We are what we watch

When did you last watch a locally produced film in a theater not so much for the stars who are in it as for its story, production values and technical excellence?

While the country goes through national cleansing from illegal drugs and criminality fueled by “The Duterte Revolution,” as termed by National Artist F. Sionil Jose, the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has revealed its own version of metamorphosis. As bravely announced by University of the Philippines professor Nic Tiongson, eight official entries were named, which the members of the MMFF board unanimously chose for the public’s viewing pleasure.

Surprising for me was the exclusion for the first time in the festival of “Enteng Kabisote” and “Mano Po,” which are on their tenth and seventh installments this year, respectively. That’s right: tenth and seventh. MMFF Goliaths “Mother” Lily Monteverde and “Bossing” Vic Sotto were shocked and frustrated. But should they be?

I visited the MMFF website and read its mission: “A festival that celebrates Filipino artistic excellence, promotes audience development, and champions the sustainability of the Philippine film industry.” And here’s its vision: “To develop audiences for and encourage the production of quality Filipino films, and to promote the welfare of its workers.”

Where is “Filipino artistic excellence” in a film that you expect to showcase, for the nth time, the same old formula: scenes of running, shooting and fighting fantastic creatures and other beings? Where is “quality Filipino films” in movies that time and again use the defense “Christmas is for kids” to justify poor storytelling and absence of creativity?

Are some of us that dumb that they make do with eating the same Noche Buena and Media Noche every MMFF season, with recycled concepts and forced twists in the script?

Renowned astrophysicist and thinker Neil deGrasse Tyson once said: “If there is a country without art, it’s not a country I want to live in. If there’s a country without science, you’re living in a cave. We measure the success of a civilization by how much … how well they treated their creative people.”

When I heard this, I remembered what Lily Monteverde had said: “You know, there is a time for the indie movies, but not the Christmas season. Christmas is for the family.” Are we treating our creative people rightfully if we seclude them from a festival over which she has been reigning as a queen for a long time? Isn’t that a degrading statement to indie filmmakers, who mightily try to survive in a country that has a trifling regard for the beauty of the arts and quality films?

So far this year, I’ve watched only one Filipino movie. A colleague invited me to join her family one Friday evening days before my birthday in July to watch a historical drama based on the memoirs of St. Ignatius de Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. I was thrilled and curious.

“At last! A sensible movie!” was my reaction when the plot summary was introduced. “Ignatio de Loyola” kindled hope in me that Filipinos are too capable, competent and imaginative to be dismissed from the international stage. Truth be told, most of the mainstream movies shown after the blockbuster “Heneral Luna” in 2015 were not outstanding.

Are we not tired of the trend of our local films that, by just the title, reveals what the stories are, the flows of events, and their endings? Boy meets girl. Flirtation. Betrayal. They hook up even if one of them is in another relationship. Beach scenes. Sensual exchanges. Bodies colliding. Morning kiss. Characters dressed in white clothes. Reality kicks in. Guilt enters the picture. The forbidden relationship has to end. One asks for forgiveness. To move on, or to hold on? Frustration. Car accident. Amnesia. Final kiss. 5 seconds. Happy song. 20 seconds. The end. And the bloopers, for the members of the audience to believe that they had a great time.

Film as a form of art serves as a catalyst for the audience to take a sound look at what’s going on, to reflect, to empathize, and to act for personal and social development. We’ve heard the saying, you are what you eat. But isn’t it true that we are also what we watch? If we’re just content to spend our time watching rubbish posing as films and not have the curiosity to look beyond the horizon for better fare, maybe we deserve the chaos we’re in right now—a forgetful and gullible nation.

We have an opportunity in the coming MMFF to experience an unforgettable Noche Buena and Media Noche of high-caliber films. Let’s embrace the chance. It could be that the decades of slavery to mediocrity are gone, and we are independent, at last!

(This piece has been published in Young Blood, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer on the 15th of December, 2016.)

The butterfly effect

IN MY childhood, I used to spend my weekend afternoons in our backyard watching tree clinging, 12-legged caterpillars transform into majestic flying butterflies. If nature permits, the cocoon would slowly break open paving the way for a beautiful creature to exist. It was magical. But today, I no longer see butterflies just as they are or their metamorphosis as a metaphor for 180-degree transformation. I see PDu30 in them.

A few days before he sworn into office, PDu30 said: “There will be a metamorphosis of the mind. From being a caterpillar, it will blossom into a butterfly.”

I still remember how hopeful and excited my mother was on the makeover that would occur on the most powerful man in this country. But did he really change? Can a man really change his ways in a snap to be more presidential? How can his demeanor reflect the way we see ourselves as a nation?

President Duterte knows exactly how to play his game. He got 16 million votes for a promise of strongman rule. Every time he curses, a microphone is in front of him to capture everything. Cameras are all over as he moves his mouth. He doesn’t care if you’re the Pope. If you made him wait in traffic for hours, feel free to listen to his wrath. He confessed every possible detail of his humanity that can be used against him during the campaign period – a womanizer, bloody murderer of rapists, and a killer of sorts. While this “playful use of words” has become second nature to him, a majority of us including the international media is caught unprepared, confused, and puzzled on what he really meant. He is willing to slap anybody even a former senator and cabinet secretary with his truth. He has “nothing to hide” he would say. And then expect his speakers and allies quick to interpret and explain what he just uttered.

Just recently, he headlined news reports for “cursing” President Barack Obama of the United States. But if you’ll play the video over and over again, he did not directly curse him. He addressed it to those who would question the way he handles the drug problem in our country in the ASEAN summit. I wonder why some media organizations say otherwise.

Every day, we witness his antics, we listen to the way he expresses himself, his expiration in controlling his mouth and emotions past midnight which is common to someone who’s 71 years old. He’s probably irritated, we would say.

But how did we get here?

Why did we resort to a cursing, foul-mouthed president instead of entrusting the kingdom to yellow king’s heir – masked with his signature elitist eyeglass – who has vowed to continue the fight for the straight path in well-tucked polo shirt? How about the short, dark-skinned man who reigned over the concrete jungle of the country’s financial district and prematurely announced his aspiration to the throne?

The answers to these questions are slowly revealing themselves in front of our eyes. We got tired. Our ears got to the spilling level on the traditional politicians with the same platforms that we sought for someone sincere and unconventional. We’ve become impatient of the inefficiencies that surround us that we made ourselves believe that who we need right now is a punisher, a strongman, someone who understands what we’re going through in our everyday lives. PDu30 is the exact opposite of PNoy when it comes to demeanor and manner of speech. I’ve never heard PNoy curse; PDu30 has it in his system.

We celebrate him despite of the knowledge that thousands have died in his world-famous war against drugs. Those who were killed either resisted arrest or tried to steal the gun of the police officer while being handcuffed, they would say. We believe on this reasoning because none of our family members has become a victim yet. Because we believe that nothing will happen to good people. And at the same time, we accepted full-heartedly that an innocent man could die. It’s the trade of the game. Because we understand that in any warfare there shall be collateral damage. They are just numbers flashed on our tv sets. Just another update for the day until someone close to our hearts becomes a lifeless face of that statistics. Can’t we see the disconnect on our own beliefs?

Suddenly, we became more involved. We post comments and status updates about the workings of the government. We watch his every interview. We listen to him like students to a teacher with the admiration to be catalysts for change. We talk about him during lunch at work and within the confines of our homes. No wonder, historically, he has one of the highest approval ratings among presidents.

PDu30 made us realize that we’re not genuinely happy inside. We’re unhappy with drug addicts and pushers roaming around backed by some corrupt law enforcers and government officials themselves. We’re unhappy to walk on the streets no matter what time of the day because there is no security.

Perhaps, President Duterte will still curse. He will still speak his mind to whoever claims to be a moral authority in the years to come. But shouldn’t we first seek to change ourselves? Shouldn’t we first seek to be contributors and vigilant actors to the nation-building advocacy that he wants us to take?

And the next time that President Duterte flaps his wings on stage or in front of a camera to deliver a 45-minute extemporaneous speech about the challenges and pressing issues that we face as a country, may we not just count his contradictions and the number of times he cursed but choose to see him the same way President Obama once described him:”Clearly, he’s a colorful guy.”

Concert in a Classroom

HAVE YOU ever been made to stand in class for the rest of the period because you were unable to answer a question or gave the wrong one?

“What is the matter?” Prof. X asked. Nobody wanted to answer. Our room, which only a few minutes ago was filled with laughter and stories about Anime, NBA and our classmate’s latest smartphone, turned silent, again, just like yesterday, or last week, or even last term. We were thrilled, in a bad way. We were too scared to make a mistake, or to even try.

She looked at me and said: “Mr. Zenarosa, do you know the answer?” Having a surname that starts with the last letter of the alphabet has some advantages. You are called last in a system where “Abel,” “Almeda,” and “Asuncion” are always at the front line. And yes, Abel stood longer than I did. Again. Everyone was standing, just like when Eraserheads or Bamboo or Adele is on stage, having the time of their lives in a concert. And we? We, too—35 young minds—were having the time of our lives, at the worst.

Have you ever wondered why this is? When one experiences a humiliating situation, will it make one question oneself, pretend that one is a superhero, and ultimately change in a blink with an imaginary cape? Isn’t the classroom supposed to be a venue for free thinking, for an exchange of ideas with a teacher, who, after having obtained a doctorate, should know more than anybody else that fear does not always result in learning or knowledge or the evolution of ideas?

Ken Robinson said in a TED talk: “I like university professors, but you know, we shouldn’t hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life. There’s something curious about professors … not all of them, but typically, they live in their heads. They live ‘up there,’ and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads.”

When I heard this, the image of Prof. X popped into my head, and one other. They walk with so much civility. Their minds and their understanding seem way beyond normal, so that the public—in this case, we, their students—cannot even chat with them during break times or when we bump into them in the hallway. They should be respected, no doubt. But is this the best we can have?

Isn’t it true that there are some main actors in our education system who engage in practices that kill not just the creativity but also the drive and the spirit of some of their students? Our lives are altered, our outlook changed, and in the end, some of us give up, thinking that we are not good enough. Some of us are shouted at for not finding the “x” and “y” or slope in a math problem in front of everyone else, with a piece of chalk, or a white board marker, in our hands, trembling—the longest minutes of our lives. We feel inferior in an instant. We start to believe that we can go nowhere, even if, in some areas of our lives, we are succeeding.

And the other one?

I was bullied in high school. But it was not your conventional bullying, which is student to student; it was teacher to student. The topic was atoms. The teacher asked: “How many holes … does this sponge have?” She then looked at me from head to toe and told me to rise. “In your case, how many holes does your face have?” she said. Being born to a family that seems to have so much regard for the propagation and safekeeping of pimples from one generation to the next, I looked down.

Last row. Right wing. Seat 45. For a boy whose surname starts with the last letter of the alphabet, and who was made to stand, again—this time, the first one—to answer a question that had no relation in any sense to the topic, it was infuriating.

She laughed. Very hard.

Ten seconds. I was crying. I wanted to teleport from where I was sitting to my bedroom. To hug my favorite pillow. To hide. To forget.

Fifteen seconds. Everybody was laughing. I had an out-of-the-body experience for the nth time.

After an hour, everybody settled down for their lunch break.

I was still at Seat 45. And with all the courage that I could muster from my thin, young, ashamed self, I chose not to leave.

Looking back, did those episodes really make me stronger?

We grew up in a culture that views such episodes as normal. That a kid in every other block should somehow experience these things. That he or she is weak and that someday, he or she will be thankful for the “challenge” put to him or her. That bullying, in different levels, is a part of growth. But is it?

Some of us are good at painting, photography, or the other arts. Some of us are sent outside the four corners of our schools for writing, public speaking, or athletics competitions. We gain confidence for every success story. We are this country’s future.

But some of us are silently keeping our pain inside. We are becoming casualties, in certain ways, of the mentors our parents want us to meet in learning institutions.

We are a people with much regard for hard work. We know from childhood that we cannot reap what we did not plant. But I was wrong to apply this principle in those situations. I was not supposed to experience those terrible moments. Nobody is. I was discriminated against and was wronged. We were made to stand for more than an hour inside or outside the classroom, supposedly for us to work harder, to give us more time, so that next time, our mouths will be a fountain of beautiful answers. She wanted us to realize something.

And do you wonder why I still remember those details? It’s because I got hurt. And just like the other faces of hurt that this world can offer, those experiences will never be forgotten or deleted as old, ugly files in my personal awareness.

I chose to improve. The education system and the way things are done can flourish over time. But we have to rethink how students should be treated in any classroom, whether they have the answer or not. We can do better than shouting at them or bullying them.

And at any rate, your brain dictated “Matter is anything that has mass and weight” as the answer to Prof. X’s tricky question. Be ready to pack your things, confidently stand for an hour, inside or outside the classroom, with a heart.

(This piece has been published in Youngblood, Opinion, Philippine Daily Inquirer on the 4th of February, 2016.)

#actinganlangtouy

Sabi nila isang linggo ka lang,

Dubsmash sa Bulaga? Anong suicide attempt ‘yan?

Ayun! Muling gumuhit ng kasaysayan,

‪#‎ALDUBMostAwaitedDate‬ umabot 10 million tweets lang naman!

Ano bang meron ka at kami’y nahalina?

Dahil ba acting mo ramdam naming totoo na?

‘Di gaya ng Pastillas na pilit pinahihinog,

Walang puno, ‘di bunga – hanap ay irog.

Sa sobrang traffic sa EDSA

Sa sobrang traffic sa EDSA, kung na-busted ka sa SM North, ‘pag bumaba ka na sa Guadalupe, pakiramdam mo nakamove-on ka na.

Getting over the “Fight of the Century”

Cheers were replaced by sighs. Nobody wanted to leave the theater. We were shocked. Everybody hoped that maybe Jimmy Lennon Jr. read the scores incorrectly. “‘Yun na ‘yon (Is that it)?”, the old man sitting beside me shouted in exasperation. We waited for the climax of the movie pictured mentally by hundreds of millions of fans all over the world – Mayweather, the wife-batterer – blank-faced, defeated, on the canvas after being hit by Pacquiao in a barrage of punches in every angle. It never came.

We were fooled. We are living in a country facing international conflicts on the West Philippine Sea and the government is “exhausting all efforts for the lives of the 88 Filipinos in death row” including the much-publicized Mary Jane Veloso who has “innocent face and will break your heart” as described by Neal Cruz. Poverty is all over the place. Some children roam around the streets of Manila with no clothes on. MRT and LRT have become havens for pickpockets and other thieves. 44 members of the PNP-SAF were massacred, most of them on a cornfield, exposed to enemy fires. Corruption is rampant in almost all levels. And as a passionate people, we placed our hopes in Pacquiao’s powerful fists that we might forget all these, on that bright, glorious day. That we can laugh our hearts out after 6 years of expecting. But then again, it never happened. His camp revealed that he injured his arm weeks before the fight. We believed that “I’ll be at my best come May 2nd”. Or should I say, “We were made to believe”?

Sports breathes from hope. And to engage yourself in sports is a way to relieve the different forms of stress of life. However, if used the improper way, it can be lethal. A promise of escape from reality can be turned into a nightmare that will forever haunt the minds of people.

Looking back, Pacquiao fought a good fight. He never backed down. It takes greatness and strength to take a punch or two to finally get inside Mayweather’s defense and launch one good shot either on the head or to the body. Pacquiao lost some credibility for not disclosing his real condition before the fight.

Boxing has faced one of its deaths that day. At least, the curiosity and interest of millions for boxing may rest within themselves. And while I look forward to Lebron James and the Cavs bagging a championship from one of the major sports in the US of A for the people of Cleveland, I still cannot believe how expensive the tickets were of the memorial service I attended on May 2. That was the day when I first saw vibrant and lively fans transformed into zombies in a matter of minutes, walking slowly towards the exit – to go home.

Palengke

Palengke, isa sa mga lugar sa mundo na may tumatawag sa’yo ng kung anu-ano. Minsan, “kuya”, o ‘di kaya “kuyang naka-shades”. O ‘di kaya, “Pogi”. Depende na lang kung titigil ka at magpapadala. Magtataka ka na lang na pati ‘yung anak nila ikinukuwento na sa’yo. Ang gusto mo lang naman bumili ng bangus at sibuyas. Isa mga lugar, bukod sa Derm Clinic, Bench Fix at ‘yung barber shop sa sunod na kanto.