Ora pro nobis

Because I’m not into writing anniversary statements these days unlike before, I leave this repost of an entry from my former blog to commemorate the imposition of martial law 36 years ago:

Orapronobis as directed by Lino Brocka, is a film that tackles the awful human rights situation in the country during the Aquino administration.

While the portrayal of the Philippine condition won it critical acclaim abroad, the film never got shown in public theaters in the country at all.

An article (some parts have been left off for the purpose of brevity) from the circa 1980 alternative magazine MIDWEEK explains why:


Lina Brocka’s internationally acclaimed masterpiece has yet to be viewed by its virulent critics


There are quality movies and there are quality movies. In the country’s movie industry, which churns out about 150 films a year, quality movies are few and far in between. Still, they do exist.

Once in a while, we read movie reviews about how good the script was, how natural the actors’ performance were, how crisp the editing, etc. – all elements of a quality movie. But in the Third World context, a film needs to have more than these elements and can only be truly relevant if it reflects present – day realities. To make this kind of movie, technical expertise is not enough. A social agenda is imperative.

This is probable the reason why director Lino Brocka has been acclaimed and his movie Orapronobis has been so controversial. In a world where most movies tend to provide temporary escape from harsh realities of life, his masterpieces stand out because they confront us instead with these realities.

“The movie is mainly about human rights violations under the Aquino administration,” reveals Brocka in an interview in his apartment, just a stone’s throw away from the JUSMAG compound in Quezon City.

Orapronobis – from “Ora pro nobis,” – is the name of the fictional vigilante group in the movie. Scriptwriter Jose F. Lacaba describes it as a “composite portrait modeled on native fanatic cults, chiefly the Ilaga, the Tadtad and the Rock Christ.”

“It is based on actual incidents which came out in the papers, things everybody is familiar with – the Leyte refugees, the ambush of [Polytechnic University of the Philippines president] Nemesio Prudente, the grenade throwing at Bishop Antonio Fortich’s official residence and the killing of Father Tullio Favali,” says Brocka. Additional background information was supplied by reports form the Task Force Detainees, Amnesty International and several publications.

* * *

At the 42nd Cannes Film Festival in France where it was shown last May 22, Orapronobis was among 33 movies from all over the world included in the official selection category. Apparently unaware of the prestige and importance of the festival, Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTCRB) chairman Manuel Morato claimed that “being selected for Cannes is no special honor.”

Brocka says the film critics who were at the festival last May were of the opinion that Orapronobis could have won a prize had it competed. The theme of the festival was human rights and it was curious why the movie, which is about human rights violations in the Philippines, wasn’t entered in competition.

As Jacques Siclier of Le Monde said, “Fight For US is a film with a great sense of emotional urgency. It is a call for liberty, for respect for human rights. It is a grand film with realism, lyricism and passion.”

Brocka would later learn from Paris informants that festival organizers did not want to give so much attention to Orapronobis because they wanted to avoid the ruckus it could create during President Corazon Aquino’s July visit to France.

The story of this socially relevant movie, ironically, was originally meant for a very commercial venture. “During my ConCom days, I went to Misamis Oriental with Pete Lacaba and we happened to pass by a town where a massacre of 18 men, women and children had just occured. I got interested because I saw the bodies strewn all over the street, That is when I started asking questions about the Tadtad, etc. The idea then started as a very commercial venture originally intended for Regal Films. I was thinking of an action drama for Philip Salvador but nothing came of it.”

So Brocka was quite surprised when Bernadette Films called from Paris and requested him to do a movie specifically for Cannes. “They had no requirements as to the hiring of foreign actors, they just said, ‘We want a typical Lino Brocka movie.’ Typical in the sense that these are the movies that they have associated with me in Cannes, so I said yes.”

At that point, Brocka had already decided that he wanted to do a movie about the vigilantes and the military. He then talked with scriptwriter Lacaba, September last year. Says Brocka: “it was quite mainly because the material is there already. it’s in headlines, it’s happening.”

* * *

The film starts with vigilantes shooting at a foreign missionary, blowing his brain out. The scene ends with Bembol Roco, who plays the role of Kumander Kontra, the vigilante’s leader, holding part of the brain close to his mouth. The credits then appear in the next scene, where actual footage of the EDSA revolution is shown.

Phillip Salvador plays the role of Father Jimmy Cordero, an ex-priest who went underground during the martial law period and was eventually arrested. The start of the movie shows him being released as a political detainee soon after EDSA. In the course of the movie, he joins a human-rights fact-finding mission and learns that a peasant woman (Gina Alajar), in whose village he hid during his underground days, has borne him a son.

In the end, Esper and some of her fellow villagers are held captive by Kumander Kontra, who rapes Esper and kills her son – Jimmy Cordero’s son. She succeeds in wounding Kontra, who guns her down and massacres her fellow villagers. Django (Abbo de la Cruz), Kontra’s second in command, finishes Kontra off, then cuts open the man’s chest. This is followed by a shot suggesting that Kontra’s hear is about to be eaten by a member of the Orapronobis cult.

Jimmy Cordero’s heart breaks when he finally sees his dead son, who never had the chance to know him as a father. He picks up the body of his dead child and embraces it, anger and grief etched on his face. The last scene shows Cordero dialing the number of a friend in the underground.

* * *

Filming of Orapronobis started January 1988. It only took the celebrated director 22 days to finish the movie, which was entirely shot here. After the dubbing, however, the film was sent to Paris for the post-production phase, which includes final editing, sound mixing, scoring and printing.

In an interview published in the International Herald Tribune last May 30, Brocka was quoted saying, “I expect trouble with this film. I was very honest with every single member of the cast. I told them what the movie was about and asked them to please say it was about religious sects and faith healing if asked by authorities.”

“What’s funniest was when we were shooting scenes portraying the Orapronobis sect. They were carrying banners saying ‘Down with Communism! Communism is Satanism!’ Well, the military actually helped control the crowds. Oh, they’re shooting a film for us, they said.”

Now Brocka confirms he did not have any difficulty doing the film. “There was really no problem, we did it very fast and everything went on very smoothly. Everybody, including the cast, cooperated and everything went smoothly.”

Aside from Phillip Salvador, Gina Alajar and Bembol Roco, the film also stars Dina Bonnevie, R Herrera and theater people such as Pen Medina, Joel Lamangan, Ginnie Sobrino, Ray Ventura and many others.

The film can be viewed online here.


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