Review: 'Pamana' more than just a Ninoy tribute
MANILA – What began as a tribute to mark the 30th death anniversary of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. has evolved into a full-blown original Filipino musical, “Pamana,” which was originally set to premiere Wednesday at the Meralco Theater with Aquino’s son, President Benigno Aquino III, as guest of honor.
Mounted by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), the gala night of “Pamana” will now be on Saturday, August 24.
“Pamana” is a gathering of top theater talent. The prolific Rody Vera wrote the play, while the music was composed by veterans Ryan Cayabyab and Fr. Manoling Francisco. PETA’s Maribel Legarda and Melvin Lee directed the musical, which stars Jett Pangan, Malou de Guzman and Bodjie Pascua.
It must be mentioned, however, that “Pamana” is also presented by the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation, Inc., whose mission includes youth engagement and formation, people empowerment and, more importantly, promoting the legacy of the assassinated senator and the late President Corazon Aquino.
In his notes, Vera added: “It does not only pay tribute to Ninoy and Cory themselves, for while their lives are exemplary, admirable and inspiring as they are, their greatness can only be complete and total if the power of their legacy touches the lives of millions of their countrymen. This is how we remember our heroes.”
“Pamana” focuses on a fictional ordinary Filipino family. Matriarch Azon worked as a metro aide during the martial years of the Marcos regime and had her political awakening amid the protests after Ninoy Aquino was killed in 2003. Her granddaughter Trina, for her part, experienced a similar realization when, asked by her lola, she attended the wake of Cory Aquino in 2009.
The musical opens with a mash up of these two storylines, highlighted by the haunting simultaneous staging of the Ninoy Aquino rallies in 1983 and the rain-drenched wake of Cory Aquino in 2009. This scene is bound to unleash memories for those who were old enough to remember the outpouring of emotion triggered by these two events, more so for those who actually participated.
But as Fr. Francisco noted “Pamana” seeks to “remind our people, the youth especially,” of Ninoy Aquino’s legacy.
As such, “Pamana” melds actual historical footage into the stage action. The videos, directed by Jun Reyes, who also helmed the documentary “The Last Journey of Ninoy,” which was shown on ABS-CBN in 2009, features select quotes from the Aquino couple, as well as the mass grief that erupted after they died. The video not only locates the staged drama within a historical timeframe, it also provides irrefutable evidence of how Ninoy and Cory Aquino have touched the lives of many Filipinos.
The story of the Aquinos is filtered by how they have affected the musical's lead characters. Azon (de Guzman) even finds the symbolism between her job as a street sweeper to the “clean-up” of what was happening during the martial law years. There was mention of the memorable “noise barrage” during the 1978 election campaign and staged as a dance, “Stomp”-style.
Her granddaughter Trina (Kakki Teodoro), on the other hand, becomes the stand in for the renewed idealism that blossomed after the death of Cory Aquino.
But the playwright Vera also included another important character: Azon’s son and Trina’s father, Edgar (played by Pangan), who decided to leave the country to work overseas out of his disillusionment with the Philippine government. For Edgar, who as a teenager accompanied his mother to the 1986 People Power revolution, the Philippines has become hopeless, which was explained in a biting drinking song, while videos of former Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo played in the background.
Pangan’s strong stage presence and effortless vocals amplified Edgar’s political views perhaps more than what was originally intended but it does help in grounding “Pamana” from its idealistic perch and provide an alternative view.
Moreover, Vera’s ending doesn’t provide an easy compromise for father and daughter – in essence, they agreed to disagree but also vowed not to let this intrude on their personal relationship.
Vera also wisely omitted any reference to President Benigno Aquino III. Instead, “Pamana” hopes to inculcate the message that it is up to the individual Filipinos to stand up and make a difference for the country.
In the end, “Pamana” may have fulfilled its primary aim of celebrating the legacy of Ninoy and Cory Aquino. But by being more than just a tribute, it also dramatically reminds us that there are still a lot of work to be done for Filipinos to be truly united.
"Pamana" will have performance at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on August 24 and 25 at the Meralco Theater in Pasig City.