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Satire Art ‘Bahala Na’ on Commuter Pain Questions Filipino Resilience

Ask yourself 'why' if you find these artworks funny.
by Ara Eugenio
Sep 16, 2021
Photo/s: Marcus Aragon
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For most of college, Marcus Aragon would find himself clinging on to the back of a packed jeepney, forcing himself into a train, and shimmying through a bunch of people from the back of the bus, just so he could go to school and back to his home. 

It's actually terrifying, he says, but when you do it almost every day for five years alongside fellow commuters who are as used to it as you are, it's easy to shrug it off with a laugh.

"But how did something so scary become so normalized?". This was the question he wanted to answer when he pursued the topic for his undergraduate thesis as a painting major at the UP College of Fine Arts. 

Marcus Aragon
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Titled, "Bahala Na: A Satire of Filipino Resilience in Print", Aragon silk-screen printed his commuting struggles in five illustrations, a homage to each working day of the week. It referenced elementary textbooks, satirizing so-called Filipino resilience through the lens of the creaking public transport system.

At the start of typhoon season in 2019, his fourth year in college, Aragon scrambled to pick an academic research topic that would get himself out of UP. A thesis wasn't supposed to be an artist's Magnum Opus, but picking something he had a lot to say about mattered if he were to spend the next year or so doing it.

"Usually when there are floods, there will be someone in a mermaid suit or magswi-swimming sa labas and you know it’s awful, the community is freaking flooded. Pero there’s some sort of humor that’s drawn from that. And I was thinking about how it's funny but it’s sort of odd, na at this point, it’s just a laughing matter to us," Aragon told reportr.

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Marcus Aragon

"But I wanted to sort of magnify it into a place where it’s a bit more mundane and not really thought about that much. This whole resilience part where it affects widely more peopleresilience that’s very normalized," he said. 

'Bahala na si Batman'

For Aragon, everyday commuting in the Philippines is like going to hell and back. You can die in transit.

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"The whole commuting really only started for me at the start of college. It wasn’t something that I was just accepting as a child, learning na 'this is how it is'. It’s more like, “oh, ganito pala'," he said.

"It’s like you sort of fight for your life just to get home. That was always the thing that I was so bothered about when I'm at school and all the classes are done... I don’t wanna go home, I wanna be home ‘cause the going part is the worst part," he added.

Marcus Aragon
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He wanted to get to the nitty gritty of his study, to find out where the whole resilience idea or bahala na came from. History gave him answers. 

"As Filipinos, we’re known for being colonized for over 300 years. That passiveness and fatalistic attitude comes in part from those because when you are a country that has been passed along to three different colonizers, you do end up having this national feeling of smallness wherein you kind of just have to go with the flow. You just have to deal with it," he said of his thesis findings. 

This defeatist mindset was how he ended up referencing the common phrase "Bahala Na si Batman" for the title. "[It] really encapsulates that fatalistic attitude of Filipinos. Bahala na roots from religious fatalism. It's like the Filipino version of 'Let Go and Let God', except it’s more sarcastic and sardonic," he said.

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"It’s not like 'Our God will save us', but it’s like 'Come what may, I really don’t care anymore. Bahala na.' I love how much that encapsulates that attitude, na 'come what may' nalang ‘cause we don’t have a choice," he added.

By referencing textbook illustrations, Aragon said he wanted to subvert the usual case of depicting people as model citizens, a trend that started during the American colonization when Filipinos were pacified through educational materials. 

Marcus Aragon
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As someone who finished his thesis despite challenges of remote learning, Aragon said one thing about the whole experience makes him sad. 

As their thesis exhibit moved to the digital space, other meaningful aspects got overlooked. The paper itself was handmade, with actual bus tickets, cigarette packs, and neon jeepney signs incorporated in the material. 

"Having all that debris is to sort of amplify how it is a redundant process. That it’s a redundant thing that happens, especially bus tickets. Those are always collected, discarded, and then collected again. You’re always gonna end up with a pile of bus tickets somewhere at home if you do take the bus," he said.

The role of artists in society has never become more apparent as today, when movements like Tumindig are playing out in defiance to the hardships faced by Filipinos under negligent leaders. 

"I didn’t want to make it something that was like 'oh, our system is rotten. Our government is rotten'. We already know the government’s rotten.. It was more like to drive the inquiry of 'do we understand why we’re okay with this and why this is funny to us?', he added.

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Marcus Aragon

At the end of the day, Aragon said his work, as a college requirement, was only supposed to be an inquiry. If anything, the real work is only starting, having just graduated from college at 24.

"Right now, given the considerations such as the virus, the delta variant that makes my vaccine seem kind of useless.. I still wanna continue my practice as a studio artist," he said. 

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"For me, it’s okay if someone doesn’t really get that my work is an inquiry on Filipino resilience. Sometimes, a laugh from someone is more than enough from me. When it becomes relatable, at least you know that we’re all in this together. Sort of," he added.

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