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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

entry arrow4:20 PM | Ebert's Life

The race for the 87th Academy Awards has essentially started with all the online punditry abuzz with each new screening -- and as usual, I want to do my annual unflagging attempt to seeing all possible films in contention, even before the official nominations come on January. This blog series aims to chronicle this effort.

There was a time in my young life as a cineaste where I'd scrupulously scan the reviews of the late film critic Roger Ebert to find out whether my opinion over certain films matched his: if it did, I'd flush in the beautiful certainty of having the right filmic taste; if it didn't, I'd wonder what flavour Kool-Aid Ebert drank that made him so wrong in all the awful places. But he was always a fun read. Also enlightening, given how superbly liberal he was about his opinions, and how well-spoken in his argumentation. (I remember the long battle with video gamers, for example.)

Reading him was like learning at the feet of a good professor. He had that teacherly spirit about him, even when he was cranky, even when he called certain movies "sucky." I'm not exactly sure how I first came to reading his reviews. I know for sure that, in the formative years of my movie-going, it was Pauline Kael's eroticised approach to cinema that got me first -- "Reeling" was my first serious book of popular film criticism. But it is Ebert that has stayed with me longer, whose opinion I treasured even when I disagreed with him.

I bought his books, of course -- one of which he dutily autographed for me, calling me a "cinema lover." (That was awesome.) I followed his journey through what he called the "Great Movies." I clicked on his website daily, and was amazed by how prolific he was in his writings and in his advocacies. I marvelled at how he went on to conquer social media, the perfect opposite of the usual cultural dinosaurs who balk at the latest platforms of engagements. He made me ask: How does one write that much? How does one feel so much about many things (politics included) and still be able to take them on with such fierce intelligence, without the bluster of a shallow know-it-all?

And so Life Itself, Steve James' documentary on Ebert which is based on the latter's memoir, seemed tailor-made for me. (And James seemed the perfect choice as helmer of this project produced by Martin Scorsese as well; Ebert, after all, gleefully championed James' documentary Hoop Dreams when it first came out, calling it one of the best films ever made.) And the new film is a good and thorough journey through the life of an idol, which includes his unseen story of having to go through the ravages of cancer. We get the usual revelatory talking heads from friends and colleagues. We get snippets of film criticism (but never quite digs into the impact). We get the unusual foray into Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. We get the story of the fiery rivalry and bromance with Gene Siskel. We get the love for Chicago. We get insights about the arrogance and the old addictions.

But it didn't involve me. The film feels like a paint-by-numbers effort, almost boring in the predictability of presenting its subject. Perhaps there's just so much of Ebert it cannot be contained in a single film, and any attempt to do so will forever will like a mishmash of Greatest Hits tidbits? Perhaps a greater documentary entailed capturing the man in the full power of his influence and physicality -- which makes this film about ten years too late? #RoadToOscar

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow3:50 PM | To Disconnection

I've decided to log off most of my social media networks today. I simply got tired of it. I'll stick with old-fashioned blogging for now...

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Sunday, September 21, 2014

entry arrow8:55 PM | Sillimanian Pastor Arrested During Martial Law Tells All

Forty-two years ago, on 21 September 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law. We have since then been living under the shadow of those dark years—a time recalled by many with much hatred, but also a time romanticized by others as a direct rebuttal of lingering problems. Of the latter, we could only commiserate with this truism: people do forget their history. But as Esther Inglis-Arkell once noted in her thought-provoking study of real-world dystopias: “There are very few regimes so terrible that they can’t be romanticized. This is especially true after they have been defeated. It’s easy to be sentimental about something when nobody has to deal with it anymore. Sometimes regimes can even come back. There is a British monarchy today because, after executing the British king and establishing his own supremacy, Oliver Cromwell died and left management of the land to his ineffectual son. A royal family began looking pretty good.”

With the Chito Mirandas of the world increasingly being brazen about Marcosian love, the same could be said about the Philippines and the Marcoses. We have gone through the years after 1986 in a strange lurch, which has provided fodder for historical revisionism. The Martial Law has become a passage in history that has increasingly become blurred, as if it has nothing to do with us all. We forget that if only we can dig deeper, many of us are still around who can give witness to the stark darkness of those years.

This is one such story, the account of the first Sillimanian arrested by the military in the very beginning of martial rule in the Philippines.

By 1969—two years before Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law over the country—Joel Tabada had already served two years of pastoral service for the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Mangagoy in Surigao City. He had started a small family with wife Grace, who had graduated cum laude with a degree in music from Silliman, and to pass the time while serving churches, he had gone on to develop an interest in black and white photography. But all over the country, activism by students was on the rise, in response to the growing despotism of the Marcos regime. Silliman University struck a resputation as being a hotbed of student unrest: there were open demonstrations around campus, and big streamers screaming for social justice were scattered everywhere.

He decided to go back to Silliman to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Divinity—later transformed into a master’s degree—and was happily clicking away taking pictures around campus when he was chanced upon by Dr. Harry Pak, the Korean-American pastor of the Silliman Church.

“Dr. Pak challenged me to help him minister Silliman Church,” Rev. Tabada recalled—an offer he reluctantly accepted. With that, he said goodbye to his photography, and soon became associate pastor for Silliman Church. His contemporaries included Rev. Lydia Niguidula, who led the Christian Education ministry of the church, and Gideon Alegado, who, as lay pastor, was in-charge of taking care of the young people in church. “We decided to have a team ministry, with Dr. Pak as the administrative pastor as well as the chaplain of the University,” Rev. Tabada said. “My work was to be with the University’s Buildings and Grounds crew... My task included the outreach ministry of Pangas in Bantayan, and the more immediate—and restless and troublesome—Lo-oc.”

He was also given the responsibility of taking care of the Involvement Task Force, where Silliman Church people, especially students, could freely voice their concerns about city life as well as about the national situation. “My office at the left northeast side end of Silliman Church was always filled with students who had all sorts of concerns,” Rev. Tabada recalled. “They would leave their books and other things in my office.”

Each of the members of the team ministry served a monthly duty to preach at Silliman Church, and they did so with gusto. Dr. Pak delivered profound sermons on the theme of reconciliation and interpersonal relationships, while Rev. Niguidula and Mr. Alegado tended smoothly to their individual responsibilities. “I was challenged to pair up with Dr. Nona Calo who led a committee that had me producing two church dramas, ably acted in by Divinity School students, which depicted troubled students in their academic-activist life,” Rev. Tabada said. One such play was for a faculty-staff retreat for the Silliman Church entitled The Lo-oc Thing, with Ephraim Bejar directing and Rowena Tiempo and Federico Fundador acting. The plays, done in daylight and also in the evening, had undeniable activist undertones. It was an attempt by the church to be more accommodating in hearing activists who wanted to articulate what they thought about issues of feudalism, neo-colonialism, and cronyism, which were very hot issues in campus, fanned by activism.

It was a time when Atty. Jeremias Montemayor of the Progressive Farmers Federation (PPP) and his ilk were regarded as heroes of the day, mobbed with admirers when they visited and lectured in campus.

A week before Martial Law was declared, another group of students asked permission from Silliman Church to lead in the midweek prayer meeting. “They were led by Law students,” Rev. Tabada said. “ And I was delighted to find that even Law people could take time out for church life. I was the church authority assigned to give special permission in the leading of the midweek service. The leader of the group was a Law student who regularly came to church. He is now a lawyer based in San Carlos City. Their ‘meditation’ was an activist-fueled demonstration against ‘Uncle Sam,’ protesting the idea of the Ugly American preying upon Filipinos.”

Rev. Tabada, of course, quickly understood how the whole thing could enrage certain segments who would see this type of midweek meditation as nothing short of irresponsible activism. “But I learned much later that these happenings were in fact organized by what a group of people in the military intelligence who tactically made a decision to entrap me as a ‘communist activist’,” Rev. Tabada said.

September 23, 1972 was a Sunday.

“It was my turn to mount the pulpit of Silliman Church,” Rev. Tabada recalled. “Martial Law was already declared on Friday. There was a blackout of the media, but people knew. I remember that many students in Silliman were very apprehensive as to what would become of them, especially after hearing reports of countless arrests. Many were unabashed in crying in public. I was bewildered to see the church overflowing that Sunday. There were people milling about up to the yard outside. For the first in my three years as pastor, I saw this kind of crowd.”

Rev. Tabada’s sermon that day was titled Burn! It was based on Luke 24:32, about a critical moment in the lives of Christ’s disciples given the choice to stay or flee after his crucifixion. And it seemed like the most appropriate Scripture for the time: “It talked about the days of gloom emanating from the death of the Lord—but which was quickly fading with the rising of the sun,” Rev. Tabada said. “The idea for me was this: He is risen! He lives! So we must also take hold of ourselves and move in Christ’s way to witness, and burn. The disciples who were about to leave, because they were fearful of what might happen to them, were instead now living and facing the challenge of going back to where the action was, Jerusalem!”

“I remember the late Mrs. Udarbe, Dr. and Mrs. Beran, among others, congratulating me somberly after the service,” Rev. Tabada continued. “Dr. Proceso Udabe would later say, after Martial Law was lifted, that the sermon was touching—but it was no harmful.”

Even then, he could not sleep afterwards. He felt something was afoot—and he was right because by midnight, there was a hard knock on the parsonage door.

“The moonlight, I remember, was like daylight,” Rev. Tabada recalled.

He opened the door and saw seven fully-armed soldiers outside the parsonage.

Then their team leader asked him, firmly: “Are you Rev. Tabada?”

He answered, “Yes, I am, please come in.”

The man with the firm voice introduced himself: “I am 2nd Lt. Aurelio Palmos. I am a member of the Baptist Church in Iloilo. We are from the PC barracks. On orders of the Provincial Commander, we are here to invite you to the headquarters with us… Please, may we have a copy of your sermon delivered this morning?”

“This is my only copy,” Rev. Tabada replied. “May I have it back?”

Lt. Palmos smiled and then retorted, “Yes, Reverend.”

Rev. Tabada told his wife Grace that he would be gone for only a while to accompany the soldiers to meet with a certain Col. Noli Santua.

Lt. Palmos made one more request: “Please, may we go also to your office at the Silliman Church?”

So Rev. Tabada went with them to his office in the church. They looked around and noticed the many books scattered on the floor.

“Are these books yours?” the military men asked.

“Some of them were borrowed, and some of them were left here by students,” he replied.

They took some of the books and soon left to go to the barracks.

“But there was no Col. Santua,” Rev. Tabada recalled. “Instead the lieutenant relegated me to a guard who was also grilling Dr. Nona Calo, who was later released.

The guard soon bullishly spent the rest of the time—until the next morning—asking Rev. Tabada endless questions. “I was very sleepy by then, and then he asked another guard to lead me into the barracks, which was housed in a makeshift building. The room I was led to was good only for two people, and there were already six people inside. All were students from Silliman, who were all surprised, and were quite delighted, to see me. Welcome pastor! I remember them saying.”

The uncomfortable geniality was soon interrupted when a mauled man was suddenly pushed to their holding cell. The man was nursing a bloodied mouth, and it was then that a drunken guard stationed outside the building began shouting invectives against activists, who he blamed to be responsible for the present troubles of Martial Law. He soon came to the stockade and pointed his gun to Rev. Tabada and the cowering students, and shouted at them: “Unsa mosukol mo? Ha!?”

And then he cocked his gun.

But he was soon prevailed upon by his companions to leave.

By the second Sunday of martial rule, the number of detainees at the barracks increased to over seventy. “We were held in a makeshift, tunnel-shaped contraption surrounded by roughly arranged barb wiring inside the PC headquarters,” Rev. Tabada said. “The women detainees were placed in a smaller room above us. That was my first experience of congested imprisonment.”

But they were not forgotten by people in Silliman. Dr. Levi Oracion, the new Dean of the Divinity School, soon came to do a prayer service with the detainees. “There was no sermon,” Rev. Tabada said. “But the service proved soothing for us all. Much later, Dr. Buddy Martinez, my co-pastor at Silliman Church, led regular church visitations and services, especially during our Provincial Jail sojourn.”

Meanwhile, during Rev. Tabada’s incarceration, his wife Grace became sick due to allergies. His eldest daughter Lorene, then 7, and son Callum, who was only 4 months old, were hurriedly put up at the house of Grace’s aunt, Concepcion Roble, Dean of the Nursing school. Six-year old Joel Jr., meanwhile, went with Rev. Tabada’s brother James and also his mother back to their hometown in Surigao. “Grace was alone nursing herself with a helper-cousin at the parsonage,” Rev. Tabada said. “Job, my youngest brother, who was then doing his freshman year in Journalism in Silliman, was also taken in later, but was miraculously granted house arrest.”

Then, quite suddenly, the “political” detainees, now numbering over 150, were transferred to the Provincial Jail of Negros Oriental. “The jail was teeming with inmates—mostly detention cases—of about 400 people,” Rev. Tabada recalled. Up to his release four months later, the political detainees would reach over 200. The apprehension of these so-called “subversives” went on from all over the province. Later, two American Franciscan priests, Fr. Bruno and Fr. Charles, who were both in-charge of an FM radio over at Guihulngan town, were incarcerated with Rev. Tabada at the Provincial Jail. “Rev. Francisco Malanog, fresh from his master’s at the University of the Philippines who taught Sociology at Silliman, soon joined us,” Rev. Tabada said. “The two Franciscan stayed only for a short time, as the U.S. Embassy soon took care of them.”

Two wardens administered the Provincial Jail at the time of Rev. Tabada’s imprisonment: Major Juan Dominado, a World War II veteran who was in-charge of the provincial prisoners, and a Moslem Sergeant named Aleh Mohamad who was to be their guardian. “He was a Muslim shepherd over a flock of Christians,” Rev. Tabada recalled with a laugh. “Major Dominado who used to hear me preach at the Silliman Church,” Rev. Tabasa continued, “and he quietly happy that I was in prison. His reason, he told me later, was that he would now have a preacher who would provide his charges at the Provincial Jail with spiritual nourishment. But I think I disappointed him. I never uttered a word of preaching while I was in the Provincial Jail.”

Rev. Tabada’s attention was instead drawn to the plight of the regular prisoners, who were padlocked all-day long in their congested cells. “Maj. Dominado put me on surveillance,” Rev. Tabada said. “He wanted to know what I was doing sitting for long time beside the prison bars talking to inmates. But I was engrossed over every story these regular prisoners told me, as if they were in confessional. I believe it was because they never had a chance to talk to anybody who was a pastor. They unburdened themselves of their weariness for being in detention for months, even years. Some had gone on for up to fifteen years without any word at all about their respective cases. Most of them were very poor, and half of them had rather large families. They were bread-earners who were in jail, and they could do nothing about their plight except to wait for the promulgation of their cases.”

Rev. Tabada said that this stultified him. “Here were people less than 500 meters away from Silliman Church, where we were preaching about social justice, and not one of us could spare the time to know about these detention cases. I was silently ashamed of my being a UCCP pastor who was supposed to champion the cause of justice, love, and Christian care. What I was doing suddenly seemed so academic compared to the gruesome reality I was now hearing about from these long-suffering fellowmen.” He said that he read again, and again, the passages from Luke 4:18-19 and Isaiah 61:1-2, and saw some possibilities of ministering, accordingly, to his fellow detainees.

Meanwhile, classes at Silliman University were suspended for the rest of the semester. Dr. Proceso Udarbe became Acting President. “The experience of facing the absolute terror of Martial Law made more a man out of him,” Rev. Tabada surmised. “Dr. Udarbe made sure that double-deck beds from the dormitories were provided for all detainees in the Provincial Jail, although only about a third of the detainees were Silimanians.”

The women detainee from Silliman, who were mostly members of the Christian Youth Fellowship and were volunteers in various church missions, held on to Rev. Tabada as their “jail pastor.” “They used to send me, on all sorts of notes, bits of papers, hello’s, thank you’s, and others,” Rev. Tabada remembered.

“Once I sent them a photo of our ‘Martial Law babe’—Callum at four-months, smiling and naked for the camera—and I was told they pinned the photo after passing it around. They looked at the photo as if it was a hopeful consolation of some sort. I responded by writing them open letters in long-hand. I still remember some of their names. There was Doris Abellanosa, Melandrin Empeso, Juliana Laura, Elizabeth Lasmarias, Virgina Orteza, June Loon, Anne dela Plaza, and Ethel Adela Raterta. The other names escape my memory. And among the Sillimanian boys, there were Edgar Rosero, Danilo Saturion, Oscar Lacuesta, Dindo Daruin, Bruce Banglay, Wilfredo Totatanez, Tomas Matic, Nimrod Porra, Jesus Georlin, Sever Mamhot, Dionesio Baseleres, Andy Manalo, Vic Padayhag, Franscisco Malanog. Together with myself, these were the names in the list of Group I of our Meal Schedule,” Rev. Tabada said.

When he was finally released before Christmas time, he had interviewed more than 70 prisoners, mostly the regular ones with criminal or civil cases. He would continue to interview more than 300 prisoners in detention after his release, and in 1993 Rev. Tabada would earn his Master’ degree in Extension Administration (MAREXA) from Silliman based mainly on his experience in prison.

Going back to regular life was a challenge, and some bridges were broken. “On 16 December 1972, Silliman Church decided to call me back to work with the Team Ministry, this time with Rev. Lydia Niguidula, Mr. Gideon Alegado, Mrs. Adela Raterta, and Dr. Buddy Martinez. Dr. Pak was on leave,” Rev. Tabada recalled. “But not all members of the Church Council wanted me back. The late Maj. Rustico Paralejas—who was my teacher in Religion I and was an elder of the church—was totally against my coming back because of my ‘activism.” But he was out-voted by the council, after which he resigned from it. It was sad because I was rather close to the Paralejas family. The eldest daughter, a campus beauty, donned on me my winning medal in an Inter-University oratorical contest during my sophomore year in college. I even officiated the wedding of their second daughter.”

By the mandate of Martial Law, Rev. Tabada’s official release—and of course his resumption as Silliman Church minister—was subject to several conditions. He was allowed to do priestly functions such as officiating wedding ceremonies, baptisms, communion services, and special services for funerals and dedications, worship services in public worship, and jail services, as well as being able to hold pastoral office hours where he could receive and counsel visitors. He was also allowed to resume ecumenical relations with other Christian churches, other than the UCCP, within the city, and also to preach the Gospel in any public worship, as well as do pastoral visitations to the homes of church members and students, as well as do sick calls in hospitals.

But he was not allowed to resume church liaison in relation to the Negros District Conference, the UCCP National Office, and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines. He could no longer serve as pastor to the Bantayan Missions and the Lo-oc Outreach, as well as the Silliman Church’s Visayan congregation in Nangihayag, which was composed of home helpers, janitors, and working students. He also could not resume radio ministry with DYSR. Rev. Tabada’s story has a happier ending, but let us consider those who did not.

Here’s Fr. Benjamin E. Alforque on being a witness: “I was forced to witness the torture and sexual harassment of seven farmers from Samar province that the military had arrested and accused of being NPA members. The farmers were blindfolded. They were made to face one another and the wall and to throw punches with all their might. They were hitting at each other and the wall, according to the whim of the military torturer. Bruised and in great pain, the farmers were then told to masturbate and drink their own semen.”

But it wasn’t just hapless farmers accused of being communist rebels. Martial Law’s victims cut through cross-sections of Filipino society.

There was Liliosa Hilao, for example, an asthmatic student who, in 1970, nevertheless joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan. Accordingly, even while suffering from asthma attacks, she joined rallies as part of her job as Associate Editor of Hasik, the campus paper at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. In 1973, she was taken from her family’s house by drunk members of the Constabulary Anti‑Narcotics Unit (CANU), who had come to look for her brother. She had demanded for a search warrant, but was slapped around instead by the soldiers, then handcuffed, and taken in for questioning. She was found dead the next day. Her brother‑in‑law had earlier come to see her at the military camp and had found her face swollen. Hilao claimed torture. When her sister Alice proceeded to the Camp Crame Station Hospital, Lilli was dead. The official CANU report stated that she had “committed suicide by drinking muriatic acid.” Post‑mortem findings, however, confirmed torture: her face was severely swollen, her lips bore cigarette butts burns, her arms had eleven injection marks, her wrists had deep handcuff marks, her torso was badly bruised. The possibility that she was sexually abused was raised.

There was Dr. Potenciano Baccay. According to the New York Times, he was one of Marcos' personal physicians and was Vice President of the National Kidney Foundation. But he made the mistake of revealing to the foreign press that the late strongman had kidney transplants in 1983 and 1984, fueling speculations that Marcos was seriously ill. He was later found stabbed to death, shortly after he spoke to The Pittsburgh Press. Police later said he was kidnaped and slain by communist rebels. A spokesman for Marcos later called the report “sheer fantasy.”

Then there was Archimedes Tajano. According to a GMA News Online report, Trajano, then a 21-year-old student at the Mapua Institute of Technology, once stood up in an open forum on August 1977 to question Imee Marcos, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, on her capability to lead the youth. The nation was then under Martial Law, and Imee Marcos headed the national youth organization Kabataang Barangay and was at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila where she addressed thousands of students. Trajano told Marcos that she would not have assumed the leadership position if she was not the presidential daughter. He also questioned her on her father's role in human rights violations. On 2 September 1977, the bloodied body of Trajano was found on the streets of Manila. The student’s parents were told he got into a dormitory fight. Witnesses later came forward to testify that Trajano was last seen being forcibly removed from the university forum by Marcos’ security escorts. It is believed Trajano was tortured for 12 to 36 hours before he died. His mother sued Marcos before the US district court in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 20 March 1986, barely a month after the Marcos family fled the country following the EDSA people power that year. In 1991, the US court awarded $4.4 million to the Trajano family.

I remember a poem by Merlie Alunan that expresses the terrible consequences regarding our forgetfulness about Martial Law. “The Bells Count in Our Blood” begins with an epigraph about Fr. Rudy Romano, the Redemptorist priest who was “disappeared” by Marcos’ men, and whose body has not been found, until now. The epigraph, a 1985 statement from the Redemptorist Community in Dumaguete City, stated: “Every night at 8:00 we shall ring the bells for Father Romano, and we shall continue to do so until he is found.”

I grew up in Dumaguete hearing those bells in Dumaguete. Ten counts, in the dark, which the poem recalls beautifully, if also sadly:

        Every night just as we settle
        To coffee or a mug of cold beer,
        They ring the bells—
        A crisp quick flurry first, then
        Decorous as in a knell, ten counts.
        Into the darkness newly fallen
        The cadence calls for a brother lost.

        At home as we try to wash off
        With music and a little loving
        The grime of markets from our souls—
        The day’s trading of truth for bread,
        Masks of honor, guises of peace—
        The clear sounds infusing the air
        Deny us the salve of forgetting.

        We know for what they lost him,
        Why expedient tyrants required
        His name effaced, his bones hidden.
        As we bend over the heads of children
        Fighting sleep, not quite done with play,
        The bells vibrating remind us how
        Our fears conspires to seal his doom.

        We could say to the ringers:
        Your bells won’t bring him back,
        But just supposing that it could,
        What would you have?
        A body maimed, perhaps, beyond belief—
        Toes and fingers gone, teeth missing,
        Tongue cut off, memory hacked witless.

        The nights in our town
        Are flavored with the dread
        The bells salt down measured
        From their tall dark tower.
        It falls upon our raw minds wanting sleep.
        Shall we stop them? Though we smart
        We know they keep us from decay.

        Shared in this keening,
        A rhythm beating all night long
        In our veins, truth is truth still
        Though unworded. The bells
        Count in our blood the heart of all
        We must restore. Tomorrow, we vow,
        Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Should we forget? The poem already has pointed out, a long time ago, that we have already forgotten. Our ultimate tragedy, beyond the blood and a dictator’s mayhem, is our forgetfulness.


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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow1:33 PM | A Musical Theatre of Vegetables

[A shorter version of this article appears in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, here.]

The musicalization of a beloved tale has always been par for the course for theatre—think of the reinvention of fairy tales in Into the Woods, or the seemingly endless parade of old movies redone for Broadway—but Alamat ng Ampalaya, Augie Rivera’s beloved children’s book which won much-acclaim, and many hearts, when it was first published by Adarna House 19 years ago, seems particularly suited for a theatrical adaptation.

The story has a feisty heart, it has a subtle moral (“Eat your vegetables!”) dressed up with much color, and it has, at its center, a complex protagonist who needs redemption—qualities that make the material a double-edged entertainment that plays well for both children and adults.

“I wrote the story in 1995 when I was working as head writer for Batibot,” Mr. Rivera recalls. “While I was singing ‘Bahay Kubo’—I can’t recall for what reason—I realized that the ampalaya was not included in the quintessential song about Philippine vegetables. I did some research and found out that there was also no existing old legend about the ampalaya. So I decided that I will write my own ‘original alamat’ about this often hated vegetable.”

Publicity officer Ian Rosales Casocot, author Augie Rivera, director Dessa Quesada-Palm, lighting designer Loren Rivera, and costume designer Carlo Pagunaling.

What resulted was a well-crafted tale about Ampalaya, a charming but envious resident of Sariwa, who coveted the color, the texture, and the aroma of other fruits and vegetables, and proceeds to steal these very qualities, turning the little community upside-down. Drama, of course, ensues. There’s a trial, too.

And the response from the public for the public has been phenomenal: “Many great things have happened to my life since the publication of my first book,” Mr. Rivera remembers. “Parents and kids would email me their comments about the book. One time a parent came up to me at the mall and said: ‘Dahil sa book mo, kumakain na ng ampalaya ang anak ko!’ And I’d reply: ‘Talaga po? Buti pa siya!’ I was only joking of course, but actually, I only learned how to eat ampalaya in college. I also hated it as a kid! But I am thankful that after 19 years, the book is still in print, and is still being read and enjoyed by a new generation of readers, both children and young parents.” And this may be so because the story Mr. Rivera concocted is so universal it could withstand reimagination. Like musicals.

Meanwhile, in New York, the much-awarded guitarist Michael Dadap—husband of the violinist Yo Cheng Ma and brother-in-law of the celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma—was contemplating what musical program to present for an educational organization he was part of, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2000. Mr. Dadap ran into a good friend, who gave him a copy of Mr. Rivera’s children’s book. “I thought it was a very witty and creative story,” he said. “I began thinking of songs that fit the story, and what inspired me to write the melodies and some of the dialogues and song lyrics were the distinctive flavors, tastes, colors, textures, and even the sensitive nature of the vegetables.”

Together with Patty Yusah, who helped Mr. Dadap write the libretto, they hammered out a short musical program that played off the many characteristics of the vegetables in the story. “The more I thought about this idea,” Mr. Dadap said, “the more I became drawn to it. Inasmuch as the story deals with many contemporary issues, I also felt like I was being transported back to the time of my growing up years, when making friends and losing them seemed to be a daily occurrence. The whole project allowed me to rediscover my inner self through the lens of my childhood years.” For Mr. Dadap, that meant rekindling the youthful vigor and energy that he he said were lost in the process of growing up with different struggles and challenges.

“I almost forgot that once upon a time, there was this innocent spirit that wanted to share, to smile, to trust. I was once free-spirited, and quite easy to forgive other’s mistakes, and my own as well. The vegetables reminded me of these,” Mr. Dadap said. “They exist because they have a purpose to serve other than themselves, like healing hunger, curing wounds, and making someone smile by their scent, colors, and natural beauty, which we sometimes take for granted. They are a part of our nature. They are seemingly simple, but are incredibly meaningful. We’ve lost these as we grow up. I guess so do the vegetables: they wither when fully grown. But writing the songs and creating the lyrics reminded me of the friends I grew up with. That made me smile. I hope the musical will make others smile, too.”

The students of Iskwelahang Pilipino staged the first performance of Ampalaya the Musical at Regis College in Boston. The original play was shorter, and the orchestration was set to the school’s rondalla ensemble. By 2006, Dumaguete’s Ating Pamana, a performing group led by Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez of Silliman University, also staged a performance while on tour in the U.S. “It was during that performance in New York that I got to hear the score in a different setting. Ampalaya took a new musical life. I realized that it could be developed into a full musical play,” Mr. Dadap said.

The full treatment he dreamed for so long will finally come to play with a production set to open in Dumaguete City on September 19, with shows running until the 22nd,at the famed Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, which is touted as the Cultural Center of Southern Philippines.

Orkestra Sin Arco director Mathilda Limbaga-Erojo and composer Michael Dadap.

Musical director Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez, stage managers Andrew Alvarez and Bethel Abigail Almirol, and director Dessa Quesada-Palm.

Cultural Officer Diomar Abrio. It was his idea to stage Ampalaya at the Luce in an expanded form.

Some of the production crew for Ampalaya with Onna Quizo as Ubodman sa Saging.

For this production, Mr. Dadap added around eleven new songs, and wrote incidental music and a few scenes more scenes to expand the original material he made. From a 40-minute mini-musical, the Ampalaya the Luce will witness “has sprouted taller, and longer,” says the composer. Produced by Silliman’s Cultural Affairs Committee, the new musical will be directed by PETA’s Dessa Quesada-Palm, with musical direction by Ms. Vista-Suarez and set design by Lex Marcos.

But it was also a practical master-class in play production by seasoned theatre veterans with students of Silliman. “As a member of this university theater, I’ve always found it inspiring to have more experienced artists working with our students and young local talents,” Ms. Palm said. “So to see Michael Dadap teaching and conducting our orchestra, musical director Susan Suarez working on the singing of non-music students, choreographer Angelo Sayson weaving his movements with the actors, set designer Lex Marcos instructing local artists on the rendering of the sets, costume designer John Carlo Pagunaling explaining his design and exhibiting his cloth palettes, technical director Barbie Tan-Tiongco showing a detailed ground plan—and more to expect with lighting designer Loren Rivera and animation artist Ramon del Prado—I feel that the artistic collaboration is already nurturing so much of our next generation’s aesthetics, discipline and strive for excellence.”

For Ms. Palm, the greatest challenge she encountered in staging the musical was essentially expand the material, considering that like many children’s stories, the plot was quite simple and necessarily predictable. “We are also exploring the use of three languages for this musical. Let’s see how the audience will take it,” she said.

The play’s message is paramount: “Personally I want people to experience the ugliness of envy and greed, what it can do to people especially if it remains as a blind spot. The other side of that would be to be more cognizant of your own gifts and strengths and to embrace, and nurture that,” Ms. Palm said. “But I also want children to get to know and fall in love with the Filipino vegetables. How many children still know, moreso have eaten, the vegetables mentioned in the folk song ‘Bahay Kubo’?”

Not many, one could guess. And perhaps with some dramatic delight provided by this play, the healthy acquaintance could start. Plus the songs are quite hummable, too.

“I hope it will give people joy and laughter,” Mr. Dadap said. “I am also hoping that it will take them back to a happy journey revisiting their childhood days. Seeing friends through the vegetables, forgiving, hoping and loving. As the last line of the song in this musical says, ‘Lets stay awake to see the morning sun, bringing hope, giving love.’ I hope this message is contagious to all audiences wherever their life’s journey may be.”

Ampalaya the Musical opens on September 19, with shows until September 22. Tickets are available at P200, P300, and P500. All tickets and season passes for Luce Auditorium shows are available for sale at the CAC Office at the College of Performing and Visual Arts Building II, and at the theater lobby before the show begins. For ticket reservations and other inquiries, call (035) 422-4365 or 09173235953.

Photos by Urich Calumpang.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

entry arrow12:18 AM | A François Ozon Completist Checklist

The first François Ozon film I saw was A Summer Dress. This was in Tokyo in 1997 when I attended the first gay and lesbian film festival I'd ever been in, and was so overwhelmed by the cinematic choices it felt very much like being a kid in a candy shop. It was an empowering experience to know that most of the patrons who were with me in that Tokyo theatre were exactly like me who were hungry for representations of themselves on the silver screen. I got plenty of that in that festival -- and that experience has since urged me on to a study of queer cinema. But this short film by Ozon was one of those that struck me the most because it seemed so light, so sexy, so subversive, so dangerous ... so French.

Since then I've seen some of his later films -- the mysterious duo of Swimming Pool and Under the Sand, with Charlotte Rampling in two indelible star turns, were an exercise of mood and skilful handling of the thriller genre -- and I've come to know the edgy sexuality Ozon seems to inject his films with. And always with a homoerotic subtext. What's not to like?

I want to see all of his films.

☐ The New Girlfriend (2014)
☐ Young and Beautiful (2013)
☐ In the House (2012)
☐ Potiche (2010)
☐ Hideaway (2009)
☐ Ricky (2009)
☐ Angel (2007)
☐ Time to Leave (2005)
☐ 5x2 (2004)
☑ Swimming Pool (2003)
☑ 8 Women (2002)
☑ Under the Sand (2000)
☐ Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000)
☑ Criminal Lovers (1999)
☑ Sitcom (1998)
☐ See the Sea (1997)


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Friday, September 12, 2014

entry arrow9:13 PM | Charlie Makes a Request | Scene From Men Don't Leave (1990)

Favorite Scenes Series

When Paul Brickman's Men Don't Leave was released in 1990, it came at the most opportune time in the most personal way. I was 15. I was at an age where I was slowly shaping my passions, and I guess I was beginning what would turn out to be a life-long love affair with the movies. Sure, I'd seen other movies before this one, and ha loved many of them -- but the early 1990s was when I made a deliberate choice to be a cineaste. I went out it with the calculation of a fanatic: I cultivated a taste for the non-commercial and the challenging (I knew I had to expand my horizons, film-wise), I read up on biographies of movie stars and directors, I devoured film history books and from them compiled lists of films I was supposed to see as a budding cineaste. But I wasn't also entirely high-brow: I paid attention to what was popular as well, even waking up very early in the morning of every Monday to watch CNN's Showbiz Today and its weekly report of box office tallies. The titles of the top-five box office winners I would carefully log onto my film notebook, which also contained a long list of films I could remember having watched. (Each title was painstakingly rated. Four stars meant I had liked it very much.)

Men Don't Leave was one of those films I saw advertised in the newspapers with the poster filled with blurbs. The review snippets told me it was a must-see, a critical darling. And so when I came to watch it, I was prepared to expect that it would be good. And it was, to my relief. Because there were many films in my youth advertised with exactly the same kind of critical fervency, but I'd find washing over me like a piece of a puzzle I could not get. From the get-go, I liked the film's slow-moving drama, its universal dilemma, its quiet unfolding. There were no villains in this piece, only interesting people confronted with problems and trying their best to overcome them without losing their humanity. I liked that. It also introduced me to Jessica Lange.

I soon moved on to bigger movies with vaster legacies. I had forgotten about this little gem of a movie until the writer Wilfredo Pascual reminded me about it in a recent Facebook meme. Paul Brickman's tight melodrama about a mother (Jessica Lange) and her two sons (Chris O'Donnell and Charlie Korsmo -- Charlie Korsmo! That name is soooo 1990s! I miss him.) trying to find new life for themselves in Baltimore after the husband dies in an accident. Heart-tugging all the way, but surprisingly restrained all the same. There are syrupy moments, but it worked. I've always found the score to be such a joyful complement to the story, and to have found out now that it was done by Thomas Newman, one of my favourite composers, is to revel in the discovery that there is a DNA to my filmic taste.

In this scene, perhaps my favourite from the movie, we find Mr. O'Donnell's character pleading in a roundabout way to Arliss Howard -- who plays Ms. Lange's new boyfriend -- to give his mother another chance. They have had a falling out, a result of domestic turbulence, and here is the mother's son begging Mr. Howard's character not to leave. Leave-taking by the men in this film is the story's objective correlative, underlined by Mr. Korsmo's tearful speech in the end of the film.

A great movie -- although it does sometimes feel like an ad for life insurance.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

entry arrow6:16 PM | There is a Conspiracy to Bring Back the 1990s…

… And I don’t mind. That decade was awesome.

Except for the mommy pants,” Zaki quickly reminded me in Facebook.

She had a point there—those silhouette-less testaments in denim to 1990s throwaway leisure wear were ugly as the face of hell, but then again every single decade’s fashion sense is an all-too-easy target for ridicule, with the present occurring as a tenuous benchmark for comparisons in taste. In 1992, for example, I was a junior high school student dressed up in GQ nines, thinking that all the girls in my prom, who were dressed to the hilt according to the fashion of the times, were the absolute embodiment of the tasteful and the divine. We took pictures, of course, to ensure our looks would become lasting memory: we have seen those pictures lately—the bouffant hair recollecting the last excesses of the 1980s, the pastel froufrou dresses, the gangsta suits—and we have appropriately recoiled.

But even then, the 1990s were awesome. Lately, I’ve been having some kind of well-curated nostalgia trip through the pop culture of a decade that had shaped my contemporaries’ younger years—that exquisite, romantic time when we were between sixteen and twenty-one—and I’ve felt some undefined pangs of longing and regret that may in fact be underlined by the idea that in a year or two, those of us who grew up in the 1990s would be turning 40.

(Let this be a pause for us to draw in those bated breaths.)

Lately, I have been revisiting the popular culture that have shaped my young adulthood in the 1990s: Cameron Crowe’s Singles and Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites and Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, or Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Eraserheads, Michael Crichton and Joe Klein and Robert James Waller and John Grisham, or Friends and Dawson’s Creek and My So-Called Life and T.G.I.S. I’ve meant this tour through the landmarks of my youth to be recollection of the headiness of life in the fast edges of being young. What I am finding out is that, these things beheld now, have become a slow-moving acknowledgment that all of that had gone by too fast. Much too fast.

And yet the bigger popular culture that surrounds us now cannot help in doing a project of recollection. Buzzfeed and other online linkbaits have been keen lately about doing listicles that excavate the various artifacts of growing up 90s—that dial-up connection noise, beanie babies, tamagochis, Luke Perry, furbies, Netscape Navigator, Space Jam. I must not be the only one who followed Hannah Horvath in HBO’s Girls to a club rave—memories of Doug Liman’s Go!—and shrieked as she did with Icona Pop’s “I Love It” remix, with its glorious whiplash line, “But I’m a 90s bitch!” The Vulture blog—a relentlessly comprehensive and addictive compendium of everything current in popular culture—has also been relentless in its 90s nostalgia, doing thoroughly absorbing oral histories of Party of Five and My So-Called Life, and correctly pronounced that the 1994-1995 season, which saw the premiere of Friends, was the last best season of American network television history, before it got eaten up by cable and online livestreaming. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Cartoon Network premiered in 1995 in the ascendant cable industry. The animated madness of that channel, reinforced with Nickolodeon’s Hey, Arnold! and Rugrats, as well as the quirky denizens of MTV’s Liquid Television, changed the way we looked at cartoons forever. It wouldn’t always be Disney—and then Disney itself went on and reinvented animation with Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, after its success with The Little Mermaid in 1989.

Where did things go?

Where are we going now?

Today, we long for that old headiness in our culture. A few weeks ago, even New York Times lamented: “Are you one of the people mourning the loss of the old-fashioned (as in 1990s) rom-com? Do you feel that romantic comedies haven’t been the same—or haven’t even existed—since the last time Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks made a movie together?”

Now, it would seem, we are in the project of bringing many of the things that remind us of how young we were once. MTV, for example, which in my youth meant real “music television” plus a sprinkling of original programming—Daria, Beavis and Butthead, Æon Flux, The Real World—that aimed so hard to define the zeitgeist, has just announced that it is releasing to the masses the insanity that was Liquid Television. Imagine that.

The cast of Penelope Spheeris’ Little Rascals (1994), too, has decided to do a quirky 20th anniversary reunion by coming together for a photo shoot and recreating the movie poster and many of the scenes that have made the film an unlikely icon for nostalgia. You see the before and after quickly doing the viral rounds in social media, and all it has become is a blurry acquiescence to the truth that time is the master of us all.

And now, courtesy of Esquire Philippines, the band that defined the Filipino youth’s groping for meaning in the 1990s—the Eraserheads—have just released two new songs, “Sabado” and “1995,” bundled in a CD together with the magazine’s September 2014 issue. Which, for me, begged the ultimate question of remembrance: Nasaan ka nung 1995?

I shall try to remember: Ako, isang sophomore sa kolehiyo in 1995—and slowly realizing this: “What the eff am I doing in Physical Therapy?” Pero yun, super-study pa rin, memorizing muscles and nerves (and insertions and origins) for Gross Anatomy and pretending to understand Kinesiology. Minsan iiyak din once I’d hear that terrible midnight station ID na parang organ music of DYEM-FM here in Dumaguete, kasi hating-gabi na pero may limang chapters pang dapat basahin para sa exam sa kinabukasan. Like, ano ba? I just wanted to go to sleep! And I began thinking: gusto ko bang mag-work sa isang ospital forever? Hindi naman siguro, was my answer. So, yun, iyak lang nang iyak. Pero kahit papano, go pa rin ang film education ko, kung may oras. I had just discovered Spanking the Monkey from this videoshop named Good Luck Store na malapit sa palengke. Also Larry Clark’s Kids at Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Also discovered Woody Allen. The radio kept playing Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and Shaggy’s “Bombastic,” pero alam ko na mas gusto ko ang “Back for Good” ng Take That, dahil alam mo na. In 1995, di pa rin ako marunong mag-party, at napaka-payat ko pa. Super-payat that I decided I needed to bulk up by eating five cheese de sals bawat araw, every 4 PM, after my last class. At lumabas din yung Pare Ko ni Jose Javier Reyes from Star Cinema, and I fell in love with it. The soundtrack was fantastic, too. At yun, dun ako natotong humanga sa Eraserheads.

That was my 1995.

So what gives with all these nostalgia? There is a scene in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours (2002) between Meryl Streep’s Clarissa and Claire Danes’ Julia Vaughan that underscores for me something that I have been trying to understand and come to terms with recently—like a belated answer or explanation to some of the things I have been asking about time and youth. In this scene, Clarissa is preparing for a dinner party for a great poet friend, and her encounter with him early in the day has left her devastated—but also thoughtful. She has been crying since then, and then her daughter Julia enters, and asks her if she is all right. They retire to the bedroom and then they start to talk...

“... If you say to me, ‘When were you happy...?’” Clarissa asks her.

“Mom...,” Julia intones.

“... Tell me the moment you were happiest...”

“I know ... I know, it was years ago,” Julia says.

“Yeah,” Clarissa says.

“All you’re saying is, you were once young,” Julia finally tells her mother.

And Clarissa Vaughan smiles and laughs. “I remember one morning,” she says, “getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself, so this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more.” Both of them laugh. “Never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning, it was happiness. It was The Moment. Right then.”

And perhaps this is how I will try to understand nostalgia. Sometimes I wish that when I was much younger someone had taken me by the shoulders, shook me, and told me: “Live every bit of these moments. You are young. When you’re older, these things will define every bit of what you will remember to be happy.”

Then again, when we were younger, did we ever listen? Alas, no. Youth is too preoccupied with what it thinks is the singularity of its angst. “You don’t understand,” we all say. But of course we soon understand that they understood. Because we’ve all been there.

In the meantime, to come to terms we have done or did not do in our beloved youth, we embrace the parade of things coming back from the past, not to haunt us, but to remind us we were happy once. We were young once.

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