Movie review: 'Maid in Malacanang', 'Katips'

Fred Hawson

Posted at Aug 03 2022 09:03 AM


Diego Loyzaga plays Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in 'Maid in Malacanang.' Handout
Diego Loyzaga plays Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in 'Maid in Malacanang.' Handout

It is rare for one film to stir up a lot of public attention, both positive and negative. Ever since writer-director Darryl Yap announced that he was going to make this film about the last 72 hours of the Marcos family in Malacanang Palace in February 1986, it caused a whirlwind of opinion from both sides of the political spectrum of our country. Social media immediately exploded with panic, speculations and accusations of historical revisionism. Whatever side of the fence you are on, you will feel curious to go see what the fuss is all about.

The most attention-catching names in the opening credits (set to the tune of Marion Aunor's haunting version of Sampaguita's "Nosi Ba Lasi") was that of Senator Imee Marcos as creative producer, whose job was to guide the whole creative process to turn the idea into a reality. Senator Imee was right there when Yap first pitched the idea of this movie. Their collaboration may have started as fun and games, but Senator Imee soon recognized how this movie can be seriously instrumental in telling their side of the story.

The snap election of February 1986 was over and both sides were claiming victory. Manong Johnny Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel Ramos had already announced their revolutionary coup. The Marcos family was reeling from an unsuccessful attempt of Imelda's trusted umbrella holder Rick Morales to usurp control of the Palace and assassinate the first family. The morale in the Palace was already running low, as was their food supply in the pantry. The Marcos kids were concerned that their parents were not doing anything to gain control back.

Yap chose to tell his story in 10 short episodes or chapters, treating his subject matter seriously. There was not much of the irreverent comedy he was known for in his past output. The dramatic scenes can be heavy and occasionally emotionally overwrought, but there were moments of comedy care of the yayas to offset the mood. The actors gave their best efforts, but they don't really look like their famous characters, which take you out of the story. There were unexpected revelations before the closing credits which were quite surprising. 

Chapter 1 "Rebelde" was a report of the situation outside by Yaya Biday (Beverly Salviejo). Chapter 2 "Ilocos o Leyte" was about paranoia of Imee (Cristine Reyes) about staff loyalty. Chapter 3 "Tigre" was a heart-to-heart talk between FM and Bongbong (Cesar Montano and Diego Loyzaga) in the library. Chapter 4 "Awit at Ahas" showed a pensive Madame Imelda (Ruffa Gutierrez) going through her gowns and shoes to the tune of "Dahil sa Yo." Chapter 5 "Bunso" was about Irene (Ella Cruz) pleading her father to go with their plans. 

Chapter 6 "Oyayi" was about Bongbong assuring his mother that they will get the Palace back. Chapter 7 "Palamunin" was about the concerns of the Malacanang staff, as addressed by Yaya Santa (Karla Estrada) and Manang Lucy (Elizabeth Oropesa). Chapter 8 "Maid in Malacanang" was a talk between Imee and her father. Chapter 9 "Ang Huling SONA" showed FM thanking his staff for their service and loyalty. Chapter 10 "Retaso" was about Imee's final idea to help the staff just as the mob outside was about to storm the Palace. 

Senator Imee's role as creative producer was clearly felt all throughout this film. She meant to tell their inside point of view during those fateful last three days and this film did just that. All those teary conversations between the worried children and their embattled parents enabled the Marcoses to state their family's messages to their public. Bongbong promised his mother that the family will be back in the Palace, and now they are. Imee promised her father that his legacy will not be expunged and now here's this film. 

The film made sure people would see that the Marcoses were not the sadists they were made out to be. They believed that they were simple provincial folk, not from elite families, hence Filipinos love them. They were the reason why the EDSA Revolution was peaceful. This was all about how the Marcos family would like to remember their last days in the Palace. The ruckus in social media was more rabid than in the film itself. 

This was self-serving haigography probably; an appeal for public sympathy possibly; and it did not actually feel confrontational for the most part. That is, until that rumor-based (as Yaya Biday mentioned in Chapter 1) dig at Cory Aquino (Giselle Sanchez) and her mahjong habits with the nuns in Cebu. This one final typically provoking Darryl Yap move in the last two minutes alone is likely to ruffle more feathers than the whole film could. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."


Jerome Ponce in 'Katips'
Jerome Ponce in 'Katips'

In July 2016, right after the presidential elections, the Philippine Stagers Foundation, a theater group that aimed to utilize the arts as a medium for entertainment and education, came out with a brave musical called "Katips." It was about Martial Law, a controversial subject matter that remains to be a very touchy and sensitive issue up to this very day. Philstagers founder and creative force Atty. Vince Tanada certainly did not disappoint with "Katips," earning critical acclaim and multiple awards for himself, his musical and his company. 

Now that another election is over and seeing that Martial Law (and how that part of history is being distorted for the new generation) is once more in the news, Tanada aims to reach and educate a bigger audience of young people by turning his musical stage production into a movie. 

The stories were fictionalized versions of actual events based on Tanada's intensive research and interviews of people who were actually there during those times. He adapted the book of his musical into a screenplay that aimed just to state facts. 

A museum dedicated to the victims of Martial Law was about to be inaugurated in the present day. A young man was being toured around the place by a pretty female guide Lira (Sachzna Laparan), grand-daughter of the old gentleman who was responsible for putting the museum together. This special occasion would serve as the device that would bookend the main narrative of the film. As the old man was typing his speech to be delivered for that event, he recalled his traumatic experiences during the Martial Law days. 

His flashbacks began from 1970 in a gathering of political activists that included the main characters of this play. They were: medical student Greg (Jerome Ponce), underground news writer Panyong (Vince Tanada in rock star mode), labor leader Estong (Joshua Bulot) and 17-year old UP freshman Art (Johnrey Rivas). Their assembly was violently dispersed by the Metrocom led by the sadistic Lt. Sales (Mon Confiado at his sinister best) and his cruel minions (Dindo Arroyo and JP Lopez), resulting in the death of a senior UP professor. 

"Katips" refers to the house of Alet (Best Actress-worthy Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim), a lady who has opened her home for student activists from UP to meet and stay over in, earning her the nickname of "Tandang Sora." Lara (Nicole Laurel Asensio in a promising film debut) is a Fil-Am Broadway actress whose apathy about Philippine politics was about to get a major shakedown. Among the other women in "Katips" were Estong's outspoken Waray girlfriend Susie (a scene-stealing Vean Olmedo) and Art's reluctant girlfriend Lally (Carla Lim). 

Musical direction was by Pipo Cifra, Tanada's longtime collaborator in his shows. The best song for me was "Sa Gitna ng Dilim," with lyrics about people finding love amidst dark forces surrounding them. With impeccably arranged vocal harmonies, four pairs of lovers get to converse with each other in a witty interconnected manner as their personal love stories were interwoven into this story. This song provided a very bright spot of positivity and hope to lighten the generally serious mood. 

On the other side of the spectrum was the grim and brutal violence in intersecting scenes of bloody and torture and rape against activists who had been arrested under trumped-up charges or entrapped by despicable methods. Tanada did not hold back here, and the actors, those portraying the hapless victims and those portraying the savage policemen, went all out to push the agenda that these atrocities actually happened in reality, despite current efforts to distort and deny these tragic human rights violations during those years. 

The opening number was supposed to reenact the First Quarter Storm of 1970. However, Tanada had to set it in an unspecified remote rural location, probably because they were unable to shoot the scene on Mendiola Bridge itself. This extended number introduces the Stagers' signature youth-oriented style of song, dance and acting to people who are who have yet to see them perform onstage. This, and other musical numbers may be judged by some as over-the-top, but definitely Tanada knows how to deliver his message to his target audience.

As Tanada's own grandfather, the illustrious Senator Lorenzo Tanada, was unjustly imprisoned during Martial Law, he wants the new generation to know that Martial Law was not the peaceful and progressive time that paid trolls are making it out to be in current social media. He wants young people to realize that Martial Law should never happen again. He did that before with his stage version of "Katips," and now with his movie version, he has the potential to spread his advocacy all over the country and all over the world. 

As director, Vince Tanada had some pretty impressive shots of effigies catching fire and activists jumping in slow motion, which had some members of the audience erupting in spontaneous applause. Running for 2-1/2 hours, the film's momentum may sag at certain points. Judicious editing, perhaps shortening some song numbers not directly contributory to the main plot, could probably streamline it more. Overall, this was one auspicious feature film directorial debut for Tanada, and hopefully this is not his last. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."