AMSTERDAM - "Tao Po", a 4-act monologue about extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, got a standing ovation at the packed CREA theatre, next to the University of Amsterdam, last Saturday, October 5.
In the four-act monologue, actress Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change, vividly showed 4 characters - an embattled photojournalist, a grieving mother, an "empowered" vigilante/police, and an orphaned child - who are all caught in the grim world of the war on drugs.
Paner said the monologue was the result of months-long research with those involved.
"We interviewed mothers and a child, like mother Rosing and Lovely. We went with photojournalists like Raffy Lerma and Ciriaco ‘Jun’ Santiago, the nightcrawlers who cover the beat almost every night. We interviewed documentary filmmakers and priests for the story of the vigilante and the police," she said.
Paner said she has seen the audience laugh, cry and get angry while watching "Tao Po." She said she hopes more overseas Filipinos, especially those who support the war on drugs and President Rodrigo Duterte, will see the performances in Europe.
“We know that it will be a challenge… But if we will just stay in our comfort zones and talk to people like us, we’re not really catching a wider audience…If you want to be of influence, you have to be able to influence those outside of your inner circle. You really have to get out of it,” she told the audience.
Netherlands-based Filipino lawyer Florisa Almodiel said there is little or no support at all for the victims of extrajudicial killings and their families in the Philippines.
“In the Netherlands, there’s a victim impact statement. The victims are attended to. In the Philippines, it is the NGO that attends to the victims; it’s not the government providing services to the victims. The victims are even under threat,” she said.
This is the reason why mothers of EJK victims Cathy and Marissa are afraid to show their face on camera when interviewed. Despite their fear, the two continue to speak with other parents of victims to share their stories and seek justice elsewhere.
“Nakikita ko na parang walang pag-asa na makakuha ng hustisya sa Pilipinas. Kailangang marinig sa ibang bansa kaya namin ito ginagawa,” Cathy said.
(I don’t see hope in getting justice in the Philippines. Other countries must hear us. This is the reason why we’re doing this.)
The victims’ families were joined by church advocates from Rise Up for Life and for Rights (Rise-up), International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, Redemptorist Missionary and IBON Europe. Before Amsterdam, they met with members of the European Parliament working on human rights issues and parliamentarians under GUE NGL (European United Left), officials of the European Commission-European External Action Service and members of the Federal Parliament of Belgium to share first-hand accounts of the impact of the policy of war on drugs in the Philippines.
Paner said she was well aware of the opposition to her show in many parts of the country and outside. Hardcore supporters of President Duterte have called her many names on social media and even dubbed the play as "propaganda" of the left and the opposition.
“There has to be a lot of love and humility to be able to address them. I will continue doing it, risking life if need be just to put an end to it (killings) so that mothers (of the victims) like Cathy will have justice,” she added.
Many noted Dutch academics and activists were among the audience. Senior National Democratic Front of the Philippines members like Joma Sison, Luis Jalandoni and Fidel Agcaoili also watched.
Photos showing the victims and their families were also shown in an exhibit outside the theatre.
The performance in Amsterdam was brought by Juana Change Movement, Rise Up, Migrante-Europe, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines and the Linangan-Willem Gertman Art and Culture Network. It was written by Maynard Manansala and directed by Ed Lacson, Jr.
‘Tao Po’ in Europe started in Geneva and will also be shown in Rome (Oct. 10), Vienna (Oct. 12), London (Oct. 16) and Berlin (Oct. 19).