Biyernes, Abril 25, 2014

DROWN ME IN TESTOSTERONE: A Review of ON THE JOB (Erik Matti, 2013)

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

Right now, so much praise has elevated Erik Matti’s ON THE JOB to somewhat an instant classic and is even often called one of the best Filipino movies in years. It’s a culmination of the current Philippine film scene, no doubt. I’ve seen it coming its way as a result of much (late) advancement in local cinema and from a director who has hop scotched from the independent scene to the mainstream, specializing in horror (VESUVIUS, 2012; PA-SIYAM, 2004) and action (GAGAMBOY, 2004). A fusion of both genres made Matti’s notable film TIKTIK which proved its existence and screenings as a groundbreaking event in local cinema. This is due to its prominent use of CGI that produced very seamless images we have never seen before (in a local sense). There is no doubt that Matti’s ambition of taking cinema one step further is manifested once again with ON THE JOB – but with these mentioned films, what grounds are we really breaking? What is newly-given in the cinema of Erik Matti?

Perhaps, first and foremost (and like TIKTIK) it is a technical achievement. Half of the actors are mediocre, and while there are superb actors like Joel Torre, Leo Martinez and a surprise turn from Joey Marquez, the film’s use of Star Magic stars has wasted its potential. They appear like lost rich people, awkward in their physical environments and attached to their ASAP moments. But the performances are covered up by rich detail in cinematography and production design. J. Pilapil Jacobo of the Young Critics Circle has lambasted the film’s writing and performances but gave credit where credit is really due: it is the  film’s stylistic look that elevated its status, thanks to Jay Halili as editor, Erwin Romulo as musical scorer, Richard Somes as production designer, and Ricardo Buhay III as cinematographer.

Kudos to Matti then for breathing new life to the medium of film in the local scene, but in a wider perspective, it is only an aesthetic make-over and not much of an advancement to the content and politics of film – two aspects of cinema Filipinos usually take for granted. Aesthetically, we were only able to catch up on Hollywood trends that would forever debunk our local cheesy 90s action filmmaking. And Matti’s mastery of combining conventions of not-so-distant genres made way for a new fusion of genres – the action and crime thriller. Matti’s direction gave the film its power and a masterful flow but concept-wise, it is a mere repolishing of old conventions that have defined the action genre.

And as an action film, it bears not only familiar elements but sexual politics – the rule of men in a crime-ridden world. In a cinematic space where men are criminals, of course the heroes are also men. And as spectators, while we follow their pursuits, we take their macho sexist culture as our own. As a gay film viewer, the action genre is a pain to see just as long as its straight men take the gays and women as secondary personalities, subordinated if not oppressed and beaten. Women in OTJ are mere secondary figures who provide sexual tension and their clumsiness is the men’s downfall (take for instance the example of Shaina Magdayao’s character). While at first I was delighted to see Vivian Velez as the femme fatale, a mysterious woman in control of a bunch of men, in the wider scope of things, she is of course a villain and revealed as a subordinate of the patriarchal menace that is the politician (Leo Martinez). And what can I say about the derogatory use of the word “bakla”. Is this a mere reflection of the lower class or a manifestation of Philippine cinema’s patriarchal ideology? Laura Mulvey would love to deconstruct such a film, especially since it’s released in the age of feminism and queer theory! How backward are we in our generation to produce such a sexist film, insensitive to a whole prolonged movement of gender issues and sexual struggle? Or a better question yet, in a feminist’s perspective, do we really need another film like ON THE JOB?

Hannah Espia’s TRANSIT is rumored to be OTJ’s rival in conquering the American Academy Awards’ Foreign Language section. Seeing the film after OTJ, TRANSIT is everything I wanted the former to be: a film that showcases masterful use of technical but has crafted a rich story that has a genuine struggle for women, in a space where they are only aliens surviving for their families. With its machismo, the testosterone festival that is OTJ is not a necessary movie in this era. And if we’ll only hail it for looking good, a true progression to our local cinema will never take place.

Miyerkules, Abril 16, 2014


October 4, 2012

Photo courtesy of Video 48

This year, Lino Brocka’s BONA (1980) was brought into the spotlight once again when the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) decided to create an updated version of the film through a stage satire. It was directed by Soxie Topacio and the comedic actress Eugene Domingo played the eponymous role, while newcomer Edgar Allan de Guzman reprised the role of Phillip Salvador’s showbiz-wannabe. Despite relocating the story from the slums to the lower-middle class of Manila, from an oppressive 1970s regime to a clean and fully-Americanized era, both film and play revolve around the idea of the obsessed female fan and her fate after choosing what she desires in contrast to what her family expects for and from her.

“Obsession” is an international title given to Lino Brocka’s BONA (1980). This is probably because it is about a young lady’s extreme obsession with a man who isn’t really a superstar with a high-profile character. Or perhaps because it also attacks the film’s star’s (Nora Aunor) aggressively loyal fan following. Obsession isn’t the most notable element in the much-lauded 1980 film. It tackles issues of poverty, fanaticism and choice and how these overlap and affect the lives of the characters. Possibly, Bona is accused by her family for being hopelessly obsessed and beyond herself. But obsession is not in itself an empty extremist concept. It is rooted in desire, in passionately going for what a person wants. And it is evident in the film, through her complete elimination from her own home and the eventual abandonment of her idol, that Bona’s choice to escape her expected role to follow her desire has led to her alienation. BONA is a film centered on this female desire, and how society perceives it as something unaccepted, especially when it is against expectations. What the play proves is that 32 years on, it seems what Filipino women want remains in question.

Patriarchy manifests itself well in Lino Brocka’s film. Both in the middle class and the slums, women are forced back into the households to fulfill their duties as mothers, wives and helpers. And once someone like Bona willingly escapes her role to follow what would satisfy her, she is driven out of the picture. The Philippines is a strictly patriarchal country and women are indeed oppressed in this society by keeping them in gender roles provided by the patriarchal system. As a social realist film, BONA reflects all these atrocities within the patriarchal setting of Martial Law. But is it possible that BONA suggests a filmic solution to the suppression of women’s rights? Using writings on feminist film theory (particularly that of subjectivity, desire and spectatorship) and Marxist feminism, this paper aims to find the real situation within the patriarchal setting during the Marcos regime (1972-1985) with regards to the oppression of women’s desire that is represented in BONA and how women can liberate themselves from this situation.

BONA: A Result of 1970s Contradictions

Set in Manila, BONA is about a middle-class young woman who’s a fan of a poor bit player in films named Gardo. She leaves her family to serve the man and is scolded several times by her father who forces her to return home. To Gardo, she is not a love interest but a helper. Despite her efforts for attention and affection, he continued his habits of drinking and womanizing but still Bona did not leave him. Her insistence to stay with Gardo led her brother to drive her away from the family completely. But when she returns to Gardo, he’s planned on leaving her and his house to marry a rich woman and go to America.

Women introduced in Brocka’s film occupy different roles. There were prostitutes and well-kept middle-class women who were either working or studying. But the ones that populate the slum setting and even the bourgeois household of Bona are seldom housewives and helpers that are shown as helpful homebodies. Bona herself was assigned by her father as an assistant to her mother, with a job of cleaning and cooking.

The conditions of Filipina women in the 1970s were not so different from these portrayals. Religion’s strict ties with society have produced this conception of the Filipina. Catholicism was (and even today is) still strong and patriarchy has been strengthened as a result. The passive Maria Clara type is the normal Filipina type and the sexually independent woman is immediately a whore. As Gemma Tulud Cruz (2005) wrote

These figurations of the Filipino female are also a throwback to the configuration of the Filipino woman through religion, specifically the emphasis on the Virgin Mary of the Annunciation, by the Spaniards, who colonized the Philippines for more than three hundred years. Interestingly, as Nira Yuval-Davis (whom Schüssler Fiorenza quotes) posits, this religious configuration of the Filipino woman is also implicated in the Spaniards' nationalist discourses, for it can be traced to the attributes of Maria Clara—the Filipino version of the doncella (the image of the perfect woman of the Iberian Peninsula in the fifteenth century), which the Spaniards used to subjugate and domesticate the Filipina.

From the Spanish era, it would still be evident in the 1970s that women are still restricted to domestic roles that didn’t grant them equal rights to professional careers. These views would also lead to the notion of the “weaker sex” and violence against women. The shift would begin with women’s liberation movements. 1970s feminist group MAKIBAKA (Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan) organized local feminists and, along with nationalist organizations like Kabataang Makabayan, contributed to social awareness programs that fought Marcos’ dictatorship. MAKIBAKA echoed the anti-imperialist and anti-fascist cries of their radical subsidiaries, while protesting the atrocities inflicted specifically on Filipino women such as sexual trafficking, domestic violence, and other forms of systemic oppression (Castillo, 2007).

The passive Maria Clara type would be reinforced in 1950s and 1960s cinema with the rise of the action genre, particularly films of Fernando Poe, Jr. that produced stereotypes for women of different ages “culled from Biblical characters and also represent the ideal Filipina: nurturing, caring and upright” (Jamon, 2004). In the earlier years of cinema these images were the norm for female characters, but during the 1960s and the 1970s these were complicated by the rise of Second Wave Feminism and the ‘bomba’ genre, and the insurgence of social realism in cinema. Second Wave Feminism found its way to the movies of America, where it liberated the woman roles – from domestic roles of the 1950s to the overtly sexual and independent of the 1960s. In the Philippines, the sexual revolution produced the bomba genre. Bomba was overtly sexual melodrama that was even promoted by the Marcoses as a means of blocking audiences from the social movements occurring during their administration (Dela Cruz, 1988). But social realism now was also working its way towards prominence, with the films of Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Celso Ad Castillo, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, etc. Inspired by New Wave Cinema, these directors would make the films that would shift views on women from objectification to real different situations. BONA then, with its focus on a woman’s desire and men’s opposition towards it, is a product of its time and is appropriate for an era of such contradictions.

Feminist film theory in the Philippine setting

Contradiction is itself a relevant matter in feminist film theory. In her groundbreaking essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Laura Mulvey (1975) laid bare the masculinity of Hollywood cinema and the so-called “male gaze”. Hollywood films are transfixed into a male spectatorship and the women are recognized for their “to-be-looked-at-ness”. But she suggests that women in film can escape this viewpoint with a counter-cinema. That of course is not immediate since the masculinity of Hollywood cinema has been well-established in the earlier years of film, but as she said:

There is no way in which we can produce an alternative out of the blue, but we can begin to make a break by examining patriarchy with the tools it provides.

Feminist film theorists have followed suit, examining women’s representations and finally achieving favorable images of women from films such as Martin Scorsese’s ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1974) and Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL (1977). New Wave Cinema urged questions on women in the direction of Hollywood cinema and the 60s to the 80s marked a shift in the views on women in cinema towards more complex but not always uncomplicated images and voices. Brian McNair claimed that representations in film “must resonate with changes taking place in women’s lifestyles and values to succeed in emerging marketplace of empowered female audiences” (2002, p.121). The feminist movement has instilled itself well upon social discourse and upon film itself.

While the second wave feminism has been criticized for focusing on white women exclusively, the studies and discourses have influenced women apart from Western capitalist societies and have even spawned the “Third Wave” of the ‘90s to present. As also reflected in Third World Feminism, women’s liberation in countries like the Philippines is deeply connected to nationalism. In the Philippine context, pre-Hispanic ideologies are attributed by a residual form of female predominance (i.e. the concept of “babaylan”). This may be acknowledged as the source of ascendancy of women in political affairs and other aspects such as contemporary culture and social life especially during the post-WWII period. The emergence of feminism in cinema during the 1970s to the 1980s has served to strengthen female characters and has threatened to demolish machismo in local films (David, 1995). There was a lot of focus on woman-centric films ignited by directors Lino Brocka, Celso Ad Castillo and (especially) Ishmael Bernal. Female directors like Lupita Kashiwahara, Marilou-Diaz Abaya, Laurice Guillen and Olivia Lamasan also ventured into the film industry, with Diaz-Abaya helming the “first Filipino feminist film” MORAL in 1982. Not to mention, the two biggest stars of the period were women who also starred in several roles directed by the directors mentioned - Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos.

But of course, while the “New Woman” emerged in Philippine cinema, patriarchy also found ways of reasserting itself. The traditional genres and stereotypes still proliferated during this period, especially with the resurgence of the action and the bomba genre. In her analysis of 10 Tagalog movies with different portrayals of women, Pennie S. Azarcon dela Cruz (1988) observed that women in these films are exclusively dependent on men for happiness and fulfillment and safety at any entanglement and that they are “good” if they’re kind and submissive and when their devotion is only directed towards family life. Women were also portrayed as materialistic, ambitious and gullible, and are considered as sexual objects that must fulfill a man’s sexual needs (pp. 114-127). Philippine cinema has always given women a passive, subversive role that lacks sexual agency, especially in the light of the Filipino’s grip on religion and the patriarchal setting that feeds on it.

Female Desire in BONA

Throughout the history of cinema, women have always been objectified by men. Cinema establishes gender politics by assigning roles that are appropriated by men and women as a means of sustaining order in society. The woman in this setting is expected to be passive – she appears in accordance to man’s (who is perceived as “active” and “determining”) fantasies of her. Woman’s “to-be-looked-at-ness” in film is something feminists have studied and tended to defy, deconstructing the masculinity of cinema and finding ways for the entrance of female desire and subjectivity. The argument of Laura Mulvey (1975) in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, with regards to male objectification, states that
an active/passive heterosexual division of labor has similarly controlled narrative structure. According to principles of the ruling ideology and the psychical structures that back it up, the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification. Man is reluctant to gaze at his exhibitionist like. Hence the split between spectacle and narrative supports the man’s role as the active one of forwarding the story, making things happen.

Yet this does not acknowledge the emergence of the women’s film and the possibility of the female gaze. Even in Mulvey’s “Afterthoughts”, she finds female desire to be possible only once the male gaze has been adopted. Mary Ann Doane (1987) suggests that the desiring gaze of female characters either lacks an object or results in punishment for the female gazer, and hence, spectatorial unpleasure. As a result, Doane notes "the woman's exercise of an active investigating gaze can only be simultaneous with her own victimization" (p. 136). Women can enjoy a certain female gaze but they are not in the determining position. De Lauretis also argues that narrative functions to “seduce” women into femininity without their consent. The female subject is made to desire femininity. Here, de Lauretis turns Mulvey’s phrase around: not only does a story demand sadism: sadism demands a story. She refers to the ways in which the female characters in VERTIGO (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958), but also in a ‘woman’s film’ such as REBECCA (Hitchcock, 1940), are made to conform to the image that man has of them (Smelik, 2007).

Bona is the central character of the film. She decides for herself and she’s the protagonist we identify with. In the first four minutes, we find her mixed within crowds looking at an event/person. We first see her watching the procession of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, rather bewildered by the scenery. This is cut to Bona witnessing a film shooting and avidly checking for Gardo, the bit player she obsesses over. These scenes would suggest a parallelism between the Black Nazarene and Gardo – both have fans who devote themselves completely to their idols. The film immediately reveals that the perspective belongs to Bona, and we will see the film according to what she sees and experiences. According to Maria LaPlace (1987), “The woman's film is distinguished by its female protagonist, female point-of-view and its narrative which most often revolves around the traditional realms of women's experience: the familial, the domestic, the romantic - those arenas where love, emotion and relationships take precedence over action and events” (p. 139). Similarly, Mulvey (1981) discusses in her later essay “Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” that “the female presence as center allows the story to be actually, overtly, about sexuality; it becomes a melodrama”. In BONA, the central character is de-eroticized and does not function as a spectacle to be looked at. By her appearance, Nora Aunor embodies her more as a common Filipina rather than a well-to-do bourgeois lady. She isn’t an erotic woman here, but she resembles more the Maria Clara type through her conservative gestures. We see how she sees Gardo and realize in her actions the desire to be with him. Gardo then (as the intention of Lino Brocka) becomes the sexual object to be looked at. Bona is the bearer of the gaze and Gardo is the spectacle. Yet looking is not the only action Bona does to demonstrate this. Similar to the Noranians’ treatment of their idol, Bona left her familial responsibilities and her bourgeois lifestyle to live with Gardo in his small house in the slums of Manila. Significantly she took the responsibility of being Gardo’s helper. Her sacrifices and her eventual resort to enslavement are pitiful, because the audience (especially when it’s a Noranian, or any other avid fanatic) identifies with what she had to give up. This contributes to the melodrama and thus this images Bona as victim despite being the center of the narrative. Her stay with Gardo, her role as helper/mother, their confusing relationship and the intervention of Bona’s family fulfills LaPlace’s claims of what a woman’s film is with BONA.

After she was scolded by her father for spending the night at Gardo’s house without permission, Bona returns to a drunken Gardo. She carried him to his bed and while he spoke in gibberish, Bona told him that she’ll stay with him from that night on. Gardo responds by mistaking her as his deceased mother and apologizes for his drinking. This is not the only time Gardo would compare Bona to his mother. The morning after that night, Bona gave Gardo a bath and in his stories, he compared her to his mother. He said that like Bona, his mother loved to give him baths and that she touched his skin the way his mother used to. The image alone of Bona smiling and tickling the grown man while he’s being bathed is a sign of Gardo’s immaturity that would affect his decisions later. This also reveals Bona’s newfound role as mother to Gardo, not as girlfriend, that would also mark the start of her “pagpapaalila” or enslavement. Bona seems to understand this as a sign of affirmation: she is now willing to play mother just to stay with him. What this suggests is that a woman can enjoy her freedom to desire once she conforms to certain gender roles assigned to her. Upon finding Bona, her father immediately hunts down Gardo and orders him to marry her because he thought Gardo forcefully took her away from home. He is startled to learn that it is Bona who willingly came to stay with Gardo. This causes the father to be intensely angered that he chased the fearful Bona until he suffers a heart attack. Her father’s anger is also related to differences on social classes between Bona and Gardo. Gardo is, in her father’s words, “isang bit player na hampaslupa’t walang malamon” (a bit player who’s a tramp with nothing to eat) while Bona is from a bourgeois family who’s a “reynang tatamad-tamad pa” (a lazy queen). Between Gardo and her father, it is evident now that whoever Bona chooses she will be forced to accept what the man wants her to be. But in the end, she chooses Gardo.

The effect of her unlikely choice is that she would continue her role as maid/helper to the man. She now cooks his food, cleans his house, gives him a bath and carries his things to the film set. Bona’s self-torture and patience wouldn’t end there. Many times over, Gardo took home different women. And because she remains obedient to Gardo she serves these women, too. Bona’s desire towards Gardo does not reciprocate, because Gardo would devote himself to his small parts in films, his womanizing and his drinking. But then one night a naked Gardo gets up from bed, wakes up Bona and demands a massage from her. While Bona was massaging his chest, Gardo grabbed her hands to make her stop. In this sensual scene, a switch of gaze was suddenly apparent – Bona now is the object of Gardo’s male gaze, he recognizes her as a sexual being. This would then lead to their only sexual encounter. In that moment, one could infer that Gardo’s treatment of Bona was beginning to change. Yet by morning, it seems this encounter (not different to the other women Gardo took home) was only casual and it didn’t really matter to him. Bona on the other hand was looking at Gardo as if expecting some remarks about last night, because it was a glorious moment for the fan who finally gained the attention of her idol. But for Gardo it’s like nothing happened. The hopeless situation of Bona intensifies in this scene, because the spectator can clearly see that she’s just a utility for Gardo. As Roland Tolentino argued in his analysis of Richard Gomez in DYESEBEL (Mel Chionglo, 1990), the woman in film can only be functional as long as she can be used for the merriment or misery of the male character (2000, p.24). Bona enters the situation in control of her choices but because of her blind passion and passivity towards Gardo, she’s become a mere object for him to use sexually and domestically. It is reflective of how Nora Aunor’s fans love it when she needs them.

Despite fighting for Gardo throughout the film, it’s clear that the bit player didn’t acknowledge her efforts. Towards the end, her family would give her up completely. Bona returns home after learning that her father died. Her mother and sister welcome her and they take her to the coffin. Suddenly, her older brother enters the frame and starts beating her around the house until she’s outside. Similarly, Bona’s father beat her with a belt earlier in the film when she didn’t go home one night. This happened again when she was being forced back home at Gardo’s house. The brother now commands her to never come back or he’ll kill her. This is the consequence of her freedom to leave and choose Gardo. She’s now denied by her family, the last resort she could take is Gardo. But as she returns to his house, she finds his new girlfriend Katrina. Katrina was there to tell Bona that Gardo’s things need to be packed because he’s going to live with her. Gardo then affirms that he is marrying Katrina and that he’s planning on selling the house and leaving Bona. This further disturbs Bona who doesn’t have anywhere else to go. He tries to reason with Gardo but he didn’t mind her.

This would lead to the infamous ending of the boiling water, Bona’s response to her oppression by the men around her. Her resort to violence signifies her eruption and her response to the denial of her desire by men. In his review of Brocka’s BONA and JAGUAR (1979), Alain Garsault (1981) says that

Bona, despite living conditions in the slums, tries to be true to her feelings and fails. But in making a last desperate effort, Insiang, Bona and Poldo are able to salvage their human dignity – the only thing of value to which the poor, the enslaved, the oppressed, can lay claim (p.180).

It is Bona’s last blows for dignity after she realized that Gardo has exploited her all along. We wouldn’t know what happens next after she pours the boiling water but we’re sure it is her own way of resistance from Gardo.


Lino Brocka’s 1980 film BONA is a woman’s film since it tackles the situation of a woman during the height of feminist film theory in the Philippines. It has received accolades here and around the world because of its social realism, its direct attack on religious/superstar fanaticism and also perhaps because of a very infamous ending. Through the years it has gained more and more discourses and even an adaptation into a stageplay directed by Soxie Topacio and starring Eugene Domingo as the titular character.

Along with other social discourses on film, feminism both in the era when it was made and also within its social context, is arguably in a state of contradiction because of the reassertion of patriarchal modes into the cinematic form. In BONA, we get an alternative woman’s film. We identify with Bona as the central character in a struggle with the several men in her life. The film begins with the protagonist pursuing her desire in Gardo through her independence from the dictates of her patriarchal family from which she manages to escape. But as the narrative moves closer and closer to its end, we find that Bona just got herself into another oppressive situation. Upon choosing her desire to escape her strict father, she’s still enslaved in feminine tasks when she moved in with Gardo, doing the cooking, cleaning and she even started working. The furious father and the brother, as opposed to the caring mother and sister of Bona, are violent men who found Bona’s disobedience as a grave matter and decided to eliminate her from the household. The brother blamed Bona for the death of the father who forcefully tried to claim her back so she can help in the family. Gardo on the other hand accepted Bona not as an equal but as a utility he can use for comfort and utility. Bona is found bearing the gaze while Gardo seemed to be the sex object but Bona still had to conform to perform feminine tasks so she can preserve her gaze, and satisfy the desire to be with him.

Bona becomes a rupture in the system of patriarchy in the film when she chose to escape gender expectations of her father. But the narrative moved along to the reinforcement of traditional patriarchal modes for women. This is reflective of the backlash towards women’s lib that rose during the 1980s with the reinforcement of patriarchy. Gardo symbolizes this reinforcement when he accepted Bona but seduced her to serve him. Bona’s resistance then (as exploited female) is the elimination of Gardo using the tool that used to give him pleasure – warm water. While feminist critics have explored various media in search of feminist challenges to patriarchal institutions using the “female voice” (Gledhill, 1994), the “female action” is often overlooked. BONA proves that despite the continuous reassertion of the oppression of women, a solution can be made and that is the elimination of the oppressive patriarchal institutions not just through a voice but through action.

This is how feminism is connected to Marxism in the Philippine context. While women are engaged in the liberation from patriarchy, so is the struggle of revolutionaries against bureaucrat capitalism. And both these struggles are interwoven to battle against the bigger culprit: US Imperialism. In feminist film theory, the source of patriarchal modes that continue to attack feminist counter-cinema spring from Hollywood machismo. Feminism should not exist fighting for gender issues alone, but also capitalism. Like Bona, millions of workers are also exploited by selfish men who don’t really care about the conditions of the working class. Garsault (1981) wrote in his review of two Brocka films that the protagonists in his films are “situated within a framework, and with other people, and cannot be considered separately from them” (p. 180). The relevance of BONA lies in the fact that it is set in the urban poor sector of Manila where a bourgeois woman chose to live a working-class life and understood the reality of oppression towards her womanhood and dignity. It is the working class’ responsibility to revolt against these oppressive forces that continue to use the bodies of the poor for their own benefit. It’s not enough to let these voices shout and be heard. There must be action – a collective action that would liberate the thousands of Bonas suffering everyday.

BONA (NV Productions, 1980)

Directed by Lino Brocka
Produced by Nora Aunor (as Nora Villamayor)
Written by Cenen Ramones
Cast: Nora Aunor ... Bona
Phillip Salvador ... Gardo
Marissa Delgado ... Katrina
Raquel Montesa ... Nancy
Venchito Galvez ... Bona's Father
Rustica Carpio ... Bona's Mother
Nanding Josef ... Nilo
Spanky Manikan ... Bona's Brother
The Peta Kalinangan Ensemble
Joel Lamangan ... Director (uncredited)
Original Music by Lutgardo Labad
Cinematography by Conrado Baltazar
Film Editing by Augusto Salvador

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Huwebes, Abril 4, 2013

URBANA AT FELISA: Ang Liham na "Sa Eskuwelahan" at ang Updated Letters ni Jose Javier Reyes

Ang akdang Urbana at Felisa ni Presbitero D. Modesto de Castro ay isang “book of manners” na gumabay sa mga Pilipinong kaugalian sa pagtatapos ng panahon ng mga Kastila. Sa anyo ng mga liham sa pagitan ng mag-ateng Urbana at Felisa, naipaparating ni de Castro sa mambabasa ang GMRC ng panahon – isang manual kung paano magiging “sibilisado” sa kalungsuran ng Maynila at pati na rin sa lahat ng lugar na nasasakupan. ‘Di nakakagulat na ito’y nailimbag sa papatapos ng era ng mga Kastila. Naisakatuparan na ang planadong pananakop ng Espanya sa Pilipinas at hindi man sila naging matagumpay sa pagpapanatili ng kanilang pamumuno, nagawa nilang tuluyang mailubog ang kamalayang Filipino sa mga banyagang ideya’t pag-aasal. Ang akda’y labis na nakatulong sa pagpapanatili ng isang Katolikong ideolohiya sa mga Filipinong masasakop naman ng liberalistang pag-iisip ng mga Amerikano. Magpasangayo’y buhay na buhay ang mga parangal ni Urbana sa ‘baguntao’, mga paalalang marahil ay idinirekta ni de Castro sa mga henerasyon ng kabataan na (marahil sa palagay niya) nawawalan ng moralidad sa pagdaan ng panahon. E sa ngayon kaya? Mula sa Maynila papalabas sa kanayunan, patuloy ang ganitong edukasyon para sa isang marangal at sibilisadong kolonya. Ang liberal nilang pag-uugaling taliwas naman at mas maluwag kaysa sa disiplinadong asal ng mga Espanyol ang umiral sa bagong panahon. Tulad nga ng “update” ni Jose Javier Reyes sa akdang ito, makikita naman ang tahimik na pananakop ng Amerika sa kalungsuran na tahasan namang inilalapat ang sarili sa mga nayon, iniisa-isa ang mga probinsyanong naniniwalang nasa Maynila ang kanilang “pag-unlad”.

Sa Eskwelahan

Ang sulat ni Urbanang “Sa Eskwelahan” ay nagsasaad ng ilang mga paalala at pangaral para sa kapatid niyang si Honesto na papasok na sa paaralan. Maikli lamang ang sulat ngunit puno ng mga mensaheng talaga nama’y magagamit ng sinumang una palang papasok sa eskwela, lalo na sa mga pribadong paaralang mahigpit sa kani-kanilang mga regulasyon. Ito’y mga natutunan ni Urbana sa kanyang maestrang si Donya Prudencia na pinangaralan din ng mga Kastilang prupesor. Ang mga naipasang pangaral ay bunga ng labis na disiplinadong lapit sa pagtuturo at pageensayo ng mga gurong Espanyol sa mga Pilipino. Sa panahong iyon, ang karamihan sa mga guro ay binubuo ng mga Dominikong prayleng ginamit ang katekismo bilang primarya sa pagtuturo sa mga Pilipinong nasakop. Ang mga Pilipino’y hinulma sa panahong ito bilang mga ganap na disipulo ng Kastilang pamumuhay at siyempre labis itong nakasira sa pagpapanatili ng Pilipinong identidad sa sentro ng bansa. Ang edukasyon sa panahon ng Espanyol ay tungo sa benepisyo ng mananakop, upang ganap na maging kolonya ang bansa.

Ngunit kung titignan din sa kabilang banda, ang mga pangaral niyang ito ay tama rin naman. May respeto si Urbana sa mga usapan ng tao nang banggitin niyang “Sa lansangan ay huwag makikialam sa mga pulong at away na madaraanan” at ang ilang sumunod na talata kung saan sinasabi niyang huwag sumabat sa nakatatanda. Tinuturo ni Urbana ang mahusay na pakikipagkapwa na mula man sa pamamaraang Espanyol ay magagamit ninuman basta ba’y may ugnayan siya sa tao. At hindi ba’y nasa kaugalian na rin naman ng mga Pilipino ang paggalang sa nakatatanda? Itong mga parangal ni Urbana ay may malalimang pinagmulan – ang tinatawag ni Romulo P. Baquiran, Jr. (1996) na “lohikal na pagsasabay na pagpapanatili ng dalawang daigdig: isang inihaharap sa mga dayuhan at isang inilalaan para sa sarili”. Labis mang nabahiran ng kalungsuran, si Urbana ay ‘di lumayo sa tunay niyang kultura. At sa gitna ng sulat, idiniin ni Urbana na
Kundi matutuhan ay magtanong sa kapwa nag-aaral o sa maestro kaya, huwag mahihiya sapagka’t kung hiyas ng isang marunong ang sumangguni sa bait ng iba, ay kapurihan naman ng isang bata ang magtanong sa marurunong, sapagka’t napahahalata na ibig matuto’t maramtan ang hubad na isip, ng karununga’t kabaitan. (de Castro, 1946)

Di ninanais ni Urbanang maging sarado ang isipan kundi mapagmatyag at maalam, marahil isang munting rebolusyunaryong lapit sa pag-aaral na hindi basta tanggap lamang nang tanggap kundi bungkalin din ang tinuro para sa mas kumprehensibong pagkakaintindi nito. Sa mga ganitong paraan, napapakita ang pakikiapid din ng mga pilitang pinatahimik ng kolonyal na sistema.

Teknolohiya, Kababaihan at Edukasyon sa ngayon: The Updated Letters

Sa ginawa namang kakatwang makabagong bersyon ng Urbana at Felisa, pinakita ni Jose Javier Reyes ang mga “trend” sa Maynila ng dekada ‘oos na labis na ring nabahiran ng Americanization. Sa unang sulat, pinandidirihan ni Urbana ang kaugalian ng kababaihang “namantsahan ng kabalahuraan ng lungsod”. A niya, mga malalamya sila kumilos at walang galang sa kani-kanilang pagkababae. Samakatuwid, kontra si Urbana sa liberal na pag-uugali ng babae sa ngayon. Makikitang sa unang sulat ay nakabalot pa rin kay Urbana ang mga turo ni Donya Prudencia ngunit sa mga susunod na sulat ay nahawa na rin ang dalaga sa “uso”. Siya’y pala-inom na’t ‘di na masyadong nabigyan ng pansin ang pag-aaral, wala na ring pakialam sa kanyang gramatika’t paggamit ng wika. Ang akdang dati’y labis ang pag-aalala sa kinasasapitan ng kanyang mga kapatid kaya binibigyan ito ng pangaral ay naging akda na ng pansariling interes ng mga taong lungsod. Nasobrahan ang makabagong Urbana sa pagpapasarap dahil sa kanyang kalayaan sa Maynila at marahil siya naman dapat ang bigyan ng mga pangaral. Sa dulo’y mababasa lamang ang Updated Letters sa negatibong aspeto ng modernong kababaihan – ang malayang babaeng nakikipagsabayan na ngayon sa maraming larangang dati’y lalaki lamang ang binibigyan ng permiso. Ang kalayaan ng sekswalidad ay marahil isa pa ring isyu sa ngayon ngunit ‘di rin naman tamang saklawin ng depinisyon ni Urbana ang lahat ng babae sa lungsod bilang mga kerengkeng. Ang modernong babae’y mas matalino na rin kumpara sa panahon ni Modesto de Castro.

Kung babasahin ding maigi ang bawat sulat, mapapansin ang mga pagbabago sa teknolohiya ng komunikasyon: ang unang sulat ay tradisyunal na liham na ginamitan ng malalim na Tagalog; ang sumunod ay ganoon pa rin, Taglish nga lang ang pagsusulat ni Urbana (na kung tawagin na ang sarili ay “Bunny”); ang ikatlo’y ginamitan na ng computer – mapapansin ito sa spell check ng salitang “naman” na laging nagiging “naming” (marahil gamit niya ang Microsoft Word na programa); ang huli nama’y gumamit na siya ng “text messaging shortcuts” na umuso sa paglaganap ng Pilipinas bilang “Text Messaging Capital” ng mundo. Ang Americanization ng panahong ito’y kasabay din ng mabilisang pagbabago sa teknolohiya at malabisang pag-aangkop ng mga Pilipino dito.

Nakasaad sa maliliit na detalye ng update ni Jose Javier Reyes ang naidudulot ng pagpasok ng makabagong teknolohiya sa bansa. Nabanggit ni Bunny na patok daw sa Maynila ang HRM at MassComm – dalawang kursong tinitignan nang husto para sa mga “big time” na trabahong tulad ng call center at ang oportunidad makalipad abroad upang magsilbi sa mga banyagang hotel, barko o restaurant. Uso sa panahon ng 2000s (at hanggang ngayon) ang mga pag-aaral na makapaglilingkod sa ibang bansa, katulad na rin ng nursing. Naging “in demand” tuloy ang mga ganitong kurso, inaalam pa nga kung sinong pinakamagaling saka hahanapan ng trabaho sa Canada, Amerika o kung saan pa. Sa pagpasok ng bagong dekadang 2010s, tinulak pa lalo ng administrasyong Aquino ang potensiyal ng ganitong edukasyon gamit ang K+12. Dito’y madadagdagan ang mga taon sa elementarya at sekondaryang edukasyon sa paglalayong mabigyan sila ng mas sapat na kakayahan sa pagtatrabaho. Ang modelo ng K+12 ay hango sa sistema ng maraming banyagang bansa kaya naman napaghahalataan ding layon talaga ng pamahalaang magpadala ng mga Pilipino sa ibang bansa upang paglingkuran ito. Ayon sa artikulo nina Anne Marxze Umil at Igal Jada San Andres sa Bulatlat (2012):

“What the K to 12 system will do is reinforce cheap semi-skilled youth labor for the global market. The DepEd talks of a so-called ‘professionalization’ of the young labor force mainly for labor markets abroad but unfortunately continues to ignore the very causes of forced migration, namely, lack of local jobs, low wages and landlessness,” said Garry Martinez, chairman of Migrante. He said the K to 12 system sadly undermines the youth’s very significant role in nation-building because it is geared toward providing cheap semi-skilled and unskilled youth labor to the global market instead of for domestic development. “Young workers, mostly semi-skilled and unskilled, make up approximately 10.7 percent of the total Filipino labor migrant population. Through the K to 12, the government will further program our youth not to serve the country but to service the needs of the neoliberal global market,” said Martinez.

Tulad noong panahon ng Urbana at Felisa, ang sistema ng edukasyon sa ngayon ay nanganganib muling dumirekta hindi sa ikabubuti ng bayan kundi sa benepisyo ng mga banyaga. ‘Di ito nakatutuwang pagbabago, sapagka’t imbis na mapabuti ang kalagayan ng Pilipinas ay mas uunahin pa ng kabataan ang paglilingkod sa ibang bayan. Sa ganitong pamamaraa’y ‘di halatang inilulublob nanaman ang kamalayan ng makabagong Pilipino sa mga ideolohiyang ‘di nila gagap at tiyak ay dadalhin na rin nila sa pagtanda’t ipapasa sa mga ‘baguntao’.

Si Urbana nga naman noon at ngayon ay isang subersibong nilalang, labis nang nilunod sa impluwensiya ng kolonyalismo kaya ang nilalaman ng kanyang mga sulat ay kung ano’ng kanyang natutunan. Marahil mahalaga ring magbago naman at mamulat na si Urbana sa katotohanan at magsulat para sa ikabubuti ng kanyang mga kapatid, ng kanyang bayan. Nakikita kong kaya niyang labanan ang kolonyal na pag-iisip at umusbong sa kanyang pagkalulong kung itutulak lang niya ang sarili nang husto. Kung iba lang ang ipapangaral niya – ang pagkamulat ng kanyang mga kapatid – marahil ay higit pa sa isang “book of manners” ang mailikha. Kailangan na natin ng bagong (at progresibong) Urbana!

Mga Sanggunian:
de Castro, P. D. M. (1996). Pagsusulatan nang dalauang binibini na si urbana at ni felisa. R. P. Baquiran, Jr.                     (Ed.) Quezon City: Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, Sistemang University of the Philippines Diliman at                                         National Commission for Culture and the Arts
de Castro, P. D. M. (1946). Urbana at felisa: Aklat na katututuhan ng gintong aral. J. Martinez (Ed.)                                                        Manila: Aklatang J. Martinez
Reyes, J.J. (2008). The updated letters of urbana and felisa. In J. Zafra (Ed.), The Flip reader : being a geatest                                                          hits anthology from flip : the official guide to world domination. (pp. 183-187). Pasig City: Anvil Pub.
Umil, A. M. D. & Andres, I.J. (2012). Two years is an added burden – parents. Bulatlat Online. Retrieved                              September 8, 2012 from

Miyerkules, Oktubre 24, 2012



Directed by Richard Somes
Written by Richard Somes, Aloy Adlawan, Jules Katanyag
Starring Maricar Reyes, Bugoy Carino, Zanjoe Marudo, Celia Rodriguez

Directed by Jerrold Tarog
Written by Jerrold Tarog, Aloy Adlawan, Maribel Ilag, Roselle Monteverde
Starring Kathryn Bernardo, Louise delos Reyes, Sam Concepcion, Ina Reymundo, Ara Mina, Lloyd Samartino

Rain Rain Go Away
Directed by Chris Martinez
Written by Marlon N. Rivera, Chris Martinez
Starring Eugene Domingo, Jay Manalo, Edgar Allan Guzman, Boots Anson-Roa, Perla Bautista

It is often argued that the spotlight of local mainstream cinema at the moment is no longer at the marginalized groups of society (the poor, indigenous people, militant groups, etc.) but at the privilege of the ruling class. It’s a saddening case then that the cries of real oppression are muted in favor of success stories via commercial achievements (the middle-class ideal for accomplishment) and the sugary narratives of boy-meets-girl. But for the genre known to make oppressive forces pay, local horror never neglected the marginalized. In fact, modern issues still have a special place in the heart of the grotesque. Such is the case here in SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL 13, Regal’s annual horror treat for the Metro Manila Film Festival. (Still) chopped up to three narratives, this time it’s about a family who retreat to the idyll province (“Tamawo”), a revival of a dead friendship (“Parola”) and the horrors done by the 2009 storm Ondoy to rich factory owners (“Rain, Rain Go Away”). The film is no departure in terms of form. I’ve always thought that the cleancut digital quality of Regal’s visuals is anticlimactic compared to the earlier films’ mood and atmosphere. In fact, the content is quite familiar too. Since the MMFF is seen as an event offered for family bonding, the supposedly last installment of the horror franchise is all about families. But it’s not without its twisted reflections of contemporary social ills.

All episodes focus on the ideal family model: father and mother with their children try to cope with changes in their new situations. The family in “Tamawo” traveled from Manila to the stateside because the father finds the city chaotic, while the couple in “Rain, Rain Go Away” tries to cope up from the horrors of the nightmarish storm by building a new factory and retrying their chances at having a child. The bond of two families in the middle episode “Parola” would be disrupted by a secret affair. It is the disruption of the family’s peace that would let the horrors push through, but unlike “Parola”, the bookend episodes are haunted by the unrecognized marginalized groups of people. The tamawos are supernatural forces that stood in for indigenous people in the provinces. Years ago, their crystal has been stolen by a mortal who buried the treasure under a nipa hut. In the contemporary period, the tamawos threatens a family to bring out the treasure which the father actually discovered and hid. Only when the son offered himself as a sacrifice that the remaining members of the family achieve peace.

The third episode is direct in handling a much more recent issue regarding Metro Manila – floods. In “Rain, Rain Go Away”, a couple is haunted by ghosts of child laborers who drowned by Ondoy floods when they were locked-up in the old plastic ware factory owned by the rich couple. Thinking the horror has past, the rich couple found a new home and built a new factory (in a manner reminiscent of Imelda Marcos after the incident at the Manila Film Center). But the ghosts of the workers haunted the family and even took the lives of their relatives.

If this really is the last installment of the franchise then it managed to update audiences of recent circumstances occurring both in rural and urban sectors. A line from “Tamawo” has addressed the woes of indigenous people regarding the proceedings in mining (especially around Palawan). “Halos lahat ng bagay sa mundo ay nasa inyo na! ‘Eto na lang ang amin, papakialaman niyo pa!” said one of the tamawos in their conversation with the father. It is pitiful of course because what we thought of as a crystal was actually an egg that is carrying a premature embryo – the last member of the tamawos. The film has industrialization and modern society to blame for all the troubles done to the tribe. The relationship between the upper and the lower classes would be much more direct in the third episode. Child laborers were selfishly locked by the couple so they wouldn’t escape the job as makers of plastic containers. Plastic of course is known as the ultimate culprit to the flooding of the cities. That’s why plastic bans have started in different cities in the metro, though not all. The overproduction done by the capitalist couple in the film is the reason why the deaths and the eventual haunting occurred.

By putting our sympathies at the losses of the bourgeois family, it is easy to overlook the situation of the abject monsters/ghosts. These families sit pretty in their houses and when unfavorable incidents arouse (such as natural calamities), they selfishly save themselves and let the others die. But like the Ondoy victims in the third episode, the margins have their own way of returning. The film has bourgeois families (or people who can afford to watch Php150-200 worth of movie tickets) as target audiences and these audiences relate to the problems of the families they watch. But listen closely to the line said by the maid in the final episode “Makakalimutan natin ang lahat pero ang mga patay… hindi sila nakakalimot!”. We may stay at our comfort zones for long, but the ones from the margins will continue to haunt us until their voices are heard.


Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme

Alas, the new Eugene Domingo film was another crowd-pleasing success. It is expectedly so since Eugene, after numerous accolades and a string of noteworthy comedic performances, has established herself as the new It-girl of local cinema, a megastar. Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme for the second time around was carried by her very theatrical performances (she played three roles). But this one’s pretty inferior. The laughs weren’t louder than the first and despite having a more adventurous plot and gag-filled mishaps, the script felt more predictable. The production was at least an improvement, letting Eugene enjoy the costumes and the audiences enjoy the beauty of Korean culture. Gags aside, the very departure of the film is its inclusion of a horror element. Employing this for additional spice, the film also introduces a relevant feat of repression. So the plot goes like this: the Goh Dong Hae family experiences the haunting of a deceased family friend who happens to be the patriarch’s (played by Ariel Ureta) Korean ex-girlfriend. The spirit goes on to take the souls of the men in Kimmy and Dora’s lives and the twins must let her soul rest in peace in order to retrieve the souls of their father and boyfriends (Zanjoe Marudo and Dingdong Dantes). 

It can be argued that the horror element of vengeful ghost is only an excuse for conflict in an otherwise predictable comedy. This aside, the film extinguishes the eruptions that could’ve given the film a little more action. Consider Kimmy’s frustrations of taking responsibility for almost all the family’s mishaps. This has been the issue of her character since the first film. Towards the end of the sequel, she is still the only one who seems to be providing solutions for the film’s major problems. Kimmy is an independent working woman who represents a new high regard for the working Filipina in the corporate ladder. Domingo portrays her with frosty bitchiness a la Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestley with emotional troubles and desire for only money and success. It’s also interesting how the anguished female ghost takes back hilariously at the men. Her needs were taken for granted as the story left her side for the horror one. The horror story conflict is resolved and we are left once again with escapist bourgeois comedy. Since the film isn’t really interested in feminism, well what other issues could this film raise?

Let’s return to the ghost itself. The reason for its horrific rage was because Mr. Go Dong Hae left her as an adolescent and married a Filipina when he chose to study in the Philippines. This Korean girl Sang Kang Kang (cosplayer Alodia Gosiengfiao) locked herself up in her room to die. The choice of the Korean man isn’t much of a surprise for the contemporary Filipino setting where a “Korean invasion” has been occurring in the past decade. Sun Star Cebu (2011) reports “in 2010, Koreans overtook Americans as the biggest group of foreigners to visit the Philippines. More than 740,000 Koreans visited the Philippines last year, accounting for 21 percent of all foreign tourist arrivals, according to the Department of Tourism.” Koreans enjoy life here in the Philippines because they can absolutely afford it. And with their continuous travels to the country, a cultural shift may take place. Kimmy and Dora themselves are what Sun.Star Cebu calls the “Kopinos”, the Korean-Filipino children born from the previous generations of the two countries’ budding relationship. They are even bound to continue the two countries’ relationship by forcefully marrying a Korean tycoon’s son, which was comically lifted because the groom-to-be is a gluttonous damulag.

But then also, what could this imply on Filipinos? You dare not ask for the obvious: we are enjoying a great deal of Korean culture. From pop music (KPop), “Koreanovelas” to Korean restaurants and shops, well it is indeed a subtle invasion. It only piles up to our own colonial mentality, especially the teenage group. 

Sang Kang Kang’s vengefulness is a Korean response to this Kopino phenomenon. An interesting fact about her is that she is a part of the ethnic groups of their country. One could imagine how disappointed the uncolonized Koreans are to the ones who left for newer lifestyles elsewhere. Of course, the film ends on a positive note. The ghost was cast away and they failed to please their father’s insistence of a continuation of Korean-Filipino relationship (coz after all, it was only all about money). If only the horror element of a vengeful forgotten culture has been taken seriously, we would have seen a modern horror film that challenges the negative outcome of Korean-Filipino ties.


Sun.Star Cebu. (2011). Help on the way for Kopinos in Cebu. Retrieved August 20, 2012 from

AFTERTHOUGHTS ON “Women and Gays in a Zombie-infested Paradise (review of ZOMBADINGS)”

The dynamism of film is forever a mystery to the avid viewer of cinema. What was once a well-beloved classic has been proven to be a mediocre and cheesy film from a period that is gravely important to document in the books. Such is my impression with Jade Castro’s ZOMBADINGS, a film that at first seems like a total hands-down moment for the local LGBT community made in a time when views on gender and sexuality have been shifting – until it proved to be not.

It all started when I heard from Jade Castro himself in a screening of the film. According to him, he was inspired by the film AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (by John Landis, 1981) where a “man is being transformed into something he’s not”. Remington is indeed a young man “cursed” into homosexuality (from a mental illness, now a curse!) and only the power of a straight father who has not bed a single twink can save him. I get the picture, but when you realize he’s likening a live human being (a label gay activists have been fighting for decades to be treated as) to a monster is something else. Well I get it - monsters and gays are both considered “other” in a clean-cut patriarchal society. FRANKENSTEIN, Ricky Lee’s AMAPOLA... it’s all over popular culture. But do we really have to repeat that notion and translate it into a film that is very unsubtle yet also problematic about the whole gay issue?

Enter the case of camp. As he said so in interviews, Castro intended ZOMBADINGS to be camp. There was Roland Tolentino’s review of the film that questioned this. He says here

Hindi pwedeng magsimula ang isang proyekto na maging camp. Kailangan itong maging resulta o in hindsight na persepsyon. Hindi ako lalabas ng bahay bilang stereotipong parloristang bading dahil hindi ito magreresulta sa “dobleng camp.” Mananamit ako, at dahil labis ang pabalat na ukay-ukay o high fashion, halimbawa, maari akong maging camp.
Ang Zombadings ay mulat na camp, ito ay campy pero hindi camp. Ang nangyari sa pagpapatingkad ng proyektong maging camp ay negation ng camp. Walang irony o disjuncture sa dalawang pinagtatapat na mundo dahil naglapat ang pagpapatawa (intensyonalidad at resultang primaryo sa box-office) sa object ng pagpapatawa (ang kabadingan). (2011)

He ends the review by stating that ZOMBADINGS only reinforced stereotypes. Remington was a mere reinforcement of the “screaming faggot” stereotype that must be abolished in the straight man’s way. “Nag-kwento lang, at nag-reaffirm ng kwento”. It has pandered to a serious issue for some beef and ended up laughing at it.

From what I know, the best camp films didn’t initially intend themselves to be camp, because the label’s supposed to be what a film is avoiding – to become a joke. Yet the praise the previous camp films had influenced the Aughts in a way. It made a new generation of filmmakers go for the lessons of the past and imitate a trend, try to recreate an effect that would score an audience. Yes of course, it had its moments of pure gay eye and ear candy. Yet upon having all these bloated ideas exploding, the advocacy turned out to be lip service. You can ask the film itself – are you or aren’t you?

ZOMBADINGS is at times celebratory yet at times still brutally homophobic, and it ends up where it started – gays are still sissies looked at as a joke. It’s very problematic and unaware of what it stands for. The kid in the last scene says it all. He sees a golden gay walking on the street. The kid stops and points at him, telling his mom “Bakla, oh”. Just when you thought a negative remark would be blurted out, he immediately praises him with a face utterly forced to say “Ang gandaaa”. Would that be a sign of change? As Tolentino said, it is indeed still a big box of a film entrapping homosexuals into traits and keeping them there. The makers of ZOMBADINGS only made it taste so sweet. - Gio Potes, September 2012


Tolentino, R. (2011). Mulat na camp at kawalan ng irony. Retrieved July 11, 2012 from



Contemporary audiences are used to the stories of lolos and lolas about their encounters with Japanese soldiers. They easily dismiss the WWII as a grueling period caused by Jap soldiers who are destructive and atrocious. Even history tells us so because it is in the consensus of all these stories that the 3-4 years of Japanese occupation was a devastating moment in our history. As people living seven decades after the Occupation, we rely on these accounts and consider them as facts. But it is of course, a matter of perspective. The Americans who “saved” us from the Japanese are in for their condemnation because they were also bombed by the superpower, plus they have a colonizing agenda. But what if you ask what the Japanese thought about it? Enter THE DAWN OF FREEDOM (1944).

The film starts with a devastating introduction – the declaration of Manila as an “Open City”. From there, we proceed to two narratives woven together: one is the war encounters of Andres Gomez; the other is about his kid brother Tony’s friendship with a kind Jap soldier. Andres who was once faithful to the American flag found his way to the Japanese army after a brief encounter and belittlement from his leaders. When he left his home in Manila, his brother Tony was crippled by an automobile driven by an American officer but a Japanese soldier he befriends him and sends him to a doctor to ease his condition. It all ends with smiles as the Japanese lead the Filipinos to their progress as a people.  Well DAWN OF FREEDOM is, above its dragging war genre excess, a typical melodrama with a touching bromance between a kid and a father-like soldier, a working Filipino and the Japanese army, colonizer and colonized. It’s not an easy watch of course – available copies are now rough and inaudible with only Japanese subtitles functioning as a guide (it’s quite obvious who the target audience is, too). But the work on its music is quite masterful especially in the scene where Tony stands up from his wheelchair to reveal the miracle his Japanese friend has blessed him. It is undoubtedly a sappy textbook example of an MMK episode. Perhaps a macho AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, too?

So now the issue is this: what did the Japanese want to do? Despite a prominent Filipino director (Gerardo de Leon), it was very apparent that the Japanese were all over this puppet show. According to Video 48 (2011):
 It was the Japanese policy to push the goals of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. According to Rico Jose in his article, “The Dawn of Freedom and Japanese Wartime Propaganda”, the Japanese had three aims: to unmask the Americans as the real enemies and to eradicate their influences; to emphasize Japan’s role as the leader of Asia; and especially with regard to Filipinos, to recover the native character lost due to years of Occidental colonization. Because it was highly popular, film was used as an instrument of propaganda.

It was Japan’s aim to mask their colonizing agenda by antagonizing the Americans (something the latter has done a lot more subtly). From the American automobile that crippled Tony to the brutalities done by white soldiers to the Filipinos, it’s a powerful early anti-American statement. The Japanese have successfully made it appear that they’re indeed heroic towards Filipinos they “freed”, at least in cinematic terms. Then again freedom doesn’t mean independence. We may seem free from Americans but we still depended on an imperialist. And as a whole big scheme of media control and control via media, the Japanese saw the rising Philippine cinema’s potential (it has been argued that the 1930s saw an early golden age for Philippine films, if only the prints survived the war) and they used it as a tool for propaganda and colonization. A contradiction so obvious it was bound to fail.

While these plans shone through DAWN OF FREEDOM, it shouldn’t be denied that the Japanese also did rather good things for the Filipinos by sharing and teaching their values (to the children especially) and educating the people in their own ways. What really caught my attention was the beautiful friendship between Tony and the Japanese soldier Ikejima. They had this certain chemistry, a bond so heartwarming I didn’t want them to part. I said before that Tony’s miraculous scene was overtly melodramatic, but once a shot of Ikejima smiling back was shown, it is suggested through that very sequence that the war should be pushed aside for the bright side of Japanese occupation: a brief but beautiful friendship. It was this simple friendship that’s the real driving force behind the false heroism of DAWN OF FREEDOM. That may be the smallest glimpse of appreciation, in a whole big book of complaints and horrific stories.

Video 48. (2011). The war years (1942-45): Part two/ propaganda movies. Retrieved September 1, 2012 from

Pinoy Kollektor. (2011). Dawn of freedom – Philippine wwii movie.  Retrieved September 1, 2012 from

Torre, N. (2011). Philippine cinema’s ‘golden ages’ debated anew. Retrieved September 1, 2012 from