Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Suddenly there is sadness.

Amidst the brouhaha about the MetroManila Film Festival that opens in three weeks --- and people getting really pissed off because an actor has made a spectacle of himself (again) by literally pissing on a co-actor, death crept quietly on the other side of the planet and stole one of the living treasures of Philippine cinema and theater.

Perhaps only a few of the young and upbeat Gen X and Millennial cinema enthusiasts remember her.  The name is bound to be familiar for no discussion of 20th century Philippine movies can ever be dignified without the mention of her name.  She was, after all, an actress par excellance.  She was the sort of stuff that comes rarely in generations --- and what mattered most about her was that she was an artist far beyond being a mere celebrity. 

Although she was a product of the earlier studio system where actors and actresses were trained, primped and presented to the public in picture-perfect personas, she made it known that these so-called perks were only peripheral to her choices.  She was an actress and she made sure everybody knew that.

What even made her stature of legendary proportions was that she disappeared. Whereas others would choose to remain in the spotlight or stand by the wings to appear in a movie or two or do television, she opted to leave everything behind and move to the United States to become a farmer's wife.  It was a choice she made not out of some wild publicity stunt that the media whores of today could so well do just to be talked about. Oh, no: that was precisely what she shied away from --- the prying eyes, the preoccupation for the personal life rather than the scrutiny given to the art and the craft.

There were attempt to lure her home to make another film but all these efforts failed.  After Mel Chionglo's Lucia (1993), she chose to hide herself from the public and find her bliss in the simple life that she chose half a planet away.  But regardless of her determination to fade into anonymity, those blessed with the stuff of legends cannot and will never be forgotten.

On the 28th of November, 2016  California time,  perhaps one of the greatest Filipina actresses died.  She was 81 years old and her screen name (as she will always be remembered) was Lolita Rodriguez.


Before there was Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Hilda Koronel and now Jaclyn Jose --- there were stars whose brilliance of not only beauty but talent blinded the heavens of Philippine cinema with sheer star power.  No, they were not pre-packaged media products, honed and designed and even motorized by media blitz and manipulation.  Even if there was a strong studio system existing until the mid-1990s, stars were stars there.  And actresses were authentic artists whose performances when viewed even today will elicit awe from the younger generations.

But it is sad indeed in this country of ours: we have no culture of memory.

We are not even talking about selective amnesia --- or how the two words moving on means forget even without forgiveness but just get on with your life.  It is the absence of being rooted even in our sense of popular culture that the younger generations do not even know the significance of the great stars we had from the 1950's to the 1980's.

Lolita Rodriguez to that league of great actresses--- together with Charito Solis, Nida Blanca and the eternal Gloria Romero.  

She belonged to that generation of performers honed to love their work not because of the fringe benefits of popularity (or even wealth) but because of the sheer determination to be better.  Her earlier works included tearjerker melodramas very much like what was recently shown by a major studio fifty plus more years after the release of Armando Garces' Sapagkat Kami'y Tao Lamang.  

But it was her works with National Artist Lino Brocka that will guarantee Ms. Rodriguez' position in the pantheon of great Filipino performers.

Who could forget her as the demented and tormented Kuala in Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang? Or the suppressed yet obedient daughter in the episode Bukas, Madilim Bukas in the trilogy Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa? Or the traumatized wife in Tubog sa Ginto?  Or as the returning sister in Ina, Kapatid, Anak (1979 --- and not to be mistaken for the TV series of the same title) where Rodriguez went head-on with another great actress, Charito Solis?

While the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) prepared to celebrate its golden jubilee, its roster of great works --- and performances --- can never be complete without including the Brocka-directed Larawan  --- and theatrical adaptation of Nick Joaquin's Portrait of the Artist as Filipino where (again) Ms. Rodriguez played Candida to Ms. Solis' Paula.  

One of the fondest memories of one of my best friends, Manny Castaneda, was watching Ms. Rodriguez during the rehearsals of the play at the Rajah Sulaiman Theater at Fort Santiago.  Ms. Rodriguez would move across the stage, miming her blocking and practically whispering her lines as if going on auto-record mode which somehow discombobulated the more theatrically trained co-performers.  

But the moment she went onstage for the performances, Manny said that there was this luminosity --- this power in her very being that draws you into her, like a magnet onstage. She sheds being Lolita Rodriguez and becomes Candida --- a complete contrast to the characterization of Paula given by Ms. Solis.  Very few screen actresses can make a similar claim as Rodriguez and Solis onstage in the legendary shows of PETA.  Maybe Laurice Guillen in the Orlando Nadres adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire (entitled Flores Para Los Muertos) was at par with these greats ... but then again, they don't make actresses like these any more.

Today the cineastes are grieving.  We have lost a living legend. An age has come to pass. As the vicious wheels of time continue to turn, generations come ... generations go. And they only leave footprints if not images on celluloid or voices on vinyl to remind us once upon a great time they were here with us and showed us what true greatness was all about. 

And even as we grieve for yet another loss we know deep in our hearts ... and our very hungry minds that such greatness as what they showed and taught us can be achieved if we only had the nobility of mind and determination in our hearts to be better than what we are today.

To Lolita Rodriguez ... and all the other great cinema artists who have left us with the awesome legacy to continue and improve, maraming maraming salamat po.

This generation of film artists and actors and actresses are closer in reaching for the stars because they stand on the shoulders of legends who have given their lives to show us the long, painful yet beautiful journey to achieve elusive perfection.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


2016 has been branded as the Year of Change ... and, boy, are we getting an overwhelming amount of changes. This has been such a crazy year that some of us are wishing it will soon be over.  But before that happens there is still the fiesta to end all fiestas in this country --- the MetroManila Film Festival!

The reactions to the choice of the eight entries to the MetroManila Film Festival have been nothing short of dramatic.  

Depending on which side of the fence you are standing, the selection of smaller films, devoid of the usual franchise materials we have been fed from as far back as we can remember, sent shock waves not only to the film junkies but to the popular audiences as well.

The cineastes --- those film enthusiasts, scholars and experts --- were doing cartwheels while applauding the brave choice of films for the all-Pinoy film festival this Christmas.  They were short of announcing the Renaissance of Filipino movies.  The selection committee was headed no less than by professor and film scholar, Dr. Nicanor Tiongson.  Included in this august body were Attorney Trixie Angeles of the NCCA,  journalist Crispina Martinez-Belen, film director Lawrence Fajardo, young actor Ping Medina among others. From more than twenty-five submissions, the committee chose the top eight  to be shown this Christmas. 

The festival this coming December will show many firsts. 

This is the first time that a documentary film, Baby Ruth Villarama's Sunday Beauty Queens will be put side by side with Erik Matti's horror entry entitled Seklusyion which stars Ronnie Alonte.  Alonte happens to be one of the lead actors of Star Cinema's Vince and Kath and James. Great. And for those who are still unfamiliar with the song-and-dance all-male group called Hashtags, Ronnie Alonte is one of the most popular members of that tribe. 

This is also the first time in ... well, history ... that the names of Vic Sotto, Vice Ganda and any of the franchise films of Mother Lily are not in the roster.

What?!!!  How can we have a Philippine Christmas without Enteng or another edition of Mano Po or Shake Rattle and Roll?  Pasko bang talaga sa Pilipinas kung wala tayong mapapanood na pelikula ni Vice Ganda?

Uh, apparently.

This was precisely the reason why reforms were instigated at the conclusion of last year's MMFF.  Remember that there was such a mess involving the disqualification of Erik Matti's Honor Thy Father and questionable affiliations of members of the Executive Committee with certain producers who have entries in the festival that a scandal erupted.  

This was why there was even another congressional investigation (as we have investigations at the slightest provocation) trying to iron out what really happened, who made the decisions, how money was being made and where the money was going from the biggest all-Filipino film event to end each calendar year.

Nobody budged when a chorus of complaints rose from the ranks for indeed there was a need for re-evaluation. It was time for reassessment. So changes were suggested, new ground rules were implemented.  There was hope for the improvement of the festival if not rework its mechanics in the selection of entries and truly make this deserving as the capstone of the cinema industry to conclude a passing year and welcome a new one.

So this was the result.  

Whereas before producers were only asked to submit first drafts of screenplays for selection purposes, now the committee required completed films (eventually picture lock submissions were accepted provided that no major changes were made after the pre-selection committee examined the works). It was made clear that the selection of the eight finalists will be based on the quality of the material which, of course, includes audience appeal and the faithfulness in capturing truly Filipino values.

 Although later subject to debate, never was there any promise that there must be a fifty/fifty rule accommodating four mainstream and four independently produced films to constitute the roster.  

That was more of wishful thinking from some sectors and commercial producers who feared that there would be a bias against the usual kinds of films submitted to the festival.  They were unsure if the committee will favor of smaller cutting edge films considering that a number of those in the Executive Committee were stalwarts of independent filmmaking in the country.  

In other words, the major studios agreed that changes should be made.  Their unanswered question was just how much of paradigm shifts will be implemented ... and, more important, how were the changes going to affect the kind of films to be chosen for Christmas showing.

After the list constituting the Magic 8 was announced, it was really quite clear where the Selection Committee steered the festival.  But wait: the Magic Eight films.  There were entries from the commercial producers as well as a sequel of a previous film (though not part of the MMFF).  They were not all indies depending on how one defines an "independently produced" film. 

Contrary to the knee jerk reaction of some industry people, Star Cinema still has an entry but not its more favored (and expensive) Vice Ganda/Coco Martin tandem directed by Joyce Bernal.  Instead, what got in was Ted Boborol's Wattpad-based romance with relatively new and therefore untested in the box office above the title performers in the person of Julia Barretto, Joshua Garcia and Ronnie Alonte.

Similarly, Jun Lana's award-winning Die Beautiful (starring Paolo Ballesteros) will be released by Regal Films.  Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2 ( with Eugene Domingo) was put together by another seasoned producer, Attorney Joji Alonso of Quantum Films and Erik Matti (Seklusyon of Reality Films )has already created his own branding with the track record of his most recent releases which included last year's controversial Honor Thy Father.

Realistically, these four films already have the advantage over the others because of their built-in machinery if not reputation of their producers and filmmakers. 

Ballesteros won the Best Actor and the film won the People'[s Choice at the recently concluded Tokyo Film Festival giving Die Beautiful a word-of-mouth curiosity edge.  Eugene Domingo is making her big screen comeback in Babae sa Septic Tank 2: it should be remembered that Domingo holds the record of being one of the most successful actresses in independently produced films thanks to Kimi Dora 1.  And whether we like to admit it or not, Star Cinema is Star Cinema with a publicity machinery as big and powerful as Godzilla  that can plow through enemy territory and leave competition completely obliterated. Then there is Erik Matti with a horror movie with an uploaded trailer that promises to be yet another technical tour de force.

However,let us remain very real too. None of these four films can match the monolithic drawing power of Vice Ganda and Vic Sotto or the power of recognizable franchise like Mano Po or Shake Rattle and Roll. Now the challenge is to convince the Filipino audience that these are viable alternatives for their Christmas entertainment.

The other entries --- especially Real Florido bringing back Nora Aunor in Kabisera or the experimental Saving Sally that proves to be another first in mixing animation with live action deserve to be seen as well --- but how can you sell these films in a crowded and noisy market in a span of three weeks?  Marketing requires money ... and that is the bane of most producers in being able muster enough funds not only to make their films but to sell them as well to an audience larger than the usual film students and enthusiasts.

The overwhelming joy of the film scholars became the dismay of the movie lovers.  

The most common complaint is that Christmas is family time and there is not a single movie in the line-up which can entice the typical Filipino pamilya who at the crack of dawn or even before moviehouses open for screening are already lined up in the box office waiting for the first salvo of ticket sales.

This is not to say that the movies selected for this year's festival fail to serve the needs of the audience as some are family-worthy entries.  

But the power of branding and franchise still prevails in the choice of the everyday moviegoer as to where he will spend two hundred fifty pesos worth of movie money.  You can tell them that Die Beautiful and Babae sa Septic Tank 2 are comedies --- and they would still ask Where's Enteng? or Bakit walang movie si Vice?  And this is because the two brands have become habits ( but let us not prematurely call them traditions) for the past so many years.  Remember that Vic Sotto and Vice Ganda only do one movie a year ... and they reserve that as their Christmas gifts to their legions of loyal followers.

The woes of the commercial producers that their three franchise movies (Super Parental Guidance of Star Cinema, Enteng Kabisote 10 of Mzet/Octo/APT and Chinoy: Mano Po 7 of Regal) were not selected were somewhat misinterpreted.  Of course they were disappointed --- but then again, on hindsight, what did they expect?  If any of the submitted films will be the object of nitpicking, then it was bound to be the very movies they were citing as the cause of the trivialization of the festival from last year.  These producers took great risks in submitting more of the same --- and maybe, just maybe, they were hoping that there would still be space accommodated for them.  But apparently the organizers and the selection committee were also insistent in proving their point.

Whether there is great truth that these franchise films have diminished the aesthetic and cultural value of the festival in the past, that is an argument easily refuted by the commercial returns.  The highest grossing Filipino movies are harvested during the MMFF:  these movies bring not only profit to their producers but also funding for their beneficiaries as well --- namely the Film Academy of the Philippines and the Movie Workers Welfare Fund (MOWELFUND).

Whether it is time to try something new considering all the years that we have been having more of the same, then why not? If not now ... then when?  Are we ready for this? Then let's find out.  Don't knock it until you've tried it ... and let us open the opportunity to a greater number, especially the smaller producers who do not have the dinero or the machinery to stand a chance against foreign films and large studio-produced Filipino releases on a regular run.  

There is nothing wrong with wanting and implementing change if it broadens the horizon of the film industry.  Whether they are commercia/mainstream movies or independently produced films --- they are all products of Filipino ingenuity and talent.  There is no distinction in the branding of Filipino cinema.

And this gulf that divides the commercial studio producers and the maverick indie folks should be bridged with the nobility if not the largess of a common purpose: to give people good entertainment if not thought-provoking cinema.

However the after-effects of the announcement of the finalists did not seem to foster genuine congeniality.

But what rubbed the commercial producers and the popular audiences the wrong way was the manner by which the explanations of the selections were being made.  No, it was not in the formal announcements but the side comments, the social media postings brought about by understandable euphoria at the chance for change.

Change has been implemented: fine. No one can do anything about that since it is already there and the Big Three Producers have no option but to abide by the rules.  However to brand the big commercial films as basura and to say that it is time to educate the audiences rub people the worst way possible.  

Movies are cultural artifacts.  They are products of evolution, a manifestation of needs and the way filmmakers respond to address what the audience wants.  

You cannot simply tell people that they should pay good money to watch this because this is what they should want.  You cannot go ramming your taste down the throats of others --- because they will react and even repel your efforts.

As somebody in the business so bluntly puts it, "These guys better realize that people watch movies to have fun ...and to relax especially during the holidays. They are not there to be educated by people like them."   Similarly, it can be said that people should also be spending their money on films that are enriching and do not mock their common sense and intelligence.  

More so, condescension and wagging your finger at the audience telling them,. "Let me educate you ..." will not exactly generate the enthusiasm (ergo, the feedback ... and the box office) that you aspire to achieve at the end of the day,.

There should be a better strategy or even more creative ways to entice the larger audience (over and above those who watch Cinemalaya, CinemaOne, the Quezon City Film Festival, SinagMaynila and CineFilipino ) who you want to watch a different kind of film.  You do not tell them that  they are saksakan ng bobo if they prefer the tried and tested popular entertainment.

As a taxi driver candidly said, "Pera ko yon ... bakit nyo pakikialaman kung saang sine ko gastusin yung pinaghirapan ko?" 

The fact that Vic and Vice and all those editions of Shake Rattle and Roll entertained and therefore made money means that these films are addressing needs --- perhaps just different from those that films like Thy Womb or Honor Thy Father can provide. 

Understanding the audience is the key to bringing them to you --- and not by chastising them for not wanting or appreciating your preferences. 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to bring a greater variety of films to the Filipino audiences. God knows we badly need them.

As Matti himself used as comparison in his Facebook shoutouts, you cannot serve the same dishes year after year after year.  Picking up his analogy, you cannot force feed people either to taste the dishes you have cooked for them. You cannot tell your customers, "Yan lang ang nakahanda sa menu. Yan lang ang makakain nyo. Masustansiya ang mga yan kaya kainin nyo."  Ay-ya-yay! 

What is important is to slowly introduce them to the possibilities --- make them realize that there are other choices rather than yelling at them (and the chefs or short order cooks who concocted them) for sticking to a fail-safe menu. Change cannot be rushed. It should be naturally desired in order for this to be accepted and evolved.


I shall be the first to be so overjoyed if people actually go out of their way and see Villarama's documentary about OFWs in Hong Kong.  From those who have seen this and attested by its audience at the Tokyo Filmfest, Villarama is emerging to be a potent voice in documentary filmmaking --- an underdeveloped genre among our filmmakers.

However the Christmas audiences should be made aware of the significance of documentaries beyond what they watch from GMA News TV or ABS-CBN's News and Current Affairs.  Docus are not mere segments of a magazine show --- they are masterful treatments of non-fiction in cinematic form.  Thus, if the MMFF chose to show Sunday Beauty Queen, then please push the material in a campaign that will bring this to the radar of the crowd.

Without the publicity machinery of a big studio and because you are offering something extremely unique (and important) the MMFF itself should help in marketing and promoting the eight films so that they all have even chances during the big Christmas opening date.

The same goes for three ot other films that do not have the initial push of the four mentioned earlier.  Alvin Yapan's Oro (starring Joem Bascon), the experimental Saving Sally and Florido's Kabisera need tremendous drumbeating to enter the consciousness of the Filipino moviegoer to consider them as options.

Now here lies another rub.

When the big three movies were locked out of the Christmas opening date, they decided to show their movies ahead of the MMFF with Enteng and Vice showing on a holiday, 30 November and Mano Po 7 screening on the 14th of December.  These movies are now being promoted as The Early Christmas Festival.

This, of course, opened a new can of possibilities which may or may not affect the box office receipts of the Christmas showings.

Firstly, by mid to end of November, regular employees have already obtained their much desired 13th month pay.  They have already budgeted their Christmas and entertainment expenses which they would need to stretch until the holidays.  And they have also set aside their pangsine money which they used to consume in the duration of the festival, watching at least one or at most all the entries at a time when they have no work and kids have no school.  

People used to hold onto their money to stay within budget only to splurge starting Christmas Day which includes watching as many entries of the film festival.  

But what if they do it three weeks ahead?  How will the box office receipts of Vic and Vice showing outside the festival affect the sales of the actual movies in the festival where there is no entry being sold as the most child-friendly? 

What if, as one colleague pointed out, people started celebrating their moviegoing tradition ahead of the actual Christmas playdates?  Could that not steal a good 30% of the total gross of the festival?  Oh, please, please let us hope not.

Secondly, kids may not yet have the money that they will receive on Christmas day as their aguinaldos but what movies will they choose to watch when the festival opens?  The two comedy entries are high concept comedies armed with the popularity of award-winning Ballesteros and the all-too-familiar Domingo.  There is, of course, the romcom from Star Cinema which would hopefully generate a new love team but the best bet would still be the Rhian Ramos starrer Saving Sally.

From the trailer alone, this fusion of animation with live-action is not merely a novelty act but a possibility of opening doors for other forms of filmmaking.  There is a quiet buzz going around about the film but this needs to be pushed much further to be an option for the common moviegoer to see this not only as a Rhian Ramos movie but an attempt to do something new --- and appealing to the young.  

Initial feedback shows that Saving Sally has its own buzz from the netizens as well as the hipster crowd that loves a good experiment that shows new cool in filmmaking.  Now that is good news --- because, together with Die Beautiful, the Rhian Ramos movie is the most anticipated by the Makati, Greenhills, Alabang and Taguig crowds.

But wait. There lies the same problem again: marketing.  Unless kids are convinced that a movie like Saving Sally is a choice, then chances are that money that used to be spend watching movies on Christmas Day will end up as an entrance ticket to Enchanted Kingdom or Star City.  There must be a visible effort to promote this film --- no, all the films to the madlang people. 

Lastly, what we seem to forget is that the whole movie game is not only played by the producers, directors, actors and audiences alone.  There are quiet yet very powerful gods who are in the background ... and determine the fate of movies on the screen.  These are the theater owners.

In fairness to the major theater owners, they have allowed the change to be executed hoping that they can still come close to the box office numbers harvested from last year. Yet there is another inevitable fact that should not, could not and would never be forgotten:  "This is the movie industry. It is a business."  Not only are the producers concerned about recouping their investments or making a profit --- so do the theater owners.  

If producers can dazzle you with spread sheets enumerating cost of production, then theater owners will discuss profitability based on overhead expenses (including the price of electricity with the air conditioner turned on and only two people inside the moviehouse). Are the theater owners nervous about this year's festival? Perhaps.  And, unfortunately, you cannot argue with them using the value of art and cultural significance when it comes to the most profitable time of the year for their business.

No, they are not being mean or heartless or philistines: they are just taking care of their business.  If film producers make film, theater owners exhibit them not to earn points from God but also to make profit.

As early as now there are fears that some of this year's entries will be scratched out of screenings because of poor box office performance. We really hope not as we also pray that the MMFF people also made some kind of safety net to assure the Magic 8 that no one will be a victim of the first day/last day syndrome.  Some films really need the push created by word of mouth in order for a momentum to be created ... to gather its audience. We all remember that it took Heneral Luna about two weeks before people started coming to watch the film.  Now the MMFF does not have that luxury --- so they better focus on promoting the entries in the most creative ways possible.

If there is anything so sad about what has transpired, then it is not even the absence of a number of big name stars in this year's Christmas fiesta.  Rather, it is the further disparity ... the bad blood that has created a much wider gap between the indie people and the commercial producers.  It is this tedious word war wherein the film gourmets accuse mainstream productions as purveyors of ignorance and mediocrity --- and the mainstream influencers calling indie people as intellectual snobs.  The dysfunctional relationship will never bring anything good to the collective progress of filmmaking in this country ... over and above the so many days of the MMFF.

And let us not forget that there ARE excellent commercial movies shown in the MMFF --- downright commercial films that drew crowds and applause from critics because of their aesthetic as well as popular significance.  There was Marilou Diaz Abaya's Jose Rizal from GMA Films and Laurice Guillen's Tanging Yaman from Star Cinema.  And if one traces the history of the 42 year old filmfest, you will exactly know at what point in time the "mediocritization" took place because of the priorities given to judging and selection of entries as well as who won Best Picture.

But still we will continuously hope for the best. This festival must be successful in order to maintain the momentum of change and to further explore the possibilities of new voices in Filipino cinema over and above only two weeks a year. Now is the time to see the vital need for film education --- and to never underestimate the Filipino moviegoer in his choice of entertainment and discrimination in taste.

As it has been said before and will be said again and again --- there is no such thing as an indie movie or a commercial movie in the country. They are all part of Philippine Cinema that ... like all cultural products ... evolve through time as defined by the changes in history and society. 

Only by accepting this can we add even more significance to the efforts done by the few in reshaping the most popular piyesta ng Pelikulang Pilipino.


PS: Wala raw parada this year. That will be such a disappointment to so many. Again. And let us not call them mababaw for possibly feeling bad.  It is so easy to make the madlang people happy. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


When a West Virginia officer posted a Facebook shoutout equating outgoing First Lady Michelle Obama to an "ape in heels" then affirmed by a mayor from the same state, many felt that they were only verbalizing what so many have felt about the first Black couple to occupy that hallowed residence in Pennsylvania Avenue.

No, it has got nothing to do with the quality of performance, the level of class and the seemingly impeccable reputation the Obamas exhibited during their eight year stint in the White House.  It still boiled down to the color of the skin, the seemingly unacceptable fact for a certain sector of the American population that a person of color and his family became the premiere symbols of their country.

Regardless of how good they were as examples of American values of social involvement and congeniality, they will never be enough inasmuch as the mere thought of a female president of the United States sent shivers down the spines of closet or blatant misogynists.

Since the election of Mr Trump as the next president of what has been branded as the cradle of the Free World, the strongest (if not the greatest) country on the planet (or so they claim), many disturbing changes have emerged. 

Because of his fiery campaign, his election was like a license was given or an affirmation was made public.  Latent racists were assured that it was okay to express how one feels about the different neighbors in the well-manicured white bread lanes.  It may not necessarily involve people they know --- but just people who occupy spaces which Americans feel belong to them and have been usurped or abused by the excesses of liberalism. 

All these years of uncontrolled liberalism were apparently tolerated but not completely understood or even imbibed. 

The point is that if someone occupying a government position such as the lady in West Virginia can have the gall to be happy that her equally White Friend called the First Lady a fashionable simian seems to just all too much with just too little.  Yes, there is that so-called "White-lash", when the greater number of voting white males in the Rust Belt of America decided that they had enough of people of color ruling the country. Worse, they felt violated, insulted and even castrated that people of even more colors were robbing  them of their jobs and opportunities for advancements in their own White Country.

What is truly scary is that this newly revived surge of racism cuts across every person of color in the U.S.  You may be Black or a Mexican or an Asian or from the Middle East ... and you are a candidate for racial bashing or (as in the case of Muslims) religious discrimination. There seems to be a reinterpretation of the words "Home of the Brave, Land of the Free" as to only include the Whites who have felt disenfranchisement because of the influx of immigrants creeping into the sanctuary of their communities.

Suddenly the white man felt like he was a stranger in his own country when his neighborhood --- nay, even the bastion of his government --- was now being peopled by a rainbow of other races forming the New Establishment.

The fear is understandable but the rudeness and inhumanity of discrimination are unforgivable.  Any form of discrimination is intolerable for that matter.

I have had a first hand experience of racism literally decades ago when I did my post graduate studies in an esteemed university in the Midwest.

Living in the graduate school dorm is like residing in the mess hall of the United Nations wherein all possible races, religions and skin colors blended together as we lined up in the cafeteria for our meals or spent hours in the common halls for our study groups.  Inside the university there was a sanctuary of mutual respect and tolerance.  The perfect world created by a University town made one feel safe and accepted.

Yes, the Filipinos formed our own little adobo club when we gathered together to eat pancit, lumpiang shanghai and, of course, adobo.  But we also had other friends from various continents sharing precious time and learning things from one another that went far beyond what was taught in the classroom.

But there was also an entirely different world out there where certain locals could be very vocal about what they thought of the students who had to co-exist with them in the university town.  I was carefully forewarned by both my Filipino and foreign friends about what to expect when racist comments or even aggressive behavior is hurled at my direction.  I was told to be cool about it ... and only answer back when provocation has reached the level of the uncontrollable. 

 My Nigerian classmate even told me, "Just go into a sudden Kung Fu battle pose.  These whites think all you Asians know karate and kung fu."  OK, enough for racial stereotyping.  

Yet you will never know how it feels until you feel it. There is nothing like a first hand experience of being insulted and humiliated because you are different.

 You never realize how completely shocking and demeaning it is when you are quietly walking down a road and a car passes by, its passengers opening the window with heads sticking out shouting, "You go back home, you fucking Chink!" 

Or when you are in a department store and the saleslady deliberately ignores you because she refuses to serve you and goes straight to a Caucasian customer as if you do not exist. Or when you get asked really downright stupid questions from people at random, first asking, "Where do you come from?" then with a follow-up, "Do they have elevators in your country?" to which I once replied,. "Of course, we do. Otherwise how could we go up our tree houses everyday?"

They are all signs of ignorance, of course.  Crudeness. Or textbook inhumanity and entitlement.

Knowing how it feels and having gone through various experiences of discrimination makes it all the more worrisome that there seems to be an affirmation that such behavior is acceptable in Trump America.  Of course no less than The Donald himself said (to the camera, during a tv interview) that his followers must "Stop it!" because this is all too sad to happen at a time when he was spectacularly anointed into power. 

 But then again, it was the "euphoria" of the Trump victory that allegedly provoked these West Virginia women to compare Mrs. Obama to a primate ... and hail the incoming First Lady, the lucky lady from Slovenia as a "classy lady."  This has got nothing to do with being judgmental against Mrs. Trump because of her colorful past ... but it has got everything to do with the possible misinterpretation of the Trump victory as the first sign of a racial purging.

Blame it also on the miscalculation of Trump's call to arms during his campaign that we see videos of white men assaulting Black women on a train demanding for their seats because he should not be left standing  ... and the women should be "back in the fields."  

It is all about this Asian-American who was confronted by white hooligans and told to go "go back to Asia" because this is now a new America.  

It is about the sudden courage of white supremacists to be up front to tell any other person of color that they are reclaiming America and everybody else better kowtow to their demands because they are the superior race.

Now this is not only symptomatic ... but downright frightening and self-destructive for a nation that was established and built by immigrants.

What is equally frightening is how some Filipino Republicans see themselves in the larger scheme of things.  

Oh, yes: Filipinos hold the distinction of being the racial minority to have given Trump the greatest number of votes in the past election.  

There is nothing wrong with that. That is their choice --- and that is their conviction.  But I guess there is that certain tipping point, that ultimate eureka moment when Filipino surrenders his citizenship and pays allegiance to the American flag while singing The Star Spangled Banner --- that he really, really believes that he is now a hundred percent American, devoid of all his origins and obligations to the Inang Bayan that he has ... uh, traded in for what he thinks is a better model.

Again, there is nothing wrong with that.  That is perfectly fine. Your choice of citizenship is your choice of life. And as long as you are of sound mind ...then you can decide on what path you want your future to take.

But let is also be known, especially to some Filipinos, that a change of allegiance or citizenship does not mean a change of skin color.  

This I find funny --- if not absurd --- when Filipinos of dual citizenship or of naturalized stature think they are more WASP than the Kennedys.  It amuses me --- and sometimes disgusts me --- to hear the sort talk about them Filipinos vis a vis us Americans.  There must be such privilege and entitlement in owning that U.S. passport to have overhauled a completely different vision of self to discriminate against one's race of origin. 

And there must also be such false sense of arrogance and misplaced priorities to think that owning an American passport automatically turns a Filipino into a Caucasian. 

As one of my equally befuddled friends said about these Kanopinoys, "Don't they have mirrors in their houses?"  Regardless of what they think or do --- or even if they overdose on Glutathione --- they are and will always be persons of color.  Some of our ex-countrymen do not seem to think so. The acquisition of the accent and the acclimatization to the four seasons are reasons enough for them to think that they have achieved the stature of apple pie.

Now this has got nothing to do with being Republican --- because there are (I believe) a greater number of Fil-Americans who have kept the reverence for the values and traditions from which they came from.  Some have gone out of their way to insure that their children retain or at least be made aware of these traditions from their motherland on the other side of the planet.  There are some second-generation Fil-Ams who actually look for their roots hoping to understand themselves better in the duality of the circumstances of their origins and upbringing.

But there is nothing more disgusting than Filipinos discriminating against other Filipinos as they claim to be Amerikanitos who belittle their Inang Bayan.  That is because they have cut all ties with the island republic and would prefer to see themselves as a hundred percent continental. I, together with so many who are both alarmed and amused --- hoping that cases of blatant and even dangerous racism that have risen this past week are unique events ... and that this is put to an immediate stop because everyone of color is threatened to be intimidated and abused ... including the naturalized citizens and papered immigrants.

Another Amerikanito friend of mine (diehard Liberal, thinks Melania is original and classy and a beautiful example of somebody who achieved the American Dream --- o di ba?) says that all these racist stories are just media exaggerations and overblown accounts to discredit The Donald. He insists that these are isolated cases that the Democrats are maneuvering to look like a big deal.

Well, we certainly hope so. We cannot wish this level of illness even to people who deserve to be discriminated against because they themselves are racists against their own kind.

In the meantime we assure ourselves that racism is a sign of stupidity and insensitivity ... or even a very simple fear of people who are not your kind but who are doing better than you, who you feel are stealing opportunities from you and now a threat of displacing you.  There is indeed paranoia when your race becomes the minority in a country you claimed as your own.  That is the fear that arises when you refuse not only to embrace but respect diversity.

Then be afraid, if such be the case. Be very, very afraid dear racist ... because the truth is that .... you are not only outnumbered but also outclassed.

And for the record, Michelle Obama is one of the most beautiful, intelligent and impressive First Ladies not only in America but of the entire modern world.  It has got nothing and everything to do with the color of her skin: she went beyond expectations by simply being herself and bringing humanity to an otherwise ceremonial or even decorative role of a president's wife. That is something that goes over and above being classy in heels. It's called being a most awesome human being.

Monday, November 14, 2016


I gave myself a week before I decided to blog on the subject matter.

It took about that much time for the emotions to settle ... and the shock to be aptly clarified. What is more shocking is that I should not be surprised.  The signs were all there but I --- together with most of the CNN-watching sector of mankind --- did not expect this outcome. 

It was Wednesday morning in Manila and I was in my class while my students were busy monitoring their Facebook and Twitter accounts to be up to the minute with what was happening half-a-planet away.  By the mid-afternoon, they confirmed what I had been suspecting since late that morning.  Donald Trump is the President-Elect.  He will be by January of next year the 45th President of the United States.

In other words, the reality show star with a strange corn-colored bouffant is going to be the most powerful man in the world.  Not only will he live in the White House in Pennsylvania Avenue or hold court in the Oval Office --- he will also have access to the nuclear code.  OK, I will leave it at that.

After all, as one very jaded and superbly opinionated friend of mine declared in his social media shoutout, "Pakialam ko! (For all I care!) Whether the President of the United States is a Republican or a Democrat --- it will all be the same. They will serve the interest of the U.S.A. and not be on the lookout for the ass of any other nation."  

But isn't the U.S. of A. supposed to be the Guardian of the Free World, the Moderator of Peace to insure that mankind does not blow itself up to nuclear extinction? Hasn't that been the self-appointed role of the Greatest Nation on Earth to insure that everybody behaves as they tow the line between good diplomacy and protective warfare?

I will leave that to the political scientists but my friend insists that everything that the U.S. does is in the name of pragmatism.  

There is no such thing as the Americans being too good to a fault (this time, I am quoting another classmate --- a naturalized American who is more Republican than any of the Bush Children and who thinks Trump's policy in tightening the noose around Muslim visitors to the mainland is "just protecting us Americans.") OK, fine. I will not argue.  Everyone is entitled to his opinion --- especially if it is for the safety of your fellow Americans.

I have no illusions, pretensions or even ambitions along that line : I am not an American. I have chosen to remain a Filipino and still happy about it.  

And, yes, I have no right to express any opinion about Trump or the US government because it is (as he says) "none of your business."  Not that I want to make it my business anyway. After Amazon.com (where I can buy my books and music online), my only other interest in America is Costco and Target not to mention my friends and family who live there. I will leave the politics to the Americans and the Filipino Americanitos. I guess my classmate is right.

But still ... curiosity about the unlikely Trumping of America goes far beyond being intrusive in our big neighbor's business.  

Who was it who said that when America sneezes, the entire world catches a fever?  Quite true. Considering how the economies of the world have been so intertwined with one another, an upset that occurs half a world away will create ripples all the way down to the South Pole.  I leave that to the economists and financial analysts to explain how the complicated network of nations has made the world so volatile as well as enmeshed with one another that when somebody screws up, the whole world gets effed in the ass.

So if Trump's victory worries me --- it is not because I am a Democrat wannabe or that I think Hillary should have won (as the popular vote so indicated) but because what happens in Washington goes far beyond Alaska or Hawaii.  It literally affects the whole Third Rock.

My interest is not on who won but why Trump won over a more seasoned and definitely far more --- uh, urbane --- political personality who knew how to practice dignified rhetoric. 

But we should have known. We should have seen the signs.  That vulgarian language, that bullying, no-holds-bar, sexist, xenophobic, racist and even White Supremacist elocution that was used by his opponents as rocks to hurl at his candidacy were exactly the same bombs he used to drop right smack on Hillary's camp come election day.

Yes, Trump made fun of PWDs.  He was brutal in his collective judgment of Muslims. He was downright mean to the Mexicans (I mean ... building walls to keep them out?). But Trump knew something that all of American media, all the statisticians and polling experts and political analysts failed to recognized. He was telling his voters exactly what they wanted to hear.  He was addressing the needs of the greater population of Americans --- not the well dressed, powdered and perfumed, etiquette-laden percentage of the citizenry --- but the much larger and forgotten blue collar  workers or even the disenchanted middle class who did not benefit from whatever profit or progress big businesses flaunted throughout the reign of the Democrats.

Why should I, of all people --- a Filipino, be shocked with the results of the U.S. Elections when the same model happened in my very own country just a few months ago?

Why should I be shocked that American voted this man who had absolutely no experience in public office ("But he is a billionaire, Man. Just how much organization skills do you need to be able to accumulate that much wealth?") and who literally rattled the genteel with his unabashed bigotry in his campaign speeches win the elections?  Loud and clear.  This is what the people wanted --- the people being the much larger sector of the voting public who either thought that his vulgarity is proof of his sincerity and lack of artifice or that he was speaking from the guts --- and not mouthing the words of a speech writer or political strategist.

That, of course, is oversimplifying but that is what most missed out. 

It was all too simple.

Trump shouted change. Hillary proposed continuity.  And guess what the larger number of people who went out to vote wanted?  Yes, if Hillary should blame anybody for her loss,then it is not the FBI --- but that the people who should be voting for her decided to stay home and bake macaroni --- or went to work and felt she was shoo-in for the White House that their votes did not matter in the final count.  Well, they did.  And tell that to the Electorial College.

How can I not know about this when the Pinoys had the same dilemma last May?

At least, in the U.S. you had four choices --- two very visible and upfront candidates --- and two that floated in the background.

An Italian-American friend of mine told me, "You see ... it was a lousy choice. It was choice between bad and worse.  I decided to vote for bad ... because the other was worse.  My kids have no jobs back in the States because of the Mexicans ... and Trump may be bad in the eyes of many but he knows the real problems."  OK, I get it.  Trump talked real-talk and Hillary was going the way of the traditional politicos.

We call them trapo back here, right?  

Now did we not hear more or less the same dilemma confronted by Filipinos earlier this year when they said that there was no real choice.  Well, not until Tatay Digong started talking from the hip and completely demolishing all standards of sila/tayo kind of discourse of pretentious over-rehearsed politicians.  it was the same dynamics at work: Duterte talked like the common man, expressed the needs of the common man and became the warrior for the common tao.

Whereas other politicians were going into their roster of promises of propping up this nation in terms of economic growth, blah, blah, blah --- Duterte was talking about criminality, drugs, corruption, all spiced up with his signature, "P---g ina!".  

Trump was brought to the White House by the blue collar Americans. These are the people they seemed to forget to include in the surveys and the polls. These are the citizens who they felt were expendable but felt disillusioned by the way the government has made them invisible.  These are the White Bread who felt insulted by how their jobs were being displaced by illegal immigrants --- and, yes, immigrants in general.  And of course there was that threat of domestic terrorism because of the influx of refugees from other countries whose problems should not be of American concern.

These were the focus of Trump's campaign.  That was how he  scored his points. He verbalized their fears.

He pushed the right buttons of paranoia, apprehension, anticipation thereby requiring immediate solution and action --- to be provided by him and not the Democrats. Why? Because Hillary is part of the Establishment who disenfranchised the workers with the greed of capitalism, the hocus-pocus of Wall Street and the inability of government to address the real issues on the ground.

Teka, haven't we heard that before?

Duterte, whose bailiwick is in Davao City in the southern island of Mindanao, was practically unknown to the everyday Filipino. 

However, slowly his reputation as a maverick who gets things done effectively triggered the curiosity of voters.  The moment he stepped onstage and became a motormouth of profanity and iconoclasm, having no sense of self-censorship and saying it the way he feels like saying it --- then he has succeeded in feeding the fantasy of Every Juan.  He was talking their language. He was unafraid. And he wanted change. This was his campaign as against what was offered by his opponents that proposed continuity of the past dispensation.

Like the Donald, Duterte won because he knew the people.  His campaign was not designed from some upper floor of a building assuming and presuming what the larger sector of the voting population thinks and feels.  He was right there with the people, smelling their needs --- and therefore addressing them straightforward with his street language that related to their sensibilities and which they equated with authenticity and sincerity. 

Those who voted for Duterte were those terrified by the rampant criminality in the cities --- where men riding in tandem can just snatch your bag or blow your brains out.  These are the everyday city folks who spend more than an hour lining up to ride the trains to work --- only to find out that they conk out halfway through the journey. These are the commuters who spend three to four hours in traffic every day on their way to work and then back home.

These are Filipinos who couldn't give a hoot about how great the Establishment has propped up our GNP or the impressive performance of our stock market or how many more condominium buildings and malls are mushrooming all over the metropolis.  They are stuck in traffic, they are miserable and they are not seeing any other prospect than still going abroad to be an OFW to provide a better life for their children.

They voted for change. And even if Duterte insulted everyone from Obama to the Pope, all was forgiven ... if not ignored and not taken seriously. 

The same goes for Trump: his pronouncements that shocked the world because of rather apparent shades of racism and outright sexism did not work against him.  An analyst said he was like Teflon: nothing stuck to him. His message of change as against Hillary's insistence on continuity (not to mention all the allegations hurled against her) related more to the people than the same-same promises that the Establishment offered.

But, of course, unlike Trump, Duterte had decades of experience running Davao.  And, as he himself said, he is but a molecule to the power bestowed to those tiny hands of the U.S. President Elect.  

As to what Duterte did after he was elected is not the subject of my rumination. 

As a student of communication I am more fascinated by the way messages are shaped, shared and unfurled --- and how people react to them with either faith or condemnation.

Now there are those who so easily condemn those who voted for Trump for bringing America to the brink of chaos.

It is the same allegation that some hurl at the 16M Filipinos who voted for Duterte, calling them uninformed, lacking discernment, devoid of judgment ... and yes, even stupid.

No, they are not uninformed. Nor do they lack discernment or ill of judgment. And they are certainly not stupid.  They are just like you and I --- and if we deem their lack of education and discernment to be the reason for their choices, then we have also betrayed whatever morsel of knowledge that has been given to us.  We have become  prejudiced and judgmental because what we simply we cannot understand, we belittle and condemn.

It is we who are stupid for not knowing them well enough to know what they need ... and the power they can wield. The ignored have been underestimated.  And in a democracy his vote has the same value as yours or mine.  Guess what, O Great sophisticated BGC-romping gentleman?  They outnumber our philosophizing, focus-group, statistics-obsessed ilk.

We analyze the digits. They have the numbers.

It is we who lack the sensitivity to see that the rise of populism is indeed changing the paradigms of the world --- and seemingly shifting to a new order.  We can only react to what is happening by understanding why things came to be --- and what we can do to help better our situation. We can complain all we want and feel it is the victory of the idiots over the intellectuals --- but, hell, that doesn't matter any more. Because they matter --- and we are the idiots for ignoring them...or not even finding out what makes them who they are.

We are watching Trump when he puts his hand on the Bible and sworn in as the next president of the United States.  And we understand why he got there. So we wait.

Whether Superpower or struggling Third World, the template is the same.  Apparently, in politics as in life and death, we are all equal ... and in the same boat.  Here lies a fascinating subject for study in the field of society, politics, the evolution of popular culture and ... yes, connecting with the people.

- Meme by Dennis Garcia