For some, it takes the mere ringing of a mobile phone to disrupt a stage performance; for others, it takes Irene Marcos-Araneta.
At Friday night’s opening of the play The House of Bernarda Alba in U.P. Diliman’s Palma Hall, a group of university students staged a flash protest against the presence of the Marcos daughter in the audience.
The group of about 30 student activists identified themselves as members of Anakbayan UP Diliman and STAND UP or Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP. They echoed a familiar chant from many an anti-Marcos protest in the past: "Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta!" They were against Irene, the third child of the late dictator Ferdinand, stepping on campus grounds.
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The protesters made their presence felt during the play’s 10-minute intermission. They assembled at Palma Hall’s ground floor facing the bust of National Hero Jose Rizal before making their way to the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater lobby on the second floor. Here, the students continued chanting, with red flags and placards in their hands: “Never again to Martial Law! Singilin, pagbayarin, inutang na dugo ng pasistang rehimen!”
When a stagehand started ringing the bell that signaled the last two minutes before the play resumed, Irene was seen rushing to enter the theater with her companions. The protest, however, continued on at the lobby, the students’ voices faintly creeping into the theater. This was when the play’s director and theater stalwart Alexander Cortez faced the group of young activists. Very diplomatically, Cortez pleaded to the students to “respect the theater,” later adding that “UP is a democratic society.”
After hearing out the theater veteran’s plea, one of the students told Cortez that what his group was fighting for goes beyond the issues of the theater. “Hindi po kami pumapayag sa kawalang hustisya at di pag-amin ng mga Marcoses sa kanilang nagawa laban sa sambayanang Pilipino," he said. “Hanggang ngayon wala pa ring resulta sa mga kaso ng desaparecidos, mga estudyante ng UP na hindi pa rin nakikita ang mga katawan. Dito mismo sa UP, lumalala ang banta sa pagpasok ng AFP at PNP sa mga campuses.”
In a later interview with this writer, the student who spoke to Cortez (he refused to give his full name) said he and his group will wait for the play to end so they can resume their protest. Inside the theater, the chants continued to be heard, though very faintly.
When the play ended and audience members started spilling out into the lobby for selfies and refreshments, the activists regrouped and continued their protest. There was, however, no sight of Irene Marcos coming out of the theater. Some people from the crowd guessed she may have used a different exit. After half an hour, when it was just the actors and crew who filled up the lobby, lining up for their post-performance dinner, the protesters moved to the building’s ground floor, sensing Irene might have already left the building. After a few minutes, the Marcos daughter came out of the theater surrounded by a group of companions including members of the production staff. Production designer Gino Gonzales was one of those accompanying Irene as she made her way down the stairs. The chanting resumed and the protesters followed the Marcos daughter to her car.
After Irene’s vehicle had left, the activists assembled in front of Palma Hall. There were a few short informal speeches from their leaders inviting everyone to join another protest rally on September 21, the 47th anniversary of Martial Law. At around 9:30 PM, a red car that looked like a police mobile patrol with the bold letters "Security" on its exterior parked in front of Palma Hall. The protesters then chanted for one last time. On the second floor, however, Cortez and his production crew, together with their guests, wrapped up their dinner.
Just last April, students from the Ateneo de Manila University also protested the presence of Irene on campus premises. Irene was invited to attend an art opening by Yael Buencamino who, following the protest, resigned from her post as Director of Arete, Ateneo’s creative hub. Buencamino is the daughter of the writer Elvira Araneta who is the sister of Irene’s husband Greggy.
The House of Bernarda Alba is the final masterpiece of Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet and playwright. It is about a widow who keeps her six daughters from having relationships with men. Lorca finished writing it in two months before the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. At 38, the dramatist was jailed in Granada for his political beliefs and was shot to death outside his cell on August 18, 1936. For the longest time, it was believed members of the right-wing militia were his assassins but in 2015, a new inquiry proved it was the death squads of dictator Francisco Franco who were behind the murder. Lorca's remains were dumped in a mass grave and was never found.
Photographs and video by Totel de Jesus