ProBernal AntiBio is the best Filipino film book of the year, maybe of all time

Jessica Zafra

I got my copy from Butch Perez at lunchtime, opened to page 1, and did not stop reading until I finished the whole book. So no work was done today, and it was a day very well spent.

Intelligent, wicked, sometimes vicious (Bernal did not spare anyone, especially himself), this anti-biography is presented as a wide-ranging conversation between filmmaker Ishmael Bernal and his closest friend, the scholar and screenwriter Jorge Arago. Mercifully many of Bernal’s targets are long-dead, because he murders them.

Read on…

Reliving Ishmael Bernal

Alfred A. Yuson

As a triumph of memory, happenstance, superb editorial work and design, it’s the most fascinating local book I’ve held in my hands of late — and it isn’t because I personally knew the subject, as well as the three co-authors (two of them posthumous).

Pro Bernal Anti Bio is a 392-page softbound book in a handsome square format that allows the running main text to share space with marvelous marginalia from a legion of friends, writers and film people who had enjoyed association with the legendary film director Ishmael Bernal, who passed away in 1996 and was conferred the National Artist award in 2001.

Published by ABS-CBN Publishing, Inc. and launched on Nov. 25, it credits three co-authors: the subject himself, his life-long buddy Jorge Arago who passed away in 2011, and Angela Stuart-Santiago, in whose hands this testament to entwined lives, creativity and a memorable milieu became a labor of love enhanced by pluperfect strategic decisions.

“Ishma” or “Bernie” had asked Jorge to start preparing his biography, one that would focus equally on the biographer’s own life and their partnership. Jorge began to call it an anti-bio, and sporadically wrote essays that would frame the project. But time overtook them both, with a fire that hit Arago’s home laying waste to invaluable records.

Perhaps sensing his own mortality, Jorge tried to pass on the task to his friend Angela, who initially dismissed the daunting demand. Yet she found it falling squarely on her lap upon Jorge’s demise, especially when she learned that he had left sole access to his remaining private records.

Her “Pretext” introduces the book:

“The conversation between National Artist for Film Ishmael Bernal and rogue scholar Jorge Arago is mostly contrived but the words and sentiments are totally theirs, the threads fashioned from their own stories, published and unpublished, over the years.

“It’s a tell-all of a life lived to the hilt, fiercely forthright and critical but also gay and subversive, ironic and irreverent, sparing neither self nor nation, mothers nor lovers, art nor culture nor language, Marcos nor Cory. Friendly fire, as it were, in guerilla wars waged by two leftist intellectuals against ‘middle-class totems and taboos, innocence and igrorance.’

“I chime in now and then from the margins along with a cast of family, friends, artists, and critics in cameo roles. My backstory of the bosom buddies and the making of this anti-biography comes after, and Patrick Flores packs up with a paean to Ishmael’s ‘Awareness, Abandon.’”

Ishmael’s handwritten journal started in 1994 and Jorge’s essays form much of the conversation, with Angela allowing Jorge’s structural concept to hold sway in the early going. It starts with Ishma’s departure, then quickly flashes back to the start of their friendship in UP Diliman, cohabitation in a Malate apartment from where they published the counter-culture magazine Balthazar, and Ishma’s disastrous start as a movie director.

Covered as well in this period, from the 1960s to the ’70s, are the brief success with the bohemian When It’s A Gray November in Your Soul café on A. Mabini St., Ishma’s scholarship in France and film studies in Poona, India, his film reviewing days with The Manila Chronicle, aborted first film project, and breakthrough as a director with the critically acclaimed yet commercial flop Pagdating Sa Dulo.

He was lucky to have followed it up immediately with Daluyong, on which he writes:

“I was in the news a lot as — I don’t want to say it — the threat to Lino Brocka (the competition between us was always friendly). Considering that I had just had a box-office flop that was dubbed ‘artistic’ or ‘serious,’ I think the producers took a gamble. I could have given them another flop, but I didn’t.

Daluyong became a big hit because it starred big bomba stars of the period: Alona Alegre, Rosanna Ortiz, Ronaldo Valdez, Eddie Garcia. It had enough sex, enough quotable quotes, enough long confrontation scenes and sampalan and iyakan. It had also lots of beautiful clothes and jewelry, beautiful cars, swimming pools, chandeliers, mansions.”

In culling their early memories together, a tongue-in-cheek mode was characteristically shared by Bernal and Arago, with both also questioning the “irrelevant erudition” they had acquired.

At any rate, Ishma turned mainstream, megging blockbuster hits, including a number of “bold movies” and the occasional artistic puzzler such as Nunal sa Tubig (script by Arago), until he peaked in the early 1980s with the controversial and eventually seminal Manila By Night, which became City After Dark when Imelda Marcos voiced out her objections. This was followed by a remarkable series of his best films: Relasyon with Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon, Himala with Nora Aunor, Broken Marriage again with Santos and De Leon, and the comedies Working Girls 1 and 2 scripted by Amado Lacuesta, in whom Ishma found the ideal madcap partner. They also collaborated on the serious feminist film on abortion, Hinugot sa Langit.

In between were filler films for old producer friends, while the early activism that had helped galvanize his partnership with Arago also resurfaced, with the MTRCB and higher powers-that-be as the bogeys.

No less essential in providing a complete picture of this friendship are the pertinent explications and asides from co-author Stuart-Santiago. Deployed munificently are commentaries from contemporaries, colleagues, writers and film critics.

This roster alone is suitably impressive, counting among others Ninotchka Rosca, Nestor Torre, Petronilo Bn. Daroy, Joel David, Jose Maria Sison, Behn Cervantes, Anton Juan, Nick Deocoampo, Ed Cabagnot, Bernardo Bernardo, Mario Hernando, Bibsy Carballo, Ricky Lee, Pablo Tariman, Clodualdo del Mundo, Noel Vera, Rolando S. Tinio, Floy Quintos and Tom Agulto.

The women Ishma became closest to are also given frequent voice: non-showbiz friend Evelynne Horrilleno, film stars Rita Gomez, Elizabeth Oropesa, Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos, and scriptwriter Raquel Villavicencio. In the prime of his careeer, Ishma’s best lady buddy was fellow director Marilou Diaz Abaya.

The book also reveals the writing genius of Jorge Arago, whose quirky shyness would have deprived us of his brilliance if not for the text that is shared here, to wit:

“Since Bernal was conferred the National Artist Award, friends and relatives have not ceased to remind me that the honor calls for some changes in my perspective. I guess it means I cannot repeat Bernal’s considered opinion about who has the smallest tool in the film industry of his time, I must desist from identifying the venerable actor who found an ahas na bingi under his bed, I need crazy glue to prevent me from echoing Lino Brocka’s horrified scream of ‘Ecsta-NO!’ at the sight of a pro-active protrusion that had earlier driven Bernal to rave ‘Ecsta-SI!’ I may not speak, by the same token, about the difficulties he experienced in doing a short film for Amnesty International about the late unlamented Alex Boncayao Brigade and its pet peeves.

“But the National Artist Award itself, especially in the halcyon days BC (Before Caparas), is a safe subject on which I am free to abreact before fungi from Alzheimer’s overrode my memory entirely.”

On Bernal’s part, among his last entries that speak just as formidably of our society is the following:

“I look forward to making a film on the important participation of women in the revolution — Gregoria de Jesus, Marina Dizon, Narcisa Rizal, etc. Ramon Revilla is trying to pass a bill in Congress that will completely exempt from taxes all films about national heroes. If this bill is passed we might see a plethora of Andres Bonifacios and Gregorio del Pilars and Antonio Lunas and Mabinis. I don’t know if this is going to be good for the industry or not. (Laughs) A massacre movie about Juan Luna and that woman! We do have a tendency to overdo things. It boggles the mind.”

Orders for the book, which sells for P900 a copy, may be addressed to

dengvaxia fiasco: a curious conspiracy

curious because it straddles two administrations, aquino’s and duterte’s.  former president aquino’s DOH sec janette garin started it rolling in april 2016 (though she alleges that it was secretary enrique ona (whom she replaced) who first pushed for the use of dengvaxia.  president duterte’s first DOH sec paulyn ubial tried to stop it but she was overruled by the 17th congress, it would seem.  read A huge conspiracy by jojo robles; though known to be a ka-DDS, he does not hesitate to call out both houses of the 17th congress for refusing to heed warnings by medical professioonals.

When the current Congress opened in the middle of last year, a two-term lawmaker from Quezon province, Rep. Angelina Tan, who was also chairman of the House committee on health, started an investigation into the P3.5-billion “midnight” anti-dengue immunization program of the Aquino administration using the Dengvaxia vaccine. By February of this year, the committee of Tan, a rural doctor by profession, had completed a draft report on its probe, which contained damning findings and recommended the suspension of the program.

According to the Tan committee, the Department of Health found that 997 children vaccinated with Dengvaxia, a product of French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur, suffered “adverse effects” after being inoculated with the first of the three-dose vaccine. Fully 30 of these cases required hospitalization, the committee report said, and two of the 30 children died.

… what the House leadership of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez actually did was to stymie the Tan committee and bury its draft report. The two committees were unable to form a consensus, thereby effectively “killing” the Tan panel’s explosive findings.

Instead of suspending the implementation of the Dengvaxia program, the House even convinced Health Secretary-designate Paulyn Ubial to expand it to the Central Visayas region. Under the Aquino administration, the program had only targeted children in public schools in three regions—Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog—for inclusion in the program.

During the confirmation and budget hearings attended by Ubial, she was repeatedly pressured to widen the scope of the vaccination program, which the health secretary initially resisted on medical grounds. At the same time, a vocal anti-Ubial faction rose in the House, led by Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque (who is now spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte), among others, which Ubial decided would only stop opposing her appointment if she agreed to continue and expand the Dengvaxia immunization campaign; ironically, Ubial’s appointment was rejected by the Commission on Appointments despite her expansion of the vaccination scheme.

It is worth noting that a similar investigation started by Senator Richard Gordon on the Dengvaxia immunization program in the Senate in December last year also went nowhere. Gordon, in an interview this week, allegedly cited a lack of public interest in the case and the refusal of DoH officials led by Ubial to cooperate in the Senate probe.

read Roque hits DOH flip-flopping on dengue vaccines back in dec 2016.  read also Health professionals umalmang huwag ‘i-hostage’ ang DOH budget back in october 2016, this one naming cebu rep gwen garcia, yes, she who today assiduously argues for cj sereno’s impeachment, as leader of the pro-dengvaxia pack.

Sa ginanap na DOH budget hearing noong Setyembre, sinabi raw ng ilang mga mambabatas sa pangunguna ni Cebu Congresswoman Gwen Garcia, na hindi ipapasa ang DOH budget kung hindi isasama ang alokasyon para sa implementasyon ng mas malawakang dengue vaccine program.

Nauna nang sinabi ng DOH na itutuloy na lamang ang 2nd at 3rd doses ng vaccine para sa halos 500,000 na batang nabigyan na ng unang dose pero hindi na ito dadagdagan pa ng iba pang batch ng mga batang tuturukan ng bakuna hanggat hindi nasisiguro ng ahensya na ligtas ito.

Ito ang naging desisyon ng DOH batay na rin sa rekomedasyon ng panel of experts na kanilang binuo. Naniniwala kasi ang mga ekperto na posibleng may long-term at short-term side effects ang bakuna kaya’t kailangan pa nito nang mas masusing pag-aaral.

Iginigiit naman ng mga mambabatas, kailangan ng kanilang constituents ang vaccine.

looking forward to senate hearing tomorrow.  meron daw surprise witness from DOH.    it would be good to hear from dr. ona, too, and from spokesman harry and rep gwen na rin, please.

The Dengue Vaccine Fiasco… Papaya Leaf Juice, Anyone?


Dr. Godofredo U. Stuart

The Dengvaxia vaccine is “the biggest government funded clinical-trial-masked-as-a-public-health-program scam of an experimental drug in the history of the DOH.”

It’s a damning charge made by Dr. Susan Pineda-Mercado, former DOH undersecretary and international public health expert. it is an indictment of our health care system—the politics, the lobbying, the sway of big pharma, the conflicts of interests, and possible complicity of many in fast-tracking and green-lighting the processes of exemption, procurement and purchase of the vaccine.

Rep. Estrelita Suansing supports the charge with comments that were no less forgiving: that approval and P3B budget allocation for the vaccine purchase seemed hasty and impulsive. . . that the fund source might not have undergone Congressional scrutiny . .that the purchase was not included in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2015. Others in the medical community concurred the vaccine program had misplaced priorities, procedural lapses, and conflicts of interest.

Even after the approval was criticized as hasty and impulsive, there were signs early on that the vaccine was laden with problems. The public health community has been outraged for a year, said Dr.Mercado. Why did it take so long to take it down? Why did it have to wait for Sanofi’s confessional?

Read on…