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REVIEW: ‘Anak Datu’ Brings the Dark Side of Our History to Light

REVIEW: ‘Anak Datu’ Brings the Dark Side of Our History to Light

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Philippine history has so many layers left unexplored by textbooks and lectures, among these is the Muslim experience and the horrors that have ignited the ongoing armed conflict. Because of the less than pleasant nature of these realities, they are often hidden away, not spoken of, and in some cases, not even acknowledged to be true. So they are consigned to shadows and silence.

But art can be an effective means of shining a light on such stories and theater done well can compel a captivated audience to face a grim and painful reality. Anak Datu succeeds in showing such truths and ensuring that the audience cannot look away and thus, cannot deny the bloody scenes before them.

Based on a short story by National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Imao, Anak Datu presents three interwoven narratives that showcase lesser known aspects of Filipino culture while also presenting painful events from our history. Balancing these three ‘realms’ of myth, memory, and history, playwright Rody Vera and director Chris Millado present a complex canvas on which the character of the artist (played by Marco Viaña and based on Imao) paints a picture of the continuous quest for peace in a nation that has been persecuting its own people.

Myth and Memory

The ‘myth’ is the story the artist tells his young son,Toym (Carlos Dala), about Karim, the son of a village chieftain in the Sulu Archipelago in pre-colonial Philippines. When his village is raided by pirates and his father presumed dead, Karim and his mother, Putli Loling (Lhorvie Nuevo) live under the roof of the pirate who captured them. 

The boy grows to be a brave and respected warrior who learns that the man he calls father, Jikiran (Earle Figuracion), simply adopted him. Karim later reunites with his real father, Datu Karim (Hassanain Magarang) who miraculously survived the raids, and they go on to rule their people with justice and nobility.

The story is creatively told with intricate and expressive choreography by Magarang, and colorful and authentic costumes by Carlo Villafuerte Pagunaling. The myth is narrated in song beautifully and evocatively by Tex Ordoñez-De Leon.

The ‘memory realm’ also has elements of 70s nostalgia like the son’s obsession with Voltes V and what the cancellation of this iconic anime series represented in Marcos-era Philippines. The boy also has to contend with multiculturalism in his household as he tries to balance the perspectives of his parents, a Muslim father who prefers to use his art in peaceful protest and a Christian mother (Antonette Go) who has an activist approach.

A Blood-Soaked Legacy

But both myth and memory exist in the larger context of history and while the two stories are fairly light and entertaining, they take place in 1968, a turning point for Muslims in the Philippines.

The play explores the roots of the Muslim resistance of Mindanao particularly by showing two major events. The first is the Jabidah Massacre of 1968, told from the perspective of the lone survivor, Jibin Arula. The older Jibin (Nanding Josef) narrates how young Muslim men were recruited to join an army meant to cause trouble on the island of Sabah. The younger Jibin (Mark Lorenz) and his fellow recruits realize that something suspicious is afoot but when they mutiny, they are executed and Jibin barely escapes with his life.

The second, harrowing historical event the play unveils is the 1972 Malisbong Massacre, where thousands of Muslim civilians were murdered by the Philippine Armed Forces in the coastal village of Malisbong in Sultan Kudarat. 

The production is effective in showing the horror of the massacre of thousands even with just a dozen or so players giving human faces to the victims. The chilling accounts of the atrocities committed by the military on the people of Malisbong are given voice by the talented cast, exposing a cruel and shameful episode of Philippine history not discussed in araling panlipunan classes.

A particularly striking moment in the production was the projection of the names of the victims on the floor and on the walls of the theater, grim reminders that these were real people who had perished under a dictator’s rule.

The continuous oppression of Muslim Filipinos is contrasted against glimpses of the Marcos government’s glorious “New Society” that purports to build a progressive and peaceful society, while sweeping the army’s atrocities under the rug. Tex Ordoñez-De Leon once again narrates the action, this time as a lively news broadcaster whose bright and hopeful delivery of the government’s position conceals the suffering it has caused its people.

Authentic Representation

Anak Datu succeeds in showing so much with so little. With a small company of actors and a limited space in the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, an epic and complex story is presented in a clear, creative, and compelling way.

The set design by Toym Imao, son of Abdulmari and on whom the character of the boy is based, effectively transports the audience to the different realms of the story. Although Imao has long collaborated with Tanghalang Pilipino on previous productions, this one has a very personal dimension for him and his own knowledge of the story shows. Among the impressive set pieces are the Malisbong Mosque structure as well as a throne made of firearms on which Jibin Arula sits at the end of the play. 

The production took great pains to ensure that Tausug and Muslim culture was represented and the historical events accurately portrayed. Music director Chino Toledo incorporated songs and chants inspired by the sounds of Southern Philippines while projection designer GA Fallarme infused the production with archival footage and news clips from the era to complement the music, which also featured native instruments such as the kulintang.

Marawi-based Magarang incorporated basic movements of the Tausug pangalay dance and martial arts kuntaw silat in the choreography. He also taught the cast the religious norms to be followed while portraying the devout Muslims in the Malisbong mosque scenes. The cast also adopted the appropriate regional accents and expressions to add more authenticity to the production.

Shining a Light on Past Sins

As the three realms come together to paint a picture of the Muslim experience, from myth to memory to history, a tableau is presented to the audience with the mosque, the throne of guns, and the triumphant family of the datu. It’s a powerful final image and one that provokes reflection on what has just been shown.

This final image could have been an effective enough way to end but the production added a final song composed by Toledo with lyrics by Vera. The cast performs this musical number creditably and the song reflects the themes of the play, which somewhat undermines the impact of the tableau. The message of the show was clear from the get-go and adding a song to drive home its themes seems a little bit on-the-nose and unnecessary. But this is a minor complaint in an overall powerful production.

Anak Datu tells an important story and one that deserves to be told and that demands to be seen. The lives of our Muslim brethren, both their struggles and their triumphs, are not often represented in mainstream media. But they are an integral part of Filipino culture and must be included in any portrayal of our country and our people. 

Tickets: P 1,000.00

Show Dates:  September 16 ‘22, September 17 ‘22, September 18 ‘22, September 23 ‘22, September 24 ‘22, September 25 ‘22, September 30 ‘22, October 1 ‘22, October 1 ‘22, October 2 ‘22, October 7 ‘22, October 8 ‘22, October 9 ‘22

Venue: Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Jalandoni cor. Sotto Street, Pasay

Running Time:  Approx. 2 hours (with a 10-minute intermission)

Credits:  Rody Vera (Playwright), Chris Millado (Director), Josefino Chino Toledo (Composer & Musical Director), Hassanain Magarang (Choreographer), Toym Imao (Set Designer), Carlo Villafuerte Pagunaling (Costume Designer), Katsch Catoy (Lighting Designer), GA Fallarme (Projection Designer), TJ Ramos (Arranger, Sound Designer & Engineer), Barbie Tan-Tiongco (Technical Director), Marco Viaña (Assistant Director), Antonette Go (Assistant Director), Lhorvie Nuevo (Assistant Choreographer), Vince Macapobre (Dance Captain), Charlotte Job Despuez (Assistant Lighting Designer), Kirby Araullo (National Situation Speaker)

Cast: Carlos Dala, Nanding Josef, Tex Ordoñez-De Leon, Hassanain Magarang, Marco Viaña, Lhorvie Nuevo, Antonette Go, Mark Lorenz, Arjhay Babon, Earle Figuracion, Vince Macapobre, Edrick Alcontado, Sarah Monay, Heart Puyong, Aggy Mago, Judie Dimayuga, Mitzi Comia

Company: Tanghalang Pilipino
About the Author /


A polyglot passionate about the arts, Camille’s dream role is to be a peasant in the ensemble of Les Misérables. In the meantime, she contents herself by watching and writing about plays. Instagram: @craetions

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