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ORO, PLATA, MATA: On the PDAF Mega-Scandal (Part 1)

August 21, 2013

For those of us who like old movies, Oro, Plata, Mata is one of the most shocking. You can start your own viewing here, and finish the whole movie from there. But, for the sake of discussion, here it goes:

Two wealthy Negrense families, along with others, are celebrating a debut when the first news of the Japanese invasion comes in. They are alarmed, and retreat from the city to live in a simpler rest house somewhere close to the interior of Negros island. They eventually retreat to a jungle house deep in the Negros forest. The increased contact with those of lower social standing forces the family members to accommodate to them. Once prim-and-proper people, they become more grounded and more practical. Apparently, however, this did not prove to be enough.

One of their menservants becomes frustrated at seeing them trying to still live the easy life, while he and his men toil for them. This person eventually breaks away from them, joins the guerrillas, and then – stunningly – returns to despoil his former masters, whom he and his men subject to practically the worst humiliations he could possibly think of, even raping one of the mothers and taking away the elder daughter Trining (Cherie Gil) to serve as the guerrillas’ “common bitch” (as this generation would put it).

The families are only avenged when Miguel (Joel Torre), the youthful scion of one of the families, decides to help take back Trining and kill all the guerrillas. He succeeds, and after Liberation the families get back together and celebrate their survival – in a simpler manner, but still convivial. The festivities are more subdued, but Trining (in a shot that features her disdaining all the appearances of piety the people around her are trying to revive) remarks that the war has turned them all into animals, and proceeds to seduce a guy using the same pseudo-pious expressions she just disdained.

End of story.

It is obvious why I am bringing this up. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” was probably one of the most controversial sentences of the last month. Chad Osorio got the brunt of the fiber crunch for his opening statement. People flung him so many negative comments – things they wouldn’t even say verbatim in front of a group of people. But they’ve never experienced being in the world of Oro, Plata, Mata, I guess. The present generation has forgotten even recent history and how it unfolds.

The film was meant to be a veiled critique of the Marcos era, at the height of Martial Law. Before this period, then-Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. released his exposés on dubious government spending, election fraud, and especially Oplan Sagittarius – the plot to place the country under Martial Law. The Communist-led student movement also led popular revolts against the government. It was a period of social instability that was only repressed, not solved, by Proclamation 1081. It was a time when the upper-middle class – shorn from the oligarchy instead of rising from the common people, as is the case in Europe and America – were questioning their being oligarchy scions. But young ones being fickle, they sought some refuge in their family name when crunch time came. It actually depended on whether you were a Marcos, a Ver, an Araneta, a Cojuangco – or an Aquino.

We can't be too sure, though. Sheila here might give up everything and be a Carmelite nun.

We can’t be too sure, though. Sheila here might give up everything and be a Carmelite nun.

Those who were Aquinos (like the current President) had no choice but to wail. If your father was jailed just for being a journalist, HOW WOULD YOU OTHERWISE FEEL? If you were a Cojuangco, on the other hand, you were torn, because one of your relatives happens to be that journalist’s wife.

But if you were a Marcos, you’d go to the ends of the earth to proclaim your father’s benevolent deeds. Why not? If you got it, flaunt it. It just so happens that what you got is not only a good share of the new business environment, but also the chance to promote Philippine culture to the world. So, flaunt it!

Of course, no one counted on the Communist Party gaining more members. Most of them were university students who are now either university professors, columnists, government officials (gasp!), or artists. All of them, or most, were disaffected. Even so, most of the people did not resist Martial Law. They wanted some quiet, they wanted to go on with their lives. They didn’t want an overhaul. These few people who wanted to overthrow Marcos and change the system were graduates of that freakin’ university of hippies which hosted the Diliman Commune. Right?

Suddenly, all of them wished that UP was once again more, erm, "mass-based"?

Suddenly, all of them wished that UP was once again more, erm, “mass-based”?

Back to the film. You’d be surprised that there aren’t any actual Japanese troops. That is because the Japanese weren’t the real enemies in this film. But, you might ask, who were the real enemies?

The Wikipedia page for this movie opines that it was fellow Filipinos who were the real enemies: specifically, the guerrillas who were meant to represent the armed forces during Martial Law. People have stories of mistreatment during the Martial Law years, stories of power-tripping Constab men and soldiers of the Philippine Army. The scenes of humiliation depicted in the film were one of the most moving, repelling, shocking scenes. This is how it must have felt for the common folk back then. Of course, the guerrillas in this film were behaving like it was their lawful right to despoil the now-poor families, take away all their remaining provisions, rape their women and force them to trade off everything in a duress-filled game of mahjong. Yes, people, for these guerrillas, it was ALL RIGHT to shame these people to ashes. They took our money, didn’t they? They were living on our expense! Bastards! As for the people who rationalize their conduct and try to explain it to us –

Dear Chad, by "DEAD" we mean you. Sincerely, people who disdain fashion AND photographers.

Dear Chad, by “DEAD” we mean you. Sincerely, people who disdain fashion AND photographers.

If you were someone in the Oro, Plata, Mata world, would you have defended these guerrillas’ actions? Maybe you’d also be retching, but then again, guys, this word war is waged from Starbucks Katips, not from the jungles of Negros. It’s absolutely OK to be ad-hoministic. (Ok, that wasn’t a word, but you get what I’m trying to say.)

You might say, “Hey, we’re the common people, we’re not the military, your analogy is flawed!” Of course, you’re against what Janet Napoles did – all of us are, because she used OUR money to fund her family’s lifestyle, and who knows what other persons might have benefited from that money. But have you even considered (from the beginning of the Third Philippine Republic) that countless others might have done the same or even worse?

Now, if you had had enough of this, you’re free to not go on to Part 2. But I suggest (even beg) you: read this two-part article to the very end, because it is important for each Filipino blogger and netizen (expat or not) to understand that, together, we are very, very powerful in shaping public opinion, and that it is important for all of us to use this to help our country shape up and become better.

(to be continued)

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