Sulat (Baybayin) on Trese’s 1st episode on Netflix


Trese is finally out on Netflix! It’s based on a comic by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. It’s pretty good and gave me Blood: The Last Vampire x Constantine vibes. This is a review of the use of Sulat in the first episode.

A couple of weeks ago, there were sightings of a billboard in Manila that showed Sulat. I wrote a post on my IG account how it’s a significant cultural development for not only those spending the last 20 years actively advocating prePhilippine writing but beyond that. With the foundational work that was done, a new generation is rediscovering our prePhilippine culture for tangible value. Look for my “value trifecta” in my lectures.

I’ll go more on the impact after I finish the series but I’ll go ahead an preempt a talking point/criticism that we don’t need foreign validation on our culture. While that is 100% true, we cannot discount the work and achievements of all those Filipinos involved in the Philippines and the US. This was created from a small ripple from over a decade ago and will create their own. This is what I mean by generational work.

Billboard breakdown

trese netflix baybayin

The design of this is based on Anting-Anting amulets that mix prePhilippine and Spanish colonial elements. As you can see, there’s Sulat. I added the Roman Alphabet letter equivalents. Typically when you see the usage of kudlits (vowel markers), there’s intent in the writing rather ascetic gibberish that you’ll see in another example. The translation from the top right to the Kris sword is Ika anim na anak ng ika anim na anak in Tagalog meaning Sixth child of the sixth child. Full image below:

Example 1

Trese netflix baybayin

Doesn’t look like there’s any literal meaning to this so far. While it’s not uncommon for words in our various languages to be spelled without kudlits, this arrangement doesn’t appear to spell anything. In the graphic, you’ll see that I labeled a Ba and Sa as variants. I called ones out because they’re written differently with the other samples in the graphic. The Ba variant is a circle while the other Ba is the more common one that looks like an upside-down heart. The Sa variant is the 1 stroke style compared to the more common one found at the bottom of the circle.

Example 2

trese netflix baybayin

Similar to Example 2, I don’t know if there’s a literal meaning of this. There are a couple characters that aren’t recognizable. It will be interesting if we find out if it turns into something in future episodes.

Example 3

Ka-Sa-Ya can actually mean something in the context of the story but I’m not confident that Kasaya meaning Fun is correct. Ka-Sa-Ha? When you see this scene, the characters are scratched with the Kris sword. Watch how the bottom half of the Ka is done. Quite odd.

Gift box

It’s common practice to send influencers a themed gift package. Model Alodia Gosiengfiao with a reach with over 1m posted what she received. I have this saying when it comes to writing the script – If it’s long, it’s probably wrong. On the left, you have the circle design I described earlier. On the right, you have Sulat. Here’s the breakdown of each line:

1. A-E/I-O/U

2. P-R-O-T-E

3. K-S-Y-O-N

4. S-A

5. K-U-L-A-M

That roughly translates to Proteksyon sa kulam in Tagalog and Protection from spells in English.

Close up of the box with Roman alphabet breakdown and corrected version

The incorrect way of spelling was that they cancelled the attached vowel to only add one. Remember that it’s Sa and not S. Check out the unboxing video on FB.

Some may think that this is nitpicking but spelling mistakes are not. Just because it’s fiction, spelling is generally non-fiction. If the words were in Roman Alphabet in English or Tagalog but spelled wrong, would that be OK? No, it wouldn’t. The only difference is that there’s only a few people fluent in reading in Sulat. Should that matter? It should but the same folks that say it doesn’t matter, also put little value in culture. You wouldn’t wear a shirt spelled wrong in Roman Alphabet.

So is it OK to use the script purely as ornamental? Yes, depending on the context but if you’re trying to communicate something, spell it right. Off to watch the 2nd episode!