The myth of light without darkness

By Meeko Angela Camba

The world is not simply split between good and evil.

There in the vast in-between are intricate points of intersection, neither black nor white, truth nor lie; harmless intentions turned harmful outcomes as well as cruel means that led to happy ends.

Such is the story of Faust, a discontented philosopher who sold his soul to the devil, Mephisto, in exchange for attaining knowledge, and hence happiness, beyond his wildest imagination.

Originally from Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s “Faust,” the play tackles the complexity of morality, the value of innocence, the purpose and art of knowledge and finally, the role of religion in perpetuating the evil binding communities together.

Adapted to Filipino by renowned playwright Rody Vera, Dulaang UP’s (DUP) production localized such themes in the context of contemporary Philippines.

Under the direction of Josè Estrella, “Faust” made overt references to the Marcoses and other corrupt “public servants,” and even the proliferating culture of hate and impunity in the ongoing drug war.

The story begins with the devil Mephisto (Paolo O’Hara) mocking God (Jojo Cayabyab) of how the latter’s decision of giving humans free will would not only unearth their natural tendencies of evil, but would eventually lead to their own destruction. To prove his theory, Mephisto entices Faust (Neil Ryan Sese), who was considered a good man in their little town, into a world of sin and pleasure.

Through Mephisto’s guidance, Faust falls in love with young and innocent Gretchen (Ina Azarcon-Bolivar), whose life took tragic turns due to their love affair.

Each scene was so carefully crafted and restructured through impeccable use of language to become more understandable, if not natural to the Filipino experience.

Effective storytelling

The set design of Ed Lacson, Jr. was arguably the star of the show. Every set piece was strategically placed in a way that helped the story smoothly transition from one scene to another.

Together with the lights design of Barbie Tan-Tiongco, it successfully transported the audience from one photographic scene to another, breathtaking by themselves, yet perfectly in sync with the rest of the narrative.

Also particularly noteworthy in the production was the undeniable chemistry between the two leads. With comfortable interactions onstage, Sese and O’Hara made it easier to understand the dynamics of the relationship between Faust and Mephisto.

All of this, of course, would not have come together into one coherent, thought-provoking story if not for a clear vision on the part of the director.

But more than its high level of storytelling, DUP’s “Faust” is a statement—a message of sorts to the audience to ask themselves: what does it really mean to be good?

Portraying gender

Gretchen’s downfall played a crucial element in the story, from being the epitome of purity and goodness—a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, if you will—into being branded as a whore after engaging into a love affair with an older man that left her pregnant.

The young girl is then ostracized by her community and imprisoned for her “crimes” that drove her to madness.

She served merely as a device instead of a character capable of deciding her own narrative. Ironically, the only decisions she was allowed to make were those which led to tragic ends—a commentary on how women are valued and controlled by society, no less.  

Being the only female lead character, and the most powerless at that compared to her two male counterparts, Gretchen’s character only proves how sexism persists in our time.

The production, of course, cannot be faulted for portraying gender as such (it is, after all, a mere adaptation) but instead confronts its audience with a harsh truth, thereby challenging them into doing something about it.

Platform for discourse

“Faust” proves successful in being able to take a foreign piece of material and transforming it not only culturally, but also periodically into something more relevant to its audience.

The production became a platform for discourse—a safe space to question which values we should safeguard and which ones to abandon.

It confronts its audience, quite literally, in saying the real stories are out there—beyond the hundred or so pages of our textbooks, and the four walls of our classrooms. Engage the evils of the world and strive to find the good in it through the stories that we tell.

As Mephisto himself explained: Bahagi lang ako sa dilim na nagbunga sa liwanag.”

Light cannot exist without darkness.

In a time where our country is overwhelmed with so many complex issues and dissonant ideas that further blur the lines separating good and evil, it is here that we find our purpose: to sort through these complicated points of intersection and help our community come out with a more sound concept of what is truly good.


(Photo grabbed from Dulaang UP)


“Faust” is the third in four plays of DUP’s 41st season and is part of the celebration of this year’s Diliman Month. It will have its closing show Feb. 28, 7 p.m. at the Wilfrido Guerrero Theater, Palma Hall, UP Diliman.

Sansinukob: Unveiling a universe as told by Philippine folklore

By Bronte Lacsamana

Gracing the spaces between the tall trees and leaf-strewn paths of University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman are six otherworldly beings, sharing folk tales about the birth of the universe.

The exhibit is aptly named for the Tagalog word for “universe,” because each installation depicts a Philippine folk story about the cosmos’ origins.

In celebration of the UP Diliman Month, these art installations are altogether part of the Sansinukob exhibit, organized by the UP Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (OICA).

OICA explained that this year’s Diliman month gives us “an opportunity to revisit Filipino folk narratives,” which are traditionally told from one generation to another.

Through Sansinukob, these tales are given new life through installation art, an interactive art form by nature.

Unfortunately, ethnic astrology and cosmology of the many Philippine cultures are not widely known, and this exhibit gives a glimpse into this underappreciated wonder by a simple casual stroll around the campus.

Just across the Vargas Museum, one can see the magnificent peacemaking god Agtayabon, a giant bird with a human’s body, floating a few meters off the ground. Mindanaon folklore tells that this bird-god was one of three beings which first roamed the earth and had always served as the mediator between the other two gods who would fight.

To form Agtayabon’s enormous wings, artist Leeroy New used rattan interwoven with bamboo, crafting an air of grandeur appropriate for a god.

Amongst the trees across the Carillon, Reg Yuson’s “Langit-Non” welcomes one to stand just below a high circular structure of mirrors and look up to see the sky in a circle surrounded by fragmented images of the ground.

Doing so provides a reflection of the surroundings from up above, paying homage to the Visayan god Tungkung Langit, who was said to have created the world, as it hopes to depict what his creation looks like from his point of view.

The contrast between the bright sky overhead the center of the piece and the encircling mirrors revealing the earth below incites a humbling feeling that reminds spectators they can only hope to imitate what a god’s perspective looks.

Meanwhile, Junyee and Gerry Leonardo’s interactive installation art, “Emptiness” sits across the old College of Arts and Letters (CAL) building.

The large black box, meant to represent a Balikbayan box, sits atop the shoulders of four fiberglass figures.

Through inserting one’s head into a hole at the bottom, one can peek at the wealth, hope, and connections associated with the life of an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). The hollow interior, however, gives emptiness instead.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the number of OFWs abroad in a five-month span (tested from April to September 2015) amounts to 2.4 million.

Through their work of art, Junyee and Leonardo shed light on the darker side of OFW life, instead of depicting it through usual images of good fortune and aspirations.

Showcasing rich pre-colonial cultures through art

OICA said the exhibit’s popularity among selfie, photography, and art enthusiasts is very fulfilling.

Ina Valencia, a third-year student from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) visited the campus on a Sunday afternoon with her friends. They had heard of the exhibit from a friend studying in UP and decided to come over, not wanting to waste a unique photoshoot opportunity.

“Maganda puntahan yung mga artworks dito kahit malayo,” she said.  

“Masarap pumasyal sa campus, and through the art you learn something about pre-colonial folklore pa.”

In fact, a photo album of the exhibit which the official Diliman Month page posted online has been shared by hundreds and has caused more and more people outside the Diliman community to want to come to the campus and see and interact with the artworks in person.

One such example resides behind Quezon Hall. Anton del Castillo’s “Ang Pagbabalik Lupa” gives life to Lupa-on a character of a Kalinga tale about the separation of gods from men.

The installation portrays a woman shamefully descending a set of stainless steel stairs. From afar, the fiberglass sculptures of the despairing woman are quite haunting, but even more so when close up.

“Actually, I interpreted the folklore through my own style and concept,” says Del Castillo about his work. The mastermind behind the Kalinga tale is known for his obras which are charged with themes of religion and beliefs.

“I reflected on how people can feel shame, and that’s why I depicted a clothed woman hiding her face while descending the stairs to accept humility until she returns formless to the ground.”

On the other hand, ascension can be tasted where amihan winds blow with Leo Abaya’s “Ang Kahanginan,” situated atop the College of Mass Communication Hill.

Based on the Bagobo god Lumabat, a man who flies to the heavens and becomes a god, Abaya highlights the movement of the many cylindrical windsocks he installed on the field.

Apparently, Abaya’s fascination with wind power predated this exhibit.

During the previous year, Abaya had installed a large, red fabric canopy in front of UP Diliman’s quintessential Oblation. His work heaved and undulated in the wind, relying on the breeze to convey its message.

“After that project, I was curious what else I could do that harnessed wind power,” he shares, saying that the tale of Lumabat became his natural first choice when OICA asked him to participate in the Sansinukob installation.

“(I) had seen koinobori (Japanese carp banner) before. Using that and the windsock as inspirations, I proceeded to craft my own depicting a male torso,” he added.

Each windsock has a screen-printed, stylized depiction of a Bagobo on the fabric, and altogether, they give the eye-catching illusion of several flying Lumabats, showing the strength and direction of the wind.

Another Bagobo god featured in the exhibit is Ma. Rita Gudino’s “Mebuyan sa Idalmunon” at the UP Lagoon, which stars Mebuyan, mother of the underworld.

Legend says Mebuyan refused to go up to the sky with her brother Lumabat and instead built her own world under the earth where her many breasts feed the souls of unborn or dead babies.

Gudino’s rendition depicting a clay fountain atop a white-colored pool of water can be attributed to this tale as Mebuyan is the cadence of both life and death.

OICA leaves a positive message about the exhibit, “We hope the installations welcome people to appreciate art and serve as bridges for them to take interest in Philippine folklore and pre-colonial cultures.”

In order to continue showcasing these cultures, the Sansinukob exhibit, which would initially conclude not only UP Diliman Month, but also National Art Month, has been extended until March 31.

These six otherworldly beings are here to stay for a bit longer, and their arms (or wings, or breasts) are wide open for us to admire and appreciate them and hopefully even learn from them.

Portraying poverty and patriarchy: the triumph and downfall of VKJ

Text and art by Andrea Jobelle Adan

From the beginning, “Vince & Kath & James” (VKJ) has been hard-pressed to defend its place among the inventive, the progressive, the worthy. What was overtly fresh — if the opposite meant overused plot lines and profit-oriented delivery — with the other films, VKJ had to prove upon screening.

In this historic Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) lineup, VKJ had to shout why, in all its seeming rom-com simplicity, it belonged.

Director Theodore Boborol’s entry focused on the three teenagers in the title, their love triangle, and the love they receive or the lack thereof within their families.

It layers everything patiently, scene after carefully crafted scene. Often, after an emotionally-demanding segment, they would have the characters lighten the mood — a coping mechanism all too familiar to Filipinos.

And in its familiarity, VKJ triumphed. Though in a college setting, watchers need not be of that age to relate to the pangs of infatuation and the whirlwind of confusion that comes with it.

There was an awareness of romance and its subtleties, of the fine line between endearing and nauseating. Vince (Joshua Garcia) stares at Julia Barretto’s Kath a few seconds longer, his gaze silent yet meaningful. Overcome with delight, Kath jumps and cheers, looking nothing but silly after a crush texts.

No grand proclamations, no trumpets down the halls. It was real in its simplicity. The film’s other elements — the musical scoring, the acting, the set — exuded that as well.

But pure romance, no matter how tactful, would not have been enough for VKJ to stand tall with the others.

What will always remain a mystery to those who have not and would not watch is this: “Vince & Kath & James” is not your regular cheeky teen film.

Vince does more than breathe in between teasing and pursuing Kath. At times, he shouts, distressed over his powerlessness against his wealthier cousin, James. More often, Vince stutters, blinking and submissive, in a house which is clearly not his with a family he must take care to please.

The film sends it first in whispers, teasing the audience: will they address it? Will it be another film that merely acknowledged a social reality?

Amid the hearts and cupids, they weave into the film a scene where Vince and James are accused of plagiarism due to the latter’s laziness. Vince, whose educational record has not been tainted thus far, is told to take the fall.

The film takes it from whisper to speech.

Injustice, he says, but how could he refuse the demands of a cousin who would pass him designer shoes and phones as if it were nothing. How could he let down the family that sheltered him, fed him, when his own mother would not?

Vince was not welcome in his own home; how dare he then say no to the family that called him their own?

Here, the film finally shouts. Vince screams, “hanggang kailan ba ako magbabayad ng utang na loob?” echoing the agony of the lower class forced to submit to the powerful and wealthy.

The conflict is resolved the way it would have been resolved in reality: Vince is ready to fake taking part in the plagiarism but James finally admits it was all his own doing.

Vince had been spared; he did not fight it save for his cries of anger. Unsatisfying, yes, but realistic. No matter the emotional rollercoaster, the class divide does not disappear overnight, and definitely not through one college student’s realization alone. With this, the power to turn the tables is still held by the elite and both boys’ decisions reinforced this.

Discreetly though, the film offers consolation, even solution.

Throughout the overlapping arcs, another theme is present: love out loud. When Vince is made to confront how he has loved Kath silently, the film displays the pitfalls of a love conservative, painfully compromising and indirect. When Vince’s mother apologizes for allowing Vince to live with wealthier relatives because her husband despised him, the film shows there is place for a love that fights.

“Vince & Kath & James” would have made a simple yet worthy romantic movie in touch with reality. Yet it put all that to waste in its treatment of the main women in the film.

Vince’s mom is submissive to a husband who, for reasons not elaborated, despises Vince.

Kath’s mom is portrayed as out of her wits after her husband left their family for another woman abroad. One day, the dad shows up out of nowhere and, philandering obviously put aside, Kath’s mom is brimming with joy.

Kath, in all her mechanical engineer wonder, was made an object of Vince’s fantasies, inevitably falling prey to the male gaze. As she works in a talyer that should be anything but glamorous, the camera pans and zooms in on her thighs, on the curve of her waist, on the swell of her chest — all in painful slow motion.

Moreover, James’ attempted rape of Kath is excused because of his jealousy, a mere character flaw. The film does not address this, and no character is realistically offended. Immediately after, Kath addresses James’ jealousy and apologizes and in this, the film tells the audience which offense mattered more.

This aspect of the film cannot escape criticism by saying it is a reflection of the patriarchy currently in state. This sexism is not so much exposing but promoting a culture that is already harmful without the film’s tasteless treatment in tow. Exposing had been achieved by the theme on class divide, but despite its merits, this simply cannot be overlooked.

In this historic MMFF lineup, “Vince & Kath & James” shouted why it deserved to be there but choked on an aspect of its delivery and fell short.

Love’s labors won: The frontier of Philippine fantasy

By Ratziel San Juan

I know you wanted mayhem, war, chaos… Isn’t that what love is all about?”

Every last frame was a labor of love. Each scene contained gags and easter eggs which lent a nice finishing touch to the graphic novel motif.

This was the story that the film’s martyr of a protagonist, fittingly named Marty, wanted to tell.

Incidentally, it summarized the decade-long battle fought by director Avid Liongoren and his determined crew to finish this passion project.

Marty could dream about saving the world, or leaving his mark out there. After all, he had that rare artistic skill that can leave a genuine impact.

The cause he chooses to fight for is Sally.


A Lesson In Fantasy

Aside from its format–wherein live action meets animation–Saving Sally sang a different ideological tune from the rest of the MMFF pack.

Most of the other films tried to say something about Philippine society, presenting themes catering to the population’s needs. Seklusyon commented on religion, Sunday Beauty Queen revealed the plight of Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong, Oro relived the struggles of the four small-scale miners who were murdered in 2014.

To its credit, Saving Sally attempted to depict child abuse through clever visual metaphors. Sally’s authoritarian parents cast monstrous shadows, offering a glimpse of their nature behind closed doors.

This message was regrettably buried due to the weight and higher priority given to the male gaze.

When Marty landed an opportunity to make it in the published comic industry, there was no fulfilment because Sally was not with him.

The willingness of our protagonist to shoulder Sally’s burden further cemented her role as a manic pixie dream girl who existed solely to affirm Marty’s happiness.

Described as a “weirdo na medyo nerd,” Sally’s essence served more as a plot device for Marty to react to instead of a story worth telling on its own.

She has all these steampunk contraptions at her disposal, yet utilized them for nothing more than chores.

A heroine in distress, Sally’s paradox was that she has to be rescued even though she was perfectly capable of holding her own, only so the film can move forward.

Saving Sally is not the most progressive film around, as it perfectly mirrors the existing colonial, bourgeois, and feudal culture in the Philippines.

We see the world through the lens of moral dichotomy. Your neighbor is either a human or a monster, and must be branded as such.

Like Marty, we fall for those who consume the same things, be it television shows, books, comics, movies, etc.

We even treat people as objects, getting jealous when they become someone else’s “possession”.

Nonetheless, Saving Sally can not be faulted alone for the narrative it wished to tell.

The plot itself holds no pretensions. It’s marketed as a typical love story the same as Vince and Kath and James, or your standard Star Cinema flick.

Sue the filmmakers for having feelings.

Anyhow, the magic does not lie in the foreground where an immature tale unfolds, but in the background where the drawn set comes to life.

Prepare to be dazzled by lush landscapes, wacky character animations, and unique monster designs which bear testimony to our gifted home-grown artists.


Guns Blazing

While not having the box office power or social relevance other entries could claim to have, Saving Sally offered a real glimpse into Philippine cinema’s potential had the local film industry been developed so that our talented professionals would opt to stay.

Filipino animators have been making rounds in the global film industry, having made names for themselves in giant companies like Disney and Pixar.

Saving Sally proved that you do not have to go very far or have a huge studio backing in order to be world class. It made the most of its strengths as an independent film and rightfully earned its spot in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival.

It defied expectations of being a budget Scott Pilgrim or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The production design and visual effects are instantly recognizable as its own, and should not invite comparison from other’s works.

Despite its almost entirely English script, its visual storytelling is unmistakably Filipino. The screen was full of nostalgic fuel for geeky guys and girls, with tons of cultural references only Filipinos can relate to.

MMFF is not the end. Philippine economic circumstances may not have been on Liongoren’s side, but if the word of mouth generated by the film meant anything, he and his crew have a long, flourishing career ahead of them.

Call it burgis, but Saving Sally has the artistic and technical firepower to show Pinoys what our filmmakers are made of.

Image from 

Beyond mobile screens: Youth brings protests to the streets

by Jeuel Barroso and Bronte Lacsamana

Today’s unrelenting youth did not stop at the protests and mobilizations which occurred on Katipunan Avenue, Nov. 18—the same day the nation woke up to the unannounced burial of the late dictator and former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani (LNMB).

As part of the unabating condemnation of said burial, a National Day of Rage and Unity was held in Quirino Grandstand in greater numbers, proving that the fight against historical revisionism and state fascism is far from over.

Students from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman marched from their respective colleges to Palma Hall calling for justice for human rights victims, particularly those who suffered during the Martial Law era.

After, they braved the streets of Manila, uniting with more protesters at Liwasang Bonifacio at Lawton before joining the rest of the contingent at Luneta Park.

“Mulat tayo sa mga nangyayari sa mundo, at handang handa tumulong sa pagbago nito,” said UP Diliman University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Bryle Leaño during the Palma Hall program.

“Bilang mulat na kabataan, serbisyo natin ito para sa bayan,” he added.

Despite the long distance and unpredictable weather, those who were against the sneak burial of the former dictator forged full speed ahead, going beyond social media rage and into the forefront of the protest which recorded at least 15,000 attendees and even extended outside the country.

From black display photos on Facebook and Twitter, black-clad youth voiced their rage against an altercation of history’s fabric which would turn a despot into a hero to be inspired and emulated not only by this generation but also the next.

With fists raised and heads held high, they wasted no time in expressing not only solidarity but also their wit and humor.

Statements such as “Pera ng bayan[,] pang-Coldplay ni Sandro,” “Satan is shookt” and “#makehukaythatbangkay” stood out from the crowd’s placards, enmeshing youth culture with the condemnation of historical revisionism.

Creativity also found its way to several artworks displayed during the large-scale protest, the most prominent of which was a paper mache Marcos lying in a coffin holding money bags in his arms. At one point, the mock coffin was put onstage while activist-artist Mae Paner (a.k.a. Juana Change) impersonated Imelda Marcos, her taunting performance provoking the crowds to chant, “Hukayin! Hukayin!”

“Debts incurred by the Marcoses are still being paid for through the masses’ taxes,” said Anakbayan leader and UP Manila student Al Omaga during the Luneta program. “The youth must be aware of this and demand justice.”

Coincidentally, millennials protesting the Marcos burial and holding President Rodrigo Duterte accountable for letting the burial happen were not the only members of the generation who showed up in Luneta.

Chaired by House of Representatives Political Affairs Officer III Ronald Cardema, the Duterte Youth, a pro-Marcos, pro-Duterte group camped on the other side of Independence Road, displaying a banner of support for Duterte and the Supreme Court (SC) on their decision favoring Marcos’s hero’s burial.

Kelby Uy, an Ateneo de Manila University Law School student, who showed up to condemn the LNMB burial found himself  in a debate with the outnumbered contingent that was known to be very vocal online.

“It was just casual talk, ‘bakit po kayo pro-Marcos, pro-Duterte,’” said Uy, a UP Diliman graduate. “They were trying to say na mali ‘yung ginagawa ng mga estudyante. That’s where I think I have to defend our side as well.”

The Duterte Youth had been arguing that the Philippines has other problems that the youth should focus on instead of the Marcos burial, such as the drug case involving Sen. Leila De Lima.

De Lima has been the subject of an ongoing House hearing since October due to her alleged involvement in illegal drug trade inside New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa.

“If you students want to make a difference, want to make a real impact, go to where the real demons are–in the Philippine Senate,” Duterte Youth member Raffy Gutierrez said.

Uy then argued that students rally where there is wrongness and necessity, addressing all issues such as the Marcos burial.

“Because this Marcos issue is very transcendental to the Filipinos and it’s a part of our history… we can’t move forward by forgetting what the past says,” he added.

Flicker of hope

A few hours into the program at Quirino Grandstand, brilliant pinpricks of illuminated cell phones and flashlights took the usual place of candles in breaking the darkness of the grandstand, accompanied by shouts of “Marcos! Hitler! Diktador! Tuta!”

“Tayo po ang liwanag sa dilim, ang dagitab sa kawalan, ang alab na hindi huhupa, ang apoy na hindi mamamatay. Tayo po ang pag-asang hindi mabibigo.” BAYAN Secretary General Renato Reyes said after asking the event managers and news agencies to turn off their lights in the middle of the Black Friday protest event.

Amidst momentary darkness, hope flickered.

It burned even brighter as the evening went with Martial Law activists—the true heroes that endured and survived Marcos’s iron rule—passing on the sparks of indignation to youth and student leaders whom they now expect to lead the battle against the fallacy of forgetting.

“Nararamdaman sa kaibuturan ng ating puso ang pagpapanibagong siklab ng pambansang demokratikong pakikibaka ng kabataan at estudyante,” Kabataang Makabayan founding member Satur Ocampo said.

Though generations have changed and transitioned from one to the next, the flames continue to raze state fascism, amassing greater intensity with the power of not only the streets but also technology.

In behalf of the youth, Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo pledged to “continue the fight for genuine change.”

“Ang laban na ito ay hindi nalang throwback, hindi na lang senti. Ang laban na ito ay laban na rin natin ngayon,” Crisostomo said.

From street debates with older folk to nationwide protests spurred on by the use of social media, millennials have gone beyond negative stereotypes, effectively wielding tools typically used by elders as evidence of the youth’s apathy–increased connectivity, urge to document everything, even the wit and humor characteristic of this country’s “hugot” generation.

Despite those who continue to shut them down with the all too familiar excuses of staying in school and keeping from the streets, they are not showing any signs of stopping.

“Tuluy-tuloy tayo sa paglaban sa diktadurya noon hanggang ngayon… laban sa pagbabalik ng kasaysayan,” Reyes said.

“Tayo ang gagawa ng bagong kasaysayan… pagkilos laban sa pananatili sa bulok na sistema na umiiral na nagpapakahirap sa ating mamamayan.”

As Marcos rots in a cemetery made for heroes, the fight goes on for the youth who have expressed indignation towards the blatant historical revisionism taking place, the power of collective action continuing to prosper.

The flames of militancy will continue to fan out as students from all over the country have taken it upon themselves to speak out, not only on social media, but also on the streets, and they will continue fearlessly doing so until their voices are heard and history is made right.

Thousands rise against Marcos secret burial

By Luz Wendy Noble and Beatriz Zamora

With reports from Tessa Barre

In a moment of utmost rage, the streets of Katipunan echoed the cries of the Filipino heroes of the collective it was named after.

Thousands of students from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and Miriam College marched to the historic avenue in protest of the unannounced interment of former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB), Nov. 18.

For them, burying the dictator among heroes erases a whole new era of cruelty and tyranny in Philippine history, wherein Marcos’s declaration of Proclamation 1081 on Sept. 21, 1972 left thousands of its victims still awaiting justice until today.

Among the throng of students expressing their dissent towards the dictator’s burial were firsthand witnesses to the harsh reality of Martial Law.

Although he is presently recognized for his role as UP Diliman’s Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs, Dr. Nestor Castro recalled his imprisonment during the Marcos regime.

At 23, Castro was arrested without the presentation of a warrant, with authorities preventing him from contacting his lawyer as prescribed by the law. He was held in solitary confinement at Camp Dangwa, Benguet for an entire year.

During a certain point in his captivity, Castro was forced to drink his own urine due to the absence of water.

After the fall of the Marcos administration, the UP vice chancellor’s imprisonment was declared baseless by the Supreme Court.

In his speech at the solidarity program held along Katipunan in front of Miriam College, he expressed his sentiments on the youth’s initiative to join forces against Marcos’ burial.

“Ang hindi namin natapos ng aming panahon…ay inyong ipagpapatuloy. Natutuwa rin akong nagkakaisa ang ating tatlong unibersidad,” Castro said.

Bonifacio Ilagan, lead convenor of Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang (CARMMA), shared Castro’s sentiments regarding the youth movement.

Like the UP Vice Chancellor, Ilagan carries the burden of the cruelties he went through at the onset of Martial Law.

His identity as a teenage activist brought him to a fate shared by 70,000 other Filipinos who were subjected to human rights violations during Marcos’ reign.

In 1974, Ilagan was imprisoned and tortured. He was released within the same year, but Ilagan soon found that his freedom came with a great cost–he soon learned that his sister Rizalina had become one of the desaparecidos under Marcos’ responsibility.

Forty-two years later, Ilagan’s sister is among the ranks of those still missing.

Tracing back EDSA

On the same fateful day, groups and individuals who likewise condemned the hasty Marcos burial also gathered in the People Power Monument at White Plains Avenue.

The Coalition Against the Marcos Burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (CAMB), iDefend and Akbayan Youth led the protest rally in EDSA. The same grounds witnessed the bloodless People Power in 1987 that became an instrument to the ouster of then President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., the same man buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani 26 years after.

The mob continued to accumulate anti-Marcos protesters, including students from UP, ADMU, De La Salle University (DLSU), University of Santo Tomas (UST), Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), San Beda College (SBC) and even from Xavier High School (XHS).

One of them was James Alih, a Moro student of San Beda who came from Mindanao. He expressed his dismay over his fellow Bedan, President Rodrigo Duterte, for having allowed the burial to take place in secret.

“Sinasabi sa amin…’magmove-on na lang kayo’…Paano kami magmomove-on kung hindi pa rin nabibigyan ng hustisya ‘yung nangyari sa Jabidah Massacre?” Alih said.

The Jabidah Massacre happened on March 18, 1968 in Corregidor. At least 23 Moros were killed by military men from the secret commando unit called Jabidah. The unit was supposedly assigned by Marcos for operations that would reclaim Sabah.  

DLSU student Manuel Jopson, echoed Alih’s call for justice. Jopson is the grandson of Edgar “Edjop” Jopson, an activist killed at the height of Martial Law.

Edjop is remembered for his dauntless visit to Malacanang to challenge Marcos to not seek another term, as well as to put it into writing.

“Ang kamatayan ng isang kamag-anak ay hindi paglimot. Ngunit…tayo’y makakaangat dahil sa malakas ang ating boses,” Jopson said.

“Tayo’y maririnig ng administrasyon na ito, nitong tutang administrayon na ito na walang pakundangan.”

Apart from the ranks of students, there were also those who came from their workplaces. Also joining the crowd were Martial Law survivors themselves.

There were chanting and singing.

Noel Cabangon jammed with the crowd as he sang Tatsulok and Bayan Ko. Protesters also called out motorists to express their dismay over the secret Marcos burial. Some motorists joined the call by honking their horns, opening their windows, and raising their fists. Some even attached their own placards with calls of protests in their cars.

Some constituents who came from the Katipunan protests also walked to the People Power monument.

By the time the program ended, there was an estimate of around 5,000 people from different walks of life who voiced out their rage against the Marcos burial at the LNMB.  Many stayed at the People Power Monument even after the program.      

Authors of history

Despite the recent circumstances and the justice that has yet to dawn to victims of the Jabidah Massacre, Alih is hopeful and grateful to the youth for being vocal and willing to stand firm on national issues, including the Marcos burial.

“Darating ang panahon kami rin ang mamumuno at kami rin ang magbibigay ng hustisya sa mga taong hindi niyo nabigyan ng hustisya,” he said.

With fists raised in solidarity against Marcos’ burial and historical forgetting, the spirit of the movement which overthrew the dictator is revived in the protesters’ eyes.

For the youth of Katipunan, this is a legacy.

“Alam na alam natin kung ano ang ating papel sa paglikha ng kasaysayan na napatunayan ng mga naunang henerasyon ng mga kabataan,” said UP Diliman University Student Council councilor Ben Te.

History is written by the victors, they say. But the true story is yet to unfold; still being written, rewritten, verified and corrected by those who went out to the streets to voice out their opposition to Marcos’ burial. It is time the masses take back this task.

With the government’s decision to lay the dictator to rest among this country’s heroes, the fight for human rights and civil liberties still has a long way to go. #

Sincerity, subtlety and those in between

By Bronte Lacsamana

In a culture where rom-coms of drama and spectacle dominate the box office, Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa provides a fresh Philippine indie approach on the complications of a relationship.

Initially intended as director Nestor Abrogena’s short film requirement for a master’s degree in filmmaking, this most recent feature-length edition explores the small, quiet moments which ensue between the protagonists in the urban spaces of Manila.

Sam (Nicco Manalo) and Isa (Emmanuelle Vera) are facing a certain obstacle keeping them from total commitment. The film dances around this obstacle for the most part, leaving it as a plot twist at the very end, after the characters have been humanized and portrayed in a way that makes them relatable.

“Natutuwa akong nakakaintindi ang mga audiences sa relasyon nina Sam at Isa. May mga bagay kasi na nangyayari lang, na hindi pwede pero gusto pa rin gawin,” Abrogena said.

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa focuses on brief looks exchanged, hands momentarily held, as well as other subtleties which occur in scenes meant to be uneventful. Its two-year struggle to gain viewership reflects the struggle of independent films to find audiences, and it seems that after being picked up by Cinema 76 and SM Cinemas, there is hope for indie filmmakers after all.

The film relies heavily on the atmosphere created by the characters as they commute and interact in school. Without any context, their shared silence can be frustrating at times, not holding up for the entire length of the film, although it seems to pay off once the movie ends.

Perhaps in its original form as a shorter film it would have worked better, and the narrative would not have appeared so sparse.

In the open forum that took place after the screening in UP Diliman, Abrogena justified the thin storyline after the absence of character backgrounds was questioned.

“Kwento nga nilang dalawa, at wala ng ibang kwento,” he firmly said.

He also talked about the planned sequel, “Set siya five years after. Kakamustahin ang characters, aalamin kung saan na sila napunta, at ipapakilala na rin mga pamilya nila.”

Abrogena stressed that he never expected the film to garner much attention, as it had been screening for two years until SM Cinemas took notice earlier this year, highlighting the film’s cross from indie to mainstream audiences despite its low budget and sophisticated approach.

With beautifully composed shots that add to the raw performances of the leads, the production transcends its independent roots. Manalo shared that the scenes are “mostly improvised, except for a few talking points, which leaves room for realness of emotions.”

In fact, the film portrays excellently the feeling of being in the company of someone you love despite complications. This vibe is most evident when the couple talks while walking from one transit line to another, and when Sam has a moment of tenderness as Isa falls asleep on him in the LRT.

Although it struggles to sustain the subtle mood for the length of the film, it is redeemed by its best attribute–the objectivity of its portrayal of Sam and Isa’s romance, clear of any ethical judgment as it neither glamorizes nor demonizes the kind of relationship they are in.

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa has the light and visually poignant moments that a usual rom-com contains, but even with the narrative nearly unfitting for a feature-length film, behind it is a story that was evidently thought-out and reminiscent of Philippine indie approach.

A farewell to Neverland

By Kate Tayamora

It is a proven fact that even when the plot grows weary, the audience will still yearn for stories which harness familiarity, producing films like this:

Talented, restless, and fickle-minded, a tomboyish call center agent finds herself falling in love with her gay best friend amidst the seeming impossibility of the  situation.

Director Siege Ledesma’s romantic comedy Shift revolves around their friendship, and later on the complicated, one-sided attraction of Estela (Yeng Constantino) and Trevor (Felix Roco) that sprouted from their shared experiences in the call center.

Ledesma’s vision of the pain of unrequited love translated itself flawlessly to the film, using music to effectively weave parallel stories of the characters. The montage of Estela curled up crying juxtaposed with Trevor unhappy with his relationship bursted the confinement of their and the audiences’ emotions, a scene that fully captured the conflict of of the main characters.

Not only is it well-cast, it also has a great lineup that brought forth great performance from both the central characters and the supporting actors.

Besides the dynamic tandem, Alex Medina, who plays Kevin in the film, provides a whole new different path for the story to take, creating new problems for Estela to resolve. His short and charming character who fancies Estela is something the audience must look forward to when catching this film.

Furthermore, the attempt to touch on the concept of gender swapping without enforcing cliches broadened Ledesma’s narrative.

This premise prompted the creation of an ideal environment that does not discriminate any sexual orientation, gender identity and preference, showing the audience a glimpse of what could and what should be. Trevor’s relationship with his co-workers shows us their acceptance for him, creating no divide between the LGBT and cis workers.

It is forgiving, though, to suggest that the film has utilized itself in manifesting the issues the LGBT community experience in the workplace.  Taken into Filipino context, it is still common for the LGBT community to face discrimination in work, ranging from lack of legal protection, discrimination during interviews, to getting fired for their sexual orientation.

As of 2016, 41 transgender deaths in the Philippines have been recorded by the TVT project, an ongoing, comparative qualitative-quantitative research project initiated by Transgender Europe.

Reasons listed for the homicides include domestic violence experienced by the victims as well as work-related discrimination, proving that, although the country has mutual tolerance to the LGBT community, it still has no acceptance for their existence—a far cry from what Ledesma has presented in Shift.

In the film’s context, the call center setting inflicts a different connotation of a work environment onscreen as compared to the actual workplace with the workplace being infamous for the prevalence of sexual assaults to all genders.

Although it is clear that Shift is not intended to be seen using the gender lens, the film still has created an avenue that could have taken the dialogue to a higher platform, one that it has failed to reach.

Bagging the Grand Prix award in the Osaka Asian Film Festival in Japan in 2014, Shift paved a fresh perspective on the classic girl meets gay narrative, offering a new direction that pushes the film out of the box of its genre.

There is, however, one thing about Shift that must be clear to the audience before continuing: even if it is a story of girl meets gay, it is not a love story.

To understand the film, the audience must be able to look at the peripheral narrative -Estela’s character development in realizing not everything in the world falls into their desired place.

Set in a deceivingly romantic environment, Shift tackles the difficulties of the risk-reward process of growing up, proving that maturity does not directly develop parallel to age. Estela and Trevor’s relationship with each other reflects the reality of young people in search of stability and security in the rockiest situations, a transition stage most people go through.

Exemplified in the scene of them reminiscing their younger selves, Estela shared her experience of falling in love with a closeted gay, while Trevor shared that a girl once fell in love with him, albeit his sexual orientation.

Estela’s attraction to Trevor is not an entirely new occurrence, yet because the same situation brought forth an opportunity to the right the wrongs she had done before, she began to hope and continued to do so, believing that maybe- just maybe- Trevor would return her feelings.

The reason the film clicked so much to the audience back then up until now is that it became a wake up call for young people to learn how to let go and move forward, a message that does not sink in so easily to our understanding.

The film’s aim is not to educate the viewers about the culture of call centers or expose the sexual awakening of the characters.

In the end, Shift is about crossing the threshold, of learning how to give up childish impulses in life, teaching the audience why such experience is perceived necessary for growth albeit the pain and confusion it brings.

Despite its premise, Shift is not a love story.

It is a story of transference to adulthood. Trevor is not the love interest. He is a threshold guardian, a character that allows the protagonist to transition to another stage of life, teaching the audience that there is no need for reciprocation.

What we need is growing up.

Breaking the conventions of comedy

By Danine Cruz

Classic or cliché stories are continually used for a reason, one of which is that it will still work one way or another.

Branded as the 2015 Cinema One Originals Audience Choice Award, “Baka Siguro Yata” is a classic story: boy meets girl, girl accidentally gets pregnant, and then the hullabaloo of taking it all in.

Director Joel Ferrer’s entry is a romantic comedy about the life of Carlo (Dino Pastrano), an unambitious web designer. With Carlo as a pivotal point in the film’s plot, three love stories from different generations were unraveled.

Centered around the story of an accidental couple, “Baka Siguro Yata” features Carlo and Melissa (Bangs Garcia) as they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a one night stand, pregnancy and a tentative marriage. An elderly ex-couple who is rekindling their love affair and a teenage tandem celebrating the firsts of young love and lust revolve around Carlo and Melissa, who are revealed to be related to them.

It is a story audiences already know. A lot of the elements seem to be already seen in the 2007 American film, “Knocked Up.” However, the film’s humor worked for the Filipino audience through its hideously funny OST–a set of rhyming words for the sake of rhyming, a set of crazy characters who enjoy eating spoiled food and a male lead with natural comedic timing.

Light and relaxed, this reflects on the film’s color palette and score. Moreover, its comedic conversations are expected given Ferrer’s affinity for the genre.

Paired with the “Teletubbies” get up and the overdone jejemon prom attire, “Baka Siguro Yata” is a technical spectacle which highlights its light and funny story.

Ferrer’s take on a very simple and straightforward story was definitely meant to make people laugh and gush over the film’s romantics. Anchored on the antics of the characters, the effort to make things comedic is too obvious that sometimes it fails to transcend the punchline. Although most of the time, it worked with the help of the witty dialogs.

Where the wit of its dialogs end, the problems arise. In its effort to include the LGBTQ+ community, “Baka Siguro Yata” reinforces stereotypes associated with members of the community. A conversation between Adrian and Remy imposes the butch lesbian label of Philippine society on gay girls, further strengthening the misconceptions on those affected by such comments.

Being a romantic comedy, its takes on social issues such as infidelity, virginity, and pregnancy are tinged with humor.

The storyline of Jinno (Boo Gabunada) and Myka (Katrina Legaspi), the youngest couple in the film, is a little bit too manufactured bordering annoying. While theirs is mostly a tale of losing one’s virginity, the hideously funny song which Gabunada’s character wrote for Legaspi’s overshadowed the discourse of this common teenage issue.

Indie romantic comedies are not that common in the country and this film is a great addition to a still small club of indie Pinoy rom-coms, following the ranks of “That Thing Called Tadhana” and “1st Ko Si 3rd.” It may fall short in offering a fresher storyline and a cast with a better comedic performance, it still gets the job done if you want a quick light hearted film.

Overall, “Baka Siguro Yata” is a breather from all the national and international issues at the present. For an hour and a half, this movie attempted to discuss common personal life issues aside from those faced collectively by the Filipino people.

Still, while comedy remains to be a genre of escapism for the Filipino people, it is not exempt from the mandate of presenting social issues with the proper treatment. In the effort to give its audience refuge from reality, “Baka Siguro Yata” compromised discourse for comfort.

Ferrer’s award-winning film might have brought humor and novelty to the classic romantic comedy but beyond storytelling itself, “Baka Siguro Yata” lies far from the point of breaking free from the conventions of romantic comedy and bringing the genre to a more relevant standpoint.

Ground zero: Remembering truths of a past forgone

By Krysten Mariann Boado

In the crowd of protesters burning a large image of former President Ferdinand Marcos declaring Martial Law, SELDA Vice Chairperson Bonifacio Ilagan remains unbowed.

The end of the indignation protest staged Tuesday by Martial Law victims and members of the University of the Philippines (UP) community ought to have tired the 65-year-old writer and activist, yet weariness is absent as he starts to tell his tale: “May ililibing sila. Ako walang ililibing at maraming pamilya ang walang ililibing.”

Nov. 8 had been a rough day for him, with the Supreme Court (SC) granting the president responsible for his sister’s abduction a hero’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).

He had been waiting for the high court’s verdict in Manila himself, hoping the justices would hold on to the “spirit and intent of the law,” hoping the decision would not soil the memory of his sister, Rizalina, who had been missing since 1977.

Rizalina was a student activist from UP Los Baños (UPLB) who was abducted with nine other UPLB students and professors. They were later dubbed as the Southern Tagalog 10, and known as the single biggest case of political abduction during the Martial Law.

But in the end, nine out of 14 justices sided with the powerful political family who, together with their loyalists, were the personification of joy and triumph—all too familiar V (for victory) hand signs waving ecstatically in the air accompanied by shouts of “Marcos pa rin!” and voices telling Martial Law victims to forgive and forget.

Yet Bonifacio is not broken, and he is nowhere near forgetting.

Instead, he continues fighting: “Pagka ako tumalikod dito [sa pagtutol ng Marcos burial at sa historical revisionism], tinalikuran ko na yung alaala ng aking kapatid, tinalikuran ko yung idealism ng aking kabataan at kung ako’y nakaisip na tumalikod, dapat noon pa.”

Tracing history

Much like his sister, Bonifacio was also actively involved in the student movement during the 1970s.

He was a leader of youth group Kabataang Makabayan (KM), an organization that contributed to the rapid expansion of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army during Martial Law. Aside from this, KM also stood at the forefront of iconic youth movements such as the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune.

Bonifacio recruited his sister into joining KM, encouraging her to take part in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. She willingly became a member at 15.

Briefly, he admits this has made him feel a tinge of guilt in her demise.

“I was the one who told her about activism. I was the one who encouraged her,” Bonifacio says.

“Yung mga namatay na kaibigan ko pwede ko pang isantabi, pero kapatid ko to and yung pagiging magkapatid namin, ‘di lang blood, Magkasama rin kami [sa pakikibaka].”

Both Bonifacio and Rizalina have been victims of human rights violations (HRV) during Martial Law.

The siblings are part of the 70,000 arrested individuals and 34,000 victims of torture tallied by human rights watchdog Amnesty International. Rizalina’s abduction, on the other hand, is but one of the thousand recorded cases of enforced disappearances in the one of the country’s darkest periods in history.

Bonifacio was detained in 1974, and though it had been more than 40 years since his imprisonment, he can still recount the unspeakable horrors he endured while in captivity.

For him, the soft drink bottle is no common object. It was a tool that ripened his skin with swelling, which later on led to pissing blood and unbearable pain.

The flat iron was no ordinary household appliance. It scorched and branded his flesh for ideologies he fought for and believed in.

San Juanico Bridge was not a monumental connection between Samar and Leyte. It was a torture method that entailed severe beating should he fall from lying between two beds.

Likewise, the wounds of his sister’s abduction remain fresh, even if there is an absence of a body to concretize them.

Bonifacio knows she was was repeatedly raped for several months by members of military unit Ground Team 205 through a former detainee of the team that was able to escape.

The state security forces team had a notorious streak of leaving no captives alive, and without a body to tell the rest of her story of suffering, Bonifacio can only imagine what she experienced at the hands of the military men.

Despite these thoughts, the doors of their family’s household were always open and waiting for Rizalina’s return, expecting her to surface like Bonifacio and other political prisoners during the Martial Law period.

Every June 19, Rizalina’s birthday, Bonifacio lights a candle, and he and his family remembers their disappeared kin with a simple salu-salo. Likewise, no Christmas has passed where the Ilagans would not prepare noche buena in hopes that one Christmas night, Rizalina would surprise them through gracing their tight-knit celebration.

39 years has passed, Bonifacio’s parents have long died waiting for Rizalina’s return, yet she never came back.

When asked if he still waits for her, Bonifacio has accepted Rizalina is gone, his answer ringing with a finality: “Wala nang dahilan para maniwala ako na buhay pa siya.”  

He says the best way to honor Rizalina’s memory is to continue the struggle for justice for those who have been victims of a despot’s iron rule–the nameless and faceless unsung heroes who opposed the rule of a tyrant and paid for it in blood–even if the tables have already been turned, and history has already begun being rewritten by those in power.

Only half the story

According to Sec. I of Republic Act (RA) 289, the legislation responsible for LNMB’s creation, the LNMB was constructed to be the burial place of former presidents, national heroes and patriots “for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.”

Despite militant groups and sectors urging him to change his mind, President Rodrigo Duterte, who had backed the dictator’s burial at the hero’s cemetery since his campaign visit to Ilocos February this year, said he will stand by his decision to support Marcos’ interment in the LNMB.

He added that he was only following RA 289, which allows LNMB to become the final resting place of ex-presidents and soldiers, completely ignoring the thousands of HRV victims under Marcos’s 21-year regime, the billions of pesos his family looted as well as the fabrication of his war records.

However, for Bonifacio, granting Marcos, a place in the heroes’ cemetery is more than just a legislation and laying a body to rest.

“We are not talking about one corpse,” he says. “We’re talking about one corpse and our entire history.”

For the multi-awarded writer, historical revisionism began when former President Fidel Ramos allowed Marcos’ remains to be flown to his hometown in Ilocos Norte in Sept. 7, 1993, four years after he died in exile in Hawaii.

His widow, Imelda Marcos, stepped out of the plane, holding back tears as thousands of their family’s supporters—a mirror image of those gathered and rejoicing at the SC—welcomed their arrival, revelling in the return of their Apo Lakay.

This, Bonifacio says, was the beginning of the Marcoses’ return to power, their devious ascent to reclaim what once was theirs: “Before we knew it, they were back.”

Twenty-three years after the older Marcos’s body had been laid to rest in their family’s provincial stronghold, members of his family continue to gun for both local and national government positions.

Only this year, the late president’s son, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, Jr., nearly won the vice presidential seat short of 263,473 votes against Vice President Leni Robredo.

In 2010, he won the highest national post for the family since their return from exile by placing 7th in the senatorial race. His sister, Imee, on the other hand, has been Ilocos Norte’s governor since the same year while their mother is now serving her final term as the province’s 2nd District representative.

Their dynasty lives on with Matthew Marcos-Manotoc, Imee’s youngest son and the first of the third generation of Marcoses to take hold of the North, bagging a local government post as a 2nd District provincial board member.

While the Marcoses themselves have claimed that the former president’s burial would be an “important step in the healing process and reconciliation” in the country’s present political arena,  Bonifacio says healing was never necessary in the first place. The Marcoses have no wounds to nurse.

After all, they have a body to mourn.

“Kanino bang sugat ang gagamutin? Nagkaroon ba ng sugat ang mga Marcos?” Bonifacio asks with the same fire in his eyes that have lit his younger days of activism.

“Nabalik na nga sa kanila ang kanilang dating kapangyarihan. Dapat na gamutin ang sugat ng mga biktima.”

Beyond sentimentality

Bonifacio says granting Marcos a place in the LNMB extends beyond closure and sentimental value. Questioning the direction of the Philippines’ values system, he explains that the act deems the deceased despot an inspiration that ought to be mirrored by this generation and the next.

Most of all the SC’s 9-5 decision, he says, negates the truth behind Martial Law and the Marcos regime and fuels the power accumulated by the Marcoses throughout years since their return.

“Hindi lang for sentimental value kaya gustong ilibing ng mga Marcos ang tatay nila sa LNMB,” Bonifacio says. “Gagamitin nila itong political capital sa kanyang [Bongbong Marcos] eleksyon…bilang presidente. That’s the long and the short of it.”

Should Bongbong be elected as the country’s chief executive, the human rights activist predicts that unlike his father, Bongbong will not declare Martial Law. Rather, he would devise a different political strategy that will reclaim their family’s lost glory.

If that happens, Bonifacio says Filipinos are back to square one.

He knows that by that time, he would be old and unable to make it to the mountains to fight like he once did, yet while Philippine history is being rewritten in favor of a villain, Bonifacio dares to tell his tale over and over again.

He dares to tell the story of disappeared sisters with unmarked graves, of bodies hastily thrown in rivers and ravines, of unheard names that opposed a dictator and have been deemed by the people worthier of a spot in the heroes’ cemetery.

Although he, along with other petitioners have yet 15 days to file a motion for reconsideration that might change the SC’s verdict, Bonifacio says the fight is not for the few to decide.

After all, history does not lie on a 9-5 decision.

Mga munting tinig sa gitna ng unos

By Jerome Edward Ignacio

Sa huling gabi ng mga pambansang minorya sa UP Diliman ay makikitang masipag na tumutulong sa paglilinis sa harap ng maliit na entabladong ganapan ng kultural na pagtatanghal ang 14 taong gulang na si Angeline Corsado, isang Lumad mula North Cotabato.

Nakasuot ng bandanang pula at itim na damit at mistulang pagod sa isang araw na muling nagdaan, si Angeline ay tila mukhang mas bata para sa kanyang edad.

Bagamat marapat na nilulubos niya ang kanyang pagkabata, si Corsado ay nasa maingay na siyudad ng Maynila kasama ang humigit kumulang 3000 na mga katutubong lumalaban para sa kanilang mga karapatan.

“Sinama po kami dito para maikwento po sa inyo kung anong nangyayari sa aming paaralan dun [sa Northern Cotabato],” ani Corsado.

Hindi niya kapiling ang pamilya sa kanyang paglalakbay sa Maynila, ngunit kasama niya ang kanyang mga guro at kamag-aral na nais ipahayag ang kanilang mga kwento at karanasan sa kauna-unahang Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya, isang malawakang pagkilos ng mga katutubong grupo para sa sariling pagpapasya at kapayapaan.

Iniwan ni Angeline ang nag-iisang kapatid at mga magulang niya sa Davao kung saan sila lumikas matapos ang pandarahas ng mga militar sa kanilang paaralan.

“Isa po kami [sa] naharass kaya sinama ako dito,” ani niya.

Ayon kay Angeline, pinaparatangan ng militar na isang paaralan para sa mga rebelde ang kanilang eskwelahan na Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Incorporated (MISFI) Academy. ‘Di umano ay dito sila tintuturuan na bumuo at magkasa ng mga baril.

“Parang di na kami makapagayos sa pagaaral kasi di kami kortable kasi parati na lang po kaming nageevacuate, kasi yung mga militar ay palaging nandoon sa paaralan namin,” malungkot na ibinahagi ni Angeline.

Kagaya ni Angeline at iba pang estudyanteng kasamahan, noong 2014 ay sumama rin sa Manilakbayan ang mga mag-aaral mula sa Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS) at Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development  (ALCADEV) sa dating binansagang Manilakbayan upang ipanawagan ang pagtigil sa karahasan ng mga militar at paramilitar sa kanilang mga paaralan

Bagamat matagal na ang panawagang itigil ang pasismo sa kanilang mga katutubong komunidad, patuloy pa rin ang pamamayagpag ng pandarahas ng militar na siyang nakakaapekto sa mga kabataan gaya ni Angeline. Kahit pa nagdeklara si Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte ng unilateral ceasfire noong Agosto 20 bilang bahagi ng kasalukuyang nagaganap na usapang pang-kapayapaan sa pagitan ng pamahalaan ng Pilipinas at National Democratic Front (NDF), hindi pa rin  ito nakatulong sa pagkawala ng mga sundalo sa kanilang komunidad na siyang nagbabansag sa mga katutubo bilang miyembro ng New People’s Army (NPA).

Mariing itinanggi ni Angeline ang paratang ng mga militar sa kanilang mga guro, “[ang] tinuturo po nila ay kung anong ginagamit ng Kagawaran ng Edukasyon (DepEd) [at] di po pagbuo’t pagkasa ng baril.”

Dahil dito, hindi maiwasan ni Angeline na magpahayag ng mga saloobin sa nangyayaring pandarahas ng mga militar sa kanilang paaralan.”Parati na lang po kaming hinaharass dun, masakit po samin yung harassin yung iba naming [ka]klase”.

Nang tinanong kung paano ang pandarahas na ginagawa sa kanila ng mga sundalo, sinabi ni Angeline na tinatakot sila ng mga ito.

“Kung hindi [daw] kami aalis sa aming paaralan ay papatayin daw po kami,” ani niya.

Dahil sa takot para sa kanilang kaligtasan at sa kaligtasan ng kanilang mga pamilya, mabilis na lumikas sina Angeline at ang kanyang mga kasama papuntang Davao.

Alam ni Angeline at ng iba pang mga Lumad na may dalang bigat ang mga banta na ito sapagkat naging kabaha-bahala ang bilang ng mga katutubong napatay nang dahil sa pamamalagi ng militar sa kanilang mga lupang ninuno.

Noong unang walong buwan pa lamang ng 2015 ay may sa higit kumulang nang 13 na katutubo ang napaslang.

Pinaghihinalaan ang mga grupong paramilitar bilang sangkot sa mga karumal-dumal na pagpatay. Ayon sa grupong Human Rights Watch, sila ay pinalalakas ng militar upang puksain ang mga pinaghihinalaang rebelde.

Ayon sa testimonya ng mga Lumad, ang dahilan sa pagyabong ng militarisasyon sa Mindanao ay ang lumalagong interes ng mga malalaking kompanyang nagmimina sa mayayamang lupain ng mga katutubo.

Dahil dito, hindi sapat ang pang araw-araw na pagkain at tulong pinansyang natatanggap ng pamilya upang maging buo ang loob niya ukol sa kanilang kaligtasan sa  ni Angeline sa kanilang nilikasang tahanan sa Davao.

“Yung kaklase po namin [ay] nagkekwento samin, bandang alas-tres ng umaga, nakarinig [sila] ng hiyawan ng mga tao, nasusunog na daw yung kabilang building [at] di nila alam kung saan sila pupunta,” malungkot na ibinahagi ni Angeline.

“Akala nila [ay] komportable na sila sa Davao,” dagdag pa niya.

Pagtapos ng dalawang linggong pamamalagi sa Diliman at paglibot sa iba’t ibang paaralan upang maiparating ang kanilang mga kwento ay babalik na rin sa Davao si Angeline at ang kanyang mga kasamahan.

Subalit ang Davao ay hindi pa rin tahanan para sa munting Lakbayani.

“Makakabalik lang [kami] sa North Cotabato kung [kami ay] mabigyan ng hustisya,” ani niya.

Ayon sa datos ng GMA News, naghihintay pa rin ng hustisya ang humigit kumulang na 22 lumad na pinatay sa Cotabato mula 2010. Ngayong taon lang ay tatlo ang napatay at 116 ang sugatan sa nangyaring Kidapawan massacre matapos magpaputok ng mga pulis sa mga sibilyang humihingi lamang ng ayuda mula sa gobyerno.

Nang tinanong kung anong gusto niyang mangyari pagkatapos ng Lakbayang ito ay agad sumagot si Angeline,  “Sana po [ay] mawala na yung militar sa kabundukan,  sana umalis na po sila dun para makabalik na kami sa aming mga kabahayan at sa aming mga lupa.”

Malinaw sa isang batang kagaya ni Angeline ang kanilang ipinaglalaban.

“Gusto naming pumunta dito at sumama kasi gusto po naming makamit yung hustisya sa aming paarlaan na palagi na lang kaming hinaharass ng mga militar,” ani niya habang kitang-kita sa kanyang mga mata ang lungkot at takot na dulot ng sitwasyon sa bayang pinanggalingan.

Sa gitna ng pagsigaw ng pambansang minorya para sa kanilang karapatan sa sariling kapayapaan at pagpapasya, patuloy din na nananawagan ang mga tinig na gaya ng kay Angeline, mga tinig ng batang naipit sa isang sitwasyong pasan ng kanilang murang edad. Maliit man ang kanilang mga tinig, ito nama’y naglalaman ng mga kwentong hindi marapat na pagbingi-bingihan lamang.

Reclaiming paradise lost

by Krysten Mariann Boado

They came unarmed without the company of the male members of their tribe. Arms laced to form a human barricade, the Manobo women banded together and rose to defend their own land and their people, blood be the price.

Undaunted and unfazed, they stood before the fearsome blue guards of Del Monte pineapple contract grower Pablo “Poling” Lorenzo in hopes that they would not shoot at them. Lorenzo had looked forward to robbing their land yet again and `turning it into a pineapple plantation.

Their leader, Bai Jocelyn Agdahan, remembers that encounter very well, for it was the day that fanned the flames of indignation already fueled by blue guards’ everyday threats thrown towards their community.

“Kami ang may-ari ng lupa. Ang dugo namin, ibubuwis namin sa aming lupa,” she says.  

The women held their breaths, maintaining their claim to their ancestral territory, yet the guards remained ruthless and fired at them, shooting at the ground where the Manobos stood so they would run off and cease their protest.

Agdahan survived the encounter and lived to tell the tale, but so did their oppressors who remain in their ancestral lands, brutally taking away both their lives and livelihood.

Because of this, Bai Jocelyn, together with her fellow Manobos, braved the more than 1,500-kilometer distance for Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya, coming together with fellow national minorities to bring their plights closer to the country’s capital city.

“Kaming mga katutubo, ang lupang ninuno namin, yun ay paraiso para sa amin,” she said. “Kaya iyon ang aming pinanindigan: Hindi pwedeng agawin ang aming lupa.”

Trouble in paradise

To visitors of the Lakbayan, Bai Jocelyn is known for the rhythmical hand gestures and the graceful footwork she exhibits every time she engages in the Manobo traditional dance.

Be it in a cultural performance, a protest action, or an immersion with individuals who wish to listen to the struggles of her tribe, she dances with the nimblest movements and the most expressive eyes–eyes that have witnessed blood spilt by bullets and blue guards on their homeland.

Aside from spearheading discussions for visitors who wish to immerse with the Lumads, leading the Manobo traditional dance is part of Bai Jocelyn’s role as the Pulangihon Manobo’s bai, the indigenous community’s female counterpart of a datu.

Being the wife of a datu herself, Bai Jocelyn was selected to become one of the Pulangihon Manobo’s bai, as per custom. Besides this, she has been deemed worthy of leadership by the Manobo community due to her active participation in the struggle against the plunder of their lands and the militarization of their communities.

When asked if she had any setbacks that prevented her from taking on the role of bai 12 years ago, she admits that at first, she was nervous to accept the appointment and fulfill the popular adage that women hold half the sky.

For Bai Jocelyn, back then, being a bai meant holding half her community and reciprocating the support its women receive from its male tribespeople. Until today, these duties continue to ring true to her.

Bilang isang bai, ang responsibilidad ko sa pagiging lider ay nangunguna sa pakikibaka para sa pagdepensa sa at pagsuporta sa mga kalalakihan namin para walang mangyari sa paligid namin,” she says. “Yun ang responsibilidad ng isang lider. Kung mayroong mga problema, andyan ako.”

According to the Kaliwat Theater Collective, Inc., the bai (alternatively spelled as bae), mediates social disputes ranging from the proliferation of gossip, morality issues between young men and women as well as other issues that need not involve the datu.

More importantly, the bai is also in charge of the community’s economic activities, especially farming; hence, Bai Jocelyn’s great contribution to the movement against Lorenzo’s occupancy of their land.

Back in Quezon, Bukidnon, Bai Jocelyn would fearlessly confront Lorenzo’s guards, asking them to stop barricading their lands as the Manobos were already terrified of the day-to-day bullets they fire at the tribe.

She is especially concerned with the Manobo youth who, at their early years, experience daily assaults brought about by Lorenzo’s blue guards.

“Hanggang ngayon, andun pa rin ang mga security guards ni Poling Lorenzo doon sa aming lupa, malapit sa aming bahay,” she recalls, her voice suddenly shifting into a firm yet more somber tone.

“Palagi silang nagpapaputok… Pinuputukan kami, sinasabihan ng ‘Labas! Labas! Kung hindi kayo lalabas, papatayin ko kayo!’”

Their struggle dates back to 2007, when Roberto Montalvan was issued a permit by the local government for a ranch operation. His nephew, Lorenzo, manages the ranch and has been  transforming all the other lands outside the area into pineapple plantations.

Historically, the 630-hectare land where the ranch stands belongs to the clan of Datu Santiano Andong Agdahan, Bai Jocelyn’s husband. Their clan was forced to leave when the Agro-forestry Farm Lease Agreement (AFFLA) was granted to Montalvan, rendering them landless along with at least eight other groups.

The AFFLA’s expiration on Dec. 31, 2009 brought bliss to the Manobos who lived in makeshift houses beside the guarded fences of the ranch, forced to face nearly everyday attacks brought by Lorenzo’s men.

Expecting to finally reach the calm after the storm, they were instead met with a more vicious tempest whose rains continue to drown their ironic plights for a permanent settlement and an end to the vicious cycle of violence in their communities.

On March 28, 2012, Lorenzo’s guards fired at Manobo families who have set up their homes in the area and started tilling the land, which initially belonged to them. Headed by Joy Peductche, a former member of the Philippine Army, the guards destroyed the Manobos’ makeshift tents and belongings, firing at them as they ran from the scene.

In response, indigenous peoples’ organization Tribal Indigenous Oppressed Group Association (TINDOGA)—a group Bai Jocelyn and her husband is part of—-has been doubling its efforts ever since, negotiating with government agencies for help.

Often, they were met with lip-service decrees and bogus promises, with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples even asking them for a P30,000 fee for document processing.  

They have not ceased their attempts until today, in spite of these and the bloodbath they faced at the bullets of Lorenzo’s guards in March 2015’s Bungkalan, which left one TINDOGA member dead and wounded two others.

“Pinanindigan namin ang aming lupang ninuno na ayaw naming ibigay sa kanila [Montalvan Ranch]…. dahil kami, doon nakasalalay ang aming buhay doon sa aming lupa.”

For land and life

While Bai Jocelyn holds a big responsibility in upholding the Pulangihon Manobo’s claims to their yutang kabilin, she counts small victories in the harvest that they have from the communal farm she set up for Pulangihon Manobo mothers.

She smiles as she proudly recounts its success, saying last year, the Manobo mothers grew munggo while this year, before some of them journeyed for Lakbayan, they raised corn.

“Lahat [ng ina] nagkilos doon, lahat nagtanim… Para pantay ang kilos namin, nagcommunal kami,” she says. “Sa aming komunidad, sa aming kultura, walang mayaman. Kung ano ang tinanim ng isa, dapat pareho ang kalawak,”

Besides their community’s communal farm, Bai Jocelyn also oversees the Pulangihon Manobo’s cooperative, which has funded tribespeople in time of dire need.

It has been efficient when emergencies arise, she says, narrating the instance when one of the Manobos needed to be hospitalized. She adds that the cooperative made it possible through supplying money for the patient’s hospital bills—another feat that makes Bai Jocelyn proud of her community.

“Magbigayan kami sa aming kultura,” she says.

When she is not busy with community affairs and struggling to defend their ancestral domain, Bai Jocelyn is simply a mother of seven.

While her eldest, 20, has already settled down and started a family, two of her kids have joined her in their long and tiring journey to the metro, performing in cultural shows with the same grace as their mother.

At an early age she has exposed them to the persisting conflict in their community as well as their efforts to thwart those who have taken their paradise. Such is the way of the Pulangihon Manobo tribe whose youth are expected to carry their traditions and perform the same responsibilities as adults at a young age.

Bai Jocelyn mentions she has a 2-year-old grandchild who already knows how to eat without adult supervision as well as 6-year-old kid who already knows how to set the table.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Manobo youth busy themselves in the community involvement—tilling the fields, planting crops and crafting colorful accessories—which have become a hit for Lakbayan visitors—among others.

Proudly, she utters, “Kagaya sa akin, dapat panindigan ko ang aking pagkaina dahil para sa aking kabataan na nangangarap na mabuhay, nangangarap na matuto sa eskwela.”

While both entail different responsibilities, Bai Jocelyn says being a mother is similar to being an activist, to being a modern-day warrior resisting heartless corporations responsible for the plunder of their lands.

For the iconic community leader, despite its overwhelming task, motherhood is empowerment personified.  Back home, not only are Pulangihon Manobo mothers tasked with rearing their tribe’s children, they also carry the weight of securing their ancestral domain for these children’s future.

And for Bai Jocelyn, that is the most arduous duty, the most crucial battle yet to be won.

“Malaking halaga ang papel ng kababaihan dahil maraming kabataan ang inaalagaan,” she says. “Bilang ina, hindi ka papayag na may masaktan na mga tao dahil ang ina ay isang sagradong babae.”

So she marches. She marches and joins her voice to the chorus of others who hail from different parts of the country yet long for the same—stable settlements, land ownership, an end to violence, a better future for their children.

She holds her head high, leads her people and remembers their children—those who have yet to live the day when gunshots no longer ring in the air, those who have yet to witness the absence of Poling Lorenzo’s brutal blue guards.

She remembers them, and together with the other Pulangihon Manobo women and men, she fights for another day to reclaim paradise lost.