Bagong Cristo

In a conservative country like the Philippines, tinkering with the image of Jesus Christ is usually taboo.

We are all familiar with the divine narrative – the begotten son of God was sent to Earth to save the world from sin, the man spends his three decades on Earth teaching, and is later persecuted and eventually sentenced to death. He rose from the dead after three days – being the only man in human history to do so. This happened nearly two thousand years ago, and no survivor could attest that this was entirely true. For millennia, Christians resorted to biblical accounts, whose interpretation and meaning was already hegemonized by the Church.

But what if we only know one side of the story?

Jesus Christ and Class Struggles

Dulaang UP’s ‘Bagong Cristo’ is a reimagination of the story of a proletariat Jesus Christ. Written by Aurelio Tolentino, one would easily regard the material as subversive, if not blasphemous. The play unmasks the divinity and frames the story of Jesus Christ from the lens of the working class, marginalized by a ruling oligarchy that has since capitalized on people’s ignorance to make more money. The play challenges classic notions of the Church – giving it an uncanny similarity with Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, only less subtle.

For a deeper understanding of a theatrical text, one has to look at the milieu with which it was written. The material was from 1907, barely a decade after our liberation from the Spaniards. Spanish colonial rule has ingrained a strong sense of piety, and art forms at that time were usually those that celebrate Catholic beliefs.

Bagong Cristo debunks all that. It treads in difficult waters – one that would raise a lot of eyebrows and invoke a lot of questions.

For one, it paints the picture of empowered indios, one who does not conform, but rather challenges the teachings of friars. A few minutes into the show, the plot would seem predictable – that it is a social commentary on the money-making scheme of the Catholic Church, the indulgencia, and how the promise of giving more donations would be a ticket to heaven and a disease-free life.

But the story goes beyond that. In it, Jesus is a revolutionary labor leader who saved the peasantry from abuses of the ruling class. This is a completely humanized version of the Cristo – one that most of us has often regarded as divine and godly. Tolentino ingeniously portrays the struggles of the Bagong Cristo as no different from our struggles. His teachings aren’t just about charity, but more of addressing social backwardness and inequality through reason and compassion. The story is a realist account of what we have otherwise known as sanctified.

“Ikulong, huwag patayin!”

Even if the text is more than a century-old, DUP’s former artistic director Alex Cortex manages to make it relevant to today’s issues. In one scene, the Bagong Cristo sends a very powerful message – that boons in any society should be imprisoned, not killed. This message reverberates to the mass killings that happen today. It shows how our notions of justice and human rights have either evolved or devolved from the past 100 years. What is clear, for now, is that the class struggles have long been there, and that we have had a long history of abuses from the elite.

As with any Dulaang UP production, the visual imagery will not disappoint. Elaborate scene transitions, stunning dance and song productions, exquisite musical scores are all in place as a respite from slightly preachy monologues.

And this I have to say, perhaps no other university theatre group will have the audacity to stage such brave text that of Bagong Cristo. In that sense, Dulaang UP has again stood firm to its vision, that within and outside the confines of its theatre walls, they have, and always will, honor defiance.

Bagong Cristo will run from November 8 – December 3 at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theatre, second floor of Palma Hall, UP Diliman. For tickets, show-buying, and sponsorship inquires, you may contact Camille Guevara (09178239531), or may drop by Palma Hall 136.

A play by Dulaang UP.
A play by Dulaang UP.

About the Author

Jervis Manahan.

Jervis Manahan is a News Reporter for ABS-CBN. Previously, he was a Correspondent for PTV 4 and a Contributor as part of the original roster that founded the site. He also worked before as a News Writer for 24 Oras and Unang Balita, and a News Researcher for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Broadcast Communication 2012, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.

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