Armida Siguion-Reyna and Lino Brocka flank their Behn Cervantes as they hold the banner of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines in an anti-censorship, anti-US bases protest.
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When Armida met Lino

In this tribute to her friend, Lino Brocka, we get a glimpse of the great director’s intensity, but also of the life and passion of Armida Siguion-Reyna as both actress and movie producer.
Armida Siguion-Reyna | Feb 17 2019

I first met Lino Brocka at a meeting called by film director Lamberto Avellana held at the office of Documentary Philippines on Remedios Circle in 1967. It was a small meeting attended mostly by theater people to discuss some industry concerns. I was seated somewhere in the second row while this young man with glasses who was very articulate and aggressive with his arguments sat somewhere in the back row. I listened intently but quietly, as I was still a neophyte when it came to movies and theater. When the young man stepped out of the room, Bert Avellana asked “Sino yun?”

Lino was closely associated with Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). In 1969, he made his first movie with Lea Productions, Wanted: Perfect Mother, which became a monster hit. I watched many of his movies and TV shows as well as PETA plays. I became a fan of Lino’s, not only for the kind of movies he made but for what he stood for.

In 1974, I got a subsidy from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) to produce three historical films in musical format for Aawitan Kita.

Mario Montenegro playing Diego to Armida's Gabriela Silang in Dung-aw.

I went to see Lino and asked him if he would be interested in directing one of the PNB projects. He said yes because this would be great for the youth in schools. The format interested him and he suggested the story of Gabriela Silang. He asked Mario O’Hara to write the script and Lutgardo Labad for the music. I was very excited about it.

Lino cast Mario Montenegro for the role of Diego Silang, with me as Gabriela, and newcomer Bey Vito for the role of a young man through whose eyes the story unfolded. Joel Lamangan was a member of the cast as well, along with Chiqui Xeres-Burgos and the late Ven Medina. The script of Mario O’Hara was excellent and the music of Labad was superb. A very young Romeo Vitug, fresh from his movie debut in Lino’s Lunes, Martes, Miyerkules was cinematographer. I agreed to take in all the people he recommended for his creative and technical staff. I had already done the first of the three films, Sisa, a couple of months back, but I still considered myself a neophyte in the film business. This project jumpstarted my learning process.

Filming took us to Intramuros (Fort Santiago, Puerta Isabel), Tandang Sora in Quezon City, Tanay, Baras, Balayan, Lemery, Ilocos Sur (Vigan), Ilocos Norte (Currimao, Paoay, Cabugao). I begged and borrowed to stretch the budget. Like in Aawitan Kita, we did not pay for any location or municipal permits. At that time, it was very easy to deal with local governments; they were cooperative with any project that promoted and enhanced the preservation of our cultural heritage.

Shooting Gabriela took Armida and the crew to many locations in the country. She begged and borrowed to help augment the production budget.

Masaya but malupit

I liked working with Lino. Masaya siya pero may kalupitan pag galit siya sa isang tao. He enjoyed regaling everybody with stories about people he detested, and one of them was Mrs. Emilia Blas who owned Lea Productions with whom he made many movies. But he was all praises for Aling Toreng Santos, her sister, who actually ran the production studio.

He was a very considerate director. During the first day of my riding scenes in Tanay, he was not satisfied with the first take because napa-left side ako riding uphill. He wanted me to take the center of the road. My trainer from the Manila Polo Club who accompanied me to the shoots, whispered, “Be careful; Mario Montenegro already used your horse for almost one hour, mainit na yang kabayo.” Pakanta-kanta ako ng “Aawitan Kita,” nang mag-trot si Pussy Cat, yung kabayo ni Johnny de Leon na hiniram ko at dinadala ng sariling trailer kahit kami saan mag-shooting. But I didn’t like trotting because it hurt my butt, so I gave Pussy Cat one slash of my whip. Aba, nag-gallop! Before I knew it, I was on the ground. My left cheek missed a barbed wire fence by an inch.

She fell nine times from this horse just to get the shot right.

I lay still for another three minutes to get over the shock. My trainer said, “Kailangan ituloy ninyo para hindi naman ma-insecure ang kabayo, may feelings din yan; at kayo din, Ma’m, para hindi rin kayo mawalan ng tiwala sa kabayo.” He was probably right pero gusto kong matawa. But Lino decided to call it a day; he did not want to take any risks. During the filming of Dung-aw, I fell nine times from that same horse.

Lino, an actor’s director, knew when to push and when to let go. In the scene where I hanged Pedro Becbec, played by Spanky Manikan, Lino worked with me for almost two hours emphasizing the delivery of the lines, when to breath, where to pause. Tapos, nag-take one, two, three… He felt my stiffness. He came up to me and whispered: “Armida, you know the scene, you know the character as conceived by the filmmaker; go ahead and do what you want to do with it.” Then he yelled, “Ready for take… action!” It was the take that saw final print.

The poster for Tahan Na Empoy where Lino also directed her.

“Konting bawas”

In Tahan na Empoy, Tahan, he showed more confidence in me. Occasionally, he would whisper, “Konting bawas, huwag masyadong matalim,” or like in the scene with Alicia Alonzo in which we embraced upon arriving home with her young children Snooky and Niño, Lino said, “Huwag masyado, huwag mong ipahalata na may puso ka rin.” He was a good director who had control not only of his actors but, principally, of the material.

Lino was against the Marcos administration and I felt his discomfort when he was guided to a Metrocom bus that was to transport the staff, crew, and actors to Ilocos. So I asked him to ride with me instead in my small Renault car. I explained to him that PNB’s subsidy of Php80,000 was hardly enough for 14 shooting days; I could only make ends meet if I entered into exchange deals with the military for transportation, horses, and some soldiers as riders to act as extras. The military also provided shelter and meals for the soldiers as well as the horses wherever we were shooting. There was no monetary consideration, except that, well, being a dictatorial regime, care had to be exercised so as not to “jeopardize the prestige of the Philippine Republic.” Lino scoffed at this of course, as did many of the freedom fighters then.

For four days, we stayed in a small house by the beach in Cabugao, Ilocos Norte, courtesy of Governor Carmeling Crisologo by way of my balae Romy Villonco. There were two tiny bedrooms, one for Lino, Joel Lamangan, Joey Luna, and two other actors and the other one was for me, the wardrobe assistant, my hairdresser, and a makeup artist. It had a small sala, dining room and a small porch. It also had a big barn outside where all the others stayed. I was not happy with his production manager. I felt he was not doing his job right, particularly with liquidation of receipts for the money entrusted to him. He also lacked control on the set. Every night there was mahjong or pusoy going on. But I kept quiet about it para walang gulo.

With Robert Arevalo.

Violence on the set

Until violence erupted a few days later. My driver came to my cottage, his face beaten and covered with blood. I found out that the production manager had something to do with it.

Lino and I had a talk when we got to Manila. He acceded to my request to release the production manager from the project. That was my first disagreement with him. Ganoon pala si Lino; pag tao niya ang nakalaban mo, kalaban mo rin siya. We hardly talked for the rest of the shoot in Manila, but he took care of my scenes. Hindi niya ako ibinagsak bilang artista kahit masama ang loob niya sa akin. He knew his directorial responsibilities. During my burial scene in Tanay, Rizal, I lay on the burial pit in the ground for an hour. He reminded his people: “Si Armida, baka nilalangam doon sa hukay, lagyan nyo ng sapin.” He was a good person and remained very professional. I will never forget that.

After a few months, Lino and I reconciled our differences and became good friends again. He cast me in his movie Tahan na Empoy, Tahan, with Niño Muhlach, Snooky Serna, Rosa Aguirre, and Alicia Alonzo. I had the contrabida role, which won me the FAMAS and Urian statuettes for best supporting actress that year. I was happy with the awards, of course, but I felt I did not work hard in the movie. Parang natural na natural lang sa akin yun.

It was during the shooting of Tahan na Empoy, Tahan that Lino mentioned a period story that Mario O’Hara was working on. I invited Mario for lunch in my house to talk about it. It was a beautiful love story set at the turn of the century. I fell in love not only with the story but with the actors he wanted to cast which included Alma Moreno, Leroy Salvador, Monang Carvajal and newcomers Pangguy Francisco, Johnny Delgado, and Doming Landicho. Lino Brocka was going to have a important role as a cult leader. This was, of course, Bilanggong Birhen, the entry of PERA Films (Ponce Enrile, Reyna and Angara) for the Metro Manila Film Festival in December 1977. It was a controversial piece of work because of certain love scenes, as well as the nude scene of one of the lead actresses, and six naked men pushing a bagon.

Alma Moreno in Armida's production of Bilanggong Birhen.

Lino shaved his head

Mario O’Hara had asked me, “Ma-ilulusot mo ba ito sa BRMPT (Board of Review for Motion Pictures and Television)?” and I told him that for the festival, there will be no problem, as it was agreed upon that selected entries will not go through censorship. I knew this because I was the president of the IMPDAP that year and Fernando Poe Jr. was president of the PMPPA. Both producers’ associations fought for it and Teodoro Valencia, head of the Executive Committee of the MMFF, had agreed. However, after the 10-day festival, the continued exhibition of the movie would be under the jurisdiction of the BRMPT. But I felt confident because the story was not about prurient interest. Lino loved the story and encouraged us to get Romeo Vitug as cinematographer and Laida Lim Perez as production designer. The main location was the house of Johnny de Leon in Bacolor, Pampanga.

We had no budget for hotel accommodations and residents of Bacolor were hesitant to rent out their homes to a large group of people for the shoot. Fortunately my husband’s former high school classmate at Ateneo de Manila, Charlie Valdes, had a new house with two bedrooms, a big sala, and a huge silong. That became home to us for three weeks. I occupied one room with the transiting female actors, while the other one was assigned to Alma Moreno and her group.

The main set took a month to prepare but Laida did a magnificent job. Windows had to be adjusted, screens removed, and the whole house was given a fresh coat of paint. The decor was equally amazing. Johnny de Leon did not charge PERA Films a single centavo for the use of the house. My husband borrowed a vintage car from Don Andres Soriano that was brought to Bacolor on a flatbed truck, accompanied by two maintenance men for a three-day shoot. I did not pay for anything.

Lino shaved his head bald for his scenes in the movie. He did not charge a professional fee. Leroy Salvador charged me one peso and requested to be paid with a check which he framed.

It was hell shooting in Pampanga and I vowed never to shoot there again. Pampangueños were crazy about movie stars. Pagdating ng artista halos hindi na makababa sa kotse dahil sa crowd. Our talent coordinator had to push a group of onlookers who fell into a canal to protect Alma Moreno from being crushed as she alighted from her van. Poor Alma, she could not even open the windows of her room because people nested on trees outside to get a good look at their star. And when she kept the windows closed, they would throw stones on the roof in anger. I had never seen such an unruly mob of movie fans.

The shooting went well until the third week when I felt that Mario O’Hara seemed aloof toward me. I noticed that he had toned down the intensity of the love scenes and also did other more “commercial” aspects with the movie. I reminded him that though risky, as all period films are, I agreed to do the project and that I was prepared to fight for it during censorship. Despite this assurance, we still could not communicate well with each other. To avoid unnecessary friction, I moved to a small hotel near Lubao, Pampanga.

Things got worse after that. He would change schedules without consulting with me. So, what the hell, I fired him. But before I did that, I asked Romy Suzara if he could take over the remaining five shooting days. He agreed. Our production deadline was delayed by 20 days but because we had a well-planned schedule, we still finished way ahead of all the other entries to the MMFF.

Armida and Alma share a scene in the Mario O'Hara project that he never got to finish. 

Lino demanded his scenes removed

Oh, how Lino Brocka hated me for it! He was so angry. Mario O’Hara was his friend and as I said, pag tao nya ang kinalaban mo, kalaban mo si Lino Brocka. I remember, during the post-production of the movie at LVN where Lino was also doing work on his MMFF entry Inay, he would give me dagger looks at parang talagang gusto niya akong sakmalin pag kami ay nagkakasalubong sa swing door papunta sa office ng LVN. He even demanded that his scenes be removed from the movie. Acceding to his request, I eliminated his scenes except the one in which Alma Moreno was abducted. Talagang hindi puedeng tanggalin yung isang shot kasama si Lino. Galit na galit siya. Eh balitang-balita pa naman noon na strong contender ako for best actress in the MMFF awards night. Nanggigigil siya talaga at ipinagdadasal na huwag akong manalo. Hindi ako nanalo pero tatlo lamang kaming nominated for best actress – Liza Lorena for Ishmael Bernal’s Walang Katapusang Tag-araw, Vilma Santos for Celso Ad Castillo’s Burlesk Queen and myself for Bilanggong Birhen. Vilma Santos won. No hard feelings on my part. Vilma was very good in the movie.

After that came the FAMAS and Urian awards nights. Ganoon din; ipinagdasal din ni Lino na huwag sana akong manalo. Pero hindi siya nagwagi. After two years, his anger simmered down and eventually we became friends again. Hindi kami nag-away ni Lino na kaming dalawa ang dahilan ng pinag-awayan. It was always a third party that caused our rifts. We shared the same principles and fought for the same causes in the movie industry—to rid the industry of the patronage system whcih we both felt was a deterrent to professionalism. He was a great advocate of freedom of expression, and so was I. The movie industry owes Lino a debt of gratitude for inserting “freedom of expression” in the 1987 Constitution, without which the fight against censorship would be many times more difficult than it is now.

I shall always be proud to have been part of the many anti-censorship rallies that Lino led. He was a charismatic leader who inspired his followers. He never abandoned the principles he stood for. He was also very human and at times, hilariously stupefying.

I remember a rally we staged in Bohol Avenue in front of ABS-CBN where the MTRCB office was located at the time. Lino took the megaphone and spoke directly to Manoling Morato, who was supposedly in the building. His words were shockingly funny and unprintable, of course. Then Ishmael Bernal chided me: “Try and top that, Armida.” And I said, “No, hindi ko kaya.”

When Lino died, I was very sad. Mahirap mapalitan ang isang katulad niya.

 

This essay originally appeared in the book Armida, published by Monique Villonco and ABS-CBN Publishing.