Islander in the City by Pablo A. Tariman:


From an army plane in 1979

Zamboanga and Basilan

Looked like exotic dots

Of paradise

In this ancient peninsula.


Nothing has changed

As I look into the picture

Taken from the air

Of Basilan in 2022.

VP Leni Robredo arriving in Basilan by boat.

The woman of the hour

Took the boat to this island

And her pictures triggered memories

Of earlier sojourn

With young distinguished musicians.


The surgeon-father of a great pianist

Stayed in Basilan in the 50s.

No use for him there

With patients mostly

Islanders felled by bullets

Or victims of hacking.

Once more in Zambo

In the late 90s:

My concert misery

Remained the same.

There are no good pianos

Upright or grand

Fit for Beethoven sonatas

Or a Chopin etude.

Piano prodigy was disconsolate

And so was the violinist.


We turned to a school

Ran by nuns

We got this answer,

‘That piano is only reserved

For Cecile Licad!’

We told her the piano prodigy

Is a student of the mother

Of Licad but she affirmed:

Her no is final.


The concert went well

Despite the bad pianos.

I had laps in Lantaka Hotel

To sooth my piano ordeal.


For now

I am all admiration

For this woman of the hour

Who braved the island

And seemed at ease

If, knowledgeable

Of its past and recent history.


What do I remember of these places?

I liked looking

At the island of Basilan

As I swam through

The pool of Lantaka Hotel

With Concierto de Arranjuez

In the background.


Did I not swim naked

On a river near Pasonanca Park

In 1979 while recovering from a story

Of a kidnapped foreign missionary

Who took the helicopter

Back to Manila before I could interview him?



Stayed longer with

The grand old man of Zamboanga

Who defied the dictator

And made fun of him

In a local elections.


I can see that a city park

Was named after him.

Shared countless meals with him

In his farm and in the nearby fishpond.

The legendary icon of Zamboanga City – former mayor Cesar C. Climaco on his motorbike (Photo by Robert Lim)

In 1984

I thought I cried

When I heard he died

From assassins’ bullets

While doing his usual daily chores

On a motorbike.


Last images of the place:

A quick walk by the sea

Dotted by colorful vintas;

The grand old man seeing me off

At a military airport

For a ride back to Manila

By army plane.

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