Philippine cinema’s Superstar Nora Aunor and showbiz’s formidable character actress Cherry Pie Picache have both portrayed one too many eccentric roles throughout their storied careers.
Aunor was a seer and healer in Himala, a lesbian in T-Bird at Ako, and a middle-aged woman in a relationship with a much younger man in Naglalayag; while Picache also took on lesbian role in Kaleldo, portrayed a temporary foster parent in Foster Child, and a fish-birthing housewife in Isda.
Thankfully, the universe continues to come up with challenging roles for actresses of this caliber, as come April 6, Aunor and Picache will bring to life two controversial characters on the big screen once again. Their roles will remind audiences about two women who hogged the headlines in the course of discovering one of Philippines’ biggest political scandals, best known as the “Pork Barrel Scam.”
Together with younger actress Angelica Panganiban—who also has a string of noted films to her name—Aunor and Picache comprise the lead cast of Unitel Productions, Inc. and Quento Media’s socio-political thriller Whistleblower.
The story revolves around Zeny Roblado (Aunor), the accountant-turned-financial assistant who helps Lorna Valera (Picache) embezzle a huge chunk of government funds for the latter’s gain. Teresa Saicon (Panganiban), meanwhile, is an idealistic young journalist who stumbles upon the big-time financial scam involving the two women.
While it is clear from the names of the characters alone that Whistleblower does not use names of actual personalities involved in the Pork Barrel Scam, it does show a step-by-step account of how public funds are plundered for the pockets of politicians, bagmen and conduits. But according to its director Adolf Alix, Jr. and producer Unitel Chairman Tony Gloria, it does not necessarily pertain to the Janet Lim Napoles scandal since this kind of corruption, based on their research, has been going on for a very long time.
“Matagal na ang ideyang ito. At nung nire-research yung pork barrel na ‘yan, I found that matagal na rin ang sistemang yan—all the way back to 1922. Every government has their own version of it,” Gloria declared.“Kaya hindi dapat yung personality yung tinitignan dito, kundi yung sistema.”
Moreover, in devising a more riveting plot, they zoom in on a trio of strong female characters who find themselves at the crux of the greatest political scam ever.
Seconding his producer, Alix Jr. said, “Every time na nagkakausap po kami noon ni Sir Tony, sinasabi niyang gusto po talaga niyang gumawa ng political thriller na tatlong babae rin ang bida [similar to the comedy film Crying Ladies that he also produced]. So while brainstorming, doon lumabas yung idea na kumuha ng tatlong characters kung saan pwedeng lumabas yung mga nangyari in an entertaining retelling,” Alix Jr. explains.
He clarified for the record that while the movie is inspired by political events, whose ultimate aim is to rouse audiences into discussion about the sad reality of a corrupt government, and how every Filipino can help to put an end to the current system.
“Hopefully, they [the audience]will not just try to identify who’s who in the movie,” Alix added, obviously referring to the pork barrel scam’s mastermind Napoles and her cohorts.
Gloria, for his part further said that this kind of project had long been in his mind, mainly because of his fixation with Hollywood political thrillers, such as All the President’s Men and Argo.
“Six years ago ko pa pinaplano ang ganitong pelikula,” he said. “Tapos yung gist ng istorya nagbuo mga two years ago.”
But what is more significant is that the producer intentionally decided to release the movie in time for the coming 2016 national elections.
Strong political stand
Zeroing into her character, Picache said that Lorna Valera is more than just the onscreen manifestation of the controversial Napoles.
“A lot of people would relate my character to Janet Lim Napoles right away, but more than that, ang maganda po doon sa pelikula para sa akin ay it is also an interesting story about three women who get themselves into a system where they realize that once they are compromised, there’s no turning back,” said the 45-year old actress.
Picache added that Whistleblower is in fact her first film political film, which excited her as an artist who is always looking for the next big challenge. She believes also that “strong political stand” even before the movie offer came along helped her deliver an effective portrayal.
As for the one and only Superstar, a politically-themed movie is nothing new. Aunor had starred in the 1984 Mario O’Hara movie Condemned that depicted corruption and abuse of power society. The award-winning actress also gave life to justice-deprived characters such as Cora de la Cruz in the Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara-directed movie Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo (1976); and as Flor Contemplacion in the biopic The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995).
“Matagal na pong bukas ang isip ko diyan, kaya kahit anong oras o araw na ihain sa akin ang pelikulang pinag-uusapan ang gobyerno, talagang itataas ko ang kamay ko para lang makasali ako diyan,” she avvered.
Asked if they are confident that Filipinos will leave the cinema with the compulsion to effect change, Picache admitted it would be unrealistic to believe people can do so instantly.
“What we are hoping for is that maybe after watching this film, mas mabuksan ang isip nating mga Pilipino kasi nakita na natin graphically kung ano yung nangyayari. As Sir Tony had said, this is not the first time na nangyari itong ganitong patakbo sa gobyerno natin. So sana lang mas mabuksan at mas maantig ang damdamin natin to effect change in our own ways.”
Citing an example, Picache added, “Personally as an actor, we can do this in our small capacity ways by taking a stand on certain political issues, and making it known,”
Meanwhile, the ever politically-invested Aunor—who also aggressively answered the question with a bit of a swipe on the current administration—said she is indeed hoping the movie will open the eyes of the viewing public.
“Mababago yung pananaw ng mga tao at makikita nila talaga kung ano yung nangyayari sa ating gobyerno na matagal na dapat naipakita—na ganun kadumi ang ating gobyero at hindi nakikita ng ating namumuno ang mga nangyayari na hindi tama sa ating bayan,” the 62-year-old Superstar declared.
In parting, Picache said that with the coming elections, actors like them should realize they are all in a position to help spread the message that candidates should be chosen with the good of the country in mind.
“As actors, we have a big influence on people especially on social media, and we should therefore be responsible in choosing the candidates we are going to endorse,” she expressed.
With her statement, came the obvious question, “Who are you endorsing?”
And just like the feisty characters they portray in Whistleblower, neither Picache nor Aunor held back on their answer. Picache said she is voting for Leni Robredo for vice president, and is still undecided with her choice for president; while Aunor, who was already wearing a cap that bore the name of her president in Grace Poe, announced she is voting for Bongbong Marcos for vice president.