Tagumpay ka Ka Randall

ni George Tumaob Calaor

Traidor at saksak sa pagkaberdugo nilang kinitil ang iyong buhay

at ngayoy buong dahas na kinakamkam ang iyong bangkay

hindi sila nagtagumpay

sa pagkukubli ng katotohanang sila’y sangkot sa iyong pagkamatay

lunurin pa nila sa kasinulingan, baluktot na pangangatwirang naglalaway

sila!!!

Kung bakit kayo ngayoy nakahimlay!

Ikaw ay lupang

pasistang kinakamkam ng ganid

at pagkagahaman…

Ikaw ay sagana

sa kanayunang dinukot

ng sa lupa ay buong dahas

na nagdiyos-diyosan

Ikaw ang hustisyang

pinagdamutan

ng katarungan!

at higit sa lahat

Ikaw ay larangan

ng namiminto nang bisperas

ng kanilang kagapian!

‘Pagkat kamatayan niyo

ay kamatayan ng

pananagumpay!

Mababawi ang kanilang

dinukot at kinamkam!

Lalaya ang buhay

Hitik sa kawalan ng uri

sagana at pantay!

HINDI KO KAYO TITIGILAN

Randall Echanis

Bakit ko kayo titigilan

kung patuloy ninyong pinipiga,

pinapahirapan ang mga magsasaka

at dinudusta ang masa?

Bakit ko kayo titigilan

kung patuloy ninyong kinukurakot

ang pondo ng bayan,

pinapatay, ikinukulong

at dinudukot

ang mga aktibista

na sa inyo’y lumalaban?

Bakit ko kayo titigilan

kung patuloy kayong sunud-sunuran

sa mga sakim na dayuhan

na dumarambong sa yaman ng mahal kong bayan?

Hinding-hindi ko kayo titigilan

hangga’t may palalong tirano

na nakaupo sa palasyo

na hangga’t ang mga anakpawis

ay walang kapangyarihan.

Hinding-hindi ko kayo titigilan.

Sinulat niya ang tulang ito noong Disyembre 2008 habang nakapiit sa Manila City Jail sa gawa- gawang kaso na isinampa sa kanya.

Pinilit Kang Binunot Ngunit Hindi Nagtagumpay

(Alay kay Randall “ Ka Randy” Echanis)

by Prestoline Suyat

Pusikit pa ang gabi

nang pilit kang binunot

binistay ng mga bala

pinagsasaksak

hanggang malagutan nang hininga.

Pinilit kang inilayo

itinangging ikaw ang bangkay

na dinuhagi ng mga demonyo.

Ngunit paanong hindi makikilala

ang mabuting binhi

ang sibol na pinagyaman

ng mapagpalang mga kamay

ng mga mangunguma;

ang bigas na pinalusog

ng maraming taon ng paglilingkod at pakikibaka?

Pinilit kang binunot

ngunit tulad ng iba

ginintuan ka ng palay

sa matabang lupa

ng paglaban ng masa.

Nag-akala sila

ngunit nalinlang.

Paano ka mabubunot sa amin?

Hindi ang lagablab ng digmaan,

Hindi ang kadiliman ng bartolina,

Hindi ng mga dagok at hambalos ng pang-aapi,

Hindi ng mga unos ng pagmamalupit,

Hindi ng brutalidad ng pagpaslang.

Ikaw din na di na lang binhi

kundi nagpataba ng lupa

ng rebolusyong inangkin mo

at inalay sa bayan.

REVOLUTION

(For Randall Echanis)

by Lou Gartha Kho-Mawis

After that slow fear

crawling over our spirits

The rage takes over

Quick

Shooting like lightning

Charring the apathy of day

The helplessness of night

Then elightenment

We wriggle

Free from our chains

On tiptoe

we reach for the dreams

We thought were behind us

The gap that we must bridge

is worth our final breath

Our dreams conceive

a world without borders

Hands without chains

In the darkness

we have already died

Struggle is

Our resurrection

Kometa

Alay kay Fidel V. Agcaoili

Ni Jenny Linares

Maraming taong halos pahapyaw lang
kung dumaan sa ating uniberso.

Palagi na lang, kapag ako,
hindi ko na inaabutan
ang makikinang na bituin.

Masyado ba akong bata o masyadong ligaw
na kaluluwa?

Malalaman ko na lang na naririyan pala sila kapag sila’y bumulusok na,
tulad ng maningning na kometa,

nagniningning pa rin siya
kahit ang baya’y nanatili sa dilim,

siya’y liwanag at apoy, hanggang sa magmaliw,

hindi ko man nasulyapan,
bahagya man lamang sa buhay ko’y dumaan,

kayo’y naririto pala,
kayo’y naririto pa rin,
kayo’y mananatili sa alaala
nitong bayang pinag-alayan
ng iyong mga adhikai’t dusa.

Cebuano children to launch Leon Kilat book on hero’s 147th birth anniv

A children’s book on Cebuano hero Pantaleon Villegas, popularly known as Leon Kilat, is set to be launched on Monday, July 27, in time for his 147th birth anniversary.

Written and illustrated by graduates of a 2018 workshop, Historya (Children Creating Stories from Cebu History), the story book “Si Leon Kilat ug ang Sigbin” (Leon Kilat and the Sigbin) is part of a continuing campaign to reconnect local youth to their Cebu roots.

Sigbin is a local mythological creature said to come out at night to suck the blood of victims from their shadows.

Negros Oriental-born Villegas was a revolutionary leader in Cebu during the Philippine Revolution against Spain.

The authors of the storybook are Jhulianna Capangpangan (University of San Carlos- South Campus), Santi Sagayno (Gaas National High School), Isabella Faith Bautista (Ateneo de Cebu) and Francis Luke Vicoy (Colegio del Sto. Niño).

Ateneo de Cebu’s Kristine Anne Subaan is the book illustrator.

The book is published by Tres de Abril, Inc and Palm Grass: The Cebu Heritage Hotel.

The cyber launch of the book and celebration of Villegas’ birth anniversary entitled “LEON KILAT: Revolution and Magic” (Celebrating Leon Kilat @147, ang bayani sa Sugbo nga Abtik pas Kilat), will be at two o’clock on Monday [The hero of Cebu who is faster than lightning]. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Aswang’ Documentary Review: Do Not Dare Look Away

By L.S. Mendizabal

(Trigger warning: Murders, mutilation of corpses)

Pumarito ka. Bahala ka, kukunin ka ng aswang diyan! (Come here, or else the aswang will get you!)” is a threat often directed at Filipino children by their mothers. In fact, you can’t be Filipino without having heard it at least once in your life. For as early as in childhood, we are taught to fear creatures we’ve only seen in nightmares triggered by bedtime stories told by our Lolas.

In Philippine folklore, an “aswang” is a shape-shifting monster that roams in the night to prey on people or animals for survival. They may take a human form during the day. The concept of “monster” was first introduced to us in the 16th century by the Spanish to demonize animist shamans, known as “babaylan” and “asog,” in order to persuade Filipino natives to abandon their “anitos” (nature, ancestor spirits) and convert to Roman Catholicism—a colonizing tactic that proved to be effective from Luzon to Northern Mindanao.

In the early 1950s, seeing that Filipinos continued to be superstitious, the Central Intelligence Agency weaponized folklore against the Hukbong Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap), an army of mostly local peasants who opposed US intervention in the country following our victory over the Japanese in World War II. The CIA trained the Philippine Army to butcher and puncture holes in the dead bodies of kidnapped Huk fighters to make them look like they were bitten and killed by an aswang. They would then pile these carcasses on the roadside where the townspeople could see them, spreading fear and terror in the countryside. Soon enough, people stopped sympathizing with and giving support to the Huks, frightened that the aswang might get them, too.

Fast forward to a post-Duterte Philippines wherein the sight of splayed corpses has become as common as of the huddled living bodies of beggars in the streets. Under the harsh, flickering streetlights, it’s difficult to tell the dead and the living apart. This is one of many disturbing images you may encounter in Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang. The documentary, which premiered online and streamed for free for a limited period last weekend, chronicles the first two years of President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs. “Oplan Tokhang” authorized the Philippine National Police to conduct a door-to-door manhunt of drug dealers and/or users. According to human rights groups, Tokhang has killed an estimated 30,000 Filipinos, most of whom were suspected small-time drug offenders without any actual charges filed against them. A pattern emerged of eerily identical police reports across cases: They were killed in a “neutralization” because they fought back (“nanlaban”) with a gun, which was the same rusty .38 caliber pistol repeatedly found along with packets of methamphetamine (“shabu”) near the bloodied corpses. When children and innocent people died during operations, PNP would call them “collateral damage.” Encouraged by Duterte himself, there were also vigilante killings too many to count. Some were gunned down by unidentified riding-in-tandem suspects, while some ended up as dead bodies wrapped in duct tape, maimed or accessorized with a piece of cardboard bearing the words, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan” (I’m a drug pusher, do not emulate). Almost all the dead casualties shared one thing in common: they were poor. Virtually no large-scale drug lord suffered the same fate they did.

And for a while, it was somehow tempting to call it “fate.” Filipinos were being desensitized to the sheer number of drug-related extrajudicial killings (a thousand a month, according to the film). “Nanlaban” jokes and memes circulated on Facebook and news of slain Tokhang victims were no longer news as their names and faces were reduced to figures in a death toll that saw no end.

As much as Aswang captures the real horrors and gore of the drug war, so has it shown effectively the abnormal “sense of normal” in the slums of Manila as residents deal with Tokhang on the daily. Fearing for their lives has become part of their routine along with making sure they have something to eat or slippers on their feet. This biting everyday reality is highlighted by Arumpac’s storytelling unlike that of any documentary I’ve ever seen. Outlined by poetic narration with an ominous tone that sounds like a legitimately hair-raising ghost story, Aswang transports the audience, whether they like it or not, from previously seeing Tokhang exclusively on the news to the actual scenes of the crime and funerals through the eyes of four main individuals: a nightcrawler photojournalist and dear family friend, Ciriaco Santiago III (“Brother Jun” to many), a funeral parlor operator, a street kid and an unnamed woman.

Along with other nightcrawlers, Bro. Jun waits for calls or texts alerting them of Tokhang killings all over Manila’s nooks and crannies. What sets him apart from the others, perhaps motivated by his mission as Redemptorist Brother, is that he speaks to the families of the murdered victims to not only obtain information but to comfort them. In fact, Bro. Jun rarely speaks throughout the film. Most of the time, he’s just listening, his brows furrowed with visible concern and empathy. It’s as if the bereaved are confessing to him not their own transgressions but those committed against them by the state. One particular scene that really struck me is when he consoles a middle-aged man whose brother was just killed not far from his house. “Kay Duterte ako pero mali ang ginawa nila sa kapatid ko” (I am for Duterte but what they did to my brother was wrong), he says to Bro. Jun in between sobs. Meanwhile, a mother tells the story of how her teenage son went out with friends and never came home. His corpse later surfaced in a mortuary. “Just because Duterte gave [cops] the right to kill, some of them take advantage because they know there won’t be consequences,” she angrily says in Filipino before wailing in pain while showing Bro. Jun photos of her son smiling in selfies and then laying pale and lifeless at the morgue.

The Eusebio Funeral Services is a setting in the film that becomes as familiar as the blood-soaked alleys of the city. Its operator is an old man who gives the impression of being seasoned in his profession. And yet, nothing has prepared him for the burden of accommodating at least five cadavers every night when he was used to only one to two a week. When asked where all the unclaimed bodies go, he casually answers, “mass burial.” We later find out at the local cemetery that “mass burial” is the stacking of corpses in tiny niches they designated for the nameless and kinless. Children pause in their games as they look on at this crude interment, after which a man seals the niche with hollow blocks and wet cement, ready to be smashed open again for the next occupant/s. At night, the same cemetery transforms into a shelter for the homeless whose blanketed bodies resemble those covered in cloth at Eusebio Funeral Services.

Tama na po, may exam pa ako bukas” (Please stop, I still have an exam tomorrow). 17-year-old high school student, Kian Delo Santos, pleaded for his life with these words before police shot him dead in a dark alley near his home. The documentary takes us to this very alley without the foreknowledge that the corpse we see on the screen is in fact Kian’s. At his wake, we meet Jomari, a little boy who looks not older than seven but talks like a grown man. He fondly recalls Kian as a kind friend, short of saying that there was no way he could’ve been involved in drugs. Jomari should know, his parents are both in jail for using and peddling drugs. At a very young age, he knows that the cops are the enemy and that he must run at the first sign of them. Coupled with this wisdom and prematurely heightened sense of self-preservation is Jomari’s innocence, glimpses of which we see when he’s thrilled to try on new clothes and when he plays with his friends. Children in the slums are innocent but not naïve. They play with wild abandon but their exchanges are riddled with expletives, drugs and violence. They even reenact a Tokhang scene where the cops beat up and shoot a victim.

Towards the end of the film, a woman whose face is hidden and identity kept private gives a brief interview where, like the children drawing monsters only they could see in horror movies, she sketches a prison cell she was held in behind a bookshelf. Her interview alternates with shots of the actual secret jail that was uncovered by the press in a police station in Tondo in 2017. “Naghuhugas lang po ako ng pinggan n’ung kinuha nila ‘ko!” (I was just washing the dishes when they took me!), screams one woman the very second the bookshelf is slid open like a door. Camera lights reveal the hidden cell to be no wider than a corridor with no window, light or ventilation. More than ten people are inside. They later tell the media that they were abducted and have been detained for a week without cases filed against them, let alone a police blotter. They slept in their own shit and urine, were tortured and electrocuted by the cops, and told that they’d only be released if they paid the PNP money ranging from 10 000 to 100 000 pesos. Instead of being freed that day, their papers are processed for their transfer to different jails.

Aswang is almost surreal in its depiction of social realities. It is spellbinding yet deeply disturbing in both content and form. Its extremely violent visuals and hopelessly bleak scenes are eclipsed by its more delicate moments: Bro. Jun praying quietly by his lonesome after a night of pursuing trails of blood, Jomari clapping his hands in joyful glee as he becomes the owner of a new pair of slippers, an old woman playing with her pet dog in an urban poor community, a huge rally where protesters demand justice for all the victims of EJKs and human rights violations, meaning that they were not forgotten. It’s also interesting to note that while the film covers events in a span of two years, the recounting of these incidents is not chronological as seen in Bro. Jun’s changing haircuts and in Jomari’s unchanging outfit from when he gets new slippers to when he’s found after months of going missing. Without naming people, places and even dates, with Arumpacletting the poor do most of the heavy lifting bysimply telling their stories on state terrorism and impunity in their own language, Aswang succeeds in demonstrating how Duterte’s war on drugs is, in reality, a genocide of the poor, elevating the film beyond numb reportage meant to merely inform the public to being a testament to the people’s struggle. The scattered sequence, riveting images, sinister music and writing that borrows elements from folklore and the horror genre make Aswang feel more like a dream than a documentary—a nightmare, to be precise. And then, a rude awakening. The film compels us to replay and review Oplan Tokhang by bringing the audience to a place of such intimate and troubling closeness with the dead and the living they had left behind.

Its unfiltered rawness makes Aswang a challenging yet crucial watch. Blogger and company CEO, Cecile Zamora, wrote on her Instagram stories that she only checked Aswang out since it was trending but that she gave up 23 minutes in because it depressed her, declaring the documentary “not worth her mental health” and discouraging her 52,000 followers from watching it, too. Naturally, her tone-deaf statements went viral on Twitter and in response to the backlash, she posted a photo of a Tokhang victim’s family with a caption that said she bought them a meal and gave them money as if this should exempt her from criticism and earn her an ally cookie, instead.

 Aswang is definitely not a film about privileged Filipinos like Zamora—who owns designer handbags and lives in a luxurious Ed Calma home—but this doesn’t make the documentary any less relevant or necessary for them to watch. Zamora missed the point entirely: Aswang is supposed to make her and the rest of us feel upset! It nails the purpose of art in comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. It establishes that the only aswang that exists is not a precolonial shaman or a shape-shifting monster, but fear itself—the fear that dwells within us that is currently aggravated and used by a fascist state to force us into quiet submission and apathy towards the most marginalized sectors of society.

Before the credits roll, the film verbalizes its call to action in the midst of the ongoing slaughter of the poor and psychological warfare by the Duterte regime:

“Kapag sinabi nilang may aswang, ang gusto talaga nilang sabihin ay, ‘Matakot ka.’ Itong lungsod na napiling tambakan ng katawan ay lalamunin ka, tulad ng kung paano nilalamon ng takot ang tatag. Pero meron pa ring hindi natatakot at nagagawang harapin ang halimaw. Dito nagsisimula.” (When they say there’s a monster, what they really want to say is “be afraid.” This city, chosen to be the dumpsite of the dead, will devour you as fear devours courage. But there are still those who are not afraid and are able to look the monster in the eye. This is where it begins).

During these times, when an unjust congressional vote recently shut down arguably the country’s largest multimedia network in an effort to stifle press freedom and when the Anti-Terrorism Law is now in effect, Aswang should be made more accessible to the masses because it truly is a must-see for every Filipino, and by “must-see,” I mean, “Don’t you dare look away.” #

= = = = = =

References:

Buan, L. (2020). “UN Report: Documents suggest PH Police Planted Guns in Drug War Ops”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://rappler.com/nation/united-nations-report-documents-suggest-philippine-police-planted-guns-drug-war-operations

Ichimura, A., & Severino, A. (2019). “How the CIA Used the Aswang to Win a War in the Philippines”. Esquire. Retrieved from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/cia-aswang-war-a00304-a2416-20191019-lfrm

Lim, B. C. (2015). “Queer Aswang Transmedia: Folklore as Camp”. Kritika Kultura, 24. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/3mj1k076

Tan, L. (2017). “Duterte Encourages Vigilante Killings, Tolerates Police Modus – Human Rights Watch”. CNN Philippines. Retrieved from https://cnnphilippines.com/news/2017/03/02/Duterte-PNP-war-on-drugs-Human-Rights-Watch.html

Kung said na ang luha mo Bagong Bayani

Ni Ibarra Banaag

(Inspirasyon mula sa tula ni Ka Amado V. Hernandez)

Lumuha ka bagong bayani, buong lungkot mong iluha
Ang kawawang kalagayan ng lupain mong iniwanan:
Kung bandilang kinagisnan, saklot ng dayong bandila,
Pati wikang minana mo’y sa Mandarin itinatwa.
Ganito ring araw ngayon ng magsangla ka ng lupa,
Tulad ni Flor Comtemplacion ng lisanin ang Maynila.
Lumuha ka habang sila ay bagabag ng `yong layon, 
Ang paslit sa bisig mo’y iniwan mong tumataghoy: 
Katulad mo ay si Huli, naaliping bayad utang, 
Katulad mo‘y si Sisa, binaliw sa bayan ng dayuhan; 
Walang lakas na magtangol, walang tapang na lumaban, 
Pumapalahaw nang gahasain; tumatangis sa tampalasan!
Iluha mo ang sambuntong kasawiang nagtalakop 
Na sa iyo’y pampahirap, sa Gobyerno’y pampalusog: 
Ang lahat ng kayamana’y kamal-kamal na naubos, 
Ang lahat mong kalayaa’y sa Terror Bill ay natapos; 
Masdan mo ang iyong luha, sa Philhealth ay pantubos, 
Masdan mo ang yong sahod, sa sobrang buwis itinustos.
Lumuha ka kung sa puso ay nagmaliw na ang ipon,
Kung ang pundar na bukid, ginawa ng subdibisyon,
Kung ang dagat sa bayan mo, Tsino’t Kano nakadaong,
Kung bundok at ang parang, pinatag ng mandarambong,
Kung ang katawan mo’y inuwi para lamang paglamayan,
Lumuha ka ng lumuha, pangarap mo’y nakaburol.
May araw ding ang luha mo’y masasaid, matutuyo.
May araw ding di na luha sa mata mong namumugto
Ang dadaloy, kundi apoy at adhikain na pupugto,
Rumaragasang galit at kamaong nag-aalimpuyo,
Sisigaw ka ng buong giting tanikala ay malagot,
At ang pangangayupapa, dudurugin sa pagbangon.

Hunyo 8, 2020

JORY’S JOYS

By Karlos Ysagani Zarate

The fascists, four of them, did not respect
the cool morning breeze of Arevalo;
Nay, they’re even afraid to show their face
to the morning light that breaks through
the expanse of Iloilo strait!
That morning, they have decided
to be your accusers, the prosecutors,
the jury and your executioners!
Your crimes: serving and feeding the poor
during this reign of a crowned virus!

As the grating voice of the venomous god
echoes in their ears, promising faux redemption,
it muted the symphony of the chasing, splashing
waves and the humming cool summer wind,
they have prayed and decided over your fate:
You who is relentless, diligent, firm,
hardworking, principled and exemplary!
They cannot just injure, wound, maim,
Or, torture your kind Jory!
They’ll wipe out for good your infectious smile!

“Murder”, that was a strong indictment,
the palace jester said on a talking box;
But how, indeed, you call a traitorous act
of ending the life of a peaceful, defenseless man
by four armed masked men who pumped
eight bullets to his fragile being, one bullet
nearly blown the head off, as if to insure his death?
Yes, it was murder most foul by coward sicarius
Of a false god that spews virus and microbes of death!
It was, in fact, murder ex cathedra!

Yet, they were mistaken, gravely so, as it was then!
The bullets that pierced Jory’s being did not kill him,
nor, shatter his dreams that there is that day
certain to come when the mamumugon will reap
the just shares of their labors; when the mangunguma
will become masters of the land they till
and feed well the masa, the true jury of history;
And, in his beachside coffeehouse flows free
the brew that will continuously invigorate the banwa,
in defending the gains of the revolution – Jory’s real joys!

caritaz. 14 May 2020

= = = = =

The poet is Deputy Minority Leader and third-term member of the House of Representatives, representing Bayan Muna Party.

Jory Porquia was Bayan Muna coordinator in Iloilo City. He was assassinated by four gunmen, believed to be state agents, in his home in Aravelo, Iloilo City last April 30. He has been a repeated victim of red-tagging by the military, the latest was connected to his urban-poor feeding program under the coronavirus lockdown imposed by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

ANG ‘HULING EL BIMBO, THE MUSICAL’ REVIEW: When is nostalgia too much that it hurts?

By L.S. Mendizabal

Spoiler alert! Trigger warning: rape

The recent free streaming of Ang Huling El Bimbo The Musical on ABS-CBN’s Facebook page and YouTube channel was trending over the weekend and has since bred long, heated discussions among netizens on its content over form. Directed and choreographed by Dexter Santos, it delivered his signature masterful storytelling which I had had the privilege to be spellbound with in his earlier productions in Dulaang UP back in college. All the songs by the Eraserheads, about 30 in total, which provided the show’s repertoire, are hauntingly familiar to 90s kids and babies alike. As for the writing, I could not find fault in Dingdong Novenario when it came down to the accuracy of the times, human characterization, the right balance between humor and tragedy and the most difficult task of building a distinctly unforgettable story around already very iconic songs. “I hope I do the band justice,” Novenario once said in an interview. Frankly, this was where the problem lays. Now, before you come for me, let me just say that I enjoyed the musical thoroughly—it’s really hard not to love anything from Santos, anyway—except for a single scene which I personally found a bit too jarring and which I shall go over later as we try to examine both form and content.

Act One began in medias res with a police officer looking down at a dead body. This served as the catalyst for all the turmoil that would disturb the otherwise comfortable lives of three successful middle-aged men: Emman, a government employee, Anthony, a wealthy businessman and Hector, an established director. These men had history, being college roommates and best friends in the 90s. Their nostalgia kicked off with flashbacks to some of the oldest Eraserheads songs juxtaposed with their freshman life in a state university that looked and sounded a lot like the University of the Philippines. I especially loved the numerous song mashups, while the ROTC drill number was quite the spectacle and was easily one of my favorite parts of the musical, granted that watching this live must have been leaps and bounds better. The three boys would then meet Joy, a perky out-of-school merienda peddler about the same age as they were. She became an instant fascination for the boys because of the special attention given to her by their ROTC commandant, Banlaoi, played to evil caricature perfection by Jamie Wilson. Meanwhile, Joy was given life and dimension by Gab Pangilinan with her morena complexion, convincing tambay speak and powerful vocals. Her character in Act One was the epitome of “pure innocence with a dash of daring.” Like the three boys, she was always smiling and hoping, a persistent believer of true love and chaser of dreams. In contrast to the boys, however, she could not afford to hope and dream as big as they did. But they found common ground in youthful idealism and built an effectively portrayed, uncontrived friendship. This would soon be challenged by one night that changed their lives forever, Joy’s moreso, when they went on a road trip to Antipolo (“Overlooking!”) while, of course, singing “Overdrive” and “Alapaap.” These upbeat songs were followed by the slow acoustic, “Fill Her’, which menacingly ushered in the closing of the act with drunk male strangers raping Joy while the three boys were trapped in the car, held at gunpoint.

From happy nostalgia, Act Two opened just a day after that ill-fated night in an entirely different tone. Joy’s hair, which was previously in a half-crown braid now hung limply in a half-ponytail, her eyes empty, her smile not quite the same. She was about to attend the boys’ university graduation as one of the guests, but they forgot her. Together with the other graduates, the boys sang, “Lift your head, baby, don’t be scared / Of the things that could go wrong along the way / You’ll get by with a smile….” Oddly, this particular scene evoked the same “optimistic” mood in the Philippine Department of Tourism’s tribute video for our frontliners where shots of an empty metropolis alternated between images of doctors, nurses, the armed forces, etc. with a female rendition of “With a Smile” playing in the background. While the national president threatens to “shoot people dead,” we will survive this pandemic with a smile. While a girl was gang-raped, everything was going to be alright as long as we stayed positive. In the midst of trials and tribulations, there is always hope. Unfortunately, not for Joy. After the graduation rites, each of the boys acknowledged her presence, but not a word about the night before was uttered. This was to be the last time they would see her alive.

Poster from philippineconcerts.com

From the boys’ college experiences, the focus shifted from hereon to Joy’s struggle in the streets. Her Tiya Dely’s (who’d never be played better than by Sheila Francisco. Man, those pipes!) canteen was constantly being extorted by Banlaoi who happened to be their patron and “protector.” Unless they came up with a new gimmick, the eatery would go bankrupt and face imminent closure. Santos utilized the effect of the revolving stage here so that it wasn’t for the sole purpose of transitioning in and out of scenes but more importantly, for setting the mood and tone of every moment that defined Joy’s downward spiral. “Toyang’s Canteen” slowly turned into “Toyang’s KTV” where female waitresses, sex workers, male customers and drug pushers and users abound. From wearing a lot of yellow that accurately reflected her sunny disposition in Act One, Joy now wore different colors in cooler tones, her hair now loose and disheveled, her smile replaced with a fixed grim expression. Joy, as also symbolized by their eatery, had now completely lost her innocence.

Older Joy was played by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo whom, in my humble opinion, I have seen in more note-worthy performances. It was easy to suspend disbelief on how physically different Yulo and Pangilinan looked, what with the former’s striking mestiza features, but her American enunciation of certain lines in Taglish and Filipino personally distracted me, considering that she was supposed to be from the urban poor. Nevertheless, it was apparent that the Joy we now saw was no longer the same person literally and figuratively. Naturally, an Eraserheads musical depicting rape would not be complete without singing “Spoliarium.” It was sung in staccato in the confrontation dialogues among the three boys as well as their grown selves (anyone else reminded of Tito, Vic and Joey?)—arguably the most powerful scene in the play. The perfect climax from a slow build of pent-up emotions of male guilt, fear and self-loathing because of what they failed to do for Joy then and how they now all deliberately avoided her when she needed them most. While they did lose their boyhood innocence along the way, it was not quite as tragic as in Joy’s case since her innocence was forcibly, violently taken away from her. Male middle-class nostalgia gave way to an intense clash of principles, justifications and differing, possibly repressed, memories in the heads of the lost boys. “Ewan mo at ewan natin / Sino’ng may pakana / At bakit ba tumilapon ang / Gintong alak diyan sa paligid mo?” Novenario’s writing shone brightest here.

The last 30 minutes, to me, was a pain to watch not because of Joy’s hit-and-run death—we already knew right from the beginning that this was not a tale with a happy ending—but because of the overwhelming romantic sentimentality surrounding it. The three men’s guilt came full circle when they met Joy’s daughter, Ligaya (played by The Voice Kids Philippines 2019 semi-finalist Alexa Salcedo), who casually recounted how her mother described each of them: the “bespren,” the “kuya,” the “pinakaminahal sa lahat.” How a scene could be both tear-jerking and cringe-inducing was certainly baffling to me. You know that these three men were full of bullshit, and yet you feel sympathy for them and pity for Ligaya and Tiya Dely. “Lahat tayo’y mabubuhay ng tahimik at buong ligaya.” Beautiful. Unsettling. Painful to watch. And somehow, I wish it ended right there.

Alas! There had to be a decent funeral for Joy, obviously, paid for by her more successful and fortunate friends. There had to be touching elegies and parting words from Ligaya and the three men preceding a big ol’ group hug to the lyrics of “Ang Huling El Bimbo.” “Magkahawak ang ating kamay / At walang kamalay-malay / Na tinuruan mo ang puso ko / Na umibig nang tunay.” Suddenly, a girl’s rape turned into three boys’ coming-of-age story that came to a closure just now as they were brought together again by her death. Joy who was not only raped, mind you, but was a victim of forced prostitution and drug trafficking, notwithstanding all her misfortunes which are innate to the social class she was born into, was able to teach these poor, miserable middle-aged men what love truly meant. Awwww. If nostalgia was a drug, this part would be the pinnacle of the high where intoxication breeds euphoria. And as in a hallucinatory sequence, the three college boys and a once more young Joy appeared onstage, climbing over the hood of the car atop a hill in Antipolo, while a ghost-like Ligaya joined them until they froze, all their arms raised towards the night sky as if to touch tomorrow. Was Ligaya the silver lining behind all the dark clouds that had crept into and cloaked over Joy’s life? For some reason, I was not quite sold on that metaphorical tableau. It was pretty to look at, sure, but it was too unnervingly romantic. If anything, Ligaya would only be another Joy once these men decided to backslide into their comfortable lives in social oblivion again, just as they did when they abandoned Joy many times over.

I would not go as far as calling Joy a “disposable woman” trope because her character was not flat like that, or the men’s arc as “redemptive,” although they tend to give those impressions on the surface level. The way I see it, the story was not about the three boys. It was always about Joy and how the system broke her through the men’s points of view. Because of this strong male perspective, Joy was narrowed into nothing more than a plot device that helped advance the men’s overall narrative and character development. There was an interesting symbolic analysis that I read on Twitter that said Joy represents the exploited poor, while Banlaoi embodies the exploiting, oppressive state. The government (Emman), the rich private sector (Anthony) and the media (Hector) can only do so much to alleviate the dire conditions of the poor because at the end of the day, they are still all instruments of the state. Ang Huling El Bimbo the Musical only intended to portray the harsh reality of being a Filipino, let alone being an impoverished Filipino woman. While legitimate, I still had problems with this appraisal based on the play’s form and content. To be honest, I found the musical to be leaning towards Idealism more than Realism because of the heavily romanticized rendering of forgiveness and absolution for the three men in the last few scenes. It was obviously teetering between some kind of resolution and resilience porn. “But that’s what rape victims are inclined to do in the end: they forgive,” some might argue, and carelessly and unfairly so. You’d be surprised to find out how many Joy’s you might actually know in real life and how many Emman’s, Anthony’s and Hector’s who allowed rape to happen and continue to tolerate it by keeping quiet. After all, isn’t rape the only crime in which it is the victim who must prove her innocence? Not all victims are able to forgive their rapists, and for this reason alone, my heart bleeds for all the Joy’s I know.

Photo from The Life Chaser.com

“But it’s not supposed to be revolutionary or progressive in the least,” some have said. Look, I know. Eraserheads are no The Jerks or Yano. Even the slightest indication of student activism in Emman’s line about being frustrated with the masses because they couldn’t understand the language of student activists (hence the need for “education among the masses” instead of the other way around) was a dead giveaway that this was no socially progressive play. The main protagonists, not excluding the adorable probinsyano, Emman, did not hail from the grassroots. And yet, in order for art to actually mean something, it has to mirror the times and in mirroring the times, social critique is inevitable. Otherwise, we would consider Brillante Mendoza’s poverty porn “supreme art” rather than what they simply are. This watered down social angling, to me, was the musical’s weakness. By choosing to be more romantic and idealistic in tone towards the end, perhaps to please the upper middle class audience for which it was originally produced and staged, the social commentary got lost, drowned by waves and waves of nostalgia. And you know what happens when historical nostalgia is delivered in high doses? It revises history itself. That is why by the end of the show, the men would earn the audience’s sympathy more than ire.

By making this theatrical production watchable for the larger part of the middle classes on the internet, it has opened a new, active discourse on theatre as a political venue in espousing progressive beliefs that should benefit the masses, not alienate them. It has also successfully given new life to appreciating theatre as an art form, the importance of its accessibility to the masses and the justness of fair and equal pay for all genders in theatre (did you know that female actors are sometimes paid less than their male counterparts?) for their hard work. And we live for these kinds of discourses. And yet, is it right to point some weaknesses out in the musical’s narrative and artistic expressions used? I believe so. Is it only right to challenge our artists and writers to come up with a musical, a story, that Filipino women, especially rape victims, deserve? Absolutely.

Not wanting to be an infinite wellspring of negativity, I watched the musical all the way through the credits. I was waiting for some sort of condemnation of rape and other forms of sexual abuse. None. But, hey, let’s look at the bright side: thunderous applause filled the whole of Newport Performing Arts Theater at Resorts World Manila when they called Eraserheads frontman, Ely Buendia, to join the cast of actors and production crew onstage. Indeed, Ang Huling El Bimbo the Musical was able to achieve its goal, which was simply to do the most iconic Filipino band in the 90s justice. #