Friday, October 7, 2016


I promised myself that I will not blog about politics.  I do not think there is any remaining opinion, suggestion, assumption, foregone conclusion that has not been talked or written about.  There is no point in going there.

Every morning even before you start your day it feels like taking a heavy dosage of a downer by simply opening the papers and reading the front page.  I end up needing an anti-depressant to go with my coffee.  Even social media reeks of the stench and deafens the senses with the noise of politics, politics, politics.  You begin to wonder whether elected officials are there for endless investigations for the sake of legislation so that they devote more time interrogating, grandstanding and performing in front of the cameras to convince people that they are worth the taxpayers' monthly contributions. You also wonder whether they still have time to make laws rather than making sure that they get media coverage and leverage.

It is as if the career of lawmakers nowadays are founded on sound bites they can feed local and international media.  Not content with the kind of live tv coverage they get from mainstream television ... or all those flash reports that interrupt the highlights of Minute to Win It ... that they still have to mount these press conferences where they can exhibit their powers of elocution or some flavorful impersonation of our favorite Maalaala Mo Kaya monologues.


After a while it gets a bit too much.  Amidst all these brouhaha, you still spend more than two hours in traffic just to get to work.  You get to hear the rabid (I cannot emphasize that enough --- rabid) pronouncements of your friends about the state of the country after the first hundred days of the new dispensation.  You are constantly bombarded by all this negativity--- because nowadays if you do not belong to this camp, then you must belong to the other camp.  There is no such thing as dancing in the objective middle. No, you cannot be neither here nor there.

You either love the president and all of what he represents --- or you are a Yellowtard, wanting to bring back the glory days when Kris Aquino still had a tv show, believing that her family is the deserving equivalent of the Kennedys of the Philippines.  You cannot criticize Duterte without being branded as part of the Yellow Army: you cannot appreciate PNoy and his administration without being castigated as a Dutertard.

In all honesty, this has really reached the level of the sick and sickening.

I am not even going to talk about the President and his idiosyncrasies.  I will not even venture into the repercussions of his earthshaking statements which rock the world and becomes delicious fodder for media because ... everybody has an opinion about that. I am constantly shocked, sometimes frightened and often confused but I will leave my better judgment to tell me not to make pronouncements about things I do not completely understand. 

Instead, I look at what is happening to the country and the people ... and how we have become a nation so divided.  We are divided by our partisan loyalties as if this were a battle between them versus us.  It is all about SILA against TAYO.  People keep shouting at each other, hurling hasty even ruthless accusations against each other without taking time to think as to what went wrong before ... what has happened to bring us all to this here and now.

I tell myself (as I remind my students) that the timeline of history is designed by cause and effect.  Everything that is happening now is an effect of what has transpired before. People blame the sixteen million people who voted for Duterte, nudging them into taking the blame for his somewhat devil-may-care pronouncements that pass for foreign policy and international relations.  People accuse those who placed the Feisty Mayor from Davao of stupidity for putting him there --- but wait!  The bigger question is WHY?  

Why is a man like Duterte the kind of man sixteen million people would want as president?  What has happened to the country ... and the faith of the people to find a need for an astig who insists that he never wanted to be president but was brought by fate to the highest office in the land?  Why did the Filipinos entrust the next six years to a man who seems to be the exact anti-thesis of every politician who came before him --- in looks, in packaging, even in his way of speaking?

It is too simplistic of us to blame everything on this man. Remember that he would not be there if there were no overwhelming reasons for sixteen million people to want someone like him to be the Father of the Nation.  

Let us not oversimplify equations. This is not about the leader alone --- it is about understanding the people and knowing what they want and how despite all he has done for the past three months that the SWS Surveys show that he still has the high approval of the majority. It is about the bases of their choice and what were the past failures to want and approve of this kind of administration.

No, let us not play the blame game again.  That is really, really lame and evasive.  Rather, let us filter out the noise and start asking why things are as they are --- and what were the series of events and circumstances in the past to bring us here.  History is useless unless there is a sincere effort to analyze rather than to go make a privilege speech and criticize.  

Unless we really shut up a bit and start thinking instead of whining, complaining and grandstanding, then this will yet become another exercise in futility.  And what is really, really sad is that there seems to be truth in the observation that the Filipinos' greatest enemy is not a foreign conqueror or manipulator or abuser of his manpower and resources. It is his fellow Filipinos who cannot sit down, talk calmly and intelligently and plot out a true and lasting national vision for the future of his country.

That is why I prefer to do my work in the sanctuary of my classroom.

I still believe that the better future that awaits this country is in the next generations of Filipinos who shall choose to stay in this country and forfeit all the dreams of finding a better tomorrow as a naturalized citizen of a foreign land. It is by educating our kids to study what is happening and see our shortcoming that they can understand what a mess we have made during our time.

Maybe we will still be around when these kids become far better leaders than all of us and prove to us that we learned from our mistakes and became stronger and wiser from all that we have gone through.

Only then can this nation with all its seven thousand islands truly be one.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016


One does not watch a Lav Diaz film: one chooses to experience him.  Rather, to be part of an audience gathered to see a piece by Lavrente Diaz is to immerse in his film universe and not merely be a passive participant seeking for a narrative you can summarize in three very neat sentences.

Come to think of it, the cinema of Lav Diaz is seemingly and perhaps determinedly anti-narrative.  What he gives his audience is a series of black-and-white brushstrokes, beautifully conceived and designed images of a camera as an observer, immobile yet providing richness in the texture of details.  Oh, those long lingering static shots that can be uncomfortable and disturbing for those so trained with the quick-cuts, go-see-this sort of Bonamine inducing editing.  Instead his viewer is soaked, hopefully absorbed into the grandeur of his vision.

That is why Lav Diaz movies never work on small screens: he is a filmmaker as artist --- because you need the overwhelming larger than life image to bring you into his universe and not the minuscule interpretation.  The eeriness of his black-and-white images brings about a mystifying surrealism even to the most mundane whether they are details of trash strewn on the courtyard of Quiapo Church or the largeness of both sky and land in the pier of Mindoro.  He challenges you to sit there and be part of his world according to his terms: that means eight hours of Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis or God knows how many hours of Ebolusiyon.  Diaz, as a filmmaker, does not compromise: you either take him or avoid him.

Like Brilliante Mendoza, the other maverick Filipino director of international renown, you need to acquire or develop a certain mindset to appreciate the rules they are creating as well as the laws of cinema they are deliberately violating to reinterpret the art form all on their own.


Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left) is one of Lav Diaz' more audience-friendly films.  It runs close to four hours, about the same length of time as his other work, Norte. But what makes Humayo most celebrated is the fact that it is the Filipino film that has won the highest honor in one of the most respected international film festivals.  By bagging the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival, Diaz has duplicated what seemed like an impossible dream for Filipino filmmakers. In the same year, he won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Filmfest for Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis  (Lullaby for the Sorrowful Mysteries) then outdoing himself with this Venice piece.

(And what a year this has been.  Brilliante Mendoza's Ma Rosa also catapulted the Filipino actor into a rightful place in the constellation of artists to be feted in a most revered film festival. Whereas Mendoza's victory as Best Director for Kinatay (Butchered) was a benchmark in Filipino film history, Jacklyn Jose's win as Best Actress in the Cannes International Film Festival was unprecedented.)

Finally Humayo has opened in Manila only after the international audiences saw this much-awaited piece weeks ahead. Yes, this may not be the kind of entertainment that those weaned into thinking that going to movies is to be titillated or tickled pink by the antics of young love teams, the urgency to see such pieces goes beyond being sophisticated or esoteric.  Yes, there will be those who will be intimidated by the fact that this is nearly four hours of black-and-white cinema screening --- or that there is no 1980's theme song to hook the viewer into a hummable moment.

Humayo is disturbingly quiet as it is haunting.  It is in the very heart of the loneliness of the characters portrayed that there is such silence ... and even eeriness.  Devoid of music (except for some unaccompanied sing-along moment between two lead actors), watching the film is like going into a vacuum --- where only the black and white photography (shot by Lav Diaz himself) becomes the center of the unfolding of what seems to be a story.

But it is not really a story: it is about Horacia (Charo Santos), a third grade teacher wrongly accused of murder and released from prison after thirty years.  Unquestionably, the entire three hours plus-plus of Humayo is about Horacia --- and her return to the outside world as she tries to reassemble all the shattered pieces of her life as well as plot her revenge against the man who framed her for murder (Michael de Mesa). Indeed, Humayo centers on the onscreen return of Charo Santos.  After years of absence from performing on the big screen, Santos mounts the comeback to end all comebacks.

Bluntly put, if you are going to return to acting in front of a camera to show what stuff you are made of despite years of absence, then it better be mind-boggling.  When ABS-CBN's M'am Charo returned, it was not even for a locally released production directed by any of the seasoned and celebrated directors of their movie arm (which she also heads, by the way). It had to be Lav Diaz --- and the invitation to Venice was the icing on the cake.

It was not only Horacia who returned but also Charo. The vulnerability of the character, enhanced by her love for writing and telling stories to her prison inmates and their children --- then later on to the derelicts of the streets of Calapan who she befriended --- added an aching charm to the portrayal.  That familiar voice heard every week in the drama anthology she hosts achieves a totally different dimension when we hear the stories she creates in her mind to encapsulate the pain and anguish of Horacia. It is these stories that Horacia writes that summarizes all the contradictory emotions in her being as she becomes the personification of a victim of injustice.

The kindness of heart of Horacia was what made her a magnet to all the marginal characters she encountered in her journey for revenge. The denizens of the night, the scumbags of the day --- all of them gravitate around Horacia as she shows them unimaginable (and nowadays, incredible) kindness that touches their heart.  There was the homeless and mentally deranged Mameng (Jean Judith Javier) who lived in the church premises, the hunchback balut vendor appropriately called Kuba (Nonie Buencamino) and the Hollanda (John Lloyd Cruz), an epileptic transvestite who stalked the side streets of the city consciously inviting death to come and get him so as to validate whatever is left of his useless life.,

All the characters are recipients of Horacia's kindness of heart --- while at the same time witnessing her darkest side.  Underneath the soft spoken and gentle woman willing to share, help and teach lurks a violent, revenge-seeking monster whose brazenness and strength came from thirty years of enduring and surviving her undeserved incarceration.  Santos' memorable performance was so enhanced and given much greater depth and brilliance because of the equally outstanding rendition of their roles of Javier, Buencamino and Cruz.

But perhaps one of the most exceptional moments of this film is that scene where Rodrigo Trinidad (Michael de Mesa), the man who destroyed the life of Horacia, attempts to look for a deeper meaning to God in a quiet and somewhat casual conversation with a priest.  The scene is short, static and calm but revealed a much greater understanding of villain seeking an explanation for his weaknesses --- counterpointing Horacia's fear of her own weaknesses overpowering reason.  De Mesa did not need too many scenes or too much dialogue to prove what caliber of an actor an original Eigenmann can show the audiences.

Ang Babaeng Humayo is a cause of celebration.  It may not be the kind of movie to please everyone but then it never made any claims of being just a movie. In the end, true to form, you leave the cinema disturbed and with so many questions. This is what distinguishes Humayo from what else is showing today in moviehouses. You go home thinking not only about what you have seen but about the moral dilemmas embodied by the characters and the greatness of the Filipino artist --- as director and as actors --- in the international arena.

That is why being intimidated by a Lav Diaz movie is not only a manifestation of cowardice: it is a loss of gaining a unique and beautifully Filipino experience.