TRESE unreported murders by budjette tan and kajo baldisimo

Posted on October 18, 2009


Alexandra Trese won’t make it in Alaska, if she needs to wear a trench coat in sweltering Manila. But, hey, I can relate… style before comfort.

In Trese, Manila is a black-and-white world, sheltering all sorts of things that go bump in the night. If there’s something strange in the Trese-Cover-2neighborhood, who are you going to call? Not Ghostbusters, they’re loud and clumsy. In the cracks of reality in Manila’s underbelly, a deft touch, favored by compromise, backed up by much firepower, is needed.

The second volume in Trese’s saga, Unreported Murders offers more of the bizarre, yet almost believable tales involving crimes committed by or against the Philippines’s creatures of lower mythology, the kind that fears the light,  that are drawn instead to sewers and the city’s forgotten spaces. Urban legends are given life, shape, and form, as part of us, contributing to society in their own big and little ways.

“Beware the criminals that can’t be bound with handcuffs nor harmed with bullets.”

Truly, to read this book is to be taken to familiar places—Mother Ignacia in Quezon City, the cemetery along Kalayaan street in Makati, the big malls in Ortigas, and a posh subdivision near Rockwell—transformed into the other side of the mirror where we refuse to look too closely for fear of encountering our own dark souls. Unfortunately, the city is peopled by certain beings, the manananggal (human-like creature whose upper body separates from his/her lower extremity, sprouting bat-like wings at night; preys on pregnant women), duwende (gnomes), tiyanak (souls of aborted fetuses turned malevolent) and laman-lupa (earth elementals), who are only too willing to turn our dreams into reality, for a kiss, a song, or a curse.

Encounters sometimes end in death, or worse.

Each episode, or case, begins with a map, a strangely frightening one indicating the scene of the crime by a few lines only slightly visible from the blackness of the rest of the page. As each case progresses, we get to have a better feel for Alexandra, and her way of doing her job. In the previous volume, I immediately noticed that all is not well between psychic dad, Anton, and daughter. I have an idea that while dad is super honest and straight, the daughter is less rigid, preferring to play with the dark side and make deals with its creatures. We’ll probably know more about their relationship in the third (and last?) volume.

And just like in volume 1, the cases are quite unforgiving of slip-ups, even by deeply cherished archetypes and pop culture icons who somehow got entangled in the machinations of the underworld. Showbiz stars, high profile doctors, department-store scions, elite-village residents—they are not the untouchables of Manila; they are the weakest link keeping humanity together against these otherworldly forces.

There are some unforgettable characters in this volume: Case 5’s poor dead duwende,who can give Simon Cowell a run for his money, paid for his lack of good judgment with his life, betrayed by his talent’s attachment to fame and glory. The lizard guy, who used to skulk in ladies’ dressing rooms at Robinson’s Mall (changed to Robertson’s Mall in the book), turns out to be an internet geek, and is now online buddies with one his victims.

Sad to say, case 8 left me with the strongest impression, not because it was the strongest story, but because, in the aftermath of Ondoy’s and Pepeng’s fury, I can only view it as prophetic, a threat made terrifyingly true.  As I see it, there were hundreds of unreported murders recently. But the murderers weren’t Ondoy and Pepeng.

Trese is a graphics novel, written in English.

Posted in: filipino, graphic