punching the pugilist: a cinéaste's confessions

last sunday, after brunch at the legazpi market with my friend ton, i received a text message from janice inviting me to drop by trellis, which is just across gil puyat avenue from where i live. i initially wondered why she'd be in the area at so unusual an hour -- i thought she must have just finished a bike or a run with some of her tri-clark friends, a member of which owns this restaurant which made sisig famous. when i got there i realized that it was the day of the pacquiao-marquez fight. now if you've been following this blog you'd know that i am not a fan of pacquiao, not of his boxing, his acting, his hosting gigs, his womanizing, his political agenda, his religious conversion, so i could not be bothered in the least about his fight; i really had better things to do. i stayed for a while to drink a beer but left immediately because i had planned other things for the day.

the weekend was spent mostly at the cinemas. on friday night i went out to see "rise of the guardians". i enjoyed this movie and its "serious" undertones about finding one's center, but i can't help but deride its very western, if not christian bias. christmas and easter are only important to about a third of the world that observe it, but the representation -- at least on santa's globe in the north pole -- is that the whole world, including parts of china, africa and the middle east, are filled with the lights of child believers. in fact, some scenes in the movie show very oriental landscapes. but to be rather honest, dreams are the only universal theme that's shared by all children. even i don't remember putting baby teeth under my pillow in the hopes of finding money when i wake up the following day. in addition, more than half of the world does not experience snow, so jack frost seems to be the most unlikely among the guardians because of his relative absence from the tropics.

on saturday, after running some errands in kamuning, i went to SM north EDSA to see "rurouni kenshin: samurai x". i have not been to this part of the world since i registered for the TNF 100 in january last year. it just feels like such a far-off place filled with strange people. i don't know why SM has exclusive rights to exhibit this movie, but the queues were long, and tickets were sold out! it also had a rather limited run (newsflash: SM cinemas extend "samurai x" for another week) so i had to see the live action adaptation of this famous animé on that saturday, even though i cannot quite say i'm a huge follower. i may have seen an episode or two a long time ago, but other than the x-shaped scar on battosai's face, i really didn't know much about it. what really pleased me though is that regardless of what people might think about the SM crowd, the moviegoers were actually very disciplined: aside from the occasional hoots and applauses (many fans turned up, obviously), i didn't hear any unnecessary chatter or annoying noise, perhaps because everyone had to divide their concentration between reading subtitles and watching the scenes. nevertheless, i enjoyed this movie tremendously. in fact, i enjoyed the cinematic experience the most -- what an appreciative, maybe even knowledgeable audience! most of the japanese movies i like are animated, and most of the ones that i know about are of the horror genre -- i really must confess unfamiliarity with japanese films.

but despite its animé foundations, "rurouni kenshin" isn't just another fantasy flick: it touches on a very sensitive fiber in the weave that is japanese history, at a time when the empire has crumbled and industry is rising, and samurais are facing irrelevance and eventual extinction. here we find kenshin, formerly known as battosai, making a vow never to kill again, turning his back on a dark past as an assassin, choosing to carry an odd sword with a back blade. the movie still provides some very important humor which is inherent in animé, but is nonetheless faithful to japanese culture and history particularly in its depiction of a nation in a crossroads. the action scenes are restrained and graceful despite the gore and blood splatters, unlike chinese kung-fu battles which are sweeping and grandiose. the movie ended with a well-deserved applause from a fantastic audience. i had to remind myself i was in an SM cinema... i mean, i know, right?

immediately after samurai x, i still had time to see the digitally restored version of ishmael bernal's "himala". i know a lot of people have heard my spoof of elsa's confession on the hill in cúpang, but i have to say that i can't remember having seen this movie in its entirety. i'm sure i must have, but i only somehow recall certain scenes, that part included. the digital restoration managed to make the movie new, in the sense that we are spare the usual jitters and scratches of having to roll old reels from the 80s -- i remember watching at the UP film center a really old and important filipino movie and in front of us the film burned. it gave me a stomach ache! but the digital restoration achieved its purpose: if it had been the 80s, i would not have noticed any difference. but i have to confess that the reel appeared very dark in parts. now here's elsa's entire speech:

pinatawag ko kayong lahat... dahil may gusto akong ikumpisal... nitong mga nakaraang araw, sa loob lamang ng napaka-ikling panahon, parang naranasan natin ang pinaghalong langit at impyerno. maraming sakit ang gumaling, maraming tao ang bumuti at nagkaroon ng pananampalatataya. pero nakakita rin tayo ng kamatayan, ng epidemya, ng pagpuputa, ng krimen at ng panloloko. kapag may masamang nangyayari, sinisisi natin ang sumpa. sinumpa ang cúpang. itinakwil natin ang may sakit noon kaya ganoon. kapag may mabuti namang nangyayari, sinasabi nating ito'y gawa ng langit, gawa ng birhen, gawa ng himala. may ipagtatapat ako. [mahabang patlang] walang himala! ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! tayo ang gumagawa ng himala. tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga diyos. [patlang] hindi totoong buntis ako dahil sa himala. hindi totoong nagpakita sa akin ang mahal na birhen. walang himala! hindi totoong may himala. tayo ang gumagawa ng himala. tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga diyos, walang himala!
what a lot of people don't know is that in the movie, the parish priest is portrayed by a still very young joel lamangan, who, in one of his sermons, warns the people of cúpang about believing all too quickly the claims made by anyone professing to be a prophet. our clergy should listen to his homily, which is both pointed and poignant. and to elsa's speech as well. how easily we hear catholic bishops blaming the RH bill for typhoon pablo. elsa's message is clear: we make our own curses, we make our own miracles. the heavens are not punishing us, as some priests claim, because of an unchristian piece of legislation.

there must have been about 10 to 15 people in the cinema watching "himala", about the same number of people who showed up at the market! market! cinema to see "give up tomorrow", which was being screened there as part of the cinemanila film festival. the documentary, which is a feat in editing for propaganda more than anything else, follows the tragic conclusion to a protracted trial that indicted police enforcement and justice in the philippines. i must have been very curious about the chiong double murder case. after all, i was a law student when the hearing was taking place and when the decision was handed out. i remember that there were furious discussions in the halls of malcolm. without commenting on paco larrañaga's innocence, the focus of our ire was the procedure. we disagreed mainly with the conclusions of the judge. we did not say that paco and his co-accused did not commit the crimes, but that there was not enough strong evidence to pin the heinous crimes on them, particularly because the weight of evidence required in criminal proceedings was one beyond reasonable doubt.

this is the same line of argument that is exploited in the film. it exposes the faults and failures of the judicial system, which is fraught with corruption and whose incompetence is fueled by a blood-thirsty mob. the film also follows the valiant efforts to free paco, who to this day maintains his innocence. i have to say that i was very angry while watching the movie, and was still fuming when i stepped out of the movie house. i wanted to do something, shout at someone. it reminded me of the clarity i achieved when i decided i have had enough working as a litigator. but as i allowed my rage at a ruined system to subside while the taxi driver who took me home shared his analysis as to why pacquiao lost to marquez, i also realized that the movie is obviously a well-oiled vehicle for campaigning for paco's purported innocence. while i will not be the philippine judicial system's apologist, i would still want to point out the bias of the movie's producers which they admit in the end, but which is so obvious from the very beginning. the selection of facts and clips (they borrow heavily from local newscasts) is designed so that you leave no doubt in your mind that paco is innocent. they destroy the credibility of the state witness, as if he were the only witness ever presented. but in fact, there were others, and his testimony corroborated both the physical evidence and other eye-witness accounts.

i am not about to decide the case based on the evidence presented by an impartial movie producer. rather, i would decide it based on the evidence presented in court, which makes me angry still, but at least, does not make me rabid. i also do not agree with the movie's insinuations as to the cause, for example, of the "promotion" of all the people involved in the investigation and prosecution of the case, as if without the conviction, it would not have been possible, as if they were undeserving of the appointments. in fact, the so-called promotions were made when the chiongs' connections had already ceased: erap was no longer in power, and there was a purging in government of anyone associated with him. davide was only chief justice until 2005, and the last motion for reconsideration was decided a year after he'd left. the suggestion that the disappearance of chiongs' daughters may be connected to his falling out with peter lim is, i think, misplaced, because there is not a shred of proof to it apart from wild conjecture. i am also rather appalled by the fact that paco had special treatment in bilibid, and the movie says that they were "allowed to build a room to entertain guests". i wonder how many convicted felons enjoy this luxury. the movie slams corruption that resulted in paco's conviction, but embraces it when it results to his convenience.

what i find unfortunate is that the fate that befell paco is not the same as the one that favored hubert webb. the similarities are stark: scions (who have particularly less than stellar reputations) of wealthy and well-connected families accused of gruesome crimes, offering the same alibis: they were not there and could not have been there when the crimes were committed. that the high court gave credence to the alibi of hubert and not of paco resulted in the difference. meanwhile, several young men, who may be innocent, whose guilt was established by perjured testimonies, will journey into adulthood and old age behind bars.

and so i end this the way i started it: discussing pacquiao. i really do not care so much about his loss. in fact, i may be a little happy, hoping this defeat will humble him. i would leave it at that; any more and i would contradict myself when i said i couldn't be bothered by his loss. as a matter of fact, i am -- but not that he was sent flying to the floor. i am actually surprised by how so many people are affected by this, surprised that they had expected him to emerge victorious at a time when he had been less devoted to training than in previous victories that were dubious. i am riled up by ignorant foreign commentators who predict that since pacquiao is so loved, he may very well be the country's next president. i cringe at the irony of pacquiao preaching while scantily clad women are swaying their hips behind him. i shudder at suggestions the filipino owes him a debt of gratitude for making the nation known, as though he had single-handedly put the philippines on the map. and finally, i am mortified by his delusions that the nation fell with him when marquez connected that "one lucky punch".