A few friends and I bravely watched “Desaparecidos,” a play based on the novel of the same title by Lualhati Bautista, produced for the stage by Jenny Jamora and adapted and directed by Guelan Varela-Luarca.
Many of the old barkada at Edsa, who, fearing for their frailness, opt for lighter forms of protest art, like, say, one starring comedian and impersonator Jon Santos.
I’m just as frail as those contemporaries, but I chanced it, hoping to derive new strength and courage from reminders of the ugly past.
I looked around the new, compact theater at the Ateneo and was able to pick out a number of ladies wearing our own badge of courage in our hair, in different shades, courtesy of Clairol, to cover our white—ash-blondish Cleo Llamas, spiky auburn-haired Raqui Garcia, natural and now artificially enhanced brunette Rita Reyes. I was myself wearing purple.
I also easily recognized National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, old friend Jun Alvendia and Edith Burgos, herself mother to desaparecido Jonas, snatched by the military in full public view on Gloria Arroyo’s watch. Jonas has patriotic pedigree: Edith was wife and active partner to Joe Burgos, editor of Malaya, the newspaper that fought the dictator of our own time—the newspaper where my own Dad happened to write a column.
The dramatization bridges those dreadful years of military abuse and the real and present danger in which we find ourselves again, the possible return to power of those very perpetrators, unashamed and unrepentant.
After the play, Edith and Bien Lumbera stepped onto the stage to share heart-rending experiences. Both admitted to the pain of remembrance, but agreed that people just had to know. During the Q&A, a wife and mother stood up to say she and her husband bring their children along to watch plays like this, in the hope that they would not be misled by any such tampering with history or self-serving propaganda as we see today.
A relevant answer to an unasked question came from Edith herself, when she told the youth that to be patriotic doesn’t mean going to the mountains, that they should first finish their studies and try to make something of themselves. Jonas himself finished school before going out to help farmers.
She appealed to everyone who might happen to witness an abduction to do something, to protest, at least with a scream so as to call attention to the ensuing crime and help the victim. No one did that in Jonas’ case, and he’s gone, possibly forever.
The play was fast-paced and economical in props and actors, who doubled as other characters. I have yet to be disappointed with any production with Jenny as actor or producer. She just gets better and better—prettier, too. I’ve become a big fan of our young thespians: they have shown consistently how versatile and powerful they can be onstage.
“Desaparecidos” is the story of real people, with faces and names. Their lives and sufferings are on record, although that, obviously, is not enough to discourage the mercenary trolls and sundry lie-mongers hired by the dictator’s heirs to rehabilitate themselves into power.
Sneakily and conveniently, their strategy centers around discrediting the Aquinos with every sort of concoction. The decisive comparison for me is Ninoy, who took a fatal bullet in his head for us, and Ferdinand Sr., who couldn’t even die properly, truthfully, and between their sons—Noynoy, who reminds me by his posture alone that he himself has a shrapnel lodged in him, too risky to remove, a bullet taken, again, in defense of freedom, and Bongbong, who has absolutely nothing creditable to his name.
I was 43 when I lined up to see Ninoy’s bloodied face and body in a coffin in his family home in Times Street. And there I was again, 35 years older, joining the grateful around his and Cory’s graves on the anniversary of his assassination.
Looking around, Vergel observed a crowd “definitely bigger than the year before.” He leaned and said to me, “It’s nice, especially in these times, to be in very decent company.” I couldn’t agree more.
The orphans Noynoy and sisters Balsy, Viel, Pinky and Kris and their own families definitely stand in moral contrast to the tyrannical and opportunistic families of recent and current history, and their own cronies. In times of uncertainty and confusion, we seem to naturally gravitate toward them, possibly because they remind us of a time, when the decent choice between Marcos and Cory was crystal clear.
It’s the same choice all over again. The tragedy is, we seem to have somehow forgotten how to recognize decency, even as it stares us in the face. I suggest we remember Ninoy; it’s a step to redemption.