DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/11 March) — Buried into the cupboards of many minds among Davao’s artists, cultural workers and activists who were in their prime in the post-EDSA era in Davao City, is the memory of PUSLAN MAN, a Cebuano-Bisaya term that is difficult to translate into English. In a rather long translation it could mean: “as life is not treating me so well, I better drown my sorrows with lots of drink and music!”
Indeed, in the now nostalgic era following EDSA when Davao/Mindanawon artists, cultural workers and activists need not constantly raise their fists in protest, march the streets to scream their resistance to human rights violations and militarization and risk life and limbs having to confront the State’s powers-that-be, an enterprising group among them pooled their financial resources together, rented a run-down house along Torres St. and opened PUSLAN MAN.
In the minds of Geejay Arriola, Ses Desesto, Popong Landero, their colleague among the Kaliwat Theatre Collective and friends among the artists’ networks (representing music, song, theatre, visual arts, literature, etc.), PUSLAN MAN would be the oasis for themselves, their friends and fans. And when it opened its doors, it immediately became the mecca for those who wanted to fill in their evenings with moments of delightful cultural productions, entertainment and comradeship. Mindanawon artists with some renown performed and the list was quite impressive: Gary Granada, Popong Landero, JoeyAyala, Bayang Barrios, those who used to be with ASIN, YANO and others. Many of the existing theatre groups in Davao City also performed, and there were poetry readings and the like.
All these in the post-EDSA era – when there was a luxury to think of one’s enjoyment and not just the people’s liberation – arose spontaneously as most of those behind this enterprise just didn’t want to retire in the solitude of their homes.
Alas, artists and cultural workers behind PUSLAN MAN – without the assistance of shrewd partners with the needed financial competence – could not keep this enterprise floating with the minimum profit that will help pay the bills, hire the needed staff and deal with the hundred little technical matters related to running a business enterprise. This, along with complaints of neighbors of the noise made by the bands, eventually caused the demise of PUSLAN MAN. So this place which served a multi-function (cultural center, disco, bar, meeting place, drop-in center, store for cultural products, etc.) went the way of good intentions that failed. A pity, since it did serve a purpose to advance Davao City’s cultural landscape.
There was a lull after PUSLAN MAN closed following a lot of SAYANG lamentations. There was no longer a place where artists, cultural workers and activists could gather together, nourish their political options and have a good time with comrades and friends. There were some feeble attempts to set up alternative venues but these didn’t work, until a scion of a Davaoeno family with a business acumen (the Ayalas but no relation to the Makati Ayalas) opened the MATINA TOWN SQUARE or MTS.
For a while, the MTS filled in the gap that arose with the closure of PUSLAN MAN. Once more there was a venue where artists, cultural workers, activists and their family members and friends could gather for a night of drink and music! As MTS improved its infrastructure, facilities and the range of services it could offer, word got around quick to attract more customers. In time the artists, cultural workers, activists and their crowd became the darlings of the yuppies and eventually the millennials. MTS became big business. Any tourist who comes to Davao was enticed to spend a night at this place to chill.
The artist’s soul always gets crushed when money comes pouring in. While artists, cultural workers, activists and their PUSLAN MAN network continue to perform and patronize MTS, they no longer have full control over this space. They are just performers or part of the audience, and the landscape turned into a middle class enclave. TABOAN – MTS’s center which serves as the main venue for performances – no longer is preoccupied with advancing the Mindanawon cultural face in terms of music, songs, theatre, etc. While one appreciates the MTS administration for still welcoming the likes of Kaliwat, Kalumon and Kathara…their cultural productions are but an adjunct to the bigger aim of attracting those who do not really care about Mindanawon culture.
Then – it seems like it just arose all of a sudden – PUSLAN MAN gets resurrected and it is not so far from where PUSLAN MAN was located, which is the southern plank of the city divided by the Bankerohan River (MTS is at the north). CALLE 5 was there already for a while, a quiet bar located along J.P. Laurel St., Bajada, in between Victoria Plaza and Gmall, Owned by Jon Traya – an enterprising left-brain, right-brain Davaoeňo, who can make religious statues and one-of-a-kind furniture but also run all kinds of medium-scale business and social enterprises – CALLE 5 opened as a modest bar attracting those wanting to have a drink after getting off from work at 5 PM (thus the number 5 in its name).
Some evenings, a few folksingers and bands played at this venue and in time, its clientele increased. But there has been very little fanfare to attract the attention of artists, cultural workers, activists and their network. This changed considerably when Jon Traya decided to shift CALLE 5’s profile and identity. Two recent events illustrated this resolve: first a benefit concert where two singer-musicians (the blind couple, Renren and Jeremy) performed in a concert that traversed various musical genres while exhibiting their musical genius and the launch of Popong Landero’s album – BLUSBANK APO.
As I sat there at both events, having a drink and listening to the songs, the memories of PUSLAN MAN flooded my mind. And despite the big news these days on the DDS and the threat of a repeat of martial law, the nights spent at CALLE 5 were empowering. We can never underestimate the power of memory, especially when there plentiful drink and music! [Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations” and two books on Davao history launched in December 2015. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]