Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jon Villarin's "Sa Ngalan ng Ama, Ina at Mga Anak" - Of Bad Propaganda and Why Some Deaths Are Well Deserved

Baleleng” is a popular folk song in Mindanao and the Visayas that tells of a young man’s unrequited yearning for a damsel named Leleng. But Leleng’s in love with a guy named Tangkay who may travel far, and may not feel the same as she. (The language is believed to be Tausug, not Visayan, though some words are familiar.) Such romanticism resonates deeply in the hearts of southland folks. And why not? Nothing is more universal. Would this unabashed profession of affection have anything attributable to one of the country’s most notorious criminal syndicates? Highly unlikely. But many names and faces could be deceitful. Try “Deniece”.  

Let’s move three decades into the past. The 80’s reeked with tumult. The despotic Marcos regime took liberties beyond the realm of human rights. They looted personal freedoms, and made the lives of others disposable. Soon enough, communist rebels grew exponentially. They imposed their scurrilous rules among innocent folks who had to pay revolutionary taxes at gunpoint – unless they physically participate. What could have started with a noble ideology soon fostered an armed group that translated to nothing but hooliganism and harassment. NPA, MILF, MNLF, ASG, BIFF… name them differently but make no mistake, they are all bandits! Desperately caught in the middle were innocent civilians who bore the brunt of this obloquious state.

With the proddings of the government, Ongkoy Parojinog (Robin Padilla) was approached by the military to head a right-wing vigilante group called “Alsa Masa” drafted to fight the excesses of the oppressive communist rebels.

The military needed help, and grassroot force could provide solution to their dilemma. Ongkoy was the perfect leader. He left his rebel past in Lawis (Zamboanga del Norte) to start afresh with his wife Indah (Mariel Rodriguez-Padilla) and their three sons Aldong, Ardut and Nato (Matthew, RJ and Daniel Padilla respectively) in Ozamis, Negros Occidental.

With Robin Hood mentality (he’s shown warning the rebels against taking from the “masa”), Ongkoy gets the allegiance of the well-oppressed masa who soon grew to immense numbers (at some point, their population reached 20,000).

To Ongkoy’s credit, he’s made deals with Misamis’ rebels, issuing veiled warnings to drive them away. His rendezvous with Ka Romeo (Christopher de Leon), “ang tuta” ni Joma", was particularly prophetic. “Sa inyo na ang Surigao Norte at Sur, sa akin ang Misamis,” he proposed before each left with a “mapayapang araw”. Whoever trespasses his territory or hurts his people, as when his childhood friend Erning (Pen Medina) gets assassinated, deserves his vengeful wrath. He even takes his children out to war. Protecting his territory becomes serious matter. And Ongkoy is fearless. An amulet, in fact, keeps him safe. “Di siya mamamatay pero magiging kahoy siya,” so goes the urban legend. Huh?  

For two years, since its 1986 inception, Ongkoy’s group was invincible. The movement became so popular that splinter groups mushroomed all over Mindanao. Even the New York Times reported the 1987 gunning down of a notorious Communist hit man in Agdao, Davao. It was an apocryphal event that further boosted the counter-insurgency movement spreading across southern Philippines. It also inspired the founding of other groups like the Nakasaka of Davao del Sur.

But war is a vicious cycle. Whoever lives by the rule of the gun dies by it. When tragedy struck in the Parojinog household, Ongkoy’s boys were sent to Manila to join the urban arm of “Alsa Masa” which, at this time (1990), had to officially disband due to the Human Rights checks of the Aquino government. Little did the boys realize that their counter-insurgent group has morphed into an organized criminal syndicate called “Kuratong Baleleng” (accordingly renamed to keep the spotlight away from its noble beginnings).

With the guidance of Damian (Bela Padilla, who did convincingly well), the boys were ushered into a motley of bank robberies, smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, drug trade and illegal gambling. They eventually found themselves behind bars, but not for long. Weren't they set up due to their resistance? (That is, if this cinematic thread were to be believed.) Meanwhile, Kuratong Baleleng flourished. One fateful day, on the 18th of May (1995), 11 members of the crime syndicate perished in the hands of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, led by Panfilo Lacson, in what could be one of the most controversial encounters between a criminal group and the authorities.

Director Jon Villarin weaves a provocative tale that follows the rise and fall (and rise) of the invincible Parojinogs of Misamis. His sprawling narrative vista is a compelling, if a tad disjointed, series of events that seem to herald the sugarcoated heroics of a character (Ongkoy Parojinog) too caricaturish to be believed. Villarin employs broad narrative strokes that ultimately comes off like a propaganda for a political clan that to this day continues to rule over Misamis (In the epilogue, the Parojinog boys became victorious Mayors and provincial board members in Misamis). Remember, this was a guy who moved underground with the rebels of Zamboanga before he migrated to Misamis (and got cajoled by the men of “the President” herself – “nakikiusap ang Pangulo”). This was a man who namedropped “kapayapaan” every chance he got, but whose family carried heavy artillery every where they went. That Parojinog wasn’t privy to the criminal activities of “Kuratong Baleleng” that operated in Manila is highly dubious. After all, why organize another group far from his Misamis base after “Alsa Masa” got essentially dissolved?

A smattering of flashbacks ties up Ongcoy, Indah and best friend Erning’s back story, but the time line was confusing. I had to watch the movie twice to get comfortable with its chronology. It didn't help that the script was riddled with adventitious tales that only made the narrative broth more convoluted than necessary. Nato’s teenage romance could be stricken out, but Daniel Padilla’s current stature required that he gets his anecdote as well. Kylie Padilla (Anna, the military operative planted within the rebel group) required her own apologue with Aljur Abrenica, her lover in the kilusan (movement).


There’s something misguided about a leader who wishes the “masa” well, but wouldn't think twice if the irreproachable Taipans get aggrieved or bastardized. There are people who strive hard to get to where they are. Why do people scoff at the successful few? This mind set stinks of medieval justice because such financial triumph should rightfully inspire others to strive harder. A good man is one who treats everyone, regardless of financial standing, with due decency and fairness. The Parojinogs lived well. Why should they be excluded from the harassment that befell the Taipans and other rich families?

Robin Padilla returns to his 90’s brand of posturing that I suffered a thousand saccadic eye movements every time he postured on screen. Did the ridiculously billed Nino Muhlach – as acting coach - envision this zombified personality? Looking as youthful as ever, Padilla lurched into his tough-guy stance from scene one to his morbid comeuppance at the sabungan. Whether at home or blasting enemies in the field, Padilla sported a robotic deportment: slicked back hair, piercing gaze, furrowed forehead, pouting lips, flaring nostrils, heaving chest, and the masquerading cowboy walk that reminded me of E.R. Ejercito’s Asiong Salonga.

The check-point scene is a notable study. Their family convoy stops at a check point. "Maganda gabi po, sir," the man greets Robin. "Mukhang ang dami nating kargamento ah. Military po ba kayo?" Instead of being congenial like the peace-loving man that he supposedly is, Padilla postures with fierce gaze and equally caustic response. If I were the guard, I wouldn't take his arrogant demeanor sitting down. Angas eh. He was just being asked. It was after all dark and authorities were right to interrogate the nature of travel at that time of night.


There is stark contrariety from Padilla’s performance in Joyce Bernal’s10,000 Hours”. You’d have thought that, after his many years in the business, Padilla would learn how to relax as an actor, right? He’s stuck in his action-star past, twaddling with memories of Alega Gang, Delima Gang, Grease Gun Gang, Barumbado, Anak ni Baby Ama, and even Maging Sino Ka Man’s Carding. Sixteen years hence and the swagger and attitude are similar. If there was a posturing contest somewhere, he’d win hands down for his mechanized depiction of Octavio Parojinog, Jr. The sad truth is, Padilla’s performance is the movie’s biggest drawback, which is a pity. His “laging galit” stance repels any form of empathy from his audience. I never rooted for him because he looked like he’s had 20 years worth of tantrum.  

Now this wooden portrayal has rubbed off on the younger generation of Padillas. Arjay is particularly prone to this preposterous posturing. When he’s mad, his nostrils come alive; he grimaces as though a beetle bit him, and his handsome face turns demonic, seemingly possessed by what he conjures as superlative acting. Less is more, even in action films. While Bela Padilla does better, hers was a similar characterization from her role in "10,000 Hours". Remember the journalist who carried guns around Amsterdam, shot a Dutch police investigator and got away without getting arrested? 

Mariel Rodriguez-Padilla’s role as Indah is mostly ornamental so you wonder why she shares titular role with Robin, aside from the fact that she has producing credits. A scene where she was holding a rifle was too awkward to wash down.

When Ongkoy’s story ceases, Indah likewise disappears from the frame without much fanfare. She closes the door on her sons – and drives them away to Manila for a life of crime. That is some mother. In another scene, she chastises the noisy children playing on her balcony then she walks to the front. Close up shot. Then you see her grin. Huh? Galit nga tapos nakangiti. Cinema verite indeed. But she does well when, in one scene, she gets out of bed fully naked and walks towards her equally naked husband. You see, wrinkled backsides are always a plus in action films, debah?  

Queenie Padilla and Royette Padilla were supposed to be in the cast, but I couldn't find them. Royette, supreme commander of "H-World", could be one of the henchmen who got blasted during one of the hundred encounters. BB Gandanghari could have been the perfect forest amazona, swinging from baging to baging, debah? (Besides, didn't he play the same in TV5's Alex Gonzaga teleserye, "Enchanted Garden"?) Kathryn Bernardo was supposed to play a girl named Sarah, but negotiations apparently fell through. Karla Estrada, Daniel’s mother, plays Erning’s wife. Other stars doing walk-on parts include Dina Bonnevie as the elder Indah, Rommel Padilla, Joko Diaz, Dennis Padilla, Jao Mapa, Christian Vasquez, Sylvia Sanchez, Lito Pimentel, Mike Flores, Bugoy Carino, Chacha Canete and Ronnie Lazaro (as Amado Buang, the leader of “Batang Cebu” gang).

There are beautifully shot scenes. A jeep cruises into the dirt road while the green Malindang mountain range stands majestically in the background. That scene alone spoke of a hundred stories. The Parojinog's arrival in their new home in Ozamis was another note-worthy moment. My favorite would be the revenge scene involving Erning's killers. A jeep of armed henchmen saunters into town as night time falls, then each household starts beating their bamboo. The rhythmic sound creates an atmosphere of foreboding, providing an eerie overture to an impending battle.


The film has been Rated B by the Cinema Evaluations Board, but this is no surprise. When has this patronizing group of mostly jobless movie folks ever delivered a truthful, albeit appropriate rating? Unless they're really a bunch of imbeciles, they seem to have forgotten that rating movies should be based on quality, not friendship nor association. Cesar Apolinario's awkward "Dance of the Steelbars" got an "A" but it was cinematic hogwash draped in sulky melodramatic clutter. Didn't Mark Reyes' horrendous "Tween Academy" get a "B" a few years back? And that fantatrash called "Mulawin" got a stupendous "A" as well. Remind me again why the government hasn't scrapped this purposeless industry arm? Probably to provide work for Jackie Aquino? We could save a sizable chunk of taxpayer's money if we do away with this white elephant. Or we could donate the CEB evaluators' salaries to the Yolanda victims. Now that's how you put money to good use.  

There were several points that, prior to watching the film, made "Sa Ngalan..." interesting. The movie star allure of the Padillas, the cinematography, the richly saturated cinematic canvas, and the scenic Malindang mountain range made me want to rush to the cinema to watch Villarin’s directorial debut. Clearly, these weren't enough. But if there’s one thing that “Sa Ngalan ng Ama, Ina at Mga Anak” succeeded in doing, it’s the stentorian reminder of why Pinoy action films died a natural death long time ago. May it rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

Trivia: CEB gave A to Gil Portes' Liars. Gave no rating to JP Laxamana's Babagwa. Both were watched by CEB at the same time.

Cathy Pena said...

Isn't Gil Portes a former member (if he isn't now) of the CEB?

I loved his "Mulanay" - and even his "Two Funerals" (which is debatably his...) but Portes' current works are too amateurish, with narratives so disjointed. I hated "Liars" and "Ang Huling Tag-Araw ni Twinkle". Portes has ceased to become a good film maker. I think age really has a way of dulling the mind. Remember National Artist Eddie Romero's "Faces of Love" (2007) and "Teach Me to Love" (2008)? They were execrable! Why Portes keeps winning slots in these film festivals is beyond me. We should put him out to pasture.

"Babagwa" is in my 2013 Ten Best Films. That "Babagwa" can't even get a "B" in CEB (at the very least) is testament to this group's idiocy. They are opportunistic MORONS! Now how can we exterminate these cockroaches? :)

Anonymous said...

Celso ad Castillo's digital films are awful too.

Cathy Pena said...

Exactly! "Bahay ng Lagim" gave me the headache of the century.

Anonymous said...

old directors seem to feel they're entitled to some 'magical ability' or prestige just for being old. they had a film festival dedicated to them with the questionable title of 'masters edition'.


Anonymous said...

nung napanood ko pa lang ang trailer nito parang nakakatawa lang. isa na namang pelikula na si robin padilla ay ginaganap ang sarili nya. nung panahong ako ay isang 'impressionable young man' nung dekada 90s, parang nakakatuwa at nakakabilib ang ganitong klaseng karakter. pero ngayong matanda na ako at nakikita kong wala pa ring nagbago sa posturang ito, parang, nakakatawa lang. walang pinagkaiba sa cartoon character e.

hindi ko malalamang me bahid din pala ng 'historical relevance' tong pelikulang to kundi dahil sa rebyu nato. akala ko showcase lang ng padilla roster of stars e


Cathy Pena said...


They should have been more prudent, judicious in using the term, "Masters". It should have been "The Veterans Series" - or "The Old Hand Festival". ;)

Re: Sa Ngalan, it is a mystery how Robin has preserved his youthful vibe/looks, but what's more inscrutable is how he hasn't seem to learn anything about "acting" after all these years. "10,000 Hours" was, it turns out, a fluke. A Best Actor, after all, doesn't wear a single facial expression from start to finish.