By Brontë Lacsamana
It has been decades since the Philippines was shackled under the guise of a need for discipline as declared by former President Ferdinand Marcos.
During his regime, Marcos promised change for a new society yet put journalists and activists in captivity–they were imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Newspapers were shut down, and TV and radio stations were seized. Farmers, workers, and people on the streets suffered a brutal era of repression.
Despite the known and celebrated peaceful conclusion of those dark times, it seems that people nowadays have forgotten what exactly happened forty-four years ago.
Sept. 21, 2016 marked the 44th anniversary of Martial Law.
In an effort to revisit what has been known as one of the darkest periods of our country’s history, an organization of women producers called Ladies Who Launch organized “Never Again: Voices of Martial Law,” a festival of nine one-act plays currently being staged at the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani Auditorium, Quezon City until Oct. 16.
Ladies Who Launch is composed of activists Dolly de Leon, Zena Bernardo, Jozy Acosta-Nisperos, Jasmine Ong, and Judith Albano, who are all against Martial Law’s historical revisionism, particularly the burial of the deposed dictator at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani.
Nine stories, one goal
The idea behind “Never Again” began in an Independence Day picnic at Bantayog, leading to the organization’s production of the handpicked collection of plays.
De Leon shares that all nine plays are creations of some of the most admirable playwrights in the Philippines over the years.
“Theater has been used as a powerful tool in the past because it can educate people and at the same time provide an emotional experience,” says de Leon.
Six original plays were written exclusively for this festival while the remaining three are restaged. However, all stories have a common goal—shedding light on Martial Law through entertaining yet powerful and retrospective stories.
The six original plays include Chris Martinez’s “Thingy Or Ang Pak na Pak Ganern na Ganern sa Pakikipagsapalaran ni Melenyo, D’ Great Pokemon Hunter” (directed by Dennis Marasigan); George de Jesus III’s “Disco 1081” (directed by Melvin Lee); and Layeta Bucoy’s “Princess Lilli” (directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio).
Meanwhile, the three restaged plays are “Loyalist Redux,” (written and directed by Kanakan Balintagos), which was originally staged in this year’s Virgin Labfest; “Duyan Ka Ng Magiting,” (written and directed by Erika Estacio), which premiered only in February this year at the Edsa People Power Experiential Museum in Camp Aguinaldo; and Ramon Jocson’s 1989 Palanca-award-winning “Bulong-Bulongan sa Sangandaan” (directed by Audie Gemora).
One of the six original plays, Rody Vera’s “Indigo Child” (directed by Jose Estrella) tells of Felisa, an activist captured by the military and tortured by electrocution in the last few years of the 1970s. In the play, she confronts her past with her grown-up child Jerome, whom she calls an indigo child because he is born from her strife.
Actress Skyzx Labstilla is truly electric (no pun intended) as Felisa as she recounts the torture she endured in captivity in animated fashion .
Scene after scene after scene she literally crackles with intensity, driving home the point that Martial Law is a vivid nightmare its victims will always remember.
“Marami pa ring pinapatay, marami pa ring political detainees, inaapi pa rin ang mga manggagawa at magsasaka pero mabilis pa ring makalimot ang bayan tungkol sa kasaysayan,” playwright Rody Vera explains. “We should make sure people never forget.”
On the other hand, Alan Lopez’s “Sshhh” (directed by Jenny Jamora) is about a young couple about to go out for lunch with the girl’s father, a high-ranking official in the Marcos government.
The whole act is steamy and intimate, the simple lighting and messy stage-turned-bedroom expressing an air of voyeurism as the couple–played so naturally and boldly by Thea Yrastorza and Karl Medina–gossip about Imee Marcos, the former president’s daughter.
They argue, joke about Martial Law, make out, and realize that a disappeared acquaintance may be more ominous than they think.
For Lopez, Martial Law has been forgotten because of the “lack of introspection on the events by the people,” and “Never Again” is a good start in making the people remember.
Martial law in retrospect
One of the most entertaining plays in the festival is Guelan Varela Luarca’s “Ang Lihim na Kasaysayan ng Huling Habilin ni Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (Spiritual King Solomon of Israel) Hinggil sa Pamanang Kayamanan ni King Bernardo Carpio at José Protacio Rizal Para sa Pagpapaunlad ng Bansang Pilipinas na Siyang Nalalaman ni Mang Ambo, Taxi Driver” (directed by Roobak Valle).
The play depicts the interactions between an old, Marcos-supporting taxi driver, Mang Ambo, and G, his young passenger who strongly goes against the Marcos regime.
At first, Mang Ambo (Lou Veloso) appeared amusing with his cheerful urban legend storytelling and his enthusiasm about the “great and mighty” Marcos.
Meanwhile, his passenger G, brought to life by J-Mee Katanyag, is delightful with her witty, intelligent banter and flabbergasted reactions.
Later on, however, the brilliantly comedic play takes on a more subtle turn and hints that both perspectives on Martial Law can be valid and equally important.
“Like Mang Ambo, loyalists’ minds are quite difficult to change,” says De Leon. “The target audience of these plays are not the loyalists, but the undecided, the uninformed, the youth, and those with [historical] amnesia.”
While many still do not view Martial Law as a dark period which saw thousands of Filipinos subjected to human rights violations, the need for plays such as those in “Never Again” becomes more urgent–their importance reliant on the correction of history books, their essence tasked to deglamorize an era which has so greatly fooled the majority, defining the Filipino people and greatly affecting the country’s future.
Telling the stories of Martial Law evokes memories of the past, so that there may exist a future where those who were oppressed and slain did not suffer in vain and where those who now alter history to honor the man responsible for such atrocious crimes may remember and never, ever forget.
Catch the last three shows running Oct 14/8pm, 15/8pm, and 16/4pm at Bantayog ng mga Bayani, Quezon City. Visit the Never Again: Voices of Martial Law Facebook page or call 0917-804-7191 for reservations.