by Rose Cruz Churma
KASARINLAN: A Journey to Independenceis a stage production held at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu last June 11 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Philippine Independence from Spain.
This theatrical event which was produced, written and directed by Raymund Llanes Liongson, a retired professor of Leeward Community College, consisted of an intergenerational cast and crew from a diverse group of volunteers—a true grassroots community effort that is educational but also entertaining. It is community theater at its finest.
The storyline is simple: in the first scene, an old chest is unearthed in an ancestral home in Tondo, Manila that contains memorabilia from the past, one of which is a memoir by one of the ancestors that brings back to life the struggles and triumphs of the family’s forebears.
Eric Barsatan, with his children Adrian, Andrew, Austin and Ariana, sets the tone for this scene. The multi-generational cast plus the supporting characters (such as the real-life architect Jun Suela playing the role of an architect/builder in the play as well as executioner in the latter scenes) immersed themselves in the characters they were representing.
The second scene brings to life, the pre-colonial period, and this era is depicted by a series of dances. BIBAK of Hawaii performed an amazing chant (by Angel Galas) and dance unique to the Cordilleras and its people. The southern part of the Philippines where the Lumads lived was represented by the malong dance by the Dabawenyos Community Foundation, led by Marilyn Silva.
An indigenous dance depicting the babaylan was performed by Charo Feliciano and Pike Velasco (who would have additional roles in the other scenes). The Linglingay Cultural Dance Troupe concluded this segment with the folk dance “Ti Silaw” where the lights were dimmed to showcase the swirling lights in the darkened stage.
The guests I had invited to this event (recent retirees to Hawai’i) commented that Scene 2 gave context to the dances, and depicted the pre-colonial period well.
The next scenes depicting Spanish colonization and Filipino resistance (Scenes 3 & 4) also used this theatrical device of using the song and dance to evoke those times. Jay Flores was outstanding in delivering the popular Spanish song “Besame Mucho,” while Ramon Jacob and Natilyn Rasalan’s “Jota Cabangan” depicted Spanish-era customs and tradition.
An amazing number was the operatic rendition of “Ang Maya” by Brigham Young University-Hawaii student Mia Malit-Cruz who also sang the “Sampaguita” in the final scene. The patriotic “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” by Josie and Virgil Sumait provided the right ambience to depict the hardships during the Spanish colonial rule.
The execution of the three priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora was especially gripping. A garrote was actually built for the play and the villainous Spanish guardia civil soldiers relished the roles of harassing the Katipuneros (played by Rodgie Mark Bucsit, John Adarna, Elmer Corotan, and others). It was interesting to watch Sergio Alcubila strut around the stage as a Spanish conquistador and be part of the firing squad.
The most memorable cast member was Jun Gappe. In one scene he was on his hands and knees trying to move a large rock as the guardia civil bullied him, the look of agony etched on his face.
In another scene, he played the role of Apolinario Mabini, the sublime paralytic—his face devoid of emotion. He really looked the parts—as a laborer and as the brains of the revolution. What was significant was that he also helped build the props—posting his creations on Facebook (the wooden baul, the garrote and the fake rock among others.)
The women who depicted historical figures like Araceli Rebollido Acosta and Margie Berueda, who played the part of Lorenza and Marcela Agoncillo respectively, re-enacted the making of the Philippine flag.
But it was Pike Velasco (who also played various roles and served as stage manager) who held that large flag and waved it defiantly around the room that gave life and traction to Scene 5—Kalayaan.
As a co-sponsor of the theatrical event, the Philippines’ Consul General Emil Fernandez opened the event with a few remarks—one of which was that the show will be good if Bennette Misalucha was the emcee. He was on target: not only did she do her job well, but she also lent an air of class to the proceedings.
The performance of the Fil4Kids group who sang “Sino ang Filipino” is especially touching. The kids—preschool to tweens—wore their favorite Filipino attire in an array of colors and textures. This summer program for kids is in its 17th year, led by the indefatigable Imelda Gasmen, an educator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Twenty-five years ago, I was part of a group of idealists who dreamt of a place where the community can gather and celebrate their culture, reenact their history, reunite with friends and sample Philippine cuisine. All these happened last June 11. It was nice to see the Consuelo Courtyard transformed into a lively gathering place as the audience waited for the show to start.
The Casamina-Flores ballroom may not be the ideal venue for this type of theatrical production. The staging was make-shift and dramatic lighting was non-existent. The sound system malfunctioned several times, and the venue’s acoustics were not up to par. But what the venue lacked in technical appointments was overshadowed by the cast and crew’s enthusiasm and commitment.
In her welcome remarks, Shelley Carmona, the FilCom’s Program Director shared her generational ties and stressed the importance of knowing one’s history. An effective way to enable the younger generation to appreciate history is through theater.
As Cecille Guidote Alvarez, the founder of PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) says:
“Theater is a memory bank of our history, so our nation does not suffuse from amnesia; an armor against social ills; an anchor to appreciate our habitat, wealth of indigenous heritage, mother tongue, and traditions.”
It was evident that theater arts empower communities and affect social change.
To all who were part of KASARINLAN: A Journey to Independence, we salute you. May this be just the beginning.
ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Rose Cruz Churma