Aside from what Teatrong Mulat founder Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio would call in her 1972 book -- the “seditious” Tagalog plays – what we could consider to be our most solid contribution to world literature should be our Balagtasan!
In his Art and Politics in the Balagtasan lecture delivered as part of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Southeast Asian Studies Colloquium Series in 2003, National Artist Virgilio S. Almario saw it more than just a simple verbal joust since it is “meant to help the masses form their opinions about the most sensitive issues that affected their lives and the future of the country.”
In addition, poets ran the risk of imprisonment due to sedition.
Now that our rebels were either changing their original positions in courts or in the mountains to escape arrest – is the tradition of this poetic sedition dead too?
Or did it already die thrice with the death of its Three Kings: Jose Corazon de Jesus in 1932?
Florentino T. Collantes in 1951? Emilio Mar. Antonio in 1967?
Teo Antonio, the heir apparent, shouted in verse libre: NO WAY!
He has been keeping his father's literary legacy alive – even before, during, and after Mar o Ka Milyong's centennial celebration in 2003 with Balagtasan exhibit and exhibition of angry young poets rhyming and metering for a prize at the Hiyas ng Bulakan!
With the “Prince of Balagtasan” Prof. Mike Coroza and yours truly as Lakandiwa – Teo had been invited at The Gallery Hotel in Singapore (2002), at the Ateneo de Manila University (2003), in University of the Philippines Diliman (2004), in Tierra Bella, Quezon City (2005), at the Rizal Park (2006), at the LTI Design Plaza, Makati City (2008), among others.
What was the most quintessential Balagtasan in Philippine literature and theater was the underrated National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) project entitled Hanas: Dalit sa mga Virtuso which was staged first as Virtuso at the Department of Tourism Clamshell in Intramuros (2003) , in UP Los Baños (2003), at Bohol Cultural Center (2003) at Loboc National High School (2003), at UP Aldaba Theater (2004), in Crisanto Guysayko Memorial Elementary School(2004), at the Casa Comunidad in Tayabas City (2004), at the Folk Arts Theater (2004), and at the Concert at the Park in Luneta (2004).
The “word war” was between Nationalism versus Globalism but what made it stood out was that it was divided into three acts wherein the showing was alternately highlighted with the telling by way of staging three one-acts by playwrights Edward Perez of Los Baños, Alfred Valenzona of Tagbilaran City, and Arnel Mardoquio of Davao City who wrote and directed the landmark feature film Hunghong Sa Yuta (Earth's Whisper)!
For instance, we would introduce the conflict -- then Perez and Arts Research and Training Institute in Southern Tagalog (ARTIST, INC.) would act out controversial issues about the making of papier mache and carving in Laguna before introducing the next group from the Visayas.
Valenzona, together with director Lutgardo Labad of the Bohol Arts and Cultural Heritage (BACH) Council would dramatize the grand theft santos in different churches and then proceeding to the taste of Mindanaoan theater.
In the end, all the hanas or experts – magbalantay, baeng lumad, magtataka, maglililok, and the manunugtog – would be crowned with flowers through Teo's pagpuputong.For his part, Mike would sing and play the guitar as a harana – which would climax to the final ritual wherein everyone would do a participative ethnic dance.
We, with the late Rene Villanueva, selected Hanas as part of the Aklat Likhaan ng Dula 1997-2003: Kapangahasan Bilang Kaligtasan (2006) released by the UP Press with the UP Institute of Creative Writing.
Last 12 August, another dimension was added into it when the Ateneans included us in a lecture-demo at the full-packed Escaler Hall, reminiscent of the 20s when Huseng Batute and his poetic sparring partner Collantes could jampack Manila's biggest and most expensive theaters like the Opera House, the Teatro Zorilla, and the Olympic Stadium!
Billed as Raplagtasan, this hit and hip debate on whether Atenistas are better than La Sallistas via beatbox – also featured Raynoa Aguillon, Billy Cruz, Lloyd Labastida, and Shielbert Manuel, all part of Jim Libiran's Tribu that was garnered the Pari de L'Avenir Award during the sixth Paris Cinema International Film Festival last July, a year after bagging the Cinemalaya's Award for Best Film, Best Sound for Mark Laccay, and Best Performance of an Actor award received by an ensemble of non-professional actors, like us, Teo and Mike, with these Tondo gangstas from six different tribes!
On August 23, from 2 to 3 in the afternoon – we, with Teo and Mike, will try to trace by debating poetically the root cause of graft and corruption: the leaders or the citizens?
Not on stage but on the air – on DZRH 666 kilohertz -- via Sugpuin Ang Korupsiyon!
Inspired by the Malou Jacob's play Anatomiya ng Korupsiyon, the program which has been successfully toured by the Cultural Center of the Philippines in the different agencies as well as in the different regions – is hosted by Mr. Reginald Espiritu and headed by Ms. Eva Mari Salvador -- CCP's Associate Artistic Director for Cultural Resource and Communication Services – who deems it necessary to use Balagtasan again -- as an agent of social change!
No wonder this public service co-production of the CCP and the Manila Broadcasting Company has been winning annually: 2005 Golden Dove Awards Best Public Affairs Program, 2006 Catholic Mass Media Awards Best Counseling and Public Affairs Program, Program, and 2007 Catholic Mass Media Awards Best Public Service Program!
If you yelled for 8 years, 7 months and 6 days you would have produced enough sound energy to heat one cup of coffee.
Maaari akong lumigaya sa ating bayan,
maaari rin akong mamatay, at magtiis dito.
Ang kasawian ng aking bayan ay kasawian ko rin. ELIAS