• Salud to a man called Daa

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    MAURO GIA SAMONTE

    Tuesday, June 27, offers prospects of joyful recollections. Seventy-five years to that day a boy was born in abject poverty, to go through life’s vicissitudes and overcome. In 2010 that boy had turned into a strong pillar of Philippine journalism – and he would prove to be the most needed shot in the arm for this particular writer.

    Henry Sy – the Philippines’ richest, who owns real estate giants SMIC, SM Prime, and SMDC along with the country’s biggest retail chain, SM Malls – had cornered the film distribution industry through his SM theaters and at the advent of the new millennium had executed the coup de grace for bringing about the demise of the Philippine movie industry. Through the very simple invocation of laissez faire, he banned adult movies in SM movie houses, thereby killing Philippine cinema in one fell swoop. Adult movies were the main milieu of the local film industry and were those that had produced superstars such as Joseph Estrada, former Philippine president and currently mayor of Manila, the late Fernando Poe, Jr. and Rudy Fernandez, and on the distaff side, Rosanna Roces, Priscilla Almeda and Cristina Gonzales, now Mayor of Tacloban City.

    By that one single act of prohibiting exhibitions of adult movies in his theaters, Henry Sy caused local film production companies to crumble down altogether in one fell swoop, causing total unemployment for Philippine cinema’s talents, craftsmen, crew and other personnel. Among the victims was this writer – who had earned the sobriquet “titillating film director” because of the blockbuster movies he wrote and directed, like Kirot, Machete, Halimuyak ng Babae, Kandungan, Talong, Kangkong, to name just a few in a long line of 50-plus credits. 2010 signalled a whole decade of joblessness for this writer, who on rare instances only managed to eke out a living from a variety of odd callings.

    But 2010 was a year for presidential elections, and among the contenders for the country’s top post was then Senate President Manuel Villar whose public relations were being partly handled by that born-poor man from Las Piñas – now popularly known as Dr. Dante A. Ang, Chairman Emeritus of The Manila Times. To the Times people, he is fondly called DAA.

    It so happened that DAA was a friend of the late colleague in the publication industry, Loren Banag, then publisher of Bagong Tiktik, who in turn happened to be a kumpadre of this writer. Once Banag introduced him to Dr. Ang, this writer was never the same again.

    Movie column
    I was into movie journalism even before I got into movies in 1975, in a succession of editing jobs for movie magazines. So when DAA offered me a movie column space in the entertainment section of The Manila Times, I was no stranger to the job. But what was rare about the offer was that it did not come every day in a field where pen pushers are a dime a dozen. One colleague in this paper has the propensity to boast of his writing credentials as his qualification for his column. But as Opinyon Publisher/Editor Ray Junia is wont to stress, you are not the only genius in the field; a lot of qualified writers deserve that privilege of writing a column. In such a case, what matters is the guy who decides who to give a column space to and who not to.

    In such a case, DAA is a rarity to me. He sees in me what other publishers don’t and he makes sure that such seeing results in full fruition.

    With the demise of the Philippine movie industry, filmmaking in the country became limited to the nation’s two leading networks, ABS-CBN and GMA 7, with movie producers like Regal Films and Viva Films reduced to merely being minor partners of these networks. Under this setup, movie journalism cannot but be a mere mouthpiece of the two networks, since what one would be writing about is publicity only by either of the two. The imperative of objectivity is essentially denied, objectivity being an intrinsic product of a plurality situation. How could I be an objective observer of events that are daily being cranked out as publicity stunts only by one or the other of the networks?

    I ceased doing that entertainment column and confined myself to writing political views, a novel and historical insights in blogs, if only to keep my mental faculties alive, my craft constantly polished.

    Luna and Manalo
    In late 2015, two period movies aroused the attention of moviegoers, Heneral Luna, by an independent producer, and Felix Manalo, by the Iglesia ni Cristo. Coming as they did at a time when the market had been for long suffused with stereotypes from the networks, Luna and Manalo appeared novelties worthy of viewing. The appetite of film buffs for the photoplays was even more whetted through high-end publicity in both the tri media and social media, and after a decade of not going into SM theaters to view a movie, I joined the queues of movie fans to see the films on separate occasions – in a Robinsons theater though.

    With my long experience in the Sisonite protracted people’s war on one hand and with my relatively long-enough period of active membership in the Iglesia sect, I could not ignore the urge to say my piece on the touted movie blockbusters. I had originally intended to publish my reviews of the films in the Blog Get Real Post, which had been accommodating my pieces since I stopped writing in the mainstream media four years ago. But some sudden thought reminded me of The Manila Times and I decided to contribute my reviews to the newspaper, which according to colleague and kumpadre Manila Media Bureau Chief Diego Cagahastian had already captured the intellectual readership.

    The Manila Times’ Editor-in-Chief Rene Q. Bas saw it fit to give my reviews front page exposure, and before long I got a call from no less than DAA offering me a column space in the paper.

    As DAA’s offer got me ecstatic the first time around in 2010, his similar offer in 2015 got me throwing in euphoria. The main reason for this was that DAA agreed to my wish of writing a political column this time; I honestly believed, there was nothing much I could write about movies, given the sorry circumstances Philippine cinema continued to be into at the time.

    Being ranked among the top columnists of The Manila Times is a singular event which I cannot help regarding as a milestone in my writing career. And this milestone cannot but be a handiwork of one man who, in recommending me to write a biography of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, dared speak these words to Atty. Roberto Laurel, Lyceum of the Philippines University President: “I am staking my whole reputation on Mao.”

    With such a wager, how can I lose? I cannot possibly fail DAA. I did my best, and now a year after that lunch at the Rafaelle in Bay Leaf Hotel, the book is ready for publication.

    “That’s how I take care of people,” DAA would tell me during another occasion in which he recommended me for writing yet another book.

    (To be concluded on Tuesday)

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