The Carmelite Monastery in Mabolo, Cebu City pushed back against controversial director Darryl Yap's "reprehensible" attempt to distort history in his pro-Marcos movie Maid in Malacañang.
Last July 31, Sen. Imee Marcos shared a 35-second teaser of the scene in which nuns in gray and white habits are supposedly playing mahjong with a yellow-clad woman, presumed to be Cory Aquino, at the height of the EDSA People Power Revolution.
In a statement obtained by local outlet MyTV Cebu on Aug. 2, Carmelite Monastery Prioress Mary Melanin Costillas acknowledged that while the nuns in the scene aren't in their brown habits, it's "too obvious for anyone not to see" the allusion if it's set in February 1986.
"Let it be known that no one responsible for the production of the movie came to us to gather information on what really happened," Costillas said.
"Any serious scriptwriter or movie director could have shown such elementary diligence before making such movie," she added, noting that many Carmelites are "still very much alive and mentally alert."
The prioress said depicting the nuns as playing mahjong with Aquino is malicious, as it suggests that while the fate of the country was in peril, they were "mindlessly" playing games for leisure. It also trivializes their contributions to restore democracy after the two-decade martial rule of the ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
During that period, Amnesty International data showed there were over 3,200 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 tortures, 70 “disappearances” or desaparecidos, and 70,000 imprisoned. According to the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the Marcoses siphoned as much as $10 billion (P521.8 billion) from the government coffers at that time.
"The truth was that we were then praying, fasting and making other forms of sacrifices for peace in this country and for the people's choice to prevail," Costillas noted, adding that they were in constant fear of the military knocking at their door.
"We knew the dangers of allowing Ms. Cory Aquino to hide in the monastery. But we also prayerfully discerned that the risk was worth it, as our contribution to put an end to a dictatorial regime. Indeed, we were ready to defend her at all costs," she said.
In concluding her statement, Costillo said they're praying for the unity of Filipinos. Unity is the campaign buzzword of the dictator's son and namesake Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who won as president by a majority vote last May 9, the first since 1986.
"But this unity can only be built on truth and not on historical distortion," Castillo said.
'No credible sources at all'
Project Gunita, a citizen-led online archive of Martial Law era materials, on Twitter said there are no credible sources at all that indicate Aquino was playing mahjong with the Carmelites when she sought refuge in their monastery.
FALSE INFORMATION. What archival materials say:
1. There are no credible sources at all that indicate that Cory Aquino was “playing mahjong” with Carmelite sisters in Cebu in 1986.
2. Cory’s exact quote: “Tell him it’s okay to go. My only condition is that he leave the country.” pic.twitter.com/lDiapwmz5n— Project Gunita (@ProjectGunitaPH) August 1, 2022
Project Gunita, citing 10 credible sources—including news reports from Rappler, Asiaweek magazine, and Quartet of the Tiger Moon by Nick Joaquin—said that on Feb. 22, 1986, Aquino was in Cebu to pitch for the civil disobedience campaign that she started on Feb. 16 in Manila.
"Contrary to false claims that Cory was 'playing mahjong' with Carmelite sisters in Cebu, at 10:00 PM of Feb. 22, she was talking with Enrile through a tapped phone after Jaime Cardinal Sin called on people to go to EDSA. It was Enrile who warned Cory that her life was in danger," Project Gunita wrote. Marcos reportedly had a "shoot-to-kill" order on her.
An American official, Blaine Porter, then assessed Cory’s situation in Cebu. Porter sent a coded message to U.S. ambassador Stephen Bosworth asking for advice, while Cory’s circle of advisers mulled over which safehouse they may place her. She, then, thought of going to the Carmelite monastery.
When Aquino and Kris arrived there, she and the nuns didn't play mahjong amid the threat to her life and the political turmoil.
"Instead, they first assured Cory that 'they’d have to kill us first' before they can even walk to the opposition leader — then Cory with the nuns prayed the rosary and, in Cory’s words, 'surrendered everything to the Lord,'" Project Gunita said.
The "cloistered walls" of the monastery sheltered Aquino and Kris for 14 hours, and they left the place the following day, at 11:30 a.m.
'Entertainment, work of fiction'
In a press conference on the heels of the Carmelites' statement, Archdiocese of Cebu spokesman Msgr. Joseph Tan defended the Carmelites, noting they're "well-loved and well-respected" since the 1950s. Tan said the nuns have since asserted that they don't play mahjong up to this day.
Tan pointed out that Maid in Malacañang is a movie that is a "work of fiction," which seeks to give entertainment and not information about Philippine history.
"Clearly, the producers don't intend this to be an account of historical events in the most accurate manner," Tan told reporters on the ground, noting that Maid in Malacañang would have been a documentary if its intention is to, indeed, inform Filipinos.
Tan, however, acknowledged that they're in no position to police the movie, noting the entertainment world is free to express itself because it has the right to freedom of expression in art forms like movies.
"To the general public, my advice is to be aware that you're watching a movie. Like all movies, you have the right to choose to watch it or not," he said.
Yap directly addressed the Carmelites and Tan, saying he didn't feel the need to consult with the nuns for his movie's research as it was, for him, unnecessary.
"I would like to invite our Sisters to watch the film; if they are ostentatious about details, I don’t think there is a need for this 'ouch' and 'involvement,'" he said in a statement, adding that there's nothing wrong with playing mahjong in general.
Yap also told the Carmelites and Tan that he'll instead seek the advice of Valak, the fictitious demonic nun in The Conjuring horror franchise.
Set to hit theaters on Aug. 3, Maid in Malacañang will supposedly give Filipinos a look at “the last 72 hours of the Marcoses inside the Palace through the eyes of one reliable source," according to Yap. Critics have since sounded the alarm over supposed whitewashing, but Imee said there won't be any as the movie only seeks to "give additional information to the public."