Review of the play “Ang mga Lorena”, staged Dec. 9 and 11 by Sinagbayan
Lorena Barros is not from the same period in the country’s history as Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan. But in the play “Ang mga Lorena” (The Lorenas), staged Dec. 9 and 11 by the cultural group Sinagbayan at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, the three women’s stories are more than intertwined.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Lorena Barros is not from the same period in the country’s history as Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
But in the play “Ang mga Lorena” (The Lorenas), staged Dec. 9 and 11 by the cultural group Sinagbayan at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, the three women’s stories are more than intertwined. In “Ang mga Lorena”, which was written by Joan Lerio and directed by Jonas Santos, Empeño and Cadapan are also Lorenas.
A poet and essayist of formidable talent, Barros completed her BA in Anthropology (cum laude) at UP in the 1960s. She was a member of the militant Kabataang Makabayan (KM or Patriotic Youth), and later founded the Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (Makibaka or Patriotic Movement of the New Women). She is also one of the founders of the Panulat para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan (Paksa).
When the Constabulary, upon orders from Malacañang, tried to take over the UP campus after a students’ strike was held in 1969 to protest oil price increases, Barros was one of numerous young men and women who stood their ground in what has since been known as the Diliman Commune. After Martial Law was declaredin September 1972, she was arrested by the military and detained at the Ipil Rehabilitation Center, but managed to escape. She later went to Quezon to join the New People’s Army (NPA). In 1976, she sustained several wounds in an encounter and bled to death while in the custody of the military.
Cadapan is an award-winning triathlete and was the representative of the College of Human Kinetics to the UP University Student Council. She later became a youth organizer in Bulacan.
Empeño, a graduating BA Sociology student, was conducting research on peasant songs in Central Luzon for her thesis.
Both were abducted by soldiers, together with peasant Manuel Merino, in Hagonoy, Bulacan at dawn on June 26, 2006 in Hagonoy, Bulacan. Merino is reported to have been killed, while Empeño and Cadapan remain missing to this day. Raymond Manalo, a peasant from Bulacan who was also detained with them but managed to escape together with his brother Reynaldo, has given shocking testimonies of how they were tortured by their captors, and how retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, Jr., who then headed the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Division, personally spoke to him several times during his detention.
The storyline of “Ang mga Lorena” is largely based on Manalo’s accounts as published in various news reports and opinion columns, and as narrated before several gatherings of victims of human rights abuses.
“Ang mga Lorena” is not structured in the usual manner. It is not divided into acts that revolve around a more or less chronological narrative. Rather, throughout its duration, only the characters of Manalo, Empeño, and Cadapan are seen on stage – delivering monologues through which the stories of the two UP student activists are made to unfold. The setting is a dark detention cell.
Manalo’s character tells of how he was inspired by the courage of Empeño and Cadapan, who did not waver in their convictions even while enduring the most unthinkable forms of torture.
The characters of Empeño and Cadapan share accounts of how they became involved in the people’s movement. Empeño’s character tells of how her father, a former unionist, influenced her to become aware of what is happening in the country and how her exposure to an SM workers’ strike several years ago contributed further to her political development. Cadapan’s character, meanwhile, shares stories of her active participation in the student movement at UP, with her involvement including but not limited to the issues of tuition increases and athletes’ allowances.
There are a few scenes in which a reporter is seen delivering a news report on the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004 – as if revealing that the said incident was a pivotal point in Empeño and Cadapan’s further politicization.
In between the monologues of the main characters come several song, dance, and poetry performances.
An area for improvement that may be considered in future productions is that there is little dramatization in the play. The main characters – Empeño, Cadapan, and Manalo – act as though they are delivering speeches to the audience.
The play is decidedly political and the tackling of political issues should be expected. However, there are parts of the main characters’ monologues that tend to overextend discourse on political issues, in effect drowning out their own life stories. It is worth considering in future productions how a balance may be struck between bringing Empeño and Cadapan’s stories to light and tackling the political issues that brought them into the people’s movement.
In terms of characterization, “Ang mga Lorena” captures the personalities of both Empeño and Cadapan as described by people who know them personally. The main actresses are effective in portraying Empeño’s occasional mood swings as well as Cadapan’s bubbly nature.
Toward the end of the play, an actress portraying Barros – with gun and ammunition pack, no less – appears and urges the viewers to join the struggle for freedom and justice.
In the end, there is a depiction of the tortures of Manalo, Empeño, and Cadapan – rendered through dance. Manalo’s character is shown escaping and, as a finale, the characters of Empeño and Cadapan – no longer in prison – rise and stand behind the actress playing Barros.
Manalo’s character then recites selected lines from the poem “Ang mga Lorena” by Bienvenido Lumbera:
Sino si Lorena
sa ating buhay?
Naiwan kaming naghihintay
na ikaw ay muling mabuhay.
Ngayo’y Lorena ka
ng iba’t ibang guniguni
Lorena ng tibak
Lorena ng burges na intelektwal
Lorena ng makatang kababaihan
Lorena ng kumakalag
sa gapos ng kombensyon
Lorena ng magsasaka
Lorena ng manggagawa
Lorena ng mga mandirigma.
And then he adds: