Everything became clear for me that day. The struggle had been almost continuous; against the Spanish, against the Americans, against the Japanese, now against Marcos. As for the city whose infrastructure hadn’t been able to keep up with its growth, it had been some four centuries since it was founded on June 24, 1571 by three conquistadors: Martín de Goiti, Juan de Salcedo and Miguel López. With the ruins of the walls still standing, there formed in my mind, as I crisscrossed the decaying city, a kind of tapestry, or a smattering of the drama that had taken place in the city since it was founded. Malacanan Palace and Mendiola Bridge were the last pieces I needed for my play. They formed stages, like Fort Santiago and Malate Church (judging that I couldn’t include every important place) that couldn’t be improved upon. Set designers erect their sets knowing that after the production their work will probably be forgotten. Absorbed in the here and now, they hardly think about building something that will last.
These things I thought about as I struggled with how to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. I also related to a play that I saw at the Rajah Solayman Theater in Fort Santiago and was moved by the performances of movie stars. After the show I walked through the dungeons and saw where so many prisoners died. (After it was cleaned up, tourists were allowed to stroll through it.) It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s a popular tourist destination. It‘s as if people are attracted to horror and gore. Again, I thought I was onto something.
To be outraged is commonplace; except for the radical outrage isn’t usually turned into action, and radicals aren’t usually thinking about dying when they jump into something. What is terrible and incomprehensible is for them to see their own insignificance (if it’s true). I have noted that regardless what it seems like what they’re doing is rarely a total loss, and martyrs and patriots are rarely totally forgotten. Most of the time, without them thinking about it, they’re destined for immortality, but I’m not sure if the reward ever matches the punishment. Only in hindsight does the sacrifice seem reasonable, and each loss is a personal one and usually brings grief to someone.
Indoctrinated over the centuries, the nation ultimately appreciates its heroes and often maintains shrines to them. (Hence we have the play LRAWAN or PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS FILIPINO in Pilipino, which I saw at Fort Santiago. It was staged for the Aguinaldo Centennial and not far away was the shrine to Jose Rizal.) We know with certainty that within a finite period of time that we’ll all die. Because of our past, we’ll each be judged by how we lived, by our goodness or our perversity, and to an extent how we die. However Manuel Estacio De Venegas’s death in the dungeons of Fort Santiago doesn’t seem to have cancelled out the evil he did during his lifetime. Seen in this way the way in which we live matters more than the way we die. Because of his infamy Manuel De Venegas died in the dungeons and had his property confiscated by the colonial Spanish government. So clearly he wasn’t a patriot. But if by odd chance you were an American soldier stationed in Manila when the Japanese occupied the city you could’ve easily ended up in the same dungeons without having done anything wrong. Let’s suppose someone composed an American Machiavellian tragedy and set its last scene in the dungeons of Fort Santiago. If we based the drama on actually events, we’d have to use actual names of the men who died there, at least in the program. No one is any more immortal than these men, even though their names may have been erased from records. Then like Jesse Webb of Pocatella Idaho I never intended to spend any time in the dungeons of Fort Santiago, and I’m certainly not a hero, and I doubt that Jesse considered himself one.
It was a disquieting image seeing the discarded General…the discarded Aguinaldo of the 1940’s…that the audience became aware of when they went to see LARAWAN. In the first place, they had to have known that he was their George Washington. I have to mention here that he was the first president of the Philippines, and the youngest one (became president at age 29); a man who fought long and hard for the independence of his country; he couldn’t help himself and die a hero but instead near the end of his life was accused of collaborating with the Japanese and briefly jailed. Neither would they have been interested in the details as to why the adoration for the man faded. The play, for most of them, was a revelation and it was suffice to final give Aguinaldo his due, the standing he deserved and give another sigh perhaps for the past. Let us not forget that there were those in the audience who also cursed the Present. There is no pleasure more satisfying than making connections and finding them for my play. For instance, the connections between Manuel Estacio De Venegas, Aguinaldo, and Jesse Webb of Pocatella Idaho and an old fort, Malacanan, and a battle on a bridge called Mendiola. These connections are made quite rarely, and all of the patriots can’t be recognized, and I remember one whom I met: a little woman who stood up to Mrs. Marcos.