With loyal fans, regular TV appearances, and significant social media mileage, many actors today can easily turn the tide of politics and help address disinformation, simply by speaking up — but why aren’t they?
“Takot,” was filmmaker Treb Monteras II succinct answer during a press conference Tuesday launching the Never Forget Film Festival (NFFF), a month-long screening of films, short films, restored classics, and documentaries about Martial Law during the Marcos dictatorship.
Organized by the Commission on Human Rights and Cinema Centenario, the film festival will run at the latter’s Quezon City venue starting September 1, coinciding with the 46th year since the declaration of Martial Law.
Monteras, whose acclaimed film “Respeto” is included in the lineup, surmised that if the likes of A-listers Piolo Pascual, Alden Richards, Maine Mendoza, and Coco Martin spoke up even just through a single tweet, “wala pang isang taon, tapos na ang problema natin.”
This “problem,” for Monteras and his fellow participating filmmakers, is a layered one which they say has only worsened under the current administration. Foremost, in the context of the event, is the alleged attempt to revise history to pave the way for the Marcoses to return to power.
“Malaki ang papel ng sining sa pagpapalaganap ng katotohanan, sa edukasyon,” director Lav Diaz, who has three films included in the NFFF, told ABS-CBN News.
One of Diaz’s participating films, the award-winning “Ang Panahon ng Halimaw,” stars Pascual — a casting not only motivated by the top leading man’s talent, but also his clout.
Diaz recalled a conversation he had with Pascual, as well actor John Lloyd Cruz, who co-starred in his 2016 historical fantasy drama “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis.”
“Kinausap ko talaga sila. Malalim na pag-uusap. Sabi ko, ‘Kaya ko kayo sinasama sa mga pelikulang ito, ’yung estado niyo mataas. Ang laking panghihikayat sa masa kung sasama kayo sa pakikibakang kultural ng bayan.’
“ ‘May role kayo, may responsibility kayo sa bayan. Hindi lang kayo mga entertainers. Maging kasangkapan kayo sa pagprotekta sa katotohanan.’ Naliwanagan sila,” Diaz said.
Taking on roles in films critical of certain topics, in this case Martial Law, is one way for celebrities to express their stand, without the risk that comes with a direct statement against a popular regime, according to Diaz.
A recent example is Erik Matti’s action blockbuster “BuyBust,” which has been lauded as must-see not only for its technical mounting, but its message about the administration’s bloody drug war. It’s top-billed by Anne Curtis, the country’s top social media personality who appears to have stirred clear of being critical of any politician across her online platforms.
“Nasa kanila iyon, kung matapang sila,” Diaz said, on the topic of “artistas” being more overt with their political stands. “Ang hinihingi lang natin, maging bahagi sila. Kung kailan nila gusto magsalita, magsalita sila. Desisyon na nila iyon. Pero magandang maliwanagan sila na may papel sila, may responsibility sila.”
Veteran screenwriter Ricky Lee, who was imprisoned during Martial Law, agreed that celebrities can play a vital role, but added that we “have to respect the way they will communicate, convey, express their political sentiments.”
“We have to respect na may kani-kanya silang sitwasyon, may risk sa survival nila, whether sa trabaho nila, sa buhay nila mismo, o sa pamilya nila. We don't know,” he added.
Lee was drawing from his own experience as an activist during the Marcos dictatorship, saying that although some of his peers shared his advocacy, not all of them could commit to the same extent he was willing to protest the injustices at the time.
“Hindi mo puwedeng sabihin, ‘Lahat kayo sabay-sabay, ito ang gawin niyo ngayon, para matapos na.’ Lalabas at lalabas ’yan sa iba’t-ibang klaseng manipestasyon,” he said.
Filmmaker JL Burgos, whose documentary “Portraits of the Mosquito Press” is part of the NFFF, cited as an example the “Stop the Attacks” protest pins worn by dozens during the June 2018 Gawad Urian ceremony. The red statement pin was said to symbolize the resistance to the “state attacks on people’s rights.”
While some in the film industry have opted to wear their politics, a rare few have taken a step further with vocal dissent. Actress Agot Isidro is the foremost illustration of this, veteran journalist Howie Severino said.
Severino, whose documentary “Multo ng Nakaraan” is a selection in the film festival, said of Isidro: “Isa na siya sa pinaka matapang, hindi lang sa showbiz, pero sa lipunan na ’to, sa pakikibaka talaga. Sinusunod niya ang kanyang konsensya. Pero napansin ko, lalo siyang sumisikat.”
He pointed out that Isidro, who’s now being eyed by the minority Liberal Party as a senatorial candidate, recently won a top acting prize from FAMAS, and remains active on television and in theater.
“I think may maling assumption na ’pag makibaka ka, o maging politikal ka bilang isang showbiz personality ay awtomatikong magiging dehado ka sa iyong career,” Severino said.
On the other hand, Severino acknowledged the precarious situation celebrities such as Isidro may unwittingly bring themselves to, in light of the administration’s strong social media presence.
“Malaking gamble din sa kanya ’yan, kasi sabi nga niya, nawalan siya ng endorsement deal. Of course, nakikita rin natin kung paano siya binabantaan, kung paano siya tino-troll, bina-bash. Pero ibang klase siya, hindi siya tumitigil,” he said.
Severino also mentioned sexy comedienne Ethel Booba, whose so-called “charotisms” online give a comedic twist to her jabs against the administration.
“ ’Yung takot, nandiyan ’yan, but may mga example na ng moral courage that should inspire others already,” he said.
Monteras agreed, adding that an organized movement involving network and film executives may be a motivating factor for stars to finally speak up and make known their politics, without fear of losing their careers.