Trials, Dreams, Illusions: Ang Paglilitis Kay Mang Serapio Throughout the scene of the “trial” of Mang Serapio, we can already see a lot of deviations from what a normal play should be like. In order to start the discussion of the play itself, I would like to state some elements that remained a mystery to me, even as I reached the end of the story and read it again all together. For some reason, it is very hard to truly understand what the play is alluding to, but nonetheless, what I would state here is my reading and understanding of the text.
The idea that a “trial” is juxtaposed with the idea of a “federacion” of these people of a lower status in society is very illogical. This federation of sorts is actually a group of beggars where these beggars are supposed to pay a fixed amount of money to the federation every day. This tax seems somewhat surreal and the reader is then urged to question and learn the identity of this said federation. Why do beggars have to pay such a tax to these higher ups in their group? What benefits do they get from this so called “federacion”?
These sorts of questions are not answered by the author. It remains a mystery that the reader must challenge and solve as he goes on through the story. The play, in itself is actually a very simple one. However, defining it as such, may pose some problems from other readers and interpretations of the play. What I would like to say, by defining it in such a manner is that, the play is very different from other traditional plays. The play shows only one scene, with the dialogue revolves around a few characters talking in a roundabout manner.
Buod Ng Paglilitis Kay Mang Serapio
The scene of the trial, at the start of the story, can be first depicted at first glance as that of the scene of lawyers and trials that can be seen in television and in actual hearings. However, as one starts to read more about Mang Serapio, we can actually see that this trial is not as it seems. There are no lawyers here, no “justice” being questioned and tried here. It is simply a formality that is being addressed by such so called “righteous” people of the federation. The trial, as what the two people questioning the main character says is not to show and make Mang Serapio be absolved of his crime, but to show the audience, beggars of all ort the punishment that he has incurred: being blinded. The main character of the play, Mang Serapio, actually has little to say about his impending condemnation. The questions addressed to him were actually basic questions about his life: his name, occupation, his wife, his child. All of these things are actually already known to the two people questioning Mang Serapio. Again, as I said, all of the questions are actually just formalities, in order to make a sense of a real trial of sorts.
A trial should be a test, in that the one that is guilty is given a chance to redeem himself, as what Mang Serapio tried to do by asserting his innocence all throughout the play The play distorts the notion of what should be the qualities of a good story: a good plot, characters that stand out, character development, and a good setting. All of these constitute, in my opinion, what a good story should be like. However, the story of Mang Serapio is really different in that there is really no plot, and the setting makes it that there is no room for the characters to develop more.
Although it can be argued that the main character changed at the end of the story, we can see him as somewhat delusional because of the way that he thinks a ragged doll or a chamois is actually his daughter Sol. It cannot be sure that he is actually telling the truth about the death of his daughter, or whether he actually had a daughter at all. However, his being delusional actually contributes to the idea that the grief of losing someone you love and close to, which in this case of Mang Serapio having lost both his wife and daughter Sol, can push you to a state of illusions and wanting to escape from reality.
We should now address the question of why the main character is still punished despite him being found innocent of the crime he is being accused with: “pagaaruga ng bata”. I find it rather comical the way Mang Serapio asked what his crime is and that the ones questioning him answered that he will find out as the trial progresses. The questioners actually addressed the audience and said the answer to the question right away. As the trial progressed, Mang Serapio again questioned what he is being accused of, probably denying what he has heard earlier, but again, the questioners just answered with the same statement again: “pagaaruga ng bata”.
As the story reached its climax, when Sol, said to be dead, having been killed by a passing jeepney, is depicted in the “manika”, Mang Serapio should have been absolved of his crime of taking care of a child. The crime being that he is wasting the money of the said federation by providing for another person, where it should have been given to the federation in the first place. However, he is still punished despite being innocent of what he is being accused of. His new crime being that he is being delusional, dreaming and pretending that something gone is still within one’s reach: an illusory life.
This illusory life, his wasting money on such a thing that he considers his daughter is still attached to him. Thus, he is still blinded, with that it can actually gain more sympathy from other people, him being an old man and now blind, gaining more profits to give to the federation. Another feature of the play is the language found in it. There are certain dialogues wherein the questioners actually complete what the other is trying to say and sometimes also repeats what he has heard from, for example, from the three beggars that act as witnesses of the said crime.
The questioners also act as the “superior” ones with the way that they question and make a fool out of Mang Serapio. This can be seen when they greeted Mang Serapio, saying “Magandang gabi, ginoo” whereas he answers back with a greeting, “Magandang gabi rin ho”. Now is it not normal for people to answer back a greeting? This just goes to show that they are conceited and are aware of the power that they hold over these beggars.
Another mystery that remains unanswered, is whether these characters acting as superiors are also beggars and of the lower social status, or if they are actually people of a higher social status, maintaining order and control over these beggars. The reader now has to argue on what side is actually right and what is really wrong. What Mang Serapio did, imagining things and wasting his time on such a thing he calls his daughter, actually made his time stop and living in a world closed off from reality. He is living in a world where his Sol is still alive, but is kept inside a “baul” for some unknown reason.
Such things make a person unable to move on with his life, and just staying in the past. The story, although not necessarily didactic, tells us that one should move on with his life, instead of looking back and caring about things that have long past and is now gone. One should be punished for such an act, and the punishment of blinding the guilty person can allude to the fact that he has lost his true sight of what is real. His eyes only see what he wants to see, and because of that, he has also lost his purpose in life, wasting money on such things that need not be wasted money on.
In order to conclude this analysis of “Ang Paglilitis Kay Mang Serapio”, I would like to state some allusions that I have found to be rather relevant and also somewhat didactic. First of all, I think that the whole concept of a federation of beggars actually allude to the social situation of the Philippines nowadays. These “beggars”, can be people of very low social statuses or of middle one. The said federation can be an allusion to the government where these beggars still have to pay taxes despite such problems with their living conditions.
The questioners can be people of higher social statuses, being proud as they are and defined as smart and very skillful. It is a given fact that most beggars can not afford to pay for lawyers and other things that may help prove that they are innocent. And as such, such people can only wait for their punishment despite what the truth is. The three beggars that act as witnesses to Mang Serapio’s crime is said to have already acted as witnesses to other people’s crimes, leading to their being blinded.
The outcome of such “witnessing” leads to getting all of the materials and a percentage of the person that is accused of the crime. A very common situation found in the country where people suck up to higher ups in order to get more benefits. Such allusions may be correct or incorrect, but I have based these things on what I think of the play. Most questions found in the play are not answered and is not given voice. Such things remain as mystery to readers, and I think that in itself is one feature of the play. Nothing really changed within the story.
Readers would expect that the main character will be saved and the story will end happily. However, the author purposely created that effect of sympathy for the main character that would lead reader to think that he can be saved. It can still be argued whether the main character was “saved” or not. Such illusions that he possess have blinded his grasp on reality and I think his punishment served as a way of leading to deter other beggars from doing what he did. Mang Serapio said in one part of the play that he will tell the police about the federation in question and of the cruelties that they do to people that are older.
The judge however states that nobody will listen to him regardless of what he tries to say to the police or any other government agencies due to him being a beggar and an old man. The judge continues on to threaten him that he will be found dead, his corpse floating in Pasig. At the end of the play, it is stated that the federation actually cares more about older beggars, since these people are actually the ones that do not care much about life. They eat less and care less about living, waiting for the time that Death should get them.
Does this federation actually help these old beggars by making them want to live despite their desire to die? The judges and questioners nonchalantly discussed the frequency of such trials, saying that it only happens once in a while. Such things denote a notion of sadism. But let us not dwell on that matter. The play ends with one of the questioners stating and explaining some things about the trial and why they did that. Nevertheless, the mysteries remained. Was this a just federation? Why is it afraid of being discovered by the police? Such questions remain unanswered, and as the curtain falls, Mang Serapio’s trial comes to an end.