Church, critics say new movie on Marcos family distorts Philippine history

Camille Elemia
2022.08.04
Manila
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Church, critics say new movie on Marcos family distorts Philippine history Philippine Sen. Imee Marcos-Manotoc attends the premiere of “Maid in Malacañang,” a film about the Marcos family fleeing during the 1986 people-power revolution, at a mall in Quezon City, suburban Manila, July 29, 2022.
Jam Sta Rosa/AFP

Leaders of the influential Catholic Church and others are criticizing a new film that depicts the last 72 hours of the Marcos regime in 1986, panning it as a piece of historical revisionism by the family now back in power in the Philippines.

Imee Marcos, a senator who is the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and sister of the Philippines’ newly elected president, co-produced “Maid in Malacañang,” a bio-pic feature directed by Darryl Yap.

The film tells the story of life inside the presidential household through the eyes of three loyal maids during the people-power revolution that ousted the Marcoses. Malacañang is the presidential palace in Manila.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza, of San Carlos City in the central Philippines, called the film “shameless” and demanded that the people behind it issue an apology. 

“The producer, scriptwriter, director, and those promoting this movie should publicly apologize to the Carmelite nuns, to President Cory Aquino’s family, and the Filipino people,” Alminaza said in a statement posted Wednesday on the website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

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A promotional poster for the controversial movie “Maid in Malacañang,” is pictured in Manila, Aug. 3, 2022. [Camille Elemia/BenarNews]

The prelate was reacting to a scene that depicts the Carmelite Monastery’s nuns in Cebu playing mahjong with Corazon Aquino, an opposition leader who had sought refuge at the monastery overnight during the peaceful revolution that toppled Marcos, who ruled the predominantly Catholic Philippines for 21 years.

Aquino was sworn in as president on Feb. 25, 1986, the day that a mob invaded the presidential palace after Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their children fled to a U.S. Air Force base in the country. The next day, the Marcoses flew into exile in Hawaii, where the deposed president died three years later.

The Catholic Church played an instrumental role in the historic revolt, as Cardinal Jaime Sin, then the archbishop of Manila, appealed on radio for Filipinos to go near the national military headquarters to back senior officials who had just withdrawn their support for Marcos. 

This helped the movement topple Marcos, who had ruled the country with an iron fist, including 14 years of martial law. His regime was blamed for the reported killings of thousands of political prisoners and others. 

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A Filipino youth slashes an oil painting of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos with a stick as a mob storms the presidential palace in Manila, Feb. 25, 1986. [AP File Photo/Mari Vargas]

‘Reprehensible’

In a rare move, the nuns broke their silence about the movie and denounced the scene involving Aquino.

“The attempt to distort history is reprehensible,” Sister Mary Melanie Costillas, the head of the nunnery, told reporters.

“Depicting the nuns as playing mahjong with Cory Aquino is malicious. It would suggest that while the fate of the country was in peril, we could [not] afford to play leisurely games.”

According to Costillas, what really happened was the nuns were praying and fasting as they feared that the Marcos regime would find out where Aquino was hiding. Written accounts and reports said there was a shoot-to-kill order against Aquino.

Sister Mary John Mananzan, another nun and icon of the Philippine revolution, called the film “abominable,” as she expressed anger about the mahjong scene.

“Because, my goodness, Carmelite sisters are contemplative. They are stricter than us nuns who are active,” Mananzan said in a televised interview on Tuesday. 

Responding to criticism around the film, Sen. Imee Marcos advised the public to “watch the movie first” before offering searing opinions about it. 

“Why do we have a commentary on everything? I invite everyone, no matter your political stance or opinions of politicians. It’s important to watch the movie first so you can see what the film is about,” she told reporters at the Senate on Wednesday.

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Ferdinand E. Marcos arrives at Guam after leaving the Philippines, Feb. 26, 1986. [AP File Photo]

The ‘very human’ side of Marcoses

The film, which opened in local cinemas on Wednesday, has amplified existing online narratives that portray the elder Marcos’ presidency as the “golden era” of the Philippines rather than as the darkest chapter of the Southeast Asian country’s recent history, as critics allege.

Yap, the director who is Filipino, told BenarNews that he had pitched the biopic to the Marcos family early this year, while Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was campaigning for the presidency.

The project only went ahead fully after Marcos was elected in a landslide in May. Many critics of the Marcos dynasty said he won by a big margin largely because of a consistent disinformation campaign that glossed over his namesake father’s brutal rule.

“I am giving the public the side of the Marcoses that is very human,” Yap said.

Imee Marcos, as the film’s co-producer, had asked for some parts to be removed, Yap said but without specifying which ones were ultimately taken out.

“My script was very, very courageous. But [the Marcoses] wanted to stick to their creed of unity. They don’t want any friction. They wanted the script to be a bit nicer,” Yap said.

“If it were up to me, I would want to put it all out. But you know, I cannot do that.”

Yap admitted that if Marcos had lost the May 9 general election, he would have dropped the film project altogether because, as he put it, a Marcos defeat would have shown that the Filipino people did not accept the dynastic family.

Countering the narrative

Joel Lamangan, a renowned film director is among artists and activists who are criticizing Yap’s film.

Lamangan said he planned to make a movie that would counter “Maid in Malacañang.”

“We will need to find a producer. When it comes to money, it’s very difficult, especially when you will make a movie about politics. Many don’t want that. It’s the truth,” Lamangan, a victim of the brutal Marcos regime, told a press conference on July 22.

Meanwhile, a critically acclaimed film, “Katips,” is screening in Philippine cinemas but has not garnered as much attention as the controversial movie.

“Katips” is a screen adaptation of a musical by the same name that came out in 2016. It is a fictionalized version of events that revealed the brutality of Marcos Sr.’s martial rule.

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A woman has her picture taken with the bust of former Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, as the movie “Maid in Malacañang” makes its debut in cinemas in Manila, Aug. 3, 2022. [Camille Elemia/BenarNews]

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the Filipino human rights group Karapatan, described “Maid in Malacañang” as a blatant attempt to sanitize the name of the Marcos family in the public eye 36 years after the revolt.

The family matriarch Imelda, who has been convicted of large-scale graft, is now back in the presidential palace after her son became the president “in a shameless display of opulence amid worsening poverty,” Palabay told BenarNews, dismissing the movie as a “crass vanity project.”

“Even more brazen are their sustained efforts to distort history and to whitewash their family’s atrocious legacy,” she added. 

Palabay said the Marcos family’s ongoing refusal to apologize for thousands who died or went missing during martial law “paints a grim portrait of an unmistakably Marcosian governance.”

“They are signs of worse things to come,” Palabay said. 

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