To kill a dog
Was it necessary for the people behind “Oro” to kill a dog, for whatever purpose they thought it would serve in fleshing out the vision of their film? That question has pretty much consumed social media and what passes for national discourse in the last couple of weeks, the debate spilling over from the seemingly straightforward issue of a law having been breached to more esoteric back and forth: the supposedly “burgis” revulsion by some over dog killing when it remains a practice in some parts of the country, or the incendiary charge that people are more outraged at a dog’s death than the killing of some 6,000 Filipinos so far in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
How has it come to this? Blame—despite their protestations to the contrary—must be shouldered in large part by the filmmakers, specifically “Oro” producer Shandii Bacolod and director Alvin Yapan, not only for green-lighting the dog’s slaughter but also, and more startlingly, for the insincere, graceless way they have handled the controversy, which has only made matters worse for them.
When the first questions about the issue bubbled up, what the public initially heard from Yapan and company was that no real dog was harmed in the film. The scene showing a dead animal being roasted and then gutted—in a highly graphic moment meant to underline the brutish character of the paramilitary group that had taken over the small mining town and was terrorizing the local folk—involved a goat, or so said the filmmakers.
But when contradictory stories from insiders emerged, the statements from the responsible parties began evolving, suddenly veering from the plain question of whether a real dog was killed in violation of Republic Act No. 8485 prohibiting cruelty to animals, to Yapan’s subsequent manifesto denouncing the outcry as, essentially, the educated elites from the cities imposing their views on the simple folk and their old ways in the countryside—when, he fulminated, the focus should be on the injustice perpetrated by the armed group on the island-town in Camarines Sur that the film was ostensibly about.
Purely from a public-relations standpoint, how Yapan and his producers responded to the rapidly shifting controversy constituted a textbook example of how not to fan the flames with needless provocation. The law, after all, is clear: Killing a dog in this way is prohibited and punishable (in fact, two dogs reportedly ended up dead—the first, bought specifically for the scene, suffocated while inside a sack; the other was briefly shown alive in the movie, then was the same animal being feasted on in the next scene). And, with the filmmakers’ initial justification failing to hold up for long—that they didn’t initiate the slaughter but merely filmed a prevalent local practice—it was clear that coming clean was in order, especially after it was also proven that they had misrepresented themselves before the Metro Manila Film Festival committee when an explanation was sought from them.
Instead, the filmmakers opted for more denial and obfuscation, rather than acknowledging that they had made a grievous error in judgment in filming an act violative of the law, and that the appeals to artistic authenticity or respect for cultural tradition were all belated attempts at damage control, done in panic as the controversy metastasized.
Is this but a tempest in a teapot? Not quite. Observance of the law is the bedrock of our democratic way of life. The accusation that people are being selective at summoning outrage over the killing of a dog versus the killing of thousands of Filipinos employs a false dichotomy. And it is one that does not apply to this paper, for instance, which has forcefully and consistently denounced the ongoing wave of extrajudicial killings.
This act is not inconsequential; like all illegal actions, it demands accountability.
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