Grains & Flickers

Article (with updates and corrections – see endnotes) that appeared in the “Revolution across Generations” section of Remembering/Rethinking EDSA (ed. JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, Mandaluyong City: Anvil, 2016), pp. 172-87. The book itself won the Best Anthology prize of the National Book Awards from the Manila Critics Circle, administered by the National Book Development Board. Kindly purchase your full copy via Amazon or the Anvil Publishing website. To jump to later sections, please click here for:

Personal as Political;
Cultural Politics;
Daughter Rising;
ECP in Focus: Alternative Screenings;
ECP in Focus: Archives;
ECP in Focus: Education;
ECP in Focus: Funding;
ECP in Focus: International Film Festival;
ECP in Focus: Production;
ECP in Focus: Ratings for Tax Rebates;
ECP in Focus: Support Activities;
Way of All Flesh; and
Sources, Dedication, & Notes.

Remembering - Rethinking EDSA

No sane academic would argue against the prevailing consensus that the Marcos dictatorship, as a socio-economic experiment, had proved unsuccessful, if not downright catastrophic. The irony is that among other major Asian countries, the Philippines had been alone in effectively suffering for nothing. All the other ASEAN members, more or less following the example of Korea, emerged as fast-developing economies during or immediately after their authoritarian ordeals. Koreans, in fact, have proved so grateful for the legacy of Park Chung-hee, Ferdinand Marcos’s counterpart, that they enabled his daughter to become the first female President in their own still mostly patriarchal system. Lee Kuan Yew, for his part, has remained influential decades after the restoration of democracy to Singapore, and has taken upon himself the task of criticizing the Philippines for its refusal to return to an authoritarian arrangement as a developmental strategy.

11011Over a quarter-century since the ouster of the Marcoses, the present has brought what many commentators worryingly describe as a mellowing of the Filipinos’ perception of the havoc the couple had wreaked on the country. Per this logic, Pinoys supposedly have short memories, or are inherently masochistic or manipulable, or are simply incapable of determining what would be best or worst for them. The same critics would also be the first to acknowledge that most presidencies since that of Ferdinand Marcos have ranged from unexceptional to awful, and therefore these observers unknowingly trip over themselves in the pro-people march they believe they are in step with: if we hold, for our people’s sake, that most post-Marcos Pinoy presidents have similarly betrayed the people’s trust, would it not be possible to accept that the people are just as capable of perceiving this and exercising their judgment by way of voting back to power the same entities that they had earlier spurned, in effect telling the succeeding oligarchs that the latter are no better, if not outright worse, than the Marcoses?

11011I certainly would be horrified at the prospect of Imelda Marcos or her son being installed as Chief Executive – yet she was precisely the person I voted for, during the only time she ran as President (and the last time I exercised my right to vote). She certainly had a snowball in hell’s chance of winning, but since the satirically motivated University of the Philippines professors’ attempt to nominate perennial nuisance candidate Pascual Racuyal had fizzled during the snap elections that ousted her husband, I figured that no other nuisance would be as flamboyant and annoying as our own Iron Butterfly; and if no one else ever voted for her, then my own ballot would serve, however quixotically, as a voice in the wilderness, heralding not the arrival of any savior, but the impossibility (since confirmed, to my mind) of finding one.

11011My own mellowness toward the martial-law years has evolved differently. When I ultimately felt myself caught up in the wave of diasporic Pinoy labor, I thought this was the very worst long-term economic legacy bequeathed by the Marcos presidency. What had been intended as a stop-gap measure (the same way it was deployed in Korea – where, aptly enough, my OFW-ness eventually led me) had become the Philippines’ primary source of income and growth. Then I started seeing first-hand how overseas employers were being won over by whatever specific package of social skills and work ethic that Filipinos had grown up with, and I found myself grateful that the home country remained a nicer place to return to than if it had been ravaged by the type of industrialization that would have boosted standard-issue national development. That plus our taken-for-granted near-total press freedom would ensure for us (assuming our luck holds out) that, however belatedly we embark on the path of growth, we would never be subject to the machinations that require sufficient obfuscation in order for dictatorships, transnational interests, foreign-based religions, and other self-interested parties to implement their agenda.

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Personal as Political

The manner in which I arrived at this latter-day position vis-à-vis the Marcos dictatorship was foreshadowed by the lessons I drew from my direct interaction with the period. As a high-school and subsequently a college student at the University of the Philippines, I had early on admired and later emulated the senior students who were committed to the activist cause of criticizing and mobilizing against the Marcos presidency, later the martial-law regime. Momentous events such as the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune filtered down to my level of awareness not via my disapproving though sympathetic parents, but through my firebrand uncle, a scholar at the elite Ateneo de Manila University, for whom they were acting as guardians. I’d had enough of an early association with activist organizations so that when martial law was declared, my mother woke me up to inform me that she had buried my Little Red Book and other paraphernalia in the backyard, and wanted to ensure that I had no other seditious materials tucked away elsewhere.

11011An intense dalliance with evangelical conversion and missionary preparation made me feel then that I had wasted my early college years, but my return to activism provided me with the readiness to recognize that full orthodox-Marxist commitment entailed a similar suspension of critical and humane judgment, a reliance on faith – in leaders, in organizations, in Machiavellian methods, in a promised form of government, and in an unchanging conception of progressivity. When I realized that such a volatile combination of ideals could result in unwelcome tragedy (described by an elderly colleague as “necessary sacrifices” toward the attainment of revolutionary triumph), I determined that I would never be able to abide such a cost. A bus full of solicitous and comradely soldiers, on a provincial trip I took, drove the point home even more urgently: I would not want these people coming to harm, and I would be unable to refuse mourning them as intensely as I had mourned the death-in-action of an activist acquaintance of mine. The people being served, the working class being upheld, would include the soldier, the jailer, the policeman, the executioner, even if they had been tasked to carry out the basest interests of the state. How that principle can be realized I had no clue about – my introduction to Michel Foucault’s ideas would arrive later – although I had to contend with the fact that the institutional Left as I knew it would never stand for it, just as organized religion would never allow for the possibility of an otherwise undeniably godless universe.

11011The requisites of everyday survival bore down on me almost immediately afterward, circa the late 1970s. Armed with a bachelor’s degree and an extensive record in what is still known as committed journalism, I found that the only doors that I could open were those of publications willing to accept freelance contributions for little better than a hundred pesos or so each. To play safe, I avoided the political and economic analyses that I had focused on as a student journalist, and turned to cultural reportage. Eventually one of these periodicals, a monthly magazine, hired me, but the media grind of observing deadlines, negotiating with data sources, jockeying with editors, and jostling with fellow writers took its toll. In two years I resigned and was again in search of employment, and the only media-related institution actively seeking interested applicants happened to be the newly launched Marcos film institution, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines.

11011The phenomenon of anti-Marcos individuals eventually working for a government institution was such a distinctive commonplace that most activists then were convinced that, if they succeeded as underground figures and survived the dangers of incarceration, they would eventually be “rehabilitated” in one of the several government think-tanks of the period, starting with the University of the Philippines-based Presidential Center for Advanced Studies, and might even be deployed to one of the more people-oriented agencies such as the the one for housing (where my uncle, among others, wound up); they could attempt to maintain their integrity by teaching at the national university instead – which again was in fact still just one more government entity. If not then to death or arrest in armed struggle, or to opting out and climbing the corporate ladder or migrating abroad or living off an inheritance or wealthy spouse, all remaining anti-government roads led to the same profoundly ironic destination: government service.


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Cultural Politics

I was most fully aware of the paradox I had allowed myself to stumble into, despite the fact that I never reached the point of being arrested and forced to join government, when I was scheduled to be interviewed for my security clearance. I had just by then met the late Maita Gomez, a former socialite and beauty queen who had joined the Philippine underground and who years later agreed to undergo interrogation as part of the condition for her resurfacing. I would probably never be able to mimic the authority and confidence with which she responded, but I certainly could make use of the sharp logic she used. So when the same question, “Can you identify some of the people you associated with?” came up, I paraphrased her answer as best as I could: “Everyone, including me – we all used aliases that we regularly changed for our mutual protection. If I recall any of those names right now, they would no longer be the same as they were when I knew them.” Although Maita said that that answer had sufficed in her case, I was still surprised when my own interviewers nodded right afterward and signed my clearance forthwith. For an institution being run by the Marcoses’ eldest child! (By the time an acquaintance told me he believed I had sold him and his friends out, I was capable of formulating my own useful reply: “The fact that you’re still around [and unstoppable in your idiocy, I wanted to add] is proof that you weren’t that important to me or anybody else.”)

11011Right upon reporting for work, I was introduced to the major fissure that would define how we would function and why the institution (from the perspective of outsiders) would take such weird directions. The institution was the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, formally defined as an umbrella organization that would function as a support agency for the local film industry. The activity we were preparing for was the Manila International Film Festival, which the ECP would support but would refuse to be affiliated with. The personnel of the ECP’s public relations department, where I was head writer, were on detail from the National Media Production Center, just as a few other personnel were from the dreaded National Intelligence Security Agency. The key to our understanding of how the different forces interacted was in observing Marcos family politics, primarily the tumultuous relationship between the two Imeldas (mother and daughter, the latter nicknamed Imee) and the claims they made on Ferdinand Senior, the omniscient and omnipotent martial-law patriarch.

11011Hence the ECP’s repudiation of the MIFF reflected Imee’s refusal to be associated with the vulgarities and excesses of her mother, although as NMPC employees under the directorship of Gregorio Cendaña (an Imelda protégé), we had not much of an option except to work as much for the international film festival as for the ECP itself. MIFF work, in fact, was more intensive, requiring several late-night and occasionally overnight sessions. During one of these all-nighters, a strong tremor hit the city, and everyone instinctively rushed to the windows of the Philippine International Convention Center to see what had happened at the nearby construction project, the Manila Film Center. By then we were used to unusual spectacles such as full-grown coconut trees materializing overnight at the vast parking lot that both buildings shared. The post-tremor vision, however, was something that anyone who had seen it would remember for the rest of her life: workers were scrambling down the ladders leaning on the Parthenon-inspired structure as well as scurrying down the Odessa-like steps surrounding it, like panic-stricken insects pouring out of an abruptly distressed anthill.[1]

11011The notoriety of the government’s response would thereafter epitomize the Marcos regime’s gross mishandling of workers’ welfare, with victims of the collapsed scaffolding paying the highest price for the construction’s timely completion. Those trapped but still alive in the quick-drying cement had their limbs amputated, while those who had died were buried under further layers. Up to the present, certain pro-Marcos apologists occasionally affirm the official line that the tragedy could not have been as extensive as the few hundreds alleged by the opposition. Yet the visual evidence that we had witnessed, confirmed by the account of an elderly security guard (who later inexplicably disappeared), was apparently sufficient to alarm Imee Marcos, who was easing into her role as Director-General of the ECP. Prior to moving our offices from the convention center to the new building, she (not Imelda, as erroneously and illogically reported in book accounts) insisted on performing a cañao, a native exorcism ritual.[2]

11011Urban legends abounded regarding the building. Various staff members reported uncanny sightings of men who looked like construction-site peons – not unexpected from the excitable youthful minds of star-struck theater and office assistants. But when the Imelda associate in charge of the project was driving in Tagaytay and died upon crashing into a tree, conversation dwelled not so much on the fact that she was with her alleged paramour (another prominent and married Marcos official), but rather that she supposedly swerved to avoid colliding with a sudden apparition of spectral laborers. The account first surfaced as a report in Veritas, a now-defunct opposition newsmagazine published by the Catholic Church; the article was anonymously written, but some of us in the public relations department recognized the style as belonging to Eddie Pacheco, Imee’s then-recently resigned (and now recently deceased) speech writer.

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Daughter Rising

The Experimental Cinema of the Philippines flourished for over two years. It had been earlier launched, with much fanfare, in bare form and with a different name as one of the several agencies to be run by Imelda Romualdez Marcos. In a surprise twist, on January 29, 1982, Ferdinand Marcos signed Executive Order 770 creating the ECP, effectively overriding the earlier institution and handing over its functions to his daughter, Imee. The process of its formation was transparent enough, so that the most prominent film artists (who were opposition in association and practice) provided advice; the most vocal Marcos critic among them, Lino Brocka, hailed the choice of Imee in one of his rare local interviews.

11011The ECP thrived for the nearly three years that Imee Marcos took active charge of its operations. The intra-familial intrigue that centered on her – the kidnapping and rescue of her then-boyfriend, the man who had married and subsequently separated from Aurora Pijuan, a Miss International title-holder much admired for her exceptional beauty – was followed closely within the organization, with a concomitant celebration when Tommy Manotoc finally came out, as it were, with her in an official function. Imee’s insistence on her personal preferences, even to the point of contravening her parents, was consistent with her lifestyle, which could be best described as bohemian – at least as far as her understandably harassed security circle could accommodate it, and which has most likely never been seen before or since in any Philippine presidential family circle.

11011Her participation in small theater productions and enrollment at the University of the Philippines, circa late ’70s, were socially acceptable enough to be covered in media. (She and I in fact were classmates once, although as a then-aspiring activist I had no inkling that I would eventually be working for her.) Among the several first-hand accounts I remember from friends, her late-night food trips to gang-ridden Chinatown and closed-door pot sessions with artists made her a fascinating subject. She would occasionally walk around in extremely informal garb and spout the semi-obscene lingo exclusively associated that time with gay men (who were its acknowledged source), sex workers, and transgressive artists. Her reputation for intelligent discourse has not diminished through the years, and in fact was enhanced upon her post-EDSA return to public official duties, sharply contrasting with the behavior and character of subsequent presidential children.

11011At this point I venture to interject a further measure of the loss suffered by the country’s failed authoritarian experiment. Again the basis for comparison is Korea, whose dictator, Park Chung-hee, had a meet-and-greet with Ferdinand Marcos during the 1966 convention of the SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, predecessor of the ASEAN), where Park allegedly felt slighted by Marcos’s condescending attitude. Park’s assassination in 1979, preceding Marcos’s ignominious death in exile by a decade, was followed by even more rapid economic development for his already highly industrialized country, in contrast with the several traumatic years of negative growth that immediately succeeded the Marcos era in the Philippines. Hence while Park Geun Hye, Chung-hee’s daughter, eventually emerged as the strongest contender to her country’s highest elective position, Imee Marcos could only hope to ride as far as the discontent of the Filipino population with successive regimes could propel her and the other surviving Marcoses back to power.

11011Yet the irony in this situation is that, while Park Geun Hye could only maintain (and succeed with) a conservative political position, the Marcoses, probably to their own surprise, found themselves taking an increasingly open anti-US position once American officials withdrew support for them and cast their lot with the local opposition. Ferdinand Sr. was a virtual prisoner in Hawaii, refusing treatment for the disease that he knew would eventually kill him; Imelda was hauled off to court and mocked severely enough in public to win sympathy from her jurors; Imee, after returning to the Philippines and upon her election to Congress, sided with a Leftist bloc in criticizing such prevalent US interests as joint military exercises and intellectual property issues.[3] If not for the association with her parents (marked by her upholding of her family’s material interests and exacerbated by her reconciliation with her eccentric, possibly borderline-insane mother), we could probably do worse with the recent turn toward dynasticism in presidential choices than selecting someone with the intelligence of Ferdinand, the charisma of Imelda, the experience of decades in Malacañang, an exposure to global realpolitik, an appreciation of the potency of culture, and a willingness to challenge figures of authority, ranging from her parents to the country’s neocolonial bullies.[4] I would definitely not lift at hand if this, by some fantastic turn of events, were to come to pass; but I would also be unable to look away.

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ECP in Focus

A count-our-blessings principle would behoove us to acknowledge the only definite area where Marcos-era government intervention was more positive than otherwise. And once more, the object lesson remains: what a priceless heritage we could have had if the energy, creativity, integrity, and resources of these types of contributions were bestowed on more essential areas of the economy – where future generations could take the cue from their elders and seek, not foreign employment opportunities, but profitable and globally cutting-edge ventures that would position the country as the major Asian player that its pre-Marcos past had promised.

11011Unlike the Marcos regime’s state- or crony-owned monopolies that debilitated the national economy and depleted the dictatorship’s reserves of goodwill, the ECP sought simultaneously to lead by example and provide the necessary material support for local producers to follow suit. It would conduct an annual scriptwriting contest and produce the winning entries; subsidize productions by providing loans for meritorious projects; grant tax rebates on the basis of quality; screen significant local and foreign films in censorship-exempt venues; conduct extensive education and training programs; and preserve existing productions, restoring endangered ones if necessary.

11011The obvious connection of such a conglomeration of functions with the present lies in an occasionally acknowledged point made by historically inclined observers: that when Philippine movie production, along with the country’s few remaining minor industries, collapsed from the pressures of neoliberal globalization during the late-’90s Asian crisis induced by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s interventions, the only means by which film was revived was via a close observance, mostly by the private sector, of the ECP strategy. In fact one could provide a checklist (herewith alphabetically arranged) of the aforementioned ECP functions and easily find one or more contemporary counterparts:

  • Alternative screenings. The ECP’s Alternative Cinema Department was the organization’s most active arm (more impressive considering that videocassettes had not yet proliferated), scheduling daily screenings at the Manila Film Center’s main theater and twin regular theaters, and occasionally at the several classroom-sized screening rooms, where workshops would also be conducted. These venues’ exemption from censorship reached a point where the government revised its film-censorship arm to one that purportedly reviewed films and left the task of regulation up to the producer or distributor. Nevertheless, film artists were able to find sufficient inspiration and organization to mobilize protests, openly supported by the ECP, against the Board of Review for Motion Pictures and Television as an incompatible and conflictive government entity; its chair, Maria Kalaw Katigbak, retaliated by asserting her stature as a direct appointee of the Office of the President, thereby declaring that her office could be abolished only by the President himself. The contemporary venues that partake of the MFC’s censorship-free status would be the two far-less-active government film-exhibition outlets, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines Film Institute’s Adarna Theater.

  • Archives. Then as now, this has been the most difficult operation to maintain, owing to the combustible nature of early celluloid and the deteriorative properties of latter-day stocks. The problem extends to other original forms of media (newsprint and video), all of which conspire to turn Philippine media (and mediated Philippine) history into an increasingly urgent race against the ravages of time and weather. After my personal copies of the ECP’s extensive annual reports (which I had written, aptly in coordination with the Film Archives of the Philippines) were lost to the elements, for example, I could not find copies stored anywhere else. A reconstruction of these basic documents would entail a close surveying of the mostly now-defunct newspapers active during the period – incomplete copies of which were stored in disarray. The other, more vital sources, those of tabloids, were in far worse condition for those attempting to conduct research into the period. The media industry’s recent digital turn has fostered a false sense of archival security among practitioners; they witness the permanence of print or audiovisual material on drives and the electronic cloud and believe that these could outlast analogue versions, when in fact data degradation and corruption occur faster than properly stored celluloid or paper. With increasingly unpredictable global climate conditions, electromagnetic disturbances could conceivably endanger entire swaths of vulnerable data repositories. Whenever possible, analogue storage ought always to be the preferred means, with digital versions serving only as backup and disseminative material.
  • Education. The ECP envisioned an expansion of its Film Education Department’s workshops to eventually include accreditable college courses, with bachelor’s and graduate degrees to follow. During ECP’s last year, the University of the Philippines announced the country’s first undergraduate degree program in film, a fortuitous preemption of the ECP’s plans, considering how transitory the agency turned out to be. A measure of how innovative the ECP’s officials were can be seen in their response to this development: since I already held a degree from not just the same university but from the mass-communication institute (now college) that offered it, the Director-General’s office granted me the privilege to pursue a second degree in the new major while drawing salary for fulfilling specific assignments – in effect, becoming a working scholar of the agency. Two years later, when I had completed the requirements, I was the country’s first (and only) film degree-holder, with a few other academic distinctions to show for it … but by then the Marcos regime was no longer around, having been ousted by the people-power revolt of February 1986. Another plan, that of introducing film appreciation at earlier school levels, has since then similarly become run-of-the-mill enough to be taken for granted in the country.[5]
  • Funding. The ECP’s Film Fund Department, responsible for granting subsidies for private producers, suffered from the political favoritism that characterized areas in the organization that were dominated by Marcos’s wife, represented in this case by a Blue Lady whose studio-mogul parents had been associated during the 1960s with the hagiographic film-bios of the Marcos couple’s electoral campaigns. The department’s process of evaluating proposals in terms of their combination of merit plus profitability was honored more in the breach than in the observance, resulting in films that were mostly critically ignored if not panned, and even worse, that failed to recover their producers’ (and ECP’s) investments. The solution, as practiced by contemporary institutions such as Cinemalaya and CinemaOne, was to determine choices on the bases of the results of open scriptwriting contests (see film production listing below), and to subsidize significantly inexpensive (and potentially more profitable) digital productions.
  • International film festival. The Manila International Film Festival’s editions started with the MFC’s construction disaster and ended with pornographic film screenings – a reprise of the bread-and-circuses tactic exploited by the Marcos presidency during the early-’70s Leftist unrest that preceded the declaration of martial law; just as the earlier sex-film trend bore a term, bomba, drawn from the period, so did the later MIFF editions and post-Imee screenings generate their own descriptor, penekula (a portmanteau comprising “penetration” plus “pelikula”). Even at over a decade old, the privately funded contemporary counterpart, the Cinemanila International Film Festival, cannot hope to attain the MIFF’s top ranking with the global film festival federation – a distinction that, outside of Europe, only Manila had shared with the major film festivals of Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. The current stop-gap solution, already generating its own set of problems, is to enable outstanding local films to join foreign festivals, to the problematic point where local filmmakers can already completely dispense with the need to court the patronage of the Philippine audience. A more noteworthy achievement, showcased in the final still-named MIFF of 1983, was a module of a few dozen Philippine movies selected by a group of experts, of which new 35-mm. prints were processed and subtitled; a few of these entries now stand as the only remaining integral copies available, despite their expected color-fade and vinegar syndrome. A contemporary institutional counterpart effort still has to be realized on the same scale, notwithstanding the significantly more affordable availability of digital technology.[6]
  • Production. Like the ECP Film Fund, the Film Production function, this one directly under the Office of the Director-General, proved to be unsustainable after two years. However, the impact of this activity continues to be felt to the present. The ECP’s announcement of a scriptwriting contest to determine the choices for full production support created a model that has been regarded since as best practice for institutions with interest in and the capacity for implementing prestige projects and introducing new talent. As proof, its first batch of films, Ishmael Bernal’s Himala and Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata (both from 1982), continue being hailed as successful samples of epic-scale cinema with contrasting values (one current and the other period, one by a veteran and the other by a debuting director, one with the country’s top star and the other with a number of new performers, one socially critical and the other celebratory, etc.). The lessons here may be cautionary in nature: in order to sustain this type of activity (which faltered during its second year of operations and folded up afterward), the ECP should have paced itself more slowly until it had been able to accumulate a pool of sufficiently trained talent, the way that today’s prestige-festival producers draw from the countless film programs and workshops of various universities and academies. On the other hand, the current emphasis on relatively affordable digital media yields to mainstream outfits the privilege of producing big-budget celluloid projects, in effect preempting any possibility for Philippine cinema to return to alternative epic-scale productions.[7]
  • Ratings for tax rebates. By far the most exemplary and least controversial of the ECP’s departments, the Film Ratings Board only needed to be revived, title and all, and implemented in the present in order to continue servicing local cinema without calling attention to itself, in the exact area, taxation, where the industry has been experiencing greater burden than most other major film capitals around the world. By calibrating the level of tax relief according to a select group’s perception of a film product’s quality, the FRB encourages at least a token measure of production values, and implicitly critiques the proliferation of award-giving bodies by appending a practical advantage to the recognition it provides. Like any workable type of merit-based government support, it remains susceptible to influence-peddling and ideological containment, typically of conservative and middle-brow persuasion. Constant media attention and occasional extensive revaluations may be the best possible way of maintaining the optimal performance – not just of the FRB but of other self-serious canon-building bodies.

  • Support activities. The MFC provided rental space for several film agencies, not all of them commercially oriented. The Movie Workers Welfare Fund’s Film Institute held office at a basement floor, where it would conduct workshops for super-8mm. production, then screen the results at the ECP Annual Short Film Festival. Upon the ECP’s closure, the “parent” institution, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (the MFC was located in what is still known as the CCP Complex), continued the short-film competition, in what has turned out to be the closest to an unbroken ECP activity. The ECP’s Public Relations Division published Sinemanila, while the Film Ratings Board came up with Filipino Film Review – both of them outlets for articles, reviews, and criticism. Even in mainstream film activity, several titles all the way to 1986, after the ouster of the Marcoses, were ECP-related, either as winners or as finalists in the scriptwriting contest, subsidized projects of the Film Fund, and/or graded productions by the FRB. Personalities associated with the agency made bigger names in various industry, media, and educational capacities after their stint in government.

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Way of All Flesh

The ECP was fairly fortunate in not having had to endure the disgrace of being formally shut down or privatized along with the rest of the Marcos-era government agencies and corporations. This occurred through a technicality: upon her election to the Batasang Pambansa (the Marcos-era National Assembly), Imee Marcos decided to focus more intently on her legislative responsibilities and resigned from her ECP position. In order to effect changes in accordance with a different set of interests (mostly associated with international-festival plans, uncensored film screenings, and co-productions with foreign financiers), the ECP was dissolved by presidential decree on September 30, 1985, and a new institution, called the Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, set up in its stead.[8]

11011The same set of core personnel were given the option to remain with the FDFP, although for some of us at the National Media Production Center, production work for the government’s TV station suddenly seemed more attractive after all. How implicated was the NMPC in the raging controversy of the decade – the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.? It was responsible for the airport security cameras, which suspiciously turned out blank during the precise date and time that the event took place. A few key personnel, also initially involved with the ECP, resigned during the period between the assassination and the 1986 snap presidential elections. No one doubted the close links between the First Lady and the NMPC director, particularly during periods when Mrs. Marcos would embark on her foreign shopping sprees and we the employees would find our salaries delayed by a few days, sometimes up to a week.

11011Not surprisingly, several familiar faces from the Manila Film Center offices materialized at the people-power barricades of February 1986. The dictatorship, which had continued in practice even after its formal lifting around the time that the ECP was founded, was finally genuinely vanquished. My dreams as student activist had been suddenly realized, with the symbolically afflicted Manila Film Center initially abandoned and presently condemned. I had thought the price to be paid, a suspension of my other set of dreams, this time as cultural activist, might be set down as an updated category of necessary sacrifices. I set out to write the first article declaring the closure of a filmic Golden Age, endeavored to cover the intervening period as its most active film critic, and attempted some continuity with the ECP’s ideals via the UP film program. I had to give up on these aspirations one after another at some later point, but that tale awaits a further telling.

A Note on Sources

Several materials on the Marcos dictatorship, plus a few on the Marcos family’s interventions in Philippine film culture, can now be accessed from online material. A few of this article’s other sources are in Korean-language books and websites, researched and translated for me by Lee Kumchong of the University of Queensland. The article was not intended as a comprehensive summary or a definitive history; such a task needs to be accomplished, but could not be accommodated within the terms of the subjective tone that I’d opted to deploy. I wish to acknowledge the assistance provided by Jo-Ann Q. Maglipon, who had originally directed me to her ECP contacts in addition to freelance opportunities; Nena C. Benigno and Guia P. Yonzon, my ECP supervisors; an online circle comprising Bayani Santos, Jr., Flor Caagusan, Oona Thommes Paredes, Daisy Catherine Mandap, Antonio VA Hilario, Frank Cimatu, Marian Pastor Roces, Ronald Rios, and Gigi de Beaupré, who helped me thresh out the difficulty of being Ma. Imelda “Imee” Marcos; Bliss Cua Lim, who alerted me to the “revival” of the ECP in the so-called contemporary Pinoy indie movement; Ernie de Pedro, Director of the Film Archives section, and Theo Pie, who assisted me with the ECP’s annual reports; and Toby Miller, who introduced me to and instructed me in the concept of cultural policy. To Marilou Diaz-Abaya, who sought to reconcile polarized forces in her work, always aiming true and often succeeding beautifully, this article is dedicated.

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Notes since the publication process
of Remembering/Rethinking EDSA

[1] In Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (Mandaluyong City: Anvil, 2016), Raïssa Robles quotes “Abdon Balde Jr., who supplied ready-mix concrete for this project. He suspected that in the rush to complete [sic], cement was poured in sections with insufficient shorings and scaffolding, causing these to collapse in the early morning hours of November 17, 1981” (159). Balde’s explanation overlooks the tremor that hit the city during the said date. The most intensive film coverage of the MIFF, Elliott Stein’s “Manila’s Angels” in Film Comment 19.5 (Sept.-Oct. 1983): pp. 48-55, is also unaware of the cause of the tragedy.

[2] In an interview, Nena C. Benigno, then the Director of the Public Relations Division, said that “Imee refused to occupy the building. ‘Ayokong pumasok diyan! [I don’t want to enter that place!]’ She ordered all these exorcism rites. Or else we would never step in there” (Tats Manahan, “What Lies Beneath,” Rogue [November 2015]: 86-93). For added information on the origins of the Manila Film Center and the agency that would eventually reside in it, see “The Manila National Film Centre,” a 1981 UNESCO Technical Report.

[3] Ruben Carranza, former commissioner with the Presidential Commission on Good Government, explained why the surviving Marcoses harbored resentment toward the US: “they [refused] to pay the $2 billion judgment against them won by 10,000 victims of human-rights violations during the Marcos dictatorship. They were cited in contempt by a US court. [In addition] they were ordered to pay a fine of $100,000 per day for the 10 years between 1995 and 2005 – and counting – that they refused to pay that judgment” (Facebook post, April 10, 2016).

[4] The April 3, 2016, report of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists identified Imee Marcos and her three sons by Tommy Manotoc as associated with offshore shell companies listed in the leaked documents of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. This was in addition to an earlier ICIJ exposé, the 2013 Offshore Leaks Probe, which also revealed Imee Marcos as the beneficiary of a secret trust, Sintra, formed in the British Virgin Islands. The apparent Marcos family strategy was to maintain a clean name for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in order to enable him to restore the family to political power.

[5] Ward Luarca, Officer-in-Charge of the Film Education Department, took charge of film appreciation and scriptwriting workshops jointly conducted by Rolando Tinio and Pio de Castro III. In a Facebook account, he stated that he “took over the organizing of the Short Film Festival…. Then the series of acting workshops conducted by Laurice Guillen and her group from Actors Company. And also the Film School Board which [Agustin] Hammy Sotto and I organized whose members were from the academe or actual film practitioners who included Gigi [Javier Alfonso] (of the UP film program)…; Manny [Reyes] of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino [Filipino Film Critics Circle] and De La Salle University; Marilou Diaz-Abaya; Eddie Romero; Fr. [Nicasio] Cruz, SJ; and reps from St. Paul University, Philippine Women’s University, and other schools and institutions. We brought film appreciation sessions to students, of which the ECP Cine Club was the agency to reach them…. To be fair, the bomba [sex-themed] films also benefited us for our salaries and occasional bonuses, when funding stopped after Ninoy’s assassination, and ECP had to be self-funding” (Response to Facebook post of Edward delos Santos Cabagnot, Sept. 26, 2018, 8:40 p.m.).

[6] Since this article was drafted, three types of restoration activities have taken place, all digital in nature. In increasing prolificacy, these would be: international, as typified by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project’s efforts (in coordination with the Film Development Council of the Philippines) for Lino Brocka’s Cannes Film Festival entries; institutional, undertaken mainly by the “Sagip Pelikula” [Save Our Films] program of ABS-CBN Film Archives and Central Digital Lab, for a large proportion of their products as well as works they consider classics; and private initiative, exemplified in the Magsine Tayo! (now-defunct) postings of video collector Jojo Devera and the Citizen Jake collection of Mike de Leon, comprising mostly LVN titles.

[7] While I would hesitate recommending non-commercial blockbuster budgets as a matter of principle, I would recognize that creativity may now extend to the realm of financial sourcing – e.g., foreign co-productions or festival-circuit distributions have proved to be feasible options even in the past, and may be enhanced with more new-millennium options such as internet-based fund-raising or alternative video distribution strategies.

[8] Corrigendum: The print version of this article mistakenly cites the name “Film Development Council of the Philippines,” which is the contemporary incarnation of the FDFP. Many thanks to Ramon Sixto C. Nocon for reminding me of the difference.

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About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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