Flashes from the past in ‘Katips’

Many reviews have been written about the musical “Katips: The Movie” – some rave, some the opposite, about the way the story is told, the script, the music, the actors, the roles, what it is and what it is not, what is represented and what is missing, etc.

This piece is not a review.

I went to the cinema on the second day of the screening of “Katips” (short for Katipunan) and having already heard and read various opinions, mainly from those who had lived through the dark years of the martial regime and the dictatorship of Marcos that serve as the backdrop for “Katips”. I sat in the dark cinema, open to how he would talk to me and even entertain me (with his music).

After hearing about the gory torture scenes that had viewers cringing and looking away, I thought to myself: I won’t blink.

I didn’t blink. I looked at the bloody parts through my tears. Because I remembered. “Katips” became a movie in my mind. I remembered people I know/knew who suffered severe cruelties at the hands of their torturers, executioners, rapists and murderers. Unlike most parts of the film, these bloody moments had no music, just sounds of cruelty and agony, played in the dark and behind closed doors where no one could offer relief.

If you had watched “The Passion of the Christ” by Mel Gibson, you would know what extreme cruelty looks like, but inflicted in broad daylight so all can see and hear the utter humiliation of the saint named Yeshua. The long flogging scenes made me ask in disbelief, “Why isn’t he dead yet?” But I digress.

Such scenes, and those of “Katips”, inspire meditation, but I don’t want to go into spiritual depths here. Allow me to say that “Katips” gave me unforgettable moments; it gave flashes of the past when courage shone, when the young, the brave and the daring pushed the limits in the name of freedom.

My memories were played out, staged, if you will, through songs and choreography in front of me. Memories of particular people I knew and events where I was present, some that I had written about.

Through the character of Aleta, I remembered Q, R and S, who were raped by their captors. The scenes of torture reminded me of community organizer “Richie”, who guided our group through the hills of central Luzon. One day I learned that Richie had been killed. I went to his wake with a nun-friend. There was only his sister at the small funeral home. Crying, she told us that Richie’s body had been dragged into the village by a military vehicle. I could see the rope marks on Richie’s neck.

I remember having attended the autopsy of the activist who was shot during a rally. Dr. Sylvia dela Paz and Franciscan Sister Carmen Balazo watched with me. I took pictures of the autopsy. I still have them.

The water cannons in the movie reminded me of how the Metrocom hosed us down on Rizal Avenue. The water contained red dye. After being scattered, we ran to Sta. Cruz Church for safety. Sister Annunciata Salamatin, a Good Shepherd sister, bought dozens of T-shirts so we could put on dry clothes and avoid being arrested. I changed clothes inside the confessional. Later, at the Convent of the Good Shepherd in Paco, Sister Christine Tan proudly displayed her rose-stained white veil.

I remember tear gas. Photojournalist Willy Perez has a photo of me “abandoned” alone on the island of the street in Mendiola, enveloped in swirling smoke. Erik de Castro from Reuters gave me two photos of me being dragged by the Metrocom.

I remember the mountains I climbed (in Abra, Kalinga) to reach frightened villagers; the wilderness of Mindanao where we had to exhume missing people. Thanks, Melvyn Calderon, for the photo of me barefoot and the survey team crossing a stream.

I remember driving along Kamagong Street in Makati with the late Chit Estella and being pulled over by armed cops (“Baba! Get off!”). My car was full of the brand new “Iron Hand, Velvet Glove” from the Ecumenical Justice and Peace Movement. Sister Christine Tan and Fr. Ralph Salazar came to the rescue.

I remember going through two military interrogations (1980 and 1983), the 10 million libel suit brought by a general who wasn’t even in my story, the human rights lawyers who defended me, me and my editor.

The haunting music of “Katips”, composed for millennials, is the movie soundtrack for my generation by the younger generation. Thank you, director-actor Vincent Tañada and the cast and crew of “Katips.”

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