Sunday, August 31, 2008
Noli at Fili Dekada 2000 (Dos Mil), Nicanor Tiongson’s fresh interpretation of Dr. Jose Rizal’s social and political realist novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, begs for answers to questions that have lingered long after foreign colonization left the Philippines still at the mercy of social cancer and reign of greed. These problems are reflected in the novels, literature being a legitimate record of the various areas of society.
First of these questions posed by the production of the play is, why do the problems persist? Social cancer and reign of greed are problems that are related to the ever-present power struggle in society. Since the principal power players in the colonial Philippines—the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese—are no longer around to reduce the Filipinos to powerlessness, why does the oppression of the natives continue? It is because there is a colonial legacy that has been imbibed by the colonizers’ privileged classes namely the ilustrados and the principalia. Now, we see them deeply entrenched in their social niche, anchored on their ancestral family’s feudal, capitalist or political gains. In effect, these landed gentry and industrial and political elite have become the new oppressors by virtue of the power they wield to reproduce their privileged condition at the expense of the working masses. This social injustice breeds a social cancer in which the gravity of illness has been deliberately ignored even as the power tripping already produces a sick society of the conscienceless rich and the silenced poor. It also breeds a reign of greed wherein the rich continuously enrich themselves at the price of the poor becoming desperately poorer. The classic Rizalian novels have chronicled these social truths by virtue of the corrupt frailocracy in both Noli and El Fili, which get updated in the constellation of deforestation-related corruption involving Governor Santiago Santos, Colonel Salvador Salvatierra and San Lorenzo Bishop Damaso in the play.
Another question is, why have the problems become so systematic? If the social elites are to be blamed for the current ills of the society, what are the social minorities doing in the wake of this corruption? Returning to the symbol of the social cancer, the poor may have the idea that their exploitation by the rich is the cause of their powerlessness, but they remain silent, uncaring and/or fearful out of the possibility of falling below far more destitute plight. If they work for the feudal lords and rebel against them, they may lose their right to labor at the farm. If they work for the capitalists and hold strikes against them, they may find themselves jobless. Hence, they choose to submit themselves rather than risk their chance for economic survival. As a result, they become afflicted with the disease of knowing the problem but not doing something about it. For as long as that social cancer remains untouched, not confronted, the working class will not flinch from their maltreatment and, in the process, will participate in their very oppression. Pointing out their tragic flaw will render them helplessly resentful toward their untouched manipulators or, alas, toward themselves. If it is possible to avoid patting the cancerous portion, they won’t, if only not to bring to fore the infuriating idea that the poor are not just the victims of oppression but the very perpetrator of this crime. The National Hero’s novels show that the natives allowed themselves to be pushed around—from Capitan Tiago to Sisa to Basilio to Placido—while the play shows that the naïve Maypajo Mayor Ibarra Marasigan and the people who removed him from office had been maneuvered into consummating the naked motives of their controller.
Finally and the most important question is, what could be done to address the problems? Two major options may be had, considering their previous application in the Philippine political context: the democratic process or the revolutionary one. Filipinos lay their hopes for change come election times when new sets of government officials will have been officially sworn into improving the citizens’ lives, or popular movements wherein a new president is installed after booting out his/her predecessor. At the rate these options have turned into frustrations, a third option remains to be seen so the disappointing course the country is being directed in will ultimately produce favorable results. The late nineteenth-century long fictions have imaginatively incorporated proposals of freedom through Spanish assimilation and, later, revolutionary uprooting of social institutions. Meanwhile, the play for its part saw the idealistic mayor attempting to initiate change via authorized means until in the long run, his altered destiny bedeviled him into resorting to vigilantism.
The contemporarization of Rizal’s masterpieces is a confrontation of the available alternatives for present-day Filipinos: do the citizens resort to revolution in order to create radical changes in the society, or cling on to the stubborn hope that the gradual process of democracy will at last achieve fruition? Whatever the choice, its impact will not only shape the fate of Filipinos alive today, but also those of the succeeding generations to whom the contemporary citizens are socially and politically accountable.