Heights Ateneo — The Official Literary and Artistic Publication and Organization of the Ateneo de Manila University
‘Alab’ Virtual Folio Launch Highlights Grievances as a Radical Call to Action
Tamia Reodica, Andrea Tibayan | Jun 1, 2021
Heights Ateneo released the Second Regular Folio of A.Y. 2020-2021 entitled ‘Alab’ on May 20-21, 2021. With the theme of grievances, the folio was a response to its preceding themeless folio that reflected collective grief. Editor-in-Chief Zofia Agama says that as grievances are “grief embodied, concretized, fleshed, and incited,” they are a way of moving forward. With this, Alab revolves around the question: at a time of perpetual unrest and historical injustice, how are grievances an imperative response, an assent to solidarity, and a call to action in times of upheaval?
The first day of Alab began with messages from members of Heights’ 68th Editorial Board, talking about the folio’s theme and how it came about, how it is visually expressed on the cover, as well as the newly-revamped Heights website and the organization’s adjustment to the online setting. The Contemporary A cappella Singers Association (CASA) then performed a short intermission, singing renditions of Eraserheads’ Huwag Kang Matakot and Ben&Ben’s Araw-Araw.
Paolo Tiausas, the first contributor for the program, read his piece entitled, “Where Are You From?” He explains the ways poetry and expressing grievances are “eerily similar”, and that poetry starts from the complex emotional core.
Tiausas’ piece was derived from a personal experience of witnessing a foreigner argue with the staff of a restaurant he happened to be in, highlighting that this seemingly ordinary encounter actually magnifies issues of scale, location, and privilege. On poetry and grievances, Tiausas said, “Mahalagang tingnan ang tula bilang lunsaran ng pagharap sa katotohanan. Ganoon din naman ang hinaing—pagharap sa katotohanan.”
The second featured contributor, Andrea Posadas, discussed her piece, “How-To: Draw Strength from Hate.” As a poem that captures the connection between her personal dilemmas and today’s political climate, it takes a spin on how grievances are commonly perceived as something people are prepared to handle. In her piece, she explores the ways to manage hatred—especially for those facing it head-on for the first time.
Posadas then enumerates outlets of hate and how one can be strengthened upon learning how to manage such a strong emotion. "Any grievances we have, whether big or small, can turn into something progressive—something that can be of great help in the future,” she concluded.
Lastly, Lars Salamante shared his photo series, “Dugo ang Unang Kulay ng Bahaghari'”, which follows the colors of the pride flag seen in mass mobilisations across the Philippines. Explaining that his photos capture the streets as a site of struggle for the LGBTQ+ community, his work shows various contrasts of time, demography, and geography. The juxtaposition of his photos attempts to tell the journey of the LGBTQ+ movement then, now, and in the future.
“So many queer narratives are tinged with sorrow and violence. I would like to use these photos to document a period of celebration, of transition. A celebration for the possibility of affirmative change,” Salamante shared. He also explained that his work borrows the literary concept “carnivalesque”—a destabilisation of structures. Pride as a protest itself observes this kind of subversion through humour and chaos, and through documenting this, he tells queer stories in a more celebratory light.
The second day of the folio launch showcased the works of Kevin Castro’s photo series entitled “Ipinagpapaliban Muna Ang Pakikibaka”, an excerpt of Emilio Guballa’s five-part play “The Echoist”, and Salamante’s George Orwell-inspired play “2039”.
Castro admitted that “Ipinagpapaliban Muna Ang Pakikibaka” stems from a personal experience wherein he was not given permission by his mother to attend a protest. Drawing visual symbolism from the lighting of each picture, the photo series aims to portray the progression of one’s ability to act on injustices when material conditions allow them to, resulting in a brighter situation.
“In the space we create for ourselves to just breathe and wait until we can do something, we are in a better position, when our material conditions are just right for us to act on our wills, and things do become brighter. You won’t be able to say, “oh yeah I fought for free speech, I fought against the Terror Law,”you won’t be able to say any of that and that’s okay,” Castro said.
For Castro, social issues will always exist in the Philippines , but what matters more is whether a person is willing to act upon such problems. “[T]here will always be something you can do at some point or the other, and whether or not you can do something about it right now is not the question, it’s whether you want to or whether you will. [...] Just do what you can,” he said.
Meanwhile, Guballa’s excerpt of “The Echoist” shows the first part of the play where he believes the folio’s theme of grievances fit the most. The five-part play follows the life of a male dominatrix and how his experiences from childhood to adulthood have shaped the person he chooses to become.
Guballa believes the play possesses fantastical elements that show the cycle of abuse and trauma in one’s life. In “The Echoist”, the main character Dom continues this cycle by choosing to consensually inflict pain on others, which is where Guballa believes grievances come into play.
“I think grievances are exactly why he’s become the person that he is. They’re the source behind all of his actions. [...] What I want the audience to take away is to be aware of how trauma, grievances, and relationships that have gone wrong motivate who we are, [and] how much of it is our compensating for trauma, pain, [and] grievances that we’ve gone through in the past.” Guballa shared.
Drawing from George Orwell’s famous novel 1984, Salamante’s play “2039” sets the Philippines in a dystopian future where the country becomes a province of China. Contextualized in the country’s history and current situation, “2039” is Salamante’s science-fiction take on protest literature.
A running play in Tanghalang Ateneo, “2039” highlights the ills of the Philippines and foresees its future. Salamante admitted his qualms about writing the play in fear of red-tagging allegations and the current political climate.
“Nung pinitch ko itong proyekto sa mga curators ng TA, may halo ring pangamba dahil isinulat ko itong dula noong Agosto, noong isang taon noong kakapasinaya pa lang ng Anti-Terror Act noong hulyo, lagi akong may pasubali na sa bawat desisyon na aking tatahakin, [kung] idadagdag ko ba ‘tong detalyeng ito kasi natatakot ako sa sarili ko na baka sabihin na komunista ako o ma-red-tag ako dahil nagmumutawi sa dula ang mga hinaing [ng masa],” he told the audience.
Salamante also believes that he wrote his play as a mirror of the country’s current situation for those who remain ignorant and unaware of society’s problems: “Gusto ko i-document ‘yung mga panlalapastangan na nangyayari sa kasalukuyang panahon. Hindi pa sana huli ang lahat pero kahit saang viewpoint na kapag lumingon ka sa kasaysayan at di ka nagalit, di ka natuto. [...] Minarapat ko talagang gawin na target audience ‘yung mga taong hindi pa malay. Nag-aalab ‘yung isyu sa lipunan, ‘yung mga taong patuloy pa ring bulag sa kasalukuyang admin kasi ganun din si Winston, naging tupa siya na sumunod na lang sa herd dahil ito ang sinabi ng makapangyarihan.”
Technology plays a big role in the published works of the folio. Both Guballa and Salamante shared the same sentiments of working around their craft in the context of the online setup, where many of their plays are being held.
“Isang napakahalagang aspeto ng akda ng panitikang ito ay gumawa ako ng sarili kong moniker sa genre na ito, tinawag ko siyang e-dula, kasi hindi siya tinanghal sa entablado, at hindi mo rin siya matuturing na pelikula,” Salamante said.
“It’s become very difficult to do theatre as it's done onsite. What are some cinematic things we can do in the story? How can we make this easy for everyone? We wrote with these strict limitations in mind,” Guballa echoed.
Inherently woven in the works of this folio is how grievances are channeled into a disruption and interrogation of our current socio-political climate. The way Salamante’s play is a dedication to the masses’ struggles in as much as Posadas’ poem reconciles with her personal dilemmas, the contributions are not merely pieces of art and literature to be read and appreciated—they also provide poignant messages that incite audiences to open their eyes and act upon that awakening. The theme of ‘Alab’ invites readers to ignite and mobilize their grievances in the same way.
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