In this episode of Migreatives I shared bits about my personal life and my writing: my childhood in the Philippines under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and the Martial Law regime, writing during post-EDSA 1986 People Power Revolution, and up to the return of fascism in the archipelago in 2016 when Duterte came to power and I was both writing in theatre, writing my novels, and my publishing essays online and in other media platforms.
This is the first time I’ve been into a podcast (the form is new to me) and the first time also for me to publicly speak about my experiences in the UK (I did not reveal all to protect some people who were with me and still living in the Philippines surviving the pandemic and the regime) writing under the fascist Duterte regime and my life here in the UK.
One thing that I learned in life as a Filipino playwright writing in Duterte Philippines is to not just to speak truth to power but to speak truth to power at the very moment when it is already necessary to confront a fascist evil regime.
You can listen to the podcast episode by clicking the image below. Trigger warning: there were parts of our conversation where we talked about the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines between 2016-2018 under the Duterte government and then the violence of the para-military group Ilaga (in tandem with the Philippine Army) that massacred Muslim Moros in Southern Philippines during the Marcos regime the 70’s.
I will be one of the playwrights for Colchester-based company Theatre Témoin project with the Mercury Theatre this first quarter of 2021.
NHS Yarns is “a collaborative project bringing artists and frontline first responders together to create rich, nuanced, and revelatory pieces of storytelling in partnership with The Mercury Theatre.” When I read their job posting last October I hurriedly submitted my application as the project is closer to what I was currently working then with Kanlungan Filipino Consortium and with Migrants Rights Network and affiliated migrant organisation’s: research on the experience of Filipino and other migrant workers working for the NHS.
Ailin Connant, Theatre Témoin’s Artistic Director interviewed me last December and they released the results within two weeks.
Since December I was reading about Theatre Témoin’s previous works and their aesthetics as a theatre company. One thing that excites me though is Theatre Témoin’s themes (and the processes!) of their works in past were almost the same with my practice back in the Philippines.
I am looking forward for exciting theatre pieces that will come out from this engagement and to learn something new from Theatre Témoin.
2021 is the last year of Balangiga Press in the Philippines. No, we are not closing. We are just looking for a closure.
We are moving its operations elsewhere. Where exactly? I have no idea. Literature outlives even the most powerful fascist state. This year we will publish the remaining titles we originally scheduled to release since 2018 and close some accounts and ask bookshops to pay us back. Our operations were disrupted by whatever shit that is happening in the Philippines since 2016, the circumstances of some of our collaborators (and that includes me), and endless hearthbreaking reasons that I am really tired even to repeat to myself.
It took me the whole week to decide on what to do, how to proceed. I was talking to a friend and a long-time collaborator and asking for his advice. He is going to help us on how to make our books accessible to Filipinos in the UK and Europe through our website and on whatever cloud technology can offer us. He told me to just ‘let go’ of the Philippines and start something new in London. I vehemently opposed the idea as I was still thinking of the communities of readers and writers we have back home. Well, he said, it’s up to you. I was still ambivalent on my decision to keep the operations back home while I am living elsewhere and some of our collaborators are moving out from the Philippines.
But weird things happen sometime in this afternoon, it was like the ‘sign’ you were waiting for before coming up with that final decision. I just caught someone in social media shared a pdf of our book, the pdf that we send to the printing press to produce the physical copy of the book. As the publisher I was happy that someone was talking about our book in social media. But then I panicked from the idea of what if our author discovered the copy of her book outside the press. When I reached out to the person I was horrified when I was met with an arrogant response as if he was entitled to the pdf and even commanded me to check with our author on why he got the copy of the book. I called my collaborator friend and showed him my exchanges with the bloke sent from Heaven to make up my mind. We were laughing with our endless ‘I told you so’ while talking about writers in the country’s literary establishment and he mockingly asked me if I changed my mind. You are already there, he said, don’t look back. And he was right. He got my final answer.
We are not closing Balangiga Press. We are moving it elsewhere temporarily and we are in a transition. We still want to publish works by Filipino authors, find new readers, and expand the spaces for our writings elsewhere. I really don’t know what future awaits us but we will keep on walking.
The Leicester Secular Society (LSS) invites you to its annual Human Rights Lecture which, this year, will be given by Rogelio Braga, who is based in London and is an exiled human rights activist, playwright and novelist from the Philippines.
Titled “The Radicalization of a Woman Without a Paper: Status Now For All”, the lecture is free and open to all and is taking place as part of the 2020 Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival.
Since the onset of the lockdown in the UK in 2020, Status Now 4 All, a network of almost 90 organizations, labour unions, and community organizations has been calling for the regularization of all undocumented migrants and those in the legal process living the country.
Using the study of Filipino women working as domestic workers in the UK which was conducted by Ella Parry-Davies, “A Chance to Feel Safe: Precarious Filipino Migrants amid the UK’s Coronavirus Outbreak”, as a springboard for narration and exposition, Braga’s lecture will emphasize the immediacy of regularization of all undocumented migrants and those in the legal process as a public health concern, reveal the narratives of those who are living in precarity under the Government-imposed lockdown, and explore the many voices calling for status now for all in the UK—the radicalization of a woman without a paper speaking to the void as a controlling metaphor.
About the Speaker
Rogelio Braga published two novels, a collection of short stories, and a book of plays before he left the Philippines archipelago in 2018. He was a fellow of the Asian Cultural Council for theatre in Southeast Asia in 2016. His first play on the human rights situation in Duterte Philippines, Miss Philippines, written entirely in English is currently under development commissioned by the New Earth Theatre in the London. He co-chairs Status Now 4 All, a network of rights and migration charities, labor unions, and community organizations across the UK campaigning for regularization of all undocumented migrants and asylums seekers living in the UK. He lives in London as a political asylum seeker.
About The Society
The Leicester Secular Society was founded in 1851 and is the world’s oldest Secular Society. Among other things, The Society defends rationalism and free speech, works for justice and fairness, and opposes unfair discrimination, bigotry and coercion based on factors such as beliefs, racial or ethnic origins, disability, sex, age, sexuality or lifestyle.
The Society holds regular speaker events which are also free and open to all. Past speakers have included George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Tony Benn and Annie Besant.
The Festival aims to explore human rights issues through a series of events that are free and open to all and which include panel events, film, art, and music. The Festival aims to give people a platform through which to engage with human rights issues at home and abroad.
The Festival also aims to draw attention to International Human Rights Day which is celebrated annually, around the world, on December 10.
‘Fungi’ my short fiction in the Filipino language published in several literary journals in Manila in the early 2000’s is included in this groundbreaking collection of stories translated from seven languages in the Philippines.
Gaudy Boy Press will release Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines this March with stories translated to English from several laguages in the Philipines. Fungi, my short story written almost two decades ago and appeared in literary journals in Manila since then is included in the collection.
Yes, the Philippines has several languages and the Filipino (some people mistankenly called ‘Tagalog’ which is one of the several major languages in the country and spoken mostly in the island of Luzon and in the capital Metro Manila) is the country’s lingua franca. English, of course, the language of our former colonial master is widely used across the archipelago.
The Philippines decided to have a lingua franca so we have a language we can shift to in a conversation that is not the English language.
As a Philippine Literature teacher back in the Philippines, Ulirát: Best Contemporary Stories in Translation from the Philippines editors’ introduction For Consciousness to the collection is a breathtaking essay on the history of the short story form in the Philippines, the practice, the politics of anthologizing, and an invitation to readers outside the Philippines to go beyond the textual productions of Filipino writers writing in English for them to have a glimpse of Philippine literary imagination within across the archipelago.
‘Ulirát’ which translates to ‘consciousness’ in English is also an invitation to the complex imaginations in Filipino literary productions across the archipelago that are usually beyond and probably outside the Filipino literary production in English. As a Filipino writer writing from the lingua franca some of the stories in this collection are even inaccessible to me unless, of course, they get to be translated to English or Filipino.
Curious on what Fungi is all about? Here’s an excerpt from For Consciousness on the decision why the editors and the translators included my story.
“Currently in exile in London, where he sought and received refuge from the harassment and death threats of the Duterte regime, Rogelio Braga wrote “Fungi” as part of his short-story collection Is There Rush Hour in a Third World Country. The story’s main characters—two kids who we are made to believe have found a “magical” object in a dumpsite where they scavenge for fabric scraps and other discarded items for a living—follow Joseph Campbell’s archetypal “hero’s journey” monomyth down to the finale. We chose “Fungi” for its empathy and its staunch refusal to go for cheap shots and poverty porn in its harrowing depiction of the lives of the Filipino urban poor. A “best of” short story anthology using the Philippines as a thematic pivot is not complete without a narrative that aims to capture and question Filipino consumerism, the absence of national industries, and the lives of people in the slums of Manila.“
Fungi is my first work of fiction translated to the English language that will be released to the public. I can’t wait for March!
Miss Philippines as a full-length play tells the story of a slum community in Manila struggling to mount a gay beauty pageant in the middle of Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’
Yes, Miss Philippines is stil running!
For those who are asking, the short play running in the festival is the opening scene of longer play-in-progress. This is actually my newest full-lengt piece on stage since 2015 when I wrote Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan (Light Falls Heavier in Sorrow).
Just a teaser on what the full-length Miss Philippines looks like.
The play revolves around a story of a slum community in Manila in Duterte Philippines where only women are left to survive since their husbands, sons, lovers, and gay male friends are either killed through extra-judicial killing, fled, jailed, or missing (forced disappearance) in the bloody government campaign against illegal drugs since 2016.
In the full-lenght play, all the characters are women from different ages and backgrounds: a grandmother who survived the war in Mindanao during the Marcos Martial Law regime, a Filipina domestic helper who just returned from abroad, a nurse waiting for her flight to London, transgender women, a mother, a former Communist rebel turned street vendor, a lesbian journalism student, and a Muslim woman. All these women have three things in common: poverty, the absence of men in their lives because of state violence and persecution, and the various ways of coping with loss.
Mimi and Madame Stella are just the two in the ensemble of women struggling to mount a gay beauty pageant in the middle of the fascist Duterte regime’s ‘War on Drugs’ in the Philippines.
Miss Philippines is a play in three acts exploring the themes of loss, violence, beauty, and the power of collective resistance to a patriarchal fascist regime in the present Philippines. Under the Duterte government, extra-judicial killings of suspected drug pushers, users, human rights activists, indigenous peoples, progressive cultural workers, and members of the media are rampant and being normalized.
In a pageant-crazed Philippines, beauty contests are important cultural markers. Duterte‘s popularity is still unchallenged in the archipelago. His supporters call him Tatay Digong—‘tatay’ literally translates as ‘father’ in the Filipino language. The killings that he orders are seen as punishment of the ‘tatay’ to discipline his ‘children’. The violence and the culture of impunity in the Philippines is framed on a power structure that is definitely patriarchal.
The public presentation of a scene from my play-in-progress currently under development from Yellow Earth Theatre Company will performed by London-based actors Victoria Gigante (Mimi) and Vivienne Robles Lacson (Madamme Stella). Andrea Ling will direct the play.
Miss Philippines is my first play written entirely in English and the first production of work for stage since 2018 when Ang Mga Maharlika (The Aristocrats) and Mas Mabigat ang Liwagan sa Kalungkutan (Lights Falls Heavier in Sorrow) were performed in September in Manila that year.
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 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 Kalungkutanwas 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.
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.
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.