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Theatrical play pays tribute to victims of massacre in central Philippines 37 years ago

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos said he will continue tolling the church bells in his diocese to “remember the martyrs of the Escalante massacre"

Artists and land rights advocates have organized a theater play this week to pay tribute to those who died in the massacre of 20 people in the central Philippines nearly four decades ago.

The theatrical play titled “INDI NA MALIWAT: Alaala ng Escalante,” or “NEVER AGAIN: Memories of Escalante,” reenacts the killing of protesting farmers in Escalante town, Negros Occidental province, on Sept. 20, 1985.

“The act is a collection of vignettes narrating the social and political context behind the Escalante massacre,” said Faye Aldefolio of the cultural group Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Sinagbayan).

“It explains why the farmers protested and it depicts how the state forces responded to the cry of the peasantry,” she added.

On Sept. 20, 1985, government forces fired on civilians who joined a demonstration to mark the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law.

“There is a need to retell the story of the Escalante massacre to the public, especially in this era of disinformation,” said Aldefolio.

“The martyrs of the Escalante massacre have inspired many people to fight the dictatorship and fight poverty,” she added.

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Adefolio said her organization decided to bring the show to the national capital because “storytelling is an effective way to combat historical denialism and distortion.”

A local cultural group claimed that since 2019, public performances and the reenactment of the Escalante massacre have been prohibited by the military and the police in Negros province.

Jaz, a member of Teatro Bungkal, said it has been five years since they were able to perform in Escalante town to reenact the carnage.

“The month of September used to be the busiest month for us. Nowadays, we needed to do the show in other places because the government barred us from performing in Negros,” he said.

Ka Mario Tapion of the National Federation of Sugar Workers said the commemoration of the 37th year of the Escalante massacre “is very timely” because the country also observes the 50th year of the declaration of martial law.

“It is our duty to remind the public of the atrocities of the military rule under the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos, especially now that another Marcos is the president,” he said.

The prelate of the Diocese of San Carlos offered his prayers for the families and the martyrs of the Escalante massacre and challenged Church people to lead the “crusade in restoring the real Filipino culture and values.”

“It is our duty to recapture and restore the sacredness of the dignity of life,” said Bishop Gerardo Alminaza.

“The Church must step up and lead the people in ending all forms of violence against human life,” added the prelate.

The bishop said there is “a need to be alarmed” because of the “prevailing culture of impunity,” adding that human life “has become so cheap and no one is held accountable.”

“Let us sound the alarm,” said Bishop Alminaza.

He vowed to continue tolling the church bells in his diocese to “remember the martyrs of the Escalante massacre and those who suffered because of injustice.”

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