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As a primarily archival blog, Ámauteurish! does not depend on exchanges or interactions, although it might generate dialogue elsewhere, whether in the virtual realm or in real-life situations. To attain this level of self-containment, I attempt to devote the fullest possible attention to achieving correctness in the texts I upload. Considering the limits of time and internet consistency, however, certain errors in proofreading may have slipped through, or certain links may have expired or been modified. I would be grateful to be apprised of these details, as well as of suggestions for improvement (although I cannot guarantee that these will be minded, since the blog’s contents are essentially predetermined by my output for independent publishers).

Joel David
Manila, July 2015

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Questions tackled (alphabetically arranged):

After I deactivated my (only) social network account, I realized I had accumulated a significant number of exchanges that I had planned to post in a useful manner. Trouble was, I had already allocated available sections in Ámauteurish! to predefined uploads, with at least two sections opening with one-shot features (a folio on film criticism in the Remarks section, a compilation of Manila by Night features in the Extras section). At the same time, I kept wondering what to do with the Contact section: I received occasional requests and (thankfully) infrequent spam, which meant people preferred to discuss issues using the relatively traditional e-mail and messaging apps.

11011Possibly as a result of time freed up by pandemic-era quarantine, the connection fell in place one day: a page titled “Contact” should encourage people to ask questions, but then I’d answered queries via other means already – so why not use the idle space on this page for that purpose? (Hence the “Queries” name change.) Understandably, several of my still-living past correspondents were hesitant about being identified regarding controversial issues, while I have not been able to track down a few others. So several of these queries will be from unidentified sources and have been modified for a general readership. If you recognize a conversation we’ve had on this page, and wouldn’t mind having your name or initials appear, please let me know so I can make the adjustment.

* Is it true you have become a Noranian?

I guess this has something to do with the libelous post of a person who had swindled me and a few other friends in the past. It’s not libelous to be called a Noranian, of course, but when I checked the only book that used the term, Si Nora Aunor sa mga Noranian: Mga Paggunita at Pagtatapat [Nora Aunor to the Noranians: Remembrances and Confessions] (ed. Nestor de Guzman, Quezon City: Milflores Publishing, 2005), I saw that all the contributors were affiliated with Nora Aunor fan clubs.

11011In my case, I get identified as a(n unofficial) Noranian for stating two things, both of them only recently: one, that she was the prime multimedia actor who emerged in the history of Philippine pop culture, and two, that her stature jump-started the nearly unbroken and constantly growing trend in Philippine film-book publication. The first is a critical evaluation founded on an extensive reading and intensive application of performance-studies principles, while the second is a statement of fact that I uncovered unexpectedly, after I completed the Comprehensive Pinas Film Bibliography (uploaded as an exclusive feature on this blog) and rearranged the alphabetical master list in chronological order. Prior to these declarations, I had my own experience of localized social-media virality when I condemned then-President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III’s decision to reject the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’s endorsement of Aunor for the Order of National Artists of the Philippines.

11011The only way to avoid making these conclusions is to ignore excellence in film and media performances as well as pretend that a basic empirical analysis of the bibliographic record of Philippine cinema cannot be done or isn’t worth doing. If the figure of Nora Aunor emerges in these areas of Philippine film and media studies, whose fault is that? Not mine, and certainly not hers either.

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* Do you have a doctorate in Noranian studies?

My doctorate was in cinema studies. Anyone who thinks I don’t have any credibility for whatever reason can always try asking New York University to retract the degree – a historical first, if that ever prospers. Also, as far as I know, the only dissertation (so far) on Nora Aunor was written by the exceptional art-studies scholar Patrick D. Flores. I don’t think mine even mentioned her but whatever. Although in case anyone wants to set up a Noranian studies program, I can forward my qualifications as consultant.

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* Did you write a bad movie script?

The scripts I wrote were for my student films, decades ago, and for television programs I did even earlier, as a freelance writer (some of whose producers stole my credit even after their programs won awards, but again whatever). The latest incident I think refers to a project commissioned by a director from a Korean advisee of mine. The writer proposed a rom-com but requested me to provide Tagalog translations for lines he wrote in English. The draft has gone through numerous revisions, partly because of the costs involved, but the momentum for finalizing the project seems to be over.

11011The writer insisted on crediting me as co-author, which I refused because I really only provided translations, but he said that’s the only way he’ll allow the script to be produced, and the director decided to follow his preference. Another director may have commented on an early draft of the material and focused on my name, which means I tend to attract attention even in a secondary capacity. But if a so-called reporter wished to comment on it, she should have determined the exact circumstances rather than write something that existed in her fevered imagination (consequently fulfilling the defamatory requirement for a libel suit, since hello, there’s no public interest in that kind of silly question). If I had actually written my own script, it would be not just awful, it would mark the end of civilization as we know it. That I think would be a goal that my friends will be able to recognize as genuinely worthy of my credit.

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* Why does this personality seem to have a vendetta against you?

Who knows? She probably thinks I have enough money to buy her silence, since that’s how these corrupt media players operate. Other friends have come forward and said that the same person owes them large amounts of money. In the late 1980s, Mario A. Hernando also warned friends of mine that this person was a government agent. [Update: A friend persuasively argued that the attack was meant to enhance the loser’s standing with her long-term sponsor, who desperately wants to attain some award at the expense of Nora Aunor. Which is so middlebrow-schlocky that it could never have occurred to me: one cheap turn in support of another, a perfect collusion between showbiz and politics. And come to think of it, that does prove that MAH was right after all, since the aforementioned sponsor also happens to be a government official.]

11011My story is: when my first book came out, this person asked me to commission several copies from the publisher to sell to her friends. I paid for the copies, so I wouldn’t have to keep going back just to finalize the arrangement. When I followed up on the sales, she said that she gave the copies away to her friends in show business “to educate them,” implying that I should be grateful for the opportunity and annoyed that I even raised the question. You know that a second-hand copy of a book of mine went on sale recently at Amazon for almost a thousand US dollars? My books used to sell at much lower prices of course (the equivalent of two dollars in today’s prices for the title in question), but I was then a state-university instructor surviving on a hand-to-mouth budget when I was tricked into spending for nothing.

11011I might as well report here that this same person kept complimenting me during that period, in a manner I’d describe as full-on creepy; I should also add that it takes a lot to creep me out, which was how I was able to endure certain extreme samples of cinema. I’m no math whiz so please don’t ask me to calculate how all these variables played out.

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* She seems to have some leftist friends though.

Left, definitely, more than leftist. As in left behind. Probably her way of ensuring that she’ll always have dimwits she can shortchange whenever she needs cash for her rentboys.

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* Have you contacted a libel expert to look into this case?

What was Falstaff’s point about discretion being the better part of valor? I know enough of Philippine media law and still have some friends in the right places. In practical terms, I have too many projects to attend to; what appears on this blog is at most about half of what I have to accomplish. So my standard answer to friends who have legal contacts is: I’ll provide all the evidence and testimonies I can gather, but any moneys they can win will be theirs. I’ll just settle for an authenticated pic of this pathetic predator behind bars. Other friends say that she seems to have retreated to her distant hometown so that poses some complication, but as we’ve been able to witness, even Donald Trump can be called to task way out in Palm Beach County for his malignancy. Although this no-talent loser’s more like a Rudy Giuliani stuck in the bowels of the Third World.

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* Are you a Marcos supporter?

My contribution to an award-winning anthology of articles on the legacy of people power (titled Remembering/Rethinking EDSA, ed. JPaul S. Manzanilla and Caroline S. Hau, Mandaluyong City: Anvil, 2016) was complimented by the editors for being contrarian but fair. Even during the build-up to the EDSA uprising, I kept warning my colleagues at the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino that the Philippine industry output should not be downgraded just because the products were coming out during a dictatorship.

11011Time has proved me right: a canon project I advised came out with more titles during that period than at any other moment in local film history, but you would not recognize that kind of acknowledgment if you read the reviews published during that era. One consequence of this vulgar-politicized approach is that right after the Marcoses fled, when film production dried up and film artists migrated to mainstream and televisual involvements, film critics clammed up; after complaining about how awful things were, what else could critics say when they actually became awful?

11011Since then I always made sure to point out that the Marcoses were corrupt in relation to succeeding regimes, but they were also more culture-positive (to appropriate a term from identity politics) than later administrations. I posted on Ámauteurish! my Remembering/Rethinking EDSA article, titled “Grains & Flickers,” to be able to elaborate and update some of these points. Those who believe that anything done by an immoral leadership should never be branded as acceptable are either misunderstanding discourses on Marxist economic determinism or suffering from stupidity, which to me suggests a distinction that isn’t really worth making.

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* You keep bashing the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino and the University of the Philippines Film Institute. What do you think are their problems?

I not only came from these two institutions, I was actively involved in their founding. For over a year I was the first and only graduate of what was then the country’s first film program, even though I signed up one semester after it opened; after a year of freelancing, I became the first Pinas film faculty who actually had a Pinas film degree – no big deal for me, but industry friends found it valuable. You’ll see me listed as corporate secretary of the MPP and not just founding director of the UPFI but final director of its preceding enterprise, the UP Film Center. (The national university probably believes one or the other distinction should be enough, but when the time comes to narrate the incipience of Philippine film studies, you’ll see that the UPFI could never have come about if I had not been in charge of the UPFC.) So if the day ever comes when I avoid talking about them, that should be cause for concern.

11011We might as well bring up specifics. As an institution, or someone with institutional pretensions, I foreground my programs of action and make adjustments according to what might be useful for the foreseeable future. These depart from the ideals announced by other institutions, including the MPP’s and UPFI’s. (We may as well add that people who defend them don’t hesitate to bash me for adhering to standards that they think fall short of what my former associations represent.) As far as I’m concerned, we allow ourselves to be evaluated by how well we meet the expectations we set for ourselves. I conduct and announce my own evaluations, not always rosy ones in every respect – but can these institutions claim to be superior just because?

11011Most of us make do without access to governmental and global resources and strive to be as productive as we can be. Looking at the output of individual members of the MPP and UPFI, I doubt if we can conclude that they have what we colloquially call K, or the right to walk tall, on the whole or on average. Take a closer look at the awards and distinctions that many of these people have acquired and tell me if no charlatanism was involved. At most possibly only one person in both of these groups (the same person, actually) can be counted as the exception that proves the rule. Be careful as you proceed though, because if they’re experts at anything, that would be their ability to sic their less-smart followers on their critics.

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* So is organized film criticism per se wrong or problematic?

I mentioned earlier that I was involved in the founding of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino. After I left, I was contacted by another disgruntled member, Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr. (who left after I did), and we set up the Young Critics Circle. Later we thought that the awards system should be as flexible as possible, which is why we organized Kritika (along with an eponymous weekly radio hour that humorously heralded itself as “ang programang may K”).

11011I’ve never seen anything wrong in participating in any of these groups, although when I wrote about my short history of helping organize film critics, I said that Kritika fulfilled my idea of a perfect award-giving organization: it folded up after a few years of proving its point about handing out annual recognitions. Mau for his part has been showcasing Pinas and Fil-Am talents in the annual FACINE filmfest in San Francisco, California, providing access to foreign audiences for carefully curated Philippine movies and explaining why each one matters. Doing, in effect, what the MPP was supposed to accomplish with their annual awards exercises.

11011Someone from another chat group said that my being unaffiliated implies that I regard myself as too special to allow myself to be identified with any organization. There’s some truth to that allegation, in the sense that the members of the ideological institutions I was previously associated with (first right-wing religious and later orthodox-left movements) always complained that I was too unwilling to submit to disciplinal prescriptions. But a sufficiently functional academic context, which allows for scholarly differences in a quest for furthering knowledge, might just be the right place for folks like us to thrive.

11011(Asides: I’m assuming you’re reading out of a willingness to be open to the widest possible range of liberal ideas. Also, I only half-joke whenever I tell friends that the only critics group I still dream of joining would be the US-based X-Rated Critics Organization, which hands out its own annual set of awards. Seriously though, a former student of mine, of whom I’m justifiably proud, deserves to be added to the XRCO Hall of Fame.)

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* When will you reactivate your Facebook page?

I used to deactivate for a few months toward the end of the year, when personal and professional tasks had piled up, but I found it increasingly hard to resume during the past few years. I’m hopelessly biased against middlebrow values unless they function within a resistive context. Please don’t ask me to elaborate further.

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* Why did you write a gossip article?

Because I’m not good enough to write more! I’d revel in wallowing in scandal if more of these types of allegorically significant stories come up, and if I could wangle more time away from academic production to attend to the immense analytical and stylistic challenges of attempting this wondrous mode of articulation. My models are Petronius and Michael Musto – only the best there have ever been. If I had an entire life to devote to anything I want, it would be gossip writing or bust. Maybe that’s why I’m indulging in this kind of exchange? You be the judge. Or don’t, whatever suits you.

11011[Update: A socnet friend jokingly mentioned that I was attempting to tread on an MPP member’s specialization. Butch Francisco’s an acquaintance, though I wouldn’t consider him a capable critic; then again he wouldn’t be the only one with that predicament in that group. It’s too bad he’s been shamed out of engaging in gossip writing – where he was far from attaining any level of significance to begin with – and now preoccupies himself with high-brow matters including the write-ups for the group’s life-achievement prizes. It would have been useful to have someone to contrast against, now that the other big names (and better writers) of the Second Golden Age have passed away.]

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* How dare you make fun of Sakada. It was banned by the Marcos dictatorship, just like Manila by Night. And yet you keep insisting that MbN is a masterpiece. Since you like big words, try looking these up first: inconsistency and hypocrisy.

I’ll start by mentioning two ironies. First is that at the point where I resolved to be as evidence-based as it’s possible for a scholar of the moving image to get, I receive more “how dare you” messages (not all of them serious, of course). Second, the one I opt to answer publicly is the one sent anonymously, apparently without expecting a reply.

11011It’s still a vast improvement over the previous message, a narcissistic rant whose sender scolded me for describing her as forgotten. I initially thought that it was a dead former interviewee (or her impersonator) attempting to haunt me; that’s how forgotten that person was, and deserves to be, although she claimed that her so-called friends described her as a trailblazer. The Sakada defender, on the other hand, raises a legit lamentation, even if one can also sense some affiliational bias at play (the film’s director was closely associated with the orthodox left, far more than Manila by Night’s Ishma Bernal).

11011The assumption made by the querier, with which I agree, is that anything (and I would add, anyone) oppressed by a conservative institution is ennobled by the encounter. But any aestheticization that can be observed from this situation would have always been intrinsic to the work. In fact, if there’s anything (or anyone) that’s qualified by the conflict, it’s the character of patriarchy; the work itself can be considered in that context, but its aesthetic dimension, for better or worse, remains as artifactual as it was when its creators completed it, and will remain that way for as long as it can be preserved.

11011I wish we had samples of some of the local films that underwent censorship trouble in the distant past – Julian Manansala’s Patria Amore (1929), Rod Avlas’s Ang Batang Tulisan (1938), Ramon Estella’s Labi ng Bataan (originally Ako Raw Ay Huk, 1948), Eddie Garcia’s Ang Manananggol (originally Ang Manananggol ni Ruben, 1963, about the Annabelle Huggins rape case). At least we still have, aside from the two films in question, Conrado Conde, Jose de Villa, & Mar S. Torres’s Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story (1965) and Tito Sanchez’s Ibilanggo si … Neneng Magtanggol (1977), plus a charming little confection from Maryo J. de los Reyes titled Schoolgirls (1982) which, incredibly enough, was actually banned for a while.

11011Even from the small handful of still-available titles, one can readily see that not all of them will acquire, or deserve, the same degree or even type of aesthetic validation as, say, Manila by Night. Sakada in fact also had its moment as a critics’ favorite: it was arguably the most raved-over film of 1976, if one were to read the reviews of Behn Cervantes’s colleagues in the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, as well as their official list of quarterly citations (a laudable practice they unceremoniously dropped some time ago). Not surprisingly, they were disastrously mistaken, but that actually helped boost Sakada’s critical stock. If it had not been banned and thereby disqualified from the group’s first set of awards, it could have claimed best-film stature, based on the notices it garnered.[1]

11011The fact that it remained in evaluative limbo worked in its favor: if it did win, the group would have squandered its credibility from the get-go. As for me, I’m still hoping for the day when I could rewatch it with as open a mind as I can bring to it and declare it a Second Golden Age camp classic, alongside other titles such as Gerry de Leon’s Lilet (1971), Maryo J.’s Tagos ng Dugo (1987), Jerry Hopper’s Dovie Beams-starrer Maharlika (1970), and one of Eddie Romero’s too-many (pre-SGA) Blood-Island movies, though I still have to pinpoint which one’s the most amusing. And no, my purpose would not be to laugh at these texts, but to hold them close to my arrythmically twisted heart. Anyone interested in participating should keep in mind that repeatedly watching an entry with a like-minded audience, unruly yet receptive, is the key to making camp work. Let’s make it happen, people.

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* I started reading your blog once in a while, after a friend recommended it. Then I saw a four-letter word. I looked some more and saw some sexually oriented topics in your books, with more shocking language. Too bad, I wanted to assign some of your writings to my students. Now I’ll have to discourage them from reading your material. I didn’t know you were a closet smut-peddler. But if you want to change my mind, it’s simple. Just get rid of your nasty words and articles and I’ll actively support you.

That’s funny, because if I would ever closet myself over anything, smut-peddling would be the least of my issues. I’d also rather not censor anything on my blog – in fact, your message got me wondering how I can up the ante on the nastiness you mentioned. Finally, please: tell your students, and everyone else you can influence, to not read what I write. The ones who’ll follow you won’t be worth counting as readers, while the smart ones are already on their way to looking up exactly what got you all riled up, if they haven’t been there and done so already.

11011Although to be less supercilious, how can a few four-letter words be regarded as fucking obscene when set against centuries of political oppression and economic exploitation and religious obfuscation? I’ll never be able to figure that one out, and what’s worse (though better, for me at least) is that I don’t really care to any longer.

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* Your introduction to this section asks for “errors in proofreading,” among other things. After a few months of on-and-off immersion, I came across almost none – quite a high level of correctness for a Filipino blog. Sometimes, I would note an error, then it would be gone by the time I check again later.

11011However, these ones seem to be persistent, so I’m assuming you find their usage proper: “comprises/comprise” rather than “is/are comprised of”; “was graduated” rather than “graduated”; “cf.” to mean “refer to”; “she/her” as a universal pronoun; apostrophe plus “s” in selected cases (Marcos’s, de la Cruz’s, Philippines’s). I stopped taking notes after I noticed how obsessed you were with corrections, but these ones would have made my English instructors scold me in front of the class.

I generally avoid publicizing positive messages, of which I get a decent share, despite how this section might suggest otherwise. So thanks to everyone, known or anonymous, for all the appreciation and encouragement. I’m responding to this query not because it’s qualified praise, because to me it’s still mainly approbatory.

11011I’ll have to answer each instance in the order brought up by the writer except for the mightily involving pronoun issue, which will be tackled in a separate paragraph. The principle I observe is: I tend toward the most conservative writing rule available, just because this takes care of one basic area and allows me to indulge in the violation of preferences and sensibilities in other areas. With that clarification, here goes nothing.

11011“Comprising” to mean “composing” or “constituting” has been allowable for several decades already, but its primary meaning still refers to “comprehensively including” or “listing without exception” (my own formulation). To “graduate” someone was and still is a privilege that only duly accredited authorities or institutions could bestow, although that sense of it’s mostly ignored in the use of the word today (because people don’t ask “Who/what graduated you?” but rather “Where did you graduate from?”); I use the more precise designation but then the meaning remains the same either way. The abbreviation “cf.” may mean “confer” but you’re right – “conferatur” is really Latin for “contrast,” so I’m in the process of adjusting all my pre-graduate school usage of it, one at a time. Re the formation of possessives: the first time I and my classmates were instructed to use an apostrophe without an s, we were told to apply it to any instance where a word ends with the s sound, or an approximation of it; the strict grammatical rule though (which in this case is admittedly useful) is to use the s-less apostrophe only when the word’s final s indicates the plural form – hence Marcos’s, the Marcoses’. The Philippines, when it refers to the Republic (as opposed to the colonial-era’s Islands), is singular.

11011Regarding the universal pronoun, I’d opt for the consistency of the singular form rather than shift to plural as a way of evading the question of gender. I found my recourse useful when I once wrote about a number of individuals who happened to include a non-binary person who preferred plural usage for themselves. The formation of alternate words just for this purpose is too pretentious for me, sorry to say. Strangely, most people who insist on shifting to plural or using new terms identify as feminist. Their complaint (which I share) is valid: the centuries-long practice of insisting on the singular masculine as universal identifier has to be rectified. So why not the singular feminine? It will be grammatically consistent, uphold the non-patriarchal, and upset conservatives; if in addition it annoys the advocates of they or zhe, boo-hoo but my writing’s integrity comes first.

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* I thought you wanted some peace of mind and that’s why you deactivated your Facebook account. But once a troublemaker, always a troublemaker. Not just your replies on this page, but even in your recent articles and books as well as the updates to your past writings. But you’re crossing the wrong people, and you know it. Don’t make the mistake of showing up at the University of the Philippines or you’ll be getting a taste of your own medicine.

What is it with these pseudo-rads who think that just because their institution once boasted of activist activity (a long-gone tradition to which I once happened to contribute), they’re entitled to treat their public grounds as their own provisional directorate? (It once was exactly that for ten days a half-century ago, and I did already happen to be around then.) I’ll assume that you and the pretentious hothead who made the same statements on the social network a few years ago are different entities. But I continue dropping by any place – on “your” campus or in the country or on the planet – whenever I need to get some work done, regardless of which political entity feels it’s in charge. Apparently you guys are merely being performative, another throwback to the now-anachronistic mantle of machismo in which old tibaks used to cloak themselves,[2] possibly to compensate for their motherly concern for nation and their tendency to turn to poetry and song to express such romantic sentiments. I’ve seen too many of your types turn tail when the prospect of an actual confrontation comes up though. Enjoy your virtual parochial claims and may you have a long, boring life.

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* Do you intend to be a gatekeeper for Philippine film criticism and/or scholarship?

[Answer forthcoming]

[More Q&As coming up!]


[1] I’d really not want to further extend what has become the longest answer in this Q&A series, except that both films in question were already a (bureaucratic) concern of mine decades before the question-sender took notice. When I realized that the then-percolating anti-dictatorship movement forced the cultural establishment of Ferdinand Marcos to a position of permanent enlightenment as one of its defenses, I suggested to an official in my workplace, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, to screen the uncensored version of Manila by Night. To my surprise, I was called back not long after and instructed to start the processing of documents necessary for the film’s release. I was also apprised of the agency’s willingness to screen Sakada – in effect, the two most celebrated censorship cases of the martial-law regime. Bernal was of course delighted that his work would finally be shown in its integral version and with its intended title rather than the censors-designated City after Dark. On the other hand, all the people involved in Sakada provided the same answer: they did not want it screened at the Manila Film Center. I deduced that this was in line with the call jointly made by Cannes filmfest entrants Lino Brocka and Mike de Leon to boycott the MFC, and left it at that.

[2] Tibak is activist argot, drawn from a type of verlanism prevalent among local working-class urbanites since the 1960s. Similar to Pig Latin, a verlan transposes a word’s final syllable to first position (hence the French l’envers, or the inverse, becoming vers-l’en or verlan). In the case of tibak, the full word for activist, aktibista, is first clipped (to aktib) and then verlanized. The first sample of verlanism in Philippine film titles originates from Guwapo (dir. Teodorico C. Santos, 1954), from the Spanish word for handsome, re-emerging as Pogi (dir. Marcelino Navarro, 1967).

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