Across four days in February 1986, public demonstrations across the Philippines led to the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos, ending 21 years of dictatorial rule. As the world watched, millions of people took to the streets, making their voices heard through acts of peaceful protest. On Feb. 25, with nary a shot fired, the President and his family would flee the country, setting a global precedent for non-violent regime change. History would remember those events as the EDSA People Power Revolution.
Of course, given enough time, distance, and/or misinformation, most any historical event can be forgotten—some lessons learned are effective only for as long as people remember them. But one person who refuses to forget is award-winning filmmaker Joel Lamangan (The Flor Contemplacion Story, Rainbow’s Sunset). Known for his willingness to tackle controversial material, his latest film Oras de Peligro is defiantly set during the turbulent, fateful days of People Power.
Speaking with PhilSTAR L!fe at the premiere, Lamangan stated that he generally doesn’t do political films as they are rarely produced by mainstream producers. This time, he shared that he was lucky to find collaborators in the form of newly-minted producers Atty. Howie Calleja and Alvi Sionco, who were interested in telling an inherently political story that steered clear of melodrama or embellishment.
“It’s very hard to make a historical film, lalo na one about the most recent past. May mga tao na buhay noong panahon na 'yun. Alam nila 'yung katotohanan, hindi ka pwede magsinungaling dahil may nakaranas, kaya it’s so hard. You have to stick to the truth of the time, and that’s what we did,” he said.
A People Power veteran, Lamangan shared that he spent those days on the ground with fellow filmmaker Lino Brocka (Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag) and others, making the material near his heart—literally: “I put 100% into this. Muntik nga ako atakihin sa puso! But I pushed through, and I finished the film. I want people to watch this, so they will know EDSA, so they will know history.”
The film opens on the eve of People Power; following two decades of continuous rule, President Marcos has won his latest bid for reelection. Despite widespread accusations of cheating, the loyalty of the Armed Forces and the Philippine Constabulary’s dreaded Metropolitan Command (MetroCom) ensures that the dictator isn’t going anywhere soon.
'Oras de Peligro' is not the final word on the People Power Revolution or the events leading up to it, but it does provide a means to facilitate understanding between generations, and, hopefully, generate discourse about our shared history.
Hardworking jeepney driver Dario (Allen Dizon, Latay, Twilight Dancers) and his wife, Beatriz (Cherry Pie Picache, TV’s Iisa Pa Lamang) are trying to put their two children through school, advising them to steer clear of the Metrocom, who are cracking down on suspected dissenters. When Dario is slain in broad daylight by Metrocom officers after he tried to stop a holdup gone wrong, Beatriz and the remaining family are forced to contend with a system specifically designed to keep them in check. But with rallies, marches, and protests springing up around the country, who will help them bury their beloved patriarch?
In centering their story around ordinary people, longtime Lamangan collaborators Boni Ilagan and Eric Ramos avoid favoring any political party or personality, letting events speak for themselves while shining a light on the people that history tends to sidestep. Beatriz and her family’s struggles are front and center, with archival footage to drive home the narrative and provide much-needed context.
The youth are represented here by TV actors Therese Malvar (Little Princess) and Dave Bornea (Alyas Robin Hood) who play Nerissa and Jimmy, respectively. As Dario’s grieving children, they have little time to process their loss, much less comprehend their status as the generation that will live with their countrymen’s actions. The film’s emotional core, of course, is Picache, whose portrayal of the grieving Beatriz anchors the proceedings. We feel for her when she realizes that her final interaction with Dario was an argument, and we feel just as strongly when she decides she won’t allow anyone to desecrate his memory.
Rounding out the cast was noted activist Mae Paner (Juana C. The Movie) as Beatriz’s employer, Jessa, a wealthy woman who devotes her resources to the uprising while providing welcome levity in her scenes. Humor notwithstanding, Paner was all business when she reaffirmed Lamangan’s desire to be truthful in their film’s presentation, citing a desire for young Filipinos to learn from their narrative: “There are many narratives going around now, everybody has their version of EDSA, and we are here to show ours from the point of view of ordinary citizens so future generations can learn from what we went through.”
It was interesting to observe the reactions of younger audience members at the screening this writer attended. Stunned, they watched, open-mouthed at shots of (somewhat) familiar cityscapes overrun with uncountable hordes, all willing to defend democracy with their lives. Even for those who were alive back then, it was impossible not to be moved by what was onscreen. The treatment may not be subtle, but recent events have shown that we’ve moved beyond a state where delicacy would suffice.
Regardless of affiliation, Filipinos need to know what happened in those days, and if that means punctuating sequences with shots of actual protestors facing down actual armed soldiers, so be it. Rightly or wrongly, those people weren’t just fighting for their rights as citizens, but for the soul of their country. It’s a sad sign of the times that films like this are still needed, but it’s definitely a good thing that there are artists brave enough to step up to the challenge.
Oras de Peligro is not the final word on the People Power Revolution or the events leading up to it, but it does provide a means to facilitate understanding between generations, and, hopefully, generate discourse about our shared history. In putting a human face on our shared past, Lamangan and his collaborators have created a gateway to something that modern audiences probably didn’t even know they needed: the truth.