‘Pamana’: The struggle for eternity

Rome Jorge
A documentary-musical on Ninoy and Cory Aquino

FOR THE YOUTH. Actors play all other roles; Ninoy and Cory Aquino play themselves — on video. All photos courtesy of Toots Tolentino

MANILA, Philippines – “History is written by the victors,” observed Winston Churchill. But the victors change by the day.

A battle is but a moment in time. But how it is remembered — who the villains and heroes will be for future generations — is an eternal war.

History is never over and done. It is the precedent that becomes law, the pattern that becomes tradition, the footsteps that become the road. The past is the dye upon which each new day is cast and the standard with which all that follows is measured. 

Even now, yesterday’s villains restlessly twist and knead history to recast themselves as heroes. Already, many of today’s internet-savvy hipsters — too young to have any personal experience of recent history — are duped by viral memes that glorify the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Seventeen years ago, the struggle was on the streets.

Soon, the fight will come on screen and on stage.

TELLING WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. Malou de Guzman as Lola Azon and Kakki Teodoro as Trina

“Pamana” is a musical on the lives and struggles of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., the exiled opposition leader martyred by an assassin’s bullet upon his arrival in Marcos-led Philippines in 1983; and President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, Ninoy’s wife who ran against Marcos in snap elections in 1986.

She ascended to the presidency that same year when what began as a failed coup d’etat transformed into a non-violent People Power revolt with a Cardinal’s call on the radio. The millions who thronged the streets and faced off tanks and marines with flowers and rosaries chanted neither the Cardinal’s name nor those of the failed coup plotters.

Instead, they shouted again and again, “Cory!” 

“Pamana” premiers at the Meralco Theater on August 21, the date of Benigno Aquino Jr.’s assassination. In attendance will be no less than President Benigno Aquino III, the two protagonists’ son.

The musical is set to run until August 25.

FRESH FROM 'ROCK OF AGES.' The Dawn frontman Jett Pangan plays an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW)

“Pamana” is written by Rody Vera with music composed by Ryan Cayabyab and Manoling V. Francisco, SJ. It integrates video documentary by Jun Reyes all throughout. No actor plays either Aquino. Instead, actual footage provides their presence in the musical. 

The use of a video documentary tailored to the play promises to be this musical’s strength; actual footage does not lie. Articulate, candid, at times humorous and at other times chillingly prophetic, Ninoy and Cory are the best people to play themselves. 

Actors portray the people of the era — 3 generations in one family whose lives are forever changed by the Aquinos. Once again, this creative approach promises to focus the narrative on where it matters. After all, a hero’s worth is measured by the lives he saves. 

Cast members include Malou de Guzman, Bodjie Pascua, Jett Pangan and Kakki Teodoro. Viva Voce, under artistic director Camille Molina, provides the chorus. With both esteemed veterans and young thespians of note on stage, “Pamana” stacks the odds in favor of success. 

ESTEEMED THESPIANS. Malou de Guzman's Lola Azon with Bodjie Pascua's Turo

A scene previewed for the benefit of the press only two weeks into rehearsal bodes well for the play. The performance was both empathic and entertaining. The footage that served as their backdrop was stirring and powerful.

Nonetheless, having no actors play the heroes makes it a challenge for the musical to humanize and provide insights into these legendary figures. Yet today’s youth will know them as I once did during those heady days of People Power.

Full disclosure

I was there as a child. I watched Betamax video tapes of Ninoy’s speeches in exile and investigations on the assassination by foreign media that were illicitly circulated even as the dictatorship censored and suppressed any unbiased information about the assassination.

My parents brought me to the election campaign rallies for Cory. We were there among the millions in EDSA as the People Power revolt became the first non-violent movement to successfully topple a regime in history.

REMEMBERING NINOY. 'Pamana' commemorates Ninoy's death and remembers EDSA People Power

As I grew up, I experienced disappointment and frustration as pre-dictatorship oligarchies and political dynasties replaced Marcos cronies and henchmen — one corrupt regime simply supplanted another. I do have my biases; undoubtably, so too will this play.

Premiering under the Aquino administration, presented by The Ninoy & Cory Aquino Foundation and by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) — a theater group renowned for its opposition to the Marcos dictatorship — and staged at the Meralco Theater of the Lopez group of companies, this musical documentary walks a fine line.

For it to win over audiences, it must avoid coming off as mere propaganda. If the lies spreading virally are to be effectively countered, then the truth — the whole truth — must be presented. 

The use of actual footage as well as the involvement of so many acclaimed theater artists does well for “Pamana.”

We will be watching, closely. – Rappler.com

Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of Asian Traveler magazine.