20 March 2022

Stories for imeldific times


Our Lady of Imelda by Kristian Sendon Cordero (Savage Mind Publishing House and Cecilio Press, undated) 

Recent buys from Savage Mind Bookshop






















I knew the book (booklet, really) was small, but to see and hold it with my hand alongside other normal-sized trade paperback books made me grin. It was a tiny marvel of a booklet, with text printed on unassuming fragile paper. My copy's first page was now torn due to my indelicate handling of the page.

Our Lady of Imelda is a compilation of "two essays" by Kristian Sendon Cordero, the creative spirit behind Savage Mind Bookshop in Naga City. (Cordero's recent interview in Words Without Borders here is relevant.) I have already visited Naga City twice to present papers in seminars related to biodiversity conservation. That was before the indie publisher and bookstore Savage Mind opened shop. Now I'd like to go back to visit and browse their catalog. I have to content myself with ordering books online (via Shopee or through direct message to their FB page) for the time being. Savage Mind also distributes books by Ateneo de Naga University Press. It is fast becoming the leading publisher of quality Philippine books in original language or in translation.

About the booklet in question, I'm not sure when it came out. Probably last year or the year before that. The product description already gave away the unique qualities of the booklet.

Our Lady of Imelda is our first in project in collaboration with Cecilio Press (the oldest printing press operating in Naga City, who published the devotional and literary works of the old Bikolistas like Luis Dato, Antonio Salazar, Manuel Salazar and Sali Imperial). We hope that by giving them new printing projects we help Cecilio Press survive and [face] the challenges brought by the pandemic. 

The booklet contains two essays in Filipino by Cordero, Our Lady of Imelda and [Ang] Senakulo ng mga Colorum, both essays articulates the tangential relations of religions, myths and politics. This is the first in our series which popularize this kind of colportage literature which we hope will introduce our readers to the devotional aspect of writing, printing and reading. We hope that this novena-like material will help us relieve ourselves from our monitors, screens and keyboards.

Indeed, the booklet's "devotional", "colportage", and "novena-like" presentation disguised the revolutionary spirit behind the essays. "Essays" should always be in quotation since the two pieces also courted the boundaries of fiction. For an early version of "Our Lady of Imelda", Cordero won the first prize for Sanaysay (Essay in Filipino) category in the Palanca awards in 2013. This was also published under Sanaysay section in Likhaan: The Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature in 2014. Next month, this essay will appear in Bernard Kean Capinpin's translation as Our Lady of Imelda and Other Stories, also published by Savage Mind.

"Our Lady of Imelda" was an essay in three parts, each part detailing a factual story related to Our Lady of Peñafrancia: (1) the tragic collapse of Colgante Bridge in Naga during the parade of the Virgin's statue on September 16, 1972, a week before President Ferdinand Marcos announced the imposition of Martial Law in the Philippines; (2) the theft of the Virgin's statue on August 15, 1981, (coincidentally, six days before the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., a known Marcos critic); (3) the discovery of the lost statue and its return to Naga on September 8, 1982.

The second essay, "Ang Senakulo ng mga Colorum" (The Passion Play of the Colorum), meanwhile relived the tradition of Senakulo as a theatrical spectacle of Christ's passion on the cross during the Holy Week, right before the celebration of Easter Sunday. In Cordero's colorful telling, the various groups performing the passion play each in their own modern way offered a unique, gendered perspective to this event for the religious.

While the two essays on Imelda and the Colorum group were factual in many respects, their reliance on suppositions and speculations made them fictional portraits of the sometimes tragic and sometimes imeldific stories about the customs and discrete periods of Philippine religious and cultural history. The intertwining of religion, history, and politics, in the case of the first essay, and religion, history, and sexual politics, in the case of the second essay, made for two narratives where religious fervor went hand in hand with human foibles and quirks. 

The first essay began with Colgante bridge collapse in Naga as premonition of the dark age of the Philippines under Martial Law. The way Imelda Marcos hobnobbed with the religious clergy (and vice versa) in those times was indicative of how the Catholic Church was complicit in the Marcos dictatorship. The Church may have played a role in the EDSA Revolution, but it was too little too late.

The booklet indeed mimicked the form of a devotional pamphlet, even being riddled with typos, which may or may not be deliberate, but fit for purpose to the ideas it tried to sell as merchandise. The pamphlet was a throwback to the times when we attend the holy mass and see these devotional books in front of us in the pew. The mode of the booklet's production was a story in itself, and the creative and divinely provocative stories inside were a match to the material form.

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