Jose avoided his torturers’ eyes. He looked up at a bare ceiling or down at a wet floor. By then Jose was very weak. Torture had taken everything out of him. He could hardly stand and felt sad too, weak and sad. It was already a month since he was taken from his apartment in Ermita to Camp Crame. He had never been inside Camp Crame before then, though Camp Crame wasn’t far from the University of the Philippines.
Jose attempted a hunger strike. Failing, he considered there was problem with heroism. “In detention there weren’t many options,” former detainees said, “I know some prisoners have survived solitary confinement without going mad. Some prisoners have survived solitary confinement for years, but many prisoners simply can’t take it.” When I think of Jose, it’s clear to me that, even without torture, detention would’ve taken a toll on him. And a hunger strike seems in character, and before another incarnation he might’ve joined the communist party and Jose Maria Sison in his fight against repression and fascism, but I can’t picture him ever considering himself a hero. They left marks on his body, which were identified as burns from electrocution.
“The next time I kill you,” Pilate said, “I won’t leave any marks.”
Each time they killed one of the activists, they moved a step forward. Then, very patiently, they waited. They hoped their actions would be affective.
“Pnoy’s action of going after all corrupt government officials is in line with his saying that he wanted to prosecute corrupt government officials so that they will no longer be emulated by coming generations of public servants. It is high time untouchables were sent to jail so that Pnoy’s government can truly address the root cause of Philippine poverty, which is corruption.’ And we can’t fight graft and corruption by simply delivering wang-wang speeches!”
ORAPRONOBIS Directed by Lino Brocka Screenplay by Jose F. Lacaba
On the night of April 16, 1985, in the obscure town of Dolores, Father Anthony Hill, of St. Joachin Parish (originally from Post, Texas), dreamed a dream that bothered him. Father Hill had just given last rites to an alleged rebel, and in his dream he exchanged places with the deceased man …he was shot in the chest. The deceased man was shot in the chest. And no one knew what the stakes were or why he was shot. Stakes for the country, however, were enormous. With an attempted assassination of the Pope and the EDSA revolt, they were enormous, and Father Anthony (in his dream) was cut down in his prime. The priest liked to dig in his garden and the assassin knew it, which provided him the opportunity he needed. The dreamer also rode horses and punched cattle as a boy, and was unable to do the same thing in the Philippines, and wasn’t sure whether he was in Texas or the Philippines in his dream. It was the clangor of rain that woke him up and not his dream. The Orapronobis, a local cult, had executed the rebel, and what Father Hill didn’t know was that they were after him too. It was dawn, and the cult leader, Kumander Kontra (Roco) was entering Dolores, looking for the priest.
On that morning authorities received word that Major Kontra was in town; on that same morning Father Hill was shot in the head. Father Hill was working in his garden, a small plot in the courtyard behind the church. Remember the name Major Kontra. Major Kontra was the leader of the Orapronobis, murderers of a rebel who was thought to have been a Satanist and a communist. In 1974 this rebel had been all for Marcos. His zeal then put him in the center of those who placed their faith in Maros’ New Society and at odds with the very people he would later be accused of joining. There was not a person who knew for sure what Major Kontra stood for, or why he was considered important enough to be placed on a hit list. The hit was professionally done but was somehow blotched. Father Hill gave him his last rites. This blunder (which sealed the priest’s fate) embarrassed authorities and caused them to put more pressure on the Orapronobis.
Father Hill’s first reaction was sadness. He was sad and hated tyranny in any form, especially vigilantism, vigilantism that had sanctioned the Orapronobis. In vain he tried to convince himself that communists represented the real threat. In vain he tried to justify vigilantism and that communists were the real threat and not those who were killing them. He never stopped thinking about how his own country attempted to contain communism or stop thinking of senseless killing elsewhere in Southeast Asia. He rightly anticipated that he’d somehow get caught up in it.
Before his own murder, he died hundreds of times and in hundreds of ways: by bombs, machineguns, and machetes, by lone assailants and gangs, from a distance and at close range. He faced these imaginary scenarios as bravely as he could but each time a little less so. When he heard about Major Kontra and how he led the Orapronobis, Father Hill somehow knew who would kill him. Then he told himself that reality doesn’t often coincide with what actually happens and logically concluded that he needed to do everything possible to protect himself. Still he knew that it wouldn’t be enough.
Relying on his faith, Father asked to die of natural causes and thus avoid a gruesome end. Finally, he tossed the whole notion that he had become a target. Still he couldn’t sleep at night. He couldn’t sleep, and he tried to find some way to ease his mind. He knew that he didn’t have much time. He reasoned aloud, “Regardless how long I have, I am not ready to die. I am vulnerable and mortal.” And nights that he couldn’t sleep seemed interminably long. There were moments when he longed for a rifle shot that would set him free, but for better or worse, he wasn’t prepared for it. When he woke on the morning Major Kontra came looking for him, he followed his usual routine. He practiced penance and prayed, after which he dug in his garden.
Father Hill was well into his sixties. Aside from a few friendships and his obligations (which never seemed like a chore to him), he had few interests outside of his gardening. Like all priests, he measured his success by the size of his flock, while asking his flock to measure him by his service. All the years he spent in the Philippines now to him seemed worth it. They seemed worth it for complex reasons that he never explained. He never explained why he became a priest either. His reasons for becoming a priest, for serving in the Philippines and sacrificing so much were obscured by his alleged involvement in revolution. Father Hill never intended to get involved. He never intended to and the reasons he had were also complex. It was also perplexing. After the Second Vatican Council Father Hill became interested in liberation theology and began reading theologians such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, Juan Luis Segundo, and Hugo Assmann, and that was just as the Catholic church aspired to become “the church of the poor.” Unfortunately the practice of Liberation theology in the Philippines was risky. It was risky, and unfortunately Father Hill got labeled a communist. But Father Hill wasn’t a communist. He made a habit of emphasizing that he wasn’t and that there was an absolute clash between the Catholic Church and Marxist dogma, which meant that he couldn’t have been a communist. Father Hill also believed that there were no absolutes when it came to facts. To the priest’s chagrin facts were clear: like thunder and storm, heat and cold everyone understood them. From the pulpit, Father Hill made the mistake of calling for justice, peace, equity, land reform, and citizen participation. But in spite of an unequivocal and inspired stance, he thought because he was an American he’d be given a pass. Father Hill felt that Liberation theology was essential after Marcos declared martial law because it gave poor people a voice, something the president was advocating anyway.
The execution was as dramatic as the director could make it. The scene was set in Doloras, a rugged mountain town, with unpaved streets. In the background, one hears the Internationale, and as a backdrop we have the church. It is the first scene of the movie Lino’s Brocka s movie, and we have men carrying rifles in search of enemies and thinking every man they meet is a rebel that should be quickly eliminated. (Church bells were pealing six times and suns rays glorified windows inside the church, since they were stained glass.) The Orapronobis are following orders. Major Kontra hasn’t met Father Hill. Yet he thinks Father Hill is a communist, but he has an uncomfortable feeling because he hasn’t killed a priest before.
They barge in on him, but it’s apparent- though the priest doesn’t recognize them, he has the uncomfortable feeling that he has seen them before. Major Kontra has just burned his scooter and succeeds with his men in getting inside the garden where the assassination occurs. Remember the revolution is over. The revolution is over, but the fight has just begun. Here’s where the movie credits begin to roll. And soon a certain Jimmy Cordero emerges. Cordero is a former priest and a former rebel who was imprisoned by Marcos. Upon his release and after the People Power Revolution he marries a human rights activist. With the new president in power, Jimmy Cordero intends to settle down and becomes complacent. Meanwhile lines have become blurred, and violence increases. The Orapronobis (still led by Major Kontra) continues its butchery, except now their status has changed and they have become defenders of democracy. In spite of this Cordero remains unmoved until he’s touched directly by violence.
When he revisits the remote village where he used to fight, Cordero sees that things haven’t changed. This is when he finally realizes that quiet resistance and diplomacy won’t work within a system that is corrupt to the core. The picture becomes clear. It becomes clear that ordinary citizens are not safe. They are being shot and harassed. Ambushes are frequently, and finally Jimmy Cordero and an ex-sweetheart become victims. Towards the end of the movie, after it has discredited the myth the People Power Revolution has embraced, vigilantes kill his son, and there’s a dramatic scene of him carrying the body as he marches with it to the church. Nobody can not be moved, or miss the (symbolic) significance. When Jimmy goes home after this he sees his sleeping wife and newly born baby, and finally retrieves a former comrade’s gun and telephone number.
Cordero had never asked himself whether Corazon Aquino was strong enough to control the cultic vigilantes that she used. Cordero didn’t worry when she said she wasn’t a politician. He didn’t react until he was directly affected. Cordero felt that violence that I have mentioned was not as significant as it was and that the restoration of democracy was more important. He believed Aquino when she declared, “We’re finally free. The long agony is over.” Cordero had finished the first act of his life as a priest and a rebel. The sacrifices involved made it possible for him to feel like he had paid his dues, changing him in ways that he hadn’t expected. He thought with most of his life ahead of him that he wanted to become a family man. Cordero found a wife who was an activist and thought: “If in some fashion I can be useful and am able to make my voice heard, I’ll have more influence than I had before. I’ll go on the radio and television, which will justify why I don’t join my comrades. Grant me these days of happiness with my wife.” This was before he returned to the remote village where he used to fight.
Before he returned to this remote village he didn’t think about his old sweetheart and the possibility that he had a son back there. His wife even asked him, “Why do you want to go back?” Cordero answered: “I’m looking for something I’ve lost.” His wife said to him: “Go if you must go, but remember you’re no longer a priest. People will recognize you and react accordingly.” He looked at himself in a mirror, and Cordero saw a matured man. He shook his head and said, “The priest they knew was not a very good one.” And he saw the rebel he became as if he were in the distance. Suddenly sure of himself, he hugged his wife and, in a God-like voice, tried to reassure her. “I’ll be back before our baby is born.” At this point she couldn’t stop him.
Cordero saw that God was not impassive. Rather his God was dynamically involved in lives of the oppressed and exploited. Once he reached the village he knew that he would be reminded again of Jesus’ example of struggling for the poor and the outcast.
From afar, Cordero envisaged a village filled with people who were at last free of tyranny. The reality was the opposite, the opposite of what he had hoped for. This was because the Orapronobis were on a killing spree. Several soldiers…all in uniform…were stopping everyone at a checkpoint before they entered the village. They went through the bus that Cordero was on. They looked over everyone’s papers. The bus had to wait until everyone was cleared. Cordero, more insignificant than he once was, never knew who they were looking for. He tried to avoid looking directly at the soldiers. To seem unconcerned, he stared off into space. Cordero didn’t say anything. He relinquished his papers as calmly as he could and somehow kept his hands from shaking. He didn’t know what was going on, or why it mattered, but wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had told him that they were looking for communists. Vainly he tried to convince himself that all of this was necessary when they had the Orapronobis working for them.
The work of the director came to a halt. More moviegoers would’ve known the ending of the ORAPRONOBIS had it not been banned. At the time there were vigilantes roaming the countryside and incidents of violence resulted in deaths. Cordero, therefore, could’ve easily lost his life. Like the movie star Jess Lapid, who was fast with his fist, Jimmy Cordero could’ve also died by a gun, but unlike Lapid, let’s make him immortal like Jose Rizal.
The Remingtons formed firing squad and stood at attention. The poet, standing facing the bay, waited. Somebody pointed out that it was a clear day, and that he could probably see as far as Susong Dalaga, where the mountain formed a silhouette of a naked woman. Somebody also had the forethought to take a photograph of the execution. Rizal refused the customary blindfold and wanted to face the firing squad. Denying the request, the captain raised his saber in the air and yelled in rapid succession, “Preparen! Apunten! Fuego!” While the poet shouted the last two words of the crucified Christ: “Consummatum est!”
Guns were also pointed at Jimmy Cordero, but he wouldn’t die during a quarrel over a girl. He wouldn’t be shot without any ado or provocation. After Lapid was shot the bit player’s barang tagalong was torn, and he was all bloody in the front. Lapid was then rushed to a hospital but was dead on arrival. Lapid was shot at Lanai nightclub, while celebrating the birthday of actress-singer Vilma Valera, and somehow an actor and future president was implicated. There were rumors circulating that Joseph Estrada had been involved in a quarrel with Lapid over the girl, but police cleared Estrada. Shot in a nightclub in Quezon City, during a quarrel over a girl! Hardly heroic! While in the Rizal’s case, he shouted the last two words of the crucified Christ. Jimmy Cordero could well have equaled this. And Lino Brocka’s hero did attempt to cry out when he was shot. When he realized that he was still alive, he tried to move his mouth and not a sound came out. He thought: “The Orapronobis can’t kill me now. I am dead.” He thought: “I’ve passed over.” He thought: “I’m immortal.” Then he reasoned that if that were true, he would’ve stopped breathing. He wanted to test this and dared them to shoot him again.
Lino Brocka’s sequel that he never made. Jimmy Cordero imagined that majority of Filipino people shared his anger and found courage to stand up to dictatorship and violence. He longed for that day. It astonished Cordero that he was still alive and that he was not even bleeding. After a while he woke up. He hadn’t realized that he had fallen asleep. Now the world seemed to be floating by him. A tear still clung to his cheek. He wasn’t in a hospital and was glad that he had made it known that he wouldn’t run away from a fight.
Cordero asked for more time to finish his work. It seems like he was granted that. He was shot and hadn’t felt pain. The Orapronobis were still out to kill him, but in his mind he was invincible. To develop his physique, he learned how to box and wrestle, and twirl a pistol.
Cordero had no credentials except what he lived through. Training he acquired came directly from months he spent in prison and was tempered by years he served as a priest. He wasn’t totally out to get revenge, or even looking for justice, though he hated rampant violence that resulted in so many deaths. Secretly, he cherished his silver bullet. Lino Brocka would’ve turned him into a superhero. I would’ve eliminated some of his bluster and wouldn’t have given Joseph Estrada the part. Nothing would spook my character. As he had bravely stood against Marcos, he would oppose vigilantism. In certain instances, my hero might use a gun. (It wouldn’t be in self-defense because he had a silver bullet.) I have developed a deep affection for Jimmy Cordero, as I’ve envisioned his transformation and modified his character, much in the same way as I’m drawn to the Lone Ranger. Jimmy Cordero would eventually discover the wearying repetition of violence, which hasn’t stopped and considers it a weakness that he hasn’t been able to stop. The day they buried Jess Lapid “was like a holiday in Guagua.” He had all the top actors as pallbearers: Ronnie Poe, Joseph Estrada, Tony Ferrer, Romano Castelivi, and Lou What’sHisName. I’m not sure Lino Brocka attended. Jess Lapid was no matinee idol until he died. Hit in the arm, Lapid had time to stand up and draw his own gun. Another gunman, however, stopped him with two bullets in the back. Lapid twisted for a shot at the other gunman but the one in front of him shot him again in the stomach. Lapid was buried with his boots on, and it was hard to determine who went to the funeral to mourn.