Monique Wilson portrayed Apolinario Mabini; the alternate was another woman, Hazel Maranan. What is going on? Maia Dapul was Gen. Arthur MacArthr and Sigrid Balbas, Gen. James Franklin Bell. The “transgender” casting discomfited me, but since I am an admirer of librettist Nicanor G. Tiongson and director Chris B. Millado, I felt it was worth enduring Friday night traffic to see “Mabining Mandirigma” at the Tanghalang Pilipino of the Cultural Center. It was a rerun of the Mabini steampunk presented in 2015.
Mr. Tiongson wrote the play for one simple reason, that Apolinario Mabini is the hero par excellence whom we sorely need today. In two hours and with 10 scenes our librettist covered the crucial period between the Declaration of Independence on 12 June 1898 and Mabini’s demise in Nagtahan on 13 May 1903. There were flashbacks of his boyhood in Tanauan in 1881 and nightmares steeped with symbols about the Cuerpo de Compromisarios, La Solidaridad, patriots executed in Bagumbayan, and the surrender of Aguinaldo, parodying scenes from Pedro Paterno’s pro-American play, “Dreamed Alliance.”
The pivotal denouements were there: Mabini advised Aguinaldo not to declare war but to use international diplomacy and convene a Congress with delegates (whether elected or appointed) to represent the people. Mabini warned Aguinaldo about the ilustrado’s offer of a 20-million-peso loan to fund the war against the USA, administered through a bank under their control, with a 6 percent yearly interest, and in case of default, the republic would surrender its assets. Vehemently, Mabini insisted that in times of war, the president must be more powerful than Congress. When the American conquerors offered autonomy in exchange for peace, Mabini told Aquinaldo that if he accepted, he would be betraying the revolution and those who died for it and that he would be considered a traitor.
Mabini was not only President Aguinaldo’s closest adviser; he was also prime minister and secretary of foreign affairs. In one of the scenes, Mabini told President E. Aguinaldo that his judgment should not clouded by clannish and regionalistic consideration but the Caviteño could never muster enough resolve to discipline and punish his townmates. Mabini would remind him that as president of a republic, he is the head of a country and not just of a small province. Aguinaldo appointed Gen. Antonio Luna as commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, yet he suspected the latter of plotting against him. In the play Mabini tries to dispel Aguinaldo’s insecurity by saying that Luna, the disciplinarian, is not popular, so a coup by him was far-fetched. As we know, Luna and his aides were hacked to death.
Mr. Nic Tiongson is a consummate researcher, which makes him a historian, not just a chronicler.
The theater was packed and I was happily sandwiched between Rio Almario (National Artist) and Ana Labrador (assistant director of the National Museum) who gave me her extra ticket. We were a very expressive and passionate audience,especially at the Epilogue when the principal actors and the ensemble stepped out of their roles and faced us, the audience.
We are all political descendants of Apolinario Mabini! We cheered and clapped wildly as the cast blared political hash tags about national sovereignty, corruption, authoritarianism, unjust killings, political dynasties, and other sociopolitical ills which date back to Mabini’s days. That was probably how the audience behaved at the Teatro Liberted while watching anti-American zarzuelas by Gabriel Beato Franciso and Aurelio Tolentino.
We should serve our country and love it above everything else, just like Apolinarioi Mabini.