Thursday, October 29, 2009

Juan Tama, virgin voter

That’s Tama (right/correct) indeed, we didn’t miss out on the letter d. But before that d disappeared, there is Juan Tamad of Philippine fable, the stereotypical lazy, lethargic Filipino who just waits for the proverbial guava to fall from the tree and into his mouth.

Once again, Juan Tamad takes center stage on a circa 2010 life, but this time he metamorphoses into Juan Tama. And indeed, it takes a village, so to speak, to transform him from obduracy into advocacy.
“Si Juan Tamad, ang Diyablo at ang Limang Milyong Boto” (directed by Phil M. Noble), the latest offering of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), is the thing to watch especially by first-time voters, or virgin voters, as PETA calls them.

Set in the imaginary island of Isla Filiminimon, the musical revolves around Juan Tamad (nicknamed JT), the son of two overseas Filipino workers toiling in Isla Agimat. Juan’s parents open the story and introduce their son who grew up with his grandmother but who turns out to be a lazy, apathetic 21-year-old. (Juan is played by Marvin Wilbur T. Ong and Victor B. Robinson III.)

Here’s Juan Tamad’s opening song. Bakit ka ba magbabanat ng buto/Para ba sa kapiranggot na sahod mo?/Gigising araw-araw na may baong pag-asa/Sa pag-uwi alikabok lang ang ipon mo./Bakit ka pa mangangahas mangarap/Gayong hindi naman matutupad/Bakit mo pa sinusubukang umunlad/Mas pulubi pa sa iyo ang Bayan mong sawim-palad…

Juan’s only desire is to join his parents in Isla Agimat but they are against the unending cycle of migrating Filiminis. Juan is upset but being tamad, he easily accepts his fate.

With the presidential elections so close, Lola Anitan pushes her apo to register and vote for a new Pinunong Bayan. Though hesitant, Juan registers. Suddenly a whole new world is flung open before him. False promises, manipulative moves by candidates are among the negatives that Juan encounters. Still Juan holds on to his hope that with a victorious ideal candidate, things could change. He is in for disappointment.

Weaving in and out of the scenes is Diyablo/Storyteller (Vincent de Jesus who wrote the play including the music and lyrics) plus a caboodle of colorful characters that pull JT in all directions. The Diyablo/Storyteller double character is, to me, the one that holds the entire thing together. I thought De Jesus was just so flawless and fantastic, brimming with energy in his acting and singing. Wow talaga. (Veteran stage actor Robert Seña also plays Diyablo/Storyteller for the second cast.)

Diyablo sings: Ay eto na! At sa ngalan ng demokrasya/Tatlong buwan buong bayan maging perya!/Kanya-kanyang arangkada at diskarte/Upang makuha ang tiwala ng botante/Ligawan ang mga tao na parang syota/Yakapin mo at kindatan nang maniwala.

Despite JT’s disappointment (his candidate loses), his grandma urges him to continue to be vigilant so that the winning candidate would do his job well.

JT becomes involved in community projects and does his part in effecting change, starting with himself. He realizes that good governance is not dependent on one leader but on the vigilant efforts of every Filimini who must make sure that the elected officials’ promises are fulfilled and that they are accountable to their constituents.

JT is no longer Juan Tamad. He is transformed into Juan Tama. He shows that dramatic change can come about in one’s character. And anybody can experience the same given the right stimuli and inspiration.

I thought the acting was superb and the energy electric. The musical could sound quite pedantic in some parts but the music, choreography, costumes, stage design, lighting and all more than make you forget the preachiness. The lyrics are very now. Bukod sa fiesta at undas, Mahal na Araw at Pasko/Ngayon ang araw na kailangang magsilabas lahat tayo/Halina at magtungo sa ating presinto/Ihayag ang saloobin tayo’t bumoto.
PETA president CB Garrucho says: “There are 5 million first-time youth voters that must be convinced first to register, and then to actively participate in governance. These 5 million combined with the 9 million already registered youth voters could definitely create the swing vote in choosing decent leaders for our country.”

PETA, Garrucho adds, has a voter’s education campaign dubbed “Casting Call: The Virgin Voter’s Campaign ‘I Want My Vote to Count.’” This goes with Bagong Bilang, a workshop by PETA’s youth arm for schools that would engage students in discussing citizens’ participation in elections.

The hilarious musical play “Juan Tamad” is at the heart of the whole campaign.

Playwright and lyricist De Jesus (Diyablo/Storyteller) himself confesses: “I am 41 years old and I am still a virgin. A virgin voter, that is. I grew up during martial law where no election happened from 1972 to 1981. When I turned 18 I wasn’t able to vote because my name was mysteriously struck out from the voter’s list. After People Power, I worked abroad for seven years and when I came back home I’ve completely lost the appetite to vote .…The massive cheating, having the same old trapo candidates … I found the whole process pointless .… But when this Voter’s Education production was assigned to me, I had a change of heart.”

“Juan Tamad” is available for touring from now till January. It will run again at the PETA Center in Quezon City from February till March. Interested schools, institutions and communities—and sponsors most especially—may contact Julie Anne Bautista at 0916-5805153 or 4100822.

There is hope for Isla Filiminimon and for Inang Pilipinas. As the song at the end of the musical goes: Ganyan ang batas ng kalikasan/Matutumbasan ang bawat kabutihan/Hanggang isa ay maging dalawa/Ang dalawa’y dadami pa/Hanggang maging daan at libu-libong munting alon.