DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 24 August) — This year, Davao City’s Kadayawan Festival was held under the dark cloud of Martial Law in Mindanao. I thought it was in bad taste, to say the least, just like the so-called “Martial Roll” maki of a Japanese street restaurant in Davao looking to make a quick buck in the guise of good intentions. What is there to celebrate especially during the week that the rest of the awake nation is grieving the unjust killing of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos, along with many others in a killing spree in a drug war encouraged by the President himself?
I didn’t want to go out at all over the weekend, but I needed to witness Teatro sa Calle, dubbed a “2017 Kadayawan Special,” but really a project to revive the spirit of street theater in Davao in the 80s. Bro. Karl Gaspar has written about this history elsewhere, highlighted by the creation of Kulturang Tabunon, composed of members working in the offices in Susana Building, which bravely produced protest plays during Martial Law. Clearly our present times call for a revival of these pockets of resistance within what seems to be a homogeneous community supportive of the new Martial Law courtesy of the former mayor. Thus, Teatro sa Calle was born, a collaboration among Kulturang Tabunon, Kaliwat Performing Arts Collective, Teatro Humanidades, and Calle Cinco Bar (through its owner Jonathan Traya).
For its initial offering, every Saturday of August featured a revival of Davao classics such as Kaliwat’s “Mindasilang,” about the rebirth of the peoples of Mindanao, and Tabunon’s “Desdemona: Ang Babaeng Bihag sa Nag-uumpugang Alaala,” which was co-written by Melchor Morante (Bro. Karl’s nom de plume) and Malou Tiangco, who herself reprised the role. Malou was in her element playing a middle-aged woman returning to Davao to attend the funeral of her mother, with whom she had been long estranged due to an old wound. It surely made the audience guess about which parts of the monologue had been culled from her real-life experiences!
For Kadayawan Saturday, the piece “Babayi” written and directed by Noi Narciso was presented to a rowdy (and mostly drunken) crowd. While the venue did not provide an ideal space for serious theatrical productions, we are all grateful that a venue with a sound system and LCD projectors has been provided. It is more than the local government has done. The theatrical segments were creatively pieced together through the music and songs composed and performed by Narciso himself. His group, Teatro Humanidades, housed by Ateneo de Davao University, featured the talents of their students and teachers. The style of “Babayi” weaves well into the popular dance-drama scene in Davao, but goes a step further with the monologues exploring various women’s issues.
The question begs to be asked, though. How can a male writer and director be the voice of women? Doesn’t that perpetuate the silencing of women? In 1969, Kate Millett published Sexual Politics and literature was never the same again. She posited that male authors promote the oppression of women in their works by trivializing and marginalizing them. It’s basic feminist criticism of the patriarchy. But after almost fifty years, I believe our male writers have changed. It’s difficult not to.
In “Babayi,” Narciso asks, “Kinsa’y tag-iya sa lawas sa babae?” in several ways. He explores the images of women in a patriarchal community that believes it owns women’s bodies, e.g., through street harassment, unfair labor practices, prostitution, endless housework, and even marital rape. His characters variously lament and question their oppression. They ask, “Nganong gibuhat pa kami usa ka babai?” Why were we born female? But that is not a real question with an answer. If we cannot change our assigned sex (or do not want to), it’s better to ask, “What can we do to free ourselves?”
In these post-feminist times, the term “woman” cannot be accepted as if it were a monolithic and stable identity. We, men and women, are constantly engaging in the changing definitions of gender, whether we like it or not. To fixate on the oppression of women based on patriarchal standards may not be the way forward. While we acknowledge that much needs to be done on the ground to liberate women in the Philippines, like fighting for the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law, or even lobbying for the Divorce Bill, writers are called to provide alternatives in the worlds we create through fiction, drama, or even poetry. Otherwise, we remain shackled to our sad realities.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jhoanna Lynn Cruz is professor of literature and creative writing in the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She maintains a weekly column, Lugar Lang, in the Mindanao Times. This piece was first published in Mindanao Times on 21 August. Follow or message her on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz)