I began the Archipelago Daily series––fictional news reports of a fantastic nature––in 2013, fresh from college. It was something that I did for fun, in order to make fun of some of the truly ridiculous news articles I had to write and edit.
In six years, I went from idealistic young journalist, always ready to jump into the fray, to cynical fiction writer who gets a panic attack after interviewing for another journalism-related position. The world, too, has changed drastically; in the Philippines, for example, journalists are now accused of spreading fake news and openly attacked–on line and offline. Arrested. Tried. Murdered. All for doing their jobs, and not nearly enough people are outraged. In an effort to preserve my mental health, I have stopped actively reading/watching/listening to the news altogether.
But I have also written more of these fictional–not fake, there’s a difference–news articles in the last three years than I had when I first started. No longer just a vehicle for mockery, I have used this format to discuss how global warming has whipped up storms that can kill thousands. How the Marcos family would suppress and erase and revise their bloody history to return to power. How the Duterte administration has cheapened the lives of the women, the children, the impoverished, the sick, the desperate, the dissenting. And I do it all by having a wide range of creatures from Philippine mythology–from powerful women to hulking monsters–demonstrate the sorely needed empathy we struggle to show our fellow human beings, as seen through the eyes of a female journalist who slowly realizes that her society is broken and in need of mending.
In journalism, it is said that the news must be objective, that all sides of the story must be covered. I know now that, even when using a reportorial voice devoid of personality, no one can be truly objective–the subjects whose stories you choose to flesh out alone speak of what your bias is. The news is shaped by those who deliver it.
And this is the shape of one who is delivering the news to you: female. Brown. Disabled. Filipina.
So let me be biased. Let me offer up a two-way mirror to the poor, the indigenous, and the working class as they are buffeted by forces beyond their control; to the creatures of Philippine mythology, some of the last bastions of local culture, as they struggle to find a place in a thrice-colonized nation and rapidly globalizing world; to the Filipina women of every shape and size as they begin to understand that to be a warrior, witness, writer, or witch is to be committed to the truth and to fight for it. And in so doing, maybe we can inch a little closer toward seeing and upholding the truth in our own world. This is the work my Tiptree fellowship supports.
Since receiving my grant in February, I’ve been beset with carpal tunnel syndrome, mild pneumonia, burnout, joblessness. As such, I was only able to write one more story set within the world of the Archipelago Daily: “In the shadow of the typhoon, humans and Mahiwaga cooperate for survival,” which is set two months after the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), a category five storm that killed thousands in Central Philippines. It will be part of the Calque Press anthology An Invite to Eternity: Tales of Nature Disrupted, whose Kickstarter is now ongoing. I’m proud to share a segment from that story here:
Since time immemorial, Maria Cacao and Mangao would regularly sail their golden ship around the islands of the Visayas region, acting as exporters of her famous cacao seeds and importing other agricultural and mercantile goods for the use of the natives of Argao, Cebu and beyond. Not even the guerilla wars against the Spanish, Americans, Japanese, and the Marcos regime could stopper her overflowing generosity.
Naturally, in the face of calamity, she is the first to deliver relief goods. In a country that experiences 20 typhoons a year, her boat is always loaded with food, water, and clothing, ready to sail to the next disaster scene.
“I’d rather she didn’t do this. We’ve been taken advantage of by humans too many times before,” says Mangao, who does most of the rowing while Maria Cacao navigates and takes inventory of the hundreds of bottles of water, canned goods, biscuit packs, cracker tins, boxes of medicine, and donated clothes. “But my wife wouldn’t be who she is if she wasn’t enormously generous. Giving is what makes her happy and her happiness is all I want.”
However, Typhoon Yolanda’s wrath left many of the Diwata’s usual riverways choked with the debris of houses, boats, vehicles, and bodies.
“We’ve had to find different routes, meaning we take the longer way around Cebu,” says Mangao as he adjusts the sails. “After the storm cleared, we had to stick to skirting the coast instead of the river leading down from Mount Lantoy. And that’s why the relief goods didn’t arrive sooner–why they still don’t.”
“But sticking to the coast doesn’t mean the distribution gets easier,” explains Maria Cacao. “Before, there was a wall of garbage and rubble between us and the shore. The harbors had to be cleared first, and that took a long time. Things are better now, but the garbage is still there.”
One would think that the Diwata could simply wave away her obstacles, but it isn’t that simple. Reason one, neither her nor Mangao’s powers extend over water or manmade objects. Reason two, even if they did, the couple has too much respect for the environment and for human beings to do this.
“It seems ridiculous to be worrying about littering at a time like this,” says Maria Cacao. “Especially when everything is all over the place. But even if I could move the debris and the bodies, where would I put them–on top of all the other piles of debris and bodies? With the relief goods in my boat?”
“That wouldn’t help anyone, certainly not those who are searching for their loved ones or counting on receiving aid. I might even snuff out more lives in the process,” she adds.
“I cannot bring myself to make more of a mess than there already is,” she concludes, her voice cracking at the last syllable.
“It’s not ideal, but there isn’t much we can do about it,” Mangao says. “We usually ask the Kataw of Bantay Tubig for help, but their hands are full of their own problems.”
As if that wasn’t enough, the couple have the additional problem of survivors running away screaming at the sight of their boat.