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‘Inang Lupa, Inang Bayan’: A tale of generations

PASSAGE - Ed Maranan (The Philippine Star) - March 20, 2016 - 10:00am

Dried leaves kept falling from two immense banyan trees on the grounds of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation throughout the first-night performance of Inang Lupa, Inang Bayan, a twin bill of one-act plays mounted last week by the Tag-Ani Performing Arts Society. An apt double metaphor, perhaps, for the passage of time, and the departed heroes and martyrs against martial law, whose names are engraved on the Wall of Remembrance right behind the open-air theater.

The first part of the program was Sanlibongan (Sanctuary), which Davao dance and theater artist Marili Fernandez-Ilagan co-wrote with Teresa Opaon-Ali sometime in the 1990s. In 2003, she directed it for the Tag-ani Performing Arts Society, a cultural group which she founded. Marili died two years ago of cancer, remaining active in theater work and advocacy for Mindanao’s Lumad or indigenous people until her final days.

The problems they wrote about 20 years ago continue to bedevil the highland communities of the Lumad. Sanlibongan deals with the recent killings of indigenous people’s leaders and their supporters in the provinces of Eastern Mindanao by both military and paramilitary units. These events serve to unmask the state policy of allowing extractive (read destructive) operations in the ancestral domain of the country’s IPs, with all the socio-economic displacement and environmental degradation left in their wake.

As the playbill describes it, Sanlibongan “sheds light on the roots of the current conflict in the south that has made victims of our indigenous brothers and sisters….poignantly relives the tragedy of three women members of the tribes Mandaya, Manobo, and Bagobo and the impact of the conflict on their respective communities…at the same time rekindles hopes for an end to this crisis, and for the restoration of peace and justice in the ancestral land of the Lumad.”

The second part, Hindi na Muli (Never Again) written by Bonifacio Ilagan, innocuously opens with a Christmas family setting, then proceeds to recreate, revivify especially for the young generation, the so-called millennials, that long stretch of terror aimed against civil libertarians, legal institutions, NGOs, street parliamentarians, progressive groups, critical media, and the political opposition. While the title sounds like a variation on a refrain first heard after the downfall of the dictatorship in 1986, the story takes place in the early ‘70s, during the First Quarter Storm of student revolutionary fervor.

It follows the initially cheery college life of a group of women who become members of the Makibaka (Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan) founded by UP anthropologist, poet, and later guerrilla fighter Maria Lorena Barros, one of the early female icons of the modern revolutionary movement. The fate of these women unfolds as a stream of traumatic memories relived by former Makibaka member Susana (Susan Macabuag), as she continues to deal with memories of prison abuse and the loss of her husband. Her brother Cris (Ismael Crisostomo) rails against the unchanging political realities, while their father (Lolo Veni to his grandchildren) reflects on the tragedies that have befallen the family and the nation. Reminiscing raises the ghosts of the past—with the tortured, abused political detainees doing a danse macabre while the infamous visage of Marcos appears on a huge backdrop as he proclaims martial law all over the land.

By flashing images of the dictator in that instance of infamy, and his heir apparent and presumed clone Marcos Jr. distorting the past (à la Holocaust denier) while painting a rosy future under an all-too-possible restoration, Ilagan’s Hindi na Muli is a dramatic exhortation to keep the memory of an age-old struggle alive.

The new generation has taken up where the old left off, and now a grandchild, an activist himself, has brought home — in the spirit of solidarity as well as the Christmas season — a contingent of Lumad people who have joined a long march from Mindanao to air their grievances in the country’s capital and center of oppression. Thus the two seemingly disparate plays separated by years and locale are tied together in a meeting of generations and of minds, regardless of how many years it may take before liberation is achieved, that is, of how many more dead leaves shall drop to fertilize the earth.

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, who plays Lolo Veni, is best known for his prodigious output in literary history and criticism, as well as his historical and allegorical plays that have been among the most successful musicals in Philippine theater. Except for a brief stint reading a play in college, he has never had a major role in a play except for the present one, where he plays a patriarch of an activist family. He must surely feel such empathy with this play, having been a political detainee himself during martial law.

Master impressionist Willie Nepomuceno lent his voice to make Marcos and Bongbong come ominously alive on the screen, Katsch Catoy was lighting director, UP’s Kontra-Gapi performed the live music and backing chants for Sanlimbongan, Karen Gaerlan directed Ilagan’s play and also acted in both, Lucien Letaba composed the score for Hindi na Muli, Carlito Camahalan Amalla handled choreography, Mel Roxas designed the set, Brian Arda took charge of sound production, Ricardo Lorenzo served as technical director, KontraGapi’s Edru Abraham came on board as consultant, and Dessa Rizalina Ilagan was production manager and also part of the cast.

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