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A musical tribute to 16 martyrs

/ 11:31 PM February 19, 2012

It may seem like a strange subject for a musical—the massacre of 16 La Salle brothers and several Filipinos as World War II winded down.

But for award-winning director Peque Gallaga, a true-green La Sallian, having been with the school from elementary to college, the event deserved to be celebrated.

In a press conference announcing the restaging of the all-La Salle production of “A Fire in the Soul: A Cantata,” Gallaga, who is directing the musical, said, “They (La Sallian martyrs) were the first foreigners who proved Filipinos were worth dying for.”


For the De la Salle educational system, theirs was a story of service to humanity worth remembering eternally and having songs sung in homage.

Based in Singapore at the outbreak of the war, the 16 La Sallian brothers came to the Philippines when the United Kingdom expelled German nationals from its territories. The British were at war with the Germans in Europe.

Innocent victims

As the tide turned against the Japanese invaders and the Americans made their unrelenting drive toward Manila, the enemies vented their frustration on hapless, unarmed citizens.

The brothers and some families that had sought refuge in the chapel of the De la Salle school on Taft Avenue were advised to flee.

But the Japanese were not at war with the Germans, they were allies, in fact, so the brothers thought they would be safe, Gallaga said.

What happened on Feb. 12, 1945, was too gruesome even at a time when people had gotten used to the sight of blood and gore. The massacre left only one survivor.

Gallaga said, aside from showing a love for their host country, the brothers’ death  also showed that investing in Filipinos meant not only teaching them literacy and numeracy. He said the message of the show was “on the level of what inspired people to join the ‘yellow army’ (pro-Cory Aquino groups that toppled a dictator)—high ideals, high principles …”


Vicente Garcia Groyon, who wrote the libretto (lyrics), said the brothers’ story had to be remembered not just by the La Salle community. Von de Guzman, composer, said, because of its subject, the cantata was probably more of a requiem, a remembrance of the dead.

Gallaga said the musical, created by Gabby Fernandez, would also show people the La Salle brothers’ commitment to education. “Not many people understood the idea of the brothers. This (cantata) introduces the brothers and what they did for Philippine education— how they embraced the country’s culture and tradition that make De la Salle (what it is).”

“A Fire in the Soul” was first staged in the Bacolod campus in the 50th year of the massacre, under the sponsorship of the La Salle brothers in Singapore, one reason why cast and crew, when talking about bringing the show outside the university, think the island state is the more likely destination.

But Bro. Bernard S. Oca, FSC, executive producer, would rather not raise false expectations. “It is so expensive to mount. I do not know if staging outside the university, especially in Singapore will happen.”

New cast member

This latest production has added actor Michael de Mesa to the cast, as one of the martyred brothers. Old-hands Franco Laurel, Al Gatmaitan, Jonel Mojica, Miguel Castro and Floyd Tena are the other main players.

Since De la Salle University (DLSU) has gone coeducational years after the brothers’ martyrdom, women have also been given roles in the production, including Naomi Sison as Alma Mater and Conchita Castillo and Tanya Lopez as narrators.

Ricky Gallaga, Dado Jose, Louie Zabaljauregi and veteran actor Jaime Fabregas are also narrators. Also featured are singing groups from the different La Salle campuses, including kids from La Salle Green Hills.

The cantata, part of the yearlong celebration of DLSU’s centennial in the Philippines that started last year, will  have two performances at the Teresa Yuchengco auditorium, 7th floor, Don Enrique T. Yuchengco Hall— matinee at 3 p.m., February 26, and gala at 8 p.m., February 27.

Oca said the gala staging was in honor of benefactors who were alumni and the International Association of La Sallian Universities. DLSU is hosting the meeting of presidents of member universities.

Tickets for the matinee performance on February 26 cost P200 each.  Students pay the discounted rate of P100 per ticket. For the gala show on February 27, orchestra seats are priced at P500 (regular) and P250 (students). Balcony seats cost P250 (regular) and P200 (students).

Call the DLSU Centennial Office at 5244611 local 290 or e-mail

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TAGS: A Fire in the Soul, cantata, La Salle brothers, martyrs, Massacre, Music, Musical
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