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MANILA, Philippines – In a bid to put a spotlight on the farmers’ struggles both in the past and in the present, cultural group and mass organization Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (SINAGBAYAN) stages a play titled, “Indi Na Maliwat: Alaala ng Escalante” (Never Again: Memories of Escalante), for the month of November.
According to SINAGBAYAN spokesperson and Indi Na Maliwat’s production manager Faye Aldefolio, justice has yet to be served to the families of the victims, and farmers are still being harassed and exploited. She highlighted that farmers should not be perceived as enemies of the state especially since they have always been the backbone of our economy.
The play was first launched on September 19, but SINAGBAYAN has steadily commemorated the Escalante massacre to help combat efforts in undermining dissent and attempts to revise the narratives among the plight of farmers.
As part of the protest, she emphasized other similar events that happened in Negros, as well as relevant commemorations in November such as the Hacienda Luisita massacre and Ampatuan massacre which all involved civilians and farmers.
“Kapag Pilipino ka at kumakain ka, kailangan mo suportahan yung mga magsasaka. Kahit anong administrasyon pa ‘yan, napaka evident ng massacre among farmers. May Hacienda Luisita Massacre, may Escalante Massacre, may Negros 14, may Sagay 9, especially sa Negros. Napakaraming massacre na nangyayari against farmers,” Aldefolio said.
(If you are a Filipino who eats, you have to support farmers. No matter what administration it is, the massacre among farmers is very evident. There is the Hacienda Luisita Massacre, there is the Escalante Massacre, there are Negros 14, there are Sagay 9, especially in Negros. There are so many massacres happening against farmers.)
Through this platform, they hope to donate proceeds to Defend Negros Network, an organization that calls for real land reform and acknowledges human rights violations in Negros Occidental.
By tying the production to its home community, ensemble cast member Jules Azaula hopes that these experiences become more tangible to the audience by allowing them to learn, feel, and empathize with the Negrosanon people.
Art as dissent
The play follows the story of the Escalante Massacre, which happened just a day after the 13th Martial Law anniversary on September 20, 1985, in Escalante, Negros Occidental. The incident occurred after paramilitary forces gunned down at least 20 and wounded at least 30 civilians, including students, community leaders, farmers, and fisherfolk in a protest rally demanding for fair wages, work benefits, and genuine land reform in the province.
With these issues still being relevant to the present situation of human rights in the agricultural sector, SINAGBAYAN highlighted how art can be utilized as a platform to expose the injustices happening in the country.
But as a group dedicated to mobilizing and organizing the masses through artistic expression, they are hardly strangers to government suppression.
“Hindi na maisagawa yung Escalante massacre commemoration at reenactment sa Negros Occidental. Hinuhuli yung mga cultural workers, yung mga artista ng bayan na gustong mag-reenact at sumama,” Aldefolio lamented.
(The Escalante massacre commemoration and reenactment can no longer be held in Negros Occidental. Cultural workers and local artists who want to participate are being arrested.)
Bringing it to Manila and around the country not only cultivates awareness among those unfamiliar with the massacre and its relevance today, but also keeps these stories alive. According to Azaula, the act of truth-telling becomes visceral when it is done through his craft.
Aldefolio echoes the sentiment of involving oneself in other local agricultural advocacies, whether that be through an art form like acting, joining protests, or simply educating oneself and others of the situation.
“Kailangan nating sumigaw at umiyaw para sa katarungan. Walang ibang gagawa nun kung hindi ikaw at tayong lahat,” she asserted.
(We need to shout and scream for justice. No one else will do that but you and all of us.)
“I-kwento [natin] yung naging kwento ng mga characters. Kung hindi ito hango sa totoong tao, hango sa kolektibo ng mga kwento mula sa mga interview ng mga nakaligtas ng Escalante massacre,” Azaula added.
(Tell people about these characters and their narratives. Even if they don’t mirror specific individuals, these narratives are still based on a collection of interviews and accounts from those that survived the Escalante massacre.)
The play Indi na Maliwat: Alaala ng Escalante is scheduled for two reruns on November 27 at the 3rd floor of Alcantara Hall, Student Union Building in UP Diliman, Quezon City at 3 PM and 6 PM. Check out more updates on SINAGBAYAN’s Facebook page.—with reports from Gaile Patanñe and Marypaul Jostol/Rappler.com