My article on Duterte’s Fascism on Socialist Workers Party UK newspaper last July, 2020. You can read it here.
This is the poster of the last production of my play before I left the country in 2019. UP Repertory Company performed Ang Mga Maharlika (The Aristocrats) in September that year ; it premiered on the same year at the Fringe Manila.
The poster was designed by Manila-based artist Rombutan. It was revised several times after it was released to the public to promote the performances. It was banned on Facebook, the actors and the production (including me) received countless death threats and intimidation from the supporters and loyalists of the Marcoses and of course, Duterte. Ang Mga Maharlika was supposed to be toured in several venues that year but the production decided to cancel the shows.
Ang Mga Maharlika retells the story of the scandal of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his mistress, the American actress Dovie Beams.
I wrote and finished the play in 2010 in a quaint cafe in Cebu City called Kukuk’s Nest owned by actress and writer Maria Victoria Beltran. The play was based on Beams’s biography written by exiled journalist Hermie Rotea; the book was banned by Imelda Marcos in the Philippines. I found and eventually bought the hardcover copy of the book used as a display in Kukuk’s Nest along with other trade books. It was stolen from my table inside the faculty room of the School of Languages, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the Mapua University where I used to teach. Beltran, last April, was taken by the regime’s police authorities without warrant for her criticisms to government’s inaction to the pandemic.
I am posting this here for posterity. Freedom of expression and the freedom to dissent are long dead in the Philippines. Duterte and his fascist regime’s Anti-Terror Bill is awaiting for his signature to formalize and ‘legalize’ the death of freedom of expression in the country.
Perhaps out of frustrations with the passing of Anti-Terror Bill the other day at the Congress my former student, now a painter based in Manila, sent me these photos. She took these photos from the 2017 production of my play Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan (Light Falls Heavier in Sorrow) in Marikina City, the last production of my work as a playwright before I left the archipelago in 2018.
At first, I wasn’t really sure what’s on her mind that she suddenly sent me these photos years after she took it while the performance was on going. This morning I realized that probably she thought of this play, it’s story, and its future in the country’s theater halls once Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill becomes a law. Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan was about the children in conflict in Mindanao: the story of war in Southern Philippines from the points-of-view of young Moro freedom fighters, of child soldiers.
The story line was a product of a half-a-year research talking with leaders of Moro freedom fighters in Cotabato and Maguindanao, of former child soldiers, and in conversations with communities in Central Mindanao that suffered in militarization Moro communities in Southern Philippines. It was expected that Moro lawmakers in the Congress were the first to reject Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill because obviously they know this game, they know that their communities will suffer in a Filipino Philippines as a police state.
Written in 2015, this play failed to make it to its premiere; five days before the opening, I was asked to revised the play, to change its story line. Of course, I refused as a playwright. Since then, none will dare produce this play except the autonomous government of the Bangsamoro and the radical and progressive university-based group inside the University of the Philippines, the UP Repertory Company.
And then I realized, fuck it, it’s not just Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan that theater organizations back home will face the problems of mounting it once Duterte’s Anti-Terror Bill it becomes a law. Almost half a dozen of my plays (still being performed for the last five years and one even appears in several textbooks of senior high school students) endlessly talk of collective resistance, the independence for the Bangsamoro people from the Philippine government, and stories of freedom fighters and the violence of state forces to vulnerable communities. I even have a young adult novel that teaches kids the importance of overthrowing a fascist regime.
More than the impact of this another draconian law to the right to dissent, to activism, and the freedom of expression in the country — my rejection to the Anti-Terrorism Bill is also personal to me. All writers, artists, cultural workers, and theater maker should reject this law. This fascist and murderous regime is always afraid of Filipino writers writing from the tradition of socially engaged literary production in the country. Let’s continue to scare them.
PS. Ownership of the photos belongs to my former student. Her name was omitted in the attribution for her protection.
#JunkTerrorBill #JunkTerrorBillNow #OustDuterte
This is my first theatre-related activity in the United Kingdom and probably my first since the last production of my play Ang Mga Maharlika in 2017 when I was still in Manila. It was already a hiatus for someone like me who keep a scorecards of new plays written and produced in a year.
Before I left for London in 2018 I was supposed to write an adaption of Gogol’s The Government Inspector for a Manila-based theatre company, but for some reasons the project did not push through and there came the problems back home and I have to stay here in the country. I really missed the theatre – both writing a new play or being in the production as a playwright. Getting accepted in this program is a real rebound.
Writing plays always inspire me to be creative and productive in my other creative endeavors such as writing a novel or a short story.
Last February, I submitted my application to the second iteration of Yellow Earth’s Professional Writers’ Program. Luckily, my project proposal for a new play (in English, full-length) got accepted. I’d like to finish my new play while I am in this program – or, at least the scene treatments and pitch while attending the first phase of project until June.
What makes me more excited is I am part of cohort of professional theatre and film artists based in the United Kingdom. I will definitely get a lot of new perspective on their practices that could help me navigate the industry and continue writing plays while I am here living in this country indefinitely.
Yellow Earth Theatre Company is a London-based theatre company that provides workshops, conducts researches, and full production and promotion of works by British East Asians in the United Kingdom.
And so I decided to create an online diary to record my daily activities while being locked down inside the house – and now this hell runs for several weeks already and it seems with the increasing deaths here in the UK counted on a daily basis, this situation will go on for months until they discovered the vaccine and then eventually welcome the recession. But I will keep this online diary so I have something to look back if ever I survived this nightmare.
It’s the first day of May. I decided to take good care of myself – my physical, mental, and emotional health should come first before anything else especially that I am living alone here in this country. What this lock down has taught me is this: it is not the virus that will eventually kill me but it’s this environment that does not acknowledge my own right for survival and self-preservation – and constantly telling me that I do not deserve it.
Governments that protects the interests of the few, selfish idiots that value their privileges and conveniences more than other people’s lives, people who refuse to see that the world has changed and we need to adjust, those who refuse to acknowledge that you have to survive, too, and you need to preserve youself.
What this pandemic has revealed to me so far is a glaring truth: that the world is cruel and people are selfish. Since the last week of March I started to struggle with sickness – recurring flu, body malaise, loss of senses of taste and smell, occasional gasping for my breath early morning that waked me up even before sunrise. I survived by self-medication for the next three to four weeks. Somewhere in between a death in the family back home.
After the sickness I was baffled by the inability of my body to be productive, to focus on a specific task, to return to my activities, my writing projects. I realized then that it was no longer physical, it was the uninvited friend who visited me again – this was something that wasn’t new to me. It happened to me in the Philippines in 2018 between February until I left for London in September: I can’t sleep at night, I was immobile the whole day, my body was numbed by thinking of these circular endless pointless thoughts, I was just there – inside my room, with my closed doors and windows, lying at my sofa the whole day while pretending to be okay in social media. The killings in the country being reported almost everyday, the deaths in my neighborhood in Quezon City due to extra-judicial killings, the uncertainty of my future because the country has become so dangerous for everyone. The killings were so popular to people. Friends and comrades who celebrated the killings. The hallow populist nationalism of Duterte that was present everywhere – from the bodies you love to the dust the enters your lungs. It was chaos.
And now it is happening again, here in London. And these deaths everyday, neighbors being picked up by ambulances, politicians and government protecting the interests of the few, liars, and like in the Philippines before I left the country: poor people were suffering everywhere and then there’s a steady supply of selfish people who refuse to acknowledge that you have vulnerabilities, too. That you need to survive, too. And they ask so much from you without thinking that you needed help, too.
No. I refuse to be in that situation again before I left that shithole of a country of murderers and matapobres. Today, I decided to preserve myself because I am alone here and nobody will protect me. Nobody will protect me. I need to survive.
This virus has taught me so much about human nature.