Ball of confusion

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Movie Review
Directed by Vince Tañada

KATIPS, the movie version of the 2016 ALIW-award winning stage play, written and directed by Atty. Vince Tañada, has brought home a bucket-load of FAMAS gold.

The film has unexpectedly discombobulating messages beyond its hippy dippy depictions of grim and determined activists from the First Quarter Storm onwards. These tibak (activists) are not your typical maong (jeans) and T-shirt types, but more like fugitive cosplayers from Soul Train or the musical Hair, with uncharacteristic Afro-do’s, flimsy embroidered kurtas and flowing paisley headbands at rallies. One even turns up at Mendiola in a full equestrienne outfit — white jodhpurs, knee-high riding boots and a snappy crop — as though she came straight from the Manila Polo Club. The Katips tibak are so pakuwela (gimmicky) and pa-cute, that they even have a special secret handshake which involves pompyang (cymbals) Three Musketeers style, then the hand over the heart bit, like any good scout.

Listen closely to the dialogue though, and you are in for some eye-popping, shoulder-shrugging, double takes. These are alarming and perplexing in a film that claims to counter the proliferation of historical distortions about the period from the First Quarter Storm, through Marcos Martial Law all the way till the aftermath of EDSA People Power I.

For example, Ka Panyong (Vince Tañada) further misleads the Fil-Am Broadway actress Lara (Nicole Laurel) when she apologizes for not being that well-informed about the Philippine political situation. Lara’s father, Prof. Quimpo, had just been abducted from a Mendiola rally, then murdered by Metrocom Lt. Sales (Mon Confiado) and his men. Ka Panyong explains the Philippine political problem to her, as the United States’ perpetually borrowing money from the Philippines then squirreling it away overseas. One wonders if half a century ago, Ka Panyong had insider information on Yamashita’s Treasure the Tallano gold. As the editor of a radical newspaper that is strikingly similar to the Philippine Collegian, he surely knows better. PCGG records show how Marcos Sr. and his cronies misappropriated gazillions in US loans and grants. This clunker is somewhat mitigated by being followed with a spoken word elegy about the usual Philippine motherland travails — poverty, injustice, etc., which all happen to be true for a change  —rendered by Ka Panyong and Aleta (Adelle Ibarrientos) while Lara accompanies them on the piano.

The expected kilig factor love teams are interspersed throughout the film. Another troubling untruth here is the mislabeling of Aleta’s missing lover Ben as a member of a “sparrow unit.” Ben and Aleta are reunited when the villainous Lt. Sales abducts Aleta and imprisons her in a safe house. However, Ben is not a prisoner himself, but is actually Lt. Sales’ good buddy, so clearly not a sparrow. The Encyclopedia Britannica entry on the NPA’s Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) hitmen explains they were then called “sparrow units” for their swift assassinations, and their ability to often elude arrest. The Washington Post said these “sparrow units” were named after the sparrow bird because of their “smallness and quick moves.” Thus the correct term for Ben is not sparrow but DPA for Deep Penetration Agent, hence his friendship with Lt. Sales. Ben even looks on approvingly while Aleta is gang-raped, tortured then executed by Sales and his men. When I asked about this mischievous misidentification which was clearly intended to disparage the ABB sparrows and draw attention away from nefarious DPA, Tañada again claims the distortion was: “for literary purposes. Sparrow unit was specifically mentioned to insinuate negotiation and collaboration with the Metrocom to show how cunning the Marcos men were.” That’s quite a stretch, really.

But the truly hair-raising zinger comes when, after EDSA People Power I, Ka Panyong is incarnated as Tatang who is writing a historical novel about Marcos’ Martial Law while comfortably ensconced somewhere in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Martial Law Museum. In voice-over, Tatang falsely intones: lahat ng diktador ay may malagim na katapusan (all dictators have a dark end). That is clearly untrue. When the stage version of Katips was mounted in 2016, then presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte had already promised he would have the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos’ remains interred with full honors at the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani. Even during his years in exile, Ferdinand Sr. and Imelda Marcos did not suffer any significant material deprivation, as reported in

“Although Imelda Marcos complained that living in exile was like a prison sentence, she still enjoyed the same lifestyle which she had in the Philippines. She and her husband hosted extravagant dinners and weekly Sunday afternoon parties, catered by some of the most expensive restaurants in Honolulu. When she wasn’t entertaining her party guests, some of whom would fly in from different parts of the world just to attend, Imelda Marcos was shopping at designer dress shops in town… In September 1988, the couple celebrated Ferdinand Marcos’ 71st birthday with a six-hour party at the Blaisdell Center in downtown Honolulu. The 2,000 guests who attended the event were among some of Hawaii’s top entertainers, and loyal supporters still referred to them as the president and the first lady.”

Unlike the thousands who were tortured to death, summarily executed or who were just never found, Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. did not meet a dark painful end, but died at the age of 72, while continuing to get the best medical care in a top-notch Hawaiian hospital. Nonetheless, when I asked Tañada through his publicist about this clear untruth uttered by the Katips protagonist, Tatang, a.k.a. Ka Panyong, he again said that line was just a “literary device” in relation to the Marcos Martial Law novel Tatang is working on, and is meant to be a deterrent to future dictators. Some deterrent. Junior is back in the Palace now; Super Ate is in the senate and a newbie Congressman son is a Deputy Speaker of the House. The family continued to amass political power and wealth as soon as they were allowed to return in 1992, by their relative President Fidel V. Ramos, while the thousands of surviving Marcos Martial Law victims are gradually dying off, without getting justice or adequate reparations. There is Archimedes Trajano, for one.

Perhaps even more disturbing than such confusing statements scattered throughout the film, were the things it doesn’t say. The name of Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. (FEM) is rarely heard said out loud in Katips. Usually, FEM is warily alluded to as ang Apo, like a blind item in a gossip column. Through his publicist, Tañada clarified: “Although most of the dialogues referred Marcos as Apo, Marcos was mentioned in some of the song lyrics, to wit — ‘Mga traydor na tauhan ni Marcos,’ ‘Bakit naman kapit tuko si Marcos’ in ‘First Quarter Storm’; ‘Medalya ni Marcos ay pulos kasinungalingan,’ ‘Sapatos ni Imelda aking pag-iinitan,’ in ‘Subersibo’ (Note: Imelda Marcos’s shoe fetish was only revealed after the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, and not during the early years of Marcos Martial Law.); ‘Kay Marcos ako’y loyalista’ in ‘Love si Apo na Masugid’; ‘’Wag lang siyang kakantiin, makakatikim si Marcos sa akin’ in ‘Salising Landasin.’”

Again, Tañada cites “literary device” as his reason: “Marcos was referred as Apo in order to show that Tatang was writing a literary novel. Songs mentioned ‘Marcos’ to provide a literary device that Music is a universal language and most of the times bare truth (sic) than the spoken lines.”

Raissa Espinosa Robles, the author of Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, has stressed how important it is to always name Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr. as the lead author and implementer of Proclamation 1081 which placed the entire Philippines under martial law from 1972 to 1981. Marcos lifted martial law in 1981 before the visit of the popular Pope John Paul II, but it was only on paper, as he effectively continued to wield all his authoritarian powers. Robles believes we owe it to the thousands of Filipinos martyred and persecuted then, to at least keep on calling out the one who was responsible: Marcos’ owns martial law, from the human rights abuses and including the dire economic fallout that plunged the Philippines from being a promising young nation to the sick man of Asia, who always seems to be in relapse.

Incongruously and disturbingly, the name Marcos does appear visually as vivid playfully floating colorful graphics bannering Marcos’ infrastructure achievements in Lou Veloso’s long Metro Aide dance number. It is an homage to Aling Otik’s Metro Aide dance in Ishmael Bernal’s film Tisoy (Nonoy Marcelo who created Tisoy had also made a cartoon animation of Philippine History for Senator Imee Marcos). It actually reinforces the Marcos apologists’ claim that all that infrastructure proves that Marcos Martial Law was a real golden age. Hmmm…

A similarly unseemly gingerliness in IDing the bad guys applies to calling the dreaded Metrocom by its name. In Katips, they are coyly referred to as the Metropol or even as the Guardia Civil. Again Tañada cites Tatang’s literary aspirations: “Guardia Civil was mentioned metaphorically after Panyong described themselves as Modern Day Katipuneros who represented Bonifacio, Rizal, Jacinto, Tandang Sora, etc. Metrocom was changed to Metropol to show (sic) literary aspect to Tatang’s novel.”

So, it seems it’s still not safe, after nearly half a century’s distance, to use the powerful’s real names and literally call them out. As the late numero uno Marites ng Bayan, Inday Badiday might say: “Careful, careful…” Rumor-mongering was a crime under Marcos Martial Law.