her country is her home— a place that she needs to nurture and grow.
Written in August 2017