Tag Archives: Golden Age

NUT’s Kernel

When I started looking out for bylines of prolific Filipino writers in English, Nestor U. Torre’s was the one I wound up reading most often. His writing style could be summed up in a string of adjectives that would soon be considered embarrassing, if not unacceptable, for anyone caught up in the call to resist Ferdinand E. Marcos’s then-emergent fascism.

11011He didn’t help matters for his standing among progressives when martial law was finally declared, and he moved from the opposition’s already-shuttered Manila Chronicle to the Philippines Daily Express, edited by a brother of the First Lady. Yet this was the period of the ascendancy of Torre (or NUT as he preferred to refer to himself) as film commentator. He was also known as the director-writer of Crush Ko si Sir (1971), a pre-ML vehicle for Lino Brocka’s muse Hilda Koronel. A few years later, a movie by another gifted critic-director, Ishmael Bernal, would attempt the same sly reference to Macoy’s womanizing, but the censors by then were sharp and fast enough to take action: Aliw, Sir! simply became Aliw [Pleasure] (1979).

11011These connections will become significant later, but not enough focus was placed then on NUT’s film writing, just as it was relegated to the background in nearly all the tributes paid to him by his colleagues in theater. This was the moment when film was setting out to stake its claim as a creative activity worth taking seriously. Most reviewers, then as now, claimed academic credentials and wrote accordingly. Like Bernal, however, NUT stepped in from an immersion in pop culture. Academia eventually came around to appreciating that kind of orientation, but it was too late for the likes of NUT.

11011Hence the (usually self-serving) drama of asking after theoretical foundations and political allegiances was just about to assert itself, but NUT first made sure that the local intelligentsia would be enthralled and challenged by the prospect of film analysis and evaluation written for its own sake. He published film reviews in a breezy, amused, occasionally ironic, sometimes self-deprecating manner (hence his acronym), in a style that serious students of English literature recognized as highly accomplished. Of his Chronicle-era batch, only Bernal came close, but then “Ishma” eventually pulled away by attaining success as a filmmaker.

11011When a NUT review appeared in the Express, some of my classmates and professors would engage in discussion about it. I remember a senior stating that his take on Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) was better than what came out in foreign newspapers – so I did spend some time afterward at the national university’s main library to check out the claim. Around this time an announcement involving NUT came out, one that I was still too young to realize was ominous: he and the other reviewers published by the Express were forming a critics’ organization, with NUT as founding chair.

11011I was to subsequently become a member of this group, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Filipino Film Critics Circle), which was how I learned about NUT’s departure. He was able to work on his last film project, Ang Isinilang Ko Ba’y Kasalanan? [Is It Wrong to Give Birth?] (1977), the year after the group launched its still-ongoing annual awards. At the meeting where it was discussed, the other members raised questions pertaining to its lack of political content and its derivative quality. He walked out and never showed up again.

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11011The MPP prided itself on objectivity and admitted being harsher on its own members who aspired to industry practice. NUT’s misfortune was that he was the first to be subjected to this type of critical interrogation; ironically another founding member, Behn Cervantes, released Sakada [Plantation Peons] during the year of the MPP’s founding.[1] It had enough so-called social relevance to be considered subversive and was eventually banned by the government. Not surprisingly, it elicited rave reviews from the MPP members and was able to receive citations in major film categories, though its later unavailability excluded it from the awards competition.

11011Still another founding member, Pio de Castro III, came up with Soltero [Bachelor] in 1984 and was rewarded with nominations from the group for direction, performance, and technical categories. Yet although AIKBK was completely bypassed, it had qualities that placed it a cut above the other two films: it featured eight women at a well-known halfway house for unwed mothers-to-be, and although the narrative finally gave precedence to the male superintendent burdened by empathizing with the expectant mothers, several of the individual stories succeeded in focusing attention on the plight of outcast women.

11011I remember AIKBK coming out a few months after Brocka’s Lunes, Martes, Miyerkules, Huwebes, Biyernes, Sabado, Linggo [Monday through Sunday] (1976), which had almost the same number of female characters but which more easily capitulated to the central tale of a son seeking his mother and discovering how she worked as a has-been hooker in Olongapo. Unfortunately these last two films may be lost for good, so we have no way of revaluating the merits of NUT’s entry vis-à-vis the others. All I can attest, to the best of my recollection, is that it left a far more positive impression on me than all the other films I mentioned except for Aliw, which finally succeeded in interweaving its fallen-women tales into an impressive equal-opportunity balancing act.

11011I had only one interaction with NUT, years after he gave up most “creative” film activities including his distinctive brand of film reviewing.[2] We were covering a 1980s film set troubled by serious conflicts among the artists and producers. Upon arriving, he immediately launched into an expertly parodic performance of film buffery (not all that far removed from buffoonery): he would mention an obscure decades-old movie title and state what its opening-day gross was, then he would start mentioning bit players no one ever heard of, as well as running times of ancient films no one had seen. “Isn’t it great to waste everyone’s time with information no one will ever need?” he went.

11011I later asked him what he thought film critics should be doing if they wanted to make a positive contribution. “Make sure to connect,” he said, “and don’t take things too seriously.”[3] Bibeth Orteza, whom I remember made the strongest impression in AIKBK (where she was ironically only one of two newcomers), once mentioned that NUT was determined to compile an anthology of his early articles – so at least his stature as film critic could be recouped. This was before he had his stroke in 2018, after which his mother died, he contracted Covid-19, and passed away last April 6, at 78. He was determined to recover from his stroke, but got exposed to the pandemic virus via his physiotherapy program. He will be remembered for several accomplishments like public relations and theater activities, but not for far more significant ones, which will remain one more cultural anomaly in our time that demands to be redressed.


First published April 14, 2021, as “NUT to Film Critics: ‘Don’t Take Things Too Seriously,’” in The FilAm, and reprinted as “Writer, Director, Critic Nestor U. Torre, 78,” in the May 2021 issue of The FilAm: Newsmagazine Serving Filipino Americans in New York. The author acknowledges discussions on NUT with Lulu Torres Reyes, Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., and Jerrick Josue David.

[1] The only social-media posts that acknowledged NUT’s stint as founding chair of the local critics circle came first from Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr., head of the FACINE International Film Festival, and later from the Directors Guild of the Philippines. All the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino came out with was a post announcing the birthday of its oldest founding member.

[2] One positive result for Pinas pop-culture commentary was NUT’s turn to television criticism, explicated in Louie Jon A. Sánchez’s exemplary assessment in Filipino, titled “Kritisismong Pantelebisyon at si Nestor U. Torre Jr. [Television Criticism and Nestor U. Torre Jr.]”: “During Torre’s active period, he was the only one who focused insistently on reviewing programs in the hurried and impatient medium. When his byline started appearing less frequently starting in 2018, after he suffered a stroke, there was also a decline, in my view, of a high quality of commentary on television in our publications” (Squeeze News Agency Services, April 14, 2021; my translation). See as well “Mga Kislap-Diwa: Ilang Tala sa Mga Gawa ni Nestor Torre Jr. [Ingenious Insights: Some Notes on the Output of Nestor U. Torre Jr.]” by the same author (also SNAS, April 14, 2021). [Usage note: Since Torre’s more recent bylines eschewed the suffix “Jr.,” I have opted to drop it as well. Always NUT, never NUTJ.]

[3] As someone who occasionally gets scolded for supposedly incompatible elements in my writing, I can confirm for myself, and anyone who cares to take notice, that I don’t always faithfully conform to the prescriptions of my predecessors. (Sometimes I even perform the exact opposite of what they advice, but that’s a subject for another article.) The incompatibility I mentioned hinges on my pursuit of useful – and inevitably serious – insights while aspiring to wield the airiest tone I can muster. This constitutes my guarantee to myself that every writing activity poses a formal challenge constantly in danger of failure. Certain contexts are more permissive than others in allowing this anomalous combination (blogs included, fortunately), and such precarious balancing acts don’t always succeed, but I draw some lines whenever necessary: against airheaded whiners who think I should settle for simpler ideas, and against high-minded pretenders who disavow the usefulness of laughter.

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Mother Pinas, Onscreen

From the Internet Movie Database.

Out of Anita Linda’s several bouts of mixed fortunes, the fact that she survived into the internet era should count as her so-far final stroke of good luck. Tributes, recollections, even film excerpts regarding her excellence as performer flooded Pinas social media on the day she died, two days before Independence Day 2020 – a time when people were seeking fitting symbols of the nation to honor.

11011Linda would of course be the perfect embodiment. Dying in the early morning – or, in keeping with her professional approach, sleeping her last – she seemingly made sure that no schedule that required her for the day would be disrupted by any untoward drama in real life. Anything dramatic, for her, should be allowed to emerge only in her performances.

11011Anyone should be able to pick up the basic details by now, and a whole lot more might be added to her bio once historians of pop culture have finished combing through the many anecdotes her co-workers have been posting about her. Born in 1924 to an American father and Ilongga mother, Alice Lake was discovered while watching a stage show by Lamberto V. Avellana, and given her screen name by Avellana’s wife, the former Daisy Hontiveros.[1] She expressed reluctance because of her difficulty with Tagalog, but Avellana was insistent and cast her in a non-speaking stage part.

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Sisa publicity pic. [From Video 48]

11011World War II delayed the screening of her first film, Avellana’s Tiya Juana [Aunt Juana] (1943), for LVN Pictures, Avellana’s home studio. Her next projects, however, came out four years later, for Premiere Productions: three films in 1947, five in 1948, seven in 1949. Premiere was where Gerardo de Leon worked, and Linda may have impressed him enough to cast her in a period project, Sisa, based on the tragic figure in Jose Rizal’s 1887 novel Noli Me Tangere [Touch Me Not], who in turn was partly based on the persecution by Spanish authorities of the hero’s mother, who had made herself vulnerable by marrying a Chinoy.[2] Most of the other evidence of Linda’s evolution as film actor may be impossible to source by now, since most of the Premiere holdings were burned in one of those warehouse fires that kept razing down combustible celluloid stock.

11011An added misfortune was political in nature. Linda, along with Patria Plata, supported a crewpersons’ strike at her home studio, led by soundperson Casimiro Padilla. The owners decided to shut down the production company, leaving the strikers stranded, the actresses included. (Based on their production credits, this would have occurred around the mid-1950s.)[3] During this period, the studio system was also faltering from its top-heavy vertical integration and was facing challenges from more successful stars, who had enough of their own money to start producing their own films. Unfortunately, this tension resolved into a highly commercial catch-as-catch-can approach to production that did not guarantee that many of the titles made by practitioners during that period could be preserved for posterity.

11011Felicitously for Linda’s most celebrated film role, Lino Brocka spearheaded a recovery program with a team whose members hunted down Gerry de Leon films from all over the country, starting with the most logical final destinations – provincial theaters where celluloid prints would usually be left to deteriorate or be cannibalized as caps and horns for Christmas and New Year merriment. The recovery of Sisa (1951) bowled over a new generation of observers, who had been earlier transfixed by a more recent performance, Lolita Rodriguez’s in Lino Brocka’s own Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang [Weighed But Found Wanting] (1974).

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In Emmanuel Quindo Palo’s Sta. Niña (2012), with Coco Martin. [Cinemalaya & CCM Creatives]

11011Linda in Sisa deservedly took top spot as Pinas cinema’s most outstanding film performance, the gold standard against which a much younger aspirant, Nora Aunor, was subsequently to measure herself. To say that Aunor was eventually able to surpass her is no slight on Linda’s achievement: a new filmmaking generation brought with it more openness and artistic daring, along with Aunor’s own considerable resources as top multimedia star of our time. Nevertheless Linda persisted and even managed to occasionally headline her own film projects, possibly the oldest Filipino actor to ever achieve the feat. The two millennial-era films where she appears as lead actress, Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr.’s Adela (2008) and Brillante Ma. Mendoza’s Lola [Grandmother] (2009), deploy the benevolence and humility that Linda became known for among her colleagues.[4] It were as if the directors scouted for unusual and inaccessible urban settings, set Linda down in them, and instructed her to be her truest self. Her final film, Alix’s Circa (2019), also features her in lead capacity – a fitting end to a career with several highs but also too many lows.

11011This may also have been a consequence of iconicity, a higher realm than stardom: people become aptly reverential, sometimes to a fault. One of the unforgettable anecdotes about Linda on the set of Sisa was of de Leon adjusting her delivery by saying, “Anita, konting libog pa [more libido please].” Cineastes may have delighted in this narrative by imagining how much greater the director was than his performer, but Linda’s output throughout and beyond the Marcos regime (regarded as the Second Golden Age of Philippine cinema) belies this auteur-snobbish interpretation. Scroll through the tribute excerpts posted by, as an example, Facebook’s Cristina Gaston (a pseudonym adopted from an Alma Moreno character): Ishmael Bernal, Maryo J. de los Reyes, Elwood Perez, and Joey Gosiengfiao were never content to just depict her as mother to the star(s) of their projects. She had to be kooky, eccentric, decadent, flighty, bitchy, alcoholic, unfaithful, and/or ambitious.

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The working-class assassin in Gumapang Ka sa Lusak (1990). [Viva Films]

11011These characterizations did not arise out of disrespect. On the contrary, they came from a recognition that Linda was always game for unusual challenges, and seemed grateful to make use of comic devices for a change. We’ve left out Lino Brocka, with whom Linda was most associated with sanctimonious-motherly roles. Yet even in this territory, we find departures from her later mater-dolorosa persona. In Jaguar (1979), she scolds her son for his social-climbing delusions but shields him later from pursuing police agents and helps him escape when they get near; in Gumapang Ka sa Lusak [Dirty Affair] (1990), nominatively a sequel to Jaguar, she reprises the role played by Carlito Dimailig in real life, assassinating the movie’s Imelda Marcos figure with a bolo (though as in real life, the person gets killed by security personnel).

11011In the Madama Butterfly-inspired “Hello, Soldier” segment of Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa [Three, Two, One] (1974), she transforms from a devoted mother dutifully preparing to surrender her daughter to the American who fathered her and now wants to adopt her, to a drunk-off-her-ass slum dweller re-enacting the moment she, as a then-younger bargirl, espied and seduced the foreigner she would fall for and be abandoned by. Brocka documents the sequence from the moment she wakes up from her intoxication, through her panic at the thought of being left alone and wandering the streets, regretful at how she was unable to say a proper farewell, without a single line of dialogue: Linda pursues and finishes the tale magnificently, by the use of her face and nothing else.[5]

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The wordless closure of the “Hello, Soldier” episode of Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa (1974).

11011In two films by Mario O’Hara, we find definitive formal proof of Linda’s capabilities. In Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? [Why Is the Sky Blue?] (1981), she executes extended melodramatic arguments with Nora Aunor and proves to be the only actor capable of matching the country’s most gifted performer, line by spiteful line. In Babae sa Bubungang Lata [Woman on a Tin Roof] (1998), she uses the disadvantages of representing a lost past in cinema, narrating her tale rather than enacting it, providing embarrassingly manipulative final-act revelations, and winds up claiming equal-ensemble status as the younger performers via the force of her haunted slow-burn delivery.

11011It would therefore be unsurprising to learn that when Elwood Perez decided to initiate an autobiographical film trilogy as his final artistic statement, Anita Linda heralded the first installment, Otso [Eight] (2013). Her presence infuses the entire film, even though she appears only in the final sequence – as Alice Lake, playing a once-famous actress known as Anita Linda, now the owner of a residential building where an aspiring artist learns about life, love, and desire, realizing to his amazement that his present has become possible because of what the lady at the top floor, overlooking events in her property, underwent in the past.[6] This may be the ultimate way to remember Linda: a woman who dedicated her life so completely to her craft that it expectedly defined her, but also unexpectedly and even more profoundly became defined by her.

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Alice Lake in Otso (2013). [Film Development Council of the Philippines & Earth Moving Pictures]


First published June 13, 2020, as “Remembering Anita Linda: She Devoted Her Life So Completely to Her Craft that It Defined Her,” in ABS-CBN News Channel. The author acknowledges the solicitation and assistance of Jerome Gomez, as well as anecdotes shared by the late Vic Delotavo and several leads provided by Bibeth Orteza (including the very first endnote entry). This article is for a wonderful and supportive social-media acquaintance, Jane Po.

[1] Most reports ascribe the source of Linda’s screen name to Avellana, but their granddaughter Ina Avellana Cosio provided the clarification – that it was Daisy rather than Lamberto who suggested the name – in her comment on my Facebook post of June 10, 2020. Incredibly, Linda’s father named her after his sister, the silent film star Alice Lake (1895-1967), known for co-starring in “Fatty” Arbuckle comedies. See “Anita Linda: Truly a Legend,” a compilation of interview excerpts by Ricky Lo (Philippine Star, June 12, 2020).

[2] I recall this staggering and essential revelation on why a member of the landed gentry was made to march from her home to the municipal jail from one of the first article publications of Caroline S. Hau, whose title I do not recall but which I read for certain in the 1990s. In a recent exchange, she mentioned that her account was cut from the final version of The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and Beyond the Philippines (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2014).

11011In her typically generous manner, she maintained that “the Sisa-Alonso link is [now] orthodox in the scholarship on Rizal, and the authorities really made an example of her, not caring if she was herself of relatively high social standing in the town…, so there’s no need to cite anything I wrote” (“Re: Query re Teodora Alonso Realonda,” email received by the author, July 25, 2020) – all the more reason for a non-Rizal scholar like me to insist on acknowledging Hau’s continuing contribution to this field of study.

[3] This information first came out in the citation for Anita Linda’s award for outstanding lifetime achievement, given by the Filipino Film Critics Circle, of which I was a member then. (Her acceptance speech, delivered in English, was a marvel of humility, ending with – paraphrasing, regarding her worthiness – “If people still want to have me around, I promise to keep working as long as I live.”) The citation was published in the group’s first decadal collection and reprinted in the second; see “Anita Linda,” in The Urian Anthology 1970-1979 (Quezon City: Manuel L. Morato, 1983), pp. 420-21, taglined Jun Cruz Reyes, trans. Nicanor G. Tiongson. After 1953, Patria Plata stopped working altogether at Premiere, while Anita Linda had occasional projects, although not as actively as before.

11011My provisional speculation is that she may have been emboldened by winning the first industry-wide award for an actress in Sisa. Her people skills may be seen in her returning for the occasional Premiere project, as well as for production companies set up by her colleagues in the studio, specifically Gerry de Leon and Larry Santiago. In fact, by freelancing not just for rival studios but also for independent outfits, she may have been the first star who demonstrated the instability and morally questionable logic behind the oligopoly of the Big Three. One of her early “indie” projects anticipated the wild and woolly years of the post-studio 1960s: Nardo Vercudia’s Basagulera [Troublemaker] (1954), for Everlasting Pictures.

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[4] Update: a little-known anecdote that typifies industry practitioners’ reverence for Linda, from multimedia artist Bibeth Orteza, whose mother-in-law, Armida Siguion-Reyna, was then the chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board:

When Joseph Estrada got elected, Fernando Poe Jr. asked for only two people to be appointed to a government slot. One was for his pal Rudy Meyer, who was put on the board of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, and the other, Tita Alice (what we all called her because Alice Lake was her real name, after her aunt, the silent film star in Hollywood), for the MTRCB.

11011We lived just a village apart in 1998. Tita Alice requested a copy of Presidential Decree 1986, the law which created the MTRCB, so I sent her a hard copy. Less than an hour later, she was on the phone. “Hija, please tell Armida I am grateful for the offer of my appointment. But please convey my apologies to her, and to Ronnie, because I cannot accept the post.”

11011I was surprised, and asked her why. She said, “The law says only natural-born Filipinos can serve on the board. I am not a Filipino citizen. I am still an American citizen.” She was so honest about it that Armida wept, in appreciation. (Facebook Messenger exchange, April 15, 2021; acronyms spelled out by the author)

[5] A precursor of how her soon-to-be-rediscovered performance in Sisa was about to recapture the top spot in local film appreciators’ regard was during the 1975 awards ceremonies of the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences: while Lolita Rodriguez in Lino Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang affirmed her stature as an outstanding female performer by winning best actress, it was Linda’s far shorter role, misclassified as supporting actress, in one of three episodes in Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa, that presenters kept raving over.

11011One of the possibly apocryphal tales about the shoot is that the art-direction team used actual (inexpensive working-class) booze on the set, resulting in Linda accidentally getting drunk during the buildup to her confrontation scene. Finding authenticity in her delivery, Brocka proceeded to document her in her inebriated condition.

Update: The aforementioned story is apocryphal. Bibeth Orteza (see endnote 4) narrated an account of how Linda wanted to confront some neighborhood toughies who turned rowdy whenever they got drunk. She challenged them to a drinking contest and won – by remaining sober even after they had finished several rounds of liquor (Pelikulove evaluators’ Zoom session, March 11, 2022).

[6] A wistful and poetic full circle has been inscribed with Otso as well, when we consider that Elwood Perez’s first film, the now-lost Blue Boy (1970), starred Fred Cortes Jr., Linda’s son by Fred Cortes, with whom she had starred in her first film, Tiya Juana. (And just as her husband acted in her first film, she also appeared in her son’s debut.) She put her film career on hold, for the last time, when she opted to live with Cortes in the US, but returned after their union ended. Cortes died in 1966.

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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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Annual Filipino Film Production Chart

Annual Filipino Film Production Chart

[For a larger image, please click on picture.]

From the draft of a forthcoming manuscript:[1]

If we inspect the record of Filipino film production, we also find the medium overcoming all kinds of crises – the World War II Japanese occupation (1941-45), the declaration of martial law (1972), the anti-fascist people-power revolt (1986), the IMF-WB financial crunch (late 1990s) that overlapped with the death of celluloid production. In each instance the rate of production fell, even reaching zero during the Japanese era; but the restoration of relative stability always saw an upsurge in local industrial output – ahead of other media, and in the case of the last crisis, ahead of other Filipino industries (several of which never fully recovered).

Addendum (January 8, 2016):

I have decided to include below a timeline of historical events relevant to a basic understanding of the Philippines and its cinema. My intention was to convert the chart above into an interactive illustration, where one would be able to click on the peak points of certain years and see a timeline entry. Since that would take too much time and effort for me to attend to at the moment, I thought the next best thing would be to provide the timeline itself.


Year Event Total
1896 Execution of Jose Rizal; outbreak of Revolution against Spain.
1897 First film screenings held in the Philippines.
1898 Triumph of Revolution against Spain; US purchases the Philippines from Spain for $23 million in Treaty of Paris.
1899 Outbreak of Philippine-American War.
1900 —α—
1901 Franklin Bell introduces reconcentration camps, prefiguring hamletting in Vietnam.
1902 Jacob “Howling” Smith razes Samar, third largest Philippine island; first labor unions organized.
1903 —α—
1904 US declares end of Philippine “insurrection”; Igorots exhibited as dog-eating head-hunters at St. Louis World’s Fair.
1905 Writ of habeas corpus selectively suspended due to “banditry.”
1906 —α—
1907 Revolutionary General and Tagalog Republic President Macario L. Sakay, tricked into surrendering, is hanged by the US colonial government for alleged banditry.
1908 US colonial government sets up American University of the Philippines.
1909 —α—
1910 Northern nativist leader Apo Ipé captured and executed.
1911 Southern nativist leaders Papa Pablo and Papa Otoy killed in separate battles.
1912 Two Americans simultaneously produce films on the life of José Rizál, declared national hero by US.
1913 —α—
1914 —α—
1915 —α—
1916 Nonhistorical Philippine films start production.
1917 First peasant unions formed.
1918 —α—
1919 First Filipino-produced film completed. 2
1920 —α— 2
1921 —α—
1922 —α—
1923 Anti-American campaign wins senatorial seat for Manuel L. Quezon. 1
1924 Quezon joins independence mission in US, subsequently charged as bogus by nationalist Senator Claro M. Recto.
1925 —α— 3
1926 —α— 2
1927 —α— 5
1928 —α— 2
1929 Major censorship case held on nationalist-themed film release; first imported talkie screened. 7
1930 Communist Party of the Philippines founded; Filipino community attacked in California race riot. 9
1931 Millenarian peasants raid Tayug in Central Luzon. 9
1932 Communist Party outlawed by Supreme Court; first Filipino-produced sound film, George Musser’s Ang Aswang [The Vampire], released. 23
1933 First film sound stage in the Philippines set up. 13
1934 Constitutional Convention held. 14
1935 US inaugurates Philippine Commonwealth, mass protests ensue; first film color laboratory opens. 11
1936 Quezon starts first of two four-year terms as President, to be interrupted by World War II. 15
1937 —α— 29
1938 —α— 48
1939 Falangista movement unites clergy and landlords vs. organized peasants and laborers. 50
1940 Quezon declares limited state of national emergency. 57
1941 Japanese bomb American military installations in the Philippines a few hours after Pearl Harbor, General Douglas MacArthur orders retreat. 45
1942 Bataan and Corregidor fall to Japanese; movie production is state-controlled, theaters turn to stage presentations. 7
1943 Japanese-supervised National Assembly members elected; speaker is Benigno Aquino Sr. 1
1944 First Philippine-set anti-US propaganda movie, The Dawn of Freedom (Abe Yutaka, dir., assisted by Gerardo de Leon), is released by state film agency Eiga Heikusa. 3
1945 Filipino guerrillas, with help from returning Americans, expel Japanese; US reoccupies the Philippines.
1946 Communist anti-Japanese forces wage insurgent war; US grants political independence to the Philippines, arranges special rights for US investors. 35
1947 Military bases agreement signed, providing vast tracts of rent-free land to US. 55
1948 Vertically integrated studio system stabilizes, predominates throughout next decade. 69
1949 —α— 70
1950 President Elpidio Quirino suspends writ of habeas corpus due to insurgency. 74
1951 —α— 71
1952 —α— 77
1953 Former Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay elected President, assists US in Vietnam. 80
1954 —α— 89
1955 —α— 82
1956 —α— 83
1957 Magsaysay dies in plane crash, is succeeded by Carlos P. Garcia, who initiates Filipino-First Policy. 83
1958 World Bank and International Monetary Fund begin giving “aid” and loans to the Philippines. 94
1959 —α— 96
1960 Intensive independent film activity destablizies studio monopoly of production and distribution. 92
1961 US supports Diosdado Macapagal, who becomes next President. 131
1962 Macapagal lifts exchange controls, allows devaluation of Philippine peso. 101
1963 —α— 154
1964 —α— 155
1965 Ferdinand E. Marcos elected President; bio-movie produced as part of his campaign. 202
1966 Marcos resumes extending assistance to US in Vietnam. 186
1967 Nativists led by Tatang de los Santos massacred en route to the presidential palace. 167
1968 Philippine Army’s plan to invade Sabah in Malaysia results in massacre of Muslim trainees; Islamic separatists organize; Communist party re-established. 169
1969 Marcos reelected for second (and Constitutionally last) term; Communist New People’s Army founded. 189
1970 Progressive sectors initiate First Quarter Storm protests; hard-core film pornography flourishes. 225
1971 Marcos suspends writ of habeas corpus; radical students proclaim the “Provisional Directorate” at UP campus. 232
1972 Marcos declares martial law through Presidential Decree 1081; Catholic Bishops and US Chamber of Commerce voice support. 151
1973 New Constitution ratified by viva voce. 156
1974 Lino Brocka’s first independently produced triumph, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang [Weighed But Found Wanting], starts New Philippine Cinema. 127
1975 First Metro Manila Film Festival is held in June. 160
1976 Military takes over censorship board; film critics organize; MMFF playdate is moved to lucrative Christmas break. 171
1977 Kidlat Tahimik’s Mababangong Bangungot [Perfumed Nightmare] wins critics prize at Berlinale. 146
1978 Interim national assembly elections (where Imelda Marcos is topnotcher) charged with fraud. 143
1979 Brocka is introduced at Cannes’s Directors Fortnight through his film Insiang; Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night is banned for a year. 155
1980 First of annual dry-runs held for Manila International Film Festival; Brocka’s Jaguar competes in Cannes. 170
1981 Lifting of martial law, with extensive curtailment of civil and economic rights still in place. 180
1982 First of two annual Manila International Film Festivals leads to Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, formed by Executive Order 770. 152
1983 Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. assassinated upon arrival from US at Manila International Airport. 134
1984 Reagans welcome Marcoses to White House in state visit; UP introduces undergraduate-level film-degree program. 141
1985 ECP dissolved over mounting protests; new government body, Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, screens hard-core films at Manila Film Center. 151
1986 “People-power” uprising ousts Marcos, installs Aquino’s widow Corazon; Mike de Leon’s full-length video film Bilanggo sa Dilim [Prisoner of the Dark] screens at Sony’s short-lived Wave Cinema. 149
1987 Constitutional Convention stipulates unrepeatable six-year term for President. 120
1988 —α— 103
1989 Refusing burial, Marcos dies in exile in Hawaii. 118
1990 First of series of right-wing coups d’etat is staged against Aquino administration. 134
1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption causes worst volcanic havoc in 20th century; Brocka dies in car crash. 130
1992 Marcos cousin Fidel Ramos, endorsed by Aquino, wins presidential election. 115
1993 Kidnapping incidents of Chinese-Filipinos for ransom escalates; violent film melodramas, spearheaded by Aquino’s daughter, become most popular local genre. 124
1994 —α— 111
1995 —α— 129
1996 Collapse of Asian economies stalls Philippine recovery; Bernal dies of heart failure. 99
1997 Globalization begins via ratification of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. 99
1998 Movie action hero Joseph Estrada wins presidential election. 99
1999 —α— 137
2000 Accused of profiteering from illegal gambling, Estrada is impeached by House of Representatives. 104
2001 Second “people-power” revolt forces Estrada to resign; Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, daughter of then-incumbent President whom Marcos defeated in 1965, is sworn in as successor; Lav Diaz begins his long-form series with Batang West Side [West Side Avenue]. 103
2002 M.A. Film introduced at newly founded UP Film Institute. 94
2003 —α— 80
2004 Arroyo wins full term in controversial presidential elections by defeating Fernando Poe Jr. (who dies a few months later); critics give best-film prize to 11-hour-plus digital film, Lav Diaz’s Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino [Evolution of a Filipino Family]. 56
2005 CineManila (international festival), Cinemalaya (local fest), and Cinema One (TV-sponsored film productions) subsidize and exhibit digital films; digital movies Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros [The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros] (Aureus Solito, dir.) and Kubrador [The Bet Collector] (Jeffrey Jeturian, dir.) garner local and foreign-festival prizes. 55
2006 “Commercial appeal” is used as major criterion in the Metro Manila Film Festival. 61
2007 —α— 79
2008 —α— 83
2009 Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay [Butchered] wins Best Director at Cannes Film Festival; Cathy Garcia-Molina’s You Changed My Life breaches Php 200 million threshold. 113
2010 Benigno Simeon Aquino III (son of Corazon) wins presidential election. 111
2011 Star Cinema sets and breaks three of its own box-office records in succession. 130
2012 Ateneo de Manila University’s Kritika Kultura journal features special issue on Manila by Night. 151
2013 —α— 140
2014 Lav Diaz’s Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon [From What Is Before] wins Golden Leopard at Locarno International Film Festival; Aquino rejects National Commission for Culture and the Arts’s recommendation of Nora Aunor as National Artist. 117
2015 Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna [General Luna] becomes most successful indie-digital production in history. 91
2016 Rodrigo Duterte wins presidential election; Lav Diaz’s Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis [A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery] wins Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival, Jacklyn Jose wins Best Actress at Cannes for Brillante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa, Paolo Brillantes wins Best Actor at Tokyo International Film Festival for Jun Robles Lana’s Die Beautiful; Khavn de la Cruz sets Guinness world record for “longest film concert” via Simulacrum Tremendum’s screening at International Film Festival Rotterdam. TBA


[1] The “manuscript” mentioned here became available in early 2018 as Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2017).

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