The Theory of Memory and Mourning

About Us But Not About Us Film Review

(4.5 stars out of 5)

By L. S. Mendizabal

(Trigger warning: mention of suicide, abuse)

Never have I been so glad to go into a movie blind with Jun Robles Lana’s latest cinematic offering. Apart from learning from social media and the stunning film poster that About Us But Not About Us is the acclaimed writer and director’s most autobiographical work to date, I honestly had no clue what it was really about. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, which is why I will try my best to similarly not spoil the movie for anybody with this review. I am in no way teasing an awfully shocking twist ending (there isn’t), but I do feel that the complete journey of speculation, introspection and emotional release About Us walks us through is a gift that must be earned.

Truth is, if you haven’t at least once fallen in love; or lost someone to death, or life, or time; or nursed a broken heart, and a pretty banged up one too, perhaps you wouldn’t be able to appreciate the film as much. About Us is not something you watch just for the plot. It does, however, have an intriguing opening premise: Gay, middle-aged literature professor, Eric (Romnick Sarmenta), meets his younger student, Lance (Elijah Canlas), at a restaurant which the former frequented with his longtime partner and fellow professor, Marcus, whom we never see in the movie (well, sort of). We soon learn that Marcus has recently died by taking his own life and that the close friendship between Eric and Lance have sent tongues wagging at the university department. Still visibly reeling from losing Marcus, Eric is looking forward to catching up with Lance, who, meanwhile, is on a mission to find out if he was the cause of Marcus’s suicide. And since the restaurant strictly observes a 90-minute meal rule in keeping with post-pandemic protocol, Eric and Lance have only 90 minutes to talk about everything—their thoughts, feelings, memories of Marcus, and all the secrets and all the lies.

Two men at a table. And a ghost. When it comes down to it, they are whom About Us is really all about. So how does an hour and a half of dialogue between two seated characters in a single location manage to turn into a more nuanced, psychologically and emotionally gripping cinematic experience?

For starters, Lana’s writing, at its most honest, sober and philosophical, makes for a pretty robust foundation. To survive grief and depression, he reportedly wrote About Us—“part-fiction and part-confessional,” he calls it—in three straight days. And it is nothing short of a masterpiece. All the aesthetic and creative choices that make Eric, Lance and even Marcus more distinct, multidimensional characters seem deliberate yet natural. For instance, Eric’s red Volkswagen Beetle, the jingling bell and keys fastened to his belt and his palpable disgust upon discovering Lance’s pornographic Twitter alter account attest not only to his age but also to his attachment, allegiance more so, to the past. For the longest time, his source of comfort and familiarity had been Marcus, this brilliant writer (touted as “the Nick Joaquin of his generation”) but cynical, almost uncaring lover; whereas Lance, this young aspiring writer who looks to him for mentorship and guidance, and who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable with him (“I only like myself when I’m with you”) breaks the monotony of his life, gives him purpose, excites him.

Lance is forbidden waters Eric probably wouldn’t mind wading in from time to time, but he does keep his distance just enough to avoid getting fired from his teaching post. Nevertheless, the odd patriarchal role he assumes—both charitable and controlling, forcing his own beliefs and decisions on Lance—reveals his true motive, which, whatever it may be, is not totally unselfish. And neither is Lance’s. With a first name like his (Lancelot) and his silver motorcycle helmet, it’s easy to fall for the knightly exterior, winning smile and bright-eyed, innocent demeanor. Then again, Lancelot in Arthurian legend is known for his loyalty as well as treachery. Befittingly, Lance is at once fragile and callous, naïve and devious.

And yet, this story is not about good versus evil; it has more grays than black-and-whites. Lana’s manipulation of angles, blocking, and light and shadow demonstrates the characters’ moral ambiguity and gradual shift in power dynamics. He also borrows elements from theatre, notably in the scenes wherein Eric and Lance delve into their respective histories with Marcus. Despite the film’s minimal budget, Lana is able to create multilayered, conflicted, and conflicting, characters whose struggle he orchestrates with clever precision in a single, static set. Some have called About Us “a masterclass on acting.” I see it, firstly, as a masterclass on writing.

WATCH: Official “About Us But Not About Us” movie trailer

Speaking of acting, the script—constantly switching between dalliance and deceit, between English and Filipino, and peppered with references to Daft Punk, Tennessee Williams and many other literary figures—wouldn’t have been as compelling, and might’ve even sounded pretentious, if it did not have the perfect actors to play the two main roles. And perfect, indeed, they are. Sarmenta, particularly, conveys complex emotions through subtlety—a sidelong glance, a clenching of the jaw, a quiver of the lip, the cadence with which he delivers his lines. With a quiet yet commanding intensity, Eric ceases to be a character, transforming into someone I feel I know. More than a movie star, Sarmenta is a writer’s actor, a true empath, an utterly transfixing cinematic presence. Canlas, on the other hand, holds his own, exuding youthful innocence even as he seduces. Lance is the one truly in control of the conversation, luring Eric into his tricks and traps. And this is all executed by Canlas with a self-possession not many actors his age are capable of learning.

In the final act, the tension between the two characters reaches a deafening crescendo, and I’m convinced that Eric is going to kill Lance by running him over with his Beetle. But I remind myself that About Us is not that type of movie. And perhaps it’s fair to say that it’s a very specific type of movie that’s not for everyone. After all, it is essentially a 90-minute negotiation between two people haunted by memories of a man, but memories really of themselves, and above all, memories of the filmmaker himself. Just as Lana has entrusted Filipino audiences with his most beloved characters, Rene (Bwakaw), Marilou (Mga Kwentong Barbero) and Dharna (Big Night!), along with their individual journeys, he now entrusts us with his burden of pain and secrecy. Although marketed as a psychological drama/thriller—and I guarantee that it will keep you on the edge of your seat until the credits roll—About Us is, at its core, a deeply personal, philosophical story about love, which is probably life’s greatest conundrum, and its twin, loss, life’s absolute certainty.

Lana sums it up cleanly when Eric says, “As you grow older, you’ll realize that most of our memories are false. Or worse, they’re just lies we tell ourselves.” We do tend to remember our loves and losses differently from person to person, don’t we? When a relationship ends, our memories of it are hardly ever untainted by the happiness or hurt we associate with the one we shared that relationship with. Some of us can’t grapple with the possibility that our loved ones might’ve abused us, mistaking what they did for “tough love,” a “test of one’s faith” or whatever euphemism we could find to justify staying in such toxic spaces. And then, there’s also the possibility of our own abuse of our loved ones—do we take accountability for our actions, do we simply forget them or do we tell others (but mostly ourselves) lies in a desperate bid for sympathy? When artists create, how much of themselves do they put into their work? Do they present idealized versions of themselves or do they show their inner demons and traumas, endured or perpetrated?

These are just some of the questions About Us confronts in all of their perplexity, reflexivity and ugliness. With its exploration of such intellectual and emotional depths, while remaining anchored to honest self-reflection, About Us is Lana’s generous gift of healing not only to himself but to the audience as well, the sort of healing that is not necessarily pleasant, comforting or kind. And in the sense that not all may be willing to reciprocate Lana’s generosity by asking themselves the hard questions, the film really is about all of us, but not quite.About Us But Not About Us won “Best Film” at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia in November 2022. It is one of the eight official entries to the first ever Metro Manila Summer Film Festival and will be screening in cinemas nationwide starting tomorrow, April 8. #

Akala mo’y libre…

Ni George Tumaob Calaor

walang libreng sakay…

sa piniga nilang sobra-sobrang buwis

matagal mo na yang binayaran

mula sa iyong pinagpawisa’t kinayod ng paguran

sobrang bayad na ang mga iyan.

Teka nga…

Sinong ayaw sa modernong sasakyan

kung ito ay hindi nakasasagasa

sa hanapbuhay at kabuhayan…

sino ang mag-aayaw sa kumbinyente’t

magarang unit para sa kapakanan

ng mga komyuter na pinagsiserbisyuhan…

kung ito ay biyaheng hatid ay patas na sagana

at ang ruta ay pangkaunlaran—makabayan.

Ngunit sa itong iskemang mapanggantso’t

Martial Law na isinusubo—prangkesa’y ipinasusuko

sa hatol ng mga malalaking lokal

at kakutsabang dayong paluhod na kinakatigan…

modernisasyong halaga’y milyon milyong

lagpas sa kakayahan ng mga ordinaryong tsuper

at maliliit na operator na kukurampot ang kinikita

karamihan ay humahabol sa mga bayarin

at utang na sakay sa tubuan…

ito ay isang busina ng permanente pagpaparada

sa garahe ng kabangkaroteha’t kawalan…

biktimang paharurot na sinunggaban

sa monopolistang pakanang

mas malupit pa sa hit and run.

ORAS DE PELIGRO FILM REVIEW: What People Power Really Looks Like

By L. S. Mendizabal

4 out of 5 stars

Last February 25, Filipinos commemorated the 37th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Uprising—a series of nationwide public protests in 1986 that culminated in the ouster of former president, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., after 21 years of dictatorial rule. On the same day, his son and namesake, and current president, sent a wreath of flowers to the People Power Monument, calling for “peace, unity and reconciliation.” Meanwhile, his sister, Senator Imee Marcos said she “could never stomach celebrating” (the anniversary).

What is there to make peace with, or celebrate anyway? None of the Marcoses have been held accountable for the billions of pesos they stole from the people, or the tens of thousands of Filipinos they had killed extrajudicially, tortured, “disappeared” and incarcerated illegally.

And yet, Joel Lamangan’s latest offering with Bagong Siklab Productions’ Oras de Peligro, has an optimistic air about it that is difficult to ignore as it pierces through the series of tragedies which befalls its main protagonists. One familiar with Lamangan’s filmography knows all too well that serial tragedies are kind of his thing. Never subtle, rarely complex and almost always campy, it is easy to imagine any Lamangan movie reworked as a play, or stretched out into a teleserye with little revision. This has, time and again, been Lamangan’s undeniable cinematic mass appeal. And Oras is no different. His vision, married with that of Bonifacio Ilagan and Eric Ramos’s writing, makes the film a compelling watch for the contemporary mass audience.

Oras is, at its core, a family drama. Dario Marianas (Allen Dizon) is a farmer’s son who has found work as a jeepney driver in the city and built a family with a housemaid, Beatriz (Cherry Pie Picache). They earn barely enough to be able to send their daughter, Nerissa (Therese Malvar), to college, while their older son, Jimmy (Dave Bornea), applies for odd jobs anywhere he can.

(Official movie photo)

Set in the wake of the botched 1986 snap elections, the story begins with widespread mass unrest. Members of the ruling class and their pawns, including the armed forces, are extremely divided as well. The Marianases, too wrapped up in their domestic problems, cannot be bothered with political activities, let alone political discussions. “’Wag na tayo sumali sa mga ganyan, kumayod na lang tayo nang kumayod (“Let us not participate in such things, let us work and nothing more)!” Beatriz passionately shuts down the slightest suggestion of social action from Dario.

Lamentably yet inevitably, crime, poverty and fascism are a reality that outweighs the family’s simple everyday resolve to put food on the table. A single day is about to change their lives when Jimmy unwittingly gets involved in a labor union strike, and Dario in a holdup incident aboard his jeepney. Both events lead to a violent clash with elements of the then Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police’s Metropolitan Command (MetroCom). To keep the criminals’ loot for themselves, the cops execute Dario. Only one passenger (Elora Españo) witnesses his murder. When Beatriz is summoned by the MetroCom, she does not believe what they tell her about the cause and nature of Dario’s sudden death. Still fighting off shock and tears, she threatens the cops with a civil complaint even though legal aid is the last thing they can afford on top of the funeral and burial costs. She sounds uncertain and meek, bordering on weak, but fearless nonetheless. The Marianases, despite being largely passive individuals at first, are instantly treated by the cops as enemies of the state.

Picache delivers a riveting performance, weaving in complex emotions into the simplest of lines. The overly dramatic music synchronized with her every howl and whimper almost ruins it in my opinion. In contrast, there is a perfect scene in the movie that is beautifully scored with Becky Demetillo-Abraham’s emotional interpretation of the film’s theme song of the same title: Dario’s father, peasant leader, Ka Elyong (Nanding Josef), quietly arrives at his son’s wake. Eyes brimming with tears, he is evidently shaken by the sight of Dario’s casket. Before him, a dove takes off from the ground. Its wings, flapping swiftly, miss his cheek by an inch or two.

Lamangan plays with the genre, juxtaposing the trials and tribulations of the Marianas family against old footages and shots of news clippings from the time. He also inserts a few humorous moments here and there—the most memorable is when Jimmy leaves a mortuary called “Badoy Funeral Services”—to the audience’s delight. Not all changes in narrative tone work to the film’s favor, though. For instance, in a heated argument near a workers’ strike, Jimmy and his friend Yix debate on the bigger enemy, Marcos the dictator or the capitalist, both of which are condemned by the workers on their placards. In another scene, student activists discuss the worsening rupture within the ruling class in the country, concluding that a “revolution” entails a total overhaul of the system, that the militant Left must not act hastily without first studying and assessing the situation with care and that this brewing People Power Revolution, however incomplete and insufficient, is to be cherished as the people’s initiative (“Atin ang rebolusyon!”).

There are quite a number of scenes like these whose intentions I wholeheartedly appreciate and agree with, but which could benefit from more showing rather than telling. Unfortunately, there is too much clunky dialogue and a dearth of nuance. This may be attributed partly to the low budget Oras has had to operate on, but mostly to a dogged desire to say everything all at once—not unlike an elder on his deathbed rushing his last words, worried that his successors might easily find it in their hearts to forgive and forget the trespasses committed against their ancestors. Seen this way, I somewhat understand the inelegant impulse with which Oras facilitates its discourse. After all, it yearns to speak to a nation twice duped by the Marcoses.

This yearning makes Oras an important film if only for the pursuit of Truth in an age when anything and everything can be true as long as the truth-teller is in power. Not only does it retell the events surrounding the first People Power from the masses’ point of view; it also reframes the common misconception about the people’s revolution—that placing flowers and yellow ribbons on soldiers’ guns or that millions of Filipinos clad in all-pink gathering to celebrate a woman leader will have to do (no matter how defiant that must have seemed in a post-Duterte, post-COVID Philippines!), and that it can be bloodless.

With its imperfect execution yet assuredly bold narrative, and even bolder ending which foregrounds the united people’s front over individual players other mainstream fiction and nonfiction films may tend to spotlight—the likes of Benigno and Corazon Aquino, Gringo Honasan, Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel Ramos, etc.—Oras offers hope in the endless possibilities it presents when the passive bystander becomes an active agent of change, when students, doctors, rich employers and even high-ranking officials of the armed forces join the most oppressed and marginalized, the farmers and the workers (the Marianases, essentially), in their fight for justice and liberation. Oras takes comfort, and likewise gives comfort, in the fact that such are not merely possibilities but are, in reality, part of Philippine history.

It is not surprising then that the current administration has all but promoted social media content, YouTube vlogs and feature films that tell a dramatically different story. It is not surprising, either, that Darryl Yap’s Martyr or Murderer has since been moved from its original release date to the same date as Oras. There is an actual ongoing race of opposite interpretations of history. The Marcoses may have the upper hand of holding greater political power for now, but the people still possess their memory. Then again, memory, even in its most preserved state, can only do so much. A monument, no matter its size and significance to a people’s history, can only mean so much. And it certainly does not mean squat to a thiefdom even when they come with a wreath of white flowers and a message of peace.

In the open forum following the film’s invitational premiere at Cine Adarna in the University of the Philippines on February 24, Mila Aguilar, a poet and Martial Law survivor, tearfully shared how much she loved the movie and how, if only for an hour and 44 minutes, it made her forget the pain of being imprisoned. Indeed, Oras is Lamangan’s love letter to the Marianases and Milas, and all the other victims and survivors of the first Marcos regime. No one can ever take away whatever catharsis and solace this film may provide them.

As much as it comforts the afflicted, however, Oras also poses a challenge not just to the second Marcos regime, but to today’s young filmmakers, cultural workers and artists to create something out of the memories of our elders so that the lives they have lived and lessons they have painstakingly learned will not be in vain. We owe it to yesterday’s and tomorrow’s dreamers and freedom fighters to continue retelling our people’s stories, engaging in progressive discourses and actively participating in the relentless fight for Truth in the midst of massive disinformation, and in the years, arguably still, of living dangerously.

There is a remarkable level of innocence and earnest optimism to Oras as it remains steadfast in the fight for social change amidst a dominant atmosphere of jadedness and despair among Filipinos, especially in the aftermath of the May 2022 elections. Despite all that Lamangan has gone through, including his triple bypass surgery in December, and in spite of the anonymous death threat received by Ilagan recently, they have managed to push this courageous, little film to be shown in big cinemas in the country in the era of the Marcoses’ active efforts to distort history, no less. Far from perfection, Oras deserves all the credit for retelling and reimagining a true people’s revolt, something very few films dare hint at. It has a place in online archives, in schools, in the streets and in the countryside where history is not only remembered and retold, but more importantly, where the people make history. Do your loved ones a favor and bring them to see Oras de Peligro, now showing and lighting the signal fire of the anti-fascist historical revisionist discourse at cinemas nationwide.#

An EDSA veteran on ‘Oras de Peligro’

By Nuel M. Bacarra

“As we were exploring…’yong istorya, na-realize namin ni Joel (Lamangan, the film’s director) na this goes beyond ‘yong simpleng layunin na tapatan yung Maid in Malacanang. Ang mas malaking layunin natin ay, gumawa tayo ng pelikula, na magsisikap na ipaliwanag ang nangyari sa malaking konteksto,” was how co-screenwriter Bonifacio Ilagan explained the film Oras de Peligro at its invitational premiere at the University of the Philippines’ Cine Adarna last February 24.

The film mightily tries depicting these in ways very few films since the days of Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Bhen Cervantes did. Oras de Peligro seeks to make viewers understand what transpired in the events that eventually led to the ouster of the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. in 1986.

And as with every good storytelling, it presents dire social conditions and the people’s restiveness at the time. The story is told in the eyes of an ordinary family in an urban poor community near the palace who participated in the tumultuous event at EDSA after its head, Dario Marianas (Allen Dizon), a jeepney driver, was mercilessly killed.

Parade of recollections

Aside from Dario’s death in the hands of a crooked policeman, the film grips emotions when dirty old man Bembol (Alan Paule) abused Nerissa (Theresa Malvar) who was simply borrowing money for the funeral of his father. This is heightened further when Beatrice (Cherry Pie Picache) furiously confronts the policemen who tries to take Dario’s remains from his family.

I recall this happening many times under the Marcos dictatorship. It happened all the time. It happened everywhere. So when the film shows these to push the story along, it was a parade of recollections for me, a long-time social activist.

More context is introduced in the film through Ma’am Jessa (Mae Paner), a jolly rich matron who politically stands against the dictatorship and supports the progressive mass movement. A street vendor who sells suman (rice cake) is also given an important part in tying the story together when he mimics student activists: “Kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino ang kikilos? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?”

And the audience is hooked by all these. They clapped when the people at Dario’s wake beat up an abusive policeman, one who only symbolized the dictatorship.

Ties to the present

I was among the audience last Friday night. Watching the movie reminded me of EDSA once more and why I was there thirty seven years ago. When the film showed old footages and newspapers clippings, I could not help but make comparisons between 1986 and the present, with another Marcos, his namesake no less, back at the Palace. I lament that lack of change after nearly four decades since I marched with the throng on EDSA.

There are still lots of Marianas experiencing the same fate under another Marcos regime as the first one. Our poverty remains while corruption in government is unchanged. Those who resist, such as activists, are still being harassed and persecuted. They are slapped with trumped-up charges, jailed or extra-judicially killed.

And with this unchanging social milieu rides the systematic distortion of truth, one that progressive artists, writers, directors and producers such as Ilagan and Lamangan vow to continue fighting. Ilagan said Oras de Peligro is just the first of many such efforts. “As a matter of fact, meron na pong ready na script (for a second film) at may storyline na po ang third. Pinag-usapan na po namin nina Direk Joel ito.”

I vow to be on the lookout for more such films as Oras de Peligro. After all, I have always believed the reasons why I was at EDSA many years ago remain valid. #

Kung Bakit ko Naaalala si Ka Joma Habang Nanonood ng K-Drama*

Ni Joi Barrios

Tulad ng marami, ako’y nahumaling na rin

sa panonood ng K-drama.

Sunod-sunod bawat episode,

hanggang sa magwakas, ang seryeng palabas.

Ngunit ewan ko ba, kung bakit minsan,

kapag may linyang binibigkas ang tauhan,

ang naaalala, ay dili’t iba

kundi siya, ang dakilang si Ka Joma.

Tulad sa Crash Landing on You, halimbawa

kung saan, hindi halimaw

ang mga nasa sosyalistang bansa,

kundi tao din lamang.

At sa Dong Yi (pronounced Dong Ya)

nang sinabi ng bida, na ang mga alipin ay itinulak

sa hangganan, kung kaya’t nag-aklas.

O sa When Our Love Blooms:

dumaan man ang mga dekada,

ay hindi bumitiw ang aktibistang piyanista

sa ipinaglalaban ng mga manggagawa.

Katatapos ko lang ng Bridal Mask,

at habang tino-torture ang minor character,

malapit mang matigok ay sukat pang nangahas magsalita

na ang tunay na terorista,

ay ang mga nagnanakaw sa bayan. 

At dito, sa Capital Scandal na ngayo’y sinusundan,

ganito ang usapan:

Tanong: Bakit ka pa nagbabasa ng tungkol sa sosyalismo at kasarinlan?

Ako, ang gusto ko lang ay ipagtanggol ang aking mga minamahal.

Sagot: Iyan mismo. Ganyan ang sosyalismo.

Ganyan ang pakikipaglaban para sa kasarinlan.

Natutunan namin sa iyo

ang maghangad na maging tulad ni Atorni Woo:

ano man ang kapansanan at pagkukulang,

ay nagsisikap pa ring mag-ambag

tungo sa pagkamit ng katarungan.

Maaalala ka, lagi’t lagi,

lalo namin na iyong mga tagahanga, at tagahanga ng K-drama.

Sa K-drama, naaalala ang batang ako (back to me ba?), na nagbabasa, 

pinag-aaralan ang mga akda ni Ka Joma,

na noo’y ipinagbabawal,  

kung kaya’t hindi nailalabas sa aklatan.

Yumao ka man, Tito Joe, aming Ka Joma,

ay hindi lilisan ang iyong pamana.

Maaalala ka sa bawat martsa, sa bawat labanan,

sa bawat sandali ng patuloy na paglilingkod sa masa.

Mananatili kang tanglaw ng aming pakikibaka.

*Nasulat para sa interpretasyon ni Bibeth Orteza sa tulong ng mga kasama ng kani-kanilang paboritong K-drama.

POEMS FOR THE MARTYRED POET

Like red ink spilling

For Ericson Acosta

By Rebecca K. Lawson

Like red ink spilling

from a leaking pen,

an indelible stain spreads

onto the war-torn tapestry

of this nation.

We brace ourselves

for the price of struggle

and the pain of loss.

The gentle

offer themselves

in hopes for better tomorrows

for those poor and oppressed.

Their feet pound mountain heights

even as their pens scribble

our collective dreams for social justice

and tangibles for meaningful reforms

that will benefit the toiling majority.

And when a nimble pen

and brilliant heart

is felled by a fascist evil,

the earth shakes.

We are awakened once more

that peacebuilding

is an urgent task, for tyranny, militarism,

and cold-blooded violations

of human rights

and international humanitarian law

must not be allowed

to have the last word.

We go on!

-30 November 2022


Narinig niyo na ba?

Ni Ibarra Banaag

Narinig niyo na ba,

Ang kanyang mga tula

at kanta?

Nahulaan niyo na ba,

Saan hinango ang linya

at himig nito?

Naramdaman niyo ba,

ang lalim at talas

ng pahimakas?

Nabasa niyo na ba,

mga akdang pawang

makamasa?

Nataros niyo na ba,

makauring himaymay

ng bawat tudla?

Namulat ka na ba,

sa taglay na linyang masa at paksa?

Kasama bang nasawi,

ang talastas niyang

walang kupas?

Ang kanyang mga likha,

ng kanyang pagsanib sa aba,

Mula sa landas,

na bibihira ang bumabagtas.

Makamit lamang, isang buhay na may dangal.

Ang pangalan niya,

ay Ericson Acosta,

Kadre,

makata,

mandirigma.

-30 November 2022


DEATH IN THE MORNING

By Pablo Tariman

One more time

You rewind another life

Gone at fifty

With just his poems

For his only son to peruse

As last mementoes.

No more time to grieve

The container of sadness is dry

From previous year’s constant grief

You have rehearsed this before

Going to a roomful of dead people

And identifying your loved one

And then you bring him

To nearest crematorium

To later settle in an urn

Of memories.

There is no time

For bitterness

Or rancor.

They have chosen

Another way to live

And reach their ideal

Fighting

For the hungry

And the oppressed

And constantly coping

With well-funded

Lackeys of war.

A day before his death

He was talking about

Seeing a doctor

For his recurring ailment.

Alas

He didn’t make it

To his doctor’s appointment.

From what I heard

He was arrested alive

And later riddled with bullets

Typical of dogs of war.

His son expected

To see his father

In detention

For a last hug and embrace.

But early morning

Of a fateful Thursday

He is gone.

Like the way he saw

His mother for the last time

Lifeless on a cold stretcher

In a morgue

In the shadow of Mt. Silay.

I can only rewind

Fifty years of his life

And forty two years

Of my daughter’s life.

Am figuring out his grave:

Should I bury him

Beside my daughter’s crypt

Or beside his father’s tomb

In another town?

I am airport-bound

Once more

For last appointment

With the departed.

I have come to terms

With this life

As I have lived it.

Happy my loved ones

Have come to terms

With dying

The brave way


Mula kay Ericson, Para kay Ericson

Ni Kislap Alitaptap

Ito ang pagsanib ng kaba

Sa lupang magaspang

At pagsiyasat sa kaluskusan ng mga dahon

Ito ang marahang tapik sa balikat

Ang tingin na may pagtitiyak

Ito ang buntong-hininga

Habang nasa likod ang araw ng umaga

Isang minutong katahimikan

Ngayon na ang katuparan

Ang bugso ng balaraw

Ang paglikha ng balang-araw.

-30 November 2022


Death of a poet

Ni Xian Patricio

tila tubig na dumadaloy

ang mga tulang ibinuhos

ng inyong pawis at luha.

Nag-iiwan ng bakas,

at umuukit sa lupa

upang hanapin ang kaniyang landas.

Mananatili sa isang panahon

para bumuo ng lawa,

hanggang humukay nang malalim

at magbuo ng mundong may búhay.

Ngunit minsang umapaw,

kasabay ng mga nauna pang pag-agos,

mahahagilap din niya ang sarili

sa mga patubig ng sakahan,

sa tubig inumin,

sa mga esterong nanlilimahid,

hanggang sa dumaop ang mga salita

sa karagatan, at yayakapin

ng libu-libong isdang nabubuhay,

at maipapasa ang mga tula

sa susunod pang laksa

habang mayroon pang umaagos

sa batis.

mamatay man ang bukal

ng tubig ng inyong mga salita,

nakapagpabuhay na ito,

at sila na ang bahalang magpadaloy.


Limasingko

Ni Khavn dela Cruz

limasingko limasingko limasingko limasingko limasingko

limasingko ang buhay sa bayan ko

dito magtungo para pasabugin ang bungo

para wasakin ang puso

limasin ang dugo

umaasa ang berdugo

na sa pagkalabit ng gatilyo

maglalaho ang mga kataga at konsepto

bawal magsalita

huwag magsabi ng totoo

tumahimik

manahimik

mag-ingay

huwag magpalamon sa bangungot na bumabalot

sa araw-araw na humihiyaw

tungkol sa katiwalian, karahasan, katangahan

ano nga ba ang napapala ng mamamatay-tao?

buhay na walang-hanggan?

trabaho lang?

bakit sila kailangang puksain

parang ipis at daga ang turing?

percy lapid

kerima tariman

eman lacaba

at marami pang iba

bakit napakarami nila sa munting bayan ko?

ngayong araw, pinanganak si bonifacio

ngayong araw, pinatay si ericson acosta

mabuhay ang pilipinas nating wazak!


Hindi magagapi

Ni Arnold Padilla

Kunin man nila ang ating mga ina at ama

di magiging ulila ang ating mga anak

sa tahanang ilaw ang pakikibaka

haliging matatag ang kilusan ng masa.

Kunin man nila ang ating mga makata

di pupurol ang talas ng ating dila

ang diwang hinasa ng kanilang taludtod

tabak na papatid sa kaisipang iginapos.

Kunin man nila ang ating mga mandirigma

di hihinahon ang apoy ng gera sa nayon

sa lupang kinamkam ng mga diyos-diyosan

titindig ang mga bagong kawal ng bayan.

-December 1, 2022


Hindi Ko Kilala

Ni Aida CF Santos

Hindi ko kilala si Ericson Acosta

o ang kanyang asawa na si Kerima

ilang dekada ang pagitan

ng aming henerasyon

ngunit hindi naiiba

ang mga layunin ng pag-aalsa

o pagsulat ng mga tula at awit

ng kuyom na mga kamao

mahigpit ang tangan sa paniniwalang may bukas

na maaliwalas ang pamana nila sa anak na si Emman at libong tulad niya

Binabasa ko ang kanilang maiikling talambuhay

ang mga tulang hindi na nila mabibigkas o maririnig nilang bibigkasin ng mga kaibigan

at kasama, ng masa

na humanga sa kanilang kabayanihan

iginupo ng mga bala at itak

ng mga traydor sa bayan

Kinilala ko sila

at ang pusod ng puso ng

pakikidigma

ang pulso na may tibok

ng paniniwala

taos ang panghihinayang

taos ang galit sa dibdib

taos ang tulo ng mga luha

taos ang pagsaludo

sa apoy na magdadala muli

sa mga abo na pinagmulan

ilang Ericson at Kerima pa

ilang henerasyon pa

– 6 Disyembre 2022


Moving On

By Pablo Tariman

We are done

With grieving

And wiping away

Persistent grief

Like my grandson

Who let it all fall

Where it should

On a street corner

Where his parents used to tread

Along the hollowed street of Mendiola

What were those tears for?

He expected to reunite

With dear father

In a detention cell

And perhaps strum

Their guitars together

For the last time

The next thing he knew

His father was arrested

In the hinterlands of Kabankalan

Then made to do a few turns

With his companion

Only to meet their imminent death

In a sudden rain of bullets

And bolos tearing away

At their skin

Months back

I always request

Massenet’s Meditation

To remember

My late daughter

Now it is time

For that soulful music

To remember his father

I always ask my grandson

To seat with me in rehearsals

While Massenet’s Meditation

Floats eerily

In the auditorium

Surely

Music has a way with grief

Perhaps it is a good way

To confront death

Perhaps the gentle way?

I don’t know

How my grandson feels

Letting the music

Come to his psyche

With yet another death

In the family

Now tell me

How should music metamorphose

Into balm

For our weary spirit?

Perhaps music

Can guide us

Into the periphery of acceptance

Even if the labyrinth

Is oozing

With excruciating pain

It is quiet and humid

In that angry street

With ominous graffiti

Shouting justice

For my grandson’s father

I did carry that urn

With his mother a year ago

Now I am torn with grief

Seeing him

Carrying his father’s ashes.

Is it

Time to move on

And fly on the wings

Of song

And remembrance?

7 December 2022

* * *


Negros Redux

By Pablo Tariman

It is suddenly quiet

And eerie in my garden

I figure out my potted trees

Tall and almost reaching out

To lampposts

On this deserted street

Where I live

I look for

My share of solace

In the garden

As grandson

Finally came home

After seven days

Of travelling

From Manila to Silay

And Bacolod

And on to a barrio

In Kabankalan

We have questions

In our mind:

Why did they embalm body

Without knowledge

Of family

And without death certificate?

We decided not to be too nosy

About legal procedures;

In this part of the country

It is dangerous

To ask too many questions

The funeral parlor

Is teeming with

Men in uniform

Moving about

And looking scary

While sniffing visitors

Like trained police dogs

The funeral parlor owner

Is a character straight

From Hitchcock horror films

He is Christian pastor

On special days

And traffic officer by day

At night he is funeral parlor owner

And taking notes

Of the dead coming in

For embalming

Some corpses

Are special

As they are

Heavily escorted by

Police and military

In the dead of night

We figure out:

Do military men

And funeral parlor owners

Run big business

Out of victims

Of vicious killings?

Meanwhile

My grandson’s father

Is reduced

To an airline cargo

After getting assorted permits

From barangay demigods

To city hall executives

And health officers

And final permit to transport body

From Bacolod to Manila

Back in the city

We cremate the body

And given proper

Religious ritual

For the dead

From the funeral parlor

After cremation

And on to this final wake

Grandson has to be present

To deliver his final tribute

To his late father

It has occurred to me:

Is this how poets die

In this country

Ravaged by storms

And earthquakes

And constantly

Reeling from scams

As police officers

And assorted public servants

Are caught with their dirty

Fingers in the proverbial

Cookie jar of corruption

They kill poets and cultural workers

And torture the families

With assorted permits

Before they could see

Bodies of their loved ones

Contrast this with thieves

And serial killers

Given heroes’ funeral

Negros

Is a lesson on living

And surviving

And coming to terms

With sad realities

In this benighted land

I open my grandson’s room

And see a tired and solitary figure

Finally deep in slumber

After another sad chapter

In his young life

-8 December 2022

Asukal

ni George Tumaob Calaor

hindi ka na lalanggamin

sa pait ng presyo, hindi na aamagin

tamis mo’y halagang hindi na kayang abutin

tamis ka ng buhay, na ikakait sa amin.

Gaya ng asin, dayo ka nang idadaung sa amin

habang tubuhan, ay magiging tambakan na lang

ng tabas at espading naming kakalawangin

at ang kampo mong pinagsibulan

ay maging lawak na mga baston

ng mga kalansay ng mithing saganang buhay

na dekada na naming ipinapanalangin!

May bagong lipunang antigong niluma

ng masaganang tamis ng panglilihis

kung ano ang ugat ng pagkadalita

magkaakbay ang dayo

at panginoong-may-lupa

kay pait ng hagod ng bawat saknong

sa talumpati ng mapagkanulong panauhin…

kakawala na ang pagtitimpi

sa dibdib ng mga sakada…

tapos na ang panalangin!

KATIPS THE MOVIE: A Review

On Historical Accuracy and Creative License

By Ina Silverio

I watched Katips with hope and expectations, and I found it to be an ambitious, creative, brave film. There is much to admire and to laud, but by no means is it perfect. Not as an accurate documentation of history, and not as a creative expression of a political belief and understanding. It is, however, a clear and effective reminder of all Filipinos fought against and must continue to resist: state violence. Kaya mahalagang panoorin ang Katips at magandang himay-himayin.

On the Amazing Music and Artistry of Katips

I was blown away by the acting and singing prowess of the leads of Katips and even by the ensemble players. Seriously, the songs were beautiful and upbeat and memorable. And even more seriously, the actors were genuine and very believable in their portrayals.

While I find the story telling a little lacking, there is nothing to be criticized or questioned about the music and the acting. Limited or unclear the backgrounds and personal motivations of the characters may be beyond their strong patriotism and commitment to the cause of the oppressed, the actors who played them, however, did justice to their roles.

I love the actor who played Alet in particular. And Ponyong. To hear them sing and to see them interact was gratifying. Sulit na sulit. Mon Confiado was loathsome and hateful. The police brutes in the torture scene were purely evil and one cannot help but wonder if the actors who played them got PTSD afterward for adopting the language and cruelty of those monsters.

On the other hand, the ironies in the sad stupidity and silliness of the song and dance number of the MetroAides is also thought provoking. “I love you, Apo!” went the lyrics, over and over, and the MetroAides dancing like crazed puppets, unthinking and blinded by a loyalty and love that the Marcoses did not deserve.

The songs – the rhythm and melodies – reminded me of the ones in “Rent” and “Les Miserables”, and they were sung with such energy and passion that also stemmed from the depth of messages they wanted desperately to convey about love, about the political self, about the need to fight the darkness that keeps taking lives, destroying lives that only want to bring about light and justice.

Creative License and Historical Inaccuracies or Limits

Katips makes use of both historical details and imagined people – composite characters of activists who lived and made sacrifices and even died for the struggle against the dictatorship.

Walang problema sa kombinasyong ito, but it’s a tricky and delicate balance that I feel Katips failed to achieve. Pakiramdam ko nasayang ang oportunidad na makapaglinaw at makapagpalawig sa ilang mahahalagang konsepto at dahilan ng aktibismo lalo na noong panahon na diktaduryang Marcos na may kasaysayang pilit na nirerebisa at nililinis ng bagong gobyerno.

Hindi lang simpleng pagmamahal sa bayan ang paglaban noon: while this love was at the core, there were reasons that could’ve been explained further, like the poverty Filipinos suffered even as Imelda cleaned up the cities and build edifices to beauty and art.

Hindi rin napaliwanag ng mahusay bakit may mga welga at sa partikular ang kahalagahan ng welga ng mga manggagawa ng La Tondena Distilleries. There was no mention of the widespread hunger of farmers in the countryside or of the sugar workers, for instance because of the greed of landlords and cronyism.

Mga ugat na dahilan kasi ito ng galit at pag-aalsa ng masa at ng mga aktibista na tinapatan naman ng sukdulang kalupitan at pang-aabuso ng mga institusyon ng pulis at militar.

 In real life and actual history, the reasons for outrage were established, justified and grounded, and the found solutions to society’s problems learned, tested, and guided by a humane and class-based ideology. Sa Katips kasi, parang bugso ng damdamin ang dahilan at galit. Parang chicken and egg: what happened first: the violence of the state or the dream of liberation and what it entailed to achieve it?

Hindi malinaw ang sagot sa Katips because of the somewhat muddled timeline. This is why I feel there were missed opportunities to explain why precisely Filipinos fought against the dictatorship and why activists risked their lives – gave their lives for the struggle.

May mga pagbanggit na pahapyaw, pero hindi nilinaw kahit man lang sa dialogue. Sayang lang at kinulang because better dialogue, stronger characterization would’ve helped towards this end. I suppose it can be called nitpicking, but one cannot help it when it comes to historical fiction or fiction that makes use of historical facts.

Sa konteksto ng Katips na pelikulang nais maglilinaw tungkol sa batas militar, dapat sana na mas ang tunay na kaganapan kasaysayan ang naging matimbang, at hindi lang ang nilikhang kwento (na medyo hilaw) ng mga karakter na umiikot dito. More accuracy would’ve added to the authenticity. And more authenticity will serve to increase the understanding of viewers the movie wants to teach, convince, agitate into rethinking their complacency and tolerance for revisionism and continuing injustice.

Which brings me to the quality of the story-telling. I feel that that it was disjointed and some scenes and situations were contrived and yes, forced. There was a lack of subtlety and grace in the transition from one scene to the next because the characterization and the individual motivations of the characters were not established. Iilan lang sila – the main characters – pero they were two-dimensional, not flesh and blood to me beyond what they collectively wanted for the country and its people: justice, an end to the human rights violations, a new government.

Iba ang handling, halimbawa, sa Sister Stella L, o sa Sakada. O kahit sa Heneral Luna. I appreciated how the characters there were…authentic. One was about a real historical figure, the two about people representing oppressed classes and sectors. There was real skill in both the structure of the films and the flow of the narratives. Nakaugat sa nakaraan ang mga pag-unawa natin sa kasalukuyan, kaya dapat may pag-iingat sa kung paano tinatalakay ang nakaraan lalo pa’t aminadong gustong maglinaw tungkol sa kasaysayan ng batas militar, ng diktaduryang Marcos, at kung bakit nagkaroon kapwa ng mas siyentipikong armadong rebolusyon sa kanayunan at demokratikong pagtutol sa kalunsuran.

There is a bigger responsibility here beyond the creation of art: the assertion of the correct knowledge and understanding of what took place and why.

Torture Scenes

Finally, there are the much talked about torture scenes.

These were painful for more reasons than just them being very graphic and violent. Having seen countless movies and television series featuring human acts of brutality and cruelty – action films like Ninja Assasin, John Wick, or horror series like the Walking Dead and the Boys – one would have thought that seeing torture scenes in a movie about martial law would be easy peasy, lemon squeezy. But it was not. Far from it.

The torture scenes in Katips were filmed in a way designed not only to shock, but to cause anger and outrage. The perpetrators were police officers – individuals sworn to uphold the law and protect human rights – but they were the ones who hit, pummeled, kicked, electrocuted their hapless victims who were activists, unarmed civilians. There was blood spattered everywhere, the walls, the floor, the clothes of the torturers and executioners themselves. All the while they spat out invectives, and their victims cried and screamed in agony, denying knowledge, refusing admission, resisting what was being demanded of them by the pain they were suffering : betrayal of the cause, betrayal of friends and comrades.

Half of the scenes this reviewer did not see as she put her jacket over head. In the cold cinema, it was more than the aircon units that caused such a feeling of dead coldness that alternated with a burning anger. Seeing the torture scenes and eventually the scenes where the victims were killed was very difficult because one knew that those long and agonizing, evil moments did happen in real life. That they continue to happen even now, and that the killers continue to get away with their deeds.

There is no fictionalizing the barbarities of the AFP and the PNP then and now. We read the reports, we see the result of their acts in the dead bodies of activists recovered from garbage dumps and rented apartments or formerly quiet city streets. Then and now, the acts of violence continue, and the enacted torture scenes of Katips captured them to gruesome and excruciating detail.

Covering one’s head does not help block out the screams. Neither does it make one forget the testimonies of martial law torture survivors one has heard through the years. Katips made sure of that. If you will shell out an exorbitant P290 for a movie in an actual cinema this year, use it to watch Katips. See it for the music, see it for the award-winning and award-worthy acting. See it for the history and the lessons that can be gleaned from it. #

‘Kung hindi para sa binubusalan, bakit pa?’

KODAO: Bidyong ‘River of Tears and Rage’, walang pagtatanging pagkampi sa inaapi.

Muling inilunsad at kasalukuyang isinasagawa ang Gawad Alternatibo ng Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas (o Cultural Center of the Philippines) dalawang taon simula nang mag-umpisa ang pandemya ng COVID 19. Ngayon ang ika-34 na taon ng kompetisyon.

Isinagawa ito sa paglalabas ng sampung finalist ng Documentary Section ng patimpalak sa Tanghalang Manuel Conde ng CCP noong Sabado, ika-anim ng Agosto.

Ang mga kinatawan ng siyam sa sampung finalist ng Documentary Section ng Gawad Alternatibo ng CCP, kasama si Marites Nasino, ang ina ng paksa ng bidyong River of Tears and Rage ng Kodao. (Larawan ng CCP)

Huling ipinalabas ang mga bidyong “Bayi: Stories of Women Human Rights Defenders” ng Tanggol Bayi at Karapatan at “River of Tears and Rage” ng Kodao Productions bago ang talkback ng alas sais ng gabi.

Dumalo rin sa palabas si Aling Marites Nasino, nanay ng detenidong politikal na si Reina Mae, ang paksa ng bidyong “River of Tears and Rage.”

Apat sa sampung finalist ang gawa ng mga kagawad ng Altermidya Network, kabilang ang dalawa mula sa MayDay Productions na “Palengke Day” at “See Us Come Together.”

Sa talkback, sinabi ni Raymund Villanueva, writer-producer ng “River”, responsibilidad ng filmmaker na maging tinig ng mga binubusalan, “dahil kundi para sa mahihirap at api, para saan ang ating sining?”

“May mga kasamaan sa ating lipunan. Umaabot tayo sa punto na kailangang mamili ng artista kung hahayaan na lang ba niya ang mga ito o yakapin kung ano ang tama at nararapat,” ani Villanueva.

Dagdag niya, ang bidyong “River” ay buong-buong pagkampi kina Reina Mae at ang kanyang namatay na sanggol laban sa kawalanghiyaang ginawa ng Estado sa mag-ina. “Walang kailangang pang ipaliwanag ang aming bidyo sa anyo at tema nito,” ayon kay Villanueva.

Ang “River of Tears and Rage”ay nauna nang nanalo ng “Best Short Documentary” sa ika-2 Dokyu Awards ng Society of Filipino Film Reviewers sa Marso nitong taon.

Ang bidyo ay naka-sentro sa coverage ng buong team ng Kodao sa araw libing ng sanggol na si River Emmanuel Nasino at ang kahindik-hindik na ginawa ng pulisya at mga tauhan ng Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. Ang kalakhan ng mga footage ay kuha nina Sanaf Marcelo, Jek Alcaraz, Jola Mamangun, Joseph Cuevas at iba pa sa Altermidya Network. Katuwang naman sa produksiyon nito sina Jo Maline Mamangun, Karlo Francisco, Reggie Mamangun, at Luis Clarin.

Si Jhoc Jacob ang nag-alay ng musical scoring.

Ang pelikula ay idinirihe ni Maricon Montajes.

Si Villanueva ng Kodao, ang writer-producer ng River of Tears and Rage. (Jek Alcaraz)

Ang Gawad Alternatibo ang pinaka-matandang independent film competition sa buong Timog-Silangang Asya. Isinabay ito sa Cinemalaya ngayong taon, ang kapatid nitong filmfest.

Muling mapapanood ang lahat ng sampung finalist sa ika-13 ng Agosto ng hapon sa Tanghalang Manuel Conde ng CCP bago ang awarding ceremony ng nanalo ng alas sais ng gabi. #

Pakitang tao, isang insulto

Ibarra Banaag

Hulyo 27, 2022

Magpalit man ng hunos ang ahas ay ahas pa rin,

Magbago man ng kulay ang hunyango sa sanga,

O lumipad ng matayog sa langit ang uwak,

Taglay na uri at ugali ang magtatakda ng lahat.

Manghiram ka man ng kasuotan ng minorya,

O humarap sa madla na animo prinsesa,

Kahit may putong na korona at palamuti,

Batid ng masa ang ‘di malinis na budhi.

Hindi kayang ikubli ng pagpapanggap,

Gawing panangga sa mata ang damit nila,

Panghahalibas na nagtataboy sa kanila,

Hindi nito matatakpan ng damit na kinopya.

Kung iba ang tinuturan sa ginagawa,

Walang saysay na ” magpabibo” sa katutubo,

Kung totoong ikaw ay isang “nagmamahal”,

Bakit pinapasara kanilang iskwelahan!

Magsuot man ng porselas o kwintas,

Isa lamang dinastiya ang namamalas,

Kung saan nagpapasasa ang mga kapatas,

Kaya’t ang gimik ay malinaw na palabas.

Marami ang nilalang na mapanlinlang,

Magpalit man ng kulay at ng kaliskis,

Na nang-aakit ng mga buhay na malilingkis,

Nagsusuot ng balabal ng lahing kinukutya.

Ang tunay na “respeto” sa Manobo at Lumad,

Ay paggalang sa kanilang tahanan at gubat,

Kung isa ka sa nagpapalayas sa tao at anito,

Paimbabaw ang ginagawa at isang insulto.

Kahit sa balangkas ng pabalat-bunga,

O sa pamantayan ng isang hubad na komedya,

Ang salat at walang laman na pagkukunwari,

Sa mata ng mga ninuno ay nakapangdidiri.