Stopping the disappearance of memory

Last Saturday, I watched the play Desaparesidos, Entablado’s rendition of Lualhati Bautista’s novel, adapted and directed by Guelan Luarca-Valera. I must say that the Ateneo de Manila theater group delivered to its audience a very powerful piece of writing and drama. Entablado lived up to its full name —ENterteynment para sa Tao, Bayan, LAnsangan, at DiyOs.

The material of Desaparesidos is of course fertile for great theater. Bautista is the most eminent literary chronicler of the martial law years and the national democratic struggle. But while sympathetic to the revolution and to its protagonists, Lualhati has always been honest—brutally honest, in fact —that it is always painful to see the agony of her characters faced with multiple personal and political dilemmas.

Luarca-Valera’s adaptation gives life to Bautista’s vision and characters. One is transported to the mountains where the NPA gather to surround the cities, to the torture chambers where rape and torture are frequent occurrences (it still happens so the tense must be in the present), to the houses of the revolutionaries and ex-revolutionaries who must contend with the past while living the present.

Desaparesidos characters, the main ones Anna and Roy intensely performed by Delphine Buencamino and Brian Sy, are multidimensional and, through them, the revolution is shown in all its complexity. The struggle comes with a price and one must ask whether it is worth the sacrifice, especially because not much has changed in all these decades. The play reveals the hard choices before revolutionaries; not all are ennobling; some in fact are downright tragic, even evil.

I cried watching the play, remembering the desaparesidos I personally knew—not just those who literally disappeared never to surface again but also those who lost much, their idealism and innocence included, in the struggle. I agree that, regardless of how one answers the question of whether the struggle was worth it, we must honor all those who fought and those who still fight. They must not be allowed to become mere shadows; in their lives, in their sacrifice, there is hope and light for this nation.

Watching Desaparesidos coincided with a time in my teaching when I ask my political science, constitutional law, and legal philosophy students to do an exercise in remembering. I do this whatever week September 21, the martial law anniversary, falls so that this date will be engraved in my students’ minds and hearts. This year, I asked my students from Xavier University, Ateneo Law School and Ateneo de Manila Loyola Schools, PUP College of Law, and the UP College of Law (my students from DLSU College of Law will do this later in November) to choose a martial law hero/heroine or martyr that interests them or they identify with from the roster of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. I then ask them to share the story of that martyr or hero/heroine. Most did so without drama, just straightforward story-telling; others were more vivid in their portrayals—sharing poems, singing songs, acting out being tortured and killed, and exhorting the next generation.

I could not help but be overwhelmed by emotions as I sat through these stories—over 200 of them. There were a few martyrs and heroes/heroines whose stories were retold in every class, sometimes twice in the same class. Liliosa Hilao, Larry Ilagan, Edgar Jopson, Lorena Barros, Eman Lacaba, Lean Alejandro, Evella Bontia, Amada Enriquez Alvarez, Nimfa del Rosario, Socorro Parr, Rosalinda Galang Reyes, and Lino Brocka were some of those my students chose frequently.

In my case, as I told my students, my initial choices were Jopson, Lacaba, Romulo Kintanar (he is not yet in the Bantayog roster but I hope someday he will be listed, too), Hashim Salamat and Macling Dalag. All these men shared a common description—literally, they were warriors for their causes and peoples (in the case of the last two); all except Salamat died violently, with Kintanar killed unjustly by his own comrades.

I admire these martial law martyrs for their courage, commitment, and leadership. But in the end, I tell my students, because of who I am, it’s the lawyers I choose to be my heroes—Haydee Yorac, William Chua, Larry Ilagan, and Pepe Diokno. I told my PUP students, knowing that some of them have activist backgrounds, that their choice to go to law school is a choice of a battlefield. From now on, their kingdom is that of the word. Yes, there are many unjust laws but they must now learn to battle that with the law, knowing that the legal struggle always falls short but it is necessary for victory. That’s why they have to study, master the provisions and jurisprudence, do well in the bar, and learn how to argue both sides.

To be warriors of truth, justice and human rights—that’s what all of us lawyers are called to be. And our arms are not swords or guns but ideas and words—of law, jurisprudence, philosophy, insight, and argument.

Today—October 18, 2016—the Supreme Court of the Philippines is expected to rule on whether or not the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose regime resulted in a generation of desaparesidos in this country, will be buried in the cemetery of our national heroes . As I write this, I do not know what the decision will be. And certainly, as a lawyer, I will respect it. But for sure, whatever it will be, it will not lead to the disappearance of memory. It must not lead to that.

In the play Desaparesidos, hope is represented by the next generation, the children of revolutionaries—Lorena (performed so well by my international relations and diplomacy relations student Joy Delos Santos), Malaya and Emman. As the play ends, they commit to always honor their parents and stop the disappearance of memory. Lets do that today and onwards however the gods of Padre Faura decide.

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Topics: Tony La Viña , Stopping the disappearance of memory
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