Monday, September 17, 2012

'Phantom,' a dream come true

"Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams. Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before."

As the clasped hands of the casts raise their hands and took their final curtain call for the night, as the familiar melody of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s genius fills the packed theater, I was surprised to find my sight blurring. Tears began to sparkle, flowing shamelessly on my face. It was a dream come true. The Phantom in front of me. Erik, the Phantom that was and is always me.

As we settle ourselves inside the theater, one my friends commented that most of the biggest fans of the Phantom of the Opera are either hopeless romantics or those who have repeatedly fallen victim of the vicious curse of unrequited love. This left me contemplating.

I first knew of the story of Phantom years ago in the pages of a book in high school. Curiosity turned into obsession and obsession became love. I searched for materials bearing “Andrew Lloyd Webber,” “Michael Crawford,” Sarah “Brightman” and the rest. Then came into my possession its music score. I immediately fell in love with it especially the character of Erik, the ghost of the Opera Populaire. Wickedly, I immediately saw myself as the Phantom.

I supposed it was his genius when it comes to music that I related so well. I was a very young musician then. At 17, I was already playing this haunting part in the organ, sneaking at the school’s music room. The intro after which the Phantom and Christine disappeared going to the vast underground lair beneath the opera house:

Upon reaching adulthood, curiously, I found myself wearing the same mask as the Phantom. Disfigured, a lone creature in a world of unending night, I gave my music to a person whom I thought the only one that can make my song take flight. You know the story. I wasn’t chosen and I had to let go of everything and disappear just as that person and the Raoul he chose are beginning to sing the melody of their togetherness.

Madness and brilliance. Magic and painful truths. I did not have the slightest hint that I would get to experience the surreal world of the Phantom. I am poor, and so I knew even then that I wouldn’t get the chance to travel in Broadway or in London to watch the musical I always dreamed of. But last Sunday night, the dream became a reality.

Everything was perfect that night. I gasped as the chandelier soars high above the theater ceiling. I marvel at familiar music and melody I’ve been singing and playing since I was young. I sobbed during the part when the Phantom sang that very simple “Christine, I love you” only to cry again when he sang “it’s over now the music of the night.”

For me, it's never about the grand costume, the sophisticated ballet, the fireworks and beautifully laden stage set. It’s the old story of broken romance, the cunning deceit, the genius, madness, the mystery, cruelty, denial, betrayal and man’s ultimate search for acceptance and of course – love. It is the way the Phantom’s music speaks those word my heart quietly sings. Old yet always in place.

So maybe there really is a hint of truth to what my friend said. It is the musical of the hopeless romantics, the drama of the denied, of the unloved. But what made the Phantom’s story special is the sacrifice he showed in the scene of Final Lair. He seeks redemption. He seeks that normal life he'd never known. Despite admitting he was the angel in hell, he wants to be saved, for someone to actually care and look in his eyes with no more pity but love.

An apology for I couldn’t put into any more words the surreal experience, the magic that has befallen me watching the Phantom. It’s probably the same mystery of le fantome de l’opera casted more than 25 years ago that made it the longest running theater musical ever conceived – inexplicable. That night, I left the theater with a little trace of sadness. Although not really. I did not really believe that the music of the night was finished. After all, love never dies, right?


Author's note:

Although quite impossible for them to read this, I would like to thank those people who made dream come true. You don't know how much happiness you brought to a boy dreaming of becoming the phantom in a white mask.

To the people behind the bringing of this epic musical into the Philippine stage, my warmest thanks.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Assalamu alaikum

Peace be unto you. Assalamu alaikum is a shorter form of a grand greeting assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakutah (Peace be unto you and so may the mercy of Allah and His blessings). The greeting is recommended to be only used between Muslims.

Filipino Cannes winning director Brillante Mendoza returns to the silver screen with his new masterpiece “Captive.” The grand scale of issues depicted in the film is such of great weight: the government’s squashy attempt to demolish terrorism, the flourishing business of kidnap-for-ransom south of the Philippines, corruption in government, military’s poor intel, religion – are among many others captured. Mendoza through his film wishes not to tell you a story, he wants you to experience it, contemplate on it and then live with it.

“Captive” dramatizes Mendoza’s picture of 2001 abduction of a number of foreigners including locals at Dos Palmas Resort in Palawan by the Abu Sayyaf Group. It brings forth the journey of the rebels along with their hostages to Abu’s stronghold Basilan. Conflicted between the military’s attempt to launch offensive attacks and the Abu's aim for survival, the story centers on Therese (Isabelle Huppert) a French social worker and her exchanges with her abductors and fellow victims – an American couple, which is a clear nod to real-life Martin and Gracia Burnham, medical practitioners and other locals. It stresses on particular dates true to the history of Abu Sayyaf’s atrocities like the Lamitan Siege, rape, attacks to Christianity, and the beheadings of soldiers and one of the captives that served a gift to a nation then celebrating Independence Day. Until the 7th of June 2002, finally, in an operation of the military, Therese was saved along with the few others and the Abu’s operation fell.

The entire 2-hours devoted to the film is almost a non-resting experience of Mendoza’s shaky camera works, although dizzying at certain point, is proven effective technique to put you in the world inhabited by his characters. Most of the shots are tight, as if you yourself is also huddled, tied by a rope joining the rest of the captives. There is fear as to the director’s success of providing no leeway where and when riffles will start firing from all directions. You sense the danger. 

Commendable is the way the actors are not in any way shown acting out their roles. You will not question the authenticity of their characters. They are real – the emotions, the expressions – every movement are carried in a driving way to push the narrative. There are no flimsy dialogues. The words are true enough to their fear, anxiousness and hunger, not only for food but for freedom.

It has been criticized by former film critics, the said “properly subdued” atrocities it tries to project. To this I disagree. Mendoza’s image of crossfire is properly distanced to Hollywood-esque explosion after explosion underscored through a slow motion of debris flying in all directions punctuated by smoke. The culture of impunity portrayed, with all the proper elements, is plain and good enough to get the feel and get the message across. No sensationalism.

There are parts that are vividly haunting, challenging enough for interpretation. There was a review that scoffed over a part in which the character of Huppert, Therese, argued against an angry Abu throwing away to the open sea her box full of Bibles. The critic said it was poorly written. On the contrary, I find it essential in the building of Huppert’s character. If you will notice it was the first time she cried, the first time she manifested weakness, an emotional breakdown after they were abducted. She was indignant yet there was fear.

It is important because it created a balance to the Abu’s religiosity. When Dr. Rustica Carpio’s character, Soledad, her companion for 5 years of social works, died there she stood up once more to the Abus saying “she’s a Christian and I will bury her” clutching a rosary in one hand. In this very small scale, the battle of religion, the battle of gods happening in all corners of the world, is presented. Add to that a scene in the Lamitan siege where upon taking control of an entire hospital, an Abu Sayyaf member smashed an image of the Virgin Mary.

Another commendable thing about Captive is that despite the apparent atrocity depicted, it doesn’t try to preach or sell an ideology. It tells you a story, plain and simple, but nevertheless it provokes you to think and hopefully create a ripple. Somehow, it presented the side of the Muslim rebels, how they perceived the fighting to be part of a grand Holy War (jihad); everything in subservience to Allah. They shout Allah Akbar (God is Greatest) as they slash a person’s head. They greet each other peace (assalamu alaikum) clutching high powered guns. They kneel, bow and often would pray, putting them in a vulnerable state despite the imminent danger.

At the risk of being accused of “glamorizing terrorism” like journalist Arlyn dela Cruz, the film offers a short peak on the human side of the Abus. A number of them are kids, the youngest probably 11 or 12, like the character that drew close to Therese. The idea that they are fighting for their freedom, to reclaim Mindanao, the land that according to them owned and flourished by the hands of their ancestors. It is such a century old fight that you’ll stop and contemplate, who are you really rooting for in all these?

The success of the film is actually what the naysayers are focusing on. You get angry, you get bored and you get tired during the entire experience because you yourself is a hostage in the film. In the end, there is a sigh of relief although not really. Because you know it did not really end at all. 

Monday, September 3, 2012


Bonita Baran, 21 (photo courtesy of abs-cbnNews.com)

She came to Manila, like everybody else that did, dreaming of that small job, of those small earnings to be sent to a waiting family in the province, eyes set in an unknown future with hopes for a better one. But after four years of humble servitude to her employers, her right eye is now blind, her face and ears burned, scars are all over her body and she can barely walk that from time to time she uses a wheelchair to course through around. This is the story of Bonita Baran. This is a story of a girl in a sudden twist of fate, that from a tale of voyage to simple dreams, nightmares unfurled and the journey to justice begins. 

From the province of Catanduanes, Bonita arrived in the home of Analiza and Reynold Marzan in 2007. All is well during the first year of her job as a maid. She was happy enough with her P700.00 (about $16.00) salary a month, cleaning and ironing clothes for the family. After a year of servitude, Bonita’s Calvary arrived.

Dissatisfied with her cleanings and ironing of clothes, Analiza Marzan would repeatedly hit Bonita with reed broom all over her body until the broom itself is destroyed. Hard objects are thrown to her while figurines are smashed on her head.

“Isang taon po akong hindi sinasaktan tapos po noong unang beses na naranasan ko, araw-araw na po. Sa paglilinis ko po, kapag nakitang hindi maganda sa kaniya, hindi malinis, sinasaktan niya po ako.”

“Hinampas niya po ako dito sa ulo ng walis tambo. Tapos po dito sa dalawang braso, tapos sa binti, sa paa. Halos nagkaputol-putol [yung walis tambo] tapos namaga. Tapos dito naman sa ulo hinampas niya ako ng figurine na matigas tapos natanggalan po ako ng buhok.”

Wounded and bleeding, Bonita saw no medical attention and succumbed to wiping her blood and washing them with running water. One time she was ironing clothes of her masters, Analiza Marzan picked the iron and stroked it on Bonita’s face, on her arms and on her back. Flesh burned and in turn, the matron poured over Bonita a dipper of water.

“Dito po sa mukha ko pinlantsa niya. Tapos pinlantsa niya dito po sa may ulo, tapos dalawang braso tapos sa may likod po. Hindi po nila ako pinapagamot, hindi po ako dinadala sa ospital. Nasunog po siya. Binuhusan niya po ako ng isang tabong tubig sa C.R. tapos lumobo po siya. ‘Pag nakita na niya po na nasugatan niya ko sasabihin niya ‘sorry hindi ko sinasadya.”

Every night, Bonita said she would pray. That if the neighbors couldn’t hear her pleadings as her mistress would cover her mouth and threaten her with more physical abuse, she hopes that God will. But her nightmare is just beginning.

Analiza Marzan repeatedly punched Bonita straight in her eyes like a standing dummy. Now, Bonita lost her right eyesight and the left one is in danger of following. According to Dr. Erwin Erfe, the medico legal of Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), Bonita’s right eye has only 10 % of vision as of present and that she needs medical attention to save her from turning completely blind.

“Sinusuntok niya po itong dalawang mata ko. Tapos ilang araw naman parang namamaga siya, binuhusan niya ako ng isang tabong tubig. Tapos ilang araw naman po, susuntukin niya ulit ‘yung mata ko.”

The abuse went on for four years straight. Bonita was also stabbed by Mrs. Marzan using scissors, forced-fed with cockroaches and spoiled food, choked her and locked her in the house. Her communication with her family was limited. To this, the Marzan children would just watch, even the father, Reynold Marzan. Bonita tried fighting, but she was no match to her masters.

One time, Bonita recounted how Mrs. Marzan asked her what’s taking her too long before she died. To which Mr. Marzan, according to Bonita, replied urging his wife to just kill her.

“Ang sabi niya po sa akin bakit ang tagal-tagal ko daw pong mamatay. Tapos ang tanong ng lalaki sa babae, ‘bakit gusto mo ba siyang patayin?’ ‘Patayin mo na. Saan mo ba itatapon?’”

When Bonita was too worn-out to work, the Marzans threw her back to her family in the province. It took Bonita a lot of courage to step-up against her old masters. Now, she is marching her way towards justice.

Analiza Marzan is now facing seven counts of physical injury, two counts of attempted homicide and serious illegal detention at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court under Judge Germano Legaspi of Branch 77. Reynold Marzan, meanwhile, is also facing rap of serious illegal detention. A hold departure order was also issued against the Marzan couple. The latest is that the court already released warrant of arrest and the couple is now said to be in hiding.

The Philippine Senate through its Committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development headed by Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada is also conducting its own investigation. After two invitations to attend the hearing, the Marzan couple is still evading Senate’s call and so another warrant of arrest is issued.

In an interview over GMA News, Analiza Marzan denied all the allegations. She said Bonita’s wounds and scars are self-inflicted and that she even ironed herself in the face and her back.

I’ve been following Bonita’s case since I saw her with her scarred face and battered self. In a lopsided world we inhabit, she’s proof to the saying that if hard work really is the key to success, then the slaves would’ve been rich. But if Bonita believes in a system of justice which I denounced many times having faced with all its debauchery in the conduct of my job as a journalist, then I too can hope for that elusive justice. As the song says, even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.

For those who would like to extend their help to Bonita, please contact the Public Attorney's Office at 929-9436. Comments, messages and other feed backs are welcome. You may e-mail the author at desoleboy@yahoo.com

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