BY JEWELYN MARANAN
Contributed to Bulatlat.com
Christ’s passion has for years been compared to the present conditions of the Filipino people who have perpetually been under the burden of social ills. This comparison has developed the tradition of Kalbaryo ng Bayan since the early 90’s which has been flexibly applied and modified based on the concrete situations and issues faced by the localities where it is performed.
In a time when sacrifice and encumbrance have become part of the everyday experience of the Filipino poor that makes up majority of the population, the Lenten season inevitably takes on an evolved meaning. It ceases to simply be an occasion to commemorate the period when Jesus Christ died on the cross for the salvation of mankind. The Filipino’s social experience has become comparable to the humiliation, poverty and exploitation that Christ himself was subjected to by the elite rulers of his time more than two thousand years ago.
In a creative junction of metaphors of the Lent termed Kalbaryo ng Bayan (People’s Calvary) 2006, communities along the railways of Sampaloc and Pandacan, Manila served as the stage to present the burden of the Filipino poor as the “bagong Kristo” (new Christ). On Holy Tuesday and Maundy Thursday last April 11 and 13, within the 30-minute gaps of the passing trains of the Philippine National Railways, the performances gave both entertainment and insight with the combination of mood music, improvisational theatre and satirical visuals.
Kalbaryo ng Bayan was made possible by the collaboration of Dulaang Katig, UgatLahi Artists’ Collective, Musicians for Peace and people from the urban poor communities in Manila through Pagkakaisa ng mga Mamamayan sa Riles (PAMARIL or Unity of Railway Residents). It featured the basic issues of land, livelihood and civil liberties. In particular, urban poor organizations were calling for a halt to the widespread demolition of communities along the railways due to the Philippine National Railways Modernization and Rehabilitation Program or PNR-MRP – part of which are the controversial North and South Rail Projects. In addition, the performers and organizations involved also expressed their demands on economic issues such as additional jobs, wage increase, labor rights and repeal of the E-VAT (Expanded Value-Added Tax) and on political issues such as the lifting and cessation of the Arroyo administration’s deceptive and repressive schemes – the calibrated preemptive response or CPR, the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill, the proposed Charter Change and the politically motivated detention and killings of people critical of the administration.
Jesus Christ was portrayed on one side burdened by the cross bearing the issues faced by the people and on the other side were urban poor children with the symbolic crown of thorns representing the allegory of the ancient and present-day Christ’s, both victims of social injustice. The old and new antagonists were presented using the mixed images of Gloria Arroyo and Herod as the bureaucrats of their times and the foreign monopoly capitalist and Pilate both dictating the cruelty and injustice perpetrated by their armed forces. To highlight the ironies and metaphors, UgatLahi with the help of children from Tondo, Manila made giant masks and props combining the images using simple and available materials like scrap cartons and newspaper. Dulaang Katig directed the play and held workshops for the kids, most of whom were themselves coming from the riles (railway) communities and have not had any previous theatre experience. Finally, the music was purposively written and arranged by members of the Musicians for this Lenten presentation. It took them almost a month to prepare for Kalbaryo ng Bayan with the direct participation of people from the riles communities in Manila – practicing what is called a community theatre.
In the end, the children and Christ triumph over repression and exploitation by social villains. Kalbaryo ng Bayan then leaves the oath of unity among the poor which is their only weapon for salvation from the burdens brought about by the lack of social justice.
This was not the only satirical Lenten presentation during this year’s Holy week. Activities of the same nature were also held in several other urban poor communities with the help of cultural and community organizations. “Kalbaryo ng Sambayan” was held in two communities in Commonwealth, Quezon City while “Prusisyong Bayan” (People’s Procession) marched through the narrow streets of Tondo on Holy Wednesday. The similarity of these initiatives is not only the fact that they were held in communities facing the threat of demolition but their unified call for the immediate relief of the people’s suffering which according to them can only begin with the ouster of President Gloria Arroyo.
Christ’s passion has for years been compared to the present conditions of the Filipino people who have perpetually been under the burden of social ills. This comparison has developed the tradition of Kalbaryo ng Bayan since the early 1990s which has been flexibly applied and modified based on the concrete situations and issues faced by the localities where it is performed. However, there may be particular differences, but the essence of Kalbaryo ng Bayan remains the same – the lack of social justice and the exploitation of the masses by the minority social elite. Likewise, the oath to work for the unity of the Filipino masses, Christian or not, to struggle for genuine freedom from poverty and exploitation remains. (Bulatlat.com)