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By Artchil C. Daug
Setting: Iligan City Public Plaza
Time: 2 PM – 6 PM July 14, 2014
11 AM – 1 PM and 6 PM – 7 PM July 15, 2014
The Iligan City Public Plaza surrounds itself with a few trees, bushes and fixed benches. The
floor is made up of tiles. A raised platform, which is roofed, can be found on the western
side. Right beside it is an allegedly life-size statue of Jose Rizal. At the center of the plaza is
a flagpole. The eastern side have a roofed stage. It also have tiles for its floors and its edges
were raised enough that people can sit on them. Around a fourth of the plaza has a roof,
especially the eastern section. At the eastern tip can be found comfort rooms for both sexes
and the city office for clean and green. The plaza is also bounded by the city police
headquarters on the west; a bank, a dental clinic, a computer store, an insurance company
office, a pawnshop, two eateries, and two appliance stores on the north; a variety store on the
east; and a hotel, a communications store and a bank on its south.
In the entire process of this field assignment, my wife went with me as she became curious of
my choice for the setting. The original plan was to observe the area in and around the Iligan
City Cathedral or the Inahan sa Kinabuhi Seminary, as both are settings for a more specific
cultural character. I opted for the city plaza as I have been passing by this area for most of my
conscious life but I never got to sit around for more than a minute or two, and that was the
same for both of us.
For our first session, we arrived in the area a couple minutes past two in the afternoon of July
14. We have not taken our lunch yet so we decided to try one of the eateries beside the plaza.
The eatery is called Christina’s B-B-Q, though another sign called it Cristina’s B-B-Q. It
appears to be an old house that was turned into an eatery. Its owner, a fat man who claim to
have hypertension and heart problems, lives in the second story of the building. In a later
time, we caught him confessing to, judging from their manner of conversation, a friend of his
about what happened a few days before. He said that one night, a day before that day I
remember, he thought he was having a stroke and got so scared because there was no one
around to help. We figured that he was living alone and no one of the four servants we
encountered actually stayed in the building. Anyway, my wife and I ordered some noodles
and sautéd pork for lunch. At that hour in the day, we were the only customers. The other
eatery beside it, Yozel Fastfood, appears to be empty except for the people in charge. The old
woman who entertained us slept for a little bit as my wife and I went to our usual table
conversation. We did try to observe the plaza nearby.
We were seated by a window directly facing the plaza from the north and we noticed two
young couples talking to each other. They were obviously lovers as they caress each other
romantically. Some people may say: public display of affection. The people in the plaza,
numbering around fifty or more (I counted at least 53, but the number is volatile), appears to
be divided into two sections. On the raised platform there were about 25-30 individuals,
which we found out later on were playing either chess or Spanish dama. I cannot tell if all of
them were Maranao men, but when we got close later that day most of them were speaking in
the Maranao language. I noticed that some of them were gambling, something prohibited by
their Islamic religion especially on the month of the Ramadhan. Taking pictures became
dangerous as some of these men may take it as something more. Near the aforementioned
stage and the benches near it were students from different schools in the city either practicing
dances or just plainly chatting. After we finished our lunch at almost three, we decided to sit
on one of the benches.
When we entered the plaza, we noticed that three individuals were playing table tennis near
the southern portion of the stage. We did not see them earlier as the trees and bushes covered
our view. We decided to sit on the bench near them. When I was in high school some of my
classmates challenged players from the plaza to play table tennis on an open lot somewhere
near the area that I can no longer recall because of the buildings constructed since then.
They were very good and I remember that they beat my classmates most of the time. I was
wondering if I can find one them this time, if I can remember them at all. The table tennis
match was between an old men (with white hair and a limp) who appeared to be of Chinese
descent, and a middle-aged guy. The umpire and the scorer was a young man, probably in his
30s, who also played later on. They were also gambling. The middle aged guy said that that
was the point of playing. I noticed during their game that some of the rules of table tennis
were not put into practice. The players would hold the table or let their racket touch the table.
I wanted to play, with whatever skill was left, but I do not do gambling. We watched the
match for a great many minutes. Probably for 50 minutes but I cannot remember exactly. I
should have written this note earlier. I noticed many of the people were not interested to
watch the table tennis games.
While watching the match, I noticed that many students sitting on the benches were from
schools that are far away from the area. Their positions were spread over the western portion:
on the stage, on the benches, and on the plaza floor. From around 3 PM to about 6 PM, when
we decided to return home, there were at least four couples dating just like the one we saw
earlier. Those two stayed beyond six as they were still there when we left, and they were
getting “intense”. Others would stay for around an hour and they would leave. There were
Badjao children trying to beg things from passersby and from those sitting on the benches.
However, they stayed away from the Maranao crowd playing board games. Some of the
people in the plaza were friendly to them while some were annoyed. There was an old Badjao
woman just sitting on a bench. With her were a few bundles of clothes. Or rags, though it is
difficult to tell considering the state these Badjao are in in the city. There was a Badjao
couple, and they appear to be just hanging out. I did remember seeing the girl beg jeepney
drivers and passengers. The guy sometimes leave the plaza then returns. The next day I
noticed that these Badjao belongs to a group and are probably using the plaza as one of their
base of operation.
In the space between Christina B-B-Q and the appliance store, there were mobile sellers of
street foods offering tempura, squid rolls, spiced eggs and fresh coconut juice (considering
you really have to drink it from the coconuts they brought). Many students gathered around
these mobile stalls. Around 3:15, we decided to join the people around the stalls. Though
most clients were students, there were also office workers from nearby offices (some
gossiping about their respective bosses). My wife and I bought some tempura and squid rolls
then decided to sit on the bench near the crowd of chess and dama players. There were five
games played: four chess games and a dama game. Many are spectators waiting for their turn
to play. As mentioned, it was difficult to picture the games. Probably because they were
gambling when they are not supposed to and they looked at us with suspicion whenever we
took our cell phones. After eating, we looked for a trash can. There was none but we did find
on the northern side a sack full of trash.
The day was gloomy as clouds covered the area in most of the time we were there and it went
darker around four. The bench near the table tennis area was not as crowded that the other
areas. Eventually, it started to rain around 30 minutes past 4 PM, the southern portion of the
roofed area became the first victim of the raindrops. The table tennis games halted and the
players covered the table with a thick blanket. Many, including us, decided to relocate
towards the northern portion, where most of the students were sitting or chatting. The high
school students we sat with were busy chatting. A girl realized that she took her classmate’s
cell phone with her after she borrowed it and decided to look for him (his name is Abdul)
back at school. A friend of hers accompanied her as she did not have an umbrella. One of her
classmates is a lesbian and openly confessed about courting a girl. She found it awkward but
she enjoyed it. A friend of hers asked her what that kind of relationship felt like “down there”
(pointing at the area between her legs), but the lesbian said she have not experienced anything
like that still.
The rain was strong and it created puddles of water on the western half of the plaza.
Passersby eventually sought shelter from the rain and a crowd was forming in the eastern
portion. Students, employees and peddlers alike gathered around the stage area. By 5 PM, the
group of Badjao children started taking their clothes off and played with the puddles of water
in the western side. They turned it into some kind of pool. I called it bodyboarding because
they used their bodies to slide like boards on water on the plaza floor where the waters were
getting thick. The people playing board games appeared to be undisturbed by the kids, but
some of the people in the plaza were surprised of the spectacle. Some were not surprised with
what these children were doing, which got me thinking that this was not the first time they did
it. When the rain got weaker around 5:30, the kids got dressed and beg some students for
some coins. A student gave them enough for them to buy themselves a cigarette each.
When the rain was finally over, people started leaving the plaza though students also started
coming in. The rain however made it difficult for some to sit on the benches so the number of
people decreased. It was getting dark and the only noticeable activity in the plaza were the
board games. As the time was reaching six in the evening, my wife and I decided to go home.
The next day we were to hoping to encounter a similar ruckus like those children did the day
before. However, when we arrived by 11 AM, the plaza only had a few individuals. Even the
number of the board game players was not even close to the crowd we witnessed before. No
one was playing table tennis. There were only a few students and a few old men were sitting
on some of the benches. I reckon they must be old timers in the plaza. We decided to take our
lunch early so we can observe what the plaza looked like during noon time. This time we
chose the other eatery, Yozel Fastfoods. Just as before, we were still observing the plaza
while taking the lunch. Nothing interesting was going on, except for yet again another loving
We finished lunch by 11:30 and decided to sit near the group of Badjao we saw the other day.
We could not make up what they were talking about, even if they appear to understand
Cebuano as a peddler was talking to them and they nodded. The man in the group picked up
some cartons, said something to the Badjao woman and left. The children, who were part of
the group that went swimming on the puddle of water in the plaza, went walking around the
plaza. When a group of students from a nearby school came and went on playing with their
Frisbee, the children also joined until the students were annoyed. An old man reading a
newspaper sat beside us, but then a few minutes later the Frisbee almost hit his head. He got
angry and signaled the students to play Frisbee away from him. The Badjao children
eventually got tired of chasing the Frisbee and came to sit on one of the benches. Three
homosexuals decided to buy them some fresh coconut juice from the nearby stall. They
appear to be interviewing the children when my wife and I decided to take a look at what was
going on with the chess and dama players.
Only two games were being played when we went up the platform. Two guys were playing
dama and another two were playing chess. They were not gambling. We decided to watch a
game of chess. There was something interesting with their rules. The queen can move like a
knight, which was weird. Everyone watching do not see any problem with it though. It must
be a tradition in the group. The game lasted for about 30 minutes and checkmate was
accomplished because of the aforementioned tweak of the rules of movement. When I looked
at the students playing Frisbee, many have come to join. The old man, who must have
transferred somewhere far from the students while we were watching the chess game, was
still complaining, but the students did not seem to mind. Only two homosexuals were left and
they were still having conversation with the Badjao children. But still, the plaza looked lonely
compared to the other day. Some students were leaving by 1 PM, probably because of their
respective classes. We decided to leave for a bit and to come back around 6 PM.
When we arrived about 5:45 PM, the only addenda were the increase in the number of loving
couples and the increase of the number of students, mostly practicing dance moves or
choreographing new ones. There were only two chess games and the table tennis games were
over when we arrived. The same players as before were already removing the net and
preparing the table cover when we arrived. A few minutes from sitting on one of the southern
benches, we ended up observing a curious couple. They were sitting a seat apart in the
beginning so we thought they did not know each other. Then the guy kissed the woman’s
cheek. As the night progressed, the two became comfortable with the kissing. Many of the
other couples (at least seven) were not as comfortable as they were though.
Three groups were practicing their dancing. One group was on the stage, with their slow
movements. The other group was just below the stage and practicing some dance we cannot
figure out. Near the table tennis table were five guys trying to come up with dance moves.
We then decided to walk around the plaza. In the eastern side we noticed the comfort rooms
were in a bad state. The male comfort room was closed and must be out of order, while the
female one had no lights. Though there was a clean and green office, the plaza was not really
clean. There were signs encouraging to keep the cleanliness, but many were not definitely
paying attention to them. After the brief walk, we decided to sit on one of the benches on the
northern side near the board game players. By then only one pair was playing, while others
were using the playing tables as dining tables. I missed who it was, but someone threw his
garbage on the plaza floor. My wife and I were seated in between two couples on a date, with
their usual hugs and a few kisses. The couple we noticed early when we arrived were still
going at it. The couple on our right left. We eventually transferred to the southern side of the
plaza because of the mosquitoes. The other couple on our left later went to the southern side
as well. It must have been the mosquitoes. While we were sitting on the southern side, two
female students decided to sit by us. The dances continued as the number of students
increased, filling up the benches near the stage. By 7 PM we decided to go home and as we
were walking out, the two female students started giving romantic hugs. They were probably
lesbians, but we were not really sure.
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