I remember a play we did in High School. We staged the classic, Ang Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio. It is a high-drama, high-energy play set in a community of beggars. But these are beggars who have made a business out of being blind, lepers, amputees, and even through their babies. It is the organized underworld of the underprivileged. In this society, there is but one great sin: Love. They feel that the earnings that should go to the “collection” go instead to objects of affection. (They have a deeper reason, but I’d be spoiling the play for you.)
On trial is the man named Serapio. He has been accused of loving someone named Sol. Without having to spill the ending (if you haven’t watched it yet), the play ends very disturbingly – the exact feeling that the author Paul Dumol wanted to evoke.
Mr. Pagsi, (Dr. Onofre R. Pagsanghan, to the people who had never been his students), posed the question to us as we were rehearsing: Why is the play entitled Ang paglilitis ni Mang Serapio? If one were to be strict, it should be Paglilitis KAY Mang Serapio. The slight change in the shortest word of the title may be a matter of semantics to some, but it also uncovers one of the play’s most poignant messages.
Literally, Paglilitis KAY means that Serapio is on trial. It means he is the one being scrutinized, questioned, and it’s his life placed on the loaded scales of justice the beggars had. If that’s what the play is about, then that’s what the title should be, right?
Paglilitis NI implies that Serapio is one himself conducting the trial. He owns it. He can even be the one interrogating and litigating.
Granted that the title is Paglilitis NI Mang Serapio, and if the semantics there means that Serapio is trying someone, who is he putting on trial?
Mr. Pagsi made it clear: We are all on trial. Serapio interrogates our values, our persistence, and even our souls. The audience is being asked: Why love? Can we still love in a world hostile to anything that resembles values?
It is the same thing that is happening today with Corono’s Impeachment Trial. One TV station entitled their coverage this way: Chief Justice on Trial. While that may be true, we are all on trial with him.
We’ve been here before. A little over a decade ago, we impeached a president. As the song goes, “Here we are back where we were before…” How have grown as a country?
Have we at least curbed corruption? Are the Senators we placed smarter have a stronger sense of values than before? Are the prosecutors who represent the people better?
We’re still opening bank accounts, opening envelopes, arguing about evidence, arguing about how to argue about evidence – are we doing it better?
We have the Secretary of Justice testifying against the Chief Justice. What does that say about our judicial system?
The President, the head of the Executive Branch of the government keeps attacking the head of the Judiciary as the latter is still on trial. The Supreme Court and the Senate are going back and forth with TROs and resolutions. Are our three co-equal branches working better with each other? Or are we more gridlocked than before?
Are our procedures carried out not just with technicality, but with a deeper sense of humanity? Or are we disregarding rule of law, to carry out what is easy?
The answers so far, like the ending of Serapio, have been very disturbing.