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)

“Basta” or why the RC Cola ad does not need your interpretation

By L.S. Mendizabal

I will not say how the ad goes because if you have been on social media the past week, you know the one. You’d also know that it has caused quite a stir among netizens with their reactions ranging from “Brilliant! Genius!” to “This is gross!” preceding an emoji that’s about to puke. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just google “RC Cola Commercial” and proceed at your own risk.

Full-blown reviews, analyses of and speculations about the ad have been circulating on Twitter and Facebook, and boy, are they some of the most entertaining, ridiculous things I’ve read in a while after Panelo’s speech for Duterte’s birthday. But what does the viral commercial really mean according to its creators? Gigil Advertising Agency co-founder Herbert Hernandez explains that they wanted to convey “a mother’s unconditional love.” “The mother poured her all for her [adopted] child. Even if they are not related, she loves him,” he says in an interview with ABS-CBN News. Um, okay.

Some who actually adopted or were adopted didn’t get this particular message from the ad, saying that it made a joke out of the social stigma that comes with adoption, with others also pointing out an undercurrent of colorism in it (the adopted kid was portrayed by someone with darker complexion and textured curly hair). I happen to think that being offended by this commercial is completely valid and inevitable. Clearly, the ad, despite what its creators may tell us, was designed to shock, provoke discussion, possibly enrage some people and generally sell the product. Whether we like it or not, it has succeeded in its objectives. We probably won’t be able to look at a bottle of RC Cola (and our mothers) the same way ever again. And I bet more households are now going to be reminded of it come merienda time. With its lower selling price compared to its competitors’, why not?

Then again, why do people drink soda, instant coffee or beer in the first place? Why do we have to choose from a hundred brands of canned food? Why do we whiten our teeth—and as a matter of fact, everything—or want the next technology in phones and cars? The commercial’s tagline, “Basta!” seems to justify all our “needs” as dictated by consumerism.

The viral ad and other bizarre TV commercials of late bring fetishism of commodities here in the Philippines to the next level, a whole genre of the ludicrous and the occasionally disturbing. Expect more “shockvertising” and rage marketing in the coming months, akin to popular TVCs in Japan and Thailand. Fresher, more creative, out-of-the-box ideas will flourish and compete for our money in exchange for products we don’t even need.

Since most of the advertising these days is online, middle class Generation Z seems to be the biggest target audience. These kids practically rule the Internet, sharing memes, trolling one another, engaging in online “bardagulan,” and some such. There’s no limit to the weirdness they are capable of absorbing. After all, this is the generation that invented “Hakdog,” an expression that means literally nothing and merits no logical explanation.

It seems that the joke is lost on those who dare read deeper meanings into the RC Cola ad. We are so taken aback by its graphic, horror-like qualities that we fail to see the sexism in traditional, more visually pleasant TVCs where it’s suggested that a mother should aspire to smile all the time in the midst of hardships, immaculate in appearance, her hair perfectly coifed, always at her husband and children’s beck and call; or the exploitation in ads that depict farmers and workers creating their products to be absolutely blissful beings, thanks to good ol’ Filipino spirit of resilience and an optimistic Eraserheads song playing in the background.

Sex and sexism sell, so does resilience porn. Surrealism seems to be the next frontier for local advertising. I’d be lying if I said that the RC Cola ad’s irrational dark humor didn’t make me laugh. But more importantly, it also gives me hope that we are indeed at the cusp of the dying of late capitalism. Ah, basta! #

References:

Abellon, B. (2020). “From the makers of the viral RC Cola ad”. ABS-CBN News. Retrieved from https://news.abs-cbn.com/ancx/culture/spotlight/11/30/20/from-the-makers-of-the-viral-rc-cola-ad-these-equally-goofy-commercials

Cruz, A. (2020). “Some netizens think RC Cola’s new ad is insensitive”. Preen.ph. Retrieved from https://preen.ph/118794/rc-cola-ad-insensitive-netizen-reactions-bn

A new and novel way indeed – and heed

from HBC’s The InComplete Sonnets

(Sonnet based on this Kodao news report: As floods devastate Luzon, cellphone load becomes disaster relief)

7
a new and novel way indeed – and heed
this well – for in the face of tragic signs
one can well count on some within the breed
who find flood victims in their helpless lines.

some offer cellphone load, it's quite relief
this, one way there to help beyond a doubt
the typhoon victims down, down in their grief
from nasty blasting typhoon's* ruthless clout.

one offered fifty pesos worth of load,
of cellular load to the ones in need
within his own community** – a broad
phrase that could help the ones in piteous bleed.

alive the bayanihan spirit is
which puts community in heights of bliss.

= = = = = =

*Ulysses, the 21st to hit the Philippines this year.

**Michael Ramos Pagulayan has offered to send P50worth of cellular load to those who need them in his home community of Auitan, San Pablo, Isabela.1625-1632; Nov. 14, 2020, Saturday.

Isang Buwan

Ni Katrina Yamzon

hindi ko tutularan ang buwan
na makikipagtalik lamang
sa bawat mong takipsilim
at sisiping sa kumot ng iyong dilim.

hindi ako magiging wangis ng buwan
na nagkukubli sa kaulapan
sa panahong ika’y tumatangis
at nagbubuhos ng luha’t hinagpis.

hindi ako magiging wangis ng buwan
na nagkukubli sa kaulapan
sa panahong ika’y tumatangis
at nagbubuhos ng luha’t hinagpis.

hindi ako kailanman magiging buwan
na sa iyo’y pumapanaw
na sa iyo’y lilisan
Sa pagdating ng araw.

COVID-19/SARSCOV2

Ni George Tumaob Calaor

Pandemyang tinagurian

banta sa kalusugan

at upang ito ay malabanan

palakasin at resistensya’t pangangatawan.

Ngunit ano itong ginawa ng gobyerno?!

sa kaka-lockdown, kabuhayan nami’y gumuho

nawalan ng trabaho ay libo-libo

at mga empresa’y nagsasarado

sa aming mga bahay, kami ay binilanggo

komunidad pinarondahan, nakangising bayarang berdugo

sa gutom at kadalitaan, kami ay iginupo!

“Wala na tayong pondo…” mangiyak-ngiyak na sinabi mo

‘di ba’t sabi mo… “Ako ang bahala…” at kami ay umasa sa iyo

‘ba’t ngayon kriminal, sa amin ang iyong trato

kung sa tuwing lockdown ay otrokratiko’t militarista mong isugo

kami sa takot ay tatakas at tatakbo

at sa gutom kami ay iyong igugupo

na mas nakakamatay pa sa COVID-19/SARSCOV2!

Uulitin ko…

“Wala na tayong pondo…” mangiyak-ngiyak na sinabi mo

at kami naman naawa sa iyo

nguni’t ‘yon pala ay luha ng panloloko

at bilyon-bilyon ang kinokorap ninyong pondo!

Habang heto kami’t gutom at dalitang buong dahas mong iginupo

O ‘di kaya ay kriminal mong ipinapatugis sa bayaran mong berdugo!

‘Di ba’t mas nakakagimbal pa sa pandemyang COVID-19/SARSCOV2?!

BISIKLETA MO AT AKTIBISMO

(Alay kay Ka Eb Montes)

Ni Fabian G. Hallig

Akala ko libangan lang ang hilig mo sa pagpadyak

Dibersyon sa pagkabagot at hinaharap na problema

Hersisyong pangkatawang sa isip din ay pampatalas

Sinisikap pag-ugmain galaw ng bisig at paa

Subali’t para sa iyo’y hindi lang ganyan ang layon mo

Kundi paglingkurin ito sa pagtupad ng tungkulin

Matalino mong pinag-ugnay bisikleta’t aktibismo

Pandayan ng teorya’t praktikang nagsisilbi sa simulain

Sa bisikleta mo inaaral ang siyensya ng paggalaw

Ang ugnayan ng bagay-bagay at pangyayari sa paligid

Ang koordinasyon ng makina at pisikal na katawan

Kung kailan liliko, hihinto at muling bubuwelong mabilis

Di mo alintana ang pitig ng pagod na mga binti

Ang ngalay na mga braso’t kamay habang iyong tinatahak

Landas na palayo sa pugad ng mga buwayang kati

Na tinakasan na ng konsyensya habang nagpapakabundat

Ginto sa’yo bawa’t saglit na ginugugol sa pagmumulat

Sa pag-oorganisa’t pagpapakilos ng mga guro ng bayan

Mga masa at aktibistang sa Inang Bayan ay lumiyag

Namanatang maglilingkod sa guro at sambayanan

Mahalaga rin para saiyo ang gamit mong bisikleta

Batid mong bawa’t pagpadyak pag-usad ng kasaysayan

Ng pagsulong ng kilusang guro at ng malawak na masa

Tungo sa tunay na pagbabagong hangad ng buong sambayanan.

###

Martir

ni George Tumaob Calaor

Sila ngayon ay dagat

at pangalan nila ay

tinanghal na mga

bayani

habang ang pasista

ay naghuhugas–binubura

sa kanyang mga kamay

ang bahid ng pagkapusakal s

a berdugo niyang pagpakitil

sa inyong hininga

hustisya ay buong galit

at paghihimagsik

na binabatingaw!

Kaba ng kaduwagan

sa bituka ng may sala

ay along kumukulo!

Balisa ang kaaway!

Kagapian ang idinidighay!

Sila ngayon ay hangin…

alab na sumasantik

sa lawak ng karagatan

upang sa dalampasigan

ay ihalik ng buong hampas

ang udyok ng patuloy na paglaban!

Gapiin ang kaaway!

Berdugo ay wala nang kubling

masisilungan!

Sila ngayon ay lupa…

kumakandong sa dagundong

ikinukubkob ng kabundukan

sa buong lawak ng kapatagan!

Hukay na ang libingang

sa pasista ay inilaan

at uod na lalamon

sa kanyang lamang

ganid ay taba ng pagkahaman…

ay buong gutom

at paglalaway

na nilang

inaantabayanang

ngatngatin siksikin

ng sagad pa kasagaran

sa mga butong kalansay

ng kataksilan

at bungong

utak ay kalawang

ng karahasan—

buong namnam

nilang sisimutin

hanggat diktadurya ng pasismo

ay mawalan na ng saysay!

Sila ngayon ay apoy…

liyab ng pagdiriwang!

Ilang hakbang na lang

at pagtapos ng sigwa!

Buhay ay mananagana

sa lubos na paglaya!

Walang uring sinasamba!

Sila ngayon ay…

dagat…

hangin…

lupa…

apoy…

pagtapos ng sigwa!

Hayaan nating manariwa

sa ating kaisipan

ang kanilang kadakilaan

at kagitingan…

tapang ng kanilang paghihimagsik

nang takot ay walang tibok

na masisiksikan sa ating dibdib at…

pagtapos ng sigwa!

Paglaya ay lubusang mananalisay

MOTHER OF ONE

“But sadly, the more good you do for your fellow Filipinos in this country, the sooner you get to your grave.” Mae Paner

by Pablo Tariman

She could have been my daughter

Or a neighbor’s sister.

Who would think of even

Killing her Monday night

On her way to a boarding house?

She is a church worker

And mother of an 11-year old girl.

How do you break the sad news

Of her mother’s death

And the bullets that riddled

Her young body?

She could have been a good teacher

In any rural school.

But she chose to live

With farm hands

Living an exploited life.

To her

There is more nobility

With just being

The voice of courage

In a hungry, poverty-driven milieu

But life has better things

To teach her.

She found strength

Just living with the poor

And finding ways to empower them.

She knew she had it coming

When she lived a life

Inside detention cell

For two hapless years of her life.

It was then that

She learned to fear no one

While coping with death threats

In the remaining days

Of her life.

She probably drew fortitude

From the death

Of constituents

Whose lives also ended

Biting cold bullets

In their last working day

On earth.

She didn’t fear

The state’s death squad

Inspired by a leader

Caught showing a dirty finger

On national television

On the day her life ended

With a rain of bullets.

I cannot imagine

How her daughter’s life

Would proceed without her.

Gone are the motherly nights

When she’d find courage

Just reading stories

To her dear little one

Still hopeful

For a better day.

She has remained

A profile of courage

Even as she has lost count

Of more dead friends

Waging a good fight

In the countryside.

I like her brand of courage

And the nobility of her mission

Which you cannot say

Of that mad man

Running this country.

Not even the deadly virus

And threats of bullets

Could stop her

From finding strength and solidarity

With her exploited people.

She will find tears useless

On the day her coffin

Is lowered to her modest grave.

To be sure

She can use roses

Falling on her coffin.

The gentle thud of soil

Falling on her grave

Is enough to remind one and all:

She lived a brave struggle

Even during the dark days

Of the deadly virus

And of a brand of leadership

That has gone down

In such state of disrepute.

Yes

Her bravery was one of a kind.

And her name was Zara Alvarez.

* * *