The pioneering theater group Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) is among this year’s recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Awards, the Philippines-based award-giving body announced today.
Widely considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Asia, the Magsaysay Awards are typically given to paragons in government service, public service and community leadership. But in a rare distinction for an organization in the arts and culture sector, Peta—which is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—was lauded for “its bold, collective contributions in shaping the theater arts as a force for social change, its impassioned, unwavering work in empowering communities in the Philippines, and the shining example it has set as one of the leading organizations of its kind in Asia,” as the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) put it in its official citation.
It joins five other awardees from across Asia: Yoshiaki Ishizawa, Japan, for his efforts to restore Cambodia’s cultural monuments such as Angkor Wat; Lilia de Lima, Philippines, whose decades-long work with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority demonstrated her “sustained, nonstop and credible public service;” Abdon Nababan, Indonesia, for his advocacy on behalf of the Adat or indigenous communities of his country; Gethsie Shanmugam, Sri Lanka, who has worked on rebuilding war-scarred lives, especially women and children; and Tony Tay, Singapore, for a volunteer movement he founded to address hidden hunger.
National theater movement
Founded in 1967 by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez based on her vision of a national theater movement that would apply the tools of dramatic arts to nation-building and social consciousness, Peta became a professional theater company unlike any other. Its members would be artist-teachers who, aside from performing onstage, interacted with urban and rural communities throughout the Philippines through immersion, research activities and workshops. The results and insights of such community organizing with students, workers, farmers, evacuees in conflict areas and other marginalized groups were invariably reflected in the plays that Peta mounted.
It produced several generations of noted Filipino artists—playwrights, directors, performers, backstage creatives—proficient across the various mediums of theater, film and TV, led by eventual National Artist Lino Brocka, who took over Peta in the ‘70s after Guidote-Alvarez went into exile in the US.
By creating its own writers’ pool, it also vastly expanded the Filipino canon with important original plays that carried the “Peta trademark”—“the ‘committed’ play, devoted to an examination and interpretation of social issues…,” as described by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Encyclopedia of Art, which also noted how Peta’s productions and training programs “have clearly affected the shape of Philippine theater.”
The Magsaysay Foundation further noted in its citation that “Over five decades, Peta has produced 540 original, translated, or adapted plays, reaching an audience of close to a million across the nation and abroad; it has helped form more than three hundred community-based culture collectives; and conducted training workshops that have involved 4,650 artists, school teachers, community leaders, and development workers…”
Before transferring to its current address, the Peta Theater Center in Quezon City, in 2005, Peta presented its productions at a former garrison in Intramuros it had repurposed into an open-air theater called Dulaang Rajah Sulayman. There, it offered season after season of plays and musicals that tackled questions of history (“May-i, May-i,” 1979); urban poverty (“Juan Tamban,” 1979); martial law (“Buwan at Baril sa Eb Major,” 1985); pop entertainment (“Canuplin,” 1980); folklore (“Ang Paglalakbay ni Radya Mangandiri,” 1993); gender (“Hanggang Dito na Lamang at Maraming Salamat,” 1974); oppression in the Cordilleras (“Macli-ing,” 1988); American colonization (“Pilipinas Circa 1907,” 1982) and the US Bases (“Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo,” 1991, an adaptation of the Nora Aunor film and starring Aunor herself in her first stage appearance); as well as translated works of world drama—Shakespeare, Brecht, etc.—with interpretations that bore on the current Filipino condition.
It has maintained this social thrust at its new home, with recent works exploring contemporary Philippine realities such as labor migration (“Care Divas”), traditional politics (“Noli at Fili Dekada Dos Mil”), elections (“Si Juan Tamad, ang Diyablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto”), celebrity culture (“Bona”) and children’s education (“Batang Rizal”).
According to an Inquirer report last year on the occasion of the 2016 awards, “The Ramon Magsaysay Awards, which honors the late Philippine President who died in a plane crash, has recognized 312 [now 318, per RMAF] prodigious and brilliant laureates since 1957. The highest number of awardees, totaling 55, comes from India. The Philippines comes second with 47 awardees and Japan third with 24. Other Filipino Magsaysay laureates include Washington SyCip, founder of SGV & Co., and former senator and presidential candidate Miriam Defensor-Santiago.”
The Magsaysay awardees are each set to receive a medallion, a cash prize and a certificate. The formal awarding ceremonies will be on Aug. 31, 4p.m., at CCP.