By Ricardo J. S. Caluen
PATAC's maiden show last December 8 went off on a good start, attracting a capacity crowd at the OISE Auditorium on Bloor St. West . What is interesting to note about the audience-aside from the fact of two NDP politicians in attendance (MP Peggy Nash and MPP Cheri DiNovo, both of High-Park Parkdale)-is that many came as families. Might as well. After all, the concert aimed to raise funds to benefit families, particularly the children, whose lives had been shattered by the disappearance of, or death in most instances, of family members believed to be victims of human rights abuses in the Philippines .
The ambience at the reception lobby seemed to set the tone of the evening's offering. Francesca “Ching” Esguerra's works adorned the walls, betraying hints of the social-realism bent of the budding artist whose medical condition (she's wheelchair-bound) did not deter her from participating in the historic production. On another side was a photo exhibit on children, the handiwork of Alex Felipe, budding political scientist-turned-photographer. Some receptionists were garbed in traditional Bontoc dress and accessories, clearly comprovincianos of the slain Jocelyn Dulnuan whose cause is among those being fought for by the organizers.
Of course, milling about in the lobby were well-known community activists whose involvement spans decades from since the Marcos years down to the present where the stage of their struggle for justice and equality has shifted from the streets to the halls of parliament (pressing for sympathetic legislation affecting caregivers) or the courts (e.g., the Reodica and Dulnuan cases).
Back inside, and as the performances started, a PowerPoint presentation served as backdrop, the collage of pictures of dead persons, in all the gore of the various attacks their bodies sustained, a blatant reminder of what the event was all about. Quite creatively, as the camera pans out, the individual pictures are reduced to pixels shaping the image of President Arroyo, the symbolism not at all lost on the audience. Just as creative was the running concept of the show-a radio magazine format with Deejay Guapo (expertly played by PATAC Director Ramon Grajo) in control of the microphone, tucked away in his deejay's box as if a prompter in the theatre of old.
Deejay Guapo interspersed news flashes with commercials for the best empanada and hopia in town. But, with his own reading of actual news on human rights abuses in the Philippines -some victimizing children suspected of NPA affililation-one wonders who would have the appetite to eat the delicious hopia.
Thus was the stage set for “Songs of our Times”-the first major production of the Philippine Advocacy Through Arts-Canada (PATAC). Bare but for a few resting instruments and microphone stands, the minimalist stage was perfect for focusing on the musical talents and poetry of volunteer performers like veteran folksingers Levy Abad, Jr., Chito Sarabia, and Basil Guiab, or fresh talents like the wonderful trio of Eileen Valenzuela, Mikaela Valenzuela and Mithi Esguerra. Also sharing the limelight were Belinda Corpuz (a very promising young artist, indeed) and Adolfo Reodica, singing in tribute to his older cousin, the late Jeffrey Reodica. The soft-spoken former academic Ricky Esguerra teamed up with Levy Abad to form BANDANA (Bond of Artists for Nationalism and Democracy-North America), the erstwhile “Panday Singing”. TNT (Tibok ng Tibak or Activists' Beat), composed of Marco Luciano, Cynthia Palmaria, and belatedly Hennessy Cruz, took up the cause of immigrants and those tago-ng-tago through their music.
Back in my university days in Manila , I was the designated boarding house “crier”. Upon me was entrusted the serious task of shouting “ patak-patak ”-- with town crier punctuality at 8 pm--as I jingled coins between my palms. It was the signal for the rest of the barkada to come out and chip in for our nocturnal routine. You'd be surprised to see how loose change translates into a case of beer and fish balls. It is this same spirit of camaraderie, of the bayanihan , that brought together the members of PATAC, according to its president, Paulina Corpuz.
As t he evening drew to a close, Ms. Corpuz thanked sponsors and the many volunteers and participating artists (like Divine Montesclaros who has been doing posters for the group) for their help. More importantly, she reminded everyone that PATAC is a play of words ( patak -meaning a “drop”), that even a drop of help for the Children's Rehabilitation Center in Manila (the beneficiary of the fundraiser) will really go a long way.
A PATAC show makes one uncomfortable as it is one of pining and pain. It dares one to think of what ought to be done. Nothing best exemplify this characterization than these words from the Abad composition originally titled Buksan Ang Inyong Puso :
Open your heart and do not be meek
Tears are not enough, what we need to do is act
Lend your time to fighting for the cause
Feel the sting and pain of poverty
How many children have been destroyed by poverty
How many martyrs have offered their lives
For as long as the times are not a-changing, there will always be songs......of our times.