Pro Bernal, Anti Bio — a shout from the grave

it was in 1992, twenty-five years ago to be exact, when ishmael bernal inveigled bosom buddy jorge arago to write him a biography “when the time came” — that is, when his mother was no longer around — tempting jorge with the admonition to “Tell all!”

forthwith, the two started recording a number of conversations on subjects “considered germane to a biography” and ishma started keeping a journal.  he also decided that it would be as much about jorge as about himself.  jorge, who used to drop in on me now and then, was quite excited by the project, and would share (in scandalized whispers) juicy items from ishma’s childhood and adolescence at kung anu-ano pa.

ishmael died in 1996, and his mother a year or so later.  suddenly jorge had a bio to write.  and he did start thinking on it while transcribing four cassette tapes and deciphering and encoding the handwritten journal.  but it slowed him down that it was to be about him, too, and when ishma was declared a national artist for cinema in 2001, and close friends wondered aloud if a tell-all might no longer be appropriate, it gave him the perfect reason to stop, perchance to reboot.

nine years later, for ishma’s death anniversary in 2010, he emailed me the essay “Pro Bernal, Anti Bio” and asked me to post it here.  he said it was the first chapter of the bio.  the last time i saw him was a year or so later, in 2011, at which time he was talking about producing twin CDs (instead of a book) that he hoped to get funding for.

he said that ishma had also considered video as an appropriate medium.  a video bio would be stored in one compact disc of suitable capacity, and a second disc would contain an anthology of film reviews, six screenplays that ishma wrote or co-wrote, an album of photos and samples of annotated working scripts, 60 minutes of scenes excerpted from six feature films and docus, and 30 minutes of interviews with co-workers and associates in the film industry, theater, and political advocacy.

but by the end of the year, jorge was gone, too.  in march 2012, his nanay opened his room in binangonan to me and katrina, bidding us to take everything we could find to finish the book.  an old laptop and a desktop and some USBs had no files on bernal.  but there were heaps and heaps and bags and boxes of papers, from which i salvaged precious stuff: loose and stapled sheets of the tape transcripts (some pages missing), drafts galore of an autobiographical essay as binangonan native, and more drafts of essays that went into “Pro Bernal…” the blogpost.  also we found ishma’s handwritten journal, a photo album of the young ishmael in europe, two huge albums of clippings of movie promos and film reviews, books and magazines on the film industry, and more photos tucked away kung saan-saan.

from a draft essay i learned that a lot of the materials for the twin CDs were lost when the house he had been living in at the time burned down, leaving only what i found in his room in nanay’s house, which turned out to be quite substantial nonetheless.  from Balthazar (a magazine published by the two) and from the newspaper clippings, i gathered pages and pages of direct quotes from the bosom buddies over two decades and a half of writing on showbiz and politics (jorge) and giving talks and interviews on filmmaking (ishma), sometimes talking about the same thing or film, sometimes not, that gave me a light-bulb moment.  what if: a conversation kuno, cut to cut, as in a talking-heads docu, about everything under the sun and moon that mattered to these two gay and brilliant leftists.

it was crazy where their spirits took me as i contrived a biographical narrative via a dialogue of sorts, praying hard that it would work.  katrina sent a first draft to patrick flores for feedback; to my relief, he liked the “quirky” format and suggested that i intervene now and then, add a third layer that could be “more film historical.”

in effect, sa margins lang ako, literally and figuratively, and only for continuity and context, along with side comments of some family and friends, critics and colleagues.  the quirky format is mine, yes, but ishma and/or jorge would have thought of it, too, i have no doubt, if they had lived long enough to see and assess what rich documented (foot)prints they had left behind.

i am told that people wonder why it is katrina who is out there facing the press and promoting the book, e ako ang co-author?  feeling marginal to the end, haha.  besides, i’m not really into film or culture and the arts, and katrina is, seriously, mentored by jorge no less, and with a graduate degree in philippine studies to boot.  i also never worked with ishma, never spent more than an hour or so with him at a time and always in a group, never met his family, seen only a few of his 50 films, and therefore feel quite unqualified to go beyond what i dare say in the book.  it was jorge whom i knew rather well, with whom i spent hours on end, and that’s in my backstory.

essentially Pro Bernal Anti Bio (2017) is by and about ishmael bernal the national artist.  a shout from the grave, a shout of bernal proportions to the film industry.  i believe it’s for the people he lived and worked with, the artists, the writers, the cinematographers, the editors, the theater and advertising and activist peeps, to speak up and remember, discuss and deconstruct, the better to appreciate and value the legacy of bernal.

When the #DDS can do no wrong: victimizing #HarryRoque

Katrina S.S.

One of the more interesting things to come out of this short period of having Harry Roque as Presidential Spokesperson: it has revealed that the frontline informal communications team of the President cannot be told that they are doing something wrong.

Read on…

aquila legis & aegis juris, birds of the same feather?

when ralph trangia flew away two days after he was tagged as one of the culprits behind atio castillo’s hazing death, it was taken as a sign of guilt.  but then he returned 20 days later — a sign, his legal counsel said, of innocence and willingness to face and disprove the charges against him.  hmm, di ba.  if he were innocent, why the flight?

baka mas malamang na US authorities would have found and deported him back to manila anyway?  or some brods, maybe Big Bro himself, (kung sino man iyon) asked him to come back for the “good” of the frat, maybe promised that he would not spend a day in jail, maybe even citing the aquila legis – lenny villa case?  read Fratmen in Lenny Villa hazing get slap on wrist by philstar‘s edu punay and romina cabrera.

In November 1993, Caloocan City regional trial court Judge Adoracion Angeles convicted 26 [Aquila Legis] fraternity members of homicide. But the Court of Appeals (CA) later acquitted 19 suspects, a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court (SC).

The CA affirmed the convictions of Fidelito Dizon and Artemio Villareal for homicide. When the case was appealed to the SC, the high tribunal in 2012 set aside the findings of the CA.

The SC found Dizon and four other fraternity members guilty of the lesser offense of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. Villareal died in 2011. Others convicted by the lower court were freed.

Dizon and four others were sentenced to four months and one day as minimum and four years and two months as maximum. But in 2014, the SC issued a final decision that the five fraternity members convicted of reckless imprudence were “eligible for probation.”

After 26 years, members of Aquila Legis tagged in the Villa case and were acquitted have since moved on, many of them occupying positions in government.

They were able to finish law school, became lawyers, and are now pursuing careers both in private practice and civil service. Most of them were accepted to the Bar after being cleared by the CA in 2002.

One of the 19 Aquila Legis members convicted by the Caloocan City regional trial court in 1993 but cleared by the CA and the SC in 2012 is now a magistrate in the Sandiganbayan: Associate Justice Michael Musngi.

Musngi is also a former undersecretary for special concerns at the Office of the President during the second Aquino administration.

Another acquitted frat member was Jaime Ma. Flores III, who was appointed chair of Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations under the Duterte administration. He resigned from his post in October 2016.

Flores brought with him another accused in the Villa case, Santiago Ranada III as his head executive assistant in the agency.

Another Aquila member in the Villa case, Adel Abas was also appointed in the Duterte administration as member of the ceasefire committee of the government’s peace panel for the peace talks with Moro rebels.

Another frat brother, Nelson Victorino served as assistant secretary of the Department of National Defense during the Arroyo administration and later became chief of staff of Sen. Grace Poe.

Eulogio Amado Sabban, on the other hand, now serves as director of Office of the President – Legislative Office.

Joseph Rhoderick Lledo is senior vice president of BDO Unibank Inc., while Zosimo Mendoza is director of Oriental Mindoro Electric Cooperative Inc.

Many of them also pursue private law practice: Vicente Verdadero, who served as lawyer for retired general and now MMDA chair Danilo Lim; Percival Brigola, lawyer for Philippine Olympic Committee and complainants in One Dream investment scam; Jonas-Karl Perez of the Picazo Buyco Tan Fider and Santos law offices in Makati; Dalmacio Lim Jr., a contributor in senatorial campaign of former senator Ernesto Maceda in 2013 polls, and law professor Jude Fernandez.

Other acquitted Aquila Legis members are: Amante Purisima III, nephew of retired Supreme Court justice Fidel Purisima who remains active in the frat and served as speaker and facilitator in their international convention in Las Vegas in October 2016; Etienne Guerrero, son of former Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Jesus Guerrero; and Ronan de Guzman, Paul Angelo Santos, Antonio General and Ernesto Jose Montecillo.

Of the five convicted of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, two became chiefs-of-staff of prominent politicians—Renato Bantug Jr. to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Antonio Mariano Almeda to former presidential son Juan Miguel Arroyo, former representative of Ang Galing Pinoy party-list.

Junel Anthony Ama pursued a career in private law practice.

… [Judge] Angeles, on the other hand, underwent career ordeals that her supporters believe were linked to her decision to convict 26 members of the Aquila Legis fraternity.

Angeles faced administrative cases, charges of child abuse, and maltreatment of her ward and house help, which were all later dismissed by the higher courts. But her promotion was derailed.

Now 77 and retired, Angeles does accuse the fraternity of involvement in her woes, saying she has no regrets even after “facing charges left and right.”

it would seem that indeed no one spent a night in jail (correct me if i’m wrong).  but the lenny villa case as template for how-to-get-away-with-killing-atio?  the cases are only similar in that lenny and atio both died from hazing and that both aquila legis and aegis juris are lawyer frats.  and it is likely that aegis juris lawyers will try similar tactics as did the aquila legis.  read the final decision of feb 2012 penned by associate justice lourdes sereno.

one huge difference, however, is that in lenny villa’s case, there was no attempt to cover up the hazing that led to lenny’s death.  in atio castillo’s case there was clearly an attempt to cover it up.  after medtech bro john paul solano advised that atio be brought to a hospital asap, the frat’s grand praefectus arvin balag ordered solano to take atio to the chinese general hospital (not to nearby UST hospital) and to say that he, solano, stumbled on the body in a street sa balut, tondo.  at kung wala pang CCTV ang world, they might even have gotten away with it.

and then, again, maybe not.  atio’s parents, horacio jr. and carminia, and the manila police would have been unstoppable.  having found the body, they would have tracked down the frat and the frat lib where the hazing took place, and brought charges against the whole frat and their elders for sure.

it was the frat’s bad luck that the police were quick to check out balut tondo and to find CCTVs showing no body being dumped there or found.  worse, there were more CCTVs reported that show solano on a motorcycle following a black fortuner and the red pick-up carrying atio on the way to chinese gen.

and now  there’s bro marc anthony ventura turning state witness, good of him, admitting his part in the hazing, telling how atio died, and naming names.  and what about that facebook chat of the fratboys in a panic and invoking the code of silence.

of course the denials and objections have started.  two frat members named by ventura say they weren’t there.  solano and balag insist that atio died of a heart condition, not because of hazing, what hazing?

and that facebook thread?  there’s no authenticating that daw, and making it public violates daw the cybercrime law, data privacy act, and electronic evidence law.  wala rin daw court order to retrieve the chat thread.  and the search warrant for the frat lib kung saan naganap ang hazing?  defective daw, so di puwedeng gamiting ebidensiya ang mga natuklasan doon ng mga imbestigador.  at kung ano-ano pa.

at least the aquila legis guys were man enough to own up to hazing rites unintentionally gone deadly, disputing only allegations of conspiracy, malice, and the like, and resorting to all kinds of delaying tactics and gimmicks to lighten the penalties.  in contrast, these aegis juris guys are refusing to own up.  the strategy apparently is to deny, deny, deny to death, which makes me wonder if there are aegis juris elders in powerful places that make these arrogant kids think they’re going to get away with murder.

murder nga ba?  they’ll say it wasn’t premeditated, it was just hazing, not meant to kill, just a test of endurance and machismo.  nandoon na ako.  but smart kids that they are, they must have known that severe beating can kill, and they should have known to stop sooner.  but then, sabi nga ni antonio contreras:

When I was receiving the paddles, and being slapped and physically assaulted, all I was thinking was that at the end of the night, I would be blindfolded holding a lit candle in my hand, as the final rituals were done, and I would open my eyes to a new family, one that would shelter me in that unfamiliar land and make it my familiar second home, my alma mater.  But there is another facet to this otherwise promising imagery of family.

When I was already the giver of the pain, as a full member now initiating applicant neophytes after me, it was easy to descend into the abyss of inhumanity, and allow the demons that I did not know existed to take hold of me. Holding the paddle was like holding a gun. The rush of being in control, the high of being in command, one that I am sure every master would experience, are living testaments that even as we are humans, we are still technically from the animal species.

napagkaisahan si atio

the worst part of the aegis juris hazing:  atio was the lone neophyte.  (lenny was one of seven.)  atio was one punching bag for more than 10, maybe more than 20? fratmen.  imagine, all that drunken adrenalin let loose on a single target over a period of four hours !!!  napuruhan talaga si atio.  the question is, SOP ba iyon?  pa-isa-isang neophyte lang?  or was atio the exception?  but WHY.

ishmael bernal would have loved jun lana’s Die Beautiful

thanks to cinema one i finally got to watch Die Beautiful (2016) and i must say it deserves all the awards and rave reviews.  buong buo ang loob ng pelikula — walang takot, walang hiya, walang patawad — kudos to director jun lana who also wrote the script with rody vera.  a very complex story told in zigzagging flashbacks, no particular order, framed only by a week’s wake that sees trisha in death transforming nightly into a favorite persona, last run kumbaga.  and, yes, brimming with stereotypical stuff, but mere nods to, not lingering, much less wallowing in the cutting slices of macho oppression.  rather, sashaying on, bravely, and beautifully.

perfect casting, too.  paolo ballesteros more than carries off the transgender trisha role, s/he runs with it (as does christian bables aka best friend barbs)!  it helps of course that we know ballesteros as the eat bulaga co-host who transforms himself and impersonates iconic beauties a la drag queens of the sixties (her julia roberts is awesome).  even better, he is a seriously good actor pala and his trisha is both funny and sad, and very much her own person on that rocky road to transformation.  that his man-size makes her a big woman works in her favor, making trisha larger than life, and difficult to ignore and forget.

i love how trisha and barbs address each other “bakla,” fondly, lovingly, embracing and transforming what was once meant (by the macho world) to hurt and put-down into a term of endearment, warm, soothing, malambing.  way to level-up, mga bakla, mabuhay kayo!

i’m reminded, of course, of national artist ishmael bernal’s (1938-1996) dream films, one on juan luna’s crime of passion and brother antonio the general, one on emilio aguinaldo and felipe buencamino, and the one closest to her heart, on filipino homosexuality.

but of course ishma and writer jorge arago (1943-2011) were off on a totally different take in a super wayward world.  bernal was thinking a series of gags a la Working Girls 2, but outstripping it.

JORGE.  We talked as much about the gay film as about the Luna project and it is difficult to say which one had faced bigger impediments. In the case of the gay film, one interior battle had created an inescapable contradiction. It was going to be truly gay, Bernal knew, an unending string of hilarious “misadventures” in which all gay roles – and there was nothing else to be sure – were to be played by non-gay actors, none of whom was to behave like the stereotyped sissy that Philippine machismo was constantly wishing away and factoring in. [“ISHMAEL BERNAL Last Full Show.” Manila Out. 1999 July.]

imagine if you will.  the “inescapable contradiction.”