We live in very absurd times. We choose leaders based on fame and looks. We give our vote to the highest bidder. We cry foul when promises are not held. And we make plays about having a pig as a mayor.
De La Salle University’s Harlequin Theatre Guild opens its 49th season with the staging of “Magtanggol Liberacion,” a political satire that the company envisioned to “equip the audience with a more analytical mindset for voting, and to highlight the significant role of the young generation…for the upcoming 2016 election.”
The play opened to a bloodcurdling shriek that announced the death of the town’s Mayor. The town was Talon Pikit and its mayor was a pig. (Insert Nora Aunor Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo references here) Talon Pikit’s mayor was murdered and the townsfolk are all hungry, not for lechon, but for justice. As the road to the discovery of the murderer progressed, the audience members were introduced to characters with forgettable quirks given for comedic effect, and not so much as to propel the plot forward. The story was told in a series of flashbacks detailing how the mayor, Magtanggol Liberacion, was chosen to run against the then-incumbent Mayor Vangie Palaban, and how he eventually won, took office for two days until he was killed and made to be lechon. Led by a COMELEC officer on a trolley, the investigation revealed a culprit that both surprised and broke the hearts of the audience.
Magtanggol Liberacion tried to offer a plausible and introspective view of the society – and it did achieve the former, albeit with a bit of exaggeration. This was done so, quite understandably for the sake of comedy, but almost everything else was a satire to the painfully obvious. The choice of animal was explained at the beginning of the play (tired of crocodiles, or in Filipino, buwaya, and the time for change, of pigs has come) – its reason becomes clear even without that explanation at the start. The Filipino word for pig, “baboy” also functions as a verb that could mean the bastardization of something – a description of what and how politics works in our country: no surprise there. The attempt at a jibe to the Filipino’s tendency to settle for “just anyone,” or the “lesser evil,” was also achieved in Talon Pikit’s choice of making Magtanggol Liberacion its viable candidate to be pitted against the TraPo Mayor Palaban. Again: no surprise there.
All throughout the play, there were references to the Filipino culture, oftentimes a caricature of your typical lower class Filipino: impressionable, a gossip, ambitious, weak, a perpetual follower of the concept of debt of gratitude (utang na loob), a relative or daughter of an OFW and the like.
All of these characterizations worked in contributing to the humor and enjoyment of the play, but these have been offered in so many other Filipino films in the past. This exaggerated characterization of a Filipino will always cause an uproarious laughter, when coupled with comedic timing, but it will leave the taste of bland familiarity on people’s tongues.
More noticeably still was the smattering of curses that afforded comic relief, and have caused the loudest response from the audience. Indeed, the Filipino audience thrives in the scandalous and at times, uncouth declarations.
The Harlequin Theater guild actors were able to concretely represent their characters, and also to a relatable verisimilitude. Mae Paner, as Mayor Vangie Palaban, stole the show and portrayed her character with lovable villainy.
Make no mistake about it: Magtanggol Liberacion was an enjoyable piece. It gave laughs, a rightfully and deliciously appropriate political jab here and there (small, dark man who challenged someone in a debate, but fearfully retracted. *cough, cough* Binay). However, it wasn’t anything one wouldn’t be able to see in an expertly-staged comedy bar.
It had its appeal to the Filipino masses, definitely, but as a play that strove for social significance, it was found wanting.
Magtanggol Liberacion was a comedy with a bit of social significance – and if marketed as such, would be very successful. Every Filipino, regardless of social class, would appreciate the fun and jibes it brought.
However, if it were to be seen the other way around, a play about the society with comedic value, it fails, with its hackneyed examination of the Filipino society.
Magtanggol Liberacion is still showing on July 19, 2015 at the Huseng Batute Theater, Cultural Center of the Philippines, at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm.