MANILA - Why is the government afraid of films?
Filmmakers, artists and educators asked this question in a press conference at the University of the Philippines Diliman on Friday as they denounced the military's allegations that film screenings about martial law were being used to recruit students into the communist movement.
“The story being peddled by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is not true,” Kip Oebanda, director of “Liway,” a martial law film, said during the press conference.
Oebanda was among 20 filmmakers, artists and professors, representing various organizations who gathered in front of UP Cine Adarna, UP Diliman's main cinema, to deny claims of Red recruitment around universities.
They held a presser in light of the AFP's recent statement that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was recruiting students in 18 Metro Manila universities as part of its alleged "Red October" plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.
UP's campuses in Diliman and Manila were on the list.
“This is red-baiting and slander of the worst kind. It impinges on our rights to freedom of expression, speech and assembly, and endangers us and our audience,” the group said in a community statement read during the press conference.
"Especially in the context of the Duterte regime’s murderous anti-illegal drugs and counter-insurgency campaigns and the President’s recent pronouncement that 'rebels' are now targets for 'neutralization' or can be arrested without warrant, despite constitutional guarantees against it."
Oebanda shared that his film Liway’s Facebook page has received a flood of negative comments accusing people behind it of being part of the Red October plot.
Liway is an independent film set during the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos' martial law regime.
“Our film is actually a very apolitical film. We don’t call out current politicians. We only talked about a real incident that happened during that time (martial law). And we don’t even mention any political figures in the film. It’s very unfair I think,” he said in an ambush interview.
Oebanda suggested that the AFP come up with its own film if it wants to push its own narrative.
“But don’t tag us as NPA (New People's Army) recruiters just because we talk about people who were jailed during the martial law era. Just because you tell a certain reality doesn’t mean you’re brainwashing people to believe that reality. In fact, we welcome criticism, debates, discourse. That’s what democracy really is about,” he said.
In a statement read by UP film professor and former UP College of Mass Communication Dean Rolando Tolentino, the UP Film Institute (UPFI) denounced the AFP’s claim as an attempt to censor and “curtail responsible use of freedom of expression, speech and assembly.”
UPFI explained that film screenings are in keeping with its mandate to educate students about Philippine history and culture, love for country and pursuit of truth.
The Directors Guild of the Philippines Inc and artist groups DAKILA, Concerned Artists of the Philippines, and Kapuwa also released similar statements.
Filmmaker JL Burgos, son of journalist Joe Burgos and director of
“Portraits of a Mosquito Press” found it ironic that his movie about the curtailment of press freedom during martial law would face similar attempts to censor it.
He vowed to continue holding film screenings, if only to counter the
historical revisionism being propagated by the Marcoses.
In their statement, the filmmakers and artists asked: “We wonder why the AFP slanders us. Have they now become active defenders of the Marcoses and the criminals behind martial law? Or do they merely wish that the people remain ignorant of their central role as an institution in the wholesale trampling of our democratic rights – then and now?”
The group also expressed alarm that the AFP was coordinating with the Commission on Higher Education.
“Nakakabahala ang focus ng gobyerno nasa pelikula. Gusto na ba pumasok ng gobyerno sa showbiz?” film director Treb Monteras asked.
(It's worrisome that government now focuses on film. Does the government now want to enter showbiz?)
For his part, actor Jun Sabayton remarked: “Bakit ba natatakot ang pamahalaan sa pelikula namin? Dapat natatakot sila sa mga video ni Mocha at Drew Olivar,” drawing laughter from the crowd.
(Why are they scared of our films? They should be scared of videos of Mocha (Uson) and Drew Olivar.)
He was referring to the pair who had drawn controversy for their videos appearing to mock sign language and a federalism jingle that supposedly used lewd language.