The city of Baguio may seem a Johnny come lately in being the host and venue for the staging of the acclaimed dramatic monologues Tao Po that addresses the growing violation of human rights in the country.But it is pulling out the stops in mounting the four-character monologue on Feb. 8 at 4 p.m. at the University of the Cordilleras (UC) Auditorium on Gov. Pack Road, Baguio.
Lead organization in this endeavor is Hudyat: Artists for Human Dignity followed by the UC, DAKILA, Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera, Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), Baguio Writers Group and BenCab Museum.
Edna Aquino, project coordinator of Hudyat: Artists for Human Dignity (hudyat is a Filipino word that means “warning” or “signal”), recalled how a network of individual artists mounted the first exhibit on extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in March 2017 at the Far Eastern University followed by another photo exhibit, this time by photojournalists at Robinson’s Galleria in November 2017.
In June 2018, the CHR invited Hudyat to bid for a grant from the Spanish government to promote human rights (HR) in the Philippines on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Aquino called the latter “the mother document on human rights after World War II.”
Since Hudyat still had no legal entity then, it partnered with DAKILA, an organization of young artists and cultural workers primarily focused on films on human rights. Hudyat won the grant to spearhead an HR campaign in Luzon, particularly Baguio, and the National Capital Region. DAKILA is taking care of the campaign in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Mae Paner, actor and director, was deeply moved by the exhibit at FEU. She brought her production team to conceive of a show on the HR situation. The result is Tao Po.
Aquino, who is also a founding member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, said, “Mae is exposed to issues. She’s an activist, too. I’ve followed her political growth as an activist. Magaan siya kasama, walang yabang (She is easy to get along with, she’s not arrogant). She has a very generous spirit and has taken risks like selling her car to produce Tao Po. She appreciates the power of art in [helping bring about] social change.”
Since then, Aquino has called herself “an advocate of Tao Po and its importance in bringing theater into the pool of artistic expressions on EJKs. These expressions are dominated by visuals, especially photos that are powerful.”
She described Tao Po as an easy-to-mount production tied together by four characters, all played by Paner: a photojournalist, a widowed wife-mother, a law enforcer and an orphaned child.”
Written by Maynard Manansala and directed by Ed Lacson Jr., TaoPo, according to the play’s brief, “is a play of words… a human experience. It hopes to knock into people’s hearts and ask the hard question: is there humanity left within us? It endeavors to plant the seeds of empathy to a wider audience at the very least. At most, it hopes to disturb and knock some consciousness into the greater public and ultimately compel them into action.”
The play looks at the EJKs and their surviving families, , according to the brief again,“as human beings—realpeople with families, friends, loved ones and a life—whose stories yearn to be told even as their families cry out for justice. These narratives hope to find a platform, the message yearn to be delivered. Amidst President Duterte’s sustained popularity and the conditional public support for the drug war, there awaits a silver lining: the courage of grieving families seeking justice, groups who lend their voices for human rights, concerned citizens who voice their disapproval over the bloodshed, and sectors who defy the popular winds of silence and impunity.”
UC President Ray Dean Salvosa was also among those touched by the FEU exhibit and wanted so much for the organizers to bring up the show to Baguio. But there were logistical problems, including freighting of and insurance for the artworks.
Aquino assured Salvosa, “We will come back when we are ready.” And ready they are with Tao Po.
The performance of Tao Po and the talkback-panel discussion that follows are open to the public.