MANILA, Philippines - Prolific writer Bonifacio Ilagan and audacious filmmaker Joel Lamangan are two committed political artists in our midst.
Joining one another in a film would definitely result in a moving piece of art.
This is most welcome in an industry that has been almost barren of overt political messages all these years, except for the canon of gritty, realist films like those of Behn Cervantes (Sakada), Lino Brocka (Orapronobis), Mike de Leon (Sister Stella L), Gil Portes (Andrea, Paano Ba Maging Isang Ina), or Lamangan (Bukas May Kahapon).
More recent films that deal with political subjects (though all films are inherently political) are Jerrald Tarog's "Confessional" and Sanchez's consecutive masterpieces "Ang Huling Balyan ng Buhi" and "Imburnal."
Most other films that attempted to tackle "serious political issues" were dubbed as poor renditions or pale in substance. "Dukot" however, is different.
ATD Entertainment’s “Dukot" is Lamangan’s and Ilagan’s enthusiastic but grim foray into the phenomenon of “desaparacidos” (literally, the disappeared) and extra-judicial killings.
This is no small wonder because both Ilagan and Lamangan were, and still are, political activists who "genuinely fight for freedom and democracy."
Because of their personal experiences in the underground movement, they were able to chronicle real and horrifying events onscreen.
Their observations, firsthand accounts and participation in the underground movement naturally means a sympathetic (but objective) presentation of the whole situation.
And, amid mass killings such as those in Ampatuan town and the country's slide down various human rights watchlists, the film "Dukot" is very timely.
Left-leaning mass leaders, journalists, community workers or activists turn up dead or are rendered missing.
Families and friends of these victims quickly point to the military, with their "enemies of the state" lists, or the government, with its dislike for the vaguely defined "insurgency", as the culprits.
The practice of taking hapless victims, then torturing and killing them, began en masse during the Martial Law period under former president Ferdinand Marcos. The term used then for the practice was "salvaging."
The characters in the story have varied political (or apolitical) persuasions, as seen in the point of view of former activist Maricel Salvacruz (Iza Calzado) and her apolitical onsceen mom (Gina Alajar).
This reflects the same opposing political persuasions usually dominating mainstream media and society.
The view of hardcore student activism, which may or may not lead to armed struggle or at the least, organizing masses and the peasants in the countryside, is enshrined in Junix Etrata's character (played by Allen Dizon), who has been the long-time boyfriend of Maricel.
The lovers, Junix and Maricel, however, are caught in an ideological deadlock of sorts when Maricel decides to "lie low" (meaning to halt connections or responsibilities with the left-wing organization of which she is a member) and also "cools off" her relationship with Junix.
Her boyfriend, meanwhile, clings to his revolutionary principles and stays with the movement, erstwhile romanticizing his feelings to girlfriend in the words: “Mahal kita habang panahon. (I will love you forever)”
Etrata's parents-- a public elementary school principal (played by Racquel Villavicencio) and a government employee (Robert Arevalo)-- are expectedly wary of their son's cause.
Salvacruz’s working-class father, meanwhile (reactionary as he is), is the antithesis of labor union organizers.
They end up dead by the gunshots of a motorcycle-riding man (as many news reports on extra-judicial killings go). These shady characters are presumably forces of private vigilantes or "agents of state-led terrorism."
Pulled out of their "normal lives", Junix and Maricel are suddenly captured by the military intelligence agents who believe they are members of the New People's Army.
Maricel is raped (considered a "daring" scene for Calzado) and Junix is burned by cigarettes or is administered electric shock.
"Dukot" is eerily close to the reality of political ideologies and the roles that come with them.
From among the ranks of the cadres, there come breakaway groups, deep penetration agents (Benjie Felipe) and turncoats (Mon Confiado and Jim Pebanco).
The military's role (as shown by Pocholo Montes) is portrayed as a delicate balancing act requiring finesse in deception, but the paramilitary captors (led by John Apacible) are the typically dumb but ruthless state torturers.
The relationship between a pseudo-politically conscious photo-journalist (Emilio Garcia) with bourgeois (middle class) concerns, and a dedicated human rights advocate (Snooky Serna) symbolize the contrasting roles of media and socio-civic groups in helping bring justice for those "Decaparacidos."
All these personify the broad political spectrum that clash and interact until Junix and Maricel, the lovers, are killed.
As a message of hope, the couple's parents (antagonistic though they may be, in terms of their political beliefs), decide to look for them and bring them justice.
All the film's elements--its plot, music, dialogue-- add to its melodrama and its haunting effects.
It is supposed to unseat the reader, by posing questions like "What are you, as a citizen, supposed to do about the issue?"
The film also poses the question of who is really promoting terrorism here--the so-called leftists or state institutions?
The film is meant to disturb its audiences out of their comfort zones and consider things that are happening in society like unabated killings and kidnappings.
The hysterics in the film seem to highlight the urgency of the matter. The cast is dependable, notwithstanding Dizon whose acting seems somehow forced.
Nevertheless, political tales such as this one need not be mushy, but tend to do so in order that the message comes across.
An ironic fact is that only few theaters show “Dukot”, just like there are so few venues in mainstream media for alternative opinions and so-called "destabilizers."
It should have been exhibited in many venues, if anything, to enlighten the Filipino people about timely issues. Report by Boy Villasanta. Photos from the film "Dukot."