|An interview with Ms. Christine Bellen of the Filipino Department, Recipient of the 2008 Loyola Schools Scholarly Work with Most Social Impact Award
By Cholo Torres
I mumbled a few words to the recorder a few minutes before I went to the Filipino Department a week before Independence Day. Some of those words came out unclear when I first listened to the tape. Maybe because at that time I was a bit jittery because I was about to interview one of the most prominent authors in the country whose books I had come across with whenever I wanted to do storytelling to children.
“Pasensiya ka na sa kuwarto ko. Medyo magulo kasi,” she said even before I was able to introduce myself formally. Placed on her table, among piles of paper and books, was the plaque given to her as the recipient of the Scholarly Work with Most Social Impact Award. She started talking about herself and her play “Batang Rizal” when she noticed me looking at the plaque.
It was all because of Pipoy
Christine Bellen is a Martial Law baby. Born in 1972, she lived at the time when then President Ferdinand Marcos enforced the Rizal Law (RA 1425) which required all schools, colleges and universities to include in their curriculum subjects on the life works and writings of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. “Mayroon kaming Rizal in his Childhood Days noong nasa grade school ako, at ang mga librong ginamit ko noon ay nasa bahay pa namin hanggang ngayon,” she shares. “Tapos ngayon, mayroon akong pamangkin sa pinsan na nakakita ng mga librong iyon. Fascinated ang batang iyon kay Rizal at gustung-gusto niyang basahin lagi ‘yung Rizal In His Childhood Days. Sabi niya sa ‘kin: ‘Tita, ano kaya si Rizal noong bata siya?’” It was Bellen’s nephew, Pipoy, who inspired her into writing a play about Rizal’s childhood.
Was Rizal truly a sobra saliente? What was Rizal’s life like when he studied in the Ateneo? Was the famous anecdote about Rizal’s slippers true or was it just a myth? Those were the kind of questions Bellen tried to answer when she engaged in grueling research to be able to get a picture of Rizal’s childhood. However, she realized that the authors of the books she had been reading had different versions of the child Rizal. This made her really confused until one day she finally decided to ask herself: “Sino ang Rizal ko?”
The play that won it all, and the hearts of all
Batang Rizal is the first theater-musicale which features the childhood days of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal. The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) first showcased “Batang Rizal” in PETA Theater Center in 2007 as its first play for its 40th year. By June 2008, at least 94,000 have already watched the play.
“Batang Rizal” features the story of Pepito, a grade 6 student of Rizal Elementary School who goes back to time and meets Pepe, the child Rizal. Pepito accidentally broke the head of the Rizal statue which Mayor Rapcu gave his school as a gift for the Linggo ng Wika celebration. Mayor Rapcu gave Pepito’s family a week to pay for the statue or else Pepito’s father will lose his job and Pepito’s siblings will be kicked out of their school. When Pepito went back to the bodega to check on the statue, he was suddenly transported back to Pepe’s time and together, they met different people and went through adventures and misadventures. Pepe then had a first-hand experience of Pepito’s life as well when he was brought by Pepito into his own time. Their life experiences in each other’s time zones offers “Batang Rizal’s” viewers the message that patriotism is timeless and that it can be found in each and every one of us, even among children.
In Pepe, audiences have seen Rizal as a soon-to-be-hero. Though her play was commended for giving a precise portrayal of Rizal in his childhood days, Bellen insists, “Ang ginawa kong Rizal ay isang hindi perpektong Rizal. Ito iyong batang naka-relate din ang mga totoong bata sa kaniya at naintindihang naging mahirap ang pagiging bayani para sa kaniya, upang makita rin ng mga bata na may bayani sa bawat isa sa atin.”
The Loyola Schools Scholarly Work with Most Social Impact Award is given to deserving faculty who, through their scholarly work, have contributed to the task of social transformation by showing excellence in their respective fields while at the same time, addressing significant social issues such as poverty and inequality, violence, and environmental degradation and sustainability. “Batang Rizal” was given the distinction because of its masterful use of the arts to promote social awareness and formation among today’s youth – our country’s future Rizals. Although it was mainly intended to be shown for children, “Batang Rizal” caters to all ages because its elements, setting, and characters comprise a reality that is still evident today. “’Di ba sinabi ni Rizal na totoong may kanser sa lipunan? Nalulungkot ako na hanggang ngayon pinatutunayan natin ang kanser sa lipunan,” Bellen laments.
On being a “doctor-teacher”
“Batang Rizal” is Christine Bellen’s contribution to the society that she has embraced and loved throughout her life – a much needed cure for the cancer which still can be seen today. As a faculty member of the Filipino Department, it was easy for her to generate within her that love and service for the country which she wishes each and every Filipino nowadays have. “Sa amin kasi, mainam dahil grounded kami sa wika at kulturang Pilipino. Kumbaga iniisip namin agad: ‘Anong puwede nating maibigay sa bayan?’ Kung iyon ang iisipin mo, mayroon kang magagawa,” she shares.
Bellen adds that “Batang Rizal” is dedicated to the Ateneo. When I asked her about how we can encourage her fellow Loyola Schools faculty to become socially involved, she simply said, “Nang yakapin namin ang pagtuturo, niyakap na namin ang paglilingkod ‘di ba? Hindi sila magkahiwalay na buhay. Magkasama iyon.”
I am Rizal, you are Rizal, we are Rizal
From a wider perspective, Bellen offered us an insight on how to give our country a much needed ‘cure’: “Pilipino ka. Mayroon kang wika, mayroon kang kultura, mayroon kang kasaysayan higit sa lahat. At mula doon, doon mo titignan kung anong maiaalay mo para sa bayan. Idealistic ‘yon, pero doon talaga ito umuuwi.” By the time she had said that, I found myself sitting in front of her like a kid listening to a Lola Basyang story.
At that moment, I decided to add “Batang Rizal” to my personal reasons why we celebrate Independence Day.
(For comments or inquiries regarding the Loyola Schools Scholarly Work With Most Social Impact, you may call the Coordinator for Faculty Social Involvement Mr. Leland Joseph de la Cruz at 426-6001 local 5218. You may also email him at email@example.com.)