'Katips': Musical drama a reminder of the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship

September 22, 2022
Katips the film
A scene from the film. 'Katips' is screening in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sydney during October. Image supplied.

Written and directed by Vince Tañada
Featuring: Jerome Ponce, Nicole Laurel, Adelle Ibarrientos, Johnrey Rivas
Philstagers Films, 2022
Screening in various cities from October 1

Filipino human rights activist groups are organising worldwide screenings of Katips, an award-winning musical drama directed by Vince Tañada, and produced by Philstagers Films, portraying the lives and tribulations of student activists during martial law in the Philippines (1972‒81) under the Ferdinand Marcos regime.

Controversially, Marcos’ son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jnr was elected president of the Philippines earlier this year and human rights groups are organising screenings of Katips to present a truthful account of an era that is now in real danger of being totally erased by the new government.

Green Left’s Peter Boyle spoke to human rights activist Mariza Sollano about the film, which premieres in Australia on October 1. Solano lost many friends in the resistance to the Marcos dictatorship, and is now one of the people organising the screenings of this film around the country in October.

* * *

Today is the 50th anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos' declaration of martial law. So many people have suffered and sacrificed in the many years of struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, yourself among them. How do you feel now that his son has become president?

I am both sad and livid. For people like myself, we carry an inexplicable sadness that we survived and our friends did not. And I am livid that the dictator's son is now president. He was not a child during his father's presidency. He is a litigant of the many cases over the ill-gotten wealth.

How can we forget? We should not. Forgiving and forgetting are two different things. Forgive if you are compelled to forgive but do not forget. I cannot forgive when there has never been any act of atonement on their part.

Speaking out now may mean that I may not be able to return to my homeland whilst he and his minions are in office but if that is the price I pay for continuing to speak the truth, then it is the price I am willing to pay. I owe it to the thousands who perished under his father's hand to continue on.

Katips expresses the struggle against Marcos. Do you think it can help educate a newer generation of Filipinos about life under the dictatorship?

Education comes in many forms. If direct classroom lessons do not make an impact, then we have to find other ways to send the message through.

We have many brilliant filmmakers like the late Lino Brocka for example, who expressed his protest through his art form and powerfully so. His film Kapit Sa Patalim (On a Knife's Edge) released in 1984 is about a worker who received money from his boss to help his pregnant wife provided he does not join the workers' union.

And there's Mike De Leon's film Sister Stella L, also released in 1984, which is about a nun who had a political awakening while carrying on counselling for unwed mothers and she joined the workers' struggle for justice, fair pay and the right to protest. These are amongst the films that woke me as a young university student.

Some media reports have attributed Marcos Jnr's election win, in part, to his campaign's successful exploitation of cultural changes, including digital media. Can a "musical" help transcend such cultural divides?

Theatre and the arts had always been a strong part of our protest history. We've had plays and films that educated us. And lots of protest songs. But to package it together is quite another level. And I did ask, are we as Filipinos ready for this art form? When we look at Les Miserables, it's a very grim story of poverty, injustice and impunity and yet people watch it around the world and in droves. Filipinos included. Myself included. It moved from theatre to film. Because the message is there. And it is a strong message.

Our hope is that this film transcends the cultural divide and help in the re-education process especially of young Filipinos to understand what happened then.

The legacy of martial law is systemic corruption, impunity, failure of our justice system, poverty and poor literacy. The list goes on. It is a strong message.

Filipinos love music, that's well understood. But what is not well understood is we don't like talking about difficult subjects, and martial law is a difficult subject. Culturally, we shun away from difficult subjects I think. Marcos Jnr's campaign machinery understood that quite well and succeeded in sowing seeds of doubt that martial law happened and even believe that his father was the greatest president the Philippines ever had!

Katips premieres in Melbourne at the Capitol Theatre, on October 1. It will screen in Adelaide on October 2, the Gold Coast on October 6, Brisbane on October 7 and Sydney on October 8 at the Ritz Cinema, Randwick. The film is subtitled in English.

[For tickets, visit: https://events.humanitix.com/tours/katips-australia. To view the full trailer visit: https://youtu.be/JgQaAhmAEbM.]

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