Anak Datu: Stories of Tausugs, Mindanao massacres, Voltes V and Martial law

Gusto kong maging sing-makulay ng robot ko ang mga manok mo, Pa,” says Toym Imao to his father.

Reminiscent of childhood memories, Toym’s Voltes V and other Japanese robot installations greet the audience at Tanghalang Pilipino’s “Anak Datu.”

Anak Datu follows the historic lives and struggles of Mindanao’s Tausugs based on a short story for children by National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Imao in 1968 in anticipation of the birth of his first son, Abdulmari Jr. (Toym) Imao. 

It is a story about the son of a village chieftain in Muslim Mindanao during pre-colonial Philippines. Before he was born, their village was raided by pirates. His mother gives birth under captivity. He grew up with the knowledge that his father was a former pirate from the land of the Tausug. When the old man dies, only then the son realizes the truth about his real father.

“Maiwawaksi mo ang pagiging mandarambong ngunit hindi ang poot ng mga nasalanta.”—Karim

The play is a collaboration of Chris Millado and Rody Vera that expands its narrative to two other timelines: the socio-political milieu of the Imao family; and the formation of the Muslim resistance in Mindanao intertwined with incidents such as the Jabidah and Palimbang massacres.

The Jabidah massacre on March 18, 1968 was the execution of young Tausug army recruits. They were promised to be paid P50 for their training with the Philippine Army and would be issued with high-powered firearms. The recruits were dubbed “Jabidah,” named after an alluring beautiful woman based on local Moro lore.

They discovered they were recruited to be part of the top-secret Operation Merdeka—to invade and reclaim from Malaysia the disputed territory of Sabah. They will destabilize the state by sabotage that would entail the need to fight, and if necessary, kill their Muslim brothers from the other side of the shores. They were killed after they allegedly mutinied upon learning the true nature of their mission.

The Palimbang massacre was the mass murder of Muslim Moros by soldiers and paramilitary forces on September 24, 1974, in the coastal village of Malisbong in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao. Around 1,500 male Moros were killed inside the Tacbil Mosque, 3,000 women and children were detained—with the women being raped—and that 300 houses were razed by the government forces. The massacre occurred two years after Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in September 1972.

In September 2014, 40 years after the gruesome incident, the Commission on Human Rights acknowledged the atrocities that happened in Malisbong. Survivors and families of victims were included among the claimants of the P10 billion fund set aside by the government to compensate human rights victims during martial law.

Actor Nanding Josef said in an interview that the call for peace has pre-requisites—to be truthful and defend the truth, to seek for the good of all, and the underscoring of human rights.

The play is peppered with Toym’s artworks that showed the Japanese cartoon “Voltes V”, which is inseparable from the discussion on Martial Law and the Marcos regime.

The cartoon series was about an alien race of horned humans from the planet Boazania out to conquer Earth. Boazania was under dictatorial rule from a despotic emperor, who faced an uprising from Boazanians who were discriminated against and enslaved simply because they had no horns. It was up to Voltes V to defeat the Boazanians’ giant robots, known as beast fighters, sent to destroy the planet.

In 1979, shortly before the series finale, Marcos issued a directive banning Voltes V and other similarly themed anime series due to concerns about “excessive violence”.

The directive also led to speculations at the time that the series was also taken off the air due to its revolutionary undertones.

Depicted in many of Toym’s artworks are images of Voltes V’s villain characters from Planet Boazania that symbolize how the freedom of Filipinos in the past was controlled by government forces.

Almost simultaneously running with Anak Datu is  “Analog Childhood,” Toym’s third solo exhibition at Art Lounge Manila from September 4 to 22, 2022. It has over 40 tabletop sculptures and paintings that are again inspired by his childhood recollection of censorship by an authoritarian regime when his favorite Super Robot cartoons as well as video arcades, were cancelled for their alleged bad effects on the minds of the youth.

Toym Imao and I are contemporaries at the UP Diliman student movement in the late ’80s and early ’90s as members of the Sandigan para sa Mag-aaral at Sambayanan (SAMASA).

Anak Datu will run from September 16 to October 9 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s brand new blackbox theater Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez.

As popularized by Voltes V: “Let’s Volt in” and support our storytellers like Toym Imao.

Peyups is the moniker of University of the Philippines. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.