Thursday, June 28, 2012


Once the giants walked among us.

They were giants not because of their awesome physical height --- yet even if they may not be taller than most of us or even shorter at times --- they were still giants.

They were giants because they had greatness of mind, heart and soul far much more than the mere mortals. They were far bigger, greater than those who consider themselves most privileged and blessed.  

They were giants because when they undertook action, when they made decisions, when they made changes --- the earth moved. They did not follow fashion --- they created it.  They were not mere trends: they were statements.

And even those who boasted of power and/or wealth --- even those who wielded their names and claimed royalty, they were made to look insignificant beside the giants. 

The charlatans and the arrogant generals were so belittled.  For theirs may be the gold or the sharpness of swords --- but unlike the giants, they were not immortal.

Men of wealth and power also die --- and they are merely remembered for how much they have and not how they affected the lives of men.  

Men who are praised for their riches or physical strength are never remembered for their souls.  That is because they are deemed as mortals.

The mortals may be remembered ... but not for the right reasons. Unlike the giants whose temporary stay on earth was but a passing phase to insure that they shall never be forgotten or less loved by those who deserved or were gifted to know them.


Mario O' Hara slipped quietly, inconspicuously, unceremoniously from this earthy existence without much pomp or circumstance.

Even in death, he did it his way.  For Mario O'Hara was never one to brandish his presence or obliged others to feel that they needed to salute him because of his reputation as an actor ... or as a writer ... more so, as a director.  Mario O'Hara did not have much patience or tolerance for that.

He would rather go about doing what he wanted to do the way he wanted to do it.

He could have had a slice of that large commercial pie in the 70's, 80's or 90's ... like so many directors of film and television. But he did not.  

Until his dying day, Mario O'Hara never compromised what he revered as his art of filmmaking.

This was the Mario O'Hara who was a fixture at the world of Rajah Sulaiman Theater and PETA --- where other giants like Lino Brocka and Orlando Nadres helped plant the seeds of a true Philippine theater.

This was the Mario O' Hara who appeared as the loving and alienated town leper who took care of another social outcast in the person of Koala --- the village idiot portrayed by the legend called Lolita Rodriguez in Brocka's seminal film, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.

This was the Mario O'Hara who appeared as the driver/lover of Eddie Garcia in Tubog Sa Ginto --- as well as the temptation of (again) Lolita Rodriguez in the "Bukas, Madilim, Bukas" episode of Brocka's Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa.

This was also the Mario O'Hara who was a co-writer for the screenplay of a movie entitled Insiang that further opened the doors for Lino Brocka and other Filipino filmmakers to be noticed and recognized in European film festivals like the one annually held at Cannes.

And, of course, how can anyone intelligently talk about this history of Philippine cinema without mentioning works like Condemned, Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, Bulaklak ng City Jail, Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? or even Fatima Buen and Ang Babae Sa Breakwater and Bubungang Lata?

Despite all his achievements that could pack two complete lifetimes, Mario O'Hara remained as one of the most underrated and unappreciated filmmakers in the country. 

He did not enjoy the celebratory stature of other directors who possessed lesser talent but more publicity.

He was often bypassed and forgotten especially by a generation of film goers who were breastfed with infantile romantic comedies and conditioned to believe that this genre is all that Philippine cinema can ever become.

That was because Mario O'Hara never succumbed to commercialism despite all invitations and temptations.  He only chose to do what he believed in doing ... and not for the sake of his bank account.

He was an artist without announcing to the world that he was one. As an actor, writer or director, he proved his worth by work and not by press release. He never equated being a celebrity as a pre-requisite for being good at what he wanted to excel.  If he was underrated, that was because he chose to work quietly and with utmost dedication.

For Direk Mario, his works should speak for themselves.

For who else but someone like him can turn a trend founded on gore and sensationalism called massacre movies into a worthwhile cinematic experience through his work in Fatima Buen. Anyone who can legitimize and turn over-the-top dramatized tabloid violence into a work noteworthy must be an alchemist.

For who else could transform a tired and beaten genre like a telenovela into a stunning vehicle for Nora Aunor in Sa Ngalan ng Ina.

Direk Mario O' Hara was a giant.  And he once walked among us.


The giants have all gone.

Like the immortals who have left to return to a place more deserving of their greatness, the giants have left a legacy to serve as both inspirations and challenges.

They are inspirations for they give proof that, yes, such works can be done --- and should be done --- for they shall, like all works of immortals, remain timeless.

And they shall always provide challenges --- for who, among the ranks of men, can come up to the standards that they have left, the ideals that they have imparted ... and the lives they led as examples of art in themselves.

Once there were giants ... and now they have all gone.


It was a privilege --- no, a gift from the heavens --- that I had the chance to work with the giants.

I was a young writer then --- given the opportunity to write screenplays for the giants ... and to be on their sets to see them work ... or to know them personally when we became colleagues.

They were giants because the coming of a new generation of filmmakers was reason for them to celebrate.  They never felt threatened, they never felt intimidated because the passage of time meant nothing for them.  They knew, at a certain point in their lives, that they can never and will never forgotten.

The only thing left to prove was to do something more ...and to impart their knowledge, establish a legacy for the generations yet to come.

They fought for principles, they made films with statements.  

Even when they ventured into works deemed as downright commercial, they elevated a ho-hum genre into greater heights and unbelievable standards.  

How did they do this?  Because they had their own minds.  Because studio heads respected them.

Because they were artists and not mere employees of producers.

Lino Brocka was an unassuming man, fueled by the fire of his political and social convictions.  He made films with a purpose and was always accessible to young filmmakers who wanted to embrace a life dedicated to seeking and defining truth through their works.

Ishmael Bernal was extraordinary. His was a swiftness of wit, a sharpness of laughter that was intelligent while never condescending.  He was the social critic, the commentator of manners ... while at the same time the nurturer, the teacher to all who took time to ask him questions and respected his authority.

( One thing I can never forget about Brocka and Bernal: when I started out directing, Lino and Ishma would go out of their way to call me or even send me pager messages via my EasyCall to tell me that they watched my movie and that they loved it.

They were so generous, so giving. And for an upstart filmmaker, to receive such messages or hear such words from the masters is enough for you to weep with joy because of the sheer power of affirmation.

Such was the greatness of their hearts that could only be matched by the magnitude of their minds.)

When I started writing scripts for television some time in the early 1980s, my very first director for a show called Alindog in BBC Channel 2 was Mario O' Hara.

My executive producer was the late Gus Cabrera --- and he brought us together after some time when Direk Mario asked to meet with me.  He was amused by this young college professor who just came back from the States and was writing at a breakneck pace.  

He was most supportive as he gave me more pointers about the medium of television and how to maximize the dramatic structure considering the limitations of the medium.

I find myself echoing his words said to me thirty years ago each time I face my Writing for TV classes. The lessons Direk Mario taught me are invaluable for his was a far greater understanding of television and film ... than most of the practicing directors today.  He was not merely a man of technical expertise: his mind and heart were hinged on media.

Eventually we worked together on a single film.  This was a Nora Aunor starrer entitled Condemned.

When he asked me what kind of story I wanted to write, I told him I wanted to do a dark tale about a flower vendor who sold her blooms at the Remedios Circle where most of us spent of weekend nights at the time.  Direk Mario loved it ... and turned the story into a dark tale.  

I am still honored to include Condemned in my filmography for this shall also remain as one of Mario O' Hara's best works.  And I was a part of it.

Now I am so saddened that Mario has left.

The generation of directors who taught us to turn filmmaking into statements of character and conviction have left.  Even as a younger generation of independent filmmakers are rising to become such mavericks, the importance of the thread of tradition must never be neglected.

Even if there are so many directors now devoid of identities and have become manufacturers rather than creators, the memory of the Brockas, Bernals and Mario O'Haras should and must remind us that we have a heritage to treasure ... and responsibilities to live by.

It is not a matter of making a name as a filmmaker.  The better question is: who are you? What do you stand for?

These were the giants who used to walk among us ... and are now gone.

Mario O' Hara has gone back to the land of true greatness.


  1. Sir Joey, maraming salamat...naiiyak naman ako dito...the three giants....I really admire Direk Mario and Ishmael...

  2. Okay, Joey, you have every right to be pissed off at me, but I think this is the best thing you ever wrote.

  3. an inspired and worthy tribute. thanks for reminding me of tradition.

  4. I used to chance upon Direk Mario O'Hara in jeepney rides along the Bangkal area. I kept wondering then what a director of his stature is doing in a vehicle designed for mere mortals. After reading your article, now I understand.

    He will truly be missed...

  5. O'hara is one of the best Director in Phil Cinema . He directed Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos in early year of his career and already shown his talent as genius director in the tradition of Brocka , Bernal and other what Reyes had mentioned.Indeed, his contribution in the Phil Cinema should always be remember...

  6. Isang tagay para sa mga haligi ng Philippine cinema. Mabubuhay kayo O' Hara , Bernal, Brocka magpasa-walang-hangan sa inyong mga Obra. (we should preserve and digitize their master piece. lets do it)