Mabining Mandirigma holds up a mirror to present politics

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I went to see Mabining Mandirigma by Tanghalang Pilipino on Sunday at The Little Theater in CCP having already figured out my review in my head: it’s a retelling of our problems as a nation during post-colonial Spain, problems which have endured for more than a century to exist as the same problems we have today. True enough, the musical did take me on a roller coaster ride of emotions—mainly frustration—because as with Noli and El Fili, the Rosales Saga, and even Heneral Luna the film, selfishness, greed, and impunity have all been deeply embedded in our government leaders’ DNA.

Mabining Mandirigma is about the life of Apolinario Mabini, particularly his role in the uprising against the Americans after we gained “independence” from Spain. (In quotes because the Philippines was sold by Spain to the US in the Treaty of Paris.)

I know little about Mabini prior to seeing the musical, and I can’t say I know more about him after. As the chief adviser to the revolutionary council, and later to Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, the turning point of the plot was the choice to accept a P50-million loan from a group of illustrados to fund the cash-strapped Filipino government and the war against the Americans. Mabini says no, because the loan effectively places the Philippines under the hands of the elite—if it were him, he would have provided the funds for free; Aguinaldo says rejecting the offer might send the illustrados away and support the Americans instead.

It was a no-win situation.

Aguinaldo accepts the loan and the elites grow in power; they effectively have Aguinaldo by his collar. Mabini resents the elites—portrayed garishly and grotesquely by the production itself (“Oooh, is this a pro-Duterte play?” I asked myself)—and eventually quits Aguinaldo’s cabinet, after 1) Aguinaldo coddles his fellow Caviteño, Pedro Janolino, who refused to aid Gen. Antonio Luna in the Battle of Caloocan; and later, 2) Aguinaldo acquiesces to the demands of the elites who, after all, have contributed to his war kitty. (“Ay, shades of Duterte.”). Despite that, Mabini and Aguinaldo remain friends, until the former learns that Aguinaldo had Luna assassinated. (“Ay, extra-judicial killing.”)

Mabini was eventually arrested by the Americans and having refused to pledge allegiance to their flag, he was exiled in Guam. He later gave up American resistance and was welcomed back in the Philippines. It was at this point that I felt dejected even if the musical tried its best to salvage his legacy. 1

That is until the lights dimmed and the cast came out one by one in their black t-shirts and each actor started speaking out against the Marcos burial and extra judicial killings in the country. I thought it was a brilliant call to action. For those first two hours, I had been examining Mabini’s life from a distance and got very judgmental in the process, then suddenly, in the epilogue, the spotlight was on us: the same problems from a century ago still exist today: what are you doing about it?

 

Mabining Mandirigma has an 8 p.m. show on December 16; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. shows on December 17; and a 3 p.m. show on December 18 at the CCP.


  1. Until now, I remain unconvinced about his legacy, so I did a quick research (for now). Ambeth Ocampo in this column, writes about how Mabini is reduced to the titles “Sublime Paralytic” and “Brains of the Revolution,” then proceeds with nary an argument about the weight of Mabini’s contribution to Philippine history. 
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