Mabining Mandirigma: Of steampunk, politics, gender, and paralysis


“Mabini” means “genteel” or “gentle”, while “mandirigma” means “warrior”. You put the two together and you get a play of words that describe the magnificent anachronism that is Tanghalang Pilipino’s gender-bending steampunk musical hit play, Mabining Mandirigma: A Steampunk Musical

With the overwhelming success of its initial run last July 2015 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, with the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, brings back the hit musical play, Mabining Mandirigma: A Steampunk Musical to cap off its 29th theatre season. Written by Dr. Nicanor Tiongson, this musical play foregrounds the legal and diplomatic heroism of Apolinario Mabini. Coincidentally, as the culminating production to commemorate the sesquicentennial birth of who was considered the brains of the revolution, Mabining Mandirigma, once again promises audience to an exciting journey through history as it utilizes Steampunk, a subgenre of science fiction that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th Century industrial steam-powered machinery, as a fitting backdrop to an already action-packed musical.

The musical starts off in 1898, as President Emilio Aguinaldo’s Adviser, Cabinet President, and first Foreign Minister, Mabini displayed a warrior’s spirit that belied his paralytic body and a principled character that could not be compromised by considerations of personal aggrandizement or political expediency. Without fear, he fought the ilustrado-cacique clique in the Malolos Government that issued government bonds that would allow them full control of the new government’s finances and activities. When Aguinaldo replaced Mabini with the political chameleon Paterno as cabinet president, Mabini, now much weakened by sickness, continued to support the masses fighting the American invaders, even long after Aguinaldo and his generals had capitulated to the new conquerors. To cut him off from the revolutionists, the Americans exiled Mabini to Guam. In 1902, his captors shipped him back to the Islands because he promised to finally take his oath of allegiance to the United States of America. But as soon as he landed in Manila, he pursued his revolutionary activities until his demise by cholera in 1903. Apolinario Mabini’s life is as testimony that there exists a politician who can forge and sharpen the sword of his integrity in the smithy of even the dirtiest kind of politics and still emerge unbroken, pure, and unblemished.

Despite that, Mabini remained a member of the minority, a character that belonged to a lesser category that can only be described as the “others”. Because of his disability, he shared the same status as that of the women during that time.  And what better way to explore this “othering” than to a cast a woman to play Apolinario Mabini. For this run, Liesl Batucan owns the stage as the sublime paralytic. One of the reasons of this untraditional casting is to experience the idea of “othering” in a musical where you hear an alto amidst all the tenors and basses.

Mabining Mandirigma, A Steampunk Musical runs at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino (Little Theater) from February 19 to March 13, 2016, Fridays to Sundays, with 3:00PM (Matinee) and 8:00PM (Gala) shows.

The play is supported by the following media partners:, Rakista Radio, DZXL 558 MNL, SkedSearch, Business World.

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