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Tribute to a ‘fallen’ friend and comrade

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Behn Cervantes INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The tribute to our dear friend, Behn Cervantes, last Wednesday at UP’s Protestant Chapel predominantly  turned out to be a celebration of the activist theater side to his prismatic persona—and a happy reunion for his grateful comrades, many now also senior citizens like their beloved fellow-fighter.

Luis Jalandoni and the National Democratic Front rendered “high tribute” to “Kasamang Behn, whose piercing criticism of the Marcos dictatorship was a colorful part of the people’s struggle for national and social liberation over a period of more than 40 years.”

For his part, Jose Maria Sison recalled that he and Behn “belonged to the same batch in the UP Dramatic Club as Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Adul de Leon and others who proceeded to excel as directors in terms of social content and creativity.”

Other friends and comrades shared heartwarming and occasionally “sizzling” recollections, activist songs were fervently sung, and the entire evening served as a timely reminder of the major impact that Behn had, not just in his friends and loved ones’ lives, but on the nation as a whole.

Theater scene

We were particularly glad that his seminal and pioneering contributions to the “engaged” theater scene were frequently cited by his appreciative coworkers—because, only a few years ago, they had thoughtlessly been given short shrift. We had railed against the shocking display of “artistic amnesia” at the time, and nagged Behn to write his memoirs to definitively diss his “forgetful” detractors, so we were extra happy that last Wednesday’s testimonials did exactly that.

It was also moving to hear some of Behn’s siblings speak so lovingly of him, revealing a side seldom seen by most other people, who were used to seeing his more volatile, mercurial and larger-than-life “signature” persona.

Most revelatory of all was the shared anecdote about Behn’s “secret” financial assistance to  help newlywed relatives get a start in life. The generous act was so privately and self-effacingly done that last Wednesday’s event was the first time that many of Behn’s other relatives and friends had heard about it!

For our part, we weren’t surprised, because Behn had told us a lot of other “secrets” in the course of our decades-long friendship, and we knew that there were more layers to him than an onion—and prying them off could be a lifetime endeavor for us—and even for him!

Had he written his memoirs, they would have blown everyone away with their “eyewitness” account of so many key events and personages in unforgettably personal and historic interplay!

Alas, Behn kept postponing that admittedly awesome task, so we occasionally sat him down to record at least some of his all-important recollections. Now that he’s gone, we’ll have to piece together the rest of his tumultuous story from secondary sources, and we hope that Behn’s other friends and confidantes will join us in this key endeavor.

Finally, we especially miss Behn a lot now, because the Philippine theater scene is again in the stranglehold of “colonial mentality,” favoring “Broadway” over local productions by a shocking ratio of 80 to 20 percent.

Behn railed against this in the 1970s with his famous “Beast of Broadway” tirades and rally, so we are inspired by his fervent and insightful example to sound the battlecry again today.

If Behn’s “followers” join the renewed campaign for “local” over “foreign,” that would be the best way for them to pay genuine  tribute to their “fallen” friend and comrade!


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