|5 Letters To The World
rummaged some more into my files and found a copy of my reply to Prof. Arcellana. Under
the official letterhead of BUGS & BYTES, and crisply printed off a
laser-quality printer, it read like this:
BUGS & BYTES
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
19 November 1993
Dear Francisco Arcellana,
Allow me to take this
opportunity to thank you for the mentoring you gave me at our English class in A.S. in
1975. I particularly remember that period in terms of the rhythm I learned from reading
your Trilogy of the Turtles.
Thank you too for your
recent kind letter. And for realizing that BUGS & BYTES is serious business.
I was not quite sure about
its seriousness myself until I circulated the first issue of the publication during the
middle of last year. The realization forced me into some soul-searching to better
understand the good and the bad of it. A great amount of negative feelings were stirred by
the first issue, and I was out there all alone. For almost a year, I was not sure whether
I did right or wrong. Between the first (and only) issue of last year, and this
years 3rd and 4th Quarter issues, I was in a kind of suspended
animation, not exactly unknowing, but just waiting, waiting, waiting. Fortunately for me,
I have been used to this kind of stupor ever since I stopped writing over a decade ago, so
there was really no permanent damage done. I guess.
The bright side of it is
that my brother Mehol, who always likes to think big, saw in the BUGS & BYTES
effort a pitiable and small-time attempt of an amateur to break into print. He wants
something far better. He is presently mulling on launching a national monthly magazine, Moorings,
by Moros and for Moros. It could be out with its maiden issue before the end of the year.
I hope. This should alleviate what you describe as the sad circumstance of Muslim writers
being inadequately represented, if at all, in the national scene.
Mehol is presently
teaching some subjects in the Institute of Islamic Studies in U.P. He graduated from the
College of Law and is specializing on labor and the Shariah (Islamic) laws. He gets
himself published every now and then in the national magazines there. He will need all the
help he can muster to get Moorings off the ground and keep it afloat.
Not to digress any
further, BUGS & BYTES will remain an ongoing endeavor in personal
yes, desktop publishing. Squeezed between the demands of a growing family
and hectic office work, it will always be a struggle to get the next issue out. You
flatter me by your suggestion that I should try becoming a foreign correspondent for some
MetroManila newspaper, but no, thank you. I would not do justice to the job and still keep
up with my other commitments. Neither am I anybodys prophet. What I do boils down to
sitting in front of a machine while juggling some brain cells, fending off a three-year
old kid who wants to pound the keyboard, and feeling guilty for not vacuuming the floor.
There is nothing special in that. These days, I am engaging the services of my eleven-year
old daughter to help me in my personal publication. The elegance of desktop publishing is
such that even a child can easily acquire the skills (or at least, the mechanics) required
by the process. With a little more encouragement, she could be publishing her own
newsletter for her Grade V class in school.
To update your memory
about myself, I did not do much writing since I got into the College of Engineering to
pursue an Electrical Engineering degree. I got my B.S.E.E. in 1979, spent the next five
years teaching E.E. courses at the E.E. Department while working on my master of science
degree. In 1984, I completed my masteral thesis about computer applications for
distribution power systems planning (now you understand why I decry so much the power
outages in Manila). During the same period, I also worked myself like mad on consultancy
projects with NAPOCOR and MERALCO along with some of my (senior) colleagues in the E.E.
Department. Barely a month after I defended my thesis (Dr. Pachecos signature did
not even have time to dry), I took off for Yanbu, SA to join the Royal Commissions
effort at industrializing the area, as a computer systems supervisor. In 1985, I moved on
to Jeddah to join Saudi Building Systems Mfg. Co., a joint venture between the Saudi
Juffali group of businesses and the Butler Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, MO. The
venture specializes in the design, fabrication and erection of pre-engineered steel
buildings. I got in initially as an analyst-programmer in the Systems Department. I am now
the systems manager of the department, overseeing a hodgepodge of DEC minicomputers,
IBM-compatible PCs, Apple Macintosh units, and, not to forget, a multinational force of
I got blessed with a
wonderful wife, Liza (from the UP College of Architecture) in 1981, three kids now, Ayesa,
11, Anisa, 6 and Ahmad, 3, and a fourth one due next month. All the more difficult to save
money for buying that screaming multi-media PC or that sizzling 600-dpi A3-size heavy-duty
But what the heck. I am
35, I am Moro, and I have some funds, however sparingly, put aside for an effort like BUGS
You are right when you
lament about the Filipino Muslims. Where are they? Why is this so? Moros accuse the
Spaniards of giving the Indios an indolent culture, but the reaction of the Moros to that
culture has not been any better than the indolence we refuse to accept.
I remember in the past
when I would do everything to avoid taking responsibility for one thing or the other. I
even refused going to your writers workshops and functions when I did get an
invitation or two. Mrs. Kerima Polotan, as well, tried hard to lure me into that
belongingness by obliging me in the pages of her FOCUS Philippines magazines
whenever I came up with something, and by giving me some recognition awards. However, in a
society where people merrily pride themselves with slogans of Ito ang tunay na
Pilipino! while holding up a bottle of intoxicant, I had a lot of trouble
accepting my own presence and my own self-respect. I am quite sure other Filipino Muslims
feel the same way. In varying degrees of intensity, we cope up with these feelings, for
better or for worse. Most of the time, for the worse.
This situation is
untenable. For the lucky ones like me who do not need to carry a gun and who do not need
to steal from the government treasury, may Allah increase our numbers, the situation is at
best like the calm before a storm. The majority of Moros will continue to live on shaky
stilt houses for some more time. Then, who knows, the waves may come to wash us out into
the ocean or send us tumbling unto firm land.
There is a myth in my
hometown, Jolo, that goes like this: One unusually calm dawn, an old woman of the village
had gone out to the open bamboo platform of her stilt house to wash herself for the dawn
prayer. She looked out to the sea and saw a giant tidal wave, like a glistening snake
rolling across the horizon, approach the seaside village. Murmuring some prayers, she bent
over to pick up a brittle stick, held it up at both ends, and broke the stick into halves.
Before the giant seawall could reach the village, it parted and collapsed under the weight
This is the magical
inspiration that BUGS & BYTES seeks to unravel.
Said K. Sadain