It’s easy, to believe in something.
Be it principles or higher beings, we choose to believe in a variety of things each day whether they are visible to the eye or not.
It may be argued that it is this faith that propels us forward; that pushes and drives our every choice and action — it’s this action itself that does not come easy. We are often told that faith entails sacrifice — and in some cases, suffering.
Set in the 2000s during the time of former President Gloria Arroyo, Joel Lamangan’s Dukot tells the story of the abduction and subsequent torture of couple Junix (Allen Dizon), an activist, and Maricel (Iza Calzado), a former student leader who chose to “lie low” after university, alongside their families’ attempts at seeking justice against the culture of impunity and inequity that befell their children.
Written by 2019 Gawad Plaridel recipient Bonifacio P. Ilagan, who was also a political prisoner during former president Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law, Dukot weaves a narrative of loss and suffering at the hands of those in power.
Junix and Maricel are examples of student leaders and activists who went missing after being tagged as “high-ranking leaders in the New People’s Army.” Their parents’ desire to find them and expose the military’s wrongdoings, however, were thwarted by the administration’s utilization of both power and violence, going so far as to killing the photojournalist covering their wrongdoing.
Dukot also speaks of the hardships of student activists and the sacrifices that accompany their faith. Halfway through the film, it is revealed that Maricel decided to declare “inactivity” from her organization, as her work as an activist had rendered her unable to help her mother provide for her two younger siblings. Even more evident an example is the way Maricel’s relationship with Junix suffers, as she claims that the latter would always prioritise the movement and the cause over their future together.
There is no happy ending in Dukot; no family is reunited, nor is any blood spared. Scenes of torture and abuse inflicted upon Junix and Maricel are both too horrendous to behold and impossible to look away from, and the audience is left infuriated as they witness the military’s ceaseless attempts to cover their own tracks. In what is almost a triumphant escape, all hope is dashed when the two main protagonists are shot and killed at the hands of people who have sworn to protect them — but in reality only serve the higher echelons of power.
But there is the kindling of a flame, evidenced by Maricel’s mother, Aling Sonia (Gina Alajar), speaking at a demonstration for the very first time. The crowd of people, placards, and banners and calls of action in tow, represent the promise that Maricel and Junix and the thousands of victims of impunity did not die in vain.
Impunity is not a foreign concept in our present society, with numerous cases of activists being “red-tagged” and wrongfully imprisoned for mere expression of dissent against the dictatorial rule of the current administration. But in the face of persecution and adversary, only when we truly believe in something do we have the strength to stand and overcome it — to give up what means most to us, to fight, and even to die for the promise of a better tomorrow.
Albeit fictional, Dukot is far from unrealistic. Thousands of Filipinos have become victims of abduction, torture, and abuse, due to simply expressing their dissent against the administration –– many of whom remain missing to this day. One scene in the film has Aling Sonia expressing her own disbelief that such instances still occur in spite of how much time has passed since martial law, where many Filipino student leaders were wrongly imprisoned, abducted, and remained missing under the inhumane rule of then dictator Marcos.
These days, however, it is clearer how martial rule need not be declared as the threat against activists and the Filipino masses remains as present and rampant as ever before.
In his speech before the film started, Lamangan reflected upon the ten years that have passed since it was first premiered, as well as the disappointing reality that near nothing has truly changed –– only the person sitting at the head of power. “Dukot mirrors Arroyo’s time as president,” he stated, “pero makikita naman natin na wala namang pagbabago” [nv].
Despite the lip service of “change is coming,” the Philippines has not seen any fundamental difference – only a heightened tyrannical rule and a worsening record of human rights violations.
If the casualties of a war the government has waged on its people have proven anything, it’s that our nation’s troubles are far from over.