Ghosts of Martial Law Past, and Present

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By Joseph L. Garcia

Theater Review
A Game of Trolls
Presented by PETA
PETA Theater Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive,
New Manila, 
Quezon City
Sept. 2 to 28, with 3 pm matinees
on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays,
and 8 pm shows on Sept. 23 and 28.

How do you add a touch of whimsy, humor, and emotion to the dark period of the Marcos regime? Why, through song, of course.

Ghosts of Martial Law Past, and Present

A Game of Trolls (taking its title from HBO program Game of Thrones), is the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (PETA) musical response to the harsh vitriolic comments spilled all over social media, which reached a fever pitch during the 2016 elections. This is the production’s third iteration, following one in December 2016, and one last summer.

A Game of Trolls follows the story of Heck (Hector, played alternately by Myke Salomon and TJ Valderama), a paid “troll” on social media, one of many, led by Sir Bimbam (Vince Lim), whose clean looks makes him believable as a pampered child of Marcos cronies. In a twist, Heck turns out to be the child of activist and Martial Law human rights victim Tere (played alternately by Upeng Galang-Fernandez and Gail Guanlao-Billones), who was forced to abandon Hector due to her devotion to her cause. This embittered Heck towards the Left, which is why he helped establish Bimbam’s troll network and fake news web site, Strongman Rule Rules, which praises the deeds of the late dictator.

Heck is joined by his friends, Makisig (Lemuel Silvestre and Joseph Madriaga alternating), Jude (Kiki Baento), and his love interest, an activist named Cons (Gold Villar-Lim), who are unaware of his apologist stripe. Heck’s officemates assist him in spreading lies about the Marcos regime, specializing in fighting with people on comments sections on Facebook. Due to Heck’s actions, several figures from the fight against the Marcos dictatorship visit him from beyond the grave, including murdered country doctor Bobby de la Paz (Gilbert Onida), writer and poet Eman Lacaba (alternately John Moran and Juan Miguel Severo), activist Ed Jopson (Norbs Portales), indigenous peoples leader Macli-ing Dulag (Roi Calilong, Jasper Jimenez), and Sister Mariani Dimaranan (Ada Tayao). Two anonymous women also join this troupe: a victim of the Escalante massacre (the 1985 protest in Negros’ sugarland that was violently dispersed by the government’s paramilitary groups), and a victim killed during one of Imelda Marcos’ demolition projects. They show him what it was really like to live, fight, then die for a cause, which the willfully blind Heck pins simply on a recalcitrance towards government, as opposed to a genuine desire for change.

Sounds like heavy stuff – it is – but just as much as tears might flow from the sheer pathos of the situation, tears of laughter just might roll down your cheeks as you watch A Game of Trolls, which runs for the whole month of September. For example, a man in drag with long hair, a baseball cap, and a skimpy camouflage top (doesn’t that just remind you of Asec. Margaux “Mocha” Uson?) makes an appearance during a torture scene, where techniques used by soldiers against activists and persons of interest were tried on Hector – via a game show format. Moments that could have been quite heavy-handed (such as a keyboard battle between the trolls and the people online) end somehow on a light note, showing the trolls with egg on their face (and hilariously, one troll driven insane by her typing and ends up barking like a dog on the floor). The final song, after all, is a rap battle between the trolls and the millennials. Moments of sweetness that appeal to young audiences are brought to the stage by Heck and Cons also provide some lightheartedness.

As for style, the music takes cues from folk protest songs popular in the ’70s and ’80s, sung in hushed tones in classroom protests and guerilla camps up in the hills.

Yet, despite the efforts to make A Game of Trolls funny, lips are still pursed, nostrils still flare, and there’s still a desire to look away from the emotionally charged torture scenes – it’s due less to a graphic nature but their emotional implications – and even the slideshows featuring graphic photos of victims of the Duterte administration’s extrajudicial killings. A new song, for example, was added to the book to accommodate the case of Kian delos Santos, the hapless 17-year-old student gunned down in Caloocan who begged for his life, saying he had an examination the next day. We guess it’s painful to watch because here it is, our world torn apart by ideology, and as an audience member, in life and on stage, it seems as if one is powerless to clean up the mess. The new songs regarding the recent extrajudicial killings are a perfect fit, for they wrap up the play nicely (in a manner of speaking) by connecting the Marcos regime and the Duterte administration (which, one may say, cuts the Marcoses a lot of slack, beginning with the dictator’s burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani).

The rap battle and the kitsch might imply that this play is staged for the young – perhaps thinking adults may no longer have to hear the facts and figures all over again, but younger ones easily molded by propaganda will definitely benefit from the information presented in the musical. This reporter raised a concern about the violence onstage, but director Maribel Legarda was quick to defend its necessity. “God, the television shows that these young people watch – this is nothing.

“At a certain point, they have to know the information. How are you supposed to say [that]? – you can’t completely sugarcoat it – and why [should you]? The other side isn’t doing – you know.”

For tickets, contact Ticket World (891-9999,, or visit