“It felt so real,” said 76-year-old Robert Lane, an antique shop owner in Manila’s Intramuros area, where a bloody chapter in the city’s history was relived on Sunday both to honor the past and advance a noble cause in the present.
The fierce street fighting in the closing days of World War II was retold in an outdoor theatrical piece titled “Kalayaan: A Battle Reenactment of the 1945 Liberation of Manila.” The 20-minute show, held at the site that used to host the Philippine Constabulary barracks, depicted the Filipino and American operations to free the city from Japanese forces from February to March that year.
Performed as dusk fell on Manila, the production came complete with pyrotechnics, booming sound effects and mock-up weapons and military vehicles—brought to life by an acting ensemble playing combatants and victims.
Kalayaan was a fundraiser organized by a group of air-soft gun enthusiasts called Buhay na Kasaysayan (BNK) and MD Juan Enterprises, a company that reproduces vintage WWII jeeps.
The show offered a different way of looking at an important part of the country’s history, said Pedro Javier, an engineer and one of the BNK founders. “This serves as a piece of edu-tainment (education and entertainment). We draw the youth to our history and help them remember the sacrifices made by our heroes.”
Reached on Tuesday, Rommel Juan, chief executive officer of MD Juan, said the March 24 show raised about P1 million from ticket sales and corporate and individual sponsors. He noted that while the tickets were sold at P1,500 each, many spectators willingly paid more.
Proceeds from Kalayaan will all go to Hero Foundation, which was set up in 1988 by then President Corazon Aquino to extend educational assistance to children of Filipino soldiers killed in action or totally incapacitated in the line of duty.
Hero (which stands for Help Educate and Rear Orphans) has so far helped 2,376 scholars and is currently supporting 700 youths with their studies.
A handful of war veterans and officials of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office formed part of Sunday’s audience.
“This is one way to remember them. Our World War II veterans are being taken for granted. Few (of our young people) know what they did. What most of us know from history books are the defeats we suffered,” said Albert Labrador, one of the actors who also helped write the script.
“The Philippine Scouts during the Japanese occupation was the most elite unit of the US Army. They were able to stop the Japanese and hold them off for several months,” he recalled. “(Because of this) the Japanese lost all the opportunity to reach Australia.”
The first activity of its kind to be held in Intramuros, the production was mounted in cooperation with the Hero Foundation, Intramuros Administration, and the Department of Tourism.
“We want to make this an annual event so we can attract more people to Intramuros. We hope to invite students to see an interactive event like this. It will be more educational for them,” Juan said.
Intramuros served as the last Japanese stronghold after the fighting to liberate Manila had destroyed much of the city.