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This review happens long after this play’s run, for good reason: I fear my distance from the text is impossible, and this is reason for discomfort. Because I read this play before I saw it staged, and I saw it twice, too. These are new things to me that have meant my constant reassessment of my criticism of the production. And as with any other more difficult text, I take forever to write my thoughts down.
Ah but the circus that is the 2013 elections has begun. And as Certificates of Candidacy were being filed, and the all too familiar rhetoric of campaign began, I thought: wow, that is all familiar.
Here is where “Walang Kukurap” can only be a pre-emptive strike: the elections that are about to happen? Its outcome has been told, the characters of its drama are known, the words about to be spoken have been articulated. It might be said that this is no difficult feat at all, given that the rhetoric and its characters should be familiar to anyone who even engages with politics and government on these shores.
I say: this is precisely a feat because it takes these characters and layers them with context that we would only imagine, it takes these words and allows them to carry the weight of mere rhetoric. Here we are told that words are but the means to the end of winning elections; we are reminded that whatever it is that’s said is farthest from the truth, and that sometimes the more absurd the rumor the truer it is.
The rationale behind relatives running against each other for local government positions, the anger and insecurity that runs deeper in political dynasties, the incestuous utang-na-loob relationships that such a small interwoven political community breeds. There is an older generation that cares for family, and whose concern is survival. There is a younger generation born into the struggle for this power, which creates the crazed kolehiyala forced into political ambition, the young lovers broken by the violence they have no control over, the ambitious and intelligent scholar who pays for his debt with his life, the more violent boys turned into men ahead of their years. The lack of role models that will teach them to be otherwise is not here.
There is of course the activist, as the persistent but ultimately ignored voice, no matter that what she says is correct. She is so alone in what she thinks, her presence doesn’t matter for both the politicians she is exposing and the populace she wants to enlighten. The former dismiss her as a nuisance, the latter is too busy making ends meet to want to go up in arms against the system.
Ultimately the one who yields most power is the one with plenty of money to spare, the one who has the funds to pay or kill everyone off. He is the most intelligent, most powerful one here. He does as the colonizer has historically done: divide and conquer. The one who survives is his most worthy opponent. In this case, and as it must be the case in many provinces across nation, it is the gambling lord.
And yet, there is also the narrative of the women, the widows who are here, the ones who know to shoot guns on the one hand, strategize intelligently on the other. There is a desire in these women that is more complex than we usually see, a desire that is rationalized by love for family and survival, alongside the premise borne of our common (unwritten) history that tells us: the weeping widow wins elections in this country. The women come into the power that their men used to hold.
As such “Walang Kukurap” is not just about the next generation already victimized by the politics that they are born into. It is about the women who are left behind by their men, and who become these men, who do not know what else to become. That these women do not cower in fear is a testament to the kind of power she can find herself wielding and enjoying, and the kind of craziness she begins to live with, if not the kind of crazy she becomes.
And yes, the activist is woman too, a single mother who dares get up on her makeshift platform and talk to the invisible crowd with her megaphone. It is laughable really, and sadly truthful too. It is what keeps this story from being a political treatise, precisely because it also laughs at the political treatise. It dares take on this perspective of omniscience, where everything is violent, including the lack of support for the woman who dares speak the truth.
But also what this play ends up doing is a critique of us as a public, who do not know the truth even when it is in front of us, who taint our perceptions of the activist with what the government thinks of them, i.e., as nothing but nuisances, or as the ones who are too critical for comfort, against whom we can throw words like propriety and decency as if government were those two things to begin with.
The activist’s existence in this play, places us squarely in the position of the public. That she is laughable is really a finger pointed at us. This is where “Walang Kukurap” outdoes itself.
We are all the public that it needs. Working from our common history and sense of current events and governance, it speaks of the current landscape as it actually looks to us all, given what media allows us to see, the enterprise of spin and all. But too it renders for us an imagination of a backstory, about how violent those ties that bind are, and how mad it can get, how frenzied. This is what is in the blood spewing that is in this play: it’s insanity turned on its head because it is also so plausible for anyone of us who knows of politics in these shores.
The crazies are all here, and they are far larger than what we know of the violence that politics wreaks on nation. Because here it is not just that they are corrupt, it is that they are so intricately bound to each other, it is that we are born into utang na loob, it is that we are all kept where we are by the spaces we are born into. If there’s anything that was wonderfully truthful about this play, it was that it didn’t force a conversation about hope and change and possibility. Instead it dared to point out how this state of affairs is a dead-end, how it will take so much more now, for any change to happen, because right here we are all just going on a ride to nowhere.
What this play was working with was the lack of a choice for a majority of us, because we do not know what goes on beyond the words that we hear, the images that we see. And while “Walang Kukurap” reveals the backstory for all of us to see, we are also reminded as the show ends that it is nothing but theater, nothing but an imagination of what it is we aren’t told about the powerful that dictates how we might live. We are reminded that we are both the public within the play, as we are mere public watching theater, and no matter how we keep from closing our eyes, it is this state of affairs that keeps our eyes wide shut.
Of course we do not like to admit this, and so we become as delusional about how we are truly affecting change by working with the system, forgetting that one of the first things this will do is silence us through the notions of cooperation. We do not respond to government, and in the process we condone what it says, we become complicit in the violence it lives off.
It is also this play’s achievement. To think that this is nothing because something like the Maguindanao Massacre of 24 journalists and 16 civilians, is to miss the point entirely. The display of impunity that unfolds on this stage, is nothing like that, precisely because it is everyday violence, it is the violence that doesn’t make the papers, it is one, two, three dead bodies that are mourned but never found justice for.
Because that is really what we like to deny about this nation and the democracy it holds dear. We like to celebrate peace, we like to invoke our freedoms. But then we fail tremendously at the violence that this democracy silences, the kind of impunity that happens every day to people who we do not know.
It is a silence we pay for, certainly, but we only see it unfold in “Walang Kukurap.” That we might not get it is a finger pointed at us as public, displaying our own inability to handle freedom with power, our own refusal to ask questions. In a land where everything can be manipulated, we are the ones who never learn. We become nothing but mere citizens, because we do not know to be otherwise.
After this play, silence can only be consent. –KG, GMA News
“Walang Kukurap” was written by Layeta Bucoy and directed by Tuxqs Rutaquio, with brilliant performances by Suzette Ranillo, Sherry Lara, Ced Torrecarion, and Paolo Cabanero, and younger cast members Regina de Vera, Doray Dayao, Nar Cabico, and Marco Viana. It will be staged during the 4th National Theater Festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on November 13 2012, 2 and 7 p.m. shows.
Katrina Stuart Santiago writes the essay in its various permutations, from pop culture criticism to art reviews, scholarly papers to creative non-fiction, all always and necessarily bound by Third World Philippines, its tragedies and successes, even more so its silences. She blogs at http://www.radikalchick.com. The views expressed in this article are solely her own.