*Oblatio vitae

(Para kay Nelinda ‘Sr. Mary Francis’ Añover)

Ni Raymund B. Villanueva

Taym pers, hintay naman sana

Sa dami ng maari nang mauna

Bakit ito pang si Nelinda

Ang inaya Mong maaga?

Taym pers, nalimot Mo yata

Ang dasal ng mga aba

Ng katutubo’t magsasaka

Si Francis ay makapiling pa?

              Ang madre ng kapwa bukid at kumbento

              Ang tawa’y tila batingaw ng kampanaryo

              Ang relihiyosang matapang sa harap ng sundalo

              Nagro-rosaryong nakataas ang kamao.

Taym pers, padalos-dalos Ka

Langit nama’y makakapag-hintay pa

Sa rami na nilang Iyong kasama

Pinauwi Mo ang isa pang santa.

                                -2:26 n.h.

                                 11 Abril 2021

                                Lungsod Quezon

* Latin ng ‘Alay na Buhay’

Sa ngalan ng iyong duguang baro

(Alay kay Dandy Miguel)

Ni Raymund B. Villanueva

Domingo de Palaspas nang ika’y patayin

Ng mga kalul’wang ‘di marunong mangilin

Akala ba nila’y kayang paslangin

Ang paninindigan mong maningning?

Tulad nila ang mga sundalo

Ng demonyong imperyong Romano

Ikaw nama’y tulad ni Kristo

Obrero, sugo’t rebolusyonaryo.

Kung ang kay Hesus ay katubusan

Oremus din ang iyong panawagan

“Sahod, trabaho at karapatan

Ipaglalaban, hanggang kamatayan!”

Tigmak ng dugo ang iyong baro

Binutas ng walong punglo

Bantay sila’t maniningil tayo

Maka-uri ang ating apokalipto.

-9:19 n.u.
29 Marso 2021
Lungsod Quezon

Habang sila ay nagsasalo-salo

Ni George Tumaob Calaor

May salo-salo sa gusali ng pangulo

may litson may birthday candle pang ibino-blow…

habang sa kabiserang banda ng bansang Pilipino

nagkukumahog sa pangamba ang mga tao…

muling ipapatupad ang ECQ

nang walang karampatang pag-aaviso…

tiyak maraming sikmura ang sa gutom ay mangungulo!

Ina…

may sanggol kang mangungulit ng gatas sa iyo…

Ama…

may asawa’t mga anak kang umaantabay sa pasalubong mo…

Mag-aaral…

malinaw pa ba ang iyong paningin

sa mga aralin sa online class mo—

may load pa ba ang internet mo—

mababasa mo pa ba ang modyul mo?

Manggagawa…

sapat pa ba ang kinikita mo—

kumusta na ang trabaho?

Magsasaka…

berding uhay ng ginintuang butil pa ba

ang kumakaway sa palayan mo?

May salo-salo sa gusali ng pangulo

may litson birthday candle nito’y ibino-blow…

sa Canlubang, Laguna

ang Pangalawang Pangulo

ng PAMANTIK-KMU…

pinagbabaril

at sa tinamo

ng tamang walo!…

marahas na binawian

ng buhay ito!

#DutertePalpak

#OUSTDUTERTENOW

How Darkness Lit the Way for a People’s Film Collective (An interview with Sine Sanyata)

By L. S. Mendizabal

“Kung ang artista ay nagsasabing ang sining niya ay para sa taong bayan, kailangang makilala ang taong bayan. At magagawa mo lang kung pupunta ka sa kanila. Kailangan ng integrasyon sa masa,” says multi-awarded writer and human rights activist Bonifacio Ilagan in the short documentary and first ever Sine Sanyata production, Sinipi Kay Boni (2019). (If the artist claims that their art serves the people, they must know the people. To do so, they must go to where the people are. Integration with the masses is necessary). Ominous in mood, poised in its clever storytelling that eschews conventional methods, and armed with a message so clear and sharp that it can cut a fascist, Sinipi has set the tone and style of quite a number of shorts the independent film collective has made since. Though this was not a deliberate artistic choice, as I’ve come to learn, Sine Sanyata’s fearless mission to steer the spotlight in the direction of the persecuted, the often overlooked and unheard, is not lost on the viewer.

“It should always be pro-people—”

“Yes, that’s the basis of all the decisions we make.”

“—And that you should always be somewhat aware of the oppressor while highlighting the oppressed sector.”

“For whom are we doing all this and will continue doing it? That’s it.”

Three of Sine Sanyata’s members, Maricon Montajes, Eric Sister and Juan Carlo Tarobal finished one another’s sentences as they sat with the author on Zoom last Friday to talk about the film collective’s beginnings, current achievements and filmmaking process, among other things.

Starting with a small core group assembled in 2019 by film director and University of the Philippines Film Institute professor, Choy Pangilinan, and friends, the film collective was named after an old Ilokano word, “Sanyata,” which translates to “illumination.” Since March 2020, as the government weaponized a global pandemic, abandoned the people and forced us into isolation, Sine Sanyata has grown to around 15 members who have consistently made videos on the Filipino struggle in the thick of the spread of Coronavirus as well as that of a larger menace, the “veerus” that is Duterte’s fascist authoritarian rule.

“Veerus” (Screenshot of a Sanyata video)

Sine Sanyata’s creative process takes a nontraditional yet organic route. Rather than being dictated by a single director, each project is an amalgamation of artistic visions of the creators involved.

“Depending on the latest people’s issues, we brainstorm. From there, we keep birthing concept after concept until a narrative is formed,” Sister explained.

“The editor makes sure that the collective vision is executed before it goes through another round of collective criticism. In the process, we sort of found a distinct style of our own,” Montajes, who also documents at Kodao, added.

But more than their trademarks of theatrical elements thrown here and there, spiral-like loops of images as if in a dream, raw, unpolished cuts and the recurrence of the color red, Sine Sanyata has also utilized an agitprop format across its productions that is unlike the traditional slogan-heavy material. Defamiliarized themes such as social inequity (the urban poor perspective through playful voice-over narration and animation in Yawyaw), death and sacrifice (both unjust and unnecessary as depicted in Semana Santa which shows the Calvary of the most vulnerable sectors of COVID-ridden society), among others, make their riveting images even more thought-provoking, disturbing, rousing. This skillful marriage of political content and avant-garde technique is what makes Sine Sanyata’s works stand out from the onslaught of #lockdowndiaries videos uploaded online in a time when people isolated from one another are able to choose between entertainment and reality—vloggers’ pranks on YouTube or the endless list of human rights violations on the news, a mother with an RC Cola bottle for a head or a beheaded farmer somewhere in Bulacan. Sine Sanyata gives us the same old bleak news yet in new ways that shake us from our desensitized collective psyche.

Pag-aalay: webXhibition and Festival trophies won by Sine Sanyata.

It comes as no surprise that the film collective was able to sweep awards in UP’s recently concluded Pag-aalay: webXhibition and Festival, a global online video competition that showcased “stories of resilience, inner strength and humanity of everyday Filipino heroes.” Four out of Sine Sanyata’s seven entries—for which all of the sound design was provided by the group’s very own Jhoc Jacob—garnered the highest recognitions in four categories, namely, Sister’s Obrero (First Prize in “Animation” and “Best Video”), Montajes’ Sining Sandata (First Prize, “Experimental”) and Salugpongan (First Prize, “Documentary”), and Tarobal’s Ang Ating Tsuper (Second Prize, “Documentary”). Their other entries were Nars ng Bayan by Montajes and Tarobal’s Hate of the Nation Address (HONA) and Pandemya at Pag-ibig. All said entries were uploaded to TVUP’s YouTube channel. The rest of Sine Sanyata’s works, meanwhile, can all be viewed for free on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3tKaiGJ and on their Facebook page at facebook.com/sinesanyata.

Obrero captures the Filipino minimum wage earner’s already harsh, precarious working conditions made even worse by the Duterte regime’s anti-people response to the pandemic. Narrated by Kilusang Mayo Uno Secretary-General Jerome Adonis, it pays tribute to the 40 million workers who keep our economy afloat by calling attention to their plight without romanticizing it. Small jeepney drivers and operators are also part of the workers’ population, whose situation during the enhanced community quarantine’s Tigil Pasada took them to the streets, only this time, to beg for money. We see heartbreaking glimpses of this in Ang Ating Tsuper. “Kahit wala na pong ayuda, basta po ibalik lang po ‘yung tradisyunal na jeep lang po, masaya na po kami (It’s okay if we don’t receive government aid, merely lifting the ban on traditional jeepney routes would mean a lot to us),” a driver says before the video cuts to a black screen and nothing else.

Screenshot from “Ang Ating Tsuper”

In Salugpongan, we are taken to UP where the Lumad people have sought refuge after enduring constant state-sponsored attacks. Two young girls talk about how they miss their school back in their homeland, how the community maintains a basic healthcare system within the camp and how they have gathered what little resources they have to sew face masks for those in need (“hospitals” and “the homeless” in their own words). This simple, inspiring and impactful little docu shows the viewer how even the most downtrodden are still able to want to help. And as if to encapsulate the objective of all seven of Sine Sanyata’s entries to the video festival, Sining Sandata features social realist painter, printmaker, critic and UP Fine Arts professor, Neil Doloricon, saying that “only when the artist participates in the social movement for change can their art realize its full potential in serving the people.”

These short films couldn’t be more different from one another but Sine Sanyata’s razor-sharp messaging runs through all seven narratives. In a video festival themed heavily around good ol’ Filipino resilience, Sine Sanyata managed to honor that and more. Sister could not have said it better: “Calling our workers “heroes” is music to their ears, sure, but for what? They don’t go to work to become heroes. They labor in order to survive and feed their families.” The film collective has succeeded in making the viewer understand that all of these heroes’ sacrifices will be for naught unless we align ourselves with the marginalized. Sine Sanyata pushed the viewer to see through the art and beyond the screen by mirroring the true state of our nation without resorting to the oft-used roseate filter of peace and Pinoy pride. After all, where is peace and pride in the genocide of the poor?

In Sinipi, Ilagan says, “Propagandista talaga kami. Ang usapin lang diyan, propaganda para saan at para kanino (We are indeed propagandists. The only difference is for what and for whom the propaganda is).” Sine Sanyata is without a doubt a people’s propaganda machine naturally borne of the collective Filipino dissent that state repression tries desperately to silence. History has proven without fail that the oppressed always take up arms to defend themselves. They may take the gun, the pen, the paintbrush, the megaphone, or in this case, the camera. Agitation propaganda is essential in fighting state propaganda—the one that says we should all just obey without question if we do not want to die while they kill us anyway, one by one, but often in batches; the one that blocks public scrutiny of Duterte’s incompetence and terorrism by bombarding us with showbiz controversies or a young Pacquiao rapping in Ebonics. There is an ongoing war to win the hearts and minds of the masses. Sine Sanyata’s body of work, marked by courage and genuine inspiration from the people with the intent to give back to the people, is the kind of filmmaking that we need now. And especially now.

When asked how they were able to make all these productions possible while on lockdown, Sister shared that a few of them would find the time to physically meet to brainstorm and shoot, while sharing footages and files were mostly done online.

“At the end of the day, we respect any member’s decision if they can’t go outside because of COVID so we depend on those available for the time being,” Montajes said.

They don’t find the current political climate and health crisis to be serious deterrents in their work, either.

Maricon Montajes’ Sining Sandata.

“Of course, when I go home to my wife and children from filming outdoors even though we’ve followed safety protocol to the letter, there’s always that nagging fear: What if I got infected? I just do my best to disinfect thoroughly,” Sister said. Like him, other Sine Sanyata members also have their own families. “Honestly, it’s not that hard during lockdown because it’s almost like everybody genuinely wants to convey their feelings. It’s easy to get people to express their discontent, rage and frustration [with the government]. It’s pretty easy to relate.”

“There are so many stories out there that deserve to be told, so many voices that need to be amplified,” Tarobal added.

“Most filmmakers tend to be individualistic towards their work. There are times when they try to tell a story but make it about themselves instead of actually making it about the subject, which personally pains me. At the same time, it challenges me since we have this privilege of making films like the ones that we do, so I might as well just do it,” Montajes said.

When I asked them if they’re shooting at the moment, Montajes teased that they are in fact currently working on not just one project.

“Abangan mo na lang ang susunod na mga kabanata. Malupit ‘to! (Watch out for the next chapters. They’re going to be fierce!)” Tarobal said in half-jest.

What they can safely say right now, though, is that we can look forward to their first full-length documentary. Clearly, Sine Sanyata is just getting started. #

Matatakot Pa Ba Kami?

Ni AP

Dinukot n’yo na ang mata ng mag-asawang Albarillo.

Binasag ang bungo ni Eden.

Tinadtad ng bala ang katawan ni Tata Pido.

Binaril sa likod si Gerry at Fort.

Ikinarsel ang siyam na magsasaka ng Silang.

Pakyawang kinasuhan ang pitumpu’t dalawang aktibista.

Ilan sa mga panganay at bunso nila ang pikit-matang

tinanggap ang pangyayari, lumuha sa tabi?

Ilan sa mga kaanak nila ang tumigil mag-isip

at pumili ng tama?

Ilan sa kababayan nila ang nakaramdam ng pagkadurog?

Ilan sa kapwa aktibista nila

ang tumanggi sa alok ng kabundukan?

Ilan sa amin ang natakot?

Ngayon ay pinahirapan n’yo pa palang maigi

ang mag-asawang Evangelista. Binasag ang bungo,

niyupi ang mukha

at dinurog ang puso at baga.

Kinaladkad ang duguang katawan ni Manny.

At sinabing sila ay nanlaban.

Ilan pa ang nakahandang mandamyentong-walang-ngalan?

Tandaan ninyo,

Mahirap pahirapan ang matagal nang naghihirap.

Wala kayong maibibilanggong

hindi maghuhulagpos.

Hindi ninyo kayang paluhurin at durugin

ang isang bayang nagbabangon

at nagbubuo ng bagong lipunan.

Bingi na kami sa sabog ng kanyon

at ulan ng bala sa aming mga bubong.

Hindi na namin dinig ang kalabugan

ng nag-uunahang daga sa dibdib.

Pag-ibig sa katarungan

ang itinitibok ng aming puso.

Tandaan ninyo,

Tatanda rin ang sampung taong gulang

na anak ng mga Evangelista.

Lagi niyang maaalala, mula sa dilim ng ilalim ng kama

magaganap ang paghihiganti para sa katarungan

na maghahatid sa aming lahat sa liwanag.

Kung gayon, matatakot pa ba kami?

***

Marso 10, 2021

Mensahe ng may akda: Ayaw ko sanang sumulat nang ganito kadilim na tula, kung kailan kaarawan ko pa man din. Pero malinaw ang dapat piliin ng isangmakata sa ganitong panahon? Maari naman sigurong alalahanin ko na lamang ng tahimik ang pagsilang ko, sa gitna ng kamatayan ng marami.

Eksena Cinema Quarantine: COVID19 Filmmakers’ Diaries get candid on death, despair, coffee and chaos

By L.S. Mendizabal

Around this time in 2020, a specter was haunting the world—the specter of a new coronavirus that soon became a full-blown pandemic whose global impact has been like no other in human history. The militaristic enhanced community quarantine nationwide, the first of many, enforced impossible health and safety protocols that paralyzed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and were used to suppress widespread dissent against the government. The same protocols have been bent and twisted to favor the few rich and powerful. It was only a matter of time before artists and cultural workers, especially the independent ones, felt the blunt force of state abandonment and terrorism as its knee-jerk response to an enemy that cannot be seen.

The National Committee on Cinema of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA-NCC), in cooperation with University of St. La Salle-Artists’ Hub, gathers 16 of the most promising filmmakers across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in Eksena Cinema Quarantine: COVID19 Filmmakers’ Diaries. Welded together in two omnibus films, Eksena 1 and Eksena 2, are their short films that touch upon their own experiences during lockdown, isolated and barely surviving.

ECQ: Covid19 Filmmakers Diaries image

“As a filmmaker in this pandemic, it’s so hard to earn an income,” says a little upside down smiley drawn above a human mouth in Glenn Barit’s Walang Katapusang Hurno. A pretty strong opening for Eksena Part 1, it is straightforward, honest about the artist’s guilt that intellectual/ cultural labor (in this case, filmmaking) is next to nothing in the midst of a global health crisis and social and economic degradation, that receiving film grants justifiably feels wrong when such funds could instead go to social aid. “But we are also struggling yet still very privileged,” the smiley says while chatting with another upside down smiley as they go on about getting an oven for baking to make ends meet. Barit’s laidback storytelling style, social commentary (with a bonus Dolomite Song by Toni Panagu towards the end) and humor, both silly and dark, has enough charm and hostility to prime the viewer for the next three hours of shorts on essentially what it’s like to be quarantined in post-Duterte Philippines—a not so inviting yet gripping rollercoaster ride of emotions and introspection.

The man in Kyle Fermindoza’s K[u]adrado (Frame/d) finds himself in somewhat the same dilemma as Barit. Seemingly his take on the old proverb of “teaching a man how to fish to feed him for a lifetime,” Fermindoza’s stunning visuals revolve around striking the balance between the struggle to survive and the need to create art as tools for human enlightenment and liberation.

ECQ: Covid19 Filmmakers Diaries image.

The Filipino middle class experience is documented well in the entire anthology, and understandably so. Zurich Chan (Soul Fish) and Julienne Ilagan (Akong Pinalangga (My Beloved)) position themselves in front of the camera as they let us peek into their lives with their families whilst in isolation. The internet is the only medium through which they experience separation from and connection with their loved ones. One family goes to a birthday online, the other a funeral. There is helplessness and yearning in both.

ECQ: Covid19 Filmmakers Diaries image.

But perhaps the most personal, sensitive and vulnerable that made me cry my eyes out at 3 AM is Carlo Catu’s Joy is My Mother. Death in the family is something that nobody could ever prevent, but for it to happen in these times makes it harder tenfold. Catu and his loved ones recount how they’ve been trying to move forward after Catu’s mom died from cancer. They welcome the audience into their home in the province and show us photos and videos of their source of Joy. The mini-doc is simple, intimate, cozy despite being tragic. I imagine how making this could’ve been cathartic for Catu as much as it may console those who might have lost people in their lives too over lockdown, particularly when most have been deprived of collective mourning since traditional wakes are not allowed.

We see the same theme of love (and loss) in the time of Corona in Random People where Arden Rod Condez closes in on couples of different generations and genders in Antique as they bathe, embrace each other, share a sensual kiss or an inaudible yet very animated conversation. The borderline voyeuristic images will either make you feel uncomfortable or comforted or both. The last shot of an old man kissing the grave of his loved one makes it one of the more powerful pieces on human emotion in the ECQ anthology. This is especially refreshing when both reality and social media have desensitized us to the steadily increasing number of deaths, to so much hate and inhumanity.

Bagane Fiola (Alimungaw: Filming in a Time of Uncertainty) and Guillermo Ocampo (From Itogon to London) take us to their places of work that have suffered greatly from the economic repercussions of the pandemic. Fiola shows us how filmmaking is now fundamentally done in strict compliance with COVID protocol. Alimungaw is an objective study of the creative and logistic challenges that all artists must face at present if they decide to create at all. On the other end of the spectrum, Ocampo, a young entrepreneur, attempts to be lighthearted, even funny, romantic and then sympathetic towards the miners-turned-coffee farmers who used to supply his newly opened café bistro which was abruptly closed at the onset of the national ECQ. I must admit that I find the cinematography, tone and style of this one a bit jarring as it straddles between being a lifestyle/tourism feature and a product commercial not unlike Nescafe’s longer ads that romanticize the exploitation of its farmers. Artists and their works have been diminished into commodities in the boundless marketplace of ideas—sure, nothing new about that!—but there’s still something a little unsettling about a narrative that says it finds “inspiration” or the slightest glimmer of hope in the exportation of a local product, specifically Itogon coffee, to London where it has become popular. Meanwhile, the peasant in Benguet remains shackled to landlessness and a life of poverty in the upland, waiting for government aid and the occasional “jackpot” on harvest season at the mercy of the buyer.

Giving us a glimpse of the Lumad community that was forced to flee their homeland due to intensified militarization and state-sponsored killings and abuse of their people, Arbi Barbarona visits their evacuation center in The Right to Life. Despite being far away from home where their herbal medicines and place of worship are within reach, the Lumad are able to establish a system of basic healthcare. Colonized even further by face masks, face shields and hand sanitizer, the leaders continue to assert their right to their lands and their lives.

Pam Miras and Keith Deligerobring unexpected elements of horror and science fiction to the anthology. Lonely Girls interprets the terrifying circumstances that little girls and women, already isolated by a patriarchal macho-feudal society, likely experience in isolation and how they are often robbed of control over their own bodies.

Kalayo, on the other hand, examines a city from a seemingly omniscient perspective, courtesy of aerial and close surveillance shots. “Poetry by Duterte” delivered by a text-to-speech voice reader (a nice little touch of defamiliarization!) plays in the background, which is basically just some of his false claims about COVID19. The city is sometimes empty and peaceful, or noisy with ambulances and police cars, or in flames. The running man in orange, Deligero himself, is a prisoner of his vast suburban cell.

ECQ: Covid19 Filmmakers Diaries image.

Mark Garcia’s Mga Bag-ong Nawong sang Damgo kag Katingalahan is a visual treat. Abstract in its poetry on death and the zombie-like state of present-day living, the narrator seems to lead some type of an incantation with another one repeating his words, praying that we all get to breathe freely again.

Meanwhile, Hurop-hurop kan Kapadagusan kan Agi-agi kan Gamgam na Adarna by Kristian Sendon Cordero begins with the mysterious arrival of an egg and an Ibong Adarna booklet in Bikolano at his bookshop. This sparks a long discussion among women (ceramic dolls) in the store on how the legend should’ve gone and how the people have a right to the magical bird, not just kings.

Hiyas Baldemor Bagabaldo’s Kneading Nothing probes more into the artist’s self. It goes heavy on the animation as the viewer is taken to the mind of the narrator who obsesses over astronomy and astrology as some sort of coping mechanism during isolation. In the end, uncertainty and anxiety eat her up as she presses repeatedly the snooze button on the phone alarm she has religiously set by the hour. By trying to escape, she gets stuck within the confines of her individualism.

ECQ: Covid19 Filmmakers Diaries image.

Another short that utilizes animation—the stop-motion chess scene is a personal favorite of mine—is Khavn dela Cruz’s Gunam-Gunam x Guni-Guni whose titular characters are played by his two children, Katch23 and 1delacruz. Wearing masks and face shields, they let loose and run amok outdoors, which I suppose may be likened to one’s chaotic rumination and phantasm when they’re isolated for far too long. A woman’s voice narrates what sound like snippets from deconstructed lessons on the Filipino language until they become mere gibberish, calling to mind the difficulties of online education and its negative effects on the students’ psyche and physical wellbeing.

In a similar vein, Adjani Arumpac features her children enrolled in distance learning as she navigates her way through domestic and professional life in Count. The little boy, Lio, finds adventures in every nook and cranny of their house, convinced that a monster of “wrong numbers” and supervillains (the police) lurk outside their gate. Arumpac’s contemplation of the COVID crisis, human rights violations in the country, etc., images of Reina Mae Nasino in front of her infant daughter’s casket and of a cat eager to protect her newborn litter as well as news of the illegal arrest of Amanda Echanis and her one-month-old child illustrate motherhood in the harshest conditions, at its most helpless but at also at its most resilient. Like the seeds from the dead flower that are planted anew, our children are the reason we keep hoping, creating and moving forward, making Count a most fitting closing film in the ECQ anthology.

Watching all 16 films and trying to relate to each and every one of their stories feels like reliving all ten months of the lockdown—exhausting as if stuck in an oven, baking for a protracted amount of time until you are numb to the fire, until people are reduced to numbers of deaths and recoveries, likes and dislikes, until life shrinks into your phone or your computer. We are not dealing with just the virus but with an even bigger threat to our lives and civil liberties. It must be noted that the country has been on the longest COVID lockdown in the world since March last year and yet we have never been more at risk. Extrajudicial killings, illegal arrests and red-tagging of activists are still rampant. Not speaking against the government does not exempt anyone from state violence. These days, nobody is safe. Macho-fascism accompanied with psychological warfare exists in our own homes, on the news, in that new GMA teleserye on the romantic entanglement between a much older president of the Philippines and his younger “first yaya,” our Facebook feeds, even on Tiktok! Our culture is being held hostage by the State.

This is where the indispensible role of the artist and filmmaker comes in. There is an ongoing race towards winning the hearts and minds of the masses.

ECQ: COVID19 Filmmakers’ Diaries Eksena Parts 1 and 2 premiered on January 22, last Friday, and will be available for free streaming until January 28 at 11:59 PM on Vimeo. A four-part webinar series in which the 16 filmmakers share their creative processes behind their pieces will also take place on their Facebook page from January 25 to 28 at 6 PM. You may visit facebook.com/EksenaCQ for more details. #

Paano kinikilo ang pag-ibig?

By Pia Montalban

Kinikilo muna

ang pagkakamali,

hanggang sa huling guhit

ng bigat, ginuguhitan

ang hangganan at pagitan

ng lisya at kuwenta.

Ang kilo ng pag-ibig

ay ang tapat ng timbang

ng bawat pagkukulang,

na dinodoble ng sampung ulit,

o higit-higit pa,

hanggang ang bawat kahinaan,

wala nang timbang

sa bumibigat na pagmamahalan.

Surrounded they say

By Ibarra Banaag

Completely insane

And baseless

To claim

That the war’s bulwark

Is merely physical

Structural.

Prone to collapse

Suppression

Domination.

Or those are where The uprising ends.

It is not in the forest

Mountains or clearing.

It is not at sea

Or artificial highways.

Rather, this bulwark

Resides in the mind of the masses,

In the hearts of comrades.

It is in the hands of the class.

And nothing can kill it.

Nay, not even death.

— December 20, 2020

Fan Girl Review: Allegory of the Diehard Devout Stan (DDS)

⭐⭐⭐⭐

[Spoiler alert! Trigger warning: This film contains scenes depicting child sexual abuse.

By L.S. Mendizabal

In 2000-something, dressed in my high school uniform, I went to the local city mall during class hours to see Orange and Lemons perform live. Armed with my Nokia 7250, I remember chasing after the band members on the escalators—they were going up, I was going down!—desperate to get closer images of them. My fangirling skills include effectively elbowing my way through crowds at jam-packed concerts and shows to get to at least second row, but nothing as wild as what Antoinette Jadaone’s latest film’s titular character is capable of doing for a more intimate encounter with a stranger she equates to nothing short of a god.

Fan Girl begins like any other movie directed and written by Jadaone in the Filipino setting with its depressing nature often eclipsed by dry Pinoy wit and humor and an ambitious, strong-willed female protagonist. In this case, she’s a 16-year-old high school student (Charlie Dizon) with chipped hot pink nail polish and an unhealthy obsession with a celebrity (Paolo Avelino playing a fictional larger-than-life version of himself). Paolo’s omnipresence from the internet to life-size cut-out standees and billboards as well as his effortless evasion of traffic laws establish the character’s popularity. When the fan girl skips class to see him at a mall show and stealthily makes her way to the back of his pick-up truck where she hides herself amongst her idol’s posters, merchandise and gifts from other fans, the mood is light, airy, silly, even borderline rom-com. The only real source of conflict is if she gets caught. The minute Paolo drives past the toll gates and spews out his first “Putangina!” of probably a thousand, the viewer is taken into a darker, harsher environment: vast rice fields and grasslands, rough roads, no electricity, a heavily locked gate one should climb over, an old, abandoned mansion/drug den. The fan girl is now trapped, hours away from home, her phone unable to send a single text. In her eyes, however, everything is brightly optimistic, not unlike Paolo’s romantic flicks. She feels safe with him. He can do no wrong. She is close to him and nothing else matters.

Screengrab from the film Fan Girl.

The fan girl is clearly delusional. Blinded by hero worship and overall naivete, she is not a reliable storyteller. Like Paolo, the film undresses from its initially attractive exterior and reveals the plot at its core: an obsessed girl—a child!—is stuck with a vaguely threatening male adult, the object of her obsession. Without giving away too many spoilers, all the viewer’s fears come true as the two main characters spend a day and a night over alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. The fan girl takes everything he offers, eager to please her host. Dizon gives one of the most convincing performances I’ve seen of someone new to these substances. I’m happy to report that you’ll find none of that stupid “Pare, hindi ako lashing” sort of drunk acting here (if you’ve seen Filipino movies and teleseryes at all, you know exactly what I mean). Dizon is truly beguiling in the way that her character tries to play a more mature seductress (“Hindi na ako bata,” she says thrice) but is betrayed by her perennially sweaty upper lip, stringy hair and breath that reeks of vomit. In the hands of a cis-hetero male writer / director, scenes like this could’ve easily become something like a glorified sex scandal.

Screengrab from the film Fan Girl.

Paolo is appalled yet intrigued by the fan girl’s childish qualities. Her adoration fuels his ego and aggravates his desire to exploit and dominate her. I’ve seen many a disturbing movie but this one has still made me turn in my seat. Sometimes, there’s nothing more terrifying than watching a megalomaniac take advantage of a fanatic too smitten with him to see what he really is: a macho-fascist, misogynist and rapist. On the other hand, Paolo is written as somewhat of a caricature-like villain, complete with tattoos, alcoholism, drug dependence and a heavy metal score. Personally, I find this a bit much but I guess it was intentional. After all, he does remind me of the Dutertes and their refreshing “bad boy” strongman mass appeal what with their rugged demeanors and similar choice of expletives to Paolo’s in the sea of polished orators and traditional politicians. There are rare instances when Paolo shows a more human, sensitive side. This disappears almost abruptly with each opportunity of manipulating the fan girl. The car scene where she has a meltdown (Dizon’s award-winning moment, in my opinion) and asks if she could stay one more night with him is the viewer’s first glimpse of her personal struggle. We come to understand that she does not look forward to coming home to a mother who is similarly enamored with her abusive stepfather. The fantasy of Paolo has been her escape all along.

Screengrab from the film Fan Girl.

Fan Girl is a coming-of-age horror story and an allegory of sorts. Knowing one of the script consultants and film poster designer, Karl Castro, and his controversial yet critically praised thesis production, Manwal sa Paggawa ng Pelikula (2007), I can see how Fan Girl, too, is a critique of the film industry itself: how it keeps artists’ careers afloat with love teams and fake romances, how it feeds on stan culture and how the industry has looked the other way when its biggest earning stars go unscathed after sexually abusing or raping hapless individuals.

In a post-Duterte Philippines, where celebrity, influencer culture, fanaticism and social media are all effectively used and weaponized by the current regime against all forms of dissent, Fan Girl is undoubtedly a product of its time. We see how a diehard devout stan (DDS) continues to believe and venerate her idol despite all the truths she’s uncovered. It doesn’t bug her that he has lied about being Bea Alonzo’s boyfriend, or that he uses drugs, or practically treats her like trash. She only begins to question his morals when she discovers that he’s screwing a married woman. And then, without warning, the fan girl ceases to be loyal to Paolo when she witnesses him beat said woman. The instant she sees her own poor family in Paolo’s woman and child is when the fantasy is shattered. The spell is broken and her prince becomes a frog. The lack of transition is quite jarring. However, if seen and appreciated as an allegory, Fan Girl’s ending actually makes perfect sense: Now surrounded by posters and tarpaulins of President Rodrigo Duterte’s face, the fan girl, whose name we actually find out in the end, decides to help her family by putting an end to her stepfather’s abuse. Who does she turn to? The repressive state institution being championed by diehard devout stans, of course. She has exercised personal agency. The problem lies within the very system that only serves and protects Paolos.

Disturbingly dark, twisted, unforgiving in its honesty and social commentary, and arguably her best and bravest yet, Fan Girl is entirely unlike any other movie by Jadaone. And we need more stories like this now. More than ever. #

Huling Yakap ni Nanay Sonya

By Carlos Isagani T. Zarate

Namanhid na ang aking mga alaala:

mabilis na nag-agaw ang liwanag

at dilim sa aking gunita — sigaw

ng umalingawngaw na takot

at hambalos ng mainit na mga tingga!


Handa nang manibasib ang mga halimaw;

iwinawasiwas ang pabaong birtud ng poon!

Tanging sandata ay imbing mga kataga,

pananggalang ang mahigpit, mainit,

walang bitiw na mga yakap mo, Nanay!


Subalit sa pagitan ng isang kisapmata,

ang iyong mahigpit na yakap – ang tila pusod

na muling sa ati’y nag-ugnay, sa aki’y

nagbigay ng lakas at buhay — ay pinasabog

ng abuso, kahayupan at kalupitan!


Sa isang kisapmata, ang iyong humulagpos na yakap

at nabubuwal na hapong katawan aking nasilayan;

gusto kung sumigaw: ‘Wag mo akong bitawan, Nanay,

higpitan mo pa ang iyong mapag-aruga , mapag-adyang

mga yakap — labanan natin. Ang dilim!


caritaz. 21 disyembre 2020

(The poet is a third-term Bayan Muna Representative to the Philippine Congress)

Artwork by Aurelio Castro III (Used with permission)