An archipelagic nation in South East [Asia], the Republic of the Philippines (Filipino: Republika ng Pilipinas), with Manila as its capital, consists of over 7,000 islands, with Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao the three main geographical divisions. The islands were part of the Spanish Empire for more than 300 years; as a result, Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion in the country. The islands were ceded by [Spain] to the [United States of America] as a result of the latter’s victory in the Spanish-American War (1898). The Philippines gained its independence from the United States in 1946.
The puppet tradition of the Republic of the Philippines dates only from the late 19th century when small carts called carrillo, also known as potei (from Chinese) kikimut and titire (from the Spanish títere) in Pampanga (a province in Central Luzon) would circulate presenting shadow plays with figures made of cardboard. The first recorded carrillo performances were presented in 1879 along Calle Magdalena, later in 1893 on Calle Crespo in the district of Quiapo in Manila, and in 1896 by Navarro Peralta (producer and actor). The carrillo often presented moro-moro (Spanish comedia tales where Christian heroes usually defeat Muslim foes). The form was very common in Calamba, Laguna (a province in Southern Luzon) where national hero José Rizal (1861-1896), as a boy, used to play with the shadow puppets. Teatro Anino (Shadow Theatre) used to present performances in the tradition of the carrillo in Nueva Ecija (a province in Central Luzon). The form seems to have been modelled on European [shadow theatre], which itself derived from Asian models.
For the last century, three higante ([giant puppets]) led the procession for the feast of the patron saint of fishermen, San Clemente (November 23), in Angono, Rizal. The 3-metre tall figures were called mag anak (father, mother and child) and had bodies made from bamboo and the head of papier-mâché. The costumes are bright and colourful. Each higante is controlled by one person who is inside the body of the figure. Since 1987, this has evolved into the building of multiple figures representing each district (barangay) of the city in a festive event supported by the Department of Tourism. Plaster of Paris and resin are used in building contemporary figures. The Mantawi Festival (May 7) in Cebu City represents more recent variations on these large parade-style figures.
Contemporary puppetry in the Philippines dates to the 1970s, when puppet theatre was introduced to the Filipino audience as part of theatre for young audiences. The different groups/puppeteers have largely specialized in the different puppet forms – [Muppet]-style [rod puppets], [shadow] or other puppets based on Asian models, [black theatre] technique, [glove puppets], [tabletop puppetry], [string puppets], and [ventriloquism].
Alsa Balutan (Pack Up) Puppet Group Inc., which used Muppet-inspired puppets, was founded in 1976 by Tessie Ordoña (later Tessie Greenfield) to play to diverse young audiences. She studied puppet therapy at the London Puppetry Centre on a British Council Grant before emigrating to the United States where she has been active in puppetry since the 1980s.
Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas (Aware Theatre of the Philippines) was founded in 1977 by University of the Philippines Professor of Literature, [Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio] (known as Tita Amel), and soon garnered national and international acclaim, performing successfully in Japan (1978), USSR (1979), working with Japan’s Ohanashi Caravan (1980) in Metro Manila, and participating in international workshops in the Philippines (1983), Malaysia (1985), Thailand (1987), and Indonesia (1989). Playwright and director Tita Amel studied theatre at the University of Wisconsin (USA) where her first two plays won a university playwriting competition and were published. These works were followed by forty-five other plays, two thirds for children and all for Teatrong Mulat. Her research for Mulat clarified the need of a theatre for young audiences which presents Asian and Filipino folktales utilizing rod and shadow puppets inspired by the Japanese [Bunraku] and Indonesian [wayang] (rod and shadow). Teatrong Mulat became known for the Philippines’ first full-length musical puppet play, Abadeja: Ang Ating Sinderela (Abadeja: Our Own Cinderella, 1977), with music by Professor Felipe de Leon, Jr. Later works include Papet Pasyon (Puppet Passion Play, 1985), with music by Professor Rodolfo de Leon, which translated the Filipino traditional recitation of the death and resurrection of Jesus into a puppet version for children. Sita & Rama: Papet Ramayana (2004) interpreted the Indian epic [Ramayana] through shadow puppetry with music by Joey Ayala and Cynthia Alexander. Teatrong Mulat and Tita Amel have garnered more than eighty awards and citations, the latest, “Mother of Puppet Theatre in the Philippines”, from the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) at a Puppetry Festival held in the University of the Philippines (2010). Teatrong Mulat has represented the Philippines in thirty-four international puppet festivals and has travelled throughout the Philippines including successful performances in thirty ash-covered sites after the Mt Pinatubo eruptions. The Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Teatro Papet Museo (Theatre Puppet Museum) was built under a grant from two former Filipino presidents (Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph E. Estrada). School children, teachers, parents, the general public and foreign visitors enjoy Mulat’s educational and entertaining puppet shows. The founder’s daughter, Professor Amihan Bonifacio-Ramolete, leads the troupe aided by her husband Raymund Ramolete (technical director) and their two puppeteer-children, Aina and Roel, in addition to the other professionals of the company.
The Black Theater of Manila (BTM, the puppetry wing of the Philippine Information Agency), established by Lolita Aquino in 1978, used the black theatre technique as well as glove puppets for information dissemination. The first production of BTM was part of a nutrition campaign and featured Kapitan Munggo (Captain Mung Bean) who became a nationally known image. Aquino trained in 1981 in Czechoslovakia (Black Theatre of Prague) and began practising black theatre technique. The group first appeared on [television] from the 1980s with programmes tailored to educational and development needs. Members of the group have studied in Indonesia and Japan as well as Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic and toured in 2001 with Ohanashi Theatre (Japan) with the production, Ang Pagong at Matsing (The Turtle and the Monkey) focusing on environmental and cleanliness issues.
In 1987, Roppets Edutainment Production Inc. (glove [hand] puppets, Muppet-style puppets, and [tabletop puppetry]) was founded by Danilo Liwanag after participating in an evangelical mission with a singing group (Rhythms of Praise) in Singapore. Having to work with a child audience, the group used puppets. Music and [object theatre] have been combined in the work since. This is a commercial company with branches around the country. It has birthday party events, creates mascots for commercials, and offers workshops in varied techniques. The company also hopes to spread civic and ecological values and has represented the Philippines at various ASEAN Puppetry Festivals.
Tali Galaw (Animated Strings), which specializes in string marionettes of wood and bamboo, is a subgroup of Roppets founded in 1995. It developed a special production for the Philippine Revolution Centennial (1998), Ipinaglaban na Kalayaan (Fight for Freedom) to present in museums and theatres while also marketing figures representing heroes of the Spanish colonial period.
Iskul Bus Pambatang Palabas (School Bus Theatre for Children), founded in 1991, is a Christian company operating under the Roppets umbrella. Their presentations for children or workshops for teachers are often held in churches. They broadcast on station DZAS/702 every Saturday and received the 1998 Golden Dove Award, for “Best Children’s Program”, given by Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP, the Association of Philippines Radio Broadcasters).
The Anino Shadowplay Collective, formed in the 1990s, is a group of multi-media artists dedicated to popularizing the art of shadow play and is now headed by Teny Arellano. Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura), an adaptation of the 1838 metrical romance by Francisco Balthazar, is an example of their work. The projects often draw inspiration from local history, literature, or epic materials. Florante at Laura was presented at the 10th World Festival of Puppet Arts in Prague (2006).
[Ventriloquism] became popular in 2000 through the work of writer and artist Ony Carcamo. His Laff & Learn Kidshow teaches children character-building concepts using magic, humour, and ventriloquism. He has received awards from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2001) and has performed in the Cultural Center for the Philippines Main Theatre. Another noted ventriloquist, Wanlu, presents his signature act Ventrillusion, which combines ventriloquism, puppetry and magical illusions.
While puppetry is relatively young in the Philippines it has developed extensively over the last four decades and collaborations with others groups throughout the ASEAN region, Asia, and the world have allowed the art to grow.
- Bonifacio, Amelia Lapeña. The Asian Theatre for the Filipino. Quezon City: University of the Philippines: National Science Development Board, 1978.
- Bonifacio, Ma. Amihan L. Puppetry in the Philippines: A Case Study of Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas. Unpublished Master’s Thesis (Theater Arts), University of the Philippines Diliman, 1996.
- Bonifacio, Ma. Amihan L. “Trends and Development in Philippine Puppet Theater”. Diliman Review. Vol. 47, Nos. 3-4, 1999, pp. 25-31.
- Casanova, Arthur P. Kasaysayan at Pag-unlad ng Dulaang Pambata sa Pilipinas [History and Development of Children’s Theatre in the Philippines]. Manila: UST Publishing House, 2006. (In Filipino)
- Fernandez, D.G. “Puppet Theater”. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. Vol. VII. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994.