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Seditious And Subversive: Theater of War

(By Doreen G. Fernandez)

Do wars breed theater? Does theater rise out of wars? Is theater a result of war, or is it a weapon, even a battlefield? Is one of the vestiges of war a theater of war? The Philippine experience provides insights.

War against Spain and the United States

The events of the late nineteenth century in the Philippines are fairly well known. The revolutionary secret society called the Katipunan was founded, then discovered in August 1896. By the end of the year revolution had spread throughout the country.

Between August 29, 1896, when Filipino revolutionaries first attacked Spanish soldiers, and the declaration of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 by General Emilio Aguinaldo, Filipinos waged war for the first time in their history. It was a hit-and-run, faction-troubled war, but eventually led to the first revolution in Asia against a colonial power, and the proclamation of the Philippine Republic at Malolos, Bulacan.

That ending was neither glorious nor permanent, however, for while the Filipinos carried on their war against Spain, Admiral George Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, Spanish authorities secretly negotiated the bloodless surrender of Manila, and in December the Treaty of Paris was signed, ceding the Philippines to the United States for a few thousand dollars.

The Philippine-American War, identified in American documents of the time as the Philippine Insurrection, broke out on February 4, 1899. From then until April 6, 1902, when Miguel Malvar, the last Filipino general in the field, surrendered, there was continued guerrilla warfare.

In two years, therefore, the Filipinos fought both the Spaniards and the Americans, and here began the theater born of war.

In the period between 1902 (when Theodore Roosevelt declared general amnesty and officially ended the war) and 1906 (when Macario Sakay surrendered, and armed resistance officially ended), the "seditious" plays came to be. Playwrights spoke up on stage, disguising their anti-Spanish and anti-American sentiments in the costumes, manners and scenography of traditional theater, and when discovered, were arrested-sometimes along with cast and crew, and in one case, reportedly with the entire audience.

These plays constituted a form of guerrilla warfare directly contrary to Act No. 292, the "Sedition Act" passed on November 4,1901, which made advocacy of Philippine independence a crime since such advocacy fanned the embers of resistance to American rule. Section 10 which provides that

[u]ntil it has been officially proclaimed that a state of war or insurrection against the authority or sovereignty of the United States no longer exists in the Philippine Islands, it shall be unlawful for any person to advance orally or by writing or printing or like methods, the independence of the Philippine Islands or their separation from the United States, whether by peaceable or forcible means, or to print, publish or circulate any handbill, newspaper or publication, advocating such independence or separation was later to be invoked in the arrest of the anti-American dramatists.

Juan Abad's Tanikalang Guinto (Golden Chain) is about Ligaya (light; the spirit of independence), daughter of Dalita (extreme poverty and suffering; the Mother Country), who is forbidden to see Kaulayaw (sweetheart; Filipino hero) by her uncle Maimbot (greedy; the American insular government). Ligaya receives a golden bracelet from Maimbot that becomes a chain to bind her to his control.

The play was first staged at the Teatro Libertad on July 7, 1902, and subsequently in other theaters in Manila, Laguna and Cavite, where it was enthusiastically applauded and obviously understood. On May 10, 1903, provincial authorities shut down its Batangas, Batangas performance and incited the author for sedition. The Court of First Instance of Batangas, presided over by Judge Paul W. Linebarger, found the drama "seditious," and sentenced the author to two years imprisonment and a fine of $2000.

The decision of the lower court was reversed by the Supreme Court on August 9, 1906. While this case was pending decision, Abad, out under bail, wrote Isang Punlo ng Kaaway (An Enemy Bullet). This was produced at the Teatro Rizal in Malabon on May 8, 1904, and resulted Abad's second arrest.

Hindi Aco Patay (I Am Not Dead), by Juan Matapang Cruz, may have been written and produced earlier, but was presented at the Teatro Nueva Luna in Malabon on the night of May 8, 1903. In the play, Karangalan (honor) loves Tangulan (defender, patriot), and resists Macamcam (one who usurps power; the American insular government). Tangulan is thought killed in a duel with Macamcam, but he springs up and declares, "I am not dead!" The red sun on a Katipunan flag rises behind the stage, representing freedom won, and the loyal Filipinos take the villains and traitors captive.

At this point, a drunken American soldier hurled an empty beer bottle at the Katipunan flag, then climbed the stage with some others and tore the scenery apart. The riot caused the arrest of the theater manager, the banning of the play, and the confiscation of "seditious" props, among them Katipunan flags and revolutionary emblems. Ten of the actors were arrested a month later, and the author, who had been in hiding, was arrested by the secret service on July 5 during "a big Americano fiesta" (The Manila Times, July 6, 1903).

The trial was made especially interesting by questions about Cruz's identity. He seemed an unlikely author, and at one point claimed that his wife had written the play. The authorities surmised that Dominador Gomez, a labor leader, may have written the play. Despite the questions, Cruz was sentenced to two years" imprisonment, and apparently served them in full.

Aurelio Tolentino's revolutionary activities started long before his writing of Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow). He had helped in the distribution of La Solidaridad and other propaganda literature, and had been one of the original members of the Katipunan, assisting Emilio Jacinto and others in the printing of Katipunan forms and certificates of membership. He was with Jacinto, Andres Bonifacio and others at Pamitinan Cave in Montalban, where the first cry for independence was heard on April 10, 1895. Shortly after the start of the revolution, he was imprisoned for nine months in Bilibid, and tortured.

He joined General Aguinaldo in Cavite, and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Philippine Independence at Kawit on June 12, 1898. He wrote for various nationalist papers: La Independencia, La Patria, El Liberal, and his own Filipinas. In August 1900 he headed a secret society called Junta de Amigos, "with authority from Aguinaldo to form and organize guerrillas" (T.M. Kalaw, quoted in Manuel 1970, 374). When General Artemio Ricarte attempted to organize a new revolutionary force in 1903, Tolentino joined him, and was arrested and charged with conspiracy. In his lifetime, Tolentino suffered nine imprisonments.

One of these was for theater. Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas was about attempts to subjugate the Philippines in the past (by the Chinese), in the present (the Spanish officials and friars) and the future (the Americans), and how Inangbayan (Mother Country) and her son Tagailog (Tagalog; the Filipino) win over them. This drama played to a packed house on May 14, 1903 at the Teatro Libertad in Manila.

At a certain point of the play, the script called for the actor playing Tagailog (the Tagalog provinces) to haul down the American flag and to trample on it as a sign of victory. Since the actor was reluctant to do this in full view of the Americans in the audience, Tolentino reportedly took over the role himself. The gestures....angered the Americans in the audience, who then proceeded to cause a riot. As a result, Tolentino and several other members of the company were arrested (Manlapaz 1975, 2).

Tolentino was charged with sedition, and at the trial (he was defended by a young lawyer, Manuel Quezon), was sentenced to two years of imprisonment and a fine of $2000 gold. Rafael Palma and two American lawyers appealed the sentence, but on March 6, 1906, the Supreme Court upheld the dec.

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