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Looking Back
Remembering Lola Basyang

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:36:00 07/15/2010

Filed Under: Weather, Literature, history

?BASYANG,? THE typhoon, according to Pagasa, was going to pass through the Philippine area of responsibility. Metro Manila was in her path but no one paid attention because no urgent storm signal was raised.

Typhoons are common this time of year and if it isn?t another ?Ondoy,? why bother? Then the howling winds came at dawn. Electricity was cut off. Grouchy from disturbed sleep, people went to work only to be dismissed at noon because power had not been restored and nobody could do any work. Typhoon Basyang was memorable for its fury and the allusion to ?Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang,? these being Western stories and Philippine folk tales retold by the playwright Severino Reyes (1861-1942) who was known in his lifetime as ?Don Binoy.?

Textbook history has given Reyes the title of ?Father of the Tagalog Play? or if you want to be corny about it, ?The Lope de Vega of the Philippines.? Don Binoy may have not invented ?Lola Basyang? because the name came from a real person, Gervacia de Guzman Zamora, a relative of the famous engraver Crispulo Zamora. A real-life ?Lola Basyang? was known to Don Binoy, an old lady who loved to narrate stories to her grandchildren.

Don Binoy was a prolific writer. He produced about 26 zarzuelas and over 400 Lola Basyang stories. His literary genes were passed on to Pedrito Reyes (1898-1981), the 15th of his 17 children who is best known for ?Ang Martir sa Golgota.? Pedrito was half as prolific as his father at home; he sired only nine children, two of whom, Efren Reyes and Johnny Reyes, became movie actors. One could say the dramatic genes were passed on to his grandchildren.

Another grandson, Louie Reyes (no relation to the female pop singer), was president of Vera-Reyes Publishing which printed landmark coffee-table books in the 1970s.

Don Binoy was born in Santa Cruz, Manila, on Feb. 11, 1861. He was educated in the Dominican institutions, San Juan de Letran and University of Santo Tomas. He was imprisoned in Fort Santiago following the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in 1896 but was released because of his excellent command of Spanish, which impressed his jailers. While he did not join the Revolution in the battlefield, he fought with his pen and wrote for the revolutionary paper La Republica Filipina.

In 1902, he founded Gran Compaia de Zarzuela Tagala which performed his works, earning for him the title of ?Father of the Tagalog Play.? He was a late bloomer, his first play ?R.I.P.? (Rest in Peace) was an open attack on the Spanish-period theater form known as ?moro-moro? or ?comedia.? These were theatrical presentations in verse, with colorful costumes and fantastic sets famous for stylized sword fights between ?Cristianos? and ?Moros.? With ?R.I.P.,? Don Binoy diminished the comedia and began the age of the zarzuela. Comedia actors out of work would don their costumes, get on horseback and ride past Don Binoy?s house shouting, ?We cannot die!? while pelting the house with stones. In response to ?R.I.P.,? they performed a counter-comedia ?Kailanman ay Buhay, E. P. D. Resurrexit? whose title says it all: ?Forever Alive, E.P.D. It is Risen.? Some comedia actors were later co-opted into Don Binoy?s zarzuela troupe that toured the country.

?Walang Sugat? (1902) is Don Binoy?s most popular play. It was made into film thrice?in 1913, 1939 and 1957. It will be re-staged at the Ateneo de Manila University in August.

The zarzuela is set in Bulacan during the years of the Philippine Revolution, and centers on the lovers, Julia and Tenyong. Their love is tested when Tenyong joins the Revolution and leaves for the battlefield to avenge his father who died in prison from torture ordered by the friars. While Tenyong is away Julia is forced by her mother to marry Miguel the rich nephew of the parish priest. The highlight of this musical play occurs on the day of Miguel and Julia?s wedding. Ten-

yong, mortally wounded, is brought into the church on a stretcher heavily bandaged. He asks for the last rites and interrupts the wedding. Then he asks to marry Julia before he dies. Naturally, Miguel and Julia?s mother object but cannot deny the dying man?s request. Julia and Tenyong are married and to everyone?s surprise the dying revolucionario rises from the stretcher and removes his bandages to reveal that?you guessed it?walang sugat! (No wound).

I recently received an e-mail inquiry from a great-grandson of Don Binoy asking how to access the remaining papers and manuscripts of Severino Reyes that were allegedly donated or placed in the National Museum for safekeeping. I replied, asking when this donation was made and to whom. I asked if a ?deed of donation? or ?memorandum of agreement? was signed during the turnover because I would presume these papers would have gone to the National Library or National Archives rather than the National Museum. Writers are only good as long as their works are in print or available in libraries.

Playwrights are only good as long as their works are performed and their manuscripts are available for study. Let?s hope the Severino Reyes papers can be located and accessed to bring him to the attention and enjoyment of a new generation. Basyang is more than a destructive typhoon, Lola Basyang is part of our literary heritage.

* * *

Comments are welcome at my Facebook Fan Page.

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