(I obliged upon having been requested by a dear friend to write about this production. It's the least I can do to invite you to grab this opportunity to catch a nutshell (one-and-a-half-hour) multimedia production featuring the various facets of the long-running struggle (nating lahat) for freedom and democracy in our country... )
Reading the script, one would look forward to renditions of classic revolutionary music interspersed with verses and rhythms old and new. The lines echo the heartbeat of the people's continuing and comprehensive struggle for land, jobs, wages, dignity, justice and sovereignty.
The context is all-familiar. Today, society has only aged, but the situation in the early ‘60s was not too different. Poverty, joblessness landlessness and the lack of social services prevailed. Bad working conditions and misery in the farmlands ran high, while civil rights were being suppressed. Indeed during the latter half of the 20th century, the subservience of several regimes to US and elite interests translated into unsound and deceptive policies that triggered mounting discontent among workers, peasants and students as well as professionals and small-scale businessmen. Yet, as in today – in various corners such as schools, offices, factories and farms – where various sectors of society came together to learn and draw lessons from a rich variety of experiences and common travails – hope sprung eternal despite the odds.
One such corner was a factory where a group of students and other youth leaders immersed themselves and embraced the plight of workers as their own. Years of strengthening the trade unions with multi-sectoral support would lead to the La Tondeña strike, which was among the first big strikes to be launched during the Martial Law years. After sit-down strikes by workers in Laguna, Gentex-Libis and Pampanga Sugar Mills, as well as a picket regarding wages by Lirag Textile Mills-Malabon in 1974, about 800 La Tondena workers protested hiring on a contract basis. Aside from the youth and the religious -- professionals and even businessmen were supportive of the strike where more than 500 were arrested. Despite Malacañang's Presidential Decree banning strikes, the following years saw the launching of 'illegal' strikes by tens of thousands of workers nationwide.
Against this backdrop, the developmental script of concert-play and multimedia production Makata'y Mandirigma, Mandirigma'y Makata tells the story of Ador – poet, political detainee, husband and father – vis a vis that of political icon Joma Sison, himself a writer, poet and political prisoner. It shows how the the cause for genuine social transformation is much larger than the self and binds and inspires people – indeed from all walks of life – but especially the lot of workers, peasants and the middle-class – to commit not only their resources but their entire lives.
This lengthy introduction to this one-of-a-kind play everyone is enjoined to see aims at the very least to reflect the arduous and painstaking prerequisites of change which the plot’s characters either underwent or witnessed: The constant study of society. Encouraging various sectors to unite and coordinate. Charting various courses of action from the parliament of the streets to armed and unarmed movements in the countryside. Individuals constantly striving to sacrifice – and overcome personal interests to serve the greater good – but never faultless nor invulnerable. These individuals morph into dynamic organizations and alliances that become the people's weapons against those who seek to undermine their interests and aspirations.
The play provides a one-and-a-half-hour glimpse of decades of the Filipino people's struggle mirrored by the lives and passions of several characters. Its scenes and colors reminiscent of the 1896 revolution traverse the path leading to the founding of the Kabataang Makabayan up to when the revolutionary youth organization turns 45, as well as Joma Sison's treks in his 50 years of serving the Filipino people.
An interweaving of ARTIST Inc. director Edward Perez' Shrapnel sa Pluma ng Makata and National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera's Dalit (long poem), Makata'y Mandirigma poetically presents the youth as a potent force of struggle – matches that light many candles before they are cast and lit together to endure burning – yet glow even brighter. From being young activists, both Ador and Joma would mature into revolutionaries, carry on with their commitment and take part in effecting change – and touching lives in various manners – enjoining generations upon generations to take part in people's war.
Makata'y Mandirigma's narrates various facets of waging struggle seldom highlighted in conventional productions – if not presented as points of weakness and eventual surrender. These include family issues, love stories and self-contradiction—ordinary concerns that affirm that activists and revolutionaries are human after all, and that their efforts to face these in the course of pursuing their duties with the help of comrades-in-struggle and inspired by the broad masses – further endear them to the people. The union of revolutionaries and the people forms a bond that the people's enemy in the reactionary state or ruthless army -- cannot fathom nor break.
The lives of Joma Sison and many Filipino patriots have been written about and put in books, music and poetry. On November 30, Makata'y Mandirigma crochets these efforts showcasing a powerful cast and production crew that is a synchronization of multi-sectoral and multi-organizational talents, the majority being the sector in celebration – the youth.
Taking inspiration from Joma's 1968 poem “The Guerrilla is Like a Poet”, Makata'y Mandirigma also creatively displays the adaptability of revolutionaries in waging struggle on all fronts and in all spheres possible. The dancers, singers and interpreters—who are mostly not professionally in the field of theater – as well as those who crafted, supported and supervised the play, were themselves akin to poets and fighters. They exerted their every strength even in face of limited resources. They braved and overcame uncertainties and difficulties in developing a production with a highly varied mix of talent, experiences and know-how. These they utilized to enrich the project, be it in terms of content or presentation. They also maximized the best that they had that was available – their unity and determination to present this concert-play – and came up with something that might just invite viewers to also find the poets and guerrillas in themselves. (Photo by Karl Ramirez)
(Makata'y Mandirigma, Mandirigma'y Makata. Handog ng ANAKBAYAN, KMU, BAYAN, DEFEND-PHILIPPINES at ILPS-PHILIPPINES bilang pagdiriwang sa ika-45 anibersaryo ng pagkakatatag ng Kabataang Makabayan, at sa 50 taon ng paglilingkod sa sambayanan ni Ka Joma Sison. Ipapalabas sa Nobyembre 30, 2009, 2:00 ng hapon at 6:30 ng gabi sa UP Theater. Pinagsanib na “Shrapnel sa Pluma ng Makata” ni G. Edward Perez Jr. at “Dalit” ni Bienvenido Lumbera. Direksyon ni Rommel Linatoc. Musika ni Ricamela Saturay-Palis at Kalantog. Ilaw ni Katsch Katoy. Koryograpiya ni Jun Bueta & Edwin Quinsayas. Bahagi ng malilikom ay mapupunta sa mga nasalanta ng bagyong Ondoy at Pepeng.)