Report by Angelo Lorenzo
Photos by Marco Villanueva

In the concluding days of November, the Xavier Center for Culture and the Arts (XCCA) set the stage to promote peace and uphold culture in Mindanao. 

"Bantawan Mindanao: Pagpasundayag alang sa Kalinaw" was a five-day festival which involved a cinematic premiere, theatrical performances, academic and interfaith dialogues, a multicultural concert, and a social outreach to a community located in the vestiges of war-torn Marawi, which was adopted by Xavier Ateneo. It preluded the Mindanao Week of Peace, which annually takes place from the last Thursday of November to the first Wednesday of December. 

This year, Bantawan has showcased local talents to advocate for peace in the regions that comprise the entire land, if not the entire Philippines. With the war in Marawi now over, the essence of the theme has become more timely and relevant in the phase of rehabilitation in order to deconstruct societal biases and topple cultural stereotypes.

Mutual ills

Reflecting social ills that are presently rampant across the country, Raya Martin’s film adaptation of FH Batacan’s “Smaller and Smaller Circles” depicted the killings of innocents as investigated by two determined Jesuit priests involved in the science of forensics. 

FIND GOD IN ALL THINGS. Xavier Ateneo president Fr Roberto "Bobby" C Yap SJ expresses the Jesuit’s mission to seek for reconciliation and stand for justice in his speech during the premiere of Raya Martin’s “Smaller and Smaller Circles.”

Premiering with free admission within the Xavier University Little Theater on November 22 to a crowd mostly composed of students, the film was promoted by TBA Studios in partnership with DAKILA: Philippine Collective for Modern Heroes. 

“The film is meant to open eyes,” said TBA Studios Film promotion and online content creator Marko Yambao. “I hope that we made a film that will not only entertain but will make us more aware of what is happening around us.”

As national news covered the rising number of cases related to extra-judicial killings transpired from the incumbent administration’s War on Drugs campaign, the film portrays the horrors of serial murders and how such crimes affect the victims’ families and communities. It also reveals the corruption and incompetence of government agencies. 

But despite the film and its plot being set in Quezon City, from the impoverished slums of Payatas to the ivory walls of Katipunan Avenue, the situation it has depicted does not veer away from the injustices experienced by the marginalized people in Mindanao. 

“Hopefully, this week can contribute to peace in Mindanao,” stated Xavier Ateneo vice-president for social development Roel Ravanera before the start of the film screening.

“The mission of Jesuits in the world is the mission of reconciliation and justice,” declared Xavier Ateneo president Fr Roberto "Bobby" C Yap SJ in his welcoming remarks during the film’s premiere. “This is so much needed in many parts of the world right now.”

The same theme was amplified by the theatrical and musical performances on the succeeding days with the aspiration for peace as its forefront.  

ANTICIPATING. Viewers, mostly composed of students and the academe, await the film’s opening during the premiere of Raya Martin’s “Smaller and Smaller Circles” at the Xavier University Little Theater.

Aspiring for peace

XCCA welcomed the Mindanao State University - Iligan Institute of Technology’s (MSU-IIT) resident theater company Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG) on the third day of Bantawan (November 24) to perform German Gervacio’s play titled “Datu Mankalasi.”

Based on the legacy of the heroic Higaonon Datu from Agusan who fought for his people’s ancestral domain against illegal loggers, the play incorporated myth and music as primary elements. Held at the same venue where the “Smaller and Smaller Circles” film premiered, it was one of IPAG’s Mindanao Performance Tour.

Performing in four different universities in the cities of Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, and the Province of Bukidnon, the tour was a component of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Subregion’s (RMP-NMR) “Healing the Hurt” project, in partnership with the Kalumbay Regional Kumar Organization. Supporting the initiative was the European Union through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

CREATIVE INTERPRETATION. Performers act a scene in German Gervacio’s “Datu Mankalasi” musical play.

Iligan-based playwright Steven PC Fernandez directed the music and arrangement of scenery. 

On the same day, two more plays took place within the XU Little Theater, but these were held in the evening. 

The Xavier Stage (TXS) brought to life the written masterpieces of Dr Arthur Casanova’s “Nang Lumuha ang mga Tala sa Gitna ng Lawa (When the Stars Cried over the Middle of the Lake)” and Romeo Narvaez’s “Dula Ta! (Let’s Play!).”

The two plays, comprising the twin-bill production known as Singanin (a Meranaw term for “Aspiration”), depicted the plight and ordeals of families and children affected in war-torn communities in Mindanao, particularly in areas where inhabitants have become marginalized due to the forces of paramilitary groups and the clashes between the rebels and soldiers. 

In Casanova’s play, a Meranaw family peacefully dines within their home one night, only to be disturbed by talks of the ongoing conflict brought to their community by paramilitary forces — mentioned in the dialogues as the Ilaga and the Barracuda — that had brutally antagonized their community. With a realistic backdrop of a lake shimmering in rippling waves beneath a glowing crescent, the stage had gradually dimmed when bodies lay strewn over the ground after thunderous gunshots and bombs blared in the climactic orchestration of sound effects. 

PROMOTING FILIPINO CINEMA. TBA Studios Film promotion and online content creator Marko Yambao and Christine Cruz of the Film Development Council of the Philippines Davao promote the film and the relevance of its theme during the open forum of “Smaller and Smaller Circles’” premiere.

The play, which had mirrored the lives and circumstance of countless families who had fled the Marawi Siege that had erupted this year after the recently defeated Maute terrorist group ravaged the Islamic city in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) last May, claims its relevance in this generation by educating the audience about the injustice suffered by the marginalized. 

This was followed by Romeo Narvaez’s “Dula Ta,” a grimmer and more tragic take of a children’s tale. It centers on two playmates whose innocence is tested by the conflict of their religions. It began with a game in a war zone where stacks of boxes provided shelter for both children to take cover from raining bullets. 

While both plays contain controversial themes, they both aspire for peace by depicting the perennial struggle to correct historical injustices and reconcile its victims. 

“The problems of Mindanao are caused by historical injustice,” said XCCA director Hobart Savior after both plays had been performed. “But we don’t stop aspiring for peace.” The next day, this aspiration resonated with music and songs. 

CREATIVE INTERPRETATION. Performers act a scene in German Gervacio’s “Datu Mankalasi” musical play.

Harmony in Mindanao

On the fourth day (November 25) national and local artists, the Xavier Ateneo academe and social workers, as well as the university’s students and alumni collaborated onstage for the concert held at Centrio Ayala Mall. 

The concert featured artists who were recognized globally for their prestigious works in advancing the cause of Mindanaoan culture. Four of them included Bayang Barrios, Maan Chua, Jeffrey Bringas, and Melchor Bayawan. 

Barrios, a two-time awardee of the Manila Metropop Music Festival, takes pride in her Manobo heritage. Singing her originally composed song, “Mapayapang Mundo”, she added as a remark: “Ang kapayapaan ay nag simula sa ating sarili. Kung wala tayong kapayapaan, wala tayong kapayapaan na maibigay sa kapwa tao. (Peace begins in ourselves. If we don’t have peace, we cannot give peace to our fellow individuals).”

Tunog Mindanao 2013’s champion Maan Chua sang one of her written works, “Sarimanok” and encouraged the audience to sing with her. Jeff Bringas, who was one of the Bringas Brothers who landed 3rd place in Pilipinas Got Talent Season 3, performed together with Melchor Bayawan who shares the same heritage with Barrios. Together, they sang “Agila.”

CREATIVE INTERPRETATION. Performers act a scene in German Gervacio’s “Datu Mankalasi” musical play.

Apart from Cagayan de Oro’s local talents such as Muriel Lomadilla, Sheena Batutay, Rochelle Ubay-ubay, Daryl Bacolcol, Gerikha Kate Amper, Kagay-an Performing Arts Inc, XU Cultural Dance Troupe, Next Moves Contemporary Dance, the concert also featured the music video that promoted the lives and cultures of the Lumad communities in Mindanao. 

The music video featured Jerry Angga's originally composed song "Suod Ko" and was produced by North Cotabato 2nd District Representative Nancy A Catamco. It was directed by XCCA director Hobart Savior.

The concert was not only showcased to entertain but to spread awareness of the resilience of the Meranaw as children from the Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa performed a traditional dance with fans, drums, and bamboo sticks, and sang Veheene Saturno’s “Tabang Marawi.”

One of the songs that expressed Bantawan’s cause, was Fr Albert Alejo SJ’s “Meme na Mindanaw.” Sung during the concert by Muriel Lomadilla, the song is a lullaby that likens the land as a cradled infant, full of hopes of promises in the future, and soothed amidst the dangers that threaten its life. 

CREATIVE INTERPRETATION. A performer acts a scene in German Gervacio’s “Datu Mankalasi” musical play.

Collaborative efforts for peace

Other events that comprised the week included: 

• The Xavier Ateneo Social Development Cluster’s Tuki Kalinaw which was an interfaith and intercultural dialogue on the perspectives to rehabilitate Marawi after its ordeal. It took place in the Little Theater on November 23.

• Dulaang Atenista’s “No Probs, It’s Improv” was held at XULT on November 25.

• Sining Para sa Kalinaw, an outreach program in collaboration with the Xavier Ateneo community, particularly the Social Development Cluster, Office of Mission and Ministry, and XCCA.

With its successful run in XCCA’s 10th year anniversary, Bantawan Mindanao has preluded the Mindanao Week of Peace (November 30 to December 6, 2017). It posed genuine proof that efforts to achieve and celebrate peace can be done any time of the year by institutions willing to participate. 

PAGAPIR. Performers present a traditional Meranaw dance during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw, a concert during the Bantawan Mindanao.

“Peace in Mindanao is very elusive,” Ravanera said in his message during the concert. “We know that it is everyone’s dream, but it is very difficult to achieve, so we grab the opportunity every year to appreciate culture to become socially aware and culturally sensitive so that we could respect one another." 

Measures to attain peace may have been done in many ways. For Bantawan Mindanao, the stage has become a venue for this cause.∎

PAGAPIR. A performer dances the traditional Meranaw dance during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw, a concert during the Bantawan Mindanao.

HOPEFUL FOR PEACE. XU vice-president for social development Roel Ravanera expresses his hope for peace in Mindanao with initiatives like Bantawan Mindanao and the Mindanao Week of Peace being undertaken.

A SONG FOR MINDANAO. Local singer and Pilipinas Got Talent finalist Muriel Lomadilla sings songs for Mindanao during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw concert. One of them was Fr Albert Alejo SJ’s “Meme na Mindanaw.”

PRIDE AND GRATITUDE. Community members of Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa perform a Meranaw traditional dance during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw concert. The resettlement site has been adopted by Xavier Ateneo.

MARAWI WILL RISE AGAIN. Children from the Brgy Bito Buadi Itowa community invoke their aspiration for Mindanao’s Islamic City in a song during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw concert.

CULTURAL APPRECIATION. Singer-songwriter and music artist Bayang Barrios (center) poses with the Xavier University Cultural Dance Troupe during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw concert.

AMPLIFYING HERITAGE. Singer-songwriter and music artist Bayang Barrios sings for peace in Mindanao during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw concert.

RECALLING HISTORY. Kagay-an Performing Arts group showcases a play featuring a Mindanaoan epic during the Pasundayag sa Kalinaw concert.

CHILD’S PLAY. Two children hang out with an aged outcast to distract themselves from the raging war in their community in a scene of Romeo Narvaez’s “Dula Ta!”

GRIEF. The family’s patron weeps over the death of his loved ones in a scene of Arthur Casanova’s “Nang Lumuha ang mga Tala sa Gitna ng Lawa.”