Text and photos by Carla Delgado
In line with Tanghalang Pilipino’s (TP) mission to use theatre as a mean to educate Filipinos about important issues, they bring to life Malou Jacob’s “Batang Mujahideen” as part of its 33rd season themed “Makidigma.”
For this particular production, TP goes experimental, as Batang Mujahideen is realized through devised theatre. This method puts focus on the collaborative effort and imagination of everyone involved – the director, playwright, dramaturg, artistic team, and actors – as opposed to having only one mind heading the staging. In this manner, everyone is directly concerned with the storytelling.
According to TP Artistic Director Nanding Josef, the play “is a call for the protection of children, for mutual understanding among peoples of different beliefs and cultures, and for peace.” It also tackles the relationship between Christians, Muslims, and Yakan indigenous peoples in Mindanao.
The story is about Fatima, a 7-year-old girl whose father was violently killed. She seeks to avenge his death, which leads her to disguise herself as a boy and join the mujahideen. Her story becomes intertwined with the Abu Sayaff kidnapping at Sumisip, Basilan last March 2000.
“Mujahideen” is plural for “mujahid,” and it has the same Arabic root as “jihad” (struggle). A “mujahid” is a person who struggles and wages “jihad,” fighting for what they believe in.
Director Guelan Luarca put it upon himself to only cast members of the TP Actors Company for the play. With Antonette Go as his Assistant Director, guest actor Iman Ampatuan was able to join Doray Dayao, Lhorvie Nuevo, Monique Nellas, Eunice Pacia, JV Ibesate, Marco Viana, Jonathan Tadioan, and Ybes Bagadiong in the cast.
The challenge led him to think outside the box and use puppets instead of child actors. It is used as an allusion to how child soldiers are essentially puppets being operated by adults, controlling them before they learn to start thinking for themselves.
Although the material is a historical fiction piece, this doesn’t mean it’s not a close representation of what people in Mindanao actually experience. The reality is more complex, but avenues such as this play start the discussion on the significant subject at hand.
The material, according to Malou Jacob, will be the last play she’ll write. The process of writing this play was done with years of careful study. Jacob shared at the press preview that it takes a lot of one’s time to write a play that tells of the story of people whose voices need to be heard.
In the process of further developing this production, Luarca collaborated with dramaturg Dominique La Victoria and other consultants from Mindanao to ensure that the portrayal and representation in the play are as genuine as possible. “Batang Mujahideen” tackles how dangerous discrimination is, what it means to be united, and how children are affected by violence and warfare. Malou Jacob quotes that “To write is a political act.” Through this production Luarca hopes to shed more light on the relationship of art and politics.
As cultural workers, these artists involved in the production wants to engage the audience and keep the discussion going, as it is with asking questions that knowledge develops.
On the inquiry about the aim of the production, Luarca says: “Makalikha ng palabas tungkol sa Mindanao para sa mga tulad naming nakabase sa Maynila.” (To create a show about Mindanao for people like us who are based in Manila.)
Although Basilan in part of the Philippines, it often gets disregarded, motivated by harsh judgements. Through combined visions and efforts, Luarca intends to show the audiences a responsible representation of Mindanao and hopefully educate them.
Batang Mujahideen runs from Feb 22 to March 8 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets are available at the CCP Box Office, TicketWorld, Ticket 2 Me, and KTX (Kapamilya Tickets).