Wednesday, February 16, 2011

“Amigo”: What price friendship?

Last 10-11 February, instead of joining my friends in the reproductive health community, a community so dear to my heart, to attend the by-invitation only International Institute for Education (IIE) and Asian Institute of Management (AIM) leadership conference in Manila, I chose to stay crawling in Cebu instead of flying to the capital to ensure the success of the Cebu Leg of “Lakbay Amigo: Philippine Sneak Previews.”

Origin8 Media Corporation, through Ms. Tammy Dinopol its president, asked me and Victor Villanueva, another budding filmmaker with a directorial taste following the footsteps of director Joyce Bernal, to be their Cebu partner to help them ensure the realization of the film about Filipino-American war.

With so short a time left, and the pressure to ensure an all-round exposure, I responded positively. Not just because they knocked my door, but because the film is about our story, the story of ordinary Filipino and American people caught in between.

How can one ignore a beautiful film set during one of the most tumultuous period of our history and consciously ignored by a significant portion of local and American historians? Beyond the film, how can one ignore a masterpiece by a Hollywood filmmaker dubbed as one of America’s preeminent and best-respected independent filmmakers? Furthermore, how can one set aside the presence of Joel Torre, Chris Cooper and an ensemble of Filipino and American actors and actresses whose love for their craft in making a historic film is beyond compare?

The first day, 10 February of Cebu leg of Lakbay Amigo was viewed by 3,500 students of Cebu Normal University (CNU). The timing was historic and the resourcefulness of its administrative officials especially Dr. Leodinito Y. Canete, Board of Regents (BOR) and university secretary and Dr. Marcelo T. Lopez, the university president, is encouraging. Dr. Canete’s efforts to ensure that the film be shown in time for their Centennial + 9 celebration is remarkable. And we, the organizers of the Cebu leg should compensate that the “CNU Centennial + 9 = Amigo” will respond according to the celebration.

It turned out exactly what we wanted. Three thousand five hundred students watched the film, together with university officials and faculty. The solidarity dinner at CNUs Centennial Quadrangle witnessed by the rare presence of two TV giants (ABS-CBN TV 3 Cebu and GMA 7) completed our longing for local exposure. I thanked both TV networks for joining us during the dinner cum press conference. It is rare to let them attend a night activity.

I also thanked Jonas entertainment/lifestyle writer of Cebu Daily News (CDN), an affiliate of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Gerald one of the most well-read columnists of CDN, Nathalie and her team of The Freeman newspaper, an affiliate of The Philippine Star, for spending time to interview Amigo contingent, namely, John Sayles the director, writer and editor, the gracious Maggie Renzie John’s wife and the film’s producer, John Arcilla and Joel Torre the lead actors.

The second day, 11 February was sponsored by the department of History of the University of San Carlos (USC). With an estimated 2,600 history students as projected viewers, it guaranteed massive exposure among the youth. Thanks to Prof. Delilah Labajo, the current chair of the department and the entire faculty for believing in the movie. Historians like them never fail us, as much as their students.

The second day ended with a not-so-late discussion with the faculty and the Amigo contingent. Prior to that, an organic dinner was served by Cebu Fair Trade Shop of Southern Partners and Fair Trade Center (SPFTC), the first fair trade shop in the country. Many thanks to Geraldine Labradores, the managing director and the rest of the fair trade staff for serving a delightful dinner.

Boundless thanks goes to Bern, Lucky, Daniel, Liz and Joe for assisting me and Victor. We cannot spell success without you guys. My sincere apology goes to my dear friend Ms. Nilda de Vera, administrative officer of Health Action Information Network (HAIN), to IIE-LDM and AIM, Ms. Magdalena Lopez, country director of IIE-LDM, Bicbic Chua and the rest of the leadership conference organizers, for my failure to deliver a positive response.

With our stomach and the cinema full, coupled with the university students’ positive response, we can only say Amigo’s Lakbay has just begun, though a successful one. As we discover and re-discover, learn and re-learn our own story as told by an American filmmaker, we hope to contribute not just an educational and intellectual activity but entertaining and rewarding as well.

Watch the film and tell others to do the same as it premiers this coming July in the country and August in US theaters, make sure its success and let’s see the price of friendship between a colony and a colonizer happened more than a century ago if it still rings true today.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Death of an Angel

Pain cannot suffice our sorrow over the death of Ellah Joy Pique, a six-year-old elementary pupil of Calajoan Elementary School in Calajoan, Minglanilla, Cebu. Abducted on her way home by a pedophile Caucasian male together with a Filipina counterpart, Ellah Joy was deceived and joined the death ride she never wished to happen to her.

Innocent as she was, the culprits succeeded. Her decomposed body was found 40 kms. away from their home a day after she was last seen. Naked and wrapped inside white blankets with three big rocks and tied with a cable, the innocent child was found below a cliff with brushes and contusions in her head and both arms.

One can only imagine a defenseless little girl being robbed off her right to breathe under the hands of individuals without mercy. The autopsy report added tremendous pain. It showed that the innocent little girl was struck in the head and had bruises on her shoulders, indicating a struggle. And a lacerated wound in the head causing her death.

A lot has been said over the death of Ellah Joy. The entire community is grieving. Our indescribable hatred to the culprits reached beyond we can imagine. Our pain diminishes us all. How can we assure ourselves that Ellah Joy will be the last? How can we assure that the community we are living will experience the kind of safety children like Ellah Joy need?

We asked. As if answers will comfort us. And hoping it will never happen again. But can comfort replace the death of an angel?

And then, a lot of Ellah Joy’s are dying each day too.

While her death is truly unimaginable and throwing the culprits into a cliff may not be sufficient to give justice to her untimely demise, why can’t we grieve also to those like her, innocent and young, literally dying in the midst of an un-mindful society? We ignore them, minding our own business. And grieve only when their death is reported and we begin to howl.

We are a society filled with children who are prone to inhumane conditions. In school, children attending classes with empty stomach suddenly collapsed before the flag ceremony. Child labor, as a product of an unjust social structure is rampant. Instead of going to school, children begin to work to help feed the family and their right to experience the beautiful life of childhood is taken away from them. Others are involved in a more disturbing and deeply saddening situation – sex work.

Those are material basis for culprits who abducted Ellah Joy is taking advantage of. Such is a grim reminder of our society filled with hypocrisy where children are easy targets.

Widespread poverty, corrupt justice system and ineffective bureaucracy are reason enough why demons like them used the Philippines and in particular the rural areas as their base to exploit the young and innocent. As long as our children will continue to live this way, more children are vulnerable to be the next Ellah Joy and bleed the headlines.

And our hearts will continue to melt in pain, grieving and dying each day in the midst of an environment that aided the death of Ellah Joy.

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