Passions and Obsessions

Tata Nanding Josef: Yes, ‘old men’ can still rule the stage

His career spanning the dynamic growth of PH theater, Tanghalang Pilipino’s esteemed artistic director/multi-awarded actor could pass up a ‘to-die-for’ role—unless nobody else can do it, of course

Tata Nanding Josef
Nanding Josef as Jibin Arula: 'This to-die-for role is a full-time job'
Tata Nanding Josef

Tata Nanding Josef, artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino. (Photo by Aggy Mago of TP)

Septuagenarian multi-platform actor Fernando “Tata Nanding” Josef’s favorite punchline to lighten up things is about old age.

Not so long ago in his home in the periphery of Metro Manila called Bahay Malaya, a male octogenarian visitor, whose identity we shall hide under the name Amadis, was trying to figure out how to take a video call in his smart phone. Instead of facing the screen while talking, Amadis raised the phone near his right ear. The caller must have seen a blurred macro view of the eardrum and whatever else was inside it.

“Haay, ang tanda na kasi (Hayy, so old),” Josef told in hushed tone as the bespectacled older man, who appeared to have difficulty in hearing as well, tried to comprehend what the caller was saying.

If a millennial makes fun of a senior citizen, in the “age of cancel culture,” the millennial is guilty of ageism, but if a 74-year-old guy chides an 80-year-old, it’s self-referential humor.

Josef later admitted he also committed the same blooper while answering his phone in public, until an assistant taught him the proper way.

We remember in a talk-back session after a stage play in which Josef was part of, every time the phrase “mas matandang aktor (an older actor)” was mentioned by a millennial actor who was seated beside him near the edge of the stage, Josef would throw dagger looks. The younger actor wasn’t even referring to Josef. “Pwede namang sabihing (you can say) veteran actor,” Josef blurted out over the microphone. The audience members laughed and the younger actor apologized.

When Josef won the Gawad Urian Best Actor Award in 2021 for his bad guy role in Lav Diaz’s ‘Lahi, Hayop,’ he joked, ‘Ako na yata pinakamatandang nanalo’

So when Josef won the Gawad Urian Best Actor Award in 2021 for his bad guy role in Lav Diaz’s Lahi, Hayop (Genus, Pan), he joked about finally getting his first major acting award after decades in the industry. “Ako na yata pinakamatandang nanalo (I think I’m the oldest winner,)” he told

Nanding Josef with living master filmmaker Lav Diaz. (Photo from Nanding Josef)

Nanding Josef with 2021 Gawad Urian trophy

Josef started in theater about five decades ago with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). He was a very young zoology professor at the University of the Philippines when he joined PETA as actor-mentor-all-around stagehand at the time the future National Artist for Film Lino Brocka was the company’s executive director. It was also Brocka who gave Josef his first movie role in 1974 for Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa, and since then, he never stopped acting in the movies and eventually in television.  He also appeared in Brocka’s Bona, (1981) as the suitor of Nora Aunor’s character.

Josef reading the biography of a great man who gave him the biggest breaks in theater and film, National Artist Lino Brocka. (Photo by Aggy Mago)

Nanding Josef with an old friend, National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts Nora Aunor, during TP’s ‘Katsuri’ run. (Photo courtesy of TP)

Besides Brocka, Josef has worked with some of the greatest Filipino filmmakers. For Mike de Leon, he played the Baguio house caretaker of lead character Jake Herrera in Citizen Jake. For Joel Lamangan, he was in Death Row and in the most recent, Oras de Peligro, a historical film  that aims to present what really happened in the tail-end of the Marcos regime that led to the Edsa People Power Revolution. He also had an old man’s role in Chito Roño’s Signal Rock.

The younger directors also love to work with him. He is a favorite of Raymond Red, appearing in Bayani, Himpapawid, and Sakay. He was part of Jeffrey Jeturian’s Kubrador. Josef also appears in Pepe Diokno’s newest film, Gomburza, which is still in post-production.

On television, his face may be familiar as the grandfather, grand-uncle, old farmer, old priest, aging beggar in various soaps.

As prime mover in the culture and arts landscape, he served in government in various positions. In 1986, he was chairman of the National Committee on Dramatic Arts of what was then the Presidential Commission for Culture and Arts (PCCA), primordium of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

“When NCCA was formed in 1987, I was also elected and repeatedly reelected as chairman, until the early 1990s, even when the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) took me in as Division Chief of CCDA (Coordinating Center of Dramatic Arts) from 1989 to 1995,” he adds.

From 1995 to 2001, he served as executive director of the Philippine High School of the Arts. He was called back to Manila to serve as CCP vice president and artistic director in 2002, a post he held until 2007. He retired from government service and has served Tanghalang Pilipino (TP) as artistic director in 2008 to this day.

Taken during the 2019 run of ‘Coriolano’, the cast and director Carlos Siguion-Reyna, with Tonyboy Cojuangco, chairman of board of trustees of Tanghalang Pilipino (Photo from Nanding Josef)

Tanghalang Pilipino executives led by Tonyboy Cojuangco with auteur Lav Diaz (with hat) and staff members of Sine Olivia. TP is collaborating with Diaz in a film being shot in Quezon with TP actors. (Photo from Nanding Josef)

On the side, since 1995 he has also been executive director and eventually president of advocacy non-government organizations Dalubhasaan para sa Edukasyon, Sining at Kultura (DESK) and chairman of Artists Welfare Project Inc. (AWPI) from 2007 to the present.

It’s been 15 years since he first led TP, the CCP’s only resident theater company, and Josef continues to uphold the truth, not only the good and the beautiful, with brave, groundbreaking productions.

Most recent was Anak Datu, a stage play written by Rody Vera and directed by Chris Millado that had its premiere run from September to October in 2022 at the CCP Black Box Theater. It brought home six Reg Yuson-made trophies in the 2023 Gawad Buhay, including Outstanding Set Design and the most coveted Outstanding Play Original or Translation/Adaptation awards.

With Tanghalang Pilipino, Josef continues to uphold the truth, not only the good and the beautiful, with brave, groundbreaking productions

Anak Datu is a short story for children written by then future National Artist for Sculpture Abdulmari Imao that was published in book form in 1968. In the able hands of Vera, it was adapted and woven into it the story of the Imao family and the founding of the secessionist movements in southern Philippines. The result was a full-length play on love of country, family, and creating art with the trending modifier last year, “multiverse.” TOYM Imao, the son of Abdulmari, was the Gawad Buhay-winning set designer.

In the 2022 initial staging, Josef played the old Jibin Arula, the only survivor of the infamous Jabidah Massacre committed during the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

Josef, who will turn 75 in August this year, initially had no alternate during the monthlong Anak Datu run. His body gave way before the third weekend. Good thing, they found a quick replacement, the magnificent Nor Domingo, to play the old Jibin Arula. Josef returned in the final fourth weekend.

Fernando ‘Nanding’ Josef delivering one of the monologues as old Jibin Arula in ‘Anak Datu’. Photo courtesy of Nanding Josef

It has been a landmark role because Jibin Arula is the narrator in the play, with kilometric lines, and both Josef and Domingo earned praises from critics and avid theater followers.

Part of Arula’s monologues is the retelling of what happened on March 18, 1968 on the island of Corregidor. It was how he witnessed his fellow Muslim trainees mercilessly shot by government soldiers.

The Jabidah Massacre was later exposed in a privilege speech by Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., with Arula present at the Legislative Building.

For decades, the Marcos regime denied the Jabidah Massacre ever happened. Even in recent years, there have been dubious news websites and YouTube videos describing the massacre as “fake news” propagated by the Yellows or those associated with the martyred Ninoy Aquino and his wife, the late President Cory.

Nowadays, a simple Google search would yield legitimate sources of its existence. Among the credible sources are the Bangsamoro government website itself, MindaNews, and even Stanford University.


Vera, in an online conversation with this writer, said he based most of Arula’s monologues on the MindaNews four-part interview by reporter Carolyn O. Arguillas that was published on March 15, 2009 titled “Q and A with Jibin Arula: 41 Years After the Massacre.”

In this rare public appearance, Arula, already an old man, told Arguillas how he wished he didn’t survive the massacre and became the one “who lived to tell the tale.”

With regret, Arula blamed himself for the wars that killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and caused the displacement of families, many of them his Muslim brothers from Mindanao.

As shown in Anak Datu, the Jabidah Massacre triggered the establishment of separatist movements in Mindanao like the Moro National Liberation Front by Nur Misuari.

As shown in Anak Datu, the Jabidah Massacre triggered the establishment of separatist movements in Mindanao

In the play, when Arula was in the custody of Cavite governor Delfin Montano in Trece Martires City, Misuari visited him and invited him to join the movement. Arula refused, saying he just wanted to go back to his family in Jolo, Sulu, and to lead a normal life. It didn’t happen because after Montano lost in the elections and couldn’t protect Arula anymore, Arula hid in Antique province, worked as a farmer and stayed there for a long time. He even had a second family.

Though MNLF was officially established in October 1972 in Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia, in later years Misuari would commemorate its founding anniversary on the same day the Jabidah Massacre happened.

At 69, Arula died in a vehicular accident in 2010 in Trece Martires City. Even the exact date was unknown. From another report by Arguillas, Arula was reported riding a motorcycle and “got entangled with a truck.” The MindaNews report added the fatal accident happened during Ramadan, in August or September, 2010.

The most ironic part of it and the most baffling, if not frustrating, which was also shown in Anak Datu, was Misuari endorsing Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the 2022 national elections.

Anak Datu will have a rerun this September as opening production for TP’s 37th season. Unfortunately, Josef plans not to reprise the role.

“Lately, especially, since I ‘ve been TP artistic director (AD) for years, I’m quite reluctant, even evasive in accepting acting assignments, particularly in theater, and specifically in TP. Why? Being an AD is physically, mentally even, psychologically, exhausting—from planning the season, to preparing for the productions, financially, artistically, logistically, to monitoring rehearsals and the performances,” he tells in a recent online conversation.

“There’s even the post-production responsibilities, which coincide with the preparations for the next production, or planning for the next season. Maraming trabaho, including workshops, promotions, etc. plus networking and other development responsibilities. I feel and I know that being an AD is a full-time job which gets affected when I accept a role in a stage play. I also feel that, out of delicadeza, the AD of the company should not be one of the actors being promoted by the company. It feels self-serving,” he adds.

He reveals plans for TP’s 2023-2024 season with the theme Unfilter. It started with the ongoing Virgin Labfest 18 (VLF 18), a Writers Bloc-TP-CCP annual project, with festival directors, TP Actors company alumna Tess Jamias and TP associate artistic director Marco Viaña.

Aftr the rerun in September of Anak Datu, there’s the re-staging in December, 2023 of Layeta Bucoy’s family musical Sandosenang Sapatos based on Dr. Luis Gatmaitan’s short story for children with the same title, under the direction of Jonathan Tadioan, with music by Joed Balsamo and Noel Cabangon.

There’s the staging in March, 2024 of Juan Ekis’ Pingkian, a rock musical on the life of Emilio Jacinto, under the direction of Jenny Jamora with music by Ejay Yatco.

In addition to the main productions for the 37th Theater Season, TP has also committed to doing special projects like Lakbay Isip, a three-episode video production on creating safe spaces for children, sponsored by the National Council for Children’s Television (NCCT) through its National Endowment Fund for Children’s Television (NEFCTV), under the direction of TP Actors Company senior members Lhorvie Nuevo and Toni Go.

There’s Ni-Hagna-Na, a comprehensive Cultural Development Assistance Program for the Municipality of Jagna, Bohol, under the auspices of the office of Mayor Joseph Ranola, with TP team headed by Company Manager Carmela Millado Manuel, Viaña and Tadioan, head of TP Academic Unit.

There’s also the 3rd Masterklas on Sining at Kamalayang Pilipino na Maka-Tao, a continuing project of TP with PUP and DESK, with Dr. Nicanor Tiongson as project director; TP-Cyberguardian project on curbing cyber crimes against Filipino children, an initiative of Sr. Mary John Mananzan and Chi-Chi Sangil, in cooperation with Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto.

“But, once in a while, after a long hiatus from acting, the artist in me craves to be activated. That’s the reason, I accepted the bit role of the sleeping old drunkard in Doc Resurreccion. Kaunti lang lines at laging tulog. I think age has something to do with difficulty in memorizing lines, but other huge responsibilities as AD sometimes get in the way of focusing on character development,” Josef says.

‘Once in a while, after a long hiatus, the artist in me craves to be activated’

Doc Resurreccion: Gagamutin Ang Bayan is Layeta Bucoy’s prize-winning one-act play about politicians during elections and how personal ambitions bring out the evil in men. It also tackles extra-judicial killings, even before the term became prevalent during the Duterte administration. It has been restaged more than 10 times since it debuted at the CCP Virgin Labfest in 2009, not only at CCP but in universities and colleges nationwide, by their respective student theater groups. From April to May in 2022, TP restaged it but only for streaming, since onsite performances were still risky at the time.

“I also accepted Jibin Arula because it’s a very challenging role in a brilliantly written historical play, directed by an equally brilliant director, and with a great acting ensemble. The problem was the kilometric lines, loaded with a wide range of adjectives and human emotions, and it’s largely a monologue!” Josef says.

“The old man’s brain is old, and not as sharp as when I was younger when long lines were just a breeze to me, but, what made doing Jibin difficult and scary was because I did not get much help from my co-actors in feeding cue words, unlike when you exchange dialogues with co-actors. My emotionally-laden lines also needed to be rattled off intelligently, kasi my co-actors’ movements and choreography depended on my lines. And they are, most of the time, in the dark,” says Josef.

“Jibin Arula is a role to die for for any serious actor, but I feel that doing it is a most challenging full-time job, especially for an old man with other responsibilities. Kaya, with a heavy heart, I’ve decided not to do the same role in the rerun of Anak Datu.”

Asked who would be replacing him, he says Domingo is being wooed by TP to come back and do it full-time. The name of Ronnie Lazaro was also brought up. Vera, the playwright, also an excellent actor, is being considered.

Josef tells The, after taking a deep breath: “Nothing is final yet. Let’s see. Kung di pwede si Nor, or no other actor is available, I might end up doing it again. Or kahit may alternate.”

Upon reading this article somewhere in the city, the older man named Amadis would probably blurt out, “Haay, ang tanda na kasi.”

Read more:

What Marcus Adoro wished for before the Eraserheads’ US-Canada Tour

Floy Quintos’ The Reconciliation Dinner: ‘Have we really moved on?’

Bold, inventive, fearless theater is Tanghalang Pilipino’s Nekropolis

F. Sionil Jose: ‘How can culture grow if there are no critics?’

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