New Filipino Cinema 2013: Filipina Shorts

Jun 9, 2013 1:00pm

Screening Room
$10 Regular/$8 YBCA member, senior, student, or teacher
U.S. premiere

We showcase four emerging women directors in this diverse program of shorts.

Waiting to Whisper (Ang Paghihintay sa Bulong) by Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo
In traditional Filipino culture, when a person dies you can whisper and send your wishes to the dead. This bizarre yet touching film depicts a grotesquely dysfunctional family who selfishly await the death of a relative. (2012, 17 min)

Aurora, My Aurora by Janus Victoria
A poetic meditation on random human connections set against the discordant urban rhythms of Manila. (2012, 15 min)

Vow of Silence (Imik) by Anna Isabelle Matutina
Starring the gifted young actress Mercedes Cabral, Imik examines the complexities of sexual relationships in an extremely patriarchal society. (2012, 40 min)

Last Strike (Katapusang Labok) by Aiess Alonso
With stunning imagery bathed in glorious light, the film portrays a fishing community north of Cebu who struggle to survive despite the devastation caused by coral harvesting. (2012, 20 min)

More at:

PH films in the spotlight at film festival in Finland

By Sheila Riikonen, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau correspondent
Posted at 03/12/2013 10:24 AM | Updated as of 03/12/2013 10:28 AM


(L-R) Jewel Maranan, Anna Isabelle Matutina, Raymond Red, Axel Estein and guest at Focus on the Philippines

FINLAND – Twenty documentary, experimental and fiction short films by prize-winning filmmaker Nick Deocampo, noted directors Raymond Red, Anna Isabelle Matutina, and Jewel Maranan were showcased at the recent 43rd Tampere International Short Film Festival.

Held from March 6 to 10, the film festival gathered a poignant collection of short films made during the last 40 years in the Philippines. The Philippines was one of the festival’s main focuses in Asia, along with China and India.

The 5-day fest was attended by thousands of international guests, filmmakers, organizers, students, and film buffs, who viewed over 500 screenings and 4500 international films for the press at the “Film Market” events.

The four directors led by Red, a veteran of the short film genre, and two upcoming young directors Sunshine Matutina and Maranan participated in seminars, discussions and masterclasses, as well as workshops, in Finland´s 19th century district.

“We are very happy to be in one of the most prestigious film fest in Europe,” Red said in an interview with ABS-CBN Europe at the historic Tammer Hotel in the mainland city of Tampere.

“[Its] a good chance to show that our film industry is vibrant with promising young talents. We have been invited before but this is our first opportunity to be here,” he said.

Some Filipinos went to the film festival to give their support to the Filipino directors.
“We are very excited to welcome them here. We listened to ‘Focus on the Philippines’ program discussions and we were very proud,” said Tampere-based Alice Savolainen from Albay. She and her Finnish husband paid a minimum of 8 euros for each film and enjoyed the free additional screenings.

Matutina’s acclaimed “Imik” drew gasps from the audience with its portrayal of female sexuality and family relationships. Maranan´s documentary on “Tondo, Beloved: To What Are the Poor Born?”, which was shown to a big crowd on Saturday evening, was well-received by the mainly European audience.

“It was amazing when watching the film how the director can present her subjects poignantly and subtly in such close proximity,” said Vladimir Horev from Estonia.

Red’s “Ang Hikab” (1984) was described in Finnish blogs as a surreal film balancing the fine line between dreaming and being awake by a man caught in his own nightmares.

The 15-minute film is a very successful model to exploit, as a crossbreed of ‘Becket and Kafkaesque’ kind of encounter with the world, wrote critic Henri Walter Rehnström.

“Red’s use of 8-16 millimeter camera results in very familiar but also has a very special outcome. Filipino films that have remained invisible to Finland commercially show again a short repackaging of fact and fiction,” he added.

UK won the Grand Pix

“The Mass of Men” (2012), directed by Gabriel Gauchet, won with its story of a 55-year-old Richard, who is late for his appointment at the employment office. According to the jury, “the filmmaker skillfully leads the viewer through a constantly developing narrative asking them to question their own preconceptions as the full story is gradually revealed.”

The Best Fiction category went to Argentina’s “Asesinato en Junìn” (Murder in Junín, 2012) by Andrew Sala while the audience award for Best International Film was handed out to “Matka” (Mother, 2012) by Polish Lukasz Ostalski.

Finland´s National Competition winners include “Hänen tilanne” (When One Stops, 2012), “Hiljaisen talven lapsi” (The Child of Silent Winter), “Laulu koti-ikävästä” (Finnish Blood Swedish Heart, 2012), and “Häätanssi” (Dance of Outlaws, 2012). The Youth Jury Award and student prizes were also given. The Trash Film Festival aimed at low budget Finnish films was well-attended.

“The competitions attracted a large audience as well as Zaida Bergroth’s retrospective screenings which were sold out. Old film classics were audience favorites too while the unique show Retour de flamme swept the audience off at Tullikamari,” the festival director said.

Painful issues in PH tackled in light-hearted way

The cinematic journey to the Philippines and China are highlights of the main program. The more recent fiction films deal with even painful issues in a lighthearted way, wrote the Finnish press.

As a theme, the Philippines was depicted as a “former Spanish colony with prominent Catholicism displayed in the films as colorful carnival culture, among other things.”
“The Eternity” about the quest for eternal life, and “Black Nuisance” about the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century, were shown in Focus on the Philippines, alongside “True Blue American Coconut Grove” and “Rust”.

Meanwhile, the status of gay men living on the margins of Filipino society by Paolo Villaluna’s “Margin.”

“Ang Magpakailanman” was reminiscent of “Metropolis” (1927), and visually compelling “Andalusian Dog” (1929), wrote Rehnström. “It would have been great if the Film Festival had the opportunity to make further production showings of Red, for example, in the 2000 film of Anino that won the Short Film Palme d’Or at Cannes.”

“We never knew about the Philippines, but after the festival we have a strong desire to go there and see for ourselves,” said Monika, a young student from Tampere.

The first Tampere International Short Film Fest, which started in 1970 now evolved to become an international meeting place for film professionals and enthusiasts. Since, 2009 over 3000 films were submitted to the competitions. Remaining ideologically neutral and open, the event prides itself on showcasing high standard cinema, regardless of social systems.


PH films in two Finland film fests

March 2, 2013 | 9:26 pm

The Tampere Film Festival has lined up a retrospective of 20 Filipino shorts, spanning works from 1969 to 2012, along with two full-length features (Mes de Guzman’s “Diablo” and Lawrence Fajardo’s “Amok,”) and Jewel Maranan’s full-length documentary “Tundong Magiliw.”

Four Filipino filmmakers Nick Deocampo, Raymond Red, Anna Isabelle Matutina and Maranan will attend the Tampere fest, which will be held from March 6 to 10.

Among the short films to be screened in Tampere are those of Red (“The Eternity”) and Paolo Villaluna (“Margin”).

Axel Estein curated the Filipino program, dubbed “Focus on the Philippines.”

Four days after Tampere, three Filipino shorts will be shown at the Helsinki Cine Asia Film Festival: Borgy Torre’s “Bonsai,” Joy A. Aquino’s “Nilda” and Rommel Tolentino’s “Niño Bonito.”

The Helsinki fest will be held from March 14 to 17.  – Bayani San Diego Jr.

– See more at:

20 filmmakers. 10 issues. 20 short films.

It is a nation that lives by its stories: housewives living through the eight pm soap opera, teenagers who toss meager allowances on movie tickets, the audience that shakes its head over the daily news. AmBisyon is about the dreams of a nation, the vision of a future in the context of a country locked in poverty. It is about hope, possibility, truth—through the lenses of those who tell its stories.

In amBisyon2010, the Abs-cbn News Channel brings together twenty independent filmmakers who will tackle their version of the state of the nation. Corruption, Democracy, Economy Education, Environment, Health, Justice and Human Rights, Population, Poverty and Security: these are the issues that will determine who will take on the national leadership in the elections of 2010.

On a budget of P30,000, each filmmaker will produce a short film that pictures their vision of the nation after 2010. The films will have their theater premiere in late February of 2010, three months before the national elections. For ten weeks after, ANC will air the short films in weekly prime time episodes, together with behind the scenes interviews with the filmmakers.

amBisyon2010 brings together the dreams of a nation—and the possibility of change.

Ikaw, ano ang ambisyon mo?

Directed and edited by Jason Tan
Produced by Patricia Evangelista
Cinematography by Mackie Galvez
Music by Malek Lopez
Performance and words by Lourd de Veyra

6 new winners given ANC film grants | 01/13/2010 6:17 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Local filmmakers will be given a chance to show the world their vision for the country this 2010 elections through ANC’s “Ambisyon 2010” film project.

“Ambisyon 2010” brings together 20 filmmakers, 14 of whom are already established names in Philippine cinema, with the aim of producing short films that tackle pressing national issues like poverty, population control, education, health, and others.

The 14 slots under the film project were allotted to Cannes awardees Brillante Mendoza and Raymond Red, Kiri Dalena, Ditsi Carolino, Jade Castro, Emmanuel Dela Cruz, Henry Frejas, mainstream directors Jeffrey Jeturian and Erik Matti, Ellen Ramos, Jerrold Tarog, John Torres and Paolo Villaluna.

Six other slots were left up for grabs to interested applicants.

Out of over 80 applicants who submitted their film ideas, the 6 finalists were chosen by a panel of judges composed of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs executive Maria Ressa, film critic Erwin Romulo and cinema figure Clodualdo del Mundo Jr.

ANC producers Patricia Evangelista and Villaluna, who came up with “Ambisyon 2010”, announced on Tuesday the names of 6 “newbie” filmmakers who won film grants under the project.

The winners include:

* Anna Matutina
* Pam Miras
* Aissa Peñafiel
* Emerson Reyes
* Gym Lumbera
* McRobert Nacario

Each grantee will receive P30,000– barely enough to make a 4 to 8 minute short film.

Villaluna says this means the film projects is more of an advocacy than a profit-generating activity for filmmakers.

‘Omnibus project’

Evangelista said the applicants were selected based on their film concepts and reels (a collection of their previous work).

Most of the winners had day jobs and professions unrelated to filmmaking.

Though many joined “Ambisyon 2010” on a lark, Evanglista said they found many artistic gems that showed the creators’ fresh perspectives on issues.

“McRobert Nacario, for example. He comes from Davao and is an indie filmmaker. From what I heard, his camera’s not fantastic but his eyes are superb,” she said. “So I think what we were looking for was really independent voices.”

Villaluna said they prized an applicant’s ability to tell a story through visual means.

“What we were looking for was their ability to tell a story more than the concept or the story itself. Apparently, the 6 are really good storytellers,” he said.

“You have to understand that these are very relevant times and people forget that cinema is one of the very importanty avenues for communication,” he added. “These are the better storytellers of our time. These storytellers have stories to tell. And what perfect venue than short films?”

In the end, Evangelista said they ended up with a “mixed bag” of filmmakers for the collaborative project.


Though a majority of the filmmakers under “Ambisyon 2010” are young, Villaluna said the message their short films will convey span all ages.

“It’s for anyone who wants to watch,” he said.

“Ambisyon 2010” aims to critique the country’s socio-political landscape, but at the same time tries to offer a message of hope and inspiration.

“There is that intention of inspiring the viewer to be part of the change that is supposed to happen. We want to be agents of that change,” Villaluna said.

Each filmmaker have their existing beliefs and advocacies, but were allowed to choose one of 10 national issues identified by the “Ambisyon 2010” producers.

The filmmakers ranked the top 3 issues that they claimed to be passionate about and, as Evangelista shared, each “got what they wanted.”

The participants are expected to send in their official short film reels at the end of February.

Clips of these films will be aired on ABS-CBN on March 7, along with interviews with the filmmakers. The films will also be screened at a red carpet premiere at the end of March.

The producers hope the films’ messages will resonate with the public all the way to May 2010. (


Space Philippines, A Living Conversation
The Katorse Writers’ Group is a group of young writer-filmmakers who were part of Ricky Lee’s 14th Scriptwriting Workshop. They aim to “address” the problem that “short films have remained the… consistently underrated medium that has never been given the exposure it demands. Even with the emerging popularity of independent films in the Philippines, short films are still seen as ‘front acts’ for full-length features or ‘sidebars’ at local film festivals.”

In the interview, spearhead Anna Isabelle Matutina has said of the group that “of course, our appoaches to film vary. Some of us have tried co-writing, but most of us would rather work alone (in the actual writing) because writing films can sometimes end friendships. Haha. Our group is made up of writer-directors, editor-directors, cinematographer-director, production designer-director. So you can just imagine how different our screenplays look like.”

“Despite this, whenever there is an ongoing project, we all do our best to help out and contribute. And because the group started through the Ricky Lee workshop, we have, in one way or another, imbibed the kind of group-writing/filmmaking process wherein we do brainstormings and pitches and grilling of each other’s works whenever we can – or whenever the filmmaker/director allows it.”

What would you say is the genius of the short film form? What can it accomplish with an elegance that full-length features can’t?

It has always been said that short films should not be compared to full-length features in terms of which one is the more inferior/superior form. For me, it always depends on the material. I’ve seen some full-length features that would have been better if they were done as short films (and vice versa).

But I’ve always believed in the power of the short format. I think it’s all about communicating, and those that communicate a truckload of ideas in the shortest time possible are the most brilliant works I’ve seen. Being a Ricky Lee workshopper, we were always told that a five-minute work should say an hour worth of ideas, or something like that.

Another reason why I prefer shorts to full-lengths is because I feel that it is more democratic. Since short films are less expensive to produce, the art form is not controlled by the priveleged few – and therefore, it is more representative of society.

The work of seven film makers were shown at Indie Sine one after another. Was there an organizing principle–or a suggestion of narrative–behind the sequencing of the films?

To be honest, there was really no formal discussion in the group about the lineup.

The 7 short films differ thematically and stylistically. The arrangement or sequencing of the films was mostly based on the heaviness/lightness of the material. We do recognize that it isn’t easy watching 7 short films in one sitting. That is why we more or less interchanged the heavy ones with the comedic/ lighter ones.

The Katorse Writers’ Group had a screening last 2006 in RoundEye Glass (which has closed down) to celebrate our four years as a group. Katorse became a pseudo-production house and we came up with so many shorts that it was about time we had a screening. Through this, we were able to raise funds to produce our DVD compilation and send the films to festivals abroad.

After 2 years, more films were produced, and with the opening of Indie Sine to short films, we figured that it would be a great opportunity to showcase new works so that we could raise funds for our next DVD compilation. Producing our own DVD compilations and putting up screenings are our way of promoting short films in the Philippines.

The line-up basically included 3 short films that will be included in the 2nd DVD compilation – as a teaser/promotion for the soon to come DVD – and 4 other short films that still lacked exposure, even though they were part of the 1st compilation. Most of these shorts were selected in both local and international festivals.

Godard argues that film is its own language, and tends to have a distaste for films that he calls “literary,” meaning those films that the theater or a novel or some other form can do well enough. How does the Katorse Writers Group approach film? What does the group collectively wish to achieve in film?

I have only read Godard (since he has the most overused name in film discussions) but I’ve never really seen any of his films, and I have not come across that specific argument. Most of us in Katorse didn’t have a formal film education, so forgive me if I fail to understand his argument.

In some ways, yes I do believe that those films that the theater or some other form can do well enough are somewhat inferior (if I understand the argument correctly). I would mostly blame the filmmaker for that – although you can’t really separate the filmmaker from the film. The film medium is totally different from the other forms of art, in the same way that dance is different from music, or a poem is different from a painting. It has a different set of parameters. Although a lot of novels turned to film are better as novels, I do feel that films offer something that novels cannot.

A lot of people mistake disloyalty to details of a novel as equivalent to a “bad” film. The quality of a film should not be based on the pre-existence of another art form. In fact, I don’t really like films that are “too loyal” or that try too hard to be “accurate” to the original source material. What happened to the filmmaker? Where is his/ her voice? The film must offer something more than what a 400-page novel offers.

If the point of the argument is originality, intertextual studies have already showed that even “the seemingly original story has its precursors, a fact that somehow reduces the absolute authority of the source text in an adaptation process…” (Literary Fil Adaptations as Film Texts, Arne Engelstad) Artists steal or borrow or whatever they want to call it. It is part of the creative process.

Collectively, the group wishes to promote the short film format. Since most of us had experiences in both local and international festivals, the difference in terms of treatment and recognition of shorts here and abroad is so apparent. Case in point, in light of the Philippines’ participation in Cannes recently, there was no mention in any of the press releases/write ups of Raymond Red’s short film, Anino, which won the Palme d’Or in 2000. That alone says a lot.

NOTE: In June of 2008, the Last year in June, they presented “Katorse Shorts” at Robinson’s Galleria Indie Sine. Films include: “Ang Kapalaran Ni Virgin Mario” by Ogi Sugatan, “Ambulancia” by Richard Legaspi, “Blood Bank” by Pam Miras, “Dead Letter” by Grace Orbon, “Ika-Siyam Na Palapag,” “Panaginipan,” “Puwang” and “Walong Linggo” by Anna Isabelle Matutina, “Lababo,” “Shorts” and “Pagbugtaw” by Seymour Sanchez, and “Manyika” by John Wong. The short films may now be viewed online.

Digital Films top Urian nominees

Inquirer Last updated 00:17am (Mla time) 07/06/2006
Published on Page A2-3 of the July 6, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

INDEPENDENT digital filmmakers dominated the list of nominees to the 29th Gawad Urian, handed out by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, pioneering society of film critics.

Competing for Best Picture are “Ala Verde Ala Pobre” (Muchachos Bravos Filmworks), “Big Time” (Arkeofilms), “Blue Moon” (Regal Films), “Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong” (Sampaybakod Productions), “La Visa Loca” (Unitel Films), and “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” (ufo Films).

Save for “Blue Moon,” these nominees are made on digital film—transferred to celluloid for commercial release. Their summaries and other nominations:

“Ala Verde Ala Pobre,” about a slum couple living along Manila’s railroad tracks. Also nominated for Editing, Production Design. The film marks the return of avant-garde artist Briccio Santos, nominated for Best Director; Ana Capri, for Best Actress.

“Big Time,” about small-time criminals. Also nominated for Sound, Editing, Production Design, Screenplay, Direction; Michael de Mesa, for Best Supporting Actor; Jamie Wilson, for Best Actor.
“Blue Moon,” a nostalgic romance across generations. Also nominated for Sound, Music, Editing, Cinematography; Joel Lamangan, for Best Director; Boots Anson Roa and Jennylyn Mercado, for Best Supporting Actress; Dennis Trillo, for Best Actor.

“Kalimugtong,” poignant story of two Benguet orphans who traverse mountains and rivers to get to school everyday. Nominated for all categories, except Best Supporting Actor—Mes de Guzman for Director, Screenplay; Analyn Bangsi-il, for Best Actress; Rhenuel Ordono, for Best Actor; Hallen Sumingwa, for Best Supporting Actress.

“La Visa Loca,” a satire on the American dream. Also nominated for Music, Production Design, Screenplay; Johnny Delgado, for Best Supporting Actor; Robin Padilla, for Best Actor.

“Maximo Oliveros,” arguably the most successful digital feature last year. Also nominated for Music, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Screenplay, Direction; Soliman Cruz, Ping Medina, for Best Supporting Actor; Nathan Lopez, for Best Actor.

The awards ceremonies, set on Aug. 3, will be broadcast on Channel 9.

The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino is chaired by Mike Rapatan of the Department of Communication of De la Salle University. The members are National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, former Movie and Television Review and Classification Board chair Nicanor Tiongson, broadcast personality Butch Francisco, Malaya editor and MTRCB member Mario Hernando, UP College of Mass Communication professor Gigi Alfonso, National University of Singapore lecturer Rolando Tolentino, and Inquirer arts and culture editor and UST professor Lito Zulueta.

The other nominees:

Best Screenplay: Mario Cornejo, Monster Jimenez, “Big Time”; Lee Meily, “La Visa Loca”; Michiko Yamamoto, “Maximo”; Shugo Praico, “Sa Aking Pagkagising Mula sa Kamulatan.”

Best Actor: Carlo Aquino, “Kamulatan”; Ricky Davao, “Pusang Gala”; Yul Servo, “Ilusyon.”

Best Actress: Irma Adlawan, “Sa North Diversion Road”; Claudine Barreto, “Nasaan Ka Man”; Ana Capri, “Ala Verde”; Jaclyn Jose, “Sarungbanggi”; Jaycee Parker, “Ilusyon”; Analyn Bangsi-il, “Kalimugtong”. Best Supporting Actor: Ketchup Eusebio, “Kamulatan.”

Best Supporting Actress: Joy Soler-de Castro, “Pepot Artista”; Gloria Diaz, Hilda Koronel, “Nasaan Ka Man.”

Best Production Design: Clint Catalan, Cristina Dy, Lily Esquillon, “Maximo”; Christina Dy, “Big Time”; Benjamin Padero, “Masahista”; Norman Regalado, “La Visa Loca”; Mes de Guzman, Noel Montano, “Kalimugtong”; Briccio Santos, Anil Rao, “Ala Verde.”

Best Cinematography: Albert Banzon, “Kalimugtong”; Odyssey Flores, “Ilusyon”; Nap Jamir, “Maximo”; Timmy Jimenez, Monchie Redoble, “Masahista”; Charlie Peralta, “Nasaan Ka Man”; Rolly Manuel, “Blue Moon”; Wowie Hao, Odyssey Flores, “Dilim.”

Best Editing: Mario Cornejo, Monster Jimenez, “Big Time”; Ellen Ramos, Paulo Villaluna, “Ilusyon”; Clarence Sison, “Maximo”; Marya Ignacio, “Blue Moon”; Abbas Tabas, Arasaw Kurabokov, “Kalimugtong”; Anil Rao, “Ala Verde”; Hector Macaso, Sunshine Matutina, “Dilim.”

Best Music: Vincent de Jesus, “La Visa Loca”; Pepe Smith, “Maximo”; GMA Records, “Mulawin, the Movie”; Von de Guzman, “Blue Moon”; Bernard “Nio” Manzano, “Kalimugtong.”

Best Sound: Raffy Magsaysay, “Big Time”; Addis Tabong, “Nasaan Ka Man”; Michael Idioma, “Blue Moon”; Bob Macabenta, “Kalimugtong”; Tris Suguitan, “Dilim.”

Squatterpunk Review (Variety)

Mexico City Film Festival
Iskwaterpangk (Documentary — Philippines)

Rambunctious and relentless, Khavn’s aptly titled “Squatterpunk” applies pure adrenaline rush to a day in the life of a Manila shanty town. A bit less harried than many of this wildly active filmmaker-musician’s other features and shorts, docu marries a constantly roving camera (often mounted with ultra-wide-angle lens) with a nonstop punk-rock soundtrack that fuels the action with bursts of aural energy. Terrific fest fare will widen Khavn’s growing fan base (especially among young Asian hipsters), and looks to be a solid specialist vid item.

Center of the pic is young Hapon, leader of a gaggle of youngsters in the desperately poor seaside slum of Isla Puting Bato (with Manila visible in the distance). Kids will be kids: Running, scampering, diving into filthy ocean water, the tykes manage to turn their direly poor surroundings into the world’s most unlikely playground.

Pic turns several conventional notions on their heads, not least of which is standard liberal ideology, expressed in countless docs, that expresses hand-wringing pity toward the poor. Khavn (nickname for Khavn de la Cruz) appears to reject this, kids in these circumstances as they actually are, with endless energy and nerve. This may offend some viewers demanding a more PC line, just as others may not appreciate the driving punk sounds of the Brockas (named in honor of late Filipino film master Lino Brocka).

Latter reference is telling, since the community here is exactly the sort of setting in which Brocka frequently located his complex melodramas. Khavn tips his cap to his mentor while adopting a freewheeling approach that does away with storyline, dialogue and almost any natural sound. Precendent here is actually in the earliest pre-20th-century experimental silent pics that linked motion-filled images with music, and the tradition of the “city symphony” film.

Pacing (via editing by Lawrence Ang, Caloy Carlos and Sunshine Matutina) is breathless, but with enough pauses and quiet passages to vary mood and texture. Albert Banzon’s intensely physical camerawork suggests the lens is like a small kid, dashing close to the ground and taking everything in.

Remarkably, lensing was done in a single day. As usual, to ironically stress his championing of latest in digital vid cinema, opening credits announce “This is Not a Film by Khavn.”

Camera (B&W, mini-DV), Albert Banzon; editors, Lawrence Ang, Caloy Carlos, Sunshine Matutina; music, the Brockas, Bobby Balingit, Tengal, Buccino P. De Ocampo; sound, Arvie Bartolome, Darryl Shy; assistant director, Rayg Generoso. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, March 22, 2008. (In Mexico City Film Festival — Guest Country: Philippines. Also in Rotterdam, Singapore filmfestivals.) Running time: 80 MIN.

The Philippines’ Unfree Zones

By Philippe Revelli
Le Monde Diplomatique, June, 06 2008
The government, armed forces and vested interests in the Philippines have used the excuse of counter-terrorism to murder, kidnap and pressure trade unionists and farmers’ organisations. They want a nation of docile labour and emptied land that can be sold on the world markets.

Joey Javier was the president of a farmers’ organisation Kagimungan. On 11 November 2006 he was on his way to Baggao, in the province of Cagayan in the north of the island of Luzon, for a meeting. “It had rained heavily the previous night,” remembers his widow. “Just after the bridge, the tricycle got bogged down in the mud. Just as my husband got off to push, two men appeared and shot him point blank. The army base was less than 100 metres away, but there was no attempt to catch the killers.”

Anthony Licyayo took over as head of the organisation, only to be assassinated two weeks later. A month after that, his successor Pedro Frances barely escaped a murder attempt.

On 21 January 2007 two more Kagimungan activists were shot dead. On 7 August the home of Ambot Asucena, the leader of its youth wing, was riddled with bullets. Before he died, he identified his attackers as soldiers from the 21st infantry battalion. On 9 September soldiers from the 17th infantry battalion abducted two farmers belonging to Kagimungan; when their bodies were found, they showed signs of torture.

Isabelo Adviento, Kagimungan’s current head, said: “In July 2006 the army occupied Baggao, where the hard core of our movement is located. The same month the premises of Radio Cagayan, which we had just launched, were set on fire and over the next few months there were more and more extra-judicial executions.

Soldiers rounded up people from their homes and took them to propaganda meetings that attacked us as accomplices of the guerrillas. The farmers were told to give up – give up what? They were forced to act as scouts for the army or to join the Cafgu (1) paramilitaries.”

Kagimungan is a legal organisation established by the province’s small farmers. Over the past few years it has campaigned against the sharecropping system: growers have refused to hand over half their yields to the landlords. It has also managed to force merchants to buy crops on terms less unfavourable to small producers (2).

Recently Kagimungan expressed anxieties about the expropriation of land for the introduction of genetically modified crops as part of the North Luzon Super Region economic plan. This vast project involves the construction of an ultra-modern port in the north of the island, the creation of free zones and the development of crops for export. It depends upon massive amounts of foreign capital and, according to the authorities, the Kagimungan leaders are now the final obstacle in its way. Adviento claimed this was just pointing out targets to the killers; for his own safety, he has left his village and never stays in any one place for long.

‘Excuse to conduct a dirty war’

Renato Reyes is the secretary general of Bayan, a leftwing coalition of grassroots organisations. He said that the situation in Baggao was emblematic of what is going on elsewhere in the country. “President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is using the struggle against terrorism as an excuse to conduct a dirty war against anyone who opposes her ultra-liberal policies.” Since her election in 2001, she has pledged to make the Philippines a first world country by liberalising trade and investment, reforming the tax system and privatising state property.

According to Reyes: “The regime boasts about how fast the country is growing, but it’s just a balloon inflated by borrowing and massive injections of foreign capital. To attract investors, the government is undermining labour rights, handing over vast swathes of the country to mining multinationals, opening up protected areas to oil prospectors and signing commercial agreements that drive out our farmers and replace them with monocultures for export or biofuel production.”

At present, 80% of the population live on less than $1.50 per day; the number of children under 15 who do not attend school rose from 1.8 million in 2001 to 3.1 million in 2006; 26% of those who benefited from agrarian reform (3) were forced to resell their land; and this agricultural nation is now one of the world’s leading importers of rice.

Reyes said: “Despite everything, there are a number of active workers’ organisations in the Philippines, many of which emerged from the struggle against the dictatorship or the campaign against US military bases. They oppose the government’s economic policies. To keep them quiet, the government is using a policy of terror, what it calls a counter-insurrection strategy.”

Successive Philippines governments have had to deal with movements committed to armed struggle. The New People’s Army (NPA), founded in 1969, is a Marxist guerrilla organisation (the military wing of the CPP, the Communist Party of the Philippines), which is thought to have some 8,000 combatants fighting on 62 fronts across the country. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Abu Sayyaf group are Muslim separatist groups on the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu and Jolo (4).

Despite negotiations with the factions (apart from Abu Sayyaf), President Arroyo has favoured force. Peace talks with the NPA broke down in 2004, and in 2007 Arroyo used rumours of a possible coup as an excuse to introduce a state of emergency and declare total war on the armed groups. “There is no provision for a state of emergency in the Philippines constitution,” Reyes said. “The declaration has a theatrical effect, but it also gives the army carte blanche to continue and intensify its dirty war.”

Counter-insurgency strategies

The armed forces copied their counter-insurgency strategies – Oplan Bantay Laya I in 2001 and Oplan Bantay Laya II in 2007 – from the Phoenix Programme that the United States used during the Vietnam war. They target suspected civilian support for rebel groups. Norberto Gonzales, Arroyo’s adviser for special concerns, justified this: “We are no longer dealing with a traditional guerrilla campaign; these guerrillas have infiltrated our democratic process.”

The tactics of General Jobito Palparan, who has led the armed forces in central Luzon since August 2005, are a good example. Ignoring areas of intense guerrilla activity, he has deployed his troops around centres of economic development, notably the Global Gateway project (5), an ambitious scheme to build a road network that has provoked strong opposition from farmers driven off their land or threatened with expulsion, and from road hauliers for whom the introduction of tolls means additional expenses.

There are paramilitary groups operating alongside the army. During 2006, 83 leaders and activists from leftwing, farmers’ and human rights organisations were killed in central Luzon. Unsurprisingly, General Palparan denies having ordered these murders. He told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that these executions were “helping” the army in its battle against those inciting the people to fight the government, and were “small sacrifices” that must be made in the name of the counter-insurgent struggle (6). Targets are identified on the armed forces’ internet site: “The CPP/NPA finds good allies and propagandists in Roman Polintan, Fabian Hallig and Aurora Broquil” (7). Palparan told an Australian television journalist, Karen Percy: “I might have encouraged or inspired people to take the law into their hands” (8).

In August 2006 the government set up the Melo Commission to investigate some of the executions, but the inadequacy of its conclusions confirmed the regime’s reluctance to put an end to these excesses. It is still too early to assess the effectiveness of the Writ of Amparo (9); but the human rights organisation Karapatan claimed that on the same day the law was promulgated, the president sent a directive to the defence department instructing it to prevent either the divulgence of military secrets or any hostile interference in operations relating to national security.

‘Prosecuting civil society leaders’

These measures did not impress UN special rapporteur Philip Alston, who said on 26 November 2007: “In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organisations – eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists and land reform advocates, intimidated a vast number of civil society actors, and narrowed the country’s political discourse.”

He described the military’s claim that many of the executions were the result of a purge within the guerrilla movement as “a cynical attempt to displace responsibility” and concluded that “the priorities of the criminal justice system had been distorted,” and had _”focused on prosecuting civil society leaders rather than their killers”.

Jose Cawiding, the coordinator in Baguio province of the leftwing party Bayan Muna (People First), was detained last October, accused of links with the NPA. According to Santos Mero, the provincial leader of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA): “The real objection to him is his commitment to the indigenous population and its struggle.”

Cordillera, where Baguio is located, is in central Luzon and has major deposits of gold and copper, which attracted US companies during the 19th century. The concessions granted to mining multinationals now cover 1.2m of the region’s 1.8m hectares, and the government wants to prioritise new investment.

Mero said that people living there had immediately opposed the expansion of companies that destroyed the land, polluted rivers, caused deforestation and displaced people. “The CPA is now mobilising against this destructive industry and against the construction of new dams to provide it with energy. We demand that the communities affected are compensated and the abandoned sites rehabilitated.”

The CPA has paid dearly for its defiance. In July 2006 Markus Bangit, a member of its administrative council, was shot dead at a bus stop and there was a machine-gun attack on another leader, Constancio Clanet, as he as his wife were taking their daughter to school. His wife was killed; Clanet and his daughter were both wounded and fled to Canada.

The University of the Philippines has also suffered for its long-standing opposition to the regime. In June 2006 two League of Filipino Students activists, Karen Empeño and Sherlwin Cadapan, were kidnapped by soldiers during a visit to their parents in Bulacan province. They haven’t been seen since. There have been 185 disappearances since 2001. Jonas Burgos, an activist with a farmers’ organisation and the son of a leading opponent of the dictatorship, was seized at a shopping mall in April 2007 and bundled into a vehicle identified as belonging to the army.

Sunshine Matutina, a television director, said: “I wasn’t involved in politics, but Jonas’s kidnapping shook me badly and when friends from the Independent Filmmakers’ Cooperative asked me to make a short film about it I agreed at once.” Fifteen filmmakers contributed to Rights, which was to have been shown in a major cinema in Manila in September 2007. But the day before, the censorship commission banned the screening on the grounds that the film was biased.

‘Break the unions’

Last year, on the island of Mindanao, the trade union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May First Labour Movement) resisted redundancies announced by the food multinational Dole, which responded by calling workers into meetings where, watched over by the army, they were shown a violently anti-union film in which KMU activists were accused of complicity with the NPA. Although prominent Filipino actors appeared in the film, there were no credits and no director’s name was attached. Daisy Arago, executive director of the Centre for Trade Union and Human Rights said: “The companies and the authorities have a coordinated strategy designed to break the unions, dismantle workers’ rights and guarantee investors a docile work force.”

After almost 900 extra-judicial executions since 2001, the Arroyo regime can boast of having outdone Ferdinand Marcos,” said Jigs Clamor, secretary general of Karapatan (10). “Forty-seven journalists were murdered over the past six years, making the Philippines the second most dangerous country in the world for the profession [after Iraq].”

Philip Alston called upon Arroyo, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to stop counter-insurrectional operations targeting or causing the murders of people working for organisations within civil society. The US Senate threatened to suspend aid to the Philippines.

Arroyo’s popularity has been undermined by accusations of electoral fraud, particularly during the 2004 election, and by corruption scandals implicating her and members of her family and entourage. At her public appearances she is always accompanied by General Hermogenes Esperon, the head of the armed forces; she relies upon the army, and many active or retired soldiers have been appointed to the public services and the administration.

But life inside the military is not all roses. “Underpaid young officers are sent off to Luzon to handle dangerous and demoralising counter-offensives. They are disgusted by the wealth and privileges of their sedentary superiors in Manila, as well as by the erratic policies of a dubious civilian authority” (11). This has led to several failed attempted military takeovers.

During the most recent, in November 2007, 30 soldiers led by a former officer, Senator Antonio Trillanes, already on trial for a previous attempted coup in 2003, barricaded themselves into a luxury hotel in Manila and called for the overthrow of the government.

The authorities reacted quickly. An armoured personnel carrier rammed the doors of the hotel and the mutineers surrendered without a fight; 30 journalists were also arrested and their material confiscated. Karapatan described “the disproportionate brutality of this repression” as “typical of the regime”.

But most significant sign of the regime’s loss of credibility, even within the ruling class, was the presence alongside the rebels of a bishop, Julio Labayen, and the former vice-president of the Philippines, Teofisto Guingona.

Philippe Revelli is a journalist

(1) Citizens’ Auxiliary Forces Geographical Unit. A 1991 decree allows the military to arm and train groups of civilians.
(2) The major landowners and merchants have taken advantage of the campaign against Kagimungan and attempted to undermine these achievements.
(3) The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was introduced in 1988 to redistribute agricultural land among 8.5 million landless peasants. Although controversial, it was revived in 1998.
(4) See Carmen A Abubakar, “Mindanao : a miniature history”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, September 2003.
(5) Roads will link the port of Subic Bay (a former US naval base), Clark airport and the free zones of Clark and Hacienda Luisita. Monocultural exports will be developed in tandem.
(6) Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2 June and 28 October 2005.
(7) Those named are the leaders of Bayan, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (National Movement for Democracy).
(8) Foreign correspondent, ABC, 5 May 2007. Transcript at…
(9) This law, promulgated in September 2007, is based upon a principle similar to habeas corpus; it can be invoked in cases of arbitrary detention or by anyone feeling under threat.
(10) 2006 was a black year, with 209 murders. Karapatan attributes the fact that this fell to 68 between January and October 2007 to publicity and international pressure.
(11) David Camroux, “The unique Philippines”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, July 2006.

Translated by Donald Hounam


ERRATA: I am not a television director but an editor. Also, the IFC did not ask me to make a short film. We invited independent filmmakers to contribute to the campaign and then eventually asked the help of IFC to provide the venue for the RIGHTS launch. Mr. Revelli must have misheard me since we did the interview at a noisy carinderia along Katipunan. Or it could also be because of the language barrier. :)