Street Repertory: The Role of Art in the People’s SONA

Artists of various disciplines congregated to make the ‘People’s SONA’ a cultural affair as well. Theatrics, musical numbers and poetry-reading were performed. Enormous, hideous effigies stood side-by-side, creative banners and streamers were hung everywhere and the backdrop bore the color and image of people’s dissent. The cultural concept of the event intended to educate the people on the societal ills brought about by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s seven years in power.

Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008

The mass action dubbed by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-New Patriotic Alliance) as the “People’s State of the Nation Address” was staged to counter what the protesters called “talumpati ng kasinungalingan” (a litany of lies) of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Aside from Bayan and its member-organizations, leaders and members of the United Opposition (UNO), Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Solidarity Philippines, Youth for Truth and Accountability Now! (Youth ACT Now!), Oust Gloria Coalition, Gloria Step Down! Movement and the White Ribbon Movement were also present.

The People’s SONA refuted Arroyo’s claim of progress and presented the real conditions of the Filipino people. Thus, the cultural design – the performances, visual ambiance and the whole artistic aura – of the event expressed the people’s outrage. Artists from different cultural organizations congregated to create an impressive artistic repertoire encompassing various disciplines.

Ma. Victoria Socorro de Ocampo of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) said, “The role of art in mass actions is an integral one.”
De Ocampo stressed that like the speeches of the leaders of groups and organizations, the cultural performances and the visual elements, which have been “part and parcel” of mass actions, possess educational value as well. De Ocampo, being one of the program directors of SONA protests and other mass actions, emphasized that art is a powerful tool for arousing, organizing and mobilizing the people to advance their interests.

She said that the strength of protest art lies in its capacity to educate and mobilize the masses.

Street ensemble

Different groups of musicians performed before thousands of protesters.

Chikoy Pura of The Jerks gave an acoustic rendition of two of the band’s popular pieces, “Sayaw sa Bubog” and “Rage.” (The audience, including Adel Tamano of UNO and Liza Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party sang along). The strength of the performance, said de Ocampo, was that the songs, which were written for a particular context more two decades ago, possess ‘truth value’ and pressing relevance hitherto.

Datu’s Tribe performed two songs – Karne and Wow Filipinas – the latter tackles the conditions of Filipino migrants.

Poet and musician Jess Santiago performed his song “Only in the Philippines,” eliciting chuckles from the audience.

Sinagbayan or Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Art for the People), meanwhile, presented an “experimental” piece transfusing poetry, music and theatrics in a “mini-performance”. Filipino-American poet-activist Philippe Javier Garcesto’s poem “Tadhana” talked about the privation and ‘atrocities’ harnessed by the ‘status quo’ and the people’s collective dream “for a better world.” Sinagbayan collectively laid music into the literary piece. According to Joan Lerio, Sinagbayan’s education committee head, the group aims to “popularize art forms that carry out the aspirations of the people for a freer society.”

People’s Chorale composed of individuals from different organizations performed as well. Trained by Felipe “Jun” de Leon, former National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner on Music, the group performs regularly in anti-Arroyo protests.

Rap musicians were also present. San Francisco-based Active Leadership to Advance Youth (ALAY), BAYAN USA and ANAKBAYAN Malabon chapter collaborated to come up with a performance that dealt with ‘imperialist ties’ between the country and the US.

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