A wildly successful boycott which led to the pullout of “Bato: The Gen. Ronald dela Rosa Story” after its first day in Makati’s Greenbelt theaters is a dead giveaway. How badly Mr. Duterte’s administration underestimates Filipino wakefulness as he completes his third year in power.
It was upon his orders that Bato resigned in April 2018 to run for the Senate, top of the list of candidates he endorsed. But how was “General EJK” to be sold to an electorate writhing in the drug war’s toll of over 20,000 extrajudicial killings? Answer: the hoariest campaign gimmick, a biopic a la Ferdinand Marcos’ “Iginuhit ng Tadhana.”
“Boycott!” was the instant reaction on Facebook. Film director Lore Reyes, one of the first to make the call, replied to a firestorm from Duterte supporters: “I stand by my principles and will persist in criticizing bad governance, plundering of the national treasury, the pervading air of injustice, fear and intimidation, and non-accountability.”
“Bad Boy” Robin Padilla, who played Bato in the movie, naively responded: “But this is just a film. This is not political.” Film director Carlos Siguion-Reyna sneered: “If one makes a biopic about a candidate running in an upcoming midterm senatorial election, and promotes it for release 5 months before said election, do you call that ‘pelikula lang ito, walang politika?’”
“There are core values that should not be given up, not just as writers or artists, but also as a human,” scriptwriter Jerry Gracio said in Tagalog.
After all, the traumas Mr. Duterte has inflicted on the nation began with his infamous Davao Death Squad’s EJKs going nationwide, when the Davao police chief morphed into the Philippine National Police chief as soon as Mr. Duterte became president.
Film critic Philbert Dy’s blog said it all: “The movie wants you to know that he’s really cool and good at killing, but he’ll go to church afterwards and cry or something. There’s a lot more stuffed into this movie, but it’s immaterial. It’s all bad. It’s all stupid. It’s all pretty disgusting. This is a vile movie, and I only take a little comfort in the fact that at the very least, it isn’t very convincing.”
National sentiment met Dy’s comment with 187 likes in 28 hours, as photos of near-empty movie houses peppered Facebook.
“We have never failed in our collective boycotts — Aga, Sharon, Vice Ganda and now Robin/Binoe. ‘Bato’ ang pinaka-nilangaw,” someone pointed out. A boomerang, if I ever saw one.
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Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.
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