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[IRL] WATCH A DANGEROUS LIFE

By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento



The early publicity stills for that factually distorted movie about the last days of the first Marcos presidency show a crowd with torches marching upon Malacañan. That was never Mendiola, but it could be old Transylvania: when angry villagers storm Count Dracula’s castle, or Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. Yet the truth about what really happened in the last week of February 1986 is out there, co-existing on the free marketplace that is YouTube. The truth is never simple. Layering it with lies may hide but never change what really happened. Alas, not everyone has the discernment to distinguish the truth, nor the critical thinking skills to realize nabudol na naman sila.

Your brain will be so much the better and wiser for watching the 1988 film A DANGEROUS LIFE (directed by Robert Markowitz; written by David Williamson) on YouTube https://youtu.be/ppgzuE1jfAg or https://youtu.be/RNhVry_a7pQ This is free. The YouTube film is a shortened, but still coherent version of the 6-part Australian cable TV mini-series. It opens with authentic news footage of the late Sen. Benigno Aquino’s last interview before he was killed by a bullet fired at close range into the back of his head, while he was descending the airplane stairs, followed by a military escort. More real life film clips such as the Manila Film Center disaster, the poverty of Smoky Mountain, are periodically interspersed throughout a DANGEROUS LIFE. They show how the Aquino Assassination marked the start of the decline and fall of the Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. presidency.


The events unravel from the viewpoint of two fictional but credible newsmen: Tony O’Neil (Gary Busey) a reporter for an American media company, and the Filipino publisher Ben Balamo (Jaime Fabregas). Balamo is a composite of all the brave, independent publishers like the Roces brothers of Manila Times and Teodoro Locsin Sr. of the Philippines Free Press, as well as journalists such as Amando Doronila, Max Soliven, Luis Beltran and Juan Mercado, who all held the line against the first Marcos Martial Law. These fictional characters are a necessary device to compress the convoluted history of 3 years into 3 hours. Other major characters are real people: Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. (Ruben Rustia), Imelda Romualdez Marcos (Tessie Tomas), Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile (Joonee Gamboa), Gen. Fabia Ver (Mervyn Samson), Jaime Cardinal Sin (Rolando Tinio) and Corazon Cojuangco Aquino (Laurice Guillen). The much longer cable TV mini-series version includes the murder of Antique governor Evelio Javier (Junix Inocian).


The scene where a sympathetic and real life Metrocom Gen. Prospero Olivas (Vic Diaz) secretly meets with Ben Balamo to warn him that a 2nd martial law declaration is in the offing rings true. Gen. Olivas shows Balamo a file with the names of 10,000 Marcos Oppositionists who would be rounded up and detained on Caballo Island near Corregidor. Some of the names had asterisks, indicating that they were to be pushed out of aircraft to be permanently “neutralized.” That was the heinous end met by the desaparecido Primitivo Mijares’ only son Boyet, age 15. Mijares, who wrote THE CONJUGAL DICTATORSHIP, was once Marcos Sr.’s chief propagandist.


The film recreates events which landed key blows that decisively undermined the first Marcos dictatorship. As the moderate Opposition grew, the First Lady herself pleads with Cardinal Sin to stop the CBCP from issuing a statement against their oppressive regime. Cardinal Sin was no dictator and points out that he is only one out of 104 bishops. The Bishops call on the faithful to actively resist an evil government by peaceful means, shaking the foundations of the Marcos Sr. monolith. The US press conference where Marcos Sr. agrees to call for the Snap Elections which proved to be his undoing is also recreated. Even the deliberations of the Agrava Commission which investigated the Aquino Assassination are here.


What is a Palace without intrigues? Here the power play is between Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fabian Ver. The film details how the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) came about. Perhaps the film struck too close to home. According to Wikipedia: On February 23, 1988, Enrile filed a complaint with the Makati RTC, alleging that the continued production of the miniseries without his consent was a violation of his right to privacy. Enrile’s case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which decided with lightning speed (less than a month) to allow production of A DANGEROUS LIFE to continue, reasoning that Enrile, as a senator, was a public figure and thus his right to privacy is more narrow, and cannot be used to override the "publication and dissemination of matters of public interest." However, to avoid further delay, the EDSA People Power scenes had already been shot in Sri Lanka, and some of the Camp Crame scenes were actually shot in Sydney.


Though based on historical truth, A DANGEROUS LIFE is not a documentary. Thus there is the requisite romance angle between the American journalist and the activist Celie Balamo (Dina Bonnevie). Celie goes underground after her brother is killed at Mendiola, and she is abducted by the military and tortured in a safe house. The thousands of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Marcos Sr. intelligence and armed forces were said to be the best recruitment effort in getting students, intellectuals, laborers and peasants to join the CPP-NPA. Red tagging was going strong even then. On the Snap Election campaign trail, Cory Aquino has to repeatedly make it clear that she is not a Communist ally.


The film shows how Marcos Sr. really wanted his soldiers to fire into the crowds massing at EDSA but it was their troop commanders who desisted. Neither of the presidential Juniors is included in the film though. Particularly rich is the scene on the private jet taking the disgraced Marcoses to exile in Hawaii. FEM Sr. dozes in the front of the cabin while the First Lady, a known insomniac, is way in the rear. Realizing that Honolulu shopping and the social life isn’t going to be what she’s grown accustomed to, she begins wistfully singing “New York, New York. . .” Today, we have another Marcos president and a First Lady who describes herself as “very New York.” Truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same.



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Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.

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