2123: Filipinas en cien años, según la Inteligencia Artificial

Not all were asleep in the night-time of our grandparents’.” —The Philosopher Tasio, in Noli Me Tangere.

National hero Jose Rizal wrote “Filipinas dentro de cien anos” (“The Philippines a century hence”), a socio-political essay written in four parts, for the magazine La Solidaridad, from September 1889 to-January 1890. In it he attempted to predict the country’s future by outlining several scenarios for how the Philippines might evolve over the next century.

As a technology practitioner, I had wondered how an AI instructed to answer like Jose Rizal and (updated with inputs from historian) Yuval Noah Harari would answer the prompt: “What would the Philippines be like in 100 years?” I have reproduced the answer below without any modifications or corrections. Of course, give how generative AI like ChatGPT generates their answers from limited and skewed existing information, this answer needs to be taken with a VERY big grain of salt.

However, the resulting short essay is both thought-provoking and honestly, sad — in the very same way that Gregorio Brillantes’ seminal short story, Apollo Centennial, was. Will we ever see change? Even an AI doesn’t seem to think so.

The Philippines in 2123: Exploring the Top 5 Challenges of its Future


Looking ahead to the year 2123, the Philippines faces a myriad of challenges that could significantly shape its future. This speculative essay examines the top five issues that are likely to confront the country: economic disparities, entrenched political dynasties, the persistent intertwining of Church and State, increasing encroachment by China, and a high net emigration rate. While the road ahead is riddled with complexities, drawing lessons from Philippine history and its regional neighbors allows us to make realistic projections on the potential trajectory of the nation.

  1. Economic Disparities and Inequality:

Despite making strides in economic growth, the Philippines continues to grapple with significant income disparities. This issue is rooted in historical factors such as colonial exploitation, widespread corruption, and a lack of inclusive policies. The persistence of an unequal distribution of wealth poses a challenge to social cohesion, leading to social unrest, political instability, and a potential threat to the country’s stability.

Historical examples, such as the Hukbalahap rebellion in the mid-20th century, highlight the consequences of unaddressed economic disparities. If left unaddressed, the Philippines may face continued regional social unrest, exacerbating the potential for a failed state scenario, particularly the possibility of splintering the nation into separate polities.

  1. Entrenched Political Dynasties:

The prevalence of political dynasties in the Philippines is a deeply ingrained issue that has hindered democratic development and contributed to systemic corruption. The concentration of power within certain families perpetuates nepotism, patronage politics, and a lack of policy continuity. This phenomenon poses a significant obstacle to effective governance and public service delivery.

Lessons from Philippine history, such as the Marcos regime’s abuse of power and rampant corruption, underscore the dangers of uncontrolled political dynasties. Without comprehensive political reforms and a genuine commitment to democratic principles, the Philippines may continue to struggle with governance challenges, impeding progress and perpetuating a feudal mentality within its polity.

  1. Inability to Separate Church from State:

The persistent intertwining of Church and State in the Philippines presents another challenge to modern governance and societal progress. Despite a constitutional provision mandating the separation of Church and State, religious institutions continue to exert significant influence on political affairs, policy-making, and social norms.

Philippine history, notably the influence of the Catholic Church during the Spanish colonial period and the People Power Revolution in 1986, exemplifies the consequences of religious interference in politics. The inability to strike a delicate balance between religious freedom and secular governance may hinder the country’s ability to adapt to a rapidly changing world and contribute to societal divisions, potentially undermining stability.

  1. Increasing Threat from China:

The geopolitical dynamics of the region have a profound impact on the Philippines’ future. China’s assertive posture in the South China Sea raises concerns about territorial disputes, economic coercion, and potential military confrontation. The Philippines, with its strategic location, its rich marine resources – not to mention its special relationship with the United States, finds itself in the crosshairs of this power play.

Looking to the experiences of neighboring countries like Vietnam and Singapore, which has faced similar challenges, we can anticipate that the Philippines will need to carefully navigate its relationship with China to safeguard its sovereignty and economic interests. Failure to do so may result in a compromised national security apparatus, reduced access to vital resources, and limited opportunities for economic growth.

  1. High Net Emigration Rate:

The persistent phenomenon of high net emigration poses a significant challenge to the Philippines’ future. Economic opportunities, political instability, and social unrest have historically driven waves of Filipino emigration, leading to brain drain and the loss of skilled human capital. This exodus deprives the country of talent, stifles economic growth, and further exacerbates inequality.

The experiences of neighboring countries like the Philippines’ diaspora in the United States and the Middle East provide valuable insights into the potential long-term consequences of high net emigration. To mitigate this challenge, the Philippines needs to address the root causes of emigration (such as poorly planned and managed infrastructure), invest in education and job creation, and establish favorable conditions for talent retention.

Will the Philippines Become a Failed State?

While the challenges discussed above are formidable, it is essential to approach the question of a failed state scenario with caution. The future of the Philippines hinges on the ability of its leaders and society to tackle these issues head-on, drawing from historical lessons and regional experiences.

The Philippines has demonstrated resilience in the face of adversity throughout its history, including successful democratic transitions and significant economic growth. However, the path towards progress and stability requires concerted efforts to address economic disparities, reform political structures, ensure secular governance, protect national interests, and invest in human capital.

Ultimately, the fate of the Philippines rests in the hands of its people and leaders. By embracing inclusive governance, fostering economic development, promoting social cohesion, and actively engaging in regional diplomacy, the Philippines has the potential to overcome these challenges and forge a future that ensures stability, prosperity, and avert failure.

In conclusion, the Philippines will face a myriad of challenges in the coming century. While the path ahead is uncertain, valuable lessons from Philippine history and regional experiences offer a roadmap for addressing these issues. By embracing inclusive policies, reforming political structures, promoting secular governance, protecting national interests, and investing in human capital, the Philippines can strive to overcome these obstacles and avoid the specter of a failed state.

Ricky Lee, National Artist for Literature

Congratulations to mentor/teacher, screenwriter, journalist, novelist, and playwright, Ricardo “Ricky” Lee on being conferred the Order of National Artists (ONA), together with seven other distinguished Filipino artists from various disciplines.

His extensive body of work, spanning over four decades, include short stories, plays, essays, novels, teleplays, and screenplays. Two of his short stories won first prizes at the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (1970 and 1971). His screenplay “Salome/Brutal” won the 1981 Philippine National Book Awards for best screenplay. In 2011, he was awarded the Manila Critics Circle Special Prize for a Book Published by an Independent Publisher. His two-stage plays Pitik-Bulag sa Buwan ng Pebrero and DH (Domestic Helper) played to SRO crowds. DH, starring Nora Aunor, has toured the US and Europe in 1993.

However, Ricky Lee is best known for being a script writer. In fact he is the Philippines’ greatest and most prolific screenwriter, having written almost 200 screenplays, including classics such as “Brutal” (1980) and “Karnal” (1983), both directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya; “Himala” (1982), by Ishmael Bernal; “Macho Dancer” (1988), by Lino Brocka; and “José Rizal” (1998), again, by Diaz-Abaya.

On top of all that, he is also the author of the definitive screenplay manual, Trip to Quiapo which distilled all the knowledge and wisdom he had amassed over the decades.

It was truly a great privilege for me to have been one of his students at Cinemalaya’s Ricky Lee Script Writing Workshop last year (Batch 29). Sir Ricky was truly one of the best literature teachers I have ever had — particularly with how he emphasized how characters and character development was the most important part of weaving any story. Being primarily a science fiction writer, it was especially important for me to be reminded that people followed stories for their characters rather than for the plot, regardless of how fantastical or technologically awesome the latter may be.

One of the things that most stuck to me was: “Lahat ng kahon ay oportunidad para mapilitan kang gumawa ng butas upang makalabas.” To (poorly) translate and paraphrase: “All the things that keep your character in a box are opportunities for them to escape (and further the plot).”

Both his book and his lectures some everything up with the idea of the writer as active participant, not only in his work but in the world outside it. As a recent article by Jerome Gomez of ABS-CBN puts it: “In Ricky Lee’s universe, everyone is a writer because we all have the power to reverse fortunes, change the course of history, by touching other people’s lives in ways big or small.”

End Papers Reveal

It’s been a while since I last posted something.

Today, I want to share the artwork that graces the end papers of the North American edition of The Infinite Library and Other Stories. The digital artwork (below) is called “Panopticon”, 2019 and is by Filipino artist Marius Black (@manilaukiyoe), whose work is often inspired by Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The end papers actually use the black and white version of this work which you can also see as the new masthead of my author website.

You can get your copy of my book here.

Apart from scenes from the short story “Panopticon” (Trash anthology: Buku Fixi, 2016), you can see characters and elements from several other tales such as from “Mene, Thecel, Phares” (PSF: Kestrel, 2016) and Here Be Dragons (CANVAS, 2015).

58 Comments and the Blessed Feels


Writing from the fringes of both genre and mainstream literature, I’m always surprised when someone says that they’ve read one of my stories (no, really).  Two weeks week ago I found out that a high school in Las Vegas, Nevada used “Blessed Are The Hungry” (Apex #62) as a study text for literature class. After reading it,  58 students left comments for me at Apex’s website. Most were very positive, a few critical, some were even quite effusive — but wow, 58 comments! That’s definitely a new record for me.

Here are some of my favorites:

From Kirsten Tan – “I thought that this story was engaging, and it was an interesting take on what can happen when you don’t fight back and how something horrible can continue to be perpetuated. I enjoyed reading about how the father and his sons chose to fight back instead of “suffer in silence,” and how this chain of events led to everyone finding out what was actually happening. I also felt concern when the mother told Elsa that she couldn’t go with her father simply because she’d be a great “breeder.” she’d It sort of reminded me of A Handmaid’s Tale, because women’s fertility were considered highly important.”

From Jordan – “Your story was very well written. It was very descriptive because of all the details, figurative language pieces, similes, etc. you added to your story. I found the part where Elsa was talking about all of these gruesome words to her younger sibling very disturbing and I can’t believe she was teaching those kinds of words to him but wow, this story gave such a different vibe than all the rest (which I really enjoyed). The dystopian, space feel was super cool to read in a book because I have never read anything like this before!

From Ariel Bloch – “This story is gruesome yet beautiful. A dying ship travelling through never ending darkness, with a spark of warmth and hope igniting in the dark. This terrifying yet realistic interpretation of the future keeps your eyes glued to the screen, and makes you fear, perhaps, your own dark thoughts and selfishness. The figurative language used in this short story sharpened my vision as I read, and encouraged me to dive further into this cold world. The moment you begin reading you get a sense of the foul society that Elsa lives in, and the hopelessness that has devoured generations as they were born and buried in the dark vacuum of space.”

From Anna Wood – “From the beginning, I was immediately intrigued by the execution scene. It was shocking how children were there to witness it. As the story progressed, it only became more and more fascinating. I like how you included a bit of mystery with the missing page and unknown levels of the spaceship. It left me questioning. At the end, I was still left with many questions. It was a very well written short story that I would definitely read as a book.

Although I did not write this story with secondary school readers in mind, I am very pleased that it was selected for them. Moreover, I am ecstatic that most of these kids seemed to enjoyed it (despite the scary parts). This is really a wonderful gift that they have given me. Without knowing it, these kids from Las Vegas and their wonderful, albeit anonymous, teacher have provided me with the encouragement I really needed to complete this story arc as a novel. Thank you so much!

Ten Speculative Technologies in Philippine Science Fiction

Futur Manila 2

Basil Davenport, an author and literary critic for the New York Times, once said that “Science Fiction is fiction based upon some imagined development of science, or upon the extrapolation of a tendency in society.”[1]  Indeed the technologies presented in many science fiction stories examine the possibilities and implications of new devices, machinery and other practical  applications developed from scientific knowledge. Unique to the genre is the possibility that some of these speculative products of the imagination may become realities. Examples include now commonplace things such as space stations, mobile tablets, video-calling and moisture farming, all of which were once just fictional concepts. Occasionally,  the real-world technology gets invented first, and science fiction authors ponder and elaborate on how these developments may be used. More importantly, they speculate on how technology could affect the human condition, both for good and for ill.

Filipinos have been writing Science Fiction for 70+ years. Here are 10 interesting speculative technologies that are worth contemplating — especially since they were used in the context of a Philippine setting.

Note that this list is not comprehensive and selects only those technologies that are realistic (based on existing or near-future technologies), or based on far-out concepts that do not violate generally-accepted scientific laws. Excluded are technologies used purely for plot-device purposes or have no actual scientific basis (e.g. the gravity disruptors from Pocholo Goitia’s An Introduction to the Luminescent [2] and the undescribed time travel method used in Michael A.R. Co’s Waiting for Victory [3]). Wherever possible I have included links to the stories or to discussions about them.

  • The SentryServ Identity Database from Project 17 by Eliza Victoria [4].  In Victoria’s biometricsarresting 2013 near-future novel, a shadowy corporation called Sentry keeps track of all humans (and androids), collecting movement, personal records and other important, supposedly private information. This potentially sinister application of technology is probably very close to becoming reality (a few would argue that its already here with Facebook, Google, Tencent and WeChat). Here’s an article on Business Insider on 12 ways that companies spy on you.
  • Bio-Plasticine Millet and other artificial food from Milagroso by Isabel Yap
    download (2015) [5].  A balikbayan returns to his childhood home in Lucban Quezon and discovers that artificial, plastic-derived food was somehow being turned into the real thing. This concept of non-nature created food first appeared in an earlier story by the same author, called A List of Things We Know (2013) [6].  Edible plastic as a source of nutrition is also used in my story Blessed Are The Hungry (2014) [7]. The technology of artificial food is a growing new industry. Here are 19 food items that are actually not made from food.
  • The Heliodisc VTOL Aircraft from The Apollo Centennial by Gregorio Brilliantes [8]. In this image-640978-galleryV9-osph-640978.jpgdystophian short story from 1980, the Marcos dictatorship never fell, and Luzon (now a protectorate of the United States) is patrolled by these unusual VTOL aircraft: “Now the sky is clear but for the remote clouds and a couple of helidiscs humming in a wide arc over the fields. For a moment the fighter-bombers hang gleaming, in silhouette against the mountains, their two-man crews visible in the bubble canopies, before rising vertically, abruptly, cut off from view by the roof of the bus.” It’s interesting how Brilliantes’ fictional aircraft seems to describe the Avro Canada VZ-9 Avrocar, a proposed “UFO” fighter which was still classified when the story was written. A similar egg-shaped VTOL vehicle called an “Aerocopter” also figures in Crystal Gail Koo’s The Rooftops of Manila (2009), this time as a civilian transport to a new underground city.[9]
  • The Solar sails used by Skyharvester spaceships from Sky Gypsies by Timothy James 906339M. Dimacali (2007).  This story is about a space-faring Sama-Laut father and his son who gather rare minerals from asteroids using their solar-sailed ship the Karumarga.[10]  Solar sails, also called “light sails” or “photon sails”, are a type of spacecraft propulsion using radiation pressure exerted by sunlight on large mirrors. As the author correctly posited, in the near future, these may be the best way for humanity to traverse the solar system. NASA recently announced the first such deployment of a solar sail,  the Near-Earth Asteroid Scout probe, which will be launched in 2018.
  • Diseases as a Service – In A Retrospective of Diseases for Sale by Charles Tan download (2)(2009) [11], the author goes one step beyond disease mongering with a corporation that sold ailments online (instead of the pharmaceuticals to treat them). The most interesting — and original — part of this concept was how the disease was alleged to be delivered: the vector was the email confirming purchase which contained an encrypted  psychosomatic code which could “mentally activate various proteins in the human body that replicated the effects of the disease you ordered.” While no government would allow such a service to operate, it is not impossible to speculate that deadly diseases are already being bought and sold by criminals and terrorists on the Dark Web today.
  • Xenotransplantation – In 1959’s The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde) by xenotransplantation-resizedNemesio E. Caravana [12], a brilliant young surgeon saves the life of his beloved by performing a dangerous and unethical cross-species heart transplant. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another. Although it is a promising avenue for treating final-stage organ failure, the technology is fraught with ethical issues — not the least of which is the creation of hybrid monsters (which was the subject of this very early Filipino Science Fiction serialized novel).  Here’s a brief history of this controversial technique.
  • Experimental Gerontology – Life extension and human augmentation seems to be a forever-young-727666favorite topic of many Filipino Science Fiction authors. Practically every available SF book in the Philippine oeuvre has at least one story that uses it as a trope. In fact, the earliest known Filipino Science Fiction story,  1945’s Doktor Satan by Mateo Cruz Cornelio [13] involves the development of a serum that could restore the freshly dead back to life.  A similar formula called Bio Regain was the subject of Vince Torres’ 2013 short story, The Cost of Living [14] which gave those who drank it a lust for life-extending blood. Interestingly, there is  a controversial medical technique called Parabiosis which temporarily connects the circulatory system of an old and a young subject to rejuvenate an old person’s body with youthful blood. The Starvation Enzyme in F.H. Batacan’s brilliant Keeping Time (a short story and later a novel)[15], originally from 2007,  also falls under this category. The enzyme was originally developed as a means to control obesity and diabetes.  It was added to the world’s public water systems to disastrous consequences.  Similarly, in  Sharmaine Galve’s The Paranoid Style (2009), the public water supply is tainted with a drug cocktail like to those used to treat ADHD patients. This converts the unsuspecting populace into literally a “polite” society [16].
  • Cybernetic Augmentation –  The other way to extend life is to go the Transhumanist 122on45route of using Bionics. In Fortitude (again by Eliza Victoria, 2016) [17], many characters live with cybernetic transplants including arms and lungs. In Dancing in the Shadow of the Once (2013) by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz [18], a woman uses media-based augmentations to recount the stories of a world that was now lost.  Dominique Gerald Cimafranca’s 2007 story Facester, revolves around a procedure called “Cara Nuevo” that used an artificial enzyme, laser sculpting and radiation treatments to let people physically change their faces [19]. Naturally, identity theft was one of the inevitable unfortunate applications.  Here’s an article about a few individuals who have gone beyond wearable technology towards a post-human future. For those not inclined to replacing body parts with electronics, there is the somewhat less radical practice of bio-hacking.
  • Robot Companions – Robots are no longer Science Fiction and scientists are looking tumblr_inline_npu9tbWBYJ1r9js4k_500at augmenting them using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide empathy and  assistance to people in a socially acceptable manner. The question that both Science Fiction and Technology writers have asked is: how human do these machines need to be? Also, how far can or should people take relationships once the so-called Uncanny Valley is crossed? In Haya Makes a HUG by Erica Gonzales (2009), a sentient program tries to find out what a human hug means by building a humanoid from spare parts. [20] In Raymond P. Reyes’ The Romeo Robot (2016), a spoiled but lonely young man begs his father for a robot boyfriend only to abandon his faithful companion once his social anxiety is overcome. [21] Likewise, in Surrogate (2016) by  Daniel Carlos Tan, a young woman from a future Davao cannot handle the fact that her recently deceased mother had programmed herself into a Personal Surrogate Droid.[22] Here’s an article exploring the future of relationships, love and sex in the time of robots.
  • Digital Torture – As a predominately Catholic country, the subjects of Heaven and olklutunw0lkk6nvwglwHell are never far from the minds of most Filipinos. In my story Panopticon (2014) I explored the possibility of being trapped in a digital afterlife, tortured endlessly by a vengeful former lover.[23].  The Technological Singularity may still be faraway but using neural interfaces for recreating the proverbial tortures of hell  is rapidly becoming a reality.  “Remote Neural Monitoring, Control and Manipulation” (RNMCM) refers to the usage of specific technologies to record and/or alter the electrical activity of neurons in the human body. In Prisoner 2501 by John Philip Corpuz (2011), the Olympus MetroComm of an unnamed dystophian future city use RNMCM, gaslighting and isolation to torture prisoners into admitting terrorist affiliations. Elon Musk, a major proponent of neural interfaces,  has spoken against  the abuse of this technology for this type of interrogation.

One of the troubling aspects about chronicling the ten technologies above (and reading the twenty-three stories where they were used) is that these were all presented in a more or less negative context.  There is little of the positive world view in which scientific progress has made the world a better place. Whether this is due to: an innate fear of technology, a reflection of the zeitgeist, or simply that there are not enough Filipino Science Fiction stories yet — or, perhaps all three — is up for debate.

There is also that unique fear that plagues Science Fiction writers.  Namely, that their stories will be judged on whether what they wrote comes to pass or not, with no thought to literary merit.  This is a mistaken notion.  The task of Science Fiction is not to predict the future. Rather, it is to contemplate all possible futures. Simply put, Filipino Science Fiction Writers are meant to dream of every future for Filipinos.

For now, it’s a dark future that many of us are dreaming.



[1]  Davenport, Basil (1955). Inquiry Into Science Fiction; New York: Longmans, Green and Co. p. 15.

[2] Goitia, Pocholo (2005) “An Introduction to the Luminescent”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis; Manila: Kestrel DDM

[3] Co, Michael A.R.  (2006) “Waiting for Victory”. Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2, ed. Alfar, Dean Francis;  Manila: Kestrel DDM

[4] Victoria, Eliza (2013) Project 17; Manila; Visprint Inc.

[5] Yap, Isabel (2015) “Milagroso“; Tor.com published by Tor Books

[6] Yap, Isabel (2013) “A List of Things We Know”, Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines eds. Flores, Emil M. & Nacino, Joseph Frederic F. ; Manila, The University of the Philippines Press

[7] Ocampo, Victor Fernando R. (2014) “Blessed Are The Hungry“, Apex Magazine vol. 62, ed. Sigrid Ellis; Lexington; Apex Book Company

[8] Brilliantes, Gregorio C. (1980), “The Apollo Centennial”, The Apollo Centennial: Nostalgias, Predicaments & Celebrations; Manila, National Bookstore

[9] Koo, Krystal Gail “The Rooftops of Manila”(2009), Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[10] Dimacali, Timothy James M.  (2007) “Sky Gypsies“; Manila, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3 eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki, Kestrel DDM

[11] Tan, Charles (2009), “A Retrospective of Diseases for Sale“; The Virtuous Medlar Circle presented by Anna Tambour. Also appears on  Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[12] Caravana, Nemesio E. (1959), The Heart of Mathilda (Ang Puso ni Matilde); Manila, Aliwan Magazine

[13] Cornelio, Mateo Cruz (1945) Doktor Satan; Manila, Palimbagang Tagumpay

[14] Torres, Vince (2013), “The Cost of Living”;  Diaspora Ad Astra: An Anthology of Science Fiction from the Philippines eds. Flores, Emil M. & Nacino, Joseph F. ; Manila, The University of the Philippines Press

[15] Batacan, F.H. (2007) “Keeping Time“, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[16] Galve, Sharmaine “The Paranoid Style”(2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[17] Victoria, Eliza “Fortitude” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[18] Loenen-Ruiz, Rochita, “Dancing in the Shadow of the Once” (2013) Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia Butler scholars, ed. Nisi Shawl; Seattle,  Book View Cafe

[19] Cimafranca, Dominique Gerald, “Facester” (2007) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 3, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[20] Gonzales, Erica, “Haya Makes a HUG” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 4, eds. Alfar Dean Francis & Alfar, Nikki; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[21] Reyes, Raymond P. ,”The Romeo Robot” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults  eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[22] Tan, Daniel Carlos ,”Surrogate” (2016) Science Fiction: Filipino Fiction for Young Adults  eds. Alfar, Dean Francis & Yu, Kenneth; Manila, University of the Philippines Press

[23] Ocampo, Victor Fernando, “Panopticon” (2009) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 9, eds. Drillon, Andrew & Tan, Charles; Manila, Kestrel DDM

[24] Corpuz, John Philip,  “Prisoner 2501” (2011) Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 6, eds. Alfar, Nikki & Osias, Kate; Manila, Kestrel DDM


Top image reworked slightly from original digital art by BP Sola. All other pictures taken from the Internet and belong to their respective copyright owners.

My Writing Year – 2015

Posted on January 1, 2016

This year went as well as it could for me, writing-wise, as I didn’t really expect to publish much. Last year’s novel is unfortunately still stuck at chapter 4 (I’ve decided to shelve it for a while). The short film based on “Big Enough for the Entire Universe” is still stuck in post-production, with the release date moved to mid-2016. Lastly, the publication dates of six new short stories were also moved from the end of 2015 to 2016.

Despite all of these setbacks there have been couple of highlights:

  • My poem “Objets trouvés de Singapour” appeared in Vol. 14 No. 2 of the Quarterly Literature Review of Singapore last April 2015. This was a post-internet experimental poem where the text was mined from Singapore government slogans and local commercial advertising from the last 50 years. It’s also my first published poem.
  • “An Excerpt from the Philippine Journal of Archaeology (04 October, 1916)” (which first appeared in Likhaan Journal 8 by the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing in December 2014) is now being used as recommended reading material by the University of the Philippine’s Literature program.
  • Blessed are the Hungry” (a Filipino space opera which first appeared in Apex Magazine issue 62, July 2014), was translated into Mandarin Chinese by Hu Shao Yan and was published in the March 2015 volume of Science Fiction World. I have been told that this magazine has close to a million readers, so this story is now probably my most read story ever.
  • I m d 1 in 10”  (my experimental story inspired by Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae which first appeared in the July 2014 issue of The Future Fire) was anthologized in the Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume Two by Epigram Books. Plus, I got to talk about my work at a panel in this year’s Singapore Writer’s Festival.

VRO Poster

Best of all, my first children’s book, the Romeo Forbes Award-winning “Here be Dragons” was finally released in 24 August, 2015.  Thank you to Gigo and Canvas, Jon, Rhandee, Danny and everyone who was involved in it’s almost 3-year long production.


As usual there was not enough time to do all my writing projects. As a result, I have more work-in-progress stuff right now that I have ever had before — including three short stories, two flash pieces, a Line novelette, a Filipino translation and my second children’s book.

I mentioned earlier that the publication dates of six new short stories were delayed to this year. This means that I already have a substantial line-up coming for 2016 without having to do much.

Happy New Year to all my readers and thank you for all your support!


A Win from the Margins #RequiresLove

With the whole Sad/Rabid Puppies and the RH/BS incident, it’s been a rough year for Speculative Fiction writers (and fans) who were hoping for some civility of dialogue in our chosen genre. Sadly, no sooner had the followers and admirers of Vox Day been given a Hugo drubbing and Laura J. Mixon won the Best Fan Writer award for “A Report on Damage Done by One Individual Under Several Names”, when prolific SFF author Sarah Hoyt denigrated Liu Cixin, the first Chinese winner of the Hugo for best novel (for The Three-Body Problem) as a “Chicom” writer (this is a derogatory and racist Vietnam War era term for Communist Chinese).

A part of me wonders how much of this bile is native to the genre (perhaps due to long-seated personal and professional rivalries) and how much is actually a reflection of the deep conservative/liberal divide in American politics. As an outsider who comes from the kind of country looked upon by the West as “savage” (check out the odiously yellow-peril “No Escape”), I am often astounded how dialogue can quickly degenerate into mud-slinging in the United States. We get our share of ugly fights too but rarely this rabid and self-damaging.

In her acceptance speech, Mixon said:  “There’s room for all of us here. But there is no middle ground between “we belong here” and “no you don’t,” which is what I hear when people disrespect members of our community. I believe we must find non-toxic ways to discuss our conflicting points of view.”

That really is the key to moving forward – Detoxifying SFF. Someone needs to call a giant time-out and put everyone in a corner until we can talk too each other like conscientious, responsible people. But I guess as a SFF writer myself, this may be just a naive fantasy I am spinning. Perhaps this is something that will never come true, perhaps the idea of peace in SFF is nothing but vaporware. But isn’t this an ideal that is worth striving for? I really don’t think any writer or fan deserves any of this poison.

I will end this by posting a link to the text and a video of Laura J. Mixon’s Hugo acceptance speech. I am so proud to have contributed a small part in getting this message through. As she said: “In the end, we don’t win this struggle with hate. We win it with curiosity, joy, honesty, persistence, resistance, and love.”

Writers in Manila

Not quite the best pictures, but it was great to see old and new writer friends in Manila – Dean Alfar, Vida Cruz and Mia SN. Interestingly, Vida and I were in the TOC for Philippine Science Fiction Vol. 9, which was founded by Dean and his better half, Nikki. Mia is a very talented young artist/writer based in Australia.


Me, Sophia and Dean @ Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf


Me, Sophia, Mia, Vida and Seb at Wooden Spoon

The Sands of Pactolus

Pactolus is a river in ancient Lydia (now Modern Turkey) where the ancients once mined gold and electrum. It was said to be the very place where the legendary King Midas divested himself of his golden touch by washing himself in the waters.

The Sands of Pactolus” is also the title of Pop Surrealist/ Neo-Symbolist Gromyko Semper’s first solo show in Singapore (c/o Artesan Art Gallery). If you are in Singapore tomorrow please catch the opening on Thursday 7pm, May 28, 2015 at Artzpace 1, Nassim Road #02-02 Singapore 258458.

Sands of Pactolus

From his bio:

“Semper’s drawings are executed in the manner of Japanese wood-block prints, whilst embodying a personal, invented mythology like William Blake and J.R.R. Tolkien; the symbolists, surrealists and decadents; and up to and including British artist Patrick Woodroffe’s Mythopoeikon (1976) and The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony (1979) and the forerunner of Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, the visionary, Ernst Fuchs. Whilst Semper’s work has some affinity with Albretch Durer’s woodblock style, it stands apart, drawing on Filipino supernatural folk traditions, Christianity, Jungian psychology, the mysteries of the Kabala and Gnostics whilst employing elements of quantum mechanics, alchemy, world mythology, the occult, classical art symbolism, art nouveau and erotic drawings.”

Gromyko also illustrated one of my short stories “A Secret Map of Shanghai” (which originally appeared in Strange Horizons). This will be included in a future collection of my short stories. Here’s a teaser:

ASecretMapof Shanghai.-Detail


What you should know about the 2015 Palanca Awards

The Carlos Palanca Foundation is now accepting entries for the 2015 Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature in the Philippines. Apart from the fact that you can only submit unpublished works now, the biggest and perhaps most disturbing change is that winner will now be obliged to sign over all their moral rights to their winning work. You can find more about Philippine Intellectual Property rights here and an update here.

Here’s the excellent original post by Tin Lao on Facebook.

(This note was modified on March 5, mainly to say that authors can waive their moral rights under the law, but the waiver will not be valid under certain situations; and that moral rights last forever, beyond the +50 years after death (pre-2013 provision). Thank you, Drea Pasion-Flores, for pointing these out to me.)

The 2015 Palanca Awards entry rules bother me very much. I’m quite curious what interests the changes seek to promote or preserve. I hope this is not a case where overzealous lawyers have crafted rules to protect the client but end up defeating the client’s ultimate objective (which, I’m guessing, is to attract the greatest number of good writers to join the competition).

Future and past winners might wish to check what they will be assigning the contest sponsor:

1. Not only “the concurrent and non-exclusive right to exercise the full copyright and all other intellectual property” over the winning work, BUT ALSO the intellectual property over the contestant’s PREVIOUS PALANCA PRIZE WINNING WORKS.

Meaning to say, if you won before (and the rules didn’t then require that you assign full copyright to the sponsor) and win again in 2015, you’d be assigning full copyright over even your past winning works, which have nothing to do with the current contest. In effect, you’d be giving the sponsor the right to use and distribute (and more, see below) your past and present winning works.

(Caveat: This right is concurrent and non-exclusive–meaning to say, when you assign it to the sponsor, you still exercise it too. But what if Past Winning Author isn’t too keen on sharing copyright over her previous winning works? This might actually discourage her from joining the 2015 contest.)

(By the way: What IS copyright? Under the Philippine Intellectual Property Code, the right to carry out, authorise, or prevent the following:

Reproduction of the work
Dramatization, translation, adaptation, abridgment, arrangement or other transformation of the work
The first public distribution of the original and each copy of the work
Rental of the original or a copy of the work
Public display of the original or a copy of the work;
Public performance of the work; and
Other communication to the public of the work.

Copyright is an economic right–therefore, a copyright holder can derive profit from doing or allowing anyone to do the foregoing activities. If you assign copyright to someone else, you’re allowing that person to profit from doing any of the above activities. It’s the copyright holder, for example, whom you need to ask permission from, if you would like to turn a written work into a movie. The copyright holder might give permission in exchange for a fee. Here’s an interesting hypothetical situation: a theatre group knows that you dislike its work. And so, instead of getting permission to perform your play from you, they strategically go to the person you assigned non-exclusive copyright to. If that person allows the group to perform the play for a fee, it would have no obligation to share with you the fees it collected from the theatre group.)

2. All moral rights over the winning works are waived, in the sponsor’s favor.

What are moral rights? From the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines: The author of a work shall have the right:

– To require that authorship of a work be attributed to him or her
– To alter the work before its publication or to withhold it from publication
– To object to any change to one’s work
– To restrain the use of one’s name with respect to any work that she did not create (or which is a distortion of her work).

Moral rights are different from but connected to copyright.* Sure, sponsor, go ahead and exercise full copyright over the winning work (concurrently with the author, that is)–but ask a contestant to waive one’s right to be associated with the work as its author too?

Andrea Pasion-Flores points out that Sec. 195 of the IPC does provide that authors can indeed waive their moral rights but this waiver is not valid only if the work is used to “substantially tend to injure the literary or artistic reputation of another author” or to “use the name of the author with respect to a work he did not create”.* But what if the person favored by your waiver uses one’s work without attributing it to the author?

In fact the 2013 revisions to the Intellectual Property Code (IPC) provides that moral rights cannot be assigned or licensed, and shall last during the lifetime of the author and even after his death.**

3. Finally, the rights one assigns to or waives in favor of the sponsor are “worldwide, continuous, and exercised for the maximum time allowed by the law”. Sure, the copyright one has assigned to the sponsor is nonexclusive and concurrent–but some markets do ask for first exclusive publishing rights in a particular region of the world. This would limit the markets that one might wish to bring the work to internationally. (But then again, if one self-publishes, or is happy/lucky enough to find reprint markets, this shouldn’t be a problem. Even so, I can imagine some people might be bothered by this.)

Oh yeah, and this year, only unpublished works can be entered. Posted it on your blog? Sorry. It’s now “a work available to the public by wire or wireless means in such a way that members of the public may access these works from a place and time individually chosen by them.” (IPC 171.3, as referenced by the CPMA rules) This mode of communication to the public already disqualifies your work.

Of course, one is free to enter the contest or not. However, I think it’s only fair that people who enter it know what they’re giving away in exchange for the prize money and prestige of winning the contest. 🙂 (I actually don’t like that we treat the contest as an exchange/ transaction of this sort, but intellectual property rights discussions ARE about business transactions.)

Then again, as one of my copyright-friends has suggested, there’s always this option too: Join, win, publish own version, upload on various electronic platforms, make derivs. :))

Update: (c/o Tin Lao) No more waiver of moral rights; no more retroactive assignment of copyright over past winning works. One still assigns the sponsor nonexclusive copyright over the winning work (meaning, you both share copyright over the winning work). More details here.