Sometimes, if not most of the time, as a Philippine history teacher, I am faced with innocent questions from my students about the events of the past. There are even inquiries that put me in a state of pondering on what really happened, but because I am neither the husband of The Time Traveler’s Wife who can jump from one timeline to the other nor Hermoine Grander with her time-turner, the only way for me to answer them is using what are written in the books.
The school year is almost over; my grade five students are already in the last few topics in their syllabus, one of which is about the Katipunan, that organization that has been associated with the name Andres Bonifacio as its Supremo. I can still remember what I did in class during my lesson about it.
I brought two coins, an old and a new version of the five-peso coin. To initiate or at least motivate the class, I asked them to get the same denomination from their pocket or wallet, as most of them still had the old one. After doing that, they were tasked to take a partner with the different version of the coin. And then I provoked their thinking with one question: The yellow coin has Emilio Aguinaldo on it, while the silver one, which is the new one, has Andres Bonfacio. Why is that? Then speculations started to rise.
I love seeing my students reasoning out to support their claims. Though personally, I do not know why they changed Emilio with Andres, but one thing I am certain of, there is a politically correct explanation on this issue.
After my class, one of my co-teachers approached me and asked me if I would be free over the weekend. I said that I am not yet sure, but because I do not have any schedule yet on my planner, probably I will be free. She handed me two tickets with a bold writing in all caps saying MIONG “My friend gave me these. She is a relative of Emilio Aguinaldo. There will be a musical about his life on Saturday at Greenbelt 1. I thought that this might interest you, because you are the history teacher. If you will be watching, just please take a selfie with the person you are with so that I can send it to her.”
I gladly accepted the tickets and said that I will watch, though I was not yet sure to whom I will give the other ticket. As usual, I first thought of inviting her, even if I knew that she will turn down my offer. I don’t know, but there’s this feeling that constantly pulls me closer to her, but farther from the reality that we cannot be together.
It was Saturday morning. I woke up earlier than my alarm. I got used to this, just like how I get used to her presence in her absence.
The musical will still be in the afternoon, but I have decided to go to Makati before lunch to walk around the blocks. I always loved spending time on the streets, keenly observing people and places, zooming in every detail that can be left unnoticed by the usual in-a-hurry eyes, because I always believed that the best way to hide things is to put it on plain site. Well, at least that is what I learned from the TV series, How to Get Away with Murder.
Around 2 p.m., when I decided to go to the Repertory Philippines in Greenbelt 1 where the musical will be staged. I wrestled in my thoughts to not be too critical with what I was about to watch. In less than an hour before the show, without receiving any text from her, I went inside the theater.
There were more people than I expected, certainly came from various walks of life. I sat on the upper orchestra. Beside me was an empty seat. This was supposed to be for her, only if she came.
The musical started on time. It literally gave me goosebumps when I heard the first song. I was like travelling back to a recent past wherein I was condemned to know the other side of story. Of course, as a viewer, I had my preconceived notion of Emilio Aguinaldo, but I tried my best to put it on the side to see how they will portray him.
Miong’s life went like the usual children of the principalía during the Spanish rule in the Philippines—educated in a prestigious school and having the full benefits of the alta sociedad. Like most of us, he showed that heroes were also human, falling in love and having fun, at times.
There’s this scene in San Bartolome that was still vivid in my mind. The place where he met the girl who made his heart pump harder than the usual, but of course, as what the director said, most of the content of the musical were true, aside from the songs they sang. Though for me, whose heart will not sing and whose feet will not move when you’re in love? Maybe, that is the magic of love, makes us do things beyond reason.
When Miong was appointed as the cabeza de barangay, the story went its full turn. That signaled the making of a hero. It also showed the vulnerability of a man, depicting not the usual god-like portrait, but rather a human being that was bound to commit mistakes and doubt, at times.
Then a lady came to his life, his wife, who stood with Miong through his tough times until the end. I would like to assume that she was his additional source of strength.
After the performance, I was able to have the opportunity to converse with the director, Joy Virata.
“Well, this was originally written for the centennial, on June 12, 1998. And that’s when we first showed it. And this is a repeat. But when we first showed it, that was the reason, and we are repeating now because we think it’s time. There are some things that a lot of people don’t know.” She answered when I asked about how they came about the concept for the musical.
Then she continued “I got everything from books: The Young Aguinaldo by Carlos Quirino, Saga and Triumph: The Filipino Revolution Against Spain by Onofre Corpuz, and Emilio Aguinaldo by Alfredo Saulo.
“Everything I said there, you can look up in the books. Except the scene in San Bartolome of course, he was in San Bartolome but the fun side of the event, I like to think it happened that way.”
Those words made me realize the need for the director to be faithful with the history and be creative at times to show the audience the human side of each character.
After the conversation with Director Joy, I was also able to talk with Tim Pavino, the man who stood as Emilio Aguinaldo. And from Tim’s own words on internalizing Miong’s character “There’s so much in putting someone who is not just a character on stage, but a real life person, to bring that person back to life. And in my own way, I had to dissect the history of our country as well as the history of his life and to find out what his weaknesses were, what his strengths were, to make that a part of me. And that was one of the biggest challenges to bringing Emilio back to life on the stage.”
Finally, as how Tim ended his statement on his experiences as Emilio Aguinaldo “It’s okay to be human, it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to not to know that right answer, and what is important is to know that your heart is in the right place.