By GINO ESTELLA
In its fourth staging since it opened in 2015, Mabining Mandirigma has changed as frequently as the shifting of political powers in the nation. However different this iteration may be, one thing remains constant: it is the history and the presence of feudal patronage politics since time immemorial.
A steampunk musical, as it calls itself, Mandirigma makes use of its aesthetic to link the old and new in their melodramatic mirroring of society. Anachronisms blurred the lines of history not in revision, but in the expression of its central message.
Mandirigma opens its curtains with hope, representing the iconic image of Emilio Aguinaldo waving the flag of the new republic in Asia. Unfortunately for the viewer, this part of Philippine history did not plan for events to pan out as good as they started.
Immediately following jubilations came Mabini, played by Monique Wilson, to dunk previous celebrations with a pronouncement to Aguinaldo that the Philippine revolution of 1898 was not a success.
Araling Panlipunan lessons back in elementary school taught us that what followed was the Malolos Congress. A congress, as the musical describes, was a circus ringmastered by the nation’s intellectual and economic elite for their fraternal and parochial interests.
The rest was–literally–history.
A second meaning of Mabining Mandirigma is “gentle warrior.” Wilson’s soft voice contrasted the full-bodied and intimidating voices of male actors portraying the generals and foreign politicians around her, that in its softness its message demands itself to be heard.
Ending the musical was the whole cast, out of character and clad in their clothes of the day, telling the audience that the problems they portrayed during the three-hour production still exist today. This important moment of the musical had our characters breaking the fourth wall, telling us how important it is to see beyond the subtext of the musical–that it was right and just to act against the fascist attacks against the people.
One thought that particularly stood out was how the names of the people who vexed the government to their advantage back then still holds power today. Names like Araneta, Buencamino and Legarda belong in the Manila 60–a class of prestigious names living likewise fabulously wealthy lives. Our institutions, buildings and streets bear these family’s names in reverence to them, but Mandrigimang Mabini reminds us of a dark spot in their past, that they hold power because for the sake of meritocracy they did not want the marginalized to hold it.
Truly, the descendants of the wicked remain wicked to the poor and cordial to the foreigner. It is evident in violent demolitions of communities such as Sitio San Roque in Quezon City, Aetas in Clark, Dumagat in Sierra Madre, and Sitio Aroma in Cebu to make way for development projects; it is evident when our islands are being sold–literally and virtually–to foreign business in the pursuit of investment.
In its fourth staging, Mabining Mandirigma echoes a message that always bears repeating especially in today’s political situation; and that is to ensure that the power is always held by the people, and for the people. It encourages everyone to be a Mabining Mandrigma: a gentle voice of reason blasting through violent injustice. Today, it is important that everyone is a mandirigma, be it a Mabini or anything otherwise.