Category: the arts

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.”  

Lizaso at CCP: Death of culture

Katrina S.S.

THE problems of the arts and culture sectors in this country are multifarious, and there is no doubt that those of us cultural workers who are at the bottom of the totem pole can only believe in the possibilities of change, and look forward to it, too. Many of us try and work towards that change, but if cultural work is your bread and butter – and you’re not one of the lucky ones who comes from privilege to begin with – then you have no choice but to compromise along the way, work with institutions and hope to change these, be critical of the ways in which our creative freedoms (usually all we have) are disrespected or abused.

Read on…

Towards A Culturally Evolved Alternative

(1943 – 2011)

People power in 1986 restored to Philippine society the “democratic space” which had been previously occupied by the running dogs of martial law.

But as in previous turnovers of power in our society, that space has been hogged by the elite and its own running dogs, to the exclusion of particular groups: the teacher-student, the art-media and the scientific communities.

This is a call for these sectors to come together and identify their choices as the unacknowledged advance guard of modern development in our society. These groups have a significant role to play in the context of the evolutionary path that the Filipinos have taken. They reject the revolution proposed by the Left, the divisive fundamentalism in the South, the chronic opportunism of traditional politics, and the apathy of an unknown number. They have not lifted us from poverty and are not likely to do so in the context of the environmental degradation that backdrops all human activity today.

Artists and media practitioners, teachers and their students on all levels, scientists and research-and-development teams in academe and the private sector have the skills, training and intellectual apparatus to cope with the effects of globalization. For far too long now they have been non-entities lumped under so-called “civil society”, their voices lost or without effect in the competition among NGO‟s fighting for a proliferation of uncoordinated interests.

They also have the potential to counter the entry in the political arena of forces which threaten to bring us back to dark times. These are the many religious groups who propose themselves as alternatives to corrupt leaderships. Swept up by disaffection with the so-called higher moral concerns of the traditional church, they betray origins in the same configuration of exploitation in conditions that existed before.

Now is the time for artists and scientists and academe to come together and create a concrete democratic and unifying basis for mutuality in our society that will guide development that is in step with the development of the rest of the global community, while using distinct Filipino methods, skills and talents we have painstakingly evolved through all the regimes under which we have worked.

wagging the dog

when PAWS raised a howl over the killing of a dog in the film Oro after it had been showing in theaters for more than a week, i wondered what the MMFF selection committee that had named it among the eight best of 27 submitted entries back in mid-november had to say.  i expected that at least one of them —

Nicanor Tiongson (author, Manunuri member and former MTRCB chair)
Ping Medina (award-winning actor)
Lawrence Fajardo (writer/ director/ film editor)
Mae Paner (actor/film director/ political activist)
Atty. Trixie Angeles (conservationist/ legal counsel for the National Commission on Culture and the Arts)
Alan Allanigue (station manager of DZRB Radyo ng Bayan)
Crispina Belen (veteran journalist)
Joy Belmonte (Quezon City Vice-Mayor)
Krip Yuson (writer/poet, inducted to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature)

— would speak up and defend their selection of Oro, dog-killing and all.  it has to be defensible, after all, given that the choice was unanimous.  walang nag-object.

“When we computed all our individual scores, there was a consensus on these eight films. There were no objections among the execom members, and neither were there other issues that came about from these choices. We were all focused on the same direction, and concerned primarily on the quality of the films,” MMFF 2016 Competition Committee member Nicanor Tiongson explained.

strangely enough, we haven’t heard again from tiongson or any other esteemed member of the competition/selection committee since PAWS demanded that Oro be withdrawn from theaters, its awards revoked, and the director and producer banned.  the only one we’ve been hearing from is liza diño of FDCP, who was not herself a member of any MMFF 2016 committee (FDCP was represented by a mere staff member), and yet who took it upon herself to speak for the MMFF and, horrors, to dignify validate legimitize PAWS’ over-the-top importunings, thereby setting a horrible precedent that spells disaster for filipino filmmaking.  ishmael bernal and lino brocka would be howling back in thunderous proportions were they around today.

it bears pointing out that, except for diño and PAWS, dog-lovers who saw the movie pre-PAWS tell me they were not offended, i suppose because the scenes were believably integral to the story and the culture of impunity.  it also bears pointing out that of some 10 reviews of Oro, again pre-PAWS, that i read online, not one mentioned or brought up the dog-killing, and only one referred to it, with “irony” yet.  read IN THE NAME OF GOLD: A Review of Alvin Yapan’s ORO (2016) by gio potes.

… you got to give props for Alvin Yapan for shedding light on a locale that otherwise would only be known as a surfing spot (you can even handpick the coverboy governor as your superficial Exhibit A). Relying on the actors’ prowess to move the narrative forward, ORO worked best as an actor’s film complete with fine turns from Irma Adlawan, Sue Prado and Mercedes Cabral. While several of the film’s metaphors may not fit well into the narrative, ORO echoes Iñárritu’s AMORES PERROS, juicing irony not from the condition of human characters but from their best friends, the dogs.

Like BARBER’S TALES, ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN before it, and even NUNAL SA TUBIG way way before it, the grit and drama of ORO is more than enough to alarm audiences of brutal injustices in the country’s fringes. It is very brave to have been done and entered in the most commercial of local film festivals; even Yapan had second thoughts in making it. But unlike documentaries, the makers of ORO know the power of fiction to ignite the fire on certain things we probably may have forgotten, on pressing matters easily ignored, and to draw viewers to investigate on hidden narratives that may be lurking around. When Eugene Domingo exclaims satirically “Suffering! E suffering na nga e, bakit pa imamaximize?!” in her own MMFF vehicle, you know she may have a point on escapism. But then again, Alvin Yapan’s film slaps the audience right back to the seats to utter just one question – who, then, will maximize it?

post-PAWS, there were a few who, while acknowledging that a law had been broken, insisted on going beyond the legalities, such as jj domingo in a facebook post.

… What I know about rights is there are positive rights, which are derived from legitimate authority, and there are natural rights, which are extrapolated from perceived order of nature (or, if you’re theist, the divine). Are animal rights merely positive rights bestowed either by human prerogative (to make us feel good about ourselves) or utility (to conserve the environment); or are they based on inherent, pre-conceived natural rights?

If animal rights are mere positive rights bestowed by human prerogative or utility, then why can’t they be trumped anytime by other human considerations, such as for instance the need to effectively tell a story in order to inspire social action? If animal rights are based on natural rights, then why don’t we respect the rights of all animals? Why just dogs and not, say, mosquitos? Also, how can we say that it is natural for all creatures to have rights when the most fundamental regime in nature is the food chain, which decrees that all is fair in the name of survival? I mean, really, I don’t think Peter Singer has ever proven that Mother Nature wishes to protect all her creatures from death and suffering. On the contrary, we know that Mother Nature allows millions of creatures to die and suffer everyday, all in the name of ecological balance.

on the other hand, the film reviews post-PAWS, as expected, turned critical of the dog-killing and the initial denials and obfuscations.  read Fauna non grata by tito genova valiente.

…One of the achievements of independent cinema is the exploration of narratives, of self-conscious storytelling that has created, to borrow the words of film historian and film theorist David Bordwell, “a vast appetite for artifice.” Stories are told and retold and, most often, the themes that didn’t touch us because they were developed by the dryly objective approaches of mainstream TV journalism, are now viewed “cubed”, as if the phenomenon is being turned around and around for us to deliciously and deliriously take in the realities made super. That, among other things, is the legacy of good cinema: Reality is achieved without resulting to plain reality. In plain words, actors need not die in their death scenes, dogs need not be killed for the committal of injustice to be less assaulting.

As it is, I agree with Anna Cabrera [of PAWS] and her decision to bring to court the Oro team and the Oro filmmaker. I, however, do not agree with her move the awards be taken away from the group. I don’t think the killing of a dog contributed to the performance of Irma Adlawan. She’s a good actress because she knows the magic of artifice…

which brings me back to PAWS and diño who mightily succeeded in wagging the dog and, wittingly or unwittingly, distracting from the march 2014 massacre in barangay gata, caramoan, camarines sur, on which the film was based.  read Kalikasan’s On the cause and controversy of the film ‘Oro’.

…In ‘Oro’, the small-scale mining community was threatened at gunpoint by the SKTF [Sagip Kalikasan Task Force], and subsequently displaced them from the mines. The SKTF took over the operations of the mine, forced the community to work on a contractual basis, obliged them to sell their ore to the SKTF’s local collaborationist buyer on unjustly low fixed prices, and eventually killed their leaders.

There are an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 small-scale miners across the Philippines and they continue to suffer the same fate. The worst situations they have faced involve large-scale mining operations displacing them from their livelihoods, and paramilitary, military, and private security forces perpetrating atrocities that range from intimidation and harassment to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Self-regulation remains a pipe dream as the current mining policy regime deprives them of access to the accreditation process and to much-needed state support.

The small-scale miners, peasant farmers, indigenous people, and other marginalized masses, together with all the flora and fauna that compose their once sustainable rural lives, are all victims to the open-pit mines and other forms of development aggression, and the heavily armed fortifications that come along with it. We have a tyrannical social and economic system as a common foe; let us always remember what the real enemy is.

in august 2015, a DOJ special panel of prosecutors found probable cause to charge members of the Sagip Kalikasan Task Force (SKTF) with murder pertaining to the “Caramoan massacre” of March 22, 2014 that led to the death of four local miners in sitio campo, barangay gata, caramoan, camarines sur.

The Panel found that all elements of murder were established:

First, victims Julio, Rene, Salem, and Jesse were killed.

Second, Respondents Breso, Espares, Jr., Tria III, and eighteen other unidentified men, allegedly members of the SKTF, were responsible for the killings, as seen by witness Elmer and heard by witness Carino.

Third, the killings were attended by the qualifying circumstance of treachery as testified by witness Elmer. The victims, who were simply having dinner and drinking after work, were caught off guard when Respondents Breso, Espares, Jr., and eighteen other unidentified men shot the former point blank, leaving them no chance at all to evade the onslaught. The Panel observed that the method of inflicting harm by Respondents Breso, Espares, Jr, and the eighteen other unidentified men ensured that they would fatally kill the victims without risk to themselves.

The defense of alibi by Respondent Tria III was held to be unconvincing because he was positively identified by the eyewitnesses.

five months later, on january 29 2016, reported that court hearings were finally to commence, “very soon,” at the RTC in san jose, camarines sur.

On Thursday, January 21 (this year), families of the victims staged a rally in the City of Naga and cried for justice as authorities were slow in investigating the massacre and had encountered stumbling blocks over gathering of evidence.

… Investigation by authorities had taken a downspin at some periods in time as gathering of evidence had turned out difficult after provincial capitol officials refused to cooperate with investigators who wanted to get the roster of Capitol employees, specifically those belonging to the environment department and Civil Security Unit.

Even Governor Migz Villafuerte refused to turn over vital information which might help authorities in the investigation.
Villafuerte’s refusal to cooperate had caused the ire of the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) which, later, purged the Governor of his “deputy powers.”

In stripping Villafuerte of “deputation powers accorded to him as Deputy of NAPOLCOM”, the police commission cited the Governor’s involvement in “covering- up investigation of the Gata massacre; protecting the suspects and coddling of armed men; obstruction of justice; and acts inimical to national security.”

but but but there have been no subsequent reports of court hearings, the case is still pending, which must be telling of how powerful were / are the villafuertes, luis and miguel, father and son, across the aquino and duterte administrations?

i would like to think that the dog-wagging was not a deliberate attempt to draw attention away from the real crime and the real enemy.  even if, for a while there, the PAWS-diño tandem seemed virtually unstoppable.  the MMFF was called out on jan 2.  by jan 3 the FPJ award was taken back.  by jan 4 Oro was no longer showing in theaters.  and on jan 5, camarines sur rep. luis raymund villafuerte was asking congress to probe the MMFF.  the nerve!!!

… film fest officials should explain “why they included ‘Oro’ among the official entries – and worse, even granted an award to it – despite its gory dog-slaying scene and its depiction of supposedly everyday life in our province that was the exact opposite of what actually happened as well as the real protagonists and antagonists in a barangay in Caramoan Island.”

“The film is nothing but political propaganda masquerading as art in which the highly respected actors that took part in it, plus the film crew, were unwittingly used to present an alternate universe of events that never happened in Caramoan Island two years ago,” he said.

“The withdrawal of the award over the animal cruelty issue is the best proof of sloppy work by the film fest committee, which explains why it was haphazardly included among the official entries despite its grossly inaccurate depiction of reality in Camarines Sur,” Villafuerte stressed.

… “Instead of just suspending the movie’s showing until such time that the dog-slaying scene is edited out, the Metro film fest committee must ban its showing altogether as an act of contrition for its dismal failure to exercise due diligence,” he said.

seems to me like a last-ditch effort to convince the public that the gata4 massacre was all just a figment of the imagination of the villafuertes’ political opponents.  nothing to lose?  pushing their luck?  given a liza diño who’s all over the place, and given the silence of the likes of boots anson and ed cabagnot, jesse ejercito and wilson tieng, nick tiongson and krip yuson, e talaga namang sinusuwerte ang mga villafuerte.