Gubatbp. featuring Rina Garcia Chua | February 26, 2021
Hi everyone. Welcome to Gubatbp. podcast. I’m Onggie Canivel, Executive Director of Forest Foundation.
And hello I’m Bryan Mariano, Knowledge Management Specialist at Forest Foundation Philippines.
In this podcast, we tell stories about the forest, plants, and people. Gubatbp. comes from the wordplay of “gubat”, which translates to “forest” in Tagalog, and “at iba pa”, which means “and others”.
At Gubatbp., we find familiarity in the forest and its relation to our everyday lives.
Hi Onggie, I know you’re a man of wide reading. I remember the first time na pumunta ako sa Foundation. Nung first time ko na nasa Forest Foundation ako nakita ko yung library niyo dun sobrang dami ng titles about the environment and hindi lang siya academic and nonfiction books, pero may nonfiction din and poetry and I know you also have a personal collection of graphic novels. Very, very interesting. Pero can you share with us today, ano ba yung mga favorite mo na book or some of the books related to the environment na gusto mong i-share?
First of all, Bry, I’ve actually been browsing my shelves again. And I’ve started many books because of the pandemic, but I haven’t completed any of them. Nagumpisa ako and then I decided, “Teka. Hindi siya bagay. It’s not appropriate for what I feel right now,” and then I put it back. And it’s interesting na tinanong mo ako ano yung mga favorite books ko because it seems like I’m going back to some of them. And that’s how I’ve been able to pass time din.
I’ve been rereading, for example, the Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. It talks about a climate challenged-world. It’s set in Bangkok, actually. In Thailand in Southeast Asia and yung protagonists work through a…not a drowning, but a drowned metropolis. So isa to sa binabasa ko.
I’ve actually gone on to poetry as well. Because si Mary Oliver died last year and I actually like a lot of her poetry, so I’ve been reading yung book na Devotions. Yung compliation ng some of Mary Oliver’s best poems.
Ano pa ba? I’ve been trying to read, as well, eco-fiction by Filipinos. Marami. There’s Broken Islands and Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes. I’ve picked up a new poetry book, Ang Mga Iniiwan ng Tubig by Jason Tabinas, Ateneo de Manila University Press.
Binabasa ko din yan!
Oh! Ang galing eh. But I’ve also been reading a lot of Wendell Berry, who is my favorite essayist. And Robert Hass and Billy Collins are a couple of my favorite poets as well. So it’s very difficult to identify particular favorites at this point in time. But I think favorite genre meron eh. Yung climate literature, climate fiction, poetry I think is important for me these times. And short essays.
I don’t know, baka short lang attention span ko. I like the essays better now.
Yeah. Actually, yung binabasa niyo na poetry book ni Jason Tabinas, binabasa ko din na libro. Actually naalala ko din yung…remember nung nag field work tayo nung 2018 yata yun sa Aurora National Park? You mentioned sa akin itong libro na ito and yung author na ito na, “Bryan, diba nagaaral ka ng geography? Eto dapat yung basahin. Or meron akong marerecommend sa iyo.”
It’s On Trails by Robert Moor, who lives in British Columbia. He’s also a science journalist and sobrang na enjoy ko yung libro na yun. Pagbalik kasi natin from field work, binigyan niyo agad ako ng kopya and then binasa ko na rin talaga agad siya. It’s really interesting because parang yung succeeding na hikes ko, iba na yung naging tingin ko sa paths and sa trails.
Yung office natin sa Makati and marami ring parks sa Makati. And may binabanggit si Robert Moor na “desire lines”. O yung mga emergent paths na dinadaanan natin sa mga sinituate, nilagay ng mga planners natin. And what I really like about that book is how he emphasized yung importance rin ng non-humans. Yung example niya ang elephants, kung paano sila ka galing na trailmaker.
Feel ko yung isa sa mga pinaka-importante or pinaka-striking sa akin sa idea niya ng trails is that yung paths daw, and I quote, “…is arguably the grandest cultural artifact in the world. For many indigenous people, trails were just a means of travel. They were the veins and arteries of culture.”
And diba, parang it changed my perspective na going towards trails sa mga bundok kong pinupuntahan, at kung gaano ka important yung cultures there and yung mga naninirahan din doon sa mga bundok. Yeah, that’s one of the interesting books na nabasa ko apart from reading other nonfiction, academic books related to environment.
Well I’m glad you mentioned yung si Robert Moor because indeed, yung book niyang On Trails is really good. But there are others na when you talk about or think about nature, nature walks, or you think about mountains, na magagaling din. Si Robert Macfarlane, parati kong rinerecommend yan. “You’re a hiker, you enjoy nature? Please give Robert Macfarlane a try.” Wild Places…Mountains of the Mind…are top of mind.
And speaking of trees…pinaguusapan natin si Robert Moor. Nakita ko sa Twitter niya na yung next book niya, yung title ay In Trees.
Wow, it’s great that there’s a lot of new books actually coming out. Both nonfiction and fiction. Itong 2020-2021, I’m reading a new book. It’s called The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde. And yung favorite ko sa isa sa mga binuksan ko but I’ve never finished it…Migrations. These are all 2019-2020 books na magaganda yung reviews so I’m happy that people are sort of picking up. For nonfiction, I think there’s also other new books.
There’s even a book of essays by a…Fil-Am siguro siya…si Amy Nezhukumatathil. Ang title ay World of Wonders. It’s a book of essays and she acknowledges her Filipino descent. Her mom comes from Northern Luzon and she talks about her relationship and how good her mother is and their relationship. They live in America now and yung nature in America. The first essay she writes about is fireflies, so natuwa kaagad ako.
It’s great that there’s all of these new books that are coming out.
Actually, speaking of new books, Onggie. I’m not sure kung nabasa niyo na din yung sa Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World. Very interesting because you’ve mentioned yung climate fiction, yung nonfiction, essays, and poems. And this book, edited by John Freeman, is an interesting collection of fiction, nonfiction essays, and poems.
I have the book and I’ve looked at parts of it and you’re right, it’s very interesting, very compelling. But I think, consistent with my mood these days, or the kind of reading that has resonance with me yung mga pieces that are more introspective actually make more sense to me.
Before, I read a lot of adventure, environment books about discovery and finding new animals, finding new things. And now, because we’re in the pandemic, I think, I’m more drawn to eco-literature that talks about yung planting in your backyard. Yung ficus that grows in the crack in the wall, and your own person’s relation to nature or the aspiration to be relating to nature. Even as we’re all in our rooms and houses in the cities.
Actually doon sa edited book ni Freeman na Tales of Two Planets, may isa akong super na nagustuhan na chapter na feeling ko pwede siyang episode sa Black Mirror. Yung survival ni Sayaka Muraka. Dun naka depend yung survival natin, dun sa points o sa rating na meron tayo. So kung nagaral ka ng mabuti, kung mataas yung rating ng pamilya mo, those are the points na nagpapataas ng rating.
It talks a lot about speculative work about yung climate and situation natin right now. Primarily because yung mode of survival natin nakadepende na rin sa point system na meron tayo and binabanggit din to kasi nakasituate siya sa Japan. Nabanggit doon na “Ah may sinkhole sa city na ito or sa area na ito, so pupunta yung mga tao dito so tataas yung rent sa atin.”
Diba? May semblance sa nangyayari sa atin right now? Kapag hindi mo ma-achieve yung certain points na iyon, or rating, pwede kang maging feral. Yung feral yung wala ka nang pake dun sa ratings. Ang goal mo nalang talaga is to survive. Yun nalang talaga siya. And yung main character, sinasabi niya na ok nalang sa kanya na maging feral keysa ma-limit siya sa life na nakadepend doon sa ratings.
Pang Black Mirror siya.
Tingnan natin, baka may mag pick up ng idea mo. And certainly, the way I look at some of the stuff that’s coming out in literature now. Overall in popular media, mukhang yung dating pang Black Mirror seems to be pang normal…hindi naman normal, but regular programming. I suppose ganun na rin yung nangyayari sa libro, basahin, sa mga mapapanood primarily because of the situation that we’re probably in.
Tale of Two Planets also, for me, highlights a couple of interesting things. First, that yung text champions yung title. It really is a tale of two planets. Yung impacts ng climate change, yung impacts ng destruction ng natural ecosystems are felt differently in different parts of the world. So the north feels it differently from the south. Therefore, our reaction to it is different sa south from the north.
For me it’s also an example of sort of blurring lines ng eco-literature that you have. Dati, very confined. Ako, being a longtime reader of science fiction, doon ko unang na notice yung slow emergence ng pag take up ng climate change in literature, where slowly, you had Barbara Kingsolver situating her novel in a climate-challenged world and other authors picking it up. You also had people writing about environment na even from the third world or from the south.
I think yung book na yan, Tale of Two Planets, starts off with a great introduction and really talks about the difference in the two worlds and the two planets that we have. But I think it also talks about the pagbu-blur about the difference of what eco-literature is. You have almost reportage, essays, personal essays, creative nonfiction; mixed with eco-poetry. Some of it is just poetry, maybe I’m just calling in eco-poetry but it’s actually just poetry that strikes us as environmental in tone and in pulse. It all now comes together as sort of one–it’s literature. It’s this time’s literature. That’s a great book, Bry.
Yeah, actually. It’s really amazing kung paano natin pwedeng i-explore regarding literature and yung intersection sa climate, ecology, and environment. Thankfully, Onggie, meron tayong guest author today, si Rina Garcia Chua to help us get an inside look on this topic.
Wait, wait, wait. Sinabi mo ba na si Rina Garcia Chua? One of my most peddled books several years ago? I abused all of my law school classmates who had a little bit of environment in them with this book. Eto yung Christmas gift ko to many of my colleagues in the environment circle and she’s here with us?
Mag ge-geek out muna ako. Sandali lang. I’ll grab my copy. I’ve actually gone back to this book as well during the pandemic. But you know, let’s talk to her muna. Let’s talk to Rina.
Rina is a multi awarded author and editor of “Sustaining the Archipelago: An Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry”, the first Philippine ecopoetry collection. Her other works include entries in local and international publications such as Kritika Kultura; Akda: The Asian Journal of Literature, Culture, Performance; and The Goose: A Journal of Arts, Environment, and Culture in Canada.
She graduated with a specialization in Ecocriticism and literature from the University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University, and is currently pursuing her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia.
We’re honored to have you here, Rina. Welcome.
Yeah, hello. Thanks for having me here. I am very happy to be talking to both of you and to hear all your great conversations. So it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
Thanks for joining our podcast, Rina. I have many questions for you of course.
I have many answers!
Great, because your anthology, the one that you edited really sparked a lot of interests sa friends that I gave copies to. Nung nagpunta kami ni Bryan, I think a couple of years ago sa Manila International Book Fair, I went to University Press and I asked about you. I saw your book eh, and it was I think that every year, dapat you should change that pala ano? It’s only available during the Manila International Book Fair.
So every book fair since the book came out in 2017, I’ve been going there and buying copies. Last time we were there we looked for you and they said “Ay, wala na si Rina.” Before that, tinanong namin kung darating siya. But as early as, I think, 2018 or 2019 we asked about you. We wanted to talk about this book and I wanted to ask a few questions about it.
I’ll let Bryan lead us through a more meaningful discussion before I start messing it up with my questions about the book.
You’re doing fine!
Actually, Rina, parang gusto din namin malaman ano ba yung naging inspiration mo or paano ka napunta—since literature ang specialization mo and ecocriticism—what brought you to ecoliterature?
First off, salamat sa pagbili ng libro. It’s something I still try to do even though it’s really hard right now to process bureaucratic things from an ocean away. Really, all the royalties of this book still goes to the Philippine Animal Welfare Society.
I processed that nung umuwi ako ng 2019 for the longest time, mga 5 weeks ako nung summer ng 2019 I was very happy to process that. The UST Publishing House, my publisher, were very gracious in helping me do that. Syempre, overwhelming na ang dami mong kailangan i-sign na check, kailangan mo pumunta dito, pumunta doon. Tinulungan nila ako so nakakatuwa. My publisher will be happy to hear that ikaw siguro yung 20-50% ng royalties. Baka matutuwa sila! Na sa Shopee na siya ngayon, by the way. The UST Publishing House.
A lot of the titles, I think, and local publishers have pivoted to Shopee so I just want to put that out there para masupportahan din natin ang local publishers natin.
So going back to your question, Bryan. This started when I was in De La Salle. I would also like to ask both of you a question. Nasaan kayo nung Ondoy?
I was at home in Paranque when Ondoy came. I didn’t realize it was that bad kasi sa amin, it was an old subdivision so mataas siya. It was just raining very hard. Yun lang yung naalala ko nung Ondoy and I was shocked when you turn on the TV, you had all of this dramatic footage of flooding in Marikina and Antipolo.
How about you, Bry?
Weekend ito nangyari, no? I think nandun ako sa office ng nanay ko kasi nagtatrabaho siya ng weekend so sinamahan ko siya. Sa Manila yun, so naalala ko naglalakad kami sa Tayuman na kalahati ng katawan nakalubog sa baha. So yun ang memory ko nun.
You know that’s where it all started. Nung na-Ondoy tayong lahat, that was on a weekend. Di ko makalimutan yun kasi I was attending my first year of classes when I was doing my Masters degree sa De La Salle.
Alam mo naman ang Manila, diba? Parang nagiging river. Konting ulan lang, paano na pa kaya yung Ondoy? Diba? Nakakagulat lang talaga. I remember distinctly kasi meron kaming lumang building sa De La Salle na may butas sa gitna tapos nakikita namin yung ulan. Nag kaklase pa kami and tumitingin kami sa labas, ang tataba ng patak ng ulan and this was the first time I’ve seen this. I think the city and everybody else, we were not prepared kasi late na kami dinissmiss from our class.
Yeah, meron bagyo but there was no typhoon alert.
I think before that, hindi naman talaga nag sususpend ng klase kapag walang signal. Before that, I think, now we know. So nung pinalabas na kami sa La Salle, that was the first time that I saw La Salle inside, flooded. Ang taas na ng tubig. I remember thinking, “Gusto ko na umuwi. Gusto ko na umuwi.” And it became sort of like a journey na I’ve never seen the city that way. Kasi ako, I grew up in Manila. Never ko nakita yung Manila na ganun na so many people were stranded on the streets.
Ang nangyari sa akin was I stayed sa may LRT ng Taft. LRT ng Baclaran. Nag stay ako dun and hinintay kong humupay yung baha. Pero hindi siya humuhupay. I don’t want to stay in the mall. May mall doon eh so linakad ko. Parang ikaw, Bryan. Linakad ko din siya. May mga kasama ako na I just met them on the street and: “Tara! Lakarin natin!” or “Sama sama tayo!”
I will never forget that kasi pagdating sa may Paranaque. Ako din, Onggie, I lived in Paranaque-Las Pinas. Sa borders. Pagdating sa may Sucat road, that was where the flooding really was insane kasi lagpas tao siya. So hindi ko makalimutan yung pagdaan sa may airport na yung traffic lights, they were flashing blue. I don’t know why. Sabi ko, “Nako, parang World War Z. Parang end of the world.” And yung mga tao na sa taxi, kotse nila, nagtetext tas tahimik. It was weirdly quiet.
I remember may mga kasalubong kami naglalakad din sa baha na nagsisigaw sila: “Oh! Magdasal kayo! Darating na ang Panginoon! Sige, sige, dasal tayo.” Sabi ko, “Ano nangyayari?”
Pagdating sa Sucat, and I will never forget—kasi I’m not very tall and I’m not the strongest swimmer pero linangoy namin yun and I remember standing on the concrete barriers and it was crumbling under my feet. So nagulat ako and everntually I got home. It took 5-6 hours and after that, kasi I was majoring in literature sa De La Salle University, I was thinking I can’t just sit down and critique works that I feel don’t matter to me or do not respond to that experience. That was very transformative for me. I felt like I neede to do something that is for the community, for the public, and for the environment.
Growing up in Las Pinas, and yung bahay namin, katabi ng dalawang malaking gubat. Maraming backyard. I was staying there and I really loved that environment. I was thinking, “Ok, so I need to respond to that. I need to be able to have that in my work.” Kasi ako, I need to love my work, I need to love what I’m doing and that’s how it started.
There was one professor in De La Salle who said, “Bakit hindi mo tingnan yung ecocriticism?” And this was in 2013. Wala pa masyadong publication or wala pa masyadong libro na nakuha ang Pilipinas for ecocriticism so it took a while bago maging hilaw siya, so to speak.
I think that’s it. That’s my background, that’s how I got interested and it took a while for me to procure materials from either La Salle, UP, kung saan man makakuha kasi wala tayo masyadong resources diyan. So I was able to get materials and I sort of just found myself in the field. I realized that this is where I am and this is what I want to do.
It’s great that you started with that story kasi yun din yung tanong ko sayo. Where did this book start? It started with a life-changing event. Many of us were affected by Ondoy and I’m certainly very glad that you took it forward and came up with something that reflects the experience of being hit by impacts of climate change.
One thing that I actually keep going back to is the section here where you have a lot of contributors from Haiyan. From people who’ve felt Haiyan or were victims of Haiyan. How is that? You experienced Ondoy and that spurred this book. Now, part of this book are people who went through another storm with us seemingly unprepared agan—Haiyan. How is that?
Actually, the book actually started from that experience and my interest in ecocriticism started from that experience and the Masters thesis was born out of that interest in ecocriticism. Yung Sustaining the Archipelago, si Charlie Veric, sinabi niya sa akin na, “Kailangan natin magkaroon ng anthology ng ecopoetry.” Kasi, by that time, wala akong makitang anthology. Yun talaga yung gusto kong makita na anthology ng Philippine ecopoetry and then I will base my thesis on that. Kaso, wala. You know, you find a need and you fill it.
Sabi ni Charlie, I remember him saying, “Nako hindi mo pwedeng isabay yan ngayon sa thesis mo kasi that’s a later project.” Sabi ko nung gumraduate na ako at natapos ko na yung MA ko, sabi ko, “Oo nga naman. It’s a later project and I’m gonna do it now.”
It’s really a community effort, and Sustaining the Archipelago, from my colleagues from the department sa De La Salle at sa UST, and all the wonderful writers that expressed their interest and the support I got from them.
I think Sustaining the Archipelago stems from the response that was constructed out of these disasters, really. Yung Haiyan plays a big part in that, but also I’m aware na meron tayong anthology na “Agam”. For me that’s really the seminal eco-literary anthology in the Philippines. Syempre, ang promotion natin is the first anthology of ecopoetry ang libro natin, pero for me Agam is occupying a space that is very special in eco-literature. It opened the doors for a project like mine to get attention and be able to reach your fingertips.
Also, si Merlie Alunan nag labas ng Memory of Water eventually with Ateneo Press. These are important anthologies that have more authenticity to the voice. Not saying na yung ibang lumabas are not authentic, but these are really dedicated to Haiyan. Ang Haiyan kasi affected so many people in such a short amount of time and it really plagues the consciousness of a lot the writers and a lot of the people who submitted to the anthology.
I was more than happy to provide that space to also think about how that disaster just has a ripple effect sa ating lahat, na it really grips us. Until now, we’re still trying to think about what Haiyan was to us, how it affected us. Until not, it’s still affecting us.
Sa anthology, I was very mindful na I tried to be as open as I could. As an editor, an anthology is all about curation, collating. There’s a lot of responsibility in that. Yun yung hindi ko ata ine-expect kasi I was very naive going into it. I didn’t think of the responsibility and the process that was really, really challenging as a young writer at that time. Tas gagawa pa ako ng introduction, biglang naisip ko na, “Nako, gagawa ako ng introduction.”
I hit a couple of road blocks but I tried to be as open as I could in accepting these beautiful responses through what’s happening in our direct environment. Gusto ko lang i-note na hindi lahat ng writers dito ay writers by profession or by craft or by institution. I’m very prooud of that. Meron tayong mga policymakers, we have teachers, we have pepole who are volunteers. I am very proud of that. Some of their works are some of my favorite poems from the collection.
When I look back at the collection, those are the ones that I remember fondly aside from the brilliant writers na nagsubmit din. Na-excite ako kasi the call for submissions actually interested so many people outside of the academe, outside of the literary scene sa Philippines. That was something new.
I’m curious about that. Did you find a lot of people…kasi I look at, yung iba very new very. Iba naman, it seemed like they were recalling something in childhood or perhaps they had written it previously. So how was it in terms of interest in the anthology? Did you get a lot of submissions? Were they like, “Oh, let me take out my folder and here’s something that I wrote.”
So that’s a very good question kasi the process of anthologizing is really something mysterious to a lot of people. It’s a lot of work na parang na amnesia na nga ako. Kasi minsan, there’s part traume to it na, “Ano ba yan, ang dami dami kong trabaho.” And then working full time and trying to come up with this book.
I’ve forgotten a lot of the process, but you’re right. I think the submissions came very swiftly. I think I had around 100 submissions. Halos wala naman akong nireject kasi I wanted to be as open as possible. Ang mga hindi ko lang nabigyan ng espasyo ay yung mga fiction, kasi nakakalito minsan yung mga call for submission. Syempre may mga na-excite sila. Wala pa kasing time noon, nung 2016, wala kasing eco-literature. So nakita nila siguro yung call for submissions, nagsubmit sila ng fiction. And so, ang sabi ko, “Nako, hindi pa natin yan kaya, so ecopoetry muna tayo ngayon.”
SIguro mga ngilan-ngilan lang yung hindi natin nabigyan ng espasyo kasi nga, I remember yung iba hindi talaga about the environment. They were just trying to figure out if their work fit. Kung iisipin mo, what is, really, ecopoetry? I don’t know kung klaro sa inyo. Klaro ba sa inyo kung ano yung ecopoetry? Or maybe it’s still confusing?
Maybe you can help us. What are your thoughts on that? What’s ecopoetry? Kasi sayo din namin gustong malaman, ano ang eco-literature?
Yes, eco-literature in general or perhaps, now more than ever kahit mas importante yung eco-literacy in the time of crisis.
That’s a good way to put it. One of the responsibilities of anthologizing is, and this I come to realize now kasi my dissertation is actually…a big part of it is anthologizing and the politics and the process of curation sa anthologizing. But really when you think about it, it’s canon making. You’re making a canon and trying to define a canon. It’s a selection process na maraming issues tayong nae-encounter, especially when you have a lot of submissions. I think when it comes to ecopoetry, that’s what I wanted to define when I started on this anthology.
Gusto ko talaga magkaroon ng, at least, a clear beginning on what’s Philippine ecopoetry and what we can offer. The discussion and the discourse of my field, which is ecocriticism, is at the time very, very American-censored. I was bothered by that, kasi a lot of their theories really don’t fit with our experience.
That’s what I wanted to do here. Wanted to define ecopoetry as…what is ecopoetry in the Filipino sense and the Filipino image? Ang lumabas is yung divisions, or I would say chapters, yung themes na lumabas. Those were the themes that were present in Philippine ecopoetry and there’s so much more now. But at the time na yun, yun yung predominant lalo na yung sa “disaster”. Very prominent din sa atin ang environmental justice.
That really set this book apart. I’ve been reading poetry and ecopoetry in particular. Medyo matagal na. What really set this book apart is that, in addition to it being the first Filipino anthology, was the way you curated it. Eto lang, to my reading, eto lang yung may very strong sections on disaster and survival and environmental justice.
I think that’s what sets it apart form the other anthologies, na part ng Filipino experience kasi is disaster and survival. So we have to write about that the same way we write about forests and trees and birds and bees. But we have to write about disaster and survival. The environmental justice chapter really blew me away.
In fact, nandun yung isa sa mga favorite poems ko from this entire anthology.
May I know what poem is that? I’m curious.
Yung starting poem, yung poem for What Remains of Our Rainforests ni Jim Pascual-Augustin. We’re working on forests, so when I read that sabi ko, “Wow, this is a really good poem.” It has stayed with me since the time I read that.
Actually, speaking of favorite poems, yung isa sa mga pinaka nag resonate ako, dun sa first na part about Place. Yung mga poems kasi dun talks about home and our sense of home. It’s really striking for instance, yung kay Ray Estrada na Manila’s Heart. O yung kay Alain Razalan, The Nocturnal Praise na sinasabi niya “It’s right to give non-human species the right to forest life.” Yung non-human species din, yung non-human world as “home” din dun sa kung saan yung sense of home. Nagresonate din sa akin dun yung famous quote na, “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.”
I think sobrang naging striking yun for me. Yung doon kasi sa chapter ng Place, sobrang prominent din yung aspect of senses. Yung bodies natin, kung paano tayo nakakarelate doon sa environment natin. Parang yung binaggit kanina na becoming with the enviroment doon sa kanyang introduction. For instance, yung kay Pat Labitoria na Hiking Mt Daraitan. Pumunta kami ni Sir Onggie doon sa Tinipak River and binalikan ko ito and naalala ko yung experience namin sa Tinipak River. Sabi niya doon, “I can feel the rush of the water in my veins and hear the heart of mountain…We are all one,” he says.
So very, very interesting for me yung chapter ng Place na iyon. But Rina, if I may return doon sa kanina, sabi mo na yung anthology na ito is a form of a response doon sa naranasan natin sa crisis na meron tayo. I really admire you din for taking the responsibility, yung binanggit mo kanina dun sa pag develop sa book na ito. Nabanggit mo din doon sa introduction mo that the key word sa ecopoetry is “witness”.
Can you tell us more about how witnessing is important sa panahon natin?
I was gonna say the people you mentioned, Bryan, those are some of my favorite poems din in the anthology. Of course, as the editor dapat wala akong favorite, diba? Pero mahirap. Pat Labitoria, I think she’s a social scientist. Napaka-galing niya as a writer. Recently, she was in Seattle for a project, an environmental project here. As a volunteer and we were supposed to meet up in Seattle, pero umuwi na siya and dumating ako.
Yeah, going back to your question, thanks for asking that because I feel response is an important part of…I wouldn’t say “healing” but making sense of trauma and making sense of what happens next. Kasi alam mo, ang ating bad word sa ecocriticism and dito sa Pilipinas is “resilience”, kasi alam na natin yan ngayon. Bad word yan!
Ang expectation ay, “Alam mo na ang Pinoy. Ngumingiti ngiti sa camera tas abutan mo ng relief goods tas ok na yan. They can rebuild their lives.” Pero it doesn’t work that way kasi hindi natin na-aaddress yung trauma. There’s a shared way of processing trauma, which can lead to healing if there is witnessing and narrative. Lalo na yan sa Memory of Water ni Merlie Alunan. Kapag binigyan ng espasyo or outlet or chance to respond ang mga tao, hindi lang ang artist, pero pati ang community. Pag binigyan sila ng chance to do that, there’s more of a possible pathway towards healing.
Importante yun and I think that would relate to yung question mo kanina, “Bakit kailangan ang ecological literacy?” Ecological literacy really is a term used by Fritjof Capra years ago. Matagal na. The views of David Orr as well. Ginamit din niya ecological literacy. When I used it in my introduction and then in my thesis, I think my focus was an interdisciplinary approach to teaching environmental literature. Meron tayong tinatawag na North and South places. Iba talaga ang approach nila dito in the Western academe of teaching.
Sa atin kasi, I find that teaching is very embodied na kailangan natin ma-feel na may emotion. Kailangan natin yung reaction, kailangan natin to be surrounded by what we’re learning about. I feel that is what my experience of learning, and our experience of being in the islands in the archipelago where it’s very attuned to what’s happening around us to the environment. Yung nga, kunyari pag naamoy mo yung sulfur. Sulfur pala yun, pag umuulan tas nagiiba yung hangin. THat’s actually sulfur from the rain that’s about to pour. So naaamoy natin yung pagiba ng hangin or naramdaman natin yung init. Or alam natin pag nagiiba yung itsura ng ocean. Kapag dumating yung Haiyan, there were so many witnesses that said the ocean shoreline pulled back and they knew there was something wrong kasi it’s never been that far away from the exact shore, not even during low tide.
These things, I think, are important to incorporate in education and to have a very interdisciplinary approach. Until now, when you teach the environment or you talk about the environment, it’s a very science-based approach. Data, we want to talk about data. We want to talk about empirical evidence, but that’s not the thing. The data is one thing, and it’s evidence, pero yung mga nangyayari sa mga tao—that’s also evidence. May mga climate refugees tayo, may mga Filipino na umaalis na sa shoreline or have been through these much disasters in their life and these are their responses.
I think these are important things to teach and to include in pedagogy and education. Part ito ng ating buhay. Part ito ng ating experience, here especially sa Philippines. For me that’s where ecological literacy should move forward into, lalo na ngayon na may pandemic. It’s not just about numbers or these statistics. There’s a person behind each one and I always think about that. It always strikes me that we have numbers for Haiyan, numbers for Ondoy. But what about each person there?
Literature is very good at that. It gives a very clear narrative. It makes the person’s experience real. It makes the person’s experience an even that can occur. It lives on beyond the moment itself, beyond the numbers. So I think that’s important to me.
Thank you, thank you.
That’s a great insight from Rina. It answers, for me, some of the questions in my mind. I don’t know if there’s a book that finally came out, but there’s a challenge that “Can poetry save the earth?”
Yeah, that’s John Felstiner. He asked, “Can poetry save the earth?”
And now we have answers to that. Certainly, it may not save the earth right now, but it gives us pathways towards healing. Towards recovery and hopefully, real resilience.
I’m always realistic. Poetry, literature…in the long run, it wouldn’t save anything. Or right now it wouldn’t save the planet. But what we want to do is create a community that can come up with ideas and will remember and will keep on narrating and keep on thinking about solutions to the systemic issues na are all affected when it comes to the environment and environmental discourse kasi sanga-sanga yan.
As Bryan would like to say, “rhizomatic”.
Isang realization ko din doon sa pag explain ni Rina kanina. Yung reading and writing of ecological literature are forms of coming together and I think it’s also a form of slowing down. Slowing down in this time of crisis and urgency. Naalala niyo ba yung last time na nandito kayo sa city and you take time to pause. You observe street signs and notice landmarks, and perhaps, kunin mo nalang yung phone mo and open the app for Waze or Google Maps to reorient yourself to wherever you are.
I think the same thing can apply dun sa pagbasa natin ng ecological literature. You slow down, you take the time to read others’ work. You take the time to make sense of what’s happening sa environment and what’s happening to the environment in relation doon sa nangyayari sa atin sa reality.
What I’m trying to say is, whatever form of ecological literature and lalo na ang poetry—it’s a way of remembering yung history na meron tayo. Also a way of re-membering. So remembering and re-membering. Parts of ourselves, somehow sa pinagdaanan natin na disasters, this is a way of making sense. A way of coming together or slowing down sa urgent time.
So thank you very much, Rina, sa inspiration na iyon. I really enjoyed it.
That’s a good point—slowing down. I think we’re all forced to slow down right now in this time of the pandemic. One of the things that a lot of people have turned to is literature and thinking about…for Sir Onggie, naglabas siya ng mga libro niya. And I’ve done the same! Yung mga hindi ko matapos dati linabas ko lang kasi this is the time to slow down and to really think about things in a different way. What wasn’t working before, maybe there’s a way to think about it.
I like the concept of slowing down and I think that’s really important in creating pieces like these and creating literature like these. It’s really slowing down and rebuilding community and building community.
Before we tune out, we have the honor of having Rina read some of the poems that she likes sa kanyang anthology.
Thank you so much, Bryan. I’ll start with a poem called Hiking Mt. Daraitan by Pat Labitoria.
[READING OF “HIKING MT. DARAITAN”]
The next poem that I’m gonna read is another poem that’s close to my heart and it’s by Marjorie Evasco and it’s called Acquainted with Lightning.
[READING OF “ACQUAINTED WITH LIGHTNING”]
Thanks again, Rina.
It was a great talking to Rina and a great talking to you, Bryan. Madami akong insights as usual from the conversation with our guest and with you.
Kanina we were thinking about what ecopoetry or what eco-literature was. From our conversation today, naging clear sa akin. This is perhaps familiar to most of us. Eco-literature is our expression of wonder or our appreciation of the beauty of nature, plants, and animals. I think eco-literature is also an acknowledgement of our place in nature. Whether we’re in the cities or somewhere in the archipelago, it’s an acknowledgement of where we are in relation to forests, seas, and the creatures therein.
I think from the conversation with Rina, I’d like to add one more. Yung eco-literature is a narrative of shared healing from environmental injustice. I think that was one of the things that I really liked sa anthology na ito. In addition to acknowledging our place in nature, in addition to expressing the beauty of nature, eco-literature is indeed a narrative for shared healing. That, to me, adds another dimension.
I agree with you, Onggie, on eco-literature as a narrative of shared healing. Rina’s Philippine ecopoetry anthology as a form of coming together is also a gesture of making sense of what has happened and currently happening across the archipelago.
Philippines as this so-called embedded cultures of disaster, sabi nga ni Greg Bankoff. This culture isn’t void of historical conjunctures. For me, ecopoetry is a way of remembering that history, of acknowledging na may kwento and subjectivities in numbers or statistics. In this time of climate and environment crises, we return and attend to eco-literature and eco-poetry, for me, is a way of slowing down and making sense of the things around us. Both humans and non-humans. And perhaps take action mula doon.
Thank you for listening to this episode. Gubatbp. and Forest Foundation would like to thank our musician for this episode, Shirebound & Busking. The song played for this episode is Dalum at Hibas (Sinag). Give the song a listen on the podcast webpage and his other songs on Spotify.
At www.gubatbp.forestfoundation.ph, you can browse through our interactive map to see your nearest local publishing houses and check out which books we recommend you try at our website’s resources page. Again, this was a very exciting second episode and we hope you’ll stick around for next month’s episode on coffee culture.
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Gubatbp. featuring Rina Garcia Chua | February 26, 2021
Rina is a multi-awarded author and the editor of “Sustaining the Archipelago: An Anthology of Philippine Ecopoetry”, the first Philippine ecopoetry collection. She graduated with a specialization in Ecocriticism and literature from the University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of British Columbia.
Shirebound & Busking is Iego Tan’s solo folk project borne out of and a liking for Glen Hansard and Tolkien. His lyrics and music evoke themes of romance, longing, and introspection.
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