PERSONAL ESSAY: The night cancer was knocked down

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 Oct) — A hush-hush talk about a friend in Manila who was into some kind of ailment, an ailment that maybe was not ordinary but must be serious, otherwise, why was it being circulated, silently and cautiously?

The talk started last year. It did not stop until it blew up this year in the social media, on Facebook. One dear friend, (I suppose the closest, and her batchmate from Ateneo de Davao in 1984, in the Communication Arts Course) posted that “the friend” needs prayers and support (material and otherwise), that she is battling cancer!

I called up “the friend” to verify the sad news about her health, though deep within, I really felt something was really wrong. The last time I saw “the friend” was on June 28 this year. She came with husband and daughter to watch the production of Vagina Monologues, staged at the Philippine Women’s University (PWU) Davao City.

We made “beso,” said some “hellos and howdys.” I had some part in the show so I could not engage in long talk, but it was not the real reason that I cut the talk. I was shocked at the change in her physical appearance!

Many friends and acquaintances find it ridiculous and funny when they discover that I am crybaby. Yes, I am, but I do not show it as much as possible. Sometimes I cannot hide being one because my tears are as crazy as their host; they roll down independently, as it happened when I saw “the friend” at PWU that night.

I had to run to the ladies room and cried as I felt that my “friend” was “sick,” felt bad and sad, but as the adage goes among artists, “the show must go on!”

Purposely, I evaded talking to “the friend” after the show, did not have the courage to appear “normal” talking to her as I was battling questions within: “What is it?” “Why her???”

So on the phone, true to her image of being low-key and silent type, she answered: “Yes, Malou, I am not well, but I do not want to talk about it. But I wish I could use my plane tickets and be back there in Davao.”

The friend here is Marili Fernandez-Ilagan. Marili is from Mati, Davao Oriental, and she graduated from the Ateneo de Davao with Communications Arts degree in 1984. Prior to her migrating in Manila, she was one of the original members/founders of Kaliwat Theater Collective, the pioneer theater company in Davao City that started research and productions into theater and books culture and arts of the indigenous people in Mindanao.

Marili, having the blood and psyche of a Mandaya, had that edge in performing the chants, movements, music and wholeness of the “Lumad,” thus, even at that time, Marili made a mark in her performances. She is not only a powerful performer, she is a deep thinker, “cerebral” so to speak. Hence, we are not surprised that Marili is married to another respectable, prolific nationalist writer/director, human rights and freedom fighter, survivor of the nightmares of martial law rule, Bonifacio Ilagan. Boni is not from Mindanao but has earned the respect and love of our Mindanao circle, especially now with Marili’s condition.

Embracing the philosophy of theater that mirrors the social reality of our country and our people, Marili continued harnessing and honing her artistry , pursued a masteral studies in dance and theater, continued doing research and publications, writing and directing and part of the organizing team of the women playwrights international, etc.

This article I am inspired to write is not really so much on Marili’s achievements as an artist, an icon at that from Mindanao, but more on the amazing involvement of people from Davao City, Mindanao, and those who are in different parts of the world now, but are from Mindanao, who, after knowing that Marili is sick and needing support, reconnected and got involved, materially and spiritually.

Dinner for a cause — Plate for Life — was conceptualized. The design/logo was made by Paul Corpuz from Canada. Agnes Mangahas from USA started calling on her batchmates ‘84, Degs Cadigal Duron, Batch ’84 Davao City-based, started calling on friends of Marili and their batchmates, Olson Rivera one of them, committed immediately to be part of the organizing committee.

Mae Templa posted on FB that she could not go to sleep without announcing that something had to be done for Marili, called on Neneng Gomez who initiated the idea of a dinner for a cause…then there was Lilli Arellano, Ses Desesto, Pinggot Yambao, Bonsai Vares, Tisay Opaon-Ali, Sheila Labos, Richard Belar, Kai Asenas, Mags Maglana, Khonee Actub, Karl Gaspar, Don Pagusara…and the snowball of concerns from Davao City, through social networks. Friends of Marili and Boni from outside the country started reconnecting through FB — the Milans, Horfilla-Tolles, Benitez, etc.


The dinner ticket was pegged at one thousand per plate. My initial reaction was, no, we cannot sell it, it is too much, considering the hard life we are all in. Then there was further discussion about the price. OK, we quote 1K but if they cannot afford but are willing to donate only this much, then we would accept. So off with those doubts and apprehensions on the amount we can raise and send to Marili.

What was more amazing, however, was the unuttered resolve of those engaged in the working committee to have a go go go on the Plate for Life, (there were only seven of us, six in Davao, and one in the USA (Agnes), virtually with us every night at FB, even created a chat room exclusively for the seven of us.

Then the tornado of pledges poured. Unbelievably, people sent messages on FB and mobile phones that they were getting tickets but were not going for the dinner so the 1K will go direct for the funds for Marili — Lyda Canson and Betty de Vera, two of the sponsors I tapped. And many more, for example those tapped by Mae Templa had Angging Trinidad, Carol Arguillas, etc.

On Saturday, October 4, a day after the Dinner, I got a text message from Agnes Miclat Cacayan that she was not able to come for the dinner due to abdominal problems, but would send the payment for the one-thousand-peso plate. I cannot find the description of the gesture. Ha ha…

Of course there will also be some characters who would express attendance and commitment for the dinner, and they were informed that once they have not retracted their commitment on or before September 30, their pledge will be considered collectible from them or the agent to whom they expressed the pledge. They did not show up for the dinner and we heard nothing from them. Again, the saying, “you cannot have them all.” Another ha ha .

Anyway, some small voices and reflections after the dinner:
1. Is the school, the factor, that brought together the good act?
2. Is being an/the artist , the factor?
3. Is it the involvement in the social transformations in our country, then and ongoing?
4. Is it the mystique, in the friendship?
5. Is it the psyche of coming from Davao? Mindanao?

The acts together and the good intentions of persons who made Plate for Life an ennobling experience, individually and collectively, for Marili’s healing and hopefully will bring forth again the lyrics, music, movements, chants, stories of struggles and victories of the Filipino people despite the betrayals of the cohorts of the capitalists and imperialists, on and off the stage!

I think there is no single factor from the five points I enumerated above that can be pinpointed as the “bida” that made the event last October 3, 2014, a dramatic one.

It was the combination of the values and philosophy in life consciously or unconsciously planted in our psyche in our formative years in the schools we graduated from, that yielded to the uniqueness in us and led us into writing poetry and engage in the complex arena of the arts where we met and developed friendships and soulmates as we pursued dreaming and doing something significant that will contribute in the transformations of our unkind, unjust, oppressive and dehumanizing society.

Now, there were some further questions:
1. Why Marili?
2. What if there will be another need for fund-raising for another friend afflicted by cancer?
3. Why is it that Cancer has become so invasive, literally and figuratively, to people and to the social structures that makes our society in the category of malignancy and terminal metastasized stage?

The good act of the persons and institutions like Kilab, SAMIN, Gabriela, which supported the Dinner organizers, proved strength and power in making a difference in the life of an individual and in our social milieu.

The involvement in the fund-raising for Marili, somehow stirred soulful search in one’s silence!

One member of the organizing team candidly posted at FB: now I am not afraid to have Cancer!

The battle against Cancer, in the Medical and Sociological arena, is an uphill battle, but again, as history of our predecessors who fought for freedom, justice and national liberation of our people-any battle or crusade anchored on selfless motivation and clarity of purpose, will succeed!

I salute the generous spirits, the trusting friends, and the dreamers…

For Marili… for love, for life!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Malou Tiangco of Davao City describes herself as “social worker, educator, performing artist”).