By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
For its 33rd season opening, and for the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino stays true to its aim of reintroducing the relevance of centuries-old Filipino culture to the present society by opening the season with the fourth re-run of Mabining Mandirigma, a steam-punk musical centered around the life of Apolinario Mabini and the obstacles he had faced as one of the leading members of the revolutionary government under Emilio Aguinaldo.
Mabining Mandirigma reintroduces Apolinario Mabini beyond his ‘Dakilang Lumpo’ persona, urging the audience to realize that being a warrior goes beyond fighting with a sword in hand, and how one man’s love for his country can enable him to go beyond his own limitations.
Reuniting with Pule
Truth to be told, many of us know Mabini as a name written in our Araling Panlipunan books and for his famed title, ‘Dakilang Lumpo,’ however, we do not have a single idea of his life before he became the mind behind the revolutionary front.
Stories centered around his life are as sparse as Mabini’s own personal written accounts.
Who exactly was Apolinario Mabini before he joined the revolution?
Most of us did not know of the young bright boy, still not saddled by the effects of polio, whose mind is beyond his age, and whose overshadowed ideas still very much relevant to the present day.
Personally, the play introduced me to a younger version of Mabini freely walking and running on stage as he voices out his yearning for an equal society for his fellow countrymen. We were not informed of how he struggled to defend his beliefs to his own mother, fighting what was expected of him for a small chance to make his country a better place.
The play also showcased how Mabini has been constantly ridiculed for his disability. The hero is very often described as ‘effeminate,’ most probably because his disability hindered him from taking arms.
Ironically, the play’s English title embodies the message of the story well, Mabining Mandirigma or the Gentle Warrior opens up how Mabini, in his own way, fought for the freedom of the country even after all of the more-famed names such as Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Emilio Aguinaldo either perished or failed the revolution.
A different take
For Mabini who was ‘othered’ for his contrary political views and physical disability, the play opted for a casting design that is non-traditional, actors play women’s roles and vice-versa (this much is obvious when the play introduced a Mark Twain in drag.
Even Mabini himself is being played by Monique Wilson, whose voice is often overpowered by the rich tenor of the actor playing Emilio Aguinaldo, a coincidental symbolism of how Aguinaldo had overlooked a lot of Mabini’s ideas and advice.
The play’s steam-punk setting is used to symbolize the how the past and the present combines together, just like how Mabini’s historical story is still relevant to current issues.
Resilience of the gentle warrior
Mabini being ‘othered’ and marginalized did not sink in as much until the last scene in the first act, during the dinner celebrating the inauguration of the Malolos Republic when members of the cabinet and the congress were taking commemorative photos Mabini is constantly being pushed around and out of the picture (literally).
The helplessness and resignation portrayed in Wilson’s face embodied the character Mabini would be in the second act, when Aguinaldo chose to bend himself over to the wishes of Pedro Paterno’s group and the urges of the American government rather than staying as the true symbol of the revolutionary government, something that Mabini first aspire for him to become at the start when he took the offer as Aguinaldo’s main counsel.
The fall out scene in Aguinaldo’s office after Paterno offers the idea of surrendering the Philippines’ autonomy over to America to end the revolution once and for all, showed a resigned but determined Mabini choosing to step down from his government position than agreeing with Paterno’s ‘cowardly’ choice.
Despite that, Mabini continued to fight through the tide and his determination to stay true to his own ideals made him a very vulnerable target of the Americans. Getting detained in Intramuros after being caught by American soldiers, he then receives the news of his fallen comrades.
Mabini, after hearing the news, blames himself and his physical limitations. Blaming his disability for his inability to fight alongside his comrades, he laments on how even his own way of fighting the enemy; through his intellect and negotiations, had failed and how he feels like he had done nothing to defend his mother country.
In the same scene, an illusion of his mother reminds him that his body’s weakness will transform into a weapon far stronger than any firearm in fighting off their oppressors.
After that, Mabini remains resilient against all the taunts of the American government. He refused the amnesty given by General MacArthur, and even pushed to negotiate with three American officials about the ongoing war. Of course, his demands were denied and he was then exiled to Guam along with the other ‘irreconcilables,’ or the people who are opposed to the rule of the American government.
Two years later shows a weaker Mabini, not only physically but also ideally, who already lost his hope for the revolutionary movement after receiving a letter informing him of Aguinaldo’s surrender to the Americans.
He comes back to the Philippines with a dejected heart, unable to accept the reality he is being forced to. He reunites with Pepe, his right-hand turned adopted son who has already finished his education .
In this scene, Mabini is given hope as Pepe informs him that the revolutionary movement lives on even after his two-year detention. In this last scene, incredulousness is visible in Mabini’s face. The realization that, even after he admitted to losing hope ,the ideals he had passed onto Pepe did not fail him.
In the end, his fight lives on beyond him as Mabini died two months after his return to the Philippines.
Mabining Mandirigma provides its audience a new image of Apolinario Mabini, as well as a striking realization that, although cliche, history does repeat itself.
As heartbreaking as it is to admit, the problems Mabini had faced are still present up to this day, and it is up to us if we would be like Mabini, slow and steady but resilient in his fight, or if we would be like Paterno, turning tail as soon as an opening and a chance to stop presents itself.