Managing Editor

In her opening monologue, an old woman tells us of the only lesson life has taught her: “Huwag kang lalayo nang malayung‑malayo at huwag kang lalapit nang malapit na malapit.”

The same line is repeated by different characters in different scenes all throughout Rogelio Braga’s play, Mas Mabigat ang Liwanag sa Kalungkutan. As they speak of keeping an indefinite but necessary distance, Braga’s characters speak of a distance in space or time, a distance between thinking and feeling.

But above all else, Liwanag reveals to its audience a distance that is both indefinite and necessary, a distance that is real but often overlooked or ignored in exchange for an illusion of a nationalist whole. This is the distance between the Filipino and the Moro—a distance that is both spatial and historical, a distance that is relative to one’s willingness to move towards the other.

A struggle for self-determination

Braga’s two‑act play spans decades—if not centuries—as it tells the story of every Bangsamoro’s struggle. “Sabihin mo ang mga pangalan nila at kilala ko sila,” the old woman says. “Lahat sila tao, o nakipaglaban para maging tao; para maging Muslim at ituring na tao.

The play strikes at the heart of both Filipino and the Moro. In scenes where the Moro speaks of his struggles in a country that has a Filipino majority, the play forces the Filipino to confront the many insidious ways they have treated as lesser beings while it forces the Moro to remember the many ways they have had to fight for rights that are theirs to begin with—the right to life, the right to practice a religion, the right to self‑determination.

But in telling the story of a people’s struggle, there is an effortlessness in the way Liwanag tells the story.

Constant change

Under the direction of award‑winning thespian Manuel Mesina III, the play constantly weaves through time and space as the actors live out multiple, overlapping lives onstage. Language is also constantly in a state of flux as actors switch from Tagalog to Maguindanaon throughout the play.

In a play that insists on using a Moro language, the absence of translations does not mean an absence of experience. Context plays a big part in understanding the parts where words fail the viewer, especially in a heavily accented language like Maguindanaon where the words don’t sound exactly the same way they look on the page.

But perhaps more than the change in time and place and language, it is the change in perception and feeling that the play is most successful. The audience leaves the theater with their views of the Moro challenged—if not changed—especially those who entered the theater with an image of the Moro that is based merely on news of conflict in the South and on the prejudice that persists in the rest of the Philippines.

The cycle of confict

Most of the play is based on the time of former president Joseph Estrada’s all‑out war, a war that reared the ugliest of its faces as the president hosted a party and brought in lechon baboy and beer—both haram or forbidden in the practice of Islam—inside the hallowed grounds of a mosque in Camp Abubakar.

Camp Abubakar is the former stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), razed to the ground by a war driven by Estrada’s unwillingness to engage in peace negotiations with Moro revolutionaries. It is this same all‑out war mindset in approaching the MILF that Estrada repeatedly echoed after the events in Mamasapano last 2015.

But the lines of the characters in the play speak of a reality that is beyond Camp Abubakar and Estrada’s term. In one scene, for example, a woman says “walang kapayapaan hanggang hindi ko naririnig ang adhan (Islamic call to prayer).”

In the early days of the ongoing war in Marawi, the sound of the adhan was nowhere to be heard when this year’s Ramadhan began in May.

It was the first time that silence greeted Maranaos on the first day of Ramadhan.

In a play that runs for two hours, the Filipino is seemingly a minority, represented only by one character who is a student in the Philippines’ national university. Onstage he is surrounded by Moro characters who live out the many ways the Bangsamoro continues to struggle for self‑determination.

But in a theater filled with an audience that is mostly Filipino, the status quo remains the same. Inside the theater located in a city near the Philippines’ capital, the Moro is minority in the same way that they are a minority in this country.

The difference is that in seeing this play about the history of “Filipino Muslims,” the Filipino has no choice but to watch and listen. The difference is that in this theater in Metro Manila, the sometimes sharp but honest voice of the Moro cuts clearly through the dark and the silence, every word heavy with their people’s hopes and aspirations that are still waiting to be fulfilled.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Office for Bangsamoro Youth Affairs (OBYA‑ARMM), in coordination with the UP Repertory Company and Ang Teatro Ng Timog Silangang Asya, hopes to stage the play in schools, universities, and other venues across the country. This is part of the agency’s efforts to highlight the effect of conflict on the lives of Bangsamoro youth and to help people understand the struggle of the Bangsamoro people for self‑determination.

For inquiries, message the OBYA‑ARMM via its Facebook page.