Jun 22, 2008

Maligayang Bati, Pepe

I just came from the marathon annual tribute to the National Hero at Luneta Park initiated by the Rizalistas. I was introduced to the group by Kidlat Tahimik who has been helping them out with the logistics of their yearly ritual. Last year, the main event was the human flag – hundreds of people in color-coded clothes forming the Philippine flag. This year, they decided to do almost the same thing, except this time they would be forming the Philippine map. I was asked to choreograph the hundreds of people into position.

I brought local photographer, Jojo Lamaria with me to help me out. At the Luneta the day before at noon, the group has erected a hut in the middle of the grounds that served as the headquarters, next to it they have already outlined the 35 x 55-meter Philippine map with lime dust and marked the different islands with small red, yellow and blue flags. We met with the 12 members of the group who would be helping us as assistant stage managers the next morning, along with Reyna Yolanda, the group’s current leader.

The plan was simple: I divided the whole area into twelve, assigning a segment to each of the assistant stage managers. We were to meet the hundreds of people who would fill up the map’s outline only on the day itself, but at least each of the twelve would only have to focus on a small specific area. Jojo and I left after the meeting to return later that night.

After deciding that being there a full 12 hours before the event won’t do any good, we went back to Luneta just after midnight. I have scheduled a production meeting at 4am with the group for last minute instructions, so we had a few hours to spare to get to know the Rizalistas.

A mass was about to start when we got there, at around 3AM, the Quirino Grandstand were filled with people in white – Reyna Auggusta was at the podium calling on all members to get ready for the mass. Moments later, a Babaylan entered and the mass began. The altar was set against a flag bearing the words, Tres Personas, Solo Dios. Across that on the wall of the altar are portraits of Rizal with different inscriptions at the bottom telling the hero’s various vocations: artist, writer, scientist, businessman, etc. the Babaylan ended the mass by blessing the crowd and performances followed.

One caught my attention: on one side of the stage were three singers: I was moving around a lot so I couldn’t hear every single word but they seemed to be singing the history and the vision of the group. On stage were dancers who moved in subtle movements to the rhythm not unlike that of the moro-moro. The performance lasted for I believe more than ten minutes and I was quite amazed by the ease in which the dancers executed their movements and the singers narrated their story – one wouldn’t fail to notice how much they have internalized the words and the music.

By sun up the group proceeded to the monument for the wreath laying ceremony. Problem: the guards of the Rizal monument refused to let them in for they “didn’t have a permit.” This is the only group, as far as I know, who seriously celebrates the birth of our national hero and honors him on the day of his birth and they wouldn’t let them in. A bureaucracy problem and burueacrat shows up. Bayani Fernando to the rescue, he makes a phone call and the group was finally allowed to honor Rizal.

I had my twelve assistants in position, and though the organizers allotted a couple of hours for us to finish forming the map, leading a group of indigenous peoples from various parts of the country, two ati-atihan groups, a marching band, members of the Rizalistas, into position took only about half an hour. And there it was: the first human map of the Philippines .

Just as the clouds partly covered the morning sun, from behind the grandstand a helicopter appeared and as it flew over the map, flower petals were dropped and the more than one thousand people that fromed the map raised their red, blue and yellow flags in the air in celebration.

The crowd dispersed towards the grandstand for the politicians’ speeches and closing ceremonies, and just as the last few souls left the flag, the clouds slowly moved to reveal the sun, and the rays that shone on the empty map gave me goosebumps, and then this:

A street child stood in the middle of the empty flag, and his eyes seemed to be asking: Now what?

For photos of the event, visit my site at www.altomonte.multiply.com.

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