“Our film screenings provide an invaluable service to the youth, the students and the general audience, especially since our education system has largely failed in informing them about the systematic atrocities that happened during the martial law era.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – In 2015, filmmaker JL Burgos first screened Portraits of Mosquito Press, which traced back the family’s struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. The Burgos family published Ang Pahayang Malaya and We Forum, newspapers that were so effective in stinging Marcos that the dictator ordered the imprisonment of JL’s father, the late journalist Jose Burgos Jr. and other journalists.
From then on, JL took every opportunity to educate audiences, particularly the youth, about this chapter in the nation’s history. Just recently, Portraits of Mosquito Press was shown at the Bulacan State University.
When Brig. Antonio Parlade Jr., assistant deputy chief of staff for operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, claimed that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) are recruiting members through film screenings, JL did not know whether to laugh or be angry at the preposterous statement.
In a press conference at the UP Film Institute, Oct. 6, JL said, “It’s saddening that until now, they still want to repress films that tell the truth. This is ironic because the film aims to stop the suppression of truth.”
Also speaking at the conference, Kip Oebanda, director of Liway, said, “For us, what is important is to tell the truth.”
“Some stories are true and some stories are not. The story being peddled by the AFP is not true,” Oebanda said. “I don’t know if I have recruited NPAs because of the film,” he added in jest.
Reacting to Parlade’s statement that films incite students to rebel against the government, Oebanda said, “How fragile are the minds of these children to be brainwashed by a film? Does one become a serial killer after watching a horror movie? Or a sex maniac after watching porn?”
Parlade went as far as identifying 18 schools where CPP and NPA have been recruiting students as part of Red October, a plot claimed by military to oust President Duterte. Jewel Maranan, founder of Cinema is Incomplete, mocked AFP’s Red October plot as “failure of intelligence.”
Free speech, free expression
Such AFP’s red-baiting and slander angered more than 700 filmmakers, artists and academics.
“Our film screenings provide an invaluable service to the youth, the students and the general audience, especially since our education system has largely failed in informing them about the systematic atrocities that happened during the martial law era,” they said in a statement.
Representing the academe, Rose Roque of UP Manila said the film screenings are effective in educating the youth and in honing the critical thinking skills of students.
Hector Calma of Cinema Centenario, which screened the month-long Never Forget film festival, said in Filipino, “Our only goal is to remind people.”
“It seems that now, they want to silence us. We will never be silenced,” Calma, also director of short film Ang mga Alingawngaw sa Panahon ng Pagpapasya , said.
In commemoration of Martial Law, Cinema Centenario featured last September more than 20 films, the oldest being Lino Brocka’s Insiang to the most recent Arbi Barbarona’s Tu Pug Imatuy.
Barbarona’s award-winning film has been the subject of vicious online attacks the past few weeks. A Facebook page accused the film as deceptive and linked it to CPP-NPA. Barbarona belied this. “Tu Pug Imatuy strives to open the window to experience the Lumad struggles, and to question why this experience is happening, and what can be done to change this,” he said in a statement. “I believe artists should be free to raise such questions through their craft and never be harassed or subject to attacks.”
In the context of Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs and counter-insurgency campaigns, the AFP’s pronouncements are a cause for alarm.
Kiri Dalena of Resbak, an artists’ group against extrajudicial killings, underscored that the statement, coming from the AFP who are involved in the killings of activists and civilians in rural areas, is dangerous.
Roland Tolentino, who has a doctorate in film, said the AFP’s red-tagging is an old tactic from the 1950’s McCarthyism. Tolentino of the UP Film Institute recalled that former President Gloria Arroyo also tagged activists as “enemies of the state” to justify extrajudicial killings.
Jade dela Cuadra of Tudla Productions, the organizer of the Lino Brocka Film Festival, maintained that the red-tagging is not only an attack against the rights of filmmakers but also an act to hide the realities from the public.
Treb Monteras, director of Respeto, also believes that the administration only wants to divert the people’s attention from issues such as price increases and extrajudicial killing of drug suspects.
JL, for his part, said demonizing films about martial law and other political realities would only serve and Marcoses and the military “who want the public to forget their crimes then and now.”
He cited attempts at historical revisionism and political rehabilitation of the Marcoses.
For the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), the recent pronouncements are “manifestations of an ongoing scheme of fascist dictatorship that tramples upon civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.”
More films, more screenings
The filmmakers and artists are not cowed.
Calma said they are planning to continue the Never Forget film festival in different schools.
As for Liway, Oebanda said they’re all set for the commercial screening this Oct. 10 amid online attacks from trolls.
The Directors Guild of the Philippines, Inc. in a statement encouraged schools to continue screenings of films that contribute to their education and reminded filmmakers to continue making films that matter to society.