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Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘Armor: Stories’ by John Bengan

by Bryan Meniado

I was at the Mindanao Book Fair 2023 (MBF) in Davao City last month in search of books to add to my never-ending TBR pile. For its inaugural run, the MBF brought in local and independent publishers and authors to promote the love for reading to the Mindanao public. I had a fun time meeting fellow bookworms, writers, and creators during the three-day fair. (Related: “Bibi Mangki goes to Mindanao Book Fair 2023”)

In the spirit of National Literature Month, I would like to share about one of the books that I got from the fair titled Armor: Stories by John Bengan, a creative writing professor, writer, and translator from Davao City whose work has appeared in various literary journals here and abroad. Published in 2022 by the Ateneo de Manila University Press, Armor: Stories is a collection of thirteen narratives of terror, longing, and defiance set mainly in Davao.

Armor: Stories, for me, is a light read that’s full of substance. Here are some of my reflections from reading the book, and why I think Filipinos should read it. 

  1. Being someone from Davao, Armor: Stories gives me a certain sense of familiarity that makes me feel like I’m part of the story. Characters that go to places I’m familiar with make reading more relatable and personal. These stories, where characters share the reader’s language, culture, and geographical location, may help us rekindle and rediscover our roots. 
  1. Speaking of looking back, Bengan’s collection is also inspired by true-to-life stories of ordinary people from the grassroots. These stories can help us understand the psyche of the locals: why they behave the way they do; what their daily struggles are; what their motivations and aspirations are; why some of them commit crimes; or why they keep on electing certain personalities to power. With his stories, Bengan introduces us to regional perspectives, which I think is a great way toward understanding differing sentiments and experiences particular to a region, province, or city. 
  1. In connection to regional perspectives, the stories in Armor are also imbued with relevant social issues in Mindanao. Most of the narratives touch on issues such as poverty, development aggression, militarization, insurgency, summary executions or “salvaging,” vigilantism, and human rights violations. The inclusion of these social realities into fiction makes the stories a lot more powerful not only in terms of artistry but also in substance and relevance to the society as a whole. 
  1. Apart from the stories, Bengan gives us some other important things to ponder. Since his stories also serve as a form of social commentary, it will make us think more deeply about the realities that many of us tend to take for granted; examples of which are those involving human dignity, rights, decency, rule of law, and democracy, and how we often allow a few powerful to trample upon them. 
  1. Last but not the least, it’s essential to mention that Armor: Stories also represents the lives and struggles of the LGBT+ community. In this day and age, it’s a shame that we can still hear “bayot” (a Visayan term for gay) thrown as an insult connoting cowardice and disgrace. This book subverts this idea and shows how “bayot” can aptly mean bravery and strength. 

Literature can definitely be used as a lens toward understanding our roots, identities, cultures, and aspirations. It also serves as our social conscience and moral compass as we learn or relearn empathy, compassion, and understanding from the stories we read, which can make us better human beings. I hope to read more books like this, especially from Mindanawons, and to see those works celebrated at the next Mindanao Book Fair. See you there! ☁️



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