‘Nanay Mameng,’ the story of the urban poor

A new play on Carmen “Nanay Mameng” Deunida will show who she was before she became an activist.


MANILA — Not all are professional stage actors, but rather ordinary activists and cultural workers. And in a humble production house in Quezon City, they gather to eagerly rehearse — all ears to their directors and fellow actors as they meticulously perfect one scene after the other.

A few weeks from now, they will stage “Nanay Mameng, isang dula,” a play about the life of Carmen Deunida, the celebrated urban poor activist in the Philippines. Her fiery words and sharp analysis on issues confronting Filipinos have spared no one including presidents. She fondly calls President Benigno S. Aquino III “Pnoy Abnoy,” not to insult those who are differently-abled but to point out his seeming inability to look into the dire conditions of the people.

The play is not the first time that Deunida’s life and contribution to the urban poor struggle would be recognized.

Last year, a musical production of the same title was staged. Though most of those who were in the first production are also in this new play, its director Noel Taylo, who has worked with Tanghalang Pilipino, said they have written an entirely new script, which kicked off from the positive and overwhelming comments they received from the musical.

Cast of Nanay Mameng (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com
Cast of Nanay Mameng (Photo by J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com

Renowned filmmaker Jaja Arumpac and alternative media outfit Kodao Productions also filmed a documentary on her life, which won best documentary in Gawad Urian last year.

“We featured her life as a mass leader. But what happened before she turned into the mass leader we know now? These are untold stories that everyone, even those who personally know her, wants to hear,” Taylo told Bulatlat.com.

Taylo will co-direct the play with dance and theater artist Edwin Quinsayas. The play, written by Amanda Echanis, is produced by the Urban Poor Resource Center of the Philippines and Kadamay, and will be co-presented by the Council for Health and Development, Courage, United Church of Christ of the Philippines, National Commission for Culture and the Arts and PhilHealth.

Nanay Mameng, isang dula will be staged in Miriam College this coming February.

A straight play

Quinsayas, director of the play, said straight dramas have yet to be delved into by progressive cultural workers. Most productions, at least those he has either seen or were part of, were musicals.

“We are working on their acting and how the story would develop. We hope we can incorporate as much details as we can about her life,” he said.

Quinsayas said the play will bring the audience back to the 1960s, during the politicization of the young Deunida, as she faced the challenges in her personal life which helped shaped her into the mass leader that she is now.

Deunida’s life, Taylo said, should serve as inspiration to activists. “There is a soft side in every tough tibak,” he said. “Tibak” is the colloquial term for “activist.”

“Here, we can see how Nanay Mameng has turned her weaknesses into her strengths,” Taylo said, “Despite her hardships, she was still able to serve the Filipino people.”

More than demolition

Quinsayas shared that the play would go beyond the demolition setting. It will show how the urban poor – even as they are demonized as sloths and burden to the government — strives everyday with their meager-paying jobs and livelihoods, he added.

The play will also dig into the roots of poverty as it discusses rural migration, the corruption-laden government and the lack of decent jobs in the country.

Will the play still be about Deunida? Both Quinsayas and Taylo say yes.

Quinsayas said its story is “universal” as Deunida’s life as an urban poor, the struggle to live day after day, is the perhaps the story of all urban poor.

The play will also show other interesting details in Deunida’s life, but of course, this article must spare you the spoilers. Let’s just say that it revolves on partly the good things, but mostly the bad, sad and painful things in Deunida’s life, which eventually became her source of courage and inspiration to fight.


It is not by chance that most of the actors in the play are activists. Taylo said their priority in casting were activists and progressive cultural workers, who were more than willing to be part of the play.

Actors and the whole production crew may be working for free, still, Taylo said their fulfillment is more than compensation. He, for one, felt compelled to share what he learned from working in mainstream theater productions to serve the people.

Taylo added that it was impossible to say no to a project that involved the life of Deunida, who is an icon among activists. After all, he added, “once a tibak, always a tibak.”

One of the advantages of casting activists in the play, Quinsayas shared, is that they know the message by heart. But a play is both message and form, he added. And it is the latter that posed most of the challenges they are facing and experiencing. Since most of the cast are not professional actors, they work hard to level up their skills to be at par with mainstream theater.

To help them improve their craft, Quinsayas said, the directors and playwright do not have sole discretion on how the play would go. Instead, everyone in the production is given an opportunity to voice out their concerns and suggestions to improve how they would go about the play.

“We collaborate. It is a collective work,” he said, adding that they deviated from the “ultra-conservative” theater production where the director is a know-it-all captain.


Among their intended audience, Quinsayas shared, are students, whom they hope would become advocates for urban poor rights. Or, at the very least, rethink whatever biases they have against the poor.

“They will understand that the urban poor are living in so-called danger areas, not because they are just hardheaded, but because they have nowhere else to go,” he said.

Quinsayas shared that they plan to turn the play into a “mobile theater,” which can be staged from one urban poor community to another. In fact, there are only eight characters to make it more manageable to those who want to stage the play in their respective communities.

The stage, the public, await “Nanay Mameng.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

For tickets, you may contact Terence Krishna Lopez (0947-5874497) of the Urban Poor Resource Center of the Philippines. The play would be staged at the Miriam College Little Theater on Feb. 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28. Proceeds would go to the medical needs of Carmen Deunida and for projects under the UPRCP and Kadamay.

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