VLF 2020: Giving a voice to the Lumad community

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A YOUNG student named Patrick got into trouble at his new school. Scared that he might face a sanction, he hides inside a dilapidated storage room. Titser Kit finds him there and helps him with the situation he is facing.

Jobert Landeza’s Titser Kit is part of this year’s lineup of one-act plays featured in the 16th edition of Virgin Labfest titled VLF 2020 KAPIT: Lab in the Time of Covid (A Virtual Labfest Lockdown Edition).

Mr. Landeza was inspired by the story of a young boy of the Lumad community during one of his visits at the Bakwit (a colloquial term for “evacuee”) School for Lumad children at the University of the Philippines, Diliman late last year.

Nakausap ko yung mga bakwit students doon. Pag-uwi ko ng Bicol, baon ko yung kwento [dahil] haunting siya sa pakiramdam. Sa murang edad, may mga kwento silang kakaiba, and at the same time, disturbing para sa atin (I talked to bakwit students there. When I returned home to Bicol, I carried their haunting stories with me. At a young age, they had unique stories [which are], at the same time, disturbing for us,” Mr. Landeza told BusinessWorld in a Zoom interview on May 11.

In October 2019, all 55 Lumad schools operated by the Salugpongan Ta’Tanu Igkanogon Community Learning Center, Inc. (STTICLCI) were ordered to shut down by the Department of Education in Davao.

Since they were taught to read, write, and count, Lumads have been accused of being members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

Lumad IPs continue to be forcibly evacuated from their residences due to conflict and military operations in their communities.

Mr. Landeza hopes that his play helps widen the discourse on the issue of the closure of Lumad schools in Mindanao and the Lumad students’ right to education.

“Kailangan marinig ng mga tao [ang istorya], especially those in the city, para maintindihan nila ang pinaglalaban ng mga Lumad at kung bakit nandito sila [in Manila] (The people need to hear the story, especially those in the city, so that they understand what the Lumad community is fighting for and why they are here [in Manila],” Mr. Landeza said.

The production team was scheduled to interview students at the Bakwit School for Lumad children at the University of the Philippines, Diliman when the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was imposed in Metro Manila.

However, they kept in touch with Rius Valle, spokesperson of Save Our Schools Network, a network of child-focused NGOs and church-based groups that advocate for children’s right to education. Mr. Valle, who is working closely with the Bawkit School in UP, Diliman, served as the play’s production consultant.

“When we presented the script to him, nagbalik siya ng (he returned) pages of notes. Maraming nabasag na Manila-centric [ideas] sa pagkakasulat ng play (There were many Manila-centric ideas which were broken in the writing of the play),” said first-time VLF director Adrienne Vergara who was previously a VLF actor and stage manager. She added that Mr. Valle’s notes helped in clearing assumptions and judgements on Lumad culture and values.

Sana sa pamamagitan ng Titser Kit, may makapanood at may makatulong sa sitwasyon nila (Through Titser Kit, we hope that there are those who get to watch and help their situation),” Mr. Landeza said. “Misyon din ng grupo na makakuha ng suporta hindi lang sa Bakwit School sa UP, kundi sa mga bakwit school sa buong bansa na lumalaban para sa edukasyon para sa ating mga kapatid na Lumad (It is also the group’s mission to gain support not only for the Bakwit School in UP, but also for bakwit schools around the country who fight for the right to education of our brother Lumads).”

“[I think] sa buong history ng VLF, ngayon lang nakapagsulat ng kwento about the Lumads.” Ms. Vergara said. “Kailangan mas maraming makarinig.” (I think that in the whole history of the VLF, this is the first time that a story about the Lumads was written. More people have to hear it.)

The one-act play, like all of the plays in this year’s edition of the Virgin Labfest, will be live-streamed online thanks to the restrictions on live performances due to the online COVID-19 pandemic.

The play features JM Salvado as Patrick, while Io Balanon takes the role of Titser Kit.

The production team is made up of Joyce Garcia (video/animation), TJ Ramos (sound design), with additional original music by Roldan Lozano and the Lumad Bakwit School, Roman Cruz (lighting design), Wika Nadera (poster design); and Rio Tanchuling (stage manager). Lumad Bakwit School students Katkat and Mech are the Obu Manuvu translators.

Titser Kit will stream live on June 11, 3 p.m., and June 27, 2 p.m..

Aside from the revisited plays and staged readings, viewers can also catch the VLF Playwright’s Fair online with this year’s playwrights on June 11-14, 17-20, 25-27 at 8 p.m. Meanwhile, the Virgin Labfest 2020 Writing Fellowship Program will culminate in an online staged reading of the fellows’ works on June 28 at 2 and 5 p.m.

For more details and show schedules, visit https://www.facebook.com/culturalcenterofthephilippines/ and https://www.facebook.com/thevirginlabfest/. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman