Finally, A Dedicated Program of Shorts on the Big Screen

By: Rianne Hill Soriano | YEHEY! Contributors
1 July 2008 | 9:12 AM

A selection of 7 short films by the Katorse Writers Group (batch 14 workshoppers of Ricky Lee’s f scriptwriting workshops) graces Robinson’s Galleria’s Indie Sine with “Katorse Shorts,” a selection of 7 short films in a dedicated program normally given to full-length films only. With themes ranging from the romantic to the absurd to the tragic, the program is meant to bring to the consciousness of Filipino audiences that the short film medium is also a cinematic art form that can hold its own.

Overall, the films show strength in concept, story, and treatment amidst the many given limitations for such indie shorts having to cope up with financial and time constraints, lack of technical resources, among others.

The “Katorse Shorts” line-up include:

“Ang Kapalaran ni Virgin Mario” (11 mins.)
By: Ogi Sugatan
Cast: Yul Servo, Forsyth Cordero
Gay lovers, Mario and Jose, experience the most joyful of mysteries.
6th SHORTMOVES International Film Festival, GERMANY
Jakarta Slingshortfest (2006)
International Short Film Festival Detmold “FilmLichter06”

The film is stylized with comic acts about a pregnant male. It puts allegories catering to the kind of audience who are into the more figurative offers. With a theatrical presentation in depths of black, its visual elements merely include the characters and the significant elements supporting the scenes’ requirements. Considering the many kinds of audiences, this short film absurdly renders fleeting emotions within its minimalist surroundings that some might find interesting, some might find wackily droll, and some might find weird.

“Ambulancia” (15 mins)
By: Richard Legaspi
Cast: Alan Paule, Nor Domingo
Ambulancia tells of a painful twist in an ambulance driver’s belief that a dying patient can be saved by running over stray animals on the streets.
In Competition, International Panorama of Film and Video, Patras City Greece 2008
In Competition, NOUSSA International Film Festival, Greece 2008
Winner, Quisumbing Escandor Film Festival, Best Short Narrative 2008
Winner, Grand Prize, Viva-PBO Digitales, Philippines 2008
Official Selection, Asian Film Academy Fellows Night Screening, S. Korea 2007
Official Selection, CineManila International Film Festival 2007

The film’s screenplay is its major strength. Overall, the performances give it justice. The dialogues coincide with the tight pacing. The cuts succeed in building tension to the scenes requiring such. Trying to drive with that careful balance of keeping the twist while letting the main character indulge with the right emotions, a little more depth to how the character delivers the goods for a more solid pain and empathy to his plight, and this film elevates itself further.

“Manyika” (15 mins.)
By: John Wong
Cast: Bor Ocampo, Sheenly Vee Gener
Manyika is a tale of talking teddies, an impatient miss, and a misunderstood lover.
Best Short Film, 2006 Cinemadali Short Film Competition

The film could have been as mushy and overbearing like its stuff toys; and yet, it turns out striking – mainly come climax time. Within its realistic treatment, there is a kind of mystery established in the characterization that makes the film work. The voiceovers could have been lessened a bit and things would just be fine. There are some dragging expositions that could probably be due to limitations in the production. Nevertheless, the film’s touching end creates such an emotional slice of life story.

“Puwang” (25 mins)
By: Anna Isabelle Matutina
Cast: Elmo Redrico, Roence Santos, Bon Reyes, Lorena Landicho
Puwang is a starkly real look into a family on the verge of falling apart in the face of impending death.
2007 Official Selection: Lyon Asian Film Festival, France
2006 Finalist: Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival
2006 Exhibition Film: Cinemanila International Film Festival

As a father-to-his children story and vice-versa, this melodrama about life and living life promotes simple shots while delivering lines with the right emotional baggage at work. Its minimalist production design and cinematography blend well with the story as it carefully stitches issues that has damaged family relationships.

“Dead Letter” (20 mins)
By: Grace Orbon
Cast: Gamaliel Nicolas, Edel del Llarte
A young man’s journey into the world of writing.
In Competition, 3rd Singapore Short Film Festival 2006

Poetic on its own, there is that consistent angst expressed through words uttered by the main character. However, the film still needs further direction in order to solidify its point and effectively bring the linear and abstract aspects of its storytelling requirements effectively into the medium.

“Lababo” (17 mins)
By: Seymour Barros Sanchez
Cast: Nerissa Icot, Virnie Tolentino, Stephen Patrick Moore
Lababo is the story of a young woman and a crazy woman who both fell in love with the same American soldier.
Grand Prize, Viva’s PBO Digitales Short Film Competition 2007
In competition, 48th Bilbao Film Festival in Spain 2006
In exhibition, Internal Affairs 1, Jakarta Slingshortfest 2006
In exhibition, 8th Cinemanila International Film Festival 2006
In competition, 8th International Panorama of Independent Film and Video in Greece

Consistent with its style, the film’s progressive tone is apparent the whole time. Its supposed lines are merely supported by the talking radio announcer serving what voiceovers would normally offer – while also working as good metaphors on how the Philippines tend to seek leftovers from America in various respects. The narrative could have benefited further by utilizing more of the thoughts and emotions of the woman character inside the house waiting for her man’s return. And such could have further enhanced the emotional plunge into the many issues the film presents.

“Walong Linggo” (18 mins)
By: Anna Isabelle Matutina
Cast: Jaymee Joaquin, Joey Santos
A young man who sits alone in a cafe every Sunday morning suddenly finds himself strangely falling in love with a girl he doesn’t know.

The film’s treatment seems to be paying homage to the silent era films where the visuals and music comprise the totality of the film’s technical and audio-visual aspects. It puts the unspoken information through texts like title cards in the opening or closing credits of films of today. And the musical score plays a significant role in establishing the mood for each theme and the emotional needs of its love story.

‘Katorse Shorts’: The long and short of it

This may have come a tad bit too late since the last screening of Katorse Shorts finished a few hours ago. But thank god for Ramil Gulle! Not a lot of people pay attention to shorts (no, I am not going to start ranting about it again), and for someone to write a full review on all the shorts is more than we could ask for.

I met Ramil once since he’s the brother of an old colleague (Reggie Gulle, another filmmaker/editor), but I doubt he remembers me. So we are very grateful for this very generous and honest review. I do wish I could talk to him to answer his questions/complaints on Puwang, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. Films should be able to speak for themselves.

Again, thanks to all those who supported our short films!

‘Katorse Shorts’: The long and short of it
By RAMIL DIGAL GULLE
abs-cbnNEWS.com

Watching “Katorse Shorts”, an omnibus of short films produced by the Katorse Writers’ Group, “a group of young writer-filmmakers who were part of Ricky Lee’s 14th Scriptwriting Workshop”—as they describe themselves—one realizes how many films would have been better had they been shorter.

The most successful shorts in this omnibus prove that you don’t need to take so much time putting your story across–and specifically I’m thinking about Richard Legaspi’s “Ambulansya”, one of the seven short films in the omnibus.

Too bad I learned about “Katorse Shorts” only last Friday. I watched it on Saturday and by the time you read this review, you’ll only have Tuesday, June 17, to catch this compendium of independent short films before Robinson Galleria’s Indie Sine pulls it out.

Still, the effort you’ll put in catching this collection of short films on its last day, as well as the P101 that you’ll pay for a ticket, will be more than worth it.

There are seven short films by six of these “writer-filmmakers” in the collection and it’s a pity that the Indie Sine theater wasn’t as packed as, say, any of the recent Hollywood or local blockbusters.

The best thing about short films like these is that they are freed of many of the usual considerations that are necessary for more commercial fare. As a result, you get a film viewing experience that actually stimulates the more important parts of your brain.

“When Love Begins” vs “Manyika”

In the Joey Reyes opus “When Love Begins” has a scene where Anne Curtis flashes a butt-cheek from out her bikini-bottom as she runs off to the beach in Boracay. Try to guess which part of your brain was buzzing when you saw that scene, huh?

And look at the pairing between Aga Muhlach and Anne Curtis: two impossibly gorgeous people in a seaside paradise setting, with both location and plot conspiring to have them either wear a) anatomy-revealing beachwear or b) fashionable outfits for an evening dinner.

As a potent piece of fantasy and visual allure, “When Love Begins” is luscious and lusty, slick and saccharine to the max. Now what was the story about, again? Oh, yeah, two people struggling toward long-term commitment.

Well, the short film “Manyika (Doll)” in “Katorse Shorts” has characters with the same problem. However, it is set in Luneta Park. The most striking thing about the lovers in “Manyika” is how ordinary they look. These aren’t movie romantic leads, obviously.

The characters, in fact, dress, act and look every bit as ordinary as actual Luneta couples. The guy struggles with commitment and has a weird habit of giving the girl a stuffed toy at the end of every date.

She gets nearly one stuffed toy a day, several a week, and her room is filled with them. He struggles to explain to her why he does it, and fails.

She struggles to commit herself to the relationship, but can’t stand the reality that they never go anywhere except Luneta, and she keeps getting stuffed toys from him. Worse, he could never bring himself to tell her “I love you.”

One night, he gives her the biggest stuffed toy ever–she’s so fed up that she throws it away. What happens next? Watch and find out.

Directed by John Wong, “Manyika” won Best Short Film at the 2006 Cinemadali Short Film Competition and was part of the official selection for the Gawad CCP para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Bidyo.

Sacrificial dogs

The short film “Ambulansya (Ambulance)” is 15 minutes and 22 seconds long–which is surprising to learn since the narrative is so strong and so seamless, it seems to be over in one breath and one is left stunned in the end by feelings of tragedy and wonder.

Alan Paule (as Nato the ambulance driver) seems perfect for the role. The premise upon which the entire story revolves is based on a superstitious belief among Filipino ambulance drivers–or at least, among the ambulance drivers in Nato’s circle.

One of these drivers mentions to Nato during a cigarette break this curious phenomenon: whenever he (Nato’s fellow driver) accidentally runs over a dog, cat or some other animal as he rushes to drive a dying patient to the hospital, the patient makes it alive to the emergency room.

This driver then makes the conclusion that the life of the unfortunate animal had been “sacrificed” and serves to literally give its life-force to the dying patient.

The short film nowhere indicates how prevalent this belief is among Filipino ambulance drivers, but Nato–who laughs at the notion initially–eventually gets to test the theory later on. And what a test it is–to tell you more would ruin your viewing of this gem so we’ll stop here.

Stressed-out sister

In Anna Isabelle Matutina’s “Puwang” (The Space Between), a family grapples with the impending death of their ailing father.

The eldest daughter, Arlene, is married with children but has to shoulder all the expenses and responsibilities of caring for ill parent.

The youngest sibling, Anne, is pregnant and was recently abandoned by the father of her child–who is a married man. While she and Arlene are watching over their father, Anne goes into labor. This naturally places more burdens upon Arlene.

To make things worse, the father keeps calling for his favorite son, Angelo. However, he and Angleo had a falling out and the latter has not shown up for the last five years.

Just when Arlene reaches the end of her rope from all the stress and passes out on the sofa on the hospital lobby, Angelo finally appears. He proceeds to his father’s room.

We’ll avoid giving spoilers about “Puwang” but will only say that it succeeds in painting a gripping, emotional portrait of a Filipino family in difficulty–many if not most Filipino families in the Philippines will surely be able to relate to the plight of Arlene et al. That the film nearly falls into melodrama at some point is forgivable.

The hues of the film are all in gray, the lighting is consistent all throughout–a technical achievement as well as a success in terms of mood and atmosphere.

The only complaint I will make is in the choice of showing certain scatological elements: Angelo wiping his father’s excrement off the floor of the hospital room; another scene where the camera focuses on Angelo cleaning up his father on the toilet.

My reaction as a member of the audience was perhaps natural–hey, this was shit up close on camera. Still, my question is: Was it was truly necessary for the camera to close-in on the excrement? It seemed overkill to me.

On the other hand, for a film that had been understated and restrained all throughout, maybe the scatological shots represented a kind of peak point in the film–when certain repressed, unspoken, and perhaps repellent elements, metaphorically and literally–needed to be loosed upon us.

After all, the father unleashes these elements in Angelo’s presence and he is left, literally, cleaning up after the shit (literal and metaphorical) between him and his dad.

There’s a brief but terrifying moment, right before Angelo approaches his father, when the son locks the door–shutting himself in with his father. One wonders, in a panic, whether Angelo has more sinister plans for his dad.

Is Angelo going to put his father out of his misery by suffocating him with a pillow? Is Angelo out for vengeance over the still unrevealed conflict with his father? Or is he after forgiveness and reconciliation?

The film’s ending is no surprise and is actually quite deflating–but then perhaps that just adds to making one’s sense of relief and loss more acute at the conclusion of “Puwang”.

“Dead Letter”

Things got boring for me in “Dead Letter”. I found “Dead Letter” to be much too talky and static in too many parts. I loved the opening shot, though, with images of pages from letters flipping, flappin and falling, the crisp, crackling sound of paper very audible, inspiring a nostalgic mood.

I just couldn’t relate to the main character, who is a writer struggling to finish a script in time for a competition’s deadline. The introspections the writer goes through–which we are made privy to thanks to voice-overs–seem unengaging to me now at my age.

Maybe when I was in college there was a point when such thoughts seemed profound or important, but now come off as rather juvenile.

There were good scenes though. Like when a character, Felipe, from the writer’s script comes to life and confront’s the latter. Felipe is angry and even threatens the writer, “Papatayin kita! (I will kill you!)”. As the film progresses, you hope the character makes good on his promise.

There are scenes and locations that would be nostalgic to anybody who spent his youth in Manila. The shots of the Central Post Office–which processes mail for the entire country–were very compeling. We see postal workers working with thousands upon thousands of snail mail–yes, snail mail still exists, folks, despite the Initernet. We wonder what those workers would do in case an anthrax-laced letter comes in.

Of course, we zoom into the Dead Letter Section, which is where the writer’s script ends up after he mails it. We don’t know how it ends up there since the writer paid the right postage–or was he just dreaming that he paid postage? Did he even write a forwarding address?

Towards the last third of the film we feel that our hold on the film’s reality has become tenuous and anything can happen: the writer after all has been seeing people who may not really be there, and time seems to have been moving in a loop, etc.

I thought that the whole idea of a Dead Letter Section was not exploited enough. I thought it that it would be central to the film because of the film’s title. I felt a missed opportunity there and thought of several ways in which the Dead Letter Section could have been better used in the story–but then I’m not the director; I was just there to watch the film.

One of the characters, the lady smoked fish vender who hands the writer two pesos in change to allow him to pay the right postage, tells the writer, encouragingly, something like, “Okay lang kahit hindi sila maniwala sa iyo (It’s okay even if they don’t believe you)” before he mails his entry to the competition.

I don’t know if that’s useful advice to a young artist, who needs tons of belief–from himself and from others–in order to practice his art amid all the uncertainties, doubts and discouragements inevitably faced by any young artist facing poverty, ignominy and possible insanity in a society that only values TV and movie stars.

I wondered how “It’s okay even if they don’t believe you” will keep the young artist from giving up and applying for a call center job, instead.

We can’t ask the smoked-fish vender anymore because she disappeared, as in–poof!–leaving only a smoked-fish smell in the air after giving those words to the writer.

I found Felipe to be the only solid character in the film, strangely enough–but then I could be biased since the actor who plays him is Filipino-Vietnamese Roel Hoang Manipon who happens to be a poet, playwright, ficitionist and journalist as well, and who happens to be a friend from way back in college.

The film’s lead character, the Young Writer, is practically a blank slate. We see him walking across Manila’s streets and underpasses, drumming his fingers on the underpass walls–something I found icky, being familiar with the kind of grime in Manila’s underpasses, surpassed only in ickiness by the grime all over the Pasay-Libertad areas–and we wonder, is he looking for inspiration? Or do young writers simply have too much time on their hands?

Our young writer, by the way, uses a manual typewriter to write–a device that was in use when most young people today were not born yet. And yet, the final script when we see it, doesn’t look like it was typed on a manual typewriter but printed from a computer printer.

The voice-over comes back at the end of the film as the writer tries to make his way home–we learn from the voice over that he’s walking home because he wants to save money for food.

The most poetic lines in the film are uttered by the disembodied narrator in the end (it’s supposed to be an internal monologue by the writer, a device that seems to have been used to make up for the impenetrable blankness one encounters in the lead character), lines that I don’t remember exactly–but I remember having liked very much.

The lines that were uttered, in Filipino, said something about November the 16th and hunger and… I don’t know anymore. It’s not that I didn’t like “Dead Letter”–I just don’t believe it. But then maybe that’s okay.

“Lababo” (Kitchen Sink)

The first few minutes spent watching “Lababo” gave me this one-word impression: propaganda. It seemed to rehash every bile-soaked sentiment and opinion against the United States that the filmmakers could possibly throw at us.

Now, like most Filipinos, I also hate America. I hate the United States as much as every Filipino out there, who has relatives in US, who uses the Internet (a US invention); who learned and later corrupted American English; who waits for remittances from OFWs (in US dollars), who watches US TV shows on cable (legally or illegally), who pays to watch Hollywood films, who knows Joyce Kilmer (that fraud) but not the great Cirilo Bautista; and who will probably go and migrate to the US the first chance he gets.

That said, I watched “Lababo” some more and found that it wasn’t simply propaganda: it was ranting and propaganda.

That said, I will say that the University of Makati Film Society did a good job, technically, in making this film. I didn’t like how they depended on voiced-over faux radio reports to move the “story” along–there wasn’t much of a story, just a pastiche of images–but I would be the first to tell them that my views about “Lababo” should not discourage them from making more films.

Those guys know how to handle the camera, know how to compose shots, to create pacing–I just disagreed with how they chose to present their anti-American message. With a better story on their hands and the moxie and creativity to go beyond set opinions (about the US or otherwise)–watch out! These guys have potential. The Umak FilmSoc should keep on making more films–and the University should suppport them in that.

“Lababo” has participated in various film festivals and has also won awards including the Grand Prize, Viva –PBO Digitales Short Film Competition 2007.

The film was also in competiton in festivals like the 19th Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video; the 48th Bilbao Film Festival in Spain 2006; and the 8th International Panorama of Independent Film and Video in Greece.

It was also exhibited in the Jakarta Slingshortfest 2006 and the 8th Cinemanila International Film Festival 2006.

So, as a viewer, I may have missed something that these festival organizers and jurors saw–which is okay, as my Inner Smoked Fish Vender tells me.

“Walong Linggo” (Eight Sundays)

The way it was lit and shot, “Eight Sundays” seemed like an extended coffee commercial. More coffee house than art house, this short film is perhaps one of the most charming and endearing renditions of the Filipino male phenomenon of “ka-torpehan”.

In gist, it’s about this guy who spots a pretty young woman at a coffee shop. They see each other for eight consecutive Sundays as the guy tries to muster the courage to introduce himself to the young lady, with whom he is quite smitten.

Will he succeed before the eight Sundays are up? With generous close-ups of Jaymee Joaquin’s pretty face, you enjoy the ride.

Lead actor Joey Santos does a great job as a not really bad-looking guy who has to write his opening lines on paper napkins to figure out what to say to the girl of his dreams.

Each Sunday encounter between the torpe guy and the pretty girl is preceded by short love poems that are flashed on-screen–like dialogue flashed during the silent movie era–yes, there are no speaking lines audible in this contemporary silent film.

The poets who contributed their poetry include the venerable Benilda Santos and National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera.

This short film’s a charmer and, whether you have good or traumatic memories about young love, “Walong Linggo” is sure to linger on in your memory like a pleasant morning at the coffee shop, when all your worries seem to drift away like the steam from the espresso machine.

“Ang Kapalaran ni Virgin Mario” (The Fate of the Virgin Mario)

Mario wakes up in the apartment he shares with his lover Jose. Mario screams: Oh my God, I’m pregnant, how could this happen?!

Jose is jealous–is Mario sure the child is his? Jose convinces Mario to get an abortion.

This film by Ogi Sugatan really turns reality on its head with its minimalist, Pinoy absurdist approach.

What are we to make of this situation, where a gay man appears to have had a Not-So Immaculate Concepcion, in defiance of biology, physics and theology?

But then that’s what we all like about independent films, full-length or short: you walk out of the cinema with more than just the fading vapors of escapist fantasy; you may get insights about life, feel some genuine passion pierce your “deadma” disposition, or have an epiphany flash through your shopping-addled mind, or whatever it is that art is supposed to do to you.

Katorse Shorts Review

Review by Pat (http://everybodyleaves.multiply.com/reviews/item/6?mark_read=everybodyleaves:reviews:6&goto=0#reply0)

Category:    Movies
Genre:     Independent

I was really excited about watching Indie Sine, while most of other film buffs were rushing to Shangrila cinemas to catch the free viewing of the French film festival i on the other hand, couldn’t wait to feel inspired and to get new ideas from some of the best of our local independent film makers today.

I gotta say that out of the 7 shorts that was shown i only really absolutely liked Puwang and Walong Linggo, a film by Anna Isabelle Matutina (ate sunshine).

I’m not making this review about Puwang and Walong Linggo just because I personally know the director of the movie. But really because i loved it. for me, it was the best among the 7 short films shown in Indie Sine. I know it isn’t a competition and the purpose of Indie Sine is really to orient the viewers to different styles and genres of movies but considering all aspects in film making, for me these two films are at the top of the class, it stands out among the rest.

The screenplay is captivating. it engages the audience into the story, it’s different in itself without disregarding if the audience can relate to the story and understand the message. the cinematography stands out compared to the other shorts, it’s nearly flawless. The scoring was original in Walong Linggo, it sort of dictated or signaled the emotion the characters were feeling and what the audience should feel as well, because it is after all a silent movie. I was afraid at first that i wouldn’t like Walong Linggo coz I’m not exactly a silent film fan but the story was really cute and lite and was presented in just the right amount.

In the end, you have on the one hand that feeling that you want more out of the story because it has already captivated you, but on the other you are at peace because you know it’s complete.

I’m gonna pass on commenting about the other short films, because i don’t want my inexperienced self broadcasting to the cyber world what my inexperienced mind criticizingly thinks. as we all know, it is of course easier to say something good than to say something mean in stuffs you don’t know much about. But Please Please don’t take my word for it, my inexperienced self might be wrong about the other shorts. you can still catch Indie Sine: Katorse Shorts at Robinsons Galleria until Tuesday, June 17. Go to the Links below to watch the trailers. :)

Support Philippine Cinema!

INDIE SINE: Katorse Shorts Trailers
http://annaisabelle78.multiply.com/video/item/20

Walong Linggo Trailer:
http://annaisabelle78.multiply.com/video/item/17/SHOWING_ON_JUNE_11-17_at_INDIE_SINE

‘Gov’t tool,’ censors body accused over films X rating

By Christian V. Esguerra, Marinel Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:43:00 12/19/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s censors board has provoked two militant lawmakers by giving an X rating to three films purportedly casting the Arroyo administration in a negative light.

Gabriela Representatives Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan on Tuesday filed a resolution seeking a congressional inquiry into the rating. They alleged that the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) was being used “for political repression.”

The complaint referred to the short films “Mendiola” and “A Day in the Life of Gloria Arrovo,” and “Rights,” a compilation of “public service announcements on human rights, extrajudicial killings and disappearances.”

Maza said in a statement: “The MTRCB, in rating these movies X, has proven itself to be an effective tool for the suppression of free speech and expression.”

Not fit for public viewing

According to the MTRCB Implementing Rules and Regulations, an X-rated film is “not fit for public viewing.”

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, a founding member of the critics’ group, Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, has joined the two legislators’ protest, along with filmmakers Carlitos Siguion Reyna, Anna Isabelle Matutina, Kiri Dalena, Chytz Jimenez and RJ Mabilin.

The group said they were disputing the censors’ ruling that “Rights” contained scenes that “undermine faith and confidence [in] the government and duly constituted authorities.”

It wasn’t true, either, that “Mendiola” had a “tendency to incite rebellion and sedition,” the protesters insisted.

Neither was the board’s claim, they said, that “A Day in the Life of Gloria” was “libelous and defamatory to the good name and reputation of the President of the Philippines.”

“Rights” got the X rating on Sept. 19; the two others, on Dec. 4.

Chair’s position: Black prop

MTRCB Chair Marissa Laguardia Tuesday said in a phone interview that she was standing by the decision of the review committees in both instances.

Board member Dick de Leon, head of the committee of three that reviewed “Mendiola” and “A Day in the Life,” said the two films had violated MTRCB implementing rules and regulations, thus the X rating.

RJ Mabilin’s “Gloria,” produced by Southern Tagalog Exposure, is a satire on President Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration. “Mendiola,” a documentary produced by Sine Patriyotiko, exposes police brutality against those who participate in rallies.

“These two films are libelous and … too one-sided,” De Leon told the Inquirer in a phone interview yesterday. He said they were definitely “black propaganda.”

De Leon noted that “Gloria” made fun of Ms Arroyo. “In the film, humahaba ang ilong ng President (her nose kept growing),” he said.

He added that a portion in “Mendiola” could also be constituted as a violation of Presidential Decree No. 603, (Child and Youth Welfare Code). He explained, “The film featured children without the children’s consent.”

Link to Marcos regime

Maza and Ilagan linked the MTRCB decision on the three films to the political environment of the Ferdinand Marcos’ iron-fist regime, during which the board was established.

“The MTRCB operates on a decree created by a regime that was on the verge of collapse,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement. “Its intentions were as clear then as they are now—to prevent the proliferation of political opinion and expression.”

In their resolution, Maza and Ilagan asked the House committee on public information, headed by Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, to look into the offending ratings.

Second review

Laguardia refused to further comment on the subject because, she said, “The producers could still apply for a second review.”

De Leon clarified: “If the producers volunteer to take out some of the very offensive scenes, then maybe the X rating could be lifted upon second review.”

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) http://www.afp.mil.ph/0/news/propagandists.php 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 http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2007…
(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

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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. :)