Interview With Jennex

Jennex narrates her life since the 1990s, from her beginnings in southern Zamboanga and her movement to Cagayan de Oro, where she had three relationships and brushes with the law for drug abuse.

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Born in 1996 in Nuboran, Southern Zamboanga amongst 9 siblings, Jennex recalls her childhood in a remote, indigenous Suzann community with only 3 houses in the vicinity. It was a naturally well-endowed region, where her family farmed various crops, while her father worked as a logger and collected gold. Her house also had electricity and television. Jennex attended elementary school there and helped with collecting gold after school, which would then be sold at the market. Her family also endured a brief separation when her father had an affair, and her father and mother took custody of their sons and daughters respectively, before reuniting.

    She had to move to Domingag with her uncle to attend high school, as her hometown did not offer further schooling. However, she quit after a year as the school was haunted, and found a job in a bakery. The job allowed her to eat fresh bread whenever she desired and paid 2000 pesos, which she sent to her mother to support her family. Two years later, she met a baker from another bakery, and bore his child. Her father told her to “marry officially” according to traditional customs, after which she quit her job. However, she did not have a legal marriage. After some time, her partner left her and his daughter to look for a better job, but never returned. She would later discover he had started a new family in Cotabato.

    Jennex then left her daughter in her parents’ care and found a new job in fast food. This job gave her the freedom to explore the nightlife after work, and she began using drugs. Later, she also became involved with a regular customer at the restaurant, and moved with him to Cagayan de Oro in 2016. She discovered during Duterte’s presidential  campaign that her partner was trafficking drugs, and urged him to quit, after which they moved to Bukidnon to live with his family. When they returned to Cagayan de Oro, he resumed his illegal trade, while she joined a Taiwanese apparel store. Eventually, the police arrested Jennex, her partner, and his cousin on drug charges. Although she did not participate in the business, she was charged on false testimony by the cousin, and imprisoned for seven months before she was released due to insufficient evidence against her.

    She briefly returned to her native place but had to report back to Cagayan de Oro for regular drug testing. She then ended her relationship with her partner who was still in prison and found a new spouse, whom she again married according to traditional customs. However, when she visited Nuboran with her new husband, her friends and family came armed with rifles, suspecting her of being connected to the New People’s Army through her spouse; although she claims this to be untrue. Nuboran had become a heavily guarded community since the detection of Islamic State terrorists in the region, after which the locals mobilized a self-help group to patrol the region. Jennex now tries to live a life free of drugs, although her past criminal record continues to follow her.


Interviewer & Writer: Kisho Tsuchiya                    Interpreter: Marjorie Tsuchiya

I was born in May 1996 in the barangay of Nuboran, southern Zamboanga. I am a Catholic. Currently, I am 23 years old. I am a pure Subanon. Both of my parents and all my 9 siblings are pure Subanons from southern Zamboanga. 

It’s kind of difficult to explain where Nuboran is to the Cagayanos. To go there, we have to take a bus from Cagayan de Oro City to Pagadian in southern Zamboanga, which takes about 6 to 7 hours. Then, we have to ride a jeepney, from Pagadian to Nuboran, which takes about 3 hours more. Nuboran is in a mountain side, so the route to the barangay has a lot of curves like a snake. Our house is just along the highway, so it’s just easy to find it once we arrive there. But I do not go back there after coming to the city, because Nuboran is very very far. 

Near our house in Nuboran, there are only three houses including ours. Well, I said, “near,” but only two of them are neighboring, and the third one is quite far away. Forest is surrounding our house, and there is a cliff. And beyond the forest, there is a river. 

The population in Nuboran is small. We speak Subanon and Cebuano. We have electricity and television. We can even do karaoke. But, in comparison to Cagayan de Oro City, it remains quiet even when we do karaoke at the mountain, and it’s not that raving. It’s a quiet place where we can hear the voices of goat, carabao, horse, owl, boar and so forth. 

Our family business includes agriculture, gold collection, and logging. My father cut wood and sells it to some companies. We farm “Japanese” corn, vegetable, and rubber. We mainly eat yam and cassava. Actually, we have a lot of plants, so if we don’t demand too much, we can probably live without labor. 

During my childhood, I commuted to a school and helped with gold collection. I woke up around 4 am, and left home around 5 am to go to the elementary school of Nuboran. Nuboran is a small community, but has many children at the school. The elementary school was fun. I joined volleyball club and badminton club. After school, I joined gold dust collection. We use a kind of colander to drain sand, and pick up gold. We bring collected gold to the market in Pagadian. 

Life was monotone. Only scandal was that, when I was 8, my father had an affair with another married woman. I did feel sad since I was a child, but it was hurting for my mom. So, my parents consulted arbularyo. According to the arbularyo, the woman put a secret portion onto my father’s pillow so that he fell in love with her. Therefore, my parents lived separately for some time. The male children lived with my father, and female children with mother. But, the effect of the portion expired, and my father returned sane. My family was reunited after a while. 

When I enrolled in high school, I moved to a town named Domingag where my uncle lived. It’s because there was no high school near our house in Nuboran. Domingag can be called a “town,” but the high school was an eerie place. I encountered ghosts many times. For example, I saw a teacher existing in more than one place. I was scared, and in the end, I quitted the school after a year. 

After I quit school, I did a live-in work at a bakery in Domingag for two or three years. I worked from 4 am to 7 pm, 7 days in a week. My wage for a month was 2000 pesos, and I sent all to my mother. I might think the work environment was terrible, but I actually enjoyed the life at the bakery. The life in a town was rave and new to me. Moreover, I could eat newly baked bread anytime. And I was proud and happy that I was able to send money to the family. 

2 years passed, and I made a boyfriend…the father of my daughter. He was working at another bakery in Domingag, and he visited our bakery on his holidays. I was 17, and he was 18 at the time. We exchanged SMS, and became a couple. 

After a while, I became pregnant. He’d been staying over at our bakery sometimes. When I found out that I was pregnant, we decided to live together. My father told me to “marry officially.” The Subanons believe that all human beings should marry. So, if all the ceremonies are held, no one would oppose to such relations. 

 The Subanons have unique procedures in regard to wedding ceremonies. The groom has to visit the brides house alone, and get permission from her parents. This is called nunufud. When it’s permitted, next time, the groom has to bring his family to the bride’s house. This is called namalahi. The Subanons hold an official wedding ceremony there, and after namalahi, the couple is “officially married.”

When the man and I completed namalahi, I quit the bakery and remained in Nuboran to take care of my daughter. My husband continued to work at the bakery, and decided to look for a more stable job. We were exchanging SMS, but later one he stopped replying. He disappeared. According to the Philippine’s national law, I am still single, but as a Subanon, I became a divorced wife. A few years later, when I found out what he was doing, he already had another family in Cotabato. It is a sad memory of mine. 

After I gave up that marriage, I left my daughter to my parents, and started working again. This time, I cooked fried chicken at a restaurant. I wasn’t energetic enough to fall in love with anyone that time because of the failure of our marriage. So, I cut my hair like a boy, disguised as a tomboy. 

The work at the restaurant was also a live-in contract, and I worked until 8 pm. But the time after work was free. That was the time, I started enjoying the night life. I met many girls, boys, tomboys, and gays…people I never encountered in Nuoran. It was also that time when I first used drugs. 

When I healed from the divorce, I fell in love with a regular customer of the restaurant. I was 20 years old. After a while, he suggested that we live together in Bukidnon or Cagayan de Oro City. So, I followed him here. He was working at CDO, and his family lived in Bukidnon. This was how I came to CDO. 

But there was something troublesome for me. I learnt that my boyfriend was a drug dealer only after I came here. It was during the election campaign which President Duterte won. Even though I used drugs some time, I didn’t want my boyfriend to live as a drug dealer. So, I suggested that both of us quit using drugs. Then, we moved to Bukidnon, where his family lives. 

But, after a while, I had a fight with his family, and he came back to CDO. He became a drug dealer again. I was selling clothes and shoes at a Taiwanese shop. One day policemen came to our place, and arrested my boyfriend and his cousin. This cousin testified to the policemen that I was involved in drug dealing, and I was also arrested. I think he didn’t like me because I was always complaining about their illegal business. 

I was in jail for 7 months. I cried and prayed everyday because I missed my family. The police, in the end, did not find any evidence of my involvement, so I was released. 

Then, I went back to Nuboran. But I had an obligation to report the health center in CDO [to do drug check-up], I had to come back. Since my “friends” in CDO are mostly my boyfriends’ friends, most of them are either ex-addicts, addicts, or dealers. In this way, I was brought back to an environment that brought me into the prison. 

One day, I visited my boyfriend in the prison, and we decided to break up. He says it’s difficult for him to find another job. It was sad, but I said yes. 

Now I am trying to live a life without drugs. Now I have a new partner, and completed namalahi. He helps me a lot. Now my daughter lives together with me too. We are telling my daughter that he is the real father. 

I am suspecting that the origin of the rumor (that her family is NPA) is my current partner. [She smiled.] When we visited Nuboran, my family and neighbors were armed with rifles. The rifles are gifts from the previous mayor for helping his electoral campaigns. The people of Nuboran conduct patrols, because a few years ago, 41 terrorists of the ISIS (the Islamic State) hid in the neighboring mountain, and caused conflicts with the AFP. Thus, the Nuboran people organized a self-help group to patrol the mountain. There are Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims among the Subanons. But these terrorists came from abroad. 

So far, my life is full of problems. Sometimes, I think of committing suicide. Wherever I go, the record of being arrested as a drug dealing suspect follows. And relationships with the people is also quite complicated. If possible, I want to find a decent job and an independent family. At least, the current partner is helping me a lot, and I am thankful about it. 

Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya

Interviewee: Jennex

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Transcript Notes


  1. What does Jennex’s community’s reaction to the rumor that her family was linked to the NPA suggest about the nature of the Cold War in the Philippines?

  2. Given your response to Q1, to what extent was the Philippines’ Cold War conflict real, and to what extent was it imagined? 

  3. In light of Jennex’s testimony, can we truly consider the Cold War to have ended in the Philippines? Why or why not?