Developments From Home
I've been struck by a handful of developments from the Philippines which I've been following online from New York City. The biggest one is President Rodrigo Duterte's signing of the "Free Education Bill," the law that will provide free tuition for 112 state university colleges, local university colleges, and state-run technical vocational institutions.
Read: Duterte signs law for free tuition in state colleges via rappler.com
I have no idea where the Philippine government will get the money for this but I can't tell you how happy this news made me when I first encountered it on Twitter. I have always believed that education is one of the primary ways we can narrow the gap between the rich and the poor in my country. I was constantly frustrated with how Manila seems to be building more malls rather than building more schools or help fund or improve the facilities of public schools. Finally, the Philippine government is putting money on something that matters. We may not feel the effects of this in the short-term, but in the long-term, more educated people also means there are more people who will demand more from their leaders. The less likely will we bring under-qualified, corrupt people into power - but my head is probably in the clouds now. I'll have to see how much of this gets implemented in the school year 2018-2019.
While that's underway, President Rodrigo Duterte's war against drugs is still going strong, with more poor Filipinos being shot without being given lawful warrants. He has threatened to have human rights advocates killed. It's easy to brush this off when you are a middle to upper middle class Filipino living in a gated village (or in New York City). It is always the poor who pays the price, because there is something in our collective unconscious as a culture that find them dispensable and easy to forget. I don't think we can continue to progress as a nation when we willingly allow our brothers and sisters to be treated like pigs. While America is currently going through its own trials, I think the Filipino people should begin to stand up to these human rights violations as a community - and not just in social media.
1898: Our Last Men In The Philippines
When I was home in the Philippines for summer vacation my best friend mentioned this movie about the last days of the Spanish in the Philippines. It was set in Baler. He mentioned how the last Spanish soldiers made Baler Church (also called San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Parish) a fort and they remained there refusing to surrender even as their soldiers languished due to diseases, lack of food, etc.
One uneventful evening I was looking for available movies on Netflix when I saw a title that caught my attention, "1898: Our Last Men In the Philippines." Looking into it more, it dawned on me that it might be that very movie my best friend told me about and so I decided to watch it.
You can watch the trailer here.
Watching a historical film created by artists from a foreign country that includes the Philippines made me nervous. Will they depict us as indios and barbarians - the way colonizers have oppressed and made my people feel small for centuries? One Spanish soldier had a line, "They were fighting for their freedom. Us, for an empire." Once I heard that line somewhere in the beginning of the movie, I was appeased for a while. Towards the end, when news from Manila came that the Spanish government has sold the Philippines to the American government for $20 million, one defeated Spanish officer coming from Manila tried to convince a stubborn Spanish lieutenant in Baler, "The Filipinos attack because you've got no right to be here."
Lines like those make me want to shout, "Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!" There is a nationalist in me that gets triggered every time I hear lines or images that depict my country's wars against the Spanish, American and Japanese colonizers. When I see Filipinos fighting I also want to scream, "You have no business being here! This is our land!" Oddly enough, this sounds like the white supremacists in America who would like to send all the immigrants home. It is completely different when it's coming from people who are fighting for freedom in their native land against their oppressive foreign colonizers.
My issues with the film are with some of the war costumes, make up and the role of the one female speaking role in the film as a local prostitute (making the one woman in the movie as yet another symbol of male fantasy and sexuality). As for the Filipino soldiers' uniforms, I don't think it is accurate. I've done a couple of plays in the Philippines set during both the Spanish and American war at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and I remember the Filipino soldiers' uniforms being a striped white and blue instead of brown. Then again, I'm not a historian. As for the makeup, there was this scene with a Filipino soldier convincing the Spanish lieutenant to surrender: when the Filipino soldier smiled, it displayed a set of rotting yellow teeth which I thought was unnecessary and made us look like barbarians. I was delighted though that an actual local Filipino actor, Raymond Bagatsing, was cast as the head of the Filipino battalion in Baler. He gave his character enough dignity and honor (minus the rotting teeth). As for the local prostitute named Teresa, I wasn't a huge fan of the fact that in a lot of her scenes we see her clothes in danger of exposing her breasts any time. She wasn't submissive to say the least, the actress playing Teresa made her fully aware of the power of her sexuality and actively used it.. However, I am tired of these stereotypical gender dynamics that often gets played out in historical movies.
If you are a Filipino, I'd still recommend that you watch it. It's not a perfect movie but it provides an interesting angle to our history that is often not taught in our schools.
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Regina De Vera
I am a Filipino actress alternating between New York and Manila. I received my acting training at The Juilliard School. Take a look around!