UP theater group offers 'pasyon' for drug war victims

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(Photo: Anjo Alimario/CNN)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 29) — It was not a typical pabasa or pasyon.

Rather than chanting the life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the University of the Philippines' (UP) "Pabasa Obituaryo sa Nanlaban" is celebrating Holy Week with a three-day, non-stop performance commemorating those who died in the Duterte administration's drug war.

The UP Repertory Company (UP Rep) used elements of the Catholic tradition like reciting poems and singing to remind people of the brutal war, which left some of its victims dumped in unnamed, unmarked graves, without a proper funeral.

"Halaw siya sa mismong kultura ng pabasa ng pasyon ng mga Katoliko, na 'yung mismong teksto ng original text ay kinuha namin. Tapos nag-gather kami ng documents, articles, narrative accounts na inayos ng mga dramaturg about extrajudicial killings or war on drugs ni Presidente Duterte," UP Rep head Malvin Ramos said.

[Translation: This is based on the culture of Catholics reading the passion of Christ, we got the original text. Then we gathered documents, articles, and narrative accounts which were then arranged by dramaturgs on extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in President Duterte's war on drugs.]

"Naisip kasi namin kung babasahin mismo yung konsepto ng pabasa o pasyon, nandun siya sa kung ano nga ba ang pinagdaanan ni Hesukristo ng buong linggo," he said. "Tapos kung ija-juxtapose siya sa war on drugs or EJK – simula pa noon ay nandoon na tayo sa konsepto na may mga buhay na nawala.  May mga buhay tayong hindi kinikilala or naisasantabi."

[Translation: We thought if we read it in the concept of the Passion, then it features what Jesus Christ suffered through for one week. Then if we juxtapose it on the war on drugs or EJKs – even then we had the concept of lives taken. There are lives that we don't recognize or ignore.]

In the performance, while the text is being read, movers perform under the persona of "Vera Maningning."

"'Vera,' meaning truth, 'maningning' is to illuminate or light. So yung konsepto niya behind Vera Maninging ay isang persona na sa gitna ng buhay at kamatayan. Sa bawat paghinga, pagtulog."

[Translation: 'Vera' meaning truth, 'maningning' is to illuminate or light. So the concept behind Vera Maningning is a persona who is between life and death. Between breath and sleep.]

Performer Mercy Libre has her own view on the government's war on drugs.

"Nalulungkot kasi hindi naman lahat ng adik kailangang patayin...kasi tao lang rin tayo. Bigyan ng chance," she said.

[Translation: It's sad because not all addicts should die...we are all human. Give them a chance.]

A mass was also offered to those who died during drug operations. Father Robert Reyes officiated the mass and asked those who attended to pray for the country's leaders so that those who have strayed from the path could return to God.

The activist priest reminded the families left behind by those who were killed in the bloody drug war that there's always hope.

He said, "Magtatagumpay ang kadiliman o ang liwanag? Liwanag! Ang kabutihan o kamasaan? Kabutihan! Ang Diyos o ang demonyo? Diyos! And taumbayan o si Duterte? Taumbayan!"

[Translation: Will light or darkness triumph? Light! Will it be good or evil? Good! Will it be God or the devil? God! Will it be the people or Duterte? The people!]

The performances are free to the public and will be held at the Teacher's Village East Playground along C.P. Garcia Avenue in Quezon City until April 1.

This story was updated on March 30 to include details on 'Pabasa Obituaryo sa Nanlaban.'