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“May” Constructions: Existential and Possessive Function

Natacha Boaphuan
BA Linguistics / Department of Linguistics, University of the Philippines Diliman
nboaphuan@yahoo.com

ABSTRACT

This paper investigates a type of existential construction in Tagalog - the may


construction. Traditionally, this construction is analysed as fulfilling the existential function, but
this paper argues that may constructions have both functions of existential and possessive. May
constructions assert or show existence of an entity as well as express possession at the same time.
These can occur in both predicational and identificational clauses, and goes both with transitive
and intransitive verbs. This paper aims to analyze and discuss the functions of the existential
construction may in Tagalog by analyzing its occurrences in contexts found from the chosen ten
(10) Tagalog novels. As mentioned from previous studies, may constructions have presentational
function. One of the other functions of may constructions is to express existence and give
limitation to the given quantity when used with numerical expressions. Another function is to
point to the location where it is possessed when may constructions are used with the locative
marker sa. This paper also proposes a pragmatic analysis on how may differs from mayroon in
terms of its use in a context-based constructions regarding possession.
It is interesting that previous researchers may-constructions as existential only but if we
take account to its use in semantic and pragmatic discourse, we can analyze it differently other
than being existential itself as well as other properties. In this paper, we will explore each
function and analyze through semantic and pragmatic analyses. Ultimately, the existential
function is only a small fraction of what may constructions encompass.
Keywords: existential, possessive, may

1.0 Introduction
To define an existential construction, existential constructions, according to Sabbagh
(2009), are sentences whose basic function is to affirm the non-emptiness of a set denoted by
some noun phrase. This essentially is meant to affirm the existence of some object, though not a
specific entity. The entity being referred to simply fills a space in a “set,” as it fulfills a semantic
requirement. According to Schachter & Otanes (1972), “mayroon” and “may” can be used as the
following: possessive; indefinite and existential; and short answers or questions. In addition to
this, this paper proposes that all functions of “may” constructions show a function of existential.
According to Naylor (2005), “may directly marks a state of existence, defined by the existent (the
referent of the word or phrase that it is in construction with) in a locus (animate or inanimate).”
May says about the target of predication as the possessor and as a location. Additionally, Cena &
Nolasco (2011) define pangungusap na pangmayroon, or existential sentences, as “Pangungusap
na ang panaguri ay isang pariralang pangmayroon.”

2.0 Discussion
There are four types of existential constructions in Tagalog according to Sabbagh (2009).
First is the may constructions which are followed by a noun phrase.
1. “Ano ang magagawa natin sa taong walang turing?” ang tanong ng may hawak ng
bigwela na malaon na yatang may poot kay Beteng. (Agawan ng Dangal)
2. Nalalaman mo bang may kasalanan ka sa akin? (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)

The second type is the use of mayroon in which it is almost similar with the first type but
what it makes distinct from the first type is may occurs with the element roon “there, in it” and
the nominal pivot is inflected with a linker according to Sabbagh, as shown in examples below.

3. Ang kastilyo ng Chandon ay isang lahanang mainam, na dahil sa mga lupang nasasakop,
ay nagbibigay ng isang malaking buwis at mayroon sa loob ng kanyang mga bakod na
bato. (Azucena)
4. Tingnan ninyo roon, Milord! Sa halata ko po ay parang mayroong bahagya sa ilalim ng
purungkahoy na iyon. Sa isang saglit ay sumapit si lord Gahdnon sa itinuturu ng kanyang
lingkod. (Azucena)

In example (4), the linker was inflected to mayroon and the nominal pivot was placed before the
locative phrase, which can also be applied to may construction.

For the examples shown below, there is a distinct meaning between may and mayroon
pragmatically. Mayroon asserts and existence of an entity which pertains to the topic that has
been mentioned, rather an old information. In example (6), mayroon siyang salapi is related to the
old information which is kayamanan. Contrast to example (5), may salapi is a new information
and it predicates the relationship of the possessor and the existence of the entity being possessed.

5. Ito ang kanyang ipinangako sa kapatid na matanda bago iyon nalagutan ng hininga, at
ngayong siya’y may salapi, hindi nga maaaring si Pepe’y maging pangkaraniwan lamang
lalaki. (Rosa Birhen)
6. At ngayon niya napatunayan ang winika ni Plorita na hindi sa kayamanan nanggagaling
ang ligaya. Ang may lumbay na puso’y lalong naululan nang hapis dahil sa mayroon
siyang salapi nguni’t wala namang giliw. (Rosa Birhen)

For the third type of existential constructions, the form magkakaroon, magkaroon,
nagkaroon are used and the nominal pivot is inflected for case which is marked by ng.

7. Ang hampas pong tinamo ay hindi gaanong malubha, nguni’t ang ipinangangamba ko po
lamang ay mangyayaring magkaroon ang dalaga ng ibang karamdaman dahil po sa
pagkababad sa gitna ng lamig sa loob ng ilang oras na walang nakasaklolo. (Azucena)
8. Ang kanyang puso ay nagkaroon ng panibugho at nais na sana niyang sansalain ang
pagpanaog na iyon ng asawa nguni't hindi na lamang niya napigilan. (Hiwaga ng Pag-
Ibig)

The fourth type is similar with the third type which consists of magka- with the absence
of roon. Similar with the may and mayroon constructions, the nominal pivot are uninflected
unlike with the third type, for the pivot was attached to the affix magka-.
9. Siya po, upang kayo nama’y magkapanahon sa inyong mga ibang kaiangan ay yayaon
na ako. (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)
10. Hindi, hindi nga nararapat na ako’y mangibig at sang-ayunan ang sa aki’y idinudulot ni
Magdalena. Di ko dapat gantihin ng pagsusukab ang mabuting palagay na akin ni
Armando. Si Magdalena’y nagkasala, at kinakailangang ang gayon ay pagsisihan niya.
(Sa Tabi ng Bangin)
As discussed above, there are four types of existential constructions in Tagalog according to
Sabbagh (2009) but in this paper, the first type of existential construction, which is may
construction, will be the focus. This paper argues that may constructions assert or show existence
of an entity as well as expresses possession at the same time.

As mentioned earlier, existential constructions can be interpreted as possessive. According to


Schachter & Otanes (1972), possessive “may” phrases predicate “sentences expressing possession
of some specific but not previously identified object or objects.” It is always followed by the
entity being possessed. Constructions in predicational clauses are exemplified below. These
constructions predicate the relationship between the possessor and the existence of the entity
being possessed.

1. “Tunay na nga,” ang pakli ni Gonsalo, “nguni’t ako ay may sakit at kaawa-awa ka
naman, Maring!” (Maring)
2. Hiningi sa Taga-usig na huwag nang palawigin ang usap; hiniling ng buong pagsamo na
iharap na siya sa Hukuman at ano mang lupit ng parusa ay kanyang tinatanggap ng buong
puso yayamang siya ay may sala. (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)
3. Ang magpapatis sa kabilang dako ay may dalang tatlo o apat na sisidlan ng patis na tangi
pa sa isang galunggalungan na siyang pinakaimbakan. (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)
4. “Hindi po mangyayari ang inyong nais,” ang sagot ni Maring, “batid po ninyong ako’y
may asawa.” (Maring)

However, may” can also occur in identificational phrases. Pragmatically, this is used
because the referent is not important in the context. Therefore, “the one who possessed that
entity” is rather used. Syntactically, this is marked by the markers ang, ng, or sa preceding it.

5. Siya ang nagpapakain, siya ang umaaliw, siya ang nagbibihis, siya ang tumatanod sa may
sakit araw-gabi. (Ang Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa)
6. Ipalagay natin na di ikaw ang may sabi at inaakala kong nagsisinungaling. (Ang Pag-Ibig
ng Layas)
7. "Ako nga ang may sala ng lahat," ang nawiwika sa sarili. (Azucena)
8. Kaya, pagkaalam niyang may sulat para sa kanya ay dagling tumindig at inabot sa may
dala. (Hiwaga ng Pag-Ibig)
9. Hindi baga ang buhay ng may asawa'y isang walang humpay na pakikibaka? (Rosa
Birhen)

Therefore, may constructions can occur in identificational clauses or can be the


complement of an NP, meaning it refers to an indefinite person who possess a certain entity.

10a. Siya ang nagpapakain, siya ang umaaliw, siya ang nagbibihis, siya ang
tumatanod sa may sakit araw-gabi. (Ang Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa)

10b. “Tunay na nga,” ang pakli ni Gonsalo, “nguni’t ako ay may sakit at kaawa-
awa ka naman, Maring!” (Maring)

10c. Nang siya'y dumating, ang may sakit ay kasalukuyang nagsasalita. (Ang
Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa)

10d. “Akalain mong si Gonsalo ay may sakit,” ang ulit ni Capitang Juan. “Kapag
siya’y namatay ay walang lilingap sa iyo at sa iyong mga anak.” (Maring)

11. Hinawakan ang kamay ni Loleng na may hawak na sampagita. Naupo sa


piling nito at sinapupo sa likod ang dalaga ng kaliwang kamay. (Agawan ng
Dangal)

In example (10a), it refers to the person who possess the illness. Compared to (10b), may
constructions can also be in predicational clauses. In this example, it predicates the relationship of
the possessor of the illness which is ako and the possessed entity which is illness. In other words,
it asserts the existence that there is the entity sakit which is possessed by ako. Same with
examples (10c) and (10d), they also show possessed arguments where the may construction in
example (10c) is the complement of an NP. It identifies someone who has the possession of
sickness. Compared to example (10d), it predicates the relationship of the possessor, which is
Gonsalo, and the existence of sickness. Meanwhile in example (11), it shows that there is the
existence that there is a sampaita that Loleng is holding and Loleng is the possessor of that
sampagita she is holding.

According to Creissels (2014), “existential clauses are not adequate answers to questions
about the location of an entity, but can be used to identify an entity present at a certain location.”
In this case, may preceded by a locative marker sa marks the approximation of the setting.

1. Sa bangka'y masaya tayong lahat, lalong lalo na ikaw at habang tayo'y nagpapaligid-ligid
sa may pulo sa paghanap ng lugar na mababaw… (Nang Bata Pa Kami)
2. Natanaw niya sa may durungawan si Lebning. (Hiwaga ng Pag-Ibig)
3. Sumapit sila sa tahanan nina Pako, sa may Liwasang Tundo. (Hiwaga ng Pag-Ibig)
4. Nang si Eduardo ay anyu ng papasok ng maaliwalas na tahanan, ang mga maririkit na
kortinang nakatabi sa may pintuan ay siya niyang ginawang salag upang huwag makita
ang kanyang katawan. (Hiwaga ng Pag-Ibig)
5. Si Pastor naman ay nakabulagta sa may dalawang dipang layo. Ang dugo ng mga sawi
ay parang idinilig sa pook ng sakuna. (Agawan ng Dangal)

Examples of may constructions shown above express possession because they point to the area
where it is possessed. For example (1), “sa may pulo” tells the location possessed in the area of
what the island covers. Similar with the example (4), it points or describes the location that is
within the space of the door or surrounding the area of what the door occupies. Interestingly, the
last example tells about the distance of the location where it points to a location that has its
possessed characteristic, which is the measurement of the distance.

Moreover, may constructions followed by a numerical expression are used also to express a
certain quantity of an entity. If the quantity is less than ten, any number is used such as in (1) and
(2). However if it is more than ten, multiples of ten (i.e. tens, hundreds, thousands) are usually
used such as in (3) and (4).

1. Datapwa't nang may apat na buwan na kami roo'y inisip ng tatay ko ang kami'y bumalik
sa bayan sa pagka't siya'y magaling na sa kanyang sakit at nagpapalakas na lamang.
(Nang Bata Pa Kami)
2. Gayon ma’y nakapagtayo rin ng tindahan noong Febrero ng 1913, baga man nabuhay ng
may anim na buwan lamang… (Agawan ng Dangal)
3. Sa utos na ito'y nangagalawan ang may dalawangpung lalaki na pawang sandatahan, na
nangakahanay sa dalawang panig ng daan at nagsitungo sa bahay ni kapitang Ape, na sa
mga sandaling iyon ay nasa bahay ni Moneng na kaniyang bibiyinanin. (Juan Masili)
4. Si Kabisang Terio ay isang matandang pusakal na sa gulang na apat na puong taon ay
may tatlong puong anak na pawang panganay. (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)

These constructions assert that using may gives the meaning of there has existed of, for example,
four months. Thus, delimiting the quantity of an entity where the quantity mentioned is the least
possible or the minimum quantity. For example, “may apat na buwan na kami roon…” means
that there have already existed four months or four months and probably a few more days have
been passed, not exactly four months.

5. Nang kayo'y may tatlong araw nang nakalilipat sa ibang bahay ay may nagsadya sa amin
na isang binatang balingkinitan ang katawan, mataas, malago ang buhok, matangos ang
ilong at matingkad pa sa kayumangging kaligatan kulay at siyang nagsabi sa akin na si
Enchay daw at ikaw ay nagmamahalan. (Nang Bata Pa Kami)
6. Si Gonsalo ay may mga tatlong taon ng nananhik ng ligaw kay Maring, nguni’t hindi
pinansin nito ang kaniyang matapat na pagsuyo, at kadalasang isagot sa kaniya ay ang
kaniyang nais na makasuyo muna sa kaniyang mga magulang. (Maring)
7. Ang tubig ng ilog na iyon ay may labinglimang dipa ang lalim; at si Juancho ay di
marunong lumangoy. (Ang Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa)
8. Ang pinasukan ay isang pook na nakukulong ng bato at ang tanging nilulusutan ng
hangin ay isang butas sa bubungan na may limang dipa ang taas. (Juan Masili)

In some cases, mga is added such as in (6) where the marker mga is used for approximating the
quantity of numerals and time expressions (Plank, 2004). While in example (5), it does not show
approximation but out of all the days of moving out, there has three days where a young man
went to the house of the person who is talking. Moreover, it shows the approximation of the
measurement of distance of an entity as shown in examples (7) and (8). In example (7), it implies
that the depth of the river has approximately at least 15 arm lengths or maybe more. In example
(8), the may construction can be interpreted as a characteristic possessed by the river.

Aldridge (2011) defined event existential constructions as a construction that involves


embedding of a clausal complement under an existential verb. According to Latrouite & Van
Valin Jr. (2014), event existential construction has different properties. This construction is
exemplified below based on their analysis.
1. May biniling libro ang babae.
May b<in>ili-ng libro ang babae
EXST <PERF.UV>buy-LNK book NOM woman
‘The woman bought a book.’

First, it asserts the existence of an event. Second, the actor of the event bili ‘buy’, which is
the babae ‘woman’, is said to be nominative. Third, the complement predicate must be in
undergoer voice if transitive. It is ungrammatical if “*May bumiling libro ang babae.” Fourth, the
undergoer of the event is not nominative but marked by the linker na or ng. Lastly, extraction is
possible out of the unit headed by bili as in “Saan may biniling libro ang babae?” Aldridge
(2011) differentiated event existential from nominal existential where the latter shows existential
constructions in which an external argument is the DP whose existence is asserted. This is
exemplified below based on their analysis and glossing.

2a. May [lumalapit na isa-ng lalaki].


EXST Intr.Prog-approach LNK one-LNK man
‘There is a man approaching.’
2b. May [tuma-tawa-ng babae].
EXST Intr.Prog-laugh-LNK woman
‘There is a woman who is laughing.’

This paper argues that may constructions are both transitive constructions (see examples 3
and 4) and intransitive constructions (see examples 5 and 6). Both constructions introduce a new
referent. However, examples (5) and (6) express different function.

3. Si Maneng na talagang linikha yata upang pasakitan ng mga lipi ni Eva ay may
napapansing isang maliit na bagay na ipinanglalamig ng kanyang puso. (Ang Pag-Ibig ng
Layas)

4. Ako’y may inihahandang bahay na talagang titirahan ninyo: malaki at may maraming
kasangkapan. (Maring)

5. May nagbibiyakan, may nagsusukatan, may nagtutuksuhan, may nagtutuktukan ng itlog,


may naghuhulaan ng liha ng dalanhuta ng buto ng siko at iba’t iba pang libangang pinag-
uubusan nila ng sandali hanggang lumalim ang gabi. (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)

6. Dahil sa pagkamatay ng isang kasama, sa sakit na dipterya, ay muntik ng ikulong ang


lahat ng kawani sa buong limbagan… Lungkot, pighati, hinagpis, pamamanglaw, iyan
ang lumalaro sa mga kaawaawa na ikinulong sa isang kamalig na ni lamok ay di
makapasok. May tumatangis at may tumatawa. (Agawan ng Dangal)

May constructions are used to describe the situation of the setting by stating the existence of
people who do those actions such as in (5) and (6). Examples shown above imply that these
people, which are often refer to crowds, are not important in the story so they were not
mentioned.

Moreover, the function of may construction might have evolved into having a build-up of
introduction of what or who is talked about in pragmatics. According to Gast and Haas (2011),
this function is called “presentational” or “presentational constructions” which are used to encode
presentative utterances. Presentative utterances according to Lambrecht (1994) are speech events
in which the speaker “call[s] the attention of an addressee to the hitherto unnoticed presence of
some person or thing in the speech setting.” A presentational construction in which the existential
construction is used to introduce the noun phrase presenting the new participant (Creissels, 2014)
can be found in Tagalog. As what Creissels (2014) mentioned, presentational constructions
constitute a common extension of the use of existentials.

1. “Ah! Maneng, tapatin mo na sa akin na ako’y iyong pinagsawaan. Na, diyan sa loob ay
may isang babae na higit sa akin at aapihin mo rin kung siya’y pagsawaang gaya ko.
Nguni’t talastasin mong kawawa naman ang ating sanggol. Lingapin mo sana siya. Siya’y
dugo ng iyong mga dugo; buto ng iyong mga buto at hinog na bunga ng ating suyuan.
Lingapin mo si Nene,” at humagulgol ng iyak. (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)
2. Datapwa't nagmasungit man noon ang panahon, ay may isang binatang nagtatanghal ng
kanyang kagitingan. Siya ay si G. Francisco V. Dizon, kawal ng bagong kabihasnan.
(Agawan ng Dangal)
3. Kay lungkot na tanawing nagbabalitang ang bahay na yaon ng katahimikan ay may isang
panauhing kakilakilabot: si Kamatayan (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)
4. Si Elíng ay may ináantabayánan; hinihintay niya ang pagdaan sa kanyang tapat noong
mainit sa sinag ng bagong araw na kabatang-bata pa ay bayani na… Hindi nainip si Eling
sa pag-aantay kay Gerardo. (Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa)

In this case, the may-constructions assert or introduce the existence of an entity and will be
discussed later in the context or identify it afterwards. It is usually accompanied with the
determiner “isa” plus the linker -ng, which is an indefinite determiner.

According to Sabbagh (2009), the “nominal pivot in Tagalog existential sentences exhibits a
definiteness effect.” This is because, if the pivot is preceded, it is preceded by an overt indefinite
determiner. This pivot cannot precede strong quantifier phrases, not can it include pronouns and
proper nouns. However, in some examples listed below, “may” does select proper nouns. In
Sabbagh’s definiteness effect, he claims that the argument selected by the existential predicate
must refer to a set of individuals or a property over individuals.

1. Marahil po’y may Celia kayo roon? (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas)


2. “At may Juancho na di nagugulat sa sanglibong gáya mo, palalò!!” ang pagdaka’y
isinabad ng swail. (Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa)
From the examples shown above, may is used to predicate “Celia,” a proper noun. In this context,
“Celia” is used to refer to a young woman, though not a specific Celia. It appears to refer to a
young woman possessed the qualities of Celia. Same with the second example, “Juancho” refers
to a person who has the qualities or characteristics of being a “Juancho”.

In Tagalog, there is a negative existential predicator. For negating existentials, existential


constructions with may cannot be negated with hindi. Instead, wala is used to affirm the non-
existence (see example 1). This is proved in example (2) where wala and roon can exist together
in a construction as the negation of mayroon. This is because roon functions as a locative diectic,
meaning “there, in it.” (Keenan, 2009)

1. Isinusumpa ko po na wala akong kaalaman sa bagay na pagpatay ng kapuwa. (Azucena)


2. Sinalubong ni Gorio at nang mapagtanto na ang pakay ay ang kanyang Panginoon, ay
ipinagkaila at sinabing “wala roon,” sapagka’t kinakabahan siya man din. (Hiwaga ng
Pag-Ibig)

While “may” or “mayroon” may be used as a short question or answer, this falls under the
existential function. It is usually used to confirm the existence of an entity being looked for.

1. “Mayroon ba o wala?” “Mayroon,” ang salo ni kapitana Martina na noon ay abalang


abala. (Agawan ng Dangal)

All other may-questions may be answered by an affirmative response “mayroon” or negative


response “wala”. They are constructed with the same elements as may-statements, with the
addition of interrogative marker ba.
1. May alinlangan ka ba Nati? (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas) (vs. May inaalinlangan ka ba
Nati?)
2. May iba pa siyang iniibig? (Sa Tabi ng Bangin) (vs. May iniibig pa siyang iba?)
3. Hindi ka naniniwalang may kabihisang langit ang naghihirap? (Juan Masili) (vs. Hindi ka
naniniwalang may naghihirap na kabihisang langit?)
4. May kamatáyan pô bang diya'y dadakilà pa? (Ang Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa) (vs. May
dadakila pa po bang kamatayan diyan?)
5. May manok bang tumanggi sa palay? (Agawan ng Dangal) (vs. May tumanggi bang
manok sa palay?)
6. May miting ka bang dadaluhan? (Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa) (vs. May dadaluhan ka bang
miting?)
7. May nababago bang bagay? (Ang Pag-Ibig ng Layas) (vs. May bagay bang nababago?)
8. May nalalaman ba kayong alimuom ni Artemyo? (Agawan ng Dangal) (vs. May alimuom
ni Artemyo ba kayong nalalaman?)

All of the examples above occur in predicational constructions. However, examples (7)-(8) are
verbal constructions. Beside every sentence has an alternative construction, from existential
construction to verbal construction and vice-versa. For example in (6), “May miting ka bang
dadaluhan?” implies that the construction asserts the existence of the entity miting being
possessed by the possessor. It focuses on the meeting itself, if the person will attend any meeting
out of all the meetings in a set, for example weekly meeting in a company. However, when “May
dadaluhan ka bang miting?” it focuses more on the event dadaluhan if the person will attend any
meeting even meetings outside of the set, for example meetings with organizations.

As opposed to “may” constructions, these cannot be used as possessives. In the examples


listed below, those using “mayroon,” such as (16), are used for questions that put an emphasis the
the status of the owner as the owner, rather than the entity being owned. (16) asks whether the
person is a car owner, while (15) asks if he has access to a car. Syntactically, this is highlighted
by the fact that “may” is followed by the possessed entity, while “mayroon” selects the owner in
the form of the marked pronoun.

9. May kotse ka ba?


10. Mayroon ka bang kotse?

3.0 Conclusion
In Tagalog, may-constructions traditionally fall under the category of “existential
constructions,” which denote the “non-emptiness of a set.” However, they may also be interpreted
as possessive at the same time with existential, as well as approximation. It can occur in
identificational clauses and predicational clauses, and existential constructions are both transitive
and intransitive constructions. It can also be used with proper nouns to refer to an existence of an
entity that possess the qualities of the proper noun. In addition, may constructions have evolved
into having a presentational function where it introduces the existence of an entity and identifies
it afterwards.
From the previous research, may constructions do not have any one strict function, but
instead fall under the jurisdiction of several different sentence constructions.

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I. Corpus
Ang Bulalakaw ng Pag-Asa (2011) by Ismael Alberto Amado
Ang Pagibig ng Layás (2014) by Jose N. Sevilla
Agawan ng Dangal (2013) by Fausta Cortes
Maring (Dangal at Lakas) (2013) by Aurelio Tolentino
Nang Bata Pa Kami (2004) by Pura L. Medrano
Sa Tabi ng Bangin (2005) by Jose Maria Rivera
Juan Masili o Ang Pinuno ng Talisan (2004) by Patricio Mariano
Rosa Birhen (1918) by Antonio G. Sempio
Azucena (1920) by Rosendo Ignacio
Hiwagà ng Pag-Ibig by B.B. Nanong