The Inbox

‘Sintang Dalisay’: Refreshing antidote to unsolved Ampatuan massacre

National Artist Salvador Bernal's last production design

By Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files

Photos courtesy of Tanghalang Ateneo

"Strombotic spectacle," to borrow gay lingo, is the only phrase that can describe Tanghalang Ateneo's production of Sintang Dalisay which had a short, move-over engagement at the Asian Center Auditorim at the University of the Philippines Diliman after it was staged anew at the recent National Theater Festival. It received accolades and a prolonged standing ovation at the Belarus International Theater Festival in Eastern Europe in July this year.

Based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and National Artist for Literature Rolando Tinio's translation of the play into Filipino, with additional materials from ancient awit (song) based on the star-crossed lovers' love story when it first reached the Philippines, Sintang Dalisay is a breath of fresh air.

It comes right after the commemoration of the unsolved Ampatuan massacre in Muslim Maguidanao and the announcement of peace in Bangsamoro-land. That massacre in November 2009 involved two warring political clans not unlike the fictive houses of Montague and the Capulet in Shakepeare's era.

Director Ricardo Abad, actor, sociology professor at the Ateneo de Manila University and acting head of its fine arts program, set this version of a tale as old as time in Muslim Mindanao. He went to the extent of bringing over and consulting nine teachers from Tawi-tawi to correctly get the Sama language (or Badjao) inflections along with Arabic humming and droning that were used in the last scene.

Another National Artist, production designer Salvador Bernal, was in the picture before he died. He executed Abad's vision of the look of the musical play. Abad said, "I told him that I didn't want it to look like an auditorium. Don't give me a hall, give me a village where the musicians and chorus can be onstage."

What Bernal did was to design a gigantic golden panolong (a hand-carved beam with okir design sticking out of the front of a house) hovering horizontally over the stage with a massive post of a torogan standing vertically underneath. These architectural features suggest that young lovers come from rival wealthy families whose enmity is aggravated by blood debts when Taupan (Tybault in the original Shakespeare) is killed.

All characters carry Islamic names: Rashiddin for Romeo, Jamila for Juliet, Imam for Friar Lawrence, etc. The imam serves a triple role in repertory fashion of being chief chanter/narrator, the holy man who solemnizes the secret wedding of the lovers and lastly, the apothecarist or mambabarang who gives the sleeping potion to Jamila to make her appear dead.

Adding to the spectacle are indigenous ritual, social and theatrical dances reminiscent of Ligaya Amilbangsa's work in reviving the pangalay, now appropriated by her former student, the play's movement and dance choreographer, Matthew Santamaria, as igal. UP art studies Prof. Edru Abraham designed the music, assembling his Kontra-gapi from UP with Tanghalang Ateneo's (TA) Music Ensemble.

When the International University Theater Association held a small conference at Miriam College in Quezon City in 2011, TA presented Sintang Dalisay to the delegates. That early it already created a buzz. When the group was chosen to represent the country in Belarus, Ateneo and other sponsors could only afford to send 10 people (five actors, two musicians, one technical person and Abad who also pitched in as musician.

Abad recalled that they had half day to rehearse and to set up. The theater was full because the delegates who were in Manila last year had spread word how good the Filipino production was. As the play unfolded, Abad observed the quiet audience, worried that people weren't reacting.

After the cast took its bow, he was amazed as row after row of audience members stood up and applauded for several minutes. He said, "The reception was wild! There was a people's choice vote. At the final count, Lithuania earned 8.8 points while the Philippines tied with France at 8.7. An old French teacher of drama came to us backstage to hug the cast and me. She said she was so touched."

Back in the home country, however, a Muslim delegate to the National Theater Festival reacted violently to Sintang Dalisay, complaining to Cultural Center of the Philippines officers and even threatened to kill the cast and director. Abad explained to the CCP officers that TA took care to follow their Muslim consultants' recommendations so that the scenes like the wedding of Jamila and Rashiddin would look authentic. Their lovely love-making dance was performed on a banig (mat).

Abad dismissed the complaint as coming from a fundamentalist who was taking the play literally and not allowing the theater artists some artistic license.

The warm reception from students and faculty at the Asian Center indicates a hunger for good original Filipino theater. The play's recent Aliw awards for best director and best production design are richly deserved.

Sintang Dalisay is available for bookings. Email

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician
    MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician

    Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan is grateful for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s praise and presidential endorsement, but says he is not a politician. In an interview on the sidelines of the launch of the search for The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines 2015 Wednesday night, Pangilinan dismissed the idea of running for president in the 2016 elections. “I’m not a politician, I’m just an ordinary business person,” he added. Santiago endorsed Pangilinan as a presidential candidate …

  • No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP
    No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not suspending its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, New People’s Army (NPA) and other lawless groups during the Holy Week, an official said yesterday. Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said the AFP leadership is leaving it up to area and division commanders whether to raise the alert status in preparation for the Holy Week. Those deployed in areas where there are ongoing law enforcement operations against terrorist groups …

  • Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP
    Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP

    The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to investigate a human rights lawyer’s claim of harassment, including surveillance, by several military officers. In a 22-page decision, the former Special Sixth Division of the appellate court granted the petition for writ of amparo and habeas data of Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon. The CA ordered the AFP to identify the officers behind the surveillance and file charges against them. The CA ruling said …

  • Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl
    Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl

    Retire and invest in real estate in the Philippines, especially now that the country has made it to the top 10 retirement destinations in the world. This is the message being spread by the Philippine embassy in Washington, with Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. leading the refrain in meetings with various Filipino-American communities in the US. Cuisia recently met with Filipino communities in San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas. In his talks, Cuisia said that an affordable cost of living as …

  • PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson
    PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson

    The stigma of being a namesake of the principal suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre did not prevent Cadet First Class Andal Ampatuan III from entering and graduating from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). Ampatuan III, now with a rank of police inspector, is a grandson of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. The younger Ampatuan was among the 246 graduates of the PNPA “Lakandula” Class of 2015. Ampatuan III’s mother is Bai Rebecca Ampatuan, a daughter of the …

  • Philippines says China rushing construction in disputed sea
    Philippines says China rushing construction in disputed sea

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines' top diplomat said Thursday that China has been rushing construction projects, including massive land reclamation, in the disputed South China Sea in hopes of forestalling any legal moves against its vast territorial claims. …

  • Aquino takes responsibility for bungled mission in Philippines, but no apology
    Aquino takes responsibility for bungled mission in Philippines, but no apology

    Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Thursday took responsibility for a bungled security operation in January that left 44 police commandos dead, but offered no public apology for the clash that has become his biggest political crisis in years. Since the secret mission, Aquino's approval and trust ratings have plunged to their lowest level in five years, and a peace process with the country's largest Muslim rebel group has stalled. "To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt …

  • Marshall rolls out new headphone, speaker lines in PHL

    Established music brand Marshall is rolling out new headphone and speaker lines in the Philippine market. …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options