cartoonist Nonoy Marcelos Tadhana (Destiny) is
possibly the first-ever, full-length animated feature made in
the Philippines. Based on a series of volumes on Philippine
history officially written by Ferdinand Marcos (unofficially
written by a whole team of historians), and produced by his
eldest daughter, Imee, the film was broadcast on September 21,
1978 - the sixth anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law.
supposed to be replayed and even have a theatrical release,
but for reasons never made clear that broadcast was it; it was
never seen again. Today, no known print or negative is left,
only a video copy recorded off that broadcast by Mr. Teddy Co,
who lent his copy to Mowelfund for their French-Filipino Animation
worked for three months on the project - not many and not long
compared to what goes into a standard Disney feature animation
(hundreds of artists working for years), but almost unheard
of in the Philippines, where animation is a cottage industry
- literally a one-man, part-time job. The animation is crude,
though compared to whats been done previously and even
recently - Geirry Garrcias Adarna comes to mind - the
film stands up surprisingly well. Garrcias film may have
smoother motion (just barely) but Tadhana has a distinct,
even unique, sensibility (Adarnas is of the simpering
conceived of the film as a series of vignettes, often experimental,
sometimes surreal. It has to be - a consistently realist style
would have been too expensive. Marcelo turns this idiosyncrasy
into an advantage: this is probably the funniest, least stuffy
lesson on Philippine history ever given. When Magellans
galleons sail across the Pacific they sway right and left like
fat-bellied matrons (to the tune of the Star Wars theme); when
Lapu-Lapu lops off Magellans head it drops to the sands
and sings (in Yoyoy Villames voice): "Mother, mother
I am sick; call da doctor very quick." Marcelos film
is less an account of history than it is a gleefully, unashamedly
jaundiced interpretation of it - 60 minutes of editorial cartoons,
that while its not a literally faithful adaptation of
her fathers books, its faithful to their themes.
Ive dipped into the books enough to remember that Marcos
recognizes (or rather, his historians recognize) the centuries
of repression inflicted by the Catholic Church and Spain. But
if Tadhana takes its cue from the books in targeting
church and state, its humor is uniquely Marcelos. His
near-Swiftian wit turns microcosmos into macrocosmos (as in
his comic strip Ikabod, where a mouse and friends represent
Philippine society), and compels him to bite the hand that feeds
him (Marcos, as skewered in Ikabod, Tisoy, and others).
is the Blood Pact, traditionally depicted by Filipino artists
as a solemn, historically momentous moment. In Tadhana the
pact is signed during the opening cocktails of the Sandugo
(One Blood) Art Exhibit; boiling blood is served as punch
while a manananggal (a womans severed upper half,
flapping about on a pair of batwings) and a tikbalang (a
half-man, half-horse - drawn, I think, by cartoonist Edd Aragon)
gets down to some funky disco music.
riding a water buffalo that roars like a Harley Davidson, crashes
the party and demands to know why he wasnt invited; when
he peers at the exhibited paintings - examples of Western abstract
and post-modern art - his brain reels and undergoes a hallucinogenic
the best part of the film - my favorite, anyway - is the relationship
sketched between parish priest and native, animated to the tune
of Freddie Aguilars mournful "Anak" (Child).
The choice is hilariously ironic; Aguilar sings of an ungrateful
child and his sacrificing parents while onscreen its the
priest - the native childs spiritual and biological father
- who is boorish, abusive, greedy and ungrateful.
confronts his mother, a veiled babaylan (sorceress) and
the priests mistress; she has wept so much from grief
that she has to wring her veil dry. Cut to a close-up of the
childs face - now that of a young man - as tears stream
down his own cheeks. Aguilars melody wails on, but suddenly
satire is transmuted into something potent and unsaid, something
not so very different from genuine tragedy.
20 minutes chronicles an epic war between native and conquistador,
an over-ambitious, over-extended sequence stuffed to the brim
with all kinds of animation techniques, to the tune of Procol
Harums violent "Conquistador." Panoramic drawings
of native warriors and Spanish soldiers poised to attack; godlike
overhead shots of armies surging like tides; images scratched
into the film print itself, depicting elemental chaos...
tempers his anti-Western stance with a remarkably clear-eyed
view of the pre-Hispanic Filipino; he knows not all blame can
be laid at the feet of foreign devils. The datu (chieftain)
is an incoherent drunk who considers everything useless and
shares his counsel with a jar of rice liquor; his manservant
is a craven backbiter constantly aware of the fact that if the
datu dies, he will be buried with him. Both are hardly
the heroic warriors of Filipino history books; rather, theyre
the same funny characters that spill out the margins of Marcelos
newspaper strips: as flawed, vainglorious, deluded - as recognizably
human, in short - as you or me.
before, Tadhana was broadcast once, then apparently never
shown again. Why? Did the Church, on seeing the anti-clerical
bias, move to have all prints and video copies destroyed? Did
Marcos, watching as the natives cried "Makialam!"
(roughly, "Join us!") against their oppressors, feel
uncomfortable enough to want to suppress it? We may never know...
intriguing question: if the series had continued, how would
Marcelo have handled recent history - particularly the Marcos
years, up to his declaration of martial law? Would he have tried
smuggling anti-Marcos criticism under the censors noses,
as in his later cartoons? Again we may never know, and perhaps
Marcelo himself intended it that way, stopping far enough in
the past while its still safe.
what we have, here and now, is a video copy of the remote past,
brought to glorious, comic life by one of our greatest satirist.
Is the film still relevant? More than ever, what with parish
priests still molesting parishioners, wealthy patriarchs still
abusing laborers, and the all-mighty West still oppressing us
all ("War on Terrorism" anyone?). The film ends with
the glowing circular logo of Marcoss Bagong Lipunan
(New Society) - symbol of Marcelos patron without
whom the film would never have been made, the same time its
a symbol of the 20-year dictatorship he would end up fighting
through his comics. The irony, I hope, isnt lost on us.
April 2003. The above also
appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine
Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.