Street Repertory: The Role of Art in the People’s SONA

Artists of various disciplines congregated to make the ‘People’s SONA’ a cultural affair as well. Theatrics, musical numbers and poetry-reading were performed. Enormous, hideous effigies stood side-by-side, creative banners and streamers were hung everywhere and the backdrop bore the color and image of people’s dissent. The cultural concept of the event intended to educate the people on the societal ills brought about by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s seven years in power.

Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

The mass action dubbed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-New Patriotic Alliance) as the “People’s State of the Nation Address” was staged to counter what the protesters called “talumpati ng kasinungalingan” (a litany of lies) of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Aside from Bayan and its member-organizations, leaders and members of the United Opposition (UNO), Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Solidarity Philippines, Youth for Truth and Accountability Now! (Youth ACT Now!), Oust Gloria Coalition, Gloria Step Down! Movement and the White Ribbon Movement were also present.

The People’s SONA refuted Arroyo’s claim of progress and presented the real conditions of the Filipino people. Thus, the cultural design – the performances, visual ambiance and the whole artistic aura – of the event expressed the people’s outrage. Artists from different cultural organizations congregated to create an impressive artistic repertoire encompassing various disciplines.

Ma. Victoria Socorro de Ocampo of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) said, “The role of art in mass actions is an integral one.”
De Ocampo stressed that like the speeches of the leaders of groups and organizations, the cultural performances and the visual elements, which have been “part and parcel” of mass actions, possess educational value as well. De Ocampo, being one of the program directors of SONA protests and other mass actions, emphasized that art is a powerful tool for arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people to advance their interests.

She said that the strength of protest art lies in its capacity to educate and mobilize the masses.

Street ensemble

Different groups of musicians performed before thousands of protesters.

Chikoy Pura of The Jerks gave an acoustic rendition of two of the band’s popular pieces, “Sayaw sa Bubog” and “Rage.” (The audience, including Adel Tamano of UNO and Liza Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party sang along). The strength of the performance, said de Ocampo, was that the songs, which were written for a particular context more two decades ago, possess ‘truth value’ and pressing relevance hitherto.
Datu’s Tribe performed two songs – Karne and Wow Filipinas – the latter tackles the conditions of Filipino migrants.

Poet and musician Jess Santiago performed his song “Only in the Philippines,” eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Sinagbayan or Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Art for the People), meanwhile, presented an “experimental” piece transfusing poetry, music and theatrics in a “mini-performance”. Filipino-American poet-activist Philippe Javier Garcesto’s poem “Tadhana” talked about the privation and ‘atrocities’ harnessed by the ‘status quo’ and the people’s collective dream “for a better world.” Sinagbayan collectively laid music into the literary piece. According to Joan Lerio, Sinagbayan’s education committee head, the group aims to “popularize art forms that carry out the aspirations of the people for a freer society.”

People’s Chorale composed of individuals from different organizations performed as well. Trained by Felipe “Jun” de Leon, former National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner on Music, the group performs regularly in anti-Arroyo protests.

Rap musicians were also present. San Francisco-based Active Leadership to Advance Youth (ALAY), BAYAN USA and ANAKBAYAN Malabon chapter collaborated to come up with a performance that dealt with ‘imperialist ties’ between the country and the US.

De Ocampo said, “In the Philippines, rap music, which has a progressive origin, appeals mostly to youths belonging to the marginalized sectors since it can be played even without musical instruments that they cannot possibly afford.”

BAYAN USA performed an oratorical piece written by Armando Vencero entitled “SONA ng Panlilinlang: Ramdam ang Kahirapan” (SONA of Deception: Poverty is Felt). The piece ended with the lines: Ramdam ang kahirapan at hindi ang kaunlaran!/Ramdam ang pagnanasang rehimen mo ay wakasan!” (What is felt is poverty, not progress! The urge to end your regime is felt!).

All throughout the program, Musicians for Peace provided the ‘bridge music’ (music which fills the gap between the parts of the program) using percussion instruments. The group also used ‘found objects’ such as a water jug aside from the traditional percussion instruments.

Portrait of the Filipino family

The UP Repertory Company (UP Rep), meanwhile, staged a “tula-dula” titled “Ang Kasalukuyang Mukha ng Pamilyang Pilipino”. It deals with the daily predicaments of a Filipino family.

The father, Nante Poorita, worked in a factory for a very low salary and was eventually dismissed. His wife Nancy is a public school teacher who tries to cope amid the crisis of Philippine education. Their daughter Iska is trying to survive in a state university, which is becoming more elitist.

UP Rep’s Mimi Aringo explained that “the story of Poorita family is the story of countless Filipino families. Workers, government employees such as teachers and students are all oppressed and exploited in a systematic way.”

Visual exigency

Red emerged as the dominant color of the event.  The sky was painted red as flags of different organizations were waved. Similarly, the stage’s backdrop was a red tarpaulin containing the phrase ‘People’s SONA’ with an image of clenched fists printed below it. Red has been historically used to symbolize radicalism and opposition to the prevailing system.

The Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) made higantes (large images) representing three marginalized sectors in Philippine society — workers, peasants and the middle class.

Roel Anda of PCPR said it took them a week to finish the higantes. The faces of the higantes were made out of papier-mâché and bamboos were used for their frames. The PCPR said the higantes represent the people’s “higanteng protesta” (giant protest) against the Arroyo administration. This, according to PCPR, is one way by which church people support the struggles of these sectors.

Members of Salinlahi Alliance for Children Concerns also presented their own version of higantes. They made faces out of cardboards and water-based paints. They also used torn clothes to symbolize the impoverished condition of the people. Franstel Garcia of Salinlahi said they used their “kalawakan ng imahinasyon” (the vastness of imagination) to come up with and execute these ideas.

Another effigy, made by Bayan Muna Partylist, portrayed the president as a bat. Bamboo and black taffeta cloth were used.  The effigy portrayed the president as a blood-sucking creature feeding on the misery of the people through the value added tax (VAT) on petroleum products. The logos of oil companies such as Petron, Chevron and Shell were used as pendants adorning the bat. The earrings, on the other hand, were shaped as dollar signs.

An image burned, a war long-declared

Bayan’s effigy this year has been the largest ever done for a SONA mass action. According to Max Santiago of Ugatlahi, an organization of visual artists who administered the production of the effigy, it took them weeks of brainstorming and meticulous collective work to finish the 21-foot effigy.

The tradition of creating effigies in the Philippines began during the Spanish colonial period when the people of Angono, Rizal created enormous caricatures of hacienderos (Spanish landlords) to protest the unjust system in the hacienda (vast parcel of land).
This year’s effigy featured a sinking ship and the president escaping aboard a soaring aircraft. They used the recent Sulpicio Line’s MV Princess of the Stars’ tragedy as an analogy to represent the Filipino people drowning in the economic crisis. Meanwhile, Arroyo aboard the aircraft symbolized her evasion of her responsibility and accountability as the president. The Ugatlahi painted the aircraft with the American flag to symbolize Arroyo’s puppetry to the U.S. government.

At around 3 p.m., leaders of various groups burned the effigy as a sign of the people’s resolve to end the Arroyo administration.
Before the burning, members of indigenous people advocates group TAKDER (Tignayan Dagiti Agtutubo ti Cordillera para iti Demokrasya ken Rang-ay) performed a patong. Patong is a Cordilleran dance ritual, which uses gansa (gong) to announce wedding, death of a family member, truce between tribes and other important events. In this case, they performed the patong to remind the people of the long-declared war against the “corrupt, anti-people Arroyo regime.”

s the fire consumed the effigy, the people chanted “Makibaka, ‘Wag Matakot” and “Pahirap sa Masa, Patalsikin si Gloria” (Dare to Struggle! Oust Gloria, a Burden to the People!).

At the end of the program, the bat effigy of the president was also burned while the People’s Chorale sang “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” (Veneration for the Motherland).

De Ocampo said that art – through the performances, visual components and the whole artistic assemblage of the event’s cultural design – had accomplished its role in the ‘People’s SONA’. She said it was able to expose the ills perpetuating under and the “crimes” of the Arroyo administration. “It had achieved its goal of showing the utter disgust of the people toward the president and her administration,” she concluded.

One Response to “Street Repertory: The Role of Art in the People’s SONA”

  1. angono-art-city Says:

    the higantes of angono – artistry in times of struggle.

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