“I was all over. I don’t remember exactly where I was but I was, at times, with some people from the movies, like the late Johnny Delgado.” This is how director Mike de Leon begins to recall his memories of People Power—he doesn’t want to call it a revolution—which happened 33 years ago. De Leon, a known recluse, made a rare public appearance Saturday night at the UP Cine Adarna for the last public screening of his latest feature film, Citizen Jake.
The evening was capped by a question and answer session, where the legendary helmsman shared the stage with poet and TV personality Lourd de Veyra, actor Teroy Guzman who played the powerful patriarch in Citizen Jake, and historian Xiao Chua. De Leon gamely responded to questions from his co-panelists and members of the audience composed of students and professionals, some of them activists. One of the topics that came up was the EDSA revolution. An audience member shared his February ’86 experience and wondered if the current political situation would necessitate a similar movement. De Leon answered by recalling his sentiments over the EDSA revolt, or what he called a “missed chance.”
“I was elated at the time, especially when we were finally getting rid of the Marcoses,” he says. “But I was also weary, I must admit, because it turned into a fiesta. I didn’t believe—this is my own personal belief—I don’t even call it a revolution. I call it a revolt. This peaceful revolution is an oxymoron. There was no catharsis.”
One can’t help but feel the frustration in the director’s voice. Not too long before EDSA, De Leon came out with his most overtly political film, Sister Stella L.—about a nun’s awakening into the realities of unfair labor practices and police violence, a micro picture of the Philippines under Marcos rule. The screenplay was written by Jose Almojuela, activist, journalist and poet Jose “Pete” F. Lacaba, and Mike de Leon himself. More than three decades later, and after a 17 year hibernation from the movies, he did Citizen Jake, his reaction to the threat of the Marcoses returning to power.
De Leon recalled being outside Malacañang during the last hours of the ’86 revolt. “Nakaalis ang mga Marcos, tinulungan ng mga Amerikano. Okay, wala tayong magawa no’n,” he continued during the forum. “I was at the back at the time. Gusto nang pumasok ng mga tao. They were very angry. Kung napapasok ’yon, tepok talaga ang mga Marcos—but they were not there anymore.” The Marcoses had departed Malacañang. Onboard a United States Air Force chopper, they were flown to Clark Air Base in Angeles City, then to Guam, and finally to Hawaii.
“People were happy and angry at the same time,” de Leon said of that fateful day. He thought it was a missed opportunity. “Suddenly, we were the talk of the world. People in America were already coining acronyms like TGIF, Thank God I’m a Filipino. And [Hollywood actress] Jane Fonda was flashing the laban sign at the Oscars. Jim Paredes made an MTV for Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo, which I don’t want to listen to anymore at this point. It makes me cringe.”
The audience laughed. They did so every time de Leon, who rarely spoke in public or give interviews, injected humor in his statements.
Speaking of Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo, De Leon directed the video for that song. Paredes famously wrote the song—which would become the anthem of People Power—in a matter of three minutes in March 1986, before calling some of his fellow performers and activists to sing the lines.
But turning again back to his usual serious self, de Leon said, “Kung nakawala man sila [Marcoses], they should have been arrested, jailed. [Placed under] Trial. Pero pinabalik pa.”
In the same evening, De Leon premiered a short video called Kangkungan, where he expressed in more direct terms his sentiments against the Marcoses and the current administration.
At one point during the Q&A, De Leon brought up the name of his good friend, director Lino Brocka, who directed Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), where de Leon was producer and cinematographer. The movie depicted the plight of the urban poor at that time.
Brocka was still “very active” after EDSA, while he took a step back from moviemaking, De Leon recalled, choosing only to do one film in 1986—the komiks material Hindi Nahahati Ang Langit—and then retreating from work until he took up the challenge of the Rizal films toward the late 90s: the aborted Aga Muhlach-starrer, and Bayaning Third World which was shown in 2000. After the revolt, De Leon thought, “Tapos na ang problema.” But not for Brocka.
“Si Lino, hindi.” Brocka continued fighting. “That’s why for a while, our relation soured. ‘Hindi pa ’tapos.’ And he was proven right.”
At this point, de Leon reached into his pocket for a piece of paper. Written on it was an excerpt from the documentary directed by Christian Blackwood, Signed: Lino Brocka (1987). De Leon read Brocka’s lines from the film, the late director’s post-EDSA thoughts: “The Filipinos were so kind. I think we were too lax about them. They should have been killed. My answer to that question about Imelda Marcos was always no tears for them. Absolutely no tears. And as far as killing them is concerned, I would volunteer to be in the firing squad. I would want to be in the firing squad. I don’t know how to fire a gun, but for them I think I will train.”
De Leon then shared his own opinion on the consequences that followed the revolt. “I’m not saying that had there been bloodshed, the problem would have been solved,” he says, seemingly taking off from what he just read. “Pero hindi, e. It became a fiesta, not realizing that these old oligarchs are coming back. Some more imperious than the ones that they replaced. In fairness to Cory, she did not want to become president. It was forced upon her. She would have created a revolution. She had the power to create a revolutionary government and change things.”
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