On the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, internationally-renowned director and Assistant Prof. Lecturer from the DLSU Department of Literature, Ida Anita Del Mundo—who also directed K’Na, The Dreamweaver and An Orchestra in Search of a Home—premiered her latest film Never Forget. The event was hosted by the University’s Department of Literature as part of a series of discussions to commemorate the decades-long rule of the dictatorship. The screening was held at the John Pardo Hall of Henry Sy Sr. Hall and broadcasted via Zoom.
The phrase “never forget” reemerged to protest the burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in 2016. Del Mundo took this battlecry to heart upon creating the film, as shared in her opening speech, where she reminds the audience that the phrase is imperatively paired with another: “never again”. “Even if we erase it from our memory, Martial Law happened. Atrocities happened. But if we do remember, then maybe, it will never happen again,” she points out.
A tale of two tragedies
The film takes place in present-day New York where Filipino-American Vera Nicolas (Mara Lopez) lives with her father (Miguel Braganza II), who is afflicted with dementia. When Vera hires Jhason (Chris Paul Morales)—an undocumented Filipino nurse—to help care for her father, she unearths a myriad of truths regarding their tortured and unexpectedly connected pasts.
Jhason, a native of Escalante in Negros Occidental, is new to the hustle and bustle of New York City. In a moving scene, he laments to Vera that this is his first time being absent for his hometown’s annual reenactment of the 1985 Escalante Massacre—a horrifying tragedy in which his own grandparents were victims. Watching the reenactment had been his only way of honoring the memory of their bravery, Jhason conveyed. Starting out as a protest against the extreme mismanagement of sugar production in the region, it resulted in 20 deaths and 42 injuries of innocents. Henceforth, that day would be known as “Bloody Thursday” in the island of Negros.
Del Mundo’s impressive prowess in intertwining fiction and fact proves that what occurred 50 years ago is not as far away from today as people believe. Indeed, the film uses the smallest cinematic details—such as the lack of warm tones—to mirror the sorrow that comes with remembering what the previous generation went through.
Kwentong may kwenta
Xiao Chua, Assistant Prof. Lecturer from the University’s Department of History, also spoke to deepen the historical context of Del Mundo’s film. He insists that Filipinos still live in national trauma 50 years after the dictatorship, which not only rings true for its victims, but also for the perpetrators who choose to deny the violent atrocities that had occurred back then. “They were probably, at that time, brainwashed, [thinking] that they were actually doing the right thing for the republic,” he posits.
Both speakers advocated that vilifying perpetrators will not guarantee the remorse that Filipinos seek. “If we are just blaming people, it will make them even more defensive,” Del Mundo explains. Chua expounds on the statement, emphasizing the need for proper and honest discourse with these individuals. And while the clamor for justice has been tedious, what we must insist on is not revenge, but accountability, Del Mundo asserts.
Accountability is not a walk of shame, but a recognition that one is part of a nation affected by their every move. As Chua puts it, “It’s okay to admit. It’s okay to say sorry.” Nevertheless, it is important to note that the supposed trauma of perpetrators can never be at par with their victims. This is why Del Mundo calls for a sincere “reckoning [that] will have to happen throughout the years,” forcing the perpetrators to face the ugly truth of what they had done.
Following the discussion of the film, Dan Vincent Ong (III, CRW-BSA) performed Sophia Pascual’s (III, ABLIM-CW) The Man Outside the Window, illuminated solely by a lit candle. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the proverbial calm before the storm; that although one may be paralyzed by fear, the spark that rages through should be protected and kept lit from within.
Remembering is a form of heroism
There are many contrasting viewpoints on the country’s state under the rule of the late Marcos Sr.–some say they lived peacefully, while others likened their experience to hell. As somebody who was born after the Marcos dictatorship, Del Mundo shares, “What you know from your own experience is only a part of who you are.” She adds that in order to understand one’s self as someone part of a culture or a nation, one must discern the painful history that comes with it.
Dr. Anne Frances Sangil, Chair of the DLSU Department of Literature, imparts in her closing speech that remembering is a powerful thing. “Kung tayo ay makalimot, hindi lamang ang nakaraan ang nakalilimutan natin. Nakalilimutan din natin kung sino tayo.” Truly, Never Forget tells us that remembering is an act of love—for those who’ve passed and for a nation still trying to get itself back.
(If we forget, we do not only forget our past. We also forget who we are.)