Finding hope amidst abuse and oppression

Published September 23, 2022, 11:55 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng

Photo by Max Celada for Tanghalang Pilipino

Anak Datu at the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez is an eye-opening, provocative piece of theater, and deserves to be watched. Just be forewarned that the first act is a bleak historical record of how the Tausug, and by extension, the Muslims, have been treated (or better, maltreated by the Philippine government, dating back to the late 1960’s). It also tries to explain why Muslim resistance, the MNLF, and the secessionist movement, are responses triggered by the need to survive. 

Anak Datu at the Tanghalang Ignacio Jimenez.

What’s wonderfully ironic is how the world of toys and child’s play lie at the root of the narrative, as based on the very personal short story of National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Imao. In the hands of Rody Vera’s stage adaptation and as directed by Chris Millado,through this Tanghalang Pilipino production, we see the intermingling of Imao’s personal history and aspects of Moro folklore with events in the history of Mindanao and our persecuted Muslim brothers.

Photo by Max Celada for Tanghalang Pilipino

To the credit of the short story and this stage adaptation, a wide range of topics are covered, starting with the Jabidah Massacre in Corregidor of 1968, the attack in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat of the Tacbil mosque in 1974, Nur Misuari as founder of the MNLF, and on to social issues within the Muslim community such as the role of women and child-rearing. Taking from Imao’s own life, we touch on multi-culturalism, as when a Muslim is married to a Christian wife and the problems of identity on the part of their children. It’s a heady blend of memory, myth, and history—the exposition of which is done through a myriad of characters and narrators.

Director Chris Millado of Anak Datu.

Running at the new CCP Black Box (Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez) until Oct. 9, the inventive stage design is by Imao’s own son, Toym Leon, who was the inspiration of one of the story’s main characters—Imao wrote the short story in 1968, right before the birth of his son. You’ll be impressed by the pangalay and martial arts choreography, the projections and sound design, and the music and songs. 

Leading the cast are Marco Viaña as the young Abdulmari, Antonette Go as his wife Grace, and Carlos Dala as the son, Toym. TP Artistic Director Nanding Josef is in the cast, portraying Jibin Arula, from the aforementioned Jabidah Massacre.

The Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, located in front of the PICC.

I mentioned irony early in this feature; and it is a recurring theme of this production. This Moro POV is not one most people would be familiar with. So as their version of several of the historical events are touched on, I found it ironic how so many ‘woke’ members of our society will rush to post flags of the Ukraine on their social media apps; but more often than not, remain silent, or ignore the atrocities or persecution that go on in our own backyard. 

As trenchant food for thought, I embrace Anak Datu. As theater, it may lean too heavily on exposition and narration; but you can’t fault the intent and how Vera has used the short story to paint against a much bigger and starker canvas.