If you have spent much time canoodling in public parks, then you know that the Philippine primary and secondary school systems have an obsession with presentations, dances and skits (which, properly, should be a short sketch or scene within a longer performance, and not as it has become: an excuse to look silly and giggle in front of the class.) Whether as a learning aid, a distraction, or as a means to exploit a cheap workforce to entertain guests of dubious honor, student presentations are an essential part of a DepEd-certified education.
Every afternoon, hundreds of students troop to Rizal Park, Quezon Memorial Circle and other public spaces to practice. Most come in uniforms of their different schools and the parks are filled with skirts of various colors whirling with each dance step or dramatic leap.
During Linggo ng Wika, when we dress up in what we believe people from Not Manila wear, the uniforms may be replaced with grass skirts and g-strings to celebrate our cultural diversity.
Revolutionary attire may be the order of the day when Independence Day comes along, commemorating how all Filipinos who fought against the Castillians wore white shirts, red pants and straw hats with KKK painted on them. When red pants were not available, rolled up denim jeans apparently served just as well for the Philippine Revolutionary Army.
And, always, in the middle of each group of students, whether they be rehearsing an interpretative dance of the Battle of Manila or a scene from Noli Me Tangere, is the commanding (near despotic) presence of the class’s bading.
I do not mean this in a mean homophobic way but in the sense in which kids often label each other unthinkingly: Jonat Manyak, say, or Impeng Negro, or Winston Mahilum. True, these labels are generally more cruel and psychologically-damaging in the long run, but the kids don’t really mean it. Think Maximo Oliveros, not those horrible scenes where Roderick Paulate has his head dunked into a river to make him, I suppose, renounce his gayness. Well, except that part where someone tried to rape Maxie, and that scene where his dad dies. Just the happy parts.
Where do these bading choreographers come from, one must ask, eventually. How does the DepEd ensure that there is at least one per class? Further, how does the DepEd rather successfully avoid, er, artistic differences by ensuring that there is rarely ever more than one per class? Is there a DepEd memorandum, that orders principals to issue each class throughout the islands with one? If the quota is filled, will a student be forced to sign a contract forbidding him to be artistic?
Where do they learn their skills and their vision? It isn’t enough that one can dance to be able to choreograph and direct and pull off a fabulous performance, one has to have passion and art. Does one suddenly wake up one morning with the realization that they want to be bading choreographers?
These guys are the lifeblood of every cultural week, fiesta, class presentation and foundation day, but after that, quo vadis, vaklush? Where do they go when they grow up? Is there a boulevard of broken dreams for them as well? A point when they drown their sorrows in gin and wonder bitterly where it all went wrong? After all, no matter how much you try to choreograph things, there isn’t always a happy ending.