Revolution in an auditorium: A review of KM@50

By IVAN LABAYNE
www.nordis.net

Last Saturday, while thousands were being semi-mesmerized by the Flower Festival, at least a hundred flocked to the UPB Auditorium in order to witness the staging of KM@50: Pagbabalik-tanaw sa Nakaraan at Paghamon sa Kasalukuyan para sa Kinabukasan.

VIVA REVOLUTION. Cultural activists stage a one-time play about the evolution of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM). KM an organization of the youth that was forced underground when Martial Law was declared and since has been the revolutionary organization of the youth. Photo by Noel Godinez
VIVA REVOLUTION. Cultural activists stage a one-time play about the evolution of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM). KM an organization of the youth that was forced underground when Martial Law was declared and since has been the revolutionary organization of the youth. Photo by Noel Godinez
The production takes a look at the history of Kabataang Makabayan (KM), a youth organization established during the Martial Law to stand against the dictatorship. Such historical take, I posit, accounts for the vitality of the production; a necessary perspective lacking in our time that is allergic to the contemplative and obsessed with the fleeting.

Crisp historical depth

The production presents KM historically. Perhaps to the surprise of those who are not familiar with KM, the historical awareness displayed in the production typifies acuteness when it begins not just with the foundation of KM itself in 1964 but on the 1896 Revolution led by the Katipunan. The underlying claim is that there is a discreet line connecting the 1896 Revolt against the colonizing Spaniards and the youth movement made active to stand against the social unrest during the 60s. The historical recounting stressed how the KM itself became a mover of history – from its anti-dictatorship campaign and the condemnation of the Cellophil project proposed in Abra and the Chico Dam Project in Kalinga to its continued contributions in the struggle for national democracy even after being named underground by the State. A monologue part functioned to recall the fusion of KM and DATAKO, the latter being composed of indigenous people youth who shared KM’s aspirations while adding the agenda of the oppressed national minority.

Historical awareness was evidently an aim in the production and this was done not quite simply. The history of KM was retraced in relation to the history of Philippine society and hence the connection between the two was illuminated. Historical depth was being forwarded here as an antidote to the proliferation of superficiality afforded to us by our touchphone screens, online and offline advertisements and generally, the illusively seamless and depthless world of the Internet.

Point your fingers!

The production also exhibits the spirited and gritty agency of the oppressed. In one skit, a tribal leader and his family drove away a businessman, together with his gun-wielding ‘bodyguard’, frothing to take away their land for it to be used for mining. The capitalist promised more jobs but the tribal leader and his family did not fold. The capitalist stated that mining is more lucrative than farming but the IPs, knowing better, did not budge. In the end, they drove the capitalist away, out of their land, and following that famous Macliing Dulag assertion, out of their life as well.

In another skit, group of students were shown protesting against the commercialized and fascist state of the education system. Nearby was a group of police keeping the protesters at a distance, ready to stop them any time. Eventually, the agitated speech of the mass leader was curtailed by the police members. They were shoved away but despite of that the protesters kept going on with their indignant cries. Until they are offstage and before the lights dimmed, we hear them, “Walang Pagbabago, sa ilalim ni Aquino!”

What happened there? The student protesters exemplify the boldness needed in forging a systematic battle against an organized power. More than this though is a sharpness of mind which identifies who or what must be held accountable. As Foucault said in his well-known conversation with Deleuze, “Each struggle develops around a particular source of power (warden, CEO, President etc.)…pointing out these sources – denouncing and speaking out – is to be part of the struggle. Because to speak on this subject, to force the institutional networks of information to listen, to produce names and point fingers of accusation… is the first step in the reversal of power and initiation of new struggles.”

A key phrase there is ‘first step.’ We can be confident that the protesters as typified in the skit do not end in rallies and mobilizations. So much more is being and needs to be done to sustain a struggle against the current way of things. So much more is being and needs to be done in order to strike at the systemic enemy, something that the tribal leader and his family, even on a small-scale level, has done in the first skit.

Are torture and death just acted out?

Two ‘parts’ of the presentation earned a round of applause from the audience – the torture skit involving a single actor and the ‘parangal’ part that culminated with a bereaved wife, together with her children, recalling the life of her NPA-husband murdered by the military last year.

There is an uncanny parallelism between these two parts, aside from the applauses they earned. It is a parallelism that will eventually break down and belied. The torture skit took place just after the part of the student protesters. The actor dramatized a torture sequence with military officials during a deemed interrogation. It is important to note that the presence of the officials was limited to a recurring thud of a gong which seems to represent the blows they inflict towards the actor being tortured. Fighting not just for his strength but for his life, the one being tortured denies the accusations of the officials, denies that he knows anything helpful to the officials’ interests. These he has done while enduring the pain they inflicted. At the end of this rousing and perhaps engaging sequence: the booming applause, the loudest in the entire course of the production.

The lights are fully dimmed again, but something curious was left hanging, at least on my part. Why the applause? My eventual speculation is that the appreciation was for the ‘performance’ of the actor being tortured. But I was still fazed. Does this event – the ‘appreciation’ for a torture scene – simply invoke the old and still quite entrenched conception that what happens onstage is ‘merely a show,’ and thus without any grain of truth? Could there not be a more self-reflexive and self-critical moment on the part of the audience which would allow them to suspend that judgment: “It’s just a show’? Does what the Russian scholar Boris Groys said apply here?: “After so many decades of…postmodernist criticism of the image, of the mimesis,… we feel ourselves somewhat ashamed by saying that the images of terror or torture are not true, not real.”

My hope is that no, please no. The applause was not merely for the appreciation of the ‘performance.’ Or, let us leave the word performance in peace by not enclosing it in quotations. I hope that the applause was for the appreciation of the performance and that it was not a giddy kind of applause but rather an applause after being moved, after being slapped by a dark but ultimately enabling realization, something like: “Oh my, that torture which happens in real life, inflicted upon ‘enemies of the state’ is so gruesome, so inhuman. It is so inhuman I cannot just sit here and so I will do something about it.” That is my hope, and so I cross my fingers. But I know that it takes more than finger-crossing for that to happen.

Last say

The production ended positively, negating the notion that activists, members of mass movements are hapless, cheerless individuals who do nothing but quarrel the government or complain. Of course they do, among other things such as organizing leadership trainings, teaching photography or feature writing to student journalists, lobbying in the Congress for tuition increase moratoriums and so much more, and they do these with cheer, they do these with conviction and inspiration. The slogans were heard again, and I will type them here too: “Imperyalismo, Ibagsak! Burukrata Kapitalismo, Ibagsak! Pyudalismo, Ibagsak! Bulok na Estado, Babagsak!” And then an uplifting song; the chorus goes: Kabataang-Makabayan DATAKO. Pag-ibayuhin ang tapang mo. Kasama ang masa ay isulong, Digmang Bayan, Rebolusyon.

KM@50 did not and I guess, will not mince with words. After all, it is a part, however small, of a long-standing movement aiming to end the present scheme of things thriving on unequal distribution of resources, killing journalists, milking the pockets of students, shoppers, commuters, mothers and father and children among other forms of wickedness.

And to be able to utter those unpretentious, determined calls in a public venue, what achievement that is! Not quite a surprise for a movement willing to enter anything – bookstores, the Congress, public markets, churches and sure, guerilla zones in the countryside – just to advance its cause for the people. # nordis.net

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